Black Vein Prophecy
The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were blockbusters of the era. Let’s open the tome and hear the words of the Black Vein Prophecy!
In 1982, Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, founders of Games Workshop, released the book ‘The Warlock of Firetop Mountain’. Intended as an introduction to tabletop role-playing games of the era, the book’s choose-your-own-adventure format mixed with simple dice-based combat proved massively successful, giving rise to a full series of books – Fighting Fantasy. With over 65 books in the series by a legion of authors and illustrators, the series’ legacy continues to this day. Come along with us as Cybe and co play through each one – with no prior knowledge, no hints or walkthroughs and no cheating!
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I never played this book when I was a kid.
Look at the cover and tell me you don’t understand why. If not, I’ll explain. When I was a kid, I was visiting my local library to borrow a copy of Frankenstein. Yeah, I was a weird kid. Anyway, I found two books. One had a simple off-yellow cover with the book’s title in gothic font. The other was a more gaudy paperback version with a lurid painting of Frankenstein’s monster, its body a mass of scars, its face twisted in rage, its ragged stitches open to reveal red gore beneath.
Obviously I took the book with the monster on the cover. People do judge books by their covers, and sadly the cover for this book is terribly underwhelming. And also rather misleading to the adventure within, which immediately sounds interesting from the very minute you read over the blurb on the back.
Y’see, as you start this adventure you know nothing. Nothing at all. You don’t even roll up stats, like you do in Creature of Havoc (which we’ll be re-playing soon, too). You’re thrown right into things, and have to learn on your own. It’s the first FF adventure where you start out with a blank sheet. Mysterious, indeed!
You awake locked inside your own tomb. Just like I do most Sunday mornings. You break through the tomb sarcophagus with significantly less trouble than Uma Thurman would have, and stagger around inside what appears to be a huge sepulchur for a while, surrounded by other sarcophagus… sarcophagi… sarcophaguses… whatever.
It’s at this point that I start to experience crippling headaches, which means that this is very much like a usual Sunday morning. I try to inspect as much of the chamber as possible, but with my head spinning, it’s difficult to gather anything cohesive other than fleeting visions of a figure. I leave the chamber, only to find that that the building is far larger than I’d expected, with a new chamber filled with statues.
When one of the statues seems to move, and I experience memories associated with the statue’s figure, I begin to surmise that I’ve been brought back from the dead somehow. Seems that my earlier comments about Frankenstein may not have been entirely unconnected to this book. Creepy. Anyway, the main theme of this part of the book is spinning headaches and haunting images flashing before my eyes, much like you experience when watching an Uwe Boll film.
The chambers seem to gradually collapse as I move through them. I wonder if it is my awakening that has caused them to collapse (much like when you kill a boss in a video game, which causes a temple to collapse due to it being a load-baring boss), or if it is simply my presence passing by that is spreading some kind of corruption to the building. I glance back at the statues, to see that they have collapsed – and seem to be constructed with human bones. Maybe they’re not statues after all. Ewww.
The doors in the catacomb all possess seals. As I pass through them, the pressure in my head seems to ease. As I move along, I gradually roll up my stats, starting with luck (required as I run through a chamber that drips a curious liquid), stamina (as I flee up some stairs to escape their collapse) and skill (which I note is set lower than most FF books, as you only add 4 to your roll rather than the usual 6). I procure a sword a backpack with five provisions, and a haunting voice tells me to remember all that I have forgotten. And then I pass through the final sealed door, and emerge into the sunlight.
It quickly becomes apparent that the catacombs I was entombed within lie beneath a large city, one which seems to have been under siege at some point. The streets are empty and the inhabitants seem long dead. As I stumble through the wreckage, I find a curious object lying against a building – I look closer, only to be encountered by a mirror image of myself, which attacks.
It’s a long fight due to the high stamina, but I manage to kill the mirror image and am blinded by a flash of light as it perishes. In the wake of the light, I find a small wicker box. When I open the box, a cloud of fiery wings and madness flies out, knocking me to the ground and flying off. I… have no idea what’s going on. At all. This is just weird.
The entire adventure gets weirder. Before long, I have encountered a strange mutant horse creature, who speaks about rats being stuck in mazes. When I approach this being, I start to remember the ability to control mutations, and am told that this will be useful for me later. Staggering my way away from this strange creature, I eventually work my way into one of the city’s siege catapults and fire myself into the sea. I don’t know why I do this, I just do.
I’m dragged from the sea by the crew of a ship, who ask me about a dead man I encountered in the catacombs way back when, and then tell me to man the sails. This isn’t what I’d have said to the character if I were the captain of this ship. More likely I’d say “Oh my god, man! Did you just fire yourself into the sea from a catapult? What the hell is wrong with you? And why do you look as if you’ve been stuck in a sarcophagus for so long? What is going on?”
We sail along the sea for a while, until a large sphere emerges from the mist and attacks the ship. I shrug my shouders and say ‘Oh, sure’ and fight the giant ball. My sword manages to pierce it, and an insane maddened criminal emerges from inside the sphere and I need to chop his head off. The ship’s captain then comes along and tells me that, as punishment for their crimes, criminals in this part of the world are sent into the sea encased in large bubbles, which is… about the standard level of sanity I’ve come to expect in this book so far.
That night, one of the crewmen called Velkos awakes me to tell me that there is a strange brooch on my clothes, which I had not noticed before. I open the brooch, and an evil baby falls out. I can tell it’s evil, because its face is twisted with wickedness. And I can tell that it’s a baby because oh fuck it whatever. This makes about as much sense as the film ‘The Happiness of the Katakuris’.
It occurs to me at this stage of the playthrough that nobody who is reading this who has not also read the book itself will have any idea what I’m rambling about. I’m sorry. This playthrough must sound like the product of a demented mind, full of mutant horses and strange lights and men in bubbles and evil babies. I’m sorry. I’m trying my best to make this all into something that can be understood, but I’m not really sure this is possible. It kinda defies the minds of mortal man.
Remember the Sorcery! book “Khare: Cityport of Traps”? It was crazy in that it was a wild adventure filled with utterly bewildering events. This is different. This is crazy in a David Lynch kind of a way, where things kinda make sense in their own respective ways, but it’s all so utterly ‘stream of consciousness’ that it’s difficult for you to effectively describe it to another person. And that is NOT to say that I am not enjoying this book. On the contrary, I’m enjoying it immensely.
The ship comes to ground, leaving me and Velkos opting to venture inland for a while. Soon we see a large monkey-type creature being chased by a group of angry people. I follow the monkey as it hides in a cave, but I lose track of it when I discover a buried trove of gemstones worth around 3000 gold pieces. As I gather them up, a strange and obviously sinister mist starts to descend around me. Not wanting to be trapped in a cave with the fog monster, I use the power of evil baby, summoning it like a demented pokemon trainer.
The evil baby leads me out of the cave and away from the fog monster, which is a sentence I never thought I’d say in my entire life. I don’t other to tell Velkos of my discovery, but no sooner have I emerged from the cave do I see a group of people who are under attack. I slip closer, despite Velkos’ warnings of the contrary, and I notice that they’re being attacked by a mass of light and twisting bubbling insanity that would twist the mind of Lovecraft himself. Basically, I’m up against the 5th Angel, and I don’t have Eva Unit 01 around to help me out.
What else can I do? Evil baby, I choose you! I hurtle the evil baby at the Lovecraftian horror (do you ever feel that you need a less insane hobby to spend your Saturdays doing?) and they are both destroyed in a giant explosion that destroys time itself, ushering in a Singularity. As my body melts into a liquid mass and my mind becomes part of every other mind in the cosmos, the entirety of Titan is reborn into a single being… actually no, that doesn’t happen. But it wouldn’t surprise me if it did. Instead, the monster is destroyed, but so is my evil baby thing.
Oh well, I still have that mutation power that I got from the horse-thing earlier, in case I need some bizarre power to perplex the minds of humanity with. I decide that I actually want to find where Valkos has run off to, and eventually stumble across her fending off some bandits. We fend the bandits off and head into a nearby forest. In the depths of the trees, we can hear some people approaching and promptly we climb up some trees in order to hide. The men find me, but do not catch Valkos. I don’t bother to tell them about her, because I don’t really like her all that much.
I tell the men that I’m a powerful sorcerer and will cast a spell on them if they don’t let me go, and they believe me without question. I decide to leave Valkos stuck up the tree and head off on my own. Before long I find a pair of villagers who seem to be trapped in some mud. I try to offer to help them, but as I do, a giant cloaked monster sneaks up behind me and hits me. It flies off with me to its lair, and we fight there for a while. I kill it, and don’t find anything of any use.
On the way back to the road, I find some discarded clothes. Eager to find this nudist, I instead encounter a helmeted man who has been tied up and had a scroll of paper shoved in his mouth. I take the scroll, hoping it will contain a clue of some sort. Instead it contains nothing, and the helmeted man walks off into the sunset. I don’t know what the point of this was, except to confuse me more. It’s working, in that case.
I find a small village, where I spend the night with a few other travelers. I wake the next morning to find a large horse-drawn carriage parked in the middle of the village. I have a closer look, when a man emerges and confuses me for a captain in his army. As you do. I play along, and before long he is asking me for strategic advice on the battlefield. When it becomes clear that I don’t know what I’m talking about, he attacks me and I need to beat him down.
I continue my adventure alone, and it occurs to me at this point that I don’t really have any set goal or destination in mind, and that I’ve been simply walking in random directions for a while. I stop my a cliff-side and watch the birds for a while, somehow learning a mystical art of harmony by doing so. I’m not quite sure what this will do, but at that point I’m drawn by a disembodied voice into a tunnel. In a large chamber, I meet a man called Credas. He tells me that my name is Maoir. Ah-ah!
This is pretty big. I’ve met someone who knows me. He tells me that he knows a lot more, including how to use my powers to their fullest extent. He may even be able to make this entire adventure make some kind of logical sense. After all, he can give me the context to what is going on, and context is important. I help the man clear some bandits from his caves by combining our magical ability to control their minds, and then he tells me the catch – he wants me to do something for him first before he’ll tell me anything.
He asks me to find an item from the jungle to the south. I head down there, ready to hunt through the entire place for one arbitrary random item for an old man who is clearly capable enough of finding it on his own, and with very little description as to what item it is that I should look for. Nevertheless, it’s not too long before I am able to find a river. And as I’m sure you’ve noticed, my new hobby in these Fighting Fantasy books is to fall into any river that I come across, usually resulting in my death (see Island of the Lizard King, Sword of the Samurai, and so on).
So I get eaten by killer eels.
And despite that, I’m not too annoyed, because I actually really enjoyed this book. I still have no idea what was going on, but I feel that’s more to do with it all being intentionally mysterious. The book does become more easy to grasp as it goes along, which pretty much mirrors your character’s disorientation and confusion.
The world itself feels very infused with magic in this particular book, with far more emphasis on the mystical and mind-altering than in a typical Fighting Fantasy book. More than anything else, it left you wanting to replay it, in order to find all the missing pieces of the puzzle and figure out the details that you were unable to grasp on the first playthrough.
It’s definitely a good book. If you’re in the right frame of mind to enjoy it, it’s one I’d recommend strongly. But only if you’re in the right frame of mind for it. Otherwise you’re likely to reply to it with “What did I just read?”
Cause of death: Became eel-chow…