Blood of the Zombies
The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were blockbusters of the era. It’s time to witness the rise of the undead as we return to Earth, in BLOOD OF THE ZOMBIES!
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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Hmm, wouldn’t it be interesting if Blood of the Zombies is set in the same universe as House of Hell? Gingrich Yurr could have been an old friend of the Earl of Drummer. Neat!
Blood of the Zombies is the second Fighting Fantasy game set in a modern world. It was released for the series’ 30th anniversary, and you no doubt already know this anyway. Otherwise, why would you be reading this? My copy must be second-hand, because it has someone’s name written inside it, Ian something-or-other. Honestly, some people!
Anyway, the biggest thing you’ll notice in this book is that the combat system has been completely reworked. Now, you have only one stat – stamina. Each zombie you encounter has only one stamina point, meaning that each hit you deal will kill one zombie. How many you can hit in each turn is determined by the type of weapon you have – a baseball bat deals 1 dice worth of damage, while a shotgun will deal 1 dice + 5 points of damage. You make your attack first in each turn, and then you receive one point of stamina damage for each zombie that is still surviving.
This means that, just like in the classic zombie Romero movies, it is fairly easy to dispatch one or two zombies on their own, but far harder to deal with them in swarms. And speaking of Romero zombies, let me just say here – fast zombies are stupid. They’re not scary, they’re just generic monsters that jump out at the characters. The reason Romero’s slow zombies are scary is because you underestimate them. On their own, a single one is no threat. So you don’t worry about it. If there’s two of them, well, still no real threat, they’re easy enough to get rid of. When it gets to five or six of them, well, it could be worse… but because you underestimated them when there were only a few, their numbers grew. You became complacent. Like the birds in ‘The Birds’, the next time you glance their way, there are hundreds of them. And suddenly they don’t seem so silly any more.
And you have nobody to blame for that, because you underestimated them. Your worst enemy wasn’t the zombies, it was yourself. Which hits right in with another key theme of Romero’s work – that the real threat doesn’t come from the zombies, but from human nature.
Do you think this will help me out at all during the game? Here’s a clue – NOOOOOOOOOOOOPE!!!!!!!!!!
I wake up in a cell in the basement of a dingy old castle. After having been kidnapped during my explorations in Romania, I am being kept alive for an unknown reason. My guard, a gruff and cruel man by the name of Otto, is the only light in my otherwise dreary daily cycle, and by ‘light’ I mean ‘person who comes into my cell and kicks me’.
One day, after drinking down a bowl of gruel with my feet (and being the envy of contortionists around the world while I do so), I decide that enough is enough and tell Otto that he smells like a bag of dead frogs. This sends him into a raging fury, during which time I kick him in the gut and grab his keys for my shackles. I lock him up in my place, and proceed to interrogate Otto.
He tells me that he is a poor man who is treated cruelly by his evil master, Gingrich Yurr, and is kept here as a virtual prisoner himself. Awww, poor Otto. I feel so sorry for him that I almost want to not kick him in the ribs a few times in revenge. I leave, and soon find my way into Otto’s bedchamber. I proceed to raid his entire belongings, steal a stylish backpack he happens to own, and snarf down what’s left of Otto’s dinner. Trust me, the guy deserves it.
Otto’s room also contained a small penknife, which I took as a weapon, because I currently had nothing at all to my name. I also helped myself to his whole wealth of $15, and a piece of string. Because string is the most useful thing in the world. No, really, you try escaping from a castle full of zombies without some string!
Toddling down the hallway, I found a small bag that contained some matches, a pen, and a key with a number ‘9’ engraved on it. One thing I’ve learned is that keys with numbers on them are always useful. Eventually I found my way into a store room, which to my surprise was inhabited. Two of Gingrich’s goons, who didn’t seem the most loyal of chaps, were quite willing to tell me his entire evil plan – for a small bribe, of course. Ah, good to know that money still buys henchmen loyalty. Here’s what they told me…
Gingrich Yurr is evil, and is amassing an army of zombies in order to take over the world.
Y’know, sometimes I think that these insane villains need to watch a movie sometime. Just so that they can get an idea about how this is all going to turn out. The henchmen then tells me that I will need to kill EVERY SINGLE ONE of the zombies. There’s even a space in my sheet to record how many zombies I kill. So I’m immediately left with a feeling that this is going to be very, very important. I’m then given the chance to buy some of his supplies, so I spent my remaining $5 on a hacksaw, a pair of rubber gloves, some batteries, glue, and sticky tape. I think these are sensible choices, I mean, it’s still cheaper than my local hardware store!
Thanking him for helping me in my work of saving the whole of humanity from the horrors of the undead (and charging me money while he does it!), I head on my way and soon find my way into the launderette. I’ll say one thing about Yurr, he’s fully planned out what he’s going to need in this castle. Seems that someone left a sports bag in here, which contains my first really useful weapon – a baseball bat. Sure, it’s not a cricket bat (which anyone who’s seen Shaun of the Dead will tell you, is the best thing for taking care of zombies), but it’ll do in a pinch.
Speaking of which, two zombies burst out of the cupboard in back of the launderette. My first encounter with them, and the dice are on my side, I manage to beat them both down with my newly-acquired bat without breaking a sweat. Nice work!. I finish putting on a change of clothes, grab some items out of the cupboard (a first aid kit and some bullets, which will be very useful if I ever find a gun) and make my way out of the room.
I make my way down the hallway, deciding not to open one small door I encounter, and eventually come across a stale old mattress that’s resting against the wall and obviously blocking a doorway. I push it out of the way and head through the hidden doorway, finding my way into an old and disused workshop. Before I even have a chance to look around, I am set upon by a swarm of eight zombies. I’m able to dispatch five of them in the first round, and the others in the second round of combat, leaving my health down by three points. As you see, taking on a large number of them at a time can be pretty deadly, and I’m hoping to find something better soon.
Taking a pair of blacksmithing tongs with me, I find a door hidden behind a curtain. It’s locked, but the key I found earlier unlocks it without any trouble, leading into a coal storage room. Buried in the coal, I find a grappling hook – making me wonder why anyone would bury a grappling hook in a pile of coal? I press on into the boiler room, where I’m able to bandage up my wrists (still sore from being chained up for so long) and dispatch three other zombies before I find a real treasure – a crowbar. If my hunch is right, this crowbar is going to be very useful in this adventure!
I follow the doorway back out of the boiler room and emerge into a main hallway of the castle. I’m instantly beset by four more zombies, and this time my dice are not too lucky. I’m forced to use my medkit from earlier to patch myself up. But my perseverance is rewarded, because on one of the zombies I’m fortunate enough to find my first real strong weapon of the game – a pistol. I will call her ‘Zombie-Killer the first’, and she will claim many deadites.
The crowbar is instantly useful because I find a wooden crate in the hallway, which contains two grenades. These are going to be awesome, dealing 2d6+1 damage each. Sadly, I have to part with one of them very soon. I pry open a manhole cover that leads down into the sewers, thinking that it’s unlikely that the zombies will have got so far down into the bowels of the castle. As I head down, I’m beset by a creature that isn’t quite zombie, but certainly isn’t human – a pack of fifteen giant mutated rats. Sadly there’s too many for me to be confident in shooting the lot, so I lob a grenade down into the tunnel to clear them out. This does a good job, and I’m able to clear up the remaining rats with my pistol.
My hope of the sewers being empty of zombies proves to be a pipe dream though, as I soon find two of them lurking in the tunnels. After shooting them down, I notice that one of them is carrying a locket that belongs to a woman called Amy Fletcher. I’m hoping this will be of some use to someone, but probably not for a while yet. I push on through the sewers, until the tunnel becomes too narrow, and my hopes of escaping from the castle by means of the sewer tunnels evaporates. I do, however, stumble across a scrap of paper that contains the combination lock for a safe, should I ever need it.
Emerging from the sewer, I swallow my sadness at having never met any mutant turtles and wonder how high my dry cleaning bill will be this month. Squealching through the hallway, it’s not long before I see a painting on the wall of a man. He has a cruel glare in his eyes, a flashy sports car in the background, and is holding a white rabbit. It’s a painting of Gingrich Yurr, which tells me that I’m pretty sure he had the rabbit for dinner later that same day. Even better, behind the painting I find a hidden cabinet, which contains… a shotgun! Groovy!
After refreshing myself in the cleaner’s cupboard, I start to head up the stairway when I run into an encounter that would no doubt kill me outright had I not found my trusted Zombie-Killer the second. A swarm of twelve zombies meet me on the stairway, each dragging weapons with them, each strong enough to deal two damage points rather than a simple one! This fight is rough, and although I’m tempted to use my grenade, I’m still able to emerge victorious without wasting it. But my health is down by almost a half at this point. I hope I’ll be able to find another health kit soon.
I get to the top of the stairs, and soon find my way into the games room. I like the games room, because it has a shelf full of Fighting Fantasy books which I could sit and read. Maybe it should be called the ‘breaking the fourth wall’ room. Sadly, the only thing I find in this room that’s of any immediate use (aside from a copy of Warlock of Firetop Mountain) is a safe box which is locked with a key that I do not possess. Sadly, I leave the room, wishing I could stay and play a few rounds of Arkham Horror.
As I enter the next room, my trusty crowbar betrays me. It slips on the locked door and hits myself on the knee, knocking my stamina down to eight. After I burst the lock open, I find that this new room holds a swarm of seventeen zombies… yikes! The book (wisely) advises that I chuck my last grenade into the room. I do so, and… what kind of sound do exploding zombies make, do you think? It’s easy to pick off the remaining ones, and for my effort I am rewarded with being able to retrieve a box from the room. It contains $15, an empty plastic bottle, and bullets that I already have. I feel like I wish I had skipped this room and kept my grenade.
I keep on walking down the hallway, when I come to a box that has a note pinned to it, which reads ‘do not open’. At first I’m about to open it, but then I think, who wrote the note? It’s not a zombie, so it must have been a person. And I assume that they’ll have put the note on there for a reason, so I guess that maybe the box contains a pack of flesh-eating zombie ferrets or something. I leave it alone, and enter the library.
Dispatching two more zombies, I manage to find a rather interesting book that documents the history of zombies from their days of carribean myth. I also find a hidden switch which, when I push it, fires a poison dart into the back of my head. Why would you have this sort of thing in your castle? Oy… My stamina’s now down three, so I guess that I’m going to either die or find a health pack real soon. I keep bumbling around with the switch until it makes a hidden doorway slide open.
I’m pretty excited when I enter this secret passageway, as I’m hoping it’ll lead me to a room full of health kits and grenades. Instead, it leads me to a room in which 19 zombies are locked. They break loose. The following death scene is reminiscent of Dawn of the Dead, so I’m sure to shout “Choke on them” to whichever zombie is eating my leg.
I can’t complain. I played a gamebook called ‘Blood of the Zombies’, and got eaten by zombies. There is nothing about this that is not perfectly in keeping with the theme of the game.
I loved this gamebook, it is fiendishly difficult just as I’d expected from Livingstone. I killed 50 zombies with this new combat system, and the way in which it works means that the player spends a lot more of their time and focus on exploration and item hunting. It’s not a combat system that would work in all FF books, or indeed most FF books, but because we’re dealing with zombies here (and remembering what I said earlier about them being a threat when in a swarm), it works. And I killed 50 zombies. Fifty! C’mon, that’s pretty impressive, isn’t it? Admit it, it’s better than you’d have expected, eh?
The atmosphere is lovely, the artwork is first-rate, the way it incorporates a modern setting while remaining true to the ‘dungeon crawl’ core is excellently executed, and this is definitely an instant classic of the Fighting Fantasy series. Seriously, play this.
Cause of death: Zombie Chow.