Slaves of the Abyss

The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were blockbusters of the era. Let’s arm up and get ready to liberate the Slaves of the Abyss!

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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Ah, Fighting Fantasy 32. The thirty-second book in the series. With a cover that is more bewildering than anything else. Honestly, I’m not sure what I’m even looking at here. If I was to guess, it’s a flat prison in space being guarded by a giant floating head?

By this point in the series, things had kinda hit a plateux. I do think that the series picked up in the 40s with a lot more atmosphere and experimentation, but it definitely wasn’t at the same heights of the earlier books. The 30s were kinda a bit ‘meh’ really, for the most part. I do think that’s partly due to just how samey all the storylines were.

So for this particular book’s storyline, Princess Caroline of some indescript backwater kingdom is afraid that a big ol’ army of gribbly doom will come and stomp down her city streets and poke the town’s puppies with sticks and so forth, so she asks me and few other idiots – erm, brave heroes, to go and help defend the useless nation in the place of an actual army of anything.

I roll up a character who has a phenomenally high skill (11), and a spectacularly low stamina (16) and volounteer to go and scout out the evil army of evilness, because the other possible options for how to defend the city don’t sound like much fun. While I get ready to head out on my journey, there’s a big kafuffle in the castle when some character runs into the kitchen and sets himself on fire. I’ve no idea why, and this doesn’t seem to have any impact on what’s going on, so it just leaves me confused.

As we saddle up to head off on our mission, one of the other adventurers who’ve been charged with defending the kingdom gives me a bag of herbs which keep me awake. This seems rather pointless, until you remember that this is one of those FF books with a time system, so being able to stay alert and keep moving during the night is going to be pretty useful. During my first night out on the trail, I’m attacked by evil elves, which aren’t too much of a threat.

Riding through the next day, I decide to stay over at a roadside temple. As soon as I step inside, a group of priests try to mug me and take all my stuff. I don’t believe I just said that, so I’m going to read that section again…. Yes, the priests try to mug me. They demand all of the contents of my backpack, and when they don’t get it, a group of them surround me and I’m left dodging out of their way and fleeing the temple. Y’know, I’ve heard about tithing, but this is ridiculous!

I continue along my way, eventually encountering a begger who tells me a tall story involving an evil jester and a wicked curse (which kinda makes me wish I was taking part in that story instead) and asks me for gold, I ignore him and press onwards into the next village. Upon arriving there, I am surrounded by hooded priests – oh god, they’ve caught up with me! The priests proceed to beat me unconscious, and throw me into a cell without any of my possessions except for an old statue I took from the elves that I killed a few nights ago.

I wake up in a cell, and one of the priests eventually tells me that they’ve been ordered to let me go. I’m not given the option to massacre their entire order or anything, so I trudge miserably onwards until I come to another village, hopefully free from the tyranny of wandering bands of marauding clergy. The village is utterly abandoned, except for a strange man who is locked in a basement of one of the houses. Naturally this man drags me into a wine celler and tries to change the shape of my head with a vigorous series of punches, so I’m forced to run away yet again.

So yeah, at this point in the adventure I kinda have to admit to myself that things are a bit… weird? I guess. The book definitely has a strange vibe wherein repercussions don’t seem to have any correlation to the actions that preceded them. So for example, if you’re wondering if the point about the guy who incinerated himself in the kitchen or this random basement-dwelling punching man are ever brought up again… nah, not even slightly.

Seeking shelter in a nearby hut, I grab two suspicious sounding potions from a shelf, one labelled Arakh and one called Zazzaz. I plan to indulge my urge to taste possibly gross stuff with these potions. The hut also has some puppets in a corner, which I avoid like the plague because puppets are the scariest thing since clowns. Yeeks. Anyway, the next village I come across is similarly empty, leading me to suspect that the entire population has been abducted by aliens.

I try to press onwards, but this winds up with my character encountering an ending paragraph in which he stumbles in confusion across many featureless plains for all of eternity, causing me to have to restart the entire adventure. No, really, if you continue across the plains and don’t turn back then you just go on and on forever…

By the time I get back to this paragraph, I’m far less patient and quite happy to just give the entire thing a angry sigh and turn back the way I’ve come. Soon enough, I see the signs of the evil McEvilson army off in the distance. I’m so happy that I take a swig of the Arakh potion, only to find that it has no effect whatsoever. What.

I draw a bit closer to the army, sneaking nice and quietly. It’s at this point that I can see that the soldiers are not ravaging monsters of evil eviltons, but blank-eyed peasants. So at very least we know what happened to the villagers. I’m so surprised that I take a swig of the Zazzaz potion, only to find that it makes me pass out and lose consciousness. Just… what is the point of either of these potions then? When I come to, I get back onto my horse, who is promptly startled at the sight of the army, causing it to rear up and throw me off, which in turn makes me pass out and lose consciousness again. What.

This time, I wake up in a giant void full of imprisoned figures, swirling in a strange un-world type of space. That’s right, I’m IN THE FRONT COVER. And, yeah, the book kinda ends there. I assume that the giant floating head winded up getting a little bored and decided to have me for dinner.

This is one hell of a strange book. So, well, yeah. I’m sure there’s a lot more to Slaves of the Abyss, I suspect it’s a bit of a slow-burn kind of a book. I actually rather liked a lot of the atmosphere in it, which was occasionally a little “Shadow Over Innesmouth”ish. I’d give that point a recommendation, because it does play a bit of a mystery with the player.

The fantasy angle on it is a little dull, but overall I can’t really say it’s a poor showing. It does pose a rather nice little mystery, making you wonder just what’s going on, and I’d be interested to try it out and see if we can solve it and find out just what is going on with this army of villagers and who the big giant head happens to be (hey, maybe he’s William Shatner!) Give this one a shot. Just… try to do better at it than I did, eh?

Cause of Death: Enslaved. In the Abyss. Appropriate, eh?

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One Reply to “Slaves of the Abyss”

  1. Ed

    [b]Slaves of the Abyss[/b] rewards careful reading like few other FF books. There are explanations for a lot of the weird stuff that happens, but the authors don’t spell them out: they provide the clues and leave it to the reader to figure out the truth.

    For example, that self-immolating page boy. You didn’t mention it, but just before the incident, the page passed you a note, and you got distracted reading it (you wouldn’t have reached the ‘the page just threw himself into the fire’ paragraph if it hadn’t happened that way). Somebody noticed you being distracted, figured out that the page slipped you a message, and used dark forces to make him kill himself as punishment for doing so.

    In a similar vein, there is a reason for what happened with those priests. It makes sense once you find out what your as yet unknown enemies have been doing, but until you get the right hints and put them together, it just seems random and pointless.

    Some readers just find this approach annoying, others love it once things start to click.

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