Caverns of the Snow Witch

The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were blockbusters of the era. Join us on the ninth adventure, into the frostbitten Caverns of the Snow Witch!

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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Within the Icefinger Mountains, the Snow Witch is plotting evil things. So I need to go there and put an end to her nefarious schemes, preferably with a stern application of axe to head. Caverns of the Snow Witch is another of the games I never got a chance to play as a child. Not sure why, I’m sure it was just down to there having been other books I chose instead. Hell, I chose Island of the Lizard King over this when I was a kid. We begin by rolling up our statistics, and sadly I end up with a skill of only 7 – looks like this won’t end well).

Our adventure begins with me in the employ of a trader named ‘Big Jim’, whose caravans are travelling into the frozen north in order to barter with the locals. On the travel, we stumble across a small village which seems to have been butchered by a large creature, possibly a yeti. Big Jim offers me a bag of 50 gold to kill the beast. Fifty? Is that all? Come on mate, be a little more generous than that! I’d earned that much in my first hour or trudging through Deathtrap Dungeon! I start to track down the beast, following its tracks until I come to a crevasse in the mountainside. I decide to go around it and stumble across a mammoth. He then tramples all over me, because it has a skill of 10 and is a mammoth and I have a mere skill of 7 and am a squishy adventurer.

Wow. Dead in two pages. That has to be some kind of record. Re-roll, then. This time, I re-roll a 7 on skill…. sod this, re-roll again. I get an 8 for skill…. These dice hate me. After changing dice and rolling once again, I finally settle on the last result, which is a skill of 9. Stamina of 19, luck of 11. Back we go, then. Rather than go around the crevasse, this time I choose to head over a narrow ice bridge, and have to test my luck to avoid falling off to an almost certain death. Once I step off the bridge, I am beset by large white wolves, who I dispatch without too much trouble thanks to a lovely non-sucky skill rating. Right, that’s a better start to our adventure – let’s hope it holds up!

I stumble through the snowfall when a blizzard starts up. Rather than inundate me a series of expansions for their Warcraft MMORPG and loot boxes, this blizzard is more likely to shear the skin from my bones. I opt to dig a makeshift cave to shelter in, and the book instructs me to then eat 2 whole meals to keep warm but not to regain any of the damage I took from the wolves earlier. Oh, how lovely, I see that this is going to be one of those ‘punish the player’ type of books after all. Eventually the blizzard dies down, probably after announcing one too many Diablo mobile games, and we are safe to resume our travels.

It isn’t too long before I manage to stumble across a hut, I barge on in without even knockingand steal the poor hut dweller’s most prized possessions (namely a warhammer and a spear), even going as far as to eat his porridge (but choosing not to sleep in the bed). I guess that have no hesitation to do this, because the book frames me as a ruthless git. I feel even less guilty about this when I follow the hut dweller’s footprints through the snow, only to discover that he has been trailing the same beast as me – only not quite as skilfully, as he is torn apart by the brutal yeti. I draw my sword and attack the yeti – time to avenge your death, porridge man!

This is a bloody close fight, and really nasty. It has a build-up that asks if I have a spear (I do) and if I have frostbite in an arm (I don’t), which gives me the impression that there’s a lot of factors that could result in instant death. No matter how well I try, my stamina plummets to 4, but I’m barely able to scrape through a victory. Can I just say again… fifty gold? For this? I should be getting at least three times that! Fifty gold maybe for the yeti’s hide itself on its own, but for killing one, I should be showered with wealth, adulation and porridge.

Oh yeah, remember that poor man who’s lying bleeding to death in the snow as a result of being a yeti chew-toy? Well, he has a monologue to deliver to me first! Y’know, if this was a modern video game, his death would incorporate a cut-scene. He tells me of the snow witch, who is planning to entrap the world in an eternal winter. Normally I wouldn’t care, because when this kind of things happen, we have four plucky earth kids and a lion who take care of things, but without any handy Jesus-lions around, it’s up to me to save the world again. Thankfully the man has marked the entrance of her crystal caverns, which apparently hold far more treasure than that pathetic 50 gold pieces I’ve been offered so far.

Anyway, having put his death scene on hold for about ten minutes so that he can give a dramatic monologue, the man then dies and I press on in my adventure, and I soon arrive at the entrance to the titular Caverns of the Snow Witch. Which means we’re well and truly into good ol’ dungeon crawler territory. I head left at the T-junction and almost immediately run into an elven guard, but I have the chance to bluff my way past by giving him a friendly nod and walking on casually past him. Huh. Didn’t think that would really work! Given that taking the left corridor has served me well, I decide to keep at it by following the next left turn, but this instead results in my falling into an ice pit and taking some damage.

I remain stuck in the pit for a while, until a pair of goblins decide to pop along and throw me a rope. I climb out of the pit, whereupon the goblins decide to take me prisoner. While it may have been a good idea to sneak into the Witch’s lair under cover as her prisoner, the book makes it quite clear that I will die if I do, so I opt instead to break open a can of kung-fu on the gobbos. After punching them repeatedly, I head back down the tunnel, presumably being quite careful to step over the ice pit this time.

The cave opens up into a puzzle room. There are two small pools in the room – one contains a spear, the other contains a sword. A frozen orc lays in the room, pointing at the sword. I find a poem carved on the wall telling me to choose one of them, “Sword or spear, strength or fear, how will you choose, win or lose.” Right, we obviously need to pick one of these – the orc could either by pointing towards the sword as if to say “I should have chosen that, but I did not and now I’m dead” or “That sword has done this to me, so do not choose it” but there’s no indication as to which is which. The only real clue I have is that ‘spear’ kinda sounds like ‘fear’… and because the Green Lantern is chosen for his ability to overcome great fear, I choose to pull the spear from the pool. Immediately my mind is assailed by terrifying images and horrific scenes, which cause me to lose a skill point. Remind me never to base my decisions on comic book characters again.

I instead give up and search through the orc’s backpack, where I find a stuffed rat (anyone got any ideas why the orc has this in the first place) and some mouldy bread. The book asks if I want to eat mouldy bread… I can’t think of any reason that I should do something like this, so for a laugh I decide to nom on some mouldy bread. As I do so, the bread crumbles to reveal an iron key! I abandon this pointless and silly puzzle and head down the corridor, discovering a minstrel who is playing his harp and mourning that none of the foolish monsters in this dungeon appreciate his music. Uhhh what.

I leave this strange and silly man, and find my way into a large cavern which seems to double as a temple. There’s a large number of the Snow Witch’s minions bowing to her statue in worship, and I decide that the most convenient way through is to join them. My luck seems to run out at this point, because they immediately notice I’m not singing, and start to gang up on me. I can’t fight them all off, so they drag me towards the centre of the temple and sic an ice demon on me. Even though it has ice breath, I’m able to crush it without too much difficulty and win the fear of the worshippers, who are too terrified to stand in my way. Why an ice demon is less powerful than a yeti, I don’t know. Nevertheless, onwards!

Sticking with my ‘keep going left’ plan, I eventually find a dwarf who has fallen down a pit. I help him out of it, and he gives me a slingshot with a few shots, and the words “beware the white rat”, for whatever good that will do. I don’t know if this will do any good, but it does feel nice to help someone out. I next arrive in a room in which I’m confronted by the Snow Witch’s servant, an old mage with a magic prism who creates two illusions of himself and attacks me. Trusting in my ‘choose left’ strategy, I attack the left mage, only to find out it’s an illusion. I then do the sensible thing that I should have done in the first place, and slash all three with one swing of my sword, and shatter the mage’s magic prism. Somehow, this is more entertaining than the very silly evil wizard in the second Conan the Barbarian movie.

From the prism, a genie emerges and promises that he will repay me for freeing him at some point in the future before vanishing. It would actually be kinda helpful if the genie would restore my stamina now, but… nope, he’s gone. Fine, fine. From that chamber, I head to the left (of course) through a tunnel, which is immediately sealed shut behind me with a portcullis. I manage to find a locked door, so I’m rather glad to have that iron key from before, as otherwise I’d be trapped forever. I feel that I’m getting quite close to the end of the adventure, because my next challenge is one of the Snow Witch’s personal guards, a crystal warrior. Indestructible unless I have the warhammer that I took from the trapper’s hut earlier… oh, how lucky I have that! Yeah, so lucky… Sadly, I’m not quite so lucky in the actual combat, as the Witch’s personal guards are far beyond my own combat abilities, and it proceeds to rip me into pieces with its crystal talons.

Slight problem here… When you meet the Crystal Warrior the player is asked if they possess a warhammer. If they do, they must proceed to battle the creature. If they don’t, they are sent to another section and asked whether they have a Genie friend who can help them to avoid the fight, which means avoiding any loss of time or stamina. So bringing the warhammer along is actually a penalty.

Overall this is a fair but very challenging book. I love the woodcut-style artwork, and although the adventure is fairly linear, you feel that it covers a lot and takes you on quite an enjoyable ride. The sequence with the yeti hunt serves as a nice ‘prologue’ for the main dungeon crawl, giving it all a nice framing for the adventure.

The difficulty of the combat is fairly steep though, and even though it’s fair in general if you make the ‘right’ choices, making the ‘wrong’ choice can be very harshly met at times, like when I ran into that happy charming mammoth. I get the impression that this is a book that demands a very high skill rating to be able to survive, though, but it is overall a fairly enjoyable story.

Cause of death: Killed by a crystal warrior, but it’s really the genie’s fault for abandoning me.