Knights of Doom

The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were blockbusters of the era. Let’s don our armour (it has a ‘u’ in it, Americans!) and fight the KNIGHTS OF DOOM!

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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Knights of Doom casts YOU as a templar knight, pledged to uphold the peace in Ruddlestone. I admit that Ruddlestone hardly sounds like an especially dangerous place – the most deadly threat is Aunt Bessie’s Rhubard and Trout Pies – but that’s our holy task. At least it was, until we are called to the court of the dying King Raddor. You see, monarchy in Ruddlestone works on what we call the Excalibur rule – if something is wrong with the land, trees will wilt and the king promptly pops his clogs. So because the king is dying, we know something foul is afoot in Ruddlestone!

As it transpires, a portal has opened in the far north (as such portals tend to do) and disgorged a mass of evil Chaos Knights. Oh you silly portals, whatever will you think of next? King Raddor states that his advisers have said that they have a better chance of preventing disaster by sending in one lone warrior instead of a properly armed defensive military force, which we will call the Jack Bauer rule. My working theory is that the King’s advisers are poisoning him and are probably working for the Chaos Knights, but shhh, we’ll deal with them after the quest is finished!

Knights of Doom uses the same core Skill/Stamina/Luck stats as most Fighting Fantasy books, but also has a few special abilities for you to select. Suitably for a paladin type of character, you choose one warrior skill, one priest skill, and the rest from either schools. I chose Riding as my warrior skill, Banish Spirit as my priest skill, and last two as Arcane Lore and Battle Tactics. You also have an Honour system, a la Sword of the Samurai – so hopefully I can live up to that! Enough talk, let’s go!

Before we can even leave the King’s court, our discussion of my quest is interrupted. Riding into the castle – straight through the front door, no less – charges a great skeletal steed, shining with a baleful light. It bellows “Beware, mortals!” and proceeds to demand a luck test. Right on the first paragraph, no less! This adventure doesn’t play around. I fail, and the horse kicks me for good measure. Oooph.

Thankfully, a quick cast of Banish Spirit sends the spirit vanishing back into the underworld. The King seems to recognise that this seems pretty serious, so tells me that maybe I should hastily hurry on to the armoury and grab some useful gear. Thankfully, most of the region’s holy relics are stored there, and I’m able to help myself to The Helmet of Ventarc (unlike the other pieces of armour, this one doesn’t have any stat bonuses, so I take it assuming that it has some other as-yet-unveiled relevance that the book will tell me about later) and Havgar’s mighty bone-crushing mace. I don’t know who Havgar is, but he had a nice mace. Who wants to bet that I’ve made some bad decisions?

On our trusty steed, we ride out of the castle’s gate, head down the road and run right into a band of angry, starving lepers. I… oh dear. Their leader announces that starvation and plague is rife among the region, and says that I, as a knight, am representative of the injustice in their society, riding around in splendour whilst they have nothing. Urm… I think maybe the biggest threat to Ruddlestone isn’t the Chaos Knights, but King Raddor’s poor treatment of his people! Nevertheless, I am given the option of attacking the ill peasants, running them over with my horse (Jesus Christ…) or just talking to them. Naturally I assure them that I am going to do what I can to bring balance to everything, and they let me pass.

That night as I make camp, the book informs me that I remember the legends of a mystical elven spear that may aid in my quest. The book goes on to tell me that this should be my first objective. Nice to know. Noting this down, I fall asleep, only to wake in the middle of the night to find myself being stabbed by a ghost. I… Okay, who was keeping watch on the camp? Oh right, nobody. A quick dose of Banish Spirit later and the ghostly assassin is dispatched, leaving behind their dagger. Huh. It seems that someone knows of my quest…

The book informs me to add one to my time score (yes, we have a time score to keep track of) and before long we are approaching the local ‘mystical forest’. It’s a good bet that the spear is located there, but, guessing that I am going to need some assistance in finding it, I opt to seek out a local sage in the town of Wendeford. It takes only a little bit of time before I am able to ride up to the sage’s cottage, where I find that the door is unlocked. Hmm, strange – sages are infamous for keeping their doors locked… oh no wait, it’s secret wisdom that they’re known for. Who is it that’s known for keeping their doors locked? Not this guy, that’s who! This sage is known for having the forces of darkness break into his unlocked door and murdering him in his sleep- oh. Bugger.

So I look around the sage’s hut and find the sage kept a pet owl, but without any means to communicate with it I’m out of luck. Instead, I scramble around searching the hut until I find a note. According to the note, it seems that the sage distrusted the local miller, suspecting him of being in league with a group of clerics who have been poisoning the local forest. Eh, this feels unrelated to the current situation, but let’s roll with it for now. I mean, the clerics might possibly be related to the Chaos Knights, right? Right? Anyway, I leave the sage’s hut, saddened that I hadn’t taken the Commune skill at the start of the adventure – I suspect that the sage’s owl may have seen the murder and could have given me a clue.

I head to the mill, and it appears to be deserted. I’m pretty convinced that Wendeford is just kinda a run-down mess of a village at this point. Still, I head inside the mill and am promptly attacked from behind by a fierce blow to the back of my head. However I survive – thanks to my helmet! See, I told you that it was the right choice! I fight valiantly against the assailant, and after a violent struggle I knock him to the ground and question him. “Curse you, templar!” he spits, and throws some sleeping powder in my face. Zzzzzzzzzzz…..

I awake to find myself tied to a large sacrificial alter. Oh great, it’s one of those mornings! A robed cleric stands nearby. He gives a speech, expositing that they are a cult of evil clerics who serve the Chaos Knights, and that they are working to weaken the enchantments on the mystic forest so that their masters can destroy it. Damn anti-environmentalists.

I struggle valiantly and free myself from the ropes before the evil clerics can sacrifice me. Realising that I’m more than a bit peeved at them, they quickly summon a powerful eldritch plant elemental. Right then! This looks like a time to whip out the ol’ Banish Spiri- oh. It doesn’t work on elementals. Well isn’t that charming! In that case, it’s time to smash it with my mighty mace an- oh. What do you mean it’s immune to damage? Sigh…

As I die at the hands (tendrils) of a giant plant elemental, I look back on my adventure with Knights of Doom and wonder at what a curious and unusual journey it’s been. It’s a nice little adventure with some gorgeous artwork and it uses a lot of the mechanics such as time and honour, but it never really gels together as strongly as it had the potential to. I would have liked to see this book with a tighter focus, perhaps a stronger oomph to it, but that’s just me. Have a look and see what you think, squire, and maybe some day you’ll become a knight of doom too.

Cause of death: Eaten by Audrey 2. This happens a lot in Fighting Fantasy books…