The Crimson Tide

The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were blockbusters of the era. Can we stand firm against… The Crimson Tide?

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 may have rented ‘The Crimson Tide’ from the local library once, as a kid, and don’t remember it making much of an impression upon me. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the time I’ve been doing these blog posts, it’s that the books may surprise me.

‘The Crimson Tide’ is a book I fully intend to get through without making a single menstruation joke. It has a very similar setting to Sword of the Samurai, so it’s likely to be quite a challenge. It has two new stat gimmicks, first being Ferocity. Ferocity apparently helps to fuel me in combat, in theory at least.

But after reading the rules, I can’t find any way in which it impacts on combat directly, which makes it feel a little pointless. Age, however, is a nice stat. As you age, it has a knock-on effect on Ferocity. I’d like to see this implemented in a more grand manner, with your skill points and stamina rising and falling as you grow into a full adult, and then slip into old age. That’s not quite how it works in this particular book, but think of the potential that it could have.

So let’s get stuck in. We start with out hero, a young peasant child in a rice field, witnessing his family being killed by evil samurai. This fills me with rage, so with a gang of other kids who’ve survived the attack (each of who, I am sure, will die off very shortly thereafter) we head off on a rip-roaring rampage of revenge. Or something.

The gang head out on their journey, and quickly make reference to the enemies being from the nearby nation of Hatchiman, which I remember from ‘Sword of the Samurai’. That’s a nice touch. We promptly wander off into a field, and get attacked by a giant mudworm, which is an odd creature because it’s stamina is about half it’s skill score, resulting in it being hard to hit but squishy once I manage to do so. Surprisingly, none of the companions are horribly killed yet, which I feel is a bit unusual. This is a Fighting Fantasy game, after all, so any companions I have should be very dead in the next segment or two!

I’m told that I remember that I have an uncle who lives around the area, who I decide to seek out. I’m told to record the word ‘art’ on my sheet, which seems rather random as it has no context. Is my uncle an artist? Who knows. Our entire entourage find a boarding house to sleep for the night, and I sneak out to go and visit my uncle. When I find his house, his wife gives me a bag of money and he tells me that I should go and train in the fighting arts. Nice that I have a family member who is suggesting I become a brutal vigilante.

I decide to sneak back to the boarding house to meet up with my friends again, and go to talk to the local magistrate, hoping that he’ll be a little more disposed towards sending out men with swords and axes whilst I relax a while and let him deal with it. The magistrate instead decides to laugh at me, whilst his guard thumps on my head with a stick for his amusement. Eventually I tell him that maybe he shouldn’t be such a corrupt git, and his guards thump me a bit harder. The magistrate laughs as his friends beat up the homeless poor person, which shows us all where David Cameron learned his hobbies.

I trudge back to the boarding house once again, and together we plan to head to the monastery in the north, where we will learn the secret arts of the kung-fu monks. I hope. To my surprise, none of my companions are dead yet, either. I’d expected that at least one of them would have exploded from spontaneous human combustion by this point, at least.

On the journey, we set up camp beneath a rather nice tree, and as I stand guard that night we are attacked by another giant worm. This worm is different from the previous one, because once I’ve killed it, it transforms into an old man. My entire party gather around and stare at it in confusion. “Who’s that guy?” they ask. I shrug. Y’know, I can’t help but imagine that I simply told all my companions that the old man was really a giant worm monster, to cover up the fact that I’d beaten an old man to death in the middle of the night by mistake.

We continue our travels. One year later…

Yeah, really. I’m instructed to add 1 year. You know what that reminds me of? The PC game ‘Grim Fandango’. It was one of Lucasarts’ later point-and-click adventure games, except it was keyboard-driven so not quite ‘point and click’. But a lovely game, and it was spread over a period of four years. I suddenly want to play it again. The way it handled the transitions between the times was amazing, and gave the entire game a sense of being a true epic.

A year later, we arrive in a city. Our group are exploring the marketplace, when suddenly a large fight breaks out and a guard starts to attack me. Having no chance to surrender or run away, I fight him to the death. As I drop him, twenty of his best friends jump on me and drag me off to jail. A few days later they chop my head off because, apparently, I’m a public nuisance.

Now I’ll give the book this, it does give us an option where if my stamina point lands at exactly 1 during that fight, I may perhaps survive, I’m not sure, I killed the guard outright so didn’t have the chance to take that path. But this is rather anticlimactic, and as it’s an instant death segment that you’re given because you WON a combat, that always rather leaves me feeling a bit unhappy with how the adventure turns out…

Having said that, this is a pretty good book. The atmosphere is lovely, it’s nicely laid out, the encounters are solid, it has a good pace and feels like a sweeping epic. Overall I rather like this one. I’d like to give it another shot sometime.

Cause of death: Execution.