The Rings of Kether

The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were blockbusters of the era. Join a sci-fi police drug bust beyond the stars and through The Rings of Kether!

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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If you’re a long time reader of this site, you’ll know how I feel about the Fighting Fantasy series’ occasional venture into the sci-fi genre, which means that this adventure is almost certainly going to be bleak and painful. Urrgh. Rings of Kether is apparently one of the better ones in the sci-fi books though, which is kinda like saying that being kicked in one tooth is better than being kicked in a different tooth. Okay, sorry, I promise that I’m going to be very, very positive with this playthrough, though. Not going to say a single negative thing. Positivity is the name of the game today. So, let’s get this adventure under way.

The intergalactic police have decided to send the player off on his own to break a space drug ring, all by himself. Without backup. Even Judge Dredd has backup. So I’m just going to assume that I’ve pissed off my department manager and he wants to see me be thrown into a space-river. Boy, that positivity didn’t last long. Anyway, the character Ie rolled up is pretty decent with high stamina and middle-of-the-line skill, and I start out with two ‘Smart Missiles’ for ship to ship combat, the usual sci-fi ‘blaster’ type of gun, and a handful of Pep Pills, because nothing says ‘Law enforcer on the move to take down drug rings and narcotic smugglers’ than someone chomping down on fistfuls of pills.

The adventure starts with my shuttle arriving at Kether, the planet that I’ve been told that is flooding the sector with drugs. Immediately I’m asked where I want to start searching for the drugs ring, and I’m given three choices, with no clues or hints as to which may be correct. Picking one of them at complete random, I opt to go and visit the moon. I spend about five days searching around the moon, looking under rocks and lumps of space cheese, but find no drug rings at all. This is a great start to the adventure, literally giving the player a choice to make which is an utter dead end. Yeesh.

When we eventually head down to the main planet again, customs take away my ‘Spy Ray’. I don’t even know what a Spy Ray is, the book didn’t tell me what it is or that I even had it. It may as well have told me that my Samoflange had been taken away from me. My best guess is that the Spy Ray is an object that I’m meant to find in one of the other paths. And again, this is meant to be the ‘better’ of the sci-fi adventures! But anyway, I decide to head down to the local police station to see if anyone there can clue me in to the investigation.

Upon arriving at the police headquarters, I meet Mr Samuel, who is rather like Commissioner Gordon but without the epic ‘tash. When I ask him what’s going on, he makes a show of looking over his office for listening devices, and then hands me a note telling me to meet him later. Oooh, conspiratorial! He meets me later in a seedy cafe, looking about as inconspicuous as a man in a false beard can be. He tells me that the police are corrupt and that he can point me towards his contact, a freighter captain. The captain in turn directs me towards a poker game going down in a local pub, where we meet our primary suspect, Zera Gross. Zera is described as a hideous, belching woman which describes most of the inhabitants of Essex.

The book asks how I want to confront Zera, and I opt to be rather direct with her. Showing the subtlety of a highly regarded space cop investigative detective with a speciality in handling vice cases, my character walks up to Zera and say “So m’love, how’s the drug trade going?” I wake up the next morning in a gutter nursing a severe concussion. I am truly the best there is at what I do. With that uneventful experience now behind me I need to find another lead, and and decide that I’ll try doing my work in the local library instead. Hey, it works in Call of Cthulhu! Evidently the local library contains all kinds of useful information, because I’m able to pull up some info on a court case some years ago, involving Miss Gross and her good friend ‘Blasty’ Blasterson, who I’m guessing has some kind of gun fetish. The court records, which are evidently available to any member of the public who has an interest to look at them, confirms that they are (or at least, were) involved in drug running. I’m also able to pull up a copy of Blasty’s home address, which is apparently in the public domain as well. And I thought Facebook was bad at keeping hold of personal information!

When I reach Blasty’s address, it turns out that it isn’t a suburban semi-detached house at all, but is an old warehouse. I mean, I guess that gangsters live in warehouses, I suppose. I’m not sure that you can register them as your actual address, though. Anyway, I sneak in through the back and over-hear a conversation between two people who I don’t know. The book then asks if I want to go to their meeting and listen in on it, but I choose not to because I don’t have any idea as to if or why it’s relevant to the case. Instead I stick around to snoop through the warehouse some more. As I do so, I hear someone behind me say “Freeze!” I assume it’s Blasty. Naturally, I have no fear, and I fully suspect that I won’t take too much damage. After all, being beaten up by Gross and her buddies cost me only a mere 2 stamina points, so I decide to take the risk and get into a fight with Blasty. Sadly, it turns out that in this one eventuality, phaser fire is utterly lethal, and I’m turned into swiss cheese.

Well, the downside of this adventure is that it’s still a sci-fi Fighting Fantasy. But on a more positive note, it’s possibly the least awful one that I’ve read thus far. I can’t say that it was a work of art or anything, but I was genuinely surprised. At no point did I feel that I was just exploring a dungeon that was disguised as a spaceship a la Space Assassin. I never groaned at the stupidity of having to fight off rampaging bands of guards who are simply ‘called guards because you have to be on your guard around them’ a la Starship Traveller. And I certainly didn’t feel the urge to beat myself to death with a copy of the book, as I did throughout every living moment of Sky Lord.

In fact, this book wasn’t bad at all. It’s pacing is a little stringy, throwing you around from location to encounters at speed that’s a little too disconnecting at times, and it doesn’t really give you any sense of your own identity at times (you don’t even have any real inventory, much less a background). But when the investigation gets going, you feel that you’re actually playing the part. The setting is actually quite nice this time around, slightly dystopia but not over-the-top post apocalyptic a la Freeway Fighter.  It’s entirely possible that I didn’t hate this book. Be shocked! Be amazed! Be sure to tune in next time when I play something with swords in!

Cause of death: Laser blasts of many holes.