Sunday, 22 October 2017
Broken Gamebooks #6: Legion of the Dead
Been a while since we did one of these, so I thought I'd finally finish up the GrailQuest series. Legion of the Dead is the series' grand finale - according to author JH Brennan, the gamebook market suddenly started to tail off at this point and the series was cancelled, although Fighting Fantasy was only halfway through its original run at this point. Brennan was well aware that this was to be the series' swansong, as the book is upfront about being the final volume from page 1. It's certainly got a plot to suit it - Zombie Merlin is leading the titular Legion, hell bent on destroying Avalon!
Now, Legion of the Dead is quite a curious thing. It's not actually a broken gamebook, as far as I can tell. However, whilst it avoids some of the inconsistencies noted in the previous two books, there are certain things which lead me to believe it was written in something of a rush.
Section 132: This is a puzzle that is based purely on luck. It concerns whether the doughnut you have to offer the Loch Ness Monster contains chocolate or cream. (One of the more Arthurian moments of the GrailQuest.) When you find the doughnuts there's no indication whatsoever which is the correct one, and giving Nessie the correct one is absolutely necessary. (The correct one's chocolate, incidentally.)
Section 140: In this section, the Poetic Fiend gives you an ode which, when you face the Legion of the Dead, will render you absolutely immune to any magic that would otherwise kill you outright. This sounds quite good, but there's a problem that'll come up when we get to the Legion itself.
Section 218: This is where you discover the Lotus Wand, a rather useful artifact which can be used to restore you to full health, or deduct 3 from any damage scored against you in a fight, or add 2 points to any damage you score in a fight, or to guarantee a Friendly Reaction from any one enemy. It has one die roll's worth of charges in it. Unfortunately, it also requires a secret codeword to activate, which you don't know as of yet.
Section 227: During this encounter it's mentioned there are east and west passageways, but you can't go down them even after giving the monster you're facing the password. Is it possible the book was curtailed and these two areas excised from it?
Section 235: This is where we meet up with the Legion, and two problems arise. The first is that the Poetic Fiend's ode is fairly useless, as you can't die in this encounter. You need a Sunstone to restore Merlin to normal. If you've got the Sunstone, then you win the book. If you don't, then you get teleported back to the encounter where you can find the Sunstone.
(It is possible to get the Sunstone but then lose it, as it can also be used to give you extra LIFE POINTS over and above your current maximum, or an obscene amount of gold. If you've already been through that encounter but used the Sunstone to those ends, then it's not clear what you should do. See what I mean about being written in a rush?)
Moving on to the second problem: it's the Lotus Wand. Excalibur Junior takes this moment to inform you that he's known the secret codeword to use the wand all along, which seems rather inelegant. Especially if you've got the Sunstone, as it means you never get a chance to use the wand at all.
So, I am almost certain that that final showdown with the Legion of the Dead does not play out the way Brennan intended it to, and things got simplified at some point, or he just had to hurry things through to meet a deadline. (I wonder when he found out the series was getting cancelled?) But more than that, the book doesn't really strike the same Pythonesque tone of Arthurian parody the other volumes did so well - the doughnut stuff is jarringly out of place without being funny in a way previous things weren't. And there's also a rather unfortunate joke about anorexia at one point. I've seen a couple of other people suggest that the illustrations were looking a bit rushed in the later books, although that's not so apparent to me (although it does reuse a puzzle about working out which of three people is lying from book 5 almost word-for-word). But for those reasons, the book is slightly disappointing, although it is still entertaining enough to be worth your while.