Sunday, 20 October 2019

Battle Quest Book Playthrough – Caves of Fury - Part 2

Battle Quest Book Playthrough – Caves of Fury - Part 2

By Casey Douglass

Caves of Fury

Welcome to Part 2 of my adventure through the Caves of Fury, a Battle Quest book where your choices decide the fate of your own hulking barbarian adventurer. If you haven’t read the first part, it’s the best place to begin. If you don’t, you’ll still be able to understand what’s going on, but are you strong enough to begin something on Part 2 when the beginning post is just a click away? I know I wouldn’t be able to. Just saying.

At the end of Part 1, I saw my barbarian take a wound from a nasty ape-monster thing, then take flight, running haphazardly down the tunnel, squealing and generally not very happy. I hoped he’d knock himself out and have a bit of a nap, but I doubt anything so pleasant will have happened to him. With how his luck was going, he’d wake up tied to a roasting spit being turned by cannibal goblins. Anyway, let’s open the book and see...

He’s still running down the tunnel. That’s quite a few days if I take a “real-time” view and imagine he’s been running since I closed the book. I guess fear gives you quite the energy boost. The tunnel he is careening down eventually splits into three. I opt to take the middle one again, what with my always liking the middle path; walking between extremes. It’s not long after taking this route, that I come to a cave that branches off from one side of the tunnel. An elderly robed man is sitting with his back to me. A table is in front of him, containing all kinds of objects, from a skull and a large leather-bound book, to strange glassware bubbling with garishly coloured potions.

Without turning, he speaks. He thinks I’m the new novice Cragcliff has sent him, but just to be sure, he wants the password. Shit. Why are these types so paranoid? I don’t know the damned password, and I don’t have the password scroll to look it up. Well, I mean I do, I can see it in the pile of stuff that comes with Caves of Fury, but I’m too honest to cheat. Where’s the fun in that? The book gives me three options for the password, and I choose the middle one: TAGEL. If it works for tunnels, it can work for passwords. Maybe. (Out of curiosity, I just Googled TAGEL, the first result was for a Cornish dictionary that gave the word’s meaning as “fleshy appendage”. This amuses me more than it should. I mean, fleshy appendages, tunnels... it’s all very rude if you think about it).

‘TAGEL’ I exclaim, trying to sound confident. The man turns and looks at me for the first time. He sees that I don’t really look like a novice and demands to know who I am. I try to tell him that I mean no harm, that the sword on my back is purely decorative and these muscles are just water weight, but he blasts me with a spell. An arc of violet light hits me in the centre of my chest. I scuttle away, embarrassed once again, and a little unnerved by how hungry the smell of my own roasted flesh is making me. I’ve lost another Strength from my counter! Only four left now. One third of my health gone and nothing to show for it! Well, a wounded arm and a scorched chest that will be the subject of all manner of jokes at the next Adventurer get-together.

I soon find myself in a cavern, my rumbling stomach finally getting the message from my brain, that it’s entirely inappropriate to lust after your own cooked flesh. This place is full of stalagmites and stalactites, and I occupy myself by trying to remember which is which, “uppy from floory” or “downy from roofy”. Whichever is which, it feels a bit like being in a stone cage. This feeling is enhanced by the snarling monster looking back at me from between the ‘tites and ‘mites to one side. It’s even holding them in massive fists, like someone who was on probation who happened to get caught one too many times thieving and is now looking at hard jail time. I get the fleeting impression that we are two food-scraps stuck between a dragon’s teeth. I can fit through the “bars” though, this monster can’t. It’s another muscular ape creature thing. I didn’t do well against the last one so I take the option to skip this fella.

Caves of Fury

As I move through the cavern, another creature hisses at me. Is this some kind of prison for the monsters that misbehave? It’s starting to feel that way. I get the impression that the book really wants me to have a go at beating one of them. This one is half-gorilla, half-humanoid. Mmm. Sharp claws and drool too. Interesting. The glimmering of a diamond catches my eye. Fuck it, let’s do it! I turn to the correct page and almost squeal with delight. This monster is slain in two wounds!

The joy doesn’t last long, as I really don’t fancy my luck. Losing to a creature that needs eight wounds to die has a bit of honour to it, but two? If I don’t manage that, what sort of barbarian am I? What sort of dice roller? I push through the feelings of inadequacy like an arachnophobe rushing through a cob-web strewn attic. I’ve not lost yet after all. I roll the dice and see the all too familiar result of my shield being raised at the creature’s face. Oh hell, not again! (See part one for how excruciating this is for me). Roll two has the same result. Can I just throw away my shield book? Please?

Roll three sees an epic sword swing from my good self, one that cuts a nasty gash in the creature’s side. Oooh yeah! Roll four... well let’s just say a shield is involved again. Roll five... sigh. On roll six I lop off its head! I take a few moments to fully process that I’ve actually slain a monster. Get in! I watch its body gurgle on the cavern floor, then quickly pick up the diamond before the thing’s blood reaches it. My first treasure! I proudly put it in my loin-cloth, as it has a secret pocket that not only hides my ‘valuables’, but also makes me look like I have more than I really have... ahem. I set my Treasure Counter to one! A glorious moment!

Caves of Fury

I decide to close the book at this point, to make that moment of triumph last as long as it possibly can. All too soon I’ll be back in the Caves of Fury, and it would be nice to once, just once, end a session with a win. There’s plenty of time for the wheels to all fall off later. I just hope that my barbarian doesn’t pick at his chest. He’s very hungry and he's been doing all sorts of running, fighting and over-thinking after all.

If you enjoyed reading about my adventure so far, join me again soon for Part Three of my delve into the Caves of Fury, coming out next weekend.

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Battle Quest Book Playthrough – Caves of Fury

Battle Quest Book Playthrough – Caves of Fury

By Casey Douglass

Caves of Fury

More than six years ago, I did a little playthrough of one of the Battle Quest books that I happened to come across while having a sort out. Sadly, I didn’t make it out of the Tunnels of Fear with the three diamonds I’d managed to liberate, but it was a fun way to spend some time. I’ve decided that I’m going to go through the process again, but with Caves of Fury this time around. I will inject my own, probably warped, sense of humour into the perils that are inflicted on my character. I will be letting the events play out as the book dictates however.

Caves of Fury is a choose-your-own-path type of book by Stephen Thraves. It was published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1992, with illustrations by Terry Oakes. It comes with two wooden battle dice, two counters to keep track of your character’s Strength and Treasure levels, and a variety of cards and see-thru plastic things to decode cryptic clues, if your character is lucky enough to find the item ahead of the time it is needed. All for the very reasonable price of £5.99.

The lead-up into the action describes you, a famed barbarian warrior, being summoned by an old lord. This old lord immediately got on my nerves, making me follow him up a steep cliff moments after arriving on shore after an arduous journey by sea. I’d go so far as to call him a pompous prick, but there was treasure to be found so I kept my mouth shut.

At the top of the cliff, the old man points at a sheer-sided island in the distance, telling me that it is the Island of Fury. This island, apparently, is owned by one Cragcliff, a ruler who delights in filling its dangerous caverns with treasure to lure in the foolish and the greedy. I was about to suggest that this place sounded like it was performing a valuable service by weeding out the idiots who lived nearby, when the old man says it has claimed four of his sons. Foot in mouth avoided. Technically, the youngest did come back but he was mute and maddened by the experience, so I wasn’t really going to quibble about his “Loss Count” either.

The wind is really howling up on the cliff and I’m starting to wish I wasn’t standing there wearing only a loin-cloth. You’d be amazed at how little protection a sword strapped to your back offers against the elements. Nevertheless, I turn my back to the distant island and give it a try. Nope, still fucking freezing. The old chap is babbling about how he wants someone to go to the island and steal as much treasure as possible. He admits it won’t bring his sons back but thinks that the feeling of having deprived Cragcliff of his treasure will give him some kind of bitter joy.

He sniffs and looks at me silently for a moment before asking if I’ll do it. He tells me that I can keep any treasure that I’m able to bring back with me. I look over my shoulder at the island, trying not to focus on how far the goosebumps are rippling down by body. It looks stormy out there, moody my old Mum would say. I turn back to him and nod. I could do with a good adventure. I lost a month to trying to get an Adventuring Permit a short while ago, and it has played merry hell with my income for the year to date.

Caves of Fury

The next few pages of the book yank me out of the story and explain how to play, telling me to set the Strength Counter to 6 and that when it gets to 0, my character is dead. It then warns me to set my Treasure Counter to 0, half implying that I’m the sort of cheeky chap who might set it to 2 and give myself a head start. I’m almost offended. I’m told about how the dice work, how the blue one represents me and the red one the monster. It then explains how the battles work, how all monsters fight to the death but if my character gets wounded, he loses one strength and has to flee. Doesn’t sound very heroic to me but okay. I just want to get started.

So I get started. I row away from the shore in a little row-boat, bumping along on the waves. It’s still bloody cold, and now I’m getting wet too. Joy. As I near the island, I see a number of chasms looming in its side that I can choose to enter. This is the first decision that the book has given me, wanting me to flip to a certain page depending on the choice that I want to make. I opt for the middle chasm, as I’ve always been a fan of taking the middle way, the path between extremes.

As I near my chasm of choice, much howling and screeching arises from deep inside, as if the creatures on the island have sensed that I am here. Well, scream and howl all you want beasties! It’s the silent stuff that I can never see coming that makes me uneasy. A stealthy goblin stole some of my gold once. It wasn’t the loss that bothered me, just the fear that he could have slit my throat while he was at it. I look over my shoulder and then feel foolish. I’m in a row-boat for goodness sake! I make it to the shore and I’m given the option to rest awhile if I’d like to. The rudeness of the old man is still fresh in my mind, making me trek so far without a care to my well-being, so I opt to rest.

I rest for a very lazy and languid ten minutes. Why only ten? Well the noises coming from deeper in the chasm do start to niggle at my courage and resolve. You see, I’m a barbarian very much in touch with his emotional side, and I know when I’m bullshitting myself. Most of the time anyway. Ten minutes seems the ideal length of time to rest, yet not let my mettle weaken too much. Every time my eyes close, the screeches get louder too! They know I’m here and they are deliberately robbing me of rest! Paranoia is something I also dabble in, as you can probably tell.

I stand and stretch as the thought crosses my mind that it will be even colder once I go inside. Unless, I think hopefully, it’s some kind of hell-spawn pit with fire and brimstone. That would actually be quite nice, under the circumstances. I could dry off if nothing else. I enter the chasm and all the screeching and wailing falls silent. Now they definitely know I’m here! This isn’t paranoia! All I can hear as I move forward are my footsteps, steps that echo back louder than I’d really like. It almost sounds like I’m being followed by a pirate with a wooden-leg. I soon realise that I have a stone stuck in the sole of one boot, which is a bit of a relief.

As I move deeper, the cavern I’m inside merges with two more, likely the paths that I didn’t take when I made my choice for the middle chasm. The whole thing narrows into a tunnel as I wonder what pitfalls I avoided in the other two. I hope they were nasty, just so that I can feel a bit smug. Flickering torches begin to appear on the walls, setting me to pondering the question of if they are magically induced or kept going by minions. I briefly ponder what the economy of a dark lord might consist of. Underlings don’t come cheap. It’s while my head is full of, well, overheads, that I practically stumble on the first monster of my adventure.

Caves of Fury

An ape-like thing snarls at me, all narrow-eyes and flared nostrils. It has a big “Fuck-off!” sword next to it, but it’s holding a big “Try it punk!” diamond in its claw. That type of diamond is the best! I decide to fight it for it, ignoring the option to avoid it. I turn to the applicable page and catch my breath. It needs to be wounded 8 times before it will die! I could understand if it was some kind of land-based octopus, having to lop off each tentacle first, but even that might need 9 wounds if we include the killing blow. Actually 8 might work if you don’t mind waiting for the loss of blood to kill it. Does an octopus have blood? Ichor? A snarl brings me back to the ape thing. Focus.

I loosely hold the dice in my right hand and roll them on the floor in front of me. This is real life me, not barbarian me. Meeting a snarling creature and promptly bending down to roll wooden cubes in front of it isn’t that conducive to survival. Unless, I guess, you find yourself up against a monster partial to a bit of gambling. The first roll tells me that the creature bashes my shield with its sword. I’d expected to be wounded and to run away on my very first roll, so this was a bit of a result.

Roll two has the exact same outcome, another shield bash, sending shock-waves up my arm. The next roll results in my shield being raised as the creature just stares at me. So much for the rule of three that Hollywood abuses in almost every blockbuster. Where was that third strike on my shield? Blasphemy! It’s on the fourth roll that I wound it with a darting sword strike. Haha! How do you like that ape monster!

The fifth roll results in it staring at my shield again. I wish I was a bit more proactive, that shield is coming up so often its embarrassing. Next, I land another wound. Just six more to go! I still don’t think I'll achieve the kill but I’m persistent if nothing else. Roll seven sees it looking at my shield again. I feel myself beginning to blush. Roll eight is another deft sword strike from my good self. Five wounds left for the win!

Roll nine is my shield and its face again. Damn it! Roll ten just shows our faces glaring at each other. Should battles to the death be this awkward? Roll eleven has my shield raising in-front of its face. Again. Roll twelve gives me something new, our weapons actually clash! I listen to the sharp “ting” of metal echoing away down the tunnel. It lasts for far longer than I expected. Roll thirteen sees my shield raised in its face again. Of course it is. Roll fourteen is the same thing... yet again!

This creature must think I’m such a coward! Roll fifteen sees me wound it once more! Just four more wounds needed! Then it happens. Roll sixteen sees it cut an angry gash along my right arm, sending my hulking barbarian running down the tunnel, screeching that he doesn’t want to play any more! Shit.

I reduce my Strength Counter by one and use it as a bookmark to hold my place. Not the best of starts, already weakened, no loot and a character already struggling with paranoia and afraid of what the monsters he is fighting must think of him. I hope he doesn’t run into a trap in his panic. Best case scenario he runs into a wall, knocks himself out and has a nice little nap. Otherwise, part two will be pretty damn short.


If you enjoyed reading about my adventure so far, join me again soon for Part Two of my delve into the Caves of Fury, coming next weekend.

Sunday, 6 October 2019

Dark Ambient Review: Quintessence

Dark Ambient Review: Quintessence

Review by Casey Douglass


I find it fascinating to see something broken down into its smaller parts, especially if it is then put back together again. Anything themed around the elemental view of the Universe is therefore quite interesting to me, especially as it brings to mind more occult and metaphysical ideas. And wizards. Wizards with elemental magic blasting chunks out of each other as they bicker. Shrine’s dark ambient album, and debut on Cryo Chamber, Quintessence, is an album themed on just such an elemental theme. You have to bring the wizards though.

Quintessence consists of five tracks, each labelled after the element that they focus on. As you listen to each track, the featured element will shine through nicely, although some are more subtle, as naturally, using field-recordings of Water is a little easier than giving Earth a sound. I liked how each element gives each track its own unique feeling, yet the tracks themselves do share similarities, such as how they gently build up into an almost rapturous wall of sound, and then slowly diminish again into a more gentle soundscape.

Alongside the elemental sounds, there are female vocals that swell and support the “action” in the soundscape. I really liked these as they lend each track an almost mythic aesthetic, making something that would already be full of awe, actively majestic. There are other instruments and effects too that jumped out at me, and help build each track. In Gaia, this is a repeating electric-guitar-like tone and steady beat. In Hydor (water), this is the sound of sea birds and a rumbling distortion. In Aer (air) it’s a fuzzy beat and the static of a storm front. In Pyr (fire) it’s long string notes and shimmering tones, and in Quintessence (life itself) it’s the use of a fast-paced beat and electro-notes.

Unusually for me, I’m not sure I have a favourite track, as they are all enjoyable in their own way. I do think Quintessence had the best beat/rhythm of the bunch, but I guess that is only right if it is showing the evolution of life itself, rather than a single element. Life does like to move after all. When I was listening to Gaia, the electronic tones made me feel like I was envisioning a digital version of the Earth, for some reason. I think I had this in my brain as I listened to the next track, Hydor, as I found myself thinking about the scene in the Battleship (2012) film where the aliens spew up out of the water and things kick-off. Just goes to show how one thought can lead to another. I’d also add that I saw Battleship years after its release, and I found quite a lot to enjoy in a film that was largely derided.

Quintessence then, is an album full of energetic and rapturous tracks, each reveling in the element it is themed around and each “different from the next but similar” in just the right ways. Each track mixes chaos with order, manifestation with destruction, and does it with a deft touch and a pleasing balance to the ears. The beats carry things along nicely while the swirling maelstrom of tones and field-recordings create something majestic to listen to. I think that’s the first time I’ve said majestic twice in a review too. If you are a fan of nature and the elements, you should take a closer listen to Quintessence.

Visit the Quintessence page on Bandcamp, and check out the track Hydor below:

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Quintessence
Album Artist: Shrine
Label: Cryo Chamber
Released: October 01, 2019

Saturday, 28 September 2019

Dark Ambient Review: Beringia

Dark Ambient Review: Beringia

Review by Casey Douglass


I’m often up for music that takes me on a bit of a journey. Whether explicitly with characters actually delivering dialogue, or more subtly, it’s a nice feeling to open your eyes again and feel you’ve gone from “there” to “here” in the hour or so you’ve been listening. Creation VI’s Beringia is a dark ambient album that falls into the latter category, a shamanic-styled journey of drones, rattles and drumbeats, that lull the mind and lead it into potent spaces.

The soundscapes on Beringia are textured and often rhythmic, with piping and clacking going hand in hand with anything from field-recordings of water to the twang of a jaw harp. That’s not even mentioning the drones and didgeridoo. The tracks carry themselves along in their own rhythm, the main drone or beat gaining flourishes or extra detail sounds around it but largely following a rhythmic, trance-like predictability.

I think my favourite track is Haunted Shore, a soundscape that really brought to mind a dripping, misty shore, with the sound of muted things knocking in the distance and a strange little repeating tone that seemed to hint at the unease of the location. It also features a sound that I liken to “insect gloop” and the kind of rain that sounds like it is hitting a plastic bag. A drone rises at the midpoint that lends the whole thing an added feeling of menace or threat, a bassy beat fleshing out the edges.

I did really enjoy the final track, Conversation of Elements too, another track that opens with the sound of water, but languidly builds up to feed the listener gusts of wind and later, the crackle of fire. There are rattling wooden wind chimes, exhalations and sounds of snuffly activity, that might just hint at being underground at one point. I guess that’s all of the usual elements covered, earth, wind, fire, air and water. If you include spirit in the mix, that would be the people making the journey, in my humble opinion. Or the listener, if you want to get a bit meta about it.

In Beringia, Creation VI has made another fine album, one that uses rhythm and shamanic/tribal sounds to create a space that is a refuge from the mundane world. Gone are the annoying chimes of social media notifications and outrage-fueled news. They get smothered and muffled by the warming drones, energised drum rhythms and insect-like buzzes that remind the listener of the more primal parts of the human psyche.

Visit the Beringia page on Bandcamp, and check out the track Haunted Shore below:

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Beringia
Album Artist: Creation VI
Label: Cryo Chamber
Released: September 17, 2019

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Bloody Red Nose: Fifteen Fears of a Clown Out Friday 13th

Bloody Red Nose: Fifteen Fears of a Clown Out Friday 13th

Bloody Red Nose: Fifteen Fears of a Clown

Bloody Red Nose: Fifteen Fears of a Clown is a new anthology of dark tales, tales in which the clown is the victim or hero, rather than the gurning evil-grin wearing psychopath. This particular anthology contains one of my own dark tales too.

The blurb: In a world filled with menace, dare to paint on a grin. The world is full of images of scary clowns: packs of grinning figures with knives plaguing towns; pom-pom clad serial killers; loners who like children in the wrong way. But clowns can be a force for good: it takes a kind heart to put other people’s joy first; keeping children entertained is honest work; what better disguise than one that makes the villains laugh? 
What if, rather than being childhood-spoiling serial killers, clowns were the victims or heroes of the story? When all the children at a party are poisoned, an entertainer’s profession and past both make him a prime suspect. An anti-corporate prankster discovers his guru might be just as callous as the capitalist world-view he claims to reject. A clown attempts to redeem the image of his profession by saving a group of teenagers from a serial killer. And twelve more stories of clowns facing humanity’s baser natures.
Bloody Red Nose: Fifteen Fears of a Clown releases tomorrow, Friday the 13th September 2019, and is available from the following retailers, among others, with the paperback costing £7.99 and the eBook version coming in at £3.99.





Monday, 2 September 2019

GAME REVIEW: Flowscape

Flowscape is a kind of meditative creativity tool, the soothing music and gentle animation helping the player to create scenes and views that they might want to escape to. It also has a map-making feature for any DnD'ers out there. You can read my full review over on Geek Syndicate.


Saturday, 24 August 2019

Dark Ambient Review: Davidian

Dark Ambient Review: Davidian

Review by Casey Douglass


Davidian is a dark ambient album from Council of Nine, and it’s an album that is themed around the twisted and corrupt things that come from the way cults and mass followings can rob humanity of, well, its humanity. The album art above is pretty stark in its imagery, a silhouette watching a church or temple burning in the distance. Sadly, it was one of only a few images that Davidian gave me.

To qualify that last sentence... one of the things that I most look for in the dark ambient that I listen to is the way that it can kick-start my imagination, the soundscapes prodding and hinting at images and scenes. Davidian is at the smoother end of the scale of dark ambient, and while relaxing, and containing a maudlin melancholy at times, it didn’t really enrapture my mind.

To be sure, there are some nice textures and touches. The first couple of tracks contain sounds that seem to hint nicely at some kind of buzzing hive-mind type activities. Revelator seems to embody a kind of electronic-surveillance-type aesthetic, and to also evoke a sunlight-through-dusty-windows-shining-on-a-dead-body feeling. Day 51 also has tones that made me think of a desert hallucination, but one taking place in the middle of the night. Certain notes and melodies seem to repeat through different tracks, tying them together into a cohesive whole, which is also something that I can appreciate.

I didn’t dislike Davidian, I just think that at this particular time, it probably isn’t for me. Maybe in the future I’ll come back to it and feel differently, but if I was going to listen to a Council of Nine album right now, I’d probably go back to the excellent Trinity as that was an album that really did grab me. Davidian is an album of tender tones and contemplative struggle, I’d just have liked it to have a harder bite.

Visit the Davidian page on Bandcamp, and check out the track Day 51 below:

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Davidian
Album Artist: Council of Nine
Label: Cryo Chamber
Released: August 13, 2019