Hmm. That's a tricky one to review on it's own... I'd say that: I've always been fascinated by the Sorcery! series. I think it's a formidable piece of work, full of imagination, a unique and interesting world. I'll also say: I pity anyone who plays that book with no intention of doing the rest of the series. Shamutanti is clearly the beginning of a grand adventure, the setting. In itself, the book is so-so, rather easy most of the time with a not so satisfying conclusion. It is so much better as an overture to this grand world that the Sorcery! series present. It's a bit like watching the first part of The Fellowship of the Rings; it's interesting, sometimes exciting, but if you stop just at the moment Frodo and co. reach Rivendell, you really are missing the best parts. I would also say that I pity anyone who plays the books out of order, intentionally anyway, as the immersion in the story must certainly suffer from such a treatment.
So, Les collines maléfiques, as it is named in French (meaning something like: The Evil Hills...) was one of my first book. I remember (or think I do) reading Kharé first from a friend, or something to that effect, then going to buy the first book (then later Kharé). I remember buying The Seven Serpents only much later and concluding my collection with a used copy of Crown of Kings.
But back to Shamutanti. I must say, I love John Blanche. I know it's a kind of hate it/love it relationship between Blanche and the FF fans, but I love his work. I do not think that all his illustrations are awesome, some are weird or uninpressive. But I admire his work all the same, his unique signature, the texture of his drawings, the use of deep contrast. His original wraparound illustration of the Manticore for the cover is amazing. In comparison with the new cover, which I don't dislike, it is so much more representative of the Sorcery! world. What makes it so is not so much the Manticore itself but the hills and the woods around, the way it makes you feel the world you are about to enter in a nearly tangible fashion. That's power right there. While the new Manticore on the Wizard cover is plenty gruesome, really truly horrible, it does not represent well the spirit of the book. I still like it, cause I'm an horror fan too after all, so it's pleasing to my senses, but objectively, the old cover by John Blanche was just spot on.
Fun fact: in my French edition, all the illustrations inside are inverted. They are also darker, so that in some, like the Sightmaster at the very beginning, the hills behind him are clearly defined. The drawback is that other pictures seems too dark, losing informations in the process. I have no idea how the illustrations were originally intended, though...
The story itself can be compared as a pleasant stroll through the hills, slowly absorbing the details of this new world, of this Kakhabad universe. It's not too hard, except at some point, mostly the end where the difficulty ramps up. It's also varied enough, with a multitude of choices, that going through the book more than once is still a pleasant experience, offering plenty of sights unseen. It also means, because of that, that it can be considered rather short, which is the drawback of multiple choices. Some like it, some don't. I don't mind.
I would say to any beginners: Enjoy the ride, absorb the atmosphere and takes lots of notes; as soon as you reach book 2, the difficulty goes up and never goes down. In any case, I always find Shamutanti Hills to be an exciting book to play, if for no other reasons that I always wonder what it is that I'm going to pick this time around that could possibly save my ass in book 2, 3 or 4! Cause you never know!
The main difference is that they're effectively one massive adventure spread across four books. You can carry the same character (and all equipment) across from one book to the next - indeed, there are all sorts of bonuses in books 2-4 that are only available if you acquired the right item/information in an earlier book.
-magic - used probably better here than in any other book, but that's because it requires a large number of redundant references to make it work;
-the world - when it came out there was no link to the rest of Titan, even though there hadn't been a retconning elsewhere it had the air of being somewhere else (after all, look at the Kakhabad bestiary - sightmasters, red-eyes, snattacats, elvins, minimites, mucalytics and suchlike; are they found anywhere else? Conversely, I don't remember there being orcs or vampires in K-land)
Couple of other differences: -the world - when it came out there was no link to the rest of Titan, even though there hadn't been a retconning elsewhere it had the air of being somewhere else (after all, look at the Kakhabad bestiary - sightmasters, red-eyes, snattacats, elvins, minimites, mucalytics and suchlike; are they found anywhere else? Conversely, I don't remember there being orcs or vampires in K-land)
Well there is the Ring of Green Metal in the spellbook, mined under Craggen Rock. And there are Orclings in Kharé (presumably with Orc parents), and those half-Orc Svinn must have come from somewhere too. And I've always liked the 'Dracula is a pain in the neck' graffiti in the latrine in Mampang. But yes, a wonderfully unique setting.
Post by thealmightymudworm on Oct 13, 2013 22:59:43 GMT
I don't own any of the Sorcery! books. This is seriously wrong. I'm going to amend this lack of foresight on my part and pick up the set. They sound great. (Especially after reading the Shamutanti synopsis in the latest FF mag.)
Post by thealmightymudworm on Oct 13, 2013 23:04:39 GMT
It took me a long time to buy the Sorcery! books. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, my local WH Smiths was really good at stocking the regular FF series, but for some reason didn't ever bother with any of the Sorcery! books. (These days it doesn't bother at all of course). The second reason is that I took umbrage against them for being outside of the main series. The first title I encountered was a single copy of Kharé - Cityport of Traps in my school library when I was ten. What was going on here? Why does this title have a number two on the cover when everyone knows that it's already been designated to Citadel of Chaos? Why the orange spine when all other FF books have those lovely green ones? This deviation from the stable way that I thought FF was published really annoyed me and I decided there and then that I would have nothing to do with any of these Sorcery! perversions. (I cringe hard when I think back to these irrational and ultra geeky fits that I had as a child). Thankfully, about a month later, my curiosity got the better of me and I borrowed Kharé. I'll detail my first encounter with that particular text when I write the corresponding review of course, but I will say that a single play through of it prompted me to venture into town to scour the larger bookshops for book #1.
It's the weakest book of the Sorcery! series for me, although I've been really interested to see that this forum's members are greatly divided on which is their personal favourite. All four books are exceptional, especially when played as a continuous saga, but The Shamutanti Hills doesn't have the same epic pizazz. In the other three books there are solid goals to achieve at the end: finding the spells to open Kharé's gate; destroying as many of the Seven Serpents as possible and of course the grand finale with the Archmage. With The Shamutanti Hills you're just travelling towards Kharé with no other specific objectives. On my first play-through I was quite stunned when I emerged from the manticore's cave to find that I'd won. Aside from that, there's very little that I can critisise the book for, which just goes to show how great Sorcery! is if it's weakest book has such strengths. So, because I don't want this to be a negative review...
There are plenty of fascinating encounters and locations here and, if I can put the anticipation of the dud ending out of my head, there's some tremendous fun to be had here. Steve Jackson has learned from the 'mistakes' in Ian Livingstone's countryside ramble, Forest of Doom. He hasn't just scattered traps, monsters, characters and treasure over a generic setting, but has put a lot of thought into making his own foray into a leafy setting one which has some backstory, culture and personal colour.
The encounters are generally a lot briefer than they are in the later Sorcery! books, but Steve Jackson manages to create a surprisingly convincing word with moments as simple as the tavern in Kristatanti ale-house, which is given scant description, but charms with its humble old man and younger village idiot. Meatier sections include the Elvin village, with their invisible musicians and demands for magic tricks. Alianna is one of my favourite characters in the book just for her irrational capriciousness. Most FF characters before this point who had pretended to be friendly, but later turn on the reader, did so out of a clear motive: robbery, secretly working for the bad guy, possession, etc. Alianna turns on you because she likes to play mind games. Its unfortunate that there's no option to interact with her in any way after you kill her wood golem. Jann the Minimite steals the show though. His effect in terms of gameplay is similar to the golden rain from Temple of Terror, but in story terms he's a chattering, fey oddity who is there to add a little - intentional - irritation. When options are given to get rid of him it's not an easy choice on early play throughs. He is a burden because he prevents you from casting spells, but then there's a good chance that you might need him for something crucial further down the line. One whopping oversight relating to Jann - which I've noticed is not on the gargantuan list of errors on the Titannica entry for this book - is what happens if you win and decide to keep him. The Svinn healing-priest in the final reference "may also rid you of the annoying Minimite if he is still with you." (My italics). The "may" means that you have the option of delving into the second book with Jann still at your side, however no mention is made of him once you reach Kharé.
Another point which may not be an error on the part of the text, but on my own shaky cartographical skills, is that I found this one really hard to map. For example, I had three routes leading to the bridge where you meet Vancass the hunchback, but two of these leads came from areas of the map which were nowhere near where they 'should' have been. Knowing the tangles I often get into with maps thought, it probably is my error.
As this had been a particularly long review I'm going to cover the Spell Book and John Blanche's art when I take a look at Kharé.
When options are given to get rid of him it's not an easy choice on early play throughs. He is a burden because he prevents you from casting spells, but then there's a good chance that you might need him for something crucial further down the line.
As I used to always play as a warrior in this book I never really got why the book expected me to be so eager to get rid of Jann. Personally I quite liked having a companion along for the ride.
One whopping oversight relating to Jann - which I've noticed is not on the gargantuan list of errors on the Titannica entry for this book - is what happens if you win and decide to keep him. The Svinn healing-priest in the final reference "may also rid you of the annoying Minimite if he is still with you."
Ha ha - well spotted. I've never considered you might actually get to keep him for the later books before. Could have been interesting to have him getting you in trouble repeatedly in Khare.
The Sorcery! series are already big books. Possibly Steve Jackson was afraid of having to boost each subsequent books by 200 more sections. Then there is the ending of Crown of Kings, which he might have already figured out at the time...
Post by thealmightymudworm on Oct 13, 2013 23:12:45 GMT
The best of the series imo, never read something so bucolic, enchanting and engulfing at the same time, although many consider it average because of its low difficulty, I think its fantastic as it is, especially the encounter with Alianna which I find fascinating, even more so thanks to Mr. Blanche's art.
Some good points made here which I'd like to respond to :
SH may seem deceptively simple compared to the later books but if you dig deep, there is much to savour here.
And several aspects which seem to be of little or no consequence become EXTREMELY important in book 4. For example, the locket you find in the pilfer grass can help you with the captain of the guard in Mampang. And then there is Jann the Minimite.
Ah yes, Jann who becomes crucial to your understanding of the ZED spell. This character was a stroke of genius on Steve Jackson's part. Going by the ending, we just have to assume that Jann was gotten rid of, one way or the other. If he had stuck around ,there is no way you could use magic in the other books. When you eventually meet Jann again in book 4, its clear that he has been actively trying to find you or to put it more plainly, he has been STALKING you.
Think about that. With all of the adversaries and danger you encountered between Khare and Mampang and during all of that time, this obsessed Minimite was following you, kind of the way Gollum stalks the hobbits in lord of the rings.
Regarding the location of Throben, I'm not even sure if its in the FF world. Maybe its in a seperate unknown continent. If we assume that the Archmage was originally the Throben necromancer who first cast the ZED spell, then it would explain the ' throben doors ' in Mampang. But geographically speaking, I'm not sure where exactly Throben is.
It's hinted somewhere after casting the ZED spell that Throben could have gotten lost in one of those worlds that you yourself may end up in if you don't fully understand what the spell does or how to control it.
I would suggest the Archmage is not the Necromancer, otherwise he would be aware of the possibilities of the ZED spell, and that a mage that had managed to traipse all the way around the Old World unnoticed would be powerful enough to give it a whirl.
As for the location of Throben, well, one of the Necromancers teamed up with a prince of Brice to create mutant meatballs. Then again Analand is a dab hand at the whole resurrection business so perhaps the art of Necromancy is very advanced on the east side of the Old World.
Wandering around the Shamutanti Hills, noticed a peculiar error:
In the Tavern in Birritanti, section 230 has an option to talk to Glandragor by turning to section 192. However section 192 is the conversation with Old Man in Kristatanti, from section 266 so takes you completely out of sequence.
This mistake seems to to be in both my first edition (slipcase with spellbook) and my 1986 'Adventuer Gamebooks' reprint.
Does anyone have the correct reference for the conversation with Glandragor?
I think it's 191, the reference directly above. I just checked my copy which is a first edition Blanche wraparound cover and the mistake you mentioned isn't in there. 230 directs you to 191 to talk or 182 if you have something for him.