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Item - The Floating City

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Series: Warlock no. 8
Part of: Warlock #8 (Magazine)
Translated Into: A lebegő város (Hungarian)
Author: Pracy, Ruth
Illustrator: Martin, Pete
Date: February, 1986
Length: 200 sections
Ed's Thoughts:

Ruth Pracy's saga, spanning Warlock 8 & 11 and Proteus 14, is reputed to be one of the better examples of the magazine-published gamebook, and my memories of TFC (which, scarily, are older than a lot of the current generation of Fighting Fantasy fans) led me to endorse that reputation. Now having reread it I must concede that the Emperor, while by no means completely naked, is certainly rather more shabbily dressed than I'd remembered.

Of course, context made a difference. Warlock 8 came out shortly before the publication of Demons of the Deep, so TFC was effectively the first FF fantasy adventure to make a serious break away from familiar (and largely Tolkien/D&D-influenced) mythologies. By drawing on Inuit legend, Ms. Pracy opened up a fascinating new world to many readers. TFC has its problems, but the backdrop is not one of them.

You are an adventurer with a mysterious background (which differs from a vague background in that the text draws attention to the lack of detail rather than glossing over it), living in a world where seasons are a matter of geography, not time. In the lands of winter you encounter a dying man whose last words suggest to you a possible shot at fame and fortune. All you have to do is find and enter the fabled Floating City and rescue a Dwarf with an unfortunate habit of getting kidnapped by eagles. But have you correctly interpreted those dying words...?

The adventure itself involves a degree of item-hunting, and follows quite a narrow path. There is more flexibility than in the worst offenders' books, but (counting branches and sub-branches) there are effectively five different paths leading to the bottleneck at the Angekok's hut, and on all but two of them your fate is sealed. Rather carelessly, there are a few points beyond the hut at which you have the option of using items found on one of the other three routes.

Another element of TFC that's not as good as memory suggests is the 'common sense' aspect, whereby you are mocked and sneered at for particularly unwise decisions. It's still better than the gamebooks that either reward you for doing stupid things or give options that your character would know to be foolish, then penalise you for taking them because you lack your character's knowledge, but it's overly harsh in places, and what's blindingly obvious to Ms. Pracy isn't always to anyone else. It's also rather alarming to note that unprovoked aggression tends to be the safest option.

Text is frequently split up into more sections than necessary. Occasionally there's an acceptable reason for breaking up what could go into one paragraph, but most of the time it just appears to be to get closer to the 200-paragraph target. The number of paragraphs could easily be cut to 150 by taking out the unnecessary splits, the paragraphs covering impossible actions, and the 'Are you sure you want to do that?... Is that your final answer?' paragraphs. It might even be possible to trim TFC down to 100 paragraphs without losing any meaningful content.

Combat increases in difficulty much as it does in early FF books, though in a rather unbalanced manner. Depending on which of the survivable routes you take, you might have little difficulty getting as far as the final battle even with minimum stats, but the climactic confrontation requires a double-figure Skill or implausibly lucky rolls. Fighting the Radical Regenerative is a little disappointing in view of the description of his abilities.

The accompanying artwork is good, though there's no textual basis for the sinister figure tearing through the woman's cloak on page 34. Bugs and oddities: At times the text assumes you made decisions you might not have done. Losing your weapon costs you 3 Skill, but the bonus for getting a replacement increases your Initial Skill without affecting the current score. There's also the aforementioned use of items from routes you couldn't have taken to get to where you are. Why don't you get the option of offering the Angekok the diamond if you found it? What's a master of the martial arts doing with just 7 Skill? How come one of the magical ropes will enable you to get into the City, but the other won't?

Despite all the things that aren't right with The Floating City, it still has quite a bit to recommend it. While not as good as I used to think, it's still better than much of the competition.

More reviews by Ed

Users Who Own This Item: dave2002a, Ed, Gallicus, greyarea13, kinderstef, le maudit, outspaced
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