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Clash of the Princes

(box front)
(box back)
Series: Fighting Fantasy: Clash of the Princes
Contains: The Warlock's Way (Gamebook)
The Warrior's Way (Gamebook)
Translated Into: Fúria de príncipes (Portuguese)
Release Date: 1986
greyarea13's Thoughts: Stating the Obvious
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Clash of the Princes was the overall title of the only "Fighting Fantasy Two-Player Adventure" gamebooks published by Puffin Books way back in those halcyon days of 1986. They were written by Andrew Chapman (who also wrote Space Assassin (FF 12), The Rings of Kether (FF 15), and Seas of Blood (FF 16)) and Martin Allen (who wrote Sky Lord (FF 33)). I know nothing of Martin Allen, save that Sky Lord reads like Luke Sharp on chemicals of dubious legality, but I do have two Andrew Chapman stories to relate at this point.

1) Meeting a woman in a bookshop (back in the mid 80's, possibly whilst buying the very books I am currently reviewing) in the ultra-suburban Marion Shopping Centre in south-central Adelaide, South Australia, who claimed her son was a Fighting Fantasy gamebook writer. My internal response was something along the lines of "A Fighting Fantasy writer in Adelaide? Yeah, right...."

2) Discovering in my final year of studying Anatomy that one of the Honours students in my ex-girlfriend's Psychology class at Adelaide University was in fact Andrew Chapman, Fighting Fantasy gamebook author. I was too far gone from gamebooks at the time, lost amidst loud American bands such as Big Black, Butthole Surfers, Killdozer and the Jesus Lizard, as well as dismembering sundry corpses, but the feeling of envy was very real....

Anyway, returning to the review. The cover and internal illustrations were by John Blanche, of Sorcery! and Games Workshop fame, and there was an inside front cover colour map (identical in both books) by Dave Andrews (not actually credited, but the map style and the initials DA next to it would seem to verify this). There were two books, identified at the bottom of the front cover as either The Warrior's Way; featuring a black-haired warrior armed with a sword and shield, and clad in a chainmail hauberk with helm, attacking a skeletal ghoul that had erupted out of a stone crypt; or The Warlock's Way; which featured a blonde-haired warlock, armed with a staff and wearing a fur-trimmed blue cloak and clothes, about to cast a spell at a trio of hideous crones squatting on a stone plinth in the midst of a thorny wood.

In their original format, both books could be purchased in a slipcase depicting brown, vermin-infested dungeon walls (again by Blanche) with a front and back insert picture featuring part of the cover art of both books (assuming my brain is not worthless ooze, Warlock's Way was on the front and Warrior's Way was on the back of the slipcase, but it could well have been the other way around). Interestingly, for their time, both books consisted of 500 (!) references each, as opposed to the standard 400 references format. Very promising....

Crunchy Bits
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Unlike virtually all other fantasy-themed heroes from the FF books, YOU are represented in these books as named individuals, as opposed to nameless adventurers, playing the twin sons of King Gunderbock XVI, ruler of the city-state of Gundobad. The time has come for one of you to ascend the throne, by successfully completing the Trial of Kingship, which involves finding one of the Sacred Gems of Gundobad. In The Warrior's Way YOU get to play Clovis the Warrior-Prince, whilst in The Warlock's Way, YOU are instead Lothar the Warlock-Prince.

Clovis is virtually identical however to any of the nameless adventurers in the early FF books: Skill 7-12, Stamina 14-24, Luck 7-12. Lothar, on the other claw, has a lower Skill score of 6-10, but an additional Magic score of 14-24. Lothar has an arsenal of 12 Battle Spells at his disposal, each costing 1 to 3 Magic points (or sometimes more) to cast. He may only cast 1 Battle Spell per combat encounter, and it can only be cast before actual combat begins. Unlike the Sorcery! system, these Battle Spells may be freely referred to during play, and unlike say the Magic system of Citadel of Chaos (FF 2), or the Spell Gems of Scorpion Swamp (FF 8), there is no limit to how many times you can cast any of these spells, assuming you have enough Magic points left. 6 of the Battle Spells are directly harmful in some way to your combat opponents, 3 of them improve your own combat ability, 1 improves BOTH your and Clovis' Skill (assuming you are travelling together), 1 summons a SHADE to fight for you, and the last converts Magic into Stamina, but for yourself only, and not Clovis.

In addition, certain parts of the book would allow the option of Lothar to cast one of three different spells to "extricate [himself] from a sticky situation" (The Warlock's Way rules p. 16). These other spells typically ranged in cost from one to three Magic Points to cast, and whilst some were identical to some of the 12 Battle Spells, there were others that were much more unique (such as the INVERT spell – but more on that later).

Regardless of spell type, the procedure to cast them was the same: deduct the spell's cost from your Magic points total (assuming you have enough to cast it) and then roll one dice. On a roll of 1-5 the spell works, however, on the roll of a 6, the spell fails and you must either proceed normally (for Battle Spells), or turn to the paragraph indicated for failure (for other spells).

Equipment-wise, both Lothar and Clovis start with a weapon, a pack and 10 provisions (which restore only 2 Stamina when eaten as opposed to the more standard 4 points). Neither of them can start with a potion of any sort, however they both have a horse and 10 Gold Pieces each. Finally, the Adventure Sheets for both Lothar and Clovis are nice and uncluttered with none of the unnecessary boxes that cluster unused on many early Fighting Fantasy Sheets – instead just boxes for Skill, Stamina, Luck (& Magic for Lothar), Gold, Provisions, and "Notes and Items."

As well as all the basic introductory character information discussed above, there are two further very important things to keep track of – namely STATUS and ACTION (space is not provided for these on either of the Adventure Sheets, rather the rules recommend you keep track of the values of STATUS and ACTION on a single piece of paper accessible to both players). In essence, STATUS and ACTION are the engines that drive these two player Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, and you will be instructed at times during the adventure to alter their values to reflect continuity with your location. If you are playing solo, or one of the two players meets a sticky end, then both STATUS and ACTION will be set at 1. Otherwise, they will continue to change to reflect consistency in keeping track of the exploits of both adventurers, as well as any special encounters that may be stirred up in the process (Without revealing too much, these special encounters make for some nice subterfuge in the two-player game, allowing you to spice up your opponent's quest with an unwanted difficulty or two).

"It's the Smell"
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In terms of atmosphere, one of the interesting things about the Clash of the Princes gamebooks is that they were written at a time when the idea of all Fighting Fantasy gamebooks being set on the world of Titan was beginning to coalesce. Intriguing then, that Marc Gascoigne completely and unaccountably failed to find a place for Gundobad and surroundings in his world-book on Titan (although it has been pointed out by some that the north-central coastline of Khul does have a vaguely similar appearance to Dave Andrews' inside cover map in Clash of the Princes). In any case, the loss is all Gascoigne's as, to my mind, Clash of the Princes, with its Blanche art, Battle Spells, and endless hordes of ravening beasties and brutal traps, is the very definition of Fighting Fantasy, Titan-style. It lacks the overt weirdness and eccentricities of some of the later books that were a bit too "different," and yet is more sprawling and epic in feel than some of the earlier pedestrian linearities of at least one of the series' progenitors. With its Amazons, Roc-riding Air Brigands, Tax Collectors, Slavers, and Corsairs, not to mention shambling ranks of undead and foul demons, it adds further enjoyable cultural baggage to the Titan world-by-committee approach and as such, over on the Rebuilding_Titan we have welcomed the world of Gundobad and Clash of the Princes back into the fold, locating it on the Unknown Land teasingly mapped by Steve Luxton in Gascoigne's Titan.

Another set of influences present, though I missed them the first time round, are various nods to the great American fantasy and science fiction writer Jack Vance, or more specifically, Jack Vance's Dying Earth sequence of novels. Thus we have Vance's Scamander and Scaum Rivers from the Dying Earth mirrored by the River Scamder in Clash of the Princes. At one point, with all belongings stolen by thieving Scuttlies and hidden deep underground, Lothar is able to cast the legendary INVERT spell (my capitalization) on the entire burrow, bringing destruction to the Scuttlies and returning said belongings. Fans of Vance's Eyes of the Overworld will no doubt recognize this affectionate swipe of the scene where Cugel the Clever produces much the same effect on similar opponents, through use of a spell from the stolen grimoire of Zaraides the Sage. At another stage, we encounter Dragesima the witch-hunter and professional anti-sorcerer who bears a passing resemblance to the nameless witch-chaser met by Cugel in Eyes of the Overworld, just prior to entering the Mountains of Magnatz. Finally, the puntmen of the infamous Lake of Death, into which the River Scamder flows, share some similarities to Vance's roguish Busiacos particularly in their insistence on the existence of invisible venomous water creatures.

The influences don't end here though. I remain convinced the warthog-headed guards of the evil Djinn are a nice chuckle at the Gamorrean Guards from Return of the Jedi, despite whatever John Blanche depicts in his decent illustration of them. My favourite however is the reversed homage to Andrew Chapman's own Seas of Blood. In that tome you were a pirate captain who at one point had to deal with an upstart mage summoning a SHADE to attack you – here, you are that mage, or at least Lothar the Warlock-Prince, summoning verily the same SHADE to deal mayhem on a galleon of corsairs. At risk of spoiling, pity the pirate's crew in Seas of Blood were not as quick off the mark as their relatives in The Warlock's Way. Oh yeah, and in one final nice touch, a cousin of DEATH from Terry Pratchett's Discworld deforestation ploy (a.k.a fantasy book series), known as the Death That Awaits, gives you a choice of visions of some of the unfortunate ends you may come to in the deeper paragraphs of the adventure.

It can't be denied that a lot of pleasure obtained from these books derives from the appropriate illustrations – that is, if you are a big fan of John Blanche. I am, and I think the work he did here even surpasses that of some of his Sorcery! pieces. They're not as overly ornate as those from The Shamutanti Hills, or Kharé, and not as simplistic in form as The Crown of Kings, perhaps being most similar to the work he did for the Talisman Expansion Set (anyone remember the Rogue character? He would not look out of place here at all). Whilst there are of course duds here and there, there are plenty of excellent figure studies of your various opponents, all armed and armoured accordingly, which are bang on form – the Black Knight, the Shade, the Orcs, the Ogres, the Lizard Men, etc., etc.

In addition, Blanche's art depict YOU for first time, or at least your alter-egos Lothar and Clovis. As well as the back-to-the-camera cover studies of the two princes, there are two nice pictures of them inside, presumably posing for the Gundobad court artist prior to embarking on their lethal quest. I could have done without the one of Clovis suffering from a bad case of facial warts though. Likewise, the front cover illustration of Lothar bears more than a passing resemblance to the great guitarist David St. Hubbins from that ill-fated pioneering heavy metal band Spinal Tap.

PENGUIN WATCH: Sadly, no penguins are to be found within either tome. However, I was pleased by the appearance of some surprisingly carnivorous SLOTHS and GORILLAS in the jungles of the northern Isle of Orcmoot – bonus points for these and their dietary preferences. Actually it could be said that more than a few of the animals of the lands around the River Scamder are not averse to ripping your spleen out, or at least giving you a good thumping, particularly a lively pair of rather aggressive Mountain Rams (my firm favourite is the dreaded HEDGE (SKILL 9 STAMINA 4 but you must kill it in 3 rounds) – surely shrubbery has not been this lethal since Monty Python and the Holy Grail). Having said that, both books have a nice sense of different groups of interconnected fauna, depending on environment – woodland, plains, mountains, desert, jungle – but one suspects they are not places that David Attenborough would wander through (speaking in his standard quietly reverential tones) unless heavily armed with the latest in advanced offensive firepower. On a final note, the southern plains contain the "ferocious CHAD" which would appear to some sort of rather aggressive Giant Aardwolf, and not something that cost Al Gore the last U.S. Presidential Election.

Onwards, to Adventure!
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For me, the main disappointment is the terse nature of the text. Both books may well be 500 references long, but in thickness they're just same as the infamous Standard 400 model. Although they are not quite up to the levels of abbreviation set by one Luke Sharp, and they also lack the magic spells GOB/YOB/YAZ/SPAZ filler references of the Sorcery! series, things do seem to scream along at a cracking pace. Consider the following case of the city of Kalamdar, as encountered by Lothar in The Warlock's Way:

"As soon as you enter the city of Kalamdar, you head for the dock and book passage on a slow-looking merchant ship, which is due to sail past the Isle of Orcmoot. Presently, the ship leaves the harbour and ploughs its way out to sea..."

Never mind you've just been tramping through the wilderness for weeks, that your STAMINA and MAGIC may be low, and just possibly you may wish to hole up in a tavern for a day or two plus visit the market. In just one line you are in and out of the biggest city in the book (and if you're Clovis you don't even get near it). Whilst this does mean there is an enormous amount and variety of terrain to explore, I for one would have preferred more options as opposed to more space.

In addition, this breathless pace often sacrifices cause and effect in some spectacularly forgetful ways. For example, when you meet the thoroughly unpleasant Imperial Tax Collector ("One for you, nineteen for me") for the second time, you may well end up paying him more gold. Regardless, a fight develops (this being Fighting Fantasy after all), but if you slay him and his bodyguards, you get NO gold – not yours that you gave him, and not any him and his vile public servants had on them. Worse still, you slay him in a public inn, and guess what the first thing is that happens to you, following said murders. An angry militia perhaps? Er, no, instead some geriatric monk tries to sell you a batch of useless trinkets. Admittedly YOU are nobility, but why then would the Tax Collector tax you? Surely he has peasants, serfs, and sundry peons to extort from. I seem to have wandered off on a bit of rant here – that wasn't the intention – when what I probably meant to say was: "Turn the brain down a bit, wallow in nostalgia, and be very thankful this isn't [insert most hated FF title here]"

The other major problem, which is somewhat linked to the terse text, is the large number of instant death references. My brief survey indicates Clovis may trigger off 39 of these lethal paragraphs (nearly 8% of The Warrior's Way), whilst inaccurate use of sorcery sees Lothar facing 47 potential Splat Jobs (exactly 9.4% of The Warlock's Way). I don't believe these are as bad as say Seas of Blood or Chasms of Malice (both reputably heavy on instant death), but it can be frustrating, when offered a choice of three items to use or three spells to cast, to know that at least one, if not two, of the choices will result in "GAME OVER." What's worse, these lurking horrors are spread evenly throughout the book, from start to finish, with no hint on the correct option other than trial and error. In fact, to drop a heavy spoiler here for new players to avoid tears early on, the first time I played these with my brother many moons ago, we had to restart rather quickly when my brother discovered why it is called the Lake of Death, and not, say, the Lake of –4 Stamina. Whilst these instant death ball-chompers may lack the inventiveness of their brethren in Creature of Havoc, they ain't that bad. To whit:

"[within the confines of a burrow in the side of a giant termite mound] You are surprised by a large, furry animal, and have no time to prevent it wrenching your head from your body"

"[my favourite – you've chosen to look at one of four grilles set in a wall] You do not even reach the grille. A hungry blob drops from the ceiling, devours you piece by piece, and slithers up the wall and onto the ceiling once again."

On the other hand, the process of combat is made very much easier in these books by the following rule:

"In cases where you are fighting more than one opponent, fight only the first listed. If you defeat this opponent, go on to fight the second listed, and so on"

This of course prevents those tiresome multiple combats where you can only injure one enemy but they can all carve pieces out of you. Given the amount of combat in these books with several adversaries, it is a very welcome rule indeed. Continuing with the combat theme, a comparison of both Clash of the Princes volumes against a few other random books reveals the following:

The Warlock's Way AVG SKILL 8.5, STAMINA 6.3, 70 enemies
The Warrior's Way AVG SKILL 8.5, STAMINA 6.6, 90 enemies
Demons of the Deep AVG SKILL 7.7 STAMINA 10.5, 60 enemies
Spectral Stalkers AVG SKILL 6.9, STAMINA 7.7, 24 enemies
Curse of the Mummy AVG SKILL 8.4, STAMINA 8.5, 85 enemies

The take-home message from this unsightly numerical intrusion is that, whilst both books have monster encounters by the sackload, the average STAMINA of these monsters is low compared to other books, and thus, despite the high average SKILL, combats are likely to be shorter and less damaging, particularly for Lothar with his various Battle Spells.

Given however that provisions only restore 2 STAMINA points (a big problem for a spell-happy Lothar), what other recharging is available to recover from having to fight so many opponents? The answer to this lies partly with a third minor problem: lack of consistency with magic items. There are some rather nice and evocative magic items scattered around (the Sword of Frost, the Hammer of Thunder, the various Power Stones (IOUN stone ripoff?), and so on), but a lot of these merely confer a series of bonuses to your various attributes. As you cannot exceed your initial scores though, there is no differentiation between whether the magic item bonuses are a merely a one-off power up to any abilities that are currently below their maximum (e.g. finding a Power Stone), or instead a bonus or series of bonuses to be used when you use that item (e.g. using the Sword of Frost in combat). Having seen the combat-heavy structure of the books it would appear that the former is the more probable, but this is made all the more disappointing given the existence of other magic items with much more tangible and better explained abilities (e.g. the Bolt of Decimation, the fighting-staff).

The final minor annoyance is the disparity between the two books in terms of the structure of the different adventures, especially when played solo. The Warrior's Way is the much better book for this, with an actual mappable large dungeon complex hiding within its pages. On the other hand, The Warlock's Way has not one, nor two, but THREE mini unmappable maze sections of the format where you scrabble around attempting to find the reference number you haven't seen before, hoping it will lead you out of the maze section. Admittedly one is innovatively disguised as a flying carpet chase through a large villa, but they all occur relatively close to each other in the middle of the adventure, and thus become a little tedious. Lastly, one decent similarity between the books is that whilst in both you need four items which create a single number to turn to, it is very possible to guess or know that number without possession of all the items. Had that old idiot Livingstone employed this tactic more in his later 400 ref. borefests I may well be more sympathetic in viewing his contribution to the series.

Traps for Young Players
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Let it be said here and now that the colour map by Dave Andrews is absolutely useless and other than showing two cities called Gundobad and Kalamdar, is completely at odds with large sections of the adventure. Tangible features of the adventure's text, such as the castle of Peleus, the Lake of Death, and the Isle of Orcmoot, either do not appear, or are not named, and one thing that is named (and not clearly at that: is it Dragon Hove or Hole?) on the map, is not represented in the text. Recent comments by Andrew Chapman on Demian Katz's Yahoo! gamebook list have indicated there were communication problems between the Australia-based writers and the British publishers, and given the decency of other FF maps of the time, this is probably the reason for a very shoddy map. Shame really, as the adventure's scope deserved better.

Minor problems: Reference 235 in The Warlock's Way refers to possession of an object called the Cat's Eye (presumably a gemstone) that would not appear to occur anywhere else in the adventure. Reference 2 in The Warrior's Way gets its options mixed up – it should be turn to 256 to head towards a cluster of low hills, and turn to 140 to wander westwards through a wood. Reference 274 in The Warrior's Way features a tinderbox mysteriously becoming part of your equipment when it is lacking from the start. As Lothar, you meet a monk who tells you to find four Discs of Knowledge, but, although circular, these objects certainly ain't discs. Bill and Bert the Ogres have rather bizarrely different stats in the two books – Lothar fights them fighting as one wimpy individual, but Clovis has to fight both of them separately (and they have stronger stats). Many of the instant death references and/or spell failures are remiss in reminding the player to alter the STATUS and ACTION scores to 1. There well may be more errors and mistakes but I'm currently too lazy to switch into full-deconstruction mode.

Any Final Thoughts?
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In a final summation, I would have to say that, despite my tedious bitching, I like these books. In fact, I like these books a lot. There are too many instant deaths, and the terseness of text can be infuriating, but in 1000 references they more than adequately evoke a large classic Fighting Fantasy world that is somehow non-Titan and yet not that far different either. The two-player mechanics are simple and effective and the spell system is another bonus, likewise Blanche's artwork. As two-player books these are far better than Joe Dever's Combat Heroes in my opinion, though I always prefer story to game. However, I'd rate them lower than Jamie Thomson and Mark Smith's Duel Master series (especially Set 1 Challenge of the Magi, and Set 4 Arena of Death), which, despite having a fairly clunky codeword format, at least offered complete freedom of movement coupled with decent background and story (crap pix though!). I haven't seen enough of Jon Sutherland and Simon Farrell's Double Game series to see how Clash of the Princes stacks up against them, though they appear the most similar two-player series.

In general Fighting Fantasy terms, I dislike numerical ratings. I guess I'd put Clash of the Princes below luminaries such as Steve Jackson (UK), Stephen Hand and Peter Darvill-Evans, but above dross such as Jonathan Green and most of Ian Livingstone's efforts. In other words, part of that large and spacious middle ground containing the works of Robin Waterfield, Keith Martin, and Luke Sharp. Good, solidly escapist fantasy fare – certainly worth getting your hands on – but not quite up there with the best of the Fighting Fantasy series.

More reviews by greyarea13

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