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Item - Master of Chaos

Series: Fighting Fantasy (1982-1995, Puffin) — no. 41
Translated Into: Le sceptre noir (French)
O senhor do caos (Portuguese)
Author: Martin, Keith (pseudonym used by Sargent, Carl)
Illustrators: Edwards, Les (cover)
Gallagher, David (Dave) (interior)
Date: March 29, 1990
ISBN: 0140340106 / 9780140340105
Length: 400 sections
Special Thanks: Thanks to James Thompson for the cover scans and Nicholas Campbell for the superseded cover scan.
dArtagnan's Thoughts:

So, the Staff of Rulership has been nicked from a guild of incompetent wizards by yet another all-powerful sorcerer and spirited away to his Lair of Evil somewhere in Khul and although the wizards desperately need it back if they are to prevent the world falling into anarchy, they're far too lazy to get off their posteriors and do anything about it themselves. Instead they hire YOU to go to the obscure ruins in Khul where the bad guy has his lair and take the staff back. Unfortunately, you are nowhere near Khul. Do the wizards pay for a ship crewed by the finest sailors on Titan? No, they're cheap as well as lazy. Instead, they arranged for you to be hit over the head and press ganged as a slave on a ship heading in the rough general direction. In the off-chance that you can escape from the ship and survive a trek of about a hundred miles to the wizard's lair you can then set about retrieving the staff. And just to show you that they're not going to leave you completely helpless, they give you a whole two gold pieces to buy equipment with - assholes.

For those of you who were not put off by the utter ridiculousness of this scenario, Master of Chaos, Keith Martin's third FF book, is actually not that bad. It is a book of two halves, the first consisting of you on board the slave ship (which is basically just being told to deduct several points from your Stamina score repeatedly) and then exploring the port of Ashkyos to equip yourself for the journey south. This is where the book is at its best as you involve yourself in several money making schemes, both legal and illegal, just to buy a backpack, provisions and sword. While you do this you have to keep track of a Notoriety score - drawing too much attention to yourself can bring the unwanted attention of the city militia and force you to flee from the city early. You also have the opportunity to acquire the best sidekick ever (apologies to Mungo fans) although he does rather unbalance the book in your favour. Unfortunately, the book goes downhill after you leave Askyos. You are faced with either an overland trek (long and boring) or a boat trip (shorter, but no less boring). When you eventually reach the ruins in which Shanzikuul, the evil wizard's lair is hidden (by which time you will have probably read the phrase "you must eat a meal" an ungodly amount of times) you are faced with a list of locations to explore and, this being a Keith Martin book, if you explore them in the wrong order you cannot win. That said, Shanzikuul's lair is actually quite well written and likeably weird. Annoyingly though, without a Skill of 12, Shanzikuul will have you for breakfast. This is especially irritating as relatively low Skilled characters could reach him with few problems. Then even if you beat him, you are faced with a poor anticlimactic fight which will probably leave those who failed to find the clues about a rival also searching for the staff scattered throughout the book scratching their head in mystification. Especially as finding these clues doesn't actually make the book any easier (in fact sometimes the reverse) and even if you do find them all they don't actually make matters that much clearer anyway. In fact the whole second half of the book feels like Keith Martin was growing bored of it, a pity due to the very promising start.

The book's inclusion of special skills you can use is a good idea, although some are a bit more useful than others, and the writing and David Gallagher's illustrations are solid. But there are better books out there than Master of Chaos. That said it's better than quite a few as well (including most of Martin's later efforts). It's just a pity Keith Martin wasn't able to keep the entertainment value of the first half of the book going.

More reviews by dArtagnan

Special Thanks:Thanks to Ben Nelson for the character sheet.
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