Complexity Level : Advanced (Full Game System)
Format : Paperback
Game System : Combat
Game System : Inventory Management
Game System : Randomization Method : Dice
Game System : Scores
Genre : Fantasy
Product Family : Fighting Fantasy
Target Age Group : Adults
Target Age Group : Teenagers
Writing Style : Present Tense
Writing Style : Second Person
Aventuras mitológicas (Portuguese)
Chroniques Crétoises (French)
Crónicas cretenses (Spanish)
Girisha shinwa adobenchaa geemu [ギリシャ神話アドベンチャーゲーム] (Japanese)
Grecia antica (Italian)
This trilogy presents a continuing storyline set in the Ancient Greece of mythology. The books are designed to visually resemble the Fighting Fantasy series, but they feature a completely different game system. Characters have the attributes of Might, Protection, Honour and Shame; Might and Protection affect combat, Honour is gained or lost based on behavior and may be spent to gain divine favor, and Shame can potentially force the player to commit suicide if accumulated excessively. There are several additional things to keep track of: health, of which there are four levels (healthy, wounded, seriously wounded and dead); weapons, armor and equipment; and the character's degree of favor or disfavor with various deities. The books also feature a fairly interesting mechanism known as "taking a hint." Whenever the reader encounters a section of the story with its number in italics, if he or she feels that his or her character could perform an action not mentioned in the text of the current section, he or she may add twenty to the paragraph number and flip ahead. If this is successful, a special action is performed; if not, the reader is punished with loss of Honour or increase of Shame.
Gamebooks1. Bloodfeud of Altheus
2. At the Court of King Minos
3. Return of the Wanderer
(Shamelessly nicked from my own Gamebooks page)
About the Cretan Chronicles:
The Cretan Chronicles were written by John Butterfield, David Honigmann and Phillip Parker. It is rare for a gamebook series (or indeed a book) to be co-authored by three people, and the texts remain surprisingly consistent in style and tone - a tribute to good teamwork, perhaps. The same trio also wrote What is Dungeons & Dragons?, an introduction to D&D and RPGs in general, but no other gamebooks, as far as I know.
In most gamebooks, the player has a substantial advantage over his oppponents in combat, being endowed with more Hit Points (HP)/Endurance than them, if not having a higher attack skill. Besides reflecting the heroic qualities and fighting skills of the protagonist, this has more important implications for gameplay - if all enemies were as good in fighting as the hero, he would quickly be slaughtered.
In the Cretan Chronicles, the hero generally is slightly more skilful at combat than his opponents, but they have the same amount of "HP", due to the system's simplified system of tracking combat wounds.
All combatants start out "Healthy". When they take a wound, they become "Wounded". A futher wound makes them "Seriously Wounded". If they are unlucky enough to be hit again, they die. Thus, an enemy only has to get 3 hits on the player to kill him. The end result is that the player dies more easily than in other gamebooks. Perhaps this is a way of increasing apparent replay value.
Taking a hint
The gameplay system incorporates an idea misleadingly known as "taking a hint" - getting your character to perform a non-standard action; one not given in the text. This is an interesting idea, but ultimately a bad one, poorly implemented, for the reader cannot know what the non-standard action will be.
Often, I found myself wanting to perform some seemingly obvious non-standard action, only to have my character do something entirely different or worse. For example, I was at Apollo's oracle in Delphi and when I took a non-standard action, they accused me of trying to steal Apollo's jewels! When I reached King Minos' palace, I was attended by an ugly serving girl. When I took a hint, my character stared at her and I lost a point of honour. At other times, I was penalised for trying to take a non-standard action when none was written in by the authors and thus "trying to be ahead of my time", or being too "cautious," "wary," "cowardly," "un-herolike" (how trying to take non-standard actions is being "cautious," "wary," "cowardly" or "un-herolike," I do not know) or worst of all, supposedly "quaking" or "hesitating".
Even worse is when the text gives you information about some aspect of Greek history and mythology and then penalises you for absolutely no reason. Case in point: I was in front of the Pythia and when I took a non-standard action, the text told me the history and lore of the Pythia, and then deducted honour from me and gave me shame points. I was supremely incensed. But perhaps the worst bit is when you take a non-standard action, and other people end up taking the actions (as happens at some points in book 2). Maybe this is why you shouldn't have 3 people writing a book.
The implementation is also inconsistent. Similar actions, taken during similar situations at different times in the adventure lead to results that are diametrically opposite - sometimes they are good, and the hero gets a boon, but sometimes he is penalised and awarded shame points.
The text manages to capture some of the flavour of Ancient Greek writing - in the descriptions of people and Gods, for example: "Amiable Altheus", "white-armed Aphrodite" and the like. At times, the text becomes florid:
"You pace back and forth across the room, like a lion which, trapped by hunters in the high hills of Africa and taken to the court of the Nubian king, restlessly prowls around its strong wicker cage, before it throws its weight against the bars, breaks out, savages an effete tribal chieftain, and runs sleekly away across the wide plains."
A major in Classics evaluates it thus: "it's rather purple. purple meaning it's trying to sound high-flown but fails and ends up sounding like thick porridge instead. doesn't sound anything like classical greek =)"
However, there are some unforgivable oversights; for one, the gods often lapse into modern speech patterns. This is evidence of shoddy editing. Worse still is how Ares (in the first book) talks in short sentences like a cave man but in the second book suddenly speaks like a British.
Perhaps it is no wonder that the series stopped at the third book and the authors never wrote gamebooks together again.
At other times, the book is unfair to the reader. At one point, the Furies (strictly, the Greeks called them the Erinyes, but no one can remember that name anyay, so) are pestering this man who'd accidentally murdered his wife. Placating them with a sacrifice deducts a point of honour for perverting divine justice, but leaving the man to be attacked gets you 2 shame points. On second thought - this might be a subtle homage to Orestes for his murder of Clytemnestra, so maybe it can be forgiven.
The book also recycles not a few Greek myths and legends, so readers with a passing knowledge of some of them get an unfair advantage. For example, the book shamelessly reuses the tale of Hera posing as a crone and Jason (of Argonaut fame) carrying her across, except that it is Altheus who does the carrying this time. Furthermore, the recycling of Greek myths and legends leads to a confusing mess, for some myths that belong to different times in Greek mythology are now juxtaposed.
Finally, the writers get very indulgent at times, and their writing becomes what can only be described as odd in the extreme. When you come face to face with the Minotaur, taking a non-standard action loses you 1 Honour point due to your "quaking." Taking another non-standard action after quaking, you come across one of the strangest paragraphs in Gamebook history:
"You are indeed right to shake at the sight of the Minotaur, for, after all, your brother, a distant relative of the beast, was not spared its wrath. Theseus was probably in fact only your half-brother (have 1 Shame point), with Poseidon as his true father. Although the origins of the bull which sired the Minotaur are shrouded in sea-spray, according to the most reputable sources Poseidon had a hand in its conception. The bull ravished Minos' wife, Pasiphae, who gave birth to the Minotaur. Theseus was thus the half-uncle of the Minotaur. For unravelling the genealogical complexities of the situation at such a stressful moment, have 3 Honour points, and return to 394."
At another time, when you glimpse Athena while leaving the Labyrinth, if you tell yourself you are hallucinating, you will really start hallucinating and you will then die. Maybe the writers themselves were on LSD when they wrote those parts.
I am aghast.
Cretan Chronicles, mistakenly referred to as 'The Cretan Chronicles' on Wikipedia, is a trilogy of gamebooks released by Puffin books in 1985-6, with a Mythic Greece setting. The series proposes an alternate version of the Theseus myth, where Theseus actually died at the hands of the Minotaur in the Cretan Labyrinth, and thus the task of slaying the Minotaur falls on Theseus' younger brother, Altheus (the player character). In some promotional blurbs, the three authors are described as 'schoolboys from Eton' (I guess even gamebook authors have to show off their education). The series is certainly a remarkable achievement for a group of teenagers, with a more mature storytelling approach than most gamebooks and unusual complexity.
The game system includes both offensive and defensive stats for combat, which increase or decrease according to weapons, armour and other factors. Combat involves alternating 'to-hit' rolls instead of simultaneous rolls as in other, 'popular' series. As Gabriel Seah (gssq) has said above, the combat system is rather cruel since two hits cripple a character severely and three hits taken in a single battle mean death. Since defensive stats aren't usually too high, combat can often be difficult for the player (especially when fighting against multiple opponents). There is also an interesting binom of moral statistics (Honour and Shame). Honour goes up and down depending on the player's deeds, while Shame increases when mistakes are made, and the player character dies automatically if Shame ever increases above Honour. Honour can also be spent to increase the player's offensive or defensive stats, and I often found myself using a lot of it to survive most battles in the series (usually on the defensive).
During the game it's often possible to act in ways which either please or anger different gods, and so the player must keep track of different gods' attitudes towards her/his character. The favour or disfavour of deities does indeed impact the game meaningfully. At the beginning of each game the player also gets to choose a 'patron god' from a list of six, which will give the player character a specific power.
The series' writing lapses back and forth between the typical minimalist style of gamebooks and a rather clumsy imitation of Homer's style (or rather, that of whoever actually wrote the Iliad and the Odyssey). Here is a sample for the curious: "Let the Athenians also beware; for if they come again to the Amazonian shores we will be prepared, and the young men of Attica will perish on a foreign shore, as a flower shrivels up in the burning heat of the summer, and the garden is bare." This style (which is far more frequent in the first book than in the other two, I might add) may be florid, but that's to be expected from a mass entertainment product's ambiance. After all, were we expecting the authors of such a product to appropriate the Greek setting as a Robert Graves would? Or a Dan Simmons? (but I digress). I find no reason to fault the authors for trying to embellish their writing, especially when considering that the usual gamebook fare doesn't often rise above the following: "As you draw your sword, Yaztromo turns round and casually advices you not to be foolish as his magic is great." You get the picture.
The series has a more 'mature' feel than is usually the case in gamebooks. In this case 'mature' means that relationships between women and men are actually acknowledged rather than merely mentioned in passing (in my opinion there is nothing here that would make censors scream, but you never know). Some topics that gamebook publishers deemed too strong for other series – such as births out of wedlock and fratricide – are touched on, though in a milder fashion than that of the original myths. It should be noted that the series' physical format resembles that of Puffin's own Sorcery! series, which in early promotional texts was advertised – if I remember correctly – as directed at readers who were older than the usual Fighting Fantasy base. Together with series like Sherlock Holmes Solo Mysteries, Cretan Chronicles will be better appreciated by teenagers and adults than by pre-teens looking for the next hack-and-slash fest.
I don't believe the books really require a strong Classics background to be completed successfully. The myths referred to in the series are widespread enough to be known by a majority of readers, and common sense can be helpful if knowledge is lacking for some reason.
One of the series' most distinctive features is a mechanic referred to as 'taking a hint.' Several sections of text are marked in italics, meaning that if the player thinks there is some action not specified in the text that could be taken at that very moment, s/he can add twenty to the current paragraph number and turn to the corresponding paragraph instead of following the directions at the end of the paragraph. Doing this is sometimes important – or essential – to completing the adventures successfully, but as is the case with the choices, taking a hint can be sometimes harmful to the player as well. I think it is a clever mechanic when used well, because the player is forced to reason or remember previous clues at the correct time, and to act without being directly prompted to by the choices. However, as Seah has said, the authors often abuse it. If they don't consider there is a suitable action to be taken (which happens quite often), the player is either called a coward or receives a lecture on Greek mythology, taking a penalty in Honour or Shame (or both). This method of talking down to the player adds nothing to the story and is just a symptom of the authors' teenage arrogance. Furthermore, there is no way of guessing what the action will be before taking it, so that the player may end up doing something s/he never intended in the first place and be penalized or jeopardize his/her mission after taking the hint. This could have been better implemented by detailing choices for the player to make in each paragraph where the player ends up as a result of taking the hint.
Dan Woods' illustrations for this series are quite ugly, but at the same time they evoke a correct tone for a Mythic Greece-based series. I'm not sure I would have liked seeing the style of Russ Nicholson or Leo Hartas applied here instead.
The series offers a good story and engaging gameplay, though unfortunately there aren't many comments on it to be found due to the slant that exists against any gamebook series which is not medieval fantasy (or medieval fantasy with ninja). In spite of its flaws, the storytelling and gameplay make it a classic series and an essential read.
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