The third and final book in the ‘Advanced’ Fighting Fantasy role playing game books aimed at primary school age/early teens. The first book Dungeoneer took the system from the choose your own adventure books (good enough for one shots) and added skills and magic, giving it enough depth for a campaign. This book is the wilderness adventures supplement, and as such is mostly terrible.
A third of the book details different wilderness environments, from swamps to mountains, and for each gives a redundantly facile geography lesson and a wandering monster table. It doesn’t add anything you couldn’t easily come up with on your own.
The last third of the book is an adventure, also awful, especially for beginning games masters which the book is aimed at. It is a boring, plodding railroad in which the players are assumed to make less than obvious choices. That means that as the games master you’d have to somehow crowbar them into every subsequent scene, toward an end that they’ll be hard pressed to care about. Unlike the adventure in Blacksand!, which is salvageable with work, I can’t see any way to make this playable. Strange that the most fun Fighting Fantasy adventures are the nonsensical old school dungeons from the (Basic) Fighting Fantasy rule book – the one with the weird cat thing on the cover. Also, from this adventure you’d think Fighting Fantasy was the most bland of generic fantasy, whereas its charm is that there’s a lot of odd stuff in there – why not throw in some jib-jibs (screaming furry cabbages) or that mucus elephant.
But this book is not a dead loss – a third is general new stuff, new skills, spells and mass combat rules. And these are all pretty interesting.
The skills range from the useful (Disarm, Healing, and a couple innate abilities like Excellent Hearing) to space filler (Fishing), to at worse covering things for which there are already skills for (Scouting, Pathfinding).
New spells also range from the useful but boring (Befuddle, Ignite, Breathe), to the useless (Glowing Eyes – no mechanical effect), but also some that are a lot of fun (Animate object, Combine two spells, or Exchange Bodies).
However, there are several spells that should definitely be left out of games. The spell Ironhand, which increases Initial Skill by 1 point per point of Stamina spent is both boring and overpowered. Ensure, which avoids critical failures (you don’t have to roll on the Oops table on a double six) is both too expensive and takes the fun out of things. And some that duplicate other spells, Command object does the same thing as Animate object.
There are some new Minor Magic spells (simple charms that have little mechanical effect). I like these a lot, they add a nice touch to the story though they are very insignificant things (Dry, ‘Dry one wet item, small in size. Will not remove oil.’) The exception is a spell that freezes time for several seconds which seems to powerful, and would be better moved to the regular spell lists.
Then there are the mass battle rules, which I haven’t tried out yet but on the face of them are simple, clever, and tied perfectly to the Fighting Fantasy rules. There are two versions, a quick way to resolve battles abstractly and a second more involved set of rules which are a straightforward miniatures wargame, moving about metal armies on a table. I’m not that interested in miniatures wargames, but this made me want to set up a battle, not least because you could take any weird monster from the Out of the Pit bestiary and turn it into an army (a unit of laser-beam shooting red eyes, or knife throwing disc-shaped wheelies).
This book is marginally better than Blacksand! (the second in the series, the cities supplement) but overall unless you get a cheap copy or really want mass combat rules, I’d skip it. Also I just discovered Arion Games puts out a book called Advanced Fighting Fantasy Deluxe, a massive hardback that reprints all these rules, plus the world guide (Titan) plus the Out of the Pit bestiary. Hopefully they’ve tidied up a lot of stuff from this series, rules-wise. However, by far by favourite version of the Fighting Fantasy rules is the weird and wonderful Troika!, and the pdf is free.