Fighting Fantasy 9: Caverns of the Snow Witch

Well, it’s been a while since I did one of my gamebook reviews, so I thought it was long past time. I said that I was planning to do some more, and hopefully this is the first of many in the near future. Today, i’m going to tackle one of my old favourites, even if it is one of the more difficult of the series - Caverns of the Snow Witch. I think this is one of the first I ran through, and I even vaguely remember completing it, though whether I did this without cheating is another question entirely. This is the first in a loose trilogy, the next one being Forest of Doom, another old favourite, and I think I shall attempt that one next. But for now, the frozen wastelands beckon! 

There are no special rules in this book, so it boils down to simply rolling my normal three attributes. My Skill is a pretty average 9, Stamina at 18, and Luck at a rather depressing 7; I venture my character was rather down on his luck to begin with. Taking a Potion of Fortune in a hope that I can perhaps Test My Luck successfully a few times at least, I muster my sword, my provisions, and my trusty backpack, and venture forth. Apparently I work for Big Jim Sun, a man of few syllables, guarding is trading caravan, and my first mission for him is to hunt down a Yeti. This is probably his version of a retirement plan. 

Five minutes after I leave camp, a Mammoth jumps out at me from behind some snow. Understandably, I am startled by this, but I draw my sword, swear an oath, and attack it! This battle costs me all but four of my Stamina points, so still within sight of the caravan - where the rest of the guards are now doubt resolving the bets placed on my fight - I guzzle down some provisions to heal myself up. I’ve certainly had better starts. Then the storm builds up, and rather than simply going back to my nice warm caravan, I hack at the snow with my sword to build a shelter, and wait for the blizzard to end, eating still more food while I wait. I’ve been assuming that a ‘Provision’ was a full meal, but I think at this point it’s probably more like a Mars Bar. 

To add insult to injury, a few meters down the trail I find a trapper’s hut, complete with stew on the fire! Keeping an eye out for the Three Bears, I warm up and eat the stew, getting my Stamina back, and being rather narrow-focused, decide to press on into the unending white gloom, certain in the knowledge that there is no way back. Critically, I get a warhammer and a spear, and I think these are damn near essential later on. No more food, though. Having thoroughly ransacked the place and taken everything that is not actually nailed down, I leave. And up ahead, here is the Yeti! 

That spear is immediately useful, and I manage to hit the damn thing with it, taking down some of its Stamina. This is a tough fight, though, even with that advantage, and when the damn thing falls dead, I have only a single Stamina point left. Using its corpse as a table, I eat yet more of my provisions, leaving me with only one left for emergencies. Not good. Still, now I get to go back home now, right! Get the money Big Jim Sun promised me, and enjoy wine, women and song. Nope. I find the trapper I ripped off earlier, and I learn that he was going to kill a Snow Witch that plans to lay waste to the world, or something like that. There is no option to turn back, and apparently, I am ‘intrigued’ by the challenge. So, with no supplies, food or sense, off I go. 

Narrowly dodging an avalanche, I head into the caves, and opt to turn right. I’ll keep on doing that, and see where it takes me. To hell, more than likely. Inside I find a lovely ‘yellow liquid’, and playing out my characters evident common sense, take a nice deep drink. Amazingly, it is a healing potion that the Snow Witch left lying around, so I am able to restore myself to full Stamina. Not bad...not bad. Inside the main cavern, I find a Mountain Elf, loitering aimlessly; my luck fails, and I don’t just get to walk past him. Instead, I have a joke with him, and he crashes to the floor in agony. I guess my stand-up career is over before it even began. Pausing to drink my Potion to get my luck up to its rubbish start, I leave him writhing in agony and depart. 

Up ahead, a strange thing is heading to me from the right. Perhaps left would be a better idea after all, but I said I would go right each time, so it is best to stick with that. It is a pair of Goblins, who die very quickly and easily. Pausing to loot their bodies, I press forward, into the pantry, where a Gnome offers me a piece of cake. Food is food, and I’ve drunk Witch Urine already today, so what the hell. Freebie! Though they might have attack! His Neanderthal sous-chef does enough damage to me that I eat my last ration after he dies - when the Gnome runs off, I loot the room, stealing a Magic Flute and a stick of Runes. And pricking my finger on a poisoned needle. Doh! 

The flute comes in handy immediately when I stumble across a ‘People Who Wear Cloaks’ party. Not meeting the dress code, they threaten to kill me, but pretending to be the Snow Witch’s minstrel seems to do the trick. At this point, I get the idea I am doing surprisingly well, but with no healing, I’m a glass cannon, and my low Skill is seriously beginning to worry me - though I do have a nice collection of crap in my backpack that should help. Investigating some calls for help, I find a Dwarf trying to get out of a hole, and help him up - he rewards me with a bag containing a sling and some pellets. In short, any crap he had in his pockets. Once again, the flute gets me out of trouble, allowing me to pass an evil wizard, but this is going too damn easily. On general principles, he must die. On the second try, I hit the bugger, and smash his pretty little prism. It turns out I have freed a Genie, and that this is a very good thing. I need all the help I can get. 

Heading past a grille, I see a Crystal Warrior, and here - I cheat a little. I have been informed that there are two ways to beat him - hit him with a Warhammer, or get the genie to help. Technically, you are offered the Warhammer option first, but I skipped that and went for the genie instead. He turns me invisible, and once again, I am through! Killing a zombie, I find a store room, and have to choose what to take. This smells of a ‘take right item and you die’ test, but what the hell. Dragon’s Egg, Minotaur Horn and Garlic sounds about right. I hope. The horn comes in useful instantly, and I find the Snow Witch! She is a Vampire! I’ve actually REACHED THE MAIN ENEMY! (No fudged rolls, nothing - just the trick with the Crystal Warrior, and I think that is correcting a design flaw with the book.) With garlic and the rune stick on hand...I KILL HER! Allansia is safe! 

Having read other write ups of this book, I really wasn’t expecting this at all. Really, I wasn’t. Well, taking a deep breath, I push on. There is treasure, and a guard - and amusingly, we have identical statistics. With only three points of Stamina left, I win through. Taking some gold, I run into a dwarf and an elf, freed from the thrall of the Snow Witch, and we start our escape. These must be the dwarf I rescued and the elf I crippled earlier, and it is good to see them again. Now I stumble into a choice between white and black footprints...and that leaves me with a single stamina point, and I find a disc on the floor. (Really, I am tempted to treat that cake and the fish as Provisions here.) We find a chest with an asp, and the dwarf - Stubb Axecleaver, if anyone is taking notes - kills it. Success! Then we find a caveman, and my loyal friends...hang back and let me fight it all by myself. And he kills me. That’s the end of the road, damn it - though I get the consolation that my ‘friends’ walk into a ‘not a mind flayer’ up ahead and get their brains sucked out. Serves them right, I say! 

Well, that was outstanding. I enjoyed every moment of that run-through, and this really is a classic book. Lots of difficult fights, but it is possible to win the day, and killing the Snow Witch was actually sensible, even if it appears that the beast I almost reached is the real end-boss of the dungeon. I was hoping to get past it to what comes outside, a race to be healed of a Death Spell, another great part, but with my limited Stamina, I’d never have made it anyway. This book certainly withstands the test of time, and I unquestioningly recommend it. Next stop - the Forest of Doom!

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