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Friday 28 April 2017

Winning the smart way

Quite a few reviews of my second-ever gamebook, The Temple of Flame, claim that it's too difficult. You have a series of metaphorical fiery hoops to jump through at the end that are sure to whittle away your few remaining hit points. Mission utterly impossible, right?

Well, after thirty-three years of silence I'm here to tell you it ain't so. There's a clever way to win, and it's not listed as any of the options in those fight paragraphs. Look away now if you haven't played the adventure yet and want to test your mettle.

So here's the thing. Before your final showdown with Damontir the Mad, he summons a doppelganger to fight you:
‘Damontir,’ you say flatly. ‘You will die by my sword.’

He looks at you sharply, then laughs without mirth. ‘Dragon Knight of Palados! Were we to cross blades, perhaps you might be the victor. But I have a dozen sorcerous ways to kill you before you reach me.’ He draws something from his tunic. Light flashes across your face as he turns it towards you. ‘The Mirror of the Moon.’

Damontir carefully angles the mirror to reflect your own gaze back at you and then releases it. Instead of falling to shatter on the hard stone floor, it floats in mid-air. It starts slowly to rotate, growing larger as it does so until it seems a swirling pool of quicksilver filled by your image. Then, as you stare in stunned incredulity, your own reflection steps out of the mirror and stands before you. Illuminated by the unearthly half-light of its mirror world, it does not quite seem to be your twin. Rather, it looks like a vivid portrait of yourself rendered in unnatural hues.

‘This is your simulacrum,’ explains Damontir. ‘A soulless duplicate of yourself.’ The simulacrum utters an unreal cry and advances on you with a look of wild malice. ‘It is an unreasoning automaton, quite dedicated to its single purpose. Killing you.’
Contemptuously, he turns away from the fight and resumes his translation of the runes on the podium. The simulacrum has the same VIGOUR as you have at the moment. It is like you in every respect, except that it has neither soul nor intellect, and does not cast a shadow. You prepare yourself for battle.

Turn to 43
So reviewers sometimes grumble that means a fight at fifty-fifty odds followed by having to take on Damontir himself. Did you spot the exploit? Earlier in the adventure you should have picked up a Ring of Healing, which you can use at any time to restore your VIGOUR to full. The simulacrum has the exact same stats as you have at the moment that Damontir creates it. So just hold off using that ring. Make sure you have only a few VIGOUR points left when you catch up with your foe, that way the simulacrum will be created with the same VIGOUR. You can use the ring (the clue is in that line "prepare yourself for battle") to make that a very unequal fight, then you're ready to tackle Damontir almost at full strength.


  1. You would have to know that's coming for that exploit to be used. Is there any reason for the player to expect a doppelganger to be created of them with their exact current vigour? If not, I'd say this exploit is merely hypothetical and not practical.

    This is not, presumably, like a computer game where you just load your last save and try a new strategy. You've got one shot, no?

    1. Most gamebooks are designed to be replayed, and you're always going to come to this pinch point battle, so there's that. But in fact you'd be pretty rash to use a one-shot item that gives you back full hit points when you're still above 1/3 hits, say, so in fact you're quite likely to have the item still unused at this stage of the adventure even on your first time through. You just have to remember you've got it, and that you can use it in any paragraph that isn't actually a combat (ie before turning to 43).

  2. I comment as someone who played through The Temple of Flame repeatedly in order to beat it last decade.

    The first time I reached the endgame, I used the Ring too soon, anticipating a brutal showdown with Damontir and not realising that I'd have to fight a doppelganger first, so the Doppelganger and I both started at maximum VIGOUR. The next time I got that far (and on any subsequent attempts) I knew to save the Ring until the Doppelganger was formed, but the 'prepare yourself' hint was too little, too late, the first time around.

    In any case, my issues with the book's difficulty were always more to do with the Smoke Wraith encounter than the Doppelganger fight. A character who rolled the maximum possible PSI and AGILITY has just under 3% chance of succeeding at the rolls necessary to survive the encounter, and the only way of avoiding the encounter involves having made a distinctly counter-intuitive decision at an earlier stage.

    1. Thanks for dropping by, Ed. I always enjoy your playthroughs on Adventure Gameblog -- and I keep checking in the hope of a new one soon :-)

      If you've got maximum scores in PSI and AGILITY you should have just under 30% chance of surviving the smoke wraiths without the item. At the time I probably thought the earlier option to take out the golem after it's already been damaged would tempt most players, but in retrospect I should have provided a better reason to do so.

      The spiral staircase isn't the easiest (or most dramatic) route down in any case, but even so it shouldn't have been that tough. Mea culpa.

    2. A character with maximum PSI has a 3/8 chance of making the first roll to survive the smoke wraiths, but the PSI drain which follows means the odds of surviving the second PSI roll drop to just under 1/10. Cumulatively, and adding in the intervening AGILITY roll (5/6 chance for someone at maximum), that makes for overall odds of 2.89% or thereabouts. Even government spokespersons would have a hard time calling that 'just under 30%' ;-)

      The counter-intuitive decision I mentioned was FLEEing the fight with Doom. Since you only need 7 or above to hit him, and the FLEE option involves a potentially lethal leap into the unknown, players are unlikely to try it until they've exhausted practically every other option and still not found the conch shell trumpet.

      Thanks to very recent developments (over the course of the past month and concluding this morning), I should have more free time in the evenings once May begins, so I hope to resume Adventure Gameblog then. And the next book lined up in my schedule is your own Twist of Fate.

    3. I thought max PSI was 9, though? Which on 2d6 is an 83.33% chance of success...

      Ah, wait, I'm looking at the second edition. In the original that roll is made on 3 dice, you're right. Yikes. I probably meant to put 2 dice and then failed to spot it in proofs. I apologize to an entire generation of gamebookers for that one :-(

      I'm looking forward to seeing how you fare with Twist of Fate. There's a new edition of that too (Once Upon A Time In Arabia -- ) but as it's diceless I don't think there's any risk of the same goof as with ToF!

    4. Wow! Just yesterday, in a discussion of Golden Dragon and the reissues, I commented:

      Small changes could make a big difference to the playability of ToF. If those two 3d6 rolls have been changed to 2d6, that would make a huge difference.

      That's a definite incentive to look into getting the new editions when finances permit.

    5. I feel like I owe a free copy to everybody who got a character slaughtered in the original version. Don't quote me on that, though. The most heavily revised of the new editions was probably Keep of the Lich Lord (necessarily, to fit it into the Fabled Lands setting and rules) but I've tried to find all instances where the original challenges were too harsh.