Original cover art by Iain McCaig

Book 3: The Forest of Doom

Written by: Ian Livingstone

Illustrated by: Malcolm Barter

First published: 1983

“Who knows what monstrous creatures lurk in Darkwood Forest?

Only the foolhardy would risk an encounter with the unknown perils that lurk in the murky depths of Darkwood Forest. Yet there is no alternative, for your quest is a desperate race against time to find the missing pieces of the legendary Hammer of Stonebridge – fashioned by Dwarfs to protect the villagers of Stonebridge against their ancient doom.”

The third book in the Fighting Fantasy series, and Ian Livingstone’s first solo effort, was an important one for the series. It was the first book not to be confined to a dungeon type setting, it marked the first appearance of the good wizard, Yaztromo, who would go on to be a major character in the series, it introduced the village of Stonebridge and the dwarfs who dwelt there, and it marked the first appearance of one of the series best loved monsters, the Shapechanger (wonderfully visualised on the iconic cover by artist, Iain McCaig, whose artwork was then homaged with the Wizard books cover by Martin McKenna). It also has feature which makes it unique among the entire run of FF books, but more on that later. Onwards with the Quest! As ever, if you haven’t read The Forest of Doom, there are very definite spoilers contained within.

Wizard Books cover by Martin McKenna

Attempt 1

Skill: 11

Stamina: 15

Luck: 8

Pretty good on the skill front, but I’m not liking those rolls for stamina and luck. Ah, well. The book starts with me meeting a dwarf, but he’s got an arrow sticking out of him. Damn. The dwarf, named Bigleg, has been shot by trolls, who are at war with the dwarfs of Stonebridge, where Bigleg hails from. Bigleg and his fellow dwarfs are desperate to recover the Hammer of Gillibran, which has been lost in Darkwood Forest. Bigleg’s dying wish is for me to continue his quest, and seek out the wizard, Yaztromo, who lives in a tower on the edge of Darkwood. Go on then.

I arrive at Yaztromo’s tower, where the grumpy wizard ushers me inside and invites me upstairs. Following him up, we arrive in a cluttered room where Yaztromo offers to sell me some items. With the limited gold I have, I choose to buy some holy hater, an armband of strength, a glove of missile dexterity, a rod of water finding, some boots of leaping, a ring of light, a net of entanglement, and some potions of healing, anti-poison, stillness, insect control and plant control.

Yaztromo’s Tower by Malcolm Barter

Yaztromo then tells me about the Hammer. It seems that the king of another, rival Dwarven village was jealous of Gillibran and his fabled hammer, and arranged for it to be stolen by an eagle. Unfortunately, as the eagle flew over Darkwood Forest, it was attacked by death hawks, and the hammer was dropped into the forest, where it was found by two goblins who argued over which of them would get to keep it. Discovering the head could be unscrewed from the handle, the goblins split the hammer in two, and went their seperate ways. So, now I have to find two bits of hammer in Darkwood. Brilliant.

I leave Yaztromo’s tower, and enter the forest, soon coming to a junction, where I take the east fork. This takes me to another juntion where I can either head north, or continue east. Luckily, there is a talking crow perched on a signpost who offers to tell me which way to go. Unluckily, he wants a gold piece for his trouble, and I’m all out, having spent everything in Yaztromo’s tower. The crow flies off, and I continue eastwards.

Continuing onwards, I come to a tree with some strange fruit growing from it. Figuring strange fruit can only be a good thing, I eat some. The fruit tastes very bitter, and I’m given the option to spit it out, but bitter tasting stuff is always healthy, right? No. No, it’s not. The fruit is definitely poisonous. Good thing I have a potion of anti-poison. That does the trick, and I continue forwards until I hear some voices coming from the side of the path. Investigating, I find some orcs who attack me. I make short work of them, and get some gold and a wooden whistle for my troubles.

Further along the path I hear a growling noise, which turns out to be an angry bear with a dart sticking out of its chest. We fight, and I put the poor creature out of its misery. Then I take the dart, because it’s worth money, and I’m greedy. After a few twists and turns, I end up heading west, I see some dogs chasing a fox towards me. There is also a masked man on a horse with them. I await their arrival, and begin a conversation with the man, making friends because I’m a nice guy and I don’t just attack him for his gold. The man ends up giving me some belladonna, saying I’ll need it if I’m to spend the night in Darkwood Forest, and we go our seperate ways.

The Fishman, by Malcolm Barter

I soon come across a hut, inside which is a muscular man flexing his manly muscles. I enter the hut, and he challenges me to an arm wrestling competition, which I easily win thanks to my armband of strength. I’m given some dust of levitation as a prize, and continue on my merry way. I arrive at a river with a waterfall below. I can either cross the river, or descend the fall, and choose the latter. Which is where a fishman attacks me. Bloody fishmen. I beat my aquatic foe, and leave the cavern, then decide I’m sleepy. Nap time!

Unfortunately, I’m awoken by a werewolf who tries to eat me. I swfitly kill it, but not without receiving a wound. This would be a problem, if I hadn’t been given some belladonna earlier, which thankully cures lycanthropy. Morning comes, and I take my decidedly non-werewolfy self onwards, until a couple of hillmen fire arrows at me. Quite rude, I think. Especially since the arrows hit me and cause me to lose three stamina. Not being a fan of this turn of events, I attack and kill the hillmen, finding a small silver key on them.

As I continue on my quest, I find a well. Figuring a piece of the hammer could be thrown down a well easily enough, I decide to check it out. Alas, I find no hammer piece, just a bunch of gremlins, some gold, a medallion and, bizarrely, a clay hand. Ah, well. I climb out of the well, and walk along the path, where I see a friar coming the other way. He seems to have lost his brass bell. I don’t have it, so the cheeky bugger asks me for a charitable donation instead. Fine, why not? I gain two luck points and continue along my way.

The Wyvern, by Malcolm Barter

Arriving at a mysterious stone building, I decide to investigate. A key is required, which I happen to have thanks to those hillmen. How handy. Inside the building is a large stone box, but I can’t lift the lid off. A liberal sprinkling of the dust of leviation I won earlier does the trick, but wouldn’t ya know it, the box turns out to be a coffin, and I’m attacked by a ghoul. I defeat the undead monster, and find that it was lying on top of the head of Gillibran’s hammer! Halfway there!

Heading north, towards Stonebridge, I see something glittering by the side of the road. My curiosity piqued, I investigate, but get attacked by a wyvern. I don’t have a flute, which is apparently something I could use here, so we fight. It’s not an easy battle, but I prevail, and gain a gold throwing knife. There is also a gauntlet and a ring, both of which I can try on. I put on the gauntlet, which turns out to be a gauntlet of weapon skill, which is nice. In my experience, when there are two items, one is good and one is bad, so I ignore the ring and continue north.

I’m soon ambushed by a group of bandits, who demand five objects from my pack as I’m trespassing on their territory. I’m not really keen to give anything up, so I attack them instead, and defeat each and every one. Continuing north, I finally arrive at Stonebridge. But I only have half the hammer. Balls.

Here’s where the book gets interesting. With only half the hammer, I’m told I will have to walk around Darkwood Forest, back to Yaztromo’s tower to buy more items and try again. In the process, I’m attacked by Hillmen, and have to test my luck. Being lucky means I survive, and am sent to paragraph 1 again. What this means is, even if you fail, you are able to continue your quest and take another trip through Darkwood, though with all the traps and dead creatures reset, as part of the same attempt, with all the equipment you’ve collected so far, and a full map of the route to Stonebridge, assuming you kept one like I did. The Forest of Doom is the only Fighting Fantasy book which does this, and it’s an interesting feature of the book.

The Crow, by Malcolm Barter

Anyway, returning to Yaztromo, I buy one of everything I don’t currently have, and still have plenty of gold left over. Remembering the crow from earlier, who apparently had useful information, I head east again, and sure enough, there he is. I pay him one gold, and he tells me to go north. So I do, meeting some hobgoblins along the way. We fight, and I win, gaining a gold flute (I wonder what that could be for?), some biscuits and a mouse skull necklace.

Further along the path I find a large hole, which I investigate. It turns out to be the lair of a sting worm, which I’m forced to battle. Killing the worm nets me a potion of weapon skill, which is handy. Continuing along the path, I come across a cave, which I decide to investigate. Inside is an ogre, who has another creature in a cage. I throw a rock at the ogre, and thanks to my glove of missile dexterity, knock him clean out. Go me!

The creature in the cage turns out to be a goblin with something around his neck. Interesting… Further investiation leads to the goblin attacking me, but the day I can’t take one goblin is the day I hand in my sword and shield. And probably get killed by a goblin. Thankfully, this is not that day. I defeat the goblin, and discover the handle of Gillibran’s hammer around his neck. Joy!

With both parts of the hammer, all I need to do now is make it to Stonebridge. I head north, until I come to a place I recognise on my map, and then simply follow the same route to the dwarf village, though this time I avoid any confrontations and traps I can. Paying the now alive again bandits this time, I make it to Stonebridge, return the hammer, and succeed in my quest. Victory!

Conclusion

The Forest of Doom is a fun adventure, though with it’s unique “return to 1″ feature, is hardly the most challenging FF book going. Keep a map, and it makes your second journey through Darkwood (should you need it) pretty straightforward. Still, the quest is an entertaining one, and Livingstone introduces many elements which would become mainstays of the series as a whole. It’s also interesting to follow Livingstone’s solo books and see how his style of writing, and adventure, would progress.

At this point, I need to mention the You Are The Hero Kickstarter project. Jonathan Green, who has written a number of acclaimed Fighting Fantasy books, including Spellbreaker, Bloodbones and Howl of the Werewolf, is writing a definitive history of the Fighting Fantasy series to celebrate thirty years of FF. Planned as a coffee table book featuring illustrations from many of the books, and interviews with Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, Green is asking FF fans to help fund the project, and is a third of the way towards his goal already. This is a book I definitely want on my shelf, so if you’re interested in Fighting Fantasy, then I recommend you head over to the kickstarter and pledge a donation.

The Forest of Doom – A Fighting Fantasy Flashback