Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Howl of the Werewolf
Of all the writers who could’ve come back to write new Fighting Fantasy books, I’m glad in no small way that the one who did was John Green. His work was consistently good more often than any other contributor to the series, and here he’s written what’s easily one of the greatest books in Fighting Fantasy history.
Finding yourself caught out in some spooky woods with no sign of civilization is bad enough, but it gets even worse when you find yourself surrounded by abnormally large wolves. After one bites you it turns out they weren’t wolves at all but lycanthropes, and unless you can find a cure before the next full moon in a few days you can look forward to becoming one yourself.
Tweaking the basic system of these books, whether it involved adding a magic system or a fear statistic, wasn’t always done well. Howl of the Werewolf did it very well. The maximums for combat skill and health scores while rolling up your character are lower than in most Fighting Fantasy books, but after pursuing a cure for a while the reason why becomes clear. When your transformation spikes, you’ll get stronger and gain lupine powers, like seeing in the dark and growing claws so you aren’t penalized for fighting without a weapon. It’s even possible to get your hands on a gun.
As you might expect it isn’t all good news, though. You have a score keeping track of how far along your change into a werewolf has progressed, and while it’s possible to push it back a little from time to time, the higher it is the harder it’ll be for you to ignore the beast within. And if you think people will care that you’re trying not to become a werewolf, be prepared to miss out on a lot of help.
Besides how well-implemented the mechanics are, the book’s an excellent piece of work from an atmospheric standpoint as well. Most of the book takes place in dark, oppressive forests, ruins or Bavarian-style villages full of distrustful locals, and the writing provides an excellent feeling of gothic horror.
Even a visit to the “carnivale” manages to keep you on edge. The excellent illustrations by Martin McKenna do plenty to enhance the atmosphere, and let it be a testament to how much I enjoy this book that I don’t want to damage my copy to scan pictures. As well, with the book being 115 sections longer than the books in the original series, there’s a ton of exploring to do.
The only problem I had with the book was the choice of monsters. There’s a ghost or two, some disturbing mutants, but mostly there’s a heaping helping of enemy lycanthropes. It’s appropriate, but after fighting the fourth one you’ll start to wonder if there weren’t any other appropriately creepy monsters Green could have mixed in.
It’s not that big a problem, though, and if you like solo role-playing with a good dash of horror, you’ll like this book. Do yourself a favor and pick it up now.