Saturday, 21 May 2011

Frank's Alcoholic Root Beer in The Castle of Lost Souls

So I wake up 3 months later with a blistering headache and wondering what on earth is going on. At breakfast with my employers, the Greengosh family I crack open a bottle of Frank's Alcoholic Root Beer (4%), and receive disapproving glances from their youngest. I'm also given "a rather foul smelling preparation made from rancid milk, animal fat, and rotting vegetables" - What a bizarre coincidence! The root-beer tastes like a rancid preparation of Coke (probably because of the vanilla) and anti-septic mouthwash (probably because of the aniseed) and lager.

Wishing pseudo-medieval Europe had toothbrushes to clean the taste out of my mouth, I put on the magic boots I stole from the giant (see prog 131 - Zhu) and head off to get some Nuns hair and saints ashes. Throwing 4 coins at an underbridge toll-man beggar, he informs me that nuns shave their heads before entering a coven (so it's downstairs nun hair I'm looking for?!?) - I head off to desecrate a shrine and steal some charred saint corpse. The gods spot that I'm a good for nothing low-life scum and send an Angel Warrior to defend their saintly relics. A swig of Franks (not so bad with the second go) to aid my courage and I send him back to the mists he came from. Rolling the 3 dice the 2 'to Hit' and one 'Damage' at the same time, speeds up combat dramatically. I steal the urn and head off to the hills.

I come across a gang of robbers beating up an old man and his travelling companions and decide to help them out, an epic amount of dice rolling ensues as I fight off 4 robbers, one named Emaj Dogbreath,  perhaps he had some of Frank's Alcoholic Root Beer earlier in the day. But rather than show him sympathy for his stinky-breathed plight, I beat the living daylights out of him. I get 2 points of honour for my efforts and disapproving looks from a novice-to-be, probably due to the stench of Root Beer exuding from my mouth.  Nonetheless I escort them to the nunnery, where the nuns heal me up, give me food and board and a strand of newly shaven nuns hair.  So it was upstairs hair all along. Thank goodness for that!

Off we go, and come across some guy fishing, I try to pass off some of my Root Beer on to him and he hands me his fishing rod. Together we land a fish the size of a dog and he gives me a magical 'ring of light'. What a lovely chap, despite his hints of cannibalism. Wander off,  away from the river and taking another swig, decide that the Alcoholic Root Beer is really not for me, but, I'll see it though to the aniseedy end. Suddenly. out of no-where a Lammasu appears. I take the pseudo-medieval comment back, there is clearly some middle-eastern thing going on. Time for some game-theory: I know Lammasu in D&D are good aligned, but I also know that Dave Morris expects that I know that Lammasu in D&D are good aligned. But Dave Morris also knows that I expect him to throw a googly every now and then, so if he thinks that I expect a trick, then it won't be a trick and the winged lion-man will be good. While debating my next move with myself, the Root Beer seems to have gone flat (which doesn't improve the flavour at all) and the Lammasu shows me his paw has a thorn in it. Like something out of the Bible, I remove the thorn from the Lammasu and he gives me a point of Honour, congratulates me on a fine use of game-theory and advises me to not try that sort of thing in future in case I doublethink myself into oblivion.

What's in your backpack?
Stinky potion of healing, the 3 dice combat-fu and Ljósdvergar
Heading out of the hills, I meet two goblins who do the classic 'he always lies' routine, and I go right and head off into the mists. The Root Beer seems to have coated the inside of my mouth and I'm belching like a giant toad in mating season. Not good. The alcohol doesn't seem very prominent just a slight blurring of the edges and the whole world smells like a dentists surgery. I start to see various items from my back-pack hanging off trees, but am used to the effects of hallucinogenic mist, so choose to ignore them and just keep walking. While trying to get some sleep, a gaggle of Marshoons - strange leathery creatures - are attracted by the light of the fire and threaten to squash me with their curiosity. Using the ring of light gained from the fisherman person, I send out an impressive flash of light scattering the Marshoons off, into the night. Next morning, staggering around a bit more in the mist, I eventually espy the Castle of Lost Souls, but it seems to keep moving, every time I get close, it moves away. The beer isn't that strong, so it must be the magics. Gipsy Gails crystal ball shows the way out of the mist and onwards, towards episode 4 and the conclusion of the quest...

At last we enter Castle Greyskull (at least that is what the illustration looks like) I poke around on the ground floor for a bit, finding nothing. Then go upstairs, ignore a lot of doors and get into a fight with a bearskin rug. I'm not sure ignoring the doors is the best thing to do, the Castle of Lost Souls seems to generally reward curiosity and exploration, but I'm eager to see the end. Not as eager as I am to get to the end of the foul brew I'm forcing myself to drink. Nonetheless, I manage not to freeze to death in a freezing trap of death and not be turned to a minion of the demon Slank by having enough Honour Points. Then ta-da, up pops the final battle with the demon himself. He's a toughie, who guarantees a hit every round, but of course evil is vanquished in the end. Liberally sprinkling powdered saint  over his demon corpse I free the imprisoned spirits from the castle and have finally won the day! The people of the land celebrate, give me some mithril armour (no mention of it's armour value tho') and 700 GP, which should pay off this adventurers bar tab. THE END.

If you like Root Beer a lot, then give Frank's a try. If your not a frequent Root Beer drinker, avoid it. Not even with a 10ft pole. Rancid doesn't come close to describing its awfulness, it's just not worth it. Never again.

Overall, I really enjoyed the Castle of Lost Souls. The episodic format works nicely, the combat system is quick, but like most solos, involves a lot of dice rolling. The multi-combatant combat even had a slightly tactical element, as choosing the order of which enemy to fight has an impact on the outcome. The use of Honour is a well implemented 'alignment' system, that allows you the freedom to do good or bad things and those actions to have consequences. For example - the episode with the robbers and the nun gave the choice of fighting on the robbers side, I don't know what happens if you take that choice, but just having the 'do evil' choice there has a much more mature feel than only giving the options of heroic or cowardly action.  The moral-relativity 'grittyness' is balanced with encounters which are both colourful and enjoyable, the quirkiness of giants with rubber gloves and acid lakes or Lammasu with thorns in their paws doesn't become ridiculous, but added flavour and interest.

The series ran in White Dwarf issues 52-55, and was reprinted in the Golden Dragon Gamebook series, which was named after my local Chinese restaurant (or not).

Beer: -1 Gamebook: 4 (just need a graphic of Derek the Troll jumping with glee)


  1. I've started looking forward to coming across these combined Beer/book reviews as I make my way through your blog :)

    I completely agree with you about the evils of Root Beer (my wife loves the stuff so I have to put up wit hthe smell regularly). The main flavouring is the herb Wintergreen, which is also the main flavour/aroma of Germaline. Why the hell would you want to make an alcoholic bevergae out of it!?!

    1. Oh. I'm sorry to disappoint - the series 'dries up' a little, and I think there is only one more.

      I still enjoy an evening with a bottle of good or strange ale and similar gamebook, but writing them up became a bit of a chore.

      Thanks for the herblore tho, Wintergreen. I do quite like normal Root Beer in small doses, especially with lots of ice. Speaking of weird beer, Berliner Weisse is cut with Woodruff, which is utterly revolting. The also have this hideous concoction of coke and beer they call Diesel. I expect these things exist precisely for people like me who try it, then regret it. Hardly seems the most sustainable business model! lol!

  2. I've just finished the last installment - I've tried that McGuigans and I agree with you.

    On the subject of rootbeer and herblore - I need to issue a correction, I went back to the book I thought I read it in and the main flavouring is Sassafras, not Wintergreen, which is slightly minty. Apparently the popularity of that sort of drink originates with the frontier settlers and farmers as the US expanded, who brewed up various roots like Sassafras, Wintergreen and Hoarhound(?!), to make potable non-alcahlic or very low ABV beverages. Something I'm going to feature in my frontier farming communities in my D&D campaign I think, which is why I went back to check.

    Re: weird beers - one of the features of our campaign is our Dwarven cleric's new recipe for Froach (Heather Beer) that has hit the market and disrupted the highly lucrative and fiercely protected Halfling Cider monopoly! Froach actually exists and my Dad once made me try some. Let's just say the memory lingered so that I could use it in a D&D campaign years later. Around the table we used Blandford Flyer from Badger Brewery to represent the new brew, which seemed to evoke the same reaction in many of the players!

    I also saw a Woodruff infused beer featured in the finals of this years' Great British Menu. It must be a hipster thing.

    1. Oh I loves me some Blandford Flyer! It's been a while. I have also tried Froach, but can't for the life of me remember what it tasted like - although I do remember the 'celtic' graphic design.

      The herbal beer campaign sounds like a blast, as does the frontier herbal beverage production. Collecting rare herbs a mainsay of low-level adventuring. I've long pondered doing something with Culpepers Herbal.

    2. Thanks for the link! What a great resource. I'm already planning on sending them off in search of some 'Arssmart' - a key ingredient in potions of Cure Disease by the sound of it. :)