Inferno! – Conclusion



As a preface I want to say that the Smith / Thomson combo is equal, in my opinion, with Steve Jackson (UK) as my favourite gamebook writer(s) (literally) ever.

In particular, their world-building was (is) second to none.  The fantastically depicted world of Orb features in Talisman of Death (Fighting Fantasy) along with the Way of the Tiger and Duel Master series.  Characters such as Tyutchev and Cassandra were memorably wicked.

Also, these writers’ Falcon books were really the only science fiction gamebooks to gain any meaningful praise or traction.

Having said this, I have to say that Inferno, as a gamebook, isn’t really up to snuff.  I appreciate that there were other outside factors in play at the time, but this gamebook, both for a 12-year-old, and now, was (is) a real disappointment.  In no real order :

  • So many of the paragraphs are devoted to paths that are not only unnecessary, but seem designed to be undesirable and to make your path more difficult.  The obvious example is bringing Foxglove with you into the Rift.  At no stage (to my knowledge) does bringing along Foxglove actually make your quest easier in any way whatsoever. So, even if you bring her along for your ‘first’ attempt (which seems screamingly wrong in the first place) why on earth would you do it on any repeat performance?
  • As I made a running gag, unless you actively seek out fights, there is a crippling lack of actual dice rolls or fights in the book.  I made what, I thought, were fairly straightforward decisions throughout the book, and didn’t have to fight a single combat through to conclusion.  The only fight was against Tyutchev, and this only lasted three rounds before outside factors brought it to a halt.
  • The book was clearly not finished properly.  As fans of the series know, there were a series of obvious editing and continuity errors, involving whether Foxglove or the four stooges were with you and also concerning your journey between the various tiers.
  • Capturing Cassandra near the start of the book, with no indication that this might be a bad idea, resulted in failure literally at the penultimate paragraph of the whole book.  Sure, this results in a shock to first-time players, but was a bitter disappointment to readers who, like all the other books, expected to be rewarded for smart play.
  • As has been recounted on many occasions, the book’s hybrid cliffhanger / ending was not only frustrating, but also confusing.  For years, there was a legitimate confusion as to whether another book was intended, or if the words ‘The End’ meant that Avenger was doomed to snuggle in a spider’s web for eternity.
  • Avenger’s  ninja skills were barely touched upon during the book.  I think, in the path which I have detailed in these posts, I was queried only once or twice as to whether I possessed a particular skill.
  • The interesting politics / wargame ideas from the last two books were sadly lacking, with this book depicting a far more predictable ‘dungeon crawl’.

In any event, it was good news for everybody when David Walters got the commission to finish the series, and I hope that this incarnation of Avenger, battle-hardened by not being killed since Book 3, will be up to the challenge!


6 thoughts on “Inferno! – Conclusion

  1. I think I just had an image of you in the court room, starting by acknowledging your clients opponent as a clean living, hard working, loving father just before revealing why they were an abysmal husband and should be punished most severely. (Don’t worry, I’m not looking for more “behind the curtain” stuff on how you handle law cases, nor is my wife looking for a divorce lawyer … yet …).

    Now I know that I said in my post on the previous page that all your criticisms were true (everyone thinks “He’s going to say but”), well … they’re still true. I’d just like to add an alternate viewpoint. I hope some of your readers may still decide to try or re-try the series, including Inferno,with slightly different eyes.

    Foxglove: Well, on your facebook page David Walters did reveal ” I’ve heard Mark Smith say that this book is at its best when you take Foxglove with you: maybe he has a thing for her! 😉 ” before adding ” When playing book 6 I usually travel with Foxglove, it is less lonely in the darkness that way. But watch out for treachery.” Of course you’re right that she doesn’t make things easier at all, but games aren’t always about the easiest route, sometimes they’re also about interesting routes (or “How do I do this? Hey! I did it” routes). David Walters has actually given you a little bonus in Redeemer for keeping Foxglove with you to the end (along with some potential extra headaches). If you’re just focused on surviving (as I usually am) then you still won’t take her. But if you’d like an extra challenge she’ll provide it.

    Also at the start there were various ways that you could capture Cassandra and/or Foxglove. They’re actually quite good and fun (running off with Foxglove over my shoulder and thinking how light she now is gives me a guilty grin while attacking the orc camp and forcing them to surrender satisfies my need to show I’m still Alpha Male and there’s more). The problem was the poor playtesting that results in all of these getting you killed at the end. Frankly, next time I play I’ll probably just try to capture her anyway and … forget to note that her Coldsword is now in my cellar. (Frankly, if I was letting someone go I’d give them back their property, letting go MEANS letting go [unless its Commando], if you won’t execute anyone due to your conscience then I can listen to mine also).

    I do feel it was above a standard “Dungeon crawl” but honestly … that’s only because of the detailed world that you were doing your dungeon crawl through. Their mastery of description with few words is still there, but the gameplay is below par. But I have to say that I DID enjoy my two playthroughs of Inferno since I got Reedeemer and Ninja and I think others would also.

    Otherwise I have to agree with everything you say, other than that your current Avenger has only be alive since book 4. Overlord was Book 4 and you got SLAUGHTERED in that one.

    Roll on Redeemer, I shall endeavor only to open my mouth to cheer … but what my fingers do, that’s another story, quite another story…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. OK – I have a client waiting to sign Affidavit material, but this is important!

      1. As someone who, as well as being a lawyer, has a significant background in debating and public speaking, it is a standard rhetorical technique to acknowledge a strength in the argument of your opponent, before than explaining how said ‘strength’ cannot survive against the force of your own arguments.


      2. I think that, rather than make taking Foxglove a choice (and a fairly obviously bad one, at that) taking her should be been compulsory. For instance, Cassandra could have said that the Black Widow would, on the 7th tier, exchange Glaivas and Dore for an (alive) Foxglove and the Scepter. This would have enabled the complications of Foxglove’s company while avoiding the editorial headaches of constantly asking whether she was with you.

      3. The capture of Cassandra should have included a choice of whether to return her Coldsword prior to releasing her from your captivity. There could have been a heavy-handed hint about how you never know what might happen later on if you keep it.

      4. Literally no new characters are added in this adventure. It depends for resonance for the attachment / rivalries you have formed through previous books.

      5. Since I go back to the start of each book after an incarnation of Avenger ‘dies’, it means that this incarnation of Avenger has survived books 4 (because that incarnation finished it without dying) 5 and 6.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Clients feel you’re really working hard for them when you leave them sitting in a room for half an hour, its the same as when a retail worker types a text in the warehouse before coming out to tell a customer “Sorry, I looked everywhere but we don’t have any Snarks, only Boojum’s”.

        1) I’m reminded of Mark Anthony stirring up a riot while repeatedly saying “They are all all honourable men”.

        2) If you bring Foxglove you don’t get too kill a Sister of Nullaq and take its potion of healing. I like your idea though.

        3) Totally agree.

        4) Totally agree, it was done as a winding down of the series. But in fairness there were 7 new types of enemy introduced, 5 of which you could fight in different ways.

        5) Point taken, apologies for doubting you.

        Now I better go back to the customer looking for a Vorpal Sword.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. My idea was that people would forgive the flaws of book 6 if it led to a strong book 7 that closely linked with the plot and characters of Inferno. Certainly that was behind a lot of the thinking for the next book.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. At the time I was sure that the serie was left unfinished, because this was what happened to several other gamebooks series (especially those of Doug Headline and Dominique Monrocq).

    I clearly remember fighting the Avenger in “Blood Valley” of the Duelmaster gamebooks serie, after attacking the temple of Kwon (he can’t be killed, if defeated he runs away… in that book there’s also a powerful old lone monk of Kwon that may be Togawa), so I expected more adventures of our ninja.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. At the time, I thought it was just a strangely-worded ending and I was fully convinced it was a cliffhanger. (TBH, at the time, I didn’t know the word cliffhanger). Then I couldn’t find the next book in the local libraries and bookstores. So I tought the author was still writing the next book (or awaited translation…). Some other series where simply never translated fully so it was not totally impossible. I was thouroughly disappointed. Then I learnt it was simply the “real end” and was frustrated at the series for the next 30 years. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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