The Rings of Kether
for Gamebook

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Mr Creosote:
Alternate Titles: Der Stern der Schmuggler
Company: Puffin Books
Year: 1985
Genre: RPG
Theme: Mystery / Science Fiction
Language: English, Deutsch
Licence: Commercial
Views: 287
Review by Mr Creosote (2024-02-03)
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Science Fiction scenarios in the Fighting Fantasy line… this had not been a good match so far. The two series founders had made the bland Starship Traveller and the lazy Freeway Fighter. Newcomer Andrew Chapman had been responsible for the disastrous Space Assassin. The same Chapman made his return to the series with The Rings of Kether.

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Library research

In the role of an undercover policeman, the player is supposed to bust a ring of drug smugglers, set in a world of spaceships and blasters. Which, of course, nobody could have possibly guessed based on the absolutely awful title, containing not only a misplaced religious reference, but also a promise at fantasy/magic which the book does not deliver on thematically at all. But, well, why not?

Unexpectedly, after the opening sections and landing on the planet, the book turns into a sort of noir detective story. With few solid leads to start with, there are wildly different options at the player's disposal. Talk to the local police? Though what if they are corrupt and in on the drug trafficking? Maybe try to observe some irregularities right there at the spaceport, where after all the logistics must happen some way? Or dive straight into the seedy underground bars:

Quote:
The canteen you find is advertised by a gaudy crypt-fluorescent animated sign, depicting a large 'Crush' class stellar battleship diving into foaming glass of undefined liquid. The sound-effects are deafening, full of fusion-motor roars, laser zaps and dam-sized splashes. Looks promising.

Much less than most books in the series so far, The Rings of Kether concerns itself with the logical course of action rather than the physicality details. It is hardly concerned with a door being on the left or on the right, but rather with the principle directions of the investigation. Following the breadcrumbs of hints. Sometimes losing a trace, but even that is usually not a game over. Because – another specialty – most paths can lead to the crucial pieces in some way.

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Assassin!

Figuring out a sensible way through the story instead of exploring physical space, failing and next time taking another branch – for sure, this cannot be applauded enough! Likewise, some key scenes, such as the meetings with the cheesily named Zera Gross or the brilliantly designed car chase, raise the tension at the right times. All this makes it easy to forget and forgive that some of the game mechanics introduced are not all that consistently handled; such as the book doing a lot of fuss about money, but then conveniently forgetting about charging money for taxi passage etc.

It is baffling how Chapman jumped to a completely different quality level in just his second book. Though then, there are aspects where his relative lack of experience still shows. Such as when indeed, a lead is lost, the way the player is just offered some generic fallback choices coming out of nowhere to get them back on track is hardly elegant. Arguably worse, there is no mechanic to keep state of character knowledge. When a clue is found, it must either be followed right away or it will be lost forever; revisiting it later is never an option.

Plus, maybe more severely, the endgame does turn into a generic dungeon crawl (with robots and blasters) once again. Suddenly, there are the typical T-junctions. The choices of opening a door or moving past it. Not badly done, but certainly a letdown after the much more interesting first half.

Be that as it may, The Rings of Kether is a big deal. A redemption for both the science fiction theme inside the line and for Andrew Chapman as a gamebook author. Taking a forward looking approach by making the gameplay (mostly) about the narrative itself, rather than implicitly influencing it through purely mechanical activities. Even if execution is still far from perfect, it is one to check out.

Comments (1) [Post comment]

Mr Creosote:
It's Fighting Fantasy time again! Well, Sci-Fi-Fantasy. The Rings of Kether are not magic artefacts to battle an evil sorcerer, but rather drug trafficking "rings". And that creature on the cover is a woman, by the way. She, at least, is defying all stereotypes. Bravo!
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