A survivor leaves his raided village seeking revenge against the elflike invaders who butchered his family.
A novel idea here involves stacking the revenge concept. For example, the already-vengeful protagonist can join an army of torturers who exploit his rage further. He can also drink a berserker potion in battle and brutalize his dead foes, marking himself as the most insane hothead on the battlefield. The hero can get his allies killed through his temerity and reckless belligerence. With multiple groin stabs and brutal executions, which Badowski ran wild with before the first section, Thiathrow becomes hard to identify as either a serious revenge story or a black comedy.
The rules hint at such confusion and inconsistency. Stats and the “turn to” commands appear in upper or lower case sporadically, as shown in this run-on sentence: “Defence is not affected by fatigue or cold weather only your HEALTH is.” I believe most of the RPG-playing world views hit points as health, not damage as Badowski describes. How can a writer so enthusiastic about fantasy games present such a thing or omit a character sheet? I suspect the Red Bull.
The rules have a video game quality to them. The player combatant can eat, drink, and switch to ranged weapons in melee battle. While logically-minded readers will grab a bullhorn over this, it does keep the complexity low and the fun convenience high. Even the story feels video-gamey at times. “Every time the woman comes near you you boot her in the stomach and she lands on her rump [just like in Double Dragon.]”
The combat system works, and I found the simple “equal to or higher than” rule gives the player a surprising edge in a mostly random system. The dice rolling becomes tedious, though. For instance, the first battle on section 1 requires 56 dice rolls (28 if you count both dice as one roll) with no player input or strategy. Little gets done with the opponents' DEFENCE scores. Indistinguishable from HEALTH sometimes, the stat merely adds more dice rolling. It might also help to knock a zero off the 300 starting money units and adjust prices accordingly. The world of internet sugarcane won't tolerate much tedium or math.
The writing evokes some good imagery but lacks even basic control over clauses and commas. Readers will stagger all over the improperly handled dialogue, incessant run-on sentences, and subject-verb agreement problems like this one: “Gold shards and the pouch that carries them is NOT counted as an item.” Readers want a massage, not a tumble down the stairs. Often, the oversight leads to the wrong word as in “tears weld [sic] up in your eyes” or an anachronism like “airwaves” which has no place in a pure fantasy setting.
On the topic of fantasy, I've always had a problem with the magical healing concept. No weapon or injury feels dangerous. Poof. Healed. Like it never happened. While only a mild and forgivable issue, this lessens the sense of loss implied in the introduction. Later, the journey spans tundra, jungle, desert, and mountains with no real prose describing the months of travel needed to see so many biomes. Badowski writes while riding a snowmobile, and she has probably run over some small animals in the neighborhood.
The problems can stack over the course of one sentence.
“Most ranged weapons come in bundles and counted as one item such as arrows and throwing knives but that does not include the bow and quiver which is separate.”
Above, we need the word are before counted and a comma before but, and is should become are.
“This sight has caused a little shiver run down your spine, but this is a camp full of humans and when they spot you you're welcomed with open arms, it appears most of them are intoxicated.”
The sentence above needs to before run, has two clichés, counts as a run-on sentence, needs another comma or two, and would still sound wordy with the essentials fixed.
“Quivers and bows are counted as separate items in your carrying capacity rule as well as your arrow bundles even if you have just one arrow in your quiver it will be calculated as an object.”
I think Badowski and Goh have straws in the same can of Red Bull. Instead of using the sensible joins her, the author writes “An armoured man comes by her side . . .” This could really get misinterpreted. And given some of the things women do in this story, I think Badowski knows what I mean.
Yes, it seems an adventurer has raided most of the sentences, pillaging half the periods, and left behind slain paragraphs leaking words everywhere.
“During the entire course of” Throughout.
“go up and down regularly.” Fluctuate.
“steps over to you” Approaches.
“nailed to a cross.” Crucified.
“impact on the ground.” Landing.
“hard to get at once vanished.” Elusive.
“even though it is only just you now.” Alone.
“groans out loud in pain in intervals.” Whimpers.
“hold you in one place until their owners arrive” Detain.
Some of the slippery mess results from tautologies or just a constant restating of things.
“keep having recurring”
“You lose track of time, you have no idea what the hour is”
“You shake your head in a negative gesture”
“No one else has had this prior, just you,”
“long thin javelins” (as opposed to the short, thick ones we all know from Earth.)
“from the weight and force of his weapon.” (In physics, weight counts as a force.)
Some readers forgive this sort of thing (I don't) and may judge other elements like story over everything. Thiathrow lacks character arc and subtlety, but the poem at the beginning did lower my guard, making the massacre more of a shock. Also, the barbarism remained consistent and gave the whole story a naked Golden Axe feel. I found all of 78 quite entertaining. It includes sexual bribery, a knife thrust to the groin, throat-cutting, grumpy looting, a dream of torture, and it ends with this choice: “Do you still wish to drink of this water that might be contaminated with feces and urine? If so, turn to 24.”
The story certainly won't bore anyone. I might try another playthrough just to see what madness and mutilation awaits on those unread sections. I can only wonder what kind of movies Badowski collected on a worn-out shelf at home. Maybe Dead Alive?
The story offers many opportunities for revenge and brutality. But my entry last year, Why Don't They Leave the House?, received few votes despite many strict stylistic rules applied to each sentence. I can imagine how poorly a disturbing piece like Thiathrow will do with so little attention to basic grammar. We live in a softer era now, and I had to adapt to the “market” by ensuring only one character gets murdered in my 2015 entry, Frogmen.
This brings up the dilemma of whether a fiction author should write from the heart or serve the market. Armstrong, for example, does both, but horror writers may find such writing a little bubble-wrapped. Huge markets do exist for horror and thriller genres, but that applies to novels. Regarding gamebooks, perhaps the audience goes in with their guard down, thinking subconsciously of harmless childhood games or reminiscing of the staid school environment. Gamebookers don't respond well to horror, it seems, unless you do old-timey monsters that have become children's Halloween costumes.
Don't let Struth's winning entry last year fool you. While technically horror, The Sacrifice deals in the softest, safest kind of horror. No one really questions killing zombies, a popular adversary these days, especially wartime ones who didn't mind dying too much in the first place. Nothing there really dares to unnerve anyone. The planned-out séance doesn't even happen, for instance. Really, people voted for Struth's outstanding writing, vocabulary, storytelling, uniqueness, and research.
Even more misleadingly, Carango won a Windhammer Prize too with his cold and murderous Final Payment. But he had the triplet of problem-free writing that won't waste your time, a somewhat novel premise, and clever mechanics. Plus, he omitted scary details.
In conclusion, the darker a writer's content, the more disadvantaged said writer becomes in, say, a gamebook contest. Thus, darker content must receive more care in editing, worldbuilding, story structure, characterization, and balancing the grief and gore with comic relief or likable characters. Sadly, success may also require some diluting of any true psychological horror.