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Literature / Armies of Death

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One does not simply walk into Mordor...

Armies of Death is the 36th entry of the Fighting Fantasy series of gamebooks, written by Ian Livingstone and acting as a direct sequel to the previous adventure Trial of Champions.

After you successfully emerged from the renewed Deathtrap Dungeon and killed the despised Lord Carnuss, you were free to enjoy the 20,000 gold pieces promised by Sukumvit. After spending most of it on a massive castle, you learn of a worrying rumor: according to travelers from the East, a foolish adventurer named Drek accidentally broke the pot where Agglax, the Shadow Demon, was sealed. Now, the vile fiend has hidden himself somewhere far in the eastern wildlands, where he's gathering a massive army of Orcs, Goblins, Trolls, Chaos Warriors and other unpleasant monsters and fanatics. Confident in your skills and riches, you decide to start an ambitious quest: hire an army and head east towards Zengis and the Forest of Fiends, where Agglax is gathering his forces. At the head of a small army of humans, elves and dwarves you embark on a dangerous journey, gathering troops and items that will allow you to defeat this dangerous foe and save Allansia.

Armies of Death, in addition to the standard, Plot Coupon heavy path typical of Livingstone, this book features the presence of your army, similar to the crew system featured in Seas of Blood, but even more refined: you are in charge of a large amount of different soldiers which are employed in Skirmish battles against other groups of enemies using a specific table illustrated in the rules' section. Sometimes, the results of a combat are also determinated by the types of troops under your control.

Armies of Death provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: Max, leader of the Marauders and an expert mercenary swordswoman who you can recruit.
  • Asskicking Leads to Leadership: In order to hire the hillmen in Claw, you must defeat their chief in a wrestling match.
  • Author Avatar: The innkeeper you visit in Zengis is a dead ringer for Ian Livingstone, and shares Livingstone's love of sailboat racing.
  • Berserk Button: While the Oracle of Starstone Caves is fickle and capricious by nature, telling him lies will surely make him angry.
  • Big Bad: Agglax the Shadow Demon, leader of the titular Armies of Death.
  • Continuity Nod: Again, in Zengis you can rescue a Dwarf who's being attacked by, another Shapechanger, which already appeared in many other books, such as The Forest of Doom, Island of the Lizard King and Midnight Rogue among others.
  • Cool Sword: The Ian Livingstone expy will reward you with his old, magical sword if you listen to his stories.
  • Creator Thumbprint: Ian Livingstone's love for boat-racing can be seen in the first half of the story, where you're given an option to travel by river to Zengis. He also appears as an Author Avatar as the innkeeper in Zengis, where he can regale you with stories of his Glory Days as a sailor. If you listen to them all, he'll give you a sword that provides a nice Skill bonus.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: If you managed to hire the five White Knights, they alone will annihilate the Chaos Warriors in the final battle. They will also destroy you if you're dumb enough to attack them.
  • Damsel in Distress: Subverted with the Elf girl tied in her hut when you cross the swamp: she's actually a Hag in disguise, ready to fool you.
  • Defeat Means Friendship: You can hire Max and her nine Marauders for 20 gold pieces each. You can also try to duel Max for a discount. If you strike the first blow, Max will lower her team's price to 10 gold pieces each. If she strikes the first blow, the price goes up to 30 gold pieces each.
  • Demon Lords And Arch Devils: Agglax is one of the Shadow Demons, which are under the service of the Demon Princes.
  • Dragon Rider: Downplayed example, Agglax' forces include a wyvern-riding Goblin assassin and another one who acts as a scout.
  • Eating Contest: At one point in Zengis you can have an eating contest with the local champion Big Belly to gain money and, possibly, additional soldiers.
  • Flaming Sword: The five White Knights can set their swords on fire, which allows them to mow through enemy weapons and armor like crazy.
  • Foreign Queasine: The eating contest against Big Belly includes unusual pies, such as one with rat's heads and tulips and another one with fish and custard.
  • Gender-Blender Name: Max, leader of Max's Marauders, is a beautiful swordswoman in armor, unlike what the name's would suggest.
  • Gratuitous Ninja: What the Elite Fanatic "Tanaka-San" is supposed to be, apparently. He fits costume, name and speech-wise, but he openly attacks you with a sword almost bigger than he is.
  • Guide Dang It!:
    • The Oracle is mandatory, and in order to obtain the right to ask him how to defeat Agglax, you must appease him with several items you can acquire in Zengis... but before meeting him you have no idea of what items he will like to receive, and yeah, the list is pretty random... (a brass owl, a green vase, a critter that turns you invisible and a golden brooch for his daughter).
    • Also, while you're told by the Oracle that you must find the Crystal of Light and how to activate it, no-one tells you how to find it (by capturing the Blog and demanding treasure), nor that you need the Axeman's ring to obtain it.
    • The answer to the question the White Knights ask you is nowhere to be found in the book. It can be found in the guidebooks, though.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Depending on your choices in the final battle against Agglax's army, Max may sacrifice herself to save you. If you didn't hire her in Zengis, you're dead.
  • Jerkass: The Oracle is pretty indisponent, arrogant and demanding. The bad news are that if you don't comply the game becomes unwinnable.
  • Keystone Army: If you die, your army disbands. The same thing happens to the Armies of Death when Agglax is destroyed and each faction start to blame the others for Agglax's death.
  • Kill It with Ice: Happens to you if you try to fight Agglax with everything but the Crystal of Light.
  • Knight in Shining Armor: The five White Knights, which are probably the best soldiers you can hire.
  • Leprechaun: There's a crabby one who lives in a barrel in Zengis. It's a very bad idea to attack him, as you'll lose Luck points and all golden items from your backpack.
  • Luck-Based Mission: A dice roll can determine which question the Oracle will ask you and how the final battle turns out.
  • Mercy Kill: In one game over where you're affected by Lycanthropy, your own men do this to you.
  • Mugging the Monster: If you take the boat from Fang, the ship is attacked by River Raiders. You can have your Elves shoot at them while they're still on their boats, which kills several of them and makes the rest flee. You can also let them board the ship, after which they'll see your Elves pointing loaded bows at them. The Raiders will try to escape, but you can capture and conscript several of them.
  • Oh, Crap!: Agglax shows shocks and runs away if you shows him the Crystal of Light.
  • Permanently Missable Content: One item essential to succeed in this quest is a brooch, which you can obtain by winning a bet against a rogue in a tavern... by rolling a die. You only have a 1/2 chance of winning the bet, and if you lose the book is now Unwinnable.
    • Heck, you're actually given an opportunity to pick a fight with said rogue, but if you kill him, you're forced to leave the tavern immediately... without an opportunity to retrieve the brooch from the rogue's dead body for yourself.
  • Plot Coupon: Among a long series of items required to proceed, there's the Crystal of Light, required to banish Agglax.
  • Poison Mushroom: Early on in the river route, you can find a barrel half-filled with apples. Turns out they're poisoned and a mad hag in the swamps sends barrels of them down the river for shit and giggles.
  • Power Crystal: You need to get a magic crystal, and the spell that activates it, to be able to kill the Big Bad.
  • Prongs of Poseidon: The fishmen attackers, appropriately enough, are armed with tridents. If you're not careful you'll be impaled by them.
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: If you fight and kill the Axeman in Zengis, the city guards will try to arrest you. If you surrender to them, their captain will order them to release you, as he knows who you are and why you've come to Zengis.
  • Red Herring: If you visit the Livingstone Author Avatar and listen him to the very end he will give you his old magical sword which implies can harm even the Shadow Demons. It's completely useless, as the only way you can confront and kill Agglax is with the Crystal of Light.
  • Retcon: Although the hero's nominally the same guy who won Trial of Champions, his reason for raising an army changed. Originally it was to conquer uncharted territory, but here it's in response to needing more manpower to fight his way through the villain's own army.
  • Rock Monster: A humanoid one is sent by Agglax to kill you with a deadly bear hug. You can make easy work of him if you still have Dwarves in your army, as they hammer him to death.
  • Schmuck Bait: The land route across the Swamp has many dangers disguised as harmless things, see Distressed Damsel above.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: Agglax was one in the backstory, as with many, many other demons in the series.
  • Sinister Scimitar: The Elite Cultist Tanaka-San is armed with an humongous curved sword.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: If you try to run away from the Axeman, he will toss his weapon at you. Subverted if he misses, allowing you to pick up and steal his axe.
  • Too Important to Walk: Agglax sits on a macabre throne carried around by four zombie slaves. As seen when he runs away from you, his long robe isn't suited for running.
  • The War Sequence: The "Skirmishes" and, on a much bigger scale, the finale. Well, that army of yours was there for a reason, you know.