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Literature / Heart of Ice

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A Gamebook by Dave Morris, the creator of The Fabled Lands, Heart of Ice is set in a post-apocalyptic 2300 where the world has been ruined by climate change caused by the insane supercomputer network GAIA. The player is a slightly extraordinary survivor in this world who receives a mysterious message from Gaia, revealing the existence of the Heart of Volent, a meteorite that can grant the user ultimate power over their surroundings. A part of the now out-of-print Virtual Reality gamebook series, it has since been re-released. It was available for free at Dave's blog, but has since been removed pending an updated digital re-release.


Heart of Ice provides examples of:

  • After the End: The world looks like this by now, though in keeping with its themes, the world's been slowly dying but hasn't had a single big event that blew it apart.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Well, it's not AI itself that's the problem, but dumping a bunch of mutating computer viruses into Gaia did not end well, and Gaia is not only insane, but tends to take over any computer that links to her. The Little Gaia prototypes are uninfected.
  • Amazon Brigade: The Gargan sisters. By the time of the book, they're all dead except for XIII and XIV.
  • America Saves the Day: America's together enough to send one elite commando to investigate the Heart of Volent. He's the only one aside from the PC who might be willing to destroy the Heart, even sacrificing his own life, to save his country and the world.
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  • Apocalypse How: The backstory was a three-hundred-year-long Planetary Societal Collapse that's slowly sliding toward Human Extinction. The Heart of Volent causes Universal Physical Annihilation if used. if used.
  • Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy: The Gargan sisters act this way, being devastatingly capable close-combat fighters, Blood Knights and extremely rude to anyone who isn't one of them. Keep in mind that the Gargan sisters were made by a corporation for mining, not combat.
  • Artifact of Doom: The Heart of Volent.
  • Artificial Human / Designer Babies: The Gargan clone sisters, all of whom were created in artificial wombs.
  • Badass Normal: Chaim Golgoth is an elite special forces soldier, and wields a crossbow against psychics, genetically-enhanced supermen and warriors armed with Lost Technology. The PC can also be this if he doesn't take ESP or Paradoxing and doesn't get himself genetically enhanced or cyborged.
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  • BFG: The mantramuktra cannon, a man-portable Plasma Cannon.
  • Bittersweet Ending: There's no unambiguously happy endings to this story. Even in the best-case scenario, the quest for the Heart of Volent destroys every seeker except yourself, and if you destroy the Heart of Volent, you have to sacrifice yourself to do it. Otherwise, you can destroy the universe to re-create it, turn yourself into the Heart's eternal guardian, or leave Du-En alone, taking up the mantramuktra cannon and a new mission.
  • Black-and-Gray Morality: There are no unambiguous heroes in this game. This goes double in Du-En, where you'll find yourself wondering whether any of your rivals for the Heart are good guys. No. The best you can get is a My Country, Right or Wrong '90s Anti-Hero Sociopathic Soldier - he's the only one, possibly aside from yourself, who objects to destroying the world for the sake of personal power.
  • Blast Out: The final scene usually results in this.
  • Charles Atlas Superpower: Close Combat Skill allows you to kill a sabre-toothed bearwolf with your bare hands.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: You can encounter almost anyone who you meet in Du-En earlier in the game, in varying contexts. One of them can even be your travelling companion for most of it.
  • The Chessmaster: Kyle Boche is really good. He pulls off a Memory Gambit to take out his most dangerous rival, and he picks his allies with perfect accuracy to ensure that the second-strongest opponent falls. However, it's possible that he underestimated the PC.
  • City of Canals: Venis, oddly enough, is an aversion. The canals of ancient Venice are now dirt roads.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Chaim Golgoth.
  • Crapsack World: Yep. Even the nice parts, like the cities, are only nice for the rich, while the poor live in lawless slums. Outside the cities, the only thing you can be certain of is that it's a wasteland of some sort, whether that means an ice waste or a deadly jungle. And it's getting worse; humanity's not expected to last another century.
  • Crazy-Prepared: Chaim doesn't just have a crossbow. He's got a barysal gun, smoke grenades, knives, poison needles and other tools. He's got something for everyone including the Gargan sisters.
  • Cyborg: The technology exists. You can become one on Al-Lat. However, the parts are prosthetic replacements, not really upgrades as such, though they're useful under certain circumstances.
  • Death World: Earth.
  • Deus Est Machina: Gaia. When she's lucid, she's benevolent, but due to her insanity she often uses her godlike powers to cause random destruction.
  • Disability Superpower: The Baron is legless, and he's also the most powerful psionic on the planet.
  • Divided States of America: Inverted; the United States is the only government (that's mentioned in the book) to remain above the city-state level.
  • Dwindling Party: Everyone of importance makes it to Du-En. Once there, the adventurers begin dying, either killed by each other or by the many hazards of the city. Only a handful will survive to reach the Heart of Volent.
  • Empowered Badass Normal: In Venis, a PC can use retroviruses to get genetically enhanced.
  • "End of the World" Special
  • Enemy Mine: At Du-En, everyone's going for the Heart and everyone knows that There Can Be Only One. Vajra Singh forces everyone to cooperate to a limited extent until they reach the Heart, at which point it's implicit that all bets are off.
  • Energy Weapon : Barysal guns, a kind of particle beam pistol, are the weapon du jour of this world. There's also a laser pistol and a Lost Technology Wave-Motion Gun to be found.
  • Eye Scream: Golgoth does this to Vajra Singh in order to get past the latter's armour.
  • Faux Affably Evil: Kyle Boche
  • Featureless Protagonist: You choose your background and skills, but otherwise this is applied as usual in a gamebook.
  • Flying Car: You can find one. It's a massive shortcut to Du-En for those with piloting skills, allowing you to bypass the ice wastes entirely.
  • Genetic Engineering Is the New Nuke: You can get superpowers from genetic-enhancement retrovirii.
  • Global Currency: Scads.
  • A God Am I: Anyone who gets the Heart of Volent.
  • Great Offscreen War: The Paradox War from the early 22nd century, where part of the Heart of Volent's energy was used. The "paradox radiation" thus liberated is the source of many mutants and strange phenomena, and — it is implied — the power of Paradoxing. It's also said to have aggravated Earth's state.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Gilgamesh makes one to save your life from the Beam Phantom. Later, you and Chaim can make one to destroy the Heart.
  • Hidden Space Colony: Al-Lat.
  • Hit Points: Life Points.
  • Ineffectual Loner: Thandra Bey is too much of a loner to be willing to work with anyone else in her quest for the Heart of Volent, even temporarily. She gets killed off right before arriving at the Heart of Volent's chamber.
  • It's All About Me: The majority of those going to Du-En will do anything for the power of the Heart, and they don't care about the consequences of its use.
  • Just Before the End: Humanity really isn't expected to last another century, so the rich are spending their lives in revelry while the poor huddle in the slums, and everyone's waiting for the lights to go out. If someone gets the Heart, it really will be the end. Some of the lines that the player can give, however, indicate a hope for the future and the salvation of mankind.
  • Katanas Are Just Better: Actually a wakazashi found on a corpse in this case, though the book calls it a short sword. Justified because the only other melee weapons in the book are knives.
  • Let's Fight Like Gentlemen: If you ally with Vajra Singh and keep your alliance to the end, he'll refrain from using the mantramuktra cannon against you because you have no comparable weapon. If you don't have a gun, he'll take you on hand to hand.
  • The Load: Kyle Boche is not much help as a traveling companion.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Kyle Boche is the least powerful of the adventurers gathered at Du-En, but he makes a business of attaching himself to stronger allies and turning them against each other.
  • Mêlée à Trois: If you have no prearranged alliance going into the final scene, then this will obviously happen.
  • Memory Gambit: Kyle Boche has himself hypnotized into setting a trap for Baron Siriasis, so that the telepathic Baron doesn't realize he's planning to betray him.
  • Multiple Endings: As can be expected from a gamebook. Unusually for a Virtual Reality book, however, there are multiple good (or at least successful) endings, as opposed to a single good ending and many bad ones.
  • Mutants: Wild areas host many mutant animals, some modified to the point their original species is no longer recognizable. There is also a "Mutant" character archetype with Psychic Powers. These mutations are implied to be caused by "paradox radiation" from the Heart of Volent.
  • Necromancer: Janus Gaunt uses technological devices to raise the dead as "xoms" who do his bidding.
  • Noble Demon: Vajra Singh has a Might Makes Right mentality, but also makes a point of keeping his word and follows a strict code of honour.
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: GAIA's creator died as he was working to fix her, and apparently there were no notes for anyone else to take pick up his work where he left it. Downplayed in that "Little Gaia" prototypes do exist, but they're for personal use only and cannot substitute the original.
    • Justified with Gilgamesh, which is unique because it's the prototype for a project that was abandoned before completion.
  • No-Sell: If you have Psychic Powers and try to use them on the Baron — the most powerful psychic in the world — you will invariably fail, sometimes in a humiliating way.
    • The only exception is when the Baron's body is destroyed in an explosion and his disembodied brain tries to possess you. Even so, you can only make it if your character's psychic abilities are maxed out, and you don't defeat the brain yourself, merely stall it until it runs out of oxygen.
  • One-Man Army: You just might get the opportunity to find out about a number of the victories that Chaim Golgoth has under his belt. He's singlehandedly wiped out at least 80 terrorists of the Seventh Seal Cult that had hijacked a warship, A crime lord's 15 top rank assassins who were sent to ambush him and in one fell swoop, Gargan Sisters I - XII.
  • Patchwork Map: Justified. Yes, there are jungles in the middle of ice wastes. That either means that Gaia is making it happen that way, or something else is going on.
  • Professional Killer: Chaim Golgoth, though he's a US agent, not a freelancer.
  • Psychic Powers: ESP and Paradoxing. ESP allows to read and sense other minds; Paradoxing includes limited Reality Warping, telekinesis and Clairvoyance, but it's stated to be less reliable.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: The people who make it to Du-En are a colorful bunch, and they're only working together because the most heavily-armed guy says so.
  • Restart the World: The Heart of Volent will erase the Universe to create a new one. Baron Siriasis knows this and is perfectly willing to do it.
  • Robot Buddy: Depending on your choices, you can have Gilgamesh, an armoured robot with built-in weapons, be your bodyguard.
  • Rock Beats Laser: Chaim Golgoth specializes in using a crossbow against laser-armed foes.
  • Scavenger World: People on Earth aren't developing new technology all that much anymore, though they've done an impressive job at keeping what's left going. Al-Lat is faring a bit better.
  • Science Fantasy: Most of the stuff in the game is science fiction and has at least some technological trappings to it (mutated monsters, robot soldiers, Psychic Powers as a mutation), but it tends to be portrayed in a somewhat mythical way nonetheless (Malengin's retroviral "potions" and the beam phantom, a life-devouring ghost created by a teleport accident), and there's also an honest-to-God vampire at one point with no such explanation.
  • Science Hero: The Scientist archetype, though he's more an Adventurer Archaeologist than an inventor.
  • Slippy-Slidey Ice World: The Saharan Ice Wastes. Fortunately, there's no sliding around, just the usual hazards of an icy wasteland.
  • Supersoldier: The Gargan Sisters are bred for increased strenght and durability. Oddly enough, they were created for mining and then repurposed.
  • There Can Be Only One: Only one person can get the Heart, though in some endings nobody does.
  • Thrown Out the Airlock: If you attempt to contact Gaia on Al-Lat without Cybernetics skill, they toss you out. You're wearing a suit, but you only have enough air for one hour.
  • Title Drop: You can have a conversation with Gaunt, who will say that "to seize true power, a man must have a heart of ice".
  • Übermensch: Vajra Singh. While he's one of the few individuals in Du-En to show much of a moral compass, his has absolutely nothing to do with society's; he values strength, keeping one's word and his own idea of honorable behavior, but shows little concern for human life.
  • Wave-Motion Gun: The mantramuktra is a man-portable version wielded by Vajra Singh.
  • Weak, but Skilled: If you're a paradoxer, you can be this in comparison to Baron Siriasis, who is immensely powerful but admits to having tunnel vision about the extent of his powers.


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