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Literature / Way of the Tiger

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"You are Avenger, a ninja trained in the Way of the Tiger, a lethal master of unarmed combat who must confront the ultimate evil to avenge the death of your foster-father."

Way of the Tiger is a series of Gamebooks written by Mark Smith and Jamie Thomson, set on the fantasy world of Orb. The player takes the role of a Ninja named Avenger, who seeks revenge against the killer of his mentor and father-figure, a quest that ends up drawing him into larger events on his world's stage.

The series originally ran for six books and ended in a massive cliffhanger where Avenger fell into the bottom level of The Bowels of Orb in the final paragraphs, leaving his fate in question. However, a Kickstarter campaign to revive the series succeeded, and work is being done to make hardcover versions of the books, as well as a prequel and a finale. At this time, the prequel and the six books have been done, and the finale (book 7) was written in November 2014.

Interestingly, this series was not the first appearance of Orb. The setting was previously used in the 11thFighting Fantasy book, Talisman of Death, which was also written by Smith and Thomson. Several characters from Talisman of Death return for Way of the Tiger.


Way of the Tiger provides examples of:

  • Acquired Poison Immunity:
    • One of the abilities you can choose at the beginning. There are two instances where one can choose a new skill. If granted by Avenger's god, Kwon, it's as if he had studied since birth. However in a book where a Ninja Master offers to teach a skill, he says they just don't have the years to build up the immunity.
    • Honoric has this as well, which is how he survived the first book. His god intervenes magically to keep him from dying.
    • Your ninja opponent at the end of Assassin! has this ability, reacting contemptuously if you use a poison needle attack on him.
  • Admiring the Abomination: At the end of book 2, when Avenger stays with Lord Kiyamo, a rival Way of the Scorpion ninja sneaks past (and kills) seven samurai guards in order to make an attempt on Avenger's own life. After the latter comes out on top, Kiyamo expresses shock that his house's security could have been breached so easily, but Avenger consoles him: "Do not feel shamed, Lord. There was nothing you could have done in any case. He was Ninja."
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  • Arch-Enemy: Avenger perceives Yaemon as this while growing up. After Yaemon dies, Honoric (his ally who survives the initial Roaring Rampage of Revenge) is more than eager to take Yaemon's place as your arch-nemesis for the rest of the series.
  • Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy: The Way of the Scorpion ninja in Assassin!.
  • Arrow Catch: If Avenger has the skill Arrow-cutting, he can catch arrows in his barehands though he prefers to just deflect them away.
  • Assassin Outclassin': This trope is zig-zagged when Avenger gets into it with Mandrake, the Guildmaster of the Assassins and greatest killer in Orb. When they first meet in book 2, it is Avenger who is so badly outclassed that (if he didn't take the right skills) he might need literal divine intervention to survive Mandrake's attention, and the latter escapes no matter what. But when Mandrake returns in book 4, it's possible for Avenger to be so on top of things that he not only sees right through Mandrake's expert disguise, but kills him with an easy die roll.
  • Barefisted Monk:
    • The evil Scarlet Mantis Monks.
    • Part of the portfolio of Avenger's god, Kwon, is Unarmed Combat. Most of Kwon's followers are depicted as martial arts monks, albeit not as skilled in fighting as Avenger is.
  • Barehanded Blade Block:
    • Generally averted — Avenger has thin but strong rods of iron built into his costume sleeves allowing him to block bladed weapons without injury.
    • That said, Avenger does do the "clap catch" technique in one fight with a sword-wielding Way of the Scorpion ninja. (The text at least acknowledges the "extraordinary judgment and coordination" you needed to perform the feat.)
  • Big Damn Heroes: Villainous version. When you're curbstomping Honoric down to a few measly hitpoints, his elite shocktroopers will jump in and drive you off with pikes and arrows before carting him off to safety. As Honoric is an Honor Before Reason kind of guy, he berates his troops (even as they're dragging him off) for besmirching his honor in such a way, too.
  • Boss Battle: Every book featured at least one climactic fight (and not always at the end), which usually involved a more complicated series of tactical decisions than the standard dice-roll battles.
  • Bullying a Dragon: If you spy on Honoric's training in book 1, you see him effortlessly best several soldiers at once (using an ordinary sword). Not to be outdone, Manse the Deathmage humiliates Honoric by turning the sword into a tulip in front of the assembled troops. Honoric responds to this by unsheathing his magic sword Sorcerak, which nullifies all magic, leaving Manse defenseless (and painfully aware of it). Unfortunately for Avenger, Honoric simply skulks off at that point rather than slaughtering Manse right then and there.
  • The Cavalry: In Usurper, if you were nicely social to a knight errant earlier in the book, he will suddenly appear when you most need help against a demon lord and his minions.
  • Chekhov's Gun: In the first book if you spy on the 3 greatest champions of evil in the world, you'll see some hard feelings between Honoric and Manse the Deathmage. Manse is the world's best wizard and casts a spell at Honoric, only to find out — as noted above — that Honoric's magical sword instantly dispels any magic being cast. This becomes important when you decide the order of who to assassinate.
  • Chronic Backstabbing Disorder: As a spymistress and worshiper of a god famous for deception, Foxglove is definitely this. A lot of her favors have some hidden agenda attached. In the last book practically everything she does will get you killed (or captured and THEN killed) if you accept her pleas for help.
  • Cliffhanger: The series was an infamous example of this for many years, as book 6 was published in 1987 (and indeed ended on a cliffhanger), while the 7th and final book (concluding the storyline) did not appear until 2015.
  • Combat by Champion: Book 5 touches on this when Honoric challenges you to a duel before your army clashes with his. The trope is ultimately averted, though, as a) neither of you believe you're dueling instead of letting your armies go to battle, and b) after you get the upper hand, Honoric's forces pull him away before you can finish him off.
  • Conservation of Ninjutsu: The series observes this trope religiously. With one exception, Avenger never travels with other good ninjas and is thus a badass who can carry his own gamebook franchise. The exception proves the rule, as it happens in the prologue book, which tells the story of how Avenger completed his ninja training alongside several other prospective Way of the Tiger ninjas. All of these ninjas-in-training are plenty badass already, but none of them (including Avenger himself) are quite as awesome as Avenger in the main series. Meanwhile, the evil Scorpion ninjas are only tough when they're alone (on a special climactic mission to assassinate you, you've mowed through their ranks to face their Grandmaster one-on-one, etc).
  • Cool Sword: Honoric's sword Sorcerak, a black sword that emits wisps of smoke when drawn. What sets it apart from other swords is that Sorcerak can generate fear, dispel magic from even epic-level wizards, and fly through the air. Avenger eventually learns that Sorcerak is a sentient Evil Weapon — and not above discarding a wielder that has disappointed it.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Avenger can find himself on the receiving end of these when he makes a wrong move. Failing to deal with Yaemon, Honoric, and Manse in the correct order means you can end up facing Honoric and Yaemon together with predictable results. During Usurper!, unless you get help, you end up being being killed after Astaroth summons three other demons to help him when you try and retake the throne.
  • Dark Action Girl: Cassandra, a female warrior and psychopath.
  • Despair Event Horizon: In the final book, you can once again encounter Honoric, who has clearly passed this point due to being blinded and abandoned by his magic sword after you defeated his army in book 5. Despite all the shit the two of you have done to each other by this point, Honoric puts up only a brief, half-assed attempt at defense if you decide to kill him.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: The world's mightiest wizards and warriors, primordial beastgods, giants, ifrit, an Eldritch Abomination or two, demigods and demons — all have died under the fists and feet of Avenger.
  • Do Not Attempt: At the beginning of every book. "Do not attempt any of the techniques or methods described in this book. They would result in serious injury or death to an untrained user."
  • Dream Team: Yaemon, Honoric, and Manse the Deathmage were a villainous version of this trope. Not only are they respectively the deadliest Scarlet Mantis master, the commander of the Legion of the Sword of Doom, and Orb's most powerful black magician, their plot for world domination would have brought even the gods of good to heel if Avenger hadn't stopped them.
  • Evil Is One Big, Happy Family: The followers of evil gods in this setting — particularly Vile, Nemesis, and Vasch-Ro — never seem to have any issues working together, especially when it comes to making trouble for Avenger.
  • Excited Episode Title!: Every book has an exclamation point.
  • Eye Scream:
    • Done to Avenger by a shuriken from an evil master ninja. This will be the worst hurt anyone in the series has done to Avenger (at least canonically).
    • If one was unable to kill Honoric, you'll find him as a blind beggar in the last book; his eyes torn out by Sorcerak as punishment for his failure.
  • Featureless Protagonist: While almost everyone assumes that Avenger is male (and the cover illustrations portray Avenger that way), the character is never actually stated to be male or female. The reprint specifically mentions that honeypot Foxglove is trained in seducing both men and women, so Avenger's gender remains ambiguous.
  • Fighting a Shadow: Killing demons sends them back to their home plane.
  • Femme Fatale: Foxglove.
  • Flipping Helpless: Avenger can flip enemies on their backs with different throw techniques. He then follows up with an attack that gets significant bonuses to hit and damage.
  • Forest Ranger: Glaivas the Ranger, who is in several books. This is specifically his job title.
  • Golden Ending: If you stole Thaum's pouch from the second to last book, you can save Glaivas, Doré le Juine Thybault, Vespers and Eris (Taflur cannot be saved, he has a Heroic Sacrifice at the beginning of the last book); and "get vengeance" on Tyutchev, Cassandra and Thaum.
  • The Good King: Avenger's father, the previous Overlord of Irsmuncast before the Usurper, was both beloved and just. Avenger can try to be a just Overlord himself, but it's not easy in a city with a budget, bickering factions, and a significant population of Nemesis worshipers.
  • Graceful Loser: After his defeat, with his last breath, Yaemon congratulates Avenger for his skills before dying.
  • Gratuitous Ninja: Really, this is the premise of the series. In the '80s with a glut of gamebooks, the Way of the Tiger series set itself apart from the others with the main draw of being a ninja with "real" ninja skills.
  • Handicapped Badass: Avenger himself. He loses an eye in a later book but gets better via magical implant. While he's one-eyed, though, he takes a significant hit to his combat abilities.
  • Heroes Prefer Swords: Averted. Other than shuriken and poison needles, Avenger prefers to fight unarmed, using kicks, punches, and throws. In fact, in the third book, if he uses a magical dagger that can kill demons in one hit, you have to roll a Fate roll because he's never trained with the weapon.
  • Heroic Fantasy: The setting's overall genre, albeit with some Wutai around Avenger's homeland. The planet is a step or two closer to a World of Badass than usual, too.
  • Honey Trap: The Femme Fatale Foxglove has the ability to entrance men, which she can make semi-permanent if she manages to kiss them.
  • Honor Before Reason: No less than two villainous examples happen in the series.
    • In book 3, if you encounter Honoric, it's possible to get ensnared in a random hunter's trap during the confrontation. Honoric then has you at his mercy, but refuses to kill a helpless opponent — not even one such as you, who previously poisoned him with Orb's most metal venom while he was sleeping. Frustrated, Honoric spares Avenger's life, much to the latter's utter bewilderment.
    • In book 4, after you kill the Grandmaster of Shadows in his lair (and get maimed in the effort), his ninja followers rush in to surround you... but state that they are honorbound to let their master's killer leave (much as it irks them).
  • Implacable Man: Everyman, the golem that the evil gods send after you to avenge the death of Yaemon, Manse and (almost) Honoric is one — you can defeat him in combat, but he will just get right back up again and follow you no matter where you run to. It takes kicking him into the Rift (an almost bottomless chasm leading to the depths of The Underworld) to stop him. And even that doesn't kill him. In the last book, Everyman will attack a Giant Spider demi-god to get at Avenger (who himself is now stuck in the underworld). Presumably the spider takes the time to kill Everyman all 100 times required to kill him for good.
  • Katanas Are Just Better: Averted. In fact, Katanas are almost never mentioned; the only time being in the prequel by Rōnin and Samurai. The evil ninja of the Way of the Scorpion have Ninjato Swords, but they aren't special (other than how cool you look when you inevitably disarm them, that is).
  • Ki Manipulation: One of the earliest examples in Western gaming, Avenger can tap into his "Inner Force", which allows him to strike with bone-shattering force. He can also expend his Inner Force to endure attacks on his mind or withstand harsh environments.
  • Let's Fight Like Gentlemen:
    • In book 3, Aiguchi the Weaponmaster challenges you to a duel in a special divinely-sanctified dueling area. You can refuse the duel (or flee the area once you've accepted), but will suffer penalties if you do. To the Weaponmaster's credit, the fight itself is strictly one-on-one with no attempts to gimp you (or any other dirty tricks) beforehand. If you win, the evil priests who run the dueling area will respect your victory and allow you to leave unmolested.
    • Although less overtly stated than the fight with Aiguchi, Yaemon himself plays this trope straight when Avenger confronts him in book 1. Finding himself alone with Avenger on the rooftop of Quench-Heart Keep, Yaemon does not attempt to summon his guards or flee to safety. Instead, the two nemeses exchange a polite martial arts bow, trade a couple lines of surprisingly calm banter, and settle into the one-on-one battle that Avenger has longed for all his life.
  • Living Lie Detector: If Avenger chooses to learn "Shin-ren" (Heart-Training) he becomes one of these.
  • The Many Deaths of You: Like many gamebooks of the 80's, Way of the Tiger took an indulgent approach with player death scenes after bad choices or unlucky die rolls.
  • Master of Disguise:
    • One of Mandrake's more awesome skills, as he is able to impersonate even one of Avenger's advisors (and fool the other advisors) leading up to the final confrontation between the two.
    • While it doesn't come into play as often as his more lethal talents, Avenger himself has learned "the Seven Ways of Going", enabling him to travel in disguise as a seemingly harmless minstrel. (And yes, Avenger can perform as a minstrel, too.)
  • Meaningful Name: Avenger himself, whose initial goal in life is indeed to avenge his murdered foster-father. After he accomplishes this goal and moves on to other adventures, Avenger keeps his moniker as a Name To Run Away From Really Fast.
  • Moses in the Bulrushes: How Avenger was found. Yes, he does have Royal Blood.
  • Ninja: Good-aligned ninjas practice the Way of the Tiger and follow the god Kwon; evil ninjas practice the Way of the Scorpion and follow Nemesis, the Supreme Principle of Evil. And yes, the Conservation of Ninjutsu is in play here.
  • Nintendo Hard: The series is definitely a gamebook example of this. One on one, Avenger can readily kill anything that's not a high-end supernatural being or epic villain, often without even being seen. Unfortunately, he's still far from invincible and healing is sparse, so every hit a mook does manage to land on Avenger adds up. Worse yet, modifiers to combat and/or new skills only show up in the first three books. If you don't play through these books, you're stuck using a bare-bones Avenger while the enemies become increasingly difficult.
  • No One Could Survive That!: Avenger may find to his cost that a demonic Duke of Hell can No-Sell an inner force powered punch directly to the face.
  • One-Hit Kill:
    • As a ninja, Avenger specializes in these, as he is often able to instakill enemies with his razor garrote, shuriken, poison needles, or simply a well-timed (and, if necessary, Inner Force-boosted) strike or throw. If Avenger learns Yubi-jutsu (Nerve-striking), his opportunities for one-hit kills increase even more.
    • Manse does this to his victims with his favorite Finger of Death spell.
  • One-Man Army: In the first book, you can get the opportunity to spy on Honoric training. Using only a normal sword, Honoric has several soldiers attack him at once. Without much effort, he disarms three of them and drives the rest back, and Avenger can discern that Honoric could have killed them all at will. And this is without his sword unsheathed!
  • Orphean Rescue: Book 6 begins with Avenger setting off to rescue Glavias from Bowels of Orb.
  • The Paladin:
    • Doré le Juine; a friendly Leeroy Jenkins-type.
    • The Paladin King of Tor; who is capable of taking down a dragon in three hits.
  • Poison Is Evil: Averted, as Kwon (and by extension Avenger) has no problem with this method of killing enemies. Specifically, Avenger has poisoned needles with Spiderfish Toxin, and the much rarer black blood of Nil.
  • Poorly Disguised Pilot: The world of Orb and the characters Cassandra, Tyutchev and Thaum appear in the Fighting Fantasy gamebook Talisman of Death. (Especially obvious since most of the 'fantasy' books in Fighting Fantasy take place on a planet called Titan.)
  • Press X to Not Die: The fights between you and Yaemon (then, in a later book, Honoric) are kinda like this. No dice rolls, instead you choose which attacks you wish to use against them. If you picked a good choice, then the enemy takes a set amount of damage that can be doubled by using Inner Force. Otherwise you take a set amount of damage and in some cases can wind up getting crippled in the fight. This can lead to a dissonance in play, where you can come out scoring a Flawless Victory against epic villains like Yaemon and wind up getting carved by an orc mook.
  • Religion of Evil: The priests of Vile, Vasch-Ro, and Nemesis are explicitly evil, never pretend they aren't evil, and have public temples in many cities (with followers comprising not-insignificant demographics in those cities). At one point, Avenger wonders what on earth possesses men to worship evil gods like this.
  • Revive Kills Zombie: In Usurper!, you are attacked by Ringwraith expies, the only way to kill one happens to be scrolls of raise dead. Holy water and other attacks merely drive them off.
  • Scenery Porn: Assassin has a sequence when you are at a Lord's estate and you can't sleep one particular night and so you walk around. What follows is an evocative sequence of a palatial residence in the dead of night that creates a beautiful atmosphere while still giving off the feeling that something is wrong. Then you find a dead guard and you're suddenly being garroted and the book's climatic action sequence begins.
  • Scripted Battle: Like most gamebooks, combats in Way of the Tiger are resolved using die rolls (although unlike most gamebooks, you usually have a choice about which move to use). One standout feature of the series is that the climactic encounters go much farther than that, adding a series of tactical decisions (and chances to use your ninja skills) before settling into the die-roll battle.
  • Shoot the Mage First: Discussed in the Prequel; Avenger can walk into some kind of Summoning Ritual in a ship. If you attack the mage first, they will flashback to their Mentor saying "Yes, always attack the magic user first." This is also good advice any time you fight Tyutchev, Cassandra, and Thaum. Thaum will always open with trying to cast something nasty, so you want to interrupt him first.
  • Squishy Wizard: Manse the Deathmage is the most powerful wizard in the world, and can kill you with one spell. Unfortunately for Manse, he's also a Glass Cannon. You have to neutralize his magic in one of two ways (either by having a special amulet or stealing Sorcerak), but once you do, he's so feeble that you don't even have to roll dice or choose a tactic in order to kill him.
  • Spirit Advisor: The Spirit Tiger, a servant of Kwon the Redeemer, occasionally appears in dream sequences to help Avenger.
  • Story-Driven Invulnerability: Though you can fight many of the major villains in earlier books, you simply cannot kill them outright as they have to escape alive to appear in later books to avoid continuity errors. It is expressed in the reprints that the ones you did kill spent money to have a priest resurrect them.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: Played with — Honoric can throw his sword "Sorcerak" at you in one fight, but the magical blade has the specific magical ability to fly, making this a viable tactic rather than a desperation move. And rather than throwing it directly, he commands the sword to fly at you.
  • To Hell and Back: It's taken 27 Real Life years, but Avenger is finally coming home.
  • The Underworld: The Bowels of Orb, a seemingly endless underground network filled with evil beings of every sort. Its entrance is inconveniently close to civilized lands, too.
  • Unwinnable: If you manage to capture Cassandra at the beginning of Book 6, do not take her magic sword away, or you will die at the end of the book. (This was avoidable in the original, it is not in the reprint.)
  • Villainous Valour: In Book 3 and in Book 5, Honoric insists on fighting Avenger in a duel.
  • Wutai: The hidden bases of the Tiger and Scorpion Ninjas as well as the Isle of Plenty. But outside these relatively small regions, the setting is a roughly traditional Heroic Fantasy.
  • Worf Effect: Depending on your choices in a fight, this could happen to you. For example, in book 6, if you fight a half-troll mook and use a throw that involves jumping at a foe and grabbing them with your legs, you'll die! The mook turns out to be part dwarf, making him a natural master of the axe and so he slams it into your crotch before you can land the throw on him. This despite you having earlier killed beings that are way, way, way above the half-troll's league.
  • Would Hurt a Child:
    • Manse the Deathmage who sacrifices children to his dark god.
    • In Book 4, if you go through the Valley of Undead Kings and try to rescue a child, the Ringwraith expies will kill her.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: In Book 6, Avenger will get one from his god Kwon if he decides not to go rescue Glaivas. Kwon's so pissed that he takes a large chunk of Inner Force away from Avenger, who then decides to go on the mission anyway.
  • World's Best Warrior: Yaemon and Honoric are explicitly said to be this. Honoric is the greatest swordsman in the world, while Yaemon is the greatest martial artist. On top of this, Manse the Deathmage is best black magician in the world while Mandrake is the best assassin. The Forces of Evil just get the best of everything, it seems. No wonder the gods of evil get pissed when Avenger kills off their best toys.
  • You Have Failed Me: If you don't manage to kill Honoric in Warlord!, you'll find Honoric in the last book as a wreck of a beggar whose eyes were gouged out. This was punishment from his sword.
  • You Killed My Father: Twice. Yaemon killed Avenger's adopted father, setting off the latter's quest for vengeance. After Avenger defeats Yaemon, the latter reveals that he killed Avenger's biological father, too.

Alternative Title(s): The Way Of The Tiger


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