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Screaming Spectre reactions/mini-review 2021

Discuss HeroQuest: The Screaming Spectre, the second HeroQuest novel by Dave Morris. (Discussion of the Running the Gauntlet quest contained within the novel should be addressed in the Running the Gauntlet Forum under Published Quest Releases.)

Screaming Spectre reactions/mini-review 2021

Postby Kurgan » Thursday February 4th, 2021 5:50am

I recently obtained copies of the three "official" Hero Quest novels and this was the first one I read (listed as book #2). Here are my impressions... (and no, if you're "just curious" this is probably not worth spending $40 on). I tried not to spoil myself before this, so my apologies if I repeat any info that is old news to others.

This is coming from the perspective of a fan who grew up with the board game but never touched the novels until this year and a US gamer who really didn't have access to this stuff back in the day.

For some reason this paperback, even though it is clearly titled "the Screaming Spectre" is listed on various sites as "The Singing Skull." For those who have read it, it is possible to understand how that alternate title exists, but I don't know if there is any actual print variant that reads that way on the cover.

Unfortunately the copy I bought arrived with a splattering of gray (enamel?) paint all over the front cover. The seller assured me a replacement would be sent out. It was also the first of the three to arrive in my mail. In the meantime, the worn paperback might as well be read...

The book includes a "map" which states that the Hero Quest world is loosely based on the Warhammer Fantasy world, as most are aware. The map is repeated in two out of the three novels and essentially is what appears directly "above" the map included in the EU edition of the Return of the Witch Lord expansion (on the back of the quest book). This is probably the first thing I ever saw from the novels (thanks to the Inn!) and it sparked my interest.

The novel edition I have is dated 1992, and comes from the UK. As such I expected it to be based on the EU editions of Hero Quest and its expansions.

There is artwork included between chapters that is quite nice... like bigger versions of artwork that appears in Wizards of Morcar and on the Equipment cards from the 1989 edition. The character sheet seems a little more amateurish, and the "Wizard's diploma" at the end looks very cheesy, like something printed up for a fan newsletter. Still, it's all fun to discover what was being presented to HQ fans in those days.

Various details are mentioned that clearly draw from the HQ lore of the Wizards of Morcar, but also the Elf Quest pack (which was released by this time in the US), specifically I'm thinking here of the "Stasis Glass."

As this is the 2nd book in the series, I presumed the novelty of just adapting the board game into a novella had worn off and they were prepared to expand the lore a bit and explore the Hero Quest world, which is great. I'm by no means insisting that there be one strict "canon" of HQ that everything has to fit into perfectly, but I appreciate any sources of inspiration even close to official for my own homebrew gaming, which to me is the essence of Hero Quest.

- The first part is a short story, which I won't spoil here, but tells the tale of an ailing Wizard in the care of his apprentices and the unfolding mystery of his illness and the fate of his master lost at sea. It's engaging enough, but is over in less than 70 pages. The fantasy setting and characters seem generic enough that I could follow and enjoy it without having any past familiarity with Hero Quest. I also appreciated the many references to alchemy, and the lore that the dagger is a standard part of a Wizard's arsenal. The text wasn't overly dumbed down and hokey (as I had been expecting), but I could see it engaging the primary target demographic (10 year old boys interested in Hero Quest). I found this enjoyable and a quick read. I didn't have to force myself too hard into the mindset of a kid to appreciate it, I think you have already done that if you're able to play the board game as is (that's just a simple fact).

- The next part is the now-familiar (thanks to the adaptation hosted on Phoenix's page) "Running the Gauntlet," solo quest for the Wizard. This would be the second only official "solitaire" quest published for the EU territory. Using the book alone, you can dig out your Hero Quest game system and have an adventure with only two players if you want. I haven't played the quest yet, but it seems like a cool idea, considering only the Barbarian and Elf got solo quests in my territory. The quest is printed on a single page, so its rather small (and in the black & white style of the EU quest books), while the details of the quest are laid out on several pages before and after. I like the little compass rose to orient the layout when GMing the quest as Morcar ("Zargon" to me).

- A third part (which I have just begun to read) is a game book, a kind of "choose your own adventure" starring yet another Wizard type character going on an adventure after he recovers a message in a bottle from another Wizard. It seems a little more advanced than "Wizards, Warriors & You" (a game book series popular in that era of my childhood that let you choose a character and then either a certain pick of weaponry or a certain pick of spells), but not as advanced as "Lone Wolf." You are expected to have a normal six sided die and make notes on a character sheet in the book (an explicit permission is given to photocopy it, along with a few similar charts). The equipment you get in this version are the standard Wizard spells (and they work very similarly to how they do in the board game), plus an a choice of "talismans" each one giving you a single point bonus to one of your attributes (no talisman of lore, but that's okay, there's one that does the exact same thing). Weapon-wise, you get a dagger... and as we all know, the dagger wasn't an explicit piece of equipment in the EU version while it was in the NA.

This is the same formula as the 3rd book in the series "Tyrant's Tomb" whereas the first book ("Fellowship of Four") omits the board game quest, which leaves more room for the short story.

As a book of games, I think they had a good strategy, by breaking it up, which wouldn't overly challenge young readers or allow them to get "bored" with a meandering narrative. The narrative focusing on Wizards lent itself to a kind of introspective, detective story, but there are hints of coming of age and reckoning with elders in there that would appeal to young boys especially. And of course the mandatory to tie-in to the board game would help promote the product, more I think to get more mileage out of the game you already owned (which is the whole reason you bought the book) than to prompt you to go out and buy it just to see about this one quest. It's worth recalling that the first HQ novel didn't even have one of these bonus quests.

If as a kid I had the opportunity to read this book (by '93 my interests had become distracted away from Hero Quest) I probably would have loved it, and it might even have gotten me to play HQ more, I must say.

It will be interesting to read the other two and see how they compare and of course I still have to experience the "choose your own adventure" aspect.

Edit: Got a little confused here. "A Growl of Thunder" is the quest featured in "Tyrant's Tomb" (1993) which is book 3 (a solitaire quest for the Barbarian).
Last edited by Kurgan on Friday February 5th, 2021 12:18am, edited 3 times in total.
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Re: My reactions/mini-review 2021

Postby Pancho » Thursday February 4th, 2021 1:34pm

Nice summary Kurgan.

In my opinion this is the weakest of the three stories, as well as being the least interesting of the two solo quests and the two play your own adventures. It’s not terrible by any means, just not as strong as the others. In grateful to have all of them though.

In terms of the world building Morris did in these books, i think he wasn’t at all interested in the existing lore from Warhammer fantasy and decided to use the platform as a vehicle for his own ideas. He has some very interesting stuff but unfortunately it doesn’t really chime with anything else, and therefore probably shouldn’t be considered canon. The maps for example show an almost completely different world.


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Re: My reactions/mini-review 2021

Postby Kurgan » Thursday February 4th, 2021 4:06pm

Thanks! |_P It sounds like you didn't strongly dislike this one, but downgrade it compared to the others and because it didn't live up to the strength of connection with Warhammer that you expected (its been brought to my attention how passionately certain fans are about this connection and acknowledgment).

I'm by no means here to rehash the "what is canon" debate, that already has its own dedicated threads and my views on the subject ought to be well known by now (and nobody need care about them but me).

I see your point in making a distinction between "was this in keeping with what I view as canon" and "how does this stack up with the rest of the official materials." When I've had a chance to read through the other two books, you'll surely see my comments and comparisons. I mentioned how I looked at the book standing on its own ("generic fantasy" it works for the target audience), and how I didn't see it wildly contradicting anything in the game. Morcar and Mentor aren't mentioned in the short story and no familiar characters appear that I'm aware of. But it doesn't strike me as the kind of story that "couldn't exist" in the larger world. I should say "stories" because there are really three stories here, that are not necessarily connected other than they are centered around Wizards in the Heroquest world. That's what I'm expecting from the other stories, but (and please don't spoil me!) I expect Fellowship of Four is going to be the closest to the "board game,"... and that could be both a strength and a weakness. I'm treating these as "stories set in the same/similar world" as opposed to some kind of set-in-stone thing. Fans of the board game are going to be drawn to a series like this both to see stuff familiar to them from the game, as well as, I think, other stuff not seen there that "rings true." Since I take a pretty broad view, that encompasses a lot.

My initial view of the novels was something along the lines of "why should I care," and I presume a lot of folks probably had a similar reaction, that the only thing that mattered was getting to play-test any "new official quests" found within. Most players probably never read these novels (much less had a strong opinion on them) and it wouldn't make you any less of a fan if you didn't. I come at this from the perspective of a curious fan, rather than a collector and I'm sure one could hate the novel but love the quest, or vice versa. Solo quests are interesting and have a very different vibe than the four hero standard quests (and I tend to prefer the latter, but when it's just two people playing, its nice to have a different dynamic now and then... at our table we always played with all four heroes, and since that's how the quests were designed, it made sense even if it could be a lot for a kid to keep track of by himself... but it was like having "four lives").

If this really is the "least" of the three, then I must surely have something to look forward, because I have enjoyed the ride of discovery so far! Maybe by the end I will be tempted to write my own fan-fic short story: "Zargon: the College Years."

It's not as if I have nothing else to read... I have a bunch of Tolkien books on my shelf as well, and in no way does that mean I can't enjoy a paperback targeted at board game fans.
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Re: My reactions/mini-review 2021

Postby lestodante » Thursday February 4th, 2021 6:33pm

The Screaming Spectre was the firs one of the three books I managed to acquire too.
I was wondering while reading the novel if a Heroquest universe would be linked to the story or not, but it never happened. I was hoping to find OUR Wizard Hero, Mentor (Magnus?) and the Arch-Mage to be Zanrath.. but none of this happened. Same world but different people.
It was nothing really special but I enjoed its story, I read it in a couple of hours I guess. It was inspiring me some kind of new quest to be adapted to the boardgame, with a group of young mages trying to save their master. But was difficult to adapt.
Pancho did a great job with the rest of the novels bringing to life "The Tyrant's Tomb" but Fortunato's story wasn't featured in the questbook because it was too far from the rest.
Sad the first book doesn't feature another quest for the boardgame!


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Re: My reactions/mini-review 2021

Postby Kurgan » Thursday February 4th, 2021 7:35pm

I'm going to keep an eye on those links and check them out when I've had a chance to delve deeper into these pulp stories, thanks for sharing!

The primary selling point of these books would be "contains a new quest for the board game!" except for the first book, that is.

I should say that I do "expect" the quests featured in these books to "fit" with the HeroQuest world, but at the same time, there's a lot of flexibility there. We can all use our imaginations, and just as I'm curious to see what you guys come up with (or other friends off the forums come up with), it's cool to see what some "official" author came up with. Sometimes fans can create stuff that's cooler than the people in charge, but its nice to have a little spark, a little spice, to get things going. I was wondering today if I had to come up with a backstory for Zargon, what would it be. So many possible ways to do it, while still honoring the tidbits revealed in the various game pieces. A gifted magician, a fast learner, but one whose impatience and ambition drove him to steal, and finally to betrayal and madness. Would he have any good goals or motivations? This isn't the thread for it, but I'm trying to think of more motivations and possible backstories for him. The guy has been around for centuries, so it's a bit like trying to piece together the life of Dracula or some immortal from Highlander. What events shaped his personality? For game purposes it doesn't matter so much as that he's the force behind the struggles you have to go through, and without him, or someone like him there's no conflict. I'm intrigued by the various other villains in the other books and how they take shape. For game purposes it doesn't matter so much to know the inner thoughts of the bad guys if you're the Heroes, but it's a cool thing for motivation if you want to sprinkle a little bit more role-playing flavor when you're the GM.

These books remind me of the Marvel Winter special in a way, a variety show of HeroQuest material designed to entertain you, but also get your creative juices flowing... like they're saying "think you can do better? Go for it..." but with less blatant "buy our merch!" shoehorned in. I think it's perfectly possible, and cool, to make do with what you have in creating new stuff, rather than assuming you can't make the new quest you wanted unless you have a bunch of new miniature, tiles and cards. All you need is your noggin (maybe your friend's noggin too), a pencil and some blank paper!
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Re: Screaming Spectre reactions/mini-review 2021

Postby Pancho » Friday February 5th, 2021 4:35am

There’s not really any problem with the idea of the main story in this book being set in the traditional Heroquest (I.e. Warhammer) world. It’s just a bunch of students moving around looking for clues in a small Wizards academy. The solo quest isn’t a problem either really, perhaps other than locating the Island of the Cabiri itself.
The play your own adventure is a bit trickier as it’s a bit of a departure, but still not impossible. It’s a shame that the author used “the Abyss” to the west when he could have just used the Chaos wastelands/portal already established as being in the far north. The strange creatures encountered in that adventure aren’t to problematic, as chaos can create any manner of daemonic abominations.

Anyhow, I had to change the order of events a fair bit to create a coherent single story, and I used the Frozen north beyond the sea of claws (Norsca) to try and tie in a lot of the locations.


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Re: Screaming Spectre reactions/mini-review 2021

Postby Kurgan » Friday February 5th, 2021 9:14am

Nice. Using magic to hide the location of an island doesn't sound too crazy in this world...
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