Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Heart of Ice (Part 1)

Figure 1. Heart of Ice cover
by Mike Posen (from Morris, 1994)

If gamebooks are dinosaurs, and Deathtrap Dungeon (Livingstone, 1984) is Tyrannosaurus rex (ugly, lethal, and the layman’s favourite),  then Heart of Ice (Morris, 1994) is surely the Triceratops of this primordial world – big, spectacular, majestic, and one of the last of a dying line that previously embraced an expansive radiation. Three different versions of this gamebook have been published over the years. The original 1994 version (see Figure 1), which was the fifth and penultimate book in the Virtual Reality Adventure series by Mammoth; a reissue in 2000 by Paul Mason’s Panurgic Publishing (Katz, n.d.a); and a PDF ebook version of the reissue, which is currently available for free (Morris, 2010a)! (My advice? Grab a copy of the free ebook NOW!)

I can’t speak for the reissue, but the original is a hefty paperback tome with 453 paragraphs, excellent black and white internal illustrations by Russ Nicholson, and a full colour inside front cover map by Leo Hartas (see Figure 2). The ebook version contains one picture not present in the original, that of the adventuress Thadra Bey, from paragraph 286 (see Figure 3). In addition, Russ Nicholson had to re-draw the Gargan Sisters prior to the original book’s publication as:

He had them in army-style muscle t-shirts and [the art director] wanted them wearing something big and baggy. Which made no sense at all; they were hardbody soldiers and proud of it, not the sort to favor dungarees that gave them the outline of an old floor cushion. (Morris, 2010b).

The cover of the original version is by Mike Posen, and shows, well, no, that would be telling, wouldn’t it…

Figure 2. Map from Heart of Ice
by Leo Hartas (from Morris, 1994).

Heart of Ice is a post-apocalyptic adventure, though very different from the usual Mad Max-inspired settings. Instead, the premise of this book can be succinctly summarized as follows:

A few hundred years into our future, the world is becoming a glacial wasteland. One day the mad supercomputer responsible for this mess sends out a message about a cosmic artefact of great power hidden in a dead city. A number of daring and resourceful characters take up the challenge; one of them is YOU! But who’ll be the one to get their hands on the power, and what is to come of it? (Jorner, 2007).

Interestingly though, as an adventure it has a far older history and setting than its publication record would suggest. In an interview with the Italian website Il Mondo dei Librogames, Dave Morris said that Heart of Ice “got started as a role-playing session – I can pinpoint it exactly to Christmas 1976, I was back home after my first term at college and I needed a scenario for a large number of players” (FalcoDellaRuna, 2008). The ‘frozen world’ setting and the Lost City of Du-En (see Figure 4), was inspired by “marveling at the buildings of Christ Church, absolutely deserted late on a frosty night after the end of term, with the buildings lit up pale against this immense field of stars” (FalcoDellaRuna, 2008). Even at that stage there seemed to be something intriguing about the scenario, for:

After the first game session, I was walking home with one of the players and he said how he was imagining Du-En as a movie, and what he liked was that the focus of the session had been in the tension among the characters camped out in this ruined, snow-filled city. (FalcoDellaRuna, 2008).

Figure 4. The Lost City of Du-En
by Russ Nicholson (from Morris, 1994).

I’m not sure if the session was run several times with different participants, but Paul Mason (2004) has confirmed that the scenario he participated in was set in Professor M.A.R. Barker’s science-fantasy world of Tekumel, where “a bunch of likely characters competed to wrest the Heart of Durritlamish from the Mad City of Du’un”. Interestingly for gamebook fans, Mason’s character in the session was Karunaz (Mason, 2004), who is not in the Heart of Ice book, but does turn up earlier in the fifth book of the Blood Sword saga The Walls of Spyte (Morris, Johnson & Thomson, 1988), set in the Dragon Warriors game world of Legend.

Figure 3. Thadra Bey
 by Russ Nicholson (from Morris, 2000).

Heart of Ice consistently gets rated up there as one of the best gamebooks ever, if not the best of all time (e.g. Jorner, 2007; Wright, 2007; Falcon, 2008; FalcoDellaRuna, 2008; Zman, 2009; Tubb, 2010). Even Dave Morris considers it, of all the gamebooks he has written (59 at last count, including reissues (Katz, n.d.b)), the one he likes the best

by a very long margin. It was almost exactly what I wanted it to be. If only it could have been a bit longer, though. I ran out of time and space there at the end. No work of art is ever finished, only abandoned. (FalcoDellaRuna, 2008).

Why so much affection for this book? We’ll find the answer to that in part 2 of this post. Until then!


FalcoDellaRuna. (2008). Dave Morris interview 2008. Accessed from http://www.librogame.com/modules/PDdownloads/singlefile.php?cid=8&lid=21

Falcon. (2008, March 23). Falcon’s thoughts on Heart of Ice. Review posted to http://www.gamebooks.org/show_item.php?id=2882

Jorner, P. (2007, May 31). Reviews part 18: The future’s so bright I gotta wear polarized goggles. Message posted to http://games.groups.yahoo.com/group/fighting_fantasy_gamebooks/message/2752

Katz, D. (n.d.a). Heart of Ice. Accessed from http://www.gamebooks.org/show_item.php?id=2882

Katz, D. (n.d.b). Dave Morris. Accessed from http://www.gamebooks.org/show_person.php?id=70

Livingstone, I. (1984). Deathtrap Dungeon. London: Puffin.

Mason, P. (2004, April 5). bring a friend and share a miracle. Message posted to http://groups.yahoo.com/group/gamebooks/message/5977

Morris, D., Johnson, O., & Thomson, J. (1988). The Walls of Spyte. London: Knight Books.

Morris, D. (1994). Heart of Ice. London: Mammoth.

Morris, D. (2000). Heart of Ice ebook. Panurgic Publishing. Accessed from https://docs.google.com/leaf?id=0B63rIuFhh29eYmRiNDgyZmUtZjNlNy00YzQ4LWJhMjItNGJkZTE0YTRhMzkz&hl=en&pli=1

Morris, D. (2010a, February 7). Free e-gamebook. Message posted to http://fabledlands.blogspot.com/2010/02/free-e-gamebook.html

Morris, D. (2010b, March 14). Art of ice. Message posted to http://fabledlands.blogspot.com/2010/03/art-of-ice.html

Tubb, A. (2010, September 28). Heart of Ice – A solo gamebook adventure in post-apocalyptic Europe and Africa. Review posted to http://rpggeek.com/thread/568777/heart-of-ice-a-solo-gamebook-adventure-in-post-a

Wright, A. (2007, October 3). Top ten gamebooks (part ][): My top ten – Off [the top of] my head. Message posted to http://groups.yahoo.com/group/gamebooks/message/8942

Zman. (2009, October 19) Zman’s thoughts on Heart of Ice. Review posted to http://www.gamebooks.org/show_item.php?id=2882


  1. There were indeed multiple runs of Du'un. I wasn't playing rolegames in 1976, let alone playing in Dave's group.

    But the movie analogy certainly held for the version I played in. We even 'cast' our characters (Karunaz was Christophe Lambert, a more 'Hollywood' choice than James Fox, on whom he was originally based). I mocked up a 'film poster'.

    Incidentally, the PDF version of Heart of Ice is the one I produced to accompany the rerelease. It therefore closely resembles the 'book' version, though the layout was tweaked to work for both screen and A4. The cover of the rereleased version (I decided not to relicense the original) also depicts something from the book, but is even more spoilerish, so I won't say what. It also references the original opening sequence of Doctor Who.

    I'm looking forward to your second part...

  2. Thanks Paul - I thought there must have been multiple runnings of the session but I wasn't 100% sure. I've used your nifty cover image for the PDF for the start of the second part, which is up now. The way I'm packing the word count away, it looks like there'll be a third and fourth part as well...



  3. Would be nice to place links to all 4 parts in each of the parts so people who stumble on 1 can find the other 3

    Also would be nice to compare the 3 covers side-by-side! For example I'm currently wondering what the Dr Who reference is, but I'll need to do some googling to even get a start on that

  4. Good points all! I'm going to have to do an edit once I get the next post up.