Monday, 18 July 2022

Do You Know What Happens to Vampires When They Die?

It's 10 years since I started this blog. Where does the time go?

In a departure from what happened in previous anniversary posts, I've decided to do a bonus playthrough here. Earlier this year I acquired the Fabled Lands Publishing reissues of the Golden Dragon gamebooks. The first one, Crypt of the Vampire, has apparently undergone some changes beyond the correction of errors, and there's more than one viable route through it, so I could potentially play it again without just repeating exactly what I did last time. It also happens to be one of the first gamebooks I actually won on this blog (and I've only recently replayed the very first one I beat here, for reasons I shall be going into a little later on in the year), which makes playing it again quite an appropriate way to celebrate the occasion.

The differences between the two versions of the book start before the adventure. The original's dedication to author Dave Morris' parents has been replaced with a quotation from Dracula, and the introduction now explains something of what the author was trying to achieve with the book.

As for the rules, while everything appears to work as it originally did, some of the text has been rewritten. The bit about thinking up a name for your character has gone, the explanation of how the combat system works has been rephrased, and, bizarrely, the mock paragraph used to help illustrate how it works has been changed in parts: most of the colour text and all of the stats are the same, but the section numbers mentioned are different, the opponent has transformed from an Ogre into a woodsman, and the terminology describing a successful outcome is different. 

The paragraph on items has also been modified, and starting equipment has been pared down, losing the armour and backpack. Finally (for the pre-adventure material), the lead-in to the first section replaces 'the adventure' with 'your nightmare'.

Time to generate my character.
Vigour: 27
PSI: 7
Agility: 5
I think I'd better give the chimney-climbing a miss this time round.

The first section of the gamebook is the same atmospheric scene-setting passage as before up until the last line, but the description of the latticework gate into the grounds of the house where I seek shelter is less informative, merely describing it as 'unusual' rather than pointing out that it's in the shape of a large humanoid with talons. Trying to make it less obvious that the figure will animate and attack if you touch the gate? Trusting in Leo Hartas' illustration to get the point across?

Oh, and I'm reaching for the latch rather than about to reach for it when I notice the design. The choices available are the same, though, and I'd rather not unnecessarily risk death this early on, so I'll avoid the gate altogether and use vines and creepers to climb over the wall.

As I approach the mansion, I see someone approaching, but instead of a bow-toting Elf, this is a soldier in a dishevelled uniform, armed with a musket. Morbid curiosity had me sneak a peak at the consequences of speaking to him rather than immediately attacking, and to my surprise, this doesn't give him a free shot at me. In either version of the book: I've been misremembering that detail for years.

Observing him to be crazed and preparing to fire, I attack, and the combat stats are unchanged. A few poor rolls highlight one problem arising from the change of weapon: the Elf nocking a fresh arrow after each round I can just about accept, but reloading a musket isn't the sort of thing that even a clear-headed soldier would be able to do with ease while fending off a swordsman, yet this frothing individual manages it at least twice before I run him through.

My opponent's dying words are largely unchanged, beyond repetition of 'His eyes!' in reference to the 'evil lord', and my character is still so clueless as to attribute the puncture marks in the corpse's throat to an unspecified animal. Stashing the body under a tree to keep the rain off it, I continue towards the house, which has a somewhat unsettling appearance.

I'm pretty sure that money is largely irrelevant in this adventure (beyond the fact that some lethal traps are baited with what appears to be valuable treasure), so I throw a few coins into the stagnant pond outside the house. For some strange reason, this briefly causes the water to turn red and show me a vision of a hostile face with hypnotic-looking eyes, which is enough to get even my dopey character to suspect that there may be something ominous afoot around here.

Nevertheless, I proceed to enter the house. The double doors on my right lead to a study or library, where I find a lantern and discover that it's not possible to set light to the logs in the fireplace. Returning to the hall, I head up the stairs, finding bedrooms so dusty that they can't have been used in years, and a minor rewording of one sentence. The thought of sleeping here does not appeal (not so much on account of the dust as because I remember that doing so leads to an Instant (Un)Death), so the only option that remains to me is to investigate the downstairs passageway leading deeper into the house.

The walls have wood panels, which have been deliberately broken in places. Could that be a consequence of people trying to improvise stakes? And the section number for one of the options here has changed in the new edition - but bypassing the two doors I'm approaching would be a bad choice, possibly even fatal in the long run, so I won't look into the differences just yet.

The first door leads to a small storage room, 'little more than a closet' (and this is the first time I've picked up on the fact that the animated skeleton hiding in it is a joke). Another thing that hadn't registered before: the listed clutter includes coils of rope, but I don't get to take one. I'm not sure I'll ever need one in this adventure, but considering how important having rope can be in gamebooks, it's odd to have the stuff mentioned in the descriptive text and then just disregarded.

Anyway, I search the closet, defeat the skeleton with ease, find the golden helmet it was guarding, and go on my way with new headgear (but no rope). Oh, and the section covering returning to the passage is right next to the one that, in the original text, covered proceeding straight to the end of the passage, so I imagine the changed numbers are just to avoid having a 'turn to 105' option in section 104.

The next door has a crucifix-shaped design on it, so even if I didn't already know that this is where I can acquire an essential item, basic knowledge of tropes relating to vampires would indicate that investigating here is advisable. Behind the door is a workroom, in which a monk is putting the finishing touches to a shuttered lantern. There was an illustration of the scene in the original book, but it's gone from the reissue.

So far the changes made to the text have been minor, leading me to wonder if the consequences of threatening the monk are still as mild as in the first edition. Still, if the decision has been made to now penalise unprovoked aggression, that could guarantee failure, so I'll stick with a friendly greeting.

The monk, now Brother Hark rather than Father Harkas, offers food and drink that puts right some of the damage I took from being shot by the soldier, then tells me about the history of Tenebron Hall and its vampiric Lord, and explains that he uses his holy talismans to keep himself safe from the house's monstrous denizens so he can equip potential heroes to confront Lord Tenebron. It turns out that the soldier had been on his way home from the wars when he came here and was persuaded to oppose the vampire, which slightly enhances the tragic nature of his failure. I accept a second lantern and a crucifix from Brother Hark before heading off in search of Tenebron.

The corridor ends in steps leading down to the cellar. Being amply provided with light sources, I descend to find long-abandoned racks of wine. Passing up the opportunity to impair my stats with intoxication, I open the barred door on the far side with the obligatory creaking noise and proceed along another corridor.

A door on the right leads into a bedroom, currently unoccupied, though by the time I've checked that the candlesticks on the mantelpiece are solid silver, a crone in a pointy hat and her pet crow have turned up to glower at me. She turns the smoke from the fireplace into a monster when I refuse to leave, but opts not to hang around once I've used my wits to get rid of it. I then help myself to the plate of food on her desk, which restores the rest of the Vigour I lost fighting the soldier.

My low Agility makes climbing up the chimney (after dousing the fire) inadvisable, and now I'm at full health, I don't think there's anything to justify the risk, so I head back out to the corridor and move along to the evil chapel located beyond a nearby archway. As in my previous playthrough, a lucky roll while searching the altar turns up a concealed compartment containing a bone carved from marble, which I add to my inventory before going on my way.

The corridor opens up into a gallery, decorated with portraits of the thirteen Lords Tenebron. It also contains the remains of another of my predecessors, now just a skeleton in rusting armour. As his sword shows no signs of decay, I help myself to it, retaining my original one as a back-up.

Beyond the gallery is a dining hall, its contents covered in dust and cobwebs, apart from the painting of an archer on the far wall, which fires an arrow into my shoulder. I retaliate by setting the picture alight with one of my lanterns, and head up a flight of stairs to one of the two exits leading onwards. The room beyond is occupied by a drunken Cossack, virtually indistinguishable from the Barbarian who was here in the original text. He injures me a couple of times, but I win the fight. His drink of choice is rye beer rather than fermented yak's milk, but apart from that everything he owns is as it was in the first edition. I take his money and the food items that could be of use to me later on.

The room has one exit other than the one through which I came, proceeding down a passageway to a junction. To the left the corridor ends in a door with a hand-shaped handle, which I open. The room beyond has an unidentifiable light source, and is occupied by a man dressed in black and white, who sits by a chessboard and silently invites me to play against him. As I am about to make my first move, I find myself on a stony plain, commanding an army dressed in white, and opposing a force of black-clad soldiers. Eventually I wind up in single combat against the Black Queen, who wins more rounds of combat than I do, but has a lower Vigour and ultimately falls to my sword.

Just like that I'm back in the room with the man and the chessboard, restored to full health and having just won the game. My opponent causes the pieces to disappear, and then brings three of them back, now adapted into amulets, one of which I may claim as my prize. I take the rook, which increases my maximum Vigour and boosts my current score to match.

Returning to the junction and heading the other way (which causes me to turn from 243 to 242, a transition that remains unchanged in the reissue), I ignore the suit of armour I pass, as I have no need to replace my sword. The corridor leads to a room containing a chest with a coil of rope on it, another scene that was illustrated but is no longer.

I take a closer look at the chest, and the rope animates and starts to throttle me. Passing up the opportunity to experience a bit of authorial overkill (a bad roll while attempting to cut the rope results in slicing open your jugular and not quite bleeding to death before the rope snaps your neck), I fling open the chest and use the item within that deanimates the rope. The only other thing in the chest restores me to full Vigour, which would be more impressive if I hadn't been at maximum before the rope attacked me.

Two doors lead onwards. This is where the book splits into two different but viable routes to the endgame, but can I remember which one I didn't take last time? Yes I can, so now I can proceed to some encounters that weren't covered in the previous playthrough.

As I approach the door, I hear strange music coming from beyond it. Wary, I break a couple of small chunks off the cheese I took from the Cossack, and use them as ear plugs before opening the door. Stairs lead down to a chamber in which a quartet of skeletons plays music to an apparently enraptured knight in armour. The illustration of this is also missing from the reissue.

Speaking to the knight, I discover that he's dead and turned to dust, having been fatally captivated by the music a long, long while ago. His possessions consist of a little money and a bottle of now undrinkable water, both of which I take. I then turn my attention to the musicians: two playing violins, one on the harpsichord, and a percussionist whose instrument is the harpsichordist's skull. A flute lies unused on the podium, animated skeletons lacking the lips and lungs required to get the best out of such an instrument, so I add it to my belongings.

I don't think there's anything to be gained by trying to steal one of the glowing crystals that illuminate the chamber, so I move on to the far doors. They're soundproofed, so once I've shut them behind me, I can take the cheese out of my ears. This enables me to hear the snoring emanating from a curtained alcove close by. I investigate, finding a drunken brute with warts and leathery skin (and another picture absent from the reissue).

Not content to let sleeping whatevers lie, I creep closer. Randomness determines that I disarm him before he wakes, and strike a rather unsporting lethal blow as he becomes aware of me. Somehow while doing this I learn that... Well, originally he was a Hobgoblin, but the reissue turns him into a Szgany, one of the people who were encamped outside Dracula's castle in Stoker's novel. Despite avoiding the really prejudicial term for such people, this is (in my view) a somewhat regrettable edit. The reissue also contains a comma that really doesn't belong there, but that's more trivial. 

As he dies, he attempts to cast a spell on me, but my PSI is high enough that I can shrug off the effect of the curse, and go on my way. If I remember rightly, I could have learned something useful from him had my sneak attack failed, forcing me to face him in battle, but as it is, the encounter was pointless, and leaves me feeling a little uncomfortable.

Passing a flight of steps leading up, I realise that the two paths from the room with the chest have converged sooner than expected. So, as on my previous attempt, I visit a paladin's tomb and, as a consequence of attempted shroud-theft, acquire a shield that helps me get past the nearby zombie-filled pool of water (another deleted illustration) unscathed. Parts of this book are odd.

Up ahead are three doors, and as a consequence of having gone through the room with the skeletal musicians, I have no key and must again diverge from the route previously taken. The only unlocked door leads to a large cavern, home to a multitude of bats. They don't appreciate being disturbed, and swoop to the attack, so I pull out the flute and play it. The music (the book doesn't specify the tune, so I'm going to assue it's a certain well-known piece by Neal Hefti) disrupts the bats' sonar, enabling me to evade them as I make for the exit.

Again the different routes through the adventure converge, this time at a crossroads, and authorial fiat compels me to go straight ahead. From this point onwards things happen much as they did last time: the helmet I found near the start enables me to avoid being tricked by a bogus treasure hoard (and has been renamed in the reissue), a more elaborate illusion briefly distracts me, leading to a fight with a giant spider (illustration omitted from the reissue), and I use the marble bone to distract the hellhound which guards Tenebron's chambers. With a crucifix and the Cossack's garlic I weaken the vampire, and while he puts up a better fight than before, I still win, using the sword I found in the gallery, which has powerful enough enchantments to ensure that Tenebron stays dead when I kill him.

So, I win again. The changes made to the text for the reissue are less substantial than I'd expected, but they do achieve the goal of shifting the tone of the book a little closer to Hammer Horror than generic fantasy. I do think the Szgany was an inadvisable edit, but overall, this new edition compares favourably to a lot of the other gamebook reissues on my bookshelves.

Thursday, 30 June 2022

No Telling What's Been Breeding Down There

It's been a month since my last post here, so I ought to stop putting off the continuation of my playing Ian Brocklehurst's occasionally interactive mini-adventure Starhunt: Void Slavers, which I started here.

The first part of this playthrough ended at the point where I got to make my second decision: go immediately to the gate where the Slavers are going to pay off the crooked cop who helped them carry out the recent raid, or ask for more information. This appears to be a less exciting choice than it sounds: I wind up turning to the same section regardless of whether I depart at once or loiter to ask a question or two, so unless there's a 'gotcha' moment later where I'm asked how much time I spent quizzing Arthur, the implied urgency is just for show.

I ask for more information on what Slavers do after conducting raids, and learn that they deposit their captives in holding cells until the next Slave Mart. Owing to the cost of keeping the prisoners in marketable condition, the raids probably aren't carried out until shortly before a Mart is due to take place. Because few things make a villain more menacing than good timetabling and resource management, right? I also get a reminder that my character isn't that pleasant an individual, with a statement of my utter indifference towards all the Slavers' victims to whom I'm not closely related.

Since it looks as if it makes no difference how many questions I ask, I also take the opportunity to find out what Arthur knows about the Sovereigness, leader of the Slavers (or possibly a lackey with a fancy title who makes sure the Slavers who do the actual slaving keep their diaries up to date). She's the new CEO of Slave Mart Inc., who assumed the role just after her predecessor accidentally brutally annihilated himself with enough explosives to destroy a sun. Her true identity remains a closely guarded secret, but the most popular rumours have her related to aristocrats or the President of the TCA, because, you know, even the most reprehensible criminals still have standards, and wouldn't work for anybody common.

Saying my farewells to Arthur (in an exchange that would be just soggy with irony if it turned out that he were on the side of the Slavers), I walk out of the club and into a new section. On my way back to the monorail station I contact Kraven-8 and ask him to do some more hacking. What I want him to find depends on whether or not I went to the police earlier (so a more discreet approach must make it possible to survive pursuing that line of enquiry). As I didn't, I ask about the gate Arthur mentioned. Kraven-8 reports that it's been closed for 4 days, since a sewer worker got killed by a Centi-Crab. That means the area has been very quiet (since places where people recently met violent deaths never attract the attention of morbid onlookers), so it would have been a good spot for getting in unobserved.

Arriving at the station (and a new section), I must 'choose' where to go next, though as in this life I never spoke with the corrupt police officer, I don't have the (doubtless false) lead she would have provided, so I can only go to the gate mentioned by Arthur. And if I'd been daft enough not to make a note of the gate number, I'd be stuck, as I need to turn to the section corresponding to that number to go there. It seems a little petty to have this check that the reader did receive information that it's impossible not to receive before getting to this point, but I guess it contributes to the fa├žade of player agency.

After changing trains twice, I reach the right part of town, noting that it's pretty run-down, and after changing section once I get to find out the identity of the figures who shamble towards me as I walk towards the gate. It turns out to be a couple of junkies, who accuse me of trespassing and attack. One has a Skill almost equal to mine (because narcotic-induced delusions improve fighting prowess, right?), and lousy rolls mean that even his less adept (or possibly not so stoned) partner manages to wound me a couple of times. If I hadn't used Luck to reduce the effectiveness of a couple of blows, I'd be down to my last point of Stamina.

Time for a quick reminder of the rules regarding regaining Stamina. Okay, I have two portions of food, each restoring the traditional 4 Stamina, and a medi-kit that heals 8. Bit odd, but whatever. Meal, medikit, almost back to full health.

Having knocked the junkies out, I now get to choose whether or not to search them. Doing so could expose me to something harmful, or it might provide something essential for successful completion of the adventure. Or both. Or neither. I'm probably doomed whatever happens, so I'll see what they're carrying, and if it kills me, at least I'll know of one more mistake to avoid on my regrettably inevitable next attempt at the adventure.

And it's 'neither'. Well, I find a badge belonging to someone from the dance troupe of which my sister is a member, which suggests that they were brought through here, but I don't think having a dancer's badge is likely to be a game-changer.

I proceed to the gate, which isn't actually a gate: it's a hole in the ground large enough for a person to climb through, with a circular metal cover. There is a 7-letter word for it, but I'd prefer not to be accused of any more hate crimes, so I shall steer clear of using such language. Checking with Kraven-8, I establish that communication with him is likely to be impossible once I descend to Under-Aqua, and arrange for him to contact the authorities if I don't get back in touch after an hour.

Climbing down into another section, I find myself at one end of a tunnel. Heading the only way I can go, I reach a door with a handprint-activated lock. Despite not being authorised to be down here, I put my palm to the scanner, and the door opens onto a new section, so I'm guessing that the lock was sabotaged to help the Slavers gain access and hasn't yet been fixed.

The door leads to what a convenient schematic identifies as a maintenance section. It contains eight monitors, five of them showing security camera footage. I, the reader, infer that the other three cameras have been tampered with to keep them from recording footage of the Slavers' activities down here. My character merely finds it curious that the screens are blank, and concludes that the cameras are off. Indeed a towering intelligence.

Another not-to-be-named hole leads down into the sewers, while the door across the room from me will enable me to go down a level to a network of freshwater pipes (maybe that would make sense if I could see the schematic). The sewers and the freshwater pipes both lead to an area named Hangar Quay, which could be where the Slavers are meeting their associate from the local law enforcement community. Also in the room are a selection of rebreathers and a number of pole-mounted fishhooks.

I get to choose which exit to take from the room. It's likely that the door also requires a handprint to open, and possible that that one hasn't been interfered with, in which case trying to open it would probably trigger an alarm and get me arrested and, at best, held in custody for long enough to lose any chance of catching up to the Slavers. Consequently I'll travel via the sewers.

As I prepare to climb down, the rebreathers and fishhooks again catch my attention. Despite having been told about the different types of hostile fauna found down here, my character theorises that the hooks might be used for muck-dredging. Fortunately, I'm the one making the decisions, so I take a rebreather and what's probably the best type of weapon to use against an Armoured Centi-Crab before clambering down to the next section. Well, I say I make the decisions: in fact, I can only choose to take both a rebreather and a hook, or not to take either. I mean, I'd have gone for both anyway, but it's odd that the choice should be so binary. Given the number of gratuitous section transitions, it's not as if Mr Brocklehurst didn't have enough free sections to cover 'take rebreather but not hook' and vice versa.

A ladder leads to a small room with one door. Beyond that door is a corridor to another door, this one with a warning about noxious fumes written on it. I'm given the option of going back up and trying the door to the freshwater pipes, and the section for doing so is just two after the one for passing through this door, so unless there's a well-placed page break, it'll take a little effort not to catch sight of the outcome of the choice I don't make. I have a rebreather, so I'm sticking with the sewers.

The two sections in question are on separate pages. Beyond the door, a ledge runs alongside a stream of filthy water, but a force field keeps those noxious fumes contained. I move along the ledge to a new section. Here, steps lead down to a chamber containing four vats of sewage. At the bottom of the steps, the sewer stench suddenly kicks in, and it's probably game over for anyone who didn't think to bring a rebreather. I put mine on, and hurry through the chamber to another new section.

There are three vats in here, one of which turns out to be inhabited by a tentacled monstrosity that I guess must be a Sump Monster: Arthur mentioned them, giant rats, and Centi-Crabs, and there's nothing particularly ratlike or crablike about this thing. It has the same Skill as the more competent of the junkies, but around twice the Stamina, and despite my Skill advantage it wins almost as many rounds as I do. Well, this is fun. I've already used the medikit (and I might be dead if I hadn't), and while the rules don't say I can't eat while wearing a rebreather (it's only forbidden during all forms of combat), common sense says that it's going to be a lot trickier to stuff my face with food while wearing breathing gear than it would be while seated at my ship's controls, blasting away at hostile spacecraft.

Leaving the room by another door, I find myself at an L-junction (isn't that a corner?) of ledges beside streams of muck, and continue on my way towards the hangar (and, of course, a new section). A ladder leads back up, and the text has me ditch the rebreather and hook before I go up. Eating while climbing a ladder seems a little impractical, but there's probably another fight imminent, so I'll take what healing I can.

I can hear voices even before I reach the top, and a convenient grille enables me to peer through the cover on the hole that shall not be named. Not having been to the police, I don't recognise anybody, but I can see that one of the people present is wearing a police uniform. The conversation helpfully provides me with a few names of people and places, as well as the information that the cameras will only remain offline for another five minutes. The Slavers apologise for the delay in transferring the bribe to the officer's account, and hand over a down-payment before departing in a sea skiff. What happened to the traditional 'We no longer require your services' sudden but inevitable betrayal?

The officer has a blaster, so making my presence known to her would be inadvisable, and I don't open the still-not-saying-it-hole until she's gone on her way. Not wanting to waste any more time, I 'borrow' a sea-skiff and head out to the ocean. There I contact Kraven-8 and tell him to fly the Starhunt to my current location and collect me. He makes some petty quibble about its being illegal or something, but I'm the kind of action hero who knows that you have to fight crime with crime, and overrule him.

Having been banned from the starport to which the leader of the Slavers who took my sister is currently heading, I'm going to have to travel instead to the starport where her associate, the former gun-runner with whom I have had unexplained dealings in the past, is due to put through the rest of the bribe. But now seems a convenient point to pause the narrative until I can summon up sufficient motivation to continue with this miserable mini-adventure.

Tuesday, 31 May 2022

A Crazy Breed... Half in Love with Death

My first (and, until now, only) attempt at the mini-adventure in Fighting Fantazine issue 12, Ian Brocklehurst's Starhunt: Void Slavers, went almost as badly as my first go at Ascent of Darkness. I got through a few more sections, but that's largely because there are two 'Turn to' redirects before the first decision. Judging by the comments of some others who've endured Slavers, the fact that you have to read three sections before even getting to make a choice is a good indication of how the whole adventure pans out, linearity outweighing interactivity to the extent that some reviewers have questioned whether this even constitutes a gamebook.

I failed my previous attempt by ignoring my own advice. I've commented before on the futility of seeking help from the authorities in gamebooks, but in this one I started out by going to the police, and a corrupt officer drugged me and had me dumped somewhere with a lot of hungry rats. As with Ascent, at the time I played it I was focused on making sure I'd played every Fantazine mini-adventure at least once, and issue 13 was already out by the time I gave these a try, so I moved straight on to that after meeting my grisly end.

While I'm not going to deliberately fail this, I doubt that I'll fare particularly well at it either, and since it's quite plausible that I'll make another 'wrong' decision and run straight into an Instant Death at the next choice, I won't even bother generating my stats until/unless I reach a point at which I need to know one of them.

Before the adventure's prologue there's a little information on the setting, which doesn't even manage to get through the first paragraph without annoying me. I know that the misuse of 'sentient' to mean 'sapient' is by now so widespread that 'sentient' is probably going to change its meaning, 'sapient' will fall into disuse, and we'll be left with no word for what 'sentient' used to mean, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.

Anyway, it's the 37th century, and humanity has colonised a variety of planets and moons, but has yet to encounter any aliens that have a similar capacity for intelligence and stupidity. Some worlds are in the Federation TCA, some are independent but trade with the TCA, the people in the Outlying Territories largely keep to themselves, and the Void, despite having a name suggestive of emptiness and nothingness, is actually your standard hive of scum and villainy, only on a multiple-solar-system scale.

As for me, I own a spacecraft named the Starhunt (seemingly a bit ramshackle) and have a robot (for some reason called Kraven-8) for a travelling companion. The latter detail may be because I'm not a particularly likeable individual: when my estranged father unexpectedly contacts me, I'm so impatient and focused on old grudges, he barely has a chance to let me know that my sister has been kidnapped by slavers. I am, at least, quick to respond once I understand the situation, and within minutes I'm on my way to Aquatine, the world on which my sister's dance troupe was vacationing when the slavers conducted their raid.

Aquatine is, as the name suggests, largely covered by water (at least it didn't wind up called Oceany McOceanworld), and most of the people there (almost as many tourists as residents) can be found in floating cities. As I prepare to disembark, I set Kraven-8 the task of hacking into the local mainframe to find out what is known about slavers. We dock in bay 94 (I might need to remember that number in order to get back to my ship, even though I have an earpiece that keeps me in constant communication with my robot), and I arm myself with a blaster and knife before heading out of the Starhunt.

The bay contains a few freighters and a space-yacht named The Eye of Orion (who knows which details are set dressing and which might turn out to be significant). A mechanical customs officer makes me turn in my blaster for the duration of my stay, but allows me to retain the knife, albeit with a warning that the police carry blasters, and will shoot me if I try to do anything illegal with it. Asking how the police failed to prevent the slaver raid, I get told that I'd have to ask a police officer about that.

I proceed onto a busy street, and the text enigmatically tells me that the night sky is visible overhead owing to 'the unique nature of Aquatine's orbit'. Last time I checked (which was just after I wrote the previous sentence), it was possible to see the night sky on Earth, too. I check a map, and find out the location of the nearest police booth and monorail station. A friend of mine lives here, albeit in a different district, so I'll need to use public transport to call on them (despite all the info-dumping, I have no idea whether this friend is male or female yet).

At last I get to make a decision. But not much of one, considering what I learned on my previous attempt at this adventure. Do I go to the police booth and get murdered, or pop onto the monorail and visit my unidentified (and, as far as I can tell, uninformed of my presence here) friend?

On my way to the station I bump into a couple of women pushing a pram (is this relevant?). While I'm waiting on the platform, Kraven-8 contacts me and I get another decision-free section transition. The only information he's been able to get (my robot is apparently male - still not a clue about my friend) is a short list of names, one of which I recognise, as this particular slaver used to be a gun-runner. I tell Kraven-8 that I'm going to meet my friend (thereby discovering that it's a man, though his name remains undisclosed), and travel 17 stops and one section transition on the monorail.

The streets are not busy, though this part of the city would be crowded if it were night (so that orbit business means you can see the night sky during the day?). I head for my friend's workplace, 'Fishnet High' - a high class place, no really, high class - they don't have any of that. That is right out. Then I become aware that someone is sneaking up on me, but I need to turn to another section to find out who.

It's a deranged robot. Unlike the robotic customs officer, which was an I-Bot, this one is a ME-Bot - a distinction that may mean something to my character but, like my friend's name, remains a mystery to the plebs reading this adventure. And since I have to fight the mechanical maniac which has attacked me in a bid to disguise the lack of interactivity in this part of the text, I need to determine some stats. Personal ones, at least. My ship also has stats, but I won't bother with them unless I last long enough to use any of them.

Skill: 11
Stamina: 17
Luck: 12
Blaster Skill: 9
So if/when I fail, it's more likely to be the result of a wrong decision (on one of the rare occasions that I get the opportunity to choose anything) than a bad roll. Though, judging by one of the many complaints raised by one reviewer, it is possible to lose at the last minute thanks to a roll that has nothing to do with any of my stats because completely randomised failure is such fun.

Despite having a 4-point Skill advantage over the metallic madman, I still take a couple of wounds. Then I enter Fishnet High, paying little attention to the anti-grav pole dancers, and when a rollerblading waitress approaches me, I ask to see the manager. It turns out that his name is Arthur (and mine is apparently 'the captain of the Starhunt'). I explain what has brought me here, and Arthur tells me that the slavers, probably assisted by a crooked cop, got into the city via Under-Aqua. Arthur then speculates that the captives will be held in a safe base until the next Slave Mart, and I let him know about the names I've learned. To actually tell him them, I have to turn to another section.

Arthur then tells me potted biographies of the slavers, concluding that Rhea Mosa is probably the one behind the raid. I then ask him about Under-Aqua, and guess what? Time to turn to another section. That'll be the tenth one I turn to on this attempt at the adventure, and I've made one decision and had one gratuitous fight. This got labelled a bumper adventure because it has over 200 sections, but without all these unnecessary hops back and forth through the text, it'd be well below the norm.

Under-Aqua is the part of Aquatine the tourist guides don't like to mention. The homeless, the hunted, and assorted sewer monsters live down there. Arthur has heard that the Slavers gained acces to it via Gate 79, and will be meeting their crooked cop there to pay for services rendered. He advises me to head there at once while he contacts some of his shadier associates to find out anything else that might help me. Shockingly, I actually have the option of asking him something first.

I'm not sure I can handle the stress of making a decision right now, so I'm going to post what I've written so far, and continue this slog of an adventure another day.

Saturday, 30 April 2022

You May Find Yourself in Another Part of the World

I guess it's time I had another go at Lone Wolf book 11, The Prisoners of Time. My first attempt went about as well as could be expected, and owing to the extremely linear nature of the adventure, much of my replay is liable to go the same way, so I'll be brief about the bits that happen much as they did before. In the past, I've written such repeat performances in the style of a verse found in the gamebook I'm replaying, but if there's any attempted poetry in this book, I have yet to find it. Thus, making a tenuous connection with the word 'time' in the title, I shall use They Might Be Giants' song Older as the lyrical skeleton to be fleshed out with a summary of my actions where they barely differ from the previous account.

Right now I'm very glad I went to the effort of creating my gamebook manager, as it makes it a lot easier to skim through all the exposition and lack of interactivity.

I take 3 damage from the trip, and in the cairn I shelter,
The Yoacor transport me,
I meet with the Beholder.
He sends me on to Vhozada to liaise with Serocca.
Endurance drops to 12.

At this point I can briefly deviate from my previous course of action. Knowing that approaching the nearby monolith will trigger an alarm, and that there appears to be no benefit gained by doing so, I stay away from it. Continuing to follow the stream that led me here, I start to wonder if there's no intelligent life in the vicinity (even though the Beholder told me this is the home of 'one of great vision', and metallic pyramids tend not to be naturally occurring phenomena), but then I find some fields planted with orderly rows of fragrant yellow herbs.

I take a closer look at the herbs, but not having the Discipline of Curing leaves me unable to determine what effects sampling them might have, so I leave them alone. The section in which I examine them has been slightly edited in the Mongoose Publishing edition, probably in response to an oversensitive grammar checker making a fuss about a sentence that was perfectly legitimate anyway.

Following a path up a hill, I see that on the other side is a city inhabited by simian creatures. For some reason I regard this as the first sign of civilisation I've seen in this land, despite having just passed blatant evidence of agriculture. There's another unnecessary Mongoose edit here, changing 'who' to 'that'. Probably just more grammar checker nonsense, but given that this book's portrayal of the natives is problematic already, replacing a pronoun which implies personhood with one that can be used for things doesn't look good.  

I... reach the city.
The lo-cals manhandle me.

Serocca speaks of Destiny, and says the Chaos-Master
Is causing much destruction,
Then tells me where to go next.
I rest and heal and have to get rid of two Special Items
To make room for more tat.

I meet a doomed companion and travel by onipa
Until we reach a village
And stop for something to eat.
The local fortune teller offers to give me a reading.
She tells me I will dream.

Though the outcome of the fortune-telling is randomised, I got the same outcome as before, so I don't learn any new cryptic hints this time round. I hope I won't have to play this again, even if that would give me another chance to get a different vague info-dump, but I'm not optimistic. From the top...

We drive on and approach a bridge. I see it has been damaged.
We stop so we can fix it.
The Chaos-Spawn attack us.
I help until T'uk T'ron tells me that I should go now,
And then I run away.

I... spot Ironheart's men.
Will they... shoot at me again?

This time just I stealthily approach them before initiating telepathic contact with the receptive scout, and am thus able to hear that they're talking about me and my escort, wondering what's taking us so long to get here. I also see their sleeve-mounted crossbows, and reflect that it would be inadvisable to startle them (in a sentence that is actually improved in the Mongoose edit). This leads me to speculate on how this scene must have played out on my previous attempt.

Scout 1: Still no sign of this 'Lone Wolf' bloke we're supposed to be meeting?
Scout 2: Nope.
Scout 3: He should have been here hours ago.
Lone Wolf: Hello! I'm Lone Wolf. I believe you've been sent to meet me.
Scouts: AAAAAAH!!! Kill it!

The scouts determine who I am, and take me to their leader.
He waffles on for ages,
Then picks Odel to guide me,
And offers me the option to pick up some fresh equipment,
But this time I decline.

As a result of leaving immediately, I get an info-dump from Odel about the lichen that catches my attention. It's very toxic. I have the option of taking some with me, and decide to in case I get the chance to use it against an opponent. My more prompt departure also means that I don't encounter the attempted ambush by an Agtah, and we proceed straight to the burial grounds where the Lorestones arrived. Last time I played this book, enemies turned up and intervened before I could get the stones, but I got here more quickly on this occasion. You think that'll make a difference?

I solve the puzzle lock and get into the Grand Sepulchre.
My sword lights up the exit.
Odel gets killed just off-stage.
I step onto the roof and see the dragon helm-clad soldier
Who means to take the stones.

Firing an arrow didn't seem to help last time, so I think I'll just launch straight into an attack. Not that that's any better, actually. I hit the warrior, momentarily driving him away from the Lorestones, but when I approach them, they make me feel so good that I space out for a moment, during which time the warrior draws his curved sword, forces me away from the stones, drops them into his pouch, and presses his attack - with better stats than he had after I used the bow. For the first two rounds of the fight I get lousy numbers, taking 6 points of damage. Still, the Combat Ratio is such that in the third round I cannot fail to do enough damage to force him to retreat - and now I score a killing blow.

The railroad will not be thwarted, though. The warrior's death throes cause his hand to become entangled in the rope ladder attached to the saddle of the giant bird which bore him here, and the bird flies away, taking his corpse with it. Here we go again.

I attempt to cut loose the pouch in which he put the Lorestones,
But merely cut it open,
Causing one stone to fall out.
I descend to ground level to at least recover that one.
Two Agtah scouts attack.

They... die instantly.
The stone... now belongs to me.

The sword dropped by the warrior reveals the place he came from.
My way is blocked by monsters.
I choose to shelter elsewhere.
The puzzle lock on Baylon's Tomb still defies explanation,
But I still get it right.

There are actually two search options in the tomb, apparently mutually exclusive. The burial chamber yielded nothing on my previous attempt, so I'll check in case there's anything potentially useful inside the sarcophagus. Doing so highlights one significant difference between the Lone Wolf gamebooks and some other series: I pay scant regard to the body's 'mattress' of diamonds and gemstones, and dismiss the golden-bladed ceremonial sword at his side as being an impractical weapon. What does get my attention is the silver flask of wine, and as its contents smell good (the Mongoose edit stresses that it is surprising for wine that's been stowed in a tomb for years to smell so fresh), I risk a sip.

It's good stuff. I can take it with me and drink from it twice, restoring 4 Endurance points each time. The Mongoose text also has the test draught provide an Endurance boost - one I can't use, but if I'd somehow managed to take damage between recovering the Lorestone and getting here, that could be a life-saver.

Sounds of battle from outside prompt me to head to the roof and see what's going on.

Now Ironheart's army has arrived: they're slaying all the Agtah.
The Chaos-master turns up.
I very mildly wound him.
We fight: his stats are lower in the Mongoose Books edition.
Regardless, I still lose.

I think I may have to go all the way back to the beginning of the series and get myself a Lone Wolf with a higher starting Combat Skill. I know of an Instant Death that can be encountered quite early on in Flight from the Dark, so I can use that to dispose of any character who gets 17 or less, and maybe then the next time I reach this tiresome book it'll be with a Lone Wolf who actually has a chance of winning.

Wednesday, 27 April 2022

It's Way More Dangerous Than That

A longer-than-planned gap between posts here, at least in part because I've been busy playing gamebooks in a different context (about which I intend to say more at a later date). Still, my aim is to cover at least one gamebook a month here, so with the end of April not that far off, I'd better get a move on.

Next on my (provisional and flexible) list is Fortress of Assassins, the third of Dave Morris' Knightmare tie-in gamebooks. Like the previous two, the book is a combination of novelette and short gamebook, and before starting on this I read the story. Given that it has Treguard searching for Richard the Lionheart's heir, it doesn't take a particularly detailed knowledge of English history to figure out that his quest would not be successful. Knowing from the outset that the hero isn't going to succeed doesn't automatically make for a bad story, but it did mean that the question of how he would fail was prominent in my mind all the time, and I anticipated the twist some way ahead of its revelation. Mind you, I'm significantly older than the target readership, and cannot tell how unexpected it might have been for a reader in the age bracket for which Morris was writing.

More serious flaws are Treguard's failure to pick up on a blatant clue that one of the characters he enounters is not what he seems, and the contrived 'rocks fall, villains die' climax to the story. Nevertheless, it's quite an entertaining tale, and makes decent use of its historical backdrop to add some colour and low-key horror.

Still, this blog is about the gamebooks, so I should move on to that aspect of the book. While the story took Treguard further afield than the earlier ones, this is another exploration of the dungeons beneath Knightmare Castle. Prior to entering I can choose to learn a spell or take a slice of quiche to eat when low on health. Food is generally easier to find than magical knowledge, so on this occasion I will not give quiche a chance. I get to pick one of three different spells, and go for Rust, as I can think of a couple of ways in which it could come in handy.

A narrow passage leads me to a room with four exits, each marked with a different symbol. Comets are traditionally associated with ill fortune, so I'll avoid that one. The ringed planet is most likely Saturn, 'bringer of old age', which seems similarly unpromising. That leaves the sun and the moon, and the moon is linked with wisdom. Also madness, now I think about it, but the sun has its own fair share of negative associations (Icarus and Phaethon, for instance), so I'll stick with the lunar option.

Once I step through, a door decorated with runes bars the way back. I advance to a hearth where a woman is embroidering a cloak. Close by is a table on which I see an eye-patch, marked with a glyph signifying destructive power. Trying to steal the patch is liable to have dire consequences, and just walking past without saying anything would be rude, so I greet the woman.

She asks if I can help her solve a riddle. I've encountered some rather tricky riddles in Dave Morris gamebooks before now, but this is one I've seen before in a gamebook by associates of his, and I solved it straight off at the age of 14, so unless the author is being particularly devious and picky, I should be fine here. It really is that straightforward, and the woman rewards me with a ring of luck that I can use to automatically succeed at one die roll in this adventure.

Continuing on my way, I reach a room occupied by a group of Ogres, who were playing at dice but are now arguing about an alleged incident of cheating. Upon catching sight of me, they draw their weapons, one of them commenting that I'm probably a worse cheat than Scumbore. Neither fight nor flight is likely to help me much here, but diplomacy was one of the virtues recommended in the introduction, so I shall try talking.

Good choice. I reply that I'm nowhere near as big a cheat as Scumbore, and while that earns me his enmity, it also convinces the others that they were right to suspect him of dishonest play, and they turn on him. I make a discreet exit while he's too busy being beaten up to make good on his threat to pull my fingers off and stuff them up my nose.

Proceeding further, I encounter a man who appears to have had one of his hands cut off. Regrettably, he can handle a sword perfectly well with the remaining one, and attacks me without provocation, taking my Life Force down to Red. He then apologises, claiming to have mistaken me for someone else, but when (by authorial imposition) I express my annoyance at his careless action, he threatens my life and demands that I show him respect that he really hasn't earned. I leave by the exit he indicates before anything worse can happen.

Stairs descend to the second level. On the way down I reach a door set into the wall, and take a look behind it, hoping to find some healing. It contains a chest, but there's a pit in the way. The pit is five metres wide, and dropping a pebble into it indicates it to be deep enough to kill anyone who falls down it. With only a metre for a run-up, and the Helm of Justice adding weight, even a champion long-jumper might find that a challenge. My character might not be as deficient in athletic prowess as I, but I doubt that he's Olympic team material. Lacking the winged sandals that might be of assistance here, I decide not to risk it, and carry on down the stairs.

A man wearing rainbow robes and a golden diadem, wielding a wand of ice, waits at the bottom of the stairs. He suspects that I might be a disguised goblin, and threatens me. Lacking the spells and item that could be of use here, I can only run or protest that I'm at least as human as he. If I make a dash for the exit, he might hit me with a spell, so I'll try talking again, and hope he's not as quick to lash out as the last person I encountered.

He demands that I prove my humanity by solving a puzzle, and somehow I know his name to be Hordris without having been told it. A quick Google establishes that this is a character from the TV series, and thus would probably be familiar to any fan of the show reading the book. Possibly even familiar enough that they'd know the actual spelling of his name, which has a double 's' at the end according to around 93% of online sources.

The answer I give is apparently wrong, but Hordris considers my mistake understandable enough that, today being his Birthday, he is inclined to give me the benefit of the doubt, and allows me to pass unharmed. I suspect that I've just missed out on a plot token, and am consequently doomed anyway, but I can still potentially learn things that could be of use in subsequent attempts, so there's no point in giving up. Oh, and working backwards from the hint provided when Hordris told me I was wrong, I can see the logic, so I know which of the other possible answers must be correct for next time.

Exits lead east and west. I don't know if the first Knightmare book's advice on picking a direction when faced with a blind choice remains valid, but in the absence of any other hints, I might as well stick with it. The archway leads to a circular room in which a jester is practicing juggling. He hasn't noticed me, so there's a risk that by talking to him I might break his concentration, with potentially harmful consequences, but the doors leading onward have distinctive handles, so there could be a clue to be had in conversation. Couched in a riddle, no doubt, but that's still preferable to pure guesswork.

Though I do startle him, he's too relieved that I'm not a vampire to be cross with me. He asks if I feel like a sausage roll, and while I suspect that answering 'yes' will merely garner the response, "You don't look like one," the slim possibility of getting some food and thereby moving my Life Force Status one step away from 'hanging on by a thread' is not something I can afford to pass up.

Yep, saw that one coming. The jester thinks his joke a lot funnier than I do, but I force a laugh, as the only alternative is to be unnecessarily rude, and taking lethal damage from being clouted in the face with a juggling club by an offended jester would be a terrible way to go. He then asks me a riddle, and after much reflection I go with a not-great-but-possible-to-make-fit answer. It then transpires that the author has played a prank on me: though the text warned me to think carefully about my answer before turning to the next section, the answer I give is irrelevant, as the jester can't remember the right one. If there even is one - for all I know, Dave Morris might have just made up a riddle-esque question and not have given any thought to an actual answer.

It looks as if the food for thought that that riddle provided might be the only food to be had here. After enduring more puns and other banter, I make a discreet exit while the jester is looking for some puppets. And maybe I was wrong about having been pranked: I'd been focused on the riddle for so long, I'd forgotten about the different door handles, but now I get faced with the choice between them, I can see how the riddle could relate to the material from which one handle is made, and choose that one. No idea where I came across the bit of trivia crucial for making that connection, though.

Proceeding to a junction, I am compelled to take the turning which has at least a little illumination. It leads to the head of another flight of steps, and Treguard reveals that I need to find a key of luminous crystal on the lower level if I am to succeed at my quest.

At the bottom of the stairs I face another blind choice of exits, and continue to go with the recommendation from book 1. I then get asked if I want to open the door or try a different one. When a gamebook gives an option to reconsider, sometimes it's a chance to avoid a disastrous outcome, and sometimes it's an attempt at discouraging the reader from making the right decision, and trial and error is often the only way to determine which it is. I'm sticking with this door.

The tunnel beyond has an iron grille rather than a stone floor, and dropping a coin through one of the gaps indicates the drop beneath to be bottomless. As I advance towards the door at the end, I hear hoofbeats coming up behind me. It's time to use that Rust spell, and hope I have the sense and ability not to target the part of the grille that I'm standing on.

Such fine-tuning is apparently beyond me. My pursuer plummets into the void, but as I still don't have the winged sandals that were mentioned earlier, so do I. Still, I imagine the jester would have been impressed at my handling of the adventure. That was, in the end, a floorless performance.

Wednesday, 2 March 2022

When the Hurting Starts and When the Nightmares Begin

I remember very little of the mini-adventure in Fighting Fantazine 11, Stuart Lloyd's Ascent of Darkness. That is partly because my first attempt at it was a rapid failure - I only got to make one decision before my character died in combat. Or possibly three decisions, since a couple of elements of character creation involve choosing things. Nevertheless, I didn't get very far. Furthermore, for reasons which now elude me, at that time I was on a drive to have played every FF mini-adventure in Fantazine at least once, so rather than have another go at Ascent, I immediately moved on to the mini-adventure in the next issue, and until now I've had no motivation to go back to Ascent even without unplayed mini-adventures 'demanding' my attention.

Though this adventure is set on the FF world of Titan, it takes place more than 250 years before the main range adventures, and not long before the outbreak of a devastating war against the forces of Chaos, during which the city of Carsepolis was besieged and pretty much destroyed by armies of Orcs, Goblins, Dark Elves and Chaos-Spawn. In subsequent years the oft-visited hive of iniquity that is Port Blacksand was built on its ruins.

By a funny coincidence, my character comes from the similarly-named city of Caresepolis, the fate of which has never been covered in any FF reference works. Or maybe the author, playtester and editor all failed to spot the repeated misspelling of the name before issue 11 went to print, even though another contributor to the zine had already pointed out the correct spelling while proofreading a different article from the same issue.

At the start of the adventure, I am away from home (whichever way you spell it), endeavouring to help defend the town of Karnak Tor from the armies of Caarth (serpentine humanoids which have featured in a couple of earlier gamebooks, though when playing those books here I evaded the Caarth encounter in one and died too soon to meet any of them in the other) that keep invading from the nearby Desert of Skulls. This is not going brilliantly: in the course of repelling the attacks, more than two thirds of the troops who accompanied me have been killed, and the hostilities are not yet over.

Character creation is a little different from usual. Stats are generated within a narrower range than usual, and one of them will be increased by whichever of the three available Heroic Powers I choose. I'll roll first, and see what the unmodified stats are like before I choose which one to boost... Remembering how quickly I lost that first fight on my previous attempt, I think I'd better do what I can to improve my Skill. 
Skill: 10
Stamina: 17
Luck: 9
Heroic Power: Speed of Pangara
Heroic Flaw: Hubris
Picking the Heroic Flaw was easy, considering the arrogance my character displays in taking full credit for the Heroic Power, which most acquaintances believe to be a divine blessing.

Having learned to recognise the shape made in the sand by a concealed Caarth, I can see that there are a lot of them around an hour's march from Karnak Tor, but as they're very sluggish at night, it should be around eight hours before they actually attack. Time enough for a good rest for me and my men. Not that my night is particularly restful, as my sleep is troubled by foreboding and possibly prophetic or symbolic dreams in which I see my father floating in the air and get hit in the shoulder by an arrow. 

Waking to find that dawn is still a couple of hours off, I summon the troops, and we head out to take the battle to the enemy. If my Heroic Power were the cunning-based one, it might be worth taking the time to seek out the most advantageous position from which to attack, but I went for speed, so I order an immediate strike while the Caarth are still torpid from the nocturnal chill. Not that their condition gives them any penalty to Attack Strength or Skill, judging by the stats of the warrior I soon face.

During fights I also have the option of using Heroic Stunts - assorted manoeuvres that can inf;ict additional damage or Attack Strength penalties on my foe(s), though if they don't work, I take extra damage instead. My speed gives me improved odds when attempting a Flurry of Blows (which works best against multiple opponents, but is not ineffective when going one-on-one), and though my first couple of attempts at using Stunts prove unsuccessful, persistence pays off, and the Caarth dies in around half the time it would have taken me to kill it using just the regular combat rules.

Surveying the field of battle, I see Caarth reinforcements rising from the sand, threatening to overcome my troops by sheer force of numbers. However, potentially greater cause for concern is the robed Caarth who's wielding a staff with a crystal on the end, since the crystal is starting to glow in a way that hints at an imminent release of destructive magical energies. I charge to attack the probable Sorcerer, and another Caarth warrior attempts to intercept me.

Rather confusingly, this section goes on to outline the fight against the warrior, including directions to turn to one section if the Caarth is killed in no more than four rounds, another if it is still alive after four rounds, and yet another if it dies in four rounds. Either the first of those is supposed to be 'fewer than four rounds', or the third of those options is redundant, since the set 'four or fewer' includes 'four'. However, that's not my problem right now, as my Speed enables me to avoid that fight and spear the staff-wielding Caarth before it can unleash the powers it sought to use against my army.

A screech rings out, and the Caarth fall back, except for one particularly large warrior - around 3 metres tall -  who issues a challenge for one warrior to face it in single combat. I would expect my Hubris to compel me to accept, but the text makes no mention of that flaw, and allows me to choose whether to go one-on-one against the champion, throw my spear, or order the troops to charge. I'm going to play my character anyway, and not pass up this opportunity to display my prowess.

As I charge to the attack, the Caarth champion goes for a sneaky kick, and not even my Speed permits me to dodge. Lacking the strength-based Heroic Power, I get knocked down, taking minor damage before the fight begins. It turns out that the champion has his own Stunt, and while it's not as impressive as mine, the additional damage it does (in combination with some lucky rolls for Attack Strength) is enough to ensure that I don't survive the fight.

That's a pretty brutal adventure. From inadvertent glimpses of other sections I saw that the vast majority of opponents have double-figure Skill scores, and while the amended rules for character generation and the bonus to Attack Strength provided by equipment guarantee an effective minimum Skill of 10, damage taken in battle is likely to be high, and opportunities to recover Stamina appear to be scarcer than normal for FF.

The description of Ascent on the contents page suggests that battling the Caarth isn't even the primary focus of the adventure. The fact that after playing it twice I still haven't got beyond what would be the pre-opening credits sequence in a Bond film suggests that it might be a little unbalanced as regards playability. Not knowing what the actual plot involves also makes it harder for me to get invested in the adventure. For reasons I shall explain at a later date, I'm likely to be playing this again off-blog before the end of the year, and while I'm not dreading the prospect, I'm not particularly enthusiastic about it either.

Thursday, 10 February 2022

You Never Know What the Night It May Bring

Sorcerer's Apprentice was not the only magazine to print Tunnels & Trolls mini-adventures. The June/July 1982 edition of White Dwarf (published not long before a certain book was to change editor Ian Livingstone's life quite significantly) featured The Mad Dwarf by T&T veteran author Ken St Andre. 

This was more than a year before I encountered my first gamebook, so I was completely unaware of it back then. Still, in February 2007, a search for gamebooks and the like on eBay turned up a copy of the relevant issue, so I bought it. On the same day I also acquired a complete set of Dice Man, the gamebook/comic hybrid spun off from 2000 AD, which rather monopolised my attention when my purchases arrived, so beyond establishing that The Mad Dwarf appears to be the name of a tavern (which has some precedent in T&T) I never found out anything about what the adventure involves. It's about time I had a proper go at it.

The brief introductory section indicates that I'd be best off bringing a warrior into this adventure. While I do have a couple of warriors who survived earlier adventures, they're both a little short of cash, and a tavern-based adventure is liable to involve some expenditure, so I'll generate a new one and try to budget carefully when equipping him.

As rolled, my new character is on the low side of average - almost all 9s and 10s. If I make him a dwarf, he becomes somebody who might even survive an encounter or two, with:
Strength 20
Intelligence 10
Luck 9
Constitution 18
Dexterity 10
Charisma 8
Speed 7
Plus enough cash to equip him with clothes, boots, a backpack, some armour and a sabre (decent axes are expensive), and still leave a bit of money for drinks, fruit machines and the like.

The adventure starts with me being pursued through a snowstorm by a pack of dire wolves, weighed down by the 'treasure' in my backpack. (Eh? I've saved some money, but not that much.) I'm going numb from the cold, and the wolves are gaining on me, so it comes as something of a relief when I catch sight of a 'strangely built' building up ahead, with sooty smoke belching from the chimney.

I have the option of ignoring it, but I'm not massively keen to discover whether the wolves can kill me before hypothermia sets in, so I head for the door. As I draw closer, I see indications that the building is an inn, with just about enough paint left on the sign for me to be able to make out that it depicts an axe-toting dwarf sticking his tongue out. Lacking any ability to detect magic, I must either knock on the door or face the wolves. The fact that I was even asked about my sensitivity to magic raises some rather ominous questions, but I still don't fancy my chances against the pack, so I hammer on the door.

The door is about five feet high, which would be uncomfortably low if I'd generated a human or an elf, but the height modifier for dwarves puts the lintel around a foot above my head. In response to my knocking, another dwarf opens the door. This one wears a jewel-encrusted patch over one eye, and has a hunched back. He yells at me to either come in or go away, as it's cold outside and he thinks he can hear wolves. Suppressing the urge to respond with sarcasm, I step indoors.

The inn is spacious, but with what taller species would consider a low ceiling. The bar is stocked with a wide range of containers holding liquids, and on the wall above it is a pornographic painting of female elves, with several darts sticking out of it. I'd have to turn straight to another section if my character were an elf, perhaps to see whether or not this insult to my kindred provokes me to homicidal rage, but since I'm not an elf, I get to turn my attention to the fireplace. Hanging above the flames is a large iron kettle, giving off a smell that my character finds pleasant, though it would turn the stomachs of most non-dwarves. In the middle of the room are a crude table and benches, their height appropriate for the proprietor and me. No sign of any other patrons, perhaps because of the weather, or maybe for some more sinister reason.

Mine host informs me that a room for the night costs 10 gold pieces, food and drink not included.I can afford it, but in view of the lack of other customers, I'll risk trying to haggle. That requires me to make a Saving Roll on Charisma, and the odds are not in my favour. I do fail the roll, but that doesn't result in my being thrown out - just a hefty bill. I still have enough on me, which is a good thing, as the adventure doesn't seem to allow for the possibility of having insufficient funds. Quick check - no I did not miss any mention of needing at least X amount of gold to play.

After taking my money, the dwarf gets very chatty, and his questions about the contents of my backpack and the sort of adventuring I've been up to of late make me suspicious. I decide against having anything to eat or drink and, a little concerned about what may await me in my room, opt to continue warming myself by the fire. I'd like to remain on the alert for any suspicious moves, but that is in the author's hands.

The warmth of the fire induces a comfortable drowsiness. The proprietor of the inn drinks a lot, and becomes tipsy. He invites me to have a drink with him. This could be a trap, but refusing might provoke him to violence, so I'll accept and hope that my Constitution is high enough to protect me from any harmful additives there might be in the booze.

The drink costs my remaining money, and is the sort that initially tastes pretty bad, but seems to get better the more of it I consume. Matching me drink for drink, the dwarf then looks me in the eye (though if I'd been a human or an elf, he'd be focused on my navel) and asks if I want to play darts, see the dancing girls, or go to bed. The subjects of the lewd painting on the wall are dancing, which makes me wonder if showing an interest in the girls might lead to my becoming sorcerously imprisoned in the picture. I'm still a bit wary about the bedroom, so I'll risk darts - if nothing else, the game will at least provide a pretext for having something weapon-like to hand.

That turns out not to be such a good idea, as the painting is also the dartboard, scores varying according to which parts of the elves' anatomy are hit. Also, the game involves a stake of 100 gold pieces, which is a hundred more than I can afford. I back out, and resign myself to finding out what Procrustean peril may await me in my room.

The room is small, dominated by a bed which is simultaneously massive and just four feet long. The floor is covered with a bearskin, and there's just room for a small bedside table with a basin and a pitcher of water on it. It is at this point that my height becomes a plot point, and I'm two thirds of an inch too tall to be spared the Saving Roll on Intelligence that could determine my fate. Oh, and this is one of those annoying instances where the text gives options for 'higher than' and 'lower than', but not 'equal to'. The height generation algorithm ensures that I must fall into one of those categories, but a human character would have a slim chance of being exactly the height being asked about, so that's a bit careless.

The odds of my succeeding at this roll are not favourable, and what I get would have been a failure no matter how high my Intelligence. I remove my armour and lie down, and Mr. St. Andre really hasn't thought this height business through. A guillotine blade pops out of the footboard - which would take the soles off my feet, what with that slight overhang, but the text has it going through my legs and inflicting more than enough damage to kill me.

I was never going to be happy with an outcome like that, but the fact that (somewhat ironically) it's an awkward fit for my character makes it that bit more frustrating. If the owner of this place intended to rob me, he's going to be rather disappointed, as he already had all my money, but whatever annoyance my lack of funds may cause him, it's scant consolation for me.