Friday, 21 September 2012

Still the Stories and the Rumours, and the Search Goes on…

Back in 1987 I somehow managed to completely miss Jon Sutherland and Simon Farrell's Double Game, which the blurb claims was 'an exciting new development in role playing adventures'. I'm not sure that's a particularly accurate claim, given that Smith and Thomson's Duel Master, Joe Dever's Combat Heroes and Fighting Fantasy's Clash of the Princes all did the two-player gamebook thing in 1986, and they were all in the wake of James M. Ward's 1-to-1 Adventure Gamebooks, which started in 1985. Still, there does appear to be one innovation in there: the player characters' goals are not mutually exclusive, so it's theoretically possible for both to win. Theoretically possible, but not very likely, if Double Game is anything like the Sutherland and Farrell gamebooks I have tried before now.

The books can be played solo, which is a good thing, as I'm only one person, and I'm not sure I'm up to the challenge of playing two books simultaneously. Maybe once I've familiarised myself with the system, but I've not actually attempted any of the Double Game books before. I learned of them from online FF fandom, and got at least two of them on eBay, including the one I'll be trying today.

The first pair are collectively known as The Glade of Dreams, and in book 1 of TGoD my character is Darian - Master Magician, apprentice to the sorcerer Gorechin (who's probably not a Vampire with messy eating habits). For decades, Gorechin has been vainly seeking the means to transmute lead into gold. Unwilling to devote the rest of my life to this quest, I decide to cheat. According to legend, somewhere in the Wailing Forest is the Glade of Dreams, and anyone who sleeps there can have his dreams fulfilled. So I just need to find the Glade and dream that I already know the secret that Gorechin has failed to find for so many years, and it will be so. Of course it's going to be as easy as that.

Double Game characters are created, not rolled up. I have 50 points to divide among 5 characteristics. None may be higher than 12, or lower than 2. Swordsmanship costs double because I'm not a warrior. My Magic score determines how many different spells I know (and which they are), and they cost Strength to cast. I think I'll go for
Strength: 10
Agility: 9
Luck: 9
Swordsmanship: 6
Magic: 10
That means I know all four possible spells, and I'm pretty competent on most fronts. A sub-par fighter, but not catastrophically bad. I hope.

I enter the Forest and soon find a path leading east and west. The Glade probably isn't on a path, or it'd get a lot more visitors, so I go off the beaten track. After hacking my way through vegetation for a while, I reach a clearing, and stop for a rest. Something large is crashing through the undergrowth nearby. Not wanting to get into any more fights than necessary, I hide. Moments later, a 200-foot long armoured worm passes through the clearing, leaving a trail of slime and crushed flora. So that's what makes the paths. And unless it started out as a regular worm that dreamed of being the biggest, baddest worm in the world, I think it's safe to conclude that the paths have nothing to do with the Glade.

By evening I've reached a strangely deformed region of the Forest. A giant raven rhymes at me, mocking my ambition and raising questions about the nature of reality. It then flies off, repeating, 'Don't think, can't think, never think!' There are some political parties that would appreciate its sloganeering skills.

As night falls, I must choose between sleeping in a cave or camping out in the open. It is unlikely that I've reached the Glade without realising it, but I shall sleep outdoors anyway, as caves tend to be lairs. I take a chance on lighting a fire, and if someone else were with me and reading the second Glade book (Issel - Warrior King), this is a point at which our characters might meet up.

There is no player 2 here, however, so I have an uneventful night until the giant bat arrives. Time to see how combat works here. A straightforward 'roll equal to or under Swordsmanship (or equivalent) on 2d6 to hit' set-up, with the twist that a double 1 automatically kills the opponent (and that works both ways). After the first round I can use magic if I wish, so I try a Fire Hand spell, which brings the bat near to death. I then risk using my sword to try and deliver the coup de grace. The bat manages to wound me a few times before I strike the fatal blow (with a double 1, though anything below 7 would have done the trick).

Once dead, the bat transforms into a man. Did I just kill Bruce Wayne? Sleep is a long time in coming as I contemplate the implications of what just happened. The next morning I set off again, and if I had a companion, so would he. A rock face blocks the way ahead. There is a cave leading into it, but a disconcertingly alluring light shines from the cave mouth. If I have to make an effort not to automatically walk in (and I do), the place is probably best avoided. But as soon as I start to move away, the Forest becomes icy. Only the path to the cave is unfrozen. Another Fire Hand spell might help here, but I can't really afford the Strength it would take to cast, so I decide to see who or what is so desperate for my company.

The climate's messed up in fantasy world, too.

It's a blind hermit, who says that all who seek the Glade come to him. He warns me that my powers could be used more wisely, and the power I seek does not exist. He then levitates an amulet into my hands, and claims that it will power my spells, so I need not draw on my own strength any more. I risk putting it on: if it's a trap, I'll probably die (or become a bat), but until I can get my Strength back up, I'm extremely vulnerable, so I may well be doomed anyway if I don't take it.

And it's legit, with a reservoir of 20 Strength points in it. Enough to set ten bats on fire. The hermit reveals that he lost his youth and sight in the Glade, but I am not dissuaded from my quest. Slightly confusingly, the section ends by stating that 'the rock face and the cave are soon far below you', and it's not until the next section that I find this to be because I climbed a hill rather than unexpectedly levitating.

At the top of the hill I hesitate, uncertain of the best way forwards, and opt to climb a tree to look for landmarks. Not being in a valley, I shouldn't get discouragingky confused like Bilbo Baggins in Mirkwood. My Agility is just high enough that I manage not to slip and fall, and I see an obelisk not far off. Might as well check it out. And it bears an inscription about the unlikeliness of finding one's heart's desire, and the fact that even those who succeed still lose out. Cheery stuff. At this rate I wouldn't be surprised to find that the closest thing to a victory ending in this book is recognising the pointlessness of my search and going off to do something more worthwhile.

A trail leads to a clearing full of grotesquely deformed people chanting. Let me guess, this is the AGM of the Glade of Dreams Failures' Association. More careful listening leads to the realisation that they're not chanting but moaning. The text points out that now I know why this is called the Wailing Forest. Because these people moan in it. So why isn't it called the Moaning Forest? (The passage always says they're 'moaning', never 'wailing'.)

Another clearing contains a pit, with several tree stumps serving as seats around it. Something in the pit wails. Not moans. Maybe this is where the Forest gets its name, and the authors got it wrong in the previous section. I investigate, anyway. And it's effectively a Sarlacc. Within seconds I've been grabbed by a tentacle and dragged into a gaping maw. Researching place names can be a dangerous business.

Not the most engaging gamebook I've ever played, and that arbitrary death was a bit rubbish. Still, what I got to experience of the solo player version prior to getting devoured wasn't bad, and I'd be interested to see how the two-player variant works out. If any of the other gamebook bloggers have one of these books, and want to try some collaborative effort, I'm open to suggestions.

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