Friday, 12 October 2012

One Finger Can Be a Deadly Weapon

This post should either include something of a recap or not get made. The thing is, it's a follow-up to my (admittedly rather pitiful) attempt at the first of Jamie Thomson's Eternal Champions books, The Cyber Warriors, and that's one of the least-viewed entries in the whole blog. Still, this post may attract more attention. There's precedent - statistics indicate that over half a dozen people have read my write up of The World of Lone Wolf book 4 without feeling the need to look at the one for book 3. Besides, this has the potential to attract misguided Google hits because Mr. Thomson very cheekily called the book Citadel of Chaos, which looks a lot like the title of a rather more famous gamebook.

As with the first book in the series (if two books constitute a series), I acquired CoC on eBay. In fact, I got it first, so really, this was the whimsical purchase, and TCW was the completism-driven follow-up. I didn't play the second book while it was the only one I had, and when I got the first one, life was becoming a bit hectic what with imminent redundancy and the need to find a new place to live and similar fun stuff, so I didn't get around to doing anything with that one either, and the two books have just been sitting in boxes or on shelves waiting for me to get motivated to try them. That might have happened sooner if I'd been a fan of the Sega game on which they were based, but I've never even seen the game, let alone played it.

Anyway, in EC book 1, the hero had to travel through time and save nine of the greatest warriors in history from the Termin cyborg replicants sent to kill them by Skyn the Overlord, an evil computer that ruled the world and sought to totally subjugate or eliminate humanity. And in some alternate reality where I didn't get lousy rolls during the 'prove yourself worthy of the quest' challenge and die right at the start of the book, the hero managed to kill the CyberClones and save the nine champions. That still left the Overlord in charge, and book 2 is where we try and change that.

I should create a new character, as my first one was such a dismal failure. Looking at the profiles of the nine champions, I can't help but notice something of a gender imbalance, so I'll create a female character to reduce the disparity, and in keeping with the sort of silly names that they have, I shall call her Victoria Sss. Characters are built, not rolled up, so I give her 3 Speed, Power and Recovery, and 4 Endurance, Defence and Equilibrium. Her Special Move is Revitalize, and her preferred Fighting Style is Savate.

On to the mission briefing. The Overlord is housed in the Citadel, which is in the middle of the city of Megapolis. The champions will split into three trios, each taking a different route to the city: by air, by sea and underground. I get to choose which group to accompany. We will have to acquire or create a CyberCage to stop the Overlord from relocating to another location, and we'll probably have to deal with its hardwareguards (the book calls them 'bodyguards', but let's be a little more accurate), the Lords of Death.

As part of my research for this entry I peeked at the final section of book 1. It ended with the Eternal Champion claiming to have a plan. 'Go to the big bad's base, defeat the henchmen, prevent the villain from escaping and destroy him,' is hardly a plan. That's the outline of a plan. That's the bullet-pointed list on page 1 of the PowerPoint that explains your plan. An actual, proper plan would go into some kind of detail about how to do these things, not just say 'do them'.

Even he is better at making plans than the Eternal Champion.

Before choosing which party to accompany, I can look at the character profiles for all nine champions, so here goes:
  1. Travelling by jet 'copter and masquerading as deliverypersons, we have a private investigator from 1920s Chicago who hates pasta and explosions, a Russian revolutionary from the end of the 19th century (both of whom fancy each other) and a New York cop from 2030 who thinks 'rights' are an obstruction to justice.
  2. Entering via the docks are a misanthropic Atlantean amphibian from the second century BC, a fire-obsessed caveman from around the end of the Bronze Age, and a 24th century cyborg with ill-fitting implants and a crush on the ninja in team 3.
  3. Infiltrating the mines via mountain caves are a quasi-vampire from 22nd century London, a pointy-eared genius who narrowly avoided being burnt in the Salem witch trials, and a ninja from 1993 Tokyo with a cruel sense of humour and severe fear of heights.
There is no way this can end well. All I can do is try and guess which train wreck is going to be most entertaining. Team 2 should be able to foul things up quite spectacularly, and both other groups include someone with a name I would come to hate my own fingers for repeatedly typing, so that makes things comparatively simple. The caveman's name is, alas, liable to attract the wrong kind of Google search if I spell it out, so I shall emulate Alfred Bester in The Demolished Man and abbreviate the name to '/'.

I join Trident, / and R.A.X. on a yacht, the Atlantis, and we spend a few days sailing to Megapolis. Not a very enjoyable journey, as my fellow travellers' only conversation topic is fighting. Not sure how the communication barrier has been resolved, but apparently it has. Either that, or I spend several days watching a trio of lunkheads reminisce about past battles and speculate on future combats by means of charades and mime. The inevitable victory of the machines is starting to look like not such a bad thing...

We arrive at Megapolis, which is all CCTV and cyborg guards. I get asked which group I'm with, so either other teams have a more eventful journey, or the book needed some padding to bring it up to 300 sections. A boat marked 'Harbour Enforcers' heads for us and I decide on a surprise attack. Leaving R.A.X. at the wheel, as he looks a lot like one of the Overlord's cyborg minions, I send Trident overboard to attack the launch from the other side, and / and I hide in the cabin, then leap out at a suitably unexpected moment. The Enforcer Captain has a personal force field that reduces the damage he takes. It doesn't provide a lot of protection against being stabbed in the back by a cranky Atlantean, though. Despite this design flaw, I grab the force field generator for personal use.

In the harbour, an Enforcer with binoculars has seen the fight, and fires a missile at the Atlantis. That's the end of the boat, but Trident finds a cave where we can shelter. It contains an underground lake with an island in the middle. Odds are, there's something nasty in the lake and nothing of value on the island, but I'd better check anyway. It turns out that the lake is only partially shallow enough for wading, and / and R.A.X. refuse to swim any more than they already have done (it turns out that we do all speak the same language), so Trident and I leave them and go investigating.

The island turns out to be inhabited by an old man, who's prejudiced against amphibians. He claims to have business with me, and I decide to take a chance on his being there to teach me some new martial arts technique rather than this being a trap, so I send Trident to join the others. Trident's not happy about this, of course, but it was the right choice as the old man is a Kung Fu master and friend of the Eternal Champion. He reveals that there's a storm drain nearby that leads into the Citadel, but it's guarded by a Lord of Death: Tien Hsueh, the Poison Finger Master. Fortuitously, this chap can teach me how to counter Hsueh's incapacitating Dim Mok strike. He also gives me a jar of tonic for reviving the comatose.

I rejoin the others, and we head for the storm drain. Hope this one isn't booby-trapped. We head along it, with minor bickering from a couple of the champions (and someone involved in the writing of this book doesn't seem to understand that the verb 'ask' is for questions, not rejoinders), until we reach a quay. Across the river from it is the continuation of the storm drain, which is guarded not by the expected Lord of Death but his colleague the Master of Lightning. Whose lightning bolts can be dodged. But we need to get across the river to deal with him. R.A.X. has jet boots that may enable him to jump across. The rest of us will have to swim. So do I send R.A.X. across alone, or do we rush the Master of Lightning? It seems to me that moving through a highly conductive medium towards a villain with an elecrticity-based weapon is perhaps not quite the soundest strategy ever devised.

R.A.X. manages to distract the Master of Lightning long enough for Trident and me to get across, but / cannot swim. The MoL's impersonation of a bug-zapper incapacitates R.A.X., and Trident and I rush him. Trident is taken out with a zap to his wrist-mounted trident, but I get in a blow. / jumps, but fails to get across the river. Looks like it's down to me, then, so I stomp on MoL's foot. He wasn't expecting that, and while he's distracted, I hit him again. Further non-Queensberry Rules shenanigans keep him occupied until / emerges from the water and clubs him senseless. I take a chance on removing the MoL's powerpack, in case it turns out to be useful for building a CyberCage, and it's not booby-trapped.

We continue on our way, and a mechanical Tyrannosaurus Rex starts chasing us. Just how big is this storm drain? The Cybersaur hits me in the shoulder with a laser,  R.A.X. spots a ladder, and I decide to dispense with 'ladies first' as that injury is liable to impair my climbing ability, potentially delaying my ascent long enough for Zoidzilla there to catch up with and shred the lot of us. The others don't delay their ascent, and I only get slightly bitten before moving out of range of Rex's chainsaw teeth. I use my Revitalize ability to heal myself a bit.

There's someone waiting at the top of the shaft. Someone who floors R.A.X., / and Trident in quick succession. I guess I never bothered to warn them about the Poison Finger Master. He gloats, so I kick him in the head. A fight ensues, and while the Energy Block technique I learned keeps me from succumbing to the Dim Mok, it does nothing about the damage caused by the blows he lands on me, and not even the force field is enough to save me from such a pummeling.

If Hsueh is true to his word, he subsequently boils my head and keeps my skull as a souvenir. But by this stage I'm beyond caring whether or not he follows through with the threat. As is my character.

1 comment:

  1. I like the Eternal Champions books though there are a few things about them that are just plain odd. Why is this book called Citadel of Chaos when it's about infiltrating a Citadel of presumably well-ordered robots (did Jamie really need to steal an FF title that badly that he just picked on that was vaguely appropriate)? Why is Jetta Maxx a revolutionary when she's Nicholas II's cousin who was murdered by revolutionaries in the game (maybe Jamie couldn't bear to have a Tsarist hero)? Why does the "Machines Rule A-OK" Overlord surround himself with human bodyguards? Why do said bodyguards want to serve someone whose endgame will presumably involve their deaths?

    The whole Overlord plot was an invention of Thomson, the Sega game was just about these champions beating the crap out of each other so they can discover who is the next incarnation of the eternal champion. It was also just shy of Mortal Kombat levels of violence (one of Trident's moves was to jab his trident into his opponent then have it spin like an electric whisk, blood going everywhere) so an odd choice to base a gamebook ostensibly aimed at children on.

    I know there was a sequel to the Sega game so maybe the Overlord appeared in that but as it was on the Mega CD it was never played by anyone in the world ever.

    Of the three parties you could chose, the one you selected was probably the hardest to win through with. The other two are a bit easier with the Larcen-Blade-Jetta team probably being the most fun of the three as well.