Monday, 15 October 2012

Wait, Are You Trying to Tell Me Everybody's Dead?

A slight deviation from the standard pattern this week, as I'm playing the next Magnamund-based book today rather than returning to the world of Tunnels & Trolls. There should be a double dose of T&T over the course of the next couple of Mondays, though.

Memory suggests that I didn't acquire Flight from the Dark, the first Lone Wolf gamebook, on a schoolday. I vaguely recall reading some of the book in D'Ambrosio's café, not two minutes' walk from the Book Exchange where I purchased it, and my dad was definitely with me on that occasion, so it must have been a Saturday, half term, or a school holiday. Shockingly, I wrote on both copies of the Action Chart. The second one in blue biro.

If it wasn't my first attempt that ended with my being shredded by Doomwolves, it was certainly an early one. Actually, now I come to think about it, the time I got throttled by a Vordak probably came first. Regardless, this is one book that I've played a lot. At some point in the early-to-mid nineties, I decided to do the whole saga. (Well, books 1-12. At least some of the post-Magnakai ones were out by then, but I was satisfied with the original ending to the series and so avoided the follow-ups.) But I was going to do them 'properly', which meant that any time I failed, I went right back to book 1 and started over with a fresh character. I have no idea how many restarts that involved, but it was enough that I wound up creating a 'condensed' FftD to save me having to keep flicking through the book. Just a scratty bit of paper listing all the rolls, fights and attribute adjustments that occurred on my chosen path through the book. I still have it somewhere. If I knew where, there'd be a scan of it just under this paragraph.

In an alternate timestream where Banedon didn't get killed by trigger-happy idiots, the morning of the feast of Fehmarn sees Kai novice Silent Wolf in the forest outside the monastery, gathering firewood as punishment for not paying attention in class. He sees a flock of winged monstrosities swoop down to attack the monastery, rushes forwards to try and help fight off the invaders, fails to notice a particularly low branch on one of the trees, and knocks himself out. The fate of Magnamund is in this clumsy slacker's bark-stained hands. A quick summary of his stats and capabilities, and then I'll slip into the first person.
Combat Skill: 15
Endurance: 25
Kai Disciplines: Hunting, Sixth Sense, Healing, Mindshield, Weaponskill (Mace)
The weapon my character has been trained to use is randomly generated. I rolled one of the less useful ones. Indeed, it may be the worst one on the list. Axe is pretty rubbish, but it is at least useful for the first book, as an axe forms part of the default starting equipment (presumably I was carrying one to aid with the acquisition of firewood).

I come round hours later (let's assume that my Healing has taken care of the concussion, brain damage and other trivia liable to accompany any head wound serious enough to induce unconsciousness for that long) to find the monastery in ruins, with no survivors other than myself. As the situation becomes clear to me, I reach two conclusions:
  1. I should go to the capital city and warn the authorities that Sommerlund is under attack.
  2. 'Lone Wolf' is a much catchier name than 'Silent Wolf'.
Before setting off, I search the ruins of the monastery for useful items. There's a 10% chance of getting a mace, but I only find two Meals' worth of food. Which is really tiresome, as the whole point of picking Hunting as a Discipline is that in most situations it eliminates the need to carry food.

At least Sixth Sense works okay, alerting me to the fact that both of the paths available are being searched by some of the creatures that attacked the monastery, so I head off the beaten track and into the forest. The map indicates that I'm to the northwest of where I need to go, so south seems a wiser option than northeast. After narrowly avoiding being spotted by a Kraan (one of the winged beasts), I find another path, and go east, as I'm going to have to cross the river to the south at some point, and there's only one bridge marked on it.

Catching sight of a group of people in fine but tattered clothes, I deduce that they're refugees from some other atrocity, and greet them. Yes, they're from a northern port that has fallen to the invaders, and are delighted to see that rumours of the Kai's destruction are false. I choose not to disillusion them, and head on my way.

At another junction, my Sixth Sense presents me with a quandary. The route south is the quickest, but leads into a pitched battle. If it's the one I'm thinking of, I think I'd better avoid it. With a higher Combat Skill, or at least Weaponskill in sword (or even axe), I'd have a fair chance against the big lizard thing I'd have to fight, but I don't fancy this Lone Wolf's chances.

Going east leads to a track leading north and south. North is the wrong way, while south leads to a 'didn't think it through' section. There's a Meal check (eat a Meal, use Hunting, or lose 3 Endurance), followed by the realisation that the track bends east, and the option of turning back to the previous section. So if I didn't have Hunting, and were in a particularly silly mood, I could just repeatedly flick between those two sections, making my character march back and forth on a short stretch of path until he starved to death.

Following the path east leads to a crossroads. Going west leads to the section I've just complained about (so for a more interesting suicide, one could alternate between going north and going east before returning to the Meal check), and section number recognition tells me that south leads to the battle I've already tried evading once. North is still foolishness, so I either continue east or get railroaded into a fight.

East leads to another crossroads. But with a different section number to the south, so I'll risk it. And I see two legs sticking out from behind a boulder. A combination of footwear recognition skills and Sixth Sense tells me that the legs belong to a wounded soldier in the King's employ, so I risk going round the boulder for a shot at using Healing on him. He explains that a Kraan abducted him from the battle I'm trying to avoid.

Moving onwards, I hear the sounds of battle to the west. I also recognise the section number for 'ignore the noise and carry on south' as being the one for going east from the last crossroads, which suggests to me that either this is a very geographically sloppy region, or that's a catch-all 'blunder into a party of patrolling enemies and die' ending.

All right, Dever, you win. I'll go to your poxy battle and probably get killed there, because it still has better odds than the Instant Death I smell to the south and east. I was mildly disapproving of nineties-me for repeatedly fudging character generation, but now I'm getting the impression that it was something I needed to do to have any realistic chance of getting beyond book 1.

Yep, it's that battle all right. I see Prince Redshirt fighting the Gourgaz, and felled by an arrow. So do I charge into battle and almost certain death, or head into the forest and probable Instant Death by authorial disapproval? It'll have to be the marginally less doom-laden option. And the random number generator isn't as bloodthirsty as Mr. Dever, so I only lose half my Endurance against a foe whose attributes are both 5 higher than mine at the start of battle. Ha!

Healing restores 1 Endurance every time you turn to a combat-free section (making the path set-up to the north even more broken gameplay-wise, as a badly wounded character could have returned to full health just by running from one crossroads to another and back for a while), so I just need to try and stay out of trouble for the next dozen or so sections. Yeah, right.

The Prince is dying, but his troops distract the enemy forces long enough for him to get through his deathbed exposition. He urges me to warn the King about what's happening (I was already on my way to do that!), and tells me to take his horse. The journey probably takes fewer sections on horseback, which means less healing, but I don't really have any choice in the matter.

The horse takes me south at an impressive speed. I have to eat again along the way. Now, the books usually say when it is not possible to use Hunting as a substitute for a Meal, and it doesn't mention anything like that here. Besides, the implausibility of going rummaging through a backpack, extracting assorted comestibles and calmly muching on them while on a horse that's rapidly galloping along a twisted forest track leads me to the conclusion that I must stop to have the food, and if I've stopped, I'm able to identify some edible fungi or trap some nutritious wild animal or whatever else Hunting actually entails.

The signpost at the next junction has been vandalised, so I take what should be the right direction if I'm facing south. Soon afterwards, I spot five Doomwolves with Giak riders. One of them starts heading my way. Attacking when there are so many reinforcements within earshot looks pretty suicidal, so I try hiding. Luckily, I am not scented by the passing Doomwolf, and I pass up the opportunity to attack the remaining four, and just leave the path again. After a while it starts to get dark, and I must choose between pressing onwards and bearing left. No 'acknowledge that riding through thick forest in darkness is extremely dangerous, and take a break for the night' option, alas.

I do get to rest for the night a little later, but not before reaching a lake and riding around it after my Sixth Sense warns me not to trust the ferryman who offers to row me across. The next morning I wake to find that the invaders have reached the far side of the lake. A Kraan starts flying across and in my direction, so I don't loiter.

Apart from skirting a clearing that could facilitate an ambush, I do little of note until I sight the capital (incidentally returning to full health as I do so). The enemy are still approaching, though, and I have some way to go before I can complete my quest. There are three potential ways to cover the final stretch. One leads to Instant Death by Doomwolf, IIRC. One is an unknown quantity to me. The third is via the Graveyard of the Ancients. Just the sort of place to appeal to my teenage self's more morbid sensibilities, and still my preferred route in later years because by then I knew the best way through it. So why change the habit of a lifetime?

The horse won't go near the Graveyard, so I have to proceed on foot. As I carefully make my way through, the ground collapses under me, depositing me in a subterranean tomb. There's a tunnel leading out, just past a sarcophagus. In many gamebooks, searching for treasure would be the obvious choice, though the more cautious player might opt to just go. Here, I have the opportunity of consulting with my Sixth Sense before making a decision.

Can you guess what it advises?

The exit leads to a junction. Turning south leads me to a greenly-lit chamber containing a throne and a statue of a winged serpent. I think checking out the statue may actually be the best course of action here. Then again, maybe not, as a real Winged Serpent bursts out of the statue and attacks. Just how long has it been waiting for some hapless adventurer to come within range? However long, its patience was in vain, as I barely take a scratch in the course of hacking it apart.

Killing the Serpent inexplicably activates a secret door, and before long I find myself at a non-secret door with an ornate lock. Drat it, I missed the key, and as I don't have Mind Over Matter, I am in considerable danger of falling victim to a lethal booby trap. A 50% chance, in fact! But I get lucky and dodge the massive granite block that drops from above, and then I can climb through the hole said block left in the ceiling. Phew!

Hurriedly exiting the necropolis, I make my way across the last stretch of ground before the city defences. The guards are a much more perceptive bunch than the lot that killed Banedon on Magnamund-2, and recognise that I'm one of the good guys, rather than mistaking me for some undead revenant, so I get cheered on and offered a swig of grog instead of being shot dead. There's a slightly awkward moment when one of the officers asks when the rest of the Kai are going to turn up, but when I explain my mission, he summons two horses and accompanies me to the city.

Once within the city walls I have the option of abandoning the officer and trying to find the King under my own steam. I can't think of any particularly good reasons for not sticking with someone who knows the way and has some authority here, besides which I know that going solo can lead to some rooftop action that may (depending on how I roll) climax with a spectacular 'granite block by tomb exit' impersonation.

The option to strike out on my own is offered twice more, firstly when a scar-faced man in the robes of the King's court tells me to follow him, and then when Scarface opens up a secret passage and invites me into it. This is actually one of the all-too-infrequent instances where a fictional character with a scar isn't a villain, and as a result of trusting the man, I get to use some of the palace's en suite facilities to freshen up before meeting with the King.

The hostile army heading for the city has been noticed by now, so I need only inform the King that his son is dead, and that I'm the last of the Kai. Given that the Kai were pretty much the only people capable of dealing with the leader of the invading forces, this is not the most encouraging news he's heard all day. But all is not yet lost, as he knows of a rather handy sequel opportunity on the far side of the map...

Well, that was more flawed than I remembered it being. But not enough to merit the extensive rewrite that it got a few years back. Still, that's a topic for another blog entry.

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