Monday, 26 November 2012

Silly Knees-Bent Running Around

As far as I know, Flight From the Dark is the only Lone Wolf adventure that's been significantly changed for the Mongoose Publishing edition. Later books have had some errors corrected (and the occasional new one added), there may have been the odd minor tweak to the text here and there, and the interior artwork is new, but the adventures themselves are functionally the same. The bonus adventure at the back of each volume, by contrast, is brand new, and I shall be playing some of them here. Probably not all, because the likelihood of my being able to get the complete set appears very low. Still, that's not going to become an issue until at least next October.

Many of the bonus adventures have a viewpoint character other than Lone Wolf - often someone who becomes an ally in the 'main' adventure. Given the generally poor survival rate among Lone Wolf's allies, these are prequels more often than not (much like Dawn of the Darklords, in fact, only that wasn't included with FFtD, and Banedon is one of the few supporting characters who live to make repeat appearances). As I'm trying to play all the Magnamund (and associated realms)-related adventures in order of internal chronology, that means that I'll be playing a lot of the bonus adventures before the principal ones.

That's how it is with Vincent N. Darlage's The Crown of King Alin IV, which accompanies the second LW adventure, Fire on the Water. In this adventure I play the part of Lord-lieutenant Rhygar, a Knight of the White Mountain (though Knight of the Red Shirt might be a more appropriate title). Still, for the moment, Rhygar is the hero, and he is a not-that-impressive:
Combat Skill 14
Endurance 23
Not being a Kai, he has no Kai disciplines, but there is a list of Knight of the White Mountain abilities from which to pick some powers. There are effectively three different abilities, but each has three power levels, and the higher levels must be built on the lower ones. It works out that I can have one ability at level 3 and one at level 2, one at level 3 and both others at level 1, or two at level two and the third at level 1. Considering my sub-par Combat Skill, I'll take Storm of Blows at level 3, which will give me an extra 3 CS against animate enemies. The damage reduction provided by Strength of Arms is tempting, but I doubt I'd be offered the power of smashing inanimate objects if it weren't likely to be needed, so I'll have Sundering Blow at level 2.

The background given is pretty insubstantial, and doesn't give any real indication that I have a personality. I have two urgent reports to read, and while the one from the King's Court is fairly obviously the high priority one, that just makes me suspect that there's something important in the one from the Durenese Coast Guard, so I read that one first. It mentions a suspected pirate ship that's been spotted in a cove, and as this adventure has been 'edited and augmented' by Joe Dever, I should probably make note of all sorts of minor details in case of another trivia quiz.

Turning my attention to the other report, I find that the likelihood of such a quiz has just increased drastically, as the content of the report is preceded by waffle about distances and travel times. Couldn't Mongoose have prevailed on Joe to write So You Think You Know Magnamund? and get the trivia bug out of his system?

Anyway, the actual report (what, no digression on the make of ink used to write it?) reveals that miscreants unknown have stolen a valuable item (the clue is in the title), and are probably en route to the town closest to the suspicious galleon from the other report. I can either head to their predicted destination, or investigate the Tarnalin Tunnel, through which they are likely to have travelled (and where I'm due to die in FotW, as I recall).

I see little point in heading for Samarra in advance of my appointment, so I'll try to intercept the thieves. Based on the earliest time at which the theft can have occurred (and what kind of security set-up were they using, that the theft of the ****ing King's crown could go unnoticed for up to three days?) they can't have got this far yet. Unless they were travelling by eagle, but that's unlikely, as they'd have had difficulties folding the crown up to fit it into a pouch.

The text suggests that the ship from the Coast Guard's report is probably being used by the thieves (because naturally gamebook readers are way too thick to have figured that out for themselves). I ride past creepy-looking trees, flocks of sheep and forelock-tugging peasants on my way to the town, where I must choose whether to check in with the Commander who sent that report or try and pick up some gossip in the tavern favoured by the local criminal types. Well, if I'm sufficiently recognisable that your average working class oik gets all stereotypical when I go past, I can't see the low-lifes getting talkative when I'm in their midst.

The amount of attention devoted to my heading uphill to Commodore Brayhan's office strongly suggests that there's going to be some kind of showdown in the local graveyard, and I may have to attack a tree. Either that or Darlage and Dever have forgotten that this is a gamebook rather than a tourist guide. Anyway, there's been no activity around the mysterious ship for a while, but a short time back one man came ashore and went to the tavern I didn't check out. The Commodore recommends visiting the tavern, and since I wouldn't be here if I hadn't chosen not to go there at the last decision, the text makes sure to tell me that yes I do go (gamebook readers being far too stupid and stubborn to change their plans in the light of new information).

Being a seaport, this town is full of Shifty Foreign Types, but that's not yet a problem as they appear to know their place (or are keen to avoid attention from a Knight of the White Man's Burden Mountain). The tavern is in pretty poor condition - so much so that the feature which should cause everyone to fall silent the moment we step through the door isn't working.

The junior officer who saw the man from the ship is back at Brayhan's office, as the Commodore wanted to accompany me, and someone had to stay on duty there. So the only person on my side who could recognise the man we want is back up the hill. Excellent planning there, Commodore. So do we start randomly asking strangers, "Are you from the pirate ship that's waiting for the men who stole the crown?" or try asking the barman if he can point out the newcomer who came in a quarter of an hour plus however long it took us to get here from the office ago?

I try the barman, who blatantly ignores my question, and carries on serving one of his patrons. I can try the crowd after all, try bribing the barman (with money I don't have - at least, there's been nothing in the rules or the text to indicate that I have as much as a single coin on me, which is a pretty significant omission if I'm supposed to use the stuff at all) or use threats (because we so obviously intimidate him, right?).

Bribery appears to work (as the text doesn't specify where I found the coins, I shall assume that I happened to be lugging a sofa around, and had a quick rummage in the gap), and we are directed to a room upstairs. Listening at this door, I can make out voices, and hear someone say, 'Crown of King Alin'. Well, obviously the conspirators wouldn't want any uncertainty among their ranks about which monarch's crown they were stealing, now would they? In fact, they're risking one heck of a lot of confusion by not specifying that it's Alin IV's crown rather than the one that belonged to some earlier King Alin.

My Sundering Blow is (just) powerful enough to break down the door, and we surprise the two men within, who leap to their feet (one of them concealing his chair as he does so, judging by the accompanying illustration). Both go for their swords, and I must choose an opponent. I pick the one in fancy clothes, hoping that the text might offer me the option of subduing and interrogating him rather than just hacking bits off of him until he stops moving.

Well, I don't kill him (or get spitted on the spot), but I don't actually get to fight out a battle here, either. He parries for a bit, and dashes through the door as soon as he gets an opening. Meanwhile the Commodore (whom I instructed to attack the man who looks like a pirate, in case it never occurred to him to try such a thing) has proved more adept at surviving fights with pirates than Mungo, but actually defeating opponents appears to be slightly beyond his capabilities. Suspecting that pursuing the well-dressed man will prove futile, I join in with the remaining fight. Now that he's outnumbered, the pirate fails to find the fight any more challenging, and manages to escape as well. Did we forget to unsheathe our swords at the start of the fight, or something?

I pursue the fleeing pirate, leaving the Commodore to deal with the well-dressed man (how did that blunder get past the playtesters?), and my quarry eludes me in spite of banging his head quite impressively on a low beam. My extensive local knowledge (someone should come up with a 'sarcasm' font) alerts me to a route that could enable me to intercept him (either that or lose him altogether), but before I can decide which way to go, I spot the other man emerging from the tavern, so I chase after him instead.

A textual chase sequence is a strange thing. Static words on a page lack the kinetic energy of a moving image, but that isn't necessarily an obstacle to creating a thrilling pursuit even when the only motion occurring is the reader's eyeballs tracking across and down the lines, and the occasional turn of a page. However, I won't be covering The Rings of Kether until next year, so this isn't really the time to be going on about well-written chases. When a supposed-to-be-exciting sequence starts summoning up memories of the Barrel of Bricks routine, something has gone wrong.

And let's not forget the comedic heritage of the conveniently-situated mound of hay.

Part of the way through the chase, the man turns into the pirate, but then he transforms back into the one I was actually pursuing. I'm not impressed with the quality control on the content of this book. Oh, and he's a pirate again. Also, we've come round in a big circle, and are heading back to the tavern. The villain I wasn't chasing has also doubled back, and they find reinforcements here. Oh, and the innkeeper's fixed the crowd-falls-silent-a-matic while I've been running around town.

The original pirate and two of his friends attack me one at a time. Not sure which is which, but the most adept has Combat Skill 16, which is effectively lower than mine thanks to Storm of Blows. So the man whose swordplay kept him from so much as taking a scratch while fighting the Commodore and me simultaneously is actually a worse fighter than I. Plausible hypothesis: Mongoose made these books fat hardbacks so readers wouldn't hurl them away in disgust for fear of damaging something valuable.

A single blow fells the first pirate. It takes me three rounds to kill the second. The third pirate and I kill each other, but I'd have survived if all that pointless running around hadn't worn down my Endurance beforehand.

Well, I'm no longer disappointed that there's little chance of my getting to play all of the bonus adventures.

1 comment:

  1. Keep 'em coming Ed, really enjoying reading these!