Monday, 10 December 2012

I'd Turn My Bucket Over

The second Lone Wolf gamebook, Fire on the Water, was actually the first of the series that I owned and played. Though by no means the only person in my class at school who was into FF and the like, I was the designated gamebook geek, so when a classmate got a copy of FotW, played it, and decided he'd rather sell it on than keep it, I was the person to whom he made the initial offer. As I recall, he wanted 30p for it, which seemed like a good deal to me, and I enjoyed the book enough that I was willing to pay three times as much to get the one that came before it in the series when I came across it.

My younger self has written on both Action Charts in pencil, and the number of Kai Disciplines listed on the second one indicates that I must have made that attempt after acquiring and beating book 1. Faint traces of erased pencil on the first one (and the presence in the inventory of a semi-crucial item that's not that easy to find) suggest that the details written on it do not relate to my first try at the book, and while I don't remember how that one went, there's a high probability that I got killed in the tunnel by a Helghast.

I have my original copy and the Mongoose Publishing edition in front of me. A quick comparison of the opening section of both versions indicates that, while the content of both is essentially the same, the text has been rewritten for the newer version. I do not consider the changes to be an improvement. The word count has been increased, spelling things out to an unnecessary extent. For example, 'the quay' has become 'the Holmgard Quay', and the wagon driver 'drives his wagon away' rather than 'quickly disappears'. It might not be the case that Joe Dever considers his fans to be idiots who need everything explained to them very clearly, but that's certainly the impression I'm getting.

Having survived the original book 1, I shall retain the character from that attempt. I can add a new Kai Discipline as a reward for having completed one book, and metaknowledge yells at me to pick the (largely not that useful) Animal Kinship. I can also pick two items from a list, and that list includes a mace, so I take it. I'm not going to get many opportunities to use the sort of weapon I've been specially trained to use, so I should make the most of what I get. I also take a shield, and I'm given some money and a fancy ring: the Seal of Hammerdal.

The thing is, the only weapon (known of) that works against Darklords like the one leading the invading armies is the magic sword known as the Sommerswerd. This is several hundred miles away in the kingdom of Durenor (and one thing that has not changed between editions is the scale of the map on the frontispiece - 23mm (or just over 7/8 of an inch) represents 100 miles), having been given to a previous King as a symbol of the allegiance between Sommerlund and Durenor. In return, he gave the then King of Sommerlund the Seal, which I must now take to the current Durenese King as proof that Sommerlund is in a sticky situation and needs its magic sword back.

I am to travel to Durenor by sea, on a ship called the Green Sceptre, and a wagon takes me to the quay, where I am to meet the first mate in an inn. The inn turns out to be closed, but as I contemplate my next action, someone grabs my arm. It's the first mate, in a highly nervous state, and wanting to see some proof that I'm Lone Wolf before he takes me to the ship. Showing off a Discipline would do the trick, so I try out my new one, compelling a couple of mice to bring me some cheese. This prompts the man to set three thugs on me - maybe he's from the local equivalent of PETA, and objects to my exploiting animals in such a manner. I have the option of running off after two rounds, but thanks to the increase in Combat Skill provided by the mace and shield (and a couple of lucky rolls), my opponents are too dead to be worth fleeing by then.

The bogus first mate has not hung around to see the outcome of the fight. I search the bodies and find identical serpent tattoos on their left wrists. I search the tavern and find the body of the real first mate. I search the surrounding area and do not find the impostor, so rather than waste any more time, I 'borrow' a coracle and row across to the Green Sceptre. The Captain is not pleased to learn that enemies are aware of my quest, and he has lost his first mate, but we set sail anyway.

What happens next is the reason why I never created a 'condensed' version of FotW like I did with the first book when repeatedly trying to make it through the whole saga with one character back in the nineties: a random number determines which of five possible encounters occurs. I found this too convoluted to be worth the effort of summarising, especially with further randomisation determining how at least some of these encounters play out.

On this occasion, the ship's lookout spots a damaged longboat with three men aboard, and the Captain has them brought aboard. They turn out to be fishermen who'd been attacked by pirates, and one of them tries to express his gratitude for the rescue by offering me a sword. Thanks, but I have enough weapons, and I'm going to lose most of my equipment in a short time anyway. In fact, I'm pretty sure that there's no actual opportunity to get into a fight between here and the annoying 'lose all weapons' bit that's coming up soon, which would make this a thoroughly pointless encounter.

A few days later, I smell smoke coming from the hold. Investigating would be unwise, and seeking out the Captain will waste time, so I just yell, "Fire!" Though the crew's fire-fighting techniques are efficient, it takes them some time to extinguish the blaze (by around book 9 I'd potentially be able to put it out in seconds with my mind, but that's a long way off yet), and a lot of the ship's supplies are destroyed, to say nothing of the structural damage. The Captain has a quiet word with me, revealing that the fire was arson.

The lookout sights another ship, and we go up on deck. One of the Green Sceptre's longboats is heading for it, doubtless bearing the saboteur, and both vessels are engulfed in a mysterious fog, which rapidly fades to leave no trace of either craft. This spooks the crew, but their spirits pick up when the Captain orders a change of direction to the nearby port of Ragadorn for repairs and fresh supplies. I may have to complete my voyage by land, but Ragadorn is over half way to the port for which I was originally headed, so it's a decent start.

Well, it would be if we got that far, but a storm strikes before we reach Ragadorn. The mast snaps, and there's a 10% possibility of my being fatally crushed by it. I hate these unavoidable 'purely random chance of death' situations - there's a similar one in a later book that did for me twice during my repeated attempts at the series in the nineties, and an even later one that uses melodrama and overwriting to conceal the fact that it's one of the most stupid endings in gamebook history. And there's this one, which has just brought the adventure to a premature end. Yep, that miserable 1 in 10 shot came up, and I got flattened.

That's going to make playing the rest of the series 'interesting', as I'm going to have to do all the books with no Sommerswerd. Given that it provides something stupid like +8 to Combat Skill, I can expect to be at a significant disadvantage without it.

Anyone who remembers my saying I might take a special look at section 291 may be interested to learn that it describes the realisation that there is no way of riding through the forest to get to the town where I'm headed. Not a particularly good jumping-on point for cheats, especially with a password check coming soon afterwards.

1 comment:

  1. You mention elsewhere that the archer in book 4 killed a lot of your attempts to play the entire series when you were a youngster. I mostly escaped that fate, but the falling mast took out at least a dozen of my Lone Wolfs, so you have my sympathy.

    If I were to play the series again, I would adopt a house rule that Hunting gives a +1 to that particular random number due to its effects on Lone Wolf's agility.