I'm not entirely sure where I got my copy of Issel - Warrior King, though a vague memory hints that it might have been from the charity shop along Newland Avenue that puts boxes of books outside when the weather permits (and sometimes even when it doesn't). This will be my first attempt at it.
Character generation is much the same as in Darian - Master Magician, except that it's Magic rather than Swordplay that costs double points. Someone has slipped up somewhere, as the rules claim that there aren't as many spells available to me as there are to Darian, but I'm presented with a list identical to the one in the companion book, and cannot see anything to indicate that any off those spells are off-limits to me (though getting the lot would cost 40% of my character creation points, and if I were that desperate to play a wizard, I should be attempting the other book). As my Magic attribute may be used for resisting hostile spells, it would be unwise to take too low a score in it, so I've gone for
Which means that I can, if necessary, cast Sense Danger (and where was the option for Darian to do that before investigating the pit that Instant Deathed him?) and Fire Hand.
According to my grandmother, the only relative I ever knew, I am descended from an ancient line of Kings. The only 'evidence' I have to back this up is a goblet bearing the Great Seal of Franzos, wrapped in a bit of ermine. Franzos is currently ruled over by the tyrannical King Theo and, lacking armies, political clout, sufficient wealth to hire mercenaries, or any other conventional means of replacing him on the throne, I've resorted to seeking the eponymous glade in the hope that its wish-fulfilling properties will do the job.
A storm is coming to an end. Which is odd, as this is supposed to be happening at the same time as Darian's adventures, and I'm on the same side of the forest where he started, but there was no mention of rain in the other book. Maybe there's some multiversal stuff going on, and I'm in a different reality from him until I enter the forest.
Anyway, in I go, and before long I find a trail, which I ignore in favour of heading deeper into the forest. Something big starts smashing its way towards me, and I opt not to confront it (getting a sense of déjà vu here). And it is the same giant worm that Darian saw, and my expertise with the sword would have done little against it, so that was a wise choice.
Night approaches, and I decide to make camp up a tree rather than on the ground. My Agility suffices to keep me from falling, and I secure myself well before settling down to sleep. But not so well that I can't quickly go on the defensive when a black panther takes an interest in me. I kill it, but take a couple of wounds in the fight. Apparently I've missed something, as I could use a Healing Potion here if I had one, but I don't so I can't. In any case, natural healing takes care of half the damage.
In the morning I set off again. My hackles rise, I scent something strange, and I can cast Sense Danger if I want. I'm not overly keen on the odds of it working, so I take a chance on just trusting my instincts. A zombie stabs me in the leg with a trident. It also carries a net, leading me to wonder how a gladiator wound up (un)dead here. Fleeing a foe with a net wouldn't be that clever even if I didn't have an injured leg, so I just fight it. It's not very adept when not sneaking up on people, and I hack it into enough pieces that, while it hasn't stopped moving, it is no longer in a position to inconvenience me.
There's a map in a pouch on the zombie's belt. There are six landmarks indicated on it, one of them the glade. Also shown are the wind and the sun, the latter similar to, but more cheerful-looking than, the one artist John Blanche used as a between-paragraphs image in Steve Jackson's Sorcery! The zombie's flesh vanishes, and somehow its skeleton comes back together, though it just lies there rather than making any hostile moves.
I climb a tree to see if I can spot any of the landmarks from the map, and spot what could be one of them about three miles away. A trail leads in that direction, so I follow it, reaching.the same Obelisk that Darian found. For real-life personal reasons, its inscription is that bit more depressing today than it was in September.
Following a well-worn track that leads from the clearing, I reach a village surrounded by a palisade. A disembodied voice warns me not to enter. I ask why, and am told that it's full of disfigured unsuccessful Seekers, who would kill me to spare me their fate. The owner of the voice admits to being one of the villagers (though obviously a less militant one), and urges me to go home rather than risk being twisted like he and his fellows have. I don't take that advice, but I do stay out of the village.
After a bit, I find a stream, with a boat tied up next to it. What I can make out of the water's inhabitants dissuades me from entering the water, and I'm not convinced the boat is sound, so I walk along the bank. Two men in green with bows emerge from the trees, and I can make out more of their kind in the undergrowth. I try talking to them, and wound up led to the arboreal City of the Forest People.
Their leader questions me and, upon learning of my aim, asks what I would do about them if I became King: many of them are fugitives from justice. The book only offers two replies, and I'm not willing to offer a free pardon to everyone, so I'll just have to hope that saying I can make no promises won't result in a back full of arrows. He admires my honesty, and provides a couple of escorts to the Sphinx, which I must encounter if I want to reach the glade.
The Sphinx is the living kind, and promises to judge me fairly. It tells me it is the first guardian of the Glade of Dreams, and the second one makes it look like a mouse. I must provide a satisfactory answer to its question if I want to enter the glade and not get eaten. It's a 'prove yourself worthy'-type question, and I get the right answer, so the Sphinx allows me onto the trail leading to the glade.
The description of the glade makes it sound like the sort of place you'd see depicted in a book about Flower Fairies. Except that the dragon guarding it is more formidable than anything you'd find in such illustrations. The dragon greets me, mentions that my great-grandfather killed its brother, the last of its kind (surely the brother must have been the penultimate of its kind, as this one is still around), asks if I am brave and wise, and instructs me to look into its eyes. Folklore indicates this to be inadvisable, but I accept the challenge, and find myself staring at the dragon's eyelids: the instruction was a test of courage, and I passed.
I now have the right to dream, but am warned that if I die in my dream, the monster that killed me will take my place in the real world. Not that it particularly wants to be here, and it will subsequently roam the forest, vainly seeking a way back to the world of dreams, and endangering anyone else who comes looking for the glade, but it's too late to back out now...
Don't complain to me about spoilers - you've had over 20 years.
I sleep, and open my eyes to find myself in a much shabbier version of the glade. Something moves close by, so I investigate. On my way across the glade I touch an overly sticky and tough web, and as I try to break free, a man-headed spider (or a spider-bodied man) descends towards me. My combat-depleted Strength does not allow me to break free, so I must fight. Some seriously bad rolling soon leaves me dead, and Spidey trapped in the waking world to inconvenience other Seekers of the glade.
Well, apart from the zombie ambush (I should not need to rely on magic to notice an approaching corpse, especially when I can smell it and sense that something is not right), that wasn't a bad book. One I wouldn't mind playing again some time, though it'll probably be a while, as this blog takes up a good deal of the free time I could spend playing gamebooks.
Yes, I know.