Monday, 25 February 2013

Winter Is Coming

For some reason I delayed getting any more Lone Wolf books after the first two - perhaps I was hoping to get them second-hand as well. Eventually I did get them brand new, but by then the series had already undergone its first redesign, so my copy of book 3, The Caverns of Kalte, has a salmon-coloured spine, and the cover depicts a tentacled monstrosity rather than a skiing Ice Barbarian. I initially went looking for it in a shop in Southborough, close to the school's playing fields (it was on a Thurssday, the day we had games that academic year), but the shop had stopped selling books by then. Or maybe it never did, and I was confused. Regardless, the fruitless detour delayed me, and actually getting the book in another shop added to my lateness. But that wasn't the only gamebook I bought at that time, so I'll save the rest of this story for when I get around to blogging about the other one.

This is going to be a new experience for me, as I've always previously played Kalte with a character carried over from the previous book in the series. As my playthrough of book 2 ended with my character getting fatally clonked on the head with a bit of wood, I need to create a fresh Lone Wolf here, which means no bonus Kai disciplines, and no equipment from other books. Given that the whole point of the preceding book was to acquire and use a +8 sword of Darklord-incinerating, which would remain in my inventory for the rest of the series, I anticipate finding this book a lot tougher than usual. Not that it's always been a walkover before now: as I recall, my first attempt ended during a fight against a brute that would fatally sting me if it inflicted any damage at all. Guess what: it inflicted damage.

This book is set around a year after the last one. The history leading up to it is largely the same, except that, presumably, Lone Wolf remained unconscious for much longer, and the Darklords' invasion was thwarted after their commander accidentally brutally cut his head off while combing his hair. Whatever my character did to earn the favour of the King in the aftermath of this mayhem involved a run-in with renegade magician Vonotar the Traitor, who was last seen (on this blog, at least) kidnapping another wizard and getting decked for his troubles. Loi-Kymar's belief that his daughter would pass on details of whence he had been abducted appears to have been overly optimistic, as it's not until traders bring news of a coup in Kalte that anyone in Sommerlund finds out that Vonotar is now ruling over the Ice Barbarians.

Anyway, public outcry has convinced the King that Vonotar must be brought back here to face justice, and I've been chosen to lead the expedition to apprehend him. Time to see what this version of me looks like...
Combat Skill: 13 (not good)
Endurance: 19
Kai Disciplines: Hunting, Sixth Sense, Healing, Weaponskill in... Quarterstaff, and Mindblast (provides a Combat Skill bonus against certain opponents).
If I remember rightly, in this book Mindshield is only really useful in dealing with the consequences of a bad decision, so I think I can make do without it.
The starting equipment list includes a Quarterstaff, so I'll take that. It feels weird to be paying any attention to the weapon selection.

The expeditionary team sets off in a (secretly) suitably equipped warship, but is blown around 30 miles off course in a blizzard. There's a pretty tight deadline on this quest, as the sea will be freezing over within around a month, so I decide against wasting a day sailing back to where we intended to moor the ship, and choose to start the land crossing from here. The guides mention two possible routes, one faster but more risky, the other longer but less hazardous. I'll take a chance on the latter.

One of the guides warns me about a mirage-like phenomenon as we commence the next stage of the voyage. We make good progress over the course of the day, and as we make camp for the night, my Sixth Sense warns me that we are being watched. Incidentally, comparing the two editions of this book, I have to say that this far the edits for the Mongoose version are less blatant, and do improve on the previous version.

The half-expected nocturnal attack fails to materialise, and the next morning the wind has died down and we're on section 291. Still not seeing any good reason why a cheat might have skipped to it. Another uneventful day's travel follows, and by nightfall we reach the shelter of the massive splinter of granite that the guides refer to as 'The Rock'. They have such a way with words.

The following day, the weather isn't so nice. Eventually we reach an ice shelf that shields us from the worst of the wind, and a trio of savage Baknar attack us. Thanks to my Weaponskill and Mindblast, I'm only slightly outclassed in the adventure's first combat. And thanks to the impressively skewed combat tables, I lose less than half my Endurance defeating the beast.

In the mean time, the guides have driven off the other Baknar with flaming torches. They then skin the corpse in order to get at the foul-smelling oil in its body, which is apparently great for keeping out the cold. I try some myself (though I do like the wording of the refusal option: 'If the thought of smelling like a vat of rancid cheese does not appeal to you...'), and discover that it also has the effect of blunting the sense of smell, so the stink no longer bothers me. Amusingly, the revised text adds a note pointing out that the effects of the oil do not persist beyond this book, doubtless to reassure all the LW readers who'd worried that subsequent adventures had the hero interacting with nobility while failing to realise that he still smelled like a yak latrine.

The next few days are uneventful, but then we get spotted by a party of Ice Barbarians. They outnumber us, they're better acclimatised to the conditions, they know the region better than we do, and if they catch up to us, we're doomed. I approve of the realism.

We hurry away, but Barbarian scouts on skis soon catch up to us. They all carry children on their backs, and the children are armed with bows and arrows. The writing keeps this from coming across as humorous, and within seconds my guides are all dead. One of the scouts levels a spear at me, and I find myself effectively jousting on ice. He knocks me down, but his momentum carries him past me, and I manage to get up while he stops and removes his skis. Thanks to the way the combat rules work, the Barbarian and I then kill each other.

While I did get a couple of very bad rolls in that last fight (and rolled a rubbish Combat Skill at the start), I have to say that I'm not convinced that the book manages to strike the right balance between being challenging for readers who've carried across a character from book 2 and being playable for anyone starting with this book. Peeking ahead, I see that if I had survived the fight, I would have had an opportunity to evade the rest of the Barbarians, so my Healing could have kicked in to bring me back from the verge of death before my next battle, so maybe my failure is down to bad luck rather than sub-optimal design. Nevertheless, I'm not sure I'll have much chance of winning the next couple of Lone Wolf adventures, either. At least there's a partial levelling effect due to come in with book 6...

1 comment:

  1. Maybe I'm remembering it wrong, but I believe each book has you roll up a character the same as you would for book 1, yet the battles are tuned for someone who beat all the preceding ones. Things get silly in book 14 where you have no chance at all of winning the first fight.