Monday, 11 February 2013

You Just Can't Get the Staff These Days

The third of the Mongoose Publishing Lone Wolf reissues includes as its bonus adventure Laszlo Cook's Vonotar's Web. I've never attempted it before, and all I know about it is that the 'you' character is Loi-Kymar, a wizard who plays a significant part in the endgame of the main adventure. When first encountered by Lone Wolf, he is a prisoner of the book's villain, and this is a prequel, so I suppose it's supposed to show how he winds up in the cell where Lone Wolf finds him. Though, given my success rate with LW mini-adventures so far, it seems more likely that it will depict what happened in an alternate universe where Loi-Kymar died prematurely, so Lone Wolf failed to apprehend his captor.

More or less standard rules, though Combat Skill is between 5 and 14 rather than 10 and 19 because I'm an old man. And instead of choosing Kai Disciplines, I choose the contents of my Herb Pouch, which can hold up to 6 herbs. There are half a dozen different types of herb from which to choose, so either I have the option of taking more than one portion of a given herb, or somebody hasn't quite figured out how this 'picking from a list' thing works yet.

In any case, my stats for this adventure are:
Combat Skill 7
Endurance 22
Both of which are pretty low, so the Herb Pouch contains two doses of the Combat Skill-enhancing Alether, three doses of the medicinal Laumspur, and one of the psychic defence-strengthening Red Brushwort. And I have a Crystal Star Pendant and a nightshirt. Clearly this is another example of the not-that-common 'adventuring in your bedclothes' subgenre. Wonder how it compares with the last one of those I played.

I wake unexpectedly in the middle of the night, and become aware that someone has snuck into my bedroom and stolen my Guildstaff, which confers upon me the power of teleportation. A light gleams downstairs, and I hear faint voices. As I've lived alone since my wife died, it would appear that the thieves are still here. I decide to have a quick look around my room for useful items - what with wizards' propensity for accumulating all manner of arcane clutter, there's a reasonable possibility of my coming up with something a little more threatening than the pillow or bedside lamp that are the most weaponisable items in my real-life bedroom. Besides, most of the other options available look pretty rubbish: calling out, "Who's there?" is unlikely to achieve much, and defiantly marching downstairs to startle the intruders fails to take into account the fact that an old man in his night attire isn't that intimidating a sight.

Though some old men can be pretty alarming out of theirs

It turns out that I have a hefty brass bedwarmer. Should be more effective against miscreants than a hot water bottle. Or the microwaveable wheat bag I got at the weekend after the aforementioned sprung a leak. And, now that I'm armed, I'll take the other reasonably sensible-looking option: sneaking downstairs. Familiarity with the stairs enables me to avoid all the squeaky ones that failed to get my attention when the Guildstaff-thief trod on them on his way up, and as I get near enough to my study to make out the conversation going on in there, I ascertain that there are at least three intruders, and one of them knows enough magic to counteract whatever traps and wards I might have placed on my stuff. But not enough to realise that the Guildstaff is useless without my specialised knowledge.

One of the thieves comes out into the hall. He hasn't noticed me yet, and the choices open to me reveal a couple of things about the workings of the adventure. Firstly, I was right about being able to take multiple helpings of some herbs and none of others - otherwise, I'd be asked if I wanted to use my Green Gallowbrush, rather than if I have some and want to use it. Secondly, there's a significant problem with the way spell use works. The rules stated that there's an Endurance cost for casting spells, and that it's possible to die if I cast one that costs more Endurance than I have. They don't list Endurance costs, though, and nor does the option to cast a spell here. So despite being enough of a veteran magic user that I know every spell in the book (well, I didn't need to make a selection from a list like the late lamented Banedon), I'm not sufficiently familiar with their effect on the caster to be able to tell whether or not I'm in a fit state to cast a given spell until I use it and either succeed or drop dead. Okay, so right now, at maximum Endurance, I shouldn't be in any danger, but I doubt that I'll remain at full health for long.

Still, that's something to bear in mind later on. For now, I have a bedwarmer to swing. The satisfying 'CLONG!' it makes as it thuds into the thief's head does attract his associates' attention, so I burst into the study. Thug II moves to intercept me while the magic-user searches in vain for the Guildstaff's 'on' switch. After one round of combat, during which I take a minor wound, the MU switches to plan B: giving the Guildstaff to the thug, and running interference while the thug leaps out of a window and runs off to give the staff to his boss. Not such an idiot after all.

My new opponent brandishes a black crystal rod with a glowing red tip. Defensive magic will cost Endurance, but attempting to physically disarm him is liable to cost more. Ah. My chances of success will be doubled if I take that Red Brushwort, but given that I've already failed two Magnamund-based adventures as a result of catastrophic rolls, I suspect that going for the modifier won't make any actual difference to the outcome... And it's a resounding success even without the herbal enhancement. The bolt of fire he flings at me dissipates, and the crystal rod shatters.

Remarkably unperturbed, the MU starts to cast a new spell. It's one that I recognise, which should be known only to fellow members of the Brotherhood of the Crystal Star. Which shocks character-me a lot more than reader-me, because Loi-Kymar doesn't yet know that the principal villain in this book is a former member of the Brotherhood.

Since I know this spell, I should have a reasonable idea of whether or not it's remotely worth trying to hide behind the desk before the lightning bolt is fired. But has the writer taken that into account? Some gamebook writers are annoying enough to offer the chance to do something the character would realise to be idiotic. But this isn't one of those situations. The outcome is randomised, and while I do fail, the relevant paragraph indicates that that's because old age has made me less nimble than I used to be, so it's a plausible mistake for me to have made.

The sorcerer starts to prepare another spell. I grab a bottle of ink and throw it at him (the bedwarmer's weight is liable to make it a lousy missile weapon). The magical defence he uses is misjudged, causing the bottle to explode and giving him a faceful of ink and broken glass. Before he can recover, I grab the bedwarmer (which has apparently been changed into a bedpan by some residual magical weirdness (unless the author just goofed)) and leap to the attack, getting in a hefty blow while he's still reeling. He can still fight back - just - after that, but only inflicts a minor wound before I finish him off.

I down a healing dose of Laumspur and make for the window. The ruffian with my staff is too far away for me to be certain of hitting him with a spell, so I grab a robe and the other thug's dagger and give chase. While I'm in pretty good condition for my age, he's younger and healthier, and I soon realise that I'm not going to catch up with him, so I pretend to give up, hoping that he'll then slow down and I'll be able to shadow him. This works, and I find out where he's heading. Disconcertingly, it's the home of my daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren.

Downing another Laumspur, I decide to stick with stealth. If my family are being held hostage, I need to dispose of the villains without attracting attention, and if one of them's gone rogue, I need to find out which one I should be crossing off my Fehmarn card list. Sneaking round to the back of the house, I find a herb garden and help myself to some more Laumspur and a dose of the night vision-enhancing Sharpeye - if the adventure's offering me a second chance to acquire the latter, that probably means I need some.

There are two doors at the back of the house. The kitchen door is open, letting out some light and the voices of strangers. Making a stealthy entrance there won't be easy. The other door leads to my son-in-law's workshop, which appears unoccupied. Workshops can contain a lot of weaponisable stuff. You know, if I were playing Lone Wolf in this adventure, the title ought to be Kai Hard.

The workshop door is barred on the other side. I could magically dislodge the bar, but it would make a noise falling on the floor. Can I check out the kitchen without attracting attention? Yes, I can. A further two thugs are cooking up a meal with the contents of my daughter's pantry, and currently arguing about what seasoning to use. Are Magnamund's equivalents of Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsay working for the villain?

One of the herbs I chose not to bother with is a very effective emetic, which could have been fun to use here. As it is, I'll have to resort to magic if I'm going to deal with the thugs in a manner that doesn't alert their associates. And the author doesn't really get the concept of stealth (or the difference between 'its' and 'it's', for that matter), as the text has me telekinetically hurling scalding hot stew in the men's faces, and clobbering them with a rolling pin while they're too busy screaming in agony to defend themselves.

Far from surprisingly, I hear someone approaching to investigate the noise. Still, his words to a partner-in-crime indicate that he thinks Jamie and Gordon might just be messing about. I guess he's seen how worked up they can get when debating the relative merits of oregano and coriander. Hurriedly I levitate out of the way, cancelling the spell just as he catches sight of the unconscious rogue chefs, so I come crashing down onto him. This knocks him out, but attracts the attention of his confederate (bizarrely, I am surprised that he was not alone, despite having just heard him talking to someone else). There isn't time to cast another spell, so I lunge at the other guy, hoping to silence him before he can raise the alarm. Somehow there is time to ingest some Alether as I charge across the living room, and this gives me enough of an edge that I can shut him up in the nick of time.

Downstairs contains nothing but unconscious or dead mooks. I head up to the next floor, and a voice greets me from behind my daughter and her husband's bedroom door. The speaker reveals that he can sense me, so all that trying not to attract too much attention turns out to have been futile. I realise that my enemy is Vonotar the Traitor. The only member of the Brotherhood known to have turned to evil, principal bad guy in the full-length adventure which this accompanies, and oh yes, he's mentioned in the title of the mini-adventure, so frankly his identity is less of a surprise than that of the villain in some episodes of Scooby-Doo.

Vonotar wants to talk with me. First I check my grandchildren's room, to get a better idea of the hostage situation. As I move towards the door, it opens, revealing the suddenly surprised face of the rogue who brought my staff here. Looks like he was planning on attacking me from behind as I confronted Vonotar, and wasn't expecting to find himself face-to-face with me. Before he can get over his surprise, I use magic to hurl him backwards. He hits the window and, moments later, the ground below. Ha!

Vonotar hears the thud, and tells me that if I don't come into the room where he is, he'll set fire to the children. Preemptively taking a shot of Red Brushwort, I go through the door. My son-in-law and grandchildren are all bound and gagged, and Vonotar is using my daughter as a human shield, holding a dagger at her throat. I pretend to surrender, and have to drop my weapons in order to get him to lower his guard, but one brief tussle later, I'm between him and my daughter.

He draws a wand from his robes and begins to charge it with sorcerous energies. Apparently I could try to disarm him if I had a Shoe, but that's one item I failed to acquire, so I think attempting to magically counteract what he's doing looks the smartest option. And the bonus from having taken that Brushwort takes me over the dividing line between failure and success. Phew!

With his wand now useless, Vonotar switches tactics and casts a spell that plunges the room into darkness. I said I'd need that Sharpeye. By the time it kicks in, he's already cast another spell, so my enhanced vision shows me two Vonotars, one advancing on me, the other going for my family. The Brushwort in my system enables me to see through the illusion, though, and my response puts Vonotar on the defensive. So he turns nasty, and sorcerously compels my daughter to threaten herself with a dagger. I wind up having to surrender, and Vonotar orders me to use the Guildstaff to transport him, his hostage, and myself to the Ice Barbarian fortress of Ikaya. I partially obey, but have sufficient mastery of the spell that I can leave my daughter behind, so at least my loved ones will be safe.

Vonotar and I arrive in a throne room, surrounded by Ice Barbarians. He starts to address them in their own tongue, and I hit him hard with the Guildstaff. The Barbarians overpower me, and Vonotar gloats about having got what he wanted, but I'm not too upset. My daughter knows where we went, and can inform the Brotherhood, so they can take action against Vonotar. And the resistance I've put up is enough to discourage him from trying to extract the secrets of the Guildstaff from me. All I have to do is wait... and hope that Lone Wolf doesn't louse things up when he plays his side of the related adventure.

Not a bad mini-adventure, that one. Rewards intelligent decisions, and does a reasonable job of making the ending look like a success even though it does entail my being taken prisoner so this can properly tie in with the main feature. Provided the LW adventure in the book hasn't been appallingly Lucasised, this is on track to be the first reissue that actually improves on the original.

1 comment:

  1. I was very pleased with those mini-adventures, they add a lot. Always a lot of fun!