Friday, 22 March 2013

I'd Steal Anything I Lack

The second pair of books in Sutherland and Farrell's Double Game series is set in Koragon, The City of Shadows. Book 2 of that pairing concerns the adventures of Bardik - the Thief, and for reasons that will eventually become clear, I'm blogging about that one before I cover book 1, Coreus - the Prince.

As with the other books in this series, I've never played it before, but as a fan of the Thief series of computer games, I do enjoy playing the part of a light-fingered anti-hero, so if that's what this is about, it could be fun.

Character generation is much the same as in the first Double Game twosome. I give Bardik these stats:
Strength 9
Agility 10
Luck 10
Magic 6
Swordsmanship 9
The attribute it costs double to get points in is Magic, so I went for the minimum necessary to get the Stone Weakness spell, which could be useful for indicating handholds.

I'm an inhabitant of Koragon, a typical crime-infested fantasy city, and have made my own modest contribution to the crime figures, aided by my 'half-elven ancestry' (so one of my ancestors was a half-elf? I wonder how far back - what proportion elf am I?). Tonight I mean to add to it, and have been waiting for Dell, a notorious handler of stolen goods, to leave his shop so that I can rob it (oh, the irony!).

Once Dell has gone, I climb the drainpipe, leap with ease to a window, and am inside in next to no time. I help myself to a bag of gold that should help get rid of some of the debts I've accumulated, and then head back to South Quarter, where I live.

The following day the book has me decide to see what valuables I might come across in Temple Quarter, starting with the ornate temple of Corpus Nistus. Okay, so its shiny exterior is all gold paint and coloured stones, but that just means the real wealth is out of sight, right? Stealth is generally advisable in my line of work, so I climb over a wall into the back garden. This turns out to contain a secondary building in a grove of trees, and I get curious.

A closer look reveals the smaller building to be a tomb. The door is not sealed, so I go in. An oil lamp illuminates a massive, bloated corpse, and I can make out other shapes around it that could be costly burial gifts. Moving closer, I find that they're not treasure. They're pipes, which are being used to pump what I somehow know to be pulped human flesh into the mouth of the corpse. Yuk!

The 'corpse' opens one eye, looks at me, and then begins to move in my direction. I don't know if Double Game undead are as unpleasant to fight as Thief undead, and right now I'd rather not find out, so I hurry back to the garden. A reception committee is waiting for me there. Only two temple acolytes, and probably ordinary mortals, but I'd rather not fight anyone if it can be avoided, so I bolt to the wall and vault it. The acolytes aren't such good climbers, but they know how to open the gate, and are soon in hot pursuit. As I reach David's Quarter, the part of the city where the nobles live, I realise that I can't outrun my pursuers, so I duck down an alleyway and jump over another wall, hoping that they'll go past.

Drawing on my extensive knowledge of the city, I deduce that I'm now in the grounds of Serphan's house. Serphan is one of the ruling council, and extremely wealthy. I start to head towards the house, and catch sight of a bulky figure in furs. He doesn't look like a guard, but this place certainly has some, and I don't want to attract their attention, so when he beckons to me, I join him before he has the not-so-smart idea of calling out to get my attention. He says his name's Coreus, and he's come to this city to retrieve some treasures that were stolen from his people.

Yes, Coreus as in the partner volume. I'm good enough at keeping separate from my characters that I was able to play both books in tandem. Given the cooperative nature of the two-player set-up in this series, I thought it worth playing a two-player game, even if I had to be both players. I'll be blogging Coreus' side of the adventure in about a month. Or a week, if there's sufficient demand.

Coreus could do with the assistance of a local, and I decide to go with him to the inn in Outsiders' Quarter where he's staying. He needs to get back some religious artefacts belonging to his tribe, so I suggest making enquiries at Soburg's Religious Gifts and Artefacts Shop on Penn Isle. Soburg is displeased to learn that we don't want to buy any of his tat, and refuses to speak to us, so I let the big foreigner with the axe try and persuade him to become more talkative. Pity Coreus doesn't speak the local lingo better - he doesn't actually say anything wrong, but the halting delivery robs his treats of some of their menace.

Soburg claims to have seen off better than the pair of us, so I decide to test his bravado. Nice 'n' Nasty wasn't working: how about Nasty 'n' Nasty? Yes, as if by magic the shopkeeper cooperates. He has seen the rods and sceptre that Coreus seeks: a man maned Ashrok tried to sell them to him a few days ago. He claims to have refused because they were too expensive, and I sneer that his real reason was probably because they were stolen. Which seems a bit back-to-front to me: would it not be more likely that he'd claim to have been too honest to touch illegally acquired items, and I'd cynically suggest he just couldn't afford Ashrok's price? Anyway, Soburg denies having the artefacts, and says that Councillor Serphan probably bought them. Great.

The fact that the items Coreus seeks are likely to be in one of the best-guarded houses in the whole city doesn't deter him, so I procure theatre tickets for both of us. Not because I care about the show, the tiresomely anagrammatical Peare Hakess' Midsolstice Morn's Fantasia (is the middle of a solstice long enough to have a morn?), but because the theatre roof has the best view of Serphan's grounds in town. We establish that the best way to get in appears to be the rear garden, observe that the guards keep out of the greenhouse, and leave the theatre in order to prepare for a nocturnal visit to the Councillor.

We get into the garden without difficulty, and the undergrowth is thick enough that we can get close to the house unobserved. Eventually I have to break cover and, apparently having little grasp of the concept of Stealth, Coreus blunders over to the house with me. Luck is with us, and nobody notices, so I quietly break a window and we make a speedy entrance.

It makes sense to me to check downstairs first: if Serphan's in bed, we run more risk of disturbing him once we're upstairs, so we might not have the opportunity to search down here later on. Except that the authors have a different interpretation of what it means to check downstairs, which doesn't go beyond 'see if there are any guards'. There are. Four of them. By the stairs, but moving away. We have the option of creating a distraction, but guards who don't know we're here and aren't facing our way don't need distracting, and are liable to become suspicious if we do something to distract them. So we just creep upstairs, as that's the only alternative provided.

On the next floor, Coreus claims to be able to sense the rods he seeks. I have my doubts, but let him go with this 'instinct' anyway: in the unlikely event that he's right, it'll save us a lot of time, and it'll still give a starting point for a proper, methodical search when if his gut feeling turns out to be just indigestion. Moving like a man entranced, he heads straight for a blank wall. I'd laugh, only the noise might attract attention. Oh, and the blank wall turns out to contain a secret door into Serphan's treasure room. Good thing I convinced Coreus not to ignore that extra-sensory inspiration, right?

I grab as much loot as I can fit into my sack (should've brought a bigger bag), and see that Coreus has found the rods. I remind him that this is not a place to be loitering, and we leave the room. 'Has Coreus set the staircase alight?' asks the book. Is that what creating a distraction would have led to? D'oh! Well, the answer is no, so there's no need to leap from a window, and we descend the stairs like normal, rational people. Well, half the stairs - then a noise spooks us, and we jump the rest of the way and scurry into hiding.

The source of the sound is a shadowy figure, who pretty much has to be Serphan. Not yet having found the sceptre that accompanies the rods, Coreus decides to confront him, and I grudgingly go along with his wish. Serphan is flanked by guards, but has something else he'd rather use to deal with thieves: he hurls two eggs to the floor, and a pair of freaky sharp-toothed Karaza beasts with poison-bearing claws come into being. My companion and I each fight one beast. Luck keeps us from succumbing to the paralytic venom, and Coreus has the good fortune to beat his opponent almost unscathed, while I take significant damage.

The defeat of Serphan's 'pets' disconcerts him for long enough that we can break a window and escape, the authors evidently not having considered the possibility that Coreus might want to try and get hold of the other artefact he needs. We hurry into the garden, and see guards approaching from all sides. There are three between us and the wall. I'm not keen to get into another fight before I can get healed, but Coreus seems to have a plan, so I go with it.

An expression of annoyance at the authors crosses his face, and he hurls his axe at a guard, dealing lethal damage. The other two engage us in combat. Coreus isn't so good at dodging blows this time, but his greater Strength seems to be prevailing all the same. I trade blow for blow with my opponent, but in my weakened condition I can only bring him close to death before he succeeds in ending my life. Coreus remains to fight on, but what happens to him from this point onwards is for another blog entry to recount.

I was quite enjoying that up until we broke into Serphan's and the authors and I started interpreting things differently. I now know that the sceptre is elsewhere, but it would have been helpful to have some indication that Coreus recognised the lack of need to stay in the house any longer. We wouldn't have fought if I'd known that we were trying to leave anyway. And why did Coreus get annoyed just before Bardik's final fight? That's a rant for the playthrough of his book.

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