Friday, 15 March 2013

It Seems They've Changed the Rules Again

Back when I attempted the first Sagas of the Demonspawn book, this blog went on hiatus for over a month. More on account of stuff going on in the real world than anything to do with the actual book, but still, I am hoping that book 2, The Crypts of Terror, will not cause any similar hold-up.

As I recall, I got my copy from East Hull Books, which was a great source of second-hand books until it closed (over a decade ago, now). The shop's closing-down sale enabled me to plug a couple of gaps in the FF collection I was building, as well as getting me into gamebook trading (they had a copy of the quite scarce fifth book of the Blood Sword series, which I was able to exchange for a couple more of the FF books I lacked).

The intro to Crypts explains the essentials of what happened in the first book, so I can quickly summarise what would have happened if Fire*Wolf hadn't performed his fabled impersonation of a shish kebab when I played it. He'd have wound up learning that he was the son of the sorcerer Lord Xandine, and heir to a long-standing feud with the House of Harkaan, allies of the Demonspawn. His sense of honour might have compelled him to accept any obligations arising from these facts: if not, the fact that Belgardium, the city where he was to fulfil part of the quest he had undertaken, was in ruins following a surprise Demonspawn invasion would have been enough to get him involved anyway. While most of the Demonspawn had left by then, their Regent was still there, and Fire*Wolf wound up killing him, but not before learning that he had been expected.

Oh, and he also learned magic from his father (who, it's implied, is now dead), and got an extra attribute to help manage it, so I'm going to have to rummage around in the code for my gamebook manager to get it to handle the additional features of the system.

Before going any further, I need to create the new Fire*Wolf. The rules point out that it shouldn't take seven days, and might even be done within seven minutes. Thanks to the work I put in on the gamebook manager, it doesn't even take seven seconds.

Strength 56
Speed 96
Stamina 40
Courage 80
Skill 10
Luck 64
Charm 16
Attraction 40
Life 402

Not as good as the previous model, but not below average, and if this book is anything like the rest of the series, it'll take more than good stats to get me through it anyway.

The adventure starts with Fire*Wolf being guided through the oldest part of Pelimandar, the capital city. In a nearby alley, a group of youths with a trained panther attacks an old man. Fire*Wolf's guide flees, forcing him to choose between pursuing her and taking on a gang of thugs, plus the panther (and possibly even the old man if this is a trap).

He's supposed to be a hero, and it's probably already too late to catch up with the guide, so he moves to try and save the old man. The gang set the panther on him... and the book leaves out the rules for how Fire*Wolf's life-draining sword works, which is going to be a real pain for anyone who doesn't have book 1. Another thing the gamebook manager saves me having to worry about.

Successfully dealing with the panther, Fire*Wolf turns his attention to the thugs, only to find them all paralysed. It turns out that the old man knows magic, though apparently it doesn't work on animals. He introduces himself as Amien, and offers to escort Fire*Wolf to where he needs to go: the Guild of Alchemists. More than that - he will act as Fire*Wolf's sponsor, as our hero apparently needs one.

It transpires that Fire*Wolf seeks the Guild because he needs to undertake an Initiation Ordeal that will boost his Power. This Ordeal takes place in the eponymous Crypts, and it just so happens that Amien is the Cryptmaster. In thanks for the rescue, he gives Fire*Wolf a small box, the contents of which may prove invaluable, but which can only be opened in the direst of emergencies. An endgame McGuffin, most likely.

Guildsmen provide Fire*Wolf with the weapons he is entitled to use in the Ordeal. He points out that the Doomsword will not leave him, no matter what he does, and they shrug and say that it might affect his reward, but can't be helped. They then lead him to the Crypt entrance, and he descends a flight of steps south to a crossroads.

Going clockwise leads to an interesting revelation about Fire*Wolf's psychology. The passage leads to a dead end, which he checks thoroughly (and unsuccessfully) for secret doors. Only then does he take the time to consider whether or not to open the non-secret door in the north wall. It leads to a room containing a black-clad assassin-cum-alchemist known as an Alchiller. He knows some magic, though the book doesn't exactly go into a lot of detail about his tactics. I'll use the rules for Fire*Wolf's spell-casting, even though they contain some limitations that are unlikely to restrict those who don't share his aversion to using magic.

The Alchiller automatically gets first strike. Is he willing to use magic? The dice say yes. One of the spells he knows is instantaneously lethal if successful, so it makes sense that he'd lead with that. Can he cast it? The rules handle the 50% chance of success by making it necessary to get 6 or more on two dice. This indicates something of a flawed grasp of probability theory on Mr. Brennan's part, which explains a lot about the playability of his books. The Alchiller rolls 6, magically propelling a poisoned needle into Fire*Wolf, who will be unaffected on a roll above 3 on one die. I roll a 2.

I'm assuming that the rule about getting to restart a battle from scratch by making a successful Luck roll still applies, and this roll provides a more favourable outcome for our still probably doomed hero. As before, the Alchiller has no qualms about using magic. Again he succeeds in casting the spell. But this time Fire*Wolf is immune to the poison, and takes a swing at the Alchiller. He misses. The Alchiller tries his other spell, conjuring a ball of magical fire that fizzles out as he prepares to fling it at Fire*Wolf. This time Fire*Wolf's retaliation is on target. No spell can be cast twice in the same battle, so from now on it's sword against sword, and the Alchiller has the edge in physical combat.

The restart option only works once. However, the 'Death has come to Fire*Wolf' section includes some quirky stuff about avoiding going right back to the start, so I'll give that a go just to see if how it works. The reincarnated Fire*Wolf has

Strength 56
Speed 72
Stamina 56
Courage 32
Skill 10
Luck 56
Charm 40
Attraction 96
Life 418
and the caprice of the rules causes him to start life...

in conversation with a Vestal, to whom he has just given a monetary gift sufficient to secure an audience with an oracle.

Some things just make no sense

The sibyl Selina is stunningly attractive, and Fire*Wolf sort of makes a subtle pass at her before asking for a prediction about the Spawn. Selena (the spelling varies from section to section) makes contact with two deities, but only one of the messages can get through. It's not entirely helpful, stating only that Fire*Wolf's lusts will soon carry him towards Destiny or death, which may be Selena's way of saying she's undecided about going on a date with Fire*Wolf.

The oracle apparently concluded, Fire*Wolf returns to the streets of the city (if this Fire*Wolf can be said to have returned when he came into being mid-transaction in the Temple) and resumes (equally arguably) his search for the Guild. He doesn't find it. He starts to get depressed. A string of bad rolls, plus the rules' blind spot regarding rolling equal to rather than above or below, causes Fire*Wolf to spiral into despair at his inability to find the guild, and ultimately to commit suicide. I shall respect his last wishes, deranged though they are, and not invoke the reincarnation rule again.

1 comment:

  1. Perhaps you should have used the box against the Alchiller. Then again, it's possible to end up having to fight four of them simultaneously, so I can understand wanting to save it for later.