Friday, 8 March 2013

Not a Pastime at Which I Excel

During the Christmas break of the 1986/7 academic year, a few people from my school's RPG group got together at one member's home. We played the Fighting Fantasy mass battle scenario from Warlock issue 12 (with no real fight, as it turned out: the Orcs dawdled, and failed to reach the bridge before the Dwarfs destroyed it), and did some other stuff that I no longer remember, and one of the group gave bundles of gamebooks to everyone else as presents.

The books I received consisted of two unimpressive Endless Quests, and three of the Wizards, Warriors and You series, which I enjoyed enough that I got another in the set when the opportunity presented itself, and more recently reacquired a load of them. The earliest of the WW&Y books I was given was the third in the series, Who Kidnapped Princess Saralinda? by Megan Stine and H. William Stine, and that's the one I shall be replaying today. (I've never actually owned or played book 2, and with no nostalgic attachment, I'm not all that fussed about it, which is why I've jumped from 1 to 3 here.)

As I start reading section 1, memories come flooding back. A banquet is under way, to celebrate the imminent wedding of King Henry's daughter, the eponymous Princess. Marlayne, the groom-to-be, conducts an 'As You Know, Bob' dialogue with his brother to bring the reader up to speed, but this exposition serves a dual purpose: among other things, this adventure is a mystery in the 'criminal gives himself away with a verbal error' genre, and it's here that little brother Balfore makes the slip of the tongue that will ultimately lead to the exposure of his villainy (provided I don't get my character killed prior to the dénouement).

The exposition continues, revealing that the impending nuptials will cement an alliance and avert war, and there are some who would be only too pleased if the wedding were to fall through, and battle be joined. It's around now that it becomes apparent that the Princess has been kidnapped (the clue is in the title). There's no way she could have been removed from the castle, but parts of it have been abandoned for a long time, so there are plenty of places where she could have been hidden. The Wizard and the Warrior start to search for her, and I must choose which of the two I am to play. For a variety of reasons, not all related to this book, I'm going to be the Warrior. (Mind you, if I'm right about this being the WW&Y in which it is possible to fail on account of having been born on the wrong day, that's reason enough not to pick the Wizard.)

So, weapon selection. The sword is automatically selected, and for the three I get to choose, I think the Triple Crossbow, the Morning Star and the Dagger should cover most bases. And they'd be my choice even if I didn't remember that the Battle-Axe has been stolen and the castle is apparently in the grip of a bureaucracy so powerful that, having made my selection, I cannot change my mind should it somehow prove non-viable. The discovery of the theft of the axe is handled poorly: I look for it and then yell PG oaths when it's not there, regardless of whether or not I'd picked it. But I didn't, so I'm not forced to embark on the adventure one weapon short.

A peculiar map of the castle is provided, jumbling elements of 3-4 different levels together, and in places giving helpful labels like 'darkened room', 'cursed room' or '???'. Frankly, the map of Bristol in the back of the University prospectus at the tail end of the eighties was more helpful, and that one got me lost enough that I had to take a bus to get back to the train station.

This being a rather slim book, I only get to choose from three rooms, none of them particularly close to the one from which the Princess was taken, but two are vaguely sensible choices on account of not being far from the Weapons Room, while the third... seems just random. I'll try the servants' quarters, in case there's any pertinent gossip to be heard.

No, not from servants who've been murdered by a one-eyed rogue with Freddy Krueger gloves. He claims to have been ordered to kill them by Cimmerian, a Knight known to be wanting a war rather than the marriage. Probably a trap, but the alternative to checking out Cimmerian's chamber is taking the killer to the King, which brings its own risks. Still, I'm not in a trap-entering mood, so I'd better take the mass-murderer to see my King.

Well, I am at least competent enough to ensure that the killer attempts nothing regicidal. The King recognises him as squire to Brookhaven, Marlayne's father, and is all set to have the would-be-groom executed, but I point out that we could do with some more evidence before taking actions certain to provoke war. So we get sent to Brookhaven's castle to ask him if he's being treacherous.

News of the kidnapping has already leaked to the King's subjects, some of whom intercept us as we leave the castle, blaming Marlayne and demanding blood. A particularly fervent citizen leaps up onto my horse to cause trouble, but I'm able to knock him into the moat with the blunt end of my dagger (two other weapons were equally viable options, so at least the book isn't being overly narrow on that front (so far)).

At Brookhaven's castle, we are attacked by a knight in silver armour. The Wizard turns us invisible, so we can get past him without bloodshed, and the spell lasts long enough for us to get into the room where Brookhaven and his wife are discussing their delight at the imminent marriage, and their sorrow at how it has caused Balfore to become consumed with jealousy. It doesn't last long enough for us to get out again, though, and we find ourselves surrounded by armed guards. Explaining the situation seems the wiser option - and it is. Brookhaven guesses that Balfore is behind the kidnapping, and agrees that he must be thwarted, by any means necessary.

Back at King Henry's castle, things take a turn for the railroady. To paraphrase:
Warrior: We will search the whole castle for the Princess. Even the Cursed Room, if necessary.
King: Entering the Cursed Room is supposed to mean certain death.
Warrior: Okay, to the Cursed Room we go.

There's only one entrance to the Cursed Room, and it's in the room allocated to Marlayne. Not that giving him a bedroom next to the chamber of unspecified horrendous doom could in any way have been taken as unwelcoming, right? Marlayne goes into something of a superstitious funk, and tells of how he heard strange noises coming from the Cursed Room not long before a poisonous spider turned up in his bed.

Fortunately for the Princess, Marlayne doesn't have much else in common with Bond.

Undeterred, we enter the Cursed Room, finding the skeleton of a long-dead king, which wears the ring that Balfore made the mistake of mentioning back at the start of the adventure. Before dying, the late King Praetus carved a message into the floor, revealing the curse to have been invented by his treacherous cousin Ethawn in order to keep anyone from learning that Ethawn imprisoned Praetus in the room. It also mentions the way to activate the secret door into the Sealed Crypt, which the castle map shows to be right next to the Princess' room.

Using all my deductive skills, I make my way to where the Princess is being held, a hiding place far too deviobvious to mention here. She's not alone there: guarding her is a four-armed knight, wielding a different weapon in each hand, including the stolen axe (dramatic chord (or not)).

I have four weapons, too, so I win the resultant fight. To be fair, a player who picked the axe isn't automatically doomed on account of falling behind in the arms race: provided they made the right choice for one of their other weapons (and there are two that count as 'right' in this instance), they're able to tilt the playing field in a more favourable direction.

With the Princess safe and free, I launch into a Poirot-style explanation of 'ow I know Balfore to be ze guilty man, for the benefit of Marlayne and any reader too slow to have put the clues together. During my monologue, Balfore escapes from the castle, possibly to return in a sequel (though not one that was published here - there are three times as many American WW&Y books as British ones). But who cares about having the villain get away when there's a Royal Wedding on, eh?

Maybe I should have played as the Wizard after all - the book gets much madder in his investigation. Particularly the bit where he goes insane as a result of having been gnawed on by a rat while disguised as a piece of bread, and may be brought back to his senses by having the Warrior shoot him in the heart with a poisoned arrow. That's the kind of inspired lunacy that enables me to retain a certain fondness for this series despite its undeniable flaws.


  1. Does your weapon choice before each battle determine the outcome, or is fate set with the starting selection? I can't find this anywhere.

    1. Starting selection is one of the determining factors, but not the only one. Once you've made your choice, you're limited to just those weapons for the rest of the adventure (usually), but sometimes you may have the option of picking which of your selected weapons you'll use in a specific encounter: I failed book 1 as a result of choosing poorly when the options were a) flail, b) dagger, and c) anything else (though, not having chosen the flail, I could only pick from b and c).

      There are also some situations where a random element is introduced - flipping a coin, picking a number between 1 and 10, when you are reading the book... (At one point in book 1, success depends on whether or not it's 'a Sunday night, a Monday morning, or a Thursday afternoon'.) In Who Kidnapped Princess Saralinda I managed to avoid the random stuff, but if, for example, I'd believed the killer when he accused Cimmerian, I'd have had to flip a coin to see if I survived the resultant confrontation.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.