Friday, 1 March 2013

Oh Dear, This is Getting Monotonous

One consequence of my getting involved in online gamebook fandom was that I started trading books with fellow collectors. Because of this, I began keeping a look out for books that didn't hold any great appeal to me, but were sought by someone I knew, who might be able to provide me with something I did want in return for them. So when I was visiting friends in Swansea, and came across a copy of Treachery in Drakenwood, the first of Paul Vernon's Fatemaster books, I bought it for an acquaintance in America. Aware that second-hand books aren't always as complete as one would wish, I had a good look through it, thereby discovering that there was a page missing, and managing to acquire a scan of the missing page from another collector before sending it off.

As time passed, and my gamebook collection grew, I started to take an interest in some series with which I hadn't been bothering. Inspired in part by my memories of looking through that second-hand TiD, I added the Fatemaster series (if you can call two books a series) to the list, eventually tracking down an acceptably priced Treachery on eBay. This will be the first time I properly attempt to play it.

My character has only just arrived in the region, seeking fame and fortune. Fortuitously, the tree in which he opts to spend the night happens to be within earshot of an altercation between two members of a passing band of kidnappers, as a result of which he learns that they're working for Sir Roderick. In the morning, searching the corpse of the loose-lipped (and subsequently loose-innarded) man, he finds a gemstone worth enough that he can buy himself a weapon and some armour. Local gossip fills in all the essentials of the plot:
  1. Lady Arowen has been kidnapped.
  2. The Baron of Drakensfeld has been accused of the kidnapping.
  3. The Baron's brother, Sir Roderick, recently conspired with a Necromancer to murder the Baron, but failed.
  4. Arowen's father has threatened to wage war against the Baron if she's not back by the end of the week.
  5. Her father and the Baron are both offering substantial rewards to the man who brings her home.
Unsurprisingly, I decide to try and be that man, and it's not utterly implausible, given that I roll up the following character:
Strength 11
Agility 10
Power 8
It turns out that I also know some magic, which makes it a little less absurd that I was on the hunt for adventure despite being weaponless and unarmoured. But now I can afford a short sword, light armour and a shield, so I'll be able to put up more of a fight.

I have the option of reporting what I know to the local Seneschal. While I must admit to a little curiosity about the precise nature of the contrivance that will make this a fruitless course of action, I'm not willing to waste whatever time, Power or other in-game resources it would cost me to do so. What might be worth doing is seeking rumours, which I can only do on my first attempt at the adventure. Doing so involves rolling a die to determine which paragraph I check, so if I go by the rules, there are five sections in the book that I will never be allowed to read. No, not quite - it turns out that after learning a rumour I have the option of turning back to the 'roll for a rumour' section. But given that it takes a whole day to find out just one of them, reading the lot would guarantee failure. But that's still 1% of the book going to waste.

Investigating the scene of the abduction will take twice as long as returning to where I was when I saw the kidnappers and following their trail, and I can't afford to waste any more time. But an arbitrary roll of the dice determines whether I'm able to find where I was, and I don't manage it. So I can waste a day, waste a day in a different manner, or just blunder into the forest and hope to find a way into the Drakenstooth, the mountain revealed by the kidnappers to be Roderick's base of operations, before I forget how to breathe or fatally concuss myself walking into trees.

I've been hacking my way into the forest for a bit when I hear some eerily beautiful singing. Bound to be a Siren or equivalent. I can head for it, try to take a detour, or squander further time by backtracking to the road, whence I can seek the crime scene or return to the town or crouch down and rub gravel into my hair. Probably futile, but I'll go for the detour. Yup, the singer is not so easily evaded, but I panic and spend the rest of the day running to somewhere random.

By the time I recover whatever I have in place of wits, I'm deep in the forest, the Drakenstooth towering in the east. A random encounter occurs, three Goblins riding a Giant Stoat (or Weasel - evidently my character never learned the rhyme that aids in distinguishing mustelidae) into the clearing. I hear their approach in time to hide behind a tree, but the beast gets my scent, so I fire off a Slumber spell. It takes out the Stoat/Weasel (the illustration doesn't show the end of the creature's tail, so I still can't identify it), but I have to fight the Goblins.

One oddity of the combat rules is that if I score a sufficiently good hit, I get to strike another blow immediately. That could make sense in one-on-one fights, but the likelihood of my hitting a Goblin so hard that neither of his friends can attack me either seems a little low. It happens once, though. Would be twice, except that the second time is as I deliver the coup de grace to the final Goblin. The various Defence bonuses I have, plus the Goblins' own ineptitude, keep me from taking any damage in the fight, though one of them did almost manage it. I relieve my attackers of their money and a horn trumpet, and head east.

Before long I find myself at the foot of the mountain. The cliff face is too steep to climb and too big to search for secret doors, and I have to make another random encounter check. Great. Another party of Goblins on a Giant Stoat/Weasel, and this lot spot me immediately. I blow another 2 Power on a Slumber Spell, and again need only fight the Goblins. Ten rounds of tedious dice-rolling later, the Goblins are dead and I am unscathed. They even have identical treasure to the last lot.

I follow the cliff to the north-east, and catch sight of four Goblins guarding a door. I have the option of blowing the horn I acquired from the first lot of Goblins. Of course, it might be for summoning reinforcements. But if it were, wouldn't the Goblins have used it to call for help once I KOed their Weasel/Stoat? You'd think so, but based on the calibre of what I've played of this adventure so far, I wouldn't bet on it.

I keep quiet and just charge at the Goblin guards. Another tiresome fight, enlivened only by the note to 'ignore any reference to a Giant Stoat' in the instruction on where to turn should I be overcome by my pathetic opponents. One of them does actually manage to wound me during the fight, but apart from that it's the usual grind. If it turns out that I can't get through the door, and should have surrendered in order to be taken into the mountain, I will be displeased.

One of the Goblins has a key, so I may be all right. The ground outside the door is covered in the tracks of Goblins and rodents of unusual size (neither Stoats nor Weasels are rodents, Mr. Vernon). And the door isn't even locked. Beyond it is a passage, with a branch to the south leading to a room where another three Goblins are too engrossed in a game of dice to have noticed me. I can try looking for secret doors here, and I hope that that's just an opportunity to attract the Goblins' attention, because if I have to find hidden tunnels to make any meaningful progress, this is going to be even more bothersome.

For an experiment, I attack the Goblins. One of them wounds me twice, but I do prevail, so there's no need for me to pay no attention to that Giant Stoat behind the curtain. After the fight, I can search for secret doors (yay), pull the almost-certainly-not-attached-to-an-alarm-bell rope dangling by the east wall, read a parchment on the table, or return to the main passage. I check out the parchment, which turns out to be a magic scroll, though the Goblins were just writing their scores in the dice game on the back. I cast the Healing spell on it straight off, and then try checking for secret doors. There are none, but I attract attention. Goblins, thousands of 'em.

Regaining consciousness the next day, I discover that I am now in a mine, with nothing but a loin cloth and a pick axe. Mind you, the 'if this has already happened to you on more than TWO occasions' direction fills me with more foreboding than the actual situation.

There are seven other prisoners, none of them remotely communicative. After a while, two Goblin Guards arrive bearing scraps of food. Time for another Slumber spell. It works, and my fellow captives shred the sleeping Goblins. One of them has a key, which I take once the other inmates have used it to gain access to the stores.

There's only one way out. It leads to a Goblin-filled hall with five other exits. The 'sneak through' option looks a lot like the number for 'get surrounded and knocked out, and wake up a prisoner', and I'm not convinced I'd manage a particularly good bluff at being a messenger, what with the 'loin cloth and pick axe' ensemble, so it's going to have to be an Invisibility spell. And I have to make an Agility roll to not get bumped into and discovered, but I successfully reach the closest exit clockwise, which leads to a locked door. The key fits, and the door opens into an armoury, but before I can equip myself afresh, the source of endless joy that is the Fatemaster random encounter system has three Goblins enter the passage from the other end.

To conserve Power, I try to hide. They spot me, but owing to the book's use of one-section-fits-all encounters, the noise of the fight won't attract any attention. I've not had time to rearm myself, and the Goblins get some good rolls, so I wind up overpowered. But since I didn't use magic, they don't know I can, so rather than slitting my throat while I'm helpless, they just club me senseless and sling me back in the mine.

Sleep restores Power, and being knocked out has a similar effect, so when I come round again, I'm able to cast Healing a couple of times. When the food arrives today, I risk straightforward violence rather than another spell. My striking down one guard inspires the other prisoners to tear the other apart, and I soon have my freedom and another key.

Back to the hall. Invisibility again. I sneak to the closest exit anticlockwise. Two doors lead from this passage. The first opens into an untidy room containing a bed and a chest. I take a chance on forcing the chest, and find some money in it. Dare I risk napping to replenish my Power? My chances of success are negligible by now anyway, so I give it a go.

Not the smartest thing I've ever done. The room's owner, the biggest Goblin in Drakenstooth, comes home for a rest, demands to know who's sleeping in his bed, and then spots that I've eaten his porridge stolen his treasure. Next thing I know, it's tomorrow and I'm locked in the mines again. This is my last chance.

More Healing. Attack a food-bearing Goblin and let the other prisoners do the rest (you'd think by now that the Goblins would have started sending larger parties, or the prisoners wouldn't need my lead). Invisibility. I fail the Agility roll in the hall, and get recaptured again. This time I come round chained to the wall in a torture chamber, and I'm guessing that the man preparing for my return to consciousness is that Necromancer.

Needless to say, things go rather downhill for me from here.

To be honest, I think if I'd tried playing that first copy of this book rather than just leafing through it, I'd never have wanted to acquire a copy of my own. There may be some good stuff in there somewhere, but on the playability front it's just a turgid slog.

1 comment:

  1. Ed,
    I was never knew about the fatemaster books, before your post! I read your first few paragraphs and had to stop so i would not hit any spoilers. i found the books online and will play them before i finish reading this post.
    keep up the good work,