Friday, 26 April 2013

Don't Allow One Touch

I owned the second half of J.H. Brennan's Sagas of the Demonspawn long before I acquired the first two books. During one winter sale at Chiesmans (earlier than the one in which I got my first Tunnels & Trolls adventures, as the book department was still on the top floor), they had several reduced gamebooks, including the last two SotD titles. Those weren't the only gamebooks I bought in that sale, but I'll name the others when I get around to playing them.

Anyway, my first experience of playing Fire*Wolf was book 3, Demondoom. Though I didn't so much 'play' as 'read, ignoring the rules'. Despite the odd incidental fatality I eventually made it to the climax, but couldn't complete the adventure, even after referring to the ylgninnuc dedocne Hints Page provided for readers who struggled with this 'most difficult of the first three adventures'. Not even explicit instructions on what to do with the items (or was it information?) gathered during the adventure can help a reader who's found a viable route to the endgame that bypasses all the item/data-gathering sequences. Frankly, I'm amazed that I retained the SotD books I had during the period in the 1990s when I got rid of a lot of my gamebooks, let alone bothering to complete the series.

Still, I have them, and I chose to play them for the blog, so I might as well get on with it. When this book starts, Fire*Wolf has a relatively comfortable life. A decade has passed since the events of the first two adventures, and it's been pretty peaceful thanks to Fire*Wolf's having awakened King Voltar the Magnificent from a centuries-long mystical sleep: Voltar is a sufficiently powerful sorcerer to have kept the Demonspawn from troubling his subjects these past ten years. But now there are signs of new trouble - five prominent members of Harn's Ruling Houses have disappeared in mysterious circumstances during the past few months. Also, there's a new gamebook in the series, and there's not much chance of its being 250 sections of 'everything's going fine, Fire*Wolf is prosperous and contented, roll against his Luck to see if he manages to get home from work before it starts to rain'.

Right now, Fire*Wolf isn't particularly concerned about the disappearances, his thoughts currently preoccupied with his impending marriage to the Lady Freya. And how does the groom-to-be look?
Strength 32
Speed 24
Stamina 40
Courage 24
Skill 10
Luck 48
Charm 56
Attraction 40
Life 274
Woefully below-average - clearly the easy life has taken its toll. Not that my chances of success would be remotely higher if he had decent stats, but those low scores do increase the likelihood that if there's a scroll bar to the side of this blog post when you read it, it's close to the bottom even as you read this paragraph.

So, Fire*Wolf is on his way home from a banquet at his prospective father-in-law's place. The formal paternal blessing on the imminent nuptials has been bestowed, and Fire*Wolf is eagerly anticipating getting to consummate the marriage. Which may be why he doesn't notice the Assassin before the ambush takes place.

One benefit of being unable to get rid of a cursed sword is that you're certain to have a weapon handy even when ambling home from a banquet. Fire*Wolf isn't completely without hope in this fight, though the Assassin's 5 in 36 chance of striking a lethal blow with his poisoned dagger each round does enhance the threat he poses. Oh, and whereas in previous adventures an opponent's Life Points equalled the total of his/her/its other attributes, this is not the case here (or someone got their maths wrong). As this makes the Assassin easier to kill (in theory, at least), I'm willing to overlook the discrepancy.

The Assassin's Skill is high enough that he only needs to get above 0 on two dice to hit. Third time round, the Assassin manages his only-on-a-double-six garotte attack, which halves Fire*Wolf's Life Points. That's actually less effective than his regular attack, doing almost 40 points less damage than he'd have inflicted with his dagger (though if Fire*Wolf had been a lot tougher to start with, and not already weakened by the first two rounds of combat, that could have been a much more devastating attack). In the fourth round the Assassin rolls what he needs to fatally poison his opponent. And with Fire*Wolf's sub-par Luck score, the 'get to redo the battle you just lost' option doesn't come into play, either.

The restart option contained within the book's 'you are dead' section is less surreal in its outworkings than the one in book 2, but in this instance it's quite amusing. If I wanted to try again so soon, I would have to roll two dice. If I got 5 or below, I'd have to go back to section 1. On 6 or above, I'd be able to pick up from the section I was on when Fire*Wolf died. Which is section 1. (That also means that any death resulting from a poor decision, such as a wrong answer in the 'Gnome of variable mass' puzzle I vaguely remember, must lead to a restart from section 1, because a roll high enough to allow restarting from later on would automatically take the reader to the 'that was a dumb thing to do: you die' section rather than the point at which they made the erroneous decision.)

I'd be interested to see how these books would come across if somebody were to change the system to something less cumbersome and more playable. There may be a decent saga in here, but it's not easy to get invested in the adventures of a character whose chances of survival are so poor. I imagine it would be even trickier for anyone who wasn't letting a computer handle most of the convolutions of the rules.

1 comment:

  1. "if there's a scroll bar to the side of this blog post when you read it, it's close to the bottom even as you read this paragraph."

    LOL! Yes, it's easy to see if your adventure was successful or not, isn't it.