Friday, 19 April 2013

This Was All Mine Until He Stole It From Me

Four weeks ago I played both of the second pair of Sutherland and Farrell's Double Game books, The City of Shadows, simultaneously. At that time I wrote up my experiences in book 2 of that pairing, Bardik - the Thief, so as to maintain a little suspense in the write-up of the companion book, Coreus - the Prince. After all, Coreus was still alive at the point when Bardik died, so if I'd written the Coreus post first, that would have given away how Bardik died, making the bulk of the Bardik entry rather predictable.

When it comes to generating Coreus' stats, Agility is the costly attribute. It's also likely to be an important one, so I take a bit of a hit on every other attribute to ensure slightly better than 50% odds of not tripping over my feet at an inopportune moment.
Strength 8
Agility 7
Luck 9
Magic 8
Battleaxe skill 9
That Magic score keeps me from knowing a couple of the available spells, but neither of them look all that important.

Anyway, I am the son of the chief of the Hukor tribe, and we've been driven close to extinction over the course of a centuries-long war with the Marl tribe. Making peace is apparently not an option, so our only hope lies in summoning the spirit of my mighty ancestor Alrik, who will be able to do something unspecified to assure our victory. Except that to summon him I must use four sacred artefacts - three rods and a sceptre - that were pilfered by a low-life named Ashrak just the other day. Consequently I have been sent to follow him back to Koragon, infamous City of Shadows, and reclaim the stolen items.

The adventure starts as I arrive outside Koragon. There's quite a queue at the gate, so I head around the walls to another entrance, which is less busy. Not being a city person, I get a little claustrophobic, and lose my bearings. I also get hungry, but rather than risk getting really lost searching for a Hukor restaurant, I follow the crowds: today is market day, so most people will be heading for the market, and there's no way the market won't have food stalls.

My plan works, and when I realise that I'm hungry (touch of authorial sloppiness there), I buy some bread and sausage from a stall. For a while after that I wander around the market, and as it gets late, stalls begin to close. Observing that not all the traders from out of town are heading for the gates, I ask one about good places to stay, and he gives me directions to the Black Swan tavern in Outsiders' Quarter. This establishment has a chatty proprietress, who tells me that my money is only good in Outsiders' Quarter, and the rest of the city has its own currency. I'm sceptical: gold is still gold, whichever part of the city I might be in, but I keep my doubts to myself.

Aware that approaching the authorities almost never helps in gamebooks, I start searching for Ashrak on my own. Making enquiries at the market (multiple days are market day), I get a couple of possible leads, and decide to check out the Caravan Market. The thief travelled here in a camel train, and if I can find the man who brought him here, I might be able to find out where he went next. It takes a while, but eventually I find some camels with a familiar brand. The owner is initially uncooperative, but a few gold nuggets make him more talkative, and he says that Ashrak probably lives in South Quarter.

Proceeding to South Quarter, I find its atmosphere even more troubling than that of the rest of the city. Several dodgy-looking individuals start to tail me, and I decide to leave while I'm still in one piece. This is not a place to be if I don't know my way around. Back at the Black Swan, I talk with the owner, asking about local art collectors. She names Serphan, a member of the city's ruling council, so I decide to investigate him the following day.

The next morning I head for David's Quarter, the posh part of town. Finding Serphan's house is easy enough, and when I spot a side gate that has carelessly been left open, I decide to go in. Catching sight of some patrolling soldiers, I conceal myself in the bushes. I turn my attention to the house, and catch sight of a furtive figure near a window. He's obviously not supposed to be here either, and when he spots me, I beckon him across. It turns out that he's a local thief by the name of Bardik, who only came in here to evade an angry mob. Aware that having an ally who knows the area could make things a lot easier, I seek his assistance, and he agrees to help me.

He accompanies me back to the Black Swan to work out a plan of action, and suggests that Ashrak might have sold the stolen artefacts in the Religious Gifts and Artefacts Shop on Penn Isle. We go there, and find the proprietor, Henryk Soburg, unwilling to talk. I try to intimidate him - shouldn't be too difficult, what with being an axe-wielding barbarian. Soburg says he's handled worse than the two of us, but rapidly changes his tune when Bardik stops spectating and adds his own threats to mine. He says that Ashrak did bring the rods and sceptre to him, but he (Soburg) refused to buy them. The merchant then comments that Serphan is just the sort of 'no questions asked' type to have bought them. Excellent work, Bardik: we've now established that we were in the right place before we went away to try and find out where we should be.

Bardik points out that Serphan has some of the best security in all Koragon, but it'll take more than that to deter me. In order to get a better idea of the security arrangements, we go to Frem's Theatre (currently putting on Midsolstice Morn's Fantasia by Peare Hakess (doubtless a relation of Malliwi Rapesheake)) and sneak onto the roof, which gives us a good view of Serphan's house and grounds. The back garden seems the best way in.

Heading back to Serphan's, we scale the wall and creep through the undergrowth. The text has me wondering why Serphan has allowed his garden to become so overgrown, and it occurs to me that the vegetation might conceal some unpleasant surprises for intruders, so when Bardik hurries across the open ground towards the house, I go with him. He's displeased at this, but we attract no attention, and get into the house without difficulty.

A quick look around the ground floor leads us to discover four guards at the foot of the stairs. They start to move away from us, so rather than risk attracting their attention by creating an unnecessary distraction, we creep upstairs. Despite my low Dexterity, I manage to avoid making any noise, and we evade a couple of patrolling guards on the first floor. I become aware of a strange sensation, and while Bardik tries to dismiss it as fear, I am convinced that some sixth sense is drawing me towards the rods. My ally rolls his eyes, but allows me to follow my instincts just in case I'm onto something.

Slipping into a near-trance state, and vaguely aware that in this condition I'm going to be no good at all in a fight, I am compelled to approach a wall. For a moment Bardik gives me a 'told you so' look, but then some thiefly instinct of his kicks in, and he manages to open a secret door into what turns out to be Serphan's treasure store (annoyingly referred to as 'a veritable Dinalla's Cave' to maintain the authors' anagram-based faux-otherworldliness). For some reason the draw of the rods has ceased, so I have to search the room for them. By the time I do discover them, Bardik has helped himself to a substantial quantity of the other treasures lying around, and is colourfully expressing his regret at not being able to fit any more into his bag. Seeing that I've got what I came for, he suggests that we should move on.

"Have you set the staircase alight?" asks the book. I don't think I want to know what kind of 'logic' could have led to my choosing arson as a means of distracting guards in a house I was expecting to have to spend a long time searching. But I chose the less pyromaniacal option, and am thus not forced to leap out of a window at this point.

We creep downstairs until startled by a noise, at which point both of us leap to the ground floor. The source of the noise is on our right, the exit to our left. I still need to find the sceptre, so leaving would be a bit premature. Investigating the sound, we discover Serphan, flanked by several guards whom he restrains from attacking because he wants to see his 'beauties' deal with us. These are strange venomous Karaza beasts, summoned into being when Serphan throws a couple of eggs on the floor, and we each have to deal with one. My opponent only hits me once, and my Luck is enough to keep me from being affected by its paralysing ichor. Bardik takes a few more blows, but also remains functional.

Annoyingly, the book then has us smash a window to escape, denying me the opportunity to interrogate Serphan about what he's done with the sceptre. Sentries start to close in on us as we seek a way out of the grounds, and there are three men between us and the wall. I'm not convinced that evasive manoeuvres will help much with hostiles on all sides, but there is a viable alternative: my Magic score is high enough that I know the spell Stun Cloud, which should take car of the trio in our way.

Well, I imagine it would if the book gave me the option of casting it, but instead it has me throw my axe at one of the sentries, and forces us to fight the other two. Despite having pretty mediocre stats, the sentries fight well, and in his weakened state, Bardik does not survive. Still, I manage to fell my opponent before Bardik's killer can turn on me, and he's taken enough damage that I only have to hit him once to finish him off.

I roll 11, which is a miss, and the sentry gets in a blow, bringing me close to death. Nevertheless, the odds are still in my favour. Not that odds can be relied upon: I roll another 11, missing again, and the sentry is not so unlucky. Yes, I lasted a whole two combat rounds longer than Bardik, and wound up killed by the very same man who slew him.

To cap things off, I inadvertently glimpsed a section which reveals that the sceptre isn't in the house anyway. So when the book had me make the seemingly irrational decision to leave, that could have been because I sensed that there was nothing to be gained by staying. But if I somehow knew that there was no point in hanging around any longer, it would have been helpful to have the text actually let me (the reader) know that I (Coreus) knew. That way I could have avoided at least some of the fighting that ultimately led to both my characters' deaths. Between that and the lack of opportunity to use Stun Cloud, I've rather gone off the adventure, which I'd been enjoying until then

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