My previous playthrough followed more or less the same path as my first one (but avoiding the errors I made back then). It would probably be easy to do the same thing again here. But that would also be a bit dull, especially as this is a book with more than one viable route to victory. The other path is significantly more difficult, but the same quirk that had me getting into an avoidable fight against a Manslayer Robot just to make my Starship Traveller blog post a little more interesting is also nagging at me to take the more hazardous route for variety's sake.
This adventure is set in Hachiman, the part of the FF world where all the Japanese legends and tropes reside. Ikiru, the Master of Shadows, has gained possession of the Shogun's sword, Singing Death. If he is able to uncover the sword's secret, he will be able to rule over Hachiman. Without the sword, the Shogun is losing control of the land, so he has appointed me, his champion, to travel to Onikaru, Ikiru's domain, and retrieve Singing Death. He can't tell me its secret, because that would
As I'm taking the more difficult route, I slightly tweak my stats, swapping one of the Stamina dice for the Luck one to give me
and for my special Samurai skill I pick Iaijutsu (fast draw).
I set off to the east, passing through a region that has yet to be affected by the growing unrest, and then encountering some charcoal-burners, one of whom insults me and the Shogun. I'd forgotten that the first encounter on this route involves reinforcing the class structure, making sure that the peasants know their place and show proper deference to their social superiors. Personally, I find it a bit distasteful. At least it's possible (and, I think, better in game terms) to resolve the situation without resorting to violence. I 'just' boss them about (not just the impudent peasant, but also the ones who were urging him not to be rude), and gain Honour for not massacring them. How nice.
Further on I catch sight of a hut, which turns out to be occupied by Yoro Ginsei, who villainously refused to kill himself when his former employer was found to be plotting against the Shogun. He doesn't like Samurai, and mocks the Shogun before challenging me to single combat. I accept the challenge, and my fast draw ability allows me to strike a blow that impairs his fighting skill. Even so, he manages to wound me a couple of times in the ensuing battle, but ultimately I ensure that he won't say nasty things about my boss any more.
Inside the hut I find some illustrated silk screens (one of which implies that I've just orphaned two boys, but that's not dwelt on at all) and a concealed cupboard which contains a black chest, on which is the warning, 'Beware the breath of the dragon'. Though I take precautions when opening the chest, a puppet dragon pops out, jack-in-the-box-style, and gives me a faceful of orange smoke that causes my eyes to itch and roll around. Beneath the dragon are a key and a parchment, which I take before fumbling my way out of the hut, more or less blinded by the magnitude of the eye-rolling I'm doing.
Once I'm outside, one of my eyes starts more or less behaving normally again, but my vision is impaired badly enough to cost me a couple of points of Skill. Nevertheless, it was worth it for the sake of getting that parchment, which shows a safe route through the Spider Fens that I'll be traversing later on.
After a restful night in the woods, I continue on my way. An elderly charcoal-burner catches up to me, pleading to be allowed to escort me to a place of safety so as to wipe out his family's disgrace. Over the course of the day, he leads me to a picturesque village, after which he collapses and dies. I'm not going to say anything about the culture here: given what I know about the village from past attempts at the book, I must concede the possibility that he's been leading me into a trap.
Not that anything seems to be amiss in the village. People are just going about their business, and some of the older villagers are gathering at the headman's house. I decide to join them, and they invite me to stay with them until their business is concluded. They then ignore me and start debating whether or not to stop planting crops. Perturbed at the bizarre topic, I make an excuse and depart, much to the elders' disappointment.
As I head away from the village, I catch sight of the old man who led me here, standing behind a wall and grinning at me. Before I can comment on his remarkable recovery from being dead, his head detaches itself from his body and flies towards me, spitting venom, and I am forced to defend myself. It wounds me once before I smash it, and I put some distance between myself and the Village of the Undead before settling down for the night.
The following day I start to cross some plains, and encounter the Black Elk of the Marcher Lands, which hasn't been seen in at least seventy years. It'll never be seen again, after the fight we have (though it brings me down to 1 Stamina before I manage to kill it). I take some of the carcass as extra provisions, and for a more durable souvenir, also help myself to an antler that got broken off during the battle, noting as I do how much it looks like a bone serpent.
The sight of a massive cliff brings me to the realisation that I've gone the wrong way. For certain values of 'wrong', that is - I can't survive to the end of the book without either that broken antler or an item that lies on the path followed by a character who goes west right at the start of the adventure. Still, it takes two days to get back on track towards my destination (and presumably also two nights: I gained Stamina for the rest after encountering Ginsei, and for the rest after fleeing the Village of the Undead, but there's no Stamina boost for the two days it takes me to get back on track, so either I've been staying up all night to keep from wasting more time or Smith & Thomson have been needlessly inconsistent about healing).
Eventually I reach a ford across the Hiang-Kiang River. There's a slime-covered pier of rock, with still, green water above it and frothing white water below. I stay close to the white water, as I don't like the look of that slime. Even so, it's slippery underfoot. Two green creatures with flat-topped heads rise from the green depths and start to head towards me. Given what's been said about the treacherous footing, making a run for dry land appears unwise, so I'm going to have to make my stand here.
Bad choice. My being off-balance gives one of the creatures a free hit, and it throws me into the foaming rapids, where sharpened stakes have been concealed to surprise unwary travellers. The damage done is not fatal, though, and I manage to get onto more stable footing before the next attack. My opponents are Kappa (nothing like the coral men of the same name from the fourth Golden Dragon Adventure), and three of them go for me simultaneously.
Usually when fighting multiple opponents at the same time, I target the one with the highest Skill first. However, metagaming suggests that a different strategy would be best here. Circumstances will change as soon as I bring one of them down to 4 Stamina, and the extra damage I can inflict thanks to my fast draw ability would enable me to do that to the Kappa with the lowest Skill just as quickly as to the one with the lowest Stamina. Add in the fact that my chances of hitting the one with the lowest Skill are slightly better, and he's obviously the one to go for.
Yep, I'd pretty much be dead by now if I'd gone for either of the others. But I'm still alive by the time I bring the one I'm attacking down to 4 Stamina. At this point I notice the reinforcements who are gathering, and realise that I'm going to have to change my tactics. Going on the defensive doesn't help, but when I knock one of the Kappa off-balance, the water in the concavity atop its head spills out and, making choking noises, that Kappa rapidly submerges. Deducing that they can't breathe without water on the tops of their heads, I give the others the same treatment until they return to the depths.
Once I've caught my breath and eaten enough to no longer be at death's door, I notice that I'm being watched from under the water. Remembering legends that the Kappa can speak human languages (and former attempts at the adventure in which I acquired an important item here), I talk to them. One of them throws a trident at me, but misses. The trident hits a tree, and I grab it and point it at the Kappa as I resume my speech. Eventually one of them offers me a phoenix-shaped ruby if I'll shut up and leave them alone, and I accept.
The route onwards leads over a ridge of slate, which begins to tremble. There's a cave nearby, but I'm not sure that sheltering from earth tremors is a particularly smart thing to do, so I just lie flat on the ground. The cave roof falls in, confirming that I made the right choice there. Just as the text is trying to make me eat, whether I want to or not, another tremor commences. There's a second cave nearby, and as it was stable enough to survive the first quake (and I'd rather avoid the fight that I remember will come if I stay outside any longer), I run into it.
The cave is a grotto, filled with pink chalcedony flowers. On top of them is a suit of armour, which I pick up, but then something hits me from behind. Oh, great. It's the Groundhog I'd hoped to avoid (and this one is nothing like Punxsutawney Phil - though I guess I do wind up in pretty much the same situation regardless of what actions I take). While my Skill is slightly higher than the Groundhog's, its Stamina is significantly more than mine, so the fight drags on for a long while. The odds are that, with as many rolls as it'll take to resolve the fight, I'm going to lose some Attack Rounds along the way, and that's what happens. Enough rounds to kill me, in fact.
Well, I knew I was taking the more hazardous route when I made the decision back at the start. No point in complaining that doing things the tricky way caused me to fail.