Friday, 14 June 2013

Greed, Heedless of Caution, Lures Many a Man to His Death

Quite some time has passed since I played the first Sagard the Barbarian gamebook here, but book 2, The Green Hydra, has finally come up on the schedule. As with the first book, I first experienced it as an online scan, and went on to acquire a somewhat defaced copy in a trade. My memories of playing it don't go much beyond a map (possibly of a maze) with section numbers on it. I seem to recall having had some kind of problem with it, though I couldn't say whether that was because of the legibility (or lack thereof) of the scan, or some perceived flaw with the book itself.

As I won the first book, and characters may be carried across from one to the next, I start my new adventure with the magic sword.I acquired from the Valkyrie, and no confusion about my experience score. Anyone starting in this book has a bit of a problem, experience-wise, as the amendments made to the rules since the first book are inadequate. Sagard starts this book as a Level 3 fighter, though he was Level 2 at the beginning of book 1. Any remotely competent player who made it through The Ice Dragon will have gained the 20 experience marks required to go up to Level 3, and probably already have made some progress towards the total required to attain Level 4. Newcomers appear to start at 0 experience, even though they already fight like someone with a score of at least 20. It's not entirely unlike having a student loan to pay off. The rules also still contain some no-longer-relevant details about trophies and the Ordeal of Courage.

The transition from the first book is a little awkward. At the end of that one, I declared my intention to spend the night celebrating with my tribe, and set off alone to find my destiny in the morning. At the start of TGH, I'm accompanying a team of my tribesmen on a trading mission. And comparing the maps in both books reveals the village to have moved a significant distance north.

The red X shows roughly where the village was on the book 1 map

Some distance south of the portion of the map reproduced above, the trading party is ambushed by Hukkas (stereotypical war paint-wearing, spear-wielding warriors). I have no problem defeating my attacker, who flees when I break his spear, but he and I are the only survivors. Relieving my late companions of food that will no longer be of any use to them, I regain what little health I lost in the fight. Searching the other dead, I discover that one of them is no Hukka, nor even a human. It's a humanoid reptile in armour, with a hieroglyph-inscribed medallion of volcanic rock that I take as a trophy. I also find a number of portable trinkets liable to fetch a decent price from the traders we were seeking. Might as well try to salvage something from this ill-fated expedition, so I head on towards where we were going.

Not far away is a Hukka canoe, which I take a chance on using. The risk of being spotted on the waterways seems less of a problem than the possibility of stepping into one of the traps that the Hukkas like to set along the trails through the marsh (which, in this book, is actually a marsh rather than a frozen wasteland - maybe it thawed out in the spring). For some reason, paddling through the swamp restores more health than eating rations, or would if I weren't already at full health. The sound of drumming alerts me to the fact that the Hukkas are on a death hunt. Evidently the warrior who escaped has told the rest of his tribe what happened, and they mean to avenge his spear. I paddle faster.

A woman calls to me from the shore, offering to heal my pains. Not sure if she means that literally, or as a euphemism for killing me or making love. Before I can ask for clarification, the canoe hits a log. A 'log' that splits into two tooth-lined halves, which bite a massive chunk out of the prow as I dive overboard. I surface to see that the canoe-crunching creature is a crocodile-headed dinosaur, or Crocosaurus. And it's a Level 5 Fighter, but a slow mover, so I can get in two attacks for every one it makes. A tough fight, nevertheless, and if I survive, I'll be hoping that the woman on the bank was speaking plainly.

I get half-killed in the process of completely killing the Crocosaurus. The woman on the shore has now lit a lantern, which reveals her to be quite old. She offers to wash my wounds, and I decide to trust her. As she leads me to her hut, she explains that the Crocosaurus kept her alive as bait, and she used to be quite the looker. She treats my wounds with an ointment that restores me to full health, and transforms into a beautiful young woman. I fall asleep before I get an opportunity to investigate this phenomenon.

In the morning, I am alone. A note tells me to follow the trail of coins, which I do. As far as I can tell, I collect the coins as I go, but it looks as if money is meaningless for the purposes of this adventure, as no details are given of how much I acquire. Another note accompanies the final coin, giving me directions to the Ancient Road, stating that the Hukkas won't give me any more trouble, and claiming that we will meet again.

While somewhat overgrown, the Ancient Road is still in pretty decent condition, and by sundown I can see my intended destination on the horizon. Not wishing to be ambushed by nocturnal bandits, I make camp for the night, and must choose between sheltering in the surrounding forest and going to the nearby ancient ruins. Why is 'not the ruins' even an option? In this style of adventure, not investigating mysterious ruins is like not breathing in on a regular basis. The adventure has 101 sections, but could easily have been made a more aesthetically pleasing 100 by the elimination of that particular non-choice.

As I approach the ruins, I am attacked by a trio of the reptilian chappies who had a representative among the Hukkas, and belatedly remember that they're called Sliths. For some rather ominous reason they won't turn their backs on the ruins, so I don't get completely surrounded, but I do have to fight them simultaneously. The three of them collectively do almost as much damage as the Crocosaurus, but I'd have been in worse trouble if any of them had thought to use their poisoned daggers rather than their scimitars.

The ruin turns out to be an abandoned temple, containing statues of cyclopean or multi-limbed deities and cloven-hoofed demons.

In the absence of any evidence to the contrary,
I'm guessing that it was occupied by Harryhausen-worshippers.

Not entirely surprisingly, sleep brings some pretty freaky dreams. Scantily-clad priestesses chant a song with some pretty iffy rhymes ('lad' rhymed with 'spread'?), indicating that I've been chosen to halt the spread of the Slith, defeat some undead, and smite the Hydra's Eye. Don't ask how I was able to spot the capitalisation in a phrase sung to me in a dream.

I wake to find a golden chalice of glowing liquid (not yak's milk - I'll explain why I bothered to specify that in around a month) at my feet. This is Ambroth, a mystical potion that not only restores me to full health, but will also repeat the trick in the midst of any one battle. I should probably be a bit concerned that the authors think I'm likely to need that.

The following day I reach the declining city of Suthorp. In exchange for something shiny, a boy guides me to the shop of Chaga the trader and advises me to accept what I'm offered. Chaga is surprised to see a lone Ratikkan, so I explain about the ambush, and he's pleased to hear of the Hukka casualties. He offers me a hundred gold pieces for the trinkets, and the book has me haggle, to general consternation. He warns me to reconsider, and I have the option of backing down, but now I've been placed in this situation, I'm refusing to be intimidated.

Everyone else in the shop attacks me. Possibly one at a time - the book specified the simultaneous attacks by the Sliths, but here it just says that I may attack the men in any order I want. Then again, it does say 'none of them could stand alone against you in combat', which implies that they all go for me at the same time. But a combat with six participants is going to be a lot of faff, so to simplify matters I start off by hurling poisoned daggers at the two who are likely to be most bother: the Level 2 Tehnite veteran and the fat Yatian peasant, who's only Level 1, but will take a while to kill. The others strike back, but only the thin Yatian peasant wounds me. He's only Level 0, but I may have to use the last dagger on him, as he has more Hit Points than the three non-Yatians combined, and will take a long time to put down. Still, for now I'll focus on the Level 1 Fexian, as he's the most dangerous foe still standing. It takes two rounds to fell him, during which time nobody inflicts so much as a scratch on me. The Level 0 Gyptic henchman succumbs just as quickly (though with better rolls I could have killed him with one blow), and after that it's just me versus skinny. He doesn't manage to hit me at all during the six rounds it takes me to incapacitate him. Perhaps I should have held onto those daggers.

Chaga now offers me a more favourable deal: anything in his store in return for his life. A crowd of would-be-looters forms at the door, three formidable-looking Tehnite snake-worshippers in their midst. If I want the loot, I may have a tougher fight on my hands. But 1500 gold pieces' worth of jewellery (apparently I'm an expert at pricing, among other things) would help compensate the tribe for my deceased companions.

I go for the money. The Tehnites attack. This could get nasty. It does. Even with the complete restoration of my health the first time I get brought to death's door, they're that bit too proficient, and I am heavily outnumbered. One is dead, and another badly hurt, by the time I succumb, but dead is dead. And to add insult to injury, the title of the section containing the fight (each individual section of a Sagard book has its own title) implies that I wanted the loot for myself, rather than for my people. If that was supposed to be the intention, why did the book bother to mention the tribe when telling me about the cash?

Still, flicking through the book, I see that the former owner with the biro has all but rendered that map illegible, so maybe it's for the best that I failed before I could be provoked to new heights of rage by having to try and decipher the text under that idiot's scrawlings.

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