Monday, 24 June 2013

Should I Have Your Ship Standing By?

During the weekend I replayed the original version of Flight from the Dark, the first Lone Wolf gamebook. I still want to try and develop a character over the course of at least the first sequence of LW adventures here, but I'd rather not yet make a third attempt at the Mongoose reissue of Flight, and I didn't want to dedicate another blog entry to a book I've actually beaten, so I decided to replay book 1 'off-screen', and start the blog posts about the latest version of Lone Wolf with his second adventure, Fire on the Water. It's strangely appropriate, given that (as I previously explained) my playing the series commenced with book 2.

When replaying Flight, I slipped back into old patterns with remarkable ease. This Lone Wolf initially travelled in a somewhat counter-intuitive direction, as a result of which he was able to befriend a young magician named Banedon (much like my first Mongoose Lone Wolf did about half way through this attempt). Following a run-in with an undead pest known as a Vordak, and a brief subterranean journey during which he was attacked by an oversized burrowing insect (and would have died but for his Chainmail Waistcoat), he encountered the wounded soldier mentioned around a third of the way through this post, after which he followed more or less the exact same path described in the rest of that blog entry. Except for the bit where he managed to avoid being attacked by the Winged Serpent, and received the key to the lock on the exit from the tomb.

Anyway, he made it to the end of the adventure, and is now all set to try and acquire the magic sword needed for killing the leader of the invading forces. His stats?
Combat Skill: 14
Endurance: 21
Kai Disciplines: Hunting, Sixth Sense, Healing, Mindshield, Weaponskill (Sword), and for the 'already beaten one book' bonus, Animal Kinship, since without it I'd need to follow a very narrow path in order to have even a slim chance of surviving one particular bottleneck.

As before, I travel to the quay and meet someone claiming to be the first mate on the ship that is to take me to Holmgard, who seeks proof that I am Lone Wolf. This time I try to impress him with my fancy swordsmanship, doing a selection of flashy moves that climax with an blow that embeds a plate in the cellar door. To see how I fare against an opponent other than crockery, he sets a few thugs on me. A couple of poor rolls cause the fight to take twice as long as it did the last time I played this book, but it still ends with my attackers dead and the first mate-impersonator making a rapid departure. I note the serpent tattoo on each assailant's wrist (the Mongoose text swaps the tattoos from the left wrist to the right and specifies that the serpents depicted are writhing).

After finding the body of the real first mate, I take a coracle across to the ship, explain what happened, and meet the captain (Mongoose readers get to find out the colour of his uniform and the fruit from which the spirit he drinks is distilled, but are denied the details of his hair and beard). As on my previous attempt, the random encounter in the morning is with a damaged longboat, but this time the captain refuses to rescue the castaways. As the ship sails away from them, I have a premonition (a 'chilling' one in the Mongoose text) that a similar fate awaits me.

The arson incident happens exactly as it did last time, as does the mysterious escape of the saboteur. As before, a storm hits the ship and the mast snaps, but this time I don't get fatally crushed. The captain does. The ship breaks apart, and if I still had that Chainmail Waistcoat, I'd now have to ditch it in order to keep from sinking. A floating hatch cover becomes a makeshift raft, and I black out while hanging on to it.

Consciousness returns by mid-afternoon. I ignore the fishing boat I can see in the distance, because I know from past experience that it's crewed by rogues who'll steal the ring that serves as my credentials, with ultimately lethal consequences (unless there's a path I've missed which would enable me to retrieve it - but even if it's not a guarantee of failure, why take the risk at all?).

The shore is in sight, so I paddle to it. I've lost my weapons and the contents of my Backpack (in this instance I have no complaint about the Mongoose text's spelling things out more: while I inferred from the original phrasing that I kept the Backpack but not what was in it, it wasn't as clear as it could have been). I'm hungry, and as Meals are Backpack items, I have no food on me, but Hunting lets me know that the fruit on a nearby tree isn't toxic. The Mongoose text rearranges the options in this section, putting the Discipline check first rather than last, which is sensible, and plays up the unappealing appearance of the tree when offering readers who didn't pick Hunting the choice of whether or not to risk eating.

Close by is a road running east-west. I can't think of any good reason not to go in the direction I was heading on the ship. The rest of my day is uneventful, and I spend the night up a tree in case the tales I've heard of wild dogs that prowl by night are true.

It's a cold and wet morning, but I can see a wagon heading my way. This is another point at which the revised text is an improvement, eliminating a grammatical absurdity: the Mongoose text says 'the approaching wagon' rather than the original version's ill-placed 'it' that effectively gives me a choice between trying to flag the tree down and attempting to jump onto the tree as it passes below the branch I'm on. I pick the less dramatic approach, not wishing to be taken for a highwayman, and a single gold coin allows me to travel to Ragadorn on the wagon roof.

Along the way, I chat with the driver, who tells me that Ragadorn's current ruler has turned the place into something like Fighting Fantasy's Port Blacksand. It's gone noon when we arrive, and the driver lets me know that a coach to Durenor, where I actually need to go, leaves from the east gate at one o'clock. I reach a junction, and note that the names of the streets heading north and south vary in the different editions of the book. But I want to go east, and as the road heading that way is called Axe Lane, I figure that it might even provide me with an opportunity to buy a replacement for my lost sword.

No weapon shops, and after a bit the street turns north. There's soon a turning east along Sage Street, though, and that does have a shop where I can rearm myself. I could also buy a blanket, but I need to save a bit of money to avoid being assassinated later on, so the sword will do for now. Not long after that I reach the stable and coach station, and see a sign advertising the coach to Port Bax, in Durenor. The fare's not cheap, but the money pouch I grabbed from the insect in book 1 (don't ask) contained the precise sum, and I was given some more money at the start of this book, so I can afford the ticket and still have a bit left over for staying unmurdered.

After buying my Ticket, I board the coach and doze off. When I wake again, the journey has commenced and there are an additional five passengers. A random encounter has the coach stop at a shrine where clumps of the medicinal herb Laumspur are growing, so I pick some. Slightly oddly, the text doesn't specify what the herb's properties are unless the reader picks some - not even for a character with Hunting, which served to identify that other nutritional plant. I knew it was worth getting because practically every healing potion in every Lone Wolf book is Laumspur-based, but a newcomer to the series wouldn't have a clue whether they were being invited to acquire something medicinal, a bit of seasoning for the stew pot, or even a deadly poison.

On the next leg of the journey I get to know my fellow passengers. There are two brothers, both Knights of the White Mountain (sort of equivalent to the Mounties), a heavily bruised merchant who lost almost everything he owns thanks to a disagreement with the authorities in Ragadorn, a priest from Sommerlund, and a mercenary fighter on her way home from a completed mission. The illustrations of the five of them in the original text make one of them look particularly sinister.

Towards dusk the wagon stops at an inn, and the coach driver checks my ticket. This is where not having money for a room would result in my being murdered in my sleep by a secretly EVIL fellow passenger. There's also some stuff about the lack of food sources in the wilderness through which we are passing, which will prevent me from using Hunting to find Meals until further notice.

For the next couple of days, nothing of note happens (not even any Meal checks, making it a bit odd that the text pointed out my need to be carrying food for when I'd next have to eat), but on day 9 of my journey (almost a quarter of the way to my deadline), there's an 'accident'. The road ahead is blocked by fallen rocks, and while I'm helping the driver clear the way, a falling boulder squashes him. My Sixth Sense tells me that there's someone up on the cliff, and they were trying to hit me.

My fellow passengers and I bury the coachman's remains. The priest hopes that we won't be held responsible for the death, and one of the Knights declares it an act of the gods. He must believe that, as his kind are oath-bound to tell the truth at all times, but as I know that the incident was only an accident insofar as the driver wasn't the intended target of the boulder, I'm aware that what he's saying isn't strictly true. Unless it was a bunch of Magnamund's deities up on the cliff, which strikes me as unlikely.

We proceed to the village of Gorn Cove. Yes, some of its occupants are a bit reptilian. I still have enough money for a room at the inn, though if I'd run out of cash at our last stop, I'd have two opportunities to get some cash here, and if I ignored both of them, the priest would pay for me.

I go up to my room, and after a while the innkeeper brings me a plate of food, paid for by one of my fellow-passengers. There's a Meal check here, but my Discipline of Hunting alerts me to the poison on the plate and tray, and the text has me storm downstairs to seek a confrontation with the would-be assassin. Presumably losing 3 Endurance for hunger just before I get into a big fight, which isn't exactly smart of me. But then, 'smart' isn't really on the menu here as, rather than asking the innkeeper who bought me the food, I just stomp up to the others from the wagon, who are conveniently gathered around one table, and choose which one to attack. To be fair, there is a clue provided in the accompanying illustration (and it's a lot more noticeable in the Mongoose edition (as well as being where the subsequent mention in the text says it should be, rather than on the wrong arm as in the original book)) but the first time I got this far through the adventure, I just went for the most suspicious-seeming of the lot. And I was right.

The fellow traveller I single out draws a black sword (oh, what a giveaway!) and manages to inflict a couple of very minor grazes on me in the course of being gutted. A quick search of the body provides more than ample proof that this was the villain: the remnants of the vial of poison used on that food, a scroll written in Giak, warning that I'll be heading for Port Bax (if I can understand Giak, why couldn't I make sense of what the leader of the Giaks attacking Banedon yelled at me in book 1?), that sword, made of the black steel that can only be manufactured in the EVIL foundries of Darklord city Helgedad, a tattoo just like those which adorned the corpses of my assailants back at the start of the adventure, and 23 gold coins in a pouch (okay, that last thing's not really evidence of evil intent).

One thing that's a little off about this book is that events from this point onwards would happen exactly the same way even if I'd chosen the wrong person. All right, so the others are tougher opponents or have less money (or both), but killing an innocent and leaving the assassin at large should have more consequences than just that. Heck, two of the wrong options don't even have a post-fight 'you killed someone who didn't deserve it, and should feel bad' section.

Funnily enough, the others at the table (and in the inn, for that matter), seem to object to what I've just done, accusing me of murder and calling for the town guard. Hey, people, did you not see my opponent's black sword of EVILness? But nobody appears willing to listen to explanations, and as I'd rather not attack representatives of the forces of law and order who are only doing their job (especially when they outnumber me six to one), I need to be elsewhere. Fast.

Dashing out of the rear exit, I 'borrow' a horse from outside a wheelwright's shop, and ride away before any kind of pursuit can be organised. By dawn I reach the edge of the forest that marks the Durenese border, and regain the ability to catch my own food. Riding on, I reach a fork in the road, but a quick look at the map in the front of the book makes it obvious which turning to take.

I was an idiot in the 1990s. Taking the correct turning provides an opportunity to have the only encounter that makes this book survivable without Animal Kinship, and I don't remember ever finding that encounter when repeatedly trying to play through books 1-12 with one character. But that encounter includes a tough fight (in which my Weaponskill won't help), and merely provides an item that will make it possible to have another tough fight rather than getting Instant Deathed, whereas using Animal Kinship helps me miss both combats (at the cost of all my money, but that's a small price to pay), so I think I'll just ignore the cries for help. Oddly, the Mongoose text makes it sound as if I'm hearing multiple voices, whereas it's just the one in the original.

Anyway, I ride on, and the horse arbitrarily throws me and runs off. Continuing on foot, I reach a wooden tower with a border guard on duty in it. Sixth Sense tells me that he's loyal and proud of it, so I show him the Seal. He's not happy to see it, aware that my having it signifies impending disaster (the Mongoose text makes a small but significant improvement to the wording of this section, removing the implication that there are several formerly Durenese treasures that the kingdom's people were glad to see the back of), and tells me the quickest route to Port Bax.

I reach the city at around dusk, and find that the City Hall is still open. In there I get directions to the Sommlending Consulate and instructions of how to acquire the pass required to get me into the restricted area where it's situated. Following those instructions takes me to the office of a naval officer, who notes that I must have urgent business to be applying for a pass this late in the day, and asks to see the appropriate documentation. I don't have the papers he requests (and a fun surprise awaits anyone who does), so I present him with the Seal instead. Well, that's his evening ruined.

He takes me to his captain, whom I tell of the war in Sommerlund, and I get the pass I need. I take that to the red gate through which I must go, and the guards let me past. At the Consulate I'm taken to the envoy, a Lord-lieutenant Rhygar who managed not to get killed at the end of a tiresome chase. Funnily enough, the account of his achievements in the Mongoose book doesn't mention the events of the mini-adventure. Nor does the one in the original text, but it's more understandable there, as The Crown of King Alin IV hadn't been written when it came out.

The following morning I set off on the last leg of my outward journey, the ride to Durenese capital city Hammerdal. Now confident of success, I trigger a smugness-activated Random Unpleasantness Generator, and three days into this journey, six cloaked strangers barge into our camp. Rhygar demands an explanation, and they all draw black swords. Sixth Sense tells me that the men are actually disguised Helghast, undead minions of the Darklords (so why wouldn't it have warned me about the 'man' in the encounter I evaded back in the forest?), and as I don't (yet) have a weapon that could harm them, I beat a strategic retreat, yelling a warning to Rhygar.

As I run, I stumble over an unexpected drop. Oh, joy, it's another 1 in 10 shot at a pointless death. As on the ship, the odds work out in my favour, and I am merely stunned. Rhygar helps me up, and we hurry on while the Helghast are occupied massacring his soldiers.

Six hours later we reach the mouth of the Tarnalin tunnel, which leads under the mountains to Hammerdal. Rhygar insists on staying here to delay the pursuing Helghast while I go through the tunnel, and at this point the two versions of the book make a significant and nasty divergence. If I have a magic weapon (essential for killing Helghast), I must choose whether to keep it or give it to Rhygar. In the original text, giving him the weapon (if you have it) guarantees failure, as it results in missing the only way of evading the Helghast ambush in the tunnel, and as you gave away the magic weapon, you can't fight your attacker. In the Mongoose version, not giving Rhygar the weapon means missing the alternative to the Helghast encounter. So in the newer version of the adventure, it is essential to take the correct turning after Gorn Cove and then make the slightly counter-intuitive decision that leads to the difficult fight I skipped. While I can see some sort of merit in making Rhygar's suicidal last stand a little less futile, I'm not keen on the increased narrowness of the True Path that results from this change, especially when that path includes a fight against something with a Combat Skill above 20.

No more observations on the Mongoose edition, then, as I'd be on the verge of losing my throat if I were playing that book. So I enter the tunnel, noting with some concern that it's more deserted than it should be. After around half an hour I spot a two-foot-tall rodent with a spear and a jacket atop an abandoned wagon. Scenting me, it scurries away into a small side tunnel. I recognise it as a Noodnic. These creatures are native to the mountains, and live off what they can pilfer from the caravans that pass through the tunnels. This being their home territory, they may be aware of any Helghast presence, so I follow the Noodnic to the cavern where the colony lives. Their leader orders them to drive me out, but when I address them in their own language, they become willing to talk. He lets me know that there are a couple of 'Blackscreamerz', as they refer to the Helghast, in the tunnels, and offers to show me a route that will bypass them. A female Noodnic gives me two Meals' worth of food, and one of the not-so-little rodents covertly pilfers my money, but at least I avoid otherwise certain death.

Around three miles on, I see a barricade across the tunnel. Ten soldiers advance, and I'm not so stupid as to attack them. When I explain my mission and show the Seal, the knight leading them sends me to Hammerdal in a horse-drawn carriage. I need to eat again on the way, and while the text doesn't say I can't use Hunting to find food while being rushed through a subterranean tunnel in a carriage, the idea of subsisting on the chewing gum stuck under the seats by former passengers is off-putting enough that I eat some of what the Noodnic gave me.

On the morning of day 15 I reach Hammerdal. I'm taken to see the King, and give him the Seal. In return, he unlocks the container which holds the Sommerswerd, the golden sword I've come all this way to claim. I take the sword, and my Sixth Sense tells me much about it. Indeed, it would appear that if I didn't have Sixth Sense, I wouldn't know about the 8-point Combat Skill bonus that comes with the sword, which doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

It takes two weeks to prepare the fleet for a voyage to Sommerlund. During this time I'd get all lost Endurance healed if I weren't already at full health, and I get given a Laumspur potion and told of the discovery of Rhygar's corpse. My Sixth Sense, enhanced by the Sommerswerd, tells me what the news is before I hear it (and my knowledge that he voluntarily chose to confront half a dozen undead killers while unable to harm them at all told me that he was dead some time before that).

Finally, on the thirty-third day of my mission, the Durenese fleet leaves Port Bax, with me as a passenger. Random stormy weather leaves many of the troops aboard too ill to fight, but after a few days the weather improves and the situation deteriorates. Out of a fog bank comes a fleet of death-hulks, magically raised sunken ships with undead crews. The death-hulk flagship holes the ship I'm on, and the order to abandon ship is given. Would leaping onto the death-hulk be epic heroism or insane suicide? I'd rather not risk it being the latter option after having got this far through the book, so I dive into the sea and head for another Durenese vessel.

By the time I'm aboard, it's been grappled by a death-hulk, and the crew are being butchered by zombies. I draw the Sommerswerd and take out half a dozen of the rotters with one blow. If I didn't have Sixth Sense, this would be the first time I found out that the sword does double damage to the undead. Encouraged by my victory, the Durenese survivors join me in boarding the hulk, and we chop up zombies until a Helghast intervenes. I slice that up, too.

I'm getting a strange sense of déjà vu, and then a voice calls my name from behind. I turn to behold an unwelcome sight: the reanimated cadaver of the captain I last saw getting flattened by a falling mast. This hulk is the ship on which I set out. The zombie captain tells me that his soul will be released from its torment if I put down my sword, so I put it down. Down his gizzard! The rest of the (equally undead) crew surround me, so I grab a rope to Douglas Fairbanks across to a Durenese ship. But the rope has been damaged, and snaps, randomness determining that I land... on the deck of the ship I was trying to reach. (Morbid curiosity had me check the alternate outcome, which is landing in the sea, being seized by a Kraan, stabbing it as it tries to bear me away, and getting dropped onto the same ship I'd have reached by rolling higher. Neat joke.)

By now the Durenese fleet is prevailing, and the death-hulk flagship is ablaze and sinking. And, of course, when the flagship sinks down deep, all its fleet sinks down deep too. The remaining five sevenths of the Durenese fleet carry on towards Holmgard, arriving late on day thirty-seven. The city hasn't yet fallen, but it's in a pretty sorry state. The locals initially take us for enemy reinforcements, but once they realise that we're allies, they get a lot more hopeful.

I ascend the great watchtower and wait for dawn. The creeping daylight reveals the massive scale of the enemy army, with the red tent of Darklord Zagarna in the middle. As a shaft of sunlight hits the Sommerswerd, flames form on the blade, and I need only point it at the red tent to turn those flames into a beam of destructive power that atomises Zagarna before he's even finished his breakfast. His troops are routed, and the Durenese troops massacre plenty of them as they go. Sommerlund is safe again. At least until I have another go at book 3.


  1. There is a way of retrieving the Seal in Ragadorn if you get robbed by the sailors. In fact, I believe that's what happened when I first played the book. I was young and foolish enough to trust those shady-looking people, and also to attack Halvorc the merchant in the inn. But the crowning moment of the career of Foolish Wolf was, of course, handing the Sommerswerd to the undead captain in the end. What was I thinking?

  2. Well I be .... I never noticed the serpent on the wrist in the "confront the assassin" illustration before I always thought that line was just a shadow.

  3. That one-in-ten chance of being killed by the Helghasts you encounter along with Rhygar can be avoided as long as you DON'T have Sixth Sense. So, not only doesn't it give you any warning, it actually increases your chance of instant death.

    The fact the the Mongoose edition messes up the options for giving the Magic Spear to Rhygar is particularly annoying as Project Aon had already gone to the trouble of working out the correct links, long before the update was published. They really should have just hit copy and paste here.