Friday, 12 July 2013

The Dead Tree Gives No Shelter

The Tyrant's Tomb is the third and final of Dave Morris' Heroquest books. Like the first two, it contains both a story and a gamebook, and like the second one, there's also a GM-and-player Heroquest scenario in there.

The story is a further adventure of Asgrim, the barbarian character from The Fellowship of Four. Here he's accompanied by a lame, disfigured and embittered thief named Flügel, who has discovered the lost tomb of Chungor Khan and needs help in dealing with the more physical obstacles to extracting the treasure within. It's an entertaining tale, with some unexpected developments along the way, and the means by which Asgrim defeats the revenant Khan is set up in advance, but mentioned casually enough not to come across as a blatant Chekhov's Pistol.

My only gripe is a minor one, and a consequence of the gamebook's being much more closely based on the accompanying story than the previous two. One thing that annoys me any time it happens in a mystery story is when the detective takes dozens of pages to figure out something obvious enough that I've already twigged it. There's an analogous bit here, where the set-up within the tomb is clearly designed to have a secret door activated by the solving of a puzzle, yet Asgrim completely fails to put two and two together, and laboriously smashes a hole in the wall. No doubt the gamebook will allow the option of using brains rather than brawn, but it was a bit irritating to have the set-up and no proper pay-off within the story.

The scenario, A Growl of Thunder, seems more cohesive than the one in The Screaming Spectre. Beyond that, there's not a lot I can say about it without GMing it, and I don't anticipate much opportunity of getting to do so.

And now for The Treasure of Chungor Khan, in which I get to participate in a different version of the events of The Tyrant's Tomb. The introduction warns that some things won't be the same as in the story: 'That is the nature of Chaos.'

My character comes ready-made, so there's no need to list stats. The adventure starts with me in a rather insalubrious tavern, overhearing a conversation between two rather unpleasant-sounding individuals, one of whom has lately (and rather violently) come into possession of a map. I listen long enough to find out that it's the map to a great treasure and then pop to the bar before either of the low-lifes notices me eavesdropping. At which point the text points out that I don't have the money for another drink, which I should really have already known. Might as well introduce myself to the rogues with the map, then.

They impolitely tell me to leave, so I threaten to spill beer on their map (a bluff, as I don't even have dregs in my tankard) and force them to let me join them. They introduce themselves as Grinch and Grivois, and explain that the map shows the way to a treasure-filled tomb, undisturbed to this day because of the curse laid upon the treasure. Being quite astute, they researched the precise wording of the curse, and learned that it threatened 'eternal damnation' for anyone who plunders the tomb. Given that their past misdemeanours have already qualified them for such a fate, that's not much of a deterrent to them. I'm less keen on the prospect myself, but I don't want to take the 'walk out' option, and my character's beliefs give him no fear of the snake goddess upon whom the curse depends.

Before setting off, I take a look around the market, learning that my insufficient-for-a-beer funds are more than enough to pay for a flask of water, a lantern and some garlic. That's one pricey establishment I was in.

There are three possible routes to the tomb's location: through the 'Swamp of Lost Souls', across the Ogre-infested mountain range, or south to the coast where I can hope to get passage on a ship. I pick the mountain path, and decide that the reputed danger of the pass is less to be feared than the definite hazards of mountaineering. A blizzard makes things rather unpleasant, but I avoid the light I see, as its colour (green) suggests that it's more likely to be of faerie origin that shining from a trapper's hut. I take some damage from the cold, but nothing I can't handle.

Beyond the pass, my path takes me close to a clump of trees, from which faint music drifts.  Could be another fae lure, so I don't linger. Nothing else of note happens before I reach the citadel of Tarkesh Varn, the last outpost of civilisation before the wastelands in which the tomb lies. My companions, who have gone unmentioned for a surprisingly long while, now use trickery to steal the map and get me into trouble with the citadel guards. As I'm taken to the dungeons, I learn that I'm to be executed for my 'crime', so I spend the night loosening a stone in the wall.

It's already getting light by the time I create a hole. I decide to try deception, and hide in the mound of bedding in the corner. It works, the hole leading the guards who come for me to assume that I've escaped. I sneak out of the door while they're fetching reinforcements, and make my departure once the search is under way in the wrong part of the fortress. On the way out I see the gallows that has been prepared for me, and opt not to take the time to find a weapon before leaving.

No longer having the map, I'm going to have to catch up with my erstwhile 'allies' if I'm to get any further. An arbitrary choice of directions is presented, and I choose poorly, getting lost in the desert and eventually dying. Not a very satisfactory ending.

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