Monday, 5 August 2013

He Died With His Boots On

A slightly different challenge for me today: I'm going to replay The Chasm of Doom, the fourth Lone Wolf book, with the character who's survived books 1-3. The thing is, I got most of the way through Chasm the first time I blogged about it, and I don't like just repeating myself. There are points in the books where I can take a different path and not doom myself, so adding a bit of variety there won't be a problem, but there are other stretches where I'm basically going to have to do pretty much the same as I did before, as it would be silly to take sub-optimal choices and potentially increase the risk of failure just for variation's sake. There's a poem that crops up a couple of times during the adventure, so I might have a stab at rendering the 'just like before' sequences into verse.

Having succeeded at the previous adventure, I get to add another Discipline. Camouflage would save me 2 Endurance points in one situation, and Tracking must surely be of some assistance in tracking down the runaway actor I already know where to find. I'm not so sure what uses for Mind Over Matter crop up here, so I'll take that one just out of curiosity.

Lone Wolf and his men set off down the road,
And found a strange old man's abode.
(The first couplet in Mr. Dever's verse has the same uneven metre, all right?)

Kicking the door in rather than politely knocking has no adverse consequences (and I'm amused that my character's response to being told, 'You have nothing to fear from me,' is to tighten his grip on his weapon).

The man proffered a scroll and disappeared.
Then along came a wagon of troubadours,
Put on a show, to scant applause,
With a real sword as a prop. (How weird!)
(Again, any metrical awkwardness is in emulation of the original.)

Hunting, which I already have, is just as good as Tracking would be for identifying the wagon where the actor with the Sommlending cavalryman's sword, so I don't even need to remember where I found him last time.

The next day's incident is randomly determined, and I don't get the same outcome as before, so when the approaching storm prompts us to seek shelter, we find a ruined temple instead of a tavern. Two men in black robes are hiding in the ruins, and make no response when I ask who they are, so I have the rangers capture them. A flask of something gets broken in the process, and I can now see that the men wear amulets indicating them to be members of a silent order of pilgrims dedicated to prayer and healing, so I apologise for the rough treatment. Still, given the existence of shape-shifting assassins and murderous fanatics in this world, caution is often a wise option. The text doesn't say anything about returning the money and food confiscated from the pilgrims, which is a bit off (though the Mongoose edition does at least make taking the gold and food optional rather than automatic).

Bandits attack during the night. Their leader fells a couple of rangers with one blow, then turns his attention to me, and gets a taste of his own medicine. The remaining rangers and I drive them off, but find that they've taken most of our horses. I keep as many men as there are steeds left, and send the rest back home to report on what has happened.

As we resume our journey, I catch sight of black birds in the distance. This time I have Animal Kinship, and thus recognise them as carrion crows. Might as well see what they're feeding on. And it's the remains of around forty of the soldiers who were sent in search of the lost convoy I'm now investigating, plus assorted bandits. Well, I already knew they were dead. Still, if I'd been wounded, the detour would have given me an extra section's worth of Healing.

Staying on the direct route until dusk, I don't waste any of my remaining troops on a doomed scouting expedition. After a quiet night, the text insists on my sending three rangers ahead of me, because there needs to be a source for the bodies I can find later on. The rest of us continue at our own pace until we reach the burnt-out wagon, and the fact that none of the scouts came back to let me know about it strongly hints that they're dead.

This time round I take a closer look at the wagon, and a surprise ambush leaves another three rangers dead. The rest of us continue towards Ruanon until we reach the bridge over the river Xane. On the other side are crossbow-toting bandits, who'd have no trouble picking us off if we tried crossing here, so we go west in search of a ford. After a while we catch sight of a group of bandits spearing fish and piling them up beside a wagon, and I'm experienced enough to sense that a whole lot more bandits are asleep in the wagon, so the risk of being spotted and overwhelmed is too great to justify taking action here. How about heading east, then?

Going that way leads to a boathouse, which contains (surprise!) a boat. Also a selection of items of questionable usefulness. Backpack space being limited, I just take the hourglass. Not that I'm aware of any situation in which it will come in handy - it's just a quirky object to add to my Action Chart. We then set off in the boat, which is promptly seized by the current and swept through a crevice into a dark cavern. What's the betting that this leads to the same stretch of river where the last rangers got killed on my last try?

No, it's beyond that point. I've reached the 'great hall' in the mines. This time round, the collapsing bridge that cuts me off from the last of the rangers in the Mongoose edition actually makes sense (and in the original text my companions just disappear). Not such an unnecessary edit after all. But still sloppy: there needs to be a 'reach the great hall' section with no mention of the rangers, for all the paths on which none of the men survived that far. It couldn't have been that hard to free up a section for that, either by merging a couple or by deleting one irrelevant choice - the silly macho door-kicking from early on, for example.

I'd forgotten how much of a bonus Camouflage would have given for evading the drunken guards. Well, it's too late to change my mind, so I'll just have to make the unmodified roll. I get noticed, and a couple more sub-par rolls enable the guard who actually manages to attack me to do a not insignificant amount of damage before I kill him.

Alarms were sounded by another guard.
Lone Wolf hit a pit-prop quite hard.

The Sommerswerd easily sunders the prop, as a result of which I take a little damage from falling debris. It doesn't always pay to be efficient. Moving on, I reach the shaft spanned by the bridge, with its bored guard, and finally get an opportunity to use Mind Over Matter, psychokinetically shoving a mound of loose shale over the edge, and hurrying across the bridge while the guard investigates the noise. Just a large-scale version of the 'thrown pebble' distraction, then, but it does the trick.

After dealing with the fearsome lever,
To the ruins of Ruanon Lone Wolf fled,
And did not get shot in the head
(A 1 in 10 chance from Joe Dever).
(Yeah, that last line probably doesn't rhyme if you're American. Tough.)

In fact, this time I get the other non-lethal (to me) outcome of the 'pursued by Warhounds, shot in the leg by a bandit sniper, rescued by Captain D'Val' sequence. Instead of being shot by the Captain, the sniper gets savaged by a Warhound too blood-crazed to distinguish between friend and foe, and his screams attract the rest of the pack. I approve.

The Baron babbled the prophetic verse,
And things began to get much worse.
The bandit hordes launched an all-out assault,
And with flaming oil set the Captain alight.

This Lone Wolf is experienced enough to know that rallying the troops is more important than helping D'Val, and orders a couple of other soldiers to put out the flames while he takes charge of the situation. Which is what I chose to do last time anyway, but now I know that I made the right decision.

A bold bandit Lone Wolf did fight.
Defences were breached (a mage's fault).

In rode a horseman, brandishing a lance.
Against archers he had no chance.

Randomness makes the fight against the Warhounds technically tougher than it was last time, but the improved Lone Wolf here hacks them apart before any allies arrive to help repel the beasts. Now a quandary arises: I remember that the Vassagonian soldier who's just been flung over the barricade is only pretending to be incapacitated, but in order to kill him before he can launch a surprise attack on me, I'd have to take my attention off the ongoing battle. Well, if the inferior Lone Wolf survived the faker's ambush, this one should have little trouble defeating him, so I'll focus on rallying the troops. Yes, that worked out okay: I managed to kill the sneaky wretch even before my Combat Skill penalty for being surprised had worn off.

The Vassagonians routed at last,
Lone Wolf now sought to avert the sacrifice.
Though insects sucked his blood (not nice!)
Unseeing enemies walked straight past.

When I reach Maaken, I try the unguarded steps. This time I have the Kalte Firesphere to illuminate the crypt and, more importantly, I'm armed with a weapon that can harm the thing I believe to be lurking in there. Yep, I remembered right. Well, near enough. The blood-sucking creature is so scared of the Sommerswerd that it flies into a crevice in the ceiling rather than confront me. A second exit from the crypt leads into a long corridor - the same one along which I walked just before making my fatal error last time. That's one choice I'm definitely making differently today.

Going in the other direction leads me to a balcony overlooking the inner sanctum of this subterranean temple. The Baron's daughter lies on the altar, and appears to be in a trance. Red-robed priests place black stone amulets around her, then file out, and I hear the approach of Barraka, leader of the bandits and principal villain of this book. He enters the chamber and opens a pair of skull-inscribed doors leading to the Maakengorge, letting in a howling gale. Then he approaches the altar, wielding a flaming dagger of black metal. For once a Mongoose edit removes unnecessary verbiage rather than over-clarifying: only the original text specifies that his boots are on his feet.

I can attack or try to distract him, and I risk finding out what the latter entails. Oh, real smart - I yell at him to leave her alone. Luckily for me, Barraka's equally dim, and rather than completing his vile rite and raising undead hordes to overwhelm me, he advances on me with the dagger. Again I have the option of fighting, and this time I'll take it, since I doubt that Barraka will be quite so obliging as to stand and watch while I rescue the Baron's daughter.

The fight is preceded by an inventory check, which isn't quite the same in the differing versions of the text. Both ask if I have the Sommerswerd, but only the original mentions a flask of Holy Water (that's probably what the pilgrim dropped at the ruined temple). Curiosity about another Mongoose edit prompts me to take a quick peek at some of the sections to which I won't be turning, which reveals the Mongoose edit to be another good one. In the original, the 'if you have neither the Sommerswerd nor the Holy Water' section asks if I have any Holy Water. Mongoose's deletion of the first Holy Water check gets rid of the unnecessary repetition. Still, keeping the initial check and skipping the redundant second check altogether would have provided the spare section needed to fix the problem arising from the 'collapsing bridge' edit I went on about earlier, so while the change is an improvement, it could still have been a better one.

But I digress. I do have the Sommerswerd, so for the purposes of this playthrough I should be fighting Barraka with it. The wind from the gorge attacks my mind, distracting me for long enough that Barraka inflicts a tiny cut on my cheek. I've suffered worse while shaving. Barraka's a fairly tough opponent for this stage in the series - in later books, to compensate for Lone Wolf's increased prowess, enemies get a lot more powerful, sometimes implausibly so - and is immune to Mindblast. But my Mindshield protects me from his more powerful mental attack, so on balance I've done better out of the psychic stalemate. As for the physical combat, I lose half my Endurance while he loses all his. And a little more besides.

The spirit of Darklord Vashna is denied its opportunity to rise from the gorge, and I take the dagger in order to ensure that nobody else will ever be able to try and bring him back from the dead again. Well, not for another dozen books or so, at any rate.

I emerge from the temple to find Barraka's remaining men being chased off by Sommlending cavalry. The rangers without horses must have made it back alive after all, then. The Baron is reunited with his daughter, and not even the 'James Bond will return'-esque promise of new ways to get killed in book 5 can take the shine off the happy ending. And I must concede that, while the Mongoose edit has its problems, it does make the book better in some places.

If I ever have to play this again, though, I'm taking Camouflage, not Mind Over Matter.

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