Friday, 2 August 2013

I Get Knocked Down... But I Get Up Again

I got the fourth and final Sagas of the Demonspawn book in the same sale as the third one. While I have a vague recollection of attempting it after giving up on book 3, and one or two plot details linger in my memory, I can't remember exactly how I failed it.

Had Fire*Wolf not died in the first battle of Demondoom, nor fallen victim to any of the other ways of getting killed that the adventure offered, then he would have gone on to destroy all of the Demonspawn and their lair with a convenient artifact. Book 4 picks up a couple of weeks after this, on the day that Fire*Wolf is to marry the Lady Freya. And this groom isn't quite as mediocre as the previous model, having:
Strength 56
Speed 40
Stamina 40
Courage 40
Skill 10
Luck 48
Charm 56
Attraction 16
Life 306
Still below-average, though, for all the difference it makes.

So, with the eponymous monsters now extinct, and nuptials impending, is the final book in the series going to focus on the hero's attempts to adjust to married life? The title Ancient Evil suggests otherwise, and there is potentially at least one plot thread yet to be resolved. Depending on how the dice fell, the Fire*Wolf who killed the Assassin who attacked him at the start of the last book might have noticed an intriguing scar on the body.

The father of the bride is troubled. Chancellor Nazar disappeared for a week not so long ago, and after turning up again, he had no recollection of what had happened to him during his absence. Since then, he's been behaving oddly. More than a dozen others have also disappeared, most recently the Chief of Police. But right now Fire*Wolf has other concerns.

At the appointed time, he heads to the Palace Temple and (dun, dun, DAA!) gets married (hands up who thought the bride would inexplicably fail to arrive, or Moldavian terrorists would burst in and attempt to kill everyone, or something else would happen to interrupt the nuptials). After the ceremony, Fire*Wolf is getting changed into his travelling clothes when one of the Gegum (a Bene Gesserit-esque order of witch-nuns he encountered in parts of the adventure I never reached) interrupts with a summons to the Convent. The book offers the option of refusing the summons, but it makes such a big deal about his being a free agent, able to determine his own destiny, that it's obvious he's got no real choice in the matter.

Before setting off, he orders his manservant not to tell Freya that he's gone, hoping to be able to return before she's finished getting changed. He meets the Abbess Lipta, who informs him that Harn now faces the greatest crisis it has ever known, vaguely implying that this new threat only exists because he prevented the Demonspawn from destroying everything. More cryptically, she indicates that the Gegum planned the crisis, but the threat is not their fault. They have chosen Fire*Wolf as the focus of the powers with which they mean to oppose it, and now wish to test his ability to control that power and not die. He objects to this, so the Abbess reminds him that he owes them for the help they provided last book, and he grudgingly agrees to take the test.

Suddenly the two of them are elsewhere - or so it seems, but apparently they walked there and Fire*Wolf had his memory of the journey erased because where they are now is that secret. The Abbess explains that Fire*Wolf must go through the door at the end of the hall, and he might die when he does. And he will die if he turns back or uses magic.

Beyond the door is a lava-filled pit, with a narrow plank across it. I shan't check to see if turning back is as lethal as Lipta said it would be. For Fire*Wolf to safely cross the plank bridge, I must roll two dice three times and get 10 or above every time. That would have a 1 in 216 chance of success, but Fire*Wolf's Courage score provides a modifier. The maximum possible Courage would give +9 to each roll, and even a merely average score would give +1, improving the odds to roughly 1 in 46.

This Fire*Wolf has a below-average Courage. There's no penalty for that, but it does mean that my chances of success are negligible. And even my first roll falls significantly short of the target. So Fire*Wolf falls significantly into the pit. As usual for Sagas of the Demonspawn (to the extent that anything about the series can be described as 'usual'), the 'Fire*Wolf is no more' section offers the possibility of restarting at a point other than the beginning. I take it, and Fire*Wolf returns to the plank. And falls off again. The same thing happens to the next Fire*Wolf, too. But the one after that gets a decent Courage (I would not have had the patience to reroll his stats that many times if not for the fact that my gamebook manager condenses the lengthy process into one click of the mouse) and survives the crossing.

Beyond the pit is a narrow passage containing a monstrous serpent. The book offers the option of seeking an alternate route rather than fighting, but I suspect that that means 'turn back in spite of the Abbess' warning and get Instant Deathed', so Fire*Wolf attacks. The serpent has a special one-off attack involving a venomous bite, and dodging it works in a similar way to not falling off the plank, but with just one roll, and a modifier based on Speed. This Fire*Wolf's Speed isn't as high as his Courage, so he winds up paralysed and devoured. A couple more reincarnations suffer a similar fate, and then a Fire*Wolf with the minimum possible Speed gets lucky and dodges the attack, so he can fight the serpent.

He loses. But I succeed at the roll for getting a one-off rematch with the same character. He loses again. The next Fire*Wolf fails to dodge the paralysing attack. So does the one after that. And then I fail the roll that permits me to restart at the section where Fire*Wolf died, so I think it's time to put the book back on the shelf. For a very long time.

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