Friday, 16 August 2013

More Free From Peril Than the Envious Court?

Based on the streets along which I was walking during my first (and, until today, only) attempt at Virtual Reality Adventure 1, Mark Smith's Green Blood, I must have got the book somewhere in West Hull. Possibly in West Hull Books itself, though I have a feeling that the copy I remember seeing in there turned up after I'd already acquired the book. I can't remember how that attempt ended and, considering how much I wasn't enjoying it, it's possible that I just stopped reading once I got back home and could do something more entertaining.

As I explained the last time I played a VRA here, the system has no random element. I either pick one of the pre-generated characters from the front of the book or create one of my own by selecting four of the eleven available skills. After that, the decisions I make determine how whether or not I fail. Given that the part of the book I remember enduring involves surviving in the Forest of Arden, I think the Ranger looks like a good choice.

The prologue gives me a background that doesn't fit well with the character I've chosen (nor, for that matter, with several of the others I could have gone for). Orphaned at birth, raised by my sisters until I could train at the academy in Hegalopolis, forced onto the streets when the monasteries were dissolved, and now leaving the city in a thoroughly misanthropic state of mind, I'm not sure where the Ranger's vocation of protecting those 'forced to journey off the road' comes in. Regardless, I'm now on my way to the Forest of Arden (wonder if it's the same one that can be visited in Smith & Thomson's Challenge of the Magi) to seek the Tree of Knowledge, meet with the elves (even though nobody who does so ever lives to tell of doing so), become a hero, and make the world a better place for the humans I so loathe and despise.

After crossing the ruins of the wall that once marked the border between human and elven territory, I reach the town of Burg, my last opportunity to savour the human contact and creature comforts that so disgusted me as to prompt my quest. I wonder if one of the things I can't stand about people is the self-contradictory nature of so many of their attitudes.

It starts to rain. The interior of the inn is gloomy, so I wait for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. Someone tells me to stop skulking in the shadows, so I move closer to the fire. A black-clad man gives me the standard 'we don't like strangers' spiel and asks my business. As I have the Streetwise skill, I am able to gauge the crowd's mood, and decide to pretend to be an ornithologist seeking a (probably) fictitious species of bird. A woman with some grasp of wilderness lore engages me in conversation, while the man in black has a good long glower at me. I guess they have to make their own entertainment here.

The woman introduces herself as Elanor, a priestess of the All Mother, and says the man is the Moon Druid Valerian, who, out of envy of her rapport with the woodland creatures has allied himself with the deforestation-happy Westermen. I now have the option of expressing disapproval of the Westermen's plans or showing disdain for what Alan Partridge would call 'her blinkered view of the world'. Naturally I take her side, and after a brief environmentalist harangue she offers to take me to the Great Tree if I visit her bower. She warns me not to harm anything in the forest, gives me directions, and hands over a maple flute with which I can summon help at a time of need.

The next morning the innkeeper's daughter tells me that her father has gone missing in the forest, and I promise to try and find him or learn what has befallen him. Then I set off, catching sight of Elanor further along the road, but being unable to catch up with her no matter how I speed up. After a bit, I lose sight of her, and then I reach the forest. Following the directions I was given, I probably doom myself by holding on to a vine too tightly and inadvertently snapping it. Then I get lost, eventually reaching a clearing with two exits. I can pick an exit, despair of finding my way out, or definitely doom myself by scraping bark from a tree to mark my trail. Memory suggests that taking either path will lead me in circles, and giving in to despair is the only way to make any progress, but I'll risk wandering around for a bit first, in the hope that the book isn't quite as ridiculous as memory makes out.

The left path leads to a near-identical clearing (and a near-identical section), and I can't help but notice that the left path from here leads to the section I've just left. Okay, how about the right one? More of the same. Well, I suppose I'm going to have to despair. Not difficult in this book. And if I didn't have Wilderness Lore (which is true of three of the characters listed at the start), that would be the end of me, without even a chance to use that flute. But the Ranger does have the requisite skill, and thus manages to find a secret path by following 'miniature deer with heads like little hippopotamuses'.

After a while I catch sight of a stone tower, 'ominously' draped in shadows (it'd be odder if there were no shadows falling on it, what with the whole 'surrounded by trees' thing that comes with being in a forest). All of a sudden it's night, and the moonlight shows the tower to have a heavy lock on its door. A light gleams at the top of the tower, but I lack the skills that would enable me to investigate it, and must return to the path.

Without warning it's day again. A voice asks me if I'm lost, and the only creature present is an owl, though I didn't see its beak move. I admit to being lost, and the owl claims to have been enchanted by the Lady of Grey (how come it doesn't use her name?) to lead friends of the forest to her bower. Warily, I ask it to show me the way, and it leads me on a long journey: another night passes before I reach a part of the forest in which no two trees are of the same species. A beautiful young woman in grey greets me from a tree house, and the flute ensures a warm welcome.

Once I'm in the tree house, Elanor asks if I'm ready to be the forest's saviour. The book gives me the option of trying to rob her or demanding directions to the Tree of Knowledge as well as giving the obvious right answer, but I ignore the suicidal-looking choices. There's a test, of course, and I can see problems with both of the possible answers to her next question. Wanting to save the forest just because it's so pretty is a bit weak, but wishing to take the Tree of Knowledge's wisdom to the lands of men may appear a selfish motive. Nevertheless, I risk the latter, and get asked about ants. Wilderness Lore indicates that the obvious answer is the correct one, and is equally 'helpful' with the question about spiders.

Three days of training precede the next test, which is a question about whether to share the Tree's knowledge with humanity or keep it from untrustworthy mankind. The wrong answers to the ant and spider questions were based on ignorance, so helping people understand the balance of nature better should be a good thing, right? I just get asked another question: is slash-and-burn a good thing? And how about outsiders coming in and hunting? Unexpectedly, voicing disapproval of the latter causes me to fail the test. Elanor says she'll turn the birds and beasts against me, and I must leave within four days. It would be unwise to keep pestering her, so I'm going to have to 'follow [my] own destiny', whatever that means. Which turns out to be 'stay in the forest anyway until I find out that the elves have been genocided'. And for unspecified reasons I'm going to die as well.

Well, that's done nothing to make me doubt the commonly-held view (among gamebook fans familiar with the series, which is admittedly a pretty small subset of humanity) that Dave Morris' contributions to the Virtual Reality Adventures are the decent ones.


  1. My own policy in the VR books (having created the system) was that it should be possible to reach a successful ending no matter which skills you picked. Mark took the view that nobody playing Green Blood would fail to take Wilderness Lore. (Though in that case why allow freedom of choice at all?)

    Originally I think you actually had to have a couple of other specific skills to get through. I did try to fix the flowchart so as to provide other options, but I had my own books to write - and Mark didn't welcome the tampering anyway. Those who have played Coils of Hate will realize that it was left the way he wanted it.

  2. Perhaps I'm mistaken here, but I don't think Wilderness Lore is necessary - you can hire a guide to get you through the early stage of the forest.

    1. If you hire the guide then you need either Charms or one of the combat skills to survive.

      If you want to get through with arbitrary skills, you need to talk to Eleanor in the inn and get a flute, then attack a tree in the forest and play the flute to summon a tree frog to lead you through the woods.

      Then, if you have Roguery or Agility, you can burgle the tower and get the codeword Speculum. After that, the optimal route only has one more skill check and the codeword Speculum or any of the following skills will get you through: Folklore, Cunning, Archery, Spells, Swordplay or Unarmed Combat.

      As there are only eleven skills in total, any starting character must either have at least one of these or be able to get the codeword, or both.

      I didn't much enjoy Green Blood. The possible infinite loops were annoying, as was everyone's insistence on testing you to see whether you were worthy to save them from certain death. My preferred route ignores Eleanor as much as possible, but she insists on turning up at the end to say she had "always known" you would be the saviour. Sycophant!