Monday, 7 October 2013

Take a Look in the Mirror and Cry

David Tant's gamebook series The Legends of Skyfall initially made more of an impression on some of my friends than it did on me. I remember Simon, who later helped me get over my concerns about J.H. Brennan's Horror Classics books, waxing enthusiastic about one of them as we headed to school together one morning. Still, the book in question was not the first in the series, so I'll say more about that another day.

Nevertheless, he liked that book enough that he subsequently tracked down a copy of the series opener, Monsters of the Marsh, and I remember taking a quick look through his copy while visiting his home, when he was otherwise occupied. This peek showed me an unconventional means of contracting lycanthropy, which stuck in the memory but did not motivate me to get or even borrow the book.

Around four years later, when a German schoolgirl was visiting the family in connection with an exchange trip my sister had gone on, the family took our guest to Sevenoaks for the day, and at the market I came across a stall selling cheap gamebooks, of which the only ones I lacked and had any interest in were three of the Skyfall books, so I got them, and looked through them (not necessarily in the right order) on the train journey back home. Monsters was one of the three, and my first attempt at that ended quickly for reasons I'll explain later.

More recently I ran the book for a group at rpg.net (majority vote determining which decision was taken at any given point). You can see how that went here, if you're interested. For this attempt I shan't refer to the map I made in the course of running the adventure, though I will make use of my memories of the book where appropriate.

The Skyfall books are an odd bunch in many ways. They're set in the distant future, on a world colonised by humans, which has reverted to medievalism and replaced science with magic, but in most of the books the background is largely overlooked, so the adventures take place in a largely generic fantasy world. While each book after the first clearly follows on from the preceding one, and the viewpoint character is obviously intended to be the same person throughout the series, no items or attribute bonuses (or penalties) can be carried over from one book to the next. The rules break away from gamebook norms by using the toss of coins rather than the roll of dice as a randomising element, yet the attributes for the player character read as if Mr. Tant took the standard Fighting Fantasy set-up and then used a thesaurus to find equivalents that weren't quite so obviously cribbed from FF. The books proudly proclaim that they have been 'structured carefully to reward the thinking player and to penalise the careless', and while they generally do a decent job of providing clues (sometimes pretty obscure ones) to indicate when certain courses of action are less than advisable, most if not all of them contain at least one situation where you can end up doomed without any warning that you're doing something catastrophically wrong.

My character is an adventurer, and at the start of the book I return home from unspecified exploits in the south. The docks are uncharacteristically quiet, and nobody wants to talk about it, but when I corner a friend, I learn that barges with valuable cargoes have been inexplicably vanishing from the Doone river. Only when I reach my father's house do I discover that he was on one of the barges that have gone missing, at which point I realise that I'm going to have to do some investigating.

While I have a more detailed background than many gamebook heroes, from a mechanical perspective my character is a lot more generic than usual. Only one of the stats is actually randomly determined (which eliminates the problem of balancing combats so as to be challenging to tough characters and yet still winnable by weaker ones). On this occasion I'll still list the set to illustrate what I was saying about their 'FF with a respray'-ness.
Expertise 12
Vitality 20
Fortune 11
The first two will start out the same in every subsequent Skyfall adventure, while Fortune could be any odd number from 7 to 13, depending on how the coins fall.

In the morning I decide to consult the Guild of Bargemasters. They warn me that a well-equipped expedition set off to investigate the disappearances a fortnight ago, and nothing's been heard of them since. Still, as the family connection means that I'm not going to be deterred, they offer a couple of suggestions. I can get a letter of authority and either travel on or shadow the next barge of valuable ores, or I can explore on my own initiative, in which case the Guild will provide and equip a canoe.

You know how, in films and TV shows, there'll often be a scene (or more than one) showing some expendable character fall victim to the villain's traps or minions, just to establish the threat, and later on the hero goes into the same situation and, whether by virtue of superior capabilities, better preparation, or authorial contrivance, triumphs where there predecessor failed? That's not how it works here. Travel on that next barge (as I did first time round), and I'll fare just as poorly as the guards, mercenaries and magicians who were trying to protect previous barges.

Thus, I choose to set off on my own, but with additional resources provided by the Guild. While the rules governing the need for food and rest aren't implemented as well as they should be, they're an important aspect of the adventure, and being able to set off with more than a week's supplies, rather than the two days' worth I'd have using just my own resources, could simplify matters a lot.

It's getting late by the time everything is ready, so I resolve to spend the night at home and set off in the morning. During the evening I have a visitor, who keeps her hood up, speaks with an unusually sibilant accent, and claims to be a Druidess sent by the Guild to help me. I tell her I work alone, and shut the door on her, and she's not a competent enough assassin to have any response to that.

In the morning I set off, and within an hour I've reached the confluence of the Rivers Sol and Doone. Another mile or so either way will take me into the Dunmarsh, through which the vanished barges were travelling when they disappeared. Since they were all on the Doone, I head up there. Seven tributaries flow into it along the stretch where the trouble has been occurring. It'd take me two days to reach Howard's Crossing, which is the next town up the river, but I shan't be going that far. For now I'll check the tributaries in sequence until I find anything of interest.

It takes me 7½ hours to reach a fork in the first tributary, at which I can go north-east or north-west. The Doone flows north-east, so I go that way. Another two hours' rowing takes me to a lake, which takes an hour to cross and has two other streams flowing into or out of it. I investigate the one that goes north, and things get complicated. Not in a good way: after three hours I find Further progress in this direction is not possible, so I'll have to turn back. But it's not that simple.

According to the rules, I may travel for a maximum of 14 hours in one day, and a quick calculation will reveal that I've already had 11½ of them. It takes 3 hours to discover that this stream terminates in an innavigable peat bog, which would take me over my limit, so I just have to stop part of the way along the stream. It must be assumed that I manage to find a spot of ground solid enough to make camp, because the book never goes into the consequences of being unable to settle down as required. The book also states that I need to eat once a day (and neglects to specify what will happen if I don't), and can only do so when specifically told I may. For simplicity's sake, I'll take it that I can eat when I make camp. Later books handle the need for food and rest a lot better. Still, it's decidedly frustrating to be trying to abide by the rules and find that they don't take into account the practicalities of actually playing the book.

So the first 3½ hours of the next day are spent discovering that this is a dead end and returning to the lake. From there I can head south, or return to the tributary I initially explored and check out its other branch. South may just take me back to the Doone, but it might connect with other streams, so I'll risk checking that out. It turns east and eventually forks north and south. Section number recognition indicates that the south branch goes back to the river, so I go north. That stream meanders, and the day is over before I reach the lake to which it leads. The lengthy stretches of nothing happening may be realistic, but they don't make for the most entertaining gameplay. There are encounters to be had elsewhere in the marsh, I promise.

On day 3 I reach the lake from which this channel issues. While exploring it, I see a group of Centaurs on the north eastern shore (described as 'one of the rare areas of firm ground in the Dunmarsh, which further complicates the 'find a place to spend the night' business, but it's not my fault the author overlooked things). The Centaurs tell me that a friend of theirs is in trouble, and they need fire in order to rescue him. Lacking any means of creating one, they require the assistance of a human. Glad of the opportunity to do something less dull than paddling up and down stream, I agree to help.

The endangered Centaur is caught in a mass of web in a cave inhabited by Giant Spiders, and fire is needed both for illumination and to heat the blades of the Centaurs' knives to make them pass through the webs more effectively. The Centaurs offer information in return for my accompanying them to the cave and creating the required fire. Seems like a good deal, so I ride to the cave and light the fire. Freeing the Centaur is a lengthy process, as the knives don't retain the heat for long, and soon become gummed up with web, but that burns off very quickly when the knives are brought back to the fire. I could try to speed things up by setting light to the web, but the trapped Centaur would get burned if I did that, and his friends would be less than appreciative of my 'initiative', so I just sit and wait for them to go about it slowly and meticulously.

Towards dusk the Giant Spiders attack, distracting the Centaurs. Trying to sneak away would mean missing out on the reward for helping (and other, unpleasant, consequences), so I draw my sword. A Spider swings at me on a strand of web, and the hot air above the fire interferes with its flight path, leading to a bad landing and immolation. Another scuttles across the floor towards me, and I have to fight it. It's an easy victory, and the Centaurs deal with their attackers equally well. By midnight their friend is free. After a night in the cave (at least this time there's no need to worry about finding solid ground), the Centaurs tell me of having seen barges being towed by Giant Turtles, ridden by Frogmen.

No, the 'amphibious humanoid' sort.

They always left the lake by the stream that flows north-west. That's my first solid lead all adventure. The Centaurs also reward me with a bag of leaves and an amulet. The leaves can be boiled to make an infusion that, when drunk, will reduce the Vitality loss for not eating to 1 per day (that'd be more impressive if I knew what failure to eat normally meant in terms of Vitality cost), and the amulet indicates me to be a friend of Centaurs and worthy of respect from other members of their tribe.

It takes around an hour for the Centaurs to return me to the lake, and I go the way they saw the barges being taken. There's an error in the book here: the obstacle I'm about to confront can be reached from two directions, and the 'approach from the south-east' section describes the encounter as if I'm coming from the north-west and vice versa. Having had to straighten the text out for the rpg.net thread, I can straighten out the mess without difficulty, but anyone reaching this part of the marsh for the first time could easily get confused.

Anyway, after two hours I see a large whirlpool up ahead. The marshy verges here look far too boggy for carrying the canoe around the whirlpool on foot, so I must either row into the maelstrom or turn back. Fearlessly, I advance, and drift across the illusion, experiencing only mild nausea. Another three hours take me to the next junction, but the one after that is only another hour away. And then I waste five hours heading up to and back from another dead end. Still, from that last junction it only takes an hour to get to another lake. The rest of the day is spent checking out the lake, and again I moor my canoe in the hole in the rules until morning.

The next day I take the other stream leading from the lake, which is another dead end. I'm eight hours into the day by the time I get back to the last turning I have yet to investigate. That one leads, after two hours, to yet another lake. There's one other stream running out of it, and that passes another of the 'rare stretches of firm ground', so as the day is nearly done, it makes sense to make camp there. Besides, the land is occupied by water buffalo, and there's one straggler that could be used to supplement my food supplies.

In fact, I can't land without getting into a fight with the lone buffalo, but the fight is easy. The subsequent fight with the panther that was stalking the same buffalo and now challenges me for the corpse is trickier, but I still prevail, and after butchering the buffalo and adding a week's supply of burgers to my backpack, I settle down for the night.

The next morning I continue the way I was going, reaching a junction and taking the less likely-looking of the options, as sensible-seeming turnings haven't done me a lot of good of late. Naturally, on this occasion the unpromising turning is the one that goes nowhere, so that's six hours I'm not getting back. Going the other way, and taking the more sensible-seeming option at the next couple of junctions I reach, towards the twelfth hour I spot a rocky island. Well, I probably spot the Giant who's standing on it first. He has webbed fingers and toes, and eagerly waves me closer upon catching sight of me.

There's one inadvisable option here that has no adverse consequences beyond wastage of time, but is rather amusingly handled. It's already been made clear that I'm downstream from the Giant, so if I take the time to retreat out of sight and disguise my canoe as a mound of drifting vegetation in the hope of being able to float past the Giant, I wind up facepalming at the realisation that it's not actually possible to drift against the flow of the current. But I'm not going to actually do that now: instead, I row towards the Giant.

Drooling unpleasantly, he addresses me in rhyme (doggerel, but better constructed than much gamebook poetry), indicating that I must answer a riddle to get past him, and if I get it wrong, I wind up in a pie (he already has the dish and crust). I agree to give the riddle a go. It's one of the, 'My first is in x, but not in y,' type, and more than one proper word can be made based on the clues. Still, there is another hint that makes it easier to figure out which possible solution is the best one, and if I'd been paying attention the first time I got this far in the book, I wouldn't have gone for the wrong one. Not an error I shall repeat today.

The Giant is displeased at my giving the correct answer, and pleads (still in verse) for something to put in the pie, explaining that a Mage has trapped him on the island with a perpetually regenerating pie crust, compelling him to kill or beg for a filling. As I have plenty of food to spare, I give him some buffalo, and by way of thanks he gives me a ring too small for his fingers (which, being webbed, aren't really suitable for ring-wearing anyway). This is one of the more useful treasures in the book, doubling all Fortune bonuses from now on (and the endgame involves significant expenditure of Fortune Points).

An hour's travel takes me to another junction, and I head the way I've been trending for a while. That stretch of water takes 2½ hours to navigate, so I have to stop part of the way along for another night's rest. In the morning I proceed to the most interesting lake in the book: it has an island in the middle. Two trees grow on the island, and there's also a mound of coloured timbers. Upon closer investigation, the wood turns out to be the remains of the deck houses from a number of barges, and I find a plaque bearing the name of one of the missing vessels. There are also a lot of footprints in the mud, which appear to have been made by Frogmen and Lizardmen.

As I reflect on this discovery, a large Crocodile emerges from the water and approaches, so I hurry to a tree and climb it. The Crocodile lumbers over to the foot of the tree and settles down to await my eventual descent. I climb higher, catching sight of a large nest. A closer look at this reveals it to be pretty filthy and foul-smelling, with two eggs and some bones in it. Unimpressed at the owner's standards of cleanliness, I kick the nest out of the tree, the stench so nauseating me that I actually lose a little Vitality. Good thing I was at full strength: a bad smell would be a particularly shameful cause of death. The eggs smash when it hits the ground, and their contents smell so vile that the Crocodiles immediately flee (yes, I know there was only one, but Mr. Tant slipped up slightly here: delaying my ascent for some time would have resulted in the Crocodile being joined by several friends, and this section follows on more naturally from the wait).

Leaving the lake, I catch sight of the rocky peak known as Dragon's Mount, and eventually wind up on the River Luna, just a mile or so south-west of the Mount. I make for the Mount, which gets its name from legends that a mighty Green Dragon had its lair there, and speculate on the possible existence of caverns within the mountain, which might have been taken over by the barge-pirates.

There are a number of points of potential interest around here. I start by investigating a stream which issues from the Mount, and has a meadow inhabited by deer on one bank. The meadow is suitably solid ground that I need not worry about getting stuck in the mud, but one of the Stags takes me for a threat to the herd, and attacks. I add some venison to my backpack.

I soon discover a cave mouth, and investigate further. There's a holly bush in front of it, and I have to crawl under to avoid getting scratched. After that I need to light a torch, but I had several among my starting equipment, so that's not a problem. The light reveals the cave to have been dug by sapient beings: there was a cave here, but a landslide blocked it off, and someone tunneled through the blockage. The book offers frequent opportunities to turn back, but I advance anyway, and eventually I find the Dragon. Well, its skeleton - evidently it starved to death after being trapped by the rockfall.

The cave with the Dragon's remains in has four exits, including the passage by which I entered. I check the others, going clockwise. Stairs lead down to a long-abandoned living area, from which two other exits lead, one secured with bolts, the door of the other hanging from one hinge. Behind the latter door are sleeping quarters, in which I find a coin minted two centuries ago and a plan of the caves, which has an 'X' marked west of the Dragon's cave, and indicates the passage north to be wholly artificial, whereas the others were developed from existing caverns and fissures.

The sturdy door is difficult to open, and leads to a room full of with a dozen dead people in it. Most are just skeletal remains, but one still looks pretty fresh - and starts moving towards me. The door shuts a lot more quickly than it opened, and I ascend the stairs more rapidly than I descended them. Skyfall Zombies are not the kind of pushover that the Fighting Fantasy variant are.

Returning to the central cave, I proceed to the west passage. It's the next one in sequence anyway, the 'X' on the map singles it out as being worthy of attention, and the dust on the ground near it has been disturbed, whereas there are no tracks by the north one, and only mine to the south. This leads to what my character is too ill-educated to recognise as a laboratory. There are signs of violence (broken bottles, shredded couches, chunks gouged out of the door), but also indications of recent use, with a ceramic bowl containing a mauve liquid that's the end product of some chemical or alchemical process. I take a sip, and am restored to full health. This is the part of the book I read when taking a look in Simon's copy, and I looked up the consequences of taking a deeper draught to see what adverse consequences it would have (transformation into a werewolf unaffected by the lunar cycle, and abandonment of the quest in favour of preying on the deer in the meadow).

Spurning the rest of the liquid, I also avoid the other door out of the room, which is made of sturdy metal and secured by heavy clips. There are greater dangers than Zombies locked away here.

The north exit from the central cave leads to a room containing a motionless Sphinx in a pentagram. I move closer, and the Sphinx animates. Favouring diplomacy over violence, I wait for the creature to regain its senses. It thanks me from releasing it from imprisonment and asks me to show it any food I have. When I do so, the Sphinx indicates a biscuit (Mr. Tant evidently having neglected to consider the possibility that a player might have exhausted their starting supplies before getting this far, and have only the meat of local fauna in their backpack), instructs me to break it into quarters, and mutters an incantation over them. Any time I eat one before a combat, I'll get a bonus to Expertise and do double Damage, which is no bad thing.

The Sphinx then vanishes to find out how the world has changed while it was trapped, and possibly to have a word with the magician who trapped it here, if he's still alive after all this time. There's one other exit from this room, which leads to a dead end. For some reason, the workers who excavated this tunnel just stopped. I wonder what the story behind that is.

Nothing I've left unexplored in here is worth exploring, so I leave the cave and continue to follow the stream until I reach the cave mouth from which it issues. The source of the stream is a pool of water, fed by cascades from the rock face of the far wall. Ledges, cracks and outcroppings make that wall appear climbable, but to get it I'd have to swim across the pool, and when I step into the water, a number of fish take an interest in me. Hurriedly retreating, I only get bitten once. Detaching the fish after emerging, I note the disproportionate teeth-to-body ratio and throw it back into the water, where the rest of the shoal promptly shred it, drawn by the traces of my blood. My narrow escape gets me the Fortune bonus I was angling for when I risked encountering the fish.

The cave also contains a crude altar, carved torch-holders in the shape of hands, and a large face carved on the wall. The altar appears to have been used for human sacrifices in the past, while the mouth of the carved face looks as if it could be the opening to a hidden passage. I climb into the mouth (without priming the trap the rpg.net mob managed to set off) and follow the tunnel to another cave. There's a wooden chest in here, surrounded by a circle of sand and gravel, and a human skeleton lies about half way between the circumference and the chest. Reluctant to learn what killed my predecessor, I use my rope to drag the chest across the sand to me. Then I throw the chest away, spending a Fortune Point to ensure that when the chest hits the ground, it bursts open, so any traps designed to catch out somebody opening the chest will go off at a safe distance.

Keeping my hands well away from the envenomed blade revealed by my violently cautious opening method, I investigate the chest's contents. There's a dagger that's too badly designed to be of any use in a fight, a mask resembling the face carved on the wall, and a couple of gauntlets that, while worn, increase my Expertise, but make me too belligerent to retreat from a fight. I take them, but put them into my pack: while they won't help if I'm taken by surprise, being unable to resist the call of battle would be a lot more dangerous.

There's nothing else worth looking into here, so I head back to the meadow, where the new alpha male of the deer herd is foolish enough to try and consolidate its position by attacking me. Even without the gauntlets on, the outcome is a foregone conclusion.

Continuing my exploration of the Mount (it is a bit of a design flaw that there are multiple locations of interest clustered here in one place, when nothing happens, slowly, in so much else of the swamp), I see a ledge that could take me to the caves I noticed higher up when initially reconnoitering the area, and start to ascend. An Eagle attacks, but I kill it with ease. The mouth of the first cave smells more like a stable than an eyrie. I put the gauntlets on and make for the next cave. Annoyed at having been ignored, a Hippogriff emerges from the cave I bypassed, and my toughest fight yet occurs - without the gauntlets, I'd be dead. As it is, I'm just badly injured by the time the Hippogriff stops being an annoyance, so I down one of the healing potions I've been carrying since the start of the adventure.

Fluttering and squawking noises issue from the higher cave, so I go in to investigate, finding the Eagle's nest. The mother is here, ready to defend her young, and but for my knowledge of the important item concealed within the nest, I'd leave them in peace. As it is, I reluctantly fight again. Once I've killed the mother and spared the chicks a slow death by starvation, I rummage through the nest until I find the 'Neutralise Poison' potion it contains, and then turn my attention to the crevices in the cave wall. There's something glinting in the first fissure, so I reach in to get it (needing to remove the gauntlet in order to fit my hand in).

After all, what's the worst that can happen?

Just as I grab the item, something stings my hand, but I manage to retain my hold on the shiny item as I yank my arm out of the hole. The potion I just got from the Eagles' nest counteracts the venom, and once I'm feeling in good health again, I turn my attention to my newest acquisition. Which turns out not to be such a smart thing to do, as I'm holding a Mirror of Mind Erasure, and have to spend a few Fortune Points in order not to spend the rest of my life gaping inanely at the contents of my hand. Still, now I know what effect it has, I can potentially use it as a weapon against any enemy intelligent enough to be affected by its stupefying capabilities.

Ignoring the second fissure, which contains just as much Scorpion but no actual treasure, I leave the cave and descend to the one I ignored earlier. Climbing down looks likely to be trickier, and there's the risk of attracting the attention of a second Hippogriff, so I secure my rope in the late Eagles' cave and abseil down. Then, putting the gauntlets back on, I enter the lower cave, where I find the first Hippogriff's mate guarding their nest, and get attacked. This fight goes more easily, and afterwards I can rest and eat a meal. I could try taking the eggs in the hope of selling them to an animal trainer, but the practicalities of keeping them safe and warm are off-putting.

At the back of the cave is a flight of stairs leading down, but I ignore them as they only lead to trouble. This section of the adventure could be argued to go against the 'reward the thinking player and penalise the careless' ethos, because when was ignoring the warning signs on a tomb ever the wise thing to do in a gamebook? Well, it is here, and as soon as you step past the entrance, you are guaranteed an unsuccessful ending to the adventure.

After that I return to my canoe and set off to Dragon's Mount. Yes, that is where I've just been, but problematic design means that the only way of investigating the possibility of interesting goings-on beneath the waterline is to return to the river and then moor the canoe in a different spot. Not far from this new place I see signs of activity: worn patches of grass, and a few bits of broken weapon. This sight does not deter me from shedding most of my clothes and equipment and diving into the water.

The water is clear enough that I can see the river bed and the plants growing out of it. Some of which seem to be less plant-like, and more humanoid, and I feel an urge to swim closer. The expenditure of more Fortune helps me resist this compulsion before I wind up forgetting the need for oxygen, so the Water-Kelpies are denied their prey.

Taking more care about where I focus my attention, I swim on and catch sight of an underwater cave mouth. Surfacing and looking more closely, I discover that the cave mouth actually extends above water level, but a wooden screen, camouflaged to resemble the rock, is hiding that fact. Reassured that I'll be able to find air within the cave, I dive down and swim under the screen.

It turns out that there's a whole hidden harbour in there, with a number of barges moored by the natural dock or wooden quays. Reflecting that most denizens of the marsh are nocturnal, I opt to investigate while things are quiet. A rope ladder hangs from one of the quays, but there are Lizardman guards on the quay, and I have to spend Fortune to avoid being spotted. The barges are under less scrutiny, and I'm able to use one of them to get out of the water. Hiding in the shadows, I watch a Lizardman with a halberd wander across to a large fence and prod one of the humans trapped behind it, tormenting prisoners for fun.

Once he's gone, I move closer to the fence, which turns out to be a hedge of thorns. The people trapped behind it are all from the vanished barges, and my father is in their midst. I learn how many Lizardmen there are here, and that their shape-shifting leader has magical powers. The prisoners are keen to break out and take revenge on their captors, but I advise a more subtle approach, and wait for the next guard to come along. Then it occurs to me that I'm not really equipped for a fight, so I return to the canoe to gather useful equipment like the broken biscuit, the gauntlets and the mirror, and down another Potion to restore myself to full health. While outside I also relocate the canoe to somewhere less close to where the Lizardmen probably hold their combat drill at night. That turns out to be a wise decision as, by the time I'm ready to return to the enemy base, around a dozen Frogmen are practising with weapons in the meadow.

Alas, while some of the enemy forces are now outside, those who aren't are a lot more alert, so I need to spend more Fortune to not get noticed, and postpone the rescue until things quieten down again. Once the next day has dawned and most of the Lizardmen and Frogmen are asleep, I swim back in, return to my hiding place near the hedge, and ambush the next guard. What with the gauntlet bonus, the fact that my base Expertise is higher than the Lizardman's, and a particularly impressive SURPRISE penalty applied to the Lizardman (it's capitalised like that in the rules, okay?), it is literally impossible for me to lose a round, and a little Fortune expenditure to increase damage ensure that he's dead before he can raise the alarm.

Once the prisoners are free, we decide to retain the element of surprise as long as we can. A dozen of the healthiest escapees hide on a barge that has yet to be unloaded, and when one of the other guards gets curious about the failure of the dead one to return, a prisoner who's learned a little of their language makes a slurred response indicating having found a store of wine on the barge. Evidently there's no term for 'I don't drink on duty' in the Lizardman tongue, as the guards rush away from the alarm gong in order to partake of their friend's discovery. The ambush is a success, and my comrades-in-arms guard the tunnels leading to the other Lizardmen and Frogmen's quarters while I confront the leader.

His quarters are a little odd, lavishly furnished in parts, but with ramps leading down to a central pool of water. Sleeping in this pool, but with its head resting on a cushion at the foot of a ramp, is a reptile that on first glance resembles a crocodile, but upon closer examination turns out to have a number of humanoid characteristics. Remembering the prisoners' claims of the enemy boss being able to shift his shape, I guess that this is the leader, and wake him to show him the pretty mirror I found higher up the mountain. Spending more Fortune ensures that he is unable to shake off its effect, and the beast transforms into a bearded man, who starts to drool before collapsing. When I finish him off, the body repeatedly transforms between man, crocodile, and the intermediate form in which I found the leader, eventually stabilising as the hybrid.

In the aftermath, Lizardman prisoners reveal some of their late leader's history. He was a Druid, who developed the mauve potion that I found in the semi-trashed laboratory, which turned him into a Were-Crocodile. Allying with the Lizardmen, Frogmen and a few human agents, he developed the scheme for stealing the barges, teaching minions spells to incapacitate their crews. He claimed to be working towards establishing a kingdom for his non-human allies, but evidence suggests that he may have been planning to abscond with the best treasure once he had enough.

Regardless, he's been defeated, and a strategy is devised to help with the capture of his accomplices outside the marsh. Meanwhile, I start planning a new expedition, to somewhere less damp and muddy. But that's another adventure, for another day.

Well, for the most part I enjoyed that. Still, I can see that it might have been a lot more frustrating if I hadn't become so familiar with aspects of it thanks to running it at rpg.net. Considering the number of gamebook series being revived these days, I'd be interested to see a revised and improved edition, though I can see that some of the problems wouldn't be easy to fix.

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