Wednesday, 20 November 2013

I Will Hunt You Down, and the Last Thing You See Will Be My Blade

The Magnakai sub-series of Joe Dever's Lone Wolf books starts with The Kingdoms of Terror, a book that has never made all that much of an impression on me. Assorted aspects of it linger in the memory, not all of them for good reasons, but the adventure as a whole remains fuzzy and ill-defined in my head, despite my having played it several times.

The first time I read it, my character wound up beheaded because I hadn't paid sufficient attention to place names (this makes more sense in context). When I was playing through the series by the rules (and going back to the start of book 1 every time I failed), the first time I reached this book, I managed to get Lone Wolf killed in a way that couldn't happen. The thing is, all the Kai Disciplines get upgrades in this series, and you start with just three of them, accumulating the rest over the course of books 6-12. The original Discipline set is largely overlooked. However, when I came to Kingdoms, I'd just finished book 5, in which I had all but one of the basic set, and hadn't yet got into the mindset of not having most of the Disciplines. So when the book asked if I had the new and improved version of Tracking, I forgot that I didn't, acted on information I shouldn't have had, and somehow wound up killed by guards. I was about to create another new Lone Wolf for book 1 when I remembered that I didn't actually have the Discipline that had led to my death, and therefore couldn't have died like that, so I went back to the Discipline check where I'd gone wrong and started over, paying more attention to what was actually on my Action Chart.

The implementation of the new set of Disciplines leads me to suspect that the Kai are actually Artificial Intelligences, and their Disciplines are software. The rules don't actually engage with the issue of the basic Discipline set acquired during books 1-5, but the implication is that they no longer work, as if they had to be uninstalled before I could add the new and (at least in some instances) improved versions. Since book 1, Healing has enabled me to regain lost Endurance at the rate of 1 point per combat-free section. Now it appears that I have to get the Magnakai Discipline of Curing to get the same effect. Similarly, it seems that the Combat Skill bonus for having Weaponskill no longer applies, and while Weaponmastery is a lot better than Weaponskill (a higher bonus, working with more than one weapon, and I get to choose the weapons), losing the old bonus for no good reason is a bit iffy. And while I didn't get Mindblast, if I had done, I'd be less than thrilled to find that it no longer works unless I get the .1 version, Psi-surge. Since the climax of the previous adventure I've spent three years in intensive study and training, at the end of which I'm significantly inferior to the dozy twit who knocked himself out on a tree at the start of the first book.

To give Mongoose Publishing their due, the reissue of Kingdoms does state that the original set of Disciplines can be carried across along with my stats and certain items. (Hang on, Backpack Items don't carry across? So the Combat Skill-boosting potion from book 3 that I was saving for the really nasty fight in book 9 or the even nastier one in book 11 is just gone? Expletive deleted!) On the downside, the bonus adventure in Mongoose book 6 implies that the main adventure has been George Lucased to such a degree that I might not be able to stomach reading it. So do I play as a shadow of my former self, or risk concussion from the headdesking that the retcons are liable to induce? I'll go with the Mongoose rules, as these books are tough enough without adding nonsensical restrictions. And in addition to the old set of Disciplines, I'm taking Divination (enhanced Sixth Sense), Weaponmastery (in Sword, Bow and Dagger) and Psi-Screen (because all the psionic power-using enemies in this series are just too powerful for Mindshield to protect me against them, even though it worked fine against Darklord Haakon).

Since the death of Haakon, the remaining Darklords have been involved in a civil war, so they won't be bothering me for another book or two. As indicated above, I've been spending the time between books learning Magnakai Disciplines. Well, three of them. The others cannot be learned, only gained by repeating a quest undertaken by the first Kai Grand Master, Sun Eagle, more than a millennium ago. He made a record of everything he did, but his handwriting has faded, so all I can make out is that I must start by fetching McGuffin B, otherwise known as the Lorestone of Varetta. It seems a little odd that the 'training manual' part of The Book of the Magnakai is still perfectly legible, while the only part of Sun Eagle's 'What I Did on My Quest' essay to survive is the part that was written first, but maybe his pen ran out part of the way through the first sentence, and the replacement was a cheap one with inferior ink.

Anyway, Varetta is located south of the region I visited in book 4, so I cancel the milk and the newspapers, and then set off. The first section mentions a couple of incidents along the way that are too trivial to merit more than a passing reference - being ambushed by brigands and leaving a bunch of them dead, getting VIP treatment in Ruanon, using my Kai skills to win handsomely at a gambling house - and then as I reach Quarlen, location of the only bridge over the river between me and my destination, I have to decide which gate I will use to enter the town, because that's not trivial at all.

This being a Lone Wolf book, I know what's likely to be the better one, though it's possible that if I'd chosen Pathsmanship I'd get an indication that this is an exception - then again, thinking I had Pathsmanship was what got me pseudo-killed back in the nineties, so whatever information it provides obviously isn't as helpful as it could be. And this is an exception to the 'rule': a guard demands a pass that I don't have. Offering a bribe may be a bad idea, and trying to just ride in is sure to mean trouble, so I just say that I don't have a pass. Well, either my thinking I had a Discipline I didn't happened later in the adventure than I remembered, or I chose very poorly back then, because there's nothing to prevent me from ignoring the guard's insults and trying the other gate. At which I am charged money to enter, seemingly for not being on wheels (the wagon and caravan ahead of me are allowed straight through), but it's an affordable price.

Not far from the bridge is a tavern, which the text has me enter. Among the clientele I notice some soldiers who appear to be mercenaries from Varetta, and approach them to see if I can find out anything about their home city. They fall silent as I approach, and are obviously ready for trouble. I'm not sure whether offering to buy them drinks would break the ice or be perceived as an insult, so I just ask if I may join them. One of them tells me to state my business or leave them alone, and as I'd rather not attack them or order a meal, I introduce myself. It turns out that they've heard of me, and are keen to get to know such a renowned hero.

After a while I mention the Lorestone, and get a hefty info-dump about it. Lots of people want to get their hands on it, because legend has it that whoever wields it will rule the region. It was last seen being dropped into the River Storn by Prince Kaskor, just after his belief that it would make him invulnerable was fatally disproved. The soldier who tells me the legend also mentions that the sages on Brass Street in Varetta know more about it.

I know that the need to consume Meals at periodic intervals is part of the rules, but six consecutive choices where one of the options is to buy some food (and the only alternative for the sixth one being to eat what I brought with me) leave me wondering if Joe Dever was on a diet while writing this part of the book. And in the midst of this obsession with eating, the book doesn't allow for the (admittedly remote) possibility that I could have enough money to pay for a room (which I just did) but none left over to buy dinner, and no food in my Backpack. Oh, and the picture of the innkeeper in the Mongoose book is inaccurate, unless your standards for 'fat' meet the fashion designers' standard where anyone who can walk over a cattle grid without risk of falling through the gaps is considered overweight.

And after all that, the food is undercooked, judging by the way the 'roast' beef is leaving bloodstains on the serving maid's hands. Besides which, I'm obviously not going to get to eat it even if I trust Healing to protect me from food poisoning, as I'm being directed to the same section to supposedly tuck in as was given for going up to my room without paying for a plate of warm raw meat. Yep, I get distracted by the arrival of an arrogant, duel-scarred lordling who's apparently wearing clothes made of wood and metal (all right, so obviously 'ebony and gold' is figurative language for the colours, to show how swanky and expensive the clothing is, but a literal reading is more amusing). After making demands of the staff, he seats himself at an occupied table, and within seconds he rounds on the old man who was already there, heaping abuse on him for daring to sit at the same table as him. He leaps to his feet, his hand going to the hilt of his sword.

Okay, hands up if you find this situation so utterly implausible that you are drawn to the conclusion that the arrogant youth must actually be a hired assassin who's been specially engaged in order to kill the old man. Because it would appear that Joseph C. Williams did, since he chose to include that 'explanation' in the tiresome mini-adventure that accompanies Kingdoms in the Mongoose text. Thankfully, while the 'edited and augmented by Joe Dever' credit on the mini-adventure implies that this preposterous retcon has Mr. Dever's approval, he hasn't rewritten the relevant section of the main adventure to back up Mr. Williams' bizarre theory.

Anyway, not wishing to see the old man murdered, I get out my bow and fire an arrow into the lordling's arm, causing his blow to go awry. Take it from someone who used to do archery: that's the most implausible element of this set piece. Cursing me and threatening to kill me for having the audacity to wound Roark, highborn of Amory, the lordling demands that the innkeeper return his cloak and sword (how was he able to almost skewer the old man if he'd left his sword in the cloakroom?) and staggers out of the inn.

The old man introduces himself as Cyrilus, a magician from Varetta, and my obvious interest in his home town catches his attention. I ask him about the Lorestone, and he answers evasively until I reveal my identity (which doesn't fit well with Williams' claim that Cyrilus was waiting here specifically to meet me because of a prophetic dream). Then he tells me pretty much the same things that I learned from the soldiers, and says he'll take me to someone who can help me find the stone.

It's unclear whether or not I get back to my (by now doubtless cold) raw beef. Regardless, the book says nothing about the standard penalty for not eating, and given that the encounter with Roark and Cyrilus would have happened just the same if I'd been heading upstairs rather than sitting in front of a plate of potential salmonella, all that tedious stuff about buying food was even more unnecessary than I'd thought.

In the morning we set off towards Varetta, and along the way we pass a village that's holding an archery contest, with a bow for first prize. Quite a nifty bow, too, but I'm reluctant to enter the contest because I'm not sure that my Combat Skill is good enough to give me a decent chance of winning, and I know from past experience that even if I do win the bow, I'd have to either give it away or face a randomised chance of getting killed. Probably at worse odds than the unavoidable '1 in 10' situations that have cost me a Lone Wolf or two before now. So I'll just ride on.

Further on we see a castle, which Cyrilus tells me contains a healing spa. He offers me a jar to collect some of the water, but I decline: between Healing and the profusion of Laumspur potions available, medicinal waters are not a priority.

It would appear that I've not remembered the sequence of events in this book entirely correctly. I'd thought that an encounter I've been awaiting was another of the opportunities to get separated from Mungo Cyrilus, but a few minutes ago he commented on this being a region 'where war and death are unfamiliar visitors', which ranks alongside 'one more day until I retire' in the life expectancy-shortening stakes, and now we're approaching the gate where he meets his end if I refuse to take any of the preceding bait. Just to drive home the point, he mentions that the gatekeeper is his brother, whom he hasn't seen in ages. He suggests that I go to the nearby ale hut or bread hut while he catches up on the gossip, but I stick with him.

There's no response when Cyrilus knocks at the gate, and even if I didn't already know what's afoot, Divination would warn me of the imminent ambush. At last the gate opens, to reveal an armed warrior who's aiming a crossbow at me, and fires. Bizarrely, when asking if I have Divination (again), the Mongoose text adds 'and wish to use it'. I mean, what's the point of having an ability that allows you to anticipate and avoid unseen dangers if I have to make an active decision to sense danger with it? And who in their right mind is going to go, 'Well, I could be prepared for this attack and have a good chance of dodging, but all things considered, I'd rather increase the chances of my being fatally shot,' anyway?

I deflect the bolt with the Sommerswerd, and (apparently in less time than it takes an enraged lordling to strike a blow, as I'm told that there's no time to use my bow here) the warrior drops the crossbow, grabs an axe, and charges at me. I make short work of him. Not short enough, though: while I've been fighting, five armoured horsemen have surrounded and captured Cyrilus. Five warriors against one old man might seem a bit excessive, especially as there's been no indication that his wizardry can do anything useful, but I can imagine that, as they saw me hacking away at their associate with such finesse and lethality, they found themselves less than eager to confront me. Certainly, they make a rapid departure, taking Cyrilus with them.

The speed with which I give chase makes no difference to the outcome, so I stop to search the body of my attacker. To my surprise, it's a woman, who wore unisex armour and used reeds to deepen her voice. Her face is vaguely familiar, and apart from weapons and armour, she has only a money pouch and a silver brooch. I conclude that this is because hired killers travel light, but then, I was making inaccurate assumptions about her sex a couple of sections back, so my conclusions about her profession shouldn't automatically be taken as indicative of the truth (though they must have been accepted and extrapolated from by Mr. Williams). The book makes me keep the brooch for the purpose of gameplay mechanics rather than from any clear character-based motive.

Now I pursue Cyrilus' abductors, and maybe this is where I forgot that I didn't have Pathsmanship back in the nineties. As it is, while my basic Disciplines of Tracking and Hunting help me follow for a while (and if I can still use them, there's definitely no reason why Healing shouldn't still work too), I lose track of the riders when I reach a village. I take a wrong turning, but soon spot a local who tells me that no horsemen have come past lately, so turn back without wasting much time. Could not taking the wrong turning lead to a fatal ambush? Quick peek - yes it could (though it's not automatic). Well, that's that mystery solved.

Anyway, it turns out that Cyrilus' captors were hiding in the village, so whichever path I took would have been wrong. As I'm heading back to the village, I see them emerge from hiding. Following a brief argument, they set off again, heading in my direction, so now it's my turn to hide from them. I'm not sure an attempted ambush with my bow will work much better than the female warrior's did, and Cyrilus is doomed no matter what I do, so rather than attempting to take the last rider in line by surprise and risking getting into a fight with the lot if he gets their attention, I just follow them. Bad choice: Cyrilus starts to slip from the horse on which he's being carried, and as the rider turns to secure him, I am spotted. Now I will try using the bow. It works better than expected, killing the rider who spotted me, and startling the others enough that I'm able to get his horse, and my ill-fated companion with it.

Not much further ahead, the road is blocked by another man on horseback. It's Roark, the lordling who attacked Cyrilus back in the inn. Having the silver brooch means that I recognise the family resemblance between him and the woman who tried to kill me. The other riders catch up to us and tell him that she's dead (though they wouldn't have bothered to mention my killing of a relative of his if I hadn't seen her face), and he goes a bit mad and calls upon a denizen of hell (or someplace similar). The only way I can escape is by detouring through a nearby churchyard, but as I do, a chill descends, cracks open in the earth, and the dead rise, startling the horse, which throws me. I have to fight the walking corpses, and the Mongoose text includes a reminder of the extra damage that the Sommerswerd does against undead opponents. Not that I'd forgotten, but the omission in the original text always did bother me a little, so the edit is welcome.

I rapidly dispose of my assailants, and see that Roark's summonation has gone out of control, and further zombies are slaying his men. He rides off, and in his absence the living dead disintegrate, but it's too late for the riders. Too late for Cyrilus, too, who was crushed when the horse fell on him. With his dying words he tells me where to go, naming the same street the soldiers mentioned. If I had Curing I could prolong his dying agonies long enough for a more substantial info-dump, but there's no way of preventing his death. I bury him in the churchyard, which seems a little inappropriate, what with its occupants having brought about his death, but then, abandoning the body or taking it with me wouldn't have been any better.

Towards the end of the day I reach another inn. A conjurer is putting on a show there, and invites people to bet on the solution to a logical conundrum he presents. It's not tricky to solve (though in a 'guess the sexes' puzzle the use of the gendered adjective 'blond(e)' rather than the neutral 'fair-haired' creates problems for the author - and the Mongoose edit really doesn't improve things), and by making a wager I win enough money to cover the cost of a room for the night, stabling for my horse, and a cooked meal. During the night, rats gnaw their way into my Backpack and eat the Meals inside because readers who didn't choose Huntmastery at the start of the adventure are Bad People and must be punished.

The next day I reach the village that I thought preceded Cyrilus' capture. There's a shrine in it, where old women tend shrubs with orange berries. Not having Curing means that I fail to recognise the significance of the berries (even though in book 3 what was needed to recognise a byproduct of these berries was either Sixth Sense or Weaponskill, and I have the upgraded versions of both of those Disciplines). Still, I can stop at the shrine and buy some berries even with this strange gap in my knowledge. The berries are Alether, which can be used for temporary boosts to Combat Skill. I buy three doses, two of which definitely need saving for later books.

In the evening I get to Varetta and proceed to a quadrangle. Four streets lead from it: Helin (or Helm) Way, Coachcourse, Flute Street and Dever-Couldn't-Be-Bothered-To-Name-It Road. I pick the default direction, and after a while I see a Taxidermist's shop, and choose to take a look inside. The proprietor offers to give me a tour of the shop, and I accept, proceeding to his workshop when he invites me to see that as well. In there, he offers me a goblet of wine to help take my mind off the smell. Okay, Divination ought to be kicking in about now (I know that this is a trap from earlier attempts at the book), but it isn't. Maybe I need to accept the wine before an inner voice says, 'No, don't do that!', but if Mr. Dever has for some strange reason decided that the Discipline which should 'warn [...] of imminent or unseen danger' doesn't work here, that'd be game over.

Other odd things here: the taxidermist has decided that the last of the Kai is a suitable subject for preserving. But how does he know who I am, when everyone else in the book has had to be told? And does he really keep a decanter of drugged wine (or possibly a drug-tainted goblet) sitting around in his workshop just on the off-chance that someone interesting enough to have stuffed will pop in?

Anyway, I decline the drink, and the taxidermist just lets me go. Continuing on my way, I reach a tavern that's clearly popular with soldiers. There's an insane game going on in there as I arrive. Remember the legend about William Tell shooting an apple off his son's head with a bow? Well, switch William Tell for a soldier on horseback, change 'shooting with a bow' to 'spearing with a lance', and substitute a row of soldiers accused of cowardice for the son. Oh, and it's probably some made-up fantasy fruit instead of an apple on each condemned man's head, but the text doesn't specify, and the artists have both gone for something apple-like.

Not particularly wanting to see what happens if the lancer's aim is off, I decide to ask a barmaid the way to Brass Street. Before I can get her attention, a couple of mercenaries decide to try and supplement their pay at my expense. It costs them their lives, and gains me the respect of several mercenary captains. One offers to buy me a drink, and I can sense that he has no malign intent (so why couldn't I tell that the taxidermist was up to no good when he offered me a drink, eh?).

The captain is recruiting men to help with the siege of Tekaro to the south, and asks me to join him. I decline, but the offer remains open, and he tells me that his company will be at the town of Soren for the next two days. Leaving his table, I have another go at getting directions to Brass Street, this time approaching the tavern-keeper himself. After slamming two brawling soldiers' heads together to break up the fight, he writes me some directions, and I pay for a single room. My night's rest is disturbed by a shooting star (which seems more like a meteor than a comet, despite Mr. Williams' claims), but I'm still well-rested by the time I set off again in the morning.

Following the directions I was given, I reach Brass Street and find a Hall of Learning. Inside I see signs to the observatory, the library and the temple. From the mini-adventure I know that the observatory is where I'll find the man I seek, but in book 5 I found that strictly unnecessary detours to libraries can be a good thing, so I'll try going there first. All I find there is evidence that someone has recently removed every book that could help me find the Lorestone. Oh, and a bit of iffy gamebook design. When I entered the library, I saw another exit, and was given the option of looking at books or trying the other door. After looking at books, there's no further mention of the second door, and I'm offered a choice of moving on to the temple or the observatory. As I tend to remember section numbers (incidentally, in this book 291 forms a part of the search for the way to Brass Street), I know that that mysterious door goes to the same section as following the sign to the observatory, so it's obvious to me why the section doesn't repeat the opportunity to go through that door - even the less number-observant would be likely to notice if two of the options led to the same number. Less obvious is why Mr. Dever considered the extra door necessary.

Anyway, I go to the observatory, where I startle a group of old men who are poring over tomes, charts and maps. Only one does not seem surprised to see me, and I recognise him as the man who gave me a copy of a poem back in book 4. He reassures his companions that I'm Lone Wolf, then introduces himself to me as Gwynian and explains to me that there are people here who are prepared to kill to keep the Lorestone from falling into anyone's hands.

At this point there's a disturbance outside. Apparently my horse has been noticed, and I guess it must have a registration number on it or something, because that's enough to have revealed my presence to those who oppose my quest. We make a hurried departure via a secret door, and Gwynian tells me that the Lorestone is in the crypt of Tekaro cathedral. He gives me a Silver Key to unlock the relevant tomb, and explains how and when I should leave Varetta. I also get to help myself to a selection of items, and take three Meals, a Rope and a Brass Whistle.

At the set time I leave my refuge, following a tunnel to a copse where a horse with false number plates has been left for me. Close by is a highway junction with a signpost indicating routes to Amory (home of the lordling who wants me dead) and Soren (current location of the mercenaries who are going to Tekaro and invited me to join them). This is where I went wrong on my first attempt at the book because, not having memorised the contexts in which I'd heard the two names before, I foolishly did as advised by Mr. Dever, consulting the map at the front of the book and seeing that Amory was on a more direct route to Tekaro than Soren. It's also a point where the more narrow-minded advocates of the 'always go left' policy will come to grief. Lone Wolf's face is on 'Wanted' posters all over Amory, though this news is learned just too late to avoid capture and execution.

So I head for Soren, and Roark remains out there as an ongoing antagonist, still determined to have my blood, ready to make trouble for me in subsequent adventures. In theory, at least, though actually I'll never see him again unless I make a very bad decision in book 10 (or a perversely whimsical one in book 18). Towards the end of the Magnakai series there are several encounters with old enemies to tie up loose ends, but the Roark one is handled poorly, being on an exceptionally difficult path that can only be reached by making a complete hash of a meeting with a potential ally.

Along the way to Soren I pass through a hamlet with a prominent bronze statue. This is of the local Robin Hood/Dick Turpin-equivalent, and has a slot for making donations, should I want his spirit to protect me from robbers and highwaymen. Though it's also possible that there's someone watching, and anyone seen to put coins in the slot becomes a target for banditry, their desire for protection implying both vulnerability and ownership of something worth stealing. Not a theory I have much desire to test.

Further on, I pass another church, and see a man staggering around in the graveyard. He calls for help, and while I don't have Curing, Healing should still work. Except that the man's actually a decoy for bandits (have I switched Divination off?), and as I draw near, a dozen rogues emerge from hiding and impale themselves on the Sommerswerd. Well, they try to attack me, but what with the Combat Skill disparity and the way the Combat Results Table works, I kill the lot in the first round of the fight. I take as much of their money as I can (there's a 50-coin limit), help myself to the Mirror that one of them is carrying, and ride on.

At a ford I have to stop and eat, and both versions of the text omit the usual 'unless you have Huntmastery' when stating that I must eat a Meal or lose Endurance. Okay, so this Lone Wolf doesn't yet have Huntmastery, but given that the write-up for the Discipline states that it can be used to find something edible even in wasteland and desert, I can imagine a reader who did select it being quite put out that it apparently doesn't work here.

Eventually I reach Soren. This is on the river, and a sign indicates the cost of passage by boat to several other towns and cities. Tekaro has been crossed off the list because of the current siege, so I decide to seek that mercenary captain rather than buying a ticket to somewhere near Tekaro. Especially as the destination closest to my goal is called Eula: I'd rather not have to wade through dozens of paragraphs of small print before I can click 'Accept'.

Slight problem: the non-ticket-buying option doesn't actually allow for seeking the captain. Instead I wind up musing over whether to continue to Tekaro via Amory (bad idea) or the Ceners (not as obviously unwise, but given that that region is the home of the bad guys in book 13, I'm guessing that there could be trouble there too). Still, it's late, so I wind up entering a tavern to get a room for the night, and coincidentally encounter the very man the book wouldn't let me seek. He and his men are going as far as they can by boat, and he offers to pay my fare. Well, given the alternatives, I shan't refuse his offer.

A slightly awkward transition takes me straight to the hold of the Kazonara, which I suppose must be the name of the boat on which we're travelling. I then get some much-needed rest in my cabin, and in the morning I get my first Lore-Circle check. Lore-Circles are an addition to the rules for the Magnakai series: there are four such 'circles', each containing between two and four Disciplines. As soon as I have all of the Disciplines in a specific Lore-Circle, I get an Endurance bonus (and probably also a Combat Skill one). The text goes slightly over the top, claiming that these bonuses can raise Combat Skill 'to a level far higher than any mortal warrior could otherwise attain'. Tell that to my previous Lone Wolf - even with every bonus, he'd still only be the equal of a just-starting-book-1 Lone Wolf who got lucky during character generation.

I kept the Lore-Circles in mind when picking Disciplines at the start of the adventure. While I haven't completed any of them yet (choosing Disciplines that could help keep me alive during the adventure was another consideration), I should have completed enough to give me as much of a Combat Skill boost as is achievable by the time I reach the preposterously tough fight in book 9. But I don't yet have any of the Disciplines in the Lore-Circle I'm being asked about now. To be honest, I can't imagine many players prioritising the ability to hide and follow tracks above danger sense, improved fighting prowess and protection from psychic attacks. Expect further commentary on Mr. Dever's strange promotion of lesser Disciplines when I reach book 13 and rant about one of the most rubbish deaths in gamebook history.

The boat hits a trap (I'm definitely going to have to send Divination back for repairs), and river pirates attack. The text focuses my attention on a one-eared, split-nosed rogue who 'is relishing the thought of ending [my] life'. Yesterday I took out thirteen grave-robbers with one blow - am I supposed to be scared of one man who's been seriously hurt in at least one previous fight? I have no problem with colour text in principle, but this is like making out that opening a jar of pickles is a challenge greater than all Hercules' labours combined.

I draw my bow and try to shoot the pirate, but thanks to the unstable footing, I wind up hitting a completely different pirate. As split-nose advances, the book tells me to draw another weapon if I have one - what kind of idiot wouldn't have a second weapon? There are two slots on the Action Chart exclusively reserved for weapons, there's a hefty Combat Skill penalty for fighting without a weapon, and there were a Quarterstaff, a Mace and a Short Sword for the taking in the hidey-hole provided by Gwynian.

Anyway, I pull out the Sommerswerd and try to face the pirate, only to discover that I inadvertently decapitated him while unsheathing it (well, that's my interpretation of the one-hit kill I score in the fight). I then have to fight off a horde of berserkers, and it takes me three blows to deal with them. In the mean time, the boat's captain has fought off a number of pirates himself, and after smashing the pirate captain's head against the mast he makes a Schwarzenegger-level pun. Most of the rest of the crew didn't fare so well, though the majority of the mercenaries survived.

The boat reaches Luyen, city of flowers and wine, and I accompany the mercenary captain to the local apothecary. Of the various potions on sale, only an Alether derivative appeals to me. Browsing around town, I replace the arrows I've used in a second-hand weapon shop, and get a map of Tekaro from a cartographer. I could also buy a map of my homeland, but there seems little point unless I'm feeling homesick. Rejoining the captain, I help him carry his purchases back to the boat, and the next leg of the journey is uneventful. The boat spends the night in the port at Rhem, and the mercenaries stay on board because a company with which they have a vicious rivalry is encamped nearby, and the captain doesn't want any unprofitable hostilities to break out.

In the morning we sail on to Eula, along the way spotting refugees heading away from the fighting, and giant toad-like beasts of burden towing barges upstream. Disembarking with the mercenary captain and his men, I accompany them to their new paymaster's camp, feeling under some obligation since the captain paid my fare. The sight of Tekaro burning in the distance is none too encouraging, After spending some time in consultation with his new boss, the captain returns with plans for an assault on the city's main gate, which has been weakened by recent assaults. The troops are unhappy with this, as there are still plenty of archers guarding the gate, and the announcement of a substantial fee does little to encourage them. The captain angrily dismisses anyone who won't join the assault, and I gladly take advantage of this opportunity to dissolve whatever contract we have.

Parting with the mercenaries might have got me out of a suicide mission, but it doesn't help me get past the city's formidable defences. Walking around, I see wounded soldiers whom Healing will not help for no adequately explained reason, and spot pontoons being constructed by Ogron engineers and carpenters.

No. The ones in the book are blue. And skilled craftsbeings.

Then I notice a sewer outfall set into the city wall, and ask the Ogrons about it. They tell me it's been nicknamed the Hell-hole, because ten soldiers were sent in to explore it, and evidently met with complications. As did the ten Ogrons sent to find out what happened to them. Also, unpleasant noises issue from it after dark. I ask to borrow a pontoon to cross to the 'Hell-hole', but my request is denied on the not unreasonable grounds that the Ogrons will receive 100 lashes apiece if any of the pontoons are taken. So I have to swim across the river, losing a little Endurance owing to the cold.

Entering through the hole that presumably admitted my 20 predecessors, I proceed to a junction, noting with mild concern the complete absence of rats and other sewer vermin. After a while I reach a junction and a Mongoose blunder. At this point I'm asked if I have a map of Tekaro, and since I bought one in Luyen, the answer should be yes. But the map I bought was described as a Backpack Item (I had to ditch the mirror to make space for it), and the Mongoose text goes on to say, 'If you do not possess this Special Item...' The rules make a distinction between Special Items and Backpack Items, so either the Mongoose text is using the wrong terminology somewhere, or the map I bought is for some inexplicable reason not usable here. The original book lacks the 'Special Item' specification, and as there's no reason given for my not being able to use the map from Luyen, I'm going to just dismiss this as yet another example of Mongoose's dismal quality control and use the map. (A quick check of what would have happened if I'd had Curing reveals that using it to help some wounded soldiers would have given me a second opportunity to acquire a map of Tekaro - which is also categorised as a Backpack Item. Sigh.)

Using the map, I work out which tunnel leads in the direction of the cathedral and head that way. Further along, I see stone steps leading up to a trapdoor. I don't think that leads into the cathedral crypt, but I do remember from an early attempt at the book that it's all too easy to go past the entrance and blunder into an Instant Death, so I'd better just check. No, it doesn't lead into the cathedral, but to the city square, around 200 yards from the cathedral. The square contains many guards too unobservant to notice a trapdoor being raised in their vicinity, but probably not so dim as to fail to spot me if I try clambering out. At least now I know how close I am.

Less than 50 yards ahead, I see and ignore a side turning. And just over 150 yards after that, I spot a ladder ascending to a stone door. That adds up to something worthy of further investigation. The door is jammed from disuse and, lacking any Disciplines useful for door-opening, I must barge it open. The rules treat this as a combat, and I take more damage 'fighting' that stiff door than I did battling a baker's dozen robbers or that full-of-himself pirate. I think that's more embarrassing for them than for me, but nobody comes out of this covered in glory.

At last the door opens, and I enter the crypt. It doesn't take me long to find the right tomb, and I'm just inserting the key into the lock when the reason none of those soldiers or Ogrons came back out shows itself. A ten foot-high monster with hairy limbs and a reptilian tail advances on me. I fire an arrow - not because I expect to achieve much with it, but that might give me another section for Healing to make good my door-inflicted injuries. Yep, the arrow ricochets off the creature's scales, but if I survive this fight with just 1 Endurance remaining, that shot will have saved my life.

I narrowly miss out on one annoying feature of this final fight. Complications are to arise as soon as I've halved the attacking Dakomyd's Endurance. If my Combat Skill were a point higher, I'd have a 1 in 10 chance of striking my opponent dead every round (and those odds could be increased to as much as 3 in 10 with a suitably optimised character). So it's possible to instantaneously slay the brute, and then wind up being killed by the creature even though it's already-dead. Indeed, unless you already know the counter-intuitive way of surviving this battle, it's highly probable that you'll die as a consequence of your easy victory.

Two blows with the Sommerswerd, and the Dakomyd is at less than half-strength. At which point one of its severed limbs grabs my ankle, doing the first damage I've taken all fight (yes, the end boss joins the ranks of the 'achieves less in battle than a door'). Other parts of the monster are dragging themselves back together. It's preparing for a fresh assault. So I turn my back on the beast, finish unlocking the tomb, and open it. That's the only way to make it to the end of the book, believe it or not. You see, as has not been foreshadowed or hinted at in any manner, the Lorestone emits a radiance that paralyses the Dakomyd, and touching it grants me an insight into the creature's Achilles' heel, enabling me to slay it with one blow.

Now that I've absorbed the power and wisdom contained within the Lorestone, it becomes just a hollow sphere of - depending on which version of the text you're reading - glass or crystal (until Mr. Dever forgets that detail in a later book). But I've leveled up, and am ready to proceed to the next adventure. Good thing too, as this one has been a real slog (hence the longer-than-usual gap between blog posts), and the prospect of having to play it again does not appeal. So I'm definitely sticking with my save point policy.

3 comments:

  1. That was an epic playthrough! I can understand you don't want to go through that again. Was funny imagining your character chopping that huge Dakomyd to pieces, such a huge monster, but in the end no stronger than a door.
    Castle Death should provide more of a challenge. Of course, perhaps you remember all the little details.

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  2. Yes an enjoyably epic romp! Does seem a bit duff that previous abilities stop working, but I guess Lone Wolf is equal to it.

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  3. In the Lone Wolf Club Newsletter, Joe Dever said that the effects of Mindblast, Weaponskill and Healing can be carried over to the Magnakai series (even if one of these was the discipline you didn't pick when playing the Kai series). This is made clear in the Project Aon versions of the books.

    You are mis-remembering the encounter with the Silver Bow; you can trade any two Special Items (or 20 GCs) instead of giving up the bow to avoid the instant death chance. I like to use the Red Pass and Port Bax Ticket from book 2. I suppose they must have some re-sale value.

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