Friday, 31 October 2014

Grim, Ungainly, Ghastly, Gaunt, and Ominous

I received the fifth Wizards, Warriors and You book, Lynn Beach's The Haunted Castle of Ravencurse, as part of the same gift that included book three. While replaying it for this blog may revive old memories, at the moment I recall little beyond the basic premise and a couple of ways the adventure can end badly for the Wizard. Those deaths won't come into play here, as I'm playing the odd-numbered books as the Warrior - which does at least mean that this playthrough won't end with my character being turned into a zombie while hallucinating King Henry atop a giant blue butterfly. It makes more sense in context.

After the usual introduction, the book starts with the Wizard and Warrior at the foot of the cliff on which the eponymous castle stands. There's then a flashback to explain what has brought them here: all the wars in which King Henry's kingdom has been embroiled in recent years have depleted the royal coffers to a hazardous extent. Rather than raise taxes again, he wants to try and solve this economic crisis with the treasures of Ravencurse.

Around a century ago, the wealthy and evil Ravencurse line came to an abrupt end when Mad Morwenna, the head of the family, created a host of monsters that killed the family and most of their servants. The one survivor sought refuge with King Henry's ancestors, for whom he provided a partial map of the Castle of Ravencurse, with details of the treasures within and the horrors guarding them. So far, nobody has dared do anything with the map, but the Wizard and Warrior must now brave the castle's dangers for the sake of the loot it contains.

As I indicated a few paragraphs ago, I shall be choosing the rôle of the Warrior here, so I must now choose three weapons to go with my sword. I pick the Battle-Axe, the Morning Star and the Dagger, as I have a vague impression that projectile weapons aren't good things to use here.

The map is pretty basic, but the guide to what may be found in the castle is a bit more detailed. We seek the Crimson Crown (which provides the wearer with more financial insight than a degree in Economics) and the Bottomless Basket, which provides unlimited wealth for the non-greedy (who would, by definition, be fine with more limited wealth, but magic and irony do often go together quite well). The monstrous guards include a Troll, a Cyclops, Zombies, a Spider of Doom, a Two-Headed Wolf and the Ghost of Mad Morwenna (which must have manifested mighty quickly - otherwise the only survivor of the massacre that ended her corporeal existence wouldn't know about it).

The cliff has finger- and toeholds etched into it, and as I have substantial mountaineering experience, I lead the way, with the Wizard roped to me. After a while we reach a ledge, and I spot a cave leading into the cliff. It could be a way into the castle, which would eliminate the need for further climbing. Or it might just be the Troll's lair, but I'm prepared to take that risk.

It is the Troll's lair. It has also been magic-proofed by Mad Morwenna, so the Wizard won't be of any assistance here. The Troll claims to be a master swordsman, and while the boast appears unlikely, I would be unwise to just assume that it's a lie. What is obvious is that the Troll is pretty slow-moving, so I decide to go for a rapid attack, using my lightest weapon - the Dagger. The resultant battle reveals the Troll to have been speaking the truth about his swordsmanship, but by dodging a lot and inflicting lots of small wounds, I madden him enough that his prowess is lost in the rage. Eventually he provides an opening for a coup de grace, which I take.

At the back of the cave are stairs leading up. They take us to the top of the cliff, but outside the castle. According to the map, there are two entrances. The front door is twice the height of a man, and has no handle on the outside, only a massive knocker and a sign insisting that guests be announced. The kitchen door is small and shadowy, and gives off an odour of decay. I seek the Wizard's opinion, but he's too busy sensing evil and guarding against malicious magic to make any decisions.

I pick the kitchen door just to save us the hassle of going back round to the front of the castle. It hasn't been used in a long while, and creaks 'like a thousand lost souls crying in the darkness'. The kitchen is dusty and cobwebbed, and has exits leading to the cellar (Crimson Crown and Zombies) and ballroom (Spider and Bottomless Basket).

I choose the cellar first. The Crown gives off a red glow that is the only illumination down there. The King of the Zombies approaches, a red-eyed raven on its shoulder. The raven screams, and the Zombie says that after three screams the poisoned-taloned raven will attack. I suggest that the Wizard Shift Shape into the form of a second raven and steal the Crown while I deal with King Zombie and the Ravencurse raven. He thinks that a bad idea, and advises using Invisibility to escape. We won't get the Crown by escaping, but being invisible might help me in the fight, so I agree to go with that spell. Our disappearance sufficiently disconcerts the Zombie that I can decapitate him, but the raven isn't so easily baffled. It swoops to the attack just as the spell wears off, and the poison puts an end to this fundraising endeavour.

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