Sunday, 19 October 2014

To Choose Another's Form and Make It Thine

I'm getting out of the pretty dismal state I've been in for much of the year. It's unlikely that I'll be able to get back to the 'three posts a week' routine that used to be standard, but this should be the point at which updates to the blog start to become more regular again.

For around a decade after moving away from Swansea, I continued to visit it quite frequently. During one of these visits, there was an afternoon on which I found myself at a loose end. I'd done the rounds of the local charity shops and found little of interest in the book sections, and those of my friends who still lived there had jobs, and were at work, so I couldn't interact with any of them until evening. Then I remembered the little library on Bernard Street (which Google Street View reveals to no longer be a library, alas). I'd been a regular customer there during the year after graduation, and in the course of my visits I had often spotted a copy of one of the FF books that came out after I stopped collecting the series. Back then I'd always left it on the display stand, as that was one of the periods when I was most strongly 'off' gamebooks. Nevertheless, the cover image, depicting sinister pumpkin-headed figures stalking through the rain, had lodged in my memory, and by the time of this visit, my interest in the genre was waxing again, so I decided to fill at least some of the time I had on my hands by going back to the library to see if the book was still there.

It wasn't. I don't know whether it had been withdrawn or just borrowed by a member, but either way, it had left the building. Indeed, I never did get my hands on a copy of that particular book until the discovery that got me back into gamebooks big-time. But tucked away in the little alcove where they kept the children's books, there was one book with a spine of that distinctive green, and it was one I'd never seen before, so I took it, found a chair, and spent until close to closing time investigating Keith P. Phillips' sole contribution to Fighting Fantasy, Siege of Sardath.

I attempted the book (without dice) twice, on both occasions falling victim to a flock of the villain's winged minions. I also flicked through the book in search of particularly juicy-looking deaths, and was none too impressed to find that there were a lot of very similar-looking bad endings. It wasn't a bad book, and it enabled me to fill that afternoon, but it didn't grab me enough to make me want to find another copy and play until I beat it, and I pretty much forgot about it until I wound up deciding to collect the whole series.

Siege was actually the FF book it took me longest to acquire once I'd begun collecting in earnest. In the end, it was the online gamebook trading network that enabled me to get a copy of the book. I got it from someone in Australia, in exchange for a copy of Steve Jackson's novel The Trolltooth Wars, and received it 50 weeks (to the day) after I bought the seven FF books that got me back into the series in the first place. I have yet to win it (it has a decidedly narrow 'true path'), but I have been making gradual progress towards finding out what needs doing.

I'd be interested to see my character's CV, if such things existed on Titan. An adventurer (as usual), but also a councillor. Skilled in forest lore (handy, as the town of Grimmund, where I fulfil my civic duties is right next to the Forest of Night), and a friend of the local Elves. The adventure starts with a dream that has me fleeing a malignant forest and reaching a mountain that splits open to disgorge a vast army of dark soldiers. This is, of course, significant - dreams in gamebooks (and fiction in general) are rarely just the sort of random strangeness that goes on in most people's heads while they sleep.

A Council messenger wakes me with a summons to an emergency meeting. A traveller from Zengis, by the name of Morn Preeler, has just arrived bearing ominous news. Apparently the Forest has become hostile, cutting Grimmund off from the city of Sardath. The paths have become overgrown, or blocked by Giant Spiders' webs, while the aquatic Slykk and unspecified monsters have made passage by river impossible. The rest of the Council wish to respond with fire, but I protest, citing the balance of nature and expressing my conviction that the source of the threat is from elsewhere. Preeler suggests that he can convince me of the truth of his claims with a more detailed account of his experiences, and the two of us adjourn to a separate room where he can recount his tale at length. As it turns out, he doesn't have a lot to say, but it does end the background section on a magnificent cliffhanger: 'When I was travelling through the Forest, I was accosted and killed by a powerful creature. He then assumed my form and came here in order to kill the only person left in the Forest who had any chance of thwarting the plans of his people!'

So what does the only serious opposition to the villains look like, stats-wise? I shall be allocating dice because I know of one rather nasty fight that I shall have to get into if I want even a shot at winning.
Skill: 12
Stamina: 15
Luck: 10
If I'd taken the dice as they fell, Skill and Luck would have been the other way round. When (if) I get to that fight, I'll keep an eye on the rolls and see how it would have panned out for a character 'as rolled'.

Preeler's killer/impersonator grabs my Council ring, the one thing on me that he wouldn't be able to duplicate, and starts to transform into a bat-winged, dark-taloned monstrosity. Every time I've attempted this book before now, I've fought the impostor, but earlier this year I learned that fleeing is apparently the better choice, so I'll try that for once. I dash back towards the Council Chamber, the fake Preeler gives chase, and the fall of the dice determines that he catches up with me and I have to fight anyway. Great.

Because I ran and he pursued me, we grapple rather than use weapons, and the initial round of combat inflicts no damage, but determines who gets the advantage. My higher Skill prevails, enabling me to break free choose what to do next. Running would mean another roll like the one that went so poorly, so I try to capture my opponent. That too involves a round of damage-free combat (two, in fact, as the first is a tie), and I successfully subdue him for long enough to get my sword at his throat. I invite him to surrender, and he takes his own life to prevent interrogation.

Examining the corpse, I note that it is like a Dark Elf in some regards. I retrieve my ring, and search the impostor's pack, finding three bottles with numbered labels, each obviously a component of something magical. Their precise function is unclear, but as two of them have been taken from the bodies of creatures with powerful natural camouflage abilities, it's almost certainly something to do with impersonating others.

I return to the Council Chamber to point out the flaws in the faux-Preeler's argument, and explain that I'm going to have to seek out the real enemy single-handed because it is the gamebook way. I then get some rest and, as the passage of time has a part to play in the outcome of the adventure, update the 'Day of the Week' check. As I prepare to set off, the leader of the Council gives me a four-leaf clover for good luck (also providing a non-obvious way for the book to check on whether or not 'Preeler' is still alive and able to impersonate me).

Before leaving town I call on my old friend Liam Astromonius, the local astrologer. He has been unable to discern anything about my future, but mentions that he has yet to try one hazardous ritual, which no non-magician has ever witnessed and survived. Sounds like a laugh, so I tell Liam to proceed. Though displeased at my risk-taking, he invites me into his spell chamber, where he uses a silver sceptre to knock on a mirror three times. Rather unimpressive, as dangerous rituals of great power go. Still, it works, summoning a divine messenger known as a Suma, who advises me to seek a tomb in the Forest, and warns that I will need an amulet. In the accompanying illustration, he's wearing an amulet like the one I seek, which for some strange reason hangs down at a weird angle. For years its positioning relative to the frame of the mirror (combined with its roundness) made me think it was a door-handle, but then I noticed the chain it was on. And remembered that mirrors don't generally have door-handles.

As I'm leaving the village, a horse-drawn wagon emerges from the Forest, and the driver asks if I want to buy any of his potions. Considering the trouble people have had getting through the Forest of late, I find this suspicious, and tell him I'm not interested. He gets desperate, admits that he only pretended to have just come through the Forest to give the impression that his wares were fresher than they are, and offers me a free gift if I'll buy something from him. I accept this offer, and he hands over a large bottle of a mystery potion - even the trader doesn't know what it actually does, though he is aware that it's harmful, and advises me to throw it at something hostile.

Turning my attention to his wares, I notice that a couple of substances are numbered according to the same system as the bottles I acquired from the late not-Preeler. Indeed, one of them is identical to the contents of the first bottle. The other, Powdered Pegasus Feathers, is not cheap, and doesn't look likely to be of use in an instant disguise potion, so I disregard it in favour of phials of Snapperfish Oil and Sleeping Draught. I could also afford a potion or two, though most of the ones in stock are different strengths of Love Potion, numbered according to potency. The strongest variant is number 5 (not 9), but if I get number 2, I can also afford a Potion of Fortune, which may be useful if I wind up needing to use Luck a lot.

Once I've made my purchases, I carry on to the harbour, which shows serious signs of neglect. My boat is still in usable condition, so I set off along the River Sardath. Someone has cut down the rope bridge across the river, but I have no trouble navigating around the remains. When darkness falls, I stop at a handy clearing and settle down for the night. This leads to one of the more annoying aspects of the book - a decison (and not the only one) that shouldn't be offered, as my character knows the best course of action. But the choice is still there, and picking the wrong option will lead to mockery and punishment. Having learned from past errors, I now know as much as my character as regards these shouldn't-even-be-a-choices, but the whole 'Why did you do something you know to be so stupid?' thing just makes me want to ask the author, 'Well, why did you suggest I might want to do it if I knew it was such a bad idea?'

While preparing to make camp, I see two winged creatures landing somewhere to the south-west. I think this is a point at which the narrowness of the 'true path' through the book kicks in: I will need to go to where they've just landed, but if I do so right now, I suspect that I'll miss out on something important or essential, so I just turn in.

During the night, I wake to find that a Giant Spider is approaching me with hostile intent. Will shooting an arrow at it help at all? Not really, as this is a Giant Spitting Spider, and my taking time to draw, load and fire the bow gives the Spider an opportunity to spew a mass of web at me. My Skill is high enough that I'm not immobilised by the web, and can extricate myself in time to fight off the assailing arachnid, but it's a little tiresome that my detailed knowledge of the Forest's fauna failed to alert me to the Spider's capabilities back when it would have been useful to know.

Continuing on my way the following morning, I see signs that I am being watched by amphibians. My boat's rudder gets tangled in weeds, which my forest lore skills enable me to recognise as River Bloodweed - just after I stick my hand into the water and lose about an armful of blood to the vampiric vegetation. The suggested ways of dealing with the Bloodweed include at least one more 'as you are well aware, that is an idiotic thing to do' option, but I think that may be the last one.

A little later I become aware that I am being watched again, but the creature spying on me fails to notice that I've noticed it. I could try shooting at it, but as I have yet to see any clear signs of hostile intent, I think attacking would be premature. My watcher submerges, and I carry on until I reach undisputed Slykk territory, at which point several of the batrachian humanoids surround me. Their leader indicates to the others that they should not attack (yet), and makes gestures that could be interpreted as either a desire for non-hostile interaction or a challenge to a duel. I go for the more diplomatic response, and a Slykk seer named Rurkk uses his limited grasp of my language to translate the ensuing dialogue. It transpires that their tribe was also infiltrated by one of fake-Preeler's kind, which Rurkk was able to identify as an impostor. Rurkk gives me the one item they found on the body, a leather-wrapped bundle, and the Slykk all depart.

Opening the bundle, I find it to contain half a dozen ivory squares with patterns carved on them. They're represented in an illustration, as figuring out the correct way to fit them together is a puzzle. I recently scanned the relevant page, as removing it from the book and cutting out the squares would deprive me of section 277, which may be an important one. With the help of a little three-dimensional thinking, plus a spot of image-rotation in Paint, I manage to line up the carvings in the right way, and some of the shapes formed look a lot like numbers, so I turn to the section indicated.

The shapes also resemble letters, and my character says the word that they spell out. This is, incidentally, the name of one of the big bads from an epically cheesy fantasy saga I read back in my teens, and I can't help but wonder if Mr. Phillips read it too, as the entity summoned by my speaking the name is a similar sort of creature - though constrained to assist me, rather than being something I have to fight. He's invisible to everyone but me and Demons, and will fight alongside me in any combat unless I tell him not to. Given that:
  1. He takes a set amount of damage every time he aids me in battle
  2. He cannot be healed, and 
  3. I failed my most successful attempt at this book to date on account of not having his assistance
I think I'll try to keep him out of all but the most dangerous fights. No point in wasting him on a bunch of Skill 6 no-hopers.
At this point I think the wisest course of action would be to leave the river and start heading towards where the winged creatures landed last night. Along the way I find some healing herbs, which I add to my inventory. Towards dusk I reach the Elf-path through the Forest, which leads to the village of Ash Cleeve. Knowing how Elves tend to react to incursions into their territory, I stop and wait to be met. While waiting I think about Sorrel, the Elf who taught me archery and forest lore in return for swordfighting lessons, in the course of which he acquired a scar. I can only guess that either he wanted a scar in order to look tougher or I was about as good a sparring partner as he was a teacher of how to recognise Giant Spitting Spiders and River Bloodweed, because there's no real need for training in swordplay to result in a gash across the eye.

The anticipated reception committee arrives, headed up by Sorrel, who accuses me of being an impostor and has the others aim their bows at me. Except that the illustration shows the scar to be over the wrong eye, indicating to any attentive reader that Sorrel is no more Sorrel than Preeler was Preeler. Convincing the other Elves of this could be tricky, though, so I decide to simplify matters by shooting fake-Sorrel right in the giveaway. While slow to react to the sight of me getting out my bow, loading an arrow, and firing at their leader, the Elves respond pretty much instantaneously when the wound causes not-Sorrel to revert to his true appearance, and in seconds he's dead. Apologies follow, and I'm given a Snake Ring with a doubtless significant number of coils as compensation.

Another two of those flying creatures, named Black Flyers by the Elves, swoop down into the Forest, and tonight I do investigate. After a while I come across them attempting to force open a stone door set into a mound. Up close I can see that they look a lot like not-Preeler did when he shed his disguise. I remember from past attempts at the book that if I spy on them for a bit, they'll attempt to blow the door open with some kind of explosive, only to have it backfire and spread them across the clearing. But is there anything useful or important to be gained by attacking them before they can save me the need for combat? There's only one way to find out... FIIIIIGHT!

Even without the assistance of my monstrous companion, I have no trouble defeating them. Alas, as the second one hits the ground, he breaks the explosive he was carrying, and I only just have time to get out of blast range, so there's no loot to be had from this fight. At least I know for next time.

An engraving on the door indicates the mound to be the tomb I was advised to seek, and warns of a dire fate for intruders. On account of the Suma's message, and the fact that the Black Flyers have made more than one attempt at breaking in, I try to get in anyway. Rather than waste time searching for a secret entrance, I simply bash on the stone door a few times, thereby inadvertently performing the same rite that Liam did back in his spell chamber, which happens to be the way of getting the door to open. Believe it or not, that's actually the least ridiculous way of finding out how to gain access to the tomb!

Inside I find an upright sarcophagus with no lid, containing the mummified body of the seer Khornu Wych, dressed in ornate robes and wearing an amulet. Not the amulet I saw on the Suma, but I have to take this one in order to be able to get the one I actually need. As soon as I remove it, the body crumbles to dust and Wych's ghost begins to appear in its place. Through the translucent form of the manifesting spectre I catch sight of the outline of a secret door in the back of the sarcophagus, but at the moment I can't get to it without coming into contact with the ghost, which would not be good for my health. Lacking a weapon capable of inflicting damage on such an entity, I retreat to the tomb entrance, which has closed behind me. Gloating, the ghost advances on me, and I dodge around it and into the now vacated sarcophagus, pushing open the secret door.

As I step through, part of the tomb collapses behind me, blocking off  the way back. The good news is that that somehow prevents the ghost from coming after me. The less good news is that there are no other exits from the chamber into which I have stepped. Better news is that the chamber does contain Wych's real treasure: two goblets of liquid, a shiny silver shield, and a golden amulet engraved with an image of a Brain Slayer on fire. That's the amulet I need, so I take it. It's made of solid gold, and consequently rather heavy, and wearing it carries a Skill penalty. Oddly, just carrying it in my backpack circumvents the penalty, but the amulet's effects only work when it's worn, so if I survive to the endgame, I'll have to try and guess when I've had my last fight/Skill check, so I can don the amulet before the confrontation in which I need it.

Incidentally, I had to succeed at a Skill roll in order to spot that secret door, and only passed by a narrow margin. Apparently, if I'd already been wearing the amulet when the ghost turned up (yes, I know that I couldn't have been because of the sequence of events, but that's irrelevant to the point I'm trying to make), I would have been unable to make out the outline of the doorway on account of the weight hanging around my neck.  Which doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me.

Enough ranting. time to get back to the treasure. As I recall, the contents of one goblet are beneficial, while what's in the other will harm me. Can I remember which is which? Yes, I get the right one, which restores the Stamina I lost to that weed way back at the start of the day. So, ignoring the unhelpful drink, that leaves only the shield. Which is so shiny that there's a Mirror Demon in it, and as soon as I reach for the shield, she is summoned, emerging from the reflective surface to attack.

Being a Demon, she can see my otherwise invisible companion. Who apparently has another number associated with him, apart from the one that helped me to acquire his services, as there aren't enough sections in the book to use that one in the calculation that will identify the section to which I should be turning at this point. Oh well, at least I know where to look to find what I must have missed... Ah, he's 'the Twelfth and Last of the Veiled Guardians'. That detail could and should have been made less easy to overlook.

The Demon attempts to persuade the Veiled Guardian to abandon me and side with her, but it turns out that the only way he can be released from his exile is to die in my service, and he attacks her. I'm okay with his getting into this fight, as it's the nasty one I mentioned earlier - if I were her opponent, she'd only need to win one round of combat to defeat me. And as she does win the third round of her fight against my proxy (who, coincidentally, has the same Skill and Stamina that I do), only his having taken my place prevents the adventure from ending here.

When the Demon dies, the shield shatters, revealing a tunnel that leads out of the mound. The rest of the tomb starts to collapse, so I make a rapid exit, having to knock three times again when I reach the far end of the tunnel, and emerging into the Forest just before the whole structure caves in.

I spend what remains of the night asleep, but nightmares about Colrhyn, another friend, keep me from getting much rest. Suspecting that he is in some kind of peril, I spend the whole of the next day heading towards his home, only covering about two thirds of the distance before it starts getting dark. Considering how hostile the Forest is supposed to have been made, travel through it has been mighty low on incident.

Anyway, I make camp for the night, sleep better, and wonder if the nightmares were not premonitions but a consequence of the run-in with the ghost. Having come this far, I keep going just in case, and have a run-in with a Giant Wolf Spider. It's okay, Veiled Guardian, I can handle this opponent myself. Right? Right - I take one wound, but nothing serious.

Further along I reach a fork in the path, and the map in the front of the book indicates which turning one leads to Colrhyn's home, so I go that way, musing on my friend as I go. I'm distracted by the sight of something red, which turns out to be mould on a log. Then a sound behind me alerts me to the approaching Mould Zombie. Observant readers are likely to notice a distinct similarity between the figure depicted in the illustration for this section and the description of Colrhyn provided when my character started thinking about him.

This is definitely a fight in which I do not want any assistance: in a rather nasty twist, defeating the Zombie too quickly (which is only possible if I have help or use Luck) has lethal consequences. I hit the thing a couple of times, and then discover that the Mould is starting to spread up my leg. Time to see what that Mystery Potion the trader gave me does. I throw the bottle at the main cluster of Mould, which withers where splashed by the contents. What remains of the Mould retreats, not only from me, but also from the Zombie. None too surprisingly, the man revealed by the departure of the Mould is Colrhyn, in a pretty poor state, but still alive, and no longer compelled to attack me.

I give Colrhyn some healing herbs, take him to his cabin to recuperate, and seek his assistance in my quest. He tells me that Corianthus the Storm Giant, the greatest scholar in the region, should have some idea of what is going on. To identify me to Corianthus as a friend, Colrhyn gives me his key to the Giant's library. Before falling asleep, Colrhyn also tells me to help myself to his stuff, so I take a rope and more herbs, and refill my quiver.

Returning to the main Forest trail, I remember the mountain from my dream, and head away from the Forest and towards mountainous territory. It's getting dark by the time I reach the Fangthane Road, so I make camp for the night. In the morning the sound of an approaching wagon wakes me. The driver is a Fangthane Dwarf, on his way to Sardath. I advise him to find somewhere less hazardous to do his trading, and explain some of what's going on in the region. In return, he gives me an Encyclopaedia of Subterranean Flora, just in case I ever need to go underground, and draws my attention to the page on dangerous fungi. Slightly oddly, one of the fungi listed on the page is only actually harmful to Rock Grubs and Giant Spiders, two species not renowned for literacy. They other type mentioned is at least lethal to Dark Elves, but conspicuous by their absence are the sorts of fungus that I should avoid for the good of my health.

I leave the road and make for the mountains, and it is about here that my knowledge of the book becomes hazardously patchy. Up ahead is a steep ridge, so I must detour around it, and going the wrong way is liable to prove fatal in the long run. I'll try west. This path eventually leads to a landing-stage by the River Sardath. Many rafts are moored there, most of them in too bad a condition to be usable. I don't think I even want to risk taking the one exception, so instead I follow the other path leading away from the landing-stage. This leads to a junction, and one of the paths leads to a storm-lashed mountain that I'm pretty sure I need to visit at some point, so I head that way.

After a while the ascent becomes difficult, but I persist until, with a particularly impressive burst of lightning and thunder, a figure in black robes appears in front of me. I show respect, and the being identifies herself as Thyra Migurn (referring to herself in the third person, which is an ominous sign if ever I saw one). She disapproves of my being here, but I risk asking what she knows about the Black Flyers. This causes her temper to flare up, in a burst of lightning that atomises the robes and comes close to injuring me. It turns out that she really dislikes Dark Elves and, upon learning that I oppose them, she provides me with a Lightning Sphere to use against them, then warns me to leave before she gets really annoyed. I descend, and follow the first track I find until I reach another junction. One way probably leads back to the river, and there's an item check on the other path. Could be a 'have you already been this way and taken certain actions?' check rather than an 'if you don't have the Red Gem, you die' one, so I'll investigate.

Well, nothing terminal has happened just yet. I see a cave, with inexpertly concealed tracks leading into it. Possibly left by Dwarfs, though I'm not sure what would make Dwarf tracks easily distinguishable from the tracks of any other footwear-using humanoid race. In any case, I check them out. The cave turns out to be a mine entrance, and I use the crude lift at the back to descend into the shaft. At the bottom, three passages lead on, two of them marked with signs warning of poisonous fungi. The two types listed in the book, handily enough. I think the Dark Elf-proofed tunnel might be worth investigating. The fungi release spores as I pass through them, but I am unaffected.

A couple of Dwarf guards are waiting at the end. They're pleased to see someone from outside, and take me to their leader, Lokimur. He gives me a Red Gem (so I was right about the purpose of that item check) and asks me who I am. I explain my quest in some detail, and he explains that he's gathered the mining community together for mutual protection. They still suffer nocturnal assaults by Black Flyers, and daily attacks by Toa-Suo. I ask him what he knows of Corianthus, and get directions to the Giant's home. There's time for one more question, so I ask about the Toa-Suo. These creatures are from further north, but have been brought here by the Black Flyers, attacking in large groups that can easily overwhelm individual opponents.

A Dwarf brings news of a fresh attack by the Toa-Suo, and I decide to see if I can help repel them. The Dwarfs don't have many archers, so I'll add my bow to their ranks. They have plenty of spare arrows, and I kill an impressive number of the attackers. Towards nightfall, the lead archer has me follow her back into the tunnels. I am advised to stay here until morning, as Black Flyers patrol the region at night, and offer to help keep watch. The duty officer adds me to the rota, and I get a little rest before my shift.

I reach my post just as the guards are welcoming in a near-dead Dwarven refugee. Suspicious, I quietly tell the closest guard about the impostors I've encountered, and he asks the newcomer a few questions. Judging by the way he follows up the questions with a swift warhammer in the face, I'm guessing that that Dwarf was no Dwarf. Either that or he's the viewpoint character of the Dwarven edition of Siege of Sardath, and answering the questions is one of that book's 'present the reader with a choice even though the character would just know what to do' moments.

There's a time check here, but I haven't wasted any time, so when morning comes I am able to resume my adventuring. A Dwarf takes me back to the surface, and I follow the directions to the mountain where Corianthus lives. It's a nice straightforward journey, up until the point at which a Giant Eagle swoops towards me. Colrhyn mentioned that Corianthus' best friend is a Giant Eagle, so I wave the library key at the bird to deter it from attacking. rather awkwardly, the Eagle indicates that it will carry me to where I want to go, so I ask to be taken to Corianthus.

The Eagle carries me to the roof of a massive castle way up on the mountain. Once I'm on solid ground, the Eagle starts scratching at a trapdoor and screeching. Unfriendly voices from below challenge the bird to come back at night and suffer its master's fate, from which I deduce that things have gone badly for Corianthus, and the beings occupying his castle don't like sunlight. The second of my deductions is confirmed when the Eagle triggers the opening mechanism for the trapdoor, letting light into the room below, and the taunting gives way to shrieks of pain.

I risk taking a look at the suffering intruders, and they're too busy fleeing the light to send any projectiles my way. They are Dark Elves, and one leaves the room by a door to the left, several others going right. I tie my rope to a battlement and climb down. The room turns out to be an observatory, with a telescope pointing at the trapdoor. There are three doors leading out, two of them with signs on them. The lone Dark Elf went into the Games Room, while the others went through the unmarked door, suggesting that the Library is locked. Not a problem, as I have a key. And I'll try the library first because that's probably the best place to learn things.

Being a Giant's library, it has large furniture. I have to climb onto the chair in order to reach the top of the table. On which I find a book, a sheet of paper, and a dish of mercury. The paper is an unfinished letter, from which I learn that the dish of mercury is a method of communication, and Corianthus recently acquired a device to help him create transformation potions. The last paragraph mentions a strange noise from the laboratory, which Corianthus was going to investigate. I'm not sure why he felt the need to note that he'd be away from the page for a bit, as he could just have resumed where he left off when he got back (if he hadn't fallen foul of Dark Elves), with no apparent interruption. This blog post has been written over the course of several sessions, and I'd be impressed if anyone were to successfully guess where I stopped writing last time and started today. Still, 'I'll just go and check' is preferable to the sort of 'Oh no, they've just burst through the door and are coming for me!' nonsense often found as the last line of fictional letters interrupted by the arrival of someone or something nasty.

The book has one page marked, so I turn to that and find instructions for using the Triplex Potion Concocter. I imagine it will be useful to know which ingredient goes in which aperture when I want to make my own potion.

When I focus my attention on the mercury, the pool goes dark and two eyes appear in it. A voice sounds in my head, asking me to whom I wish to speak. I name the leader of the Elves I met in the Forest, and his face appears. When I speak, he hears me, and once the confusion has passed, I explain what has happened since our last encounter, and he reveals that a group of the Wood Elves has reached the mountains, ready to attack the Dark Elves. He advises me to try and get into the Dark Elves' base and free their slaves. The ring I received at our previous encounter changes its size in response to Elven magic (and to indicate that I've had this conversation).

I try using the pool to contact a few others, with varied results. Colrhyn is fast asleep and unreachable. The leader of Sardath's armed forces reports that they're holding off the attackers, but will need help. Corianthus is still alive, but using all his strength to try and resist a Sorcerer, so chat is not an option. To speak with Liam I must pass an item check to establish whether or not I defeated pseudo-Preeler, but this turns out to be the most worthwhile call: the astrologer has been researching the amulet the Suma told me about, and has learned that it absorbs mental attacks, and can be modified to reflect such attacks on whoever made them. When we conclude our communication, I make the necessary changes to the amulet.

The library has two exits - the door by which I entered, and one marked 'Laboratory'. I've not yet seen any instructions stating that I can't return to a part of this castle that I've already visited, but the lab could be a point of no return, so I shall delay entering it until I've done a bit more investigating. I'm not sure exactly how many Dark Elves went through the unmarked door, but the prospect of being outnumbered does not appeal, so I go back through the observatory and follow the lone Dark Elf who went into the Games Room.

My opening the door causes sunlight to stream into the room, forcing the Dark Elf to flee into the shadows. He distracts me with some blather about formal greetings in the Dark Elf tongue, and throws something at the door to close it, after which he attacks me. It's another fight in which I need no assistance. Searching the room, I find lots of gaming paraphernalia of no relevance to the adventure, and a mathematical puzzle that hasn't quite been completed. While it uses higher numbers than usual, it's just another Magic Square, and filling in the missing number causes a secret door to open.

The secret door leads to a storeroom. The Dark Elves might not have been able to open the door, but they still got in by making a hole in a wall, so the room's been pretty thoroughly looted. Not quite completely, though: there's still an intact bottle containing another numbered potion component, and it's one I don't yet have. So now I have four of the things, though (as the 'Triplex' in the title of the Potion Concocter implies) I only need three. Still, the instructions I read narrow down the number of possible combinations to just two possibilities, and one of the substances between which I must choose looks a lot better suited to a transformation potion than the other.

After reclosing the secret door by removing the solution to the puzzle, I return to the library via the observatory and try the door to the laboratory. A hole in the wall leading to a tunnel suggests that the noise which distracted Corianthus was the Dark Elves breaking in. Predictably, the Potion Concocter is here. A previous owner of the book has written component numbers on the machine's funnels in the illustration (okay, so the book suggests doing so, but that doesn't make it any less annoying that it happened), and it looks to me as if the guilty party took at least four tries to get the correct combination. When you figure in the (probable) red herring ingredient available from the trader outside Grimmund, I can see how four different mixes are possible, but it's impressive (and not in a good way) that my predecessor seems to have got every wrong one first. Especially as the names of the different substances provide hints as to their relevance to a transformation potion, making this less of a blind choice than the recipe for Anti-Zanbar Formula.

I put the most likely ingredients into the appropriate funnels, and get a potion out. Drinking it causes me to feel uncomfortable and itchy, and parts of my body try to change shape, but there's no lasting effect until I return to the Games Room, at which point I change to look like the Dark Elf I fought there. I then hide his body in the library, the sunlight in the observatory making me uncomfortable but doing no real harm as I'm still basically human.

Now it should be safe to follow the other Dark Elves. Except that there are at least ten of them in the room just beyond the unmarked door, and while I no longer look human, my having come through the sunlit observatory unscathed enables them to figure out that I'm not what I appear to be, and they attack anyway. Against that many, not even the Veiled Guardian can help me.

A slightly frustrating ending, but I've learned a fair bit about what to do (and a couple of things not to do), so as long as the dice don't let me down, I should be able to get further on my next try, whenever that is. Maybe not much further, as I haven't a clue as to the correct sequence of events beyond the point I reached this time, but I've never made it to the castle before (for some stupid reason I opted to have the Eagle fly me straight to the Black Flyers' base the only previous time I got to show it the key), and I did more right than wrong in the castle. It just so happened that when I did go wrong, I did so in a manner that proved fatal to me.

1 comment:

  1. Good to have you back Ed. My own enthusiasm for FF and related gamebooks has dimmed considerably over the past year or so but I'll keep reading and enjoying your posts due to the high quality of the prose and the obvious enthusiasm you have for the subject. Hope you keep it going.

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