Tuesday, 18 November 2014

The Vessel Grim and Daring

Roughly half way between the first place I lived after moving to Hull and the first place I worked after moving to Hull, there used to be a second-hand bookshop. It being so conveniently located, I visited it a lot. To the extent that within a couple of months I was offered a 'frequent customer' discount. I only ever recall seeing one gamebook in there, tucked away in the children's book section: a copy of Keith Martin's fifth Fighting Fantasy gamebook, Island of the Undead. On one occasion I had a look through it, but it failed to grab me, and languished unbought on the shelf for a long time. Possibly even until the shop closed. When I subsequently got back into collecting FF books, I regretted not having purchased it while I had the opportunity, but given my on-off relationship with gamebooks in that period, I doubt that I would have kept it all that time anyway.

In the summer of 2002, a little over eight months after I did get back into gamebooks for good, I made my first visit to America (in part to get hold of a copy of Sky Lord, though that was nowhere near my main concern). My flight was from one of the London airports, so I travelled down to Tunbridge Wells a day or two beforehand, as that was a more convenient base for travel to the airport. The day before I flew out, I went for a quick browse around the local second-hand and charity shops, and it was in the Oxfam bookshop that I found another copy of IotU, along with one other of the ten or so FF books I had yet to acquire. I bought both of them, and had a diceless go at Undead while trekking off to Tonbridge to visit the shops there (where I bought a copy of Daggers of Darkness - that was one of the most fruitful days of browsing since I found the batch of books that initially rekindled my interest). I failed as a result of attempting to climb the rigging of a ship during a storm - not the cleverest decision I've ever made in a gamebook. Probably not a decision my character should have had the option of taking, either, as in this book I play a member of a fishing community, who should be aware of the unwisdom of taking such risks.

Until recently, my people have had a mutually beneficial relationship with the wizards who were pursuing their researches into the magic of the elements on nearby Solani Island. We provided them with life's necessities, and also helped procure some of the ingredients required for their experiments, and they kept bad weather away from the region, enabling us to get more substantial and consistent catches of fish than the occupants of the fishing towns elsewhere along the coast. But recently we've had a few not-so-subtle indications that all is not well on the island. An unexpected storm, and a freak wave, both of which resulted in fatalities - the first such deaths around here in years - oh, and the minor matter of the corpse that was washed ashore and started wandering around killing goatherds until forcefully persuaded to stay dead.

A party of us decided to go to Solani and find out what's gone wrong. Another freak wave destroyed our ship during the crossing, killing almost all the crew. I get washed ashore on the island, my sword and shield lost in the wreck, but I still have my knife, and I used the good cling film to wrap my Provisions, so they're still fine. I also have the following stats (allocating dice, because it's another of those books):
Skill 12
Stamina 17
Luck 10
Presence 6
Not bad, though my character would be significantly worse off but for the extra stat. Still, the likelihood of my succeeding at this book is low, because, as with Mr. Martin's previous book, it is necessary to visit the right locations in the right order to be in with a chance, and I'm nowhere near having a clear idea of the right order. In one past attempt I got as far as the confrontation with the final enemy, but was doomed on account of lacking an essential item. Another time I didn't even get through the fight in section 1. The best I can hope for here is to learn a bit more about where to go second, third, maybe even fourth...

Back to the plot. I walk along the shore, seeking other survivors, but find only the corpse of the ship's navigator. In the illustration, he looks remarkably decomposed for someone who only died earlier today. Abruptly, the body reanimates and, upon seeing that I don't have my shield, attacks me, slurring incomprehensible gibberish about ethics in video game journalism. As I only have a knife with which to defend myself, the fight takes a long while, but I eventually manage to defeat the Sea Zombie, and find a spot of higher ground from which to survey the island. I see woodland, moorland, a hillock and a lighthouse, and choose to stick close to the shore in the hope of finding some less aggressive flotsam and jetsam.

After a while I catch sight of a wrecked rowing boat on some rocks just off-shore, and approach it in the hope of finding some supplies. I manage to reach the wreck without harming myself, and catch sight of a few potentially useful items on the sea bed. Diving for them is a bit of bother, especially on account of a typo in the section. I presume that 'roll your dice' is supposed to be 'roll four dice', as two would make this far too easy, whereas rolling all the dice I own (or even just all the six-sided dice on the desk in front of me) would pretty much guarantee failure.

I manage to retrieve a chest and a net, but don't have the endurance to acquire a bottle. As I'm resurfacing from my last dive, a Squirting Octopus squirts a mass of ink at me, and I get some of the stuff in my eyes. Temporarily partially blinded, I suffer an Attack Strength penalty in the ensuing fight, and don't get to use the net against the Octopus (and I think this is the only situation in which the net is of any use). Thanks to my high Skill, even the penalties for lacking a shield and having ink in my eyes don't reduce my advantage enough to allow the Octopus to do any damage, but things would have been dicier if I'd gone with an 'as-rolled' character.

Forcing open the chest, I find some money, a pot of glue, and a sword. The latter will speed up subsequent fights, but I'm not yet sure of the circumstances under which the rest of the chest's contents might come in handy. Nor do I know how or when I'd have benefited from being able to get that bottle, so I hope it's not part of a chain of acquisitions that would eventually bring me something essential.

So, where next? Based on memories of variable patchiness, I'm pretty sure that there are reasons for not yet going to the woods, the moor or the hillock, which only leaves the lighthouse at this stage. I have an impression that even there I'd need an item I don't yet own, but maybe it can be picked up along the way. The text does describe it as 'distant', so...

...so it's rather odd to be told that I 'soon' find myself at the foot of the lighthouse. Which is in darkness, and gives off the impression of something cold and evil lurking within. Close by is the wrecked ship where my first IotU character died. I don't remember finding anything of use on the deck, but that attempt at the book was a dozen years ago, so maybe I should double-check. I ought to be safe as long as I don't try climbing the rigging again.

There's an intact rowing boat close to the shore, which enables me to row out to the wreck. There are more options for exploration here than I'd remembered. Back in 2002 I must have decided to check out what looks like a body in the crow's nest before heading below decks or checking out the hold. This time I go below decks.

The seamen's mess appears to contain nothing of interest, but there are some other doors down here. One has a magical symbol on it, and should probably be avoided until I can find some kind of countermeasure. There's a pair of doors that might lead to the hold, but I'll leave them for the moment as well. That just leaves the cabin door with no distinctive features. This turns out to lead to the Captain's cabin, which is full of interesting-looking items. Plus the remains of the Captain, which have become a Greater Ghoul. I'm really glad I have a sword by now, as this is one fight that I need to finish quickly: Keith Martin's enhanced Ghouls are able to paralyse their victims more quickly than those in other FF books. Alas, even doing standard damage, I am not able to kill the Greater Ghoul before it gets in enough hits to immobilise me, after which I get eaten alive.

Well, I learned a little new stuff that time. Whether it will help me on future attempts at the book or just lead me down a false trail remains to be seen, but this playthrough has been more fruitful than some I could mention.

1 comment:

  1. I don't think that you have to visit all the locations in the right order to win. There are certainly some that have to be visited before others and more that become easier if tackled in the right order, but I think there is a reasonable amount of leeway.

    I always liked Keith Martin's books because they were easy to map but tricky to work out the optimal route.