Monday, 29 February 2016

For It Is the Doom of Men

Like Siege of Sardath, I first encountered Knights of Doom, Jonathan Green's second Fighting Fantasy book, as a library copy. Well, a soon-to-be-ex-library copy, as I came across it in a sale of withdrawn stock. This was during one of my 'off-gamebooks' phases, but I was still curious enough to have a quick look in the book. The Instant Death that caught my eye was not sufficiently engaging to entice me into buying the book, and I didn't read on, because there were still lots of other sale books to check out.

When I finally did buy a copy of Knights, it was the book I bought at the same time that I got Island of the Undead. So, coincidentally, both of the books I added to my collection at that point were ones I could have acquired previously, and had even looked at before deciding not to get them.

My previous online attempt at Knights is the first of those playthroughs not to have been included in the back-up file I rediscovered a couple of years back. It's not completely lost, thanks to the Wayback Machine, but it was one of the playthroughs that I posted in multiple instalments, and at least two of the posts containing parts of it have been lost, so what does still exist of it is almost as fragmentary as an early Patrick Troughton Doctor Who story.

Moving on from my past, it's time to get on with the background to this adventure. I am one of the Templar Knights of Telak, based somewhere to the east of the setting of Mr. Green's previous book. A century ago, a Templar named Belgaroth turned to the side of Chaos (motivated primarily by excessively authoritarian tendencies and jealousy of his brother, King Chivalras) and created his own personal army of Chaos Knights to try and seize power. War ensued, and eventually Chivalras' troops laid siege to Caer Skaal, Belgaroth's fortress, and wiped out Belgaroth and his men. Since then, the fortress has been an abandoned, haunted ruin.

Until recently, that is. But a few weeks ago, a gateway to the Spirit Planes opened in the vicinity of the ruins of Caer Skaal, allowing through some evil force. Since then, things have taken a turn for the worse in the kingdom, with trouble being stirred up by practitioners of witchcraft, assorted walking dead, and warriors bearing the banner of Belgaroth's Chaos Knights. In places, the ancient Forest of Lein is dying, and consequently King Rannor, being one with the land, is sick. Evidently Belgaroth's spirit has returned, and must be destroyed again in order to put an end to all this unpleasantness.

The logistics of gathering together an army like the one that defeated Belgaroth before are proving a bit tricky, so the King's advisers have suggested giving the 'lone knight succeeding where a larger force could not' thing a try, and I get asked to be that lone knight on account of being the best of the Templars. And the dice (allocated, of course) indicate me to have:
Skill 9
Stamina 16
Luck 9
Evidently the Templars are going through a rough patch.

There's an Honour score as well, but that always starts at the same level. I do also have four Special Skills, to be selected from a list of nine (or twelve if you add the subcategories into which one is divided). Banish Spirit may be essential, and Arcane Lore has proved handy in the past, so I'll take those two Priest Skills. As regards Warrior Skills, I've seen it claimed that a combination of Ride and Weapon (Lance) can help with some of the nastier combats. Probably not enough to make up for that Skill, but time will tell.

As I'm about to set off, the doors to the audience chamber burst open, and the sound of an approaching horse fills the air. The hoofbeats reach the chamber, with no visible source, and the temperature drops as the traditional Jonathan Green 'section 1 hostile encounter' starts to manifest itself. A spectral knight on horseback appears, the rider's face disconcertingly skeletal. The knight yells at us to beware, and his horse rears up to attack me. I manage to dodge out of the way, and the ghostly knight prepares to attack.

Well, this is a little embarrassing. I had a nice rant prepared about this book offering the option of using either of two Special Skills against the spectral knight, only to render them both discouragingly useless, but then a spot of double-checking revealed that, in fact, only one of them proves ineffectual. The one I actually have turns out to work just fine. Wish I'd given it a try at the appropriate moment, rather than relying on my faulty memory and losing half my Stamina in an avoidable fight.

Before vanishing, the knight delivers the rather redundant warning that Belgaroth lives. The King thanks me, and says that I'd better be on my way, but I can stop off at the armoury before I go. I'm allowed to take up to two items, and while the names of the available weapons and pieces of armour do give a hint as to what they do, the only way to find out precisely what anything does is to choose it, by which time it's a little late if that turns out to be of little use.

I don't remember anything I chose last time ever coming in handy, so I'll leave those items on the shelf. The Paladin's Lance seems an obvious choice, considering that I have the relevant Special Skill. Its effect doesn't look that impressive (succeed at a Skill roll to inflict 2 Stamina damage), but maybe that's a big deal in the right context. I can only carry two weapons, so unless I want to get rid of my sword (which has a minor enchantment causing it to do damage to creatures unaffected by normal weapons), I'd better get armour (or nothing) for my second choice. I won't get the Griffin Shield, as there are many other shields to be found along the way in this book. How about the Dwarven Breastplate? Reduces combat damage, but also diminishes my effectiveness in a fight. Could do more harm than good, but I guess finding out in the course of an attempt I have no real chance of winning anyway is better than have the thing wreck what could have been a more viable go at the book.

By the time I reach the stables, my horse has been saddled. I get given a backpack containing Provisions, a light source, a couple of draughts of healing potion, and some money, and ride off. Along the way I see signs of the baleful influence spreading across the land, and then my way is blocked by a mob, led by three self-proclaimed Prophets of Doom. One is dressed as the grim reaper, wearing a mask made from a wolf's skull. The second is a leper, described as being of average height, though the illustration shows him to be more than a head shorter than everyone else, making this an uncharacteristically tall mob. The third 'Prophet' is an emaciated woman, who appears not to have eaten in weeks.

The Prophets try to stir up the mob against me, talking of the Templars' living in decadent luxury while the common people struggle and starve. I try to defuse the situation, explaining that I'm on my way to deal with the real source of their woes, but fail to convince the people. One of the Prophets urges them to kill me, forcing me to flee. Some of the crowd are trampled as I ride away (which inflicts an Honour penalty), and someone gets in a glancing blow with a weapon. This is not going well.

As I ride on, I consider possible courses of action. I could head for Caer Skaal as quickly as possible (if I wanted to absolutely guarantee my failure). Alternatively, I could try raising an army as I go (failing to do enough of this brought my most successful attempt at this book to an end). I might seek the assistance of the powers that inhabit the Forest of Lein (probably advisable), or try and find the legendary Elf-Spear Aelfgar (almost certainly essential).

It gets dark, so I stop for the night. Lacking the Skill of Commune, I must trust to Luck to determine whether or not I sleep too heavily, and fortune is not with me. I wake with a sudden pain in my side, caused not by cramp but by the fact that a floating, disembodied hand has just stabbed me with a dagger. Not lethally, and I haven't forgotten that Banish Spirit works on this spectral assailant. The dagger remains, though. The text doesn't say whether or not it'd take up one of my weapon slots if I add it to my inventory, but I'll err on the side of caution and leave it where it fell.

Before getting back to sleep, I reflect that that was no random encounter. Somebody with occult knowledge summoned the spectral assassin and sent it after me. Still, I take some encouragement from the fact that it failed.

In the morning I continue on my way, drawing near to the settlement of Wendeford. The sage Herluin lives not far away, so I decide to stop off and see if there's anything to be learned here. At the local inn, the Bristling Boar, I ask about current rumours, and the landlady tells me that the ghost of a priest has been glimpsed in the local graveyard, druids are performing dark rites in the forest, and robber bands are roaming the land. On a whim, I then ask about the inn's name, learning that it refers to a monstrous boar that terrorised the region years before, and was eventually trapped and killed by Felder the Hunter. Finally I seek directions to Herluin's, and as she tells me the way to go, the landlady warns that he doesn't like time-wasters.

I set off to his cell, noting that the wood in which he lives gets quieter the further into it I go. Equally ominously, it's a cold day, but no smoke issues from the chimney. Nevertheless, I enter the cell, finding it in a state of disarray, with Herluin's corpse in the midst of the mess. An owl flies in, and this time I succeed at the Luck roll which substitutes for having Commune. Herluin's spirit speaks to me, warning that the clerics are in league with the Usurping Serpent, and advising me not to waste any time here. Before fading away, he explains that a Demon killed him.

I should probably leave as advised, but there's a time limit for doing things here, which makes me curious. I can afford to have a quick look at the book he was reading just before the attack that cost him his life, right? It's in an unfamiliar language, but my knowledge of Arcane Lore helps me to deduce that it's some kind of spell. Somehow I can also infer the terms 'summoning' and 'assistance' from the incomprehensible text.

I should definitely have done as Herluin said. That's 'assistance' as in 'a Demonic Slayer'. And Banish Spirit doesn't work on Demons. Nor does the breastplate provide any protection from this one's talons, so I get the disadvantages but not the benefits of wearing it. And the Demon's Skill is higher than mine even without the penalty imposed by the awkward armour. I manage to wound the thing a couple of times, but it wins the fight. That was very careless of me. Must pay more attention next time.

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