Monday, 14 March 2016

I Am He as You Are He as You Are Me

A little under a month ago I mentioned having acquired the gamebook I was then playing while browsing the local charity shops during my usual Christmas visit to Tunbridge Wells. A similar browsing expedition, made almost 3 weeks after the day I came across the selection of Fighting Fantasy books that got me back into collecting gamebooks, was rather more successful. In one of the more short-lived charity shops on Camden Road, I came across three FF books. One of them was a late printing of Starship Traveller, which I left on the shelf because the book had never been a personal favourite, it didn't look right with the dragon logo and green spine, and the price was 20% up on what I'd paid for each of the books I'd got earlier in the month. The other two books, though equally 'expensive', were new to me, and I decided I was willing to stretch to 30p each for the ones I'd never played before.

At the time, I had no idea what a bargain they were. I had yet to connect with gamebook fandom and learn that my new acquisitions were two of the rarest FF gamebooks around. One of them was Paul Mason's Magehunter (and, given that I've not gone into detail about this particular find before on this blog, it's not as if there are many candidates for the other). When I got back to the parental home, I made unsuccessful attempts at my new acquisitions (playing by the rules, or I would at least have got further, even if decisions made early on had already guaranteed my ultimate failure). As I recall, my first go at Magehunter ended when my search for the villain took me to a bath-house, and the bouncers took lethal umbrage at my using the wrong entrance.

My character is the eponymous Magehunter, dedicated to tracking down and bringing to justice those villains who use sorcery to abet them in their evil ways. Now, I acknowledge that in the real world a lot of innocent people were persecuted and killed by self-proclaimed witchfinders and their ilk. However, in the worlds in which this gamebook is set, evil mages are a reality, and the listed methods for identifying them are reliable, so it's a pretty egregious misreading of the text to complain (as some have done) about having to play the part of a delusional maniac who goes around killing people who've done nothing wrong. And I don't recall those who raised such objections being too bothered by the FF book that really was all about invading someone's home and killing them in response to ill-defined accusations of malicious magicking.

Anyway, armed with my knowledge of the best ways of identifying, tracking and overpowering a Mage, plus appropriate equipment, I am now on the trail of the villainous sorcerer Mencius. And what are my stats? Allocating dice may well be a good idea, but not for the usual reasons. Based on the numbers I get, I think I'd be best off with:
Skill 7
Stamina 17
Luck 11
Towards the end of the Puffin run of FF books, the proofreading got distinctly sloppy, as a result of which the book's Adventure Sheet has three boxes for my Skill and none for my Stamina or Luck. My previous online attempt at the book contains a number of deliberate mistakes inspired by this and other typographical blunders present in the text.

Incidentally, 'worlds' in the paragraph before last is not a typo or a deliberate mistake. My character lives on a world other than Titan. I'm not sure where it is, but it can't be the one we inhabit, either. If the existence of genuine evil wizards and reliable witchfinders isn't clue enough, there's also the fact that, despite the vaguely Germanic implications of the title of Margrave, red is the traditional colour of mourning in this culture. Or undyed clothing for non-relatives. Given that Mages gain power from wearing red, and lose it in clothes containing no dye, I'm a little curious as to the origins of these funerary traditions, but don't expect to come across any explanations. Oh, and judging by a simile used at one point, this is also a region that has bison.

Even before section 1, I succeed in capturing Mencius. He tries to levitate away, but I shoot him with a silver bullet before he can get more than a metre above the ground. Before setting off for the Margrave's castle, where Mencius can be held for trial and execution, I tie him up with a rope made from human hair to negate his sorcerous abilities (which doesn't stop him from smirking in an 'I did that!' manner when my horse stumbles and is lamed). Owing to my horse's accident, the journey takes significantly longer than I'd hoped, and to make things worse, when I reach the castle, I learn that the Margrave died during the night, and people are too busy with preparations for the funeral to worry much about Mencius. Even I am required to spend time assisting with the funeral rites rather than ensuring that the Mage is properly incarcerated. This is not going to end well, is it?

The funeral is followed by a meal in honour of the late Margrave, and I'm obliged to attend that as well. Two courses in, young Reinhardt, the Margrave's heir, leaves the dining hall, but I still have to stay. It's almost a relief when the floor starts to shake and chunks of ceiling rain down on the gathered mourners, as the situation is now bad enough that I can probably get away with heading for the dungeons before the cheese board is brought in.

As I hurry away, the tremors worsen, cracks opening in the floor. I reach the dungeon level, and see green smoke billowing from under one of the doors. Shouldn't be too hard to work out which cell Mencius occupies, then. When I get there, I see Mencius out of his bonds and uttering vile incantations, a spaced-out-looking Reinhardt holding the keys to Mencius' shackles, and a guard cowering uselessly in the corner. A rift opens in the ground, and Mencius and Reinhardt start moving towards it. I charge towards them, partly in the hope of disrupting Mencius' spell, but mainly because I know from past attempts at the book that any other course of action will rule out getting to the best ending.

Mencius, Reinhardt and I all wind up falling into the crack in the floor, which is no ordinary crack, as minutes pass with no end to the fall. Everything goes black, and then suddenly we're in daylight and standing on a mountain ledge. Well, two of us are on the ledge, but the other falls off and rolls down a slope into a river. A groan from the person up here with me gets my attention, and I turn to see Mencius in a heap on the ground, now bleeding and with grey in his hair. Taking a closer look at him while he's out of action, I discover that he has physically aged, and his bullet wound has reopened. I extract the bullet in case I wind up needing it again, and also retrieve my rope of human hair, which accompanied us here.

Wishing to follow proper procedure, I bandage the wound to increase the likelihood of Mencius surviving until he can be brought to trial. He comes round and, speaking in a baffled tone unlike his usual hostile gloating, expresses amazement that I look just like he does. Which is, of course, nonsense, as I can prove with a quick check in one of the mirrors I carry as part of my Magehunter's equipment. Except that I don't have the mirrors. Or any of my gear, beyond what I picked up since arriving on the ledge And I'm in mourning scarlet rather than my undyed garb. More than that, I'm in Reinhardt's body, not my own. And Mencius here isn't Mencius, but Reinhardt in Mencius' body. So it must have been Mencius that fell into the river, in my body. I hope he takes better care of it than he did his own.

Mind you, prematurely aged and wounded as Mencius' body is, it can hardly be in worse shape than Reinhardt's. Luck not being a physical attribute, my score for that is unchanged, but until I can relocate my consciousness in something better, I'm a rather pathetic:
Skill 4
Stamina 11
In this state, I'd be lucky to survive a fight with a Goblin, never mind a remotely competent opponent.

Paying a bit more attention to my surroundings, I become aware that I don't recognise any of the plants growing in the vicinity, and realise that I have no idea of where I am. Or when, for that matter - it was autumn back home, but this place is bright and sunny. Almost unbearably so.

Anyway, I'm not going to get back to my body or my home by just wishing hard, so I'd better try to find Mencius. Climbing the mountain strikes me as an unproductive course of action (my body didn't fall up). I could try one of the Mage-detecting techniques that don't require specialised equipment (preferably not the one that only works on the 13th day of the new moon, because who knows how far through the lunar cycle this place is), but following the river into which Mencius fell should work just as well. Possibly even more so, as the available techniques just point in the direction of the closest Mage, and given the speed of the river, there's no guarantee that Mencius is still closer than any local sorcerer.

I think I'll pause the narrative for now. It's been a week since my last playthrough went up, and I wouldn't want people to think this was going to be another months-long gap between posts.

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