Thursday, 24 March 2016

We Thought You Would Feel Happier as Yourself

This is the second part of my latest attempt at Fighting Fantasy gamebook 57, Magehunter. The plot's a little more convoluted than usual, so I would strongly recommend that if you haven't yet read the first part, you do so before reading any further in this post.

My companion and I walk along the riverbank for a while, and then Reinhardt stumbles. He blames the body he's occupying, and I refrain from pointing out that I managed not to fall over despite being stuck in an even more rubbish one. We take a short break, and then I experience a sudden bout of dizziness and a tingle in my scalp. I inadvertently make eye contact with my companion, and after a short bout of more extreme disorientation, I find myself in Mencius' body, staring at Reinhardt, and wishing I'd taken a bit more care when bandaging that bullet wound. Reinhardt is delighted to have returned to his own body (well, it is what he's used to, poor lad!), and I'm moderately pleased to find that I'm now:
Skill 5
Stamina 8
A point of Skill can be worth several Stamina, so I think I'm better off now that I was at the end of the previous instalment. Plus, now I have an inkling of the trick, I can initiate a body swap any time the top of my head starts to tingle. Better steer clear of the medicated shampoos for a bit.

Now he's his old self, Reinhardt has no interest in resting for any longer, and drags me to my feet. We resume our search for Mencius, and I try to figure out where in the world we could be, wishing I'd paid more attention to my geography lessons (a feat of roleplaying far more challenging than imagining myself to be a barbarian, a woman, or a four-armed alien gribbly).

Further along, we come across some clothes at the side of the river. Upon closer inspection, they turn out to be some of my undyed garb, now interestingly torn. The text describes the presence of the rips as a 'strange thing', which I find a little inappropriate. According to The Most Revered Treatise of MAGE HUNTING at the start of the book, a sorcerer's body will double in size when submerged in water (which makes it a much more effective test than the 'sink or float' idiocy that led to many deaths in the real world). I know that Mencius is a sorcerer, and his consciousness is occupying my body, so it makes perfect sense that, while in the river, he swelled up and damaged my clothes like Bruce Banner in a bad mood. A reader who fails to put together the clues might be baffled by the torn clothing, but my character, who is far more familiar with the different indications of Magery than I am, shouldn't find it strange.

I take the clothes with me as we carry on along the riverside. After a while we reach a path, and follow that instead. It leads to a walled town with towers that have onion-shaped structures at their tops - not an architectural style with which I am familiar. Nor do the curved swords wielded by the guards on the town gate look like any weapon I've seen before.

The guards seem not to think much of us, but they let us through the gate anyway. Inside the town, I am startled to see how much silk people are wearing - even the wealthiest people in my home region would struggle to afford such finery. It would be advisable to familiarise myself with the culture here before I do much more, as any social blunders made in the course of searching for Mencius could lead to serious trouble.

To start to learn about the ways of this place, I seek a local tavern. This is tricky, because they don't have signs indicating what they are like the ones in my home region, but drunkards here act like the drunkards I've seen in more familiar climes, so when I spot one staggering out of a building, I go in there. Yep, that's a pub all right. The seating arrangements, drinking vessels, and serving maids' costumes may be unlike what I'm used to, but people are being served alcoholic beverages and consuming them on the premises. And the clincher is that everyone falls silent when we enter. Only for a moment, though, and then the babble of numerous conversations resumes, albeit in a language I don't understand at all.

One of the locals is remarkably friendly, buying us drinks and teaching us a little of the local language. While the words he tells me don't include the phrase for, 'I require medical attention. Please direct me to the nearest competent medic,' showing him the bullet wound does the job well enough. The physician to whom my new friend takes me treats the wound with stinging herbs and applies a proper bandage, and his ministrations further improve my Skill, as well as bringing my Stamina up almost as high as Reinhardt's.

As we return to the street, my scalp prickles again. Do I want to do another body-swap with Reinhardt? As regards stats, it would be a foolish thing to do, but I need to think about equipment, too. My companion carries what little remains of my Magehunting equipment, as well as the only money we have. The book's been pretty clear on who carries what, but less so about how to change that without also changing the location of my consciousness. And what I've seen of Reinhardt's personality suggests that asking nicely won't do the trick. I wonder if showing that I can re-Mencius him (almost) at will might intimidate him into becoming more cooperative.

I give it a shot. Reinhardt is, unsurprisingly, displeased to be having another out-of-body-and-in-someone-else's experience, and says some rather unflattering things to me. Our new friend, aware neither of what's just happened nor of the meaning of the words being yelled by his freshly-healed acquaintance, is rather baffled at the outburst, but shrugs it off and takes us back to the tavern, where Reinhardt's mood improves. I guess he liked the drinks.

Until closing time, our drinking companion, who indicates his name to be Al-Bakbuk, continues to teach us how to communicate more effectively with him and his compatriots, and once we have to leave the hostelry, he invites us to stay at his home. We accept, and over the course of the next few days, I learn enough to be capable of at least basic communication. Throughout this time, my scalp remains untingled, doubtless to Reinhardt's distress.

When I'm ready to resume my search for Mencius, I decide to pay Al-Bakbuk back for his generosity, and give him some of the jewellery that this body is carrying. He is delighted with the gift, and reciprocates with an embroidered robe, which apparently identifies the wearer as a retired Vizier of the Caliph's court. The titles mean nothing to me, but I gather that this should cause people to treat me with respect. Al-Bakbuk also tells me that, should my search take me to Kallamehr, I should seek out his brother, a storyteller named Al-Haddar.

Anyone familiar with Paul Mason's earlier FF work should recognise that place name, and thus realise (if they hadn't already twigged) that their character is now on the standard FF world of Titan. The Arabian Nights-esque trappings of this region may jar a little, as they weren't prominent in Slaves of the Abyss (though the illustrations for the sections of The Riddling Reaver that take place in Kallamehr indicate that it was conceived as such a setting), but the fact that the place is now being viewed through the eyes of an outsider provides some justification for highlighting what was at most subtextual before.

I have no idea when I'll next get a chance to swap bodies, so I shall do some shopping while I'm the man with the money. The prices here are exorbitant, compared to what I'm used to (though some of them are quite reasonable by Titan standards), but running out of funds is probably going to be less disastrous than it would be to encounter Mencius while still under-equipped. In the Background section I was able to prevent Mencius from fleeing with a circle of mirrors. Not sure how many I'll need, but ten seems a reasonable number, and will only cost half of Reinhardt's money. A couple of portions of Provisions would also come in handy.

So, time to start searching for Mencius. Memory suggests that one of the Mage-detecting techniques available here leads to the bath-house where my first attempt at this book ended, and in this body I'd have very little chance of surviving the fight there. An alternative approach would require me to buy a dog and feed him on goat's meat for a week, and I doubt that my remaining funds will stretch to cover dog and food. Which leaves me with asking around. Not the most effective method, but I know the word for 'sorcerer', so at least I won't have to try to communicate my intent to the locals via mime.

My questions attract the attention of an old man with a beard, who leads me to a cave in a valley. The cave has an occupant: another old man, with one of the unusual cloth hats that seem quite fashionable around here. That's not Mencius, unless he's swapped bodies again. He invites me into the cave and asks how he can help, and I tell him I'm hunting a sorcerer. To my surprise, he tells me that he is a sorcerer. I could attack him, but it seems so unlikely that anyone would admit to such a thing so casually, I can't help but wonder if the language barrier is confusing issues. What if there's a word similar to the term for 'sorcerer' that means something more benign, and that's what this chap is?

He says something I don't understand, but it includes the word 'Mencius', so it's obvious that he knows something relevant. With considerable difficulty he communicates that he wants to teach me his language properly, by means of some kind of spell. This is where I may come to regret my commitment to playing in character: while I know that there's good magic as well as evil on Titan, the Magehunter only knows of the malign variety, and is hardly likely to let some stranger cast a spell on him. As best I can, I indicate my refusal, and my determination to find out where Mencius is. The old man is terrified, and indicates Kallamehr, to the south-west. In case I misunderstood his intent, and he's not actually a servant of evil, I thank him for his assistance, and he gives me a pentagonal gold coin (which the book oddly insists I list as a 'gold hex' on my Adventure Sheet).

Heading south-west, Reinhardt and I soon reach a road, and on it we encounter a quintet of merchants. Either they're not from around here, or there's a minor continuity issue at this point in the book, because I can't understand any of what they have to say. Regardless, they are just as hospitable as Al-Bakbuk, and we don't have to worry about food or shelter for the duration of the journey. We go our separate ways at the city gate, one of the merchants presenting me with a wineskin as a farewell gift.

This seems like a good point at which to pause the narrative again. I hope to take less time writing the next instalment, especially as I intend to attempt a rather different gamebook for this blog on the first of April, which isn't far off by now.

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