Monday, 25 April 2016

And That's Cutting Me Own Throat

This is the second part of my playthrough of Fighting Fantasy book 58, Keith Martin's Revenge of the Vampire. Anyone who hasn't yet read the first part, or wants to refresh their memory about what happened in it, can find it here.

As I rather pathetically attempt to pursue Heydrich's coach on foot, I encounter a farmer leading a horse. He's willing to sell it to me in return for all my gold (so long as that's above a certain value). There are two common complaints about this encounter in FF fandom, one valid, the other one (as far as I can tell) missing the point. I'll address the valid objection in the next paragraph, once I've pulled apart the one I don't accept, which boils down to: the farmer should charge a fixed price for the horse because exploiting the situation to wring as much money as possible out of the hero is unreasonable. I agree that it's unreasonable, but so what? You get unreasonable people. Pretty much any time of emergency will be taken by some as an opportunity to rip off the needy and desperate. But it would appear that, to certain fans, while it's okay for gamebooks to feature encounters with the likes of thieves, traitors, slavers, torturers, murderers and genocidal maniacs, opportunists are just unacceptable.

The more reasonable complaint is that the situation leads to one of the book's more serious errors. Probably the worst one in the slightly fixed second print run. The thing is, there are several sections that can only be reached if you buy the horse and subsequently spend another gold piece. But since buying the horse uses up all the player character's gold, there's no way of getting to those sections and picking up the important item which can only be acquired in that sequence. My preferred fix for this bug is an optional Test your Luck to palm a coin when paying the farmer, which makes it possible to pay the additional charge when required, but doesn't eliminate the farmer's short-sighted greed.

So, I buy the horse and successfully retain one gold piece while begrudgingly handing over the rest. The horse makes good time, and after a while I encounter a broken-down coach and learn from its driver that the coach I'm pursuing passed him not long before. Towards dawn, the horse begins to tire, and I catch sight of a coaching inn. Heydrich's coach is being pushed into the stables even as I approach. When I ask the landlord about recent arrivals, he claims that I'm the first this morning, but he has the look of a man who's been hypnotised into forgetting something, so his denial doesn't dissuade me from booking in (for 1 gold, payable in advance).

Though tired, I choose to have a look around before turning in. A chambermaid is fetching linen from a cupboard, so I ask her if she's been warned not to enter any rooms. She mentions the adulterous liaison going on in room five, and is about to mention another room when she goes blank. Not wanting to risk causing mental damage by pushing her too hard, I say no more, but watch her doing her rounds. She takes fresh bedding to all but room five and the room at the end of the corridor, and once she's finished her rounds, I investigate the second of those rooms.

That's 'investigate' as in 'kick the door in'. Crude, but effective. The room is in darkness, but light spilling in from the corridor illuminates the occupied coffin on the bed. And its armed guard Igor, who promptly attacks me. He's tough, and on one of the two occasions he manages to hit me, he does extra damage, but I significantly outclass him, and win without any real trouble. Part of his fighting prowess turns out to be a consequence of his owning a magic sword, which I claim as spoils of battle, along with his gold, a ring, and Sewarth's Codex. For bookkeeping purposes I need to make a note of the number of moonstones set into the ring and pages in the Codex, but the text does at least warn me to do so. Strangely, the Codex has an odd number of pages. Maybe Sewarth only used and numbered one side of each sheet of paper. Unless one of the pages is a moebius strip for some arcane reason...

Fighting Fantasy is a little inconsistent regarding Vampires' vulnerabilities, but in Keith Martin's books, only certain types of weapon can harm them. A magic sword would do, so I take the one I've just acquired, and plunge it into the recumbent Heydrich's chest. The wound heals as soon as I pull the sword out, and the Vampire's grin gets smugger. Exposure to sunlight and decapitation prove equally ineffective, confirming that the gem Sewarth was researching has made Heydrich invulnerable. Still, his coffin has no such protection, and smashing that provides several Blood Points.

Reasoning that the Codex should provide some hints about how to restore the Count's killability, I take it to my room for a good read. Alas, what with having spent the night snooping around a monastery, fighting assorted minions of the Vampire, searching in catacombs, and riding in pursuit of a coach, I'm too tired to give the text the attention it requires, and doze off before I can take in anything of note.

I sleep through most of the daylight hours, and when I wake and discover how late it is, I realise that Heydrich will be on his way again soon. Hurrying to the stables, I find that I'm just too late: as I draw near, a dark horse gallops out, a cloaked figure on its back. Oh, well, at least I forced the Count to abandon his coach by depriving him of his driver.

I'm not really going to be able to continue my pursuit of him, either, as a couple of stablemen block access to my horse, demanding payment for having fed him, and I can see that he's eaten too well to be capable of the sort of speed that would be required to stay on the Vampire's trail. Mind you, it may still be useful to have a horse, and I can't justify attacking the stablemen just for overfeeding him without permission, so I suppose I shall have to pay up.

I ride after the Count, but the horse cannot keep up. At dawn I stop for breakfast, and have another go at reading the Codex. It tells me that Heydrich's current lair is a mansion to the east, that the Soul Gem is in the possession of the three witches who crafted it, and that the Count is planning to go to an unspecified location to raise an army of Vampires in his service. Maps indicate the approximate location of the mansion and the home of the witches.

I decide to visit the mansion first. It won't be possible for me to kill Heydrich there, because of that gem, but I'm pretty sure that even if I were to deal with the witches and the gem first, the Count would still survive my calling on him at home, because dramatic necessity requires that he not be defeated until on the verge of succeeding in his army-raising scheme.

Slightly carelessly, the text has me ask people if they've seen Heydrich's coach, in spite of the fact that he had to leave it back at that inn. Occasional reports of sightings suggest that I am still on the trail he followed. Being on horseback helps me maintain a decent pace, significantly reducing the number of compulsory meals I have to eat along the way. After a while I reach a hamlet, where I can buy more provisions, and while I'm there, I ask if there are any scholars or magicians in the area. Nobody will tell me anything without payment, but after I part with a little cash, the villagers mention an eccentric healer named Zandar or Sender or something along those lines who lives on the outskirts of the hamlet. While not currently in need of medical assistance, I decide to check him out, remembering that there was a monk named Sandar who disappeared from the monastery at the same time as Sewarth.

There's a dilapidated stable in the grounds of the healer's house, and I take a quick look in it. Heydrich's coach is not inside (which is hardly surprising), but there is something undead in there. Not a particularly formidable opponent, and I quickly kill it before continuing on my way to the house.

I knock on the door, and a tall, grey-haired man lets me in. We go to his study, where he pours a couple of glasses of wine and I ask about his work. He talks of his interest in philosophy and life after death, and then lunges at me, yelling about how fascinating he finds the subject of spirit possession. I catch sight of a glowing amulet around his neck, and he produces a poisoned dagger and attacks me. Rather than fight back, I try to get the amulet away from him, and on my second attempt I succeed. It's hot, and burns my hand, but I see sanity returning to his gaze. Then two Zombies burst into the room and attack. After a couple of rounds, the man has sufficiently regained his senses to be able to assist me, and we rapidly prevail.

Sandar (for it is he) is pretty traumatised by what's been going on, and has no memory of the events of the past three weeks, nor of anything he might once have known about Heydrich, nor even what else is in the house. I decide to find out the latter for him. Behind the door through which the Zombies came I find a corridor. Two further doors lead from it, and I also find a secret door, leading to a room that has an evil atmosphere and contains another of Heydrich's coffins. A Death Imp appears and attacks when I enter the room, but I kill it with ease, and smash the coffin.

Returning to the corridor, I try one of the other doors. It's locked, but I smash it down without any trouble. The room beyond is being used as a laboratory, and in addition to the standard paraphernalia, there's a corpse strapped to a table, exhaling a foggy vapour. Despite this disconcerting sight, I give the place a quick search, helping myself to pots of resin and acid. As Luck would have it, nothing unpleasant occurs.

The other door is also locked, and even easier to force. It leads to a finely decorated bedroom, which appears to have been used by the Count himself. I help myself to the four-poster bed's gold tassels and a flask of medicinal brandy, but find nothing else of note. The other wing of the house contains a less ornate bedroom and the kitchen, so I stock up on Provisions before leaving.

As I accompany Sandar to the hamlet, he has a sudden flash of memory. Heydrich had been talking to a servant, and mentioned the mountain where the witches live. There was something there (perhaps the gem) that he wanted back in time. That's probably as in 'he wished it returned to his possession by a specific deadline' rather than 'he intended to use trans-temporal shenanigans to send it into the past', but based on things that happened in a couple of earlier FF titles, the latter is not beyond the bounds of possibility.

I'm pretty sure that despite what Sandar's just said, there's no real time limit for dealing with the witches, and it's possible that if I do head off to their territory now, I won't get the chance to come back this way and investigate the mansion, so I carry on to where I was heading. The weather takes a turn for the worse, and a couple of Giant Ravens attack me, but I ensure that they will nevermore harass travellers on this road.

I continue on my way, and towards the end of the day I notice that the road is getting foggy up ahead. Only the road: the forest to either side of it is not remotely misty. Weird. Walking into the mist may not be fatal, as this book wasn't written by Robin Waterfield or M.W. Bolton, but I'd rather not take the risk anyway. Now, which side of the road did I go onto the last time I got to this point?

The same one that I chose today. No idea what happens on the other side, and maybe I should check it out at some point, but so far I have no reason to believe that I'm better off avoiding this encounter. Investigating sounds of yelling and snarling, I reach a clearing in which a fight has taken place. The bodies of three wolves and a fighter lie on the ground, and two live wolves are menacing a man who's obviously not a fighter, though he is waving around a knife in a less than intimidating manner.

I wave around my sword in a lethal manner, and the wolves join the three that died before I arrived. The man thanks me for saving him, introducing himself as Roban, a travelling merchant. He asks me to help bury his bodyguard and accompany him to the nearby village of Farleigh, and offers to pay for my assistance. I accede to his request, thereby gaining a Faith bonus but losing a point of Blood for the delay. Faith is scarcer than Blood, so it's probably worth it.

The text is a little vaguer than ideal here, but I think I have to sell my horse once I reach Farleigh, because its exertions have taken their toll on it. Naturally I don't get as much as I paid for it. Still, it's not all bad news here. Roban pays for me to have a room at the best inn and, the next day, gives me some money and food. He asks if there's anything else he can do to help, and when I give a vague account of my adventures to date, he mentions a scholar who lives locally but formerly studied at Lake Libra. Slightly annoyingly, unless I head straight to the tavern this scholar frequents, I'll forget this information and be forced to waste time (and Blood) relearning it, but if I do go directly, I don't get to buy anything in the market.

The tavern is an up-market place, and I have to bribe the bouncer to let me in. Harquar, the scholar, is an unimpressive figure, who seems to know nothing of any use, but his demeanour changes when I mention the massacre at the monastery, and he tells me to visit him tomorrow, giving directions to his house. Unwilling to waste another night in this village, I follow him home from the tavern. He has a bodyguard large enough to put me off the idea of forcing my way into the house, but some caprice prompts me to loiter in the vicinity rather than just getting a room for the night.

Lamplight shows from a window, and I see the mist by that window coalescing into the shape of some tentacled creature, which dissolves the window and slithers through. I climb the wall, fortunately not inconvenienced by having missed out on getting a rope at the market, and enter the room to find Harquar in bed, his face covered by the Vampiric Jelly. I slice the thing up before it can suffocate him, and then send his useless bodyguard to fetch a healer.

Once a couple of herbal restoratives have restored Harquar's health, I tell him everything relevant that's happened since I met Henrik. It turns out that Sewarth arranged for Harquar to move here to keep an eye on Heydrich's mansion. The place was already haunted after an insane nobleman murdered his family there, so the locals have assumed any peculiar happenings to be caused by the ghosts, rather than suspecting the new owner of being up to something. The mansion's reputation has also made it difficult for Harquar to recruit any local help, so he knows next to nothing about the Count's activities.

One thing he does know is that the Soul Gem is a crystal heart. If I hadn't already know the witches' whereabouts, I'd learn it now, and Harquar also warns me to try and deal with the witches one at a time rather than as a group. He also suspects that Heydrich has some concealed source of power, and is only working with the witches until he's in a position to draw on it.

Before I resume my journey to Heydrich's house, which Harquar reveals to be called Mortus Mansion, the scholar gives me a bundle of letters that circulated between him, Sewarth and Henrik, as they may contain some useful information. He also announces his intent to go somewhere else before the next assassination attempt.

I'll end this instalment here, partly because it's already been a fortnight since my previous post, and partly to set up a 'save point'. I don't think I've done anything catastrophically wrong yet, and I know from at least two past failures at this book that there's a potentially lethal encounter not far off. If my next post turns out to be a short one, I will at least have the option of restarting from here rather than having to repeat most of what I've been doing up until now.

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