Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Adventure of a New and Different Kind

Judging by the traces of glue on the spine, I most likely got my copy of Lone Wolf book 10, The Dungeons of Torgar, in Ballard's. The shop was mainly devoted to models and RPGs, and had only a small amount of shelf space devoted to gamebooks, so to get the most out of that limited space, the stock was mostly 'spine out' rather than 'face-on', and to cut down on unnecessary handling, price tags were placed on the spines. Those tags did, regrettably, tend to leave a sticky residue when removed. Still, having delayed my acquisition of the later books in the series, as explained here, I had to buy them where I could find them, and at least the labels could be taken off without tearing the covers.

I must have at least read through the book after getting it. While I have no clear memories of doing so, I know that when GM magazine adapted a sequence from Dungeons into a mini-adventure in connection with a competition, I played the magazine version and recognised an incident in it. The lack of more detailed memories, and the fact that much of the content was new to me when I came back to the book while playing through the whole series in the nineties, suggests that I only had one go at Dungeons when I bought it, though.

By now I know that there are essentially three different routes through Dungeons. Aussiesmurf has recently covered one of them in his Lone Wolf playthrough (and I know of another online attempt at the book that went the same way, though I shan't be linking to that one as it's in a part of the internet to which I hope never to return). For the sake of variety, I shall take a different one. Much as I'd like to cover the one that includes a not-so-fond reunion, it is only possible to get onto that particular path by making some sub-optimal decisions, and it includes a fight of similar difficulty to the one everyone hates in book 9, so I'm ruling it out. That leaves the path I took first time round.

So, at the end of the last book I learned that my enemy Darklord Gnaag had managed to get hold of the final three of the Lorestones that I need in order to become a Kai Grand Master, and intended to destroy them and me. Since then, the Elder Magi have learned that a soldier who escaped from the city-fortress of Torgar reported having seen the Lorestones brought into it. I must travel to Eru, the allied region closest to Torgar, and then Eruan ruler Prince Graygor will furnish some kind of assistance to help me get into the city-fortress, retrieve the Lorestones, level up and save the world.

Before I set off, I should sort out character progression from book 9. I get to add another Discipline, and with an eye on my next Lore-circle and a vague memory of something that happens near the end of the adventure, I pick Invisibility. While I've passed the point at which gaining weapon proficiencies particularly matters, I should take care of that as well, so I select Quarterstaff. I'm given some money to add to my bag, and get to select some new Backpack Items, as the rules still insist that only money, Weapons and Special Items may be carried across to later books. Bye-bye to the rope, meal, Altar Cloth and flask of slightly suspect alcohol, hello to a new rope, two fresh meals and a healing potion.

Since (as far as we know) Gnaag doesn't know that we know where the Lorestones are, my friend Banedon is disguising himself as me as he returns to my home province of Sommerlund, and I am disguising myself as a messenger for my journey west. The cover illustration to the Mongoose Books reissue of Dungeons suggests that I make the mistake of choosing a messenger disguise that looks exactly like my normal costume, but that's nowhere near the worst mistake Mongoose has made. Dare I hope that it's the worst one in this book?

I think section 1 of this adventure may contain more text than the entirety of some Tunnels & Trolls mini-adventures. Buried a couple of pages in is a description of the way Eruans salute, which I commit to memory to reduce the risk of blowing my cover with an incorrect salute at some later point in the adventure. Another detail that catches my attention is the off-hand revelation that one of the captured Lorestones was seized by the enemy two years ago. Conspiracy theorists could probably make a lot out of the fact that the Elder Magi never bothered to mention that fact to me.

The Prince gives me a new disguise, as there aren't many messengers from the Tahouese army in these parts, and being conspicuous even in a way that doesn't mark me out as a Kai is probably inadvisable. Thus, I now wear the costume of an Eruan Pathfinder, elite woodsmen (or scouts, depending on which version of the book you're reading) who operate in some of the more insalubrious parts of the region.

Anyway, once I get through all the waffle, I have a simple choice. Do I want to go to Torgar via the Hellswamp or the Moggador Forest? The first route would require me to track down partisan leader Sebb Jarel and persuade him to act as my guide, while the latter means assisting the Prince, his ally King Sarnac, and their armies as they fight to retake the border town of Cetza. I shall improve Sebb Jarel's chances of surviving to retirement age by leaving him well alone.

The journey to Cetza is uneventful, and for some reason the Mongoose text is less precise about the number of soldiers on our side than the original version. Scouts ascertain that the enemy forces have fortified their position and received reinforcements since their last battle, which is not great news. It's late in the day by the time the troops have all arrived, and the decision is made not to attack until morning. King Sarnac invites the Prince to make battle plans for tomorrow, and the Prince says I can come too, so I accompany him.

For a while the Prince and the King formulate strategies, and then the King points out that a lot of lives could be saved if we were better informed about the enemy reinforcements. And who happens to be in the tent with the King, standing incognito in the uniform of an expert scout? That would be me. (I now give an unreserved thumbs-up to the Mongoose edit I mentioned a few paragraphs back, as it properly sets up this awkward situation.) Well, if nothing else, this should be a good opportunity to test drive my newest Discipline, so I resolve the Prince's dilemma and maintain my cover by volunteering to investigate the enemy ranks. I am given yet another change of costume for more effective camouflage, and get told the password to give our sentries upon my return.

There's not a lot of cover, and I wind up in a rather unpleasant ditch that passes under a bridge. There are men on the bridge, speaking Giak with a fluency that identifies them as elite Drakkar Death-Knights. But even elites have their off-days, and one of them drops a spear, which lands close to me. The fumbling Drakkar descends the bank to retrieve his weapon, and I'm one Discipline short of the Lore-circle that would guarantee my escaping his notice, so randomness determines what happens next. Invisibility does give me a bonus, but that merely reduces the likelihood of an unfavourable outcome to 50%. And the number I get would be a resounding success anyway. The Death Knight fails to spot me, grabs the spear, and clambers back up to rejoin his doubtless sniggering comrades.

I wait for some time, and then continue along the ditch until I reach a spot from which I can spy on the enemy army. Once I've learned as much as I can, I return to my allies' camp. To my surprise, it is taken as read that I remember the password, and the possibility of a friendly fire-based fatality does not arise. The King and the Prince appreciate the information I relay to them, and I am allowed a good night's rest while they modify their battle-plans to take the new data into account.

At dawn we prepare for battle. I join the Prince at his command post, and he notes that while we have numerical superiority, our opponents have the better position. Nevertheless, it is time to fight. The leading troops take heavy damage from archers, and when the Prince sends in fresh troops to support them, a blast of electricity from a ruined temple indicates the presence of someone with sorcerous capabilities. I get a Discipline check, and could go with more than one option. Do I choose the one that enables me to detect magic users (subject to shielding), or the one that gives me telescopic vision? Both versions of the book list them in the same order, and I recall previous Mongoose edits rearranging the occasional poorly-structured selection, so that probably means the first one is better in this situation.

Yes, the magician responsible for the blast is not shielded from my Divination, and I point him out to the Prince, who has a telescope. The Prince's response is courageous but probably unwise, as he leaps onto his horse to lead a cavalry charge towards the ruins. I can only go with him or stay behind and watch, and I don't fancy my chances if the Prince's death prompts a rout, so I join the charge in the hope of averting catastrophe. Concealed enemy archers open fire, but neither the Prince nor I are among the casualties. Then an injured, riderless horse runs into mine, and I am knocked off and into the ditch. It's one of the rare occasions when Animal Control can make a difference, and not getting the bonus that would come from having it means I miss the target number on this randomised check. Mortally wounded, my horse falls on me, doing a substantial amount of damage.

It's not lethal, though. I manage to drag myself out from under the dead horse, and crawl along the ditch. Close by I see one of the Palace Guard, trapped under his own dead horse, and face down in the mud. He'll drown without assistance, so I pause to try and extricate him. This turns out not to be difficult, and the man gives me a medal he won in an earlier battle as an expression of his gratitude. (This, by the way, is the incident I remembered from my first read of the book.)

The soldier then hurries after the Prince and what remains of his entourage. I could try looking for a replacement horse, but my lack of Animal Control might make that an overly hazardous course of action, so I follow the man I rescued on foot. Up ahead, the Prince and his Palace Guard clash with Drakkar pikemen, and a few of them break through and make for the temple. The remaining Drakkarim close ranks, and two try to intercept me. A single blow with the Sommerswerd fells the pair of them. The Palace Guards who failed to break through but still survived also take fearsome casualties, and the Drakkarim break and run.

I hurry to the temple ruins and find that only the Prince and the enemy sorcerer still stand. The weapon that dealt electrical death lies on the ground, still sizzling with energy, as its owner struggles to retrieve it. I draw the Sommerswerd, the enemy soldier gashes open the Prince's leg, and a thrown sword distracts me for the second it takes him to recover his Powerstave and attack me with it.

One problem with having read but not played through this path is that enemy stats haven't always registered, and this is the first time I realise just how tough this guy is. He's immune to Mindblast but not Psi-surge, but would the increased damage dealt justify the Endurance expenditure of using my psychic attack? I decide that it's not, but keep a mental note of how different things would be if I did throw Psi-surge into the mix.

Well, thanks to a few abysmal random numbers that come up in the course of the fight, I don't survive. And I'd have hurt the Drakkar warrior a bit more by using Psi-surge, but he'd still have survived and I'd still have died.

So, in a few weeks I'm going to have to decide whether I take this path again and hope for much better numbers next time, or take the less lethal path that's already been covered at least twice on the internet.


  1. Ballards in Tunbridge Wells? I remember that shop!

    1. That's the one. So what's your connection with Tunbridge Wells?

    2. I grew up in Uckfield, halfway between Brighton and Tunbridge Wells, and without a gaming shop of its own, so sometimes we'd pop into "Tunny" to pick up the latest rpg-related gubbins. I haven't thought about Ballards for years.

  2. My only knowledge of Tunbridge Wells is that it is the area where Jack / Earnest says that his fictional Aunt Cecily comes from in The Importance of Being Earnest.