Friday, 22 September 2017

Conquer the Blue Sky

For some reason, after the publication of Howl of the Werewolf, Wizard Books restarted their range of Fighting Fantasy reissues, bringing out yet another new edition of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, this one a different size, with a selection of pre-generated characters for the benefit of readers who found the whole 'roll four dice and add numbers to them' aspect of character generation too burdensome. The numbering of the books also restarted, but remained consistent with the numbering of the original Wizard run. For the first three books. Then came another new release, Jonathan Green's Stormslayer, which was the first book in the new Wizard range that I actually bought.

I suspect that Brown's Books must have undergone its drastic reduction in size at some point between when Howl came out and the publication of Stormslayer, as I wound up buying the latter online when it failed to show up on the shelves of the few remaining local bookshops. A little browsing when I placed the order led to my discovering reasonably-priced second-hand copies of a couple of other gamebooks I was after, which was a pleasant bonus, but not being able to flick through the new FF book in a shop felt like a loss.

While Stormslayer has more balanced gameplay than Mr. Green's first four FF books, I have yet to successfully complete it. As I recall, on my first attempt, my character got eaten by a sea monster. The end fight of the book's volcano sequence has claimed the lives of more than one of my later characters, but since the last time I tried the book, I've heard that it is possible to skip the volcano and still have a chance of succeeding, so I might put that to the test this time round.

My character is a bounty hunter, who starts the adventure in a tavern in the village of Vastarin, celebrating the successful completion of a quest and having a little gloat at having again beaten long-standing rival Varick Oathbreaker. It's possible that his appearance at this stage is setting things up for a clash later in the adventure, but if so, that must be an incident I have yet to reach. Let's hope that he doesn't prove as tiresome a nemesis as Fang-Zen.

Oathbreaker warns that there's a storm coming my way, and is startled when his veiled threat proves not to be just a metaphor: in an instant, the tavern in which I am recounting tales of past triumphs is shaken by thunder, and deluged with hail heavy enough to break the tiles on the roof. Lightning lashes the travelling Menagerie of Monsters parked by the village square, and I find myself slightly at a loss to be confronted with a threat I can't just repeatedly hit with my sword, Wyrmbiter.

Wyrmbiter is just one of the special items I possess at the outset. It's an enchanted sword, so it can harm undead and magical beings, and is particularly effective against Dragons and their kin. I also have two of a possible four other items, and pick a Sabretooth Fang and a Sun Talisman. As regards my stats, I've decided to take the dice as they fall, and wind up with exactly the distribution I'd have gone for if allocating dice, namely:
Skill 10
Stamina 17
Luck 10
Also randomly determined at this stage of the adventure is the day of the week, as that affects the sort of magic and opponents with which I will be contending. It turns out to be Windsday, which is good news: the trouble I'm about to get into would probably be that bit worse if it were Stormsday.

So what is that trouble? Having just been regaling the locals with tales of my heroism, I can't exactly sit back and do nothing while grapefruit-sized hailstones imperil their friends and neighbours. I head for the heart of the hailstorm in the hope of discovering what is responsible for these freak weather conditions. As Luck would have it, no harm befalls me along the way, and I find myself up against an Ice Elemental. Pity this didn't happen two days ago, as the Elemental would have been weaker on Fireday. Still, that Talisman provides some protection from my foe's attacks, so I only take half as much damage as I would have without it.

The storm moves on, and I glimpse what appears to be a vessel in the shape of a large bronze fish at the heart of the clouds. As the people of Vastarin prepare to start rebuilding their homes and lives, I vow to deal with whoever is to blame for the storm.

The storm came from the south, and continued to head north, in the direction of the kingdom's capital city, Chalannabrad. It's possible that following the trail of storm damage back to its origins might provide me with some clue as to what this is all about, but I opt to visit the College of Mages in Chalannabrad and see if they can shed any light on the situation.

It's Highday by the time I reach Chalannabrad. Having carried out missions for the College, I have no trouble securing an audience with the High Council. Getting them to believe that there's a meteorological menace out there is another matter entirely: they seem to be in a state of denial about the possibility that anybody's activities could affect the weather in ways that might cause large-scale harm. But there is an explanation for this ridiculous and implausible-seeming state of affairs, as is revealed to me in private by a member of the Council with whom I have worked closely in the past.

The truth is, the Council know exactly what is going on, but they're too embarrassed to acknowledge that the problem exists because the man responsible used to be a member of the College. Balthazar Sturm, an Elementalist specialising in weather-based magic, was thrown out for attempting to combine magic with machinery, and vowed vengeance on the whole kingdom. He has now created a flying machine and bound four Greater Elementals within it in order to gain the power to control the weather. To defeat him, I will need to harness the power of the elements myself, which means visiting a series of thematically appropriate locations.

Matteus, my friend within the Council, can provide me with a small amount of magical assistance. It's almost a week until Seaday, so I decide to start with the water-based quest, and ask what help he can give me with that. He hands over a Potion of Underwater Breathing, and tells me he'll try to persuade the Council to do what little they can to counteract Sturm's magic. And it's high time I got started on the next stage of my quest.

It's been a week since I last made a post to this blog, so I shall pause my account here, and hope that the coming week will be less busy (and that I fare better at this adventure than I did Mr. Green's previous book), so the next entry might be a more substantial one.

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