Monday, 13 May 2013

Suffer or Triumph, Be the Anvil or the Hammer

I don't remember anything about the circumstances of my buying Shadow on the Sand, the fifth Lone Wolf gamebook, but vague recollections of first attempting it at my grandparents' home suggest that I got it on a Friday. On that first go at the book, I rapidly got captured and imprisoned, and had my equipment taken. The last of those details was the one that bothered me most: at the end of the previous book I'd taken the Dagger of Vashna into safekeeping so as to ensure that nobody was able to use it to resurrect the long-dead Darklord, and if my captors realised that that was the knife they'd taken from me, unpleasantness might ensue.

As I became more familiar with the structure of the book, I came to prefer the route in which Lone Wolf evaded capture but contracted an ailment that would cost him an arm unless he found the cure, the only supply of which was in the same building to which he'd have been taken if his enemies imprisoned him. But that was when I was using a four-book veteran character, with 9 Kai Disciplines and a ludicrously overpowered magic sword. Starting the adventure effectively from scratch, I think the capture/escape routine might be the more survivable option.

I'm getting ahead of myself. At this point, my character thinks he's just on a straightforward diplomatic mission. The Vassagonian ruler (or Zakhan, to give his title) wants to arrange a treaty between Vassagonia and Sommerlund. Relations between the two nations have been a little strained since the incident when a renegade Vassagonian noble invaded Sommerlund in an attempt to raise up Vashna and his undead minions way back in book four. The Zakhan has requested that the King send me as his envoy to sign the treaty, and the King has agreed to this. He anticipates war anyway, as the Zakhan is elderly, and whoever succeeds him is liable to be power-hungry, but the treaty may at least buy Sommerlund a little time to prepare for the anticipated invasion. Comparing editions, I see that the Mongoose text has more superfluous embellishments of the kind that I disliked in books 2 and 4. And the back cover blurb has a minor typo, changing the Vassagonian capital of Barrakeesh from 'a city full of treachery and death' to 'a city full of treachery and dead'.

I accept the mission, hoping that all will go according to plan, as I only have a measly:
Combat Skill 11
Endurance 20
For Kai Disciplines I pick Healing, Mindshield, Mindblast, Weaponskill (in dagger - and I'm pleased to note that this is the last book in the series to randomly determine the weapon in which I'm particularly proficient) and Mind Over Matter, because while Lone Wolf doesn't know what the near future holds, I do, and I reckon that his chances of survival should be marginally less negligible if he's at least vaguely competent in battle.

The voyage to Vassagonia is uneventful, and I learn the local language from the ship's crew along the way. As we approach the harbour, I ask the Vassagonian envoy about the black flags that have been raised on all the turrets of the Grand Palace. Perturbed, he explains that they mean the Zakhan is dead. And he's none too optimistic about the peaceful intentions of whoever now rules.

On the harbour, an emissary named Maouk greets me and names the new ruler. The envoy just has time for an Admiral Ackbar impersonation before Maouk knifes him. Scores of sword-wielding warriors emerge from hiding. Not fancying my odds if a fight breaks out (even though I do have a dagger), I surrender. My equipment is taken, my hands are tied, and just to be certain that I don't try anything, Maouk jabs me with a drugged dart, after which I lose interest in my surroundings for a while.

I come round in a cell, with my hands now untied, (and the Mongoose edition reminds me that I don't have my equipment any more, in case I forgot that detail some time between the previous section and now) and overhear a conversation between the two guards outside. Apparently I'm to be taken to see the Zakhan at sunset, in around two hours, and my equipment is in the armoury. One of the guards opens the spy-hole in the cell door, and I learn something else: when I'm crouched down by the door, eavesdropping on the guards, I can't be seen through the spy-hole. And yes, the guards are thick enough to assume that I've escaped, and to come in and take a look.

The benefits of a surprise attack won't last long, so I'd better make the most of the opportunity. I have no idea why I'm even given the option of stepping back into the middle of the cell: even if the guards didn't manage to slam the door again as soon as they see me there, they'd probably be able to get into the cell and fight me simultaneously, whereas if I'm blocking the doorway, they may have to go for me one at a time.

Even better - I manage to knock the first guard out before he can react. The next decision is trickier, though. Do I grab the unconscious guard's sword and risk allowing his friend to slam and lock the door, or do I fight the second guard bare-handed? Hoping that the body slumped on the floor is in the way of reimprisoning me, I go for the weapon - the difference it'll make to Combat Skill could prove decisive.

Grabbing the sword means that I can only parry, not actually inflict damage in the first round, and I roll well that round, too. To make things worse, the length of time it takes to win the fight makes a difference, and losing a round's worth of damage is enough to take me past the optimal duration. Still, the consequence of taking too long is only that the first guard starts to recover, rather than additional guards turning up. He tugs a dagger from his boot, but a quick jolt of Mindblast numbs his hand (with an inexplicable but irrelevant delay in the Mongoose text). I spare his life in order to interrogate him, but after coming out with a bunch of transparent lies (the Zakhan thinks I'm an assassin, the guard is just a plain, simple tailor jailer and doesn't even like the new guy), he takes advantage of my lacking Sixth Sense to try and escape, so I am forced to snap his neck.

I risk searching the bodies before moving on, finding a little money and some keys (plus that dagger, which, in my hands, is more dangerous to my enemies than a sword). Then I head along the corridor to a junction. There's a door to the west, and steps leading down to the east. What would be lower than the dungeons? Seems a bit out-of-the-way for the armoury, but I'll take a chance on investigating anyway.

The stairs lead to a corridor with barred windows high up in the right-hand wall. So my cell was above ground? A pitcher of water stands on a stone table and, after quenching my thirst, I stand on the table to look through a window. The hundred foot-plus drop on the other side confirms that I'm higher up than I'd realised. While the bars are pretty corroded, the window is obviously no way out. Then again, I only looked through it to squeeze in an extra section's worth of Healing.

Further on, I see a weapon rack next to a door, and a corridor leading north. The weapons aren't as good for me as the dagger, and a listen at the door indicates it to lead to a torture chamber. Not wishing to loiter, I hurry north, noting that in the Mongoose text the corridor has now become a door. Further on I see a side turning, and what I can see and hear leads me to deduce that there's a smithy at the end of that passage. What's a smithy doing this high up? I approach anyway, hoping to get directions to the armoury.

Yep, that's a big forge. Two loincloth-clad men operate the bellows while a huge armourer hammers red-hot iron on an anvil. The bellows-men suddenly leave by two separate doors. Attacking the armourer looks like an impressively stupid idea, so I follow the man who went west. This involves some sneaking, and as I don't have the Discipline Camouflage, I get spotted. The armourer attacks, and I discover that he has a hammer in place of a right hand. As anticipated, I am somewhat outclassed, and it's only the bias inherent in the Combat Results Table that enables me to kill him. Mind you, that bias isn't enough to keep him from slaying me at the same time. He's deader than I am, but that's not much consolation.

Section 291 is in the second half of the adventure. Which may seem an obvious statement, but this book is structured differently from the rest: it's divided into two parts of 200 sections each, with something of a twist revealed at the end of the first part, and the second part covering what I do in the light of that revelation. Thus, our hypothetical jumping-in-at-section-291 cheater would avoid all the hassles of the first part of SotS, but wouldn't really derive any other benefit from doing so.

This book is a turning point in the Lone Wolf series, and in all subsequent adventures Lone Wolf is a significantly more powerful figure. So my next character's inexperience will be less of a disadvantage - at least, if I play the next book next. But I could also go back and have a shot at replaying all the ones I failed, rather than moving on to the second phase of Lone Wolf's adventuring. If any readers wish to express a preference, I shall take their views into consideration.

1 comment:

  1. It does seem a shame that we're not seeing Lone Wolf surviving and improving as you go along, so from that perspective I'd say it's worth going back to the start.