Tuesday, 29 August 2017

There's a Time and There's a Place Where I Can Choose

The second Tunnels & Trolls mini-adventure to appear in Sorcerer's Apprentice and be reprinted in the Compendium is Ken St. Andre's Seven Ayes, which was originally published in issue 2. The introduction indicates that it's part of the same world as the author's Deathtrap Equalizer Dungeon (though the intro's omission of the second 't' in the title suggests a rather different type of challenge from what might actually be encountered in that adventure) and Naked Doom, and is best suited for a freshly-created Warrior, of any humanoid variety other than Fairy or Giant. There is the option of bringing in a pre-existing character, but as none of the Warriors I've created in the course of this blog are still alive, I shan't be finding out what happens if I try doing that.

Creating a new character requires me to roll a die before I start, and that roll takes me to a section which announces that I'm going to have to generate a Dwarf. A better-than-average Dwarf, in fact, as the text indicates that in addition to the standard bonuses on Strength and Constitution, I get extra Luck and don't appear to be affected by the usual Charisma penalty. That means I end up as:
Strength 30
Intelligence 14
Luck 12
Constitution 24
Dexterity 10
Charisma 6 (even without the penalty, I'm ugly)
Speed 13
I also start out with a pickaxe and a dagger (but no armour) and some money.

The section to which I must turn once I've created my character is the same one to which anyone bringing in a veteran character was directed at the start, so it turns out that there are no surprise penalties for playing with an established adventurer. I apologise to Mr. St. Andre for suspecting him of such skulduggery.

The Seven Ayes is a tavern at the north of the fishing village (and secret pirates' and smugglers' haven) of Frarrg, and has become the favourite meeting place of all the rogues, scoundrels, villains and rapscallions in the region. So naturally it's where I decide to go for a cool drink after a hard day's work down the mine.

It's not the most salubrious of establishments, and the furniture shows signs of past fights and fires. Dogs chew on discarded bones, and a Rock Troll bouncer tells me I'll have to leave my pickaxe by the door. Refusal is likely to be unwise, I'm not aware of the axe having any special significance (sentimental or otherwise), and I can at least retain my dagger, so I put the pickaxe in the rack indicated and proceed to the bar.

The bartender is a large cyclopean Ogre with lice the size of mice. He tells me that they sell bad wine, hot beer, and fermented pig's milk. I think the pig's milk might actually be the least bad option there. It costs less than I have on me, but not much less, so the assorted ne'er-do-wells who take a sudden interest in me when I hand over the money are going to be disappointed if they try robbing me.

The drink is served in a clay-lined human skull, and has things swimming in it. Nevertheless, I chance a swig, and my Constitution is high enough that I might even have a decent chance of keeping the stuff down. And I succeed at the Saving Roll, but only because a double means an extra roll. Still, success is success.

A greenish Elf with a scar, bad teeth and black leather clothes introduces himself as K'Neevle (so I guess he's evil), compliments me on my taste, and invites me to join him and his friends for a friendly low-stakes game of Death Cubes. Perhaps because of the drink, I can accept or rudely decline his offer, but a polite refusal is out of the question. If they're con artists, they won't get much out of me, and if not, I might be in with a chance of winning something, so I accept.

It turns out that K'Neevle's idea of low stakes is still higher than my remaining funds, and the text doesn't really allow for that possibility. That's rather ill-thought-out, given that the Random Treasure Generator which determined how much money I have on me gives very low odds of having enough. Not knowing how much the other drinks cost, I don't know the bare minimum required to have a drink and still be able to afford the stake, but at least one time in four, the Generator won't even provide enough money for the stake, let alone the cost of a drink beforehand. I think I'll have to go for the 'lose all cash without getting a losing streak' option.

K'Neevle and his friends apologise, and then laugh at me to show that they're not really sorry. I can make that fit the actual circumstances. Accusing them of cheating wouldn't really be an appropriate response, but if I wanted trouble, I'm sure I could come up with something equally insulting to say that would make sense in context. I don't want trouble, though, so I just walk away from the table, retrieve my pickaxe, and leave. Something of an anticlimax, but, to paraphrase the pilots' adage, any T&T solo your character can walk away from is a successful adventure.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

Too Much Stuff Going on or Not Enough

It's been a long time since I failed at The Green Hydra, the second book in Gary Gygax and Flint Dille's Sagard the Barbarian series. In view of the fact that the series includes some character progression, and there is an ongoing storyline (just about) in at least some of the books, I've decided to try and win Hydra before progressing to the third book. For the sake of the Experience and the items that can be carried across, I've also replayed the first book, but since I did almost the same as on my previous attempt, that doesn't merit its own post.

A couple of paragraphs, perhaps. Feel free to skip this and the next one if you don't care about the few ways in which my replay of The Ice Dragon differed from my initial attempt. When Glanda asked me to join her on her Ordeal, I declined, but then she accused me of not being a man and, what with my being a) part of a barbarian culture that cares a lot about such things, and b) a male teenager, I promptly agreed to accompany her in order to demonstrate my prowess, after which the encounter followed the same pattern as before.

At the end of the valley I checked out the cave, which led to a frozen waterfall that I opted not to descend. Then I checked out the portal, which led to an ancient tomb. Four ghostly warriors were in it, and when I attacked, I found that I couldn't harm them. They couldn't do anything to me, either, so I was able to get past them and reach a cavern illuminated by glowing moss and inhabited by a crowd of pale and spindly creatures that turned out to have been trapped there by their fear of the ghosts. Viewing me as their saviour, they rewarded me with some nutritional moss, a stuffed bat, and an assortment of tat that I abandoned as soon as I'd escorted them to the valley and shown them on their way. Then I went to the crevasse as before, and subsequent events transpired as on my previous attempt. Except that this time I was the one who delivered the coup de grace to the Ice Golem.

And so to The Green Hydra. Initially I do pretty much the same as on my previous attempt, so I shall summarise that part of the adventure in verse, emulating the structure of the not-that-great poem spoken during the dream sequence at the mysterious ruins. Inconsistent metre, weak rhymes and all. It's not the first time I've tried such a gimmick.

Sagard and some other tribesmen
Went south on a trading mission,
But met a group of Hukkas:
Most became carrion.

Among the Hukka corpses
He found a reptile Slith
And, departing in a canoe,
He soon again faced death.

He slew the Crocosaurus.
A woman healed his wounds.
Other Sliths tried to kill him
As he camped by a ruin.

He then dreamed of priestesses
Who chanted ancient hymns
That told of Sliths and undead
And evil in a tomb.

He breakfasted on Ambroth,
Which healed him again
And would do so a second time
If he were close to dying.

Proceeding to the city of Suthorp and the shop owned by Chaga the trader, I accept the price he offers. He then tells me that he has no gold coins, so I'll have to take payment in store credit. Looking around, I see that his prices are high, so I'd only be able to afford a leather jerkin and a few days' rations. Between them, they cost 80 gold, and somehow I expect to receive the balance in change despite Chaga's claiming to have no cash. I can object, though section number recognition tells me that doing so leads to the fight with his other patrons, or I can accept his terms and hope that this is some kind of test.

I'll avoid the fight. As a reward for having the wisdom to accept his offer, Chaga gives me an extra 30 of the gold pieces he doesn't have when handing me my change. Why does the book not have me questioning this? If he'd said something along the lines of,  "I don't have anywhere near that much money, so you'll have to take most of the payment in goods from the shop," there'd be no issue, but he quite clearly stated, "I have no gold coins," before going on to pay me 50 of them. I can think of a few governments that would view him as an ideal candidate for Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Still, I survived the visit to the shop, which is the main thing. I proceed to an inn for a drink, and am rather taken with a young woman I notice there, though she vanishes into the crowd before I can say anything to her. Stepping outside, I see an old man collapse, a Slith dagger in his back. Before dying he gives me a scroll, instructs me to deliver it to Ketza Kota, and pronounces a curse on me if I should fail. Then a Slith assassin demands the scroll. The book offers the choice of attempting a surprise attack or handing over the scroll with a view to ambushing the Slith to get it back. Rather confusingly, the 'surprise attack' option opens with my handing over the scroll to distract the Slith. I double-checked to make sure the section numbers weren't the wrong way round, but no, the option that isn't 'give the Slith the scroll' results in my giving the Slith the scroll. And then drawing my sword and determining who gets first strike, but still...

The Slith is a formidable opponent, but his proficiency decreases as he loses hit points, so in the first round I hit him with a couple of the daggers I took from the Sliths who attacked me at the temple, taking him down one level before he can even get a blow in. After that it doesn't take me long to gain the upper hand and ultimately prevail, but he still halves my hit points in the time it takes me to kill him.

My winning blow takes the Slith's head off. Disconcertingly, after rolling into the gutter, it threatens me for a bit, and only falls silent once it's  finished predicting my agonising death. For some reason I get two separate experience bonuses for my victory, too. A quick search of the corpse nets me some gold and a piece of paper with 'Ketza Kota' written on it.

A crowd is gathering, so I make my way to an inn and crash out until I've returned to full health. I then decide to see what's on the scroll, but there's no sign of it. Until I discover that it was underneath me in the bed. Unrolling it, I see that it shows a map of a maze-like structure, with annotations in an unfamiliar alphabet. Just a basic substitution cypher, and with a little help from the title of the adventure, I soon crack the code, discovering that some of the accompanying text is a letter to the mysterious Ketza Kota, who's apparently a High Priestess.

For a note that purports to have been written in haste, it's a bit verbose in places, but the mistakes towards the end of the first paragraph may be deliberate, put there to indicate that the writer of the letter got a bit sloppy while hurrying. Or they might just be typos. In any case, the bulk of the letter consists of instructions on how to kill the Green Hydra using resources available in its tomb and escape intact afterwards. And directions for the section to turn to if you've managed to make sense of the message.

Given that the section number was written as words and encoded, it's hardly likely to be a typo, but the transition is awkward enough to make me wonder. The map and accompanying letter made no mention of the location of the Tomb of the Green Hydra, and yet I suddenly find myself seeking a ship willing to take me to the Isle of Slith. It soon transpires that there's only one man who'd be willing to sail there: the untrustworthy Swarny Pate.

Pate's ship is in poor shape, and its captain isn't in much better a condition, even lacking an eyepatch to cover the gaping socket where his right eye should be. He also has a parrot/lizard hybrid sitting on his shoulder. The price he names is more than I have, but I agree to his terms, making a down payment I can afford, and promising to pay the balance when I'm back safely. There'd better be some decent loot in that tomb...

It would appear that Pate's crew have not been informed of the terms of our agreement - either that, or they think I'm naïve enough to be carrying the rest of my fare on me. Regardless, it's clear that if I drop my guard, they will attack me, so I do what I can to stay awake during the voyage. And the book either has the section numbers mixed up or is sacrificing realism in favour of playability: a character in poor health is more likely to struggle to remain on the alert, but the possibility of dozing off and having to fight off a couple of murderous sailors is only available to those who have more than half their hit points. I kill them quickly enough to dissuade their treacherous captain from joining in, but take a lot of damage along the way.

Pate warns me that if I kill him, I'll never find the island. I warn him that if he tries any funny business, he'll get to find out what it feels like to be inside a shark. We continue towards our destination, minus the bodyweight of my assailants, and I eat what would have been their lunch, regaining a fraction of the hit points I lost in the fight.

After some time we sight the Isle of Slith, an inhospitable-looking volcanic cone that slowly spews molten rock into the surrounding sea. The far side is a little less forbidding, with trees growing on it, and shows some signs of Slith habitation. Pate is able to manoeuvre through the mist and rocks and bring the ship into an inlet.

After dropping me off, Pate says he'll wait for me if I give him 50 gold pieces. For no remotely sensible reason, the text just carries on, revealing a few lines later that Pate sails away whether or not he was paid to hang around. Why not go 'If you are willing and able to pay, go to Section X. Otherwise, go to Section Y', or at least throw in a section break to conceal the captain's possible treachery? The adventure has 101 sections, so adding one or two wouldn't spoil a nice round number.

I proceed to the Slith habitations, which are either a village or a city, depending on which line of the paragraph I'm reading. Whatever Slithville may be, it's surrounded by dahlia fields. Judging by my subsequent encounter with a group of glazed-eyed, incoherently muttering individuals, the dahlias here are a source of some kind of narcotic.

The tomb is easy to identify, but guarded. Still, the guards don't pay a lot of attention to the robed individuals who transport dahlias into the building. Once I discover the pit where the Sliths dispose of their dead, it's easy enough to pilfer a robe from a corpse, and smearing my face and hands with ash helps conceal my human features. I then tag along behind a group of dahlia carriers as they file into the tomb, stopping at the first junction while they trudge further in.

It is at this point that a problem with the map becomes an issue. The locations mentioned in the letter are all marked, but the markings on two of them are identical, and since one of those two is the source of the arrows I'll need to use against the Hydra and the other is the Hydra's lair, visiting them the wrong way round would be inadvisable.

Reading the rules for exploring the tomb makes it possible to deduce which is which, as there are restrictions on movement that make it impossible to visit everywhere listed in the note in the right order unless the Arrow Chamber is the smaller of the two places it could be. There are 22 places in the tomb where something could happen, including the five locations marked on the scroll (all of them indicated by letters of the alphabet, from A to I, K to Q and S to X - I guess one of the authors really wasn't a fan of Dallas), and I'm not permitted to go to any of them more than once. I'm also advised to avoid crossing my own path, though doing so will be unavoidable if I want to follow up a bit of advice from the letter.

At the section explaining about exploration, I also see proof that this copy of the book was previously owned by a barbarian far more primitive and savage than Sagard: the brute drew on the map. In biro. Obscuring many of the letters identifying significant places. And unless they cheated, their scrawl doesn't even correspond to the route they took through the tomb. Mind you, even that pales by comparison with the abuses they perpetrated on the next book in the series, but that's a rant for another day.

I opt to follow that advice that will make it necessary to cross my own path, in part because it could lead to my getting hold of an impressive-sounding weapon, but also to find out how serious the consequences of crossing my tracks are.

The first noteworthy place I reach turns out to be rather unexciting, but informative. As I head to the Hall of Bones, I tread on a skull that someone must have dropped on their way there. This attracts no unwelcome attention, allowing me to continue on my way without incident. However, the directions mentioned now make it clear that the map has east at the top rather than north, which may be useful to know.

Unsurprisingly, the Hall of Bones is filled with the remains of the dead. Hearing approaching footsteps, I hide among the corpses while the patrolling Slith guards go past. Then there's another of those silly mid-section choices, giving me the option of leaving at once if I've changed my mind about searching the Hall. I wouldn't have backed out anyway, but the unavoidability of noticing the absence of combat details further down the page eliminates whatever tension could have been wrung from the possibility of being spotted by guards while searching. My search turns up a little Slith currency, and what I was hoping to find: a pouch of fire darts, each of which has a 75% chance of eliminating one opponent in a fight.

The layout of the tomb around here forces me to head back along a corridor I've already used, as a result of which four Elite Slith Guards surround me. I can use up to two fire darts in a round of combat, so I hurl a couple at the two most proficient of my opponents. Both darts are on target, and my odds of surviving have just significantly improved. The surviving Sliths both injure me, and I decide that they're dangerous enough to justify using more darts. That 1 in 4 chance of missing leaves the stronger of the two still standing, but now we're one on one, I'll risk a straight fight with him. He inflicts enough damage that the once-off mid-fight restoration to full health provided by the Ambroth kicks in, after which I kill him with very little bother. The Experience provided by the fight enables me to level up, and I may now cross my own path with impunity. Probably won't need to again, but at least I have the option.

In view of the fact that the path-crossing business only leads to trouble once, I may have to retract something I said earlier. The previous owner of the book might not have cheated after all. But they're still a book-defacing vandal and utter disgrace.

Back at the first junction, I ignore the path to the chamber at the centre of the tomb, as I've been given no reason to go there. Referring to the undefiled picture of the map back at the 'reading the scroll for the first time' section, I work out the optimal route to follow, which is a lot more circuitous than it would be if I could enter the Oil Chamber more than once. I also realise that in places, some of the walls on the 'Tomb Exploration' version of the map are obscured by the white space around the letters indicating significant places, creating the appearance of openings in a couple of places where there's no way through. Sloppy.

Proceeding east, I draw level with an opening to the south, and moaning noises from beyond that entrance attract my attention. A female Slith is chained to a stone table, and appears distressed at this state of affairs. The presence of something that growls nearby is doubtless a contributory factor to her unhappiness. This may well be a trap, but leaving her to whatever unpleasant fate approaches would be unheroic and possibly racist, and as regards restrictions on movement, going to her aid would just mean a minor detour, so I'm going to have to help.

As I enter the room, a hairy arm makes a grab for me, and randomness determines the outcome. I manage to dodge the arm, which belongs to a part-lizard, part-bear monster chained in the adjoining room. A room through which I shall have to pass on this detour. But first I must free the female Slith - and as soon as I break her chains, she metamorphoses into a demon and attacks me. Sigh.

I win the fight without too much bother, but now I'm going to have to go through the room with the other chained monster, and I already know that its chains don't restrict its movement that much. All right, you horrible hybrid, time to end your moreause existence. And the Berard turns out to be a sufficiently threatening opponent that I have little hope of winning a straight battle. A fire dart to the brute's face does the trick nicely, though.

The next place of significance I reach is just a junction. Growling sounds from the south indicate that the authors expected me to have ignored that trap - either that, or something weird is going on with the Berard's corpse. Best to just keep moving, especially as I hear more guards patrolling close by, so I head north, round a bend, and back south to another junction that merits a section of description. It's not that interesting, but does answer one question raised by the 'Tomb Exploration' map: there are four dead ends with the same letter at different spots around the tomb interior, and I had been wondering if they were sentry posts. Turns out that they're pits, and the text suggests that the one nearby might provide a means of escape. Why would I want to escape with my quest unfulfilled?

Proceeding north along another corridor, I am ambushed by two Slith Guards. The last of my fire darts takes care of one of them, but the other gives me a bit of bother. The leather jerkin I got at Chaga's is destroyed, and I eat the food I got there after the fight in order to improve the odds of my surviving whatever unpleasantness next comes my way.

As I head west, someone hisses to get my attention. A man, clearly not long for this world unless he gets help, has recognised me as a Rattikan, and asks for my assistance. He explains that he's a builder named Antoth, who was abandoned in the tomb by the architect some weeks ago, and says he can be my guide if I join him. The sound of Slith guards draws near, and the man urges me to join him in his hiding place. His knowledge of the tomb's secrets is just that bit too convenient for plausibility, and unless I've ditched my disguise without having been told that I did, his having spotted who I am is also highly suspicious. I reckon this is another trap, and make myself scarce.

Ignoring another of those pits, I draw near to the next of the locations mentioned in the letter. The Arrow Chamber has two guards, but for now my disguise has them convinced that I'm just a dahlia carrier. Well, that confirms that I'm still wearing it, and strengthens my conviction that Antoth was not to be trusted.

I enter the Chamber, which contains a small statue with a green gem for an eye. Another twenty gems are arranged on the floor before it, like an offering, and there are half a dozen arrows stacked in one corner of the room. Taking any of the gems is sure to provoke the guards to attack, but what will they do if I pick up the arrows? On this occasion there is a section break before I find out the consequences of taking anything, but it would be more effective as an anti-cheating mechanism if the new section were not on the facing page. I don't peek before taking just the arrows... and the guards take no action as I leave by the other exit from the Chamber.

On my way to the Oil Chamber (and disregarding another of those pits) I encounter a group of dahlia carriers, burdened with buckets of what must be dahlia oil. According to the letter, I need to dip the arrows in the oil, and doing so here will save me from having to enter the Chamber and possibly deal with guards. Unless there's some crucial additive introduced in there, but I doubt that that's the case, so I dip the arrows into a bucket. And as one of the dahlia carriers tears my disguise while attempting to get me to carry his bucket for him, I now need to avoid further encounters within the tomb wherever possible.

I flee the dahlia carriers, and after I've rounded a couple of corners the book has me grab a lamp and throw it behind me, starting a fire that will discourage pursuit (but also makes turning back impossible). Further along the blazing hall, I encounter four unhappy-looking Slith Priests, all clearly under the influence of the dahlia-derived soporific. One warns me that killing the Hydra will unleash a terror that will destroy everything on the island, and offers me a large ruby and safe passage to an escape route if I abandon my quest. I don't trust him, his warning, his ruby or his escape route, and hasten along the corridor.

The last of those pits is close by. Still not going to investigate. I think I can proceed directly to the Hydra Chamber from here: if I'm supposed to have to pass through area F first, the placement of the letter on the map is misleading. Looking at one of the other letters, that F could definitely be closer to the Chamber entrance, so I'm treating it as an optional detour and avoiding it.

Inside the Chamber is a seven-headed Hydra, which is just waking up. Each of my dahlia oil-dipped arrows has a 50% chance of killing one head outright (and either I've missed something or the authors are being careless again, because the text makes out that if I have arrows, I have seven of them). I fire my arrows, killing three heads. The Hydra rears up, and I see that it is chained - but then it spits on the chain, and its saliva evidently has corrosive properties, as the chain starts to melt.

I'd been saving that nutritional moss from the first book for an emergency, and I think the impending battle counts as one, so I eat while I can. A bit of a waste, but it improves my chances of survival. As does using the last of the daggers I took from the Sliths that attacked me in the ruins. They don't provide enough of an improvement, though. I don't even manage to kill one of the remaining heads before the four of them tear me apart.

Well, at least next time I try this book I'll know to ignore the chained Slith, and there may be a way to avoid the ambush that prompted me to use up my last fire darts. Whether or not that'll be enough to give me a chance in the fight against the Hydra remains to be seen, but it should help.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Fine and Private

I must admit to a little curiosity about whether this post will have significantly fewer readers than normal. It is a continuation of the attempt at Bloodbones which commenced here, and in the course of the first session I made a blunder which guarantees that I will not be able to succeed at the book. But will knowing that failure is a certainty - for some fans, even knowing the exact point at which my adventure will end, assuming I don't meet a sticky end before I get that far - put anyone off reading this account of my doomed exploits? We shall see.

So far my search for the hidden base of the Pirates of the Black Skull has been unsuccessful, but not fruitless. Indeed, the detour I took to the ruined lighthouse will prove to have been essential. Nevertheless, I think it's time I was heading for where the action really is, and I'm pretty sure that that's the cemetery.

As I make my way down Corpse Way towards Dead Man's Gate, I get a codeword check. I have one of the four on the list: the one I picked up for evading the Pirate near the market. One of the others looks as if it'd be a consequence of having gone to that bogus rendezvous at the Silent Donkey, another could be the result of imagining the Pirates to have been so obvious as to locate their secret base at the harbour, and the last might be part of the consequences of talking to the wrong person in the Temple Quarter. In any case, I've only made one of the mistakes that could come back to bite me at this point, which means a run-in with a couple of the Pirates: a noose-wearing nutter who goes by the name of Silas Gallows, and a Khulian mercenary called Wu-Lin. Gallows erroneously gloats that soon there will be another corpse on the eponymous Way - by the end of this little distraction, there are two new dead bodies littering the street, and neither is mine.

The cemetery has perturbing statues by the entrance, and is shrouded with fog. The snapping of a twig alerts me to the presence of a couple of sailors carrying a chest. Having missed out on a certain clue (perhaps to be found on the body of the Pirate I avoided), I have no idea what is afoot here, but follow the men anyway. They enter an overgrown tomb and, after waiting for them to get far enough away that they won't notice me, I light my lantern and step through the door.

A passage leads into darkness. Not complete darkness, though, as a glowing spectral figure appears and glides towards me, demanding to know the password. I say the one I found in that ineptly burned letter, and the ghost allows me past.

Steps descend to a junction, and I have no idea which way I should go here. Still, this is the sort of situation that justifies playing on even when I know I can't win: if going one way is particularly inadvisable, better to find out now than wind up wasting a character who has a chance of victory. I try Ian Livingstone's favourite direction, and wind up at a door, which sounds and smells as if it has something nasty behind it.

Naturally, I open the door - there isn't even an option to leave it shut - and am confronted by a beast which is a hideous monstrosity and a worse pun. A feline brute with eight more tails than is natural, all of them barbed: a literal cat-o'-nine-tails. I take a lot of damage fighting the thing, but manage to avoid getting stung by any of its tails. Once it's dead, I take a proper look around the room. A door leads on from it, and there's also a cave entrance, with a raised portcullis overhanging it. The cave may well be a trap, but I might as well investigate it just in case...

Unsurprisingly, the portcullis drops behind me. Not having purchased a Potion of Giant-Strength, and having a mediocre Stamina even at full health, I am unable to raise it, so I'm trapped in here until I starve. Unless the Pirates think of an even nastier way of ending my life once they find me...

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Some Strange Scent of Death

When Wizard Books announced that their next previously unpublished Fighting Fantasy release would be Jonathan Green's Bloodbones, probably the best-known of the books that were in the pipeline at the time the Puffin range came to an end, fan response was mixed. In some quarters, the excitement of finally getting to see the long-lost book was overshadowed by memories of the extreme difficulty of Mr. Green's previous FF books, not to mention the disappointment that the Eye of the Dragon remix had been. And one particularly obnoxious fan was most displeased because he'd been writing his own (abysmal) gamebook called Bloodbones, and considered the title to be his property (never mind that the writer 'taking' the title was the man who'd come up with it in the first place). I endeavoured to keep an open mind about the book (and was highly amused at the outrage of that fan).

The book was slow in getting to Hull, so I'd already read a bit of feedback on it by the time copies finally appeared on the shelves of Brown's, and was expecting a pirate-themed gamebook much like Jonathan Green's previous FF books - a plot involving a returning evil, a pretty narrow 'true path', enough tough fights to doom any character who started with a Skill under 11, a hostile encounter in the very first section... An adventure I'd need to replay a lot before I could even start to figure out everything required for successful completion. Which is pretty much what I got.

My first attempt at the book ended when I discovered one of the ways to get knocked out and come round just in time to be sacrificed. My most successful attempt only got as far as a fight with a monstrous arachnid on a tropical island, and I wouldn't be surprised if that fight's not even half way through the book.

It's around ten years since my character's father and brothers were killed in a pirate raid on my home village, an incident that was probably also to blame for the illness that subsequently killed my mother. At the time, I vowed to have my revenge on the captain of those pirates, a voodoo cultist named Cinnabar and nicknamed Bloodbones. Since then I've been working and travelling on ships, learning about Cinnabar and his crew, the Pirates of the Black Skull, and honing my skills to the point where I feel ready to track him down and make him pay for the death of my family.

Allocating dice to at least marginally reduce the likelihood of my dying before I can make any progress, I find that I have
Skill: 12
Stamina: 14
Luck: 8
That's not good. Maybe I'll wind up finding a new path to the first ending I reached.

Anyway, my travels have brought me to the insalubrious Port of Crabs. Rumour has it that the Pirates of the Black Skull have a secret base not far from here. I enter a tavern in the hope of finding a lead in my search for Cinnabar, but then the landlord points out one significant flaw in my plan: a bounty hunter by the name of Conyn killed him half a year ago. The body was lost at sea, and Cinnabar's second-in-command took his ship, the Virago, and sailed away to try and retrieve his remains.

As I'm heading out of the tavern, an elderly patron, somewhat the worse for drink, mutters about Cinnabar's death only being a temporary thing, and arranges a clandestine meeting with me. At the time specified, I head into an alley by the tavern, and find the old man badly beaten and semi-conscious, with three pirates standing over him. Their leader, who appears to be a Half-Ogre, makes a rubbish joke, and the other two advance on me. I stand my ground, taking just one wound in the course of defeating them. The Half-Ogre then attacks, and a lucky blow in the first round knocks me down, subjecting me to an Attack Strength penalty. The tide of battle turns in my favour after that, and I kill him without difficulty.

The old man is, of course, dying, but before expiring he manages to tell me that one of Cinnabar's crew recovered their captain's body, that he's currently neither rightly dead nor rightly alive, and they're planning to bring him back completely with black magic. Resolving to thwart their schemes, I start searching for clues to the whereabouts of the pirates' base.

As I recall, a lead may be found at the Gambling Pits. And also a chance to make some money and thus be able to buy more during the inevitable shopping excursion. The Pits are in the worst part of town, their doors guarded by two Trolls who warn me that fighting is prohibited. Three games in particular catch my eye, and I start by having a go on the Arrow of Providence. The outcome is completely random, with the odds not in my favour, and I lose my stake. Still, Luck is with me as I leave the table: the noise of the crowd does not drown out the words of a nautical rogue as he tells a fellow rapscallion that the Virago sets sail for Bone Island at midnight.

I proceed to Calabrius' Calculator, a machine that produces numerical sequences, with a cash prize for anyone who can figure out what comes next in the sequence. When I pay to have a go, the sequence displayed is very straightforward (and would be a whole lot more so in base 8), so I make a tidy profit there.

As I recall, the last game available is a con, and the Troll bouncers are quick to intervene if anyone attempts to remonstrate with the fraudster running it, so I give it a miss and head for the exit. While I'm pushing my way through the crowds, an old woman slips a sealed envelope into my hand. Checking the contents once I'm outside, I find a key and a message inviting me to meet 'A Friend' at the Silent Donkey inn if I want to defeat the Pirates of the Black Skull. I decide against heading to this rendezvous, as I know from a past failure that it's been arranged by some of Cinnabar's cronies who consider me a donkey in need of silencing.

Now I think it's time to head to the market. I'll start with the Bazaar, where the more outlandish goods are sold, because there's at least one essential item to be found there, and I'd rather make sure I can afford that before I start stocking up on Provisions and other less Instant Death-averting oddments. At a Talismonger's stall I buy a bracelet of shark's teeth, a lock of Elvin's hair that will improve my chances of successfully Testing my Luck, and a purportedly magical compass that I was too smart to be taken in by on every previous attempt at the book. Regrettably, I had to buy it to learn of its supposed properties, and now I know that it allegedly shows the way to large quantities of gold, I wouldn't much care for it even if I believed that it worked (which it most likely doesn't, given that the Talismonger was selling it rather than using it to track down unclaimed hoards).

Proceeding to the more conventional markets, I buy some Provisions and a rope. As I'm leaving, I catch sight of a man with one eye, a wooden leg, and clothing of the sort traditionally associated with buccaneers. He has a pet monkey (with a costume much like his own) rather than a parrot, but apart from that he's got 'Pirate' written all over him. Possibly literally, if his tattoos are not that imaginative. He indicates for me to follow him into an alley, and as my first failure at the book was a consequence of allowing him to lure me into a trap, I hurry away. Which may not have been the wisest course of action, as I have to note down a codeword. I think previously (except for that first time) I approached him but didn't let him distract me from the thugs sneaking up on me, which meant a fight and my getting to ensure that he wouldn't get to report back to the other Pirates of the Black Skull.

I spent too much. As I'm making my departure, I catch sight of a cartographer's store, and pop in to see if I can find out anything about Bone Island, but I don't have enough money to jog the proprietor's memory. Which almost certainly guarantees failure, but also ensures that I won't make that mistake again.

Is it time to stop searching for information? I'm pretty sure that two of the remaining investigatorial avenues open to me are just trouble and wasted time (I am having to keep track of the hours as they pass), and I'm not sure that the other one leads to anything essential. But maybe I should check. If I'm already doomed for want of information, I can't make things that much worse for myself even if the Temple Quarter is nothing but a wild goose chase.

Looks like it is a waste of time. After queuing for a while, I am told that the Overpriest is too busy to see me, though I am welcome to make a donation. I'm tempted to give the obstructive cleric a piece of my mind, but I don't want to get into a fight with the armed and armoured priests guarding the inner sanctum.

The street outside is crowded, and a few men in different religious outfits sit at the side of the road, offering the fruits of their wisdom in return for slightly more money than I have on me. I depart, a little surprised to have only wasted an hour here.

Now I will go looking for the pirates' base. Thanks to the time I've spent snooping around, night has fallen, which will give me some cover. My enemies likewise, of course... There's a codeword check, but not for the word I picked up when evading that pirate, so I have no idea what I'm missing out on here. Probably nothing good, given the codeword being asked about.

There's obviously a lead I missed somewhere, as I've never heard of one of the locations mentioned here, and don't have the concealed section number that would allow me to visit it. Well, I'll just have to give that place a miss. I decide to start with the ruined lighthouse to the south-east, and as I draw near to it, I catch sight of a flickering light close to the cliff edge beyond the ruin.

Investigating the light first, I discover a trio of miscreants using a lantern to lure a ship towards the rocks lining the coast along here. Taking advantage of these Wreckers' focus on their would-be victim, I draw my sword and attack before they're aware of my presence. They respond quickly once they know I'm there, but I only take one wound in the course of the fight. With the lantern extinguished, the ship changes course in the nick of time.

Searching the dead, I find some money and a Skeleton Key. I also catch sight of a cave mouth at the foot of the cliff, and climb down to investigate. My high Skill ensures a safe descent, and I see that a narrow ledge leads into the cave. Having come this far, I'm not about to turn back, and enter. The waters below the ledge churn, and two tentacles emerge and make for me. I hack them apart with ease, and their owner, a Giant Octopus, emerges from the water to attack me. It fares no better than the preliminary tentacle assault, and I'm soon able to search the cave undisturbed. No Pirates' lair here, though.

Climbing back up the cliff, I now turn my attention to the lighthouse. The door is locked, but the Skeleton Key opens it. Inside I find the Wreckers' den, which contains crude furniture, some food, and the remains of a letter that somebody did a substandard job of burning. Only a few lines of text are legible, but they happen to be the very part of the letter that the recipient was supposed to destroy, revealing the password to... somewhere.

There's also a trapdoor in the floor, but I don't open it. Which is bad news for the cat that one of the Wreckers imprisoned beneath it, but keeps me from further Stamina loss.

Convinced that the Pirates of the Black Skull do not have their base here, I head back to the Port of Crabs to choose somewhere else to search. But it's been a week since I last posted anything, so I'll save further investigation for a subsequent post. There should be less of a wait for that one, as I'm not expecting to get a whole lot further before my failure to obtain information from the cartographer brings the adventure to an end. Nevertheless, I shall play through to the inevitable failure. Starting tomorrow.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

And Now You Would Never Know

Continuing my second attempt at the tenth Lone Wolf book, The Dungeons of Torgar, which commenced here, I prepare to meet Sebb Jarel, the partisan leader who should be able to show me a comparatively safe route to the fortress which holds the Lorestones I need in order to complete my ascension to the rank of Kai Grand Master. Stepping through the curtained arch, I enter a chamber in which five men sit eating and drinking around a fire. I ask for Jarel, and a mousy-looking individual introduces himself and asks how he can help. Now, while it is possible that such an unimpressive-looking person might still have what it takes to lead a band like this, Divination is telling me that mouse-face is lying. Moreover, it informs me that none of the other men around the fire is Jarel either. Furious at the deception, I spit into the fire and storm out of the cave.

Yes, Lone Wolf veterans, I know the consequences of that action.

My rapid departure takes the guards by surprise, and by the time they've gathered their wits sufficiently to raise the alarm, I'm already stealing a horse. A partisan horseman tries to block my way, but with one blow I unhorse him (and possibly also bisect him). Regrettably, I haven't got far before my horse catches a leg in a pothole, and while I am uninjured, my steed is crippled, forcing me to hurry into the forest on foot before the pursuing partisans can catch up.

I lose them without difficulty and resignedly conclude that I'll have to find my own way to Torgar. A sense of being watched by something hostile prompts me to keep moving, and Huntmastery enables me to find something suitable for breakfast as I make my way through the forest. At around dawn I approach a clearing that turns out to be occupied by a large black bear, and then the pack of Akataz of which Halgar warned me catches my scent and attacks. They're some kind of dog, in case anyone was wondering. If I had Animal Control, I could probably get the bear to join the fight on my side, but I don't, and I take a bit of a savaging before I'm able to draw a weapon. The Akataz are particularly susceptible to psychic attacks, so I'm able to get onto the best column of the Combat Results Table with just Mindblast. Even so, I don't fare as well random number-wise as I did against the partisan, and take almost as much damage again before disbanding the pack with extreme prejudice.

Moving on, I soon discover that those Akataz were just part of a larger pack, and the rest have now found my trail. If I had Pathsmanship, I wouldn't even leave a trail, but I didn't pick that Discipline at the start of the adventure, and now I'm going to pay for that choice. The first of the rest of the Akataz to reach me hurls itself in my direction, but I duck, and make a swift getaway before it can extricate itself from the undergrowth.

I maintain a good pace until I reach the place where a steep gorge cuts through the forest. The gorge is over a hundred feet deep, and has a turbulent-looking river at the bottom. Do I dive, or fight the approaching Akataz? Better to fight, I think. Good choice, as I win the fight without taking a scratch then find a trail which leads down to the water's edge. If I had Curing, I would know something about the type of bush that grows by the river, and probably be able to derive a medicinal benefit from them, but instead that makes a hat trick of checks on Disciplines I lack.

Partially submerged boulders provide stepping stones across the river, and I notice with some apprehension that the trees on the other side are shrouded in grey mist in spite of the warm, dry weather. Nevertheless, I cross over, feeling a chill as soon as I step onto the far bank, and realise that I have reached the notorious Isle of Ghosts. Only one man is on record as having been to it and returned still sane: the elusive Sebb Jarel. It's time to see if I can double that number.

A trail leads through the trees, and I follow it to the edge of a narrow chasm. The chasm floor is littered with bones, and caves in its walls give off a damp and unpleasant odour. I decide to risk attempting a leap across. A tangle of roots and trees on the far side could make achieving a good landing that bit trickier, but they're also something I could potentially snag with my Rope, so I tie a stick to the end for a crude grappling hook, make a few throws before it catches securely, and then jump.

Randomness determines what happens next, with 50/50 odds of each outcome. I get a high number (just), and am a little surprised to find that I make it across without any bother: as I recall, random number checks with no modifier tend to put the more favourable outcome with the lower scores (unless 0 is on its own, in which case that's probably an Instant Death).

Continuing on my way, I find traces of an ancient pavement, much of it buried under accumulated soil, and follow the path, occasionally passing the moss-covered remnants of dwellings dating back to a time before the trees claimed the island. In the afternoon I reach a clearing, in which stands an overgrown, mould-encrusted ziggurat. I might have mistaken it for a hill, but for the regular shape. And the fact that someone has been here recently, and hacked a path through the vegetation to reveal a pair of huge doors made of crystal. Divination picks up on an atmosphere of evil, and alerts me to the presence of other people close by. Sensing that they are up to no good, I use the undergrowth for cover as I circumvent the clearing.

Around the other side of the ziggurat, a dozen horses have been tethered to an obelisk, and two soldiers stand guard. Their uniforms and the horses' blankets bear an emblem of a gold portcullis on a black background. These men come from the region through which I travelled while seeking the first Lorestone, and I identify them as mercenaries from Amory, a town I was careful not to visit back in book 6. One of them starts to head in my direction, and while I can tell that he's just answering the call of nature, I nevertheless think it prudent to move away.

Rather less prudently, I return to the front of the ziggurat to investigate the entrance. Pausing to note the holes where explosives were used to get rid of centuries-old locks, I step into a chamber with many exits. A faint green glow and the sound of chanting emanate from one opening, so I check it out, descending a long staircase to a door, behind which I see something so alarming that I have to turn to a different section to find out what ominous sight confronts me.

Frankly, after that build-up, it's a bit of an anticlimax to learn that this chilling sight is just a temple, greenly lit by crystal columns, and a group of hooded men in glass masks standing around a marble block, chanting. Still, any long-standing readers who didn't pick up on the clues provided by the guards may get a bit of a thrill from the moment the men's leader removes his mask, revealing himself to be Roark, the murderous bully last seen fleeing when he proved unable to control the undead horde he'd raised to attack me.

As I watch, he calls out to the 'Lord of Pain' for guidance in these uncertain times and the destruction of his enemies, along the way mentioning his own name for the benefit of any readers who didn't play The Kingdoms of Terror. A mist forms around the marble block, seething with apparitions, and Roark's ritual climaxes with an incantation almost identical to the one he used to summon the undead.

Divination provides a pretext for a hefty info-dump about the history of this place. It was created by the Elder Magi to help them learn about nature, but the laboratory's custodians, the Patar, allowed the evil Cener druids to come in. The Druids summoned a Demonlord, who used the findings of the research carried out here to create the plague mentioned in the intro to book 8. The Cenerese and the Patar briefly rose to power in the region, but were overthrown by the vague-sounding Herbalish, and to atone for their misdeeds, the remaining Patar turned into the benevolent silent order of monks known as the Redeemers, with whom I've had dealings.

Meanwhile, back at the plot, a bunch of modern-day Cener druids, led by Roark, are here to summon the Demonlord Tagazin again. And I've been too busy experiencing exposition to intervene while it could make a difference. Oops. The mist coalesces into the form of a pale sabre-toothed jackal, who demands to know why he's been summoned, and then senses me. Oopser.

My Psi-Screen minimises the harm done by the psychic attack Tagazin sends my way, but then the Demonlord leaps down from the block and heads straight for me. I see no point in wasting an arrow on an enemy this powerful, and, since the book will force me to attack him with the Sommerswerd rather than seek a smarter means of dealing with him, gulp down some of those Alether berries in the moments before he smashes down the door and demands my surrender.

This fight is why Lone Wolf fans in the know tend not to flounce off when confronted with the fake Jarel: Tagazin's stats are higher than those of the Drakkar who ended my previous attempt at this book. On the plus side, I don't have to reduce his Endurance to zero in this fight, and I'm going into battle without having just lost almost a third of my Endurance to an equine crushing. And this is one fight where it's almost certainly better to use Psi-surge. Mindblast won't work here, and on most rows of the Combat Results Table, the Endurance cost of using the Discipline is equal to the reduction in combat damage produced by the Combat Skill bonus. My chances of survival are still far from good, but with a lot of luck, I might just survive.

I do not get that luck. I almost halve Tagazin's Endurance before he kills me, but a couple of very poor random numbers early on in the fight pretty much guaranteed my failure. Well, next time I shall take the easy route through the book, but I don't regret having tried it the hard way just this once.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Attractive to the Eye and Soothing to the Smell

It's time for me to have another go at Lone Wolf book 10, The Dungeons of Torgar. Since my first attempt at the book for the blog, everything I still had in storage down in Tunbridge Wells has come up to Hull, including the issue of GM containing the mini-adventure based on the Battle of Cetza sequence in Dungeons, so I've decided to play that separately, and take the other route this time round.

A word of thanks to Gloccus for drawing my attention to quotations from the Lone Wolf Club Newsletter reproduced at Project Aon which indicate that, despite what the rules in the books imply, it is possible to put Backpack Items into storage and retrieve them while acquiring fresh equipment at the start of a later adventure. Thus, I am adding both remaining helpings of the Combat Skill-enhancing Alether I bought back in book 6 to my Backpack straight off. Into storage go the Altar Cloth and flask of booze that I picked up in book 9. I'll keep the Rope and Meal, add a healing potion and another Meal, and replace the arrows I used up last adventure. New Discipline and weapon proficiency are what I picked on my previous attempt. A quick reread of enough of section 1 to remind myself how to salute, just in case my cover gets challenged, and I'm ready to go.

When I state my intention to seek out partisan leader Sebb Jarel, probably the only man who might know of a path to Torgar between the Hellswamp and the Isle of Ghosts, Prince Graygor gives me a signet ring that will identify me as an ally. The ring is a Special Item, but doesn't count towards the limit on carrying capacity, so I'm not annoyed at having to take it the way I was with the mandatory pick-ups that forced me to drop other items in book 8.

I set off towards Pirsi, where Jarel may be found, and after a while I notice the ruins of a watchtower. Seeing a wisp of smoke, and a saddled horse grazing close by, I conclude that there's someone around, and opt to investigate. Inside the tower, a man with red leather clothing and a Bullwhip is cooking a bird over an open fire. He offers to share it with me, and I accept.

Upon seeing my uniform, her introduces himself as Halgar of Pirsi, and asks where I'm headed. Sensing that he's honest, I explain that I seek Jarel, and my new Discipline of Invisibility enables me to mimic the local accent sufficiently convincingly that Halgar doesn't see through my disguise and mistake me for an enemy assassin (as happened on my first proper attempt at the book). He reveals that Sebb is his brother, gives me directions to the partisans' camp, and warns me to be on my guard against the pack of Akataz roaming the forest.

No harm befalls me as I ride into the forest, and before long I reach the remains of a long-abandoned mining settlement. Two trails lead on from here, but Halgar said to take the one that follows the stream, so I follow his directions. This trail eventually leads me to the mouth of a gorge (rather oddly, the book says 'by chance', as if I'd been randomly wandering and just happened upon the place, rather than following a path that led there), which is filled with colourful and strong-smelling flowers. If I didn't have Nexus, the scent would go to my head in a manner that probably isn't beneficial.

As I continue on my way, the sound of falling shale alerts me to the presence of someone at the top of the gorge, hiding behind a couple of boulders. I'm about to make a hurried departure when a voice greets me from above, asking what news I bring. I insist on seeing who is addressing me, and the man comes out from behind the boulders, signalling to the twenty or so other men Not Being Seen in the vicinity to emerge from hiding as well. They're partisans, and several of them have their bows pointed at me.

I tell of the progress being made by the Prince's army, and the partisan spokesman replies that the Prince wouldn't send a Pathfinder just to report that, so I explain that I have been sent to seek Sebb Jarel's assistance. A few of the partisans are sent to join me in the gorge, and my not having killed Halgar and taken his bullwhip averts a potentially lethal misunderstanding. I show the signet ring, and the partisan sergeant agrees to take me to Jarel, but insists on blindfolding me so I won't be able to give enemies directions to the camp if captured and tortured.

After a couple of hours, the blindfold is removed, and I see that the partisans' camp is situated at the foot of a mountain. A concealed cave mouth leads to a torchlit passage, which ends at a curtained archway with two guards. Once my purpose has been explained, the guards allow me past to meet Jarel.

I'll leave it there for now, as it's been a week since I last posted, and I don't want people to start thinking that this blog's going inactive again. Things are liable to be busy for the next few days, but I'll see what time I can grab to carry on with the book, and hope to be able to post the continuation before long.