Sunday, 28 June 2020

I Ain't Seen the Sunshine Since I Don't Know When

I've been intending to get back to this blog and failing to do so for a while. Apologies to any readers who've been waiting for new posts. The recent easing of lockdown makes it a vaguely appropriate time to have a shot at the next adventure on my list, so here I go...

The mini-adventure in issue 6 of Fighting Fantazine, Sunil Prasannan’s Escape from the Sorcerer, didn’t make much of an impression when I originally played it. While not particularly encouraging, that’s not necessarily a bad sign – I would probably remember more if it had been truly horrendous. As it is, I only recall the basic premise (and what’s wrong with it) and the way my character died: blasted out of existence by a disembodied entity for not having any dice handy (which may indicate that Prasannan has issues with readers who don’t properly play gamebooks).

There’s a fair bit of geopolitical backstory in the adventure’s background, explaining about the long-standing hostilities between the kingdoms of Alkemis (good guys allied to the noble Lion-Men) and Agra (demon-worshipping scumbags). I am an officer in the Alkemisian army, one of a few dozen taken captive when the Agran forces and their Lizard Man allies massacred the inhabitants of one of our towns. The Agran ruler, an eeevil sorcerer named Kreshnel, attempted to use us as bargaining tokens in his negotiations for Lebensraum for Agra, and has been systematically executing the prisoners as Alkemisian King Alburian has refused to give ground. Now, a month after we were captured, I am the only hostage remaining, and two guards have just come to my cell to take me to my death, leading me to conclude that it might be an idea to try and escape.

No explanation is given for why it’s taken me a month to come to this decision, though it wouldn't have been hard to come up with one. The only previous reference to Agra in a gamebook was a sacrificial mask that compelled its wearer to commit suicide: surely the sorceries involved in its construction could have been adapted to keep prisoners subdued and pacified. As for why it stops working at the start of the adventure, perhaps the spell only works while I'm chained to the cell wall, or maybe it's been lifted so the sadistic guards can watch me squirm on my way to the gallows/executioner’s block/monster pit/spikes/vat of warm marmalade… But no. Instead, it would appear that Alkemisian soldiers are just too stupid or apathetic or riven by infighting to even attempt to orchestrate a Great Escape. It’s hardly surprising that King Alburian refused to make any concessions in return for the release of such mediocre troops.

I don’t know if decent stats are essential in this adventure, but I’m not sure a viewpoint character as inept as this deserves allocated dice. I’ll take them as they come, and if that means certain death, so be it.
Skill: 9 (reduced to 7 in combat until I get my hands on a weapon)
Stamina: 19
Luck: 12
No starting equipment, of course.

The first decision I get to make is when to act on the inspiration that has belatedly struck: do I attack the guards in my cell, or wait until we are on the way to whatever means of execution has been chosen for me? I opt to bide my time until a more opportune moment, forgetting that the author and I might not agree on what constitutes a good time to start fighting. As it transpires, I only wait until we're in the corridor outside the cell, and then launch a surprise attack so inept that I wind up hitting the wall rather than a guard and injure myself. Not the most encouraging of starts to a fight, and the penalty for being unarmed makes things a whole lot grimmer.

I manage to beat my opponents to death (with use of Luck to hasten the coup de grace against the second one), but they hack me down to just 4 Stamina before I overcome them. As if that's not bad enough, neither of the dead guards has a key to my manacles, so while I am able to arm myself, I'm still not at full Skill owing to my limited mobility, and the sound of the fight has attracted another three guards. There's a time limit for the battle against them, but there's little likelihood of my experiencing the consequences of taking too long, as I'm not likely to survive that many rounds if I don't win every one.

Further use of Luck enables me to briefly delay the inevitable, and to kill one of the Trolls even as the Lizard Man runs me through, but I'm not even a quarter of the way to the time limit when my death brings the fight to an end. Let's hope my real world return to blogging isn't as short-lived as my character's bid for freedom.