Wednesday, 8 July 2020

You Know I Know When It's a Dream

Last year I played The Prisoners of Time, the eleventh Lone Wolf gamebook, because I wasn't keen to have a second go at Echoes of Lost Light, the mini-adventure in the Mongoose Publishing reissue of the tenth book in the series. That attempt reminded me of what Prisoners is like (and cleared up a concern I had about possible adverse consequences of including Echoes in the ongoing narrative), so now I'm trying Echoes again in order to postpone the time at which I have to replay Prisoners for this blog.

To recap the plot: I have just recovered one of the three Lorestones which had fallen into the clutches of Darklord Gnaag. However, they were being used as bait in a trap, and now the other two and I are all plummeting into a portal leading to another realm. To make things worse, the Lorestone I now hold has been tainted by evil sorcery, and needs to be put right. As if the Lorestone were a computer with a virus, I need to use an uncorrupted back-up to restore it to its rightful state, and so I find myself in a mystical reconstruction of Luomi, the city from which it was stolen, and must make my way to the Shrine at the heart of the city. There are further complications: this version of the city being the most recent save from before the Lorestone was affected, it does also contain reconstructions of the Darklords' minions who plundered it, and the whole place is deteriorating, with great voids opening up between the still-stable parts of the fragmented sim city.

As on my previous attempt, I choose not to encounter the enemies I can sense within the remnants of the gatehouse and keep. However, this time round the random number generator does not favour me as I make my way along the cobblestone road, and I blunder into a spiked pit, losing a lot of Endurance. The text is unclear on whether a 0 on the table is to be treated as zero or ten, so I'm not sure whether I took 9 or 19 damage, but it's a significant amount either way.

Crawling back up to ground level, I proceed to the first breach in what passes for reality here, and will a bridge of light into being for long enough to cross it. Evading the phantasmal Drakkar warriors who patrol this section of the city, I follow the sounds of battle, since doing so last time led me to an essential-looking item.

Giak spearmen are attacking two of Luomi's defenders, and kill one of them before I can intervene. I fire a few arrows at them before charging into battle, and it's a good thing I do, because the random numbers I get are abysmal, and the fight would last even longer if I hadn't inflicted a decent amount of damage at the start. Depending on just how much damage I took in that trap, I'm down to 1 or 11 Endurance. Still, the damage I took in the fight will heal, provided I can stay out of trouble for long enough.

The last soldier passes on his hammer before dying, and I read his mind with Divination to find out what I have to do with it. Continuing on my way, I pass through the noxious mist wreathing the corpses of more of the city's fighting men, unharmed myself thanks to the Discipline of Nexus.

I've almost recovered all the Endurance I can (why is it that Healing will make good damage done by a spear if somebody jabbed it into me, but not if I fell onto it?) by the time I reach the next gap. This one is larger, and creating a bridge across it costs Endurance, though I am able to reduce the damage by a fair amount. Even so, I'm down to 6 or 16, and I won't be getting the points I just lost back any time soon.

As on my last attempt at this adventure, Divination alerts me to the existence of a secret tunnel that will enable me to avoid the burning streets, and Nexus gains me access to it. However, on this occasion I do not investigate the acoustically dubious echoes and fall into nothingness. The tunnel has many exits, though most are inoperable owing to the damage overhead. While seeking one that will let me out, I find an alcove where I can sit and rest.

It turns out that I was wrong about not getting back the Endurance I spent creating the bridge: in a departure from standard Lone Wolf rules, eating a Meal here will restore a couple of points. Remember, this place isn't real, so I don't actually need to eat, and therefore if I do have food, it'll make me stronger. Makes about as much sense as the demarcation of what damage Healing can put right and what it won't, but at least this time the nonsense benefits me. If I didn't have any food on me, I could still restore 1 Endurance by using the Discipline of Huntsmanship, which is a little awkward, given that there's no such Discipline. Hunting, yes. Huntmastery, yes. Grand Huntmastery, not until book 13, but it is a Discipline (or will be). But no Huntsmanship.

Further along, I note that the floor of the tunnel is damaged, forcing me to tread carefully in order to avoid injuring my foot on a broken flagstone. Rounding a corner, I discover the reason for the poor state of repair here. A massive Bloodwyrm has burrowed into the tunnel, and appears keen to find out if eating me will add to its Endurance. As I don't have the Discipline of Animal Control (which is not referred to as Animal Controlsmanship, though I imagine it's only a matter of time), I must fight. The Bloodwyrm has the same stats as the mob of Giaks I fought earlier, but this time the random numbers are on my side, and I kill it with a single blow, taking no damage myself.

A little further on I see indications that there's another breach up ahead. A ladder leads up to a hatch like the one through which I entered, and this one does open. Back above ground I can make out nothing but smoke and fire, but have no trouble finding the edge of this chunk of solidity. A slightly tricky choice awaits me here: I must decide how much Endurance I'm willing to sacrifice to create the next bridge, and then add a random number (plus a bonus for having the right Lore-Circle). So do I spend enough to guarantee success, but risk dying from Endurance loss later on, or conserve my health and take a chance on getting a high enough number anyway?

I spend enough to halve the risk of failure. It's not enough (confounded RNG!). I collapse, worn out by not exerting myself hard enough, the ground disintegrates beneath me, and I plunge into unending nothingness.

Friday, 3 July 2020

Any Place Is Another Place

The Labyrinths of Fear is the second of Dave Morris' Knightmare tie-in novelette/gamebook combos, though the first to put his name on the spine. As I explained when attempting the first Knightmare book, I never got into the series when it originally came out, so I have no noteworthy memories associated with any of them. I got at least one of them in a now-closed charity shop on the avenue where I've been doing most of my shopping during lockdown, and it might have been Labyrinths, but I can't say for certain.

I started by reading the story that takes up slightly more than half the page count. It's a decent enough yarn (though it lacks a proper comeuppance for the contemptible antagonist), various elements of which reminded me of some of Morris' other books, which I enjoyed more. Anwin Wood, the principal setting for the story, is reminiscent of Crypt of the Vampire's Wistren Wood, the mythic portals of ivory and horn featured in The Eye of the Dragon make a fleeting and seemingly insignificant appearance, and the final twist is a variation on the big twist to the second scenario in the fourth Dragon Warriors book. The book's title doesn't seem particularly relevant to the story - it might be easy for outsiders to get lost in the wood, but that doesn't make it a labyrinth, and the subterranean tunnels through which Treguard and his pursuers travel on the way to the climactic confrontation don't come across as being particularly labyrinthine, either.

Anyway, the main event as far as this blog is concerned is the gamebook. Little has changed rules-wise since the first book. Life Force Status still runs on the traffic light system, though it is now possible to carry food and (where permitted by the text) consume it to go back up a colour grade. Carrying capacity has increased, while the Adventurer's Code has been simplified (though chivalrous behaviour is still advised).

On with the adventure. Treguard equips me with the Helm of Justice and a meat pie, and leads me to the dungeon entrance. I head down a tunnel and reach three doors. The previous book said that, in the absence of any indication that one direction is preferable to another, it would be advisable to go right. No such hint was provided here, but I'll try the right door anyway.

I proceed to a room in which a crone is stirring a bubbling cauldron. She sees me before I can sneak away, so I might as well talk to her. It transpires that her name is Mildread, and she doesn't think I look much like an adventurer. Nevertheless, she allows me to take one item from an assortment in a chest, and her pet crow advises me to pick the clue, so I need to figure out what he means by that. A quick look at the etymology of the word suggests that the ball of thread is the wisest choice, so I take that.

Mildread scorns my selection (regardless of what I picked) and tells me to buzz off. I could try and steal a second item, but that's probably the sort of unchivalrous act that would get me penalised, so I leave. It becomes apparent that not all the items I passed up are irrelevant, but since I didn't take the blank parchment, I don't know if it's something useful or harmful.

Regardless, I wander along until I reach another room, this one occupied by a feasting jester, who offers to share his food if I answer his riddle (which the text points out to have iffy grammar, but excuses it on the grounds of poetic licence). Is the citadel about which he asks the one that came up in conversation early in the story? The name isn't identical, but is close enough that it could be an example of the sort of linguistic mutation that had Beijing rendered as 'Peking' for so many years, so I think I'll go with that. And I get two ham rolls, so I was right to make that inference.

Presented with a choice of two exits, I decide to see if the jester can offer a hint. If he has any advice, it'll probably be in the form of another riddle, but a cryptic clue is usually better than none. No, it turns out that he wants a bribe. It appears that giving him back a roll will suffice, so I do that. And then the jester comes out with a puzzle, this one another take on the 'one liar, one truthful speaker' set-up that Morris has used before, drawing on a poem written centuries after the time in which this adventure is set. It's a bit sneaky, but the answer I get to the one question the book has me ask is enough to provide a solution.

The jester directs me to the door I'd have chosen in the absence of any hint, but as I have yet to see any instruction to change my Life Force Status, I don't think there's too much risk of my coming to regret having handed back some food. The route indicated takes me to what appears to be the entrance to the next level of the dungeon, though there is also a maze entrance nearby. Since I took the thread from Mildread, I should probably use it to help me check out the maze before I descend.

At the centre of the maze I find a fountain that would heal me if my Life Force Status had been depleted. There's also a key in the water, so I take that. The thread then enables me to retrace my steps to the entrance, and along the way I see that some of the maze layout has changed, so if I'd got that parchment instead, acquired a quill, and drawn a map, I'd still be at risk of losing my way.

A wellway leads to the next level. Drawing up the bucket, I find it to contain bones and rusty armour. Ominous. Nevertheless, I contrive a way to lower myself down, and at the bottom I equip myself with a stray rib-bone in case I need to distract a dog or similar creature. Around now I could do with a bit more clarity regarding inventory management. Does the Helm of Justice count towards my total, or does wearing it not count as carrying an item? Do I still have the thread? If the answer to both is yes, I now need to eat or discard something. Wonder if I can trade in the roll for a Schroedinger's Kit Kat...

Treguard's voice warns me not to become complacent just because I've made it as far as Level Two, and reveals that Elf-King Arawn, an enemy of his from the story, is below Level Three, and seeking to topple the castle's foundations. I need to get to him and thwart him - and I'm likely to need more than a thread, a bone, a key, and an uncertain number of food items to do so.

The only exit leads to Merlin's alchemical laboratory, in which the wizard himself is too preoccupied with a contraption to notice me. Stealing spell ingredients would be a bad idea, and I've had no indication that Merlin is hostile, so making a hurried exit seems unnecessary. I attempt conversation, and Merlin complains that the clock he's just made is faulty, and the hands go in the wrong direction. This may be a low-key way of telling uninformed readers the meaning of 'widdershins', or just a whimsical interlude before the real point of the encounter: Merlin gives me a Smoke spell (which falls into a separate category from items, so there's no need to wonder if I should be dropping anything just yet) and tells me which exit to take.

Another passage leads me to a chamber illuminated by a chandelier. Doors lead left and right, and Granitas the Wall Monster manifests in front of me, its booming voice causing a candle to fall. I have the option of taking that candle, and decide that even if I do still have the thread, I probably won't need it again, so I add the candle to my inventory in its stead. Granitas presents me with a riddle that will indicate which way I should go from here, threatening death if I get it wrong. The only answer that makes any sense suggests that I should ignore both doors and walk into the stony maw ahead, so I risk doing just that.

Right choice. I proceed through a tunnel to a room in which a black cat lies on a table next to a plate of roast meat. I've still had no instructions to lower my Life Force Status, so there's nothing to be gained by eating the meat, which leaves me with just a choice of exit. The same directions as led from Merlin's lab, so I think I'll go with the one that worked back there.

The door leading that way is fastened with a gilded padlock, so I use the golden key to open it up. Beyond is a larder, containing three joints of what may be pork. On the floor is a silver coin, one side showing the mistletoe-crowned head of Arawn, the other bearing an inscription of an oak tree. The key has presumably served its purpose by now, so I drop it and take the coin.

There's no way through the larder, so I take the other exit from the room. This leads to a convergence of paths, and the sight of a faint blue light compels me in a certain direction. The tunnel leads me to a cavern spanned by a chasm, with the immortal sorceress Lilith lounging on a couch on the far side. If I'm to get any further, I shall have to offer her something, and I only have one of the items listed as potential gifts for her. If the rib-bone originally came from Adam, I may be in with a chance here...

Well, I had the right allusion in mind when considering the possible significance of the bone, but Lilith is offended by my offering it to her, and fires a bolt of lightning that sends me tumbling into the chasm. The Helm preserves me, but I'm down to Life Force Status red, so I'd better eat something the next time the text gives me the option. Which is almost immediately, so I go up to amber, and am no longer clear on whether or not I have any food left.

A winding tunnel leads to a torture chamber, currently unoccupied, but in a disconcerting state of readiness. There are three exits, and a verse scratched into the floor hints at the correct exit. I was right about that 'widdershins' clue, and now I've learned a new word (or perhaps a very old one). Having made my choice, I'll look 'deiseal' up to see if it means what I have inferred it to mean... and I'm right. Not that I'm likely to have cause to use it any time soon.

On the way to the exit I catch sight of an iron poker, which is probably a torture implement. Still, as the story reminded me, iron is an effective weapon against faerie folk such as Arawn, so I take it. Besides, if I'm carrying it, the torturer can't be using it on some new victim, so repurposing it with a more noble goal in mind is not exactly unchivalrous. Oh, and stooping to pick it up inadvertently causes me to duck out of the way of a globule of lava fired in my direction by a fire elemental, which strongly suggests that I chose wisely.

Hurrying through the door, I enter a room with at least one pillar in it. A roar terrifies me, and a glowing lion emerges from behind the/a pillar, its brightness increasing in intensity and starting to dazzle me as the beast approaches. I don't possess what is required for half of the available options, and the wording of the section appears to rule out doing nothing if I am capable of taking one of the viable actions, so I must either cast the Smoke spell or attack the lion with the poker. The previous book warned against getting into any fights, and while that advice wasn't reiterated here, it's probably still a good idea, so I'll cast the spell.

Not only does the spell obscure me from view for long enough that I can fumble my way to an exit, but the description of its effect adds another word to my vocabulary. Could come in handy if Pointless ever does a round on different shades of grey (the colour, not the books).

The way out leads to a vestibule with many exits. If wearing the Helm doesn't count as carrying an item, I can now eat once more and go back up to Life Force Status green. Stairs lead down from one of the exits and, knowing that I must descend in order to get to Arawn, I go that way. Halfway down the stairs I hear a sound right behind me, and turn to see what is there. No, not Christopher Robin or Kermit the Frog's nephew. It's a rapier-wielding elf-maiden. Now, the only elf-maiden in the story (indeed, the only female character of any note in it) assisted Treguard, but having that poker overrules any decision-making at this point, so I don't get to see if this one is on my side. She assumes me to be the torturer, and stabs me with the rapier, taking me down to amber or red (rassin' frassin' ambiguous encumbrance rules). The text has me throw the poker at her and flee, and the next section confirms that she is the same character who was in the story. Sigh.

Two archways await me at the bottom of the stairs, each marked with a different religious symbol. I choose the one more likely to be associated with chivalry. The passage leads past what appears to be the door to a monk's cell. I stop to investigate, and find that appearances have not been deceptive. The monk within introduces himself as Brother Leo, asks if I have a candle, and makes an inadvertent pun about illumination. The text suggests that he might actually be a disguised goblin, but I decide to trust him and hand over the candle.

If there's trickery afoot, the reveal is a long time in coming. For a few minutes I watch Brother Leo at work, and then he remembers my presence and asks if he can help. I explain my quest, and he gives me a few pointers about which saints protect against which threats before I continue on my way.

Up ahead, a barrier of flame blocks the way. Recalling what I have just learned, I invoke the name that should fireproof me, and it works. Proceeding into another cavern, I am fired upon by a group of archers, and call upon the appropriate saint. As I pass unscathed through the hail of arrows, my assailants assume me to be more powerful than I really am, and flee.

The approaching zombies will not be so easily intimidated. Lacking the spell that could be of use here, I can only hope that the last saint on Brother Leo's list will help me against them - and I am enabled to fight my way through the horde without taking so much as a scratch.

Reaching another intersection, I am beckoned into one of the passages by a man in green. It leads to a blood-drenched cave, where the man sets Cerberus on me and departs. Do I still have that rib-bone? I offered it to Lilith in the hope that she'd create a bridge across the chasm, but as she was on the opposite side, I wasn't able to hand it to her, and the text said nothing about my losing the bone when I fell into the chasm, so it is at least possible that I've been able to retain it. Well, I'll say that I do still have it, and if the author reads this and disagrees, he is welcome to correct me on the issue and invalidate the rest of this blog post.

I toss the bone to Cerberus, and the two heads that don't catch it turn on the one which does. While the hellhound is fighting itself, I sneak past and follow the green-clad man. He's waiting beside a cage in the next chamber, and upon seeing me, releases the ghoul bear that was imprisoned in the cage. I definitely have neither the spell nor the item that could help me here, so at this point I definitely end up dead.

Given the number of times I was given the impression that whichever chamber I was leaving had only one non-lethal exit, I'm surprised at just how much of this adventure I've obviously missed. Maybe I'll get a clearer idea of how that works the next time I attempt to play it.