Sunday, 18 July 2021

Heads You Lose

This is my 300th playthrough on this blog, and today is exactly 9 years since I first posted here. I didn't originally intend to have the two coincide, but then life got in the way of the blog for a while, and the anniversary provided a little extra motivation to resume work on the entry.

As requested by Gloccus, I am having another go at Starlight Adventures book 3, Kim Jordan’s Island of Secrets, in which my character is a young woman taking a summer job as a villa girl on a Greek island, seeking to avoid the career path onto which my mother is trying to steer me. Let’s hope that this time I can avoid that clerical posting by a means less extreme than drowning.

If the matter should arise, my character’s knowledge will be limited to whatever is learned this time round. What I found out about assorted other characters on my previous attempt is still likely to influence me (call it intuition, if you will). However, if asked outright whether or not I have found a specific piece of information, I won’t pick the ‘yes’ option unless I did discover it this time round. Being wary of someone with no clear evidence of wrongdoing on their part is acceptable, but remembering a conversation my character didn’t actually overhear is out.

So, I travel to the island of Simnos, meet my co-worker Penny, and join her in a taxi with a stereotypically reckless driver before reaching the villa. My room contains a few odds and ends left behind by my predecessor, most significantly a yellowing pamphlet on local history.

Just to see if it makes any real difference, I handle the complaining guest in a more conciliatory manner on this occasion. There’s no Luck penalty for being a doormat, and I still end up catching sight of Penny in conversation with a young man who is neither a local nor a tourist. She gives me the lowdown on local talent, and invites me to accompany her to the disco. On this occasion I choose to tag along.

Upon arrival, Penny joins a group of friends, and they all head onto the dance floor. Since I know and like the song being played, I decide to join in, hoping that a bit of independence will attract a better calibre of encounter than I’d get in wallflower mode. As it turns out, dancing unaccompanied seems to be the norm here – at least until the DJ switches to something more smoochy. I’m not sure what there is to be gained (as regards getting somewhere with the adventure) by approaching the DJ with a request, so I sit this dance out and wait to see what happens.

A group of men, noticeably older than the others present, catch my attention, and one of them, an overweight individual with a tattoo of a serpent, makes a pass at me. I turn him down (the tattoo alone is grounds for suspicion). It’s the wrong decade for ‘No means no’ to have gained much weight in the popular consciousness, and the man gets a bit physical. My options here are woefully limited: hope that Penny will intervene, or make an excuse and leave. In the absence of any opportunity to more forcefully enlighten him about the importance of consent, I’ll be on my way. Assuming the roll of the die favours me, that is…

He’s not expecting me to try and get away, and though there’s a moment when it looks as if he might try coming after me, one of his friends dissuades him from making a scene.

Somehow this leads to my approaching the DJ with a request after all, and while he’s too cool to talk to me, his assistant Liam proves more approachable, and we have a pleasant conversation, intermittently interrupted by the DJ’s selecting what to play next. Eventually my request gets through to him, and I dance to it with Liam.

Liam decides to take a break and go for a walk, and I opt to accompany him. He points out various local landmarks and the yacht belonging to shipping millionaire Georgios Koutalas, and reveals that he has a summer job at the archaeological dig on the island of Simnaki. I show an interest in this, and he mentions the legends of a hidden treasure before admitting that the dig has yet to turn up anything particularly noteworthy.

Becoming aware of how late it is, I head back to the villa. Not yet tired enough to sleep, I take a look at that pamphlet, which reveals more about Simnaki, and the drunkard who claimed to have met Aphrodite there.

In the morning I have to do the shopping because last night's activities left Penny in no fit state for the task, and I have to go via the territory of one of the young men she's mentioned to me because the author wants me to. As before, I wander past the villa where the 'not very sociable' Garth is staying, and on this occasion I manage to befriend his dogs (in the process gaining a Luck point) and learn their names. Garth is not in, though, so I don't find out anything else.

Once the shopping for the villa is done, I get a sun hat, and this time I try buying an icon rather than a pendant. It turns out to be a fake, but I try to focus on the positives: even if it's not an antique, it's still a product of the local culture, and will brighten up my room.

I settle into the job, learn windsurfing, and improve my Greek. There's a slightly awkward bit of exposition relating to the archaeological dig, which effectively introduces Liam a second time, revealing him to be Irish. I just double-checked, and there's no indication of that during the conversation at the disco and afterwards (except possibly his name, and since IRL I know a Liam who's not from Ireland, I made no automatic association of name and nationality). It would have been easy enough to mention an accent back at the first meeting.

Anyway, Penny decides it's time for another trip to the disco, and I hook up with Liam again while she chats up Garth. Liam offers to take me on a trip to a ruined fort tomorrow. I'm interested, but as I'd have to get Penny to cover for me, and she isn't the most industrious of co-workers, I can't commit myself straight off.

Penny then reveals that Garth has invited her and me to accompany him on a visit to Koutalas' yacht tomorrow. I tell her that I've already made plans with Liam, and that she'll have to cover for me, and though initially she protests, eventually she agrees. I do have to put up with snide remarks from her for the rest of the evening, though.

The folowing day I have the option to change my mind and go to the yacht instead, but I stick with the trip to the fort. As I'm about to set off, the annoying guest with whom I clashed at the start of the adventure buttonholes me with a complaint about her mother's room not having been tidied. That was Penny's job, and this time I'm not going to be bullied into doing what this pest wants. She threatens to call my employers in London and make a formal complaint, and I walk off.

She does indeed make the call, and unleashes a tirade that warps the space-time continuum, such that even though I don't find out about this until I receive the written reprimand at a later date, the associated Luck penalty takes effect instantaneously.

As arranged, I meet up with Liam, who reveals that the fort is a couple of hours' walk away, and suggests that we hire mopeds or donkeys. The donkeys would be accompanied by a guide, who might be a source of somr useful nugget of information, so I'll pick them.

Not such a smart idea, as it turns out. Liam and the guide spend the journey practicing each other's native languages, and then an inconsiderate motorcyclist spooks my donkey, who bolts through the surrounding olive groves. A roll of the die establishes that I come to no harm and eventually bring the donkey back under control, and Liam learns some interesting new words from the guide.

Continuing on our way, we eventually reach the moss-covered stones that are the remnants of the fort and surrounding town. Liam finds a passageway concealed behind a boulder, and ruefully concludes that he can't be the first person to have discovered it, as the ease with which the boulder can be moved suggests frequent use.

He wants to investigate anyway, and I decide to go with him. The passage narrows, forcing us to crawl, and another roll of the dice establishes that we end up on our hands and knees (isn't that the same as crawling?) before reaching a chamber with no obvious exits other than the passage we took. Not very interesting.

The return journey is uneventful, but I'm quite saddle-sore bt the time I get back to the villa. That night I can't sleep, and wind up reading a couple of airmail letters from my boyfriend Nigel, which I've been ignoring since they arrived, The first one indicates that he and my family aren't too happy that I've not been writing to them more often. By the end of it I am feeling a bit tired, but I turn my attention to the second one anyway, thereby discovering that he's about to pay me a visit. Due to arrive the day after tomorrow, so it's a good thing I didn't delay reading it any longer.

I could try seeking advice, but none of the people I have the option of consulting seem all that likely to be helpful, so I decide not to bother - which turns out to be the best course of action, netting me a small Luck bonus. 

The day before Nigel is due to arrive, I repeatedly chicken out of calling him to try and put him off, and then he phones to check that everything is okay. On my previous attempt at this book I tried to discourage him, and things got unpleasant. I can't see them going a whole lot better if I wait for him to travel all the way out here before letting him know that the relationship isn't working, but there's little point in choosing what I already know will end badly.

Unsurprisingly, the visit does not go well. My local male acquaintances all avoid me while Nigel is around, and at the end of a decidedly non-fun week, Nigel begs me to accompany him on the journey back to England. Alarmingly, I don't get to choose: this decision is left to a die roll. But I get the best possible outcome - that evening, Nigel befriends a group of German students who are about to go on a tour of the Greek islands, and he decides to tag along with them, so our final farewell is comparatively amicable.

Time passes. I attend a beach barbecue, and decide to visit Simnaki on the following day. Based on what I remember from the last time I played this book, I know whom I would prefer to accompany me on the visit, but the book doesn't ask for the name of my preferred companion: the question posed is which of the listed candidates I know best. So I'm going to have to go with Liam again, which means that only the random factor or deliberately making unwise choices can bring a different outcome.

I arrange to join him and the archaeological party on tomorrow's boat crossing, and on the way across I hear everyone's complaints about the director of operations. After I find the actual archaeological work dull, Liam offers to show me around one of the ten tombs they've found on the island. I accept, and he gives me a bit of a lecture and then shows me the stone that could open a concealed chamber. I give it a tug as directed, and the toss of a coin determines what happens next.

The stone comes loose, revealing an embalmed human head, gnawed down to the skull in places. A rat is in one of the eye-sockets, but the motion of the stone startles it, causing it to scurry away, and this movement unbalances the semi-skull, causing it to fall onto me. I remembered that incident from a go at the book way back in the 20th century, but I'd forgotten just how gruesome it was. Under the circumstances, fainting doesn't seem that severe an overreaction.

While unconscious I have been taken back outside, and a concerned crowd has gathered. The director of operations has now turned up, and instructs that I be taken back home. A little later (seemingly the same day, which doesn't quite match the timeline from the last time I played this), I learn from one of the locals that the temple on Simnaki has been robbed of its treasures. Presumably the thieves left some blatant evidence of their crime, since up until now the existence of the treasure was only rumoured.

Could I have thwarted the thieves if the incident with the head hadn't occurred? Perhaps, but it looks as if I should have made different choices at an earlier stage if I wanted to cultivate the right contacts to cut down on random outcomes towards the end of the adventure. Even if the arbitrary stuff can't be completely avoided, the right companion would at least cut out the 50/50 shot at being taken out of action the way I was this time.

Looking on the bright side, at least I survived this time, and I think I ended the book with a higher Luck score than on my previous attempt. But a less severe failure is still a failure.


  1. Happy anniversary, glad to see you back!

    Hope everything is good Ed.

  2. Congratulations on the 300th playthrough!

  3. Rereading your archives whilst waiting for more content and noticed you had considered continuing from a save point in spell breaker for your 300th play through.

    Maybe consider it for your 301st? :p

    (Post from 9th November 2015)

    1. Don't tempt me. I'm having a hard enough time finding motivation to play Blood of the Zombies as it is.