Saturday, 30 April 2022

You May Find Yourself in Another Part of the World

I guess it's time I had another go at Lone Wolf book 11, The Prisoners of Time. My first attempt went about as well as could be expected, and owing to the extremely linear nature of the adventure, much of my replay is liable to go the same way, so I'll be brief about the bits that happen much as they did before. In the past, I've written such repeat performances in the style of a verse found in the gamebook I'm replaying, but if there's any attempted poetry in this book, I have yet to find it. Thus, making a tenuous connection with the word 'time' in the title, I shall use They Might Be Giants' song Older as the lyrical skeleton to be fleshed out with a summary of my actions where they barely differ from the previous account.

Right now I'm very glad I went to the effort of creating my gamebook manager, as it makes it a lot easier to skim through all the exposition and lack of interactivity.

I take 3 damage from the trip, and in the cairn I shelter,
The Yoacor transport me,
I meet with the Beholder.
He sends me on to Vhozada to liaise with Serocca.
Endurance drops to 12.

At this point I can briefly deviate from my previous course of action. Knowing that approaching the nearby monolith will trigger an alarm, and that there appears to be no benefit gained by doing so, I stay away from it. Continuing to follow the stream that led me here, I start to wonder if there's no intelligent life in the vicinity (even though the Beholder told me this is the home of 'one of great vision', and metallic pyramids tend not to be naturally occurring phenomena), but then I find some fields planted with orderly rows of fragrant yellow herbs.

I take a closer look at the herbs, but not having the Discipline of Curing leaves me unable to determine what effects sampling them might have, so I leave them alone. The section in which I examine them has been slightly edited in the Mongoose Publishing edition, probably in response to an oversensitive grammar checker making a fuss about a sentence that was perfectly legitimate anyway.

Following a path up a hill, I see that on the other side is a city inhabited by simian creatures. For some reason I regard this as the first sign of civilisation I've seen in this land, despite having just passed blatant evidence of agriculture. There's another unnecessary Mongoose edit here, changing 'who' to 'that'. Probably just more grammar checker nonsense, but given that this book's portrayal of the natives is problematic already, replacing a pronoun which implies personhood with one that can be used for things doesn't look good.  

I... reach the city.
The lo-cals manhandle me.

Serocca speaks of Destiny, and says the Chaos-Master
Is causing much destruction,
Then tells me where to go next.
I rest and heal and have to get rid of two Special Items
To make room for more tat.

I meet a doomed companion and travel by onipa
Until we reach a village
And stop for something to eat.
The local fortune teller offers to give me a reading.
She tells me I will dream.

Though the outcome of the fortune-telling is randomised, I got the same outcome as before, so I don't learn any new cryptic hints this time round. I hope I won't have to play this again, even if that would give me another chance to get a different vague info-dump, but I'm not optimistic. From the top...

We drive on and approach a bridge. I see it has been damaged.
We stop so we can fix it.
The Chaos-Spawn attack us.
I help until T'uk T'ron tells me that I should go now,
And then I run away.

I... spot Ironheart's men.
Will they... shoot at me again?

This time just I stealthily approach them before initiating telepathic contact with the receptive scout, and am thus able to hear that they're talking about me and my escort, wondering what's taking us so long to get here. I also see their sleeve-mounted crossbows, and reflect that it would be inadvisable to startle them (in a sentence that is actually improved in the Mongoose edit). This leads me to speculate on how this scene must have played out on my previous attempt.

Scout 1: Still no sign of this 'Lone Wolf' bloke we're supposed to be meeting?
Scout 2: Nope.
Scout 3: He should have been here hours ago.
Lone Wolf: Hello! I'm Lone Wolf. I believe you've been sent to meet me.
Scouts: AAAAAAH!!! Kill it!

The scouts determine who I am, and take me to their leader.
He waffles on for ages,
Then picks Odel to guide me,
And offers me the option to pick up some fresh equipment,
But this time I decline.

As a result of leaving immediately, I get an info-dump from Odel about the lichen that catches my attention. It's very toxic. I have the option of taking some with me, and decide to in case I get the chance to use it against an opponent. My more prompt departure also means that I don't encounter the attempted ambush by an Agtah, and we proceed straight to the burial grounds where the Lorestones arrived. Last time I played this book, enemies turned up and intervened before I could get the stones, but I got here more quickly on this occasion. You think that'll make a difference?

I solve the puzzle lock and get into the Grand Sepulchre.
My sword lights up the exit.
Odel gets killed just off-stage.
I step onto the roof and see the dragon helm-clad soldier
Who means to take the stones.

Firing an arrow didn't seem to help last time, so I think I'll just launch straight into an attack. Not that that's any better, actually. I hit the warrior, momentarily driving him away from the Lorestones, but when I approach them, they make me feel so good that I space out for a moment, during which time the warrior draws his curved sword, forces me away from the stones, drops them into his pouch, and presses his attack - with better stats than he had after I used the bow. For the first two rounds of the fight I get lousy numbers, taking 6 points of damage. Still, the Combat Ratio is such that in the third round I cannot fail to do enough damage to force him to retreat - and now I score a killing blow.

The railroad will not be thwarted, though. The warrior's death throes cause his hand to become entangled in the rope ladder attached to the saddle of the giant bird which bore him here, and the bird flies away, taking his corpse with it. Here we go again.

I attempt to cut loose the pouch in which he put the Lorestones,
But merely cut it open,
Causing one stone to fall out.
I descend to ground level to at least recover that one.
Two Agtah scouts attack.

They... die instantly.
The stone... now belongs to me.

The sword dropped by the warrior reveals the place he came from.
My way is blocked by monsters.
I choose to shelter elsewhere.
The puzzle lock on Baylon's Tomb still defies explanation,
But I still get it right.

There are actually two search options in the tomb, apparently mutually exclusive. The burial chamber yielded nothing on my previous attempt, so I'll check in case there's anything potentially useful inside the sarcophagus. Doing so highlights one significant difference between the Lone Wolf gamebooks and some other series: I pay scant regard to the body's 'mattress' of diamonds and gemstones, and dismiss the golden-bladed ceremonial sword at his side as being an impractical weapon. What does get my attention is the silver flask of wine, and as its contents smell good (the Mongoose edit stresses that it is surprising for wine that's been stowed in a tomb for years to smell so fresh), I risk a sip.

It's good stuff. I can take it with me and drink from it twice, restoring 4 Endurance points each time. The Mongoose text also has the test draught provide an Endurance boost - one I can't use, but if I'd somehow managed to take damage between recovering the Lorestone and getting here, that could be a life-saver.

Sounds of battle from outside prompt me to head to the roof and see what's going on.

Now Ironheart's army has arrived: they're slaying all the Agtah.
The Chaos-master turns up.
I very mildly wound him.
We fight: his stats are lower in the Mongoose Books edition.
Regardless, I still lose.

I think I may have to go all the way back to the beginning of the series and get myself a Lone Wolf with a higher starting Combat Skill. I know of an Instant Death that can be encountered quite early on in Flight from the Dark, so I can use that to dispose of any character who gets 17 or less, and maybe then the next time I reach this tiresome book it'll be with a Lone Wolf who actually has a chance of winning.

Wednesday, 27 April 2022

It's Way More Dangerous Than That

A longer-than-planned gap between posts here, at least in part because I've been busy playing gamebooks in a different context (about which I intend to say more at a later date). Still, my aim is to cover at least one gamebook a month here, so with the end of April not that far off, I'd better get a move on.

Next on my (provisional and flexible) list is Fortress of Assassins, the third of Dave Morris' Knightmare tie-in gamebooks. Like the previous two, the book is a combination of novelette and short gamebook, and before starting on this I read the story. Given that it has Treguard searching for Richard the Lionheart's heir, it doesn't take a particularly detailed knowledge of English history to figure out that his quest would not be successful. Knowing from the outset that the hero isn't going to succeed doesn't automatically make for a bad story, but it did mean that the question of how he would fail was prominent in my mind all the time, and I anticipated the twist some way ahead of its revelation. Mind you, I'm significantly older than the target readership, and cannot tell how unexpected it might have been for a reader in the age bracket for which Morris was writing.

More serious flaws are Treguard's failure to pick up on a blatant clue that one of the characters he enounters is not what he seems, and the contrived 'rocks fall, villains die' climax to the story. Nevertheless, it's quite an entertaining tale, and makes decent use of its historical backdrop to add some colour and low-key horror.

Still, this blog is about the gamebooks, so I should move on to that aspect of the book. While the story took Treguard further afield than the earlier ones, this is another exploration of the dungeons beneath Knightmare Castle. Prior to entering I can choose to learn a spell or take a slice of quiche to eat when low on health. Food is generally easier to find than magical knowledge, so on this occasion I will not give quiche a chance. I get to pick one of three different spells, and go for Rust, as I can think of a couple of ways in which it could come in handy.

A narrow passage leads me to a room with four exits, each marked with a different symbol. Comets are traditionally associated with ill fortune, so I'll avoid that one. The ringed planet is most likely Saturn, 'bringer of old age', which seems similarly unpromising. That leaves the sun and the moon, and the moon is linked with wisdom. Also madness, now I think about it, but the sun has its own fair share of negative associations (Icarus and Phaethon, for instance), so I'll stick with the lunar option.

Once I step through, a door decorated with runes bars the way back. I advance to a hearth where a woman is embroidering a cloak. Close by is a table on which I see an eye-patch, marked with a glyph signifying destructive power. Trying to steal the patch is liable to have dire consequences, and just walking past without saying anything would be rude, so I greet the woman.

She asks if I can help her solve a riddle. I've encountered some rather tricky riddles in Dave Morris gamebooks before now, but this is one I've seen before in a gamebook by associates of his, and I solved it straight off at the age of 14, so unless the author is being particularly devious and picky, I should be fine here. It really is that straightforward, and the woman rewards me with a ring of luck that I can use to automatically succeed at one die roll in this adventure.

Continuing on my way, I reach a room occupied by a group of Ogres, who were playing at dice but are now arguing about an alleged incident of cheating. Upon catching sight of me, they draw their weapons, one of them commenting that I'm probably a worse cheat than Scumbore. Neither fight nor flight is likely to help me much here, but diplomacy was one of the virtues recommended in the introduction, so I shall try talking.

Good choice. I reply that I'm nowhere near as big a cheat as Scumbore, and while that earns me his enmity, it also convinces the others that they were right to suspect him of dishonest play, and they turn on him. I make a discreet exit while he's too busy being beaten up to make good on his threat to pull my fingers off and stuff them up my nose.

Proceeding further, I encounter a man who appears to have had one of his hands cut off. Regrettably, he can handle a sword perfectly well with the remaining one, and attacks me without provocation, taking my Life Force down to Red. He then apologises, claiming to have mistaken me for someone else, but when (by authorial imposition) I express my annoyance at his careless action, he threatens my life and demands that I show him respect that he really hasn't earned. I leave by the exit he indicates before anything worse can happen.

Stairs descend to the second level. On the way down I reach a door set into the wall, and take a look behind it, hoping to find some healing. It contains a chest, but there's a pit in the way. The pit is five metres wide, and dropping a pebble into it indicates it to be deep enough to kill anyone who falls down it. With only a metre for a run-up, and the Helm of Justice adding weight, even a champion long-jumper might find that a challenge. My character might not be as deficient in athletic prowess as I, but I doubt that he's Olympic team material. Lacking the winged sandals that might be of assistance here, I decide not to risk it, and carry on down the stairs.

A man wearing rainbow robes and a golden diadem, wielding a wand of ice, waits at the bottom of the stairs. He suspects that I might be a disguised goblin, and threatens me. Lacking the spells and item that could be of use here, I can only run or protest that I'm at least as human as he. If I make a dash for the exit, he might hit me with a spell, so I'll try talking again, and hope he's not as quick to lash out as the last person I encountered.

He demands that I prove my humanity by solving a puzzle, and somehow I know his name to be Hordris without having been told it. A quick Google establishes that this is a character from the TV series, and thus would probably be familiar to any fan of the show reading the book. Possibly even familiar enough that they'd know the actual spelling of his name, which has a double 's' at the end according to around 93% of online sources.

The answer I give is apparently wrong, but Hordris considers my mistake understandable enough that, today being his Birthday, he is inclined to give me the benefit of the doubt, and allows me to pass unharmed. I suspect that I've just missed out on a plot token, and am consequently doomed anyway, but I can still potentially learn things that could be of use in subsequent attempts, so there's no point in giving up. Oh, and working backwards from the hint provided when Hordris told me I was wrong, I can see the logic, so I know which of the other possible answers must be correct for next time.

Exits lead east and west. I don't know if the first Knightmare book's advice on picking a direction when faced with a blind choice remains valid, but in the absence of any other hints, I might as well stick with it. The archway leads to a circular room in which a jester is practicing juggling. He hasn't noticed me, so there's a risk that by talking to him I might break his concentration, with potentially harmful consequences, but the doors leading onward have distinctive handles, so there could be a clue to be had in conversation. Couched in a riddle, no doubt, but that's still preferable to pure guesswork.

Though I do startle him, he's too relieved that I'm not a vampire to be cross with me. He asks if I feel like a sausage roll, and while I suspect that answering 'yes' will merely garner the response, "You don't look like one," the slim possibility of getting some food and thereby moving my Life Force Status one step away from 'hanging on by a thread' is not something I can afford to pass up.

Yep, saw that one coming. The jester thinks his joke a lot funnier than I do, but I force a laugh, as the only alternative is to be unnecessarily rude, and taking lethal damage from being clouted in the face with a juggling club by an offended jester would be a terrible way to go. He then asks me a riddle, and after much reflection I go with a not-great-but-possible-to-make-fit answer. It then transpires that the author has played a prank on me: though the text warned me to think carefully about my answer before turning to the next section, the answer I give is irrelevant, as the jester can't remember the right one. If there even is one - for all I know, Dave Morris might have just made up a riddle-esque question and not have given any thought to an actual answer.

It looks as if the food for thought that that riddle provided might be the only food to be had here. After enduring more puns and other banter, I make a discreet exit while the jester is looking for some puppets. And maybe I was wrong about having been pranked: I'd been focused on the riddle for so long, I'd forgotten about the different door handles, but now I get faced with the choice between them, I can see how the riddle could relate to the material from which one handle is made, and choose that one. No idea where I came across the bit of trivia crucial for making that connection, though.

Proceeding to a junction, I am compelled to take the turning which has at least a little illumination. It leads to the head of another flight of steps, and Treguard reveals that I need to find a key of luminous crystal on the lower level if I am to succeed at my quest.

At the bottom of the stairs I face another blind choice of exits, and continue to go with the recommendation from book 1. I then get asked if I want to open the door or try a different one. When a gamebook gives an option to reconsider, sometimes it's a chance to avoid a disastrous outcome, and sometimes it's an attempt at discouraging the reader from making the right decision, and trial and error is often the only way to determine which it is. I'm sticking with this door.

The tunnel beyond has an iron grille rather than a stone floor, and dropping a coin through one of the gaps indicates the drop beneath to be bottomless. As I advance towards the door at the end, I hear hoofbeats coming up behind me. It's time to use that Rust spell, and hope I have the sense and ability not to target the part of the grille that I'm standing on.

Such fine-tuning is apparently beyond me. My pursuer plummets into the void, but as I still don't have the winged sandals that were mentioned earlier, so do I. Still, I imagine the jester would have been impressed at my handling of the adventure. That was, in the end, a floorless performance.