Tuesday, 24 May 2016

You Can't Crown a Dead Prince

In what turned out to be the last days of the Puffin run of Fighting Fantasy books, Ian Livingstone attempted to grab the attention of a new generation of readers with a series of First Fighting Fantasy Adventures entitled The Adventures of Goldhawk. These were significantly shorter than standard FF books, and had a simplified version of the FF rule system (which was never that complicated anyway), larger pages, and full colour internal illustrations. The series made fewer concessions to its intended readership in one regard, though: most of the books had just as narrow a 'true path' as every gamebook Livingstone had written since Caverns of the Snow Witch.

Back in the days when I could afford to randomly browse for gamebooks on eBay, my searching once turned up a lot of the first two Goldhawk books for little enough that I decided to see what they were like. The first one so failed to impress me that I didn't even bother attempting the second one until my previous attempt at playing through the whole series of FF (including spin-offs) in order. My playthrough of the first book, Darkmoon's Curse, still exists, and can be read here.

The books are set in and around the Kingdom of Karazan, which has been at war with Orcs for two years. Their fortunes have taken a turn for the worse since the death in battle of their King. His crown (which he had with him despite its providing inadequate head protection, judging by the illustration of it towards the end of the book) was stolen, and is now in the possession of the chaos wizard Darkmoon. Then an assassin poisoned the heir to the throne, Prince Goldhawk, leaving him comatose. Goldhawk's Dwarf servant Orlando attempted to retrieve the crown, but was captured by Darkmoon, who transformed him into an animated tin pig before sending him back to Karazan empty-trottered. In these dire circumstances, court wizard Marris resorts to using a Time Gate to provide a replacement for the incapacitated Prince (who, despite the title of the series, never actually gets up to any adventuring).

In another time and place (supposedly here and now, though if that were true, this blog entry would be neither completed nor posted for reasons that are about to become apparent) I am reading a book about Karazan, only to get dragged through the Time Gate into Goldhawk's bedchamber and transformed into his exact likeness. This bothers me a lot less than it should, and I accept the role of Goldhawk-substitute and the mission to try and get back the crown without complaint. To aid me in this quest, Marris equips me with a suit of golden armour (not actual gold, I hope, since that would be appallingly heavy and provide mediocre protection in battle), 10 gold pieces, and Edge, the finest sword in the land (who is also animated, and warns me not to use him against any opponents without asking permission).

Before long I'm on my way, accompanied by Orlando, who soon starts bickering with Edge for no good reason. We reach a river, and Orlando mentions a nearby bridge, as he's not capable of swimming in his new form. The bridge turns out to be guarded by a man in spiked black armour (to which illustrator Russ Nicholson has added gold and blue ornamentation), who demands half my money in return for letting me cross. Instead, I ask Edge if he's willing to inflict some harm, and he agrees, so I'm into my first fight.

The combat system in these books is very basic. Characters have only one stat, namely Skill. Mine was automatically set at 8, while the Dark Knight's is just 7. To win a fight, all that is required is to roll equal to or above the opponent's Skill on two dice, and I get the first roll. Neither of us succeeds first time round, but the second roll for my character is high enough to kill the Knight, and I continue on my way, unperturbed at having just ended somebody's life. Sure, it's business as usual for your average FF hero, but I'd hope that most civilians from this day and age would be less blase about the whole thing.

After a while, the path splits. There's a handy signpost, which indicates that one turning leads to Longshadow Forest. The other sign merely says 'Vanish', and on my first attempt at this book, I made the mistake of thinking that that could be a warning of what would happen to anyone who went that way. As I'm reading the signs, a crow flies down and reveals itself to be a messenger from Marris, warning me that I shall have to acquire the Golden Hand wristlet from the Howling Tunnels before I confront Darkmoon.

I take the path to Vanish, which turns out to be a village full of unhappy and disgruntled people. One of the locals, who goes by the name of Sad Sam, explains that everyone's so miserable because they keep losing things. It's unclear whether the place got its name because of this, or the name was chosen for some other reason and mysteriously caused the locals to start misplacing their property. Regardless, Sam lists three items of his that have gone missing just today, and says that if I give him 4 gold pieces, I can have any of them that I manage to find. I take him up on his offer, thereby reaching what is presumably supposed to be a puzzle, though spotting the mislaid objects in the illustrations for this section is unlikely to prove much of a challenge to anyone who can see.

Leaving the village (which, regrettably, didn't work its malign magic on either of my tiresome sidekicks), I proceed to the forest. In a clearing we find a Gnome sitting on a large mushroom. He has a bird on his shoulder, though the book only points this out when Orlando sneezes (tin pigs apparently having very sensitive nasal passages in spite of their being composed of metal) and scares it off. The Gnome is displeased, and threatens to turn us into frogs, but when I tell him of my quest, he suddenly becomes friendly. That's a bit odd, as he reveals himself to be a wizard and a hermit, and as heroes on quests have a tendency to go pestering wizards for advice and assistance, you'd expect him to have the same sort of attitude towards them that most people have towards PPI reclaim cold callers.

Though no longer angry, the Gnome is still unhappy that his Firebird has been frightened away, as he's worried that some of the Orcs in the forest will kill and eat it. Trying to recover the bird is an optional side quest, but I'll do it anyway. We search for a while, eventually coming across a couple of Orcs, who have found the bird and are trying to shoot it out of the tree in which it's resting. We attack, and I kill one of the Orcs with ease. Orlando only manages to knock over the other, so I grab a branch and smack it in the head. Another 'spot what's hidden in the picture' puzzle ensues, and the Firebird is better concealed than any of Sad Sam's stuff. Still not hard to find, though, so I capture it and return it to its owner, who rewards me with a Ring of Lightning.

Continuing through the forest, we come across a bald-headed Axeman fighting a Treeman. Both ask us for help, but the Treeman's need appears greater, so I restrain the Axeman, who reveals himself to be in Darkmoon's service. The Treeman expresses his gratitude by giving me some magic sap, which boosts my Skill, and advises me to seek Lady Helena, who can provide directions to the Howling Tunnels. He can't remember whether she lives in Westwater or Eastwater, and wrongly guessing which it is led to my failing my previous online attempt at this adventure. I don't make the same mistake this time.

Arriving at the village, I am surrounded by cheering Elves, who take me to see Lady Helena. She's on a throne beneath a lemon tree, and both she and the lemons are smiling. When I explain my quest, she tells me the wrist on which I must wear the wristlet for it to work, provides me with some garlic, and gives me a Potion of Good Fortune. She then tells me that I must now go to a place too evil for her to name, though I can find the way there by counting the lemons on her tree. That shouldn't be tricky, though a previous owner of the book evidently found it challenging enough that they felt the need to write numbers on all the lemons in the illustration.

While the number of lemons makes clear the number of the section to which I must turn to get to this place of evil, there's no in-story connection between the number and the place. The number just inexplicably causes us to go to the other of the villages named by the Treeman. Using the A=1 code that crops up so often in gamebooks doesn't help, as the number of lemons corresponds to a letter that appears part of the way through both village names. And the description of our arrival there doesn't really allow for the possibility that saying the number caused us to be magically transported there. It just doesn't make any sense if you think about it.

In any case, we proceed to the other village, which has a sign warning that strangers are not welcome. Undeterred, I stride into it, noting that the villagers are all fearful. A bell tolls, and while you'd expect the locals to already know the significance of this warning sign, someone still bothers to point out that it's the time that 'the beast' feeds. The streets clear, apart from my small party, and a loud roar prompts me to draw Edge without even asking for permission. Orlando indicates an alley he thinks we should avoid, so I stride into it and encounter a gruesome, drooling, skull-headed monstrosity in chainmail. The Skullbeast attacks, but I kill it with my first blow.

Taking the money I find on the corpse, I return to the street. Before long I notice a shop filled with bric a brac, and enter in spite of the sign reading 'Closed'. A balding man with a frown introduces himself as Domehead, and tells me that the shop isn't open, and in any case, nothing is for sale, so I ask if he'd be interested in a trade. That piques his interest, and he asks what I have to trade.

This is where my first attempt at the book ended, because the only items I'm allowed to offer Domehead are ones that can be found in Vanish, which I hadn't visited, and there's no 'if you have neither' option. It wouldn't have been difficult to turn back a page and choose the non-trade option, but I was too annoyed at the book's poor design to continue with it at the time. This time round I have both tradable items, so I offer the one that duplicates an unhelpful item from one of Ian Livingstone's earlier gamebooks. In return, Domehead gives me a pair of Elven Boots, a Magic Staff, and some Blue Cheese.

He also loudly accuses me of stealing from him as soon as I leave the shop, as a result of which several armed guards (who didn't seem to be around back when the Skullbeast was making the streets unsafe for the citizens of this miserable dump) charge at me. I flee into another alley, and when I reach a junction, I pick the turning that leads to a dead end. Edge is keen to spill their blood, but one of them shoots me in the neck with a poisoned dart, causing me to black out.

I regain consciousness in a cell. Orlando is with me, but Edge is in the room on the other side of the door, making snarky observations about his inability to free us. However, Edge is the only item the guards bothered to take from me before throwing me into the cell, and the key to Sad Sam's front door (which is one of the other items I picked up in Vanish) conveniently fits the lock on this cell, so I have no trouble breaking out. We flee from the village before any further unpleasantness can befall us.

It's getting dark, and the only shelter in the area (other than in the grotty dump we've just escaped) is a ruined house. It's better than nothing, and once we've settled down there, I spend some time chatting about the region with my companions before dropping off. The sound of footsteps wakes me a few hours later, and I just have time to gather my wits before a Vampire enters the ruin. The first time I played this book until reaching an actual ending, this was where I failed, having gone the wrong way after the Treeman incident and thus not having received the Garlic from Lady Helena. This time round I'm able to repel the bloodsucking fiend, and while doing so I spot a trapdoor that I somehow failed to notice earlier.

We go through the trapdoor, and I bolt it behind us (good thing it wasn't bolted before I tried opening it). Down below is a dank and damp passageway, along which we head. After a while, we reach a door that has 'KEEP OUT' written on it, so naturally I open it. The room beyond has large spiders all over the floor (and, in the accompanying illustration, at least one wall and the ceiling). Also in the room is a leather pouch, on the end of a rope attached to the ceiling, and there's another door on the far side.

As this is an Ian Livingstone book, there's a strong probability that entering the room without possessing the correct item will prove lethal, but not acquiring whatever is in that pouch will guarantee failure in the long run. I enter the room, and when the spiders prove non-hostile, Orlando joins me. As soon as I take the pouch, the door slams shut and the walls begin closing in, but when I wedge the Magic Staff I got from Domehead between the walls, they stop. The exact same thing can happen in a Tunnels & Trolls solo (IIRC, Deathtrap Equalizer Dungeon), but the set-up is conventional enough that the two authors could easily have come up with it independently of each other.

The pouch contains three precious stones, all of them types that could be acquired in Deathtrap Dungeon, and two of them featuring in that book's endgame. I wonder if the third is the only one I'll need here. The door on the other side of the room is locked, and apparently not even Sad Sam's key will open it, but the door through which I entered can now be opened again, so I return to the passageway.

Further on, we reach another door. Looking through it, I see a large monster (identified by Orlando as a Bonecrusher) chained to a wall, and a wooden chest on the other side of the room. I head over to the chest, and encounter another example of authorial sloppiness: the text asks if I've drunk a Potion of Good Fortune. There is no way of getting here without encountering the Vampire. The Vampire kills any character who has no Garlic. In this book, Garlic can only be acquired from Lady Helena. Meeting Lady Helena automatically leads to being given a Potion of Good Fortune to drink. Therefore, reaching this stage of the book without having drunk the Potion is impossible, so there was no need for the question, and there's no need for the paragraphs covering not having drunk the Potion.

As a result of my having drunk the Potion, the Bonecrusher's chain is short enough that I have no trouble evading the creature on my way to the chest, which contains a map of the Howling Tunnels and a warning about where Troglodytes may be encountered. The map doesn't specify where the Tunnels are, though, and despite having been to the person the Treeman said would tell me the way to them, and having gone on to the place where she sent me, I still don't have any idea of their actual location.

We return to the passage, and it leads to a flight of steps. At the top of these is another trapdoor, which opens onto a nondescript plain. I wonder what purpose the tunnel served back when the house from which it led was intact. I also wonder if Ian Livingstone ever gave any thought to the matter, or if he just threw it in for the sake of having a secret(ish) passage.

Orlando complains of being cold and hungry, so we start looking for somewhere we can find food and shelter. Instead, we discover a large, beetle-like insect which intermittently sprays a toxic white substance on the ground. According to Orlando, it's a Litterbug, which makes me curious as to what sort of stuff people were dumping on the streets in Ian Livingstone's neighbourhood back when he wrote this.

A Centaur attacks the Litterbug with a spear and kills it. I greet the Centaur, who is friendly towards us. He doesn't know where the Howling Tunnels are, either, but he offers to take us to the village of the Big Blue Mice, who apparently know everything, and are sure to tell us in return for a gift. We accept the offer.

The Big Blue Mice are what the name suggests: bipedal mice roughly the size of humans, with blue fur, skin, and houses. I stroll into a smithy and ask the mouse at work there if he can direct us to the Howling Tunnels. He replies in a strange language, which is created in exactly the same way that I 'invented' an alien language back when I was about nine years old, so I'd say that this puzzle is pitched just right for the target readership. Translated, the mouse's words turn out to be telling me that I'll have to hand over some blue cheese if I want my question answered. Good thing that just such a foodstuff was another of the items I got from Domehead. And that I didn't give it to Orlando when he was whining about being hungry (a detail he seems to have forgotten by now).

In return for the cheese, the mouse tells me how to get to the Tunnels, and adds a warning about a Dragon which might be encountered in them. I thank him, and we set off as directed. After some time we reach mountainous terrain, and catch sight of the landmark indicated by the mouse. Behind it is a cave entrance, through which we go. The cave is lit by torches, and guarded by a Cave Troll, though the Troll is currently asleep. Again the book brings in superfluous paragraphs by asking if I've drunk the Potion of Good Fortune. You know, it would have been more interesting if I'd been given the Potion in a bottle and told that its effect would only be temporary. That could provide a minor quandary for repeat readers - the knowledge that there are at least two situations in which the Potion can be of use prompting a little reflection on when is the best time to take it. But no, we just get intermittent wastage of ink and paper on impossible situations.

We manage not to disturb the Troll. As we head further into the Tunnels, we hear what sounds like a shriek, and Edge insults Orlando because there's been no pointless squabbling in a while. The scream is repeated, and we hear running footsteps and hysterical laughter. It thus comes as a minor surprise that the next thing we encounter is the Dragon of which the mouse spoke. Despite the noises we've just heard, it's asleep, and it is thus a little odd that in order to get past it, I need a Potion of Invisibility. Conveniently, just such a Potion was the third thing I got back in Vanish, and there's enough of it for me to share with Orlando, so we can both pass through the cave without being spotted by the slumbering Dragon.

Up ahead, the tunnel splits. Symbols are carved on the walls of both passages that lead on, and one of those symbols was mentioned in connection with the Troglodytes that the note on the map warned me to avoid. The same two symbols turned up on a couple of doors in Temple of Terror, and the one that didn't lead to death in that book is the one that doesn't lead to the Troglodytes in this one.

I take the non-Troglodyte passage, which leads to a cavern containing a marble fountain in the shape of a nymph pouring water from an urn. The nymph is wearing a golden wristlet, and the text and illustration don't match well here: the wristlet is described as being 'in the shape of a hand', but looks like a straightforward band with a hand attached. Also in the cavern is the source of the screams: a Banshee. She is also depicted in a manner that doesn't entirely match the text, as green skin is not a common feature among old women.

The Banshee attacks. This is the toughest fight in the book, the Banshee having a Skill equal to mine, and I've never got beyond this point while playing by the rules. On this occasion, neither of us manages to land a blow for something like half a dozen rounds of combat, but eventually the Banshee wins a round, and that's all it takes to ensure that this is yet another unsuccessful attempt at the book.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

By Fitful Starlight

As I once mentioned before, there was a period when Flying Buffalo produced a magazine called Sorcerer's Apprentice, several issues of which contained short solo adventures for Tunnels & Trolls. I own four of those issues, and now that I've attempted all the official T&T solos that weren't obviously out of my league, I'll be working my way through the magazine-based ones I have yet to try. The earliest one I own is Robert B. Schofield's Thief for Hire, from issue 12.

The adventure is for a warrior, or a rogue who knows no magic. There seems little point in creating a character in the latter category, as the only advantage a rogue has over a warrior is the ability to use magic. It may be unwise, but I'm going to bring back my character from Solo for the Intellectually Challenged, who has used some of the treasure acquired in that misadventure to buy a proper weapon and some armour. His low Strength and Dexterity limit his options, but he's now as well-equipped as he can be in his current condition. I should also give him a name, and in view of his general ineptitude and lack of self-awareness, I think he'd go by something like Blugen the Brilliant.

Being a Great Hero is proving trickier than expected. I start this adventure in the Dead Dragon Inn, downcast at only having acquired 500 gold pieces on my latest excursion into a dungeon. Considering how most T&T characters fare, this is roughly equivalent to lamenting having won a mere £500,000 in the National Lottery, so maybe my not-that-smart character isn't such a bad fit for the adventure after all.

A man in dark robes speaks with the innkeeper, and they both look at me. I wave. The robed man then comes over to my table, and asks if I'm interested in a short and well-paid job. I express interest, so he explains that he requires a certain scroll which is currently held in the royal library at the local palace, and is prepared to pay a thousand gold pieces for it. I agree to have a go at it, and we arrange to meet outside the palace in an hour.

Nothing untoward happens in the intervening time, and at the foot of the palace wall, my new employer gives me a rope with a grappling hook, directions to the royal library, and instructions on how to identify the scroll he needs. He wishes me luck, and I start work.

Even with the rope and grappling hook, climbing the wall is a challenge for a clumsy oaf like my character. On my first two attempts, I slip and fall, taking some damage in the process, but a lucky roll gets me up there on my third try. From the top of the wall, I can see a courtyard with two guards in it. On the far side of the courtyard is a well-lit hallway leading into the palace. Fighting the guards is not likely to go well for me. The alternative, crawling along the top of the wall and then using my rope to swing down into the hallway, could go disastrously wrong, but how can I resist the lure of such a swashbuckling strategy?

The roll is tricky enough that my failing at it comes as no surprise. I do make it to the ground intact, but somebody spots me, and yells, "Halt!" Given my stats, running away is probably a worse idea than confronting the guard, so I turn to face him. The two guards find my attempt at breaking into the palace amusing, and order me to surrender. I draw my francisca (it's a type of axe) and attack.

The guards have worse armour than I do, but their broadswords do more damage than the francisca, and they're better fighters than I. Considering the ridiculous levels of overkill some of my characters have experienced, only being reduced to 0 Constitution feels like getting off lightly. Nevertheless, it's the end for Blugen the Beaten, Battered, Bruised and Bloodstained. Perhaps I'd have fared better with a less rubbish character - at least as long as I could spend some of the money mentioned in the intro on decent equipment - but I suspect that I'd have needed a significantly superior character to have a real chance, and the likelihood of rolling up a sufficiently good one is pretty low.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Because I Have a Special Job

Completism above and beyond the call of sanity was the main reason that I got all of the F.E.A.R. Adventures by the pseudonymous Jak Shadow, but the fact that the penultimate one I acquired was the less-disappointing-than-the-rest The Spy Master may also have been a contributory factor. Like most of the others, I got it on eBay, and on my one previous attempt at it, I got some way into the book before making what I thought was a sensible decision, only to find that the author considered it a catastrophically stupid thing to do. A not uncommon occurrence in this series.

As I have explained before, the series has me as a child recruited (for painfully ridiculous reasons) by anti-terrorism organisation F.E.A.R. to try and thwart the schemes of time-travelling alien bad guy Triton. In this book, I'm being sent to London in 1999. F.E.A.R. suspect that Triton (using the pseudonym Gary Steel) has kidnapped inventor Albert Fudge, who was attempting to create a computer that could control every other computer on Earth (because that kind of thing always turns out so well), and intends to exploit the Millennium Bug (which is explained in a manner that's not likely to make any sense to anyone not already familiar with the concept) to take over the world.

An agent reports that Fudge has left a trail of clues to help F.E.A.R. find him and learn all five letters of the password to his master computer. Yes, just five letters. I had more securely protected email accounts by 1999. The trail begins on Abbey Road, in Studio 1, an address that means nothing to my Beatles-ignorant character.

I get to pick an item of equipment before being sent off. There are three from which to choose, but I can only have one, which makes no sense whatsoever. Two of them are very specific to this mission, which means there'd be no point in saving them for some other occasion, and as F.E.A.R. will use their time machine to drag me to safety the moment I appear to be in even the mildest of peril, it's not as if anything needs to be kept back in case something bad happens to me and someone else has to take over the mission. It's just a petty, pointless restriction thrown in to increase my chances of failing and needing to be rescued.

Still, rules are rules, so unless this limitation makes the book unplayable (and author Jon Sutherland does apparently have form in this regard), I should abide by it. I'll take the replica of Fudge's eyeball for bypassing retinal scan-based security systems. The laser watch is a bit generic, and while the disk of computer virus has an obvious use here, there are other ways of wrecking computers. Besides, the text makes such a big deal of how unpleasant the eyeball looks, it makes me suspect authorial shenanigans. Making one of the items essential and then attempting to dissuade the reader from choosing it would be a bit underhanded, but not the sneakiest thing I've ever seen in a gamebook.

The time machine is located in a basement that was not in use at the time to which I'm being sent back. This causes my character to become nervous at the prospect of encountering rats, though I suspect that this gamebook series is far too tame to allow anything like that to happen. Before entering the machine, I'm notified that a motopod has already been sent back in time for me. That's a kind of lightweight motorbike/bubble car hybrid with tinted glass windows (to hide the fact that the driver is way too young to have a license).

Arriving in 1999, I find that the basement is messy, smelly, and apparently illuminated in spite of being disused, because there's no mention of my having trouble seeing. Or of rats. Collecting the motopod, I ascend the stairs to the exit. It's jammed, and flimsy enough that I break it while forcing my way out. Leaving the building via a convenient fire exit, I use the motopod's onboard computer to find the way to the studio.

The book hasn't previously mentioned that the password I seek is made up of the first letters of the places I must visit (in this instance the road rather than the studio), but my character must have been informed of this minor detail between paragraphs. Unless it's supposed to be self-evident. Please post a comment to say if you realised the password had to start with 'A' as soon as I mentioned Abbey Road.

Concealing the motopod in a bush, and taking the remote control with me in case I can't get back to the bike, I enter the building. Asking the receptionist if there are any messages from Albert Fudge could draw unwelcome attention, so I look for studio 1 on my own. There's a cheap joke about opera sounding awful, and then I reach the studio, which has a note attached to the door: 'Gary Steel Do Not Disturb'. I'm not Gary Steel, so that means it's okay for me to disturb, right?

Maybe not. In the studio I see a multitude of computers, connected to a pod which contains Triton. Beside each computer is a mind-controlled-looking musician playing an instrument (Studio 1 must have much better soundproofing than the one with the opera singers in, as I didn't hear this lot at all). Triton orders the musicians to get me, and I figure that trying to fight my way through them in order to attack Triton would be an idiotic idea, so I hurry away.

Hiding in the bushes where I stowed the motopod, I watch as Triton boards a truck and is driven away. Returning to the studio, I find it abandoned, containing only a mass of cables. And a circle of chairs, each one with a star on it. In case this clue is a little too obscure, one of the chairs also has a leaflet stuffed into its side (which suggests that the chair depicted in the book is nothing like the ones in the studio). The leaflet is advertising the London Planetarium, and my character knows better than to ignore the 'London' in the place's name, thereby identifying 'L' as the second letter of the password.

Proceeding to the London Planetarium, I join a group of tourists. Inside, I take a seat in the front row, and while looking around, I spot Triton, who's attempting to disguise himself with an upturned collar. That's more effective than you might think - sure, I recognised him, but I was on the look-out for tell-tale hints. Little things the average member of the public would overlook. Like green skin.

The show starts normally, but then the voice-over cuts out, replaced by a high-pitched noise that begins putting people to sleep. While I'm still conscious, I make for the fire exit. Guards fire sleeping darts at me, but I dodge them. I don't loiter in search of clues, but sneak back in after a few minutes have passed. Whatever hint Fudge may have put here has gone, so the time machine is operated to bring me back to the present day. Oddly, the text implies that I'm being rescued from some imminent threat rather than just getting recalled because I've lost the trail.

Like the rest of the series, the book gives the option of turning back to section 1 and trying again, but I prefer to treat failure as failure. This attempt at it has drawn my attention to some absurdities that I either failed to notice last time or forgot about in the intervening years, but I'd still rate it above at least the preceding two. I can't remember a thing about the content of the last two books in the series, but given time, I might be reminded of why they failed to make much of an impression back when I got them.

Monday, 9 May 2016

I Had to Stop for the Night

This is the third part of my playthrough of Keith Martin's Revenge of the Vampire, which commenced here and continued here. Considering what happened on at least two previous occasions that I got this far through the book, it may well be the last part, too, but if I correctly remember the specifics of what got my character killed on those earlier attempts, the odds of my surviving it this time round should be in my favour. Only slightly - around 55%, assuming nothing bad occurs beforehand - but that's still a better chance than some gamebooks offer.

After several days on the road, I reach the village of Fendringham, which is just an hour's walk from Mortus Mansion. Which does leave me wondering why, if Harquar was supposed to be keeping an eye on the house, he was living in Farleigh rather than here. Maybe staying that close to the place would have been a bit too obvious, but judging by the assassination attempt from which I had to save him, the added distance didn't really make him any safer.

It's late afternoon when I arrive, so if I carry straight on to Heydrich's home, it'll be close to sundown by the time I get there, and wandering around a Vampire's lair during the hours of darkness is pretty much asking for a terminal bout of anaemia. Consequently, I'm willing to pay the price (in gold and Blood Points) to spend the night in the local tavern, the 'Rat and Bat'. The other patrons being neither intelligent nor fragrant, I soon turn in for the night.

Just as I'm about to drop off, I hear the floorboards outside creaking. The two hired thugs who subsequently burst into the room to attack me must be slow-witted even by local standards, as I have time to get out of bed, grab my sword, and put on my leather armour before they actually smash the door open. I manage to position myself in a spot where they can only attack one at a time, and kill the first man without any bother.

The second fight is less straightforward, even though both ruffians have identical stats. The thing is, the outcome of the fight varies depending on whether or not I bring his Stamina below 4 without actually killing him. As he starts with a Stamina of 7, killing him outright is not easy. Indeed, unless the book includes an opportunity to acquire a weapon that does extra damage prior to this fight, the only way to do it is to use Luck twice in the fight, being Unlucky the first time, and Lucky the second.

Unsurprisingly, I do not kill the second ruffian outright, and when I have hit him a couple of times, he drops his weapon, drops to his knees, and begs me not to kill him. This is a trickier decision than you might think. One the one hand, I know that killing an unarmed opponent who's just surrendered is the sort of action that can lead to a Faith penalty. On the other hand, I know that sparing his life will lead to the situation that's already brought more than one of my previous attempts at the book to a premature end. And on the Beeblebrox hand, taking the risk of letting the man live (albeit briefly) provides a lead that might be useful or even essential, and I'm not aware of any other way of acquiring that information.

I don't kill the grovelling thug. He tells me that a huge brute with a hideously scarred face came to Fendringham last night, told him and his companion of my approach, and paid the two of them to get rid of me. Then, acting like a man possessed, he grabs a poisoned knife from a concealed sheath and stabs me in the stomach with it. To survive this attack, I need to roll no higher than my Stamina score on four dice. Given the damage from the blow, that means I have to get 14 or less. Regrettably, the total of the four dice is slightly higher than the total of the five dice I had to roll back when I created this character, which means that yet another of my Revenge characters has succumbed to the venom on the blade.