Saturday, 30 March 2013

The Riddling Reaver playthrough

Written by Paul Mason and Steve Williams, artwork by Brian Williams and Leo Hartas.

Boy, this is an odd one.

The book was all but impossible to find when I was a kid, and is still relatively on the 'rare' side. It kinda comes as a companion to the 'Fighting Fantasy' book on introducing roleplaying, but doesn't quite take the idea to the extent that the Dungeoneer, Blacksand and Allansia trilogy do. It has a slightly whacky atmosphere not unlike the Sorcery books. It's a real unique beastie.

It has its own set of rules for different weapons, and some spells, and comes recommended for a troupe of three or four players. As you may remember, we had a lot of 'fun' the last time we played one of these games, so... oh god why am I doing this? And why does it give my players the ability to throw fire? This will not end well, I promise you!

This time around, Simon was unable to attend, so John and Brian were accompanied by Trev, one of my friends from university. Trev doesn't much care for roleplaying games so we kinda had to press-gang him into playing this. Nevertheless, we had a party of three hardy adventurers; Simon played as Bran, John took the role of Sinerus, and Trevor donned the mantle as Micky the Bat. I took the role of 'poor tragic fool', commonly known as the GM.

The game opens at Ragnor's tower, where the party has recently arrived to see a large crowd assembled. It appears that the Baron of the region has gone quite mad and is dancing around at the top of the tower. The play was then handed over to the players. Bran opted to try to climb up the tower, only to fall and injure himself. Micky took the logical decision to break down the door and get into the tower, while Sinerus stood back and shouted "Jump!" at the Baron.

On his second try, Bran climbed to the top of the tower, only to see the Baron falling to his death. Atop the tower, he met a wild and cackling figure, the Riddling Reaver. He pranced around like John DeLance in a bad Star Trek episode (and trust me, he was in a LOT of bad Star Trek episodes... some good ones too, to be fair) and then vanished, leaving Bran a giant snake to fight. Deciding that it would result in less damage than an actual fight, Bran jumped off the tower, and landed on the Baron. During this, Sinerus pointed and laughed.

Meanwhile, Micky broke into the tower and found the Baron's wife, who was tied to a chair with a bottle of spiders balanced on her head. One of the Reaver's jokes. Sinerus pointed and laughed. When the Baron's wife squirmed and broke the bottle, the gang stamped on a few of the spiders and then trudged upstairs to find a riddle box that the Reaver had left behind. At this point, there had been little apparent reason for the Riddling Reaver to cause the Baron to go mad and take a leap off his tower, but hopefully the box will explain all?

After decrypting the riddle, to find that the answer was rather obviously water, the crew throw the Riddler's box into the sea. I thump my head against the table for a while, and indicate that the box washes back up onto the shore, so that it can give them the three more riddles that the team has to figure out, which will send them all around the town to recover rare items. To help them out, the party find a young guide called Dappa, who is very wise in the ways of the city and can tell them the answers to the riddles...

And of course, having realised that Dappa's only reason to exist is to make the mission easier for them, the party grab him, tie his hands and feet together, and beat him up until he tells them exactly what items they need and where they can be found. What, you expected them to do anything less?

Dragging Dappa around with them, the party head down to the docks, where they find a group of sailors have set up a makeshift gladiatorial pit and are challenging people to fight a minotaur that they've caught. Dappa indicates that the party need the minotaur's nose ring, and Sinerus jumps at the chance to murder a caged animal like this. He kills the minotaur without much trouble, and wins a bag of gold from the man who owns the pit.

Dappa then tells the group (between being punched in the ribs) that they need to go and find a keg of ale from a local pub. This causes the party to sneak into the back door of the 'Parrot and Cage' pub and steal three kegs of ale. They drink two of them, and then head to the next area that the bruised and bleeding Dappa indicates to them - to recover a weather vane in the shape of a ship from a local school.

The pupils at the school are rather wild, but once the players set fire to the school they are able to recover the weather vane without too much trouble. I'm wanting to punish the players after they leave the smouldering ruins of the school, so I have Dappa tell the players that they need to head to the local bath house for the next clue. Once they get into the lovely roman-age bath house, their gear is mysteriously stolen by the patrons and the troupe find their bath filled with electric eels.

After having recovered the items and learned a valuable lesson, the troupe march their way to the cliffs outside of town. There they chuck Dappa into the sea, and board the Riddling Reaver's own ship which is waiting for them. Before long they are on a long sea-going voyage towards the Reaver's secret abode.

The big problem with the section of the adventure that takes place on the boat, is that there's no clear goal or purpose. Adventurers are just expected to wander around and explore the ship, until such times as the GM wants to bring it all to an end. I suspect my party were growing a bit bored of this, as it wasn't quite as structured or clear as the previous city-bound section.

Washing up on the beach of what appears to be a deserted island, the troupe rest up for a while. It seems all quiet for a moment, until they see people hurtling through the air and into the sea. Not winged people, either. It seems much more as if they're being hurtled through the air. Which, to be fair, at this point in the Fighting Fantasy franchise isn't entirely unusual, and is kinda to be expected. Investigating, they find that a group of mutated lizard men are catapulting some explorers they've captured into the sea, for a laugh. The troupe hide in the bushes and watch. Micky chews on some popcorn.

Thinking fast, I have the last of the captive explorers shout out loudly "It's no good, vile lizard men. You may catapult me into the sea, but you'll never find where I have hidden the magical and amazingly valuable artifact that I have hidden somewhere on the island. I will take that secret to the grave with me." This, of course, spurs the 'heroes' into action, they proceed to hack their way through the assembled horde of lizard men and rescue the prisoner.

And by 'rescue', I mean they tie the prisoner to a large stick and carry him around the island for a while. The prisoner, Waxley Speed, winds up being carried around by Sinerus, who uses the man-on-a-stick as an improvised weapon, beating up giant spiders, evil shamen and pygmie headhunters with him as they go. They then spend a good ten minutes dipping Waxley into a pit of quicksand. In many ways, I think Waxley would have been safer with the lizardmen.

Either way, Waxley's entire purpose at this point in the adventure is to be rescued by the characters, and then to lead them through the jungle to an old temple, where they are to recover an old relic. This particular section of the adventure is actually quite bland, giving only one pathway through the jungle. This is the 'Final Fantasy 13' segment of the adventure, you could say. It's also a bit of a polar opposite of the segment immediately before this one - while the ship segment had plenty to explore but no clear goal, this has a clear goal but no real exploration.

Eventually the crew stumble upon an ancient and ruined temple, in the mounainous region of the island. The temple is on a small rock outcropping all on its own, connected to the path by an invisible bridge, a la the final chamber in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Not wanting to risk taking a step of faith, the party immediately recognise this type of puzzle and decide instead to use Waxley as a walking stick in order to navigate their way over the bridge, and then plant him in the ground outside the temple while they head indoors and loot the place for all its worth.

There's a secret to the temple. The secret, and I'll share it with you now, is that it leads into the gut of a giant otherworldly lifeform, an entity that existed before the dawn of the world. It is a thing of titanic proportions, and the adventurers are intended to explore each of its 'chambers' with the dawning horror that they are within a giant creature. The layout of this segment is pretty good, with the main chamber of the creature leading to a variety of side-rooms, spiralling out like spokes on a bicycle wheel. It takes the better half of an evening for the party to fully explore the giant's internal organs, hacking apart its various inner pieces. Sinerus makes a new hat out of part of its stomach lining, and in an effort to top this, Bran secures the horn from the minotaur he killed earlier to his forehead, so that he can kill people with his face.

I'll skip past most of the chambers, which all contain some variety of horrible squidgy squiggly intestine-type beastie of some form or other. It's a very atmospheric location which the GM gets the chance to play up quite dramatically. This was actually a lot of fun, even if there's no real reason for the temple creature here to actually exist at all. Eventually the party blunder their way into the heart chamber, where they find two living statues. Both figures are locked in an eternal struggle; one resonates with the force of good, and the other vibrates with the aura of evil. Naturally, the players leap to help the evil statue smash the good one into little pieces. The statue of evil, surprisingly, is evil and tries to destroy the players, but it's no math for Bran's face-horn. With the two guardians destroyed, the party steal the ancient relic from the heart chamber of the titan - a mystical pendulum with the ability to control the forces of good or evil.

As they emerge from the temple, the pendulum is promptly stolen from them by Wexley, who as it turns out was actually the calculating Riddling Reaver all along! Yeah, aren't you glad I didn't let them feed him to the quicksand earlier? This is meant to be quite a massive reveal, but my party had already pretty much guessed that this was going to happen anyway. Despite their best attempts to lay a cunning trap to ambush Wexley, I eventually have to tell them "Look, the book says that he steals the damn pendulum thing, so play along and stop trying to hit him with fireballs." Sinerus didn't complain about it though, because his player is an old-time Vampire the Masquerade roleplayer, who has played most of their adventures and is therefore used to being told "your character does exactly this-and-that because the big powerful NPC forces you to." But the others weren't too happy. This is what people call 'rail-roading', and it's something that a lot of roleplayers find utterly infuriating and complain about endlssly (which in turn infuriates and annoys their GMs).

Evidently trying to do one better than a whole dungeon that takes place inside a giant beastie, the game then spirals completely off the deep end into insanity-ville. The Reaver flies away from the troupe in a giant airship (!) with the relic, cackling that he intends for the gods of luck and chance to use it in order to surplant the gods of good and evil or something. The party give chase to the Reaver's lair, which they find at the top of a giant waterfall. The waterfall in question flows UPWARDS, of course, because what else would it do? They catch a ride to the very top of it,

By the time they get to the top of the waterfall, things have taken a turn for the bizarre. Plants have started turning different colours, and giant butterflies are chasing tiny dinosaurs all around the top of the mountain. Immediately, Micky grabs the mini-tyranosaurus and tries to feed the Jib-Jib that they found on the ship to it. Meanwhile, Bran meets a leprachaun. The wee Irish laddie promises to let the party into the Reaver's temple, if Bran can juggle some bottles for him. Naturally, this results in the bottles smashing all over the ground. Which in turn releases an angry genie, who chases the leprauchaun around... it's all very silly, isn't it?

The genie opens the large gateway to the Reaver's mighty ancient temple of blithering madness and insanity. The troupe enter, and find that the main hallway contains a magic bottomless well. They all gather around this well, and drop the Jib-Jib into it, watching it fall. Then a portal opens in the ceiling, and the Jib-Jib falls out of it and back into the well, creating a massive cycle. The party decide that this is more fun than a roller coaster, and dive into this well, one after the other. They ride around like this for well over half an hour, playing games with it, until I have the Reaver himself appear in the hallway and run in the opposite direction, coaxing the players to chase after him. Ah well.

The Reaver dives behind a door to his laboratory, and I'm very careful to show the party that the door is magic and only opens when it sees the Reaver's face. After trying to pick the lock, kick the door down, crash the door down with a makeshift battering ram, set fire to the door, and generally causing more damage to the walls around the door than the actual door itself, the party decide to explore the rest of the temple. They find a few Wheelies (a classically bizarre Fighting Fantasy villain), they find a few stuffed replicas of themselves (how wonderfully creepy) and set fire to the Reaver's dining room for no good reason.

Eventually they find the Reaver's lounge, which contains two things of interest. The first is a large stuffed dummy of the Reaver (why does the Reaver even have something like this, exactly?) and a wine rack that contains the Reaver's shrunken prisoners in little glass wine bottles. Naturally, the party make the most of these, by drinking the wine that can be drank, and dropping all the prisoners down the neverending well. They then used the Reaver's stuffed doll to unlock the door, then found another Reaver doll in the dining room, and posed the two of them together in lewd positions in the middle of the temple hallway.

Deep breathes, now...

The doorway leads down into the bowels of the temple, eventually leading to a large cavern. It's there that we find the Reaver, standing on a raised platform, in front of a large pool of strange water. He has the pendulum, which is floating in mid-air and... I don't know, he's doing SOMETHING with it, some kind of magical something. He's also got over 130 soldiers with him in the room, his own home-built replicant monster things, and a head's on fight is utterly suicidal. The party really don't stand a chance at all here. The book recommends that I go easy on the players here, because this is the climactic battle. But I don't GM like that. I run games like Call of Cthulhu, where a 'climactic battle' involves running away very fast unless you want to wind up dead, insane, or both. I anticipate the players to die horribly.

Instead, the players use the Jib-Jib to create an alarm, which results in the minions rushing down the cavern, up the stairs, and tripping over a carefully placed rope, tumbling one after another into the neverending well. Yeah, they win the game by setting a trap. And as for that trap, the physics of that still gives me nightmares to this very day. I'm not kidding, I still wake up screaming. I have seen the face of madness.

When the players get back into the cave, they find that there is no sign of the Reaver. Or the pendulum. Perhaps he is away, somewhere in the cosmos, planning something. Maybe. Or perhaps he just got bored and went on holiday.

And after all of this adventure, the players still have no idea why the Reaver killed the baron. And neither do I.

This is a weird adventure. If I think about it too much, it hurts my head. The main villain's goals are pretty much nonsensical, and the various encounters are all very strange. It has a nice variety of locations, and it does capture the spirit of early Fighting Fantasy games very nicely.

In terms of structure, it's very erratic. Which I guess is in keeping with the main theme of the book. Some of the areas are very linear, some are much less so. It feels like a bit of a prototype for the Advanced Fighting Fantasy series, and it's fair to say that AFF did it a whole lot better.

Still, I find myself having fond memories of this book already, even after having run the whole thing. It's a period piece in the truest sense of the word, capturing a fleeting moment in the Fighting Fantasy series before time moved on and changed how the series looked. It's Sorcery between friends, Clash of the Princes shared out among others. It's facepalmingly cheesy at times. It's innately nostalgic. It's worth reading. Maybe even worth playing, too.

4 comments:

  1. They had every reason to set those fires. In fact, I'm disappointed they didn't wreck the place further. And you can tell them that!

    I'm confused, to say the least, how the 130th soldier fell into a glaring trap with 129 of his pals flailing around in it, and how they kept the Jib Jib quiet that whole time?

    ReplyDelete
  2. Awesome site! Complete reviews of almost all the F-F legendary books; it looks great! Following from now on. ;)

    ReplyDelete
  3. It sounds like the Reaver is the Trickster god in one of his multifarious forms. Mind you, your players rival him for chaotic-ness...

    ReplyDelete
  4. "Bran opted to try to climb up the tower, only to fall and injure himself."

    The Kingslayer pushed him.

    It is known.

    ReplyDelete