Friday, 3 July 2015

Lone Wolf 6 - The Kingdoms of Terror playthrough

"The Kingdoms of Terror" by Joe Dever, illustrated by Gary Chalk

It’s been three years since our last adventure, and the discovery of the book of the Magnakai. Any idea what age that makes our protagonist now? Well, he’s spent the last three years reading the book. And I thought ‘The Stand’ was long! In all that time’s study, the most important thing I find is that I need to seek out the Lorestones. They’re stones. Made of lore. So, looks like we’re off on another epic adventure. But we have to be quick – the Darklands are beset by civil war due to my previous victories, but we’re assured that the peaceful times won’t last forever.

The time I’ve spent locked in the study has evidently had some impact on my brain, as my kai abilities have been wiped. Technically, I’ve become skilled in all of them, so I’ve no need for puny first-level powers. But on a mechanical side, it means that those all-important hunting and healing skills are gone, so I need to buy them back. They are now redubbed “huntmastery” and “curing”, and like all of the Magnakai level skills they have extra additional frills. They are joined with my third skill, “Weaponmastery”, which lets me select three weapons that I gain additional strength in while using – I have chosen short sword, warhammer, and the bow. I like the bow so much that I take it, and a quiver of arrows, with me – along with always-useful rope, some arour, food, and as much of my previous gear as I can be bothered to lug around with me.

My journey is to take me to Varetta, where the first lorestone is said to be located. The book tells me that it’s a dangerous trip, but by this point I’m boasting a maximum of 31 combat skill and 29 endurance points (when wielding all of my items and with all bonuses applied), so I’m not too scared. Evidently the book recognises it, and the narrative describes our protagonist crushing some brigands with ease in the type of combat that would previously have required an actual fight sequence. This leaves you with the impression that you have legitimately ‘levelled up’.

After a week of travel, we arrive at the city of Quarlan. I ride through the north gate, paying the guard my entry fee, and like any self-respecting adventurer I make a beeline for the nearest tavern. I feast down on a delicious roast dinner, rent a room for the night and I’m generally having a great time. That all comes to a grinding halt when a rude, surly noble flounces in and causes a scene. He is rude to the waiting staff, abusive to the other guests, and has a distressingly massive codpiece as the picture can attest to. I eventually get tired of his behaviour and shoot him in the arm. Okay, so technically I was stopping him from hitting an old man with his sword at the time, but my version is better, on account of indulging my urge for psychotic violence. I’m a good kai master.

The old man I’ve saved happens to be from Varetta – cue my Harry Hill impression, “What are the chances of that happening, eh?” When I tell him that I am the legendary hero Lone Wolf, the old man practically falls on his knees to fellate me in gratitude, which is a little disturbing so I barter him down to just telling me about the lorestone. As it transpires, the lorestone is essentially The One Ring. During the war of the lorestones, the one in Varetta was placed into the king’s mace, which he promptly lost when his ship was sunk. It’s remained lost until this day, except for the weekend when Gollum stole it.

The next morning, we continue our journey – this time with the old man in tow, because he wants a free ride home and I want a companion who will once again die at a dramatically appropriate moment. As we ride along, we find an archery tournament taking place. I sign up, mainly because the prize is the silver bow of thingy-or-other, and any weapon with ‘of’ as its middle name is worth having. I manage to utterly trounce the first round of the tournament, but fail miserably during the second, and the bow is rewarded to someone called Altan with a very blank-looking face.

I get back to where I’d left the old man, only to find that he’s been captured and taken off by some cavalry. I quickly ‘borrow’ someone’s horse in order to give chase, only to hear the screams of “Horse thief” as I ride off. A group of people from the archery contest run out and open fire on me. As arrows rain down around me, I start to reconsider many of my life choices. The horse collapses beneath me from multiple arrow-related injuries, and I lose track of the kidnappers while I flee for cover.

By the time I’ve eventually found them again, I decide that the best option is to follow them from a distance to see where they are heading. This proves to be an abject failure as they catch sight of me the moment one of them looks back along the road, and turn to attack. I shoot the one who’s holding the old man, steal my companion back and ride off. The kidnappers quickly lose track of me. I spend a while wondering why they’d have kidnapped the old man in the first place, but the narrative doesn’t give me the chance to just ask the guy.

My questions are all quickly answered by the appearance of the man I presume to be the mastermind behind the kidnapping – none other than lord codpiece himself! I guess he’s feeling rather sore about the arrow to the arm from earlier, so he rants at me for a while about extracting revenge, and then CASTS A SPELL TO SUMMON A HORDE OF UNDEAD! Jesus man, anger management issues much? Anyway, I’m carrying the sommerswerd, which carves through undead like a carver’s tools through whatever they carve. The lord’s kidnapper-ey minions, however, are not carrying this, and neither is the lord. He flees while his minions are being eaten, shaking his fist at me and screaming “You’ll pay for this, Captain Planet!” or something.

On the subject of the undead, my newest book “DIARY OF A GAY TEENAGE ZOMBIE” is out next week! A coming of age tale about coming to terms with life when you’re the ultimate outsider. Check it out!

Meanwhile, the old man’s been eaten by zombies to death, leaving him to tell me to seek out Gwynian in Brass Street to help me find the lorestone. I bury him, and carve his name on the list of companion characters who’ve died at dramatic moments during a gamebook. Truly he is among much, much, much company.

I push onwards until I reach the Halfway Inn, which I assume is placed about halfway through the adventure, in an especially interesting concept of meta. There’s a man running a magic show in a corner of the inn, and he invites me to bet on a rather simple riddle that seems to exist purely so that I can fill my bag of gold pieces up to its maximum. Weighted down by the conjurer’s gold, I buy a hefty dinner and retire for the night. While I sleep, rats steal all my remaining provisions, because rats are little ninjas.

The next day, I arrive in Varetta. It’s a big city, and doubtless it’s going to be tricky to find Brass Street. I do, however, find the guild of town criers. I’m rather surprised that this is a thing, partly because it seems entirely peculiar. But it’s peculiar in that it makes perfect sense. I mean, of course town criers would have a guild. Why hadn’t I ever thought of it before? Sorry, I’m rambling here. I’m greeted by a Kloon (I’m not sure what a Kloon is, perhaps it’s a kind of goat) who tells me that I can buy a map from him for a not insignificant amount of gold. Hmmm. I refuse and leave, instead choosing to spite the Kloon crier by giving my gold to a beggar woman instead.

My attempt at giving money to the beggar woman is interrupted by a man called Redbeard, who tells me that the woman is clearly a fraud and shoos her away. Redbeard then offers to show me his captain. I’m expecting him to drop his pants and say “I call it ‘captain’. It’s seen many battles. Do you want me to show ya his helicopter trick?” but, much to my relief, it turns out that the captain is actually a person. The captain tries to recruit me to join some war that’s going on up north. I tell him that I’ve got more important things to do. “What is more wonderful for a warrior,” says the captain, “than the glories of war?” Man needs to watch himself some Deep Space Nine.

I decide to spent a hefty sum that night to get a room with a luxury bath at the local tavern. When I get to the room, I find that ‘luxury bath’ actually translates as ‘has a bucket of water in it’. Overly priced and with exaggerated luxuries, it’s like a holiday in Paris! Well, the next morning I set out for brass street to find Gwynion, the sage, only to find that brass street is basically a university full of bloody sages! I search the library, but there’s no bugger there. I decide to try out the observatory, only to accidently terrify all of the students there. But then, screams of terror do meet Lone Wolf wherever he goes.

The only person who doesn’t flee at the very sight of me is an old man I assume to by Gwynion, but more importantly, he’s the old man from book four! He tells me that the lorestone is hidden in a dungeon somewhere, and our discussion is promptly interrupted by an angry mob of enemy type people. I’m a bit vague on who appears to necessitate my escape, but whoever it is, I’m forced to flee through a secret passageway. Handy things, those!

Emerging from the other end of the passageway outside of the city, I set off towards Soren, hoping to direct myself correctly as we go. Along the way I butcher several graverobbers, taking all of their gold. Upon arriving in Soren, I spend all of the graverobber’s money on a ticket for a riverboat, Upon boarding, I find that the ship also holds Redbeard and his captain. Well, at least they’ll make the journey interesting.

No sooner have I slept for the night than we’re attacked by pirates. Specifically, river pirates – the most pitied laughing stock of all pirates. I carve my way through them without any trouble, while the soldiers run around eating the pirate’s ears off, smashing their heads open, and generally singing and dancing about it in a way that makes me question who the villainous pirates actually are here. We stop off for a quick shopping trip, and by the time we’re done with that I’m frankly getting fatigued of all the travelling. But we’re almost there.

The city I’m heading towards is right slap-bang in the middle of the war mentioned earlier. I decide to abandon the captain and his bloodthirsty brigands, hoping to sneak into the city without too much trouble without an army at my back, and then wind my way into the dungeons beneath it. By this point, the book starts to throw things at me without feeling too strongly connected to each other, and the adventure kinda starts to lose my interest. In truth, I think I’d kinda been losing interest since we left Varetta, but this section feels especially padded out.

So first, a thief attacks me while I’m trying to heal some wounded soldiers. Then I suddenly come to a river, which I swim across but am injured because it’s cold. Finally I work my way into the sewers, but find a curtain that’s blocking my way. When I move the curtain out of my way, I’m told that I’ve stumbled into the lair of something called a Dakomyd, whatever that is. Probably some kind of grue. Anyway, it kills me. No combat, insta-death.

This book was a damn shame. It started out with some real promise, but the third act lacked any real direction. This really, really harmed the book overall, even though previous books in the series have also used the same formula of requiring additional travel and encounters to fuel the third act. I’d have loved to see this book reworked, perhaps by building up Gwynion’s role and providing a more personal threat to the action.

Still, tune in again in two weeks’ time for the next adventure. Will we recover the next lorestone? Will Lone Wolf finally be brought up on charges for mass murder? Will I ever learn how to dance the tango? Be here to find out!

Lone Wolf Statistics at this point
Combat Skill – 15, Endurance – 25
Kai Skills – huntmastery, curing, weaponmaster - short swords, warhammer, bow (+3 CS) Lore Circles - Circle of Fire (+1 CS and +2 E)
Special items – Map, Crystal Star Pendant, Sommerswerd (+8 CS), Firesphere, Blue Stone Pyramid, Silver Helmet (+2 CS), Jewelled Mace, Shield (+2 CS), padded leather waistcoat (+2E), Small Silver Key, Brass Whistle

(If you've enjoyed this article, be sure to check out Justin MacCormack's two bestselling collections of dark fantasy stories - "Return to 'Return to Oz'" and "Cthulhu Doesn't Dance". His newest book, "Diary of a gay teenage zombie", is available now)

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