Saturday, 22 November 2008

#41 - Master of Chaos

Master of Chaos is a gamebook of two halves in more ways than one. First of all, the synopsis on the back (evil guy amassing forces, has a stolen magical item, a group of good wizards to lazy to do anything themselves, hire averagely-skilled warrior to save the world) reads like a FF Madlibs creation. 

_(name of baddie)_ is planning to _(evil objective)_, he has stolen/acquired _(magical object)_ and according to _(powerful-yet-reluctant goodies)_, you are the only one who can stop _(whatever's so bad)_!

But once I checked out the rules, I realised this wasn't going to be a straightforward dungeon crawl; far from it. But even better, the alterations seemed intelligent, well thought out and fun: food's an essential, not a way to magically heal wounds; you start with nothing (thanks a fucking lot, wizards, you pacifist douchebags); you've got a few cool skills (I chose acute hearing, cause it makes up for my real-life tinnitus, blindsight cause I don't want to waste money on a lantern, and move silently, cause it's advantageous when your shift finishes at 1am); and best of all, you have a 'notoriety' score, which measures your, um, notoriety. 


What's not cool though is the wizards are a bunch of tightasses, starting me off with a measly two gold pieces (which they deign to hide) and put me on a slave ship to Ashkyos, where I'm expected to fund my mission to save the world alone. 

I start next to a guy being whipped excessively, but mindful in this gamebook I've a notoriety score, not an evil score, I let the slavedriving orc have his fun. Besides, I get my turn later (being whipped, not whipping, unfortunately). A couple of weeks and several stamina points on, an attack on the ship by a giant octopus gives me an oppurtunity to show off to the captain by saving his ass. Good dice rolls meant wrestling an octopus tentacle bare-handed wasn't as gross as it should be.

Promoted to 'trusty' slave, I'm soon approached by another with a plan to escape - sneak past the crew while they're drunk on the night we make landfall. I have a better plan - sneak out on my own, cause I bet these idiots will just bring me down. Once again, keeping notoriety low and evil high pays off, and I'm into Ashkyos, lack-of-reputation in tact.

On arrival in Ashkyos though, the book reminds me to keep a track of my notoriety score - damn, this is probably where it begins! At least I'm here in one piece. But unfortunately (there's always an unfortunately) the map I'm apparently keeping in the inside cover of my copy of Master of Chaos is missing.

Still, the book acts as if you know where you're going, and I decide to visit the locales in reverse order to their listing - the book probably expects you'll do them in the presented order, but hey. I wanted to keep track easily without being predictable, so onto the Old Quarter I went, where I'm attacked by a mule. Capturing it easily, I'm awarded some gold, which is cool, since this part of the book I gather is about getting money so I can buy some weapons and shit. 

But first, as this is a shitty town in Khul, I decide to go to a bar. I end up at some wine place, which isn't what I had in mind (this is Khul!), so crash out for the night (but not before pocketing a few gambling winnings - I gave it a shot cause I actually made $80 out of $20 today playing the prediction market). The next day I head to the docks, where an incident with an assassin leaves me considerably richer, but much more notorious. Killing him adds three points to my notoriety - if I hit eight, I have to leave town - which leaves me to wonder how bad this assassin really is, if he himself hasn't even killed three people yet. 

Wandering around a bit more, up to 28 gold pieces, I'm getting annoyed my in-game character hasn't thought to perhaps visit a weapons store or something, considering I just had to bare-handedly kill an assassin armed with a poisoned sword. No, instead I wander to the warehouses, where I get employed work. How lifting boxes was going to save the world, I wasn't sure.

Now, a cool thing about this book is each of the locales can obviously be explored in several different orders, and you can tell from the number of 'have you.....' queries on entry to each area, there are several different sequences of events that can happen. For example, I could tell by the number of times I'd been asked whether I'd met 'Jesper' (or was it 'Vesper'?) that he'd have an important role to play at some point. Unfortunately, as I'd soon discover, I misjudged his role as evil, when though I can't say for sure, his presence would be for good later in the book. I don't know.

All I know is I rejected his offer of helping him in his criminal plot, bought pretty much everything in the weapons store I soon found, and had to leave town - cause simultaneously buying a crossbow, ten arrows, a sword, backpack, armour and waterskin tends to arouse suspicion, even in a town like Ashkyos it seems.

And this is where everything went wrong, if it hadn't already (this is where all you experts have your say!). I trudged along on foot for a couple of days, being without a camel or a ferry ticket, and was stabbed to death in my sleep by a four-armed mutant. 

Apparently this is where the second half of the book really began. Although I only got halfway through, and still have absolutely no idea why there's a two-headed dragon on the cover, I feel like I got a good handle on Master of Chaos, and really enjoyed it. Then again, I tend to like the city-based books, not knowing what's around the (literal) corner and all. The notoriety was well-implemented, the skills came in handy, and the rise-from-adversity plot although illogical considering the lofty heights from which your mission is decreed, works well. 

Even little things like limits on how much food you can carry with/without a bag, damage done with/without a weapon, different sections of the book actually feeling different and skills that seemed real and useful without being overpowering worked well. 

I didn't get far enough I feel to call it one of the best, but I think, bar the cover and title, it's in with a shot. Let's call it recommended.

If only for the fact in paragraph 183, it tries to call you out for cheating.

PS. If anyone knows how to get that ad at the bottom of the page to actually link to the website it is advertising, that'd be awesome. It's my music, so it's not like clicking on it makes me any money, but hey.


Gamebook Fanatic said...

Jesper? Criminal plot? Are you sure you didn't mistake him with someone else? There's a guy named "Vesper" who's a criminal. As far as I can recall, there's nothing really criminal about Jesper. And he's got some really cool idea about making money, too.

Oh, and while Jesper isn't essential for the success of your quest, he makes it much easier for you. Without him you have to really pick the ideal skills down the right path to succeed.

Just thought I'd also point out that one of the skills you chose is totally unnecessary, because there's an item that can substitue it someowhere in the adventure.

I love the setup of this adventure. Starting out posed as a galley slave who has to earn his own freedom first is a nice concept. And for once wondering around gathering gold pieces actually serves a practical purpose other than keeping scores. There've been quite a lot of FF books where you end up collecting dozens of gol and not having anything to buy with them.

The two-headed dragon appears near the end of the adventure. In fact, there;s no way you'd avoid the encounter. :)

dan duran said...

His plot sounded shady as hell, and I didn't want the notoriety... and after a few drinks, it's common for the 'J' key to wander over to where the 'V' is meant to be!

Gamebook Fanatic said...

Yeah, his plot is a shady one (if it's indeed Vesper you are talking about), and if it goes wrong you will indeed gain much notoriety. If it goes well, you stand to earn a tidy sum in gold.

Just in case I wasn't clear, Vesper and Jesper both exist in the book, and no, they're not related in any manner. Vesper is a shady character who can be profitable to you, but not really important. Jesper, on the other hand, can be an extremely helpful companion. Definitely much more than your average FF book companions (though that doesn't say much, obviously). I'm still not sure which one you ran into.

dan duran said...

I think I ran into both, then when I went to write up the post got confused - I remember writing 'Vesper' then deciding to check it, and changing it to 'Jesper', and probably forgot they were two different people, haha. Thing is I didn't need more money - I needed someone to watch out for four-armed mutants while I slept...

Gamebook Fanatic said...

Jesper does much more than earn you money. I don't want to spoil anything more unless you want me to, but trust me, next time you run into Jestper, be sure to bring him with you at all cost. :)

Ed said...

The map is present in some editions of the book. I'll check to see if the scan I made of it for someone else with a mapless edition some years back is still on my PC, though I suspect I may have deleted it during a hard drive clean-up.

A challenging adventure, but with plenty of different ways to get through it. I think it's after this one that KM's books start to get a little too convoluted.

Kieran said...

Good book though I always think the 2nd half feels dull and anticlimactic after the fun 1st half. And yes, the whole Jesper/Vesper thing confused me too first time round.