Saturday, 29 November 2008

#42 - Black Vein Prophecy

In the tradition of Creature of Havoc, FF42 doesn't tell you right away who you are or what it is you're doing. But going one step beyond, Black Vein Prophecy (great title, by the way) doesn't even give you your skill, stamina or luck rolls until part way through the book, and the rules are at the first I thought gees, that increases the chances of accidentally seeing page 400 - a fear justified when I turned to page 400 while looking for the rules - but 400's just another paragraph here, so the authors were obviously thinking when they wrote this book.

It's apparent from reading it they were thinking too - BVP, from what I can tell from one failed reading, is an interesting, captivating book - even if I spent the whole of my own journey not knowing what the fuck I was meant to be doing.

I came to from unconsciousness in a sarcophagus, which has to be the all-time greatest start to a FF adventure. No lengthy intro with wizards and armies whose names you forget the minute you turn to page 1. The text tells me the first thing I did was force the lid off so strongly it hit the ceiling - this bodes well! There was another body in the crumbling room I found myself in, who was apparently killed by an unexpected strike from behind (and not a flying coffin lid). Suddenly the room was filled with 100 robed figures - it seems I could count fast, so surely I'd a skill of 12 - but knowing what to do next, I jumped back in my sarcophagus. 

Not a good choice - or maybe it was? The text told me I'd found a 'suitable resting place'. D'oh, but also a little hehehe. Cheeky book.

Invoking the god of 'that's not enough for a decent blog entry', I brought myself back to life and decided to get the fuck out of there. I came across a group of motionless figures, one of whom bowed to me. I bowed back, and nothing happened. Arighty then, let's move on... 

I soon came across some stairs, and a loud voice boomed 'too soon...', much like Yoda, if Yoda's voice boomed. I didn't have much choice though, much like Luke, and pressed on - only for the stairs to turn to rubble and bury me at the bottom. Climbing out, I found another set of stairs - you'd think I was a little wary of stairs at this stage, but anyhoo - at the top was a sword and a haversack of provisions - how convenient! It was here I rolled for my skill - rolled a five, and was told to add four. FOUR!? Oh man. I ended up with nine. But what about that awesome coffin lid trick? Surely that was at least an 11-level move. 

So I escaped... whatever it was I was in.... to emerge in a trashed city with 'bizarre' battle wreckage. That's all it said - 'bizarre'. Like, how? Were the shields pink? Were the swords made of candy? Was my sword made of candy? Is this why my skill was only plus four?

Searching the streets, if not for equipment at least for an idea of what was going on, I came across my mirror image. Ooh - if real me has no idea what I'm doing, mirror-me must know! No such luck. Instead we had to fight. What seemed like a 50-50 duel I won easily due to some good rolls, some use of luck, and (this is the one I'm going with) the fact if he was my mirror image, he must've been holding his sword with the wrong hand. I know there's a logical flaw here, but I'm going to pretend it doesn't exist.

The rest of the town was trouble I won't go into, so I soon decided to make an exit - how? Via catapult, of course. Cause that's what you do when you're down to seven stamina points and wearing a tiara (don't ask!). Didn't the Mythbusters cover this? Landing in the water, I was soon rescued by a hot girl ( I know from the pics of her sleeping - not kidding) called Velkos. She was a bit of a biatch though, making me work on the sails, where apparently I quickly learned the most important skill in sailing - how to avoid the boom. 

Soon enough we were attacked by... pirates? A giant squid? No, a mad criminal floating in some kind of inflated bladder membrane, silly. What did you expect? We soon crashed out. I started to wonder if perhaps FF42 would be the first to implement some kind of romantic subplot, or at least the first I've found, but no. We made landfall, wandered through the forest and still nothing happened. It's not like I'd anything else to do, still not knowing who I was, or where I was going or why I was going there. If this was Knights of the Old Republic, it would have been around here I'd have started to flirt with Velkos as if she was Bastila. Instead, we ended up in a cave with a bunch of random creatures I'd no real idea why we were chasing. 

When I came across a pile of gems worth 3000 gold pieces, I stopped caring. In fact, I felt I was far enough into the book without any idea why I was still wandering through this part of Allansia, that settling down with Velkos and the 3000GP sounded more like victory than figuring out what this prophecy was meant to be anyway.

She was then killed by a fire elemental which seemed to ignore me, damn it. Instead I had to fight a slave trader whose poisoned blade took off a valuable skill point despite not touching me once in the entire battle. I was down to eight stamina points, and without any more food.

By this point, though BVP was still well-written and enjoyable, I was getting a little annoyed at the zero plot progress. It was all starting to seem a little random - never more so than when a giant bird thing picked me up and dumped me in its nest. Err, okay.

Moving on, a few encounters later I found myself in a village whose only trades seemed to be alcohol (at a tavern whose name, derived from the ancient Allansian tongue of Latin, in English translated to 'The Water Blood') and weaponry. Weaponry took my fancy, but the other shoppers were offended at how bad I smelled, cause of the whole giant bird nest thing. They stripped me of my clothes (I crossed 'romantic subplot' off my list of possibilities) and threw me into some kind of party pool - there were pipes bringing bad ale and everyone seemed to be having a good time, and no one seemed to care that I was naked (I tentatively re-added 'romantic subplot' to my ... just kidding).

Just when I started thinking again, hey I have 3000GP (somewhere...), this is cool, some union rep called Merzei came along stirring up discontent amongst the proles (and by this, I mean slaves). My conscience got the better of me, so I decided to fight, understanding it wouldn't mean 'picket the bosses' offices'. I wrapped on a towel (I'm quite glad the book made a specific mention of this) and dispatched a couple of slave traders. Grabbing some 'filthy' clothes (this time I wasn't so pleased the book made a point of mentioning it) I bailed.

The next town was real nice... looking. Unfortunately, the people were bastards, throwing me in jail cause I stunk. I was executed when being mistaken for someone else - or, in true Knights of the Old Republic style, being someone I didn't realise I was. 

Others have pointed out flaws in Black Vein Prophecy I didn't come across, except perhaps the slightly frustrating lack of awareness of anything. It seems it might have some kind of Fight Club style exposition at some point, but going by the number of times I was asked if I recognised names, and didn't, I can only assume I took wrong turns early on and was punished accordingly. I do like the idea that if you cheat, you will fail, as some point out, but not so much that it relies on a dice roll, if that's true.

I would place BVP in my top half at least, though, based on the one reading, of course. The writing style and art are definitely in the better few FF books, and the intriguing set up works. I just hope a few moves done differently and you'd know a lot more by the point I got to whilst completely in the dark. 

Enjoyable nonetheless. 


Anonymous said...

The part about "if you cheat you fail" comes from the fact that there's a mandatory stat roll near the beginning of the game that you MUST fail in order to win. This alone wouldn't be that bad. The frustrating thing is that at the time you have no idea that you were supposed to fail that roll (if you fail you gain soething that helps you win the game later, but if you succeed you will continue with no idea that you've just missed something important).

It may be an "anti-cheating" device, but not really a fair one when you keep in mind that this is near the very beginning of the game, which means you stat wouldn't have dropped at all. So rolling a perfect or high score for that stat is really a punishment, making it impossible for you to win. In fact, this is one of the few books where I ended up having to cheat (by reading sections that I'm not suppposed to) to find out exactly why I how I had been missing the neccessary condition to win. Like I said, since the stat roll is near the beginning of the game, players are far more likely to pass that stat roll than fail it. You have to be really lucky to fail that roll (or roll a really low initial score for that stat). Even if you do roll the lowest possible initail score you still basically have a 50/50 chance of failing it (which means if your initial score is any higher than that you have less than half a chance of failng the roll and winning the game). So all in all, I don't think this device discourages cheating at all. It's more frustrating than fun.

Other than that, though, I do like the plot, the atmosphere and the and the premise of the game in general. It's just that particular unfair win condition that annoys me to no end.

Anonymous said...

The stat check business is a pain, but I do like this book a lot. It's frustrating but fascinating.

Anonymous said...

A quick comment about your mirror image:

How can your character recognize his mirror image, since he's just woken up from a freaking sarcophagus and has never seen his own face before?

This book is a total mess, if you ask me.

Anonymous said...

Well the books tells the READER that it is a mirror image, but I mean the main character doesn't nessesarily realise it himself...

Jean-Mi Wan said...

The "anti-cheat" is about a magic power you can't gain use in the book.

As the story goes, you learn several magic powers. Sometimes, the book asks which one you want to use. One of them can't be learnt. If you choose it, that means instant death.
You cheat = you die.

Anonymous said...

"in English translated to 'The Water Blood'"

Not really. In spite of White Wolf's Vampire games translating "vitae" as "blood", the actual meaning of the word is "life" (thus, the Vampire term is a pun - "The Blood is the Life").

Thus, Aqua Vitae means "Water of Life". And historically, "aqua vitae" was used as a sort of poetic nickname to refer to different types of alcohol, like vodka, brandy, and whiskey.

Basically, the tavern owner came up with a pretentious name for his bar which basically means "Booze Here".