Saturday, 23 July 2011

#57 - Magehunter

Miss me? No? Alright then.

An old friend got in touch over Facebook, and has kindly agreed to loan me the FF books he's got that I don't, which is awesome. He's a collector, but has a couple of gaps he'd like to fill - so if you've got copies of FF55 or 56 you don't want, leave a comment on this entry and I'll put you in touch.

Okay! Now that's out of the way, let's take a look at Magehunter.

The basic premise is you're a hunter of mages (no wai!), but really wacky mages in particular. I say this, 'cause the book opens with a document called 'The Most Revered Treatise of MAGE HUNTING', which lists a bunch of magician rules that makes shit like "In Philadelphia, you can't put pretzels in bags" sound completely reasonable.

For example: "Wizards do not eat fish." Obviously wizards in this book don't listen to Nirvana, 'cause everyone knows it's okay to eat fish ('cause they don't have any feelings).

Or how about: "Every 101st footprint left by a mage is that of a cat." What, a cat paw print? Or a human footprint, but cat-shaped? Be more specific, Treatise! I want to know what to expect when I next see a cat-shaped imprint on the lawn.

And: "A hound which is fed for a week on nothing but goats meat may sniff out the scent of a wizard." I like how you can go to the effort of feeding your hound nothing but goat for a week, and there's still a chance he might not sniff out a wizard. Back to eating Chump, Rover.

Anyway. There's this particularly naughty mage called Mencius whom you capture just as the book begins, but that won't fill 400 pages, so of course he gets away.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. First, there's the small matter the Adventure Sheet contains three skill boxes. Now, I know people like to say rolling 12 for their skill is a skill in itself - and some seem to be suspiciously good at it - but doing it three times? Turns out it's a printing error. So is the fact my potential companion has a box for his/her provisions, but I don't. Not like I need to eat, is it? Not even fish!

Funnily enough, I do actually roll a skill and luck of 12, thanks to lucky red die. I used the white die for my starting gold stash, and got a 2. Fuck you, white die. And fuck you companion, whoever you were meant to be, 'cause you never showed up. Anyway, getting ahead of myself.

So! Mencius escapes, kidnapping the heir to the something or rather, and I have to get him back. He's vanished down some magic portal inside a crack in the earth, conveniently disguised by a simultaneously-occurring earthquake. Us here in New Zealand have learned a thing or two about earthquakes in the past year (yes, even those of us up in Auckland), and not even Ken Ring says jumping into a seismic crack is a good idea.

Mencius conveniently leaves his spell book behind, so I'm able to learn how he did it, and create my own wormhole. Where will I end up? Lucky red die rolls me a 2, and on the other side I've suddenly aged 10 years, and find myself standing on a cliff edge over Mencius' dead body.

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! Nice one, lucky red die!

Not so fast... I still need to find that idiot who got himself kidnapped in the first place, I guess. I have the option of climbing a mountain or following a river, so I choose to follow the river 'cause that song by Lykke Li about following rivers keeps getting stuck in my head. In real life, not the book, 'cause that would be weird.

I come across a town, with "towers... with tops like onions", populated by "strange dark people" dressed in "silk", who speak in an "incomprehensible guttural gabble" which gives me a headache.

Woah, holy pre-911 book, Batman.

Anyway, despite finding myself in what is essentially pre-Renaissance Constantinople, I manage to find a sweet bar and befriend a drunk bearded man, Al-Bakbuk. He teaches me a bit of the local lingo - probably mostly insults and pick-up lines - so as a gift, I decide to give him this ring I found earlier. I should have guessed giving it a quick clean would summon a genie.

The genie teaches me the rest of the "guttural" language, which is pretty awesome, and Al-Bakbuk gives me a turban, which is, um, "Cool... it's a turban. Thanks..."

Anyway, I head out shopping to find better shit than a stupid turban, but it's all a ripoff, so I head to the city of Kallamehr to find Al-Bakbuk's brother, Al-Fakik. Al-Fakik tells me to see a guy whose name doesn't begin with Al. Saleem. I'll apparently know him when I see him, 'cause he has a monkey on his shoulder. What, all the time? When does the monkey poo?

(Speaking of odd rules, here's another gem from the Treatise: "If submerged in water, a sorcerer's body will swell to twice its size." Does that also apply to witches? 'Cause that would have helped the peasants from that scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail no end... Ni!)

I don't bother, instead checking out this awesome tower I caught in the corner of my eye. On arrival, that heir to the thing I mentioned earlier's there, except it's not him - it's Mencius, what a twist! - so I unleash my language-teaching genie and run away. I know I'm carrying a gun with bullets capable of killing wizards (takes a silver bullet in this book, because... it's not explained, but I'm going assume they're all part werewolf), but I'm not given the option to shoot.

I go to the authorities, 'cause maybe they'll have the option to shoot to kill, but they're not convinced anything's the matter.

Now, one thing this book does a lot - and fairly well, from what I could tell in my particular journey - is getting the player to take notes, write down words, make marks on their Adventure Sheet - which affects the gameplay and plot. It's pretty cool, except I could see in the text that adding too many "x" marks would lead to a "fame" note, and that can NOT be good to get.

So I decided to go after Mencius, which was a bad idea. He unleashed a whole lot of skeletons on me, and the genie didn't show up, 'cause I bailed on him earlier. DEAD is me.

Which sucks, 'cause I was quite enjoying Magehunter. It's well-written, unpredictable, and as far as I could tell, on the winning side of the fine line dividing" WTF" with "WTF, this sucks". After reading it I did a bit of a Google, and it seems I might be alone in thinking this.

And I just realised I think I only made a single die roll in the entire adventure, which is kind of cool, but kind of annoying, since I spent 10 minutes earlier this evening trying to find my damn dice, whilst trying not to attract the attention of a toddler that was refusing to go to sleep.

I must have got 'lucky'.

So! That was Magehunter. Big ups to Jarrod for the loan, and hopefully I'll be back in the near future with FF58. Till then... remember this: "Dressing a sorcerer in undyed cloth will tie him to the earth."


Stuart Lloyd said...

Great to have you back, Dan. I did miss you and I look forward to more posts.

Magehunter is rock hard and unfortunately you can't explore a lot of the book and win at the end.

However, the story that takes you to victory is pretty awesome. Especially when you gradually get sucked into a story you are being told.

Also, this is about the only book where a skill of 12 is bad, bad, bad.

Gamebook Fanatic said...

Don't know about everyone else, but I sure missed you. like most of Mason's work, fun, a little bizzare, extremely hard, and probably takes a few tries before you will even begin to figure out what the main plot is really about. :P

Like the guy above me stated, rolling a skill of 12 is, in fact, not a lucky roll, at all.

This book feels......over-ambitious for a 400-paragraph book. For one thing, far too many paragraphs are spent on paths where you're pretty much guaranteed to not win the game (a trait that this book shares with Crimson Tide). This would be fine in a longer book where you can have an equally fruitful adventure on the "true path", but alas, that's not so. :( And one of the options you must make to win is almost right at the very beginning, too.

Personally, I have to say, like Crimson Tide, the funnest encounters happen on those paths where you don't win, too. :/ Not sure if that's a good thing.

There're also a couple of unresolved "bugs" triggered by certain encounters, although none that stops you from completing the book, since they're not on the "winning path", but still downright weird. I think it's probably a result of the over-ambitiousness I mentioned above. There're far too many side paths and possibilities here that the author inevitably forgot to account for some of them. (And many a lack of play-testing??) I probably shouldn't elaborate too much, since given the path you took this round, I'll probably be spoiling a lot for you should you intend to play this again in the future.

And while I like the general concept, that trick of making your own rolled-up stats work against you is just brutal. Like that little "anti-cheating mechanic" that was implemented in Black Vein Prophecy, it makes the game pretty hard even with the optimal die-roll (i.e. the lowest stat roll in both cases).

Steampunk said...

Good to have you back! Always thought that an Arabian Nights scenario would be great for an FF book- looks like they did use it. Sort of.

foadiron said...

Probably features the best writing of any FF book. Pity I didn't like it in the slightest. It was too random and didn't make much sense. In fact this is the only FF book I have ever sold (not because I hated it so much that I couldn't bare it, but because it was wort so much money and I was low on cash).

Anonymous said...

Pre Renaissance Constantinople? Really? Not Samarkand or Baghdad or post Islamic invasion Istanbul - we're going with Medieval Byzantium instead?