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Messages - Richard

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Games / Re: Gamebooks
« on: 01 October, 2022, 03:54:52 PM »
FF 20: Sword of the Samurai

I started this book last night and I was expecting to play it over the next couple of days, but I got so into it that I finished it last night, and then went back and read all the bits I missed. So that is a good sign!

It's a fun book. It has all the hallmarks of Mark Smith and Jamie Thomson's writing: lots of description and world-building, lots of instant death paragraphs and gruesome nastiness, lots of demons, and a choice of special skills. And it's beautifully illustrated by Alan Langford, who also did Island of the Lizard King but his work here is better. There are some absolutely fabulous illustrations.

I'll do some spoiler tags here and there, but of course this whole review will be spoilerific!

There are four special skills to choose from. I chose one where I get to fight with two swords at the same time, which means that if I roll a 9 or above in combat then I get an extra attack.  There is also an Honour score, where you start with 3 and if you drop to zero then you have to kill yourself in disgrace!

My mission is to go to some villain's mountain lair, assassinate him, and retrieve a magic sword he stole. Most of the book consists of the journey to get there. The first choice to make is a choice between two routes. It's not quite as bad as "east or west" because there's a bit of description about each route, but it's hardly ideal, and as I chose the least interesting of the two routes, I'd say it's the weakest thing about the whole book.

I thought that travelling through somewhere called the Forest of Shadows sounded like asking for trouble, so I went the other way. I should have followed Bazza Boots' rule of always going left! If I had, I would have fought some evil ronin samurai, infiltrated a castle to assassinate an evil lord, met a dragon, fought the undead samurai on the front cover, and increased my Honour score considerably. I might also have picked up a companion, an anti-Mungo who sticks around for a while and is actually helpful, and even has an opportunity to survive!

Instead, the route east took me on an altogether less heroic journey, where I only got one extra Honour point. At least I was still able to complete my quest by going this way -- it's not a one true path book, and so it goes up in my estimation for that. I started by bullying some slightly stroppy peasants (which reminds me a bit of Monty Python), and that was where I got my only Honour point. Well, I'd heard that real life samurai were dicks, so it makes sense that they would be dicks in Khul too!

On my first playthrough, I next killed a ronin who had a skill of 10, which I felt justified my choice of starting with maximum scores -- especially after I stole his stuff, which was booby-trapped and cost me two skill points! This is certainly not a book you could do with a skill of 7 reduced to 5!

My newly acquired items were a map and a key. They are both potentially useful items, but are they indispensable? "Hope not!" I thought, and when I got killed in my next encounter, I avoided coming this way again on my second go, finding instead a route from the peasants directly to where I was killed last time and bypassing this whole sorry business.

My first demise was in a village where the inhabitants seem to be friendly but turn out not to be what they seem. In the daytime they seem normal, but at night they reveal themselves to be very sinister undead creatures! They're more interesting and much more deadly than regular zombies. Their heads come off their shoulders and fly directly at you, trying to headbutt you into oblivion! After winning a fight against some of them, I realise I am still hopelessly outnumbered and have to flee. Running through the dark I fall into a well and, unable to take off my armour quickly enough, it weighs me down and I drown ignominiously!

I was a bit puzzled by the fact that I had successfully Tested my Luck immediately before that sudden death paragraph. Was it a mistake? So I looked at the alternative, and it turned out that is also a sudden death too, just a much more horrible one! How very typically Smith & Thomson!

Oddly, my next fight was with an elk. Um, okay. I win, and collect one of its antlers as a trophy. This comes in useful later, in circumstances where no rational person would think to use it, but never mind. I then get killed trying to ford a river. On my next try, I just carry on from where I arrived at the river and this time manage to cross it, successfully navigating a quite tricky encounter with some weird scaly aquatic creatures, but (as I find out later) missing the opportunity to collect a useful magical item from them.

I now enter a swamp, and am given a choice of three directions I could head in. The ronin's map would have come in handy here, but I don't have it on this playthrough. I choose the two wrong directions and pay with my life twice. On my third route through the swamp, I make it through, and am ambushed by a giant trapdoor spider. At this point, I realise I have been forgetting to eat provisions! I have to start this battle with a stamina of 5, and although I somehow manage to survive, I am killed immediately at the next encounter, which to be fair is a demon so no shame there. Reincarnating just after the fight with the huge spider, I go in the other direction to avoid the demon, defeat two more spiders, and then arrive at the mountains where the big baddy lives. This is the point where the two main routes through the book finally converge. I'm at the endgame!

(Incidentally, if you do have the map, you can find your way to some location which is impossible to reach without it, where you can pick up some useful magic items, but where there is also a high risk of being killed.)

There is now a big chunk of the book where I basically have to duel some demon to get into the final boss's lair. The duel is to take place in an arena, and before going there I am given the opportunity to recruit up to seven allies to aid me in the forthcoming battle; meanwhile the demon is recruiting his own allies to fight against me. This is the point in the book where it is basically asking me how many magic items I managed to pick up on the way here (one!) and how high my Honour score is (4, I needed at least 5). The result is that I enter the arena with a paltry one "ally" (and it's not even a person, just a wand I picked up in exchange for the elk antler). My opponent has three! He is accompanied by a giant toad monster, a giant praying mantis, and a giant actual giant called Gargantus. I just have my wand which, I hope, has some magic power which I can use despite having had no training in magic. Frankly, I have done so badly in getting to this point that I could really have no complaint if the book instantly killed me. But it turns out that one item or ally is enough. The wand disposes of the giant toad, and then I fight each of the other three opponents in turn. I defeat them all, with only one stamina point left! I'm almost giddy with victory.

(This section of the book is well-constructed, having many paragraphs devoted to the various different combinations of allies which each side can pit against the other. If I had gone into this battle with more allies, I could have chosen who to send to fight the mantis, the giant and the demon. Some of these allies would have won, and some would have been killed, the outcomes depending on who they are fighting against. It's actually brilliant stuff!)

Anyway. The demon, with his dying breath, is bound by demonic law or something to answer one question. I ask him the wrong one, suspecting that what turns out to have been the right question to ask is a trap (a reasonable assumption, I think, since it is based on what appeared to be vital information which I was told by the Shogun at the start of my mission).

I finally face the person who stole the Sword of the Samurai, the dude I've been sent to assassinate, and very helpfully he has the sword with him so I don't have to search for it like Zagor's treasure or something. I stuff my face with a hasty meal, but I only have time to eat once so I still only have 5 stamina points. Even worse, I don't have the knowledge I was supposed to get from the vanquished demon, and so I am killed. I resume play from that interrogation, learn the essential info, and still get killed anyway. But on my next go, I manage to survive for long enough to retrieve the sword, for some pretty impressive bonuses to my skill, stamina and luck scores, all of which are allowed to exceed their initial values! I now legitimately have a skill score of 14!

With my new sword I fight a demon, win easily, and then make a bad choice about how to confront my final enemy (there were four options), leading to sudden death. But on my next (ninth and final) life, I make the right choice. I am still brutally punished for not having enough Honour points, and am deprived of one of my just-recently-acquired skill points, but I still have a skill of 13 for my single combat with my final adversary, who has a skill of 12. I defeat him and turn to 400! Yay!

I very much enjoyed this book. It's just as good as I would expect from these authors, the art is invariably great, and while the plot is basically a hike through hostile lands and then a couple of big fights at the end, most FF books are like that so I can't really complain. Well worth getting this on eBay!

Off Topic / Re: This is the News!
« on: 01 October, 2022, 01:04:03 PM »
Indeed. Being radical doesn't accomplish anything if you're never in power to implement your policies.

the electable starmer will win on a wet tory manifesto that will do very little for the dispossessed and the ill.

Do you really imagine that Labour would have abolished the 45% tax bracket and paid for it by cutting benefits?

Off Topic / Re: This is the News!
« on: 30 September, 2022, 11:32:32 PM »
Yeah, wouldn't it be much better if Labour were unelectable so the Tories got re-elected in 2024 and 2029 and 2034?

Games / Re: Gamebooks
« on: 30 September, 2022, 04:43:38 PM »
Good write-up! I laughed at the wirecutters/ jet pack bit.

I agree with your view that the first planet is the best. I'd rather that bit had been bigger and one of the other planets been skipped altogether. Overall it's a fun book though.

I don't have FF 19, but I'm just about to start FF 20: Sword of the Samurai by the authors of Way of the Tiger.

Off Topic / Re: This is the News!
« on: 29 September, 2022, 06:17:57 PM »
It was never about tyranny. The right to bear arms was conceived so that pioneers could steal land from natives by force, and so that slaveholders could keep their slaves in check.

So I just had a look at my Case Files and it turns out the Megazine stories started being collected in CF 15, in 2010. CFs 15 to 40 cover 15 years' worth of stories and were published over 12 years. That's 1.25 years per year. By my reckoning it will take another 13 or 14 years to get to today.

Creative Common / Re: Ignorance is Strength
« on: 28 September, 2022, 08:42:17 PM »

Creative Common / Re: Ignorance is Strength
« on: 28 September, 2022, 07:00:32 PM »
The grenade round has never been in any story, only in that feature. It occupies the position that rightfully belongs to the heat seeker round, which in the same feature is added separately to the end of the barrel as a seventh round, while that has never been seen in a story either. In the stories it's just in the magazine, like a normal bullet.

As to how such a tiny magazine can hold all those different kinds of bullet, and how the gun selects which kind to fire, I don't think that has ever been explained in the comic. They didn't try to explain it in the films either, and nobody seemed to mind.

Tell that amateur reviewer to fuck off!

That's only an average over 17 years. The first few years was just reprinting 2000AD, before the Megazine kicked in around Case File 14. Since then it has naturally slowed down.

Film & TV / Re: Rogue's Gallery
« on: 26 September, 2022, 06:24:01 PM »
And let's hope it's paddykafka!

General / Re: Forthcoming Thrills - 2022
« on: 25 September, 2022, 06:49:56 PM »

Games / Re: Gamebooks
« on: 23 September, 2022, 12:48:45 PM »
I'm glad you finished it! I remember the Time Serpent bring much harder to beat than that, so much so that I thought it was the hardest of the four books!  I don't know if I just struggled to find the correct route or if the Past Light Towers weren't in the book (I don't remember them, but it's been about 20 years 🤷‍♂️). You seem to be indestructible!

Announcements / Re: Judge Dredd: The Darkest Judge - coming July 2023
« on: 22 September, 2022, 11:29:47 PM »
This is the prog 2300 and Meg 448 stories.

Megazine / Re: Meg 448: Graveyard Shift
« on: 22 September, 2022, 06:06:38 PM »
I think the Meg worked better than the prog actually. The prog's stories had nothing to do with each other really. The Meg, while it's still an anthology of different stories, held together as a coherent whole storyline.

The whole thing worked much better than the attempt to do something similar in last year's Sci-Fi Special.

Prog / Re: Prog 2300: On the Day of Judgement...
« on: 22 September, 2022, 04:06:52 PM »
Well I can't argue with that!

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