Seas of Blood – Part 1

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#16

Seas of Blood

The city of Tak is the greatest den of thieves, pirates and cut-throats that the civilized world has ever seen! In this city of scum, there are two pirates infamous for their ruthless greed, their daring raids and their countless skirmishes with death. One of these villains is Abdul the Butcher. The other is YOU. Only one of you can be King of the Pirates. A wager is laid, a race is on. But which of you will win?

Out of Granite bay in Tak we set off on the good ship ‘Banshee’, our opponent Abdul’s ‘Haveldar’ cutting through the water beside us, the game was on and I needed to collect a massive haul of booty within the next 50 days or not be considered the greatest pirate ever. At least within the area designated in this map anyway, no other pirates were invited to this competition so I apologise if they are reading.

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I had fear of no man or crew, getting personal stats of 10/22/12 and crew stats of 12/18, so feeling good about my chances of showing up this Abdul character to be the fool that he is I set about making my first choice of who I would be rinsing for all that they own. Trying to be clever I opted to set out for the mountainous isle of Enraki, ignoring the rich port of Lagash and the desert caravan routes. They just seemed too obvious to me.

Four days later I was coasting off the northernmost tip of the island which I now knew was the home to the warrior priests of Asswr sel Dablo. Thankfully, these fearsome holymen were very rich. A direct assault on their fortress seemed like a fairly dumb option, so I aimed to work my pirate cunning and throw in a little deception to try and gain access to their wealth. An unoccupied cove provided cover for the Banshee and I left my crew similarly hidden as I went up to the fortress posing as an emissary from the port of Lagash. Without any effort on my part this was all accepted and I was granted entry and an audience with the abbot. I came with word of an ‘impending attack’ from Lagash, but for a small fee I might be able to misdirect any potential assailants… snigger. Thankfully, if only for the credibility of the story, the abbot didn’t believe a word and dismissed me as an opportunist, having one of his monks open up a Mr. Burns-style trap-door beneath my feet, sending me falling into a pit for the cost of 2 Stamina. My way out was apparently through one of four doors, marked individually with a star-burst, a wheel, an upside-down triangle and a horizontal crescent.

Deciding to have a go at the star-burst door was a bad idea, on turning the handle, large metal spikes were thrust through the door, impaling me on the opposite wall and killing me instantly. My adventure was very much over. Is that my quickest fail yet??

So let’s try that again shall we, the horizontal crescent door was my next pick and was an instant upgrade on the previous experience as I wasn’t immediately murdered. However, looming through the dark behind through the doorway were two large eyes considering me with ‘carnivorous rage’, some very expressive eyes I gather. These eyes then came out from the dark to consider me more carefully in the pit and showed themselves to belong to a gigantic beast, horns sprouting from its head and down its scaly back and tail (not really horns then). What a great opportunity for an illustration, huh? Well tough, because there isn’t one. Anyway, presented with the option of taking evasive action I decided not to fight this thing and pulled off some Legolas moves by grabbing its horns and leaping off its head, success without a single Skill or Luck test needed. This pirate stuff is easy. Having climbed out of the pit though, there were still some warrior priests to worry about. Drawing my scimitar quickly I killed the monk before he had time to react, leaving me to fight the 10/8 abbot who fell without landing any hits at all. Searching the chamber brought me a chest containing 110 gold and a very fine scimitar made of Marad steel which would add 2 Skill, but not while my current Skill matched my Initial Skill. And in a move Skyrim would applaud, another hidden trap-door would lead me straight back out of the fortress to my ship and an exit from Enraki Island.

I decided that for my next move I’d be a little more direct and actively seek out some vulnerable shipping channels for some delicious loot to swipe. Predictably, four days later and we were still looking across a flat, monotonous, empty horizon. But things soon changed when a passed Luck test saw us sail upon some floating driftwood that, full of teeth marks, appeared to be the wreckage of a vessel with less Luck than we have. Amongst the remains, a few barrels of booze were fished out and onto the deck of the Banshee for my crew to enjoy, although as they had yet to do anything useful, the 2 Crew Strength it restored were wasted.

Chalk up another four days of sailing south and a storm was brewing off the Shoals of Trysta, but Luck remained with us and we ploughed straight through it without any harm to ship or crew and went through to the island of Trysta itself.

A day later we landed and on disembarking a collection of well-tended, but apparently unsupervised fields welcomed us. The cows within these fields made my crew suggest we take a few for our ships provisions, but I decided to hold fire until we knew just whose cows they were. Heading out cross-country, we at last found some of the island’s occupants in the form of a heavily armed cavalry who sent out a herald to address us. And yes, I’m not being lazy, this is the first illustration I’ve come across.

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Oddly enough for a group of heavily armed warriors encountering a group of pirates sneaking across their land, they were remarkably friendly, ‘Adventurers, know that you are in the land of the King of the Four Winds and that His Majesty requests the pleasure of your company at his table’. How did he know we were here? Regardless, we set off to have dinner with the king. His castle was full of revelrie and whilst my crew indulged in wine and song, I took a seat next to king at the banquet table where through the course of our conversation I decided to be honest with him about who I was and how was in the middle of an all-in-good-fun pirate competition. He was actually very understanding of my predicament as Abdul had passed through these very halls a few days before. Perhaps that’s why the kings men were waiting for us? He had granted Abdul sacks containing the east and west winds and so felt it only fair he send me away with the north and south winds, also contained in sacks. None of which really makes sense, but I went with it anyway, he told us to open the bag containing the north wind on our way to Nippur and the west wind bag to return.

Leaving with full bellies, my crew became very interested in the sacks, thinking they be full of treasure, things were on the verge of turning nasty so rather than bribe them to keep their noses out I simply gave the scurvy dogs a volley of verbal abuse and they backed down. I’d found only 110g so far and wasn’t about to turn it over to these likely drunk idiots! The book then told me the actual point of these wind-bags and that was the manipulation of days spent travelling, standard checks were periodically being made against my Crew Strength (3D6) and these wind-bags would allow me to deduct 4 from the score in order to reduce the time spent travelling.

Two days of sailing south-west brought us to the Roc, an island formed by a mountain jutting out of the sea, rising up into the clouds, and so named due to the large species of bird that inhabit it. The text wasn’t lying either as one failed Luck test later and one of the things had swooped down at the ship and flown off with me in its talons. Typical.

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Fighting my way free seemed like a risky decision to do whilst in flight, but I went for it anyway against a very strong opponent (11/10) who managed to take me down to 12 Stamina – quite a blow given that the only way to heal in the absence of provisions was the 1 Stamina recovered per day of travel. Combat was a waste of time though as she safely dropped me into her nest alongside three large eggs. In the bottom of the nest however was a small hole which led into a tunnel which would form my escape route. In the tunnel I came across the mutilated bodies of a half dozen or so men, presumably old victims of the Roc. A chance for finding valuables was how I saw it and looked a bit closer. Unfortunately this didn’t reveal a huge jewel or a gleaming bag of gold, just worms, brain-eating worms, brain-eating worms that burst from the flesh of the dead bodies in my general direction. I was not wearing the Helmet of Ut-Napishtim as the text enquired and so the worms ate into my brain, reducing my body to a shell within minutes and filling my carcass with eggs ready to leap into the brain of the next person foolish enough to not wear a Helmet of Ut-Napishtim. Can you imagine being the kind of fool that wouldn’t wear one of those! Boy is my face red! But also, more importantly, my adventure was over.

The city of Tak is the greatest den of thieves, pirates and cut-throats that the civilized world has ever seen!

It’s been well over a year that I’ve had this one on the shelf, arriving at the same time as the last book I covered, Rings of Kether. It marks the final book in the trilogy of titles we received from Andrew Chapman, which can only be a good thing. I will certainly go into this one with a positive attitude though as it is at least set in the traditionally more successful fantasy setting as opposed to a Sci-Fi theme. The utterly dreadful illustrations of Rings of Kether are not an issue either as Bob Harvey who did some great work in Talisman of Death is on board here. Cover artist Rodney Matthews has worked on a lot of rock album covers over the years, Rick Wakeman, Diamond Head and loads of awesome sounding prog bands I’ve never heard of all show up on his Wikipedia, but he was slightly misled when creating this cover.

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You Are the Hero tells us that a mix-up with a Junior Editor over his creative briefing led to an unintentional Arabian feel to his work, but he remains proud of his involvement. Rodney has done a lot of great fantasy work, including some Lord of the Rings stuff, so he’s well worth a Google.

My memory brings two things about the book, one is that of its ship and crew orientated combat system and also having just been bought a copy as a child, impatiently having to try on new shoes in Keighley instead of getting to go home and start throwing dice around. What I don’t remember is if I actually liked the thing or not, the Review Archive throws up a mixed bunch, but seems to contain people throwing praise at Rings of Kether, so we won’t speak of that place again today.

What I certainly don’t remember is the Spectrum version of Seas of Blood, which is a text-based adventure I’ve just managed to find footage of on YouTube. It doesn’t look good.

Story-wise, things are similarly thin. We are playing as one nasty dude, we are a villainous pirate and we reside in the city of Tak at the northern end of the Inland Sea. Quite the tough guy, we are matched by only one other, Abdul the Butcher, a rival pirate who has agreed to a wager. The two of us will set sail for Nippur, each in a single ship and whoever accumulates enough gold and booty within a 50-day journey will be named the King of Pirates. No damsels, no big-evil, just bragging rights and a chance to play the bad guy. While simple, it does however make me itch to see exactly what I’ll find out there on the Inland Sea.

My memory of a specialised ruleset for the book was slightly correct, there are a few new things to remember. There is a large-scale battle system in place, but one which simply replaces Skill and Stamina for Crew Strike and Crew Strength. Our 50-day spree of plundering is to be tracked in a Log, so the time-limit is something to consider it seems, but a positive side-effect is that 1 Stamina is restored for every day added to the Log.

Other than that, it’s business as usual, so knowing Andrew Chapman we’re about to spend 50 days sailing down a long, straight corridor. Good luck Abdul, you’ll certainly need it! Yarr!

More books I probably won’t read for years at this rate

Before we crack on with the next book, there’s a few finds I should update the blog with. Twitter followers will have seen a few of these already I believe, but I’ve managed to get four separate additions to my collection.

Oxfam Books continues to be a rich vein and has given me three books across two different finds. One was a gift aid book in the form of Eye of the Dragon.

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Oxfam again came through with a more diverse and exciting show of green-spines, several of which I already had in my collection, but there were gaps to be filled by Crypt of the Sorcerer and Return to Firetop Mountain.

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And most recently this weekend, surprisingly, a random wandering through Poundland to buy a cheap pair of pliers and a lightbulb resulted in the unexpected sight of Mr. Ian Livingstone’s name!

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Oh how I long to read some books written by that man! Anyway, like I said, Seas of Blood coming soon… although I do need to get Pillars of Eternity finished before Dark Souls 3 appears so do bear with me!

No, really. Soon.

The Rings of Kether – Conclusions

The Rings of Kether was an annoying book, it was so close to being quite decent but ended up being a chore to read thanks to some fairly poor story development. I touched upon some of my issues from within my read-through, it was quite obvious where the flaws were coming up as I was reading it. My comments are of course made with the caveat that I understand I have only seen one path through the book, but it felt very much like I would have got to the end of the story regardless of what decisions I made.

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At its heart this is a sci-fi detective story, and so the detective work is crucial to making this story exciting and engaging. So why, back in that bar at the very start did I have to choose who to talk to through the roll of a dice? Why couldn’t I make a judgement of who was in the bar myself? It all went wrong from there really, I was bumbling along from one place to the next, following a woman into the city night for absolutely no reason whatsoever, just hoping that she might possibly be connected to a drugs cartel. It was very much just a chain of locations, one after the other without any input from me.

What could have saved this was a little puzzle solving, some need for me to assess evidence myself rather than being shuffled along to the next clue. A few red herrings would have been interesting too, again perhaps I missed this, but what if I’d chased down the wrong man or got caught out and faced some instant-death ‘my adventure was over’ endings’?

My write-up came only to two entries as this really was such an easy book with so little to describe, our bad guys were given almost no time at all and posed even less challenge to defeat. The same could be said for a lot of the combat, especially given that you find a blaster that does 6 Stamina damage at the start of the story, not that there is much combat. That goes for the underused space combat too, which I believe I only encountered once. Having said that though, I can understand and even welcome a reduced emphasis on combat when I’m supposed to be a detective and not a killing machine, but when there’s so little detective work to do it gives you an itchy trigger finger.

Artwork wasn’t something that elevated the experience either, that laboratory illustration still puzzles me, I don’t even really know what it’s supposed to depict. Where are the bubbling chemicals and arcing electricity? There were some more exciting ones though, the weird tripedal alien was something this book desperately needed more of, and there were some cool looking things I managed to miss. More space combat was out there if I’d made other choices…

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As were robotic dogs.

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A couple of crazy illustrations caught my eye as I flipped around the book too, although they look like they belong in a very different story!

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I’d especially loved to know what the hell that second one is about!

Then there are some film-star cameos, who I believe have gone uncredited to this day…

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Mark Hammil.

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Kevin Smith.

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And Bill Murray, who is clearly as tired of this book as I am. All in all, not quite as bad as Space Assassin, but very nearly so.

The Rings of Kether – Part 2

Hot on the tail of presumed drugs traffickers, Gross and Babbet, we find ourselves overlooking a space port on an island in the middle of nowhere. Somehow I was able to land my craft there without any opposition or interest and decided to take a change of tactic. Up until now I’d tried to be subtle as possible, but this time I decided against sneaking in through one of the freight entrances, got into a nearby anti-grav vehicle and crashed it straight through the doors. Seemed to do the job too as when the dust settled I was inside a freight area looking at the four heavily armed guards I’d just crushed against a load of packing crates full os Satophil-D, presumably intended for shipping to the mainland. There was a fifth person I found there though, and this person was curled upon the floor in quite a state, looking like he’d been chewed up by an animal or a skilled torturer. No identifying marks were found on him, but I did however find four Pep Pills to add to my collection.

Leaving the area through a corridor, I found myself in an octagonal room being examined by a large, multi-sensored robot who proceeded to ask me what was presumably a security question.

‘Red I am,
the heart of a scorpion,
yet not of Arachnia at all!
Pincers I have,
but I grasp with the unseen,
In one word, what am I?’

Well, I didn’t have a bloody clue what he was, but the options I had were to pick an answer beginning with A, S or X. Guessing ‘A’, I provided the answer Antares, which as we all know is a star in the Scorpius constellation… ahem. The machine was quite happy with my answer and let me pass through to a T-junction. Taking a right I didn’t get very far as the corridor ended at a digital console saying the next shuttle was due in around 75 hours. Heading back, I took the left turn instead.

On a large door was a brass plate which read ‘Zera Gross’. Opening the door, I headed into what was presumably the office of our favourite card-playing fat lady. And you know what? There she was, sitting and dictating notes to her robot secretary, but she saw me, stopped and then lunged for her blaster. A gun fight ensued, which despite her half decent stats of 8/11, she didn’t make her way out of alive. Only two hits were needed with my pilfered super auto blaster thing to immobilise her, but unfortunately our battle left the room in pieces and also a little bit on fire so there was nothing else to be taken from here.

In the next room I found a series of vidi-screens which detailed Satophil-d production and transport, the location of a nearby asteroid seemingly the place where this stuff was actually being made. And of course, we don’t get an illustration of key bad guy, Zera Gross, but we do get an illustration of some computer monitors. Get ready, it’s a corker…

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My next step was to take out this asteroid and so I set off in my ship, but found my progress hindered by a minefield.

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Using a Skill test I was able to carefully navigate my way through these explosives without triggering a single one, but what I failed to evade were the batteries of phasers which had detected my presence and I now had to have a taste of space combat with. Not a massive struggle though, their Weapon Strength of 9 and Shields of 6 wasn’t enough to stop me and I made my way to one of the emergency airlocks into the facility on the asteroid.

It wouldn’t be an Andrew Chapman sci-fi book without a long corridor, and that’s what a faced, leading down into the bowels of the asteroid. I took a detour though to check out a room to the side, but it contained nothing but pressure suits which were of no use to me. At the end of the tunnel was a cylindrical chamber which had a security sentinel which looked like some sort of 80’s puzzle spinning through the air towards me, blue electricity arcing through its core.

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Not wanting to mess about I leapt into the air and kicked the thing. A successful Skill test later and it was laid in a heap, sparking on the floor. What a wonderful technological marvel. Moving on I arrived at a cross-roads and took a right, went through an air-lock and found myself in a waste-disposal system being sucked out into space!

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A test of Luck saw me manage to grab an emergency lever though and the system was shut down, air rushed back into the chamber and I was able to continue onwards along the original tunnel. This came out into a cavernous area which was populated by large bulbous creatures with searching tentacles, a series of spheres with handles hung above them. Seems like a slightly inconvenient way to make your drugs trafficking gang members get around, but then I’m not an intergalactic drug lord.

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A series of Skill tests saw me manage to swing from handle to handle and cross the room to the laboratory. Now believe it or not, this illustration is supposed to be a laboratory.

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I could never have imagined a space drugs laboratory could look so utterly boring. According to the text I ‘busy myself destroying some of the equipment’. Must keep ones self busy. Two exits to the room were available, a continuation of the corridor or a side door.

Moving through the door a tripedal alien holding electronic bracers was stood before me on a narrow bridge, he shouted ‘Halt!’ and fired a few bolts of electrons at me. At last! Something actually exciting is happening!

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This Arcturian Vanque had some easy enough stats to deal with (7/10) and he was gunned down pretty quickly. Along this path I came to a T-junction and took a right, the control panel of the asteroid facilities nuclear reactor stood before me, but any ideas of fleeing from a timed explosion were soon dismissed when I found I didn’t possess the key to operate the system. Boo. So I headed back and took the left turn instead.

I found myself in a small cubic room, each surface seemed to be a door with a button in the middle. I set about hitting these buttons. I had to hit them in the right sequence, each failed attempt lost me 1 Stamina point. Perhaps the sequence was revealed at some point, but if it had, I missed it and so blind luck was required. A little trial and error saw me through until one of the doors opened up to reveal what seemed to be a living area, and a sumptuous one at that. A folded screen was beside the door and in the middle of the room were two identical figures, which the text informs me ‘must‘ be Blaster Babbet… odd as I have no evidence as to what he looks like. Regardless, he was about to attack, so rather than shoot one of them I took the option to try an alternative course of action and dived behind the folded screen. Behind it was the real Blaster Babbet, the figures I had seen were merely reflections, and so with his 10/8 stats in my way, I took on the kingpin of the operation.

Like his few henchmen, he didn’t last long and I was told to turn to 400 for the epic, well-earned ending…

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…sigh.

My adventure was thankfully over.