Gaming on a Timer

A Sorcerous! Adventure – Let’s Play Steve Jackson’s Sorcery!

Chapter 1 – In Which The Question Of Unpronouncables Is Raised; Magic Is Learned And Promptly Fogotten; Sightmasters Are Proven To Be Jerks.

Kakhabad, Khare, Baklands, Mampang; the road has been perilous but one gnawing, niggling thought is constantly at the back of my mind, a permanent wondering that no amount of monsters or deadly traps has managed to dislodge.

How the hell do I pronounce all these names?

A brief aside at the beginning – while this series of posts is intended in to be a humorous re-telling of my adventures through the Sorcery! games from the point of view of the player character, I will occasionally use green italicized text to separate my out-of-character thoughts on the game. Anything not quoted should be taken as being acted out by the protagonist.

An old, pitted crown rests on the pedestal in front of me, looking slightly… less regal than what you’d expect from something called “The Crown of Kings”; however, the aura surrounding it leaves no doubt as to its power. Also, it’s giving me an itchy nose, which probably explains why all those paintings of old kings have that god-awful expression.

Stretching my hand to touch it, I am suddenly dismayed to find out that it’s only an illusion, a mere flickering image of the real Crown. As I turn around, I notice something approaching and then…

With a snort and a jerk, I am awake, no longer in the Fortress of Mampang (seriously, how do you pronounce that?), but in the hut kindly lent to me by the Sightmaster in charge of this outpost; though, kindness is probably not quite the right word. A more appropriate one would be… whatever you’d call a mixture of pity and fear, I suppose.

I quite liked the intro to the game; basically, you’re given a dream and/or vision of things to come in later chapters, which is a nice bit of foreshadowing. It also made me wonder whether this little tidbit of foreknowledge is going to be any useful when we do actually get to Mampang in the game.

The whole “fear” aspect is evident from the way the Outpost Settlement dwellers treat you; it is clearly that the storyteller wanted to impress upon the player how helpless his quest seemed, as villagers are either avoiding or downright terrified of you for having to venture beyond the Wall surrounding the kingdom.

As I rise from the bed, my belongings come into focus; I quickly get dressed, pray to any gods I can remember from my mother’s scoldings and pick up my blade. Against my better judgment, I decide to test its sharpness by running my thumb across the edge and…

Thumbs up!
Sword-testing 101. Not pictured: pain.

The outpost medic had some very rude opinions about what he called “a total lack of professionalism” as well as forwarding some pretty… colorful opinions regarding donkeys and being made into one, for some reason. Admittedly, I did not catch most of what he was saying, as I was slightly more preoccupied with screaming and bleeding all over the place.

In the actual game, the character tests his/her blade’s sharpness by running the edge across their thumb, drawing a thin line of blood. I’ve never really understood this sub-trope of fantasy, personally; then again, I hate pain and personal injury while, I suspect, a fondness for those is practically a pre-requisite for any successful medieval hero.

Exiting the medic’s hut, I’m greeted by the Sightmaster Sergeant. Even though he wears a mask covering his face entirely, I’m pretty sure he just rolled his eyes in a most ironic way; I blush slightly but decide to play along and greet him.

Pleasantries having been exchanged, he offers me a pouch of gold as a gift from the King. Opening the suspiciously light pouch, I discover it only holds a measly twenty four gold pieces; at first I am insulted at how cheaply the Kingdom treats its Hero, but then I remember I’m their last hope exactly because I would be the last person they would ever want to send on such a quest – all better options having been exhausted already- and thus I pocket them quietly.

The Sergeant also informs me that I should pick up some supplies and a spellbook; I thank him and move towards the mage’s tent.

There is an option here that allows you to take half or none of the coins, which acts as a soft-difficulty selection; less gold means you can buy less rations for your journey, as well as depriving you of the reagent for one of the better protection spells a bit later on. Later in Episode 1 (which is helpfully titled “The Shamutanti Hills” after the area it plays out in), we will also need a bit of gold for some of the events you can optionally do, so this time around the protagonist is taking all the help he can get; in his mind, altruism is shorthand for “death wish”.

After a long, long lecture by the resident mage, I’m now ready to pick up my supplies for the long journey ahead. A slight headache from all the lecturing on magic is also developing, which might be why I was in such a foul mood when I was kindly informed by the merchant that I was to pay for my supplies!

“What do you mean, they’re not free? I’m supposed to be on a quest to save the kingdom!” I roar, in a disbelieving tone.

“What’ya expect, ya daft fool? I need t’ make my living somehow, and dead men don’t pay debts as well as ye’d hope.” he shoots back, a smirk slowly forming on his face.

“What do you mean, “dead men”? I’m not going to die! Look, I even have a spellbook!” I reply, a bit hurt.

“Aren’t you the guy that managed to slice his thumb off on his own sword, then?”

“That, uh, was… erm… just testing how sharp it was, right? In fact…. yes! In fact, that just goes to show how good my equipment is, my sword can slice a finger off without me even trying to!”, I retort, pleased at my quick thinking; my smile quickly evaporates though, when the shopkeep starts laughing uncontrollably.

“Tell ya what”, he says when the laughter dies down, “for that, I’ll give you a special deal: 10 gold for six packs of rations. How’s that sound, eh?”.

Deciding to not press my luck any further, I count out ten gold pieces and thank him, as he packs and places the rations within my backpack.

“Make sure to eat every day, or ye’ll weaken, y’hear?”, he yells at my retreating back.

The above line is not mine, but an almost verbatim copy of what the Sightmaster Sergeant tells you when you buy your first rations. While I understand the need for the developers to give the player a heads-up on the food mechanic, it also tends to pull me out of the experience when a fully grown man (who is supposed to be going on a quest to save the kingdom, no less) needs to be told they must eat food on a daily basis.

Allow me to indulge myself a bit as well, by poking a bit of fun at the age-old “complaint” of tabletop and computer RPG players everywhere; namely, how come I don’t get stuff for free if I’m saving all you people?!

Filing that last bit of advice for later use, I stride back to the Sightmaster; he leads me in front of a massive wooden gate, a multitude of metal chains and padlocks securing it against the denizens of the Shamutanti Hills.

“Aw man, that must be a pain to unlock, eh?”, I ask the Sightmaster Sargeant; regretting it almost immediately. Even though I can’t see his face, I am sure the Sightmaster is smirking.

“I wouldn’t know, lad. You’re gonna do that with those fancy spells you got in that spell book of yours.”

Yet another case of how tutorials can break verisimilitude. The writer makes a valiant effort to explain how the only door that connects this outpost with the neighboring town of Khare is always locked (in fact, ever since the last champion set out to retrieve the Crown – though we’re not told how long ago that was); this falls a bit flat when you consider that you are required to use magic, which is described as draining the caster’s stamina to fuel the spell.

Interestingly enough, there is also an option to forego magic altogether, which I suppose alters this vignette slightly – perhaps it would be good to consider for a second play through.

“So what you’re saying is that I should expend my very vitality, my essence so to speak, so that you people can be spared the effort of unlocking a few padlocks?!”, I say incredulously, a look of disbelief on my face as I stare at the Sergeant.

He nods. I sigh in quiet resignation. I am also pretty certain that, behind that mask of his, he’s grinning, the cheeky sod.

Does this mean POD locks doors?
The DOP spell – in one easy payment of the caster’s stamina.

I desperately try to remember the boring, boring lecture I got from the camp’s wizard when he gave me the spellbook – raking my mind for the letters of power that will unlock the door and allow me to finally embark on my fateful journey.

And suddenly, three letters shine in my mind’s eye, the spell of unlocking:

*D* *O* *P*

Slowly, the door creaks open with an altogether unsatisfying thud – a noise that suspiciously sounded like a disembodied voice saying *dop* very quietly.

A grin slowly spreads across my face, my first spell successfully cast; with that small victory, I slowly fall backwards, exhausted from the mental effort.

Just before I pass out, I am almost certain the Sightmaster Sergeant is laughing behind that mask of his. The bastard.

Spells in Sorcery! usually come with a price to pay for using them; in the case of DOP (which is one of the cheapest spells available), that cost comes to one point of Stamina. Considering that Stamina acts as your character’s life bar as well, that is pretty expensive – thus the idea of a less apt caster like our protagonist fainting from exertion after managing to cast said spell.

First entry done. When I first started writing for the intro area, I did not expect for it to drag this long; hopefully subsequent parts will be much shorter (as the lore-building is always pretty thickly-laid at the start of the game). Until then…

Next week: Setting foot in Shamutanti proper for the first time!

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