Gaming on a Timer

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

Chapter 1.5 – Where Our Hero Finally Awakens; The Extreme Danger Of Shopping Becomes Apparent; The Usefulness Of Tree-Climbing Is Discussed.

…as the shadows lift from my eyes, I find myself sprawled on the ground; before me are the Gates, the massive wooden doors that, up until now guarded the way to the Shamutanti Hills. A pile of massive chains and padlocks lies neatly in front of them, the result of my impromptu spellcasting.

I shakily get to my feet, while the Sightmaster Sergeant pointedly does nothing to help. I wait for a moment, in case he offers any words of praise. Or encouragement. Or even support? After a minute or so of awkward silence, I’d have settled for him swearing; but alas, the Sightmaster remains stoically silent as I dust myself off.

Even so, I am almost certain he is grinning behind that stupid mask of his.

“Well”, I sigh resignedly, “could you give me some information on the surrounding area?”

“Of course.”, he replies, a hint of amusement in his voice. “What would you like to know?”.

“Could you tell me what lies ahead? It never hurts to be prepared.”, I say with a glimmer of hope; perhaps the Sergeant can be of use after all.

“Well”, he replies after turning to stare beyond the Gate for a moment, “ahead of you lies Cantopani, a small town of traders and cutthroats. You had best avoid it.”

“Oh, you mean that little town over there?”, I answer, pointing at the cluster of buildings a few miles to the east of the Settlement.

“Indeed”, he says gravely, “you will not find a more wretched hi-“.

“Yes, right, but even I can see Cantopani from here. How about what lies beyond that?”, I interrupt him testily.

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(Not quite) a battle against the Sightmaster

His voice takes a weird tone, which to my surprise sounds a lot like embarrassment.

“Well, I… uh…ahem. I cannot say what lies beyond Cantopani, for my sight is obscured.”, he manages in a slow, deliberate tone.

In the actual game, the Sergeant isn’t really all that helpful beyond the combat tutorial; for all the praise the game gives Sightmasters about their supernatural eyesight, he can only inform you on Cantopani, the immediately next area you’ll visit on your journey; and then, only a few lore snippets and nothing of actual ‘use’.

I can easily imagine a protagonist who gets annoyed at the supernatural know-it-all being full of hot air, but the game won’t allow him to reply in kind.

Interestingly, in the Steam version of Sorcery 1 & 2, there is an additional line instructing the player to head for high ground as soon as they obtain the Crown; I imagine this is a retcon that came with the benefit of hindsight (as the Steam release came after Sorcery! 4 – the final episode – released on iOS/Android).

At first I consider poking a bit of fun at his expense, as I am almost certain that under that annoying mask of his, he is scowling. Then I remember how this morning’s blade-testing session ended and decide not to push my luck; instead, I reply with a dry “Thanks” before turning towards the gate and stepping outside the Settlement.

A few minutes pass, as I walk towards Cantopani; determined not to be entirely unheroic  and look back, I instead jog briskly ahead. This does not last for long, though, as soon I find myself out of breath. Belatedly, one of the mage’s remarks from this morning’s forced lessons comes to mind:

“The pestilence of the Baklands seeps into the Shamutanti Hills. You’ll find yourself tiring easier than normally.”

Some damned birds chirp around me, but I’m too tired to pay any attention or shoo them away. The minutes pass as I slowly feel some of my strength returning; eventually I can walk again and do so, albeit much slower than before.

The above are condensed versions of in-game events; as soon as you leave the Settlement, the game will reduce your maximum stamina from 20 to 10, as the… corruption of the Baklands (or something like that) saps the protagonist’s strength.

I suppose this is meant as an “explanation” of whatever leveling system Sorcery! uses; the in-game text hints that the protagonist will slowly “get used to it” which, if true, is a neat way of explaining why your stamina increases as you progress through the story.

The bit with the birds is also taken almost verbatim from in-game  text – infuriatingly for any completionists, the game mentions that you might be able to communicate with them, if only you had the reagents to do so. I’ve seen a couple spells that fit this function, but both require material components which I’ve not been able to get in the Settlement, so…. argh.

This kind of teasing should be punishable by public flogging. Jerks.

 Soon, I find myself before the entrance to Cantopani; what I see lying just ahead is a stretch of dilapidated housing, ramshackle huts and cottages – technically a settlement, but generally what a less polite person might be inclined to call an “embarrassing mess”.

A powerful stench assails my nostrils almost immediately – I can barely make out the individual smells but I think there’s some manure, a good deal of livestock (especially pig) and a sort of acidic substance my nose can’t quite identify.

The second thing that hits me is a strange sensation, like I’m being… watched. While trying to figure this out, a voice from near my navel rings out:

“Oi, you, what’s yer business in Cantopani, eh?”, it asks, in a not entirely friendly tone.

I turn around, then downwards. Then smile. That smile is immediately cut short, though, along with my breath, as the third thing to hit me is a  fist, into my stomach. Its owner swiftly comes into view as I drop to my knees; I wheeze and try to get my bearings, while he goes on to say:

“Wiped that smirk offa yer face, didn’t I?”, the voice cackles. “Now, lemme repeat meself – what’s yer bloody business in Cantopani, hm?”

I try to desperately think through the pain. What -was- my intention for entering Cantopani to begin with? My mind wanders back to the Sightmaster Sergeant; his suggestion was to head around Cantopani, not through it. But then a thought struck me as I neared the town…

“I want to visit the local merchants!”, I exclaim, half to myself, half to the voice, which apparently belongs to the short, bearded peasant in front of me. His face, half-hidden by a vivid crimson beard, immediately splits into a manic grin.

As a quasi-perfectionist, I always find it kind of hard to give in-character explanations for the protagonist’s actions, as the reason I chose to enter Cantopani is because some of the items in the storehouse are useful in the latter parts of the game, and avoiding the town basically gains you nothing useful by comparison.

It always amuses me to think of most of these “heroic” personas as actually being indecisive and/or psychopaths who follow the voices in their heads in lieu of actually thinking things through

“Ah, ye shoulda  said so, eh?” he replies, and his voice takes a tone that I’m not that comfortable with; a sense of foreboding surges through my body – as he continues he is almost giddy with glee.

“I’ve got just the thing for a… discerning customer like yourself, me lord!”, he exclaims; I’m pretty certain by the inflection used that ‘discerning customer’ is local shorthand for ‘sucker’.

I get to my feet unsteadily, then follow the peasant down the central – and only – road through the village. About halfway through the village he stops, then points to a nearby building.

“Here ye’ll be findin’ anything to yer fancy, so long as you’ve got the coin, eh?”, he smirks, then pushes the door open. I step inside and take a look around.

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With a merry JIG

The storehouse I find myself in is mostly dark, daylight barely filtering through the grimy windows. The shelves all around me seem pretty bare, with the exception of a few agricultural items that are of no use to me. Before long, a voice echoes from the far end of the room.

“Flea, I see you brought me a…. customer.”, it intones in a deep, rolling voice that echoes around the nearly-empty room. This voice sounds different, somehow; in comparison to my guide, it feels… dangerous. Its owner, while not much taller than the bearded peasant, is at least twice as wide, giving the man the appearance of a short, round dumpling.

My guide bows towards this person, then promptly takes to his heels and runs out into the street, the door thunking close behind him.

“Greetings, sire,”, I say, turning towards the short, fat man, and bowing. He returns my greetings and smiles slightly.

“Greetings, traveler.”, he simply replies.

“Might you be the owner of this….”, I begin, then struggle for a moment while looking around the dilapidated storehouse, before rallying and continuing “… fine establishment?”.

“Indeed I am,”, he replies, “and it has been quite some time since a… customer last passed through Cantopani”. The feeling of foreboding is suddenly back; I almost missed it last time, but the way he pronounces ‘customer’ sounds not entirely unlike ‘victim’ to my ears.

“Well, uh, yeah,” I mumble, “could I see your wares, then? I am in a hurry to reach Khare by nightfall, you see.”

He nods, then disappears through the back door for a few moments. When he returns, his hands are laden with a variety of items. I quickly single out three items: a wooden flute, a weirdly ornate axe and a bag of what feels like dice. At this last choice, the merchant smiles slyly; instinctively I try to open the bag, but he stops me.

“Can’t afford you palming off one of them while I’m not looking, can I?”, he smirks. I sigh, but keep hold of the bag. My curiosity has gotten the better of me, so I place it alongside the axe and the flute. The rest of the items do not appear to be of any use to me, so I nod to the shopkeep and reach for my coin pouch.

“That will be thirteen gold pieces, sire.”, he says, palm outstretched towards me. I count out the coins with a grunt, collect my newly purchased items and step outside.

Now that daylight is more readily available, I start examining the items I just purchased.

My gaze first falls on the axe, which I purchased as a replacement for my notched dagger. The head felt oddly ornamental in the gloom of the storehouse and now, in the relative sunshine of the Hills, I can read an inscription on the haft. It reads – This is the Axe of  Glandragor the Protector – in crooked, worn-out letters.

Making a mental note of the name, I swing it around once or twice, very nearly missing the door to the storehouse; despite my unfamiliarity with this kind of weapon, it feels quite easy to handle and should give me an advantage in future confrontations.

Pleased with myself, I sling the axe on my belt, then turn my attention to the flute. I almost passed this up, but a small voice at the back of my head convinced me otherwise – I had the feeling that it’ll come in handy soon. I play a few distorted notes on the flute; when nothing happens I shove it back in my backpack and reach for the bag of dice.

…which turns out to be a bag of teeth. Some small, some big, a few pearly white and others brownish, I reach into the bag in disgust and take out the largest one; it’s so big as to have come from something monstrous. Anger takes over almost immediately; I’ve been had!

In the game proper, there is a “fake” item, so to speak, but it’s not the teeth; those are actually quite valuable, as they can be used as reagents for certain spells, including the ever-useful “BIG” spell, which enlarges the caster to the size of an ogre for a little while.

No, the fake item is actually labeled as “Dragon’s Tear” in the shop list, which promptly turns out to be an ice cube which melts as soon as you exit the store. While I didn’t mind getting hoodwinked like that (it is hinted in-game that this item is a scam), it kind of bothers me that they never explain how the hell the damn thing remains frozen just until you buy it?

Disgusted, I turn around and push open the door to the storehouse. Or at least, I try to. While my attention was turned to my new purchases, the shopkeep apparently locked the door to his establishment.

“All sales are final!”, I hear him say behind the door, laughing in a very unpleasant way.

“Yeah?!” I exclaim, momentarily losing my composure, “well, I’ve got that axe you sold me right here, too, and last I heard, those are really good for hewing wood!”. I raise my axe to break the door down and…

“Yer kind ain’t welcome here, stranger”, a voice whispers behind me. A second voice adds “Yeah, we don’t like you aggressive types comin’ into Cantopani, yeah?”. Both voices sound menacing and, more importantly, well-armed.

I slowly turn around and confirm that, indeed, the two persons standing just behind me are armed with sharp swords and even sharper gazes. I finally put two and two together and realize my mistake.

“Just… just tell me, is everyone in the village in on this?”, I sigh resignedly.

“Heh, won’t matter much to you, will it?”, the taller of the two bandits sneers. “Just give us all your stuff and we’ll let ya go, right?”, the second one supplies, almost helpfully.

“Right, right… so, uh…”, I stutter. Then, the weird sensation I felt when I first touched the flute returns. Slowly, as if I’m not entirey in control of my actions, I fish it out of the bag, raise it to my lips and start playing. What happens next is surprising, to say the least.

*J* *I* *G*

The bandits start dancing to the off-key tune I’m playing; their hands flail around so much that they drop their swords. I decide that this is my chance to escape, so without a further look behind me, flute still at my lips, I start walking backwards. The first few steps become strides, then I turn around and break into a run as the flute’s music stops abruptly.

Another minor deviation from the in-game events; what happens canonically is that the bandits (totally unrelated to the shopkeep) ambush you at the exit to Cantopani.

There are two ways to deal with them, not counting just surrendering your belongings to them (which, as any seasoned adventure or RPG enthusiast will tell you, is not an option): you can either fight them, or cast one of three spells – JIG, which you can use to dance them either back to Cantopani, or off a cliff to their deaths, FOF, which creates a forcefield that spooks them into retreating, or LAW, which can give control of non-intelligent life; since they are human, this one leads into a fight as the spell fizzles (since they’re intelligent beings).

The most efficient option is JIG, as it doesn’t use up any reagents or cost stamina to cast, and whose sole material reagent is the flue you (hopefully) just picked up from the shopkeep.

A few minutes later,  I am finally out of Cantopani, and decidedly out of breath. As  I try to catch my breath, I hear a voice above me cry out.

“You’re not out of it yet, lad! Get up here before those thugs catch up to you!”. It’s an elderly voice, apparently coming from the exceedingly old man perched high up the tree. I can barely see his head protruding from the thickly-woven leaves and branches that form the top half of the tree in front of me.

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“How long have you been up there anyway?!”

“Come, come!”, he continues, “They are but five minutes away, and if they catch you after what you did to them…”. At that, my body takes over, propelling me up into the branches of the tree, where I am sure I’m invisible to anyone standing at ground level.

Sure enough, no sooner than I’ve managed to regain my composure, the ruffians from Cantopani reach us. They rest for a moment in the tree’s shade, then resume their chase towards Khare, thankfully unaware of me and my mysterious benefactor’s hiding place right above their heads.

After a few more minutes have passed in tense silence, I turn to the old man that had helped me hide; his wizened features did not look entirely sane, but there was something familiar about him… While still trying to figure this out, he turns to me and says “Welp, time to get off’en this tree, aye?”. I nod, and make to drop a few branches down, when he pulls at me.

I look up into his blushing face and realisation slowly dawns. “You’re stuck, aren’t you?”, I ask incredulously. He nods, embarrasment clear upon his face. I sigh, then reach towards him…

*CRACK*

The branch I was standing on on was apparently not as healthy as the rest of the tree, as it snaps under the combined weight of myself and the old man. As we fall, the last thing I can hear is the old man going “Wheeeee!” before everything goes dark…

Another chapter done; slightly less humourous than the last one, if only because the act of buying supplies does not have as much comedy potential.

Still haven’t figured a way to make these LP’s shorter without cutting out stuff too much. Oh well, at least I think the whole “end the post with the protagonist blacking out” thing is shaping up to be a running gag; those are always fun to use…

Next week: Onwards to Khare!

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