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Book 04: The Chasm of Doom» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Bandits of Undeath rss

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Eric Dodd
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On to Book 04: The Chasm of Doom. Now Lone Wolf is starting to feel like Cincinnatus, called back from his farm to sort out Sommerlund’s problems. The land of Ruanon to the South provides gold and minerals to the crown, but the monthly supply was suddenly cut off with no explanation. Now a relief column has also gone missing and YOU are sent in to investigate and sort out the mystery. Is there enough here to keep a hero occupied? Is there something more sinister than simply banditry behind the missing gold shipments?

SYSTEM:
Lone Wolf is a d10 based system. Your new character is rolled up with Combat Skill of 10+1d10 and Endurance Points of 20+1d10. A die is not needed, as there is a page of random numbers from 0 - 9 that you can poke at blindfolded. A new feature in character generation is the selection of "Kai Disciplines". There are a choice of ten, from which five are picked for a starting character. Surviving each adventure allows a character an extra Discipline, like a simple experience system. You also get additional gold for each adventure, which may eventually be useful.

There is a complicated equipment system - you can carry 2 weapons, up to 50 gold crowns, eight standard items in your backpack (including meals), and any number of Special items (usually items vital to completing the adventure). Shields add to your Combat skill, but Armour adds to your Endurance ... interesting.

Combat involves comparing your Combat Skill with that of your opponent or opponents. This gives a "Combat Ratio" (actually a straight Combat skill difference, not a ratio) which is checked against a d10 roll (or random number pick) to give damage to Endurance to Lone Wolf and his opponent. For example, if Lone Wolf has Combat skill 15, and he is fighting a pirate with Combat skill 13 then the column to be checked is "+2". Results vary from 4 damage to enemy / 5 damage to Lone Wolf if a 1 is rolled, up to 14 damage to enemy / 0 damage to Lone Wolf if a 10 is rolled. If either party is much stronger than the other then an instant kill is possible. So be careful who you pick on. You can sometimes evade combat, which gives you a chance of taking an unprotected blow as you flee the scene.

Unlike Fighting Fantasy / Sorcery there are no Skill or Luck checks. You either have a skill or don't have it. Just because you do have a skill doesn't mean you will automatically get the best result - often you are just given some extra information and still get to make a choice. In this book, you usually only have one skill that is applicable in any circumstance, Skills are not equal in value, and picking one or two here will make your success much easier. There are random rolls, sometimes to pick an encounter, and sometimes to determine an outcome. Having a Skill or having reached a level of Kai ability may give you a bonus on some of these rolls.

The system works well, though the straight d10 distribution (11-20 for skill, 21-30 for endurance) means that the odds are just as likely you will have a below average character as an average or above average one. A poor character will find it very hard in combat, even with the table weighted in your favour. The big modifier here is the Sommerswerd - if you picked it up in Book 2 you get a constant +8 to your Combat Skill, and do double damage to any undead foes.

SETTING:
In a similar way to Sorcery, the Lone Wolf books are all set in the same world and tell a continuing story. You are the last of a vaguely mystical monk-like warrior caste, the Kai Lords. You get to choose your individual skills, but your missions are strictly defined by each book. In Chasm of Doom you are sent at the head of 50 elite mounted Rangers to the southern lands of Ruanon. The King orders you to find Captain D’Val and any of his surviving troops, find out what has happened to Ruanon and restore the situation. You seem to have a wide brief, and more responsibility for others than in previous quests. The world is known as Magnamund, the action here taking place in The Lastlands, the free kingdoms of the North.

You travel through occupied, though bandit-ravaged lands, hills, forests and mines to explore the mystery, find the missing men and sort out the situation. The climate is temperate, but there are many active enemies seeking your death.

SPOILERS FROM HERE ON

FREEDOM OF CHOICE:
This time there’s definitely only one successful paragraph, where you find the last of D’Val’s command, see off the bandits, kill the necromancer and save the captured maiden. You have to do all these things to win, but you do have a number of options as to where and how much you investigate before you get to the big battle. You can escape from many combats by sneaking past them or running, but there are certainly more fights in this book than in Caverns of Kalte. I like that in some of the battle combats Escaping is actually a better option than fighting.

There are a number of choices where your skills may give you clues as to the best option, but at other times you just have to make a guess and hope for the best. From underground your Tracking and Hunting skills will be useful. There are a number of sudden deaths, one of which is particularly nasty as you learn personally just what the successful ritual has called up… Another death close to the very end is very unfair with no clue as to why one choice is so dangerous.

DESIGN: As distinct from the journey across the icy wastes of Book 3, there is a well formed road to follow, and most of your initial choices are about whether to vere off the road to investigate things or to stop and talk to the people you meet on the road. You can either get through the book without much clue about what has happened, or explore every incident and learn all you can about the dangers awaiting you. It’s a shame that investigation doesn’t give you any kind of a bonus against ambush or in later combats. Really a lot of the encounters are only there to help explain the story, but you always know enough to know what to do next. There are 350 paragraphs, though many are quite long and it’s a thicker book than Book 3. The bonus of Gary Chalk’s rounded pre-Raphaelite illustrations really help with the atmosphere of the book. There are 21 full page illustrations, plus numerous unique drawings that all refer to the nearby text. This is much better than the Fighting Fantasy filler illustrations which are generally irrelevant. There are however no clues or puzzles in the pictures in this book.

Finally there’s a moral consequence for attacking innocent people in this series! Attacked two hooded monks without provocation and you lose the Holy Water that you can use in the final conflict. You are also told you feel guilty for killing them. That’s more heroic than previous books, at least. Otherwise you get to decide how to treat the travelling players and local people you meet, from ignoring them to treating them as friends.

There are no cursed items this time, but there are certainly doors and locations you shouldn’t open or visit. In general, any bad results for your choices are made quickly obvious, rather than having a long term problem. One encounter sees you suffer from psychotropic fungus, fighting against demons of your own mind. Damage you take is from crashing against the rough walls. I quite like this encounter and it doesn’t seem too unfair. If you have the Sommerswerd you’ll find most of the fights pretty easy ,but the number of fights mean that you still need to be cautious before attacking everything in sight. A number of enemies have special poisons or other deadly attacks that no level of Combat Skill will protect you against. In general, the decisions you have to make seem fair and logical, and advance the story in an interesting way.

CONCLUSION: Books 1 to 3 form the first part of the Lone Wolf story, while Books 4 and 5 tell another story. While there are items and characters that carry on from the first books, only the Sommerswerd is vital for your survival and name as the hero of legend. Chasm of Doom is also a good story to borrow and adapt for your own campaign - a hero sent to investigate a seemingly minor disappearance that turns into a major battle and then a fight to stop a world-ending ritual. Lone Wolf might not be growing too much in his personality, but his world becomes more interesting and intriguing as you explore it, and as the stakes become higher.
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Simon Lundström
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Now who are these five?
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I like these writeups!
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Eric Dodd
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Thanks! Number 5 to come soon, I hope.
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