Sunday, July 22, 2012

Adventure Begins Here - The Renegade Wizard

Once upon a time the fields of interactive books were plentiful and selection abounded. As the 80’s progressed and gave way to the 90’s, though, videogames became more advanced and Choose Your Own Adventure-style literature became less remarkable in terms of what it could offer instead. Videogames started to have protagonists with identities, plots, supporting casts. Not to mention they had a more visceral feel with the way you directed every dodge, every magic spell, every roundhouse kick to an enemy’s head. These days an interactive book has to be pretty special for anybody to take much notice. Like oh, Thrusts of Justice.

Unfortunately, The Renegade Wizard isn’t that special.

You’re Toby, the squire of a famous knight who’s part of an army being assembled to capture a, well, renegade wizard who’s finally been cornered in his underground lair. Totally unexpectedly, as soon as your brave and righteous forces get within a day’s journey they’re annihilated by a sneak attack by orcs and the wizard’s dark magic. It’s up to you, the spunky underdog, to seek out the evil wizard in his lair and shine the beacon of justice in his sneering face.

I have nothing against the author for throwing his hat into the ring by trying to give those of us nostalgic for our Fighting Fantasies and Lone Wolves something to snack on. It’s just that most of the bog standard fantasy cliches I can think of are thrown at the reader and expected to stick, with no effort on display to make them fresh in any way. It’s left to one person to do the job an army couldn’t. That person is a relative nobody you wouldn’t logically expect to be up to hunting down an evil wizard. Your mentor makes a heroic sacrifice so you can go on and continue the quest. You have the chance of venturing into an ancient section of the caverns to find something powerful to aid your quest…but no-one who’s ever gone in there has ever returned.

When you corner the evil wizard, he gives a speech about what fools his colleagues were in the Circle of Wizards (or whatever it’s called in this fantasy world). Your character responds with a trite speech about the need for law and order and how if wizards set themselves up as gods then blah blah blah. Near the end you’re even given a rival in a character you’d probably barely even remember if I hadn’t just mentioned this.

The writing is just so dry, and at times verges on the redundant. For instance, “the language of the forest: identifying tracks left by animals of the forest,” and “A bookshelf dominates one wall, heavy with books.”

The gaming part itself isn’t exactly bad, but is just as generic as the rest of the book. After being handed your impossible quest, your mentor suggests you get help from either a barbarian, a wizard, or an elf ranger lady. Anyway you get a basic skill, like a bonus to combat rolls or the ability to read runes (yeah, read runes. No magic), along with some helpful item like a shield or a bow, then your tutor turns you loose on your quest. Because while they’re perfectly willing to train you to do it, none of these guys much care about stopping a megalomaniacal wizard, it seems.

Combat and skill checks and whatnot are fairly basic, with you trying to beat a certain number on dice, the higher your result the better. It’s easy enough to learn and keeps thing from getting bogged down on account of mechanics, but because of the blandness of the writing it feels like a chore dying over and over again to learn where enemies are so you can avoid them, and finding sources of healing and better weapons to cope with the ones you can’t avoid.

There's also the mechanic of “Hero Points” that can turn any of your failed rolls into a success and an enemy’s successful roll into a failure to represent those improbable strokes of luck the heroes always have in grand adventures. While not strictly original (the James Bond RPG back in 1983 had the same idea, and there might well be even earlier examples), it’s a cute mechanic. They aren't unlimited, though, and you'll want to be choosy about when you spend them as you get deeper and deeper into the dungeon.

Lastly, “Adventure Begins Here” is apparently the name for a proposed series should this book do well enough (according to its entry at Amazon). Not the choice I would’ve made.

You can skip this one without any regrets.

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