Flicker flames and haunted faces
Shuffling feet find empty spaces
Moving shadows, someone's hurting
Huddle closer, campfire burning.

Thursday 12 January 2012

The Legend of Drizzt (and other stories)

Another wife story (are we really all so friendless?). Even though she's not particularly fond of my latest obsession she's declared that Wednesday night is and always will be game night--I think she sees it as a family activity preferably to living in thrall of the Xbox or television, a state in which my sister-in-law and her kids (whom we're currently living with) find themselves 97% of the time.

Working in reverse, our second game of the night was Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer, at which she soundly thrashed me. She doesn't like deck-builders at all--she downright hates Dominion and I haven't had the courage to try Thunderstone on the table--because they're 'too stressful' and she's always worried she'll do something wrong. By contrast, I love them, but I'm shit at them. I wasn't paying attention to whatever she was doing on her side of the table so by the end of the night she had a wall of constructs so impressive it was probably visible from space. Collecting so many gems instead of a handful of Provinces gave her the time to set up a decent engine. In Dominion I charge in with a modified Big Money while she's trying to show off her deck-building side--for someone who claims not to 'get' deck-builders, it certainly came to the fore last night.

First game of the night was The Legend of Drizzt, in which we attempted the second scenario using Drizzt and Regis the Halfling thief. She has a role-playing background and was probably a little disappointed the game's all strategic use of combat skills and lucky card-pulls/die-rolls, but at least she wasn't put off by the setting.

Much of the game played out in the pull tile/play monster/kill monster sequence typical of D&D adventure games. We had some unlucky encounters which had chipped away at our hit points but were otherwise doing okay. One encounter with a Feral Troll mid-way through the game was hairy, but after much discussion of the possibility of maneuvering it into a cramped tunnel to reduce its armour class, I smacked it in the chops with my Daily special.

It was only toward the end that things took a serious nosedive. Regis had been poisoned by a nest of spiders and the only way my wife could cure him was to defeat a monster in combat. I, being a testosterone-deafened idiot, didn't realise this; no matter how many times she told me I didn't listen, assuming the only way of healing was to die and Christ-like, be resurrected free of life's pain. She was waiting for me to draw a monster she was capable of killing on a couple hit points while I was pretty much saying "Fear not, my halfling friend--I will protect you!" and killing anything that happened her way.

Finally we drew the Broken Door tile and the Throne Room beyond that. To win we had to retrieve the crown rested on the throne and kill the assassin Artemis Entreri who was hunting Regis for not returning his library books on time. Artemis has two weapons: a sword and a Vampire Dagger, which hits for two damage but, crucially, heals Artemis for one hit point if it hits. But he can only use the dagger if he's adjacent to only one Hero, meaning if we stuck together he'd never be able to heal himself.

So we stood together. Regis used some hypnotic trinket to keep pushing him away from us, damaging him one point at a time in the process, but with every other turn he moved a tile closer, and still poisoned, Regis's life was ebbing fast.

My wife and I concocted a grand scheme. After pushing Artemis back as far as she could, she'd make a break for the throne room and grab the crown while I attacked the relentless assassin and hope not to be stabbed. By this point we had no healing surgest left and while I still had health from using the final surge Regis was down to one hit point--another hit and the game would be over.

For most of the game The Legend of Drizzt feels like a board game more than a role-playing adventure. It plays quickly, cleanly; there's little in the way of flavour beyond the art, the figurines and the occasional line or paragraph to read when something happens. It's difficult not to feel intimidated when you're up against a troll four times the size of your wee plastic man, but for all his heft he goes down like every other monster, on a lucky roll of the die. We pulled tiles, played monsters and killed them: that's how you play the game.

Except in these final moments something magical happened. For the first time in the game--or the first time when doing so carried a greater meaning--we split the group. It goes against the second adventurer's law (the first being to always carry a clean pair of underthings) but at that point we didn't have any other choice left to us other than inaction, and inaction would get us killed in two turns. Besides, we were heroes. We were pointy-eared fella with skin the colour of midnight and his half-pint companion, battling dimly-seen monstrosities to reach a Dwarven crown. If we hadn't done what what we did then, clean pants or no clean pants, with our dying breaths wouldn't have been able to call ourselves adventurers.

Regis ran across the broken door to the Underdark to retrieve the crown from its throne. Drizzt stood fast, one sword held across his chest for defense, the other--Icing death--pointing like lodestone at Artemis's black heart. "Artemis!" I cried. "Your journey ends here!"

Then I counted the squares to his wee man, moved my figurine forward . . . and attacked.

The last drawn encounter card--or the last that made any difference--was 'Bad Air', which attacks all Heroes for one point of damage. That was enough to kill Regis thus ending the game, except, [i]except[/i] even without healing surges Regis, who still held the crown, wouldn't be declared until the start of my wife's next turn. I still had a full turn ahead of me, and though I was beaten up, Artemis was in worse shape. He had three hit points left.

"We've lost," my wife moaned.

My mind scampered about, looking for the highest point on a ship nearly sunk. Then I realised something: we could win this.

"We can win this!" I said. I double-checked my maths. "My God," I said. "We can win this."

And we could have. I didn't have any attacks capable of killing Artemis outright--I'd used my daily on the troll some half-hour earlier--but with Drizzt having two attacks and one of those attacks getting +1 to damage should I roll an eighteen or over, if luck was on my side I could do all the damage I needed to and win us the game.

I rolled a seventeen and hissed through my teeth.

"Close," I said. "That's one damage." Artemis now stood at two hit points and the entire game came down to this final roll. The graveyard of plastic monsters we'd already slain watched from the table's edge, breathless.

My wife blew on the die for luck. Our eyes met. I rolled . . .

I rolled a twelve. Not such a bad roll under ordinary circumstances, but these were extraordinary circumstances. I did Artemis a single point of damage, he attacked and missed in return. I forget which encounter card I drew. Regis expired on the Dwarven throne, still clutching the crown in his small, cooling hands.

As we dismantled the board and put away the pieces I left Artemis and Drizzt on their tile until last. Lit by volcanic vents, the distant chittering of spiders filling their ears, they remained there until finally I popped them back into the box, sealing Artemis in a ziploc baggy with the game's other villains, saying: "I really thought we'd do it. I really thought we'd win."

In the end my wife declared the game a draw. Though we hadn't beaten the game, we hadn't beaten each other either. She doesn't like losing but draws she doesn't mind.

Wednesday night is game night, as it is, as it will always be. I can't wait to see what next Wednesday's game will bring.

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