Here we are with the third book in this series, the Lord of Shadow Keep. I believe that this was the one that was originally intended to be a book in the Fighting Fantasy series before it ended up here, presumably after considerable editing to shrink it down to the required number of paragraphs to suit this format. It will be interesting to see whether this is different to the others in the series. Once again, the rules are the same, with the same requirements for character creation. I wonder if I’ll use something other than Vigour this time?
This is interesting; I ended up with Vigour of 28, Agility of 4 and Psi of 9 - the maximum! Basically, I am a rather clumsy genius who will likely spend his time stumbling around the dungeon knocking into things. Apparently I am a knight once again in this one, and so I will adopt the name Sir Isaac. Stuff falling on my head is something I have obviously got used to. I start with a sword, armour and backpack, and am given the advice that ‘I am unlikely to succeed on my first try.’ Wow. That’s...wow. Defeatism at its finest.
Turns out a crusade against the Goblins by this order of knights has gone very wrong, the army defeated (are they sure it wasn’t Ewoks they were fighting?) and now, apparently, I work for a tyrant and have become a symbol of oppression. Hang on, what? Deciding to leave, I find my now-aged liege, who spins a yarn about evil, and apparently some vampire/necromancer has ensorcelled him...basically, it’s King Richard, Prince John was my boss, and I need to free him from an evil spell. Got it. I get a magic sword and a ring, and am told I am now one of his Paladins. Splendid, promotion! Of course, if this is true to history, then King Richard will be as bad as his brother,but what the hell. (I’m joking around with this a little, but the parallel is really drawn on heavily here. Robin Hood versus the Vampire of Doom? God, that’s probably already a SyFy film, isn’t it.)
As soon as I start, I see a rider in black. This bodes ill, but wanting to see what my new sword actually does, I turn to face him. And...he dies. I didn’t have to roll a dice. Excellent! Looting the body, I find a parchment that can be used to open doors - this smells like a needed quest item, so excellent. Then, I reach an oily black river...with a ferryman across it. I call out to Charon and ask him to take me across the Styx...and hang on. I was joking, but that actually IS HIS NAME. And this is the ‘River of Death’. He takes the scroll, pickpockets all my cash, but I get to the other side.
he brief venture into Greek mythology over with, I continue on to a dangerous swamp, where I run into a stooped old man. This road is really crowded, perhaps I should find a better path. He introduces himself as Shambol Eyehawk, and demands that I get out of his way. Being a brave and noble paladin, I do just that, and as a reward, get given a staff and a bag of acorns. Pocketing these items, I stumble off to a pub, appropriately called the ‘Knight’s Rest’, and step in for a pint.
Among the patrons is a Knight in rusty armour, so he seems like a good person to talk to. He calls himself Stentorian of Stout, and wants to have his armour oiled. Yes, seriously.
This seems like a lark, so I pour oil into his joints from my lantern, and point him in the direction of some ruffians. Naturally, I join in the murder of three people I have never met on the say-so of a mad old guy in a suit of armour. During the massacre, no-one else in the inn so much as turns a hair, and afterward, I am able to enjoy a nice warm meal amidst the carnage. Stripping their bodies, I find seven gold pieces and a locket of hair...and the growing realization that I have been working for a bad guy too long.
Finally, I reach the Keep, and knock on the door to begin my stealthy attack. The door is answered by a ghoul, who leaps out at me and tries to eat my skin. Fun times. And then...I get killed. Eaten by the ghoul. I guess the warning at the start of the book was quite right - this was a difficult one to get through. Old Sir Isaac is now someone’s lunch, and the King will continue to rot away until another ‘Paladin’ can turn up to start killing strangers and looting their corpses.
I’ll be honest, I struggled with this one a little. The first two books were quite rich, and sucked me in nicely, even if I didn’t get that far into the second one, but this time...I couldn’t get into the flow. Charon, the Knight of Snout...didn’t really work for me, if I am honest. Nevertheless I might still go back for another try, though this is the weakest of the books thus far. Still, I press on tomorrow with Eye of the Dragon.