Friday 25 October 2019

Battle Quest Book Playthrough – Caves of Fury - Part 3

Battle Quest Book Playthrough – Caves of Fury - Part 3

By Casey Douglass

Caves of Fury

Welcome to Part 3 of my adventure through the Caves of Fury, a Battle Quest book where turning to certain pages means you can control the path of your treasure-seeking barbarian warrior. If you are joining the series late, part 1 can be found at this link, with other links finally bringing you back to this instalment, once you’ve brushed up on the tale so far. I’m good like that.

Part 2 ended in a prison of stalactites and ‘mites, with my barbarian beheading a monster and lifting his first piece of treasure: a lovely glittering diamond. It helped put his run-in with the crotchety old wizard who’d scorched his chest into perspective at least. Finally, he has something to show for his labours, beyond his wounds and feeling knackered. Let’s see how his tale continues...

In a turn up for the unlikely, our plucky barbarian finds himself at the edge of an underground swamp. It smells of rot and decay, and its main feature seems to be a massive lake, its surface algae-covered and perfectly calm. It seems to share a few elements with the watery cave in which a certain hobbit meets a certain Gollum, but there’s more greenery and less fishezes, at least, that are visible. The other difference are the stepping stones that stretch across the lake, appearing to go all the way to the other side.

Seeing no other route, I step onto the first stepping stone, waiting for something evil to grab my ankle and pull me down into the water. Not even a ripple! I step onto the next, and the next. It’s all going very well isn’t it? It’s as I get to the tenth stepping stone that it all starts to go wrong. A shriek sounds behind me on the shore that I’d just departed. The fright almost sends me into the water, which at this stage, I have no idea how deep it is or what’s in there.

Carefully, I turn and see an irate goblin waving his arms, shouting at me that if I step on the next stone, I'll drown! He says that every tenth stone is a trap and that I should jump straight over it to the next one! Now, I wasn’t born yesterday. I know how tricky these goblins can be. For a start, they hate anyone taller than them, which is pretty much everyone. Another factor is that they lie more often than they tell the truth, but when they do tell the truth, the disbelieving of it usually leads to disaster anyway. You can’t win is what I’m saying.

I try to reason things out. Firstly, every tenth stone being a trap seems a bit arbitrary to me. Why not the seventh or fourteenth? Then again, I can understand why letting someone walk on nine stones might build their confidence enough to not be so careful for the tenth. Also, why more than one trapped stone? It doesn’t sound like the person who made the trap is particularly confident that it will achieve its goal first time around. Another thing, if the goblin is trying to get me into a trap, what kind of trap would need me to actually jump on it to trigger, rather than merely stepping on it? His having to shout at me isn’t a very efficient way to catch out the unwary. Consider me very wary!

The book gives me the option of using a trance spell to wheedle the truth out of his nasty goblin mind, but I don’t have one, and even if I did, I’d imagine his brain is full of yucky goblin pornography and strange, secret perversions. Another thought occurs to me. Why should he shout at me at all, as I would have been bound to step on the trapped stone anyway? It’s a bad situation. I decide to trust him, but vow to myself to wring his scrawny neck if things go badly, and if I later get the chance. I make the leap over stepping stone ten.

I’ve almost landed on stone number eleven when it recedes out of sight under the murky water! I plunge into the lake, the weeds and other growth starting to pull me down as they attach to my body. The book tells me that I lose One Strength. Fucking great... another one down! As I splutter and struggle for air, I reflect on how, if I’d not jumped, I’d probably have been able to stop myself from falling in. Bastard goblin!

Through the glugging of the water in my ears, I hear laughter and see a small raft coming towards me, the grinning face of the goblin looming into view. He pokes me with his paddle and teases it just out of reach, enjoying the spectacle. An idea flashes across my mind, something that might get me out of this. I yell that I’m one of Cragcliff’s bodyguards and that I’ve lost my way. The look of fear that washes over his face is a beautiful thing to behold, well, if your concept of beauty looks like a constipated goblin-face. Then it happens, the thing that I should have predicted. He wants to know the password.

I’d sigh if I wasn’t struggling for air. The book gives me three options as usual, and as usual, I choose the middle one: GARLON. (Sadly, Googling the meaning of GARLON didn’t return any humorous or naughty double entendres as to its meaning, I guess I got lucky with the other password attempt in part two). Wouldn’t you know it, it was the wrong password, yet again! It’s a pity that there wasn’t an option to whisper the password, and when he leaned in closer to hear me, drag him in with me!

The goblin swears at me and calls me a dog as the water drags me below the surface one last time. The little idiot doesn’t realise what I’m doing though. I have a palm to the underside of his raft and slowly pull myself underwater to the opposite side, feeling the clutching strands of vegetation unwind from my legs as I go. I ever so carefully pull myself up and clear of the lake, trying not to tip the rickety thing too much and alert him to my presence. The little thug is too busy craning his neck over the other side, trying to see if I’ve drowned yet. I see red and give him a mighty shove, sending him not just overboard but well beyond the row of stepping stones too.

Caves of Fury

He squeals like a flying pig that isn’t quite sure why it’s flying. He then squeals like a pig that’s fallen in a lake and can’t swim. Can pigs swim? (Google: Yes they can!) Weariness claims me and I collapse to the deck of the raft. I smile at the sounds the goblin is making and wish him a slow death. The book tells me that the struggle to keep afloat and to not drown has cost me another Strength. I have only two left now. It’s not looking good. On the plus side, my scorched chest feels soothed by the water. I just hope it doesn’t pick up a nasty infection from the algae. It would be just my luck after all. My last thoughts are two in number: I’m not choosing the bloody middle option for passwords or paths any more, and secondly, I really wish I’d strangled that goblin, just like I’d wanted to. I pass out.

That’s where I’ll leave this session, my barbarian unconscious and floating on a small raft in the middle of an underground swamp with a drowning goblin nearby. If this was a TV series, the camera would slowly be pulling up to show more and more of what's around him, which knowing my adventurer’s luck, would be a host of strange creatures circling in for the kill. The music to accompany this would be slow and synth-based, maybe a single deep tone wavering with menace. I quite like the sound of that actually.


If you enjoyed reading about my adventure so far, join me again soon for Part Four of my delve into the Caves of Fury, coming out next weekend.

Thursday 24 October 2019

Dark Ambient Review: Hydromancy

Dark Ambient Review: Hydromancy

Review by Casey Douglass


Hydromancy is a dark ambient mini-album themed around water and its use as a divination method. Released by Subespai, the solo project of Mauri Edo, at the beginning of October, it’s described as telling the story of a divination session gone wrong, which sounds like a great concept for an album to me. With that in mind, I let each of the tracks speak to me in their own way, wondering what visions they would bring to my mind.

The opening track is Rough Start, a track that features the deep rumbling of distant water currents alongside what I’d describe as a fast “ticking” sound. The rumbling you get deep underwater is always a sound that I find quite awe-inspiring, so I instantly appreciated this track. After awhile, the “ping” of sonar can be heard, which opens up the soundscape nicely and makes it seem a much larger space. As I became used to the sonar pings, it occurred to me that the sound could equally be some kind of crystal bell ringing in the deeps, summoning forth who knows what from the abyss below.

The next track, A Face in the Ripples, is my favourite track on the album. Opening with a siren-like sound and a rumbling drone, the very first image it brought to my mind was that of a large ocean liner, sinking deeper and deeper into the murky depths, with me watching from the outside, hearing the muted siren as it slowly falls past me. Then, I found myself watching a kind of Lovecraftian undersea race of fish people, sitting at their dinner tables eating in the eerie green glow of fungal illumination, the massive ship floating past their abyss-facing windows. The denizens stop chewing and look on in mild interest, wondering if the Elder Gods will destroy it without thought or keep it to toy with later. The odd clang here and there seems to suggest its not a smooth descent for the ship, but by then, the diners have already returned to their meals.

The third track is Revelations, and this also brought some interesting images to mind. It begins with a staticy hiss and some plinking sounds, and the general acoustics of the soundscape brought to mind a strange machine surfacing in an underwater cave, with water running from its strange angles and curves. A regular knocking sound begins, which to me, suggested someone trying to get out but finding the exit door sealed. I really liked this image, the illusion of emerging into safety but then being stuck in the craft that got you there. As the track nears its end, a deep vibration sounds, like a frog croak, but much deeper and more rumbling. I wondered if something was approaching the stricken craft, something that would open it up in more ways than one.

The final track is Bleak Consequences. This track, for me, was an above-ground track, as it seemed to feature the sound of rain or a stream flowing. After a deep opening and a kind of fast rhythm set by one of the sounds, it painted a picture of a really grey day, the kind where the clouds are almost black and the scenery looks leached of colour. A stream runs through a valley, but something isn't right with it. Glugging bubbles begin to pop on its surface; oily blisters smearing a glowing ooze into its currents. I’d guess for me, this track is saying that what happens deep in the ocean will eventually affect the land-dwellers too. A bit like watching Jaws and feeling safe if you stay on land, and how you’d then feel if you heard that sharks could get you on land anyway. Near the end of the track, the water stops flowing, which is also an intriguing end to events.

Before I listened to Hydromancy, I knew that it was themed around water, I was interested but not expecting to be wowed. Hydromancy did wow me though, as I’d forgotten how dark water could really be! I’m saying this as a Lovecraft fan who is well acquainted with the goosebumps that might arise when thinking about the watery abysses of the Earth and what they might contain. I’m also saying this as someone who has listened to a lot of dark ambient that features water in some way. Often though, the water is a flavour or scene-setting sound rather than the main event. Or, the water might be represented by other sounds in a more abstract way. The exception that immediately comes to mind is Ugasanie & Xerxes the Dark’s Abysmal, which is also a great water-based dark ambient album. If you liked that one, I think you will like Hydromancy. If you check out Hydromancy and enjoy it, you now know the other one I’d recommend.

Hydromancy is a free download from Audiotalaia, and if you’re a fan of dark ambient and deep sea horror, I’d really recommend you go and download yourself a copy as it is well worth listening to.

Visit the Hydromancy page at Audiotalaia here, and check out the teaser trailer below:

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Hydromancy
Album Artist: Subespai
Label: Audiotalaia
Released: October 03, 2019

Monday 21 October 2019

Dark Ambient Review: Black Stage of Night

Dark Ambient Review: Black Stage of Night

Review by Casey Douglass

Black Stage of Night

The Victorian era always seems to be such a rich vein for media that likes to draw on the dark side of life. From the opium dens and the diseases that dogged the huddled masses, to the dabbling with the occult and emerging sciences, there are plenty of places to look for darkness. Black Stage of Night is a dark ambient album that hits a rich vein in this regard, and whether that vein is found by a sad soul in a mine with a pickaxe or by the prick of a needle, it doesn’t matter. Black Stage of Night is dark and twisted, and is a fantastic album.

Dark and twisted though it maybe, there is a gentle melancholia to many of the sounds and tones, from delicate piano notes and acoustic tones, to a hissing static and warping notes. It very much comes across as an album of the night, the time of the day when the shadows deepen and the world feels more closed in, the universe ending at the reflection in your window panes. It’s very easy to imagine a Victorian lady or gentleman standing vigil at a window, the light from their lantern hindering their view as they struggle to peer past their own reflection.

Chaos Unmade is my favourite track by quite some distance. It opens with a repeating rhythm that put me in mind of the arrangement you might find in some kind of warped country music. It wouldn't be a song about cattle wrangling or unrequited love though, this one would more likely be about a skeleton on a horse trying to capture errant ghosts in a misty, moonlit valley. A tone rises and falls with this repeating rhythm, later joined by a more trilling, whistling sound. Things quieten near the end of the track, with it ending with a staticy looping sound, maybe hinting that the skeleton horse-rider has disappeared over the hill.

The Great Order of Things is another track that stood out for me. It opens with a howl-like sound and a deep stuttering tone that pulses into life every now and then. An “Ahhh-like” vocal meets the howls as the track progresses, lending the track a church-like feeling. This track could be about another misty, moonlit valley, but this one has a dark church at its centre, with people huddled inside praying for the wraiths outside to go away. The howls become more cat-like in the last third of the track, which to me, made me think of someone on an opium high, sitting near a flickering fire and being woken from their reverie by the family cat wanting to go outside.

The other two tracks I’ll mention are the first and the last: Mind Turns to Night and Night Becomes Morning. They are great bookends for the other tracks as the first seems to deepen as it continues, while the latter lightens. This felt very fitting for two tracks that could be the soundtrack for the fading daylight at night’s approach and the lightening effect of the sun rising the next morning. Almost like an hypnotic induction and a “Wake up” call, they smooth the way from, and back to, reality.

Black Stage of Night is a ghostly dark ambient album, the cobwebs and coal-smoke of another age mingling with the mind that is looking back at the past. For me, brings up all manner of Victorian aesthetics, the one thing they all have in common being the way that they are tinged with the lust for things to be different to how they are, whether that be by dream or occult means, wishful thinking or prayer. Atrium Carceri and Cities Last Broadcast came together to make Black Stage of Night the welcoming, dark thing that it manages to be, and if it is based in the world of dreams, I’d be eager to see what the nightmares that come after may contain.

Visit the Black Stage of Night page on Bandcamp, and check out the track Mind Turns to Night below:

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Black Stage of Night
Album Artist: Atrium Carceri & Cities Last Broadcast
Label: Cryo Chamber
Released: October 22, 2019

Sunday 20 October 2019

Battle Quest Book Playthrough – Caves of Fury - Part 2

Battle Quest Book Playthrough – Caves of Fury - Part 2

By Casey Douglass

Caves of Fury

Welcome to Part 2 of my adventure through the Caves of Fury, a Battle Quest book where your choices decide the fate of your own hulking barbarian adventurer. If you haven’t read the first part, it’s the best place to begin. If you don’t, you’ll still be able to understand what’s going on, but are you strong enough to begin something on Part 2 when the beginning post is just a click away? I know I wouldn’t be able to. Just saying.

At the end of Part 1, I saw my barbarian take a wound from a nasty ape-monster thing, then take flight, running haphazardly down the tunnel, squealing and generally not very happy. I hoped he’d knock himself out and have a bit of a nap, but I doubt anything so pleasant will have happened to him. With how his luck was going, he’d wake up tied to a roasting spit being turned by cannibal goblins. Anyway, let’s open the book and see...

He’s still running down the tunnel. That’s quite a few days if I take a “real-time” view and imagine he’s been running since I closed the book. I guess fear gives you quite the energy boost. The tunnel he is careening down eventually splits into three. I opt to take the middle one again, what with my always liking the middle path; walking between extremes. It’s not long after taking this route, that I come to a cave that branches off from one side of the tunnel. An elderly robed man is sitting with his back to me. A table is in front of him, containing all kinds of objects, from a skull and a large leather-bound book, to strange glassware bubbling with garishly coloured potions.

Without turning, he speaks. He thinks I’m the new novice Cragcliff has sent him, but just to be sure, he wants the password. Shit. Why are these types so paranoid? I don’t know the damned password, and I don’t have the password scroll to look it up. Well, I mean I do, I can see it in the pile of stuff that comes with Caves of Fury, but I’m too honest to cheat. Where’s the fun in that? The book gives me three options for the password, and I choose the middle one: TAGEL. If it works for tunnels, it can work for passwords. Maybe. (Out of curiosity, I just Googled TAGEL, the first result was for a Cornish dictionary that gave the word’s meaning as “fleshy appendage”. This amuses me more than it should. I mean, fleshy appendages, tunnels... it’s all very rude if you think about it).

‘TAGEL’ I exclaim, trying to sound confident. The man turns and looks at me for the first time. He sees that I don’t really look like a novice and demands to know who I am. I try to tell him that I mean no harm, that the sword on my back is purely decorative and these muscles are just water weight, but he blasts me with a spell. An arc of violet light hits me in the centre of my chest. I scuttle away, embarrassed once again, and a little unnerved by how hungry the smell of my own roasted flesh is making me. I’ve lost another Strength from my counter! Only four left now. One third of my health gone and nothing to show for it! Well, a wounded arm and a scorched chest that will be the subject of all manner of jokes at the next Adventurer get-together.

I soon find myself in a cavern, my rumbling stomach finally getting the message from my brain, that it’s entirely inappropriate to lust after your own cooked flesh. This place is full of stalagmites and stalactites, and I occupy myself by trying to remember which is which, “uppy from floory” or “downy from roofy”. Whichever is which, it feels a bit like being in a stone cage. This feeling is enhanced by the snarling monster looking back at me from between the ‘tites and ‘mites to one side. It’s even holding them in massive fists, like someone who was on probation who happened to get caught one too many times thieving and is now looking at hard jail time. I get the fleeting impression that we are two food-scraps stuck between a dragon’s teeth. I can fit through the “bars” though, this monster can’t. It’s another muscular ape creature thing. I didn’t do well against the last one so I take the option to skip this fella.

Caves of Fury

As I move through the cavern, another creature hisses at me. Is this some kind of prison for the monsters that misbehave? It’s starting to feel that way. I get the impression that the book really wants me to have a go at beating one of them. This one is half-gorilla, half-humanoid. Mmm. Sharp claws and drool too. Interesting. The glimmering of a diamond catches my eye. Fuck it, let’s do it! I turn to the correct page and almost squeal with delight. This monster is slain in two wounds!

The joy doesn’t last long, as I really don’t fancy my luck. Losing to a creature that needs eight wounds to die has a bit of honour to it, but two? If I don’t manage that, what sort of barbarian am I? What sort of dice roller? I push through the feelings of inadequacy like an arachnophobe rushing through a cob-web strewn attic. I’ve not lost yet after all. I roll the dice and see the all too familiar result of my shield being raised at the creature’s face. Oh hell, not again! (See part one for how excruciating this is for me). Roll two has the same result. Can I just throw away my shield book? Please?

Roll three sees an epic sword swing from my good self, one that cuts a nasty gash in the creature’s side. Oooh yeah! Roll four... well let’s just say a shield is involved again. Roll five... sigh. On roll six I lop off its head! I take a few moments to fully process that I’ve actually slain a monster. Get in! I watch its body gurgle on the cavern floor, then quickly pick up the diamond before the thing’s blood reaches it. My first treasure! I proudly put it in my loin-cloth, as it has a secret pocket that not only hides my ‘valuables’, but also makes me look like I have more than I really have... ahem. I set my Treasure Counter to one! A glorious moment!

Caves of Fury

I decide to close the book at this point, to make that moment of triumph last as long as it possibly can. All too soon I’ll be back in the Caves of Fury, and it would be nice to once, just once, end a session with a win. There’s plenty of time for the wheels to all fall off later. I just hope that my barbarian doesn’t pick at his chest. He’s very hungry and he's been doing all sorts of running, fighting and over-thinking after all.

If you enjoyed reading about my adventure so far, join me again soon for Part Three of my delve into the Caves of Fury, coming out next weekend.

Sunday 13 October 2019

Battle Quest Book Playthrough – Caves of Fury

Battle Quest Book Playthrough – Caves of Fury

By Casey Douglass

Caves of Fury

More than six years ago, I did a little playthrough of one of the Battle Quest books that I happened to come across while having a sort out. Sadly, I didn’t make it out of the Tunnels of Fear with the three diamonds I’d managed to liberate, but it was a fun way to spend some time. I’ve decided that I’m going to go through the process again, but with Caves of Fury this time around. I will inject my own, probably warped, sense of humour into the perils that are inflicted on my character. I will be letting the events play out as the book dictates however.

Caves of Fury is a choose-your-own-path type of book by Stephen Thraves. It was published by Hodder & Stoughton in 1992, with illustrations by Terry Oakes. It comes with two wooden battle dice, two counters to keep track of your character’s Strength and Treasure levels, and a variety of cards and see-thru plastic things to decode cryptic clues, if your character is lucky enough to find the item ahead of the time it is needed. All for the very reasonable price of £5.99.

The lead-up into the action describes you, a famed barbarian warrior, being summoned by an old lord. This old lord immediately got on my nerves, making me follow him up a steep cliff moments after arriving on shore after an arduous journey by sea. I’d go so far as to call him a pompous prick, but there was treasure to be found so I kept my mouth shut.

At the top of the cliff, the old man points at a sheer-sided island in the distance, telling me that it is the Island of Fury. This island, apparently, is owned by one Cragcliff, a ruler who delights in filling its dangerous caverns with treasure to lure in the foolish and the greedy. I was about to suggest that this place sounded like it was performing a valuable service by weeding out the idiots who lived nearby, when the old man says it has claimed four of his sons. Foot in mouth avoided. Technically, the youngest did come back but he was mute and maddened by the experience, so I wasn’t really going to quibble about his “Loss Count” either.

The wind is really howling up on the cliff and I’m starting to wish I wasn’t standing there wearing only a loin-cloth. You’d be amazed at how little protection a sword strapped to your back offers against the elements. Nevertheless, I turn my back to the distant island and give it a try. Nope, still fucking freezing. The old chap is babbling about how he wants someone to go to the island and steal as much treasure as possible. He admits it won’t bring his sons back but thinks that the feeling of having deprived Cragcliff of his treasure will give him some kind of bitter joy.

He sniffs and looks at me silently for a moment before asking if I’ll do it. He tells me that I can keep any treasure that I’m able to bring back with me. I look over my shoulder at the island, trying not to focus on how far the goosebumps are rippling down by body. It looks stormy out there, moody my old Mum would say. I turn back to him and nod. I could do with a good adventure. I lost a month to trying to get an Adventuring Permit a short while ago, and it has played merry hell with my income for the year to date.

Caves of Fury

The next few pages of the book yank me out of the story and explain how to play, telling me to set the Strength Counter to 6 and that when it gets to 0, my character is dead. It then warns me to set my Treasure Counter to 0, half implying that I’m the sort of cheeky chap who might set it to 2 and give myself a head start. I’m almost offended. I’m told about how the dice work, how the blue one represents me and the red one the monster. It then explains how the battles work, how all monsters fight to the death but if my character gets wounded, he loses one strength and has to flee. Doesn’t sound very heroic to me but okay. I just want to get started.

So I get started. I row away from the shore in a little row-boat, bumping along on the waves. It’s still bloody cold, and now I’m getting wet too. Joy. As I near the island, I see a number of chasms looming in its side that I can choose to enter. This is the first decision that the book has given me, wanting me to flip to a certain page depending on the choice that I want to make. I opt for the middle chasm, as I’ve always been a fan of taking the middle way, the path between extremes.

As I near my chasm of choice, much howling and screeching arises from deep inside, as if the creatures on the island have sensed that I am here. Well, scream and howl all you want beasties! It’s the silent stuff that I can never see coming that makes me uneasy. A stealthy goblin stole some of my gold once. It wasn’t the loss that bothered me, just the fear that he could have slit my throat while he was at it. I look over my shoulder and then feel foolish. I’m in a row-boat for goodness sake! I make it to the shore and I’m given the option to rest awhile if I’d like to. The rudeness of the old man is still fresh in my mind, making me trek so far without a care to my well-being, so I opt to rest.

I rest for a very lazy and languid ten minutes. Why only ten? Well the noises coming from deeper in the chasm do start to niggle at my courage and resolve. You see, I’m a barbarian very much in touch with his emotional side, and I know when I’m bullshitting myself. Most of the time anyway. Ten minutes seems the ideal length of time to rest, yet not let my mettle weaken too much. Every time my eyes close, the screeches get louder too! They know I’m here and they are deliberately robbing me of rest! Paranoia is something I also dabble in, as you can probably tell.

I stand and stretch as the thought crosses my mind that it will be even colder once I go inside. Unless, I think hopefully, it’s some kind of hell-spawn pit with fire and brimstone. That would actually be quite nice, under the circumstances. I could dry off if nothing else. I enter the chasm and all the screeching and wailing falls silent. Now they definitely know I’m here! This isn’t paranoia! All I can hear as I move forward are my footsteps, steps that echo back louder than I’d really like. It almost sounds like I’m being followed by a pirate with a wooden-leg. I soon realise that I have a stone stuck in the sole of one boot, which is a bit of a relief.

As I move deeper, the cavern I’m inside merges with two more, likely the paths that I didn’t take when I made my choice for the middle chasm. The whole thing narrows into a tunnel as I wonder what pitfalls I avoided in the other two. I hope they were nasty, just so that I can feel a bit smug. Flickering torches begin to appear on the walls, setting me to pondering the question of if they are magically induced or kept going by minions. I briefly ponder what the economy of a dark lord might consist of. Underlings don’t come cheap. It’s while my head is full of, well, overheads, that I practically stumble on the first monster of my adventure.

Caves of Fury

An ape-like thing snarls at me, all narrow-eyes and flared nostrils. It has a big “Fuck-off!” sword next to it, but it’s holding a big “Try it punk!” diamond in its claw. That type of diamond is the best! I decide to fight it for it, ignoring the option to avoid it. I turn to the applicable page and catch my breath. It needs to be wounded 8 times before it will die! I could understand if it was some kind of land-based octopus, having to lop off each tentacle first, but even that might need 9 wounds if we include the killing blow. Actually 8 might work if you don’t mind waiting for the loss of blood to kill it. Does an octopus have blood? Ichor? A snarl brings me back to the ape thing. Focus.

I loosely hold the dice in my right hand and roll them on the floor in front of me. This is real life me, not barbarian me. Meeting a snarling creature and promptly bending down to roll wooden cubes in front of it isn’t that conducive to survival. Unless, I guess, you find yourself up against a monster partial to a bit of gambling. The first roll tells me that the creature bashes my shield with its sword. I’d expected to be wounded and to run away on my very first roll, so this was a bit of a result.

Roll two has the exact same outcome, another shield bash, sending shock-waves up my arm. The next roll results in my shield being raised as the creature just stares at me. So much for the rule of three that Hollywood abuses in almost every blockbuster. Where was that third strike on my shield? Blasphemy! It’s on the fourth roll that I wound it with a darting sword strike. Haha! How do you like that ape monster!

The fifth roll results in it staring at my shield again. I wish I was a bit more proactive, that shield is coming up so often its embarrassing. Next, I land another wound. Just six more to go! I still don’t think I'll achieve the kill but I’m persistent if nothing else. Roll seven sees it looking at my shield again. I feel myself beginning to blush. Roll eight is another deft sword strike from my good self. Five wounds left for the win!

Roll nine is my shield and its face again. Damn it! Roll ten just shows our faces glaring at each other. Should battles to the death be this awkward? Roll eleven has my shield raising in-front of its face. Again. Roll twelve gives me something new, our weapons actually clash! I listen to the sharp “ting” of metal echoing away down the tunnel. It lasts for far longer than I expected. Roll thirteen sees my shield raised in its face again. Of course it is. Roll fourteen is the same thing... yet again!

This creature must think I’m such a coward! Roll fifteen sees me wound it once more! Just four more wounds needed! Then it happens. Roll sixteen sees it cut an angry gash along my right arm, sending my hulking barbarian running down the tunnel, screeching that he doesn’t want to play any more! Shit.

I reduce my Strength Counter by one and use it as a bookmark to hold my place. Not the best of starts, already weakened, no loot and a character already struggling with paranoia and afraid of what the monsters he is fighting must think of him. I hope he doesn’t run into a trap in his panic. Best case scenario he runs into a wall, knocks himself out and has a nice little nap. Otherwise, part two will be pretty damn short.


If you enjoyed reading about my adventure so far, join me again soon for Part Two of my delve into the Caves of Fury, coming next weekend.

Sunday 6 October 2019

Dark Ambient Review: Quintessence

Dark Ambient Review: Quintessence

Review by Casey Douglass


I find it fascinating to see something broken down into its smaller parts, especially if it is then put back together again. Anything themed around the elemental view of the Universe is therefore quite interesting to me, especially as it brings to mind more occult and metaphysical ideas. And wizards. Wizards with elemental magic blasting chunks out of each other as they bicker. Shrine’s dark ambient album, and debut on Cryo Chamber, Quintessence, is an album themed on just such an elemental theme. You have to bring the wizards though.

Quintessence consists of five tracks, each labelled after the element that they focus on. As you listen to each track, the featured element will shine through nicely, although some are more subtle, as naturally, using field-recordings of Water is a little easier than giving Earth a sound. I liked how each element gives each track its own unique feeling, yet the tracks themselves do share similarities, such as how they gently build up into an almost rapturous wall of sound, and then slowly diminish again into a more gentle soundscape.

Alongside the elemental sounds, there are female vocals that swell and support the “action” in the soundscape. I really liked these as they lend each track an almost mythic aesthetic, making something that would already be full of awe, actively majestic. There are other instruments and effects too that jumped out at me, and help build each track. In Gaia, this is a repeating electric-guitar-like tone and steady beat. In Hydor (water), this is the sound of sea birds and a rumbling distortion. In Aer (air) it’s a fuzzy beat and the static of a storm front. In Pyr (fire) it’s long string notes and shimmering tones, and in Quintessence (life itself) it’s the use of a fast-paced beat and electro-notes.

Unusually for me, I’m not sure I have a favourite track, as they are all enjoyable in their own way. I do think Quintessence had the best beat/rhythm of the bunch, but I guess that is only right if it is showing the evolution of life itself, rather than a single element. Life does like to move after all. When I was listening to Gaia, the electronic tones made me feel like I was envisioning a digital version of the Earth, for some reason. I think I had this in my brain as I listened to the next track, Hydor, as I found myself thinking about the scene in the Battleship (2012) film where the aliens spew up out of the water and things kick-off. Just goes to show how one thought can lead to another. I’d also add that I saw Battleship years after its release, and I found quite a lot to enjoy in a film that was largely derided.

Quintessence then, is an album full of energetic and rapturous tracks, each reveling in the element it is themed around and each “different from the next but similar” in just the right ways. Each track mixes chaos with order, manifestation with destruction, and does it with a deft touch and a pleasing balance to the ears. The beats carry things along nicely while the swirling maelstrom of tones and field-recordings create something majestic to listen to. I think that’s the first time I’ve said majestic twice in a review too. If you are a fan of nature and the elements, you should take a closer listen to Quintessence.

Visit the Quintessence page on Bandcamp, and check out the track Hydor below:

I was given a review copy of this album.

Album Title: Quintessence
Album Artist: Shrine
Label: Cryo Chamber
Released: October 01, 2019