The Caverns of Kalte

The Caverns of Kalte – Conclusion

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Okay, this is going to be interesting.

You see, the thing is that in and of itself this book has some enormous strengths.  Put simply, it was able to evoke the practical realities of travelling through an arctic wilderness.  And this is true both in terms of the ‘flavour’ text and also the practical realities of the gameplay.

Difficulties such as the cold, traversing the snow and ice, falling off course and so on could have come straight from a textbook on arctic travel.  The description of the environment was beautifully done, and the reader really does feel that s/he is battling against the wilderness more than orcs, goblins and so forth.

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However, in terms of replayability, it soon becomes apparent that no matter how well (or badly) you manage the wilderness portion of the adventure, it is all really a pretext to dump you into the subterranean tunnels which lead to the entrance to the ice fortress.

A bit like the palace intrigue in Way of the Tiger’s Overlord, once it becomes appparent that survival is all that is necessary, it certainly removes a certain part of the frisson from the travel.

Aside : I do admit that certain paths through the snow and ice result in you losing your backpack and / or weapons, so obviously these are also paths to be avoided.

With one massive caveat (which will be mentioned later) the gameplay level of the book is well-managed.  None of the fights are of massive difficulty, and there aren’t too many instant deaths.

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If you don’t have the Sommerswerd (and more about that MacGuffin later on) then you really need the idol / figurine of the Akraa’neonor to survive.  Having said that, giving a (depending on your Kai Disciplines) 30% chance of simply missing the secret door hiding said plot token is just not on.  (EDITED TO ADD : Check out Ben Krefetz’ comment below regarding another way to get the plot token!) Joe Dever has a tendency to up the ‘difficulty’ of his books by simply having an R10 check every so often with a 10%-20% chance of an instant death.  Although I have all the respect in the world for Mr Dever, that is a lazy and unsatisfying way of making a book harder.

Alright, the gold sword-shaped elephant in the room is the Sommerswerd.  I don’t know if Mr Dever was aware of what a rod for his back he was making in the second half of Book 2 by giving Lone Wolf such a powerful weapon, but it had an undeniably significant effect on the remainder of the series.

Consider : A starting character has a Combat Skill of between 10-19.  Leaving aside considerations such as Mindblast, Weaponskill and so forth, the Sommerswerd adds a base +8 to your Combat Skill.  Therefore, bearing in mind that some players would theoretically be starting with this book, the author had to construct an adventure that had an appropriate level of difficulty for players with Combat Skills ranging from 10 all the way through to 27.

You just can’t do it.

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As I stated during one of my recaps, it really has the effect of placing the combat sections of this book (and the next couple) as being like playing a video game on ‘beginner mode’ and it affects your choices correspondingly.  There were really a number of ways that this obstacle could have been circumvented :

  1. Reducing the CS bonus of the Sommerswerd.
  2. ‘Capping’ the total CS of Lone wolf at, say, 22.
  3. Automatically granting the player the Sommerswerd at the start of the adventure, even if it was their ‘first’ book.

Then again, I haven’t written a multimillion dollar selling series (yet….) so who am I to say?

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The deus ex machina of Loi-Kymar’s intervention in the latter part of the book was a little cheap, but predicted.  It certainly would have helped to have some flavour text (after you fall into the caverns) emphasising the issues (as seen by you at the time) around getting back to the Cardonal, and your (presumed) determination to triumph in your mission, even if it means being stranded in Kalte.

Next book – A fan favourite!

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13 thoughts on “The Caverns of Kalte – Conclusion

  1. I seem to remember from the communal playthrough I was part of that it eventually tips to where it’s not so much that having the Sommerswerd is beginner mode as playing without it being basically impossible. There are certainly fights that are really tough even having played from the start (I think even with a high base combat skill).

    Liked by 2 people

    1. There’s a battle in book 11 that is just a nightmare and, just for fun, Dever makes it even harder if you have the Sommerswerd.

      I do also guess that there is a rapidly reducing chance with each book that it is a player’s first.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. When it comes to death by random chance, and beating super-difficult combats, the Random Number Table is the great equaliser. I think a lot more players are using d10s or the random number generators on Project Aon, and that makes the books even harder. With the classic method of stabbing your pencil at the RNT, you can have a look beforehand to see where the best cluster of numbers is and aim for it. (If you’re even cheatier, you can use the back of your pencil; usually this overlaps several numbers, and you can pick the best one.)

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  3. Firstly I’d just like to say that thats an awesome collection of covers you dug up, I especially like the different aspects of the story they highlight. But re the last one I think a bare chested Lone Wolf would have turned into a popsicle in Kalte, unless the ubiquitous Green Cloak has undisclosed thermal insulation.

    Totally agree re Joe Dever’s world building skills. As I’ve mentioned before I FEEL the weather getting colder when I play Kalte and also feel it getting warmer for Chasm. Personally I never viewed the wilderness part of Kalte as just a preamble to the Caverns and the Ikaya. Yes they’re three separate sections but they each have variations (including some randomisation) and it could be argued that the point of each is just survival (just my arrogant opinion but I have played this book dozens and dozens of times). Yes, the sudden death random rolls can be annoying, but without too much detail at the time between leaving my front door and reaching the safety of the playing ground of the estate on the other side of some fields that I had two risky ways of getting too I didn’t know what would happen either (safety, threat or attack) so it was just part of life. Obviously as we get older we don’t expect to be attacked so often but Lone Wolf’s (not Wolves this time 😉) adventures are set more in Syria than the developed world. Again, just my arrogant opinion, I see your point completely.

    I’ve said too much already about the Sommerswerd, but I just have to add I now find it interesting that we think about its unbalancing effect so much now but at the time I just used it to happily slice and dice with no thought of game balance. And on that note I have to add that part of the reason I enjoyed the next book so much was getting to slaughter my enemies (but only part).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Just to add re the Loi-Kymer ex machina. A common thread in the Lone Wolf series is how often you need help or guidance to succeed. Bearing in mind that this is in contrast to the other message being sent to teenagers that a MAN stands alone, wanting and needing help from noone (and leaving aside that such a person will fail, crack up and probably both) I have to admit I approve of it being presented as normal to succeed with help from your friends. Avenger also can’t succeed in Overlord or Warbringer without Force Lady Gwyneth.

      Cheap trick? Ok. But its a theme in the series.

      Like

  4. So re: the hidden lever to the chamber where you can find the Akraa’Neonor effigy, yes there’s a 30% chance of missing the lever when you first pass it. However, if you decide discretion is the better part of valor and back off from entering the cage with the 4 doomwolves and the ice barbarian, you’ll discover the lever on the way back down with 100% certainty. You were just a bit headstrong 😉

    Liked by 2 people

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