The Prisoners of Time

The Prisoners of Time – Conclusion

Firstly, I apologise for this entry being a day or two later than normal.  However, I was busy helping my daughter play her first ever gamebook – The Warlock of Firetop Mountain!

It was all worth it when she yelled at me this morning (while I was in mid-shower) about how she’d ‘killed a minotaur, and found 9 Gold Pieces and a red key!!’

 

I regret nothing.

Secondly, in my ongoing acknowledgement of contributors to the blog, I thank T-Man, and draw my readers’ attention to a hilarious Onion article about restaurant politics :

The Onion – Area Applebees a Hotbed of Machiavellian Politics

 

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So – The Prisoners of Time

Short version : Not terribly impressed, to be honest.

Slightly longer version :

There was a fantasy writer (whose name escapes me for the moment, feel free to chime in down in the comments section) who said that 90% of the world-building which an author does for their novel / series of novels should forever remain unknown to the reader.

By this he (I think it was a he) meant that you create your world, with all of its history and culture, and then allow your story to take place organically amongst it.  Details about the society and structure of the world will, ideally, naturalistically leak through to the reader, hinting at a whole spectrum of stories taking place ‘off-page’ as it were.

For example, while the Star Wars screenplay (and its not called A New Hope, don’t make me come over there) was far from perfect, part of what made it fascinating were the repeated reference to events, people, things and places that didn’t impact directly upon the story, but let us know that there was a whole galaxy of events happening at the same time.  Names such as the Emperor, the Academy, the Kessel Run, the Imperial Senate, Anchorhead, Dantooine, Jabba the Hutt and General Antilles rolled around in your brain while you watched the main action.

Exhibit for the Prosecution : The Prisoner of Time.

Joe Dever has worked hard to create the universe of Aon and the world of Magnamund, and oh, boy, does he want to show off.  So, so, much of the Prisoners of Time involves Lone Wolf meeting an important ‘NPC’ (the Beholder, Serocca, Lorkon Ironheart, etc), getting force-fed reams upon reams of exposition, and then continuing on, with said exposition only being marginally relevant to the larger quest / adventure.

I don’t know at this stage whether any of these characters will feature in further adventures (in my youth I only progressed to Book 14) but their backstories were really just window dressing for Lone Wolf’s quest for the Lorestones, where the main driving force became Lone Wolf’s own ‘force-esque’ ability to hone in on said Lorestones when they were in his vicinity.

And, as one of my faithful commenters pointed out, if Joe Dever really wanted to give characters a backstory which was relevant to the larger narrative, you had the five ‘Villains of Sommerlund’ RIGHT THERE waiting to be given a greater role.

For example, in the well-known Batman story ‘Knightfall’, a new villain ‘Bane’ comes up with a brilliant plan – he stages a mass prison break-out, which results in Batman exhausting himself by fighting each of his arch-enemies in a row, with a conclusion of Bane winning a comparatively easy victory against the immensely depleted Batman.

A similiar narrative could have applied here.  Rather than the ‘mega-battle’ of the Chaos-Master, Dever could have arranged for five separate encounters with the Sommerlund ‘villains’, with each one requiring a different combination of skill, combat, luck and Disciplines to overcome.  The final reveal of Vonotar as the puppet-master could have been drawn-out and suspenseful, with Lone Wolf wondering at the evil force behind these ongoing attacks from exiled evildoers.

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And while I’m talking about combat balance, let’s mention the statistical difficulty of the fights, shall we?

Firstly, the idea that a newcomer to Lone Wolf could overcome this book is laughable.  Even with the more serious wound inflicted upon the Chaos-Master by the Ironheart Broadsword, that combat is ridiculously hard.  And the final two fights would be just frustration waiting to happen, particularly in circumstances where they take place at the very end of the book.

Although I was obviously assisted in my playthroughs by my possession of the majority of Magnakai Disciplines, there really weren’t any non-combat portions of the book where I considered that Lone Wolf was in any real danger.  I’ve gleaned from some of the comments as made that there were instances that would have been a lot more hairy if I hadn’t possessed certain disciplines, but you would have to consider that a significant portion (if not most) of readers would have 6-8 Magnakai Disciplines by this point.

Therefore Joe Dever appeared to see fit to wedge most of the difficulty into the combats, in particular being the Chaos-Master fight and the Villains of Sommerlund fight.

I won’t go into the maths, but, independently of Potions saved from book 3 and some such, I buffed pretty much every statistic I had, and still only had a Combat Ratio of 0.  And that was with the (slightly) more generous Project Aon scores!  Heaven knows how long I would have struggled with the absurd Chaos-Master statistics in the initial publication.

And then, remember there was the concluding fight with the ‘Villains of Sommerlund’.  Imagine being a reader where this was your first Lone Wolf book.  You have a Combat Skill of (say) 16 (average), along with a bonus for Psi-Surge, and maybe a shield or a one Lore-Circle bonus, bringing your stats up to (around) 24.  The Villains have an automatic 10+ Combat Skill advantage!

And then, after losing a FURTHER (unavoidable) 5 Endurance points, you had to defeat Vonotar!

It was interesting that even Project Aon acknowledged this level of difficulty, with their initial edited comment about how the compulsory fights made the book practically impossible for a novice player.

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In any event, despite my trepidation, I (luckily) finished the book on my second try.  It was an example of how much I felt like the book was a slog in that I dreaded cruising past all those lengthy passages of exposition to get to the 3-4 fights that would dictate my outcome.

Next up – The culmination (at the time) of the entire Lone Wolf series – The Masters of Darkness!

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7 thoughts on “The Prisoners of Time – Conclusion

  1. I totally agree with you. A lot of narrative, a good “beyond Aon” story, only to have some unbelievable fights impossible to win, even if you are a Scion-kai. Next book is far away better, so we are going to have more fun!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I would love to play your version of this book, having to defeat the villains of Sommerlund one by one. It would be even better if the villains had been mentioned previously in passing. If Lone Wolf noticed that some of them were much younger than they should be, then it might provide a clue to the coming revelation about how time flows in the Daziarn.

    I freely admit that I was totally wrong about the number of attempts it would take you. I haven’t played the book since the enemy stats were reduced, but considering you didn’t have the Silver Helm or any healing and started with the minimum Endurance, I was still sure you would be replaying this for ages. Congratulations!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Re : T-Man’s article. I was reading it as straight reporting at first as that sort of maze of constantly shifting alliances strikes me as normal in any multi-departmental organisation. I got suspicious when some started openly talking about how they carried out theft and other forms of corruption (although may come under the heading “names have been changed to protect the far from innocent’ /copyright Ed/) but it went totally ludicrous when the regional manager declared, “I keep the 22 Applebee’s in my district under my thumb by periodically dropping in unannounced”. Manager’s who visit unannounced so as to get a real view of what’s happening only occur in the fevered dreams of science fiction writers like Jack Campbell or Jerry Pournelle. /Long winded rant follows about Higher Managers warning when they’re coming so they’ll only see what they want to see, goes on for pages, seriously, major bugbear here, best just edited out and ignored/, but of course he could have been lying. Thanks for the Article T-Man 🙂

    Tried looking for your fantasy author, got Sturgeon’s Law (90% of everything is c**p) but that’s it. Mind you my day’s work started at about 8 am and continued till about 11 pm so I’ve been pressed for time. Freda Warrington admitted when she re-released one of her books (A Blackbird in Amber) that she now knew she should have done more “Show, don’t tell”. I think that was Joe Dever’s mistake here also.

    In the earlier books we had highly detailed worlds that Lone Wolf had to run through at breakneck speed barely picking up bits as he went along and it was great. Here he still tried to keep us hurrying along at times (like when we get lost in the Neverness and need diving intervention to get out) but, yeah, there’s lots and lots of exposition. While I certainly remember playing the book at first and talking about it with a fellow sword fencer (we formed a friendship when I called our fencing team “The Kai Lords of Dublin”, well the other side had already taken the name “The Best” so its what I was left with), the fact is my memories of this book consist more of running from Dungeons of Torgar to Master of Darkness. The bit with the Chaos Army fleeing and the CM attacking does stand out but the rest not so much.

    Actually, rethinking books like Shadow on the Sand which also had lots of background, I think he would have been better either 1) doing a larger book like Shadow or 2) splitting Prisoners over two books. I think he just had too much material to be able to put in meaningful choices as well (my own worthless opinion).

    The only problem with fighting the Villains one by one is that all they’d really want to do is to get the Lorestones and then get out of there leaving you to rot in the Daziarn. Hunting you when there’s a way out just wouldn’t be believable, but realistically that’s a minor quibble which could be worked around in various ways. Basically the book needed more real choices and less of the insane obligatory fights. Otherwise like Matteo “I totally agree with you”.

    Roll on The Masters of Darkness. One of my fav books, will you be providing translations of what the Drakkarim yell? 😀

    Like

    1. For years, the website http://literallyunbelievable.org has been posting social media responses from people who didn’t know The Onion was satire. Even I might be fooled by some of its articles if I didn’t know the source, and I grew up with it here in Wisconsin.

      Go. young lady Byrne, go! And I can’t recommend Dave Morris’ Heart of Ice enough. Works equally well for imaginative readers of all ages, no dice or blind pencil stabbing required, minimal paperwork, futuristic dystopian setting a nice contrast to sword-and-sorcery vs. the Big Bad, etc.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Its a clever blend of believable machinations combined with slightly OTT actions, for instance who wouldn’t want to avoid working weekends or cleaning the grease trap. Thanks for that, I’ll be peeling back the pages of the onion again.

        Liked by 1 person

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