Tarnalin Tunnel

Fire on the Water, by Joe Dever, illustrated by Gary Chalk, 1984.

Flight from the Dark — the first and, because everyone starts on the same page, best-balanced of the Lone Wolf books — is followed by Fire on the Water, probably the least balanced and surely one of the most frustrating to play. First of all there are far too many sudden deaths: passages that ignore the whole system of endurance points and combat skill and meals and disciplines and just abruptly kill you. It doesn’t help, when you restart, that the quest as a whole is so linear. There’s one bottleneck, midway through the book, that’s particularly cruel: you have to pass through a tunnel guarded, unbeknownst to you, by a pair of Helghasts, undead creatures that are basically invincible. There are only two ways around them. One: to take a certain fork in the road, earlier in the book, and come upon a wounded man; to drive away his opponents despite their pleas and their lack of hostility; to avoid examining his pack and finding out his true nature; to successfully heal him only to find he’s a wounded Helghast; to then somehow defeat him in combat against ruinous odds; to keep the special spear that you originally pulled out of his body; to later opt not to give that Helghast-defeating spear to your comrade who’s defending you from the Helghasts; and then finally to defeat another Helghast yourself. If you miss out on any of those steps — even if you know the steps, it’s all too possible not to win the required battles — you are put to death. Unless (two): you chose, back at the beginning, the otherwise-not-terribly-useful discipline of Animal Kinship, which in this instance enables you to converse with a band of mice creatures who secret you through the tunnel unharmed. For your incredible luck you’re rewarded with the Sommerswerd, a weapon so powerful it effectively nullifies the next couple books; but it’s so valuable in the ones after that, you can’t very well skip Fire on the Water.