A dilly-dallying priest must resist having sex with the priestess as werewolves eat his people.
The Priest and the Claw involves a slight spin on good, evil, and neutral alignments. A derivative work, it pulls from D&D and the teen werewolf fad. Take Douglas's themes of saintliness and add magic. Spaces between paragraphs. No indentation.
The stat list seems a bit long, though the rules don't get too demanding as some stats only apply once in the entire game. The Specializations list uses an inconsistent mess of em and en dashes, introduces Jacob abruptly, and has confusing writing. In the first sentence of the rules, the missing word a hints at problems to come. Does anyone even look at their own work these days? I reread my entry eight times. I thoroughly like the people-skills mechanics and dreamy characters Daskalov writes about, but every story needs polish. It all comes down to time and more time.
Some of the writing problems don't glare as they do in other 2015 entries, but they permeate just as much. In just the rules section, I found allys, it's, and the instead of allies, its, and they respectively. Also, shadow borne appears instead of the established shadowborne. Other clumsiness includes missing periods and subject-verb agreement problems as in “what is now known as demons.” Oddly, Daskalov keeps accidentally injecting himself into the prose: “As soon as you turned twelve, you left my village . . .”
Section 2 introduces tense shifting, missing hyphenation in “century old woods,” and a wrong word in “shred by pieces.” Not that anyone cares, but I'll dare bring up a writing tip which might improve this: “The forest, however, proves not to be defenseless.” However, not, and -less trouble the brain with their triple cancellation. Rewrite in positive form.
Deeper in the game, we find more carelessness and many wrong words used: “The beast looks down suddenly resembling a bug plush toy” on 15, “jumps on her feet” on 43, and 30 somehow plants the wrong word in a cliché with “just to be on the save side.” On 27 Amie becomes Amy, and of lacks capitalization. “Torch light” needs compounding on 17, and 52 has a missing quotation mark. Numbers from one to ten should get spelled out. Daskalov employs good comma use sometimes, but other times he adds a few extra. Elsewhere, he needs commas to separate independent clauses joined by conjunctions.
The writing errors lead, inevitably, to clarity problems. Take this example: “They watch them grow and then feed on them.” Who watches what grow and feed on whom? Other times, the stressed reader must correct the text just to understand what happens.
“you let out a cry of anger and deliver a ferocious attack, cutting your hand on his blade but piercing your heart.”
“He must have sensed you but yet he left me alone.”
The writing also lacks sternness and explicitness. It contains too many occurrences of would, should, and seems to. In the rules section, everyone merely tends to instead of doing.
Certain inconsistencies show that Daskalov knows some of the rules but lacks either the time or care to apply them. Some words get proper hyphenation, for example, while others don't. I can't even tell how many hyphens this sample needs: “the single most protected against demons person.” Both woodcutters and wood cutters make appearances. Once Church of the Light receives capitalization, it always needs capitalization.
The writing issues lead to tonal confusion as well. The following two sentences look almost comical beside each other: “Let’s go grab some cupcakes and juice from the canteen. I will have an exorcist see her if necessary.” We have a powerful demon saying, “It is like swimming in a lake of chocolate and not being able to even taste it.” We have a blood-soaked murderous werewolf named Snowflake. “She was into witchcraft” sounds like something a teenager would utter, not an archbishop.
Likewise, a lot of instead of many sounds informal for stodgy and stilted clergymen. It also contributes to the wordiness. I've noted just a few other examples below, again from the rules section.
“underwent a metamorphosis to become” Metamorphized.
“tend to be able to speak [to animals]” Commune.
“At the same time” Meanwhile.
“are known to feel very uncomfortable” Suffer.
“a natural inclination of making people believe in him and share their secrets.” Trustworthiness.
A few problems arise with mechanics, some more severe than others. Fifteen years pass on section 2 without a stat change, yet the mere word “Yes” to the archbishop increases reputation. The text describes woodsmen getting ripped to pieces by werewolves, yet the hero plays politics for those 15 years. Section 40 asks, “Did you talk Sister Amie out of joining the night shift of the militia? No (41) or yes (42).” Daskalov may have forgotten about codewords in his game, which can hide these blatant checks with less-revealing ones. Section 76 fails to mention the codeword snow. Frustration can occur from building up so many Relations with Lupines points only to have none of them matter by the end.
Storywise, the good ending fails to address the lupine conflict at all, or the villain implicit in causing their mental disorder. The entire dungeon and false denouement, while interesting, feel like a different story altogether. On 46, “to break the ice” shows why I bring up the problem of cliché reliance so much in these reviews. The author creates his own world, yet fills it with Earth idioms inappropriate for said world. Like Douglas's entry, The Priest and the Claw has too much small talk and not enough doing. Adding four more sections to make an even 100 would look more effortful than 96.
On a more subjective topic, I have a problem with stories where the solution involves ousting a simple villain or saving a sacred tree that represents nature. A more realistic war over resources or a culture clash both sound far more challenging. But The Priest and the Claw becomes cartoony on 46. There we learn of the lupine's true nature as cuddlesome love-puppies. They simply turned vicious by magic as their symbolic nature trees get chopped down by an evil capitalist. I believe whatever the lupines kill and eat daily would disagree, but to borrow one of Lloyd's jokes, we won't talk about that here.
Like many authors this year, Daskalov handles dialogue and characterization well. The plot and ideas, though desultory, feel interesting enough to push the player onward. I did find the simple idea of deforestation an intriguing threat to the lupines. The story consistently delivers its priestcraft lingo, and even invents its own platitudes as the protagonist lectures his peers. I always enjoy Dasklov's romantic gamebooks, though they still need the relationship-building to go somewhere. I think Daskalov could make something great of this bricolage if he passes his work around to friends, maybe slipping them 20 bucks, then obeys all the red ink they slather onto it.