Monday, 7 September 2020

A Farrago of Distortion

As I have mentioned before, some time ago I bought several independently published Tunnels & Trolls solo adventures on eBay. I have also previously pointed out that Outlaw Press publications should be avoided. However, back in 2006, when I made the abovementioned purchases, Outlaw's dubious practises had not yet come to light, so even if the eBay listings had mentioned the publisher (and I can no longer remember whether or not they did), the name would have raised no red flags. Thus, I did end up buying a few solos that had been released by Outlaw.

One of them was by James Shipman, the man behind Outlaw, and that one is so atrocious a mini-solo that even if the writing were the only problematic aspect (which it isn't), I wouldn't play it for this blog (or indeed under any other circumstances). A second definitely contains artwork that was used without the creators' permission, as one of the artists first became aware of the misappropriation of their work when I provided details of the adventure for a listing at gamebooks.org.

And then there's Jason Mills' Scandal in Stringwater. I purchased it from (and it was signed by) Mr Mills himself, so I know that at least the creator of the text received due payment for his handiwork. The reproduction of the cover illustration at artist Simon Lee Tranter's website gives no grounds for suspecting that the picture was not properly commissioned. The possibility remains that some or all of the other nine artists whose work appears inside Scandal were ripped off, but I have no actual evidence of any impropriety relating to this adventure, and I see no reason to penalise the author for having been published by someone who turned out to have a dodgy stance on other people's IP, so I'm going to play Scandal here.

We turn from real-world legal matters to fantasy world legal matters, as Scandal is a self-proclaimed solo courtroom adventure. It starts with my character waking from a drunken slumber, and suddenly realising that the heaviness of his limbs is not just a symptom of the hangover, but because he's in chains. Opening his eyes, he finds himself in a cell, furnished only with a bunk and a bucket. A sign attached to the bars indicates that the cell is in a prison with the sort of name that might be picked by someone who thinks 'correctional institution' sounds too harsh (the initials of which spell out a rude word), all shackles and bars are made of magic-resistant meteoric iron, and water is available on request, "much of it clean".

I think I'll create a new character for this adventure. Lawyers' fees can be quite high in Stringwater, and if I skimp on starting equipment on the grounds that I'm not going to be allowed to keep anything anyway, that will leave me with more funds, and thus a wider range of options. And this is one of the rare occasions on which I don't feel the need to make my character a non-human, as the stats generated produce a workable warrior.
Strength 15
Intelligence 7
Luck 12
Constitution 8
Dexterity 14
Charisma 10
Speed 12
Only two poor attributes there, and both are quite appropriate for the situation in which I find myself: stupid enough to go on the drinking binge that led to my incarceration, and not healthy enough to have a high tolerance for alcohol.

For a while I try to remember what I could have done to break the law, and then I have a visitor. Quisling, clerk of the Royal Court, arrives to inform me that my trial will take place tomorrow, and to present me with details of the available defence advocates. I may risk conducting my own defence, select an advocate from the list, or go with the court-appointed one.

There are seven advocates listed, priced (it would appear) according to their competence. Going with the court-appointed one would be a gamble: the fee is fixed, and the advocate randomly selected from the first six on the list, so I'm just as likely to get an excellent lawyer half-price as to wind up paying slightly more than double for the services of the worst of the lot. Additionally, I only have the option of changing advocate (finances permitting) if I don't go with the court-appointed one.

So, do I dispense with the services of a lawyer (inadvisable), go with one of the better ones for whose services I have enough money, take a chance on the court's choice, or pick the seventh lawyer, who, intriguingly, takes her payment in Charisma points rather than cash? I think I'll try Mello Mildman. He's reasonably competent, and seems too bland to have a Lionel Hutz/Judge Snyder-esque bad relationship with any of the Judges. And his fees are just low enough that I could change lawyers if things start going badly.

Quisling informs me of the charge, which is randomly determined. I get to choose whether or not I'm actually guilty of it (so a reader who would NEVER litter need not be forced to play a character who did), but the verdict may not reflect the truth. And I am accused of... arson. Not good, but could be worse - if I'd got one lower, it'd be animal molestation. As regards culpability, I'm going with innocent, and shall plead Not Guilty.

The Judge and prosecuting counsel are also randomly selected. At this point I make the appropriate rolls, but I won't find out who they signify until I'm in court. Judge 1, Prosecutor 6, whatever that means. Quisling reassures me that the death penalty is only rarely issued, and when it is, the disembowelling usually takes under an hour. How very encouraging...

During the intervening time I manage to remove a screw from the bucket in my cell. It's not much of a weapon or a lockpick, but marginally better than nothing. Night passes without incident, and after a disconcertingly hearty breakfast I am taken upstairs to the courtroom. My advocate offhandedly introduces himself and starts toying with a silver coin and intermittently sighing. Not the most promising of starts, but it's a little early to try anything extreme.

The judge arrives, and Quisling reads the charges. I am accused of burning down the King's storehouse of biscuits and confectionery. A detailed list of the cakes and biscuits destroyed or damaged follows, ending with the observations that nobody likes the coconut oblongs that were ruined, and that it has yet to be determined whether or not the fire led to the softening of a dozen crackers.

Judge Hans Wringynne, a hobbit barely visible beneath the judicial wig, expresses his disbelief that a person such as I could be responsible for so terrible a crime, and asks if I did it. My advocate seems too disinterested to warn me if the judge could be shamming benignity, but I'll ask him anyway (and yes, even players representing themselves have the option of consulting their lawyer). Mildman shrugs.

I plead not guilty. The Judge says that he is inclined to believe me, but the trial must nevertheless take place. Still, his attitude means that I gain a Trial Point, and the more of those I have, the more likely a favourable outcome.

Judge Wringynne calls for the King's Prosecutor to make the case against me. A cheery-looking middle-aged man stands, and announces himself as Albert Fettling. It would appear that he is a perceptive and fair-minded individual, as I gain a Trial Point for not having committed the crime (a quick glance at some of the other Prosecutors' introductory sections reveals a variatey of biases and prejudices that could favourably or adversely affect the Trial Point score).

Fettling calls for the first Exhibit, a large white amphora with the words 'FLAME OIL' glazed on it, the lid secured with a complex mesh of hooks and loops, and instructs me to open it. Given my advocate's attitude so far, there seems little point in seeking his advice, so I decide to make a show of not being able to undo the tangle that holds the lid in place. Regrettably, it is my Charisma which determines whether or not I get away with the sham, and I don't roll anywhere near highly enough to succeed. I lose 3 Trial Points (the score can go into negatives) for wasting the court's time.

Fettling then announces that three of these vessels were stored near the confectionery warehouse, but were not used, indicating that the person responsible for the fire was unable to open them. Nobody seems to take my evident ignorance of this fact as proof that I had nothing to do with the fire.

The next Exhibit is called for. It's a boot, very much like one from a pair I recently bought (not that I would have done at the price listed). Fettling instructs me to try it on, and my leg is unshackled to make this possible. This time I decide to see if Mildman is prepared to do anything to earn his fee. He shrugs and comments that the boot is probably mine. Thanks a lot, Mildman.

The Prosecutor explains that the boot was found at the scene of the crime, and I was wearing its partner when arrested. He concedes that there are many ways in which a drunkard could lose a boot, so this revelation only costs me one Trial Point, but Fettling then claims to have a witness, and goes on to note that the boot was wedged in a pile of chocolate cup-cakes, which were not burned but did get squashed. Fortunately for me, I'm not being tried by the Judge who loves chocolate cup-cakes.

The boot is taken away, and my leg is shackled again. Fettling's cheery mood fails to affect the Judge (though a different one might have been slightly swayed one way or another), and he calls the aforementioned witness, King's Own Confectioner Paddy d'Midriff, who claims to have provided an individual with a light shortly before the Confectionery Warehouse was set ablaze, and to have seen someone making a lopsided departure just afterwards. His testimony costs me 3 Trial Points, and another 2 when (following a failed Luck roll on my part) he explicitly identifies me as the individual to whom he gave a light. However, my advocate finally does something useful, getting d'Midriff to concede that the person seen fleeing the burning warehouse might not have been the same one who asked for a light. I recover a couple of Trial Points thanks to that admission.

The Judge dismisses d'Midriff, some kind of lucky break fails to occur, and it's time for the prosecution to sum up the case. Fettling rambles on vaguely for a little while, eventually recommending a guilty verdict. His laid-back summation works in my favour, and I gain a couple more Trial Points, but my score is still negative. Can my advocate swing the balance? More to the point, will he do so even if capable?

More intent on his coin than the proceedings, Mildman states that the first Exhibit can be dismissed, the second is irrelevant, and the witness was laughable, concluding that, "There's no case to answer really." That's either brilliant or appalling - and a roll of the die determines that it did more harm than good. The Judge sadly pronounces me Guilty, and asks if I have anything to say before sentence is passed. I could still try to escape, but given the toughness of the Saving Rolls I've had to make so far, my chances of success appear negligible, so I don't bother. Attempted flight will only make me seem more guilty.

I'm presented with a variety of comments I could make before sentence is pronounced, some of them appearing very unwise. I claim to have been framed, and a lucky roll has this weaken the Judge's resolve, adding one Trial Point, so I follow it up by claiming to have a family to support. This also works in my favour, bringing my Trial Point score to zero, so I think I'll quit while I'm not in the negatives.

Judge Wryngynne tells me that in Stringwater they make the punishment fit the crime, so I must work in the King's Confectionery Kitchen to make reparation for the destroyed comestibles. This could be bad news for my waistline, if not for the fact that my pleas to the judge have reduced the length of my sentence to 0 months. Not sure how that works, but I'll put it down to 'time served' and consider myself lucky to have avoided the Dexterity penalties that come with the weight gain.

To mark the conclusion of our (non-existent) working relationship, d'Midriff presents me with a goodie bag, which turns out to contain seven magic brandy-snaps, each of which can be eaten to restore 10 Constitution points or thrown to cause a fairly impressive explosion. If I were an arsonist, I could do some serious damage with them. And my experiences in Stringwater have left me more than half way towards levelling up. Next step, see what weapon and armour I can get with my remaining cash...

Well, that was entertaining. I think there should probably be a restriction on raising Trial Points above -1 if found Guilty. Still, that loophole and a minor typo are the only issues I have with the adventure, at least based on this playthrough. The variety of charges, Judges and Prosecutors should make it possible to replay Scandal in Stringwater several times and have very different experiences along the way, though the way in which they are determined makes a lot of what happens very random. I hope that, following the exposure of Outlaw's shady practises, Mr. Mills was able to get this republished by a reputable company, because it doesn't deserve to have become unavailable on account of James Shipman's wrongdoings. 

Friday, 4 September 2020

This Is Where It Gets Complicated

It's been almost 100 playthroughs since I last had a go at a Combat Command book, and the next one in the series is unique in being set in a fictional universe I know. Not that that was the case when I originally purchased the book, or even when I started this blog. Back then, my only experience of the works of Roger Zelazny was a short story I'd read in an anthology in 1990, of which I can remember only the line, "I think that mental cruelty was a trout." I did also own a copy of Deus Irae, the novel he co-wrote with Philip K. Dick, but I hadn't yet read it.

Time passed. On one of my browsing expeditions to East Hull, I came across a very reasonably priced volume comprising the five novels of the first series of Zelazny's Chronicles of Amber. Having read some very positive feedback about the series at an online forum I frequented, and knowing that I owned a gamebook connceted to the series, I bought the volume, and a little while later I took it with me to read on the coach when visiting family on the other side of the country, and enjoyed it (despite the appalling number of OCR-induced typos). Thus, I approach Neil Randall's Nine Princes in Amber: The Black Road War with a degree of familiarity with its characters and setting, and greater capacity for being disappointed if this book turns out to be as poor as most of the preceding Combat Command gamebooks proved.

Section 1 is long - around 13 pages, not including the illustration - but does a reasonable job of holding my attention. It's a first person narrative, like at least the first series of novels, but with a different narrator. My character is Derek, the son of Eric (Eric was the principal antagonist in the first couple of books). It is now part of the way through, or possibly after the end of, the second series - that much is clear from the fact that Derek has read the first seven novels. Yes, they exist within the fictional reality as well as the one in which I'm writing this blog. Derek suspects that they're not an entirely accurate account, owing to authorial bias or faulty memory, but acknowledges that something like the events described in the books did happen.

At the start of the adventure, Derek is in Toronto, seeking a way to get to Amber, which is a parallel world. Having identified someone who may be able to help, he and eleven associates are keeping watch on the man's apartment, preparing to visit or raid it at an appropriate time. And then somebody drops a bomb on Derek's car. A timely warning from one of the team enables him to dive clear in the nick of time, but the attack raises some unpleasant questions. Derek stealthily consults with some of the others, none of whom are able to identify the attacker. A couple of minor details catch my attention, each one seemingly trivial on its own, but in combination making me wonder... A black squirrel is nibbling on the remnants of an apple as Derek approaches Jacques, and when Derek throws a rotten apple at Tom, it is seized by a small black dog. Any more black animals, and I shall become suspicious. Especially if they do anything with apples.

The bookshop above which the apartment is situated finally closes, and Derek and Jacques make their way to the door. A ring at the doorbell elicits no response for long enough that Jacques insists on breaking in, but before they can take any further action, the door is smashed open from within, and a trio of knife-wielding thugs emerges. One goes for Jacques, one dashes out into the street, and the third goes for Derek, so it's time for me to get the dice out and see how the fight pans out. Such is Derek and Jacques' expertise (combined with a decent roll on my part) that their attackers don't make it through the first round of combat. Despite having significant military experience, Derek has never killed before, and is sick afterwards.

Four more of the team join him and Jacques as they proceed into the apartment. The living room door is open, and the room itself offers few opportunities for concealment, while anything or anyone could be behind the closed bedroom door. I decide that Derek cannot resist the lure of the unknown, and he opens the bedroom door. What he sees behind it is unusual, and his reaction is strange.

The room is illuminated by a blue light with no obvious source, a venetian blind keeping it from showing through the window. There is no furniture, unless you count the tapestries on the walls, and the floor is decorated with a complex network of coloured lines and boxes, in which a pattern is just vaguely discernible. At the centre is a circular door, which looks as if it should lead down into the bookshop, though there was no sign of it when Derek and his men checked out the shop.

What is strange about Derek's reaction is that it hardly is a reaction. The rulers of Amber are able to unlock their dimension-hopping powers by walking a specific path along a labyrinthine pattern on a floor. Derek must know this: he's read the same books that I have. And while the mention of boxes doesn't really fit with the Pattern as described in the novels, the presence here of a pattern ought to be raising all sorts of questions about what, if anything, it has to do with the Pattern. But Derek's just wondering if he should investigate the door or go to the living room after all.

Further investigation seems like the best option, but there's something else to consider. Making a mistake while walking the Pattern has lethal consequences. So if Mr. Randall's interpretation of Zelazny's writing is at odds with mine, and this is a reproduction of the all-important Pattern, and Derek cluelessly strides straight across to the door because he's too thick to have figured out that the pattern is the Pattern, that's game over (and a big poke in the eye for anyone reading this book who's not familiar with the Amber novels, as I would have been if this blog didn't keep going on hiatus).

I'm going to hope that the author isn't that sloppy/cruel. And if he is, and Derek dies for failing to twig what someone with his knowledge should have, then the book doesn't deserve any more of my attention than it's already had. Derek sets foot on the pattern, and feels energy pulse into him. He starts to follow the pattern, finding that each successive step takes more of an effort than the last one. Should he turn back or keep going? It seems increasingly likely that this is the Pattern, so not continuing looks like a very bad idea.

Once Derek has committed himself to following the Pattern, it becomes easier. He reaches the door, which bears an inscription in a language he cannot read, and opens it. Beyond it are darkness, a foul stench, and insanity.

And that's it. Game over. The book's spine cracked as I opened it to what turned out to be the 'You just failed, sucker' section, but after having an Instant Death sprung on me like that for no good reason, I don't care. After an intriguing and promising start, The Black Road War turned into an authorial thumbed nose at the reader. It's not the worst gamebook I've read, but it is a definite candidate for 'most disappointing'.

Monday, 31 August 2020

So Quiet When There's No One About

27 years after Warlock magazine published prize-winning mini-adventure The Dervish Stone, author Paul Struth had a second mini-adventure, Queen of Shades, published in issue 7 of Fighting Fantazine. Based on my one attempt at it to date, Queen seems to be a distinct improvement on Stone, with no sign of the overly derivative set pieces or questionable morality of Struth's earlier work. I don't remember exactly how I failed it, but I'm pretty sure I was still some way off of figuring out how to resolve the primary conundrum confronting my associates and me.

My character is a Sightmaster, an individual with powers of telescopic vision. The Sightmasters first appeared back in The Shamutanti Hills, though they weren't covered in much detail - I'm not even sure whether being one is a matter of species, talent or training. Regardless, I grew up in Analand, but now I live in KharĂ©, and earn my living as a scout for a party of adventurers led by a sorcerer named Fox.

Fox's gang are antique dealers, of a sort. We find ancient items of interest in places such as neglected tombs and sell them to collectors who will prize and cherish and look after them. On a recent expedition to the long-abandoned tomb of Queen Iltikar on the island of Nilgiri we acquired an ornate hand mirror, untarnished despite having been buried in damp conditions for a couple of millennia. A successful mission, marred only by the fact that as we were returning home, one member of the party somehow managed to fall overboard and drown. Last night lethal misfortune befell a second colleague, a barbarian from Crolia, seemingly killed in a drunken brawl over a woman. Beset by a strangely intense sensation of unease, I'm beginning to wonder if that mirror might be cursed...

This is a type of story that seems to have been neglected by gamebooks. There have been cursed items before, but usually their effect has been a simple one-off attribute penalty. I've played a few adventures based on the premise of an ancient terror unleashed by tomb robbers, but they've gone for the approach of  'the fools who broke in are dead, but now innocent people are in danger, so we need YOU, Selfless McHeroicface, to put down this evil.' Golden Dragon's The Temple of Flame did have a bit where you could take a bit of loot from a grave, subsequently being confronted by the Revenant of the grave's occupant, come to ask for his property back try and make magical creepers sprout from your body and choke you, but that was just a minor tangent with no real connection to the main plot.

Anyway, I have digressed for long enough. Time to see what my stats are. I'll risk taking the dice as they fall.
Skill 8
Stamina 14
Luck 11
Not great, but I couldn't have made many improvements by allocating dice, so I'll just have to hope that a high Skill is not essential for successful completion of the adventure.

I wake to see two unfamiliar warrior women in my room, clearly intent on killing me. The accompanying illustration (by Alexander Ballingall) suggests poor communication between author and artist, which is a little alarming considering that Mr. Ballingall is also the editor of the 'zine. I'm in no mood to list all of the many ways in which the picture and text contradict each other, but the smirk on the face of the woman to my left really doesn't fit the 'no sign of emotion' described.

The women are clearly good fighters, disconcertingly silent as they advance on me, and clad in an archaic style of armour. They don't appear to be the type whose sense of honour dictates a fair fight, as they're giving me no opportunity to get my own weapon, a quarterstaff. A nearby window offers a chance of escape, but I'm on the second floor (and given the author's origins, I suspect that that's a British-style second floor, two up from ground level), so it's some way down.

Can I get any information out of them? It seems unlikely, but I'll give it a go anyway. I say something - the text doesn't specify what - but the women make no response to my words, and simply close in on me. I must either fight them bare-handed (and I doubt that I'd be much good against them even without the Attack Strength penalty for being unarmed) or flee. It's not every day that you get a legitimate opportunity to make use of the word 'autodefenestration', so I'll go with that.

I fall about six metres, but manage to sustain only minor damage. After a quick glance up at my window, three storeys above (wouldn't that be the third floor, even by British reckoning?), I look around the courtyard in which I have landed. Mist covers the ground, but abruptly coalesces into the forms of the two women. Well, if they're not going to play fair, I'm going to have to invoke a divine intervention. Having grown up in Analand, my character is a devotee of Libra, and now calls on her for assistance against these ethereal assassins.

A manifestation of Libra appears and my assailants vanish. However, this turns out to be just a temporary solution to my problem. Justice is Libra's realm, and she is not happy at having been invoked in an attempt to shield a thief from the consequences of his misdeeds. Indeed, she only responded because the lack of warning about the consequences of taking anything from Iltikar's tomb was itself somewhat unjust. If there'd been a sign reading, 'Grave robbers will be tracked down and killed by spectral Shield Maidens', I'd have been defenceless against the guardian shades. As I will be when they reappear tomorrow night, unless by then the mirror is back where we found it.

In the morning I meet with my surviving associates, Fox and Jardakka the Red-Eye. When I played KharĂ© - Cityport of Traps for this blog, I didn't get far enough to encounter the Red-Eyes, so I should probably explain a little about them in case any readers are unfamiliar with the species. Red-Eyes are Fighting Fantasy's equivalent of Cyclops from the X-Men. When they open their eyes, beams of fire shoot out. So they tend to walk around with their eyes closed, able to see faintly through their fireproof eyelids. And I work with one of them. She has a pet monkey, named Cheechak, who is probably also on Iltikar's guardians' hit list.

I explain what happened last night (along the way establishing that I went back to my room and retrieved my quarterstaff), and our deliberations are interrupted by the ogress who owns the tavern where we're meeting, come to see if any of us want to buy a meal at the special rate of exactly what it costs any other customer. I risk declining: if this is the only opportunity I get to eat all day, I'll face a Stamina penalty later on, but if I do eat now, I'll waste some of the attendant Stamina gain.

Fox then reveals that returning the mirror will be tricky, as he's already sold it. He claims not to have received payment yet, and Jardakka accuses him of having taken the money and kept it for himself. Sensing that she's about to lose her temper and start unleashing her fiery vision, Cheechak gets out of the way. I try to calm her down, since it will be harder to arrange a meeting with the purchaser if Fox has had his face burned off, and she sees reason (though somewhat blurrily, as her eyelids remain closed).

We then disagree on what to do next. I want to try and get the mirror back so we can return it, Jardakka wants to go shopping for something magical to destroy the shades so we get to keep at least some of the takings from the job, and Fox means to ask for advice from his friend Vik, who has dealt with Shield Maidens in the past. I'm not sure that the ones Vik confronted were spectral guardians, so I'm dubious about how much help he can be, and Libra made it pretty clear that the only way for me to regain her favour is to return the mirror, so even if we are able to track down an artefact capable of permanently destroying the supernatural killers before sundown, doing so would still leave me in a deity's bad books, which is not a good position in which to be. Consequently I insist on meeting the buyer of the mirror.

Jardakka and I proceed to the home of Shar-kali-Sharri, a merchant who made his fortune trading in Mutton Fish. The house is guarded by a couple of Soldier Mants (yet another FF take on human-sized sapient ant-based beings), currently being ordered about by a small winged humanoid, presumably the Minimite with whom Fox negotiated the sale. Indeed it is Enno the Minimite, an obnoxiously officious little so-and-so who harangues us for turning up without an appointment. I explain that we need to speak with his employer about the mirror, and he insists that we leave our weapons with the guards before entering. Thankfully he's not so much of a jobsworth as to try and make Jardakka remove her eyes, but I hand over my quarterstaff, and we are permitted to enter.

Enno has us wait in the great hall, and I admire the antiques on display. When he returns, he is accompanied by a part-human, part-snake creature known as a Serpentine, who asks why we wish to speak with her master. The text then asks what I intend to do here, and all the options offered are dubious, though one is less bad than the others. I don't wish to take the mirror by (potentially lethal) force, or to ascertain the location of the mirror with a view to stealing it again, which only leaves trying to scare the merchant into giving us the mirror back. While that is, in a sense, what I'm trying to do, it has the wrong emphasis, coming across more as attempted extortion than an urgent warning.

The Serpentine uses her hypnotic gaze to compel me to tell the truth (which I'd been intending to do anyway), and some of those present react very oddly. Jardakka is appalled to hear me reveal that we want to return the mirror whence it came before the curse upon it gets everyone here killed, and Enno takes this revelation as proof that we're up to no good. Even I am inexplicably appalled to hear myself saying what I'd intended to say. Still, the snake woman shows some sense: alarmed to hear that the mirror is cursed, she decides that she'd better tell Shar-kali-Sharri.

The merchant himself comes to deal with us, and I am surprised to find that he's a Cyclops. He's also a sceptic who places too little trust in the Serpentine's aptitude for extracting the truth from others, as he refuses to believe my warning, and says that if we want the mirror back, we'll have to pay 100 gold pieces more than he paid Fox for it. Jardakka is not happy to learn that she was right about the sorcerer's having lied to us about the money, and when Shar-kali-Sharri sees that our associate has not been entirely straight with us, he offers us 20 gold pieces each to leave him alone. I insist that we need to return the mirror to the tomb, and though his certainty wavers for a moment, he remains unconvinced, and tells us to come back when we have a serious offer for him.

As the Serpentine escorts us off the premises, I catch sight of the Cyclops' daughter, who appears to have been eavesdropping on our meeting, and has the mirror in her hand. I don't think attempting to take the mirror from her will end well (partly because the Serpentine is a lot closer to me than I am to the young Cyclops, partly because it's a little too early in the adventure to be succeeding just yet), so I leave the house as requested. At least I now know who actually has the mirror.

The Soldier Mants return my quarterstaff as I leave. Jardakka and I discuss our options. It looks as if we're going to have to resteal the mirror. Right now it's too early in the day to try anything, but we can at least snoop around and get a better idea of how we might break in. There are no obvious weaknesses in the security set-up, and we cut short our investigation of the quay behind the house when Enno comes out to speak with the official who monitors incoming cargo.

Again I pass up the opportunity to buy some food, and this time I am hit with a Stamina penalty for going hungry. The text didn't really make it clear how much time had passed. Seeking Fox seems like a waste of time: the Minimite's innate magic-negating ability will make it impossible for the sorcerer to assist us with any spells, and Jardakka might be distracted at an inopportune moment, given her anger at our associate's having lied to us about the money. I guess it's time we paid a second visit to the merchant's place, this time going incognito.

The main door is too well-guarded to serve our purposes, so we make for a side door leading into the garden. It is bolted from the inside, and breaking it down would make too much noise, but while I check it out, I notice someone watching from the shadows. My good eyesight enables me to tell that he's a priest of Slangg, this world's god of malice (and possibly also gameshows). The priest departs upon realising that I've spotted him, and I decide to wait and see if he was waiting for somebody to use the side door.

Sure enough, before long the door opens, and out steps someone dressed as a servant, but she looks enough like Shar-kali-Sharri's daughter that I decide to approach her rather than try and sneak in through the gate once she's gone - if she has the mirror on her, breaking into the house won't do us any good. She recognises me, and is obviously afraid. Threatening her seems like a bad idea - she might be up to something clandestine, but that doesn't mean she won't scream if she thinks her life is in danger. As it turns out, she screams anyway, and the priest and one of the Soldier Mants come running, so we have to flee.

On the waterfront we see that a galley is unloading cargo, which Worker Mants are transporting into the house, watched by Enno. Hoping that the young Cyclops left the mirror in her room after all, I decide to see if the galley captain is willing to accept a bribe to let us hide in an empty crate and have the Mants carry us into the house. The price he asks is steep but affordable, but after accepting the money, he betrays us to Enno, and the Soldier Mants deny the ethereal Shield Maidens two kills.

Well, all I learned from that attempt was not to try bribing the captain. I think I like the idea of this mini-adventure more than its execution. The initial encounter with the Serpentine seems particularly flawed, what with the sub-par selection of options and the inappropriate reactions of most of the characters. Nevertheless, a definite improvement on the author's previous work, and I'm more keen to give this another go than several of the earlier Fighting Fantazine mini-adventures I have yet to beat.

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

You Know I Know When It's a Dream

Last year I played The Prisoners of Time, the eleventh Lone Wolf gamebook, because I wasn't keen to have a second go at Echoes of Lost Light, the mini-adventure in the Mongoose Publishing reissue of the tenth book in the series. That attempt reminded me of what Prisoners is like (and cleared up a concern I had about possible adverse consequences of including Echoes in the ongoing narrative), so now I'm trying Echoes again in order to postpone the time at which I have to replay Prisoners for this blog.

To recap the plot: I have just recovered one of the three Lorestones which had fallen into the clutches of Darklord Gnaag. However, they were being used as bait in a trap, and now the other two and I are all plummeting into a portal leading to another realm. To make things worse, the Lorestone I now hold has been tainted by evil sorcery, and needs to be put right. As if the Lorestone were a computer with a virus, I need to use an uncorrupted back-up to restore it to its rightful state, and so I find myself in a mystical reconstruction of Luomi, the city from which it was stolen, and must make my way to the Shrine at the heart of the city. There are further complications: this version of the city being the most recent save from before the Lorestone was affected, it does also contain reconstructions of the Darklords' minions who plundered it, and the whole place is deteriorating, with great voids opening up between the still-stable parts of the fragmented sim city.

As on my previous attempt, I choose not to encounter the enemies I can sense within the remnants of the gatehouse and keep. However, this time round the random number generator does not favour me as I make my way along the cobblestone road, and I blunder into a spiked pit, losing a lot of Endurance. The text is unclear on whether a 0 on the table is to be treated as zero or ten, so I'm not sure whether I took 9 or 19 damage, but it's a significant amount either way.

Crawling back up to ground level, I proceed to the first breach in what passes for reality here, and will a bridge of light into being for long enough to cross it. Evading the phantasmal Drakkar warriors who patrol this section of the city, I follow the sounds of battle, since doing so last time led me to an essential-looking item.

Giak spearmen are attacking two of Luomi's defenders, and kill one of them before I can intervene. I fire a few arrows at them before charging into battle, and it's a good thing I do, because the random numbers I get are abysmal, and the fight would last even longer if I hadn't inflicted a decent amount of damage at the start. Depending on just how much damage I took in that trap, I'm down to 1 or 11 Endurance. Still, the damage I took in the fight will heal, provided I can stay out of trouble for long enough.

The last soldier passes on his hammer before dying, and I read his mind with Divination to find out what I have to do with it. Continuing on my way, I pass through the noxious mist wreathing the corpses of more of the city's fighting men, unharmed myself thanks to the Discipline of Nexus.

I've almost recovered all the Endurance I can (why is it that Healing will make good damage done by a spear if somebody jabbed it into me, but not if I fell onto it?) by the time I reach the next gap. This one is larger, and creating a bridge across it costs Endurance, though I am able to reduce the damage by a fair amount. Even so, I'm down to 6 or 16, and I won't be getting the points I just lost back any time soon.

As on my last attempt at this adventure, Divination alerts me to the existence of a secret tunnel that will enable me to avoid the burning streets, and Nexus gains me access to it. However, on this occasion I do not investigate the acoustically dubious echoes and fall into nothingness. The tunnel has many exits, though most are inoperable owing to the damage overhead. While seeking one that will let me out, I find an alcove where I can sit and rest.

It turns out that I was wrong about not getting back the Endurance I spent creating the bridge: in a departure from standard Lone Wolf rules, eating a Meal here will restore a couple of points. Remember, this place isn't real, so I don't actually need to eat, and therefore if I do have food, it'll make me stronger. Makes about as much sense as the demarcation of what damage Healing can put right and what it won't, but at least this time the nonsense benefits me. If I didn't have any food on me, I could still restore 1 Endurance by using the Discipline of Huntsmanship, which is a little awkward, given that there's no such Discipline. Hunting, yes. Huntmastery, yes. Grand Huntmastery, not until book 13, but it is a Discipline (or will be). But no Huntsmanship.

Further along, I note that the floor of the tunnel is damaged, forcing me to tread carefully in order to avoid injuring my foot on a broken flagstone. Rounding a corner, I discover the reason for the poor state of repair here. A massive Bloodwyrm has burrowed into the tunnel, and appears keen to find out if eating me will add to its Endurance. As I don't have the Discipline of Animal Control (which is not referred to as Animal Controlsmanship, though I imagine it's only a matter of time), I must fight. The Bloodwyrm has the same stats as the mob of Giaks I fought earlier, but this time the random numbers are on my side, and I kill it with a single blow, taking no damage myself.

A little further on I see indications that there's another breach up ahead. A ladder leads up to a hatch like the one through which I entered, and this one does open. Back above ground I can make out nothing but smoke and fire, but have no trouble finding the edge of this chunk of solidity. A slightly tricky choice awaits me here: I must decide how much Endurance I'm willing to sacrifice to create the next bridge, and then add a random number (plus a bonus for having the right Lore-Circle). So do I spend enough to guarantee success, but risk dying from Endurance loss later on, or conserve my health and take a chance on getting a high enough number anyway?

I spend enough to halve the risk of failure. It's not enough (confounded RNG!). I collapse, worn out by not exerting myself hard enough, the ground disintegrates beneath me, and I plunge into unending nothingness.

Friday, 3 July 2020

Any Place Is Another Place

The Labyrinths of Fear is the second of Dave Morris' Knightmare tie-in novelette/gamebook combos, though the first to put his name on the spine. As I explained when attempting the first Knightmare book, I never got into the series when it originally came out, so I have no noteworthy memories associated with any of them. I got at least one of them in a now-closed charity shop on the avenue where I've been doing most of my shopping during lockdown, and it might have been Labyrinths, but I can't say for certain.

I started by reading the story that takes up slightly more than half the page count. It's a decent enough yarn (though it lacks a proper comeuppance for the contemptible antagonist), various elements of which reminded me of some of Morris' other books, which I enjoyed more. Anwin Wood, the principal setting for the story, is reminiscent of Crypt of the Vampire's Wistren Wood, the mythic portals of ivory and horn featured in The Eye of the Dragon make a fleeting and seemingly insignificant appearance, and the final twist is a variation on the big twist to the second scenario in the fourth Dragon Warriors book. The book's title doesn't seem particularly relevant to the story - it might be easy for outsiders to get lost in the wood, but that doesn't make it a labyrinth, and the subterranean tunnels through which Treguard and his pursuers travel on the way to the climactic confrontation don't come across as being particularly labyrinthine, either.

Anyway, the main event as far as this blog is concerned is the gamebook. Little has changed rules-wise since the first book. Life Force Status still runs on the traffic light system, though it is now possible to carry food and (where permitted by the text) consume it to go back up a colour grade. Carrying capacity has increased, while the Adventurer's Code has been simplified (though chivalrous behaviour is still advised).

On with the adventure. Treguard equips me with the Helm of Justice and a meat pie, and leads me to the dungeon entrance. I head down a tunnel and reach three doors. The previous book said that, in the absence of any indication that one direction is preferable to another, it would be advisable to go right. No such hint was provided here, but I'll try the right door anyway.

I proceed to a room in which a crone is stirring a bubbling cauldron. She sees me before I can sneak away, so I might as well talk to her. It transpires that her name is Mildread, and she doesn't think I look much like an adventurer. Nevertheless, she allows me to take one item from an assortment in a chest, and her pet crow advises me to pick the clue, so I need to figure out what he means by that. A quick look at the etymology of the word suggests that the ball of thread is the wisest choice, so I take that.

Mildread scorns my selection (regardless of what I picked) and tells me to buzz off. I could try and steal a second item, but that's probably the sort of unchivalrous act that would get me penalised, so I leave. It becomes apparent that not all the items I passed up are irrelevant, but since I didn't take the blank parchment, I don't know if it's something useful or harmful.

Regardless, I wander along until I reach another room, this one occupied by a feasting jester, who offers to share his food if I answer his riddle (which the text points out to have iffy grammar, but excuses it on the grounds of poetic licence). Is the citadel about which he asks the one that came up in conversation early in the story? The name isn't identical, but is close enough that it could be an example of the sort of linguistic mutation that had Beijing rendered as 'Peking' for so many years, so I think I'll go with that. And I get two ham rolls, so I was right to make that inference.

Presented with a choice of two exits, I decide to see if the jester can offer a hint. If he has any advice, it'll probably be in the form of another riddle, but a cryptic clue is usually better than none. No,it turns out that he wants a bribe. It appears that giving him back a roll will suffice, so I do that. And then the jester comes out with a puzzle, this one another take on the 'one liar, one truthful speaker' set-up that Morris has used before, drawing on a poem written centuries after the time in which this adventure is set. It's a bit sneaky, but the answer I get to the one question the book has me ask is enough to provide a solution.

The jester directs me to the door I'd have chosen in the absence of any hint, but as I have yet to see any instruction to change my Life Force Status, I don't think there's too much risk of my coming to regret having handed back some food. The route indicated takes me to what appears to be the entrance to the next level of the dungeon, though there is also a maze entrance nearby. Since I took the thread from Mildread, I should probably use it to help me check out the maze before I descend.

At the centre of the maze I find a fountain that would heal me if my Life Force Status had been depleted. There's also a key in the water, so I take that. The thread then enables me to retrace my steps to the entrance, and along the way I see that some of the maze layout has changed, so if I'd got that parchment instead, acquired a quill, and drawn a map, I'd still be at risk of losing my way.

A wellway leads to the next level. Drawing up the bucket, I find it to contain bones and rusty armour. Ominous. Nevertheless, I contrive a way to lower myself down, and at the bottom I equip myself with a stray rib-bone in case I need to distract a dog or similar creature. Around now I could do with a bit more clarity regarding inventory management. Does the Helm of Justice count towards my total, or does wearing it not count as carrying an item? Do I still have the thread? If the answer to both is yes, I now need to eat or discard something. Wonder if I can trade in the roll for a Schroedinger's Kit Kat...

Treguard's voice warns me not to become complacent just because I've made it as far as Level Two, and reveals that Elf-King Arawn, an enemy of his from the story, is below Level Three, and seeking to topple the castle's foundations. I need to get to him and thwart him - and I'm likely to need more than a thread, a bone, a key, and an uncertain number of food items to do so.

The only exit leads to Merlin's alchemical laboratory, in which the wizard himself is too preoccupied with a contraption to notice me. Stealing spell ingredients would be a bad idea, and I've had no indication that Merlin is hostile, so making a hurried exit seems unnecessary. I attempt conversation, and Merlin complains that the clock he's just made is faulty, and the hands go in the wrong direction. This may be a low-key way of telling uninformed readers the meaning of 'widdershins', or just a whimsical interlude before the real point of the encounter: Merlin gives me a Smoke spell (which falls into a separate category from items, so there's no need to wonder if I should be dropping anything just yet) and tells me which exit to take.

Another passage leads me to a chamber illuminated by a chandelier. Doors lead left and right, and Granitas the Wall Monster manifests in front of me, its booming voice causing a candle to fall. I have the option of taking that candle, and decide that even if I do still have the thread, I probably won't need it again, so I add the candle to my inventory in its stead. Granitas presents me with a riddle that will indicate which way I should go from here, threatening death if I get it wrong. The only answer that makes any sense suggests that I should ignore both doors and walk into the stony maw ahead, so I risk doing just that.

Right choice. I proceed through a tunnel to a room in which a black cat lies on a table next to a plate of roast meat. I've still had no instructions to lower my Life Force Status, so there's nothing to be gained by eating the meat, which leaves me with just a choice of exit. The same directions as led from Merlin's lab, so I think I'll go with the one that worked back there.

The door leading that way is fastened with a gilded padlock, so I use the golden key to open it up. Beyond is a larder, containing three joints of what may be pork. On the floor is a silver coin, one side showing the mistletoe-crowned head of Arawn, the other bearing an inscription of an oak tree. The key has presumably served its purpose by now, so I drop it and take the coin.

There's no way through the larder, so I take the other exit from the room. This leads to a convergence of paths, and the sight of a faint blue light compels me in a certain direction. The tunnel leads me to a cavern spanned by a chasm, with the immortal sorceress Lilith lounging on a couch on the far side. If I'm to get any further, I shall have to offer her something, and I only have one of the items listed as potential gifts for her. If the rib-bone originally came from Adam, I may be in with a chance here...

Well, I had the right allusion in mind when considering the possible significance of the bone, but Lilith is offended by my offering it to her, and fires a bolt of lightning that sends me tumbling into the chasm. The Helm preserves me, but I'm down to Life Force Status red, so I'd better eat something the next time the text gives me the option. Which is almost immediately, so I go up to amber, and am no longer clear on whether or not I have any food left.

A winding tunnel leads to a torture chamber, currently unoccupied, but in a disconcerting state of readiness. There are three exits, and a verse scratched into the floor hints at the correct exit. I was right about that 'widdershins' clue, and now I've learned a new word (or perhaps a very old one). Having made my choice, I'll look 'deiseal' up to see if it means what I have inferred it to mean... and I'm right. Not that I'm likely to have cause to use it any time soon.

On the way to the exit I catch sight of an iron poker, which is probably a torture implement. Still, as the story reminded me, iron is an effective weapon against faerie folk such as Arawn, so I take it. Besides, if I'm carrying it, the torturer can't be using it on some new victim, so repurposing it with a more noble goal in mind is not exactly unchivalrous. Oh, and stooping to pick it up inadvertantly causes me to duck out of the way of a globule of lava fired in my direction by a fire elemental, which strongly suggests that I chose wisely.

Hurrying through the door, I enter a room with at least one pillar in it. A roar terrifies me, and a glowing lion emerges from behind the/a pillar, its brightness increasing in intensity and starting to dazzle me as the beast approaches. I don't possess what is required for half of the available options, and the wording of the section appears to rule out doing nothing if I am capable of taking one of the viable actions, so I must either cast the Smoke spell or attack the lion with the poker. The previous book warned against getting into any fights, and while that advice wasn't reiterated here, it's probably still a good idea, so I'll cast the spell.

Not only does the spell obscure me from view for long enough that I can fumble my way to an exit, but the description of its effect adds another word to my vocabulary. Could come in handy if Pointless ever does a round on different shades of grey (the colour, not the books).

The way out leads to a vestibule with many exits. If wearing the Helm doesn't count as carrying an item, I can now eat once more and go back up to Life Force Status green. Stairs lead down from one of the exits and, knowing that I must descend in order to get to Arawn, I go that way. Halfway down the stairs I hear a sound right behind me, and turn to see what is there. No, not Christopher Robin or Kermit the Frog's nephew. It's a rapier-wielding elf-maiden. Now, the only elf-maiden in the story (indeed, the only female character of any note in it) assisted Treguard, but having that poker overrules any decision-making at this point, so I don't get to see if this one is on my side. She assumes me to be the torturer, and stabs me with the rapier, taking me down to amber or red (rassin' frassin' ambiguous emcumbrance rules). The text has me throw the poker at her and flee, and the next section confirms that she is the same character who was in the story. Sigh.

Two archways await me at the bottom of the stairs, each marked with a different religious symbol. I choose the one more likely to be associated with chivalry. The passage leads past what appears to be the door to a monk's cell. I stop to investigate, and find that appearances have not been deceptive. The monk within introduces himself as Brother Leo, asks if I have a candle, and makes an inadvertent pun about illumination. The text suggests that he might actually be a disguised goblin, but I decide to trust him and hand over the candle.

If there's trickery afoot, the reveal is a long time in coming. For a few minutes I watch Brother Leo at work, and then he remembers my presence and asks if he can help. I explain my quest, and he gives me a few pointers about which saints protect against which threats before I continue on my way.

Up ahead, a barrier of flame blocks the way. Recalling what I have just learned, I invoke the name that should fireproof me, and it works. Proceeding into another cavern, I am fired upon by a group of archers, and call upon the appropriate saint. As I pass unscathed through the hail of arrows, my assailants assume me to be more powerful than I really am, and flee.

The approaching zombies will not be so easily intimidated. Lacking the spell that could be of use here, I can only hope that the last saint on Brother Leo's list will help me against them - and I am enabled to fight my way through the horde without taking so much as a scratch.

Reaching another intersection, I am beckoned into one of the passages by a man in green. It leads to a blood-drenched cave, where the man sets Cerberus on me and departs. Do I still have that rib-bone? I offered it to Lilith in the hope that she'd create a bridge across the chasm, but as she was on the opposite side, I wasn't able to hand it to her, and the text said nothing about my losing the bone when I fell into the chasm, so it is at least possible that I've been able to retain it. Well, I'll say that I do still have it, and if the author reads this and disagrees, he is welcome to correct me on the issue and invalidate the rest of this blog post.

I toss the bone to Cerberus, and the two heads that don't catch it turn on the one which does. While the hellhound is fighting itself, I sneak past and follow the green-clad man. He's waiting beside a cage in the next chamber, and upon seeing me, releases the ghoul bear that was imprisoned in the cage. I definitely have neither the spell nor the item that could help me here, so at this point I definitely end up dead.

Given the number of times I was given the impression that whichever chamber I was leaving had only one non-lethal exit, I'm surprised at just how much of this adventure I've obviously missed. Maybe I'll get a clearer idea of how that works the next time I attempt to play it.

Sunday, 28 June 2020

I Ain't Seen the Sunshine Since I Don't Know When

I've been intending to get back to this blog and failing to do so for a while. Apologies to any readers who've been waiting for new posts. The recent easing of lockdown makes it a vaguely appropriate time to have a shot at the next adventure on my list, so here I go...

The mini-adventure in issue 6 of Fighting Fantazine, Sunil Prasannan’s Escape from the Sorcerer, didn’t make much of an impression when I originally played it. While not particularly encouraging, that’s not necessarily a bad sign – I would probably remember more if it had been truly horrendous. As it is, I only recall the basic premise (and what’s wrong with it) and the way my character died: blasted out of existence by a disembodied entity for not having any dice handy (which may indicate that Prasannan has issues with readers who don’t properly play gamebooks).

There’s a fair bit of geopolitical backstory in the adventure’s background, explaining about the long-standing hostilities between the kingdoms of Alkemis (good guys allied to the noble Lion-Men) and Agra (demon-worshipping scumbags). I am an officer in the Alkemisian army, one of a few dozen taken captive when the Agran forces and their Lizard Man allies massacred the inhabitants of one of our towns. The Agran ruler, an eeevil sorcerer named Kreshnel, attempted to use us as bargaining tokens in his negotiations for Lebensraum for Agra, and has been systematically executing the prisoners as Alkemisian King Alburian has refused to give ground. Now, a month after we were captured, I am the only hostage remaining, and two guards have just come to my cell to take me to my death, leading me to conclude that it might be an idea to try and escape.

No explanation is given for why it’s taken me a month to come to this decision, though it wouldn't have been hard to come up with one. The only previous reference to Agra in a gamebook was a sacrificial mask that compelled its wearer to commit suicide: surely the sorceries involved in its construction could have been adapted to keep prisoners subdued and pacified. As for why it stops working at the start of the adventure, perhaps the spell only works while I'm chained to the cell wall, or maybe it's been lifted so the sadistic guards can watch me squirm on my way to the gallows/executioner’s block/monster pit/spikes/vat of warm marmalade… But no. Instead, it would appear that Alkemisian soldiers are just too stupid or apathetic or riven by infighting to even attempt to orchestrate a Great Escape. It’s hardly surprising that King Alburian refused to make any concessions in return for the release of such mediocre troops.

I don’t know if decent stats are essential in this adventure, but I’m not sure a viewpoint character as inept as this deserves allocated dice. I’ll take them as they come, and if that means certain death, so be it.
Skill: 9 (reduced to 7 in combat until I get my hands on a weapon)
Stamina: 19
Luck: 12
No starting equipment, of course.

The first decision I get to make is when to act on the inspiration that has belatedly struck: do I attack the guards in my cell, or wait until we are on the way to whatever means of execution has been chosen for me? I opt to bide my time until a more opportune moment, forgetting that the author and I might not agree on what constitutes a good time to start fighting. As it transpires, I only wait until we're in the corridor outside the cell, and then launch a surprise attack so inept that I wind up hitting the wall rather than a guard and injure myself. Not the most encouraging of starts to a fight, and the penalty for being unarmed makes things a whole lot grimmer.

I manage to beat my opponents to death (with use of Luck to hasten the coup de grace against the second one), but they hack me down to just 4 Stamina before I overcome them. As if that's not bad enough, neither of the dead guards has a key to my manacles, so while I am able to arm myself, I'm still not at full Skill owing to my limited mobility, and the sound of the fight has attracted another three guards. There's a time limit for the battle against them, but there's little likelihood of my experiencing the consequences of taking too long, as I'm not likely to survive that many rounds if I don't win every one.

Further use of Luck enables me to briefly delay the inevitable, and to kill one of the Trolls even as the Lizard Man runs me through, but I'm not even a quarter of the way to the time limit when my death brings the fight to an end. Let's hope my real world return to blogging isn't as short-lived as my character's bid for freedom.

Sunday, 6 October 2019

A Light From the Shadows Shall Spring

The Tunnels & Trolls mini-adventure in issue 5 of Sorcerer's Apprentice is by Ken St. Andre, and has the punning title A Sworded Adventure. It's for a low-level Warrior who wields a sword and has an Intelligence no higher than 12. I managed to generate just such a character straight off, and chose to make him a Dwarf as he'd still meet the requirements but have better chances in a fight (at the cost of becoming less good-looking). Thus, I start out like this:

Strength 26
Intelligence 7
Luck 9
Constitution 20
Dexterity 11
Charisma 9
Speed 7

My opening funds stretch to a sabre and a few oddments of armour. When checking out the character requirements I inadvertently spotted that what happens first in the adventure depends on how much money I have on me, but in order to have the sum that makes a difference I'd need to go for an inferior weapon and even less armour (or none at all), so I'll go with a better-equipped hero and 'poverty'.

I stroll through the Great Bazaar of Khazan, my sword at my side. But my scabbard hides a secret: the sword is broken. If I'd known that was how things were going to be, I'd have picked something cheaper. Anyway, I'm hoping that Mordo the Dwarf will be able to reforge the fragments into something that can keep the hostiles at bay until I can afford a replacement. However, my slightly sub-par Luck lets me down, and... a barrel falls off a stack on a wagon, and is about to hit me. That wasn't what I was expecting.

To my relief (and, no doubt, the annoyance of players whose Dexterity is their best attribute), the text has me attempt to catch the barrel rather than dodge out of the way, and at the set difficulty level, my chances are as good as they can ever be. There's a minimum 1 in 9 chance of failing any saving roll in T&T - though, on the vaguely positive-ish side, no saving roll is ever completely impossible, either, even if the odds of success do become infinitesimally minuscule at times.

I catch the barrel (though if I'd kept my character human, he'd be injured at best and a pancake at worst) and help the wagon driver replace it and secure it more carefully. He gives me a coin for my troubles - not much reward, but as I wasn't injured and this world has yet to spawn the phrase 'an accident that wasn't your fault', I'm happy to have emerged from the incident marginally better off than I was before it happened.

Mordo is closing down for the day when I reach his stall. The price he asks is a good deal more than I can afford, and the list of things not covered by his guarantee leaves me unconvinced that it would be worth it even if I did have the money. I say that that's too much, and Mordo offers to sell me a past-its-prime magic sword that he recently acquired. As regards dealing damage, it's worse than most models of sword, but in the highly unlikely event that I ever have to fight a Water Elemental, the sword's enchantment will prove lethal to the hostile H20.

I can't afford that, either. I'd have enough money (just) if I'd bought a Lidl sword when equipping my character, but I didn't know that I'd be throwing away whatever I spent on my weapon, so I chose something more expensive and didn't get what I paid for.

Whether or not I buy the sword, that's the end of the adventure. Which is quite the anticlimax. I shall have to come back to the Bazaar tomorrow and buy a crowbar - that's the best weapon I can get for the money remaining to me. Given the lethality of most T&T adventures, even 'wind up with a mediocre weapon' is more of a success than usual, but it's still an unsatisfying ending.