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.
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.