Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Incidentally, a Happy Christmas to All of You at Home

Another out-of-sequence adventure, for reasons that should be obvious. Proteus 15 was a 'special bumper issue', containing a straightforward adventure, a reprint of the one from issue 6, as back copies had sold out but there was still significant demand for it, and a festive mini-adventure, Elizabeth Caldwell's In Search of Christmas.

My only real memory of playing it 25 years ago is of actively seeking out the 'fatal crash' ending, as ISoC looked like (but turned out not to be) the sort of trite and twee kiddie nonsense that wouldn't allow any real harm to come to the hero, and I wanted to find out if it was actually possible to die in the adventure. It was. While not as serious as your average Proteus adventure, ISoC has its challenges, and I failed more than once when playing it for review purposes last decade. Doing those reviews also made me aware that ISoC is by far the better of the new adventures in that issue, but I should save the ranting about the other one for 2014, and focus on the one I'm actually going to play today.

It starts early on Christmas morning in an ill-defined but implicitly slightly futuristic setting, as I wake to find my stocking full of bizarre and unpleasant gag gifts. The sound of sobbing from overhead inspires me to climb up the chimney, and on the roof I encounter a distressed Santa and Rudolf. Father Christmas explains that evil elves have stolen his sleigh, and are using it to spread ill-will by delivering inappropriate presents to everybody. Santa is too old to go adventuring to retrieve the sleigh, so I volunteer to do it. Okay, so I'm not exactly the stuff of epic legends, standing there in my soot-stained dressing gown and slippers, but I do have
Dexterity 12
Strength 17
and Santa gives me his hat. Besides, I have Rudolf as a sidekick (and transport), so I'm off to a better start than Arthur Dent...

Rudolf tells me that the Ice Palace of Xodar, King of the evil elves, is somewhere to the north. Going directly north leads me to turbulence - possibly the beginnings of what ended my first attempt - so I try going northwest instead. A storm brews up, the clouds angry at having been trampled and verbally abused when the sleigh thieves came this way. Luckily for me, Rudolf is agile enough to evade the curmudgeonly cumulonimbus.

That threat has only just passed when a new one arises. Some evil elves have been left behind to deter pursuers, and they start throwing snowballs. Like the nastier sort of child, they've added stones to the snowballs to make them more harmful. Rudolf urges me to use Santa's hat, which has magical properties. I activate it, and it spews a flurry of snowflakes at the elves, freezing them solid.

As I recall, the hat has around a 50% chance of doing something useful. The rest of the time, its effects are merely unhelpful rather than actually harmful, which is a good thing, as I don't get to choose whether or not to use it - a similar (but optional) device in one of Ms. Caldwell's earlier adventures can have catastrophic effects on a bad roll.

Rudolf is too tired to fly further for now, and descends to a forest. Other reindeer surround us, much to his distress: these reindeer mock him because of his nose. I ask about the acceptance he found after the events described in the song, and he gives me a 'what are you blithering on about, you strange individual?' look. It turns out that that didn't actually happen. My nit-picking side wonders why he's even working for Santa if that's the case, but I'm willing to let the quibble go because I love the subversive joke of the situation.

A gibe from one of the other reindeer provokes me into using the hat again, and it sprays them with Santa's Happy Dust. A cheesy way of resolving the confrontation, but at least I won't incur the wrath of the RSPCA. Unless Santa's Happy Dust is actually some kind of mood-altering drug, but let's not dwell on that possibility.

The forest path splits. I go west, and encounter some will-o'-the-wisps, but have enough strength of will to keep from being beguiled. Which may prove problematic later on, as getting lured away would have led to an encounter that could have furnished me with a useful item. Still, missing out on it shouldn't make the adventure unwinnable.

It starts to snow again as we head through a mountain pass, and Rudolf indicates a cave where we can shelter. Except that the cave turns out to be the home of the abominable snowman. He guards the fabled icicle sword, and Rudolf distracts him long enough for me to grab the sword. I then have to use the sword on the abominable snowman, as Rudolf's distracting technique has provoked him into a murderous frenzy. Still, he's not as good a fighter as his FF counterpart, and while the fight is quite drawn-out, I defeat him without taking any damage.

Once the storm has passed, we take to the air again and reach the Ice Palace. Its doors are locked, and I have no key, so we have to smash our way in. Rudolf's antlers and my shoulder are a little the worse for wear by the time we've broken through.

Two doorways lead on from the hall. West has served me well this far... but now it leads to a room containing a table laden with food and drink. Which might not sound like a bad thing, but I cannot resist sampling some of the fare, and when I attempt to drink some of the punch, it forms into the shape of a boxing glove and hits me in the face. Some puns are just painful. The Christmas pudding then threatens me, and I beat a hasty retreat. Exit, pursued by mince pies.

My flight takes me to a room containing a gong. Having no hammer with which to strike it, I am ambushed by evil elves, and have to use the hat again. It showers my attackers with tree decorations, which do not inconvenience them in the least. The elves overpower me, tie me up, and steal the sword before ringing the gong (they have a hammer) to summon Xodar.

The villain gloats, talking at length about the tortures he plans to inflict on me, which gives Rudolf time to gnaw through my bonds. I try the hat one last time. It produces confectionery. Xodar is not harmed.

Without the icicle sword, I have no way of overcoming Xodar, and am doomed. Or would be, but the words, 'Your adventure ends here' are followed by a direction to another section, so I turn there. In acknowledgement of the season of goodwill, the writer intervenes with a correction-fluid-bottle-shaped bolt of lightning that transforms Xodar into a Christmas tree. With him out of the way, there's nothing to prevent me from finding the sleigh, returning it to its rightful owner, and saving the day. Not my most deserved victory ever, but a win regardless.

All in all, ISoC is a bit of silly, lightweight fun, but I can think of plenty of worse-written serious adventures, and the slightly warped sense of humour displayed in places adds to the enjoyment. Not an all-time great, but still better than a significant number of gamebooks.

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