Wednesday, 20 February 2013

A Plot So Fiendish, So Infernal, So Heinous...

The mini-adventure in issue 5 of Warlock magazine was one of the runners-up in the competition that gave us The Dervish Stone: Dungeon of Justice by Jonathan Ford. I must have got that issue on a Friday or a Saturday, as my clearest associated memory from back then is of reading some of the deaths once I'd checked out the stalls at the jumble sale or coffee morning the family was attending.

I'm fudging character creation again, but for the opposite reason to usual: if my Skill is too high in this adventure, I am guaranteed to fail. I roll a six, two twos and a five, so I'll go with:
Skill 8
Stamina 19
Luck 12
The likelihood of my getting the desired outcome at the appropriate moment is still low, but above the zero that it would have been if that six had gone on Skill. And now for the real challenge: keeping this playthrough of DoJ from becoming a carbon copy of my previous one.

Like many FF adventurers, I am seeking fame and fortune. I'm about to take a short cut through the Desert of Skulls when I happen to witness the killing of an Elvan (sic.) Chief. Moments later I am surrounded by more than a score of bow-wielding Elves and, based on the ecnedive (that's 'evidence' spelled backwards to indicate just how much it doesn't point to my guilt), I am accused of the murder. The Elves lead me into the forest (yes, I was about to cross a desert) and force me into their inaccurately-named Dungeon of Justice. If I can find the Golden Idol concealed within the labyrinth, that will convince the Elves that I'm innocent. It's almost as ridiculous as some real-world conceptions of justice.

A short distance into the Dungeon, I encounter and am attacked by a terrified-looking man with black robes and a dagger: another 'defendant'. The fact that there can be more than one 'trial' taking place at the same time adds a further layer of stupidity to the set-up - this is, effectively, a 'court' that cannot give more than one 'not guilty' verdict a day. Unless we could team up and, provided one of us found the Idol, be collectively exonerated. But that outcome would still have nothing to do with whether or not we'd actually committed the crimes of which we'd been accused.

It's academic, as I have to kill him in self-defence (so, regardless of my history prior to the adventure, I am now definitely a killer as a consequence of needing to prove that I wasn't one). A little further on, I reach a junction. It's irrelevant, but I'm going to go exploring just for a bit of variety. The side passage leads to a door, and the room beyond contains a sleeping dog. There's another door on the far side, and a key on a nail. The text and illustration disagree on the location of the nail.

I creep across the room, wondering if this is a vaguely clever trap where taking the key will set off an alarm and wake the dog, but no: my sword clinks against a stone. My Luck is high enough that the dog doesn't wake up, so I tiptoe to the far door, carefully take the key, quietly unlock the door, creep through it... and inexplicably slam the door behind me, waking the dog, and having to hurriedly relock the door as the hound repeatedly tries to break through it.

Before long the corridor turns north, so I'm heading parallel to the one I left. There's a door in one of the walls, so I peek through. The room beyond contains a hole - not a very deep one, but a passage runs north out of it. At a point I didn't live long enough to reach in Deathtrap Dungeon, the correct route involved following a passage out of a pit. Which makes me suspect that this may be a trap designed to catch out players who remember that bit of DD, so as I know that going this way is not essential, I shall avoid it altogether.

Returning to the passage, I ignore a side turning that would take me back to the parallel corridor. Continuing on my way, I reach a flight of stairs leading down, and get attacked by a morning star-wielding Dwarf. He doesn't survive, and the stairs lead down to an awkwardly-described room. As far as I can tell, it has one exit leading north and two going south (including the stairs I just descended), so I guess that hole wasn't just a trap after all.

Oh, and the room also contains a pile of gold, but that initially failed to catch my eye because I was too busy noticing the exit in the wall behind me that I'm not going to have the option of taking. The door leading north is locked, but the key from the room with the dog fits it. It also triggers a booby-trap, but my Luck suffices for me to dodge the darts fired at me.

Beyond the door is a damp passage that takes me east and north. Further on, an impressive-looking door is set into the east wall. It leads to a room containing an old man asleep on a wooden chair. There's another door leading north, but I don't want to leave just yet. Searching the room turns up nothing of use, and I don't want to kill the man in his sleep, so I wake him. He's terrified of me, and offers me all his money if I spare him. Okay, so considering what this place has been designed to do, it's understandable that he should take me for a dangerous man, though that doesn't explain what he's doing here if he's not a suspect. I only wanted to question him, but the text forces me to choose between robbing and murdering the man, so I just take the money. After he's opened a secret panel, taken out his worldly goods and handed them to me, I again have the option of killing him. The alternative is taking the door north, and the section number for doing so is the same as for leaving without disturbing the man, so there's little likelihood of his unexpectedly eviscerating me when I drop my guard. Thus, I will continue to not kill him, shaking my head at the effort it has taken.

Beyond the door, a passage slopes upwards, eventually becoming so steep that I have to chimney my way onwards. No chance of turning back, but since doing so would probably lead to another half-dozen 'are you sure you don't want to kill the old man?' decisions, I'll take the climb. Eventually I emerge onto a ledge above a river, with steps leading down to the river. I'm going up and down more often than the Grand Old Duke of York's men here!

The river is spanned by a rickety, termite-infested bridge, with an accompanying illustration that indicates a serious breakdown of communications between artist and writer. I ignore the bridge, as using it will significantly decrease the odds of my winning, and jump into the river. Tiresomely, I fail to fail the resultant Skill roll, so I don't get swept away to the beach where the Idol has been hidden. Stupid adventure design.

Three doors lead on from the beach on this side of the river. I try the east one because I don't want to repeat the glorious yet futile triumph that was the most noteworthy element of my last attempt at this shambles. Beyond the door is a tunnel that gets narrower and lower as I go along, until eventually I have to crawl. Luckily I find a stone with which I can smash it wider. And it ends at a door with a combination lock. Not knowing the combination, I have to go back to the beach.

West, then. The passage beyond that door leads to a junction. Further west is probably a trap, but it no longer matters, so I check it out anyway. It leads to another junction. West again. Another junction, sort of, only the way west has been blocked by a rock fall, and I only notice the turning north as I'm about to turn round and go back east. When I do see it, I'm forced to take it.

It leads to a chamber containing a large ruby, protected by moving spikes. Nothing that I do in this adventure matters any more, so I might as well try and get the ruby. I succeed, and head back the way I came. The next (or previous) turning north leads to a room containing two bubbling pools of mud. There are ledges on either side, and a causeway between the pools. I guess this is where I can encounter the Mud Dragon depicted on the cover of the magazine.

Taking the causeway would leave me vulnerable to attack from either pool, or both. On a ledge, I'd be out of range of whatever lives in one pool, but a ledge could be more precarious and unsafe. Oh, what's the point of trying to work out the safest way onwards when I've already failed? I take the right ledge just because. As I head along it, the mud below me becomes agitated, gas bubbles burst, filling the room with the stink of rotting meat, and nothing else happens. I reach the exit and continue north.

Unsurprisingly, the passage turns east. There's a door in one of the walls: the text doesn't indicate which one. I open it anyway, and see only darkness beyond. Being doomed whatever I do, I step through. Not possessing the Ring of Skill (now that's a nasty treasure to be providing in this high-Skill-penalising dump), I trigger a trap, causing the floor to give way beneath me, but I manage to leap back onto solid ground in the nick of time.

After carelessly blundering into a man-trap, I limp to a crossroads, where I have no choice but to go north. Here comes the endgame. Yup, I reach a door with a multilingual sign that says, in effect, 'Now you're for it!' Beyond the door is an old man who asks if I have the Idol. So I can tell the truth and get killed by the Elves, or attack him and get killed by his magical defences. Well, there's no mechanism in place to stop me from cheating and claiming to have found the Idol, but I'm not going to stoop that low. I admit my failure, get taken out to face a hundreds-strong firing squad, and thumb my nose at my accuser as the arrows fly my way.

Considering that this was one of the runners-up in the contest, I dread to think what the entries that rated below it must have been like.

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