Monday, 18 February 2013

Cold Warrior

Last Wednesday I played a gamebook involving a trek across a desert, in which my character was (by authorial compulsion) forced to slog onwards during the day, exposed to the merciless heat of the sun. In the real world, it snowed outside. On Friday I played a gamebook set in Greece at the height of summer, and while it barely merited a mention in the blog entry owing to its lack of plot relevance, sunbathing took up a good deal of my character's free time. Thanks to the idiosyncratic behaviour of the thermostat in my home, I could see my breath forming clouds in the air as I typed my playthrough up. There seems to be a distinct mismatch between the settings of the gamebooks I feature here, and the conditions I experience in reality.

Paul Creelman's Circle of Ice is the third Tunnels & Trolls Pocket Adventure. It's set in a world where there's an ongoing conflict between the Realms of Light and Darkness (whose titles, to judge by the information provided, have more to do with colour schemes than morality). The Circle of Ice is independent, with borders on both Realms. My character has been engaged by the Realm of Darkness to map the Circle, and it's not clear whether or not he has any choice in the matter.

I rolled up a slightly above-average character (with a sub-par Charisma), but decided to make him a Dwarf rather than a human, making him significantly more formidable (and even less attractive).
Strength: 18
Intelligence: 13
Luck: 15
Constitution: 26
Dexterity: 10
Charisma: 5
Speed: 13
Considering how the combat system works, I think the ability to inflict damage is more useful than being able to reduce damage taken, so he has minimal armour and the best weapon he can handle - a war hammer.

I am transported to an icy tunnel, through which an arctic gale blows northwards. From now on, every time I turn to a new section, I must roll against Constitution, taking damage if I fail. There's definite potential for a death spiral there. Still, my chances of failing such a roll are only one in nine, and those odds won't change until I've taken significant damage. Plus, I get experience points for every roll, so even just walking around will help me towards levelling up. If I had an edged weapon, I might waste a little time digging. But I don't, so I can't.

Walking the way the wind blows, I reach a chamber with a sunken well in it. Footholds have been carved into its sides, so I could climb down into it if I wanted to. My Dexterity's not that great, though, so for now I'll just search the room. While doing so I fail the Constitution roll for the first time, but I do find a cache, which contains... a rare type of spider that lives on ice particles and snowflakes. Words cannot express how impressed I am.

Now I find myself wondering what the writer meant by 'a new paragraph' at the start. A paragraph other than the one I've just read, or a paragraph I haven't previously read on this attempt? I'll have to roll more often if it's the former. In view of certain peculiarities of how level advancement works, I think I'll go with the latter, otherwise I could theoretically wind up getting to increase my Dexterity just as a result of running back and forth.

There's no way onwards, so I'll check out the well before turning back. The footholds only last for 20 feet, but a lucky roll means that I take no harm from the subsequent drop. I had the foresight to bring some torches with me, so the darkness isn't a problem, either.

My second failed Constitution roll comes disproportionately early. I'm in another north-south passage, so I continue north, reaching a room with 'trap' written all over it. A pool of oily liquid surrounds a pedestal which bears a grotesque ice statue, its four arms clutching a bowl full of red gems. A second pedestal has a crude switch on it, and an inscription that looks more like an unfamiliar language than a code. Or is that just because one of the words looks a lot like the Russian for 'winter'?

Avoiding pool, statue, switch and gems for the moment, I examine my surroundings more closely, discovering another cache. Fortuitously avoiding triggering a booby-trap that opens a gateway to the Inferno (what the...?), I find a magical locket that enables me to create an illusory mirror. But only under the light of a full moon (unless I can find out the secret name of its original owner) - obviously the author recognised the vital importance of keeping adventurers from using that power willy-nilly.

I don't trust anything else in the room, so I go south. Before long, a red ice sculpture blocks my way. It's an 'extremely realistic' representation of an ancient warrior from the Realm of Darkness. It holds seven enchanted slingstones, which can go through armour and walls and inflict impressive amounts of damage on living organic creatures with no fire resistance. I don't own a sling, so they're currently of no use to me, but at least if the sculpture comes to life, it won't be able to use them against me.

Nothing happens when I take the stones. Any or all of the remaining options could, potentially, cause the sculpture to come to life and attack me. So I try the oddest one: talking to it. Nothing happens, beyond my feeling a little foolish (except that the Constitution roll takes my Experience total into triple figures).All right, then, time for the traditionalist approach: hit it wiv an 'ammer.

The hammer breaks. The heart of the sculpture gives off a faint red glow. It's time for another traditional stratagem: to depart the vicinity in haste. Which turns out to be the one thing that will bring the statue to life. And now I don't even have a functional weapon. Mind you, with the statue's stats, I wouldn't have survived the first round of combat even if I could still use the hammer.

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