Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The Circle and the Square

The mini-adventure in issue 7 of Warlock doesn't appear to have been an entry in issue 1's competition. Certainly there's no mention of A.E. Arkle, author of The Temple of Testing, in issue 4's list of runners-up and special mentions.

I remember next to nothing of my acquisition of the magazine and first attempt at the adventure. A hazy recollection of reading a couple of encounters while heading north-east along Upper Grosvenor Road suggests that I didn't get the mag on the way to school or on a Friday, but that's about it.

The setting of the adventure is a bit of a muddle. Numerous references to Earth locations and belief systems suggest that it takes place on this world, but the ending segues into Steve Jackson's Sorcery! in a manner indicative of its being based on Titan. My character has been studying at the Great School of Magic for a year and, assuming success in the imminent test, will soon be allowed to start learning actual magic. If I fail, I'll die, and the last twelve months' efforts will have been in vain (it seems a little odd to only be concerned about the wasted effort, rather than the whole 'being dead' aspect, but maybe that's the kind of attitude that's fostered by studying the philosophies focused on at the School). Alark, my tutor, brings me the usual selection of potions from which to choose, and briefly recapitulates the Eastern Taoist Cycle of Elements for the benefit of any readers who weren't paying attention during the lessons that precede the Background to the Adventure. It's largely straightforward, bar the unexplained omission of water from the generational sequence.

I didn't get very far the last time I tried TToT, and under normal circumstances I'd be thinking about fudging character creation, but the rolling up of stats is incorporated into the narrative here, and while the rolls are only separated by a paragraph or so of text, the 'roll all dice together and allocate' approach feels inappropriate here. So I let Alark, take me to the Grey Oracle, who throws bones in the air to determine my stats. In a manner that I'd find suspiciously convenient if I hadn't seen myself not cheating, they come down as:
Skill 11
Stamina 15
Luck 12
That gives me a reasonable chance of success, provided I choose the right philosophical standpoint at the end.

I step into the circular corridor around the Temple, and the door by which I entered vanishes. After marking a spot on the floor, I do one circuit of the corridor, then try changing direction, as a result of which another temporary door appears, leading into the northernmost room of the Temple. This is said to be semicircular, though the dimensions given indicate it to be more of a circular segment. There are five doors set into the southern wall. Oh, and a Giant Bat is swooping to the attack. I evade it, and am forced to go through a random door, which is going to complicate mapping slightly. Given that there are five doors and six randomised outcomes, I have to wonder what the sixth (or whichever one doesn't correspond to a door) is.

The door leads into a square room (most of them are square - the Temple is a five-by-five grid inside a circle) with lots of droppings and bones on the floor. Higher up, the room is spanned by a number of oak beams, with a Griffin perched on one of them. The Griffin flies to the attack, and wounds me a few times before I kill it.

Now things get tricky. In order to maximise the number of possible encounters within the Temple while allowing freedom of movement, every room's contents automatically reset as soon as I leave it. Well, hostile contents do - beneficial ones won't recharge until I've been through another five rooms. If I go north, the Bat will attack again, and I'll be forced through a random door once more. Possibly back into this room to fight another Griffin. So another direction would be good. But I know from past attempts that some rooms are impassable without certain items, and there's a significant probability that one of them is directly east of this room. Or directly west of it. And if I enter such a room, I'll have to turn back and fight the Griffin again. So while I'd prefer to stay on the edge of the grid of rooms, as that should make it easier to figure out where on the map I am, going south, deeper into the Temple, looks like the safest option.

It leads to a room where bizarre transparent loops of fungus grow on the floor, and equally giant Nematodes slither about, occasionally becoming ensnared in fungal loops. Not wishing to get ensnared myself, I decide to sidle around the edge rather than walk across. Besides, getting forced back in here should be less problematic than having to fight that Griffin again. I go east, managing to avoid catching my foot in a loop of fungus, and step through the door.

It leads into a room containing a Ninja and appropriate furnishings. Lacking anything suitably bribe-worthy, I must fight him, which first means getting past his Nunchaka. The wording of the text is unclear, but suggests that I have to fight two Nunchaka one at a time. Each has 12 Skill (but only 4 Stamina, let's be thankful for minuscule mercies). With judicious use of Luck I am able to break the Nunchaka, but am reduced to 5 Stamina in the process, and have no time to get any healing before the Ninja draws his ninjato and attacks. He has just 11 Skill, but does extra damage with every successful blow, and unfavourable dice ensure that he seppukus me before I'm able to inflict any damage on him.

I'm betting that this School doesn't get to carry out many graduation ceremonies. Good thing it's not actually necessary to win The Temple of Testing before playing The Shamutanti Hills as a wizard.

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