Wednesday, 10 April 2013

The Winter of Our Discontent

The mini-adventure in issue 8 of Warlock magazine was The Floating City, which turned out to be the first part of a sort-of trilogy by Ruth Pracy ('sort-of' because the third part appeared in a different magazine, and included set-up for a further adventure which, as far as I can tell, never actually got written). It made a big impression at the time, but its reputation has diminished since then.

I don't remember any specifics of my first attempt at TFC, and what I do recall about getting the magazine forms part of a not-that-exciting story that I shall tell in around a week. I played it a lot as research for the review at, but that didn't keep me from making a fatal blunder in the more recent attempt described here.

It is a world in which summer and winter have their own regions, and last all year round, while the land between these zones switches between spring and autumn. I'm an adventurer, my past shrouded in mystery, and my stats as follows:
Skill 9
Stamina 15
Luck 8
Slightly fudged, because of the tough fight at the end, but with rolls as poor as I got, there was no way of creating a character with a realistic chance of survival.

I've just entered the lands of winter when I hear the sounds of battle. Arriving on the scene too late to intervene, I see a large bird flying away from a group of dead and dying guards. The one who's not dead yet manages to mutter a few words about Karon's Dwarf and the Floating City before expiring. I remember the tale of the Dwarf: Lord Karon found him in an Eagle's nest, kept prisoner by the Eagle to keep her eggs warm, and he became Karon's beloved jester. Concluding that the Eagle must have abducted the Dwarf again, and that the wealthy Lord Karon is certain to reward whoever rescues the Dwarf a second time, I head off in the same direction I saw that bird go.

After some time I catch sight of a derelict hut, so naturally I go for a look inside. There's a harpoon attached to a coil of rope, hanging on the far wall, which could come in handy, so I grab that - or try to, but suddenly the floor caves in, and my Luck is just too low to enable me to grab the edge, so I fall into the pit, taking Skill and Stamina damage, and getting attacked by the three-eyed Bear-Trap that lives in the pit. The fight does not go that well - I do win, but at the cost of half my remaining Stamina. Helping myself to the gold and the earmuffs that are in the pit, I climb back out and take the harpoon, which turns out to be made of a precious metal that changes temperature in response to my thoughts.

Next I venture out onto the nearby glacier, and get funnelled through four sections before I get to make another decision. This is far from the only instance of padding in the adventure, which doesn't need to be anywhere near the 200 sections it is - 150 would have been more than enough. But while I've been complaining about the superfluous page-turning enforced by such shenanigans, a crevasse has opened up in front of me. There's something on a ledge further down, so I use the harpoon to snag it and haul it up. It turns out to be the well-preserved corpse of someone who was too distracted by the excess sections (the retrieval of the body was split into two for no good reason) to avoid the crevasse. I relieve the dead man of his gold and dagger, then push the cadaver back where I found it.

At this point I feel I should say something about the acquisition of items. This is far from the only adventure in which grabbing all manner of random gubbins turns out to be important later on, but the ridiculousness of the situation is slightly more highlighted here. You see, I've already encountered (but neglected to mention) two opportunities to add random organic left-overs to my inventory: there was a scale (like you'd find on a snake's skin) in the pit, and a generic bone among the dead man's effects. Later in the adventure, there's an opportunity to acquire a potion which will allow me to take on the form of any kind of animal, so long as I have a part of such an animal. And once I get the potion, there's a good reason to start hoarding DNA samples from any creature it could be worth becoming for a short while. But that hasn't happened yet, and it's just a bit silly that I'm already being given the option of collecting random animal pieces that I find lying around. Especially as that scale turns out to be from a fish (is it really that hard to tell the difference?), so the only purpose served by my being allowed to take the scale from the pit is to make it possible to reach the 'Ha ha, in fish form you can't breathe out of water, so you DIE!' ending towards the end of the adventure.

Another unnecessary section intervenes before a boulder rolls down and blocks my path. I take a closer look at it, and it sprouts an arm, which grabs me. No cause for alarm, though: this is no Boulder Beast, but a friendly Tornaq (one of many elements of Inuit myth that have been incorporated into the adventure). I tell her of my quest, and she obviously thinks I'm out of my depth (she's almost certainly right), but warns me that the Dwarf is not what he seems.

The text spends three sections telling me that there's a lake to the north, with the Floating City above it, another hut to the east, and a mass of ice floes between me and the locations of interest. I am compelled to head to the hut, and a thoroughly random roll determines that I slip and fall into the icy water, sinking without trace. Oh well, at least this time I failed through no fault of my own.

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