Monday, 20 May 2013

He's Waving Me Over So He Can Hit Me

From this point onwards, every account of how I came to own a Tunnels & Trolls solo adventure will effectively be repeating something I've said before. Ken St. Andre's Arena of Khazan was among those reissued by Corgi Books, and a fortnight ago I explained how I found all the Corgi editions I didn't already own (bar this one) in a discount bookshop on Tunbridge Wells High Street. I never gave Arena that much attention, being more interested in the adventure that accompanied it in the book. But I doubt that I'd have given it much of my time even if I'd acquired the Flying Buffalo edition on its own (rather than as part of a large lot on eBay, which is how I did eventually get it), because the plot is not one that appeals to me.

That plot, unless I'm missing something, boils down to:

  1. Enter arena.
  2. Fight opponent.
  3. If not killed, return to step 1 and repeat the process until able and willing to stop.
The 'able' in there is because it's necessary to win (or at least survive) a set number of fights in order to fulfil my gladiatorial contract/get freed from slavery/achieve whatever else it was that I got into this mess to do.

While the adventure is suitable for all character classes, the emphasis on fighting makes me think that a warrior would be the best choice. Not having any live ones, I need to roll up a fresh character, and the dice give me a character so obviously doomed that I have to make him a Dwarf just to give him a chance (Strength and Constitution are doubled for Dwarves). So here he is:
Strength 30
Intelligence 5
Luck 8
Constitution 14
Dexterity 13
Charisma 8
Speed 11
With that Luck there's a high probability that he's going to be starting out as a slave, so I shan't bother buying starting equipment until I know whether or not he actually gets any. Yep, a slave, and thus starting out with no possessions.

Still, some fighting slaves go on to do quite well for themselves.

The crowds won't be that entertained if the fight's too one-sided, so I've been provided with a broadsword and leather armour. The cost to be deducted from my winnings if I survive my first fight. Make it through three fights and I'm a free Dwarf.

So, with the Star Trek fight music running through my head, I march out into the arena, give a hearty yell of, "Moriarty salutes ants!" (my character not being particularly intelligent), and confront a randomly determined foe, who turns out to be... Another Dwarf. With better armour and a broadaxe, which is not necessarily better than the sword.

As opponents in the arena are individuals, I now have to roll up the other Dwarf's stats. He's smarter, luckier, healthier, faster and uglier than I, but only one of those is liable to make a difference in combat, and my being stronger and more agile should give me the edge. Nevertheless, bookies are giving 3:1 odds on me - not that it matters when I lack money with which to bet on myself.

Let battle commence. There are lots of options theoretically open to me, but actually ruled out on account of my knowing no magic and lacking a missile weapon. I could try studying my opponent's technique in the first round of battle, so as to try and formulate an effective strategy, but as my character has the intellect of plankton, I'm just going to hack at the Khazan Dwarf until one of us is dead or incapacitated.

Just to complicate matters, he's a berserker, and I need to make a Saving Roll each round to avoid taking damage regardless of the combat dice. I can make it on Dexterity rather than Luck, which should slightly improve my odds, but this complication means I have to take him down quickly.

In round 1 I hit him, but that armour of his absorbs most of the damage. I do make the saving roll, though. However, they get harder with each successive round. In the second round I do even less damage, but narrowly miss the roll. The rules don't specify whether or not my armour is any protection against that kind of damage. And this is something it would be useful to know, as it determines whether round 3 ends with me just wounded or actually dead. I'll go with the interpretation that doesn't end my adventure right here, but it'll take some spectacular rolling for me to get beyond round 4.

Well, I'm not killed. Unless I died in round 3 and didn't realise. But I have taken enough damage to incapacitate me, so now it's up to the crowd whether I'm spared to fight another day, or get a broadaxe in the face. The fight lasted long enough that I have a 50% chance of having been sufficiently entertaining to earn a reprieve...

They liked me. But I need to win fights, not just survive them. And with no money I can't afford any healing. But having me go into my next fight half-dead would be no fun, so the arena managers lend me money (at an exorbitant interest rate, of course) to pay for the healing. So now I have to pay off the debt (as well as winning three fights) before I get set free. And I'm no longer eligible for certain perks available to arena champions. Still, restored to full health, and with a massive debt to clear, I return to the arena to face...

Two Dwarves. Expletive deleted. The text recommends saving and reusing surviving opponents, so I'm up against my former nemesis and a friend. The friend is stronger than he is (but still weaker than I am), and more agile than either of us. Also quite staggeringly ugly. Against him on his own I might be in with a chance. Against the two of them together, I'm going to be paste. Even if I can figure out a way to avoid the Saving Roll damage. This time anyone who bets on me will get a 10:1 return on the amount wagered if I somehow defeat the Dwarven duo.

Just on the off-chance, I try studying their approach. The Dwarves appear to be charging at me, waving broadaxes, and unless I can fire off a spell or a ranged weapon, I'm going to have to fight back. Well, that tactical analysis was worth the effort, wasn't it?

I succeed at the round 1 saving roll. But the Dwarves do incapacitating damage on me anyway. Unimpressed at seeing me floored at such an early stage in the fight, the crowd indicate their disapproval, so my opponents chop me into little bits, and the Empire of Khazan says a sorrowful farewell to the 10,120 gold pieces I owed them.

I doubt that this is going to come as much of a surprise to any readers, but my appreciation of this adventure has not increased now I've had a proper go at it.

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