Monday, 10 June 2013

If You Can't Stand the Heat

For issue 7 of Proteus, The Sceptre of the Elvenking, David Brunskill was back as author. I must have got my copy on the way to school, as I remember reading some of the early sections of the adventure in room F, which was my form room during my third year at secondary school. Hazier memories place my reaching one of the tougher fights while down the corridor in room D, where we had English. And a long time after that, I was in my bedroom when I finally read section 24 carefully enough to spot that the 15th line of its wall of text mentioned the acquisition of what would turn out to be an essential item.

As I recall, the 'true path' through this adventure is pretty convoluted. This time round there are only two characteristics, and they are:
Dexterity 11
Strength 20
I was all set to tailor my character, as low stats more or less guarantee failure, but that's how they came out anyway.

I'm an itinerant adventurer (as usual), resting in a tavern while I wait for some new quest to get my attention. An unshaven man approaches, accompanied by several thugs, and tells me that I'm not going to succeed at this quest. Before I can ask him which quest he means, he raises his sword, and I use the item of furniture between us to delay him while I draw my own sword. Perhaps discouraged at the way I turned the table on their leader, the others don't intervene in the fight, which ends with him dead and me waiting for the introductory text to end so that I can actually take some action. Like running away before my assailant's henchmen think to attack en masse.

For some reason (perhaps an overzealous Health & Safety Inspector with a bee in his bonnet about Fire Escapes), the inn has exits to all four points of the compass. I pick south, as I think that should enable me to evade most of the wandering around darkened streets and blundering into arbitrary fights (why is one of the most fearsome predatory felines in the world prowling around a nondescript village?) that Mr. Brunskill used to bulk the adventure up to 200 sections.

Ignoring a couple of side turnings, I soon reach a respectable part of town, and put my sword away. A voice calls my name, and there's no option to ignore it, but I'm not going to complain, as the speaker is a highly attractive female Elf, who urges me to continue south before my pursuers can catch up to me. She has a bow and arrows, which may go some way towards explaining why nothing more will be seen of those villains for the rest of the adventure.

After a while I reach another junction, the path east heading into a forest. A formidable-looking Elf emerges from the trees and asks what I'm doing here. He also draws his sword, but as he doesn't appear quite as eager to use it as the man who attacked me in the inn (and I happen to know that he's the provider of this adventure's actual quest, and that death is a certainty if I don't befriend him), I summarise the events of the preceding three paragraphs. In return, he tells me that he's on the way to the Temple of Eternal Darkness to try and retrieve the magical Sceptre stolen from his King, Gallibran, by Tyran the barbarian during a recent invasion of the Elves' forest. Without the Sceptre, Gallibran cannot recover from the wounds he sustained during the raid, so Aalandrin here means to get it back. And he wouldn't say no to an ally, so if I'm willing to help him on his quest...

There's no choice offered here, presumably on the grounds that anybody who's reading the magazine isn't likely to turn down the actual mission. I accept his offer, and in return he says he can teach me four one-shot spells. Past experience has taught me that not picking the right spells will guarantee failure, but I don't recall all of the essential ones. Each spell has a Strength cost, though that's only mentioned when I select the spells, so I need to make notes as I choose them, or I won't know what to deduct when it becomes necessary. Create Fire is definitely one, and I'm pretty sure that I'll need Knowing or Translate (or both), but for the last one? There are obstacles that can only be evaded with Flight, but I no longer remember whether I have to get past one, or if they're all avoidable. Intuition also looks useful, but I think I'd better take Flight just in case.

Now that I've made my choice, we head south until Aalandrin senses an imminent ambush. Two Dwarfs burst from the trees and attack, so we each fight one. I actually get to choose my opponent, and as Aalandrin will fare the same no matter what I do, I play it safe and select the weaker one. I still wind up taking a little damage, but the fight would definitely have taken longer (and might have cost more Strength) if I'd picked the Dwarf with the higher stats. It might have been more interesting to give the higher Strength to the Dwarf with the lower Dexterity, thereby making the choice a little more tactical - do you go for the one who's that bit easier to hit, though you'll have to win more rounds against him, or the one who takes fewer hits to kill, provided you can land the blows?

The route to the Temple passes through a neglected graveyard, and as we are crossing it, the ground ahead of us splits open to disgorge a Serpent. Given the location, something undead would seem more appropriate, but the Serpent's challenging even if incongruous. Only a quick arrow from Aalandrin (and a lucky shot that finds a spot where it can penetrate the scales) prevents it from mesmerising me for long enough to strike a lethal blow, and while the Elf initially prevails in melee, a sudden constriction/venomous bite combo puts him out of action, leaving me to try and finish off the wounded Serpent. It injures me a couple of times before I succeed.

Turning my attention to my wounded companion, I see him reaching for a belt pouch, which contains three bottles. I give him one of them, and it heals him. He gives me one of the remaining two, and tells me that it's a Potion of Rejuvenation, Mr. Brunskill not having learned the meaning of the word since writing issue 2. I wonder if he read Doctor Who Monthly back in the early 1980s, as the magazine did briefly have a debate in its letter column about 'rejuvenation versus regeneration', so that could be the source of the misunderstanding.

From Aalandrin's description of the Potion's effects, it sounds as if it'll restore me to full Strength when I take it. This is confirmed in the rules, confusingly under 'Using magic' rather than 'Replenishing your Strength', but there's no good reason for not including the explanation in the section where I receive the Potion. Aalandrin also speaks an incantation that enables me to see in the dark, which will come in handy, as the Temple of Eternal Darkness gets its name from the fact that it's so evil, the sun won't shine through its windows.

There are three numbered plates set into the Temple's main door. While we're trying to figure out which one will open it, a Goblin unsuccessfully ambushes us. Aalandrin puts him into a trance and asks which plate will let us in, and the Goblin replies with a mathematical formula because there haven't been any puzzles yet. Not that this is much of a puzzle, though it does baffle Aalandrin (since Elves 'are not noted for their ability at arithmetic'). Selecting the correct number, I cause the door to open, and we advance to a junction.

Aalandrin recommends splitting up. As I recall, he manages to find nothing of use in the course of his exploration of the Temple, so I shall have to try and take care of the item hunting. I still have the partial map of the Temple I created back when reviewing this adventure, and I don't have any qualms about using it to jog my memory (especially as there's enough vagueness on it that I could still easily go wrong and wind up failing).

I head east while Aalandrin goes west. Ignoring the first couple of turnings south (I'm not sure what that rectangle on the map signifies, but I doubt that it's anything good), I see a door to the north and force it open. My power of Seeing doesn't show much, but I risk entering, finding a jewelled casket and an ornate china jug. The casket contains thousands of gold coins (that's one big casket), and I pocket a few handfuls of money, losing a little Strength from the extra weight I'm now lugging around. The jug is, I think, best left alone.

I continue along the corridor, which turns south. Along here the walls are lined with disquieting artwork. I avoid the path back west, and proceed to a door that I cannot open. An Intuition spell would help here, but I don't have one, so I am forced to go back the way I came. Retracing my steps as far as the entrance, I then go the way Aalandrin went, ignoring another turning south. As at the east end, the corridor eventually goes south anyway, but I've avoided what looks like a lot of aimless wandering.

At the next junction I sense danger down both passages. Checking the map, I think the symbols along the east corridor may indicate a pit and a portcullis, but I'm not certain. It looks like the better option anyway, in the long run. Yep, first up is a hole in the floor. Possibly jumpable, if I weren't weighed down with cash, but I think I'm going to have to use Flight here. It gets me across the hole, and I follow the corridor as it turns south, leading to a dead end. An inscription presents me with a slightly more challenging numerical puzzle, and while I'm examining it, a sliding door (okay, so not a portcullis) blocks the way back to the hole. I could bypass the puzzle by casting Knowing, but I can figure this out for myself. Days in a year minus hours in a week minus hours in a day... Hope Tyran's not using leap years for his calculations... No, I'm safely through. To another dead end. But poking and prodding causes the wall in front of me to slide aside, revealing an east-west passage. I step through, and the door closes again, blending so perfectly with the wall that I'll never find it again. Not that I'd want to.

Now I think I need to go back west again. With all this back-and-forth, can you blame me for using the map? Before long I reach another door... and this one requires Intuition to open, too. Drat it. Probably means the other one was a red herring, then. But I'm pretty sure that I'm now doomed.

The passage turns south. Ignoring another turning west, I make out movement up ahead. But I haven't caught up with Aalandrin. This is a badly-drawn woman, who introduces herself as Gonderak and then jabs her sword at me. Lacking combat spells, I have no choice but to fight her to the death. She's a better fighter than the wounded Serpent, but doesn't manage to hit me as often.

Leaving her behind, I proceed to another area with dodgy flooring. There's a rope attached to the wall above my head, stretching diagonally along the corridor to the far side of the rotted floorboards. Is it a way of getting across safely, or a trap? I can't use Flight again, and I'd rather not use Knowing here, so I'll take a chance on using the rope.

It snaps. I go through the floor and land on the sharp stones below. The trap's not fatal, but I'm hurt (and embarrassed). Going the rest of the way on foot, I reach a door, which opens into a chamber containing a grotesque statue. Something clicks, panels open in the walls, and I start to wonder if I should have gone for the Shield spell after all. Diving to the floor, I avoid being hit by the spears that fly out of the wall panels. Just as I'm congratulating myself, the spear from the ceiling panel I failed to notice skewers my leg.

Limping over to the statue, I find that it has a diamond in one hand and a sapphire in the other. The door that leads on is locked, so I imagine I must take a jewel to activate it. There are no clues as to which is the safe one, so now would be a good time to cast Knowing. It indicates the right jewel, so I take that one. The south door opens, and I'm not so stupid as to grab the other jewel as well, but get out while I still can.

At the next junction I go east. Judging by the map, it's possible that going south would eventually lead to a 'you fail but survive' ending, but that doesn't appeal much. If I'm failing, I shall endeavour to fail impressively rather than just blundering through the emergency exit and failing to get back in.

My map convinces me to ignore the next two doors (and the text convinces me to edit the map so that the door in the right wall is on the right side of the corridor). The door after that leads into a room containing a large pit, full of water. Something red glows at the bottom, which I estimate to be fifty feet down (wonder if I took the refractive index into account). I cast Create Fire, which boils off most of the water (that's some serious heat - while I don't know the precise dimensions of the pit, its being big enough for the reckless to dive into suggests that the spell evaporated at least 192 cubic feet of water). I climb down, I collect the large ruby that caught my attention, climb back up again, and continue east.

The corridor turns north. I meet Aalandrin again. He's reached a locked door with a keyhole. He doesn't have a key. Neither do I. A metal wall drops down behind us, and is heated to temperatures similar to the ones I was creating not so long ago, roasting the two of us alive. I'll never be cruel to 192 cubic feet of water again.

All right, I will when I replay this adventure, as the ruby is one of the items needed for getting the pesky Sceptre back, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to riff on Douglas Adams, now could I?

1 comment:

  1. An ornate "china" jug? Tell me there aren't elves in China...