Friday, 5 July 2013

Every Country Must Be Equally Horrible

The second of  J.H. Brennan's Horror Classics gamebooks, The Curse of Frankenstein, seems an appropriate title to end a week in which I've already played as a Goblin and a 'foul creature', as this book gives me the opportunity to assume the rôle of one of literature's most famous monsters - the one created by the eponymous scientist.

My friend Simon (previously mentioned here) got this book before I did, and as we trudged to school one morning, he read out the text and I made the decisions. While this attempt at the book didn't get very far (I remember encountering some Esquimaux and being curious about what made the woman in their midst so confident that she could deal with me if I started causing trouble - but not curious enough to risk getting hostile and finding out), it indicated to me that this series was fun, like the author's Grail Quest books, rather than overcomplicated and difficult like his Sagas of the Demonspawn. So I bought my own copy, and got the other one in the series (do two books constitute a series?) as well. I have vague memories of reading some of the more climactic sections of this one while waiting to see someone at the employment agency where I got part-time weekend jobs to help fund my gamebook-buying, though that may have been some time after I got the book.

TCoF's approach to the Frankenstein story blends together elements of Mary Shelley's text and popular myth regarding the principal characters. Thus, the adventure is set in the polar regions where the novel (and very few of the adaptations) concludes, but I have a bolt through my neck. I also have the following stats
Life Points: 100 (as standard)
Speed: 4
Courage: 6
Strength: 5
Skill: 2
Psi: 3
And in addition to a spare head, heart, liver, intestine and left foot (all of which (bar the foot) can be used to provide healing when needed), I have a rope, a box of matches and an axe.

I trudge through the trackless wastes, aware that the mad scientist who brought me into being is here, seeking to destroy me, and come to the conclusion that I need to take the initiative and kill him first. Heading south, I find the ice beneath my feet creaking and threatening to give way, so I beat a hurried retreat, and turn west instead. That leads to an unremarkable selection of rock formations, from which I take a chance on heading southwest. That leads to a sturdy log hut - sufficiently sturdy that I can't break down the door. Pinned to the door is a note in code, and the lone 'B' that is the fourth word makes it easy to work out how it has been encoded. That tells me that I need a key (and which section to turn to if I have it), so I make a mental note to return when I find the key.

Again I go south - might as well be methodical in exploring. Unless I get any indication that this region is as nonsensically structured as the tomb in Grail Quest book 7, but that's a rant for another day. This leads me to the coast, so I can't go any further in that direction. I've not yet been to whatever's between the hut and the broken ice, so I opt to check that out next. Just more coastline. Makes sense, but if the key had been here, I'd have had a frustrating time if I'd missed that one location.

Back past the hut and further west, I find another seafront. Okay then, what's due north of the hut? More trackless wastes. I appear to have found one of the less eventful regions within the setting. Heading northwest, I almost lose my left foot, but notice that it's coming loose, and reattach it. Just because I have a spare, that doesn't mean I can afford to be careless. Oddly, I may not go back the way I came from here (not that I particularly want to, but geographical anomalies like that can become problematic), so I try going southwest.

This leads me to an apparently deserted ship, held fast in the ice. Now, I know that the endgame takes place on or close to a ship, but I'm not sure whether it's this one or a less derelict one. I'll take a chance on climbing the dangling rope ladder anyway. For the moment I'll ignore the trapdoors set into the deck, and try the regular door that's close by. Behind it is a drunken sailor, who launches into an attack, apparently having mistaken me for his mother-in-law. Some pretty shabby rolling means that this pathetic opponent hacks me down to less than half of my starting Life before I overcome him. He's too pickled to die from the beating I (eventually) administer, but lapses into unconsciousness after mumbling that I'll never get away from the Baron unless I shink his hip. Which is either indicative of a peculiar Achilles-like weakness that I could exploit if only I knew how to shink, or a drink-muddled indication that I should be sinking the ship.

Continuing my exploration, I find and (in the course of vigorous searching) wreck numerous empty cabins. The book offers the option of abandoning this seemingly fruitless search. Now, sometimes when Mr. Brennan says that something looks like a waste of time, persistence reveals it to have been worthwhile after all, and other times it's as unproductive as it looked. But either way, I'll heal an extra 3 Life just for turning to the 'keep searching' section, so provided I don't uncover anything harmful or lethal (also a possibility), it'll be worth checking. And I turn up a bottle of medicinal brandy, which will restore some Life Points but may also make me drunk enough to impair my performance in the next fight.

Returning to the deck, I then head for the bridge, which has been trashed in a fight. Catching sight of a ceramic box, I try to open it, but my clumsy monster hands (and low Skill) cause me to crush it and its contents into powder. I wonder what I just destroyed.

The first trapdoor leads into the cargo hold, which contains only food. Unusually for a gamebook character, I'm not interested. Though the description of the deck mentions a second trapdoor in the stern, I don't get the option of checking it out when I head there, being too intent on the signs that further violence occurred here in the past. Despite the thickness of the anchor chain, it's been snapped, and I get a vague impression that I may have been here and done something a bit naughty a while back.

Having exhausted the possibilities offered by the ship, and not wishing to take unfair advantage of the healing rules by wandering around the barren coastline until I return to full health, I go north. And find a new stretch of barren coastline. Should I start heading back east, or see how much further north this westernmost extremity extends? Well, it's northeast rather than straight north, but I head that way in any case.

A bizarre metamorphic rock formation lies ahead. As I gape at the sight, a bullet is fired at me, so I seek shelter among the twisted spires of stone. Narrowly avoiding getting stuck in one of the narrower crevices, I eventually reach a dead end. Still, I've evaded the lone sniper, and some lunatic has preceded me here and chiselled a rather bad poem into the rock. Could it be the Poetic Fiend from the Grail Quest series? Regardless, the verse indicates that the key I seek may be found at mountains of madness (hopefully without any Lovecraftian nasties guarding it), and after facing the dangers of the log hut I must head 'To place where heat melts all the snow'.

From here I can only go south or east, and I don't think I've yet seen what lies due south, so... Just more trackless wastes, but unfamiliar section numbers to all directions but the one from which I've just come, so I'd better just check that I've not missed anything important west of here. A wise decision, as I find an abandoned campsite. One used by the Baron, as I find his lucky coin there. This prompts melancholy reminiscences on my relationship with him (and a pun about the two of us never seeing eye to eye because of our differing heights), but the coin is worth hanging on to, as it can give a +2 bonus to rolls of the dice. Not so useful when I need to roll low, but the 'allows' in the text implies that the bonus is optional.

Going southeast leads me to a cliff, with four openings in it. A trick of the light makes it look a lot like a giant skull. If I remember rightly, there's something I need in there, but I can't get it without other items from elsewhere, so I shan't go in just yet.

To the east I find the first lot of rock formations I encountered. I think north is the only way I haven't yet gone from there. That eventually leads me into a thick bank of fog. Now, the main adventure in issue 15 of Proteus contains at least four paths that lead into mist and thence Instant Death by cliff-drop, so I'm a bit wary here. There was an unexpected cliff edge in the other Horror Classics book, too. Would Mr. Brennan have included variants on the same 'trap' in both? I'm about to find out, because that fog could be a by-product of the heat referred to in the poem, so it's worth checking to see if there's somewhere I need to visit on the other side of the fog bank.

There is a cliff. The good news is that reaching it is not automatically lethal: the outcome depends on a roll of the dice. And low is bad, so the lucky coin will help me here. In fact, I have almost as little chance of plummeting to my doom here as I did of falling to my death on the stairs in Creature of Havoc earlier this week. To die twice in quick succession as a result of unlikely rolls leading to a fatal drop is highly unlikely. But not, alas, impossible and, at odds of (I believe) 1 in 432, it's what just happened.

Despite the stretches of inactivity, that wasn't anything like as frustrating as Dracula's Castle became by the end of my second try here. I'm vaguely looking forward to the distant date on which I'll be attempting it again. I just hope it won't take as many retries as there were Hammer Films sequels to their first Frankenstein movie.

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