Monday, 8 July 2013

The Riskier the Road, the Greater the Profit

I definitely got issue 8 of Proteus, Elizabeth Caldwell's Treasures of the Cursed Pyramid, on the way to school. Probably at the newsagent's across and down the road from the school, as I remember being in the hall outside the CCF armoury when choosing which jar to open, and that choice comes so early in the adventure that I'd almost certainly have read it on the way to school. Unless the weather was too bad for reading along the way, which is a possibility, as I also remember being in room D, my form room, when I reached the two coloured pools and rolled badly while looking into 'The Great Green Lake', and I'm not sure why I'd have been in there during (IIRC) the lunch break unless it was pretty miserable outdoors. (On the off-chance that anyone remembers my having said that my form room was room F in my previous Proteus playthrough, I shall just point out that issue 7 was released in July, towards the end of the academic year, and issue 8 came out in September, early in the next academic year, so I was in a new class.) By now I know that that bad roll made it impossible for me to win that try at the adventure, but as it turned out, I never got far enough for it to matter, as I ran into the non-lethal fail ending in the maze.

I have three attributes in this adventure: the standard Dexterity and Strength, plus Charm, which reflects my ability to resist malign influences. And they are:
Dexterity 11
Strength 20
Charm 8
Not too bad, especially as Charm can rise above the Initial value to a maximum of 12.

I start in the bazaar at Kiroona, lost and fed up, and resigned to taking a look at the Relics and Curiosities stall that I've been unsuccessfully trying to avoid. A book catches my eye, but the stall-keeper attempts to dissuade me from looking in it. Probably just a sales technique, as I doubt that he'd have the book on display if he didn't want to sell it. Or did whatever influence kept driving me back to the stall also compel him to put out the book despite not wanting to let it fall into the wrong hands? I rather like the ambiguity of what's really going on here.

The book turns out to be the diary of ex-adventurer Saal Merik, and I buy it despite the stall-keeper's protests, after which I have no difficulty finding my way out of the bazaar and back to the inn where I'm staying. There I read the diary, which is an account of Merik's expedition to the Pyramid of Ptah-Hotep. It ends rather abruptly, though that turns out to be because the last pages are stuck together with wax. Carefully separating them, I discover that Merik discovered a concealed entrance to a sealed-off section of the Pyramid, but decided against exploring further because of the warning inscribed upon it. The sealed-off section imprisons 'the accursed Spirit of Seth, Incarnation of Evil' (who may be better known to you as Set, or Sutekh if you're an aficionado of 20th century Doctor Who). It also holds the bulk of Ptah-Hotep's treasure, but Merik chose not to try and get the loot because doing so risked calling down the Curse of Seth, not only on himself but upon all humanity. There is a way to avert the curse, but Merik was unable to translate the incantation which cancels the curse (so it must be written in a different hieroglyphic alphabet to the one the warning was in, as he translated the warning, and I know from past attempts at the adventure that one of the words in the incantation is also in the warning). My character does not share his qualms, and decides to use the notes and maps in the diary to try and find the sealed-off section

On the subject of old adventurers' artefacts, I have two incomplete maps of the pyramid from past attempts. I suspect that I wasn't playing to win on either occasion: when I was younger, I had a bit of an obsession with one of the 'fail' endings, and the maps go as far as the point at which the ending in question occurs, which suggests to me that I made a concerted effort to fall at that specific hurdle during those 'tries' at the adventure.

They're not to the same scale, obviously.
And I appear to have overlooked the second door in the south wall of Apep's room in the second one.
And drawn the first chamber as a junction in the first. Sloppy cartography.

Anyway, I gather together standard adventurer's paraphernalia and set off to the pyramid. Once inside, I eventually reach a chamber from which two flights of steps lead on. The hidden section of the pyramid is to the north, but the dead end to the east merits investigation first. Those stairs lead to a chamber containing a stone chest, which holds four stone jars, each with its top carved into the likeness of a different creature. I open the one with the jackal head in the hope of being reminded of a detail that eludes me. At once the jar transforms into a jackal-headed being, who tells me to beware the animals of the desert. That wasn't the advice I'd been hoping for, but after the message is delivered, the speaker and the other jars all vanish.

Returning to the first chamber, I take the north exit, which leads me to a junction. Merik's map indicates that both turnings loop round and terminate in the same room, and my maps show that I can find something of use if I go east, so that's what I do. On one of the walls are the hieroglyphs that come right at the end of the incantation I seek, and beneath them has been scratched a translation, which I note down.

The corridor eventually takes me into the room that contains Ptah-Hotep's sarcophagus - well, the outer stone chest. Everything else has been taken by tomb robbers or archaeologists. A sub-chamber to the north contains a statue of a jackal, and the hidden door I seek, but the means for opening it is on the sarcophagus. It has two stylised eyes carved into it, both of which can be pushed inwards. Pick the correct one, and the door will open. get the wrong one, and the jackal statue will animate and attack. And I'd know which eye to press if I'd chosen the right jar, but as it is, I'll have to guess.

Well, I said 'guess', but now I see the choice I realise that my memory for section numbers is better than my memory for directions, so I know which one not to push based on which section it would take me to. Pressing the other eye causes the jackal statue's pedestal to slide aside, revealing stairs down to the concealed door. Ignoring the warning on it, I open the door and step through. It closes behind me with a thud like a sarcophagus lid.

As a result of my not having lost any Charm (which would have been the more serious consequence of pressing the wrong eye), I spot something in the dust on the floor. This is a gold ring with a softly glowing pearl set into it, and I gain a Charm point for having it. Carrying on, I reach a junction and again go east. This passage ends in a featureless stone door, with a chain hanging beside it. So I ignore the chain and try to push the door open. It doesn't work, but while pushing, I notice faint carvings that provide me with a bit more of the incantation.

I then go back to the junction and west. Not a necessary action: I'd still be in with a good chance of beating the adventure if I'd pulled the chain to open the door, but the western path will enable me to find an item that I consider more useful than what may be acquired by continuing east. This isn't as 'one true path' an adventure as many are.

The passage leads to a room with three doors set into the north wall. If I'd picked a different jar, I'd have been told of the best option whenever I'm faced with a choice of three items. It's more memorable advice than which eye to press, so I'd still know the door to pick even if it weren't on one of my old maps. It opens onto a room with one other exit, and a golden box in the middle. Naturally I open the box, and a jet of fire singes me. As I recoil, a golden, fire-spitting Asp emerges. This is the Uraeus of Ra, and if I can subdue it, it will attack my enemies for me. Well, one of them. I only need to hit it twice to defeat it, and despite having a higher Dexterity, I take several wounds in the course of the fight. I do win, though, and will thus have an easier time in a forthcoming battle. And there's something else in the box which heals all damage inflicted by the Uraeus, so it doesn't matter that I didn't do that well in the fight. Not forgetting the golden staff that will save me from getting into another three fights later on...

The door north leads to an east-west corridor. Another two doors lead south into the rooms through which I just didn't pass, but even if I had the option of trying one, I don't think there's anything to be gained by doing so. Instead, I head east. The passage turns north and ends in a door, so I go through it into a room containing a pool of water. A second door leads south, and there are other exits to west and north. Faded hieroglyphs adorn the walls, one collection of symbols standing out as if they've recently been restored. Of course they're part of the incantation, with a translation conveniently appended.

That pool of water then gets my attention, largely because of the monstrous serpent currently emerging from it. The Uraeus springs into action, recognising Apep, the Eternal Enemy of its original owner, and burns the serpent. Apep drops back into the pool to douse the flames, then emerges again, but is now so weakened that I finish it off with ease. Beside the pool I find four valuable amulets of no further relevance to the adventure.

Leaving through the west door, I head down a corridor to a door with two pools painted on it, one green, one blue. I go through into a room containing two small pools of liquid - guess the colours. Looking into the green one, which is labelled with hieroglyphs that Merik's notes enable me to translate as 'The Great Green Lake', I see a vision. A random vision, with only a 50% chance of getting the one I need if I'm to have a chance of winning. Luck is not with me, but I don't get the worst possible outcome, just a vision of a white-clad woman with a musical instrument, who beckons to me. The sight of her fills me with inexplicable dread, causing me to look away from the pool, and when I glance back, the vision is over.

I'm pretty sure that it's futile, but I look into the other pool anyway. This one is named 'Millions of Years', and its blueness fills my head until I pass out and find myself in an infinitely long hall, filled with beast-headed men in chairs. Beside me is a huge pair of scales, and a woman in green leads me onto one pan of the scales, then steps onto the other. I succeed at the Charm roll, so the scales balance (meaning that unless I weigh the same as a duck, the woman's not a witch, right?) and I am permitted to return to the real world.

I find myself back by the pool, and the text says that I may only look at the green one if I haven't already done so. No second chance of getting the right vision, so I've failed, though the end is yet to come. I think I'll try to repeat the way my first attempt ended, as that leaves my character alive and doesn't get all humanity cursed, so as failures go, it's not too horrific. I leave through the north door, and the corridor turns east and leads into a room with doors in all four walls, though the doors to north and south are barred. In the middle of the room is a pedestal with a feather made of gold and silver on it. I don't need the feather - the vision I had in the Great Green Lake would cause me to automatically avoid the threat against which it provides protection - and can't be bothered with the fight that taking it would trigger, so I just pass through the room.

A corridor leads east. After a while I reach a point where a passage leads south, and there's a door opposite it. Going south is not an option, and continuing east is pointless, so I open the door and step through. It closes behind me, and there's no way of opening it from this side, so I continue north, noting that the air here is rather stale. Finding more hieroglyphs, I learn that I've entered the maze of Ptah-Hotep, and I have a limited period in which to find the true exit. Sand starts spilling through slits at the top of the walls: if I don't get out of here soon enough, I'll be buried alive.

This is one of my favourite gamebook mazes, actually. The design is quite simple, but the time limit adds a distinct element of urgency to the search for the way out. No wandering around in circles for ages - if I don't find the exit quickly (and there's time for a wrong turning or two, but not much leeway), it's game over.

From the entrance, the only way ahead is north. That leads to a crossroads, from which I go north again, to a corner which turns west (more than a fifth of my time is up). Hurrying round the corner, I reach a crossroads (over a quarter of my time gone) and head north again. That takes me to a T-junction (and past the one-third time marker), and I go west again. To a dead end, but before I can turn back, a trapdoor opens beneath me, dropping me into a sloping circular tunnel with smooth walls. I slide helplessly until I hit the wall at the bottom of the chute, which pivots, dumping me outside the pyramid, and then seals behind me. That was not the true exit, but getting evicted from the pyramid is preferable to suffocating in sand or dooming all humanity.

No comments:

Post a Comment