Monday, 12 August 2013

You Could Manage To Arrive Before the Nick of Time

I don't think I got Proteus issue 9, Lord of Chaos (by David Brunskill's new pseudonym, J.A. Collar), on the day it came out. I remember looking through it in the newsagent's near Boots and finding the logic puzzle that must be solved to get one of the essential items, but that newsagent wasn't on my route to school, and I definitely acquired my copy on the way to school. I was in or outside the music room when I got to the encounter with the witches in the mirror, and I gave the free gift (a miniature replica of issue 1) a little attention in room G, where I had French lessons. I know I didn't win my first attempt, as I missed at least two of the essential items (I was at home, in the kitchen, when I solved the mathematical puzzle that led to the first of them), but I can't recall whether or not I got far enough for the lack of those artefacts to doom me.

As usual, I'm an adventurer on the road in the search of quests. Towards the end of the day I catch sight of a walled city in the distance, and after a night of foreshadowy bad dreams I head towards the city. There are spikes on top of the wall, and one of the people tending the fields on the other side summons guards upon sighting me. After I explain my business, a ladder is provided, and I am escorted to the home of Glamarye, who appears to be the local sorceress. She explains that this place is Valantia, and its people really dislike violence, exiling anyone who perpetrates it to the harsh Kaercaradduc region in the north.

A recent attempted raid on Valantia led to the revelation that the arch-demon Uthergan is prophesied to rise from a nearby stone circle and lay waste to the region. It's a good deal more precise than your average prophecy, even giving a specific date and time. Namely, sunset today. So as I happened to be passing through the area and looking for work, the Valantians are willing to pay me well if I can track down the four symbols of power that will avert Uthergan's return, and thereby prevent the complete destruction of their city. There are enough real-world examples of people not bothering to take steps to avoid predictable and preventable disasters that I can't really call the Valantians' prior inaction unrealistic, but there are certainly problematic elements to their society.

Still, at least now they've decided to do something, they've employed a reasonably competent person to do the job, as I have:
Dexterity 11
Strength 20
There are no other stats this time.

Leaving Valantia, I reach a road. The direction I pick here will determine whether or not I have any chance of winning the adventure. I think west is the way to go, but it's been almost 10 years since I last played LoC, so I can't be certain that my memory is reliable here. Nevertheless, I trust it, and am right to do so, as I soon catch sight of a shack with an illegible sign on the door. Of course I investigate.

It's dark inside, but a man with a lamp suddenly appears, and is strangely amused when I tell him that I'm just passing through the region. He's a merchant, and while he doesn't have any of the items required for getting rid of Uthergan, I know from past attempts that that he is selling something that I'll need to use to get one of them, so I check out his wares. The only things that could be of interest are potions and scrolls, and for no obvious reason I'm only allowed to make one purchase.

After buying what I need (and experiencing the merchant's abysmal customer service skills), I return to the road and go back east. Yes, authorial sneakiness makes it necessary to retrace my steps less than half a dozen choices into the adventure. No wonder I failed the first time.

Before long the road turns north, and I encounter a lone Valantian who actually tried to find the artefacts himself. He's wounded and delirious, and has been unsuccessful, but deserves some commendation for at least making an effort. Before stumbling back towards his home, he mumbles fragmentary directions and drops a pouch of magic powder, which I take.

Further on I reach a junction, and follow the Valantian's advice, heading into the foothills of the Welsh-sounding Pen-Dinas and entering a cave. The passage soon forks, so I trust that the principles outlined by the bleeding man still apply, and the turning I take leads to a cave containing hundreds of gold pieces and an enthroned skeleton, which is wearing the golden breastplate that was the first symbol of power named by Glamarye. Two rather puny Ghouls attack me, and I barely take any damage in the course of dismembering them.

The breastplate is immovable, but a scroll clutched in the skeleton's hand tells (in rather clumsy verse) how to remove it. As I mentioned above, it's a mathematical puzzle, involving the numbers inscribed upon the breastplate, and shouldn't be beyond the capabilities of anyone who can subtract four-digit numbers from five-digit numbers. I have no problem with it, and soon the plate is in my hands and, judging by what the poem said, the spirit of the person whose skeleton was wearing the breastplate has finally been set free. I also help myself to a little of the money lying around.

There's only the one exit from the chamber, so I return to the junction and go the other way. Soon I reach another junction, and from this point onwards I don't have any recollection of correct directions. I try north, and find an exit from the caves. A sudden rockfall injures me, but I got off lightly: some of the stones that didn't hit are a lot bigger than I am.

After a couple of junctions I spot a bound and gagged man by the side of the road. I take a chance on releasing him, and he advises me to go back the way I came, so I do that. After some time I reach a swamp, and while slogging through that, I am attacked by a repulsive Marsh Monster. Even with the Dexterity penalty for the boggy ground, I outclass it, but a few bad rolls at the start of the fight cause me to take a significant amount of damage before rallying and defeating the creature.

Emerging from the marsh, I spot and investigate another hut. Opening the door triggers a booby-trap that gashes my shoulder, and the only thing of any potential value in here is a leather bag of berries. I try one, and it revitalises me, so I wind up eating the lot and exiting the hut in better condition than I was before I triggered the trap. The next hut I find contains nothing of value, and I take more damage when the floor gives way beneath me. This is getting tiresome.

At the next junction I am approached by a strange figure, who says nothing, but passes his hand in front of my face several times. Next thing I know, I'm some way up the north road from that junction. It's an interesting change from the usual 'authorial fiat has you decide not to take a certain turning' routine, but the lack of follow-up or explanation makes it just gratuitous random strangeness.

I reach a small village, and soon get the impression that I'm not welcome, though nobody is actively hostile. One man fails to notice me, being intent on trying to create a stone knife, so I offer him my own dagger. At first he doesn't understand my intent, and when he does twig, I find myself unable to answer his question as to what I want in return. He gives me a root that will enable me to fly when I bite it.

There's a harbour close by. Taking a look around, I realise that the figurehead on one of the boats is the statuette that's the second symbol of power. A plaque below it gives instructions on how to get the statuette, but I know from Glamarye's description that it's not that straightforward. Still, figuring out what does need doing is not the most challenging logic puzzle I've encountered in gamebooks, so I soon have the statuette.

As I'm heading out of the village, a nervous-looking man intercepts me and offers his services as an artificer. I accompany him back to his house, where he says he'll make me a key in return for some money. Sounds like a good deal, so I hand over the cash, and he carves several indentations into a block of stone, which he then hands to me. Not a conventional key, then.

But I've seen odder ones.

Leaving the village, I fall into a pit. Good thing I got that root, as without it I'd be unlikely to get out before the crossbow-toting brigands who dug it turn up. As it is, I narrowly escape and proceed to another junction. My wanderings eventually take me into a forest, where I find a rope ladder leading into a room that's been carved out of the tree. It contains a mirror and a bottle of black liquid, and there's a metal ring set into the floor. I drink from the bottle, and the mirror becomes a portal. Faces appear in it, demanding gold, so I hand over some money and get told where to find another of the items I seek, and how to acquire it. Moments later I find myself back at the foot of the tree, and set off again.

Following the directions I was given, I get attacked by a Stealthclamp (it's stealthy, and it clamps onto its victims' backs). Not a particularly tricky opponent, though the fact that I only do half damage means that the fight drags on a bit. Once I've killed it, I proceed to a chasm with a bridge across it. A man with a spear guards the way forward, and he wants a clutch of algethan berries for a toll. I ate the only berries I found, so I have to fight him. He's as good a fighter as I am, so I lose more Strength than eating the berries gave me. Still, my slightly higher Strength, and some lucky rolls, bring me through the fight, so I can cross the bridge.

Neither of the directions available at the next junction match the way I was told to go, but one is the direct opposite of it, so I try the other. The urn I seek is beside the path some way ahead, and by doing as I was advised, I am able to acquire it without breaking it.

It's getting late as I carry on, and before long I reach the stone circle of which I was told. I must have taken a wrong turning at some point between the village and the forest, as I only have three of the symbols of power. The sun drops beneath the horizon, Uthergan bursts from the barrow at the centre of the circle, and things get a bit unpleasant for me.

That wasn't quite as 'one true path'-y as I'd thought, but it's still rather too dependent upon purely random decisions. Mind you, it's by no means the worst offender in that regard, not even just in comparison with other Proteus adventures, and stats-wise it's reasonably fair. On the other hand, the plot's not particularly engaging, and the abovementioned gratuitous random strangeness is pretty much the only aspect of the adventure that's remotely innovatory. A middling adventure, all things considered. Unambitious, but inoffensive.

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