Tuesday, 1 October 2013

They Send You Here for Life, and That's Exactly What They Take

After all this time, I've finally reached the first Tunnels & Trolls adventure I ever played. As I've mentioned before, my first experience of the series was one of the Corgi two-adventures-in-one-book reissues. More specifically, the one featuring Beyond the Silvered Pane. And that adventure was partnered with Steven Estvanik's Captif d'Yvoire, which came first in the book, so it got played first.

I was at my grandparents' home when I tried it, and I don't remember much beyond how my attempt ended. Even those memories are hazy enough that I'm not sure things happened in quite as bizarre a manner as I recall: while heading along a tunnel, I was given the option of casting a spell, and did so. This awakened some amorphous monstrosity that had been caked on the wall, and the thing either devoured me or transformed me into a frog - the text seemed open to interpretation regarding that point. If this attempt lasts long enough, I may get to find out how confused those memories are.

It's a big if, though, as the dice have provided me with a particularly poor character this time round.
Strength: 8
Intelligence: 13
Luck: 12
Constitution: 6
Dexterity: 8
Charisma: 11
Speed: 12 (but only because the rules for this adventure specify rolling it on four dice rather than the usual 3 - it'd be half that but for the extra roll)
I could theoretically make a less inadequate character by turning him into a Dwarf, but while the adventure doesn't ban non-human characters, it requires one who could be mistaken for a human, and even if I got the maximum possible roll on the height table, I'd still be under five foot.

At the start of the adventure I am a prisoner in the Chateau d'Yvoire. Constructed by powerful mages, and reputed to still house strange forces, the Chateau has been taken over by the Duc de Binaire, who had me captured while I was travelling to join my new employer, Gastar d'Alcene, the rightful owner of the chateau. As far as I'm aware, all I need to do in this adventure is escape and make my way to d'Alcene, rather than single-handedly thwarting de Binaire's schemes, but there's plenty I don't know about what transpires.

Anyway, after enduring assorted deprivations down in my cell, I decide that I should try to escape. Or rather, I would, but before I can start making plans I have to make a roll to see what kind of toll imprisonment has taken on me, and it turns out that I'm dead. So dead, in fact, that I think I must have passed away last month and somehow failed to notice until now. I think that's a new record for rapid failure.


  1. Yep, I don't think we've had a charecter die before even starting the adventure yet! Hard to imagine a more premature ending, unless your charecter somehow dies before the stats are rolled.

    1. In Kim Newman's gamebook Life's Lottery, there's a 1 in 2704 chance of your character being stillborn. But Life's Lottery is not exactly a conventional gamebook.

  2. That's got to be a bad joke... Even Livingstone wouldn't do this; next time, let the protagonist die in the background section, or the rules section!

  3. You don't think maybe it was a deliberate metanarrative touch? Like, you roll a couple of characters who are dead or near-hopeless at the start, that way when you do start, you really feel like you appreciate the odds against you. I know the temptation is to regard these authors as idiots who took no care over their work, and after all nobody is claiming this stuff is going to have the depth or lasting value of proper novels, but sometimes the effect might just be what they intended... Which doesn't have to mean we'll like it.

  4. But what about the game part of gamebooks? Shouldn't we be allowed to play a little before being declared dead? The touch as you suggest is interesting, but the gameplay is not. Should we sacrifice playing for the sake of an effect?
    I can't claim that this author is an idiot, I haven't read the story, but I doubt, from what I've read here, that the author put that much thought into it.
    I know for sure, if I'd written a story with the intend of it being read and played that I'd be pretty piss at myself for killing my clientele's characters right at the beginning, thus most likely discouraging them of ever reading what I came with after.
    I just don't see the point.

    1. The point? A show-don't-tell of how extremely hard it is to survive incarceration in the Chateau d'If - sorry, d'Yvoire. So, assuming you don't simply stop playing the first time you reach a death result, you may have a sense of the odds against you. As I said, I don't know if it works, maybe it doesn't (I've never read this book) but no author writes a book without putting a lot of thought into it.

    2. I think the difficulty of the roll was a misjudgment on the author's part. While the death was partly a consequence of my poor starting rolls, a character with more average stats would still be likely to wind up losing well over half their Constitution points before even getting to make a decision.

      The Fighting Fantasy adventure Master of Chaos handles a similar set-up better. At the start, your character is a galley slave, and loses a significant amount of Stamina because of this. Not enough to prove fatal in and of itself, but sufficient to make it clear that your situation is pretty dire. Even after you escape, it takes a while (and a mixture of caution and risk-taking) to reach a stage where you're in decent health and adequately equipped. I find that that achieves the kind of effect you're talking about without pushing the lethality beyond reasonable levels.

      no author writes a book without putting a lot of thought into it
      They don't necessarily put enough thought into the right aspects, though. There are plenty of gamebooks out that can't have been properly playtested. I'm not saying that Captif is one of them, but I'd be surprised if the playtesters got very far with any level 1 characters, and since the adventure doesn't specify that it's only for experienced characters (which one of the earlier adventures in the series did say), there should be at least a small chance of winning with a freshly-rolled character.

  5. I understand where you're coming from, and kind of agree, so I don't want to stretch this discussion into a pointless argument, but still I wonder about your last statement. Obviously you are right, being an author myself (although amateur), lots of thoughts is put into a book so maybe I worded this wrong.
    What I guess I meant to say was that perhaps, most probably, the author didn't think through all aspects of his creation: while he may have been going for that particular effect you are describing, he certainly didn't anticipate some people simply being turned off to the process and leaving the story alone altogether. If he did, then I just can't figure it out, why write something if it has strong chances of never being read? Feels like sabotage, somehow.
    Of course, I'm strictly talking about works meant to be published, not diary and stuff.

    1. It does sound like Master of Chaos does what I'm talking about a lot better than this book does. The author probably thought that if you just died on the very first roll, you'd try again. That's what gamebooks are for, after all. But much better to dock 90% of your Stamina and then let you earn it back in play. Any time you die in a gamebook, that's a failure for both you and the writer.

    2. The author probably thought that if you just died on the very first roll, you'd try again. That's what gamebooks are for, after all.

      Indeed. Though for your average gamebook player, creating a new T&T character is more bother than rolling up a new one for most other systems, what with there being seven attributes to generate, and combat bonuses (or penalties) to calculate based on those scores. Thanks to my gamebook manager, two clicks of the mouse and the new character is done (well, in most adventures there'd also be the need to buy equipment, but obviously that's not an issue when you start as a prisoner).

      Of course, dying quite so rapidly might also lead to the player deciding to cheat on subsequent attempts. Or try a different gamebook altogether, if they got other new ones at the same time. That's what I did with the Corgi Books two-adventures-in-one-book edition - quit Captif and gave Silvered Pane a go.