Wednesday, 11 December 2013

What He Keeps in Storage Jars

I bought issue 12 of Proteus, containing David Brunskill's The Weaver of Nightmares, on the way to school on a Friday. Probably the 15th of May, as that was when it was due out. I know I got it before school, as I remember my eye inadvertently straying to a line of dialogue that gave away the solution to one of the puzzles while queuing outside room T. And further memories establish that it must have been a Friday: working out the Frog King's puzzle at my grandparents' home (which my sisters and I visited on Fridays), and seeing the disapproving look my grandmother gave to the free poster.

Some time later, in the course of attempting to work out the correct path through the adventure, I noted down all the elements of Weaver's major puzzle on a cardboard folder, not having any paper to hand. I subsequently used that folder to hold resources for one of my classes at school, and some of the other pupils in that class noticed these cryptic assortments of letters and demanded an explanation. I incorrectly remembered the key to the code (it's split across two lines with a hyphen in the magazine, and I got the two halves the wrong way round when excavating it from memory), frustrating classmates who found random codebreaking more appealing than the actual subject of the lesson.

That's enough reminiscing for now. What of the plot? Well, I'm the kind of adventurer who treks across deserts to find out if there's anything interesting on the far side, and that habit has just brought me to the township of Glengantha in time for an important public meeting. It turns out that the locals are in a rather tricky situation. That desert is encroaching upon their farmland, and will render the region uninhabitable within a few years. Thus they must relocate, but there's not really anywhere good to go. North are uncharted seas, and what expeditions have returned from heading out that way found no sign of land. To the south is the territory of the warlike Barlinnian people. And to the east, across a more charted sea, is Nanglidia, the realm of the Weaver of Nightmares. His lands could easily support the Glenganthans, but when they offered to become his subjects in return for being allowed to work the land, he imprisoned their envoys and sent a messenger to taunt the Glenganthans. An army sent to rescue the captive envoys was repulsed by a host of monsters, many troops being killed or captured.

Just after this has been explained to me, the face of Dreadthread the taunter appears in the air and states that the Weaver is bored, and has come up with a challenge for any Glenganthan who dares come to his house. A message has been inscribed upon seven tokens, which have been scattered around his home. If someone goes there, survives their encounters with the less hospitable residents of the house, and collects all the tokens, the imprisoned Glenganthans will be freed, and permission may even be granted to farm the Nanglidian soil. Having run out of deserts to cross, I promptly volunteer to go token-hunting in return for several meals' worth of food and what little money the Glenganthans can spare.

This is not an adventure for characters with below-average stats, though maximum scores are not essential. Nevertheless, I shall allocate dice, because a low Dexterity would make failure a near certainty. Thus, I wind up with a viable
Dexterity: 12
Strength: 16
The comparative narrowness of the true path still means there's a good chance of my dying, as many of the details have become hazy since I last played Weaver in 2004. But I could dig out the map I made back then, and at least avoid the completely arbitrary 'go the wrong way and die (or at least get dumped in the sewers and fail)' endings.

Still, even if I do use my old map (on which I am still undecided), it won't help me with the first part of the adventure. Somewhere in the woods just to the south of Glengantha is the home of Frowellyn, the local Wise Woman, and without her assistance I have no chance of winning this adventure. For some reason I never mapped the woods, so I'm as likely to wind up at 1 Dunghill Mansions as I am to find Frowellyn.

My exploration of the woods gets off to a less-than-ideal start, as I step in a snare and injure my leg. Limping on, I reach a clump of fungi, and decide to risk eating one. The moonlight may be misleading me as to their true colours, but some look pink, the others green. Pink isn't far from red, which is often a danger sign in vegetation, so I try green, and get a burst of healing that more than makes up for my wounded leg. But then I emerge from the woods and, my character lacking any awareness of the doom awaiting an adventurer who hasn't been equipped by Frowellyn, head for the harbour. Worn out by the day's exertions, I settle down to sleep.

Before dawn I get a rude awakening. Armed men take me prisoner and march me to a barn, where I am put on trial, my intention to travel to Nanglidia being taken as evidence that I'm a spy, while my sword prompts speculation as to my also being an assassin. Pointing out that I was more or less invited there by the Weaver fails to impress the Judge, who sentences me to death. I'm dragged over to a convenient gallows and hanged.

At which point I really wake up. They don't call him the Weaver of Nightmares for nothing. A mocking voice points out to me that some of the foes I may face in the Weaver's house will be illusions, but if I believe them to be real, they will be able to harm me. If I don't believe in them, they will have no effect on me - but denying the existence of a genuine opponent is certain to be bad for my health, so I'd better be careful when choosing what to ignore.

In the morning a ship is getting ready to leave, so I go aboard to speak to the captain, who's already on the bottle. Eventually he grudgingly agrees to take me to Nanglidia in return for 10 gold pieces, and as I never got the chance to spend too much on magical gubbins at Frowellyn's, I can afford his price. The voyage doesn't take long, and the ship doesn't loiter once I've been dropped off.

The walk from the beach to the Weaver's house leads through obviously fertile land - just what the Glenganthans need, not that they're going to get it. The house is strangely designed, significantly taller than it initially appeared, with a strangely proportioned east wing, and one room randomly jutting out overhead. Behind the main door is an axe-wielding Giant, who introduces himself as Baulk and announces his intention to slice me up. I think he's real, so I get ready for some slicing of my own. Perhaps expecting me to act as if he's not there, Baulk is taken by surprise, so I get a free hit on him, but after that he fights back. My superior Dexterity enables me to fell him without taking a blow.

The room contains a chest, which holds several tunics too large for me to wear, a few poor quality weapons, and a scroll with instructions for sorting gold, silver, squares and triangles. I keep the latter in case it comes in handy. Then I go through the door that Baulk said leads to where he lived. Behind it is a corridor, with a side turning leading to a door, so I check that out. Behind the door is a room containing a table with assorted receptacles on it. As I step forward to take a closer look, the door shuts and locks behind me. On the table are four jars, and a bowl containing an assortment of metal shapes. Realising that these are what the scroll refers to, I take another look at it.

On the scroll are three pairs of statements, plus a header indicating that one statement in each pair is true, the other false. The statements are all clues as to which shape goes in which jar. Now, both statements in the third pair contradict the same one from the first pair, so that one has to be the falsehood, which makes the other one true. That, in conjunction with the second pair, tells me which shapes to put in either jars 1-3 or jars 2-4, depending on which of the second pair is untrue. Knowing that much enables me to rule out one of the third pair of statements, and the one that must therefore be correct enables me to deduce which of the second pair to believe. Silver triangle, gold star, bronze disc, iron square.

I have to turn to a new section to choose what to put in the first jar, so it's important to make a note of the solution before I start applying it. When I drop the selected shape into the first jar, the jar glows and sinks into the tabletop. The same thing happens with the second jar, and the text says, 'Now you must decide which shape to place into the next jar'. Not really - I made that decision when I solved the puzzle. It's only now that I can act on that decision, but any player who hasn't yet decided must be guessing. The shape I drop into the third jar is right too, and that only leaves one shape to put into the last jar. That would merit a gold star for deductive excellence, but as I already put that shape into the appropriate jar, I get a key instead. Of course there's a number on it.

The door opens again, so I return to the corridor and head north. I soon reach a crossroads and, working on the premise that gamebook true paths usually require far more to-and-froing than any sensible route in the real world, head off to the west. I decided not to use that map after all - I can't win, so I may as well just explore.

The passage just leads to a dead end, so unless I feel like trying to break through the wall, I'd better go back to the crossroads and pick another turning. East, then. No, that was a bad decision. It leads to a cobwebby, junk-filled, candle-lit room where Dreadthread appears again. He tells me that he might let me past, but I'll need both keys if I am to proceed. I only have the one, so Dreadthread laughs and disappears. And then the poltergeists have their fun with me, turning the bric-a-brac that fills the room into a lethal tornado of clutter. Not a particularly pleasant way to go, but by no means the nastiest ending the adventure has to offer.

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