Monday, 20 October 2014

This Thing Should Have Died Long Ago

I acquired Terrors Out of Time, the second of Ian and Clive Bailey's Forbidden Gateway gamebooks, at the same time and place as I did the first. As I initially played it without dice, and the only decisions leading to certain death are rather obviously bad ideas, I made it to the end on my first attempt. It took longer to win by the rules: while not quite as harsh as Where the Shadows Stalk, it still has several unavoidable 'do or die' rolls, and when even a character with the maximum possible stats has a 1 in 6 chance of failing any roll, that makes the odds of winning fairly slim. When I ran the adventure for a group at rpg.net, unfavourable dice and the occasional unwise decision meant that they didn't succeed until their twelfth attempt.

Had my character in Shadows not gone insane in a dream (incidentally, I once dreamed that I came across a third Forbidden Gateway book involving zombies, but in the real world there are, alas, only the two), I might have gone on to save the world from Lovecraftian monstrosities, in the process acquiring a small pyramid made of crystal, with a design of an Ouroboros-esque dragon embedded in it. The first FG book ends on a minor cliffhanger, as the pyramidion is stolen by someone with taloned hands, who reaches in through a second-floor window to grab the artefact as I contemplate it.

Interestingly, Terrors starts shortly before the ending of Shadows, with an account (by an unspecified narrator) of the thief's breaking out of the British Museum, shrouding himself in the ambient mist, and heading for my character's home. Only with the jump to a new section does the viewpoint shift to that of my character, where it will stay for the remainder of the book. So as my character gets the focus, it's time to determine his stats:
Strength 5
Stamina 10
Mentality 5
Endurance 10
Dexterity 9
Well, this post should take a lot less time to write than my previous one.

As I sit in contemplation of the small pyramid, a tendril of mist drifts through the open window, followed by the thieving hand from the end of the previous book. Dashing to the window, I see the thief crawling down the vertical wall, and jumping to the ground. A hideous face looks back at me for a moment, and then thefigure is off. I grab my coat and a swordstick, and give chase. By the time I reach ground level, there's no sign of the thief, but a creaking hinge draws my attention to the museum door, so I go through it.

The next two choices are utterly pointless, except insofar as they help bring the total number of sections in the book up to 375. My first proper encounter with the thief will proceed in exactly the same manner regardless of which staircase I ascend, and whether or not I spend several minutes fumbling with locked doors and heading into a dead end. I'd have preferred it if the Baileys had ditched the choice of staircase and used the extra section to include some minor adverse consequence of taking the wrong turning at the top of the stairs, consequently giving the thief more time to make his preparations.

Anyway, I reach the Egyptian Rooms, where I find the thief crouched in fromt of an open display case containing a sarcophagus. I try to sneak up on him, but even though I'm rolling against my only decent stat, I still fail, treading on a squeaky floorboard that alerts the thief to my presence. He dashes towards the sarcophagus, flinging a stream of golden particles in the direction of a nearby mummy. For a moment I catch hold of him - long enough to note his emaciated appearance, excessive number of teeth, and red-rimmed eyes. He pulls free, dives into the sarcophagus, and vanishes.

Though shaken by the sight I just glimpsed, I am not excessively traumatised. I don't cope so well when that mummy animates and starts shambling towards me, though, and while I'm gaping, it catches up to me and attempts to overpower me. The attack takes less than 66 seconds, but is resolved by a Dexterity contest, and the mummy isn't that agile, so I manage to break free. I could now try fighting it, but I don't have to, I'm not sure there's much to be gained by doing so, and it can't be long before the broken door onto the street attracts the attention of the Police, so I think I'll just run for it.

It's not that simple, of course. The mummy turns out to be blocking the exit, so I have to wrestle it out of the way to get out. That takes a contest of Strength, and my Strength is as much below the mummy's as his Dexterity is under mine. Unsurprisingly, I fail to overcome my opponent, and it manages to get its arms around me. My struggles are in vain, and the mummy begins to drain my Strength. I have one more chance to try and break free before I become so weak as to fail all subsequent rolls in this fight, and only a double 1 will save me. I don't get it, and soon everything goes black...

Incidentally, the structuring of this section is a bit misleading. It's split over two pages - two sides of the same sheet of paper, rather than facing pages. The last paragraph of the first side explains what must transpire for the reader to completely lose this fight, and gives the number for the section to which to turn if this occurs. However, it doesn't say, 'If this should happen, turn to...' or words to that effect. It just says 'Turn to...' And as the list of choices that can be taken if the reader should succeed at a Strength conflict roll is over the page, it's possible that a reader might not realise that the instruction at the bottom of the page only applies in the case of total defeat, turn to the wrong section, and get an undeserved fail ending.

Talking of which, consciousness returns. The mummy didn't kill me. But it incapacitated me long enough for the Police to arrive, so I'm going to be assisting them with their enquiries rather than trying to prevent the thief from using the pyramidion to bring about the end of the world. Oh, well, at least I lasted slightly longer than the rpg.net crowd on their first attempt at the book.

1 comment:

  1. You wait 3 months for a gamebook playthrough and then two arrive at once... Nice to have you back, Ed.

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