Thursday, 7 April 2016

The One Who's Gonna Suffer

Proteus issue 15 was another one acquired on the way to school. When I got it, the 'Extra Special Christmas Adventure' it contained got more of my attention than the main feature, M.W. Bolton's The Havarine Madness. Funnily enough, this was because I expected the bonus adventure to be bad, and was curious as to how awful it could be. As it turned out, the Christmas adventure was pretty decent, and quite fun. It wasn't until I finally got around to having a proper go at THM that I discovered the issue did contain an appalling shambles of an adventure, just not the one I'd expected.

The premise isn't overly unpromising. The adventure starts quite generically, as I'm in a tavern in order to meet the unknown individual from the Royal Household of Garrangar who has requested my assistance in an unspecified quest. Not that we stay there for long: the actual mission briefing takes place on a nearby hill. Apparently this was once a happy place, but then the Havarines came along, bringing with them an infectious madness that has turned the king into a deranged tyrant. Just after I'm told of this, another sufferer of the madness bursts from the tavern, trying to fight off some horror that only exists in his mind.

The only hope for a cure lies with the wise-man Zermahaar, who owns a curative potion and a talisman that could rid the land of the Havarines. Well, my contact calls the latter item a talisman, but then states that it's called The Sword of Ruin, which suggests that it's more of a magical weapon than a talisman. Unless the name is figurative. Or it's something ornamental in the shape of a sword. Zermahaar lives in the castle of Adonerath, which is almost unreachable owing to the Haverine-created monsters and traps that surround it. And he's a bit mad himself, overly fond of puzzles, liable to demand something of value in return for the potion and Sword, and prone to doing terrible things to those who bring gifts that do not meet his standards.

When I agree to try and get the potion and Sword, my contact ditches the cloak they've been wearing, revealing that my employer is none other than the queen. She warns me that many adventurers have already attempted this quest and failed, and now the madness has afflicted so many that nobody from the region can be trusted. She gives me some gold and a pack containing provisions, rope and a sword (what kind of adventurer am I to not have any of this stuff already?), and declares that I must return with the items from Zermahaar by sunset tomorrow.

I will definitely be allocating dice at character creation, thereby getting an in-with-a-chance:
Dexterity 11
Strength 19
No other stats. Not even a non-randomised one for keeping track of the passage of time, so that 'by sunset' deadline has no impact on the outcome, despite the multitude of opportunities the adventure offers to waste time on false trails.

I will also be using the map I made when repeatedly playing THM for review purposes last decade. It's been long enough since I last endured this adventure that even using the map is no guarantee of following the right path, but it should at least enable me to avoid several near-identical arbitrary Instant Deaths, as well as sparing me the consequences of a particularly atrocious bit of gamebook design about which I shall rant at the appropriate moment, should I survive that long.

Anyway, I set off north along the road, eventually reaching a junction, at which I take the turning that will not guarantee failure. The path leads to another junction, and I keep going in the same direction, because turning north leads to a choice between getting lost in the mist and falling to my death in a chasm, and plummeting to my doom in the exact same chasm as a consequence of getting lost in the mist.

Further along, I see two horses tied up at a rail, both equipped with saddle and bridle. One is white, the other black, and I have no recollection of this incident whatsoever, so I ignore both and walk on. It's a hot day, and the long trek is a little uncomfortable, but I suffer no adverse effects from being on foot rather than on horseback. Some time later I reach another junction, and risk not going north again, but I do turn north at the next junction. This leads to a fight with an insane Ogre with manacles on his wrists, after which the path joins up with the previous turning to the north. So I might as well have taken that one, but I thought the Ogre might have had some treasure on him. Still, I took no damage in the fight, so the unnecessary detour didn't cost me anything.

The road passes a cottage, with a man standing outside. He invites me to peruse the items of potential interest inside, and I decide to see what he has on offer. Only one of the curios on offer catches my attention: a silver chalice with strange markings. The man tells me it was made by the Elvins of the Korowan valley, and offers it to me for 3 gold. Is this the item that will placate Zermahaar? I pay up in case, but something I do remember from winning before immediately indicates that this isn't what I'm after. Well, that would have been a bit easy. I'll just have to hope that my remaining gold is enough to cover any purchases that actually matter.

There's a side road by the cottage, which I ignore. Continuing north, I reach another junction, and as I'm contemplating which way to go, I get a slightly clumsy transition to a new section. There, a concealed archer fires an arrow at me, but misses. I take cover behind a tree, and the archer steps out into the road, drawing a sword. This is one of the tougher fights in the book, and I take significant damage in spite of my high Dexterity. More than I inflict, in fact, but as my Strength was almost twice that of the Archer, I'm the one still standing at the end of the fight. There's no loot to be had here, either: as far as I can tell, the only purpose this fight serves (other than killing off most characters with a below-average Dexterity) is to provide a distraction from the junction, so readers might not notice that they've been denied the opportunity to choose a direction.

Staggering north, I reach another junction. This time there's actually a little description of the ways I can go from here: west to a forest clearing, or east up a hill. I check out the clearing, and find a remarkably ugly old woman gathering herbs. She offers me some 'for strength', and I accept. They smell and taste bad, but do restore some of the Strength I lost in that fight, so this was a more productive detour than the one with the Ogre.

There being no other paths leading from the clearing, I go back to the junction and up the hill. From the top, a path runs further east along a cliff edge, and another winds north down to a riverside beach with a boat on it. I think the fight to be had in the east is another waste of time, so I head north.

As I approach the boat, I round an outcrop of rock, and find the remains of a long-dead man. The bones of his right hand still clutch a jewelled dagger, and his left hand appears to be reaching for something. A cursory dig in the area towards which the deceased was grasping turns up a golden collar. I may, if I so choose, take either the dagger or the collar, but not both. No explanation is given for why I can only have one of them, but the same thing happens whenever there's a choice of items to take, so I'm going to assume that adventuring is a tightly regulated profession here, and there are strict limits on the acquisition of treasure.

I take the item I think might be the essential one, and I'm right. It gives me a nasty sensation of pins and needles when I pick it up, but provides a significant boost to my Strength. Dropping it into my pack, I continue towards the boat. I row across the river with some difficulty, as the tide is not in my favour, and as I disembark from the boat, I am promptly mistaken for Mungo and attacked by a Giant Crab. Thinking ahead to the endgame, I will observe that the accompanying illustration reveals the Crab to have eight legs. Which a friend of mine who did a degree in Marine Biology confirmed to be the correct number (unless you count the claws, but apparently there is or was some disagreement over whether or not they constitute legs).

Though the Crab is as adept a fighter as the Archer, and has a slightly higher Strength, the dice favour me a little more in this fight, and I take less damage. There's nothing of value on this beach, so after a short rest, I scale the cliff ahead of me. From the beach it appeared to be a difficult climb, but I get to the top without having to roll dice or suffer any Strength loss, so it can't be that tricky.

At the top, paths run north and east. I'm not sure why, as both lead to the same fishing port and the same choices, leading to the same section numbers. For what it's worth, I take the path east. The coast is on the west of the port, and a little distance offshore is an island. There are also further paths north and east. Still, that island may be worth checking out before I go anywhere else, so I shall look into chartering a boat.

A weather-beaten old salt offers to transport me in his 'tidy craft' for two thirds of my remaining gold. His vessel turns out to be a rather unimpressive fishing boat, but it is at least seaworthy. As we set out across the bay, I notice that a few of the crew are becoming anxious. They're staring with some concern at a rock jutting from the water some way to the west. A rock that gets larger, and draws nearer, being joined by more of its kind as it approaches. Not entirely unsurprisingly, these rocks turn out to be parts of a mostly submerged monster, which becomes significantly less submerged once it catches up to the boat. It seizes one of the crew in its jaws, and I attack it. Some poor rolls early on cause me to take a little damage, but I prevail in the end, and the remains of the monster submerge for good.

The crew congratulate me, but I don't get any of my fare refunded for saving one of their number. We continue to the island, and I'm taken ashore in a dinghy. Up close, the island proves something of a disappointment, as I can see only rock and seabirds. And sand, in which a rusty metal box is half buried. And, after I smash the box open, an old man in a tattered robe, who calls me a thief. Though he does subsequently tell me that I may take one of the items in the box, which holds a rusty key and a bottle of liquid. The man says that the nectar in the bottle has restorative properties, but I still have food to restore Strength, whereas I don't have anything that could substitute for a key if I need one.

Thanking the man, I take the dinghy back to the boat, and we head back to the mainland. Again the crew look worried, this time because of approaching clouds. We don't reach land before the storm hits. A freak wave sweeps the deck clear of equipment, and the mast begins to crack. I still have the rope the queen gave me, though, and the crew are able to use it to effect a temporary repair, saving me from ending up like an unlucky Lone Wolf.

Back on dry land, I can take either of the paths that don't lead back to the top of the cliff. I had been intending to ignore the one that my map indicates to be a dead end, but the '(if you have not been that way before)' restriction makes me wonder if it might be worth a visit after all. I follow the road as it meanders along, eventually reaching the point where a landslide has blocked it, and as I turn to retrace my steps, a Scaly Rock Clinger leaps to the attack. It won't be doing any more leaping. And there's no loot after all. If I could meet myself from 12 years ago, I'd have a few things to say about listing items as well as encounters on the map.

Returning to the port, I take the other road that's open to me. It leads over a hill, and then changes direction, skirting a sinister-looking forest. From somewhere in the trees come howls and cries, drawing nearer until the source of the sounds bursts onto the road to attack. This is the Kraskar, a six-armed biped, wielding a spiked club in each hand, and I think it's the toughest necessary fight in the book. No treasure, as usual, but at least one of the items I've acquired prior to this point is essential for success, and there's no route from where I acquired that to the castle of Adonerath that bypasses the Kraskar. As against the Giant Crab, I get lucky, and take significantly less damage in the fight than I did against the Archer.

The path continues to another cliff edge, and the only way across the gorge that blocks my way is a rope bridge that has seen better days. I cross with care, and as I near the far side, a sneering youth with a sword emerges from the trees and demands a toll. I don't think I can afford to pay. That is, I have enough money, but I think I might need to buy something later on, and I doubt that what I'd have left after paying the toll will cover that purchase. So I guess I'll have to fight.

Despite having offered fighting as an option, the youth cuts the last remaining rope of the bridge before I can reach solid ground, causing me to plummet to my death. Well, he's not going to be able to extort money from anybody else for crossing his rotten bridge.

So, on this occasion I didn't get far enough to highlight the worst aspects of this adventure. That's a rant for another post, then. And at least I've reminded myself of a few detours I can safely avoid next time round.

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