Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Can't You Get Us Out of Here?

David Brunskill's Escape from Scarpathia, the adventure in issue 16 of Proteus, made little impression on me when I originally got it. This was during one of the periods when my enthusiasm for gamebooks was slightly waning, though issue 16 was the last one to get only cursory attention from me. I must have bought the magazine on a schoolday, as the one detail I can remember from then is that I was in the Careers Library when Ed Webb saw the illustration of the rock face (that is, a face made of rock, not just the side of a mountain) from section 74 and made a Knightmare reference.

It wasn't really until I reviewed the series for an online group that I properly got to grips with Escape and discovered what I'd been missing. From a gameplay perspective, it's not that different from any other Proteus adventure, but the story is another matter. Over the course of a successful attempt, there is actual character development for the viewpoint character: a process of maturation rather than a simple change of stats. This is one of the series' highlights, and easily my favourite of Mr. Brunskill's works.

As it's well over a decade since I last played the adventure, and I didn't retain any maps I might have made, I think it unlikely that I'll succeed on this attempt. Nevertheless, I shall give it a go, and with stats of
Dexterity: 11
Strength: 22
it's unlikely that the dice will contribute much to my failure.

My character is a generic adventurer, trekking through an unfamiliar jungle in search of quests that can bring me glory or reward. In a clearing I find a lavishly decorated temple, from which emerge powerful-looking but peaceful people. When I explain who I am and why I am here, their leader, Iquitos, tells me that they have no need for warriors like me, but offers hospitality, which I accept. In the course of our conversation, I learn of a cruel and warlike people inhabiting a nearby region, and try to find out as much as I can about them.

Though Iquitos finds the subject unpleasant, he tells me of Scarpathia, to the east. It is ruled by Margas, a man whose ambitions would make him a threat to civilised people if he had the leadership or magical skills to effectively direct his subjects. As it is, the Scarpathians are no more than an occasional nuisance. Iquitos advises me to head north when I leave in the morning, but I've already decided that Scarpathia merits further investigation. Even if Iquitos isn't concerned about Margas, there are probably others who'd be prepared to reward some valiant hero who dared to overthrow the tyrant, right...?

In the morning I set off and, almost without thinking about it, take the first turning to the east. Before long I reach a junction, and head south. The trail soon turns east again, and I am attacked by a beast with spikes on its head. Despite the formidable appearance, it's not much of an opponent, and I kill it with ease. The trail descends to a chasm, and I see a bridge overhead. If that's the bridge I vaguely remember from past attempts, I've already failed, but I might as well see how much I can find out about what to do (or what not to do) before my inevitable demise.

A bad night's sleep costs me a little Strength, but as I set off again in the morning, I catch sight of a castle in the distance. I head towards it, and suddenly encounter a blue-robed figure with a bronze mask. He states that he is Altrus, Spirit of the Mountains, and asks why a mere mortal such as I should be in such dangerous territory. I declare my intention to rid the world of Margas' evil, and Altrus approves, though he expresses doubt that I'm up to the challenge. Nevertheless, he offers to help by giving me the ability to cast three spells, and offers a list of four from which to choose. I pick Quench Fire, Breathe and Vanish (the latter providing temporary invisibility rather than the ability to make opponents disappear, in case anybody was wondering).

Once I've made my choice, Altrus removes his mask, and I am dazzled by the light that bursts from behind it. By the time my sight returns, he has gone, so I resume my journey to castle Scarpathia. An arrow almost hits me and, turning to face its source, I see an archer and two thugs with spiked clubs advancing on me. Sounds to my right and left indicate the presence of further hostiles, and I prepare for battle...

With the return of consciousness comes a great deal of pain, and the discovery that I am in a cell, my hands tied behind my back. The first time I reached this part of the adventure, I thought for a moment that I'd turned to the wrong section before realising that Mr. Brunskill had used the textual equivalent of a jump cut in place of the more traditional description of an unconsciousness-inducing blow to the head and fade to black. Rather a neat trick.

The cells to either side of me are also occupied. The prisoner on my left is still unconscious, the one to the right awake and terrified. He explains to me that the guards here like to bet on how long it will take their prisoners to die under torture. His babbling attracts the attention of the jailer, who waddles across to gleefully point out that I'm going to die first, and Finn (the scared man) will have to watch it happen before taking my place.

The Vanish spell requires only an incantation to cast, so having my hands bound won't prevent me from using it. The jailer is clearly a particularly slow-witted specimen: after unlocking the cell door and coming in to try and find out where I've gone, he stands gawping for long enough that I am able to pilfer his dagger, cut my bonds, and smack him in the head with a blunt instrument. Rather cruelly, I don't free Finn until I've retrieved my sword and shield and established that the third prisoner isn't going to wake up, ever. At least I don't make him wait until I've checked the cupboards by the exit door.

The first cupboard contains my backpack (empty, so I can't down a meal to put right some of the damage incurred during my capture) and an assortment of mediocre weapons. Finn helps himself to a sword. The second cupboard is booby-trapped, and I take a dagger to the arm as I open it. Inside it I find more weapons worse than my own, some cheap and tacky jewellery, and a gold ring with a diamond set into it, which goes straight into my pocket.

Finn and I head through the door and along the corridor beyond. At a four-way junction we are contemplating the best way to go when a couple of Guards approach from the north and attack us. This'll be where Finn dies, right? Oh yes. I kill my opponent with ease, and take out the second Guard as he extracts his sword from the mortally wounded Finn, but I'm back on my own again.

The Guards came from the north, so if they were patrolling, there might not be any more along for some time. If, on the other hand, they were coming from the guard room, there'll most likely be lots of them around. I go that way regardless, and reach an east-west junction with a door at the end of each passage. Going east should take me further into the castle, so west could be a dead end with something useful in it.

The room beyond the door is dark, and smells as if it hasn't been used in a long time. Undaunted, I enter, and after a moment the floor gives way beneath my feet. If I'd taken the route that crosses the chasm by bridge, I might have an item that would help here, but as it is, I plummet to my death.

* * *

There's just under a week until this blog is five years old. I have now received some questions for the Q&A session I'm having to mark the occasion, but there's still time for further submissions, so feel free to ask anything you want to know. Except maybe the one about how to get through Torrepani in The Shamutanti Hills, which has apparently led several Googlers here over the years.

No comments:

Post a Comment