Monday, 3 July 2017

I'm Not Here Now, But That's Because I'm Somewhere Else

Years ago, back when it was still possible to browse in Brown's Books, I once had a look at the sale table and picked up a book that I would normally have avoided. It purported to be a 'Guide to the Secrets of the Wizards' Guild', which really wasn't the sort of thing that would appeal to me, regardless of whether or not it was intended to be taken seriously. Nevertheless, I took a quick peek inside, and found that a little over half the pages were given over to a gamebook. The whole book was cheap in the sale, so I decided to get it as a curio, if nothing else. Then I read the copyright information, and things started to make a bit more sense, because it revealed Cornelius Rumstuckle, the rather obviously pseudonymous author of The Book of Wizardry, to be J.H. Brennan, the man behind the part-gamebook, part-rulebook Monster Horrorshow, and assorted other humorous or preposterous gamebooks in my collection.

Looking through the rules for The Wizard's Adventure, the gamebook contained within that book, put me off trying to play it, as the first step involved constructing a pendulum, which was not a task that appealed to me. Still doesn't, to be honest, so I'll see how far I can get without the thing. While I've adapted my Gamebook manager to handle the rules that come with this book, I can't incorporate a simulated pendulum, because I don't know of any way (at least with the resources and capabilities I have) to get the computer to replicate the subconscious influence that would be exerted upon the swing of a pendulum by the person holding the string.

For now I'll focus on what I can do, which is character generation. It's a simple process, consisting of rolling six dice to generate Life Points (picking the best of three attempts), and another two dice to determine how much gold I have. That works out as:
Life - 25
Gold - 9

The premise of the adventure is straightforward, and not unfamiliar. A wizard in bygone days casts a spell to bring me to his physical and temporal location (and more specifically to the Visitor's Center (sic.), where I can buy equipment and ask directions to the Wizards' Guild). However, something interferes with the spell, as a result of which I wind up somewhere else. A dark and damp cavern, to be precise. To the north is a faint glimmer of light, and to the south a crevice provides access to a steep passageway leading downwards.

Before making my mind up which way to head, I conduct a proper search of the cavern, finding some dropped coins and a rusty dagger that will enable me to do slightly more damage in battle than I would with just my bare hands, though it'll only last for a few fights. Not a bad start.

The text implies that going south would be a bad idea, which half makes me want to check out that exit anyway. Still, the combination of darkness and steepness could easily lead to a fatal drop, so I shall investigate the light in the north. It turns out to be the cave mouth, which would be a convenient exit but for the fact that it's several hundred feet up a sheer cliff face. In the distance, beyond a forest, I can see a town, but attempting to climb down seems inadvisable. Even if it just leads to an Absolutely Anything Roll, the chances of success are not high, and while the likelihood of a fatal outcome is even lower, I'd still rather not risk it. And I'm making that decision without consulting a pendulum even though this section makes it mandatory rather than optional.

So, back into the cave and south after all. A bit of careless design means that there's nothing to stop me from searching again and finding another dagger and more money, but I'm not going to exploit that little loophole.

Talking of little holes, that crevice is slightly too narrow for me, and I get stuck. A bit of struggling gets me through, but the dice determine that I take a little damage in the process. The darkened passage beyond eventually splits into three paths, faintly illuminated by some luminous writing. Each path is marked with a symbol, and the writing explains that the green road is for people with nothing to declare could lead to wealth or death, the black one is certain death, and only purple will take me to where I want to go. The actual paths are, of course, not coloured. Still, I can tell that the symbols adorning the entrances are astrological in nature, and a quick look at the chapters of the book that deal with such twaddle enable me to assign one of the specified colours to each passage.

In the hope that large sums of money are not required for the successful completion of this adventure, I pick what should be the purple passage. And while the text is nowhere near florid enough to meet that description, it is indeed the route down to ground level and out of the cave. Outside, a path leads to a crossroads with a somewhat eccentric signpost. One arm accurately states 'Back the Way You Came', the next claims to point to the Wizards' Guild (but it can't be that easy), and the last two have questions on: 'Is This Right?' and 'How About This Way?'

One of the 'lessons' in the first section of the book is about using a form of numerology to answer questions. Applying the principles outlined within, I get a resounding 'no' to one of the questions, while the other indicates the possibility of a favourable outcome if I use my head. I try the path indicated by the point with the latter question. After a while it narrows, the sound of birdsong ceases, the skies darken, and the text asks if I'm sure I want to go this way. Considering how unhelpful the last textual hint to avoid a certain direction was, I'm not about to let a sombre atmosphere discourage me now.

The path continues to narrow and get darker, the silence becomes more oppressive, and around a corner I encounter a Sphinx, which the text notes cannot be killed by any means, so I'm not going to be able to fight my way out of this situation. The Sphinx greets me as Oedipus, and when I point out that that's not my name, she says that's my bad luck, as he's the only person to have solved her riddle, and anyone who fails to get the right answer meets with a violent death. I ask if the riddle is the traditional one, and the Sphinx scornfully points out that everybody knows that one these days, so she's got a new one.

It's not much of a riddle, to be honest. Depending on your perspective, it could be considered general knowledge, a memory test, or a very basic mathematical equation, but none of those have the 'unconventional description of familiar thing' element that characterises most riddles. The question is which of the Magic Squares featured earlier in the book adds up to 65. While the text doesn't explicitly forbid turning back, the bit about having a 1 in 7 chance if you guess does imply that checking is not an option. Also not an option is one of the featured Squares, as the section only lists 6 from which to choose (Brennan does have form for this sort of omission).

Since it's not a proper riddle, and the list of possible answers is incomplete, I have no qualms about peeking at the appropriate lesson in the book, and most of the Squares are so obviously wrong (too large or too small) that it takes next to no time to identify the correct one. My character shows off a bit, listing a number of facts about the planet associated with the Square, and concludes with what is definitely a Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? reference.

The Sphinx begrudgingly allows me to pass, and I soon emerge from the valley. The path becomes a road, which leads to a village with a stockade wall. It's getting late in the day, so I decide to go in and find lodgings for the night, only to find my way barred by a pitchfork-toting yokel. After a little pedantic banter, the yokel tells me I may not pass unless I pay him a frankly extortionate amount of money. I can pay up, fight him, or risk an Absolutely Anything Roll to try and jump over the fence once I'm out of sight. I suspect that fighting is more likely to prove lethal than attempting the jump, so I'll try the roll first, and reconsider if I fail without getting myself killed.

I succeed quite spectacularly. Good thing I didn't try fighting, as those two sixes would have been wasted on the roll to determine who got first strike. Now I'm in the village, I have to pick a location from the map provided. There are 14 from which to choose, or 17 if you include all the towers in corners of the stockade, despite each one leading to the same section number. Most of the other locations are houses, with little to distinguish one from another, but there is a church in the south-west quadrant, and a well roughly in the middle.

I start with the well, wondering if it'll be like either of the wells in a couple of Brennan's Grail Quest books (and hoping that, if so, it's more like the one in book 6 than the one in book 2). Based on the number of warning signs around the well, that is probably a vain hope, but I'll check it properly anyway.

As I get closer, I discover that this is a genuine wishing well, as another sign indicates that wishes should be made out loud and, wherever possible, in rhyme. The rhyme which the book has me come up with is pretty contrived (which even the text acknowledges), and nowhere near as practical as, say:
I wish to find the Wizards' Guild
And go there without getting killed.

Something like that might have prevented me from being dragged into the well by the resident Monster and having to fight for my life. That dagger might just give me the edge I need to survive, but even slightly sub-par rolls could doom me here. Getting first strike is probably a good thing... Yep, keeping track of the rolls, I see that (before adding the dagger bonus) we do equal damage to each other over the course of the first four rounds, and then I manage to do maximum damage with my next blow, which is just enough to kill the Well Monster, leaving me in fairly serious need of healing but not at death's door. Probably not even death's garden gate, actually.

The Well Monster recites a short and cryptic list of professions and threatens a rematch before sinking from sight. I am now faced with a difficult Absolutely Anything Roll to see if I can climb out of the well, and I don't succeed, so I wind up drowning. I should probably have heeded those warning signs. Still, I'm liable to remember that list whether or not I try, so if it's of any importance, that death could save me some bother on a future attempt at the adventure.

* * *

Quick reminder: in just over a fortnight it will be the fifth anniversary of my starting this blog, and I shall be marking it with a Q & A session - that is, if readers provide any Qs for me to A. Otherwise I'll probably just waffle on about statistics for a bit.

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