Friday, 5 October 2018

Lucky, Lucky, Lucky

If you missed the start of my attempt at The Castle of Darkness, the first of J.H. Brennan's Grailquest gamebooks, you can find that here. Otherwise, or if you're happy to join the adventure in medias res with no explanation of what has gone before, read on.

Now that I have the Luckstone, I think I can risk checking the remaining two passages leading from this crossroads. I remember at least what can be found along one of them, and know that a dice roll determines whether or not I have a chance of surviving the trap that brings some reward, so being able to influence the outcome will decrease the risk. And it's quite possible that what I've forgotten in the opposite direction will also become less hazardous now that I can raise or lower the outcome of some or all rolls. Those ambiguities I brought up in the previous post are still a pain, though. In another encounter I remember, they could make a big difference.

Anyway, for now I think I'll see if I'm right about the traps I remember being to the east.

I'm wrong.

But what I discover along this passage does jog my memory. There's another door at the end of this corridor, but something has smashed through it, so it hangs from one hinge. According to the text, it's unclear whether the thing that broke the door was coming out or in. The positioning of the debris in the illustration suggests out, but that could be illustrator John Higgins exceeding the brief. Especially as I can hear something breathing in the darkened room beyond.

My torch does nothing to dispel the darkness. Something strange is afoot here. And, for the first time, I notice that this section includes one of the typographical errors that mar the early Grailquest books. Never having been so intimidated by the preternatural darkness as to want to turn back, I hadn't previously spotted that the wrong number has been given for the retreat option. Programming the content of the book into my gamebook manager tends to enhance my awareness of section numbers, though, so now I'm aware of the mistake, and giving it more attention that I did the arguably more serious incorrect section number that comes straight after the fight with the Skeleton that I avoided.

But I digress. I'm not afraid of the dark, even when it refuses to respond to illumination as it should (in gamebooks, at least: I'm pretty sure I'd be at least a little disconcerted to experience something like this in real life), so I advance past the remains of the door. The sound of breathing grows louder, I ask who's there, and silence falls. Followed by a tension-building section transition.

Something savages my ankle. Considering the boost to my Life that I received in the previous encounter, the damage done is nowhere near lethal, but it's not pleasant either. Fighting an opponent I cannot see carries a substantial penalty to rolls - even with the Luckstone, my chances of hitting are significantly diminished. I could try for a Friendly Reaction, but that's a situation in which the Luckstone ambiguities come into play. At the very least, the odds go up from 5 in 432 to 37 in 432, but if the modifier can be applied to single die rolls made on behalf of my attacker, they improve to 52 in 171. I think I'll try to avoid the question for now by seeing of one of my Firefinger lightning bolts will light up the room.

It works, enabling me to see that the anklebiter is a Leprechaun. Invoking a national stereotype in a manner that would be frowned upon these days, the book now gives me the option of offering to buy him a drink. If I don't do so, I'm probably going to have to fight, and most of the people who'd condemn me for exploiting the stereotype would consider killing the little feller at least as bad a course of action, so I'll take the non-violent route.

In another instance of authorial failure to consider all the routes by which the reader might come to a section, the darkness vanishes again, providing me with a second opportunity to discover that the occupant of the room is a Leprechaun. Disengaging his teeth from my ankle, the Leprechaun apologises for attacking me, saying that he thought I might have been a monster or the Wizard Ansalom. To make up for the damage done to my ankle, he hands over a leather purse before vanishing. Inside the purse I find some money, including a double-headed copper coin, and a scroll. Dice decide what I find on the scroll. And in a rather surreal editorial blunder, the list of sections corresponding to different rolls ends with the 'Go to 14' direction that's missing from one of the sections covering the consequences of knocking the wrong number of times on the Fiend's coffin.

Also on the blundering front, 1 is again included in the list of possible rolls. And while the Luckstone does make it possible to get a score of 1, the lack of options for -1, 0, and 13-15 makes it unlikely that the gemstone's possible effect was being taken into consideration. As I recall, the 1-2 option is the worst on the list, so the unlikelihood of getting it is less of an issue, but the inaccuracy still bugs me.

I score 10. So I could make it 7 or 13, but as there's no option for the latter, and I think I remember what's on the scroll when 7-8 gets rolled, I shan't modify the roll. Not that the 7-8 outcome is a bad one by any means - I'm just curious. And I get a Hypnotism spell, which, if cast successfully (and with the Luckstone I cannot fail) can enable me to avoid one opponent altogether.

There's nothing else of note here, so I must return to the crossroads of no pit traps. Unless my memory is even worse than I think, process of elimination means that the chamber I expected to find in the east must be to the west. I don't really have to go there, but I might as well.

Yes, this is what I expected. A circular chamber containing a statue of a Wizard (though I'd forgotten the odd detail that in one of the statue's hands is a sack from which protrudes a pig's head). As I step into the chamber, it rotates, blocking off the entrance. There's no other obvious exit, though I can see a wooden chest, a lever set into the floor, and an inscription on the statue's base. The inscription is a poem - not very good, but still better than the Fiend's work - which indicates that I will need to exercise my brain if I wish to get out of here, and points out that 'curiosity killed the cat'. The last two lines appear to be gibberish, but very basic codebreaking skills reveal them to be an explanation of how to escape. I remember that nothing good can come of pulling the lever, so my choice narrows down to following the encrypted directions straight off or checking out the chest.

I'll try the chest. Which turns out to be more dangerous than I'd thought. Thanks to the Luckstone the poison gas released when I lift the lid doesn't kill me (just), but I do lose half my Life. Checking the chest for a false bottom prompts another dice roll, and I find a hidden compartment containing some gold and a mouldy clove of garlic. Written on the true bottom of the chest is a piece of free verse,  declaring that the writer left in the chest something 'more precious than gold' for which I may find a use in a Guard Room on a northern corridor.

I think I'd have been better off leaving the chest and just claiming the Experience Point for decoding the inscription. Well, what's done is done, so I do the necessary to rotate the chamber back to its original position and return to the crossroads, though on this occasion not to the "No pit traps today, mum!" section.

Having already explored to the north and east, I now need to go back south. Which is not given as an option, but the Hints section did say to include section numbers on my map, and that I can return to anywhere that hasn't been blocked off, so I have no trouble heading back to the room before the hall with the dead Zombies in. Incidentally, I suspect that applying those hints may be the only way to make Brennan's Dracula's Castle playable, so I shall bear them in mind if I ever get around to replaying it again.

Anyway, back to that other room, which (you might recall) has a flight of steps leading up to a door that I have yet to check out. Well, actually it doesn't, because the top two thirds or so of the flight is an illusion, but the only way to get to where I need to go is to fall into this trap (a trick Brennan will reuse in an even more tiresome manner later in the series). And since there's more trouble to be had just after I fall, I shall try and heal first.

Sleep, and I dream again, this time of having to escape from a tower by climbing down the outside wall. The dice determine whether or not I fall, and an additional roll or rolls would determine the outcome of a fall, but I succeed at the first one, so I needn't worry about them. All right then, I'll use another dose of potion. And that almost restores me to full health, with a little help from my Luckstone.

Actually, I'm going to try a little online research. Back before the end of the paragraph... No definitive ruling, but I have found something approaching a consensus that the Luckstone bonus can be applied to single die rolls, but not to opponents' rolls. So I'll go with that unless anybody can point me to an authoritative source that says otherwise.

So, steps. Walk up, fall as soon as I tread on one that isn't there. The fall does a tiny amount of damage (would have been more but for the Luckstone), and causes my torch to go out, so I'm back in the dark. Still, the book elides the amount of faff actually involved in using a tinderbox, so I relight the torch without difficulty.

I tell a lie. The book just waits until the next section before telling me that relighting the torch is tricky and takes a while. Still, what matters is that I manage to light up my surroundings before the giant Spider in the pit reaches me. Welcome to the 'more trouble' I mentioned four paragraphs ago.

Upon seeing the Great Dane-sized arachnid creeping in my direction, I draw EJ, who shrieks upon seeing what I intend to wield him against. Perhaps I should try for a Friendly Reaction from the Spider instead. The text calls me a lunatic for even trying, and the dice do not produce the desired result, even with the Luckstone. Nothing for it but to fight, then. Predictably, the Spider is poisonous (sic.), but I won't be affected until the third time the Spider hits me, and with EJ's bonuses surprisingly unimpaired by his terror, plus the damage bonus provided by the Luckstone, I manage to render the Spider unconscious before it can launch its third attack on me.

The book assumes I killed the Spider, but even a non-lethal battle could have cost my opponent a few limbs, so the description of the aftermath can be made to fit. I shall now search the pit, as I was about to do before the no longer eight-legged pest so rudely interrupted me. And I find a Snake, with tell-tale skull and crossbones markings indicating that its bite is a one-way trip to section 14. The Luckstone gives me the first strike, and my attack roll is good enough to win the fight in one blow even before applying any bonus. Phew!

Search. A. Gain. And this time I find a secret door. The text acknowledges that it's hidden in 'an extremely sneaky place', though the profusion of nasty opponents in the pit should have been a hint that there was something of note down here. Now I just have to roll to determine whether or not I can open the thing. And I don't even need to use the Luckstone to succeed.

The two Guards on the other side of the door are taken by surprise, so I get first strike. It is theoretically possible to try bribing one or both of them, but there's no guarantee that the bribe will work, and even if I throw in that magical ring, I could only afford to have a go at paying off one of the Guards. In any case, the Guards' armour is no proof against the combination of EJ and the Luckstone.

Beyond the secret door is an anti-room (sic.), from which a corridor leads north. This part of the castle feels more lived-in than the areas through which I've been before now, so I should stay alert, and maybe not risk searching for any more secret doors unless it proves essential. After a while the corridor ends in a T-junction, and I have no idea which way I should go from here. In view of the writing in the chest with the gas, I need to head further north, but the options here (apart from looking for another secret door) are east and west.

I head east and reach a crossroads. Straight ahead a flight of steps leads down, and the passages north and south end in doors. However, the door to the south has a couple of guards in front of it, and while they haven't spotted me peeking round the corner, they cannot fail to notice if I go any further. Might as well simplify matters by drawing EJ and charging south. Surprise gives me the first strike, which is enough to lay out one of the Guards. The second takes a little longer to deal with, but fails to land a blow on me, and dies rather than just being knocked out.

The room they were guarding is packed with arcane clutter, and one of the few clear patches of floor has a circle drawn on it, inscribed with mystic sigils. I remember what happens to anyone fool enough to step into the circle, so I steer clear of that while searching for anything useful in the midst of the sorcerous gubbins. Perhaps unwisely, I use the Luckstone to influence the outcome of the roll that determines the outcome of my search, getting the least likely option, which turns out to be a crystal ball. This shows me a vision of Queen Guinevere in a dungeon, but provides no indication of the way to said dungeon, so I'm not really any better off as I leave the room.

North may well lead to my goal, so I'll check out the steps east first. They are less well-lit than this corridor, but I can see that they end at another door. The difference in lighting levels would probably make it easy for the Guard outside the door to spot me, were he not fast asleep. I decide to try and help myself to his keys, and roll such a good result that I couldn't fail even if I decided to use the Luckstone to make things harder for myself. Taking the keys, I unlock the door, which leads to a dungeon, though not the one I saw in the crystal ball. This one doubles as a torture chamber, but is not currently in use, so I make my departure before the Guard can wake and get any ideas.

Unless I want to return to the previous junction and see what's in the west, it's time to go north. I can't remember any other noteworthy encounters apart from the endgame and what directly precedes it, so I'm tempted just to try the north door. Okay, so I couldn't remember the Leprechaun until I saw the broken door, but still...

No dragging things out. North it is. The door opens onto what is obviously a Guard Room, with a variety of weapons in racks, plus the sort of furniture and other trappings you'd expect to find where mooks spend their off-duty hours. So how come there are no Guards in it?

Additional doors lead east and north, so I head for the east one. And a soft voice whispers the explanation of the room's apparent lack of occupants: I failed to spot the Vampire that Ansalom considers an adequate Guard-substitute. This is another opponent I could try bribing, but unless there's an absolute fortune that I missed to the west, the only way to have enough money to even attempt it would be to have provided the Fiend with a poem the size of The Canterbury Tales. Time for that past-its-prime garlic to demonstrate its worth. And it doesn't just repel the Vampire: it causes him to disintegrate, leaving only dust, grotty clothes, and a valuable but non-magical ring.

The east door leads only to an unoccupied dormitory. It makes sense for there to be one adjacent to the Guard Room (or would if regular Guards used it), but there's nothing of note to be found here. This nod to realism reminds me that a later Grailquest adventure is one of the few gamebooks to feature any kind of toilet facilities. Sewers crop up a good deal more frequently, now I come to think about it. Make of that what you will.

Better try the north door, then. A little ominously, it swings open of its own accord as I approach. Beyond it is a throne room, with a colour scheme that's heavy on maroon and black. On the throne sits the Wizard Ansalom, dressed in about as stereotypical an 'evil Sorcerer' costume as you can get, with two savage-looking black Hounds at his feet. He calls me a 'little person' and sets the Hounds on me. Bizarrely, they also can be bribed, though I'd have had to provide the Fiend with something on the scale of the collected sonnets of Shakespeare to afford their price. Time to show Ansalom what a real put-down looks like.

I knock one Hound out and kill the other. Ansalom either has quite the sense of fair play or is mighty slow to act when things don't go as he expected, as I have time to down a couple of doses of healing potion and make good all the damage I've taken since the stair that wasn't there. Then he gets angry at my having killed the Hounds, and the final battle is on. Could be quite nasty, too, as he has his own brand of Firefinger lightning bolt. Not 100% accurate, but there's a possibility that he could zap me to death with them. So I make use of the fireballs that Merlin gave me for just this sort of eventuality, and even though Ansalom manages to get me with two lightning bolts, I incinerate him in return.

A sound from behind the throne alerts me to the presence of a secret door, which opens onto a flight of steps leading down to the dungeon I glimpsed in the crystal ball. Mission accomplished.

The 'Pip Triumphant' section describes the return of Queen Guinevere to Camelot and the related honours given to me, as witnessed by a raven which is subsequently revealed to be a shape-shifted Merlin. Mean Jake apologises for the fight at the start of the book, asks if we can be friends, and then steals all the treasure I found after defeating Ansalom (which is more than enough money to bribe a dozen Hounds), just in case I was getting a little too hubristic. Merlin turns up, initially in raven form, and tells me off for thinking he's a blackbird (on the grounds that ravens are noble, whereas blackbirds are obsessed with people's noses) and for showing off to Mean Jake. Though he does then compliment me on a job well done, before telling me it's time for my consciousness to depart from Pip's body and return to my own time. At least until someone valiant and resourceful is needed to save the day again...

Well, that was fun. Flawed, but entertaining. And I shall be able to retain some of my acquisitions for the next adventure, even if the money has gone. It will be a while before I return to Grailquest, even if I manage not to go off-blog again in the interim, but I'm quite looking forward to it.

No comments:

Post a Comment