Friday, 29 March 2013

All Fun and Games Until Somebody Loses an Eye

The sixth and final Golden Dragon Fantasy Gamebook is Castle of Lost Souls, by Dave Morris and Yve Newnham. As has been previously recounted, I acquired it packaged together with the three preceding books. I have some memories of earlier attempts, but I'll mention them when I get to appropriate points in the narrative rather than listing them all here.

I'm back in generic sword-for-hire territory for this book. At something of a loose end in the peaceful and prosperous town of Lynton, I'm just reflecting ruefully on the lack of demand for my services when a wealthy-looking young man complains about the lack of decent-quality adventurers around. I hurriedly introduce myself, and spend a lengthy paragraph demonstrating my suitability. I'm not entirely convinced that the character I've rolled up will be able to match the degree of competence displayed in the Background, what with having:
Vigour 29
Psi 7
Agility 5
Still, overall that's slightly above average, so provided I can avoid do-or-die Agility rolls, I should have something of a chance.

My employer is Jasper Faze, who fairly recently inherited the family business following the death of his father. The late Luther Faze made his fortune by striking a deal with the arch-demon Slank. Upon Faze's death, Slank came for his soul, and took it back to his Castle, at which point Faze took the tear shed by his daughter at his deathbed and flung it into Slank's face, blinding him in one eye and distracting him for long enough that Faze was able to barricade himself in the Castle library, where he was able to learn how the demon could be destroyed, and how to implant exposition into Jasper's dreams. My mission is to obtain the six items required for slaying Slank, and to use them for that purpose. Depending on how you choose to look at it, I'm either helping a tricky customer wriggle out of a deal, or putting a supernatural loan shark out of business.

The first item is another tear from Faze's daughter, which Jasper has already collected for me. Best not to ask how he got it. Also required are: a four leaf clover, a crystal ball, a fragment of metal from the armour of a chivalrous knight, the ashes of a saint, and the hair of a nun. Remembering that there's a tavern called The Four Leaf Clover in Lynton, I start by heading there, and asking the innkeeper if he sells the right kind of souvenir. He tells me that the inn got its name from the fact that four leaf clovers have been found growing in the beer garden, so I heroically spend the next hour or so carefully scrutinising the lawn until I find what I came for.

In between bouts of sniggering at the weirdo who's been watching grass grow for half the afternoon, some of the inn's patrons mentioned a fete on the far side of town. I decide to see if there's a fortune teller there. Along the way, I see a crowd of people betting on a cock fight, and win a little extra money with a gamble of my own. Winning's easy when you remember the outcome from the last time you played the book.

Next to get my attention is a conjurer who has lucky charms for sale. With one of these, I can automatically succeed at three dice rolls of my choice, though I do have to specify the rolls, and can't retroactively turn a failure into a success. Straight afterwards, I use the charm to ensure that the fat cutpurse who blunders into me doesn't steal it. He runs away, but finds his way blocked by a stack of crates, and repeatedly blunders into my sword while trying to get past me. While he's having a little lie down, I give him an example of my technique for acquiring valuables from others, which is rather more effective.

Outside a beer tent I see a gypsy lad romancing a country maid, and play gooseberry for as long as it takes to get directions to the nearest owner of a crystal ball, the fortune teller Gypsy Gayl. Gayl turns out not to be a stereotypical crone, but a 'ravishing sultry beauty'. The accompanying illustration doesn't do a great job of conveying this, perhaps in part because of the way Gayl's contorting herself in an unsuccessful attempt to fit into the border of the picture.

I know from past attempts at the book that there are many ways of getting what I'm after here, but two are better than the rest. One will cost me a point of Vigour, permanently, the other is cheaper but unethical. Some would argue that I'm already on shaky ground, morally speaking, either for having accepted the quest or for having dealt with the cutpurse the way I did. But if I am already compromised, that's no reason to further sully my conscience, and if I'm not, why change that? I ask her to tell my fortune and, after viewing a glimpse of my future, she anoints her crystal ball with a drop of my life-blood, then gives me a spare crystal ball she just happened to have lying about nearby.

Mildly confusingly, the book now states that all I need is the fragment of chivalrous knight's armour. There's a joust on tomorrow, so I attend that, and soon catch sight of a promising candidate, busy professing his love to a noble lady. Knowing that this book's co-authors were engaged by the time Mr. Morris finished work on Dragon Warriors, the RPG he and fellow GDFG-writer Oliver Johnson went on to publish, I must admit to a little curiosity as to what the number of romantic attachments depicted in the book indicates about Morris & Newnham's relationship back when they were writing CoLS.

But I digress. Reasoning that the sort of knight I seek is the kind of man who'd be willing to assist an adventurer on a heroic quest, I dispense with subterfuge, and just ask if he'd let me have a little bit of his armour to help me defeat a demon. He offers me an entire gauntlet. I point out that I don't need that much (and, based on my knowledge of the use to which the required fragment will be put, am amused at the thought of attempting it with the entire gauntlet), so he cuts off a sliver of his helmet, possibly doing no good to his sword in the process, and lets me have that.

I then return to the Faze mansion, where Jasper suggests that, Lynton not being a particularly holy place, I'd be better off looking for the last two items on the way to Slank's Castle. Which belatedly explains the earlier reference to only needing to find the armour fragment, but is still something of a continuity error. Before I set off, Jasper provides me with some Salve of Healing (with a decidedly unpleasant list of ingredients), a talisman that will identify me to the soul of Luther Faze, and some advice about the route ahead.

Before long I reach a bridge. A man emerges from under it, and demands a toll of 4 Gold Pieces. This is a mildly nasty part of the book: anyone who didn't buy the lucky charm had a 50% chance of having all their gold stolen (and that's not the only way of winding up out of cash), and I'm not aware of any way of acquiring enough money to pay the toll between the theft and the bridge. The toll collector is a good fighter, so a penniless character stands a not insignificant chance of dying in battle with him, and even if an impecunious hero should defeat him, the killing can have adverse consequences later on. But I wasn't robbed, so I just pay up. Reasoning that he probably knows the area better than I, I ask if he knows where I could find the other items I need. He can't help on the nun's hair front (and I shall discreetly pass over the most obvious solution to the problem he raises), but is able to provide directions to a nearby shrine.

The shrine contains an urn, which starts to glow as I approach. Undeterred, I draw nearer, and am subjected to divine judgement. This world's gods evidently have no problem with my quest, or my treatment of the cutpurse, as they allow me to take the urn, which contains the ashes I need. Problematically, I'd have been found guilty and had to defend myself against an Angelic Executioner if I'd killed anyone else. Like a toll collector I'd have had no choice but to fight if I'd been robbed. Or the four thugs who'd have tried to murder me if I'd been gullible at the start of the adventure. I'd say the local deities' idea of justice is a little flawed.

Continuing on my way, I see a band of robbers attacking a coach. Not liking the odds, I snipe at the bandits with my bow. Alas, my aim is abysmal (I needed to hit with at least three out of five shots, which was too many for the lucky charm to guarantee success, so I rolled for the first three shots. If they'd all been on target, no need to use the charm. If one or two had missed, I could have made up the total by using the charm. But all three missed, so the target was already unattainable, and using the charm for the final two shots would have been a waste.) and four robbers converge on me.

I could run away, but that would require an Agility roll to avoid being hit by all four foes, so I'll take my chances in battle. I might get lucky, and if I don't, I can still flee before my Vigour drops so low that a failed dodge would kill me. The rules allow me to pick my target in each round, so I focus on the relatively puny Jorkiss the Sly. Two lucky rolls later, he's dead and the odds are improved (plus the penalty for flight is diminished). Now I turn my attention to Crazy Nial (how come I know their names?), and manage to cut him down without taking a scratch. Of the two remaining, Boso Headcut is weaker, so I attack him next (noting, incidentally, that the likelihood of my winning a round is above 50% for the first time this fight - the luck I've had so far in melee has been comparable to the badness of the luck that forced me into the fight in the first place). Things go less well now the odds are more favourable, and I take a few blows before changing my opponent's name to Boso Headless, but against Uknor the Barbarian I fare almost as well as I did when he had two or three cronies alongside him.

As my last opponent falls to the ground, the robbers who were concentrating on the coach's guards decide that it's time to cut their losses, and they flee. The coach's occupant turns out to be on her way to a convenient convent, where she is to be initiated into their order. As her guards are all dead, I offer to accompany her to her destination.

I couldn't remember whether or not any healing was to be had at the convent, but I held off on using any Salve until I got there. A wise choice, as the Sisters of Pure Adoration bring me back up to my maximum Vigour, which is better than I'd expected. I'm not the only guest at the convent tonight: a group of soldiers are there too. Their captain seems a bit monomaniacal about dealing with brigands, and I know from my first failure at this book that his definition of 'brigand' encompasses 'anyone who killed a toll collector and was twit enough to hang on to evidence of their crime'. Having learned from that mistake, I manage not to get summarily executed, and am merely creeped out by the man's obsessiveness.

Before leaving, I have an audience with the Mother Superior, who provides me with a strand shorn from the head of the young lady I brought to the convent. I then depart quickly, before the captain can decide that my request shows me to be the kind of deviant that he is sworn to purge from the roads he patrols.

My next encounter is a man fishing from a stream. I greet him, and he asks me to hold the rod while he fetches a net for the fish he has hooked. I oblige, and once the fish is on land, the man rewards me with a Ring of Light and tells me, 'As a special favour to you, today I shall dine on fish.' There's something vaguely ominous about that, so I thank him and hurry off, wondering what that creepy captain would make of the freaky fisherman. Or vice versa...

While passing between two hills, I encounter a Mountain Lion. The artist has omitted one of its hind legs in the illustration. I hesitate, and the Lion shows me that it has a thorn stuck in one of its paws (but not an actual missing leg). I remove the thorn, partly because I remember the story of Androcles, and partly because the lion politely asks me. No, talking animals are not commonplace in this world. But I'm not the type to go asking large predatory felines questions that they may consider impertinent. To thank me for my assistance, the lion warns me that there's a variant on the 'one always lies, one always tells the truth' puzzle up ahead.

By mid-afternoon I reach a fork in the path. One way leads where I want to go, the other to certain death. Two goblins sit at the fork and, despite my opening with an idiotic question (equivalent to 'Are you truthful or a liar?'), I get a response that tells me enough that I can work out how truthful the speaking Goblin is, and treat the directions he gives me with the respect they merit.

Before long I reach the Swamps of Bosh, in which Slank's Castle can be found... somewhere. Jasper warned me that the mist in the marsh creates illusions, so I pay no attention to the crystal ball and wisps of hair that I see nearby. When night falls, I make camp, waking with a start to find myself surrounded by Marshons. These creatures are drawn to light and colour, and my campfire and the glint of the moon on my sword have caught their attention. While not hostile, they're still potentially dangerous in such large numbers, so I use that Ring of Light, creating a dazzling flash that puts them off shiny things for the rest of the night.

The next day I set off again, and before long I see the Castle. It doesn't stay put. Making a certain incorrect choice here would lead to an encounter that could ultimately prove beneficial, but a lot could go wrong, and I'm not convinced that the risks outweigh the potential advantage, so I'm not going to wait for Slank to set the Chonchons (giant heads that fly by beating their oversized ears like wings) on me. Looking through the crystal ball, I can see a shimmering green path leading to the Castle. Walking on this, I arrive very quickly.

Before crossing the drawbridge, I look around, catching sight of a light in a first floor window (that's the British meaning of 'first floor', as in one up from the ground floor). Entering the Castle, I waste no time at ground level, but head for where I saw the light. This means missing out on a couple of encounters with individuals who have something wrong with one eye - both of them Slank in disguise - which bring no benefit but can lead to defeat if mishandled.

The door to the room I noticed from outside is barred from within. I knock, and a spyhole opens. Upon seeing the talisman from Jasper, Luther Faze's soul lets me into the library, and he explains what must be done with the rest of the items I collected.

What happens next is an intriguing aspect of the book which can easily go unnoticed. The interior of the Castle is variable. If I continue along the corridor, I'll have a variety of encounters on the way to three doors with inscriptions. If I first open the door on the opposite side of the corridor, I will have a completely different set of encounters en route to the three doors. Personally, I prefer the variant experienced by ignoring the door, so that's what I'll go with.

The next door after that leads to a room where I'd need the item that can only be acquired from the Chonchons, so I'll pass it by. Further along the corridor, eight arrows have been set out on the floor in a pattern: two squares, touching at a corner. I take them, though I'm not sure I need them.

Just beyond the arrows is a door, and beyond the door is a trapdoor that dumps me in a maze with mirrored walls. The first time I reached this point, I wandered around for a while, eventually getting out by virtue of looking out for section numbers that hadn't become familiar through repetition, and always choosing them. At some later point I realised that a clue to the correct path through the maze is provided, and by acting on that information I am able to get through the maze with a minimum of effort today. If the maze is even really there, that is...

Further on is a room containing a coil of rope and a pit covered with a grating. There's a man with an eyepatch in the pit, wanting to be helped out. Slank's mastery of disguise doesn't extend to concealing the damage inflicted by that tear. I pass by, and reach a stretch of corridor where a sword dangles overhead from a gold thread. Guess what happens to any character who steps under it.

The next room houses one of Slank's customers, tied by the wrists to a chin-up bar, and with a red-hot metal plate beneath her bare feet. She can pull herself up, but eventually she tires, and drops back down, so her feet touch the metal and get burned. There may be a soul/sole pun at work here. Regardless, it's a pretty horrid set-up, so I cut the woman free and move her away from the metal plate. She rewards me with a pouch that increases my Psi (even above its starting level) and three silver coins which she says may show me the way. Before she can elaborate, she passes out. Oh, and as regards the hanging sword just before this room, if you guessed 'the thread snaps and the adventurer is lethally skewered', you get laughed at for thinking that the writers/Slank would do something that obvious.

After a while, steps lead up to a landing with three doors. Each bears an inscription regarding the advisability of passing through a certain door. It's a logic puzzle, but lacking enough data to be solvable - unless you have and can work out how to use those silver coins. It took me a long while, but eventually I figured out that the coins indicate the number of true and false statements here, and that's all you need to know in order to work out the truth. Okay, so I could also have drawn on memory to note which door leads to a lengthy Instant Death that, eventually, indirectly points out, 'You just got turned to stone by a Gorgon'. Beautifully written, as I recall, but rather pretentious.

Anyway, I go through the correct door, and find myself in a kitchen. A noxious broth simmers over a fire, and a door leads to the larder. Ignoring the dead adventurers hanging on meathooks (a bit too ripe), I turn my attention to the storage jars, some of which contain more conventional ingredients than others. I may take up to three, and pick red pepper, salt, and frogs' toes. Not all of which I'm going to need, but adding a touch of mystery about what's actually useful here may spice this entry up a little.

Beyond the kitchen is a hall, with a blazing log fire, a bearskin rug, and a poleaxe on the wall. Yes, the rug does animate and attack. But that's actually quite a clever bit of gamebook design: once I've killed the rug, I may take just one item from the hall, and the only thing that's of any use further on is the rug. But I'm sure I wasn't the only player to pick the poleaxe the first time I got this far, because who'd expect lugging a dead animated furnishing around to be the wise choice?

Stairs lead down to a pillared ballroom with a polished white marble floor. Or so it seems: the floor is actually solid ice, and there's a demonic mask (with one eyehole) several inches below the surface. Wrapping the rug around myself to keep warm, I try to extract the mask, but the ice refreezes as quickly as I chip away at it. This is where an item from the kitchen comes in handy, and I'm not talking frogs' toes. A substantial quantity of the right condiment helps me melt away enough ice to get to the mask. This is the source of the cold, so I can't take it with me, but as Luther Faze told me of Slank's aversion to four leaf clovers, I can at least ensure that the demon won't be able to get close enough to the mask to use it himself.

A spiral staircase leads all the way to the topmost chamber of a tower. Wind shrieks through the windows, stormclouds gather outside, and a curtain screens off an alcove. As I head towards it, an inner voice urges me to become Slank's servant, and I must succeed at a Psi roll to resist it. Or I could use one of the remaining charges of my lucky charm, because while the odds of failure are only 1 in 6 thanks to the Psi-enhancing pouch, this attempt at the book has already featured enough statistically unlikely rolls that I'm wary of assuming the low odds to accurately reflect the likelihood of my being subverted.

I use the charm, and shrug off the effects of Slank's magic. Flinging the curtain aside, I behold the owner of the Castle, unmasked and disfigured. He looks even worse after I've thrown young Miss Faze's tear into his functional eye. As he screams and howls, I get out my bow (now restrung with the nun's hair), load it with the arrow to which Luther Faze attached the armour fragment (an arrow with a metal gauntlet on the tip would look silly, wouldn't it?), and fire. Straight through his heart, killing him. But at the moment he's only mostly dead. Still, a quick sprinkling with the saint's ashes (no, Shake 'n' Vac is not an acceptable substitute) negates his ability to revive himself, and he properly dies. The souls imprisoned in the Castle are freed, and I return to the Faze mansion to claim my reward.

Unlike his father, Jasper doesn't go looking for ways of getting out of the deal he struck.

So, a fairly straightforward adventure. Not beyond the capabilities of a lucky first-timer, but this is one instance where it's true that following the optimal path makes things a good deal easier. No guarantee of success, though - on one previous occasion I was similarly unlucky with my arrows, but got carved up in the resultant fight. And evading that battle leads to added difficulties in other areas. So, not unchallenging, but not unduly harsh either. And while it has its flaws in places, there are quirks and innovations to compensate for them. All in all, quite a decent end to the series.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The Circle and the Square

The mini-adventure in issue 7 of Warlock doesn't appear to have been an entry in issue 1's competition. Certainly there's no mention of A.E. Arkle, author of The Temple of Testing, in issue 4's list of runners-up and special mentions.

I remember next to nothing of my acquisition of the magazine and first attempt at the adventure. A hazy recollection of reading a couple of encounters while heading north-east along Upper Grosvenor Road suggests that I didn't get the mag on the way to school or on a Friday, but that's about it.

The setting of the adventure is a bit of a muddle. Numerous references to Earth locations and belief systems suggest that it takes place on this world, but the ending segues into Steve Jackson's Sorcery! in a manner indicative of its being based on Titan. My character has been studying at the Great School of Magic for a year and, assuming success in the imminent test, will soon be allowed to start learning actual magic. If I fail, I'll die, and the last twelve months' efforts will have been in vain (it seems a little odd to only be concerned about the wasted effort, rather than the whole 'being dead' aspect, but maybe that's the kind of attitude that's fostered by studying the philosophies focused on at the School). Alark, my tutor, brings me the usual selection of potions from which to choose, and briefly recapitulates the Eastern Taoist Cycle of Elements for the benefit of any readers who weren't paying attention during the lessons that precede the Background to the Adventure. It's largely straightforward, bar the unexplained omission of water from the generational sequence.

I didn't get very far the last time I tried TToT, and under normal circumstances I'd be thinking about fudging character creation, but the rolling up of stats is incorporated into the narrative here, and while the rolls are only separated by a paragraph or so of text, the 'roll all dice together and allocate' approach feels inappropriate here. So I let Alark take me to the Grey Oracle, who throws bones in the air to determine my stats. In a manner that I'd find suspiciously convenient if I hadn't seen myself not cheating, they come down as:
Skill 11
Stamina 15
Luck 12
That gives me a reasonable chance of success, provided I choose the right philosophical standpoint at the end.

I step into the circular corridor around the Temple, and the door by which I entered vanishes. After marking a spot on the floor, I do one circuit of the corridor, then try changing direction, as a result of which another temporary door appears, leading into the northernmost room of the Temple. This is said to be semicircular, though the dimensions given indicate it to be more of a circular segment. There are five doors set into the southern wall. Oh, and a Giant Bat is swooping to the attack. I evade it, and am forced to go through a random door, which is going to complicate mapping slightly. Given that there are five doors and six randomised outcomes, I have to wonder what the sixth (or whichever one doesn't correspond to a door) is.

The door leads into a square room (most of them are square - the Temple is a five-by-five grid inside a circle) with lots of droppings and bones on the floor. Higher up, the room is spanned by a number of oak beams, with a Griffin perched on one of them. The Griffin flies to the attack, and wounds me a few times before I kill it.

Now things get tricky. In order to maximise the number of possible encounters within the Temple while allowing freedom of movement, every room's contents automatically reset as soon as I leave it. Well, hostile contents do - beneficial ones won't recharge until I've been through another five rooms. If I go north, the Bat will attack again, and I'll be forced through a random door once more. Possibly back into this room to fight another Griffin. So another direction would be good. But I know from past attempts that some rooms are impassable without certain items, and there's a significant probability that one of them is directly east of this room. Or directly west of it. And if I enter such a room, I'll have to turn back and fight the Griffin again. So while I'd prefer to stay on the edge of the grid of rooms, as that should make it easier to figure out where on the map I am, going south, deeper into the Temple, looks like the safest option.

It leads to a room where bizarre transparent loops of fungus grow on the floor, and equally giant Nematodes slither about, occasionally becoming ensnared in fungal loops. Not wishing to get ensnared myself, I decide to sidle around the edge rather than walk across. Besides, getting forced back in here should be less problematic than having to fight that Griffin again. I go east, managing to avoid catching my foot in a loop of fungus, and step through the door.

It leads into a room containing a Ninja and appropriate furnishings. Lacking anything suitably bribe-worthy, I must fight him, which first means getting past his Nunchaka. The wording of the text is unclear, but suggests that I have to fight two Nunchaka one at a time. Each has 12 Skill (but only 4 Stamina, let's be thankful for minuscule mercies). With judicious use of Luck I am able to break the Nunchaka, but am reduced to 5 Stamina in the process, and have no time to get any healing before the Ninja draws his ninjato and attacks. He has just 11 Skill, but does extra damage with every successful blow, and unfavourable dice ensure that he seppukus me before I'm able to inflict any damage on him.

I'm betting that this School doesn't get to carry out many graduation ceremonies. Good thing it's not actually necessary to win The Temple of Testing before playing The Shamutanti Hills as a wizard.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Some of You Are Going to Die

A month ago I told of the unsuccessful start to my quest to acquire Lone Wolf books 3 & 4. Before I conclude the account of that day, a little background information wouldn't go amiss. Both of my sisters were Brownies, and attended meetings on Thursday evenings. Our grandparents' home was closer to the hall where the Brownies met than the parental home, so my sisters started having tea with the grandparents before the meetings, while I just went home after school as usual. Except on the Thursday when I decided to get the books. I don't know why that sole exception was made, but then, maybe it wouldn't have been a one-off if I hadn't been so late on account of making a needless detour before setting off for the grandparents', and then stopping again once I was on my way to get The Caverns of Kalte and The Chasm of Doom from WHSmith. I explained my lateness by saying I'd been buying books, but it turned out that that day the shops were closing late, so I'd have been able to make the purchase after tea, on the way to where my sisters were going, so my excuse did not go down well.

That evening, Kalte got most of my attention, and it was at least the next day when I started to focus on Chasm. While I don't remember how that attempt ended, I do recall that I paid the penalty for not having the Discipline Camouflage (and, as it's a fairly minor penalty in game terms, and I'm going to have to do the book with just 5 Disciplines rather than the 8 that a veteran would have, I'm sure I'll pay it again here, assuming I don't die before getting that far). When playing the 12-book saga through in the nineties, going right back to book 1 every time I failed, there were at least two occasions on which the annoying unavoidable bit with the 10% chance of Instant Death made it necessary for me to restart.

With each successive adventure the 'start from scratch' option becomes more implausible. My new Lone Wolf is developmentally at the same stage as the blunderer who knocked himself out at the start of book 1, lacks the magic sword which is the region's primary defence against the Big Bads, and has these stats:
Combat Skill 12
Endurance 28
Disciplines Healing, Sixth Sense, Weaponskill (Sword), Mindshield, Mindblast
So he hardly seems the best choice to lead the expedition sent to investigate the disappearance of the expedition sent to investigate the disappearance of a convoy of wagons from the mines of Ruanon.

Still, I have been picked, so I join the fifty Redshirtangers who will be accompanying me, and get creeped out at the sight of a crow, as that's apparently a bad omen. Looking on the bright side, I didn't almost trip over it, which is more common with start-of-adventure sinister portents.

Comparing editions, I see that the text has been tweaked for the Mongoose Chasm, becoming more long-winded ('The Story So Far...' now points out that I'm Lone Wolf twice, in case I needed it clarifying that I was the hero) and adding grammatical errors of the sort that the Microsoft Grammar Checker encourages.

Like my predecessor, Captain D'Val, I have no trouble for the first few days. Upon reaching 'Raider's Road' I automatically send off scouts. One returns a little later to indicate having found a spoon hut that shows signs of occupation. I decide to investigate, and am just noticing that careless wording indicates the door to be set into the moss rather than the wall when a voice addresses me (by name) from within the hut, inviting me inside. The book gives me the option of overreacting dramatically, but I remember what happens here, and just enter.

Inside, an old man sits gazing into a crystal sphere. He states that our meeting was foretold by the stars, pretentiously intones 'Be not alarmed...', hands me a scroll bearing six lines of verse prophesying the rise of the dead of Maakengorge (a large chasm south of Ruanon) and then fades away. A non-essential encounter, but if I survive long enough ('long enough' being some way into book 6), I'll get diverted through an extra section as a consequence of it, and given the 'restore 1 point of Endurance' aspect of having Healing, that's a detour that could be worth making.

Returning to the road, I set off again, and after a while we encounter a caravan of travelling minstrels. I stop to question them (and have any mimes summarily executed), and a comic relief idiot mistakes us for bandits and draws his sword so clumsily as to wind up making a pratfall. One of the more competent members of the group mentions that the people in this area seem sad and dispirited, suggests we make camp together, and offers to have the troupe entertain us. I accept: if nothing else, it should provide some indication of whether the poor reception they received is indicative of something being afoot in the region, or just an understandable reaction to the quality of the performances.

Well, given that my main reaction to the performance is to notice that one of the actors is using a genuine Sommlending cavalryman's sword as a prop, I suspect that they're not that great. After the show I approach the man with the sword, who runs away. Lacking the Disciplines that would aid in pursuing him, I nevertheless manage to work out that there are only two places he can be: a caravan, or a coach with a handkerchief beside it. Could the hanky be a decoy? On the off-chance that it is, I enter the caravan, and find the actor cowering under a blanket. When questioned about the sword, he claims to have bought it in a tavern at the last town where they performed, and gives it to me. The name tag indicates it to be Captain D'Val's sword (which explains why the name seemed familiar when the bonus adventure stated that in it I'd be playing the part of D'Val, not to mention why Ruanon makes a point of having the reader lose the sword at an early stage).

The following day we continue on our way, observing storm clouds gathering in the sky. A tavern refuses us entry, so we get caught in the downpour. Eventually the rain stops, and I'm about to have the men make camp when a scout warns of approaching bandits. A couple of hundred of them. To reinforce the 'sure, you have plenty of chance of winning even if this is your first adventure and you got lousy stats' message from the start of the book, I then get asked whether or not my character has three books' worth of experience. Not as such, so I must choose between attacking enemy forces that outnumber us four to one, sending most of my men west to lure away the bandits while I carry on with the not-quite-so-dispensable troops, or trying to outrun the bandits to the forest. As I recall, no matter what I do, none of the Rangers accompanying me survive to the end of the book, so I accept the inevitable and send 80% of my men to buy the rest of us a little extra time at the cost of their own lives.

The ruse works, and the text makes out that I didn't actually sacrifice those men, as they're sure to be able to hide in the trees that the map indicates to be 80-100 miles away. I take my remaining enemy-bait on with me, and after several hours we spot some large black birds swooping about above a distant ridge. Without Animal Kinship I cannot be certain, but I suspect that they're scavengers, and I don't remember anything good coming from investigating their activities, so I don't investigate.

Further on we reach a junction. Continue heading where we're supposed to be going, or make a detour to the town where the actor bought D'Val's sword? Ruanon gave no indication that the sword automatically homes in on the nearest tavern if lost, so I'm guessing that the town might not be entirely unfriendly towards the bandits, and we may be less than welcome there. Onwards to Ruanon (or whatever sidetrack is necessary for the elimination of my remaining companions).

Towards nightfall we reach the edge of a forested valley. There's a signpost here, and I learn that Ruanon is now 40 miles away (the Mongoose text makes it clear that I discover this from the signpost, whereas the original is less specific. Maybe LW fandom in the eighties was beset by a terrible schism between the fans who believed that Lone Wolf discovered the distance by osmosis and those who speculated that he worked it out by using the Sommerswerd as a theodolite, and Joe Dever clarified the point to avert a recurrence of the bloody wars to which this disagreement led).

I send scouts into the forest to report on whether or not the way ahead is safe. None return, from which I infer that the answer is probably 'no'. Do I send more, just to double-check that doing so is a bad idea, or would it be better to wait until first light, allowing the killers to come to us under cover of darkness, or even go back to the junction and thence to Collaboratorville? Sixth Sense should alert me when the nocturnal attack comes, so I'll pick staying here as the best of a bad bunch of options.

Surprisingly, it's an uneventful night. Next morning we set off again, soon catching sight of a burned wagon beside a turning to the east. This looks like the obligatory side-track, so I'll ignore the wagon and investigate the turning. Before long we find hoofprints in the ground, but my lack of the Tracking Discipline keeps me from learning anything useful from them.

The track leads to a mine entrance. The mine is in bad repair, but I see two sets of footprints leading into it. No sign of the horses that made the other tracks, but I shan't send my remaining troops to try and find them, as a dilapidated mine looks just the place to whittle our numbers down until only I remain.

The book compels me to leave three men guarding the horses. Not a problem: I have vague memories of a few situations designed to eliminate the final four. Up ahead, the passage is almost blocked by fallen earth, but there's a small gap, and footprints indicate that whoever was here before us went through there, so I follow. The footprints lead us to a timber-floored chamber, and I stop following shortly before the point at which both sets disappear into a hole. A quick look into the hole reveals it to contain the bodies of two of my scouts, leaving me to reflect on what kind of ineptitude led them both there.

There are two exits. Still unable to take handy hints from Tracking, I take the passage that leads more directly towards my intended destination. It leads to a cavern bisected by a river, with a rowing boat conveniently abandoned on this side. Remembering that going downstream leads to a waterfall, I opt to row across, so we get attacked by something tentacled. Two Rangers are immediately grabbed and dragged to their doom, and I get knocked into the water and have to fight the Giant Meresquid (which is presumably a much worse opponent than a mere Giant Squid). I only have enough breath in my lungs for the first seven rounds of combat, but that's not too serious a problem, as I kill the squid in four.

Naturally, none of the Rangers survived. My equipment is still intact, though, and I make it to the far side of the river and continue on my way, idly reflecting on how odd it is that the tunnel which was said to be leading west a few sections back now goes east. (Isn't that the sort of thing these wretched rewrites should be fixing?)

Eventually I arrive at the highest level of a 'great hall' where a variety of tunnels at different levels meet. Inexplicably, the Mongoose edition includes an extra page-and-a-third of text detailing how I come to be separated from the accompanying Rangers (you know, the guys killed by the squid last section) by a collapsing bridge, and direct them to head to Ruanon by boat (that'd be the one smashed to pieces by the squid). My regret at the discontinuation of the range dwindles further.

Getting back to the plot, the different levels are connected by ramps. Lower down, I see people pushing wagons of ore, being brutally urged on by red-armoured thugs. Every ramp is guarded. Fortuitously, the men guarding the ramp down from the level I'm on are drunk, but a series of rolls almost as appalling as the rewrites on this book cause me to be spotted, and to take more damage from one inebriated guard than I did from the pesky squid.

The fight nets me some food, some gold, and a key. Another guard spots me and sounds an alarm, and the rewrite gets verbose, so I hurry away. Soon I reach a section where repairs are under way. A single prop supports a cracked roof beam, and as I hear multiple guards giving chase, I decide to risk knocking it out of the way. It's tough, but I get lucky, and even manage to get out of range before the ceiling collapses.

After some time I reach a chamber divided by a shaft. There's a bridge over the shaft, guarded by a warrior who's whittling and complaining about his boring job. I make the job more interesting, then terminate his employment. Moving on, I see a lever, which elicits a comically suspicious reaction until I realise that it operates a portcullis. Dropping the portcullis to deter pursuit, I then smash the dreaded lever and set off again.

Not far off is section 291, which describes my crouching beside a door that has people talking behind it. Probably best not to disturb them, so I take the passage with the ore wagons in it. Before long I hear sounds from up ahead: footsteps, shouting, and the crack of whips. Hiding in a wagon could get me pushed deeper into the mines, so I duck into the shadows. Good choice, as I go unnoticed while bandit overseers force Ruanese slaves to take the wagons into the mines. Before long I make it to the way out of the mines, and escape unnoticed. Almost up to the tiresome bit, then.

Stealthily I make it to Ruanon - well, to what remains of it. The sight of the flag flying from the tower is reassuring. The sight of three bandits approaching is rather less so, especially in view of the question I'm asked. While this Lone Wolf has neither the Discipline nor the past experience required to recognise the liquid with which the bandits' spear tips are coated, I think he'd have the common sense to be wary even if I didn't personally remember the stuff. Running towards the tower brings its own risks, but a 10% chance of Instant Death is still better odds than I'd have in a fight against opponents whose weapons have that particular poison on them.

My bursting from cover attracts some attention, and before long I'm dodging arrows. Then some Warhounds head for me, so I quicken my pace. This works quite well, and I gain some encouragement when the men in the tower recognise me from my costume, and cheer me on. I've covered three quarters of the distance by the time a bandit sniper hiding in the ruins of a cottage puts an arrow through my leg. He takes aim at my head, an arrow flies through the air, and Captain D'Val's shot is bang on target, taking out my attacker in the nick of time. The Captain fells the approaching Warhounds with more arrows, and carries me to safety.

Soldiers attend to my wound, and Captain D'Val expresses his pleasure at having had reinforcements arrive (i.e. me). He tells me that only one other person made it out of the mines and past the snipers and Warhounds: the Baron of Ruanon. I am taken to see him, and encounter a wreck of a man, whimpering on the floor and babbling verse - the same verse that's on the scroll I was given. Explanations follow: the bandit leader intends to sacrifice the Baron's daughter in order to fulfil a prophecy and raise the dead of the Maakengorge. Long ago, that was where Vashna, the mightiest of the Darklords, was defeated, and he and his soldiers were flung into the gorge. Somehow the fact of its being a bottomless abyss isn't enough to keep them from coming back out of it if the correct procedure is followed.

Still, that's something to worry about if we survive the attack of the bandit army. I gain an extra section's worth of Healing by giving the Captain his sword (a detail omitted in Ruanon), and then we see that the bandit leader Barraka is using Ruanese hostages as human shields, and get inconvenienced by a brief shower of flaming oil. After another 'tough luck if you didn't play books 1-3 first' moment, I wind up in combat against a Vassagonian warrior. He's less trouble than that drunken guard was, and the soldiers alongside me fare equally well at repelling attackers.

Then the Vassagonians bring a large shield on wheels into play, and it covers the approach of a wand-wielding mage who blows a hole in our barricade. Cavalry charge through the gap, a horseman with a lance singles me out, and I dash to the tower. An ally with a bow blocks my way, and I duck just before he fires, felling my pursuer. We return to what remains of the barricade just in time for the next wave of attackers, who are accompanied by Warhounds. A couple of the beasts go for me, and I spend a couple of rounds being gnawed before the soldiers alongside me help get rid of the pests.

Spearmen advance. A lone enemy attempts to get his horse to leap the barricade, but it can't make it, and hurls him over it. He lands with a satisfying thud, and I leave him where he fell, and concentrate on organising the response to the approaching spearmen. My input helps turn the tide of battle in our favour, though some enemy troops remain to be dealt with. I move to help the Captain dispose of the troops that still beset him, but that thrown Vassagonian must be a Player Character, as he turns out to have been playing possum, and knocks me down as I'm about to jump over his 'body'. The subsequent fight is the hardest I've had all adventure, but I prevail, and by the time my foe falls, his allies are being decisively routed.

That still leaves the little matter of the impending sacrifice. It won't happen until full moon, but that still only gives me three days to get through 50 miles of enemy-occupied territory and defeat their leader. Captain D'Val gives me a healing potion and a rope to help.

The road to the Gorge is full of retreating Vassagonians, so I'll have to sneak through the forest to one side of it. With a sigh, I choose the left side. After a while I spot a log cabin with a light in it, and take a chance on looking inside. It contains a wounded Vassagonian, who rapidly becomes a dead Vassagonian.

By morning I've made it to the edge of the forest. Fields thick with crops line the tracks, and upon hearing approaching bandits, I quickly hide in the plants. This is the bit I remember from my first attempt: lacking the Camouflage Discipline doesn't result in my being noticed, but it does make me nervous enough that the scent of my sweat attracts blood-sucking insects that drain a couple of points of Endurance. Unpleasant, but survivable.

By night I've reached the ruined city of Maaken, and I spend a chunk of the next day keeping watch, trying to ascertain the location of the entrance to the temple where the sacrifice is to be held. Eventually I narrow it down to two possibilities: a guarded crypt door and an unguarded flight of marble steps. There must be a reason why the steps aren't guarded. Let's find out what it is...

The steps lead into a darkened vault. I have no light source, and while that doesn't mean I can't go in, it does make doing so inadvisable. All right, how about that guarded door?

For a while I keep watch on it. Some more Vassagonians arrive, are challenged, and give the password. I decide to try using the password myself, and bluff (or rather roll) well enough that my lack of Camouflage doesn't matter. The guards let me past, and I hurry along a torchlit corridor before anyone observant can see me.

Or so I thought. The corridor leads down some steps to a junction. I turn the wrong way, and am clubbed unconscious by a guard. When I come round, I'm in a cell, and if I had the Discipline Mind Over Matter, I'd be pretty peeved at not being able to try using it to pick the lock. Heck, even Mindblast, which I do have, might be effective against it. But no, I just have to wait in the cell until Barraka has done his dirty work.

Things could be worse. Slightly. While playing, I inadvertently caught sight of a particularly awful Mongoose edit to a similar failure ending. While similarly problematic in the 'disregarding potential avenues of escape' department, it did at least have a nicely atmospheric final sentence: 'Four days pass before the lock slides back; but the hands that open the trapdoor are bony and fleshless.' The new edition goes on to point out that those hands belong to an undead enemy, presumably to ensure that no readers make the mistake of assuming that they're being rescued by someone suffering from severe malnutrition.

Friday, 22 March 2013

I'd Steal Anything I Lack

The second pair of books in Sutherland and Farrell's Double Game series is set in Koragon, The City of Shadows. Book 2 of that pairing concerns the adventures of Bardik - the Thief, and for reasons that will eventually become clear, I'm blogging about that one before I cover book 1, Coreus - the Prince.

As with the other books in this series, I've never played it before, but as a fan of the Thief series of computer games, I do enjoy playing the part of a light-fingered anti-hero, so if that's what this is about, it could be fun.

Character generation is much the same as in the first Double Game twosome. I give Bardik these stats:
Strength 9
Agility 10
Luck 10
Magic 6
Swordsmanship 9
The attribute it costs double to get points in is Magic, so I went for the minimum necessary to get the Stone Weakness spell, which could be useful for indicating handholds.

I'm an inhabitant of Koragon, a typical crime-infested fantasy city, and have made my own modest contribution to the crime figures, aided by my 'half-elven ancestry' (so one of my ancestors was a half-elf? I wonder how far back - what proportion elf am I?). Tonight I mean to add to it, and have been waiting for Dell, a notorious handler of stolen goods, to leave his shop so that I can rob it (oh, the irony!).

Once Dell has gone, I climb the drainpipe, leap with ease to a window, and am inside in next to no time. I help myself to a bag of gold that should help get rid of some of the debts I've accumulated, and then head back to South Quarter, where I live.

The following day the book has me decide to see what valuables I might come across in Temple Quarter, starting with the ornate temple of Corpus Nistus. Okay, so its shiny exterior is all gold paint and coloured stones, but that just means the real wealth is out of sight, right? Stealth is generally advisable in my line of work, so I climb over a wall into the back garden. This turns out to contain a secondary building in a grove of trees, and I get curious.

A closer look reveals the smaller building to be a tomb. The door is not sealed, so I go in. An oil lamp illuminates a massive, bloated corpse, and I can make out other shapes around it that could be costly burial gifts. Moving closer, I find that they're not treasure. They're pipes, which are being used to pump what I somehow know to be pulped human flesh into the mouth of the corpse. Yuk!

The 'corpse' opens one eye, looks at me, and then begins to move in my direction. I don't know if Double Game undead are as unpleasant to fight as Thief undead, and right now I'd rather not find out, so I hurry back to the garden. A reception committee is waiting for me there. Only two temple acolytes, and probably ordinary mortals, but I'd rather not fight anyone if it can be avoided, so I bolt to the wall and vault it. The acolytes aren't such good climbers, but they know how to open the gate, and are soon in hot pursuit. As I reach David's Quarter, the part of the city where the nobles live, I realise that I can't outrun my pursuers, so I duck down an alleyway and jump over another wall, hoping that they'll go past.

Drawing on my extensive knowledge of the city, I deduce that I'm now in the grounds of Serphan's house. Serphan is one of the ruling council, and extremely wealthy. I start to head towards the house, and catch sight of a bulky figure in furs. He doesn't look like a guard, but this place certainly has some, and I don't want to attract their attention, so when he beckons to me, I join him before he has the not-so-smart idea of calling out to get my attention. He says his name's Coreus, and he's come to this city to retrieve some treasures that were stolen from his people.

Yes, Coreus as in the partner volume. I'm good enough at keeping separate from my characters that I was able to play both books in tandem. Given the cooperative nature of the two-player set-up in this series, I thought it worth playing a two-player game, even if I had to be both players. I'll be blogging Coreus' side of the adventure in about a month. Or a week, if there's sufficient demand.

Coreus could do with the assistance of a local, and I decide to go with him to the inn in Outsiders' Quarter where he's staying. He needs to get back some religious artefacts belonging to his tribe, so I suggest making enquiries at Soburg's Religious Gifts and Artefacts Shop on Penn Isle. Soburg is displeased to learn that we don't want to buy any of his tat, and refuses to speak to us, so I let the big foreigner with the axe try and persuade him to become more talkative. Pity Coreus doesn't speak the local lingo better - he doesn't actually say anything wrong, but the halting delivery robs his threats of some of their menace.

Soburg claims to have seen off better than the pair of us, so I decide to test his bravado. Nice 'n' Nasty wasn't working: how about Nasty 'n' Nasty? Yes, as if by magic the shopkeeper cooperates. He has seen the rods and sceptre that Coreus seeks: a man maned Ashrok tried to sell them to him a few days ago. He claims to have refused because they were too expensive, and I sneer that his real reason was probably because they were stolen. Which seems a bit back-to-front to me: would it not be more likely that he'd claim to have been too honest to touch illegally acquired items, and I'd cynically suggest he just couldn't afford Ashrok's price? Anyway, Soburg denies having the artefacts, and says that Councillor Serphan probably bought them. Great.

The fact that the items Coreus seeks are likely to be in one of the best-guarded houses in the whole city doesn't deter him, so I procure theatre tickets for both of us. Not because I care about the show, the tiresomely anagrammatical Peare Hakess' Midsolstice Morn's Fantasia (is the middle of a solstice long enough to have a morn?), but because the theatre roof has the best view of Serphan's grounds in town. We establish that the best way to get in appears to be the rear garden, observe that the guards keep out of the greenhouse, and leave the theatre in order to prepare for a nocturnal visit to the Councillor.

We get into the garden without difficulty, and the undergrowth is thick enough that we can get close to the house unobserved. Eventually I have to break cover and, apparently having little grasp of the concept of Stealth, Coreus blunders over to the house with me. Luck is with us, and nobody notices, so I quietly break a window and we make a speedy entrance.

It makes sense to me to check downstairs first: if Serphan's in bed, we run more risk of disturbing him once we're upstairs, so we might not have the opportunity to search down here later on. Except that the authors have a different interpretation of what it means to check downstairs, which doesn't go beyond 'see if there are any guards'. There are. Four of them. By the stairs, but moving away. We have the option of creating a distraction, but guards who don't know we're here and aren't facing our way don't need distracting, and are liable to become suspicious if we do something to distract them. So we just creep upstairs, as that's the only alternative provided.

On the next floor, Coreus claims to be able to sense the rods he seeks. I have my doubts, but let him go with this 'instinct' anyway: in the unlikely event that he's right, it'll save us a lot of time, and it'll still give a starting point for a proper, methodical search when if his gut feeling turns out to be just indigestion. Moving like a man entranced, he heads straight for a blank wall. I'd laugh, only the noise might attract attention. Oh, and the blank wall turns out to contain a secret door into Serphan's treasure room. Good thing I convinced Coreus not to ignore that extra-sensory inspiration, right?

I grab as much loot as I can fit into my sack (should've brought a bigger bag), and see that Coreus has found the rods. I remind him that this is not a place to be loitering, and we leave the room. 'Has Coreus set the staircase alight?' asks the book. Is that what creating a distraction would have led to? D'oh! Well, the answer is no, so there's no need to leap from a window, and we descend the stairs like normal, rational people. Well, half the stairs - then a noise spooks us, and we jump the rest of the way and scurry into hiding.

The source of the sound is a shadowy figure, who pretty much has to be Serphan. Not yet having found the sceptre that accompanies the rods, Coreus decides to confront him, and I grudgingly go along with his wish. Serphan is flanked by guards, but has something else he'd rather use to deal with thieves: he hurls two eggs to the floor, and a pair of freaky sharp-toothed Karaza beasts with poison-bearing claws come into being. My companion and I each fight one beast. Luck keeps us from succumbing to the paralytic venom, and Coreus has the good fortune to beat his opponent almost unscathed, while I take significant damage.

The defeat of Serphan's 'pets' disconcerts him for long enough that we can break a window and escape, the authors evidently not having considered the possibility that Coreus might want to try and get hold of the other artefact he needs. We hurry into the garden, and see guards approaching from all sides. There are three between us and the wall. I'm not keen to get into another fight before I can get healed, but Coreus seems to have a plan, so I go with it.

An expression of annoyance at the authors crosses his face, and he hurls his axe at a guard, dealing lethal damage. The other two engage us in combat. Coreus isn't so good at dodging blows this time, but his greater Strength seems to be prevailing all the same. I trade blow for blow with my opponent, but in my weakened condition I can only bring him close to death before he succeeds in ending my life. Coreus remains to fight on, but what happens to him from this point onwards is for another blog entry to recount.

I was quite enjoying that up until we broke into Serphan's and the authors and I started interpreting things differently. I now know that the sceptre is elsewhere, but it would have been helpful to have some indication that Coreus recognised the lack of need to stay in the house any longer. We wouldn't have fought if I'd known that we were trying to leave anyway. And why did Coreus get annoyed just before Bardik's final fight? That's a rant for the playthrough of his book.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Generating a Global Catastrophe Curve

The seventeenth Fighting Fantasy gamebook saw Steve Jackson extending the range's genre boundaries again, with the superhero-themed Appointment With F.E.A.R. No other books in the series followed his lead in this instance, though there have been a couple of mini-adventure sequels. It's also unconventional in that there are four completely different 'true paths' through the book, one for each of the superpowers that can be chosen at the start, so there's a sense in which this constitutes four gamebooks in one, though the four do criss-cross and overlap in a variety of ways.

For my last online playthrough I picked Super Strength, and a week ago I offered my readers the option of choosing which of the others to choose here. I got one vote for Psi-Powers, and one for Energy Blast or Psi-Powers, so the winner is Psi-Powers. Which happens to be the most dangerous power to take, from at least one perspective. The thing is, there are certain 'fail' endings that can only be reached if the reader has a certain power, and Psi-Powers gets more of those endings than any other power. I can think of at least four. By now I know the book well enough that I can avoid those endings, if need be by fleeing a confrontation I know I cannot survive, but a first-timer has significantly more chance of blundering into defeat just by not running away if they chose Psi-Powers rather than anything else.

My first attempt at the book came to an abrupt halt when I encountered one such ending, though that one was a Super Strength-specific death. I'll go into more detail about it later, as it's connected to an incident I must investigate on the Psi-Powers path in order to obtain an essential clue. I'm pretty sure I got the book on a Saturday, as I was at home in daylight when my character died, and on any other weekday it would have been getting dark by the time I got back from school, especially if I'd been into town to get the book first.

This is the first FF book to give 'you' a name, the vaguely unisex 'Jean Lafayette'. My character was the product of genetic surgery, though for amusingly Heisenbergian reasons, the mental powers I developed as a consequence of the experiments did not manifest until after the scientists had given up looking for anything unusual about me. I have an unremarkable job in an office, and a more unorthodox sideline in wearing shiny clothes and a mask and committing citizen's arrests, sometimes with the help of my mind-reading and -controlling abilities, but more usually with the maximum legally permissible amount of violence. The frequency with which I resort to fisticuffs has rather more to do with the relative uselessness of my special ability than my fighting prowess, as my stats are
Skill 8
Stamina 23
Luck 10
The high Stamina is quite useful, as using my powers takes its toll on my health. But getting punched in the face by villains on account of getting a lower Attack Strength does similar damage, so a higher Skill would have been helpful.

At the start of the adventure I already have two pieces of information to aid me in the fight against crime. Firstly, that Metroville villainess the Tiger Cat, who possesses the ability to disguise herself as an ordinary cat (the text says 'harmless', but I have friends who own cats, so I know the adjective to be inaccurate), is in town. Secondly, the address of wealthy murderer-for-kicks Daddy Rich, whose lawyers (boo!) recently helped him evade justice. Probably on some petty technicality like the inadmissibility of evidence gained by reading minds.

More vaguely, the criminal organisation F.E.A.R. (the Federation of Euro-American Rebels) will soon be holding a meeting in the area, as a prelude to some kind of nefarious naughtiness, and I need to find a way of gatecrashing it before they can get round to taking over the world. In some way the public sense that all is not well, and there's a distinct air of tension on Clark Street as I head to work.

Certain specific incidents catch my attention. A newspaper vendor yells near-incomprehensibly about a robbery. A police car races into Audubon Park, siren wailing. And pedestrians are arguing about a dog that has fouled the pavement. Now, that last one sounds like a case for - dramatic chord! - the Silver Crusader.

The Dog-Dirt Dilemma
You might think that this is a rather trivial business with which to be concerning myself. And you'd be right. But while there's certainly satirical mileage to be got out of a superhero who only deals with minor infractions, my actions here are motivated more by gameplay than parodic intent. Hurriedly changing into my costume, I mentally suppress the hostility between the originators of the argument, and sense that the man who was remonstrating with the dog-owner is trying to conceal something from me. A gold watch and a pawnbroker's are the only clear images I get before he loses himself in the crowd, but he definitely didn't want me to know about that watch.

If I had a higher Skill, I'd probably go into the park next, as I remember that the crime that's been committed there turns out to have been Daddy Rich reoffending. As it is, I suspect that the damage I'd take subduing him and his mysteriously inferior bodyguards would get in the way of my more urgent investigations. Thus, I return to my civvies and proceed to the office.

The Car Crash Conundrum
I arrive late, fail to avoid attracting the attention of my boss, Jonah Whyte, and get subjected to a lengthy harangue. It only ends when a limousine goes out of control on the street outside, hitting a street-lamp and catching fire. Another quick costume change, and I arrive on the scene at about the same time as two ambulances and a fire engine. Sometimes my mind powers can influence the physical world, but not here, so I simply cooperate with the emergency services, dragging the passengers from the car as soon as the firemen have cut through the buckled door, and getting everyone out of range before the inevitable explosion. While it's a step up from defusing arguments about dog's mess, this is still pretty mundane as superheroics goes (though a similar crash provided part of the set-up for the reality-twisting opening to Grant Morrison's run on The Doom Patrol a few years after AWF came out).

The Experiment Emergency
The rest of the morning passes without incident, but while having lunch at a nearby diner, I overhear a group from the Biochemistry Department of the local university discussing the possibility that an explosion might result from an unwise procedure that someone in the department plans on carrying out... Naturally I decide to look into this, and am not sidetracked by the cry of, 'Stop! Thief!' that I overhear on my way to the university.

Predictably, I arrive too late to prevent Professor Murdock from carrying out his experiment, getting there just as the reaction starts to go out of control. This is another situation where my powers are of no use, and the only remotely sensible-seeming option is to get a fire extinguisher. GCSE Chemistry doesn't provide me with enough knowledge to know whether or not that would just exacerbate the threat, but the alternatives are obviously unwise rather than just possibly inadvisable. Anyway, the monumental incompetence of whoever's responsible for Health and Safety here turns this latest attempt at saving the day into a farce. No extinguisher in the lab, so I have to search elsewhere. None in the hall, either. Eventually I find one in a room, race back to the lab, and find that it's a dud. So I dash downstairs, find another extinguisher, take the stairs two at a time on the way back up, and burst back into the lab, ready to save the day at last. Except that Professor Murdock's calculations turn out not to have been so widely off the mark after all, and the reaction has stabilised while I've been faffing around.

This fiasco has so tired or shaken me that I wind up not going back to the office. Not that dealing with that robbery would have been any more impressive an endeavour (see The Silver Crusader Alternastories issue 6, The Shoplifting Schoolboy). A quiet evening allows me to recover from my exertions, and reflect on whether or not I'm in the right business.

The Cat that Didn't Get the Cream
Next morning I set off to work early, and take the subway to improve my chances of punctuality. Like that'll work. Indeed, before the end of the journey, a fellow passenger bewails having fallen victim to a pickpocket. He'll have to wait, though, as my Crimewatch (a gadget that's used to alert me to emergencies) summons me to Cowfield Dairy. I hurry there, finding nothing obviously amiss because I've apparently forgotten my first clue of the game, and the tabby cat trying to get through the gate evokes sympathy rather than suspicion.

Convicted murderer (and apparent jailbreaker) 'Chainsaw' Bronski rounds the corner, prompting me into action. This stray kitty needs to get to an adoption centre fast. But as I draw near to the Cats' Home, the tabby undergoes a startling(ly predictable) transformation, and I'm into my first fight of the game, against the Tiger Cat. Power use is handled poorly here: I'm told that there's no time to concentrate, as she attacks immediately, but after subduing my opponent, I suddenly wind up reading her mind. Given the Stamina cost of using my power, it's possible that I could have won by the skin of my teeth and then dropped dead from the effort of picking up my foe's thoughts. As it turns out, the punch-up only cost me just over two thirds of my Stamina, so I can bear the cost of plucking a F.E.A.R.-related address from the feline criminal's mind.

While handing the Tiger Cat over to the Police, I learn that a little old lady has just brought in a piece of paper that identifies the 'calling-card' of the villainous Mantrapper. I can't even begin to imagine who wrote it, or why. Still, it provides me with another lead. Or a quandary - can I afford to follow it up at the appropriate time, given my clawed-up state?

It's a Self-Referential World After All
It starts to rain as I set off to the office again. This would be significant if I had a certain clue, but I don't, so that's one encounter I won't be having (see The Silver Crusader Alternastories issue 11, Smoke Gets in Your SDIs). Along the way, it occurs to me that I might be able to placate my boss by getting him a present, so I pop into Harrold's Department Store. I'm definitely in no state to take on the fiery foursome who'll soon be causing trouble upstairs, so I try the Book Department, and wind up buying a copy of some weird, gimmicky thing called The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. It doesn't help. I get the day off - without pay - and am threatened with unemployment if I don't get my act together. So I decide to spend the afternoon at Wisneyland amusement park.

Now here's an interesting yet trivial dilemma. This book includes Hero Points to keep track of the reader's performance. Capturing criminals and saving lives (as the Crusader) adds HPs, harming innocents, killing criminals and publicly messing up costs HPs. But they have no actual influence on the outcome of the adventure, merely adding to replayability by offering the possibility of triumphing more spectacularly than before. I know the book well enough to be aware that here I have the potential to achieve one of three things: capture a villain (and get Hero Points), perform a minor service to a member of the public (and get a Hero Point) or, out of costume, save someone's life (no Hero Points because I'm incognito). Technically, the last of those could be considered two things, as there are two separate instances in which I can keep Wisneyland's shoddy safety standards (or possibly sabotage by the villain with his hideout there) from resulting in someone's death, but I only mention that because I'm pedantic. More to the point, my Stamina's too low to make capturing not-the-Joker a viable option (but see The Silver Crusader Alternastories issue 14, Welcome to the House of Fun), narrowing the choice down to gaining a Hero Point by finding someone's lost property or gaining nothing by averting a needless fatality.

Like I said, Hero Points don't really matter. And self-preservation (in the interests of global preservation) will be keeping my score low anyway, so one Point more or less isn't worth making a fuss about. Plus, there's an element of uncertainty to the life-saving opportunities, so I'm going for the more unpredictable option. Well, one of them. Dodgems or Big Dipper? The Big Dipper's a bit obvious (and not as monstrously fun as this), so I'll go on the Dodgems. I trundle around for a bit, bumping into others, and then just as a head-on collision with another car seems imminent, a nearby knock causes a young boy to fall out of his bumper-car, landing right in front of me and my would-be collidee, who unhelpfully screams and takes her hands off the steering wheel, leaving me to try and avoid crushing the kid. I manage to swerve away in the nick of time. The other driver still hits the boy, but his injuries aren't fatal. Nevertheless, I've had enough 'amusement' for now.

Mantrap Mansion
It's still a little early to be heading home, so I wander into town to do some shopping. While dining at a pizza parlour on Banner Street, I spot retired millionaire Drew Swain emerging from a baker's. He freezes rather oddly, and is then obscured from sight by a blue van. When the van drives off, there's no sign of Swain. This, incidentally, is roughly where my first attempt at the book failed. Super Strength is packaged together with flight, so a player who selected that power has the option of pursuing the van (others have no chance of catching it up on foot). Only the villain behind Swain's disappearance has prepared for that contingency, and stopping the van and opening it up triggers a lethal booby-trap.

None of which matters today, as I've got Psi-Powers. First I enter the baker's to find out if anyone in there saw what happened while the van was in the way. The staff are only able to tell me that he bought wholemeal bread and custard tarts, but a quick burst of mind-reading reveals that the delivery boy works for F.E.A.R., and is thinking about the impending meeting on 209th Street. He runs away before I'm able to learn anything more, so I return to the scene of the crime, finding the very type of item mentioned in the piece of paper that old woman took to the Police station, which identifies this abduction as the handiwork of the Mantrapper.

Let's gloss over exactly how knowing who's responsible enables me to proceed directly to the abandoned warehouse where he's hiding out - Steve Jackson certainly did. Not having done much superheroish for a while, I climb onto the roof and then swing through a window, fortuitously putting both of the Mantrapper's henchmen out of action (one gets knocked into a self-locking cage, the other through a bannister and onto the next level down). That just leaves the Mantrapper himself to subdue, and I'm hoping for better rolls than I got against the Tiger Cat.

I don't get them. This book's pretty harsh on the combat front if you don't take Super Strength. The Mantrapper kills me. A few days later, the F.E.A.R. bosses get together in the pawnbroker's at the junction of 5th avenue and 209th Street, put their cunning plan into action, and destroy the city. I wonder if they were smart enough to leave before triggering the killer satellite.

Monday, 18 March 2013

More to Find Than Can Ever Be Found

Proteus 5, Caverns of the Enchantress, had a different cover artist to the preceding issues, and that wasn't the only change. The magazine had also gained a Letters page (their capitalisation), added Mark K. Dunn to its stable of interior artists, and made its rules more FF-like. More significantly, though this last detail was the easiest to overlook back then, it was the first to be written by Elizabeth Caldwell, who would go on to be one of the magazine's most prolific contributors.

It was definitely a school day when I bought my copy. I remember starting to read it in the small hall outside the CCF armoury where the RPG group tended to gather at break times, then I was in the school library when my character encountered the incongruous coffin-dwelling Werewolf, and I'd returned to that little hallway by the time I sought the wisdom of the intermittently petrified Lion King Elaam. I think I wound up failing on account of missing the only essential item that could be missed.

My character is another itinerant adventurer, and the adventure starts when I gain the favour of the Sorcerer Pelorath by leaving some money in return for the food I took from his home. He gives me a third of a golden disc, and tells me that the whole disc will lead me to a great treasure. The missing two thirds can be found in the Caverns to the north. Pelorath also gives me three enchanted oak leaves that can provide protection against evil. I'm likely to need them, as my character only has
Dexterity: 8
Strength: 19
Fate/Fortune: 8
Told you the rules were FFier here.

Anyway, I trek north until I find the cave mouth. The winged demons carved on either side of it have my character wondering if I will encounter anything similar inside (actually, the demon that will probably shred my character if I get far enough to encounter it has no wings), and remind me the reader of a rather tedious computer game I played some years back.

Mind you, that cave had doors.

I help myself to one of the torches conveniently stacked just inside the entrance, and head along a tunnel. Before long the passage turns east, and I trip on something, but just manage to keep my balance. The item that caused me to stumble turns out to be a human skull, strangely black in colour. My character wonders if it's a bad omen, and I remember that the background to FF book 5 ended with my character almost tripping over a black cat and having similarly superstitious musings.

A little further on there's a door set into the south wall. I open it, and find what looks like a long-abandoned guard room behind it. A rusty key hangs on a hook, and I help myself to it, then continue east to a crossroads. I stick with going east, which takes me into a cavern where I am attacked by Skeletal Vultures. Perhaps because of the speed of the attack, I don't get to use any leaves, and the Dexterity penalty I incur for not being able to fly is just enough to lose me the battle.

I should probably have fudged character creation, but I remembered that the adventure contains a magic weapon which adds to Fighting Power, and thought that that might be enough to make up for a below-average Dexterity. Wasn't expecting to get killed before I got anywhere near Skull-Cleaver.

On an unrelated note...
As of yet nobody's shown any interest in contributing to the madness going up on this blog a fortnight from now. The input I seek should only take 5-10 minutes to put together, and can be done at any time over the course of the next two weeks (but really, the sooner, the better), so if you'd like to have a hand in the strangest adventure I play (at least until Sky Lord), please email me at edwardtjolley at gmail dot com.

Friday, 15 March 2013

It Seems They've Changed the Rules Again

Back when I attempted the first Sagas of the Demonspawn book, this blog went on hiatus for over a month. More on account of stuff going on in the real world than anything to do with the actual book, but still, I am hoping that book 2, The Crypts of Terror, will not cause any similar hold-up.

As I recall, I got my copy from East Hull Books, which was a great source of second-hand books until it closed (over a decade ago, now). The shop's closing-down sale enabled me to plug a couple of gaps in the FF collection I was building, as well as getting me into gamebook trading (they had a copy of the quite scarce fifth book of the Blood Sword series, which I was able to exchange for a couple more of the FF books I lacked).

The intro to Crypts explains the essentials of what happened in the first book, so I can quickly summarise what would have happened if Fire*Wolf hadn't performed his fabled impersonation of a shish kebab when I played it. He'd have wound up learning that he was the son of the sorcerer Lord Xandine, and heir to a long-standing feud with the House of Harkaan, allies of the Demonspawn. His sense of honour might have compelled him to accept any obligations arising from these facts: if not, the fact that Belgardium, the city where he was to fulfil part of the quest he had undertaken, was in ruins following a surprise Demonspawn invasion would have been enough to get him involved anyway. While most of the Demonspawn had left by then, their Regent was still there, and Fire*Wolf wound up killing him, but not before learning that he had been expected.

Oh, and he also learned magic from his father (who, it's implied, is now dead), and got an extra attribute to help manage it, so I'm going to have to rummage around in the code for my gamebook manager to get it to handle the additional features of the system.

Before going any further, I need to create the new Fire*Wolf. The rules point out that it shouldn't take seven days, and might even be done within seven minutes. Thanks to the work I put in on the gamebook manager, it doesn't even take seven seconds.

Strength 56
Speed 96
Stamina 40
Courage 80
Skill 10
Luck 64
Charm 16
Attraction 40
Life 402

Not as good as the previous model, but not below average, and if this book is anything like the rest of the series, it'll take more than good stats to get me through it anyway.

The adventure starts with Fire*Wolf being guided through the oldest part of Pelimandar, the capital city. In a nearby alley, a group of youths with a trained panther attacks an old man. Fire*Wolf's guide flees, forcing him to choose between pursuing her and taking on a gang of thugs, plus the panther (and possibly even the old man if this is a trap).

He's supposed to be a hero, and it's probably already too late to catch up with the guide, so he moves to try and save the old man. The gang set the panther on him... and the book leaves out the rules for how Fire*Wolf's life-draining sword works, which is going to be a real pain for anyone who doesn't have book 1. Another thing the gamebook manager saves me having to worry about.

Successfully dealing with the panther, Fire*Wolf turns his attention to the thugs, only to find them all paralysed. It turns out that the old man knows magic, though apparently it doesn't work on animals. He introduces himself as Amien, and offers to escort Fire*Wolf to where he needs to go: the Guild of Alchemists. More than that - he will act as Fire*Wolf's sponsor, as our hero apparently needs one.

It transpires that Fire*Wolf seeks the Guild because he needs to undertake an Initiation Ordeal that will boost his Power. This Ordeal takes place in the eponymous Crypts, and it just so happens that Amien is the Cryptmaster. In thanks for the rescue, he gives Fire*Wolf a small box, the contents of which may prove invaluable, but which can only be opened in the direst of emergencies. An endgame McGuffin, most likely.

Guildsmen provide Fire*Wolf with the weapons he is entitled to use in the Ordeal. He points out that the Doomsword will not leave him, no matter what he does, and they shrug and say that it might affect his reward, but can't be helped. They then lead him to the Crypt entrance, and he descends a flight of steps south to a crossroads.

Going clockwise leads to an interesting revelation about Fire*Wolf's psychology. The passage leads to a dead end, which he checks thoroughly (and unsuccessfully) for secret doors. Only then does he take the time to consider whether or not to open the non-secret door in the north wall. It leads to a room containing a black-clad assassin-cum-alchemist known as an Alchiller. He knows some magic, though the book doesn't exactly go into a lot of detail about his tactics. I'll use the rules for Fire*Wolf's spell-casting, even though they contain some limitations that are unlikely to restrict those who don't share his aversion to using magic.

The Alchiller automatically gets first strike. Is he willing to use magic? The dice say yes. One of the spells he knows is instantaneously lethal if successful, so it makes sense that he'd lead with that. Can he cast it? The rules handle the 50% chance of success by making it necessary to get 6 or more on two dice. This indicates something of a flawed grasp of probability theory on Mr. Brennan's part, which explains a lot about the playability of his books. The Alchiller rolls 6, magically propelling a poisoned needle into Fire*Wolf, who will be unaffected on a roll above 3 on one die. I roll a 2.

I'm assuming that the rule about getting to restart a battle from scratch by making a successful Luck roll still applies, and this roll provides a more favourable outcome for our still probably doomed hero. As before, the Alchiller has no qualms about using magic. Again he succeeds in casting the spell. But this time Fire*Wolf is immune to the poison, and takes a swing at the Alchiller. He misses. The Alchiller tries his other spell, conjuring a ball of magical fire that fizzles out as he prepares to fling it at Fire*Wolf. This time Fire*Wolf's retaliation is on target. No spell can be cast twice in the same battle, so from now on it's sword against sword, and the Alchiller has the edge in physical combat.

The restart option only works once. However, the 'Death has come to Fire*Wolf' section includes some quirky stuff about avoiding going right back to the start, so I'll give that a go just to see if how it works. The reincarnated Fire*Wolf has

Strength 56
Speed 72
Stamina 56
Courage 32
Skill 10
Luck 56
Charm 40
Attraction 96
Life 418
and the caprice of the rules causes him to start life...

in conversation with a Vestal, to whom he has just given a monetary gift sufficient to secure an audience with an oracle.

Some things just make no sense

The sibyl Selina is stunningly attractive, and Fire*Wolf sort of makes a subtle pass at her before asking for a prediction about the Spawn. Selena (the spelling varies from section to section) makes contact with two deities, but only one of the messages can get through. It's not entirely helpful, stating only that Fire*Wolf's lusts will soon carry him towards Destiny or death, which may be Selena's way of saying she's undecided about going on a date with Fire*Wolf.

The oracle apparently concluded, Fire*Wolf returns to the streets of the city (if this Fire*Wolf can be said to have returned when he came into being mid-transaction in the Temple) and resumes (equally arguably) his search for the Guild. He doesn't find it. He starts to get depressed. A string of bad rolls, plus the rules' blind spot regarding rolling equal to rather than above or below, causes Fire*Wolf to spiral into despair at his inability to find the guild, and ultimately to commit suicide. I shall respect his last wishes, deranged though they are, and not invoke the reincarnation rule again.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

I Have This Terrible Feeling of Déjà Vu

Games Workshop took over publishing Warlock magazine from issue 6, expanding its scope to cover non-FF books, bringing in some new regular features, increasing the amount of advertising and changing the font of the text. The difference was quite startling at the time. Still, the mini-adventure, which appears to be another runner-up from the issue 1 competition, was more than traditional enough to diminish the shock.

The basic premise of The Dark Chronicles of Anakendis, by Andrew Whitworth, is something of a hybrid of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain and City of Thieves. Villagers live in fear of the evil wizard who lives in a nearby cave system. Recently he sent an envoy to make demands of them (not just the headman's daughter, but two maidens a week (has he no understanding of the basic practicalities of supply and demand?)), and is periodically sending vicious hounds to attack them until they accede.

Based on my almost-too-short-to-be-worth-linking-to previous playthrough, I may indulge in a little fudging at character creation. Yup, if that 1 were to go on Skill, I wouldn't last long. So I allocate the dice to produce
Skill 11
Stamina 17
Luck 10
No idea how I'll fare, since I'm pretty sure the abysmal attempt linked above is the only time I've played this adventure in at least 20 years. Still, part of the purpose of this blog is to get me playing the ones I've neglected, so off I go...

I reach the cave entrance, go in, and soon get to a junction. Turning left, I soon reach an icy cave, which turns out to contain one of this adventure's borrowings from Troughton-era Doctor Who. Okay, so this Ice Warrior is white rather than green, but apart from that the description matches. There is one other significant difference: this Ice Warrior isn't armed with a lethal sonic weapon, as a result of which I have no trouble defeating it.

Also in the cave is a small box, which is locked, but I manage to force it open and find a key carved out of pure ruby inside. One of the other things this adventure has in common with TWoFM is that killing the evil wizard doesn't bring victory in and of itself: it is then necessary to successfully unlock his treasure chest. As I recall, the first time I played this, at my grandparents' home, I failed by using the wrong keys and triggering a lethal trap.

This cave is a dead end, so I have to retrace my footsteps and go the other way (which is nothing like what happens in Firetop Mountain, where it's the right turning at the very first junction that leads to the dead end).  That way leads to the room where my previous attempt at TDCoA ended. This time I ignore the opportunity to get myself killed by another '60s DW monster, and try the west door instead. It leads to a passage that soon turns north, and after a bit, I reach a side turning west. Going west again, I reach a small study containing an empty bookcase and a desk.

I search the desk, finding a Potion of Strength under a pile of paper, which is odd. Then I'm unexpectedly stabbed in the thigh, and become aware that I'm being attacked by an Astromancer. This battle is slightly complicated by the fact that he gets to cast a random spell every other round, so I take a chance on using Luck to hasten his demise.

There's no way on from this room, so I return to the passage. In a change from the FF norm, I'm not forced to continue north, but may return to the room with multiple exits. And then go north from there, admittedly, but the very fact that I can retrace my steps that far is unusual. Sufficiently so that I'll try it.

I reach a crossroads, and try east for a bit of variety. Before long the passage turns north, and passes a door with 'Keep Out' written on it in blood. Behind the door (what adventurer can resist an invitation like that?), I find a rather odd room. The walls are made of capstones (which makes approximately zero sense), two of which look loose. There's also a hole in one wall, just above eye level. The whole set-up smells of a trap or three, but I opt to investigate anyway.

Reaching into the hole, I find it to contain a venomous spider, with a bite more harmful than that of the venomous spider which can bite the hand of an adventurer in Deathtrap Dungeon. Behind the loose capstone to the south is an alcove containing a corpse. The active variety. I try speaking to it, and it complains about its long rest having been disturbed, then asks why I moved the stone. I admit to having been curious, and the Zombie condemns me to death, then emerges from the alcove with the intent of carrying out the sentence. I draw my sword in order to lodge an appeal, and obtain a satisfactory verdict in the (re)trial by combat. The text then decides I've had enough of that room, and forces me to leave.

Before long I reach another door, which leads into a lounge, comfortably equipped with fireplace, bookcase and skeleton. Not wishing to be attacked while investigating the furnishings, I first examine the skeleton, which turns out to be inanimate, and wearing a robe and boots. This being a gamebook, I naturally entertain the possibility of trying on the skeleton's footwear, which turns out to be a wise choice, as I now have a pair of Boots of Springing.

Most of the contents of the bookcase are torn or burnt (now I know Anakendis is evil), but this is where Mr. Whitworth riffed on The Citadel of Chaos, so I can read Secrets of the Caves or Life of Anakendis. The former doesn't mention any combination locks, but does point out that Anakendis' lair is beyond a bottomless chasm spanned by an invisible net. It also states that the catacombs have shrunk, which is a bit strange. Technically, there's nothing to prevent me from reading the other book as well, but I think I'm only supposed to look at one, so I'll leave the biography alone.

The fireplace itself is of little interest, but a ladder leads up the chimney, so I investigate that, climbing up to a small room that contains an Imp. He causes the ladder's rungs to vanish, but I react quickly enough to grab a handhold and pull myself up. The subsequent fight doesn't last long, and the only treasure the encounter nets me is a jewelled ring with no apparent magical properties.

I return to ground level and head north again, reaching a crossroads at which I have no choice but to go straight on. A 'small creature' (such an informative description) emerges from one of the side passages and starts to follow me, and I'm only given the options of ignoring it and attacking it. Reflecting sadly on the high proportion of FF creatures that are hostile, I go for the best form of defence. The creature is terrified, and scurries away, so I sheathe my sword. The creature then returns, introducing itself as Anakendis' servant Granzork, who has been sent to take me to meet his master if that is what I want. Suspecting a trap, I decline, but when he leaves, I discreetly follow him.

Granzork goes through a secret door into a tunnel that leads north-west. There's a door with a barred window at the end of this tunnel, but Granzork ignores it and goes north up an even smaller passage (which suggests to me that the definition of 'end' being used here is a little imprecise). Looking through the window, I see a spiked pit where the floor should be. The small passage becomes smaller as I go up it, and ends (in the more conventional sense of the word) at a door I cannot unlock.

Returning to the previous northbound passage, I find that it forks. Turning left, I reach a room with red sand all over the floor. A quick investigation of the sand turns up a box containing a key made of diamond. Possessing neither a magic rope nor a broom, I then have to walk across the room, and start to sink into the sand. Then I'm attacked by a Sand Squid (makes a change from a Giant Sandworm, though not necessarily a particularly sensible one). Hampered by the sand, I take a fair bit of damage, but ultimately I prevail.

Ploughing on through the sand, I catch my foot on a buried length of rope. Naturally I pull it. It's attached to the box that had the diamond key in (so how come I never noticed it when I found the box on the far side of the room, eh?).

A passage leads north from the room. After a while it's joined by another passage from the south (if I were attempting to map this place, I'd be in tears by now), but I just keep going forwards. The passage eventually opens out into a room, but a crystalline statue stands in the way, and it turns to face me as I approach. Similarities to the Crystal Warrior from Caverns of the Snow Witch are probably coincidental, as I'm pretty sure that the preview of that adventure didn't come out until after the competition entry deadline. However, I'm a little sceptical about the Warlock publication dates listed at the FF wiki, partly for reasons I'll go into in a little over a month, and partly because I find it unlikely that the issue 1 competition would have given readers less than a month in which to write a 200-section adventure. Anyway, I now realise that beyond the statue is the aforementioned bottomless chasm (and I initially mistook it for a room?).

Do you need me to point out that this is not a room? 

To get to the chasm I have to fight the statue, which has different stats from the Crystal Warrior and can be harmed by a sword (though only just). While I manage to chip away more than half its Stamina, it manages to get in a few blows against me, and as this is one of those tiresome adventures that only allows the consumption of Provisions when the text explicitly says you can eat, there's been no opportunity since I got a bit mutilated by the Sand Squid, and I used the Potion of Strength to move away from death's door following the spider bite, those few blows are enough to kill me. Well, I'm pretty sure I'd have been doomed on the far side owing to lack of essential items even if the statue hadn't done for me.

Next week, all being well, the FF adventure I shall be playing will be the superhero-themed Appointment With F.E.A.R. When I played it at the unofficial forum, I chose Super Strength as my power. I intend to try something else here. If any readers want to try and sway me in favour of one of the other three (Psi-Powers, Enhanced Technological Skill and Energy Blast), feel free to reply to this post with a vote for your preferred power.