Monday, 30 September 2019

Lost Luggage and Lost Souls

Events in the real world are making it difficult for me to get motivated to play the gamebook I was planning to cover next at this blog, so instead I'm going to try and learn from my mistakes. As I have mentioned before now, there have been times when I bought a gamebook about which I knew little or nothing, went on to buy others in the same series before having a proper go at the one I now owned, and wound up discovering that the books were pretty rubbish (with the odd exception). If I'd actually bothered to play those initial purchases before succumbing to my completist tendencies, I'd have more shelf space and fewer lousy gamebooks. Also fewer rants here, so some readers may consider my choosing to exercise a little more caution for once a bad thing, but the shelf space thing is becoming a bit of a problem.

Back in the summer of 2005, I briefly visited my former home town of Tunbridge Wells because a couple of friends were getting married in the area. The day before I returned to Hull, I was able to do some browsing, and in a charity shop in Tonbridge I found and purchased a gamebook of which I'd not previously heard, which was part of a series of which I was equally ignorant. I read a little of it on the walk back to Tunbridge Wells, got annoyed when my character was robbed of a potentially useful item, and put the book away in my bag, meaning to get back to it later. I didn't expect 'later' to mean 'in a little over 14 years', but life got in the way.

The book was Clive Gifford's The Cosmic Toaster, from the Plot Busters series. The other day I happened upon a couple of other Plot Busters books, also by Mr. Gifford, so I'm going to have a proper go at Toaster to see if it's likely to be worth taking advantage of this opportunity to get more in the series, and I'm going to write it up here in an attempt at circumventing this reality-induced gamebook blogger's block.

Beyond inventory management, the book has no rules, so the 'How to play' page is pretty basic. It concludes with a substantial paragraph that aims to discourage cheating by pointing out that doing so will:
  1. adversely affect the replayability of the book
  2. diminish any bragging rights gained by succeeding at the adventure, and
  3. potentially lead to my being arrested and taken for torture by the Plutonian Fib Police.
I prefer not to cheat anyway, though some books do make it necessary to creatively interpret the rules to have any chance of success. This seems unlikely to be one of them.

It is the year 2677, and I am Griddle, an apprentice kitchen orderly in the Imperial Palace. My immediate superior, the Deputy Junior Assistant Imperial Chef, catches me researching 20th century cookery on my antiquated CD viewer when I should be working, and punishes me with a shift of welding cheese onto a cake. Once that's done, and I approach him for a new chore, he admits that he's irritable because he's worried. The Imperial High Priestess of the known universe is having one of her whims, and this one seems even worse than the time she wanted all her meals colour-coordinated with her favourite dress. So many chefs have been imprisoned for failing to provide whatever it is that she wants, my boss fears that he's now next in line to become Breakfast Chef, and shortly afterwards to join his predecessors in the dungeons.

All too soon his fears prove accurate, and he's not the last of the kitchen staff to disappear. Eventually I decide to try and find out exactly what has caused the downfall of so many colleagues, and attempt to confront the High Imperial Priestess in the Great Chamber. Droids intercept me, but the scuffle attracts Her Most Greatness' attention, so I ask why so many chefs have been imprisoned.

"Toast."

Chief advisor Faxit clarifies her answer. Way back in the 22nd century, Her All Powerfulness once tasted the Earth delicacy called toast, and now she has a hankering for more, but the secret of making it has been lost. One after another, the chefs have tried and failed to create the dish, and have been punished for their lack of success.

My mouth overtaking my brain, I blurt out something I read on a CD: there is apparently still one toaster in existence, on the planet Neptune, in the possession of a troll of some kind. The Priestess orders me to travel to Neptune and fetch the toaster, overriding Faxit's protests that the mission should be entrusted to someone better qualified. I could try refusing to go, but considering the way the Priestess has punished so many of her staff for being unable to do what she wants, there's no way that outright defiance of an order can end well for me.

I have a few minutes in which to pack before embarking on my quest, and take a moment to refer to my CD reader. The screen is barely functional, but I can still make out half a dozen options, some more obviously germane to the situation than others. Would 'About this machine' give any indication of how I might be able to keep the device running? Or is this going to be my only shot at getting data that could help me achieve my goal? I'll see what I can find out about that Troll.

It would appear that Trolls are not as bad as they're made out to be. Sure, they have perpetrated the odd dismemberment, but not enough to merit the near-genocidal attentions of the superheroes who have brought them to the brink of extinction. They spend most of their time clearing away astroweed, which has a strange tendency to grow in profusion wherever Trolls go, and worshipping. A glitch in the CD reader somewhat scrambes the data on Trollish religious practises, but I can read mirror writing with little difficulty, and thus have no trouble learning that three-eyed Trolls venerate household objects, and tend to get violent if challenged about this. As an average Troll weighs 1200kg, getting into a fight with one is inadvisable. Judging by the last line of text on the screen, I may need to track down a tin opener and then persuade the Troll that it's more sacred than the toaster.

There may be time for one more bit of research. While I am a little curious about what relevance the Great Cosmoburger Wars could have, I think finding out what I can about the CD reader may be more useful in the long run. Or maybe not: most of the technical data on the Uranuco Series 7000 is summarised in volumes 6, 71 and 193 of the condensed user manual, which may have been provided back when the original owner first bought the device, but is nowhere to be seen by now.

As punishment for my time-wasting, I am only issued with eight galactic credits to fund my endeavours. I'm advised to remember that my exit code from Neptune is the opposite of my entry code. As I collect my cybersack, the Imperial Dentist bursts into the room and implants a tooth containing my travel details. The accompanying illustration, showing my POV of this surgical procedure, 'incidentally' includes the printout of my entry code, so I make a note of that.

Proceeding to the Cruiser that will take me to Neptune, I find that I'm in cargo class, along with some crates of jet scooter parts and a gang of Martian Astral Polo hooligans. Checking my inventory, I find that I've forgotten to pack the CD reader. While double-checking that I didn't just fail to spot it mixed in with my nuclear candle, peeling knife, cheesecake and tin of spaceflea stew, I drop a CD, which rolls away from me and is grabbed by a Martian for frisbee practice. It's not going to be a lot of use without the reader, but could still come in handy somehow, so I'm going to risk getting into a fight with the hooligan. Well, I would have, but my travel tooth beams the message "Don't bother," into my brain, and I'm going to assume that that's an instance of being given the opportunity to reconsider an unwise move rather than the author treacherously attempting to discourage an essential course of action.

The journey becomes tedious, and the mutant Celery in front of me gets stroppy when I try to read over its shoulder (or equivalent growth). I could try and sneak a vidicom machine out of Luxury Class, but it wouldn't surprise me if there were some useful or essential information hidden away in the in-flight magazine. In fact, there's quite a selection of outdated periodicals in the pouch. Disregarding the tabloid and the puzzle magazine, I'm left with a choice of What Matter Transporter and Universe Today News.

I take a chance on the latter, which includes a couple of reports concerning Neptune: once-popular superhero Thorag is now a fugitive from the Food Enforcers because of his brawling, and illegal chess-playing rings are on the increase. There's also an ad for the Galax Lottery, with an amusing disclaimer in the small print. The cover date indicates the magazine to be a century old, so I don't know if any of this is still relevant, and I'm sure I'll wind up kicking myself if I wind up having to make a blind choice between different models of matter transporter, but there's still a slim chance that there's something useful to know in there.

The Cruiser reaches Neptune, and a stroppy robot demands to know the purpose of my visit to 'this hell hole'. Given the robot's attitude, claiming to be a tourist may sound suspicious, so I risk telling the truth. A sceptical Food Enforcer promptly takes over my case, and I am 'escorted' away to be searched. My food items are confiscated, and I'm about to be thrown into a dungeon when an underling points out to the Inspector that my travel tooth hasn't been checked. The Enforcer Dentist is summoned, and the tooth confirms that I am working for the High Priestess (but is inadvertently extracted during the scanning process). Not wishing to annoy Her Incredible Fragrantness, the Inspector becomes apologetic, and it takes me a while to remember the formal response, so he's forced to grovel for an awkwardly long time.

Before letting me go, the Inspector asks what a toaster is, and when I explain, he says there's no such thing on Neptune. All foodstuffs and cooking devices have been banned in order to prevent a recurrence of the events that triggered the Great Cosmoburger Wars, and tablets are the only source of nutrition here. I think it unlikely that anyone would have dared tell the Troll that his toaster needed to be destroyed, so I take the Inspector's claims with the permitted level of sodium chloride.

As I get ready to move on, the Inspector advises me to seek assistance from the Food Enforcers' main office in the city of Neptunia. I'll bear that in mind, but I start by visiting the Tourist Information Centre, which contains only a poster advertising the casino, a vidicom, and a hovering grey box that attempts to persuade me to join the waiting list for the Galactic Theme Park. When I insist on asking for information on Trolls, the box says that they live in the Wilderness That Knows No Name, and hardly anybody knows where that is. My best bet would be to keep a look out for kitchen appliance-seeking Trolls at the auction house or antique shop. The box dispenses a crumpled map of Neptunia and warns me that jumping from Hoverway Two to Hoverway One could be dangerous owing to the ongoing hoverworks.

Proceeding towards Neptunia, I catch sight of a café with the unappealing name Chez URGH. It could be that URGH is a perfectly normal name on the proprietor's home world, and there's nothing wrong with the meal tablets they serve, but I'm not going to take that chance. Close by is Hoverway One, and I jump on it and start gliding towards the city centre.

The layout of the street depicted doesn't match the map: the buildings are on the wrong side of the road. The side street looks like a good place to get mugged, and I'd want to be sure of the mood of the mob in Priestess Square before I try confronting them. Agful Antiques obviously merits a visit, but I think I'll check out the Museum first. The place seems deserted, and is dark, but my nuclear candle provides adequate illumination. On the wall is a map of the maze-like layout of the Museum, and an area on it illuminates when I ask about the Troll exhibit. Three passages lead away from where I am, but the map enables me to figure out which is the only one that will get me to where I need to go.

Unhelpfully, the passage leads me to the Astral Polo exhibit, where I learn that, owing to the use of black holes as the goals (or 'Peles', to use game-specific terminology), games tend to end after the first Pele is scored, there being no way of retrieving the ball. For the purposes of bug-checking rather than cheating, I take a quick look at the sections for the other passages, and one of them does lead to the Troll exhibit, though on the map that one goes only to three dead ends. Up until that error I was rather enjoying the book, but such sloppiness has soured my mood.

Forced to leave the Museum, I now visit the antique shop. A three-eyed old lady is dusting some of the stock, and tells me that she used to have a toaster in stock, but a Troll took it a century ago. The Troll actually came to the shop in search of the Sacred Butter Dish, but the shop didn't have a butter dish, and the Troll decided that the toaster was the next best thing. He left behind a pointed stone, which is still in the shop. In the intervening years, the owner has also acquired a butter dish, though it doesn't look particularly sacred. Nevertheless, I buy the stone and the dish.

Checking the map again, I see that the auction house is just off Priestess Square, so I suppose I'd better go to the square after all. A Plutonian explains that the crowd has gathered for the auction of a genuine Earth motor vehicle. I opt to stick around just to see what the vehicle actually is, and am slightly disappointed when it turns out to be a sports car - I was expecting something more quirky, like a dodgem car or a Bigtrak. The bidders are not impressed either, heaping scorn on it for not hovering or having an autopilot. Despite the fact that it could be useful for traversing the Wilderness (the only place on Neptune it may be driven, owing to the noise and toxic emissions), and the first bid placed is for just two credits, I don't have the option of trying to buy it.

Unless I want to test my theory about the side street, all I can do now is use Hoverway Two to head to another part of town. Here I can see the previously mentioned hoverworks (there's a nice visual gag in the illustration), and visit a Diner, the Food Enforcers' main office, or a Travel Agent's. The book suggests that I might be able to get a map of the Wilderness at the latter, so I check that out. A giant Stellar Parrot starts telling me about various holidays I could go on, and when I'm finally able to make my wishes known, the Parrot advises me to seek Glug the Soothsayer in a nearby alley. I turn to leave, and the Parrot adds that I'll need a matter transporter. Definitely chose the wrong magazine, then.

The alley looks insalubrious even by Neptunian standards, but I head into it anyway. A club-wielding mutant Celery blocks my way and demands a bribe. I refuse to be intimidated, and he refuses to let me past, so I have to leave the alley.

Back at the Hoverway, I decide to see if the Food Enforcers can help me at all. I give the code number mentioned by the Inspector, leading the Enforcer on the desk to assume that I'm an undercover Enforcer. Commenting that they don't have many Trolls on file as most of them stay out of trouble, he leads me to the filing room, where I see a wanted poster depicting Thorag. By now I think I've made enough mistakes to have no chance of success, so even if asking about the poster causes me to miss out on information about criminal Trolls, it's not going to make things much worse. And it's just an aside on the way to the Troll records anyway, revealing that the lack of new enemy galaxies to conquer has caused Thorag to hit the alcopills and pick fights with anyone who looks at him.

The Enforcer finds some century-old vidifits of Troll villains. Three of the five have no name on record, and the second of those three seems the most likely candidate, as 'Theft of pointy stone' is one of the charges against him (along with 'Pretending to be interesting' and 11 separate counts of robot bashing). The record also notes a possible connection with Martian Astral Polo fans, and unhelpfully gives his address as a hut somewhere in the Wilderness. The Enforcer indicates one of the other unnamed Trolls and tells me that it had no vocal cords or tongue.

That's as much information as I'm likely to get here, so I take a chance on checking out the Diner. That turns out to be a bad move, though things would have gone differently if I still had any food on me. As it is, a three-headed waitress cons me into spending a credit on a meal with some old Earth ingredients she managed to buy before the planet was towed away - a pill with mustard and ketchup on it.

I don't want to risk returning to Hoverway One, so I'm more or less finished in Neptunia. All that remains before I leave is a trip to Honest Zarg's Matter Transporters. Zarg is very talkative, and puts one of her three arms around my shoulder as she leads me around the showroom. It turns out that in this world 'matter transporter' has nothing to do with teleportation - they're just vehicles. One of them is out of my price range, though I could try visiting the casino in the hope of winning more credits. Mind you, the expensive model comes with an autopassenger - an AI designed to provide company on long journeys, with personality types such as Constant Talker, Loud Snorer and Hated Enemy - so I'm probably better off not getting that one anyway.

The cheapest model is probably dangerous, so I opt for the Protox Four. As I speed away on it, the gamebook describes an incident of which my character is not aware: Troll criminal Nikit congratulates Zarg on the transaction she just conducted and steals the credits I paid her.

My having failed to obtain a map of the Wilderness may prove my downfall, as the trail splits at a lone tree. I choose a direction at random, eventually reaching an astroweed-infested hut built from mud, twigs and matter transporter parts. As I knock on the door, a Troll sneaks up behind me. He introduces himself as Drago the Disappointing, and when I explain that I'm from the Imperial High Priestess's kitchen, he offers me some Earth cookbooks. Then, living up to his name, he remembers that he made a fire with them yesterday. To make up for it, he mentions that the Troll on the other side of the Wilderness has a toaster. Drago doesn't care if I take it, as he's a Frying Pan worshipper himself.

I head back the way I came, but at the tree the matter transporter's failsafe engages and a computer takes over the steering, returning me to Neptunia because there's only enough fuel remaining for that trip. When I object, the computer starts complaining about how it used to be one of the chess-playing greats, and had to become a cabbie following the criminalisation of the game, so I turn down the volume on the speaker.

As soon as I arrive back at Zarg's, she launches into a disclaimer denying all responsibility for whatever might be wrong with the matter transporter, and is surprised when I interject that I just need more fuel. There are, of course, complications: the Imperial High Priestess has grown impatient, and is threatening to have Neptune closed down. The announcement of this has caused citywide panic, leading to fuel rationing, so while Zarg does still have one fuel pill, she's not prepared to let me have it. I attempt to take it anyway, and she seizes my arms with two of hers and uses the third one to knock me out.

I come round in cold, wet darkness. The nuclear candle is still in my cybersack, so I switch it on, off again, and back on once I've calmed myself. I'm in jail, and one of the force-field shackles hanging from the wall has a skeletal arm in it. Scrawled on the wall close by is a riddle, which I solve in case doing so will be of some assistance. I take a quick look at the section with the number indicated by the riddle, but that's completely unrelated to my current situation, so unless I got the wrong answer, it would appear that prison cell graffiti is not actually an indicator of a way out. How disappointingly like real life.

Time passes. A Food Enforcer opens the door and lets me know how lucky I am: rather than allowing me to face vigilante justice, they've merely arrested me, and as I wasn't guilty of a food offence, I'm in the deluxe prison. The thought that somewhere on Neptune there are cells even more unwelcoming than this one does little to improve my mood.

More time passes. There's a flash of light and a smell of burning, and suddenly Faxit is in the cell with me. He explains that her Majesty doesn't want me languishing here, and then gets distracted by the fact that the teleporter set his clothing on fire. I use my water supply to extinguish the flames, and Faxit hands me a headset and confirms that the answer to that riddle is what I'd calculated it to be. I put the headset on, and it renders me unconscious.

I come round in cold, wet darkness again. The nuclear candle reveals that I'm now languishing in the High Priestess's personal dungeon on Jupiter. This is not an improvement. It is, however, the end of my adventure.

Apart from that bit with the mixed-up section numbers on the maze puzzle, that was pretty entertaining. Absurd, but intentionally so, for comic and satirical effect, rather than because the writer was showing contempt for the readers' critical faculties. I think I'm going to end up buying those other Plot Busters books I found after all.

Sunday, 8 September 2019

Scramble for a Living

Brett Schofield is almost certainly the most talented of the artists who’ve illustrated Fighting Fantazine mini-adventures. For issue 5 he went that bit further, and provided the words of Bones of the Banished as well as the pictures.

The hero is a young member of one of the tribes of humans who eke out a living on the Plain of Bones. Following the recent death of Ngodo the chieftain in a not-remotely-suspicious hunting accident, Valfrek the shaman has proclaimed the ancient Rite of Banishment. All eligible adults are to be thrown out of the tribe, and each must seek a trophy in the wilderness. Whoever returns with the best trophy becomes the new chieftain (assuming there’s still any tribe there to lead once it’s been left undefended for around a month while every remotely competent fighter goes off into a dinosaur-infested wasteland to try and single-handedly beat up a few apex predators). I've recently come of age, so I have to actively seek death rather than sit and wait for it.

My anticipation of failure is partly based on the 'Hints on Play' section in the rules, which more or less states that I'll need to make multiple unsuccessful attempts at the adventure before I can start to figure out what I actually need to do to have a shot at winning. The first time I attempted to play Bones, I made doubly sure of failure by rolling a mediocre Skill. As I recall, my character ended up dying while fighting a feline predator in a tree, though it wasn’t his opponent that killed him: a bad roll early on caused him to fall off the branch and sustain lethal injuries upon hitting the ground.

Doomed though I almost certainly am, I shall nevertheless be allocating dice: a decent Skill should give me more chance of surviving long enough to learn something that'll be of use on subsequent attempts.
Skill 12
Stamina 18
Luck 12
There's also a non-random stat called Delays, which will come into play if I survive the first half of the adventure, and in addition to my dagger and Provisions, I get to take either a rope or a torch with me. I choose the torch. 

Before heading out across the Plain I may speak with someone. Last time I made the mistake of talking to the shaman's miserable apprentice, who said something discouraging and hit me with a Luck penalty. The tribe's best hunter is unlikely to say anything helpful to a rival, which narrows the options down to my childhood friend Paru and my close friend Kuwi.

I choose Kuwi, who turns out to be the most beautiful woman in the village, and daughter of Wanushu, the aforementioned mighty hunter. This kind of detail should have been included in the section where I was offered the choice of person to approach: my character would already have known such things, and it would be useful for the reader to be aware (for example) that Wanushu is an overprotective father who almost certainly disapproves of our friendship. I hope that 'will require several attempts' warning at the start doesn't come with an unsaid 'because the author is withholding information and will harshly penalise players for not taking into account facts he deliberately failed to mention'.

Kuwi recommends seeking out the terrible winged lizard that dwells in the black mountain to the north. She also urges me to try and kill it quickly, as she's not comfortable with having all the village's best fighters sent away like this.

Well, the sooner I get going, the sooner I'll be back. Or dead. On my previous attempt I disregarded Kuwi's hint about the lizard because of my sub-par Skill, but this time I could be in with a chance, so I'll head north. This leads me through a light forest of thorn trees, and my Skill enables me to avoid hurting myself as I pick my way through it.

Beyond the trees I find grassland, and I see water in the distance. This turns out to be a watering hole, which is being used by many of the local fauna, including Antelope, Buffalo and Threehorns. I can stop for a drink or press on to the west, which is odd, as I was heading north. Maybe west is because the watering hole prevents me from continuing straight ahead and, I don't know, some stupid tribal custom forbids going anticlockwise around bodies of water. Or perhaps it's sloppiness, or change of direction enforced by authorial fiat.

I drink, and random chance determines that... nothing happens, so I move on. To the west, judging by the section number. Except that that section says that I'm far to the north of the village. And, as it's already been entered into my gamebook manager, I must have passed through it on my first attempt at the adventure, in which I started out by going east. I'd hate to have to map this region.

Anyway, night is falling, and I must decide whether to risk sleeping in the open or shelter in a tree. I'm not making the mistake I did last time: that chance of falling is no respecter of Skill, and it would be foolish to invite the same death that ended my previous attempt. Especially as the only noteworthy thing I've learned so far on this playthrough is that the local geography is disconcertingly muddled.

Nothing dangerous happens when I sleep in the open. The author just described it as a risk in order to trick readers into encountering the real threat in the tree. In the morning I must eat or lose Stamina, but there's a loophole in the rules that would make me better off going hungry now and voluntarily eating a meal later in the day. The same oddity is present in many FF gamebooks, but a mistake doesn't stop being a mistake just because lots of people make it.

Anyway, it's time I was heading off to wherever Mr. Schofield has decided I should be going. Which is somewhere other than north, as I am startled by a loud cracking noise that seems to emanate from a group of men and camels in that direction, and have the option of approaching them instead of continuing towards the cliffs towards which I had been trekking. The interstitial illustration just above this section depicts a crude firearm, which could be a hint (deliberate or otherwise) about the source of the noise. I think I'd better investigate further.

There are four people in the group, a Dwarf (though, presumably never having encountered his kind before, I take him to be a small human) and three non-locals whose clothing and mode of transport suggests that they come from a desert region. The Dwarf tells me that he's come from the city of Vynheim on a hunting expedition (which, in terms of distance, is a bit like someone from Berlin employing a few natives of Toulouse as tour guides for a trip to Rome). It's not going well, and he's proving a lousy shot with the blunderbuss he borrowed (he incorrectly says 'loaned', but I'm willing to attribute the confusion of opposite-meaning verbs to the character rather than the author). If I had a trophy I didn't need, I might be able to get something worthwhile in return for it. As it is, all I gain here is the knowledge that I should try and find something to kill before I get this far the next time I have a go at the adventure.

Heading on towards the cliffs, I learn something else that would have been self-evident to my character: I'm approaching the gorge inhabited by my people's traditional enemies the Oldbone tribe. I could turn back, but since the author went to such lengths to bring me this way, I suspect that I'm going to have to keep going. Especially as leaving is said to be 'safer', which is a warning sign after 'risk' proved the less lethal option when choosing where to spend the night.

On the alert for guards, I become nervous when I catch sight of a lookout post which appears to have been left unmanned. Indeed, the whole area seems more desolate than it should be. I think I'd better investigate. Descending into the gorge, I search for the entrance to the Oldbones' caves, and my high Luck guarantees success. Judging by the abandoned spears I find just inside, this place used to be guarded, but something must have befallen the guards. Can I find out what without falling victim to it myself?

The text compels me to head further into the caves, and the passage splits. No clues as to whether left or right is the better option, so I arbitrarily pick left. This leads through various chambers showing signs of recent occupation, but there's nobody here. Eventually I reach a cavern in which three holes have been gouged out of the rock and then covered with lids woven from branches and bones, with large stones holding them shut. Could be used to imprison animals or wrongdoers. I'll take a chance on opening one, in case there's someone in there who can tell me something useful.

I can choose which hole to check. Annoyingly, the section for investigating the middle one is directly before the one offering that choice, and I inadvertently glimpse enough to see that it leads to trouble. Well, I'm not going to let sloppy design deny me the opportunity to make a decision, so I'm ignoring that spoiler and going for the leftmost pit.

The hole is too deep for me to be able to see what's in it. I hear a moaning sound, possibly human in origin, and an unpleasant smell emanates from the hole, but I can't find out anything more without a rope, and I don't have one of them.

A systematic investigation would now have me turn my attention to the middle hole, but I'm still annoyed at the placing of that section, so I'll try the rightmost one instead. That one is also too deep for me to be able to find anything out without using a rope. What possessed the Oldbones to excavate such deep pits? I could understand them using deep ones that already existed, but the text indicated that these are not naturally-occurring holes, which means the tribe went to the effort of chiselling their way through tens of metres of solid rock when a dozen or so would most likely have sufficed.

And nobody involved in the production of Bones spotted the use of the wrong section number for looking in the leftmost hole here. Having one of the choices in section 180 lead to section 180 is even more careless than having 135 give 134 as an option.

Logically, there's no real reason why 'I tried it on a previous attempt and bad stuff happened' should be a more legitimate reason for avoiding a decision that 'I accidentally caught sight of the section and saw that bad stuff happens in it'. Nevertheless, it feels that way, so I am now going to check out the middle pit to give myself grounds to not do so when I play this again (assuming I ever get that far).

A big tentacle emerges and wraps around my throat. I have only a few rounds of combat in which to defeat it before it can drag me to my doom, but my Skill is high enough that I have a decent chance. It's a close call, but I do just succeed. However, further tentacles emerge from the hole, forcing me to flee. I also pick up a codeword - a straightforward example of the 'word related to what just happened, only spelled backwards' technique that Jonathan Green has employed on several occasions, so the suggestion in the rules section that readers would find it difficult to grasp the significance of the codewords used in the adventure is frankly insulting.

Back at the entrance I can investigate the other turning or leave. That codeword means it's probably a bad idea to stick around, but I suspect that by now I've already missed more than enough to guarantee failure, so I might as well find out as much as I can in these caves before meeting whatever grisly end awaits.

The other passage splits into three, and the choice here is marginally more informed than in the entrance cave: something glows to the left, the passage straight ahead descends sharply, and to the right I can only see darkness. I was denied the opportunity to check out both non-tentacle-containing pits by my having chosen a torch rather than a rope, so if the torch doesn't prove of any help with the darkness I shall be even more peeved than I already am.

Yes, the torch is useful. Proceeding to the right without it would mean a temporary and substantial Skill penalty. The passage leads to a hall with a throne in it, and there's actually someone here - the Oldbone chieftain, judging by the crown. Disconcertingly, he doesn't react to my arrival, and just goes on staring at the wall opposite.

I tell him to note down the codeword 'evitnettani', and a red glow enters into his eyes. Moving like a man possessed, he attacks me with his spear, winning a statistically improbable number of rounds before I kill him. As he dies, his mind returns to him, and he accuses me of having been sent to kill him by the man who took his people in return for worthless stones. Given that just in front of the throne is a heap of gems that appear to be my people's handiwork, that has some ominous implications. And his dying declaration that I'll end up a slave too isn't exactly encouraging, either. I take his crown as a trophy and return to the junction.

Next I take the left branch, and discover that that glow is daylight: the end of the passage looks out into the gorge. I risk a closer look, seeing that it's a long way to the bottom. Turning away, I am startled to see a spear-wielding Oldbone warrior, who attacks. Luckily, I dodge his initial attack, grabbing the haft of his spear and using it to unbalance him and send him plummeting to a messy death several hundred metres below.

There's nothing else to be done here, so I go back to the junction and try the middle passage. This leads less precipitously to the bottom of the gorge. Two openings lead out, both blocked with gates made out of bones. I open the smaller gate and step out into the gorge. Close by is a pit, which I investigate. It appears too deep for me to be able to get out again if I enter it, and may have been used for gladiatorial combat, judging by the blood and bone on the floor. I shan't take a closer look, what with the apparent impossibility of getting out again.

Heading left along the gorge, I see splatters of what's probably guano on the ground, and a nest on a ledge further up. Having come all this way, I might as well investigate the contents of the nest. It's big, and contains a large egg and some human remains. Suddenly cast into shadow, I look up to see the owner of the nest swooping to defend it. Luck is not with me, and the beast seizes me and starts to fly up. A roll of the die determines whether or not I'm able to break free, and I succeed, though a second roll to determine falling damage almost finishes me off, and then the Quetzalcoatlas swoops to the attack again. Despite the Attack Strength penalty for my precarious position, I survive, and I take the egg as a trophy, since there's nothing else of note in the nest.

Returning to the caves, I head back up, and this is where I face the consequences of having opened up the middle pit. The time I took descending and coming back up again has allowed the owner of the tentacles to extricate itself and follow me, and the creature hasn't come to thank me for releasing it. Against the whole thing rather than a lone tentacle, I don't stand a chance.

As I noted at the start of this playthrough, Brett Schofield is a talented illustrator.