Monday, 10 September 2012

But, for My Own Part, It Was Greek to Me

Lee Russell's Labyrinth ('based on a concept by Daedalus') was not included among the Corgi Books Tunnels & Trolls reissues, nor was it part of the job lot that included the three T&T adventures I've already attempted for this blog. I eventually came across a copy in Archeron Books (as was), a local shop that sold second-hand books and comics, with a sideline in gaming paraphernalia, and has in intervening years relocated twice, dropped the 'Books' from its name and become a gaming shop with a small selection of left-over books and comics. That was before I properly got back into gamebooks, and when interest waned, I wound up passing that copy on to Wood Ingham, a friend from university (and if you've self-Googled your way here, Wood, howdy). The copy I now have is a later edition, A4 rather than A5, with an odd Centaur/Minotaur hybrid on the cover, and that was part of the eBay job lot that included my third copy of Naked Doom.

Labyrinth is an Ancient Greece-styled dungeon crawl, taking something of a 'theme park' approach to history, myth and legend, so my character will be wandering around the eponymous labyrinth, seeking the exit, encountering assorted heroes, monsters and members of the Ancient Greek pantheon, and hoping not to run into the Minotaur. Only low-level human warriors are permitted, but that's not a problem, as I need to create another new character anyway.
Strength: 13
Intelligence: 10
Luck: 7
Constitution: 13
Dexterity: 14
Charisma: 14
Speed: 11
Not bad, apart from that Luck, but Luck is the easiest attribute to improve when levelling up, so if I can just survive long enough, I can turn him into a fairly respectable character. That's a big 'if', though.

So, with character motivation still in 'because it's there' mode, I bribe a Cretan to take me to the Labyrinth entrance, and just after I go inside, a convenient earthquake collapses the way I came in, forcing me to search for another way out. I shall be mapping as I go along, but I won't go into detail about directions here, because in a maze-like environment that could get almost as exciting as listing every single roll of the dice.

The first room I find contains Prometheus, to judge by what those eagles are doing to the man. If the options available are indicative of the sort of decisions made by Mr. Russell's RPG group, I'm a little concerned about some of the people with whom he was gaming. What sort of person responds to seeing a man chained to a rock with eagles trying to eat his liver by going, "I attack the man!"?

I don't want a fourth T&T character to die in the very first encounter, so I choose not to get involved, and just gape at the grisly spectacle like a motorist passing the site of a particularly nasty car accident. When the eagles have had their fill, they fly off, and Prometheus waxes philosophical about human moral advancement.

Moving on, I reach an L-intersection (isn't that what normally gets called 'a corner'?). There's a door set into one of the walls, so I go through that. Behind it is a forest (traditional dungeon ecology is deranged), home to an unclad nymph who can't have encountered many humans, considering the way she looks at me.

Now would be a good time to explain a little of my philosophy of rôle-playing. Anyone who really doesn't want to know what I have to say on the issue can skip ahead to the next paragraph - I'm not planning on an essay. Okay, to me, the 'game' element of gamebooks and RPGs is a big part of the framework. For the purpose of playing these games, I'm willing to have my character do things that I would avoid in the real world, but largely to the extent that the game requires it. My character will kill, steal, study magic and do other things I'd really rather not do in reality, when it's necessary for having a chance at winning the game. But this 'end justifies the means' approach is as far as I'm willing to diverge from my real-world ethical code. Having my character do something that I (hope I) never would, just because the option is there and I reckon he can get away with it? No, thanks.

Still, even if I didn't have the attitude described above, I doubt that my character would now be pursuing the nymph with less than pure intent. GCSE Latin included a few passages from Ovid's Metamorphoses, which incorporated some Greek myths, so I know that that sort of thing tends not to end well. And, given most gamebook writers' fondness for inflicting bizarre fates on players' characters, I suspect that in this instance, it won't be the nymph that gets transformed into a tree to protect her chastity. Consequently, I just talk to her. She leads me to a tree with leaves of real gold, and I help myself to a little of the wealth. A lucky roll means that she doesn't laugh and blow away the leaves I've collected, and I leave the room slightly better off than I was when I entered it.

Behind the next door I try is a small hydra with seven heads. I vaguely remember this encounter from a while back, but not well enough that I can perform a decent cost/benefit analysis on the fight. Well, at some point I'm going to have to take a risk, so I may as well chance things here. The heads attack one at a time, and this could be a very drawn-out fight, as the Hydra has a slight edge skill-wise, but my armour should protect me from most of the harm it can do. Monsters' ability to fight diminishes as they take damage, so once I've managed to hit the head, it should become easier to hit it again, but inflicting that first blow is going to be the tricky bit.

It's not as impressive when conducted through a doorway

Indeed, the first head hits me three times (but cannot get through my armour) before I manage to wound it, but after that, I hit it every round until it dies. Battling against the other heads takes much longer, but eventually I kill six and subdue the immortal one. By which time a dozen new heads have grown to replace the ones I killed, and they get to attack two at a time. Against such odds I have no chance, but I can retreat. Doing so means that I get bitten in the backside, but that would have happened if I hadn't fought at all, so I'm not significantly worse off for having fought as much as I could, and the Experience gained in the fight has brought me more than a tenth of the way to levelling up. (IIRC, if all twelve fresh heads are killed, the hydra collapses under the weight of the two dozen that grow in their place, which is quite amusing).

Rather unhelpfully, the retreat option says I have to go back the way I came (fair enough - that is what 'retreat' usually means), but doesn't bother listing the points of entry to the room, and as I haven't been including section numbers on the map, the only way of working out what I need to turn back to is to flick through the book until I find somewhere I know I've been before, and retrace my steps from there. To be fair, the introduction does have a warning about this buried in it, but it's still sub-optimal design.

Much wandering along featureless corridors ensues before I reach a room in which a group of drunken women are performing a Dionysian Mystery Rite. They may be Maenads, so I go back the way I came before I attract any attention. In the next room I find, I hear music, so I make myself scarce in case it's Siren song. Then I come across the Dionysians again (the room they're in is bigger than I realised), and a while after that, a random encounter gets my pocket picked by Hermes.

A chest labelled 'Gifts of the Gods' looks too much like a trap to be worth investigating. Another random encounter causes me to meet Poseidon, and my luck runs out. He turns hostile, and my character has to wave goodbye to the world. Another failure, then, but the most substantial T&T adventure I've yet had for the blog.

This appears to be Mr. Russell's sole contribution to the range, and I can't say I'm massively disappointed that there are no more adventures by him. The basic concept of an 'Ancient Greece' adventure is sound, but the implementation is a little lacking. The wandering around featureless corridors gets tedious after a while (this must be what the Maze of Zagor is like for normal people). At least when the Cretan Chronicles series got to the labyrinth, it used frescoes depicting scenes from mythology to add a touch of variety to all the trudging through passageways. Having said that, it's not a bad adventure. Just one that could have been a good deal better.

1 comment:

  1. I self Googled my way here. You know, I stumbled across the Labyrinth book a couple of weeks ago. I did not recall that it was you had given it me.