Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Big Hand's on 120, Little Hand's on E

The little I can remember of my first attempt at Ian Livingstone's Freeway Fighter suggests that I went about playing it in a rather unorthodox manner. I'm pretty sure that I started reading it on the way home, and thus used no dice for the early encounters. I investigated a tailback, failed to acquire the essential plastic tubing, and cheated when that should have led to failure, but then I used dice in the race against Leonardi, got cross when lousy rolls meant that not even having a supercharger could help me win, and gave up without even checking on the consequences of losing the race (which I now know not to be an automatic game-ender).

My previous playthrough didn't last long, but it's here if you want to read it. My current copy of the book is slightly odd, as the copyright information makes out that it's one of the 1986 reprints, but the inside of the front cover shows pictures of the covers of the first two FF books published in '87. And the list of books in the series just over the page omits both of them, as well as the two that preceded them.

It is some time in the 2020s. In July 2022 an unknown disease wiped out 85% of the Earth's population, and civilisation broke down the way it tends to in such circumstances. Over the course of the next six months, the survivors divided into self-sufficient fortress communities and barbarian gangs of racers and bikers. I'm a member of the former category, an inhabitant of the town of New Hope, and have been picked for an important mission because I have
Skill 10
Stamina 31 (if only Ian's other non-fantasy gamebook were as generous with the number added to the dice)
Luck 10
The people of San Anglo in the south have arranged a trade: a big tanker of petrol from their refinery in return for our surplus grain and seed. I have to take the sacks of produce south in a modified Dodge Interceptor, which has been fitted with a variety of weapons straight out of Battlecars, and now looks like
Firepower 12
Armour 32
If I fail, it's more likely to be because of the narrow path than the dice, though the 'success or failure' Test your Luck at the end could be nasty.

It's the first time I've been outside New Hope in over a year, so either I was something of a recluse before the pandemic devastated humanity, or it's some time after the 'six months later'. The outside world is in a pretty sorry state by now. I make a brief stop at a small town around 15km away, and hear a shotgun. There's no real need for me to investigate, but I do anyway, and an unseen man threatens me and asks where I'm from. I tell him, and he becomes less hostile, explaining that he's headed for New Hope. He warns me that Joe's Garage 8km from here is a front for some robbers, and we go our separate ways.

Before long I reach Joe's, and make an authorially imposed stop to check out the pristine hot-rod close by. A young woman emerges from the garage and offers her services. In case the item that can be acquired here is actually useful, I get out of the car. Not particularly surprisingly, a shaven-headed thug with a crowbar leaps out from behind a petrol pump and demands my keys and money. I draw my knife (maybe I'm easily confused - like a key, it's made of metal, long and thin, and can be used to open things), and a test run of the physical combat rules soon leaves the thug unconscious.

His accomplice promptly departs in the hot-rod, and I do not give chase: thanks to previous attempts at the book, I know that she's placed a small mine by one of my wheels, but if I take the time to search the garage before driving off, the mine will fall through a hole in the plot and not force me to use up a spare tyre. Also, I find a chain in the garage.

On the highway I get the Interceptor up to 190kph, but then an armoured Chevrolet with a machine-gun turret comes at me to enforce the speed limit or give me a chance to try out the vehicle combat rules or give Ian vicarious revenge on a driver who annoyed him while he was working on the book or something. Damage is randomised, as a result of which I scratch the Chevvy's (sic) paintwork a few times, then blow two massive holes in it.

On my way once more, I get a radio call from one of New Hope's leaders, whom Ian didn't bother to name. She tells me that a gang of bikers just attacked, and kidnapped council leader Sinclair. Back when the book was being written, Mr. Livingstone could have had no idea that that particular name was about to acquire some regrettable associations on the roads.

Another hour of travel, and I have to use my one spare can of fuel. You'd think that on such a crucial mission, I'd make sure I had a lot of spare petrol in case of unexpected complications, but no, I just set off with inadequate supplies, and will have to keep finding convenient top-ups along the way if I want to complete the journey.

After a while, I see an ambulance at the side of the road. It's booby-trapped, so I shan't go anywhere near it, but it is a landmark on the best route to the next refuelling stop, so it merits a mention. I go the wrong way at the next junction, but get the option of turning back when I see signs that I'm not welcome, and that unnecessary detour won't make any difference to my fuel consumption because that's not how it works in the grim and gritty future.

Back on track, I see a roadblock up ahead. The Interceptor's weapons include a few rockets, so I use one of them to clear the way. Two bikers ride out from behind a bush, one of them firing at me. It occurs to me that maybe the 'roadblock' was actually a piece of modern art that they'd been constructing, so I decide to follow them and explain how my hitting it with an explosive missile was actually an artistic statement. They respond with a critique of their own, delivered via the medium of headlamp-mounted machine-gun, I answer them in much the same way, and the synthesis of our artistic visions creates a piece I decide to call Wrecked bike and two dead men.

Something about the composition isn't quite right, so I try removing the money, map and handcuffs from the bike's pannier. That works better, but Ian Livingstone then insists on contributing to the tableau, thereby changing the title to Continuity error: it is possible for my car to lose a wheel during this encounter, but that's not what establishes whether or not I use one of my spares here. Check the pannier, change the wheel, whether I need to or not. Leave it untouched, and I'd just drive off, even if the Interceptor only had three wheels left.

The map from the pannier implies that these bikers were from the gang that attacked New Hope, and that they have a base in Rockville, south-east of here. I dig out my CD of Reckoning and play track 9 as I head off to discuss the creative process with the rest of the gang. This dialogue expands upon the 'large projectile' motif of the earlier collaboration, but the bikers' Badly aimed bazooka fails to inspire me, and I wind up essentially repeating my previous piece, merely replacing bike with hideout in the title.

Sinclair is locked in a nearby shack, so I release him, and he takes a Harley Davidson and heads back to New Hope. I find a can of petrol in Rockville's general store, and a booby trap and a pair of wire-cutters in a nearby house. Then I drive off again, encountering nothing of note for the rest of the day. I do need to refuel again before dark, though, so it's a good thing I found that can of petrol.

I spend the night asleep on the back seat, then set off again in the morning. Another armoured car starts to chase me, so I test out the Interceptor's oil spray, sending my pursuer into a skid. And then a ditch.

Later, a bumpy side-road attracts my attention, and I drive down it to a gate with a machine-gun-toting guard. He assumes that I'm from a gang, and I make up an affiliation on the spot. It turns out that assorted gang members are about to do some racing here, and I decide to join in, as I'm pretty sure that's the only way of getting more fuel before the next check - a petroleum-based application of the old 'have to spend money to make money' maxim.

The third rule of Race Club is, 'No holds barred, except bullets and rockets' (I think the first two rules are something to do with eviscerating anyone who makes inappropriate Fight Club references). I'm racing against someone in a yellow Ford, equipped with two machine-guns (that he shouldn't be allowed to use) and a grenade launcher.

I get off to a good start, but the Ford is evidently fitted with a supercharger, and the driver starts ramming me. He doesn't manage to send me out of control, though, and the grenade he fires in anticipation of my acceleration is a dud. Deciding that it's time for a little retaliation, I drop a canister of iron spikes, inflicting a slow puncture. Before long we reach the house that marks the turning point on the track, and as we start heading back, the Ford driver begins sideswiping the Interceptor, which does more harm to his car than mine. Up ahead, the track narrows to cross a bridge, so I accelerate and get across first.

But every little victory I've had in this race is just window-dressing before the climax, at which everything hinges on which way I swerve. Remembering the correct direction is complicated by another error in the text. I know that one of the following happens:
  1. I'm supposed to go right. I swerve right. The book says 'you swerve left and win'.
  2. I'm supposed to go right. I swerve left. The book says 'you swerve right and lose'.
  3. I'm supposed to go left. I swerve right. The book says 'you swerve left and lose'.
  4. I'm supposed to go left. I swerve left. The book says 'you swerve right and win'.
However, I don't recall which of those it is, and my memory is too busy fixating on the existence of the mistake to hang on to the more important detail of whether I should pick left or right.

Blog statistics indicate a significant probability that someone will come to this entry as a result of a Google search along the lines of 'Freeway Fighter Blitz Race which way to turn'. It would, thus, be mean of me to say that I discover the mistake to be either number 2 or number 3, and not to narrow the field any further.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Incidentally, a Happy Christmas to All of You at Home

Another out-of-sequence adventure, for reasons that should be obvious. Proteus 15 was a 'special bumper issue', containing a straightforward adventure, a reprint of the one from issue 6, as back copies had sold out but there was still significant demand for it, and a festive mini-adventure, Elizabeth Caldwell's In Search of Christmas.

My only real memory of playing it 25 years ago is of actively seeking out the 'fatal crash' ending, as ISoC looked like (but turned out not to be) the sort of trite and twee kiddie nonsense that wouldn't allow any real harm to come to the hero, and I wanted to find out if it was actually possible to die in the adventure. It was. While not as serious as your average Proteus adventure, ISoC has its challenges, and I failed more than once when playing it for review purposes last decade. Doing those reviews also made me aware that ISoC is by far the better of the new adventures in that issue, but I should save the ranting about the other one for 2014, and focus on the one I'm actually going to play today.

It starts early on Christmas morning in an ill-defined but implicitly slightly futuristic setting, as I wake to find my stocking full of bizarre and unpleasant gag gifts. The sound of sobbing from overhead inspires me to climb up the chimney, and on the roof I encounter a distressed Santa and Rudolf. Father Christmas explains that evil elves have stolen his sleigh, and are using it to spread ill-will by delivering inappropriate presents to everybody. Santa is too old to go adventuring to retrieve the sleigh, so I volunteer to do it. Okay, so I'm not exactly the stuff of epic legends, standing there in my soot-stained dressing gown and slippers, but I do have
Dexterity 12
Strength 17
and Santa gives me his hat. Besides, I have Rudolf as a sidekick (and transport), so I'm off to a better start than Arthur Dent...

Rudolf tells me that the Ice Palace of Xodar, King of the evil elves, is somewhere to the north. Going directly north leads me to turbulence - possibly the beginnings of what ended my first attempt - so I try going northwest instead. A storm brews up, the clouds angry at having been trampled and verbally abused when the sleigh thieves came this way. Luckily for me, Rudolf is agile enough to evade the curmudgeonly cumulonimbus.

That threat has only just passed when a new one arises. Some evil elves have been left behind to deter pursuers, and they start throwing snowballs. Like the nastier sort of child, they've added stones to the snowballs to make them more harmful. Rudolf urges me to use Santa's hat, which has magical properties. I activate it, and it spews a flurry of snowflakes at the elves, freezing them solid.

As I recall, the hat has around a 50% chance of doing something useful. The rest of the time, its effects are merely unhelpful rather than actually harmful, which is a good thing, as I don't get to choose whether or not to use it - a similar (but optional) device in one of Ms. Caldwell's earlier adventures can have catastrophic effects on a bad roll.

Rudolf is too tired to fly further for now, and descends to a forest. Other reindeer surround us, much to his distress: these reindeer mock him because of his nose. I ask about the acceptance he found after the events described in the song, and he gives me a 'what are you blithering on about, you strange individual?' look. It turns out that that didn't actually happen. My nit-picking side wonders why he's even working for Santa if that's the case, but I'm willing to let the quibble go because I love the subversive joke of the situation.

A gibe from one of the other reindeer provokes me into using the hat again, and it sprays them with Santa's Happy Dust. A cheesy way of resolving the confrontation, but at least I won't incur the wrath of the RSPCA. Unless Santa's Happy Dust is actually some kind of mood-altering drug, but let's not dwell on that possibility.

The forest path splits. I go west, and encounter some will-o'-the-wisps, but have enough strength of will to keep from being beguiled. Which may prove problematic later on, as getting lured away would have led to an encounter that could have furnished me with a useful item. Still, missing out on it shouldn't make the adventure unwinnable.

It starts to snow again as we head through a mountain pass, and Rudolf indicates a cave where we can shelter. Except that the cave turns out to be the home of the abominable snowman. He guards the fabled icicle sword, and Rudolf distracts him long enough for me to grab the sword. I then have to use the sword on the abominable snowman, as Rudolf's distracting technique has provoked him into a murderous frenzy. Still, he's not as good a fighter as his FF counterpart, and while the fight is quite drawn-out, I defeat him without taking any damage.

Once the storm has passed, we take to the air again and reach the Ice Palace. Its doors are locked, and I have no key, so we have to smash our way in. Rudolf's antlers and my shoulder are a little the worse for wear by the time we've broken through.

Two doorways lead on from the hall. West has served me well this far... but now it leads to a room containing a table laden with food and drink. Which might not sound like a bad thing, but I cannot resist sampling some of the fare, and when I attempt to drink some of the punch, it forms into the shape of a boxing glove and hits me in the face. Some puns are just painful. The Christmas pudding then threatens me, and I beat a hasty retreat. Exit, pursued by mince pies.

My flight takes me to a room containing a gong. Having no hammer with which to strike it, I am ambushed by evil elves, and have to use the hat again. It showers my attackers with tree decorations, which do not inconvenience them in the least. The elves overpower me, tie me up, and steal the sword before ringing the gong (they have a hammer) to summon Xodar.

The villain gloats, talking at length about the tortures he plans to inflict on me, which gives Rudolf time to gnaw through my bonds. I try the hat one last time. It produces confectionery. Xodar is not harmed.

Without the icicle sword, I have no way of overcoming Xodar, and am doomed. Or would be, but the words, 'Your adventure ends here' are followed by a direction to another section, so I turn there. In acknowledgement of the season of goodwill, the writer intervenes with a correction-fluid-bottle-shaped bolt of lightning that transforms Xodar into a Christmas tree. With him out of the way, there's nothing to prevent me from finding the sleigh, returning it to its rightful owner, and saving the day. Not my most deserved victory ever, but a win regardless.

All in all, ISoC is a bit of silly, lightweight fun, but I can think of plenty of worse-written serious adventures, and the slightly warped sense of humour displayed in places adds to the enjoyment. Not an all-time great, but still better than a significant number of gamebooks.

Friday, 21 December 2012

Offer Me Solutions, Offer Me Alternatives

Unlike some people, I don't believe that the world is going to end today. Still, in view of the apocalyptic predictions inspired by the Mayan calendar, I've decided to bring forward a gamebook with a suitably end-of-the-world scenario, and the obvious candidate is Virtual Reality Adventure book 5, Heart of Ice, by Dave Morris. Thinking about it, the previous book in the series could also be thematically appropriate, as that one actually has a Mayan setting, but I'll stick with my original choice, as it also fits in with the wintry theme that Monday's entry kicked off.

Memory is a funny thing: I don't remember where I acquired my copy of the book, but I do recall an earlier time when I could have got one but didn't. I was checking out a sale of withdrawn library stock, and there was a copy there. This was a couple of years before I got back into gamebooks, and prior to that I'd only had a go at what I now know to be one of the weakest of the VRA books, so I just left the book where it was, and wound up buying CDs of The Art of Noise and James instead.

When I did go back to collecting gamebooks, I heard good things about VRA, and somehow or other managed to acquire the set (even the sub-par one I'd read before). As I recall, my first attempt at this one ended in failure when my lacking the ability to hack into an automated defence system led to my being lasered into many tiny pieces.

One thing which I believe to be unique to this series is that, while it has a system with stats and inventory management, there is no randomisation. If you can find a viable path through the book, you're sure to succeed. (Mind you, from what I've heard about this book, 'succeed' is very much a matter of interpretation - though 'fail' is liable to be a lot less ambiguous). Seven pre-generated characters are provided, and the rules also allow for creating your own character by choosing four of the twelve available Skills. I think I'll go for a pre-gen as, unless Mr. Morris has been cruel, there should be a workable route through the book for every 'officially approved' combination of Skills. But there's no guarantee that absolutely every conceivable set of four will do the job. In the hope of learning from past failures, I'll pick the Scientist, who has Cybernetics, Lore, Piloting and Survival.

It is 2300, over two centuries after the disaster. During the 21st century, a series of weather control satellites were placed in orbit, under the control of a computer network known as Gaia. A few years later, a computer virus caused Gaia to start messing with the climate in harmful ways, and by now the world is in the grip of a new ice age, humanity faced with extinction.

I am in the Etruscan Inn, converted from a crashed air cruiser, and one of the few places still with electricity. Which is a mixed blessing, as there's no way of turning off the video screen (even smashing it will just temporarily replace the broadcast with the noise of the automated repair devices), and there's little point in trying to watch it, as Gaia controls the broadcast, and randomly changes channel at a moment's notice. I have insomnia, though, and wind up watching anyway, so I get to see a not-so-random selection of old news reports. Gaia may be insane, but she's having a lucid period, and taking what steps she can to try and remedy the situation. She's identified a McGuffin that could give somebody ultimate power, so all I have to do is travel to Du-En, the abandoned city where it is, and I could gain the ability to fix the world...

In the morning I ask the innkeeper's advice on the best route to the Sahara, and am about to pay my bill when he tells me that my friend has already paid. This 'friend' introduces himself as Kyle Boche, says that we're both travelling in the same direction, and evidently wants to accompany me. I decide to let him: as they say, keep your friends close...

Boche explains that he overheard me asking about the Saharan Ice Wastes. That's probably not all he's overheard. He favours going east to Venis and catching the ferry to Kahira, while the innkeeper recommended the longer but probably warmer western route through the Lyonesse jungle. Time could be valuable, so I'll go with Boche's plan.

We trek through mountains for some time, using up our rations sooner than anticipated. While traversing a pass, I catch sight of someone else, who fails to respond to our greetings. This turns out to be because the stranger is dead, and frozen in place, as are several others. Boche starts searching the dead for food, while I cannot help but notice the rapturous expressions on the faces of the corpses. I don't think I want to see whatever it was that they were gazing at when they died.

We set off again, and by nightfall we have yet to reach any kind of shelter, but my Survival Skills help minimise the consequences. Eventually we reach Venis, but the ferry isn't due for a couple of days. Boche says he has friends he must visit, and wanders off, leaving me to choose where I'm going to spend the next couple of nights. I pick the medium-priced Hotel Paradise.

While I have time to spare, I decide to see if I can get any more sense out of Gaia. Finding a street-corner scribe with a couple of functional antique laptops, too primitive to be vulnerable to Gaia's virus, I go online. Gaia tells me to seek Gilgamesh under the Pyramid of Giza.

A local guide, or gondo, offers to take me to a deserted vault full of ancient technology, for a price. Could be a trap, but that's a risk I'm willing to take. He only takes me as far as the entrance, claiming that the place is haunted. I go in, and what I hear sounds more robotic than supernatural. Which doesn't mean it can't harm me, but I'm not about to flee at the first hint of possible danger. And the source of the noise turns out to be another of those repair devices.

Further in, I find a sky-car, potentially functional, if that little machine has been regularly servicing it. A voice summons me, and I investigate. Gaia makes contact again, informing me that I'm not the only person seeking the McGuffin, and repeating the instructions I got on the laptop.

The sky-car is still functional, and contains well-preserved food and medical supplies. My Piloting Skill enables me to operate it (though I do slightly scratch the paintwork), and I decide to travel onwards alone. Rather than head straight for Giza, I go to Kahira first. A man with an illuminated fez offers information in return for money, and I think I get my money's worth: he tells me of the iron-skinned warrior Gilgamesh, left in Giza to keep watch for any threat arising in the city I seek, and warns me not to sleep in Claustral Park unless I want to get eaten during the night.

Now I can seek further information elsewhere, if I wish. The book doesn't explicitly forbid taking the research options about which I have not heard, but it wouldn't really be appropriate, and I already know a little about Gilgamesh, so I shall focus on the Sphinx. A local fortune-teller knows that a nuclear reactor is sited beneath it, and tells me the same password I've had twice from Gaia.

The advice I paid for earlier enables me to rest for the night in safety, and the following morning I look around the bazaar, buying some polarised goggles, rope and a flashlight. Then I set off to Giza. There's a steel door set into the Pyramid, with an alphanumeric keypad in a recess next to it. I input the password, and the door opens.

Taking an elevator to the Research Level, I find stores of cold-weather clothing, and a handheld (and virus-free) version of Gaia. As 'Little Gaia' only has 512GB of memory, she doesn't contain as much data as the full-scale version, but she is at least consistently sane. The lab also contains a partially disassembled gun, which I am able to repair.

Descending to the bottom level, I get past some kind of security system and find Gilgamesh, an armed and armoured robot. I tell him that Gaia sent me to take him to Du-En, and he joins me as I return to surface level. The rest of the journey is pretty uneventful, though I do encounter Kyle Boche again on the outskirts of Du-En. He effectively admits that he's seeking ultimate power.

Smoke from a campfire indicates that we're not the only ones to have made it this far. Indeed, it turns out to be more than one campfire, all fuelled with antique furniture and the like. Introductions follow: Janus Gaunt and his reanimated cadaver servants, the psionic Baron Siriasis, the cautious Thadra Bey, US Intelligence agent Chaim Golgoth, and clone sisters Gargan XIII and XIV. Golgoth indicates a pavilion and tells me the man in it is Vajra Singh, whom I can expect to meet before long.

He's right. When a dispute over firewood threatens to turn into a shoot-out, Singh intervenes, getting everyone's attention by destroying a building with his hand-cannon (which, I observe, takes a few seconds to recharge after firing) and laying down some ground rules. A state of truce to exist in the main square, no underlings to be taken on expeditions, and may the most deserving get the power.

I use medical supplies from the sky-car to restore myself to full health. In the morning, we prepare to explore Du-En. Some of the other McGuffin-seekers have formed temporary alliances, and Singh organises a lot-drawing system to space out everyone's departure from the square. Boche decides to take the day off, wanting to conserve his strength for the free-for-all that is sure to ensue once someone finds the McGuffin. Golgoth invites me to join his party, without consulting his partners, the Gargan sisters. They're grudgingly willing to let me tag along, but label Gilgamesh a servant and insist that I leave him behind as per the rules.

We head into the catacombs, and find a strobe-lit auditorium containing metre-tall warrior puppets, with real weapons. They're programmed to act out a battle scene, and still work. Pity we don't discover this until we're on stage, in the midst of the puppets, which have no way of identifying and avoiding hitting anyone who's not supposed to be in the show. I sustain a few cuts before managing to extricate myself from the melee.

Golgoth mentions a theory that the McGuffin is the seed of another universe, and a tangent about twins leads to the revelation that he killed Gargans I-XII. XIII and XIV respond to this news by beating him up, but in the course of the brawl, he scratches both of them with a poisoned needle, bringing his Gargan-kill total to 14.

It's getting late, so we return to the square. Everyone else survived, and the Baron and Singh announce that they have discovered the precincts of the temple where the McGuffin is stored. After a couple of none-too-cheery conversations, I again restore myself to full health.

By morning, most of the others have already set off. The Baron, Boche and I remain, and form an alliance that is to remain in force until the other parties have been dealt with. I find a crevice that could provide a short cut to the temple catacombs. We climb down (well, the Baron levitates), and encounter a strange vapour that saps our energy. A grotesque figure takes shape within the mist. Luckily, with no Gargans to object, I brought Gilgamesh along today, and he manages to destroy the entity, albeit at the cost of his own existence.

A bridge leads over a chasm. While crossing it, I notice some grilles set into the chasm wall. Investigating, I find a tomb. Its treasures include a jacket that provides some protection from gunshots, which I add to my inventory.

A choice of direction presents itself. I go for the door on my left, finding a room full of debris. If it contains anything of use, I can't find it. Next I try a passage. We reach a rubble-strewn gallery, the Baron senses something stalking us, and the lights go out. I use the flashlight, dazzling the giant centipede-like creature that is approaching, and buying us enough time to get through a door and seal it.

The room beyond contains a man in military garb, frozen in time by the stasis bomb next to him. He's probably been like that for a couple of centuries. Even if I knew how to disrupt the stasis field, I'm not sure it would be wise to do so.

Further on, we reach a hall with many tunnels leading from it. The Baron tells me to scout ahead. Accepting the orders of a powerful psionic may make me susceptible to mind control, so I object. He decides that the alliance is over, but before he can kill me with his mind, an explosion destroys his body. Well, most of his body. The brain levitates out of the debris, trailing a stump of spinal column, and a telepathic message bids me approach and become a new host for the Baron's consciousness. I fire at the brain, but it is generating a psychic force shield. Let's see if I can persuade my legs to take me away at great speed. Onward into the unknown, I think: retreat is liable to either trap me in a dead end or enable the Baron to possess that giant centipede-thing.

The unknown turns out to contain a droid, which recognises me as an intruder and opens fire. This gives the pursuing brain time to catch up with me, and moments later I'm not myself any more.

Well, that was one of the more enjoyable gamebooks I've blogged about to date. Worth another try some time.

My rate of posting is liable to slow down over the next fortnight, as I'm spending Christmas and the new year with family, and will have limited access to computers, the internet, and my gamebook collection. I hope to get through a few more adventures before 2012 is over, but can make no promises.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The Time for Subterfuge

I had a copy of the White Dwarf containing the third and final part of Sutherland and Hill's The Dark Usurper long before I acquired the preceding issues. I'm fairly sure I got it in the same second-hand shop where I got my first batch of Flying Buffalo Tunnels & Trolls solos - a belief backed up to some extent by a suddenly resurfacing memory of having read the magazine's book review column while crossing Grosvenor Bridge, which is on the route from the road where that shop was to where I was living at the time.

Despite having owned it since the early nineties, I didn't attempt TDU part 3 until after I'd got and survived the first two instalments. My (now lost) previous playthrough of it ended up in two parts because a particularly egregious error caused me to abandon it in disgust for a short while, but the version of this adventure in my gamebook manager includes the section number omitted from the printed edition, so that’s one annoyance that I won’t have to face this time round. Pity the rest aren’t so easy to eliminate…

As I made it through part 2 a few weeks back, I'm going to have to use the woefully low-statted character I rolled up back then, which means I'm probably doomed. But let's see how it turns out.

By the end of last time, I'd gained an army and a base, but lost a (rubbish) mentor. It is now morning on the next day, the city's defences have been improved, and an enemy force is approaching. Face them on the field of battle, or take advantage of the defences we've been preparing? Let them come to us, I think. I have 600 troops, while there are a couple of thousand in the advancing army.

The invaders concentrate their attacks on the east side, so I reinforce the troops with some of my reserves. Not enough, though, and the invaders start to get in, so I commit the rest of the reserves, and enemy casualties in the clash are double the number of friendly losses. Somehow that's decided the battle, the death of 7% of the enemy forces proving enough to rout them. Two dice rolls to determine the outcome of the conflict. The fact that I had to make some vaguely strategic decisions beforehand means that this is still better than the mass battle system from Armies of Death, but only slightly.

Another meaningless choice is presented. I either pursue the fleeing troops, or I stay put, but staying put leads to the authorially imposed decision to chase the defeated enemies. Well, I suppose fake decisions like that do help pad the adventure out to a nice round 98 sections (or the whole thing to 297).

There are reinforcements on their way, but trying to link up with them would mean engaging with the authors' belief that sending scouts ahead of my army is more dangerous than blindly marching into the unknown, and doing so would provoke enough yelling to scare the neighbours. Besides, the amount of railroading that this adventure's contained to date makes it a virtual certainty that I'll meet up with the reinforcements even if I make no effort to do so. Which is precisely what happens.

The next couple of decisions determine whether I encounter negligible opposition on the way to the castle, am barely troubled by enemies while heading for the castle, or meet with next to no trouble from Barnak's troops as I advance on the castle. This may be described as a 'solo game', but I increasingly get the impression that the authors considered 'one' to be an excessive number of players for it.

Now I must assault the castle, lay siege to it, or try subterfuge. Odds are, the besieging option will lead to a paragraph saying, 'It doesn't work. Try an assault or subterfuge.' Actually, I'm going to try and find out.  Oh, and I get to choose how long the siege lasts - two days or four. Both of which seem kind of short for a siege. I choose the longer one, which leads to the revelation that by the end of day four, plague and desertion are both rife within the castle... and the text compels me to respond with a subterfuge, turning to the exact same section as I would have if I'd just done that in the first place, so the aforementioned depletion of enemy troops will not make any difference to the resistance I face. Hill and Sutherland must have wanted to write a story, not a gamebook. And I wish they'd been able to, because then I could have ignored the wretched thing.

(I just snuck a look at what would have happened if I'd gone for direct assault. If I'd got over 30 on 8d6, I would have failed the adventure. Otherwise, the success of my army's attack would have prompted me to follow it up with, you guessed it, subterfuge. One or both of the authors must have a Hobson somewhere in the family tree).

Free will, Sutherland & Hill-style

Accompanied by ten volunteers, I sneak into the castle through a secret tunnel, while the rest of my army attacks the castle. Snipers kill two of the volunteers before we get to the tunnel, but the rest of us get in all right. I know from my last playthrough that attempting to rescue the idiot regent who allowed Barnak to take control of the castle will lead to my character's committing cold-blooded murder, plus my reaching the section where somebody left out the 'turn to' direction at the end, so I'll ignore that detour and focus on killing Barnak.

We head for the main hall, which has over 30 guards in it. Fortuitously, it is around now that my army breaches the castle's defences, and over half those guards scurry off to help repel them (or escape while they still can). I catch sight of my sub-par mentor Asmund in a cage, and the dice determine that I charge into the hall. Now I have to fight four goblins. Or eleven, if I take the text literally when it says that my men 'will fight one each day', because I doubt that the goblins are prepared to stand around and get butchered one at a time over the course of more than a week.

The saner interpretation of the text leads to my losing three quarters of my Stamina, and an equal proportion of my men. Now I face Barnak himself, and another arbitrary die roll establishes that I am still incapable of any strategy other than 'yell and hurl myself at the enemy'. But there's no sign of the authors, so I shall have to attack Barnak instead. Given that his Skill and Stamina are both higher than mine, it comes as no great surprise that I fail to survive the fight. Not that Barnak will last much longer now that my army has fought its way into the castle, so I guess that in the end, everybody loses. Which pretty much sums up The Dark Usurper, actually.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Enough Rope

With winter well under way in this hemisphere, it seems appropriate to go for another of Tavern Master Games' Tunnels & Trolls mini solos: A.R. Holmes' The Ice Cavern of Isahil. This was one of several adventures I got from Mr. Holmes himself on eBay several years ago, and I've never actually attempted it before now (that's the problem with bulk buying - too easy to get distracted by just one item in the lot).

Magic cannot be used in the adventure, so I'd be best off just generating a Warrior. The problem with randomised character generation is that you can't always get what you want. Still, I'm not quite so badly off if I decide to be a Dwarf. Figures in brackets are what the relevant stats would be if I'd stayed human.
Strength 16 (8)
Intelligence 10
Luck 14
Constitution 8 (4)
Dexterity 9
Charisma 11 (16)
Speed 12
Even with the improvement, that's not good adventurer material.

So there's this deep, ice-lined crevasse in the mountains. Something blue glows at the bottom of it. Most people believe it to be dangerous, but I think there's treasure down there. Unusually for T&T, some of my equipment is specified, and it's not clear whether I just have this stuff, or if everything listed is a compulsory purchase when equipping my character, potentially leaving me unable to afford luxuries like a weapon, armour and clothing. The food alone comes to more than half my starting budget. Add in the climbing gear, and unless the rope is impractically short, I'll be reduced to hitting my opponents with a stick. Or the piton hammer, but a stick would do more damage.

Somehow I make it as far as the crevasse without incident. Do I use the climbing equipment forced upon me by authorial fiat, or seek an alternate way of descending? Climbing is likely to use Dexterity, and the odds of my succeeding at a Saving Roll on it are less than one in four. Looking for another way down could lead to encountering a wandering monster, which would probably kill me, and finding one might make me so disgusted at the compulsory purchase that I wind up testing the adventure's aerodynamic qualities.

I search. This turns out to involve as Saving Roll on Luck, which I narrowly fail, so I have to climb anyway. Which actually involves Saving Rolls against the average of my Strength, Luck and Dexterity, so the odds are better than on Dexterity alone, but still not good enough. The descent involves ten such rolls, every unsuccessful one causing me to lose 1 Constitution, and each roll has a one in nine chance of going catastrophically wrong. By the law of averages, I should get one such failure - and that's what happens on my eighth roll.

My rope comes loose from some of the pitons, causing me to start sliding. One more Saving Roll stands between me and certain death. I fail it. Though a quick check reveals that, had I succeeded, I would still have taken enough damage to kill me.

Still not as inelegant a descent of an ice face as this one, though.

The way I died means that it didn't really matter whether or not I was supposed to pay for the rope and pitons myself. Nevertheless, the lack of clarity on that issue is liable to be problematic on any future attempt (assuming I don't have a similarly fatal fall).

Friday, 14 December 2012

What About the History Books?

I learned of Smith and Thomson's time travel-based gamebook series Falcon from a review in Warlock magazine, but my first actual contact with the books was when three of them turned up in the Book Exchange I've mentioned before. I bought the lot, and still have my original copies. My first attempt at book 1, The Renegade Lord, was largely unremarkable, but I do remember making an (as it turned out) unnecessary trip to the Jurassic era because, you know, dinosaurs.

No need to list any stats, as my character is pre-generated, and only my experiences will cause any change.

It is the year 3033, and there's a lot of background information that doesn't really matter. What's important is that Earth is the head of a Space Federation, time travel is possible (but only through 'Timeholes' situated at specific spatio-temporal locations), and I work for the Temporal, Investigative and Monitoring Executive to prevent interference with the past. Well, will do once my graduation ceremony is over. Sort of do already: not long before the ceremony, section commander Agidy Yelov summons me for a mission briefing. TIME Agent Q was investigating a temporal disturbance, claimed to have discovered that one of the heads of TIME was responsible, and got killed before he could elaborate.

The briefing includes some slightly awkward info-dumping to forestall nit-picking. The rules already explained the limitations that prevent my going back to just before Q was killed and catching the murderer in the act, so there's no real need to have them restated here. And what's the point of saying, 'and there's this thing that's not been mentioned before, but you can't take advantage of it because of this other previously unmentioned thing'?

My graduation is to be attended by all the suspects - the Lords of TIME - and the way time travel works means that none of them can simultaneously be up to no good in the past, so there's no reason not to go to the ceremony. While travelling there, I try to take a look at Q's last transmission, but it's been classified by someone higher up in TIME.

At the Hall of Honours I meet the Falcon equivalent of Miss Scarlet and friends: there's the lobster-like Kirik, the Earthman Speke, blue-skinned Rigellian Lord Silvermane, exoskeleton-wearing Pilota, and The Creche 82282, a sextet of antlike representatives from the communal-minded Hive. I decide not to ask leading questions or psychically contact any of the Lords, and just give a dull acceptance speech after I've been sworn in.

On my way to the Eiger Vault, where the Time Machines are parked, I notice someone following me. An attempt at probing his mind leads to the discovery that he doesn't have one, and must be a machine. Rather than wait for him to ask if I'm Sarah Connor, I shoot him right in the circuits. A couple of Citpol Enforcers are rather keen to arrest me for property damage, but one of them discovers that there's a bounty on the droid I just trashed, so I should be getting reward money rather than a trip to the cells and compulsory donation of all transplantable organs (this future being a bit closer to Judge Dredd than Star Trek).

No further incidents occur on my journey, and I'm soon aboard my Time Machine, Falcon's Wing, and being greeted by the shipboard computer, CAIN. There I can access official files, so I check records of recent time journeys. Several have been classified, and the ones I can look up were made by Q, Kirik and Pilota. Checking up on the current locations of the Lords, I learn that Speke and The Creche 82282 don't want me to know where they are, though the fact that two unidentified characters with the security clearance of a Lord both arrived at the Vault within the past ten minutes is a bit of a hint. Silvermane has just arrived here himself, and claims to be on official business when I ask what he's up to. He also points out that Speke has just left, and I could probably figure out where he's gone by reading his file.

As I return to Falcon's Wing, a security guard in non-standard armour approaches. An attempt at reading his mind reveals that he is wearing a Psionic Damper, a Hiver invention. I order him to come no closer, he goes for his laser rifle, and my response isn't quick enough, so he shoots me in the leg. He gloats that a Lord of TIME engaged him to kill me, but a security droid intervenes before he can finish me off. Its stun blast causes his power armour to explode, so either it was a cheap and nasty model, or his employer didn't want to take the chance of his being interrogated.

Kirik is on record as having been to the Timehole that Q was investigating, which is on his homeworld, Kelados. I follow him to his current location - the same planet, but in the present - spending the journey in the ship's Autodoc to get the wound in my leg healed.

A local TIME Agent greets me shortly after I arrive, and takes me to the seabase research station that Kirik is visiting. There I meet a human who gives me some reflex-enhancing pills and reveals that Kirik has gone into the past. I follow, and CAIN briefs me on the situation back then: Kelados and Earth are on the brink of war owing to a misunderstanding. A Keladi envoy is about to set off on the journey that, historically, led to the peaceful reconciliation of the two worlds. If anyone were to intercept him, the consequences would not be good.

I arrive at a spaceport, and soon find Kirik's Time Machine. And his corpse. There are indications that he knew his killer. I send the Time Machine away, so nobody from this time can get their claws on technology from their future, but keep his Psionic Enhancer for personal use.

Checking out other ships in the port, I find a Phocian Corsair guarded by someone whose mind is being controlled, potentially by the villain. Before I can act on this knowledge, another Time Machine arrives, and TIME Agent Bloodhound emerges, stating that he has orders to kill me. His aim is a little off, and he only singes my neck. I retaliate with a blast of psychic energy, and Kirik's Enhancer makes it effective enough to knock Bloodhound out. When he comes round, I am able to prove to him that I didn't kill Kirik, and together we deduce that Yelov is either guilty or in league with the murderer.

Bloodhound returns to 3033 to report the successful completion of his mission while I remain here to protect the timelines. The Corsair with the mind-controlled guard takes off, so I 'borrow' a similar ship to pursue it. The pilot contacts me to ask why I'm following him, but I don't reply. He wouldn't believe the truth, anyway. I don't want to kill him if it can be avoided, but maybe it can't, as the envoy's ship has just turned up on the Scanner. I fire on the Phocian before he can attack it, almost crippling the vessel, and then board it. By the time I reach the bridge, the Phocian has managed to use his retros to manoeuvre into a position from which he can fire on the envoy, so I knock him out with a mental blast. History remains on track, and the Phocian hasn't died prematurely.

As I'm taking him back to the port, my Psychic Awareness registers the presence of a being with considerable mind powers on a nearby mining ship. I mentally 'overhear' a reference to a 'Golden Horde', and then the mining ship explodes. Back on Falcon's Wing, I learn that CAIN detected a Time Machine leaving the ship just before the explosion. CAIN also informs me of the historical Golden Horde, and as there's a Timehole to Earth in 1241, I decide to head there/then.

On the way I get healed again. A disturbance in the Void forces me to half-materialise in 1258, where I am temporarily temporally trapped, and have to watch the Mongols lay waste to Baghdad for over a month. Then the flux changes, and my journey resumes as if it had never been interrupted. Bit of a pointless interlude, really. Maybe the authors were concerned that their readers might not know much about the Mongols, and wanted to show what they were capable of. Or one of them found out about the massacre while researching the era, and thought it would appeal to the bloodthirsty tendencies of your average gamebook reader. Or somebody just wanted to show off his research.

In 1241 the Mongols look set to conquer Europe. Then their Khan, Ogedai, dies, and the Golden Horde must return to Karakorum to decide on his successor, so their armies never take Vienna. If Ogedai doesn't die, Europe is sure to fall, and history will follow a very different path. Just as I'm about to leave the ship, I spot a flyer taking off. CAIN calculates that it's heading for China, where Karakorum is. I follow.

In Karakorum I disguise myself as a Mongol. There are celebrations going on, because Ogedai has made a miraculous recovery from what had appeared a fatal condition. I sense the villain's flyer departing, but further pursuit will have to wait until I've arranged a little relapse for the Khan. His palace is guarded, but the guards on the gate are very susceptible to psychic blasts. The ones in the palace grounds are more of a problem, though, and an unseen archer gets a lucky shot in before I can take care of them all.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

The Destruction of the World. The Scientist's Dream of Supreme Power!

I remember very little of my original experience of Andrew Chapman's Space Assassin. Just that it was a (probably dice-free) successful play-through, in which I had no problem solving a couple of puzzles, and shot a computer just because I could. The last time I played it, it went like this, so in view of the book's not having a narrow 'true path', I may try things differently for variety's sake. Or not, as the mood takes me.

As the title suggests, this is another SF adventure. An inhabitant of the implicitly technocratic sector called Od (a suitably strang name for such a peculia place), I have been engaged by the planetary Assassins' Guild to (as the title does not suggest) capture Cyrus, the ruling scientist, whose latest plan just goes too far. Abducting and experimenting upon individuals is only to be expected, but now he means to bombard the entire planet with radioactive isotopes and deadly viruses. That's not just immoral and unethical - it's downright unscientific. If we had a sister planet that he was using as a control, I could potentially see some academic merit in the exercise (though I'd still disapprove of its genocidal implications), but this isn't even going to produce any results that will be accepted by the scientific community as a whole.

So, as Cyrus' ship, the Vandervecken, makes a refuelling stop in an isolated system, it acquires an extra passenger, whose stats are as follows:
Skill 12
Stamina 21
Luck 10
Armour 9
Austerity measures have prompted some pretty drastic cuts in the planet's Averting Total Destruction By Mad Scientists budget, so I'm armed with just the most basic weapon on the list: an electric lash.

Having boarded the ship, I find myself in front of an unopenable security door. There are maintenance hatches to left and right, and what appears to be a mound of refuse by the door. A closer look at that reveals that I should have brought my glasses with me, as it's actually a dead alien, and I somehow failed to notice the trail of blood it left while crawling from one of the hatches towards the door. The body is carrying an incomplete gadget, which I take.

Leaving via the hatch through which the deceased entered, I enter an access tunnel. Before long I reach another hatch, and decide to investigate the voice I can hear from behind it. The voice issues from one of two cells which are being guarded by a robot armed with an assault blaster. Experience has taught me that with most robots in this book, it's best to shoot first and not bother asking questions, so I open fire. Three shots with the lash reduce the robot to a heap of damaged parts, while only one of its ripostes is on target, and that fails to get through my armour. Still, the blaster is superior to my existing weapon, so I take it before checking out the occupied cell. It contains an old man who has been tortured by Cyrus, who gives me advice  that is best ignored. Okay, so the worst that can happen as a consequence of following it is that I get called 'boring', but disregarding it will lead to a more favourable outcome.

As I recall, the other cell contains nothing worth encountering, so I return to the tunnel. Before long I reach another hatch, which leads into a lounge for aliens: the furniture is inconveniently sized for me, and the lighting is that bit too blue, but it doesn't prevent me from spotting the two lab-coated, glasses-wearing rodents before they notice me. I aim one weapon at each of them and utter some kind of pithy threat. They promptly surrender, and provide me with keys to the security doors, so I activate the one leading from the lounge. Why crawl through tunnels when I can walk along corridors?

In a kitchen (also designed for species other than my own) I find a small amount of food that my metabolism can handle. Beyond it is another guard robot, this one armed with a pair of electric lashes. It manages to inflict a little damage on me before I send it to Silicon Heaven. Searching the remains reveals a hatch in the floor, with coloured buttons set into it. It is traditional for playthroughs of Space Assassin to end at around this point, with a description of having pressed the wrong button and been blown up, plus optional rant about arbitrary unfairness, but I shall be bucking the trend, because I figured out the correct sequence of button presses on my first ever try at the book, and only learned that this made me abnormal when I got involved with gamebook fandom last decade. There is a logical sequence to it, even if the book provides no clues as to the source of that sequence, and given that 13-year-old me got it, it can't be that obscure.

Anyway, I successfully open the hatch and retrieve the gravity bomb that would have gone off had I not been a freak pressed the wrong button. Two doors lead on from here, one leading to a laboratory guarded by a remarkably fragile device similar to the baby Death Star Luke used for lightsaber training in the first Star Wars film. Most of the lab's contents are for vivisection, but I do find a spray can of nerve gas and some tablets that restore Stamina.

(With minor side effects)

Further exploration leads to a library, where I have time to read one of the three microfilm volumes that have been left out. I pick the one on robotics, because the computer on which I'm writing this is not in the warmest part of the house, so to reduce the amount of time I spend here, I'll be avoiding the detour on which it could come in handy to have read up on molluscs' nervous systems.

The next door I reach bears a sign, which tells me that the room beyond contains Cephalo Squirrels. These are small, six-legged creatures with black fur, though some of them have been shaved. They're held in a glass cage, at least until I open it for a closer look, at which point they escape. I manage to capture one unshaved squirrel, which draws my attention to a crate of orangey-purple fruit. I give the squirrel some fruit, and it falls asleep on my shoulder.

At this point the book could do with being a bit clearer on the rules regarding equipment - I'm only allowed up to five items (excluding weapons), but it's not entirely clear what constitutes an item. Those tablets I found are functionally identical to the tablets that the book uses as a Provisions-substitute, which don't count towards encumbrance, so do the tablets from the lab count as an item towards my limit? Does the sleeping squirrel on my shoulder? Given that I've already decided to skip the detour to the onboard planet (don't ask), I won't be finding the rest of the incomplete gadget (which is fun, but not essential for someone with a Skill as high as mine), so I might as well discard the part I have and defer the question of how close I am to my limit.

Up ahead, the corridor ends in a wall with two buttons set into it. I press the correct one, which causes the wall to disappear, revealing three cleaning staff, one tall and carrot-headed, the others short and somewhat feline. They're evidently low on job satisfaction, as they decide that attacking an intruder is much more fun than cleaning. It's certainly a lot more lethal, for them.

The corridor leads to a large tunnel, a small landing extending into it. There's another maintenance hatch set into the corridor wall close to the end, so I go through that and spend more time clambering around ducting. A hatch leads me to a room occupied by a terrified-looking quadruped, which shows me a rather nasty wound on one of its legs and tells me a little about what caused the damage. It is easy to make a catastrophic inference based on that information, though the data can also be interpreted in a more helpful way if you extrapolate well.

The next hatch I go through leads to a room containing a pool of water. Not worth investigating, as I recall, so I head straight for the door. Beyond it is a path, floating in the air miles above the countryside. Cyrus has some seriously odd ideas about interior decor. After a while, the path splits, and several kilometres later (how many designers went incurably insane just looking at the plans for this ship?) I find myself in a levitating aluminium cube full of cryogenic sleep capsules. Only two capsules are occupied, and I decide to awaken the occupant of one of them.

I pick what turns out to be a large, spider-like creature and, not being the sort to judge by appearances, attempt to communicate with it. The book compels me to do so in a particularly unwise manner, but the creature mistakes my efforts for a bout of interpretive dance rather than an ethnic slur, and applauds the performance. To thank me for letting it out, it gives me a sachet of Anti-Mollusc Formula Four, so I'm back wondering about equipment limits.

Returning to the junction, I take the other turning, which eventually leads to another junction, and thence to another cube. This one contains many examples of Cyrus' work in the field of Elephantoplasty and related sciences. On an operating table is a man with tentacles instead of arms. I tell him that I'm here to kill Cyrus, and he gives me further advice of questionable value. I should be okay if I follow it consistently, but if I don't always follow the directions given here, I could wind up encountering a trap that will kill me if I do as directed. To give the author his due, he says he didn't write that bit, and was as surprised as everyone else to find it in the book, but that's probably not much consolation for any player who's failed the adventure there. And unlike the booby-trapped hatch, that sequence is genuinely arbitrary.

There's a vehicle parked beside this cube, so I drive back to the last junction and keep going until the path terminates at a wall. A door leads to a room where two security guards are using the monitors to watch sport. I'm amused, but I imagine Cyrus would not be, and to save the guards from his wrath, which would probably lead to some 'ironic' punishment like having their legs replaced with goalposts, I use the can of gas on them. It takes care of one of them, but the other is made of tougher stuff, so I have to finish him off with the blaster.

Continuing on my way, I reach another pool, this one traversed by a narrow bridge without handrails. There's also a path around the edge, but I take the more direct route, and no ill befalls me.

Beyond this room is a chamber with three other exits, guarded by a creature with a disintegrator gun. It says it won't let me past unless I can solve its puzzle. Not much of a challenge, as I knew the answer back in '85, but it's more fun to set the squirrel on him. Not that the squirrel suddenly turns vicious - it actually engages the alien in debate, outlining a series of mathematical postulates. I sneak past before they start arguing about the semiotic thickness of a performed text.

The door I want to go through is locked, but that's nothing a gravity bomb won't sort out. The hole where there used to be a door leads via a corridor to a room full of floating black spheres. I leave them alone, and they leave me alone. The next room contains four pairs of strange manufactured creatures on pedestals. As I approach the first pair, one makes a cryptic utterance, the other asks me about the relative speeds of swallo light and time. I answer correctly, and the second pair present me with a conundrum about up and down, which I also get right. One of the third pair addresses me with an insult that's been directed at me in the real world while I was cycling home a few years back, the other demands to know where I'm going. My answer gets them contemplating alternative career paths.

That's the easy part of this room over. The last couple provide advice on which exit to take, plus a twist on the 'lying guard, truthful guard' puzzle that does not yield to straightforward logic, and frequently catches me out. It does again today, leaving me slightly electrocuted and in need of more healing than I've required for the whole of the adventure up until now.

The next room is guarded by two levitating robot Sentinels. This particular model was mentioned in the microfilm I read, so I'll be able to do slightly more damage every time I hit one in combat. Or I could climb up into the web of girders at ceiling level and hope that the airborne robots will be unable to get at me. Think I'll be sticking with the blaster. I take a little damage in the firefight, but blow the Sentinels apart.

Another corridor leads me to the ship's bridge (the 'centre of command' sort, rather than the 'means of crossing a body of water' kind I used earlier). The pilot, a shiny humanoid robot, expresses a desire to talk with me, and as this is one of the few robots on the ship that don't want to kill me, I chat. We discuss the themes of Borges' The Circular Ruins (though the story is never explicitly mentioned), and part on good terms, the pilot seemingly convinced that it thought me into being (and possibly also that I thought it into existence).

Going through the door indicated by my new friend, I enter a room that looks like one you might find in a stately home. Cyrus is there, reading a book, and appears not to have been expecting me. I decline his offer of a drink, refuse his request for a game of cards, and am not taken in by his bluff that a randomly-grabbed device is a deadly weapon, so he activates a secret door and flees. I give chase, but by the time I catch up with him, he's hopped into a Waldo (which, for the benefit of those not familiar with the Heinleinian use of the name, is something like a more human-shaped version of the machine Ripley was in while fighting the Queen at the end of Aliens) and grabbed a big laser.

Even with his capabilities enhanced, Cyrus is no match for me, and I've barely taken any damage by the time I've rendered the Waldo non-functional. The section describing my victory is a bit brief, but a cursory triumph is still better than a detailed death scene, right?

For all the SF trappings, this isn't really all that different from a standard 'travel through the lair and defeat the evil wizard' adventure. Still, it's more fun than Starship Traveller was, and has better characterisation (heck, that squirrel had more personality than the Traveller's crew combined). Not a classic, but nowhere near the worst the range has to offer.

Monday, 10 December 2012

I'd Turn My Bucket Over

The second Lone Wolf gamebook, Fire on the Water, was actually the first of the series that I owned and played. Though by no means the only person in my class at school who was into FF and the like, I was the designated gamebook geek, so when a classmate got a copy of FotW, played it, and decided he'd rather sell it on than keep it, I was the person to whom he made the initial offer. As I recall, he wanted 30p for it, which seemed like a good deal to me, and I enjoyed the book enough that I was willing to pay three times as much to get the one that came before it in the series when I came across it.

My younger self has written on both Action Charts in pencil, and the number of Kai Disciplines listed on the second one indicates that I must have made that attempt after acquiring and beating book 1. Faint traces of erased pencil on the first one (and the presence in the inventory of a semi-crucial item that's not that easy to find) suggest that the details written on it do not relate to my first try at the book, and while I don't remember how that one went, there's a high probability that I got killed in the tunnel by a Helghast.

I have my original copy and the Mongoose Publishing edition in front of me. A quick comparison of the opening section of both versions indicates that, while the content of both is essentially the same, the text has been rewritten for the newer version. I do not consider the changes to be an improvement. The word count has been increased, spelling things out to an unnecessary extent. For example, 'the quay' has become 'the Holmgard Quay', and the wagon driver 'drives his wagon away' rather than 'quickly disappears'. It might not be the case that Joe Dever considers his fans to be idiots who need everything explained to them very clearly, but that's certainly the impression I'm getting.

Having survived the original book 1, I shall retain the character from that attempt. I can add a new Kai Discipline as a reward for having completed one book, and metaknowledge yells at me to pick the (largely not that useful) Animal Kinship. I can also pick two items from a list, and that list includes a mace, so I take it. I'm not going to get many opportunities to use the sort of weapon I've been specially trained to use, so I should make the most of what I get. I also take a shield, and I'm given some money and a fancy ring: the Seal of Hammerdal.

The thing is, the only weapon (known of) that works against Darklords like the one leading the invading armies is the magic sword known as the Sommerswerd. This is several hundred miles away in the kingdom of Durenor (and one thing that has not changed between editions is the scale of the map on the frontispiece - 23mm (or just over 7/8 of an inch) represents 100 miles), having been given to a previous King as a symbol of the allegiance between Sommerlund and Durenor. In return, he gave the then King of Sommerlund the Seal, which I must now take to the current Durenese King as proof that Sommerlund is in a sticky situation and needs its magic sword back.

I am to travel to Durenor by sea, on a ship called the Green Sceptre, and a wagon takes me to the quay, where I am to meet the first mate in an inn. The inn turns out to be closed, but as I contemplate my next action, someone grabs my arm. It's the first mate, in a highly nervous state, and wanting to see some proof that I'm Lone Wolf before he takes me to the ship. Showing off a Discipline would do the trick, so I try out my new one, compelling a couple of mice to bring me some cheese. This prompts the man to set three thugs on me - maybe he's from the local equivalent of PETA, and objects to my exploiting animals in such a manner. I have the option of running off after two rounds, but thanks to the increase in Combat Skill provided by the mace and shield (and a couple of lucky rolls), my opponents are too dead to be worth fleeing by then.

The bogus first mate has not hung around to see the outcome of the fight. I search the bodies and find identical serpent tattoos on their left wrists. I search the tavern and find the body of the real first mate. I search the surrounding area and do not find the impostor, so rather than waste any more time, I 'borrow' a coracle and row across to the Green Sceptre. The Captain is not pleased to learn that enemies are aware of my quest, and he has lost his first mate, but we set sail anyway.

What happens next is the reason why I never created a 'condensed' version of FotW like I did with the first book when repeatedly trying to make it through the whole saga with one character back in the nineties: a random number determines which of five possible encounters occurs. I found this too convoluted to be worth the effort of summarising, especially with further randomisation determining how at least some of these encounters play out.

On this occasion, the ship's lookout spots a damaged longboat with three men aboard, and the Captain has them brought aboard. They turn out to be fishermen who'd been attacked by pirates, and one of them tries to express his gratitude for the rescue by offering me a sword. Thanks, but I have enough weapons, and I'm going to lose most of my equipment in a short time anyway. In fact, I'm pretty sure that there's no actual opportunity to get into a fight between here and the annoying 'lose all weapons' bit that's coming up soon, which would make this a thoroughly pointless encounter.

A few days later, I smell smoke coming from the hold. Investigating would be unwise, and seeking out the Captain will waste time, so I just yell, "Fire!" Though the crew's fire-fighting techniques are efficient, it takes them some time to extinguish the blaze (by around book 9 I'd potentially be able to put it out in seconds with my mind, but that's a long way off yet), and a lot of the ship's supplies are destroyed, to say nothing of the structural damage. The Captain has a quiet word with me, revealing that the fire was arson.

The lookout sights another ship, and we go up on deck. One of the Green Sceptre's longboats is heading for it, doubtless bearing the saboteur, and both vessels are engulfed in a mysterious fog, which rapidly fades to leave no trace of either craft. This spooks the crew, but their spirits pick up when the Captain orders a change of direction to the nearby port of Ragadorn for repairs and fresh supplies. I may have to complete my voyage by land, but Ragadorn is over half way to the port for which I was originally headed, so it's a decent start.

Well, it would be if we got that far, but a storm strikes before we reach Ragadorn. The mast snaps, and there's a 10% possibility of my being fatally crushed by it. I hate these unavoidable 'purely random chance of death' situations - there's a similar one in a later book that did for me twice during my repeated attempts at the series in the nineties, and an even later one that uses melodrama and overwriting to conceal the fact that it's one of the most stupid endings in gamebook history. And there's this one, which has just brought the adventure to a premature end. Yep, that miserable 1 in 10 shot came up, and I got flattened.

That's going to make playing the rest of the series 'interesting', as I'm going to have to do all the books with no Sommerswerd. Given that it provides something stupid like +8 to Combat Skill, I can expect to be at a significant disadvantage without it.

Anyone who remembers my saying I might take a special look at section 291 may be interested to learn that it describes the realisation that there is no way of riding through the forest to get to the town where I'm headed. Not a particularly good jumping-on point for cheats, especially with a password check coming soon afterwards.

Friday, 7 December 2012

He Talks as the Man of His Age Talks

After Gary Chalk stopped illustrating Lone Wolf books, he worked on the short-lived Prince of Shadows series with the new-to-gamebook-writing David Kerrigan. These are comparatively slim volumes - less than 100 pages - but the pages are a lot larger than in most gamebooks (220mm x 265mm). The way the text is presented on the front cover has caused confusion to some people: on more than one occasion I've seen the series referred to as Mean Streets (the title of the first book).

As with the Eternal Champions books, I initially acquired the second in the series as the result of a random search for gamebooks on eBay, after which I deliberately sought out, and eventually acquired, the first one. However, I have had a couple of goes at this one before now (the percentile-based system inspired me to expand the scope of my Gamebook Manager), whereas my blog entries on the EC books were my first attempt at each. As I recall, my first try ended when I got into a fight with a guard.

The previous owner of the book has written on the Adventure Chart in pencil, and I can see the partially erased traces of at least two attempts preceding the last one listed. Also vaguely noteworthy is the fact that the Combat Value Chart was omitted when the book was printed, so the publishers had it printed on a label and stuck into the blank space where it was supposed to be. Not very carefully positioned - it's at a slight slant, and overlaps the edge of the box in a couple of places - but better to have it slightly sloppily glued in than not there at all.

Not much background is provided, but the essentials are covered. I am Prince Edrix of Salos, but the city is currently under the rule of the usurper Luko, so I'm masquerading as an actor named Dermik. Luko is not popular, but has maintained control with the help of barbarian mercenaries and secret policemen. As things stand, I have nothing to aid me against him but a dagger, some coinage, and my stats, which are
Strength: 23 (above average as rolled, but below average once a rounding-up mechanism in the rules is taken into account)
Princely Skills: High Tongue
Street Skills: Streetfighting, Gutter Speak, Orientation
(The number of Skills I have is fixed, but the proportion of Princely to Street Skills is randomised.)

The adventure opens with a textual version of a common cinematic/televisual gimmick, starting way up in the air above the land (or world) of Vortimax, then following a bird (a not-at-all-symbolic-I'm-sure vulture) as it swoops down, zooming in on the city until it reaches the street where the action commences. The vulture flies past a window, cries out... And cut to Our Hero waking up.

I am soon ready to go out, and then more sounds from outside get my attention. Two Street Sharks are beating up a beggar, and while I'm sure 'Street Sharks' will turn out to be either a slang term or the name of a gang, the text hasn't yet clarified that, so the mental image evoked is probably not what the author intended.

I could have gone for the shark carved on the pavement outside a local bank, but this is more striking.

While not in a position of authority at the moment, I do feel some degree of obligation towards my would-be-subjects, so I decide to intervene. Besides, one of the Sharks is holding the beggar up against my front door to make him an easier target for the other, so I'm not going to be able to get out without disturbing them, unless I dive through the window.

As I recall, combat can be pretty nasty in this system, so it's something of a relief that the resolution of this situation turns out to be pretty slapstick. When I flight the door open, the beggar and the man holding him up both fall through, and the one inflicting the violence blunders into the point of my dagger. Not lethally, but he's in no mood to stick around, and hurriedly limps off. His friend also departs, and the beggar offers to do me a good turn one day.

I head out into the streets and come across a blind story-teller addressing a small crowd. He states that the city was founded by two brothers, who landed here one midwinter's day, and adds in a whisper that, according to the old calendar, tomorrow is midwinter's day and the turn of the millennium. This talk of forbidden topics prompts the crowd to request the true story of King Luko, and the storyteller insists that everyone present pays to hear it. My character probably knows it already, but the readers don't, so the text has me cough up in order to get the exposition omitted from the background details.

Last year, an 'accidental' fire killed King Errian, his wife and (purportedly) his crescent-moon-birthmarked son Edrix, leaving the throne to Errian's brother Luko. No doubt purely coincidentally, a number of Luko's personal guard were spotted in the city, dressed as goatherds, shortly before the tragic blaze. And while we're on the topic of coincidences, just yesterday there was an incident it'll cost extra to hear about. The section concludes with a drily witty description of the effect this announcement has on several pickpockets and an equal number of unexpectedly impoverished individuals who were standing close to them.

I pay the surcharge, but don't much like what I hear. Just yesterday, in the Baths, someone spotted a young man of about the age that Prince Edrix would be, if he were still alive, who had a birthmark just like the late Prince's. So if the rumour hasn't already reached the ears of the Silent Watchers, it will soon, and then I'm going to have a lot of people looking for me. But not to get my autograph.

Now I'm less incognito than I'd planned to be, I should try to contact the local Resistance movement and see if we can work together to bring down Luko. As I wonder how to go about this, a street pedlar selling goat-meat pies approaches, ringing a bell to attract potential customers' attention, and I overhear a man taking advantage of the noise to pass on a message almost unnoticed. He speaks in the debased version of the local language favoured by those at the bottom of the social ladder, but I iz down wiv da kidz, and thus understand that I've just heard almost everything I need to know about a Resistance meeting later today. And I buy a pie, too.

A nearby explosion alerts me to the fact that my strolling has brought me to the magicians' quarter, and I hurry to a safer part of town. Loitering near the venue of the meeting for over an hour before it's due to start looks like a great way to get taken for a spy and gutted, so I opt to spend a little time at the docks. Which turns out not to be that smart a decision either, as I run into a press gang. I don't like the combat odds (looks like a 64% chance of being defeated), so that only really leaves the option of jumping into the water and swimming for it. This allows me to elude capture, and I shelter in a boat. Not much later, someone else comes aboard, but the paraphernalia in the boat suggests that the owner's a fisherman, so he's probably not dangerous to me. Maybe if I were an octopus, but I'm pretty sure that's one plotline that has yet to be used in a gamebook. Yep, a fisherman, and a friendly one. He lets me dry off, recognises my birthmark and takes me to the bridge near where the meeting is being held. A crescent moon shines down on the city as I head for the tavern in question.

The place is virtually deserted, but when I say the password, he directs me to the Snug Bar. This is at the end of a darkened passage, and I find myself at knife-point when I get there. The conspirators demand to know who I am, and I give them my current alias. They're not entirely convinced by that, until I repeat my line from last night's performance. Then they want to know what I want from them, so I build up to the big reveal, and then hit them with my true identity, pointing out that their chances of getting the crowds to rise up would be much better with the true heir on their side. To cap the performance, I show them my birthmark.

As discussions break out, my knowledge of argot comes in handy again. At least some of the Resistance think I'd be just as bad as Luko, so they want to use me to help overthrow him, but then bump me off before I get to the throne. Well, that's a problem for another day.

At the top of the agenda for this meeting is the plan to revive the forbidden Festival of the Founding Fathers. There's a Horn (important enough to merit a capital H) which was traditionally blown at the top of the Repository of the Founding Fathers at sunrise to usher in the Festival, and the Resistance plan to sound the Horn at the right place and time.

A late arrival doesn't come in the way I did. I figure that interrupting the speaker is going to be less risky than not knowing all the ways out of here, so I ask about the concealed entrance. He explains that it leads to the privy, which has a second secret door leading to a weaver's yard, and then returns to outlining the plan. Arrangements have been made to drug the guard in the Repository, and while a large group of Resistance men causes a diversion elsewhere, one man can break into the Repository and find the Horn. Guess who's just been picked for the solo mission.

The leader tells me to take a seat while he and the others finalise plans for the diversion. I pick one close to the secret door. This proves advantageous when some of Luko's guards raid the tavern, as I'm one of the people who get out. A third secret door leads from the yard to a flight of steps leading into a warren of alleys, and I pause briefly to try and work out the optimal route through with my Orientation Skill. I've not quite figured it all out by the time someone warns me the guards have made it to the privy, but at least I have the beginnings of a plan.

A plan that starts to look inadvisable even before I can start to implement it, as there's a two-page spread depicting the maze of streets, with section numbers dotted around it to show what encounters can be had there, and following the route spelled out in the previous section would lead me in a circle. Still, I can see a viable-looking route if I make one small addition at the start, so I'll try that one.

Others accompany me, and when we see an approaching watchman, one offers to kill him. I favour a more subtle approach, which turns out to be a good thing, as he has a friend close by. We make a generous contribution to his pension fund, and he is afflicted with a bout of absent-mindedness that causes him to forget that he saw us.

Further on, I espy a guard who has become separated from his comrades. I'm about to give the order to rush him when I realise that somehow I've lost my companions, too. He is still at a disadvantage, as his sword's too big to easily swing in the alley, and he hasn't yet noticed me, but I can probably sneak past, while a fight would last at least four rounds, and is liable to attract attention. So I leave him alone. Alas, he hears me and chases after me, emerging from the narrow alley and thus getting a distinct advantage in battle. He strikes the first blow, and as one of the 'fun' aspects of the system is that taking damage significantly reduces the likelihood of being able to hit one's opponent, I rapidly become too weak to put up a fight, and wind up sliced into pieces.

Another failure, then. Still, that was quite an entertaining adventure, with a bit of a sense of humour in places. Nasty combat system, but I did have the option of fleeing from battle, and just forgot to use it because it's so rarely worth doing in gamebooks. It was definitely more enjoyable than some of the stinkers I've been playing recently.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

I Hate People When They're Not Polite

Issue 4 of Warlock featured the winner of issue 1's 'write a mini-adventure' contest, The Dervish Stone, by Paul Struth (with uncredited inspiration from George Lucas). My primary memory from back when I originally got this issue is of writing in to the magazine to point out that several sequences in TDS were more than slightly similar to scenes from a couple of Star Wars films and Raiders of the Lost Ark (and to express dissatisfaction with the largely uninformative nature of that issue's Profile on Iain McCaig). As for my first attempt at the adventure itself, I remember nothing. The Adventure Sheet has been filled out in pencil, but I suspect that that was for a later try, as I can't imagine having lasted long enough to acquire all the equipment listed on it.

There's an introductory paragraph telling of a legendary and long-lost diamond, known as the Stone of Shanhara in memory of the dervish who originally discovered it. Slightly awkwardly, section 1 precedes the penultimate sentence of this introduction (and, presumably, also the 'Equipment' section of the rules - or did I already have 20 Gold Pieces on me before finding an identical sum at the start of my adventure?), so I'm told of my discovery prior to making it.

It might have been advisable to fudge character creation again, as there are some nasty fights in here. But with my rolls, I wouldn't have been able to create someone that much better than I got anyway:
Skill 8
Stamina 19
Luck 9
My Skill would be a bit higher, my Stamina a little lower, but I'm not sure it would make that much of a difference.

I am/was heading for the town of Alasiyan for unspecified reasons, when I sit/sat on a dagger that has/had somehow wound up buried point upwards. Digging to uncover it also exposes/exposed some bones, some armour, and a chest bearing the name Jakor One-Eye, which contains/contained the aforementioned money and a parchment. The message on this parchment is what prompts/prompted me to embark on a quest to find the Stone, though it's not actually all that informative. The introduction mentioned legends, implying that people who've heard of the Stone already know that it is in the Lost Cave of the Dervishes, so the only additional information provided by the dying-but-determined-to-pass-on-his-knowledge Jakor is that the cave is 'somewhere in Twin Sun Desert'. Well, I guess that narrows it down to just several thousand square miles, but it's still not a lot to go on.

The message ends by warning me to 'beware The Guardian', which is a little odd, as I'd say that the Daily Mail and The Sun are both much more toxic newspapers.

By this point in the narrative the intro and the section have synced up, and I must decide whether or not to look for the Potion that Jakor claimed to have hidden in a rock cleft. None too surprisingly, I do, finding a bottle marked 'Control Human' and getting bitten by a small lizard for my troubles.

Proceeding to Alasiyan, I am stopped by Guards who want to search my backpack, so I use the Forc Potion to persuade them that there's no need. A bit of a waste, but that's the only chance I'll get to use it, fighting the Guards could wind up costing me more Stamina than the lizard bite, and submitting to the search would result in the confiscation of my Potion of Fortune. Thwarting the Guards in this manner would allow me to add 1 Luck, were it not for the fact that I've had no opportunity to lose any Luck yet, and the rules do contain the standard ban on exceeding your Initial score unless specifically instructed to do so.

In the town I see a Nomad telling tales of life in the Desert, but the only thing I learn from him is that he has things for sale. I buy a sword, a knife, and a capsule of poison gas. He's also selling a glass eye, but I can't afford everything, and based on my last attempt at the adventure, I think I'll be better off with the other items. Both edged weapons are magical, and the gas is self-explanatory (and a nasty weapon, but potentially my best chance of avoiding having to fight a Skill 12 opponent).

A large house with Hobgoblin guards attracts my attention for no very good reason. One of the guards tells me that it's the Governor's house, and I'm not allowed in without an appointment. I admit that I don't have one, and he's quite abrupt with me. And apparently I'm the sort of character who considers it a mortal insult to be told to 'stop wasting my time', so I waste the guards instead, taking a few wounds in the process. One of them has a key, which unlocks the door of the house he was guarding.

Investigating sounds of singing and laughter from behind a door, I find more Hobgoblins. One of them throws a bone at me, and I have to waste a point of Luck avoiding taking negligible Stamina damage from it. The fight isn't much trouble, partly because the Hobgoblins attack one at a time. Well, I assume they do - the text doesn't specify, and the rules say nothing about fighting multiple opponents simultaneously.

Up the stairs I see a fat, well-dressed man with what appears to be a Hobgoblin at his side. I enter the room, and the man shoots me with a bolt of lightning and sets his guard, actually a Troll/Hobgoblin/Ghoul crossbreed known as a Thoul, on me. And whatever grotesque process is used to create such things ensures that the Ghoul's 'paralyse any opponent with the fourth blow' ability is retained, as a result of which I come to a rather nasty end here.

To add insult to injury, I've just taken a peek at what would have happened if I'd defeated the hybrid and its master, which would have been... getting some more money and a minor attribute bonus. I had assumed that the house was a place where I could acquire an item that would prove useful or essential at a subsequent stage of the quest, but no, it's just an irrelevant aside.

An immoral one, too: when The Warlock of Firetop Mountain did the 'break into a man's home, kill him and his staff, and steal all their money' thing, there was some tenuous justification for the quest provided by the rumours about the Warlock's misdeeds. Here, I go in knowing only that the occupant of the house is the Governor (so this is about robbing and killing a local authority figure) and if I do kill him (potentially creating a power vacuum and plunging the town into anarchy) I gain a point of Luck for having done so well.

I was expecting to have some ethical issues when I got to Seas of Blood, but at least that book doesn't hide the fact that its protagonist is a villain. This adventure effectively makes out that there's something heroic about committing felonies in the interests of acquiring valuables (and possibly also fame). I don't imagine it's ever actually inspired anyone to try housebreaking or murder in the real world, but it's still about being a sort of person I have no desire to even play at being. There are worse-written, more unplayable, and more frustrating FF adventures, but this might have just qualified as the one I like least.

Monday, 3 December 2012

An Image Dark and Small

I'm skipping T&T solo 7, Overkill, until I have a few veteran characters, because playing it with a first-level group would just be silly. Next up is James and Steven Marciniak's Beyond the Silvered Pane, which is structurally similar to Deathtrap Equalizer Dungeon.

Like DED, BtSP was published alongside another adventure by Corgi Books, and that volume was actually my first ever T&T gamebook. I got it (and the Complete Rule Book and Game Guide) from the long since renamed, closed-down, demolished and other-buildings-erected-on-the-site store Chiesmans in one of their January sales. No idea how my first attempt ended, but it was almost certainly something lethal. Ken St. Andre's preface to my Flying Buffalo copy of BtSP estimates an 80% chance of not surviving the adventure. Still, its 'multiple micro-dungeon' set-up means that if I get lucky, I could live through a few trips and then call it a day.

Mind you, I'm not sure that my spectacularly average character is the sort to get lucky.

Strength 9
Intelligence 13
Luck 9
Constitution 9
Dexterity 11
Charisma 10
Speed 10
I was planning on making a wizard anyway, based on one of the traps I remember, but with stats like that I'd be a fool to make him anything else. And based on my memories of one encounter, I'm definitely picking a male character on this occasion.

The host for this adventure is Marcelanius the Fair, a dwarf who owns a mirror that happens to be a portal into other planes of existence. He allows adventurers to pass through it in return for a share of any loot the survivors bring back. The mirror glows red as I advance on it, which is not a massively encouraging sign, but I step through anyway.

I find myself in a torture chamber. This is not good, but not for the reasons the setting would suggest. Shackled to one wall is a beautiful girl in a rag that doesn't conceal much. And at last I get an opening to say something about the bowdlerisation of the Corgi editions. The thing is, there's some very mild sexual content in many of the adventures - if you've been following this blog regularly, you might recall my declining the option of pursuing a nymph with lustful intent, or my spurning the seductive advances of the false prophet - but gamebooks were largely targeted at a younger audience in the eighties, so any such references in the adventures published by Corgi were edited out or toned down. Gruesome deaths tended to be left in, though. This instance is actually uncharacteristic, and some might even consider it a more acceptable edit: the extreme skimpiness of the girl's rag is retained in the Corgi book, but the additional information that she shows signs of having been tortured has been cut.

Unsurprisingly, she begs me to free her before her torturer returns. For all the difference it makes, I do so. She tries to kiss me, and I decline, so she tries to hypnotise me into kissing her. I just make the saving roll to resist her compelling gaze, and the illusory torture chamber vanishes, leaving me to confront an angry soulsucker. So now you know why I was unwilling to kiss her.

Not that my resistance makes any real difference, as the soulsucker is a sufficiently nasty opponent that I fail to survive the first round of combat. In fact, I lose more than twice as many points of Constitution as I actually had. And that's why I was so disheartened to have wound up in that particular micro-dungeon. It's probably not the most lethal one in the adventure, but I'm sure it is one of the more dangerous.