Saturday, 29 July 2017

Dysartes Delves Into Deathtrap Dungeon

Ian and helpers - and coffee!
UK Games Expo is always an interesting weekend for me - the variety of traders, the range of upcoming Kickstarter projects, the deals to be had. One element of it which has become a bit of a tradition for me is leaving the show with signed books, at least some of which were written by Jonathan Green. 2017 proved to be no different, and when I arrived on the Saturday I almost immediately managed to pass by the stand he was on - by accident, I assure you.

This year, there were other authors sharing the stand with him, one of which I recognised from previous years - a certain Mr Ian Livingstone, of Fighting Fantasy fame. Both he and Mr Green1 were doing rather good deals on signed books from that series, and I found my collection expanding from a lone volume up to seven - and my shopping bag getting distinctly heavier!

Fast forward a few weeks, and I had an overnight trip to London to deal with for work. As I wasn't sure who else might be around, I'd packed a little light reading to keep me occupied on the train and in my hotel room - and, on an impulse, decided to pack one of my recent Fighting Fantasy acquisitions, along with dice and some paper to make notes. In this case, I was going to be taking expedition to the depths of Deathtrap Dungeon, to see what Fate had in store for me...

As always, my first step was to generate a character. With the Fighting Fantasy books, this covers three statistics - Luck, Skill and Stamina - with a roll of 4d6. Having made a note of which dice would make up which stat, I rolled the bones:

Stamina2 x Grey12+719

I've ended up with a very skillful character, who is fairly lucky, but only of average stamina. From my previous play of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, I was pretty happy with this - the high Skill puts me in a strong position for most early combats, and I had enough Luck to be able to survive most initial tests.

Deathtrap Dungeon is a dungeon designed by Lord Sukumvit, with a cash prize awaiting my character if he could navigate his way through and escape. There would be other adventurers in the dungeon at the same time as me, so there is a potential there for conflict - or co-operation, if the opportunities present themselves. I'll let my nameless character narrate his adventure:

1Into the dungeon I go, adjusting to the lantern light after the brightness of the morning sun. Someone has left a set of boxes here, one bearing my name. I'm curious, so let's take a look.
270Huzzah! Some loot (2 gold pieces) and a note from Lord Sukumvit. Having read the note, I continue north.
66First junction in the maze. An arrow on the wall suggests going west2, and it looks like most of those ahead of me have gone that way. I'm feeling a bit contrary, so go east instead.
119There's something on the tunnel floor ahead of me, but I can't tell what it is. Time to investigate.
56A big soft brown thing blocks my way - time to break out the sword, and see what this lump is made of...
215"That may not have been my best idea," I think to myself, after being covered in itchy spores (-2 Stamina). "Still, at least the corridor is clear now."
13The tunnel has turned a corner, and is heading north now. Things have also started to heat up as I've followed it. I am, you might say, a bit parched by the time I find some clear liquid in a bamboo tube. Time for a drink, I reckon.
147That was a very refreshing drink, oddly cool despite the ambient heat (+1 Stamina). The tunnel doesn't feel as oppressive any more. Time to continue onward.
182Having said that, the heat has continued to rise as I've headed north. Lord Sukumvit should get his janitor to look into that.
25This heat really is excessive. A lesser person would've been overwhelmed by now.
197Phew, I think we're past the worst of it - and there's a door here with an iron plate on it. I wonder if I can use that to check out what's behind it?
156The lighting wasn't great, but I could make out a pit and some rope on the far side. Well, rope is useful, and I didn't bring any. Better grab it if I can.
208A careful leap, and the rope is mine! Back over the pit, and time to head further north.
326The tunnel turned sharply left, and I rounded it only to come face-to-face with a brace of Orcs. Fight scene! (Rolls a 2)
91One of the blighters managed to catch me with his club while I was drawing my sword, causing me to drop it. (-4 Skill)
257Even without my blade, I'm able to dispatch the Orcs with a dose of the old fisticuffs. A quick check of their pockets after recovering my weapon reveals a hollow wooden tube and some gold (+1 gold piece). Time to continue heading west.
164The tunnel is getting damp again, and I can see footprints approaching a door to my right. I think I'll see what's behind door #2.
299One of my fellow competitors has perished, due to a combination of greed and a trap. Still, I'll see if he has anything of use on him. Time to be careful.
126Heh, he only had some dried meat on him. Still, I could use a snack.
226Quite tasty, if a little chewy (+1 Stamina). The silver goblet over there must be what he was after, so let's see if I can get there.
41Why would anyone leave a goblet of sparkling red liquid on a table in a dungeon? Still, drinking random liquid has been useful so far...
98There was a CLICK as I lifted the goblet. (Test of Luck - Success!)
105Fortunately, my reflexes were fast enough to avoid the dart. Unfortunately, I dropped the goblet, spilling liquid everywhere. Still, it might be useful - or valuable - later. Time to continue west.
83Looks like this is where the two passages join up again. The other competitors seem to have gone north, so let's see if I can catch up.3
37A large cavern with a jewelled idol in the middle - I reckon I might be able to pry its eyes out...
351This idol isn't the easiest to climb. Good job I brought some rope, huh?
396One lasso and some careful climbing later, and I'm in position. Right eye first, I think...
34I chose... poorly. The gem shattered, there was some gas, and with a fall from the statue my expedition comes to an end.

I guess he wasn't lucky enough, in the end. The twenty-eighth room was the one that got me, thanks to my own desire for shiny things. I was fortunate at a couple of points that an impulsive desire to open or drink things didn't spell my doom, as it would've been easy for Lord Sukumuit to have trapped them - having said that, who in their right mind traps the eye of a statue?

This being the second Fighting Fantasy book I've played against, I have started to notice a couple of bits I'm less than keen on in Fighting Fantasy books, though I'm not sure how you'd improve them. The lack of options to go the "wrong way" at a junction - such as at room 83 - is a bit of a railroad, but it does make sense. You could easily double or treble the number of entries you need if you allowed for that, which either lengthens the book or reduces the amount of available rooms if you stick with 400 blocks of text per book.

The second thing is the encouragement to draw a map - the majority of rooms don't give you an indication of scale, so it comes down to guesswork as to how long a corridor should be, or how large a room needs to be. I'm fairly sure the corridor I drew down the right of the map is almost certainly too long, but when the description includes it receding "out of sight", a long corridor is implied. Some sense of scale for squared paper would be handy, I reckon.

The final quibble is with the inventory system, though it was less of an issue in this book, given how my expedition was curtailed. In Warlock there seemed to be an arbitrary limit to how much you could carry, which kicked in at a certain point in the book, rather than a number of items. This led to having to discard items to pick up new ones, with no real logic as to what you discarded for what was collected - dropping a lone black glove for a heavy metal shield, for example...

As I've said, I'm not sure how to do these better, and they didn't spoil my enjoyment of a first run at Deathtrap Dungeon - but they are things I'd think on before having a go at writing one myself. As for this dungeon? I foresee a second run in my future, to see what happens if I go left instead of right at the first junction - and, of course, if I don't go for the gem...

1 - If you're reading this, Mr Green, my apologies for not coming back for your other books. I'd planned to pick them up on Sunday, but you weren't around then...
2 - Life is peaceful there...
3 - Oddly, I wasn't given the option to head south and see if I missed anything useful, which is what I would do here...