Monday, 16 November 2009

The Mines of Malagus

With all (virtual) copies of PROTEUS now in my possession I've started playing #2 The Mines of Malagus and doing it properly - all dice rolling religiously accepted and no cheating. It's a lot harder than it looks. So far I'm down 5 Adventurers although one of those I abandoned to his fate when I realised my mapping had gone wrong somewhere. Admittedly three of those adventurers were cursed from birth with rolling a 1 for their SKILL modifier. RIP Treson, Lucida, Estima and Sir Ruf - Treson the Younger I hope you find your way out someday. Sorry mate.

Malagus was the first issue I had and back in the day I just got lost and never got anywhere with it to my great frustration. It's actually quite a cleverly-structured adventure and does something novel with the "numbered paragraph" format.

The scenario itself is a simple "locate three geegaws in the maze" with a bit of plot armour meaning that you must get three in one expedition (otherwise the geegaws, pieces of some talismanic gravestone that has to be recovered for some vague reason, teleport back to their hiding places). So far nothing too special.

However, Malagus has an extremely clever design to allow you to not only wander around freely in some areas retracing your steps but also to allow you to not realise you are doing this with obvious and sneaky effects upon your mapping.

Here's what it does. If you stand at a N-S-W junction at paragraph 25 (with the W passage being described to you as "on your left" as you travelled north) you could go north to 180. You'd assume that travelling south from 180 takes you back to 25. But it doesn't. Going south will take you to another paragraph entirely (let's say 77) that describes the same place but from a different angle of approach - so that now, the gamebook describes a T-junction with a branch going off to your right. North from 77 will go to 180 again (because it's the same direction of approach) but South could go to 103 which is not the paragraph you entered 25 from if you came northwards from the south.

Clever stuff. It gives you the freedom to wander around some places and invites you to get lost because you don't neccesarily immediately make the mental connection to realise you have been here before.

Once I started mapping the place out and trying to discover the correct route I started to appreciate the cleverness of the design. Some areas of the dungeon are "timeless" - meaning nothing the adventurer can do will change anything and these areas are the confusing and sneaky maze puzzle. Other areas can change and then do the usual pushing forwards of the player so that they can't return. The west area of the Mines (the area I have started mapping out) introduces the player to the maze area with an immediate monster fight. Since the player will win the fight or end the game, the gamebook is safe to have a later paragraph describing the discovery of the bodies - since if the player returns here the monsters must be dead. Monsters dead or GAME OVER PLAYER ONE - there are no alternate outcomes here. In fact as I type this I realise that this rediscovering of the bodies is intended as a big hint at the free roaming nature of the place and the potential to get lost. An option to retreat to a place before the fight isn't given so continuity is preserved. At the exit of this free roaming section is another fight to the player is funneled off into a new section. This is another maze and on the way in, the player steps over a tripwire trap without setting it off. Suffice to say any attempt to return causes the player to stumble into this trap with lethal consequences.

The design has really impressed me. If the scenario wasn't so hackneyed this would be a real classic.

Anyway, next up, Sacrifical Pawn-cum-Adventurer number 6. He/she might have to be drowned in a bucket at birth if that SKILL die comes up 1 again.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Last of the PROTEUS Charsheets

The final three character sheets from PROTEUS, all ready for use as decorative borders to whichever charsheets you are using in whichever game you are playing. I haven't done every issue from PROTEUS as some are repeated, the sheet in #1 was as dull as ditchwater and the later ones have very small boxes for stats and are therefore not very useful for mashup purposes.

From #10 - Triad of Evil.

From #11 - Challenge of the Promethean Guild. Mr. Harrod clearly making a pitch for the GW gig here with his Warhammer-inspired Chaos Warrior.

And finally #12 - The Weaver of Nightmares

Sadly, GIMP doesn't seem to do "free" rotation, only allowing you to rotate to intervals of 90 degrees, otherwise I'd be putting the FF sheet straight in the middle of the last two. I'll have to find some other tool with which to do this.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

More PROTEUS Charsheets

Four more of Gary Harrod's stunning "Quest Sheets" from PROTEUS magazine, all ready for importing into your favourite art package (being a hippy freeloader I like the free and open source GIMP which comes preinstalled in Ubuntu but is available for Windows as well) and ramming your favourite character sheet layout into the middle.

This one is from #3 - Shindberg's Tomb. I have no idea what Geo-Secular Powers are but they sound important. Anyway here's a version of this with the good old Jackson/Livingstone Adventure Sheet in the middle which I will print off and laminate and have a re-usable sheet for most FF books and/or FF RPG games if I ever run that again (as is tempting). I dropped the right-hand page which was just a scratchpad for monster statistics - not very relevant for an RPG sesh.

From #5 - Caverns of the Enchantress...

...and #6 - Treasues of the Cursed Pyramid. I have no idea why a sandworm from Dune is firing lasers from it's eyes at an Otyugh with what appears to be an inflamed glans but perhaps this would suit PCs adventuring in Supplement V : Carcosa.

Finally for now from #9 - Lord of Chaos. A cracking Gigeresque piece for sci-fi gaming.

Couple of PROTEUS OD&D Sheets

Just to show you what I meant about reusing the Gary Harrod charsheets from PROTEUS - here's two I made earlier (well, about 5 minutes earlier that is).

This one uses a sheet from Dragonsfoot, Jesse Walker's version of the Rules Cyclopedia sheet. Fits perfectly in the gap (well, bar two or three pixels or so).

This one takes a different tack and uses Victor Raymond's 3"x5" index card charsheet (an idea I first came across in Tunnels and Trolls) over on Sandbox of Doom. Three of them fit in nicely for running multiple PCs or hirelings.

Creature of Habit

Call me slow on the uptake but it's taken me 23 years of this being my favourite gamebook EVAR to realise that the odd and slightly clunky title is actually a bad pun. For some reason I had the book at the back of mind (probably as a result of thinking about FF a fair bit lately) and in a matter totally unrelated described myself to somebody at work as being something of a creature of habit. And suddenly it clicked...

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Proteus Magazine

Dear Wimbourne Publishing.

We already agreed by email that I don't have any copies of PROTEUS magazine being offered for download and that the other website that does is nothing all to do with me. So stop DCMA requesting this blog OK?

Found a great website last night that has all the issues of PROTEUS for download in PDF format (as well as all issues of WARLOCK, but that's perhaps a matter for another post). PROTEUS was a magazine that came out riding unashamedly on the coat-tails of Messrs. Jackson and Livingstone and printed smaller gamebooks (200-250 paragraphs or so) in bi-monthly A4 magazine format through the usual magazine retail chain (newsagents, supermarkets etc.).

The whole magazine was a bit of what The Simpson's dubbed "Non-Union Mexican" but it was very cheap (launched at a mere 80p) and the A4 format showed off the full-page artwork a lot better than the paperbook size did in the "proper" books.

Rules-wise PROTEUS was a pretty blatant copy of the FF system, simply renaming SKILL to Dexterity and STAMINA to Strength. Early issues showed a bit of stat inflation with SKILL, sorry Dexterity, being d6+8 and STAMINA, sorry Strength, being d6+15. Later issues reverted to the more familar d6+6 and d6+12. I have to say I don't remember this differential in the old days, perhaps showed I didn't bother to read the rules properly and probably struggled with the fights accordingly.

Format-wise the magazine was essentially a few pages of adverts from the usual suspects wrapped around the adventure. It was always quite heavy on the artwork, and unlike the FF or Lone Wolf books, used a lot of artists within one issue. This tended to give a disjointed and inconsistent feel to the illustrations. It also did the FF/LW thing of incorporating a lot of page furniture artworks (a lot of which were re-used across issues) probably to enable the page count to be bulked up "on the cheap." The covers were unfortunately quite flimsy and so none of my copies survived whereas contempory-purchased White Dwarfs did.

One of the highlights of PROTEUS was it's use of Gary Harrod's artwork. Harrod later went on to get the GW gig doing a load of mono illos for the Realms of Chaos books and a quick Google suggests he worked on UK videogaming mag Mean Machines as well. I think this blog is from the same man.

Harrod did the character sheets for each issue after the first, and if you are used to the boring, functional sheets from the likes of Fighting Fantasy, and indeed - every RPG ever released, then these may be a shock - fantastic morbid borders and graphic design. I'm so impressed with them looking through all 19 issues that I've started extracting them from the PDFs, assembling as JPGs with an eye to uploading here. Then you can download, remove the PROTEUS stat blocks and import your own char sheet for whatever game you are playing. I really like these sheets, atmosphere would practically ooze out of them each time you looked down to check your Hit Points.

Here are the two I've done so far from #2 The Mines of Malagus and #6 The Fortress of Kruglach.

PROTEUS was a bit of a "me too" effort and I remember a fair few digs at it from WARLOCK magazine, probably coming straight from the mouth of a disgruntled Jackson and Livingstone. None of the adventures I played ever really stood out as classics. But I have fond memories of the mag - the A4 format and huge amount of art was something to savoured and it was cheap enough for me to buy as soon as I saw it - rather than the usual wait for Christmas and Birthday WHSmiths tokens followed by the wait until my Father was free on a Saturday to take me up to Wolverhampton to spend them that was the only way I got to spend my own money on "proper" paperbacks.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Buy It Now, 99p

On the right, the original bought when I was back in Middle School. On the left, a 99p Buy It Now from eBay. I now have a usable reading and lending copy.