Sunday 3 March 2013

Dark Article - Choose Your Own Path Adventure Books

Dark Article Image

Choose Your Own Path Adventure Books
By Casey Douglass

Caves of Fury and Tunnels of Fear Image

In the process of sorting out some old books for the charity shop, I came across a couple of the old Battle Quest books; those old choose-your-own-path kind of book where you turn to a certain page for one choice and a different page for another. I remember getting them when I was about nine or ten and it has been a long time since I set eyes on them. I set them aside with a view to revisiting them later to see how they fared after years of playing video games.

I settled on Tunnels of Fear although the other one, Caves of Fury, hinted at a similarly dark adventure. Both were written by Stephen Thraves and were published by Hodder&Stoughton. I would guess that if there had been a third, it might be called Pit of Despair, keeping with the same subterranean theme. As far as I can see, these are the only two that were released in the darker fantasy style.

Book Dice Image

The book comes with two dice, a red one to represent the monster and a blue for your barbarian hero. Each side has a symbol, a sword, shield and the face of the combatant, and you roll these to decide who hits who, or even if sword hits shield/sword etc. It’s simple and very easy. If the creature inflicts a wound on you, you are meant to decrease your character strength by one, and run away! If you hit the creature, you have to keep going until you have wounded it the number of times that the book tells you to. Simple.

Book Adventure Cards Image

After looking them over I opened the book and various paraphernalia fell out that I had totally forgotten was part of it. This included a strength (read as health) counter, a treasure counter, and various overlays and information cards that you can only use if you find them on your quest. These are called things like Foresight Power and Cryptic Scroll. Being a good boy I turned them over out of the way. Following the instructions, I set my strength counter to 6 and treasure counter to 0.

I meet with a beautiful queen whose kingdom’s wealth came from a particular mine that has now been cursed by a sorcerer called Murgle, on the order of his evil master Draxun. The mine is now filled to the brim with demons and monsters and the miners cannot delve for the valuable diamonds that the kingdom so relies on. Can I help? The book says to turn the page if yes. There is no option for no but anyone saying no straight away deserves to be perplexed. Why buy the book?

The queen’s advisor Uvane drops me off some way from the mine. I am given the choice of resting or pushing on straight away. I choose to rest, and get to enjoy the sight of a bedraggled band of miners traipsing along the road. I can choose who to speak to! I choose the man with a beard and pick axe; looking the most minerly of the bunch, I guess him to have the most accurate information. All he tells me is that the mine is full of monsters and that the village is going bust. Okay, not very helpful but thanks I guess.

I push on for the village, giving some of my rations to a hungry child I see at the limits of the ramshackle area. I wasn’t given an option to give them or not. It felt like I had been burgled to be honest. Little shit.

I see the tear in the rock face that signals the entrance to the mine. Listening outside, there is no demonic roaring or clinking of chains. Silence prevails. I like it, it’s nice and ominous.

The tunnel is conveniently lit with oil lamps until it widens into a cavern. There are metal rungs stapled into the sides of a deep pit, one bunch to the north, one to the south. ‘Which way do you want to go?’ the book asks in its bold font. I choose south, thinking it’s a mine, I’m going down, South is down on a map. Poetic and fitting I think.

The book tells me I climb down 400 rungs, which I think is a suspiciously round number. These miners must have known their stuff. ‘We need to delve x metres down and no more. That will need exactly 400 rungs at y cm apart.’ This was an intelligent people.

Clearing the bottom of the pit and trudging on some little way, I encounter my first monster, and twinkling behind it, a lovely diamond! The creature looks a bit like Thing from the Fantastic Four, rocky and cracked, although this guy has tusks and a sword. The book asks if I want to fight or avoid it. Feeling confident I fight. The next page tells me that I need to wound him 8 times. 8! It takes a few rolls to get any proper contact as the first few end in swords clashing and shields bashing faces. I inflict my first wound swiftly followed by a second. The fight still feels far from won and it wounds me on the next roll, causing me to loose strength and scamper away. Damn it. I turn my strength counter down to 5.

I run into a segment of tunnel that is shaking and trembling, looking for all the world like it will crash down at any moment. The book gives me the option of running on or waiting. I choose to run. I make it mostly through but a stray rock knocks the back of my head and sets me unconscious on the floor. Lose 1 strength. Son of a bitch.

A ghost of a former miner is floating in front of me when I come to. He beckons with a misty finger. The book asks me if I would like to follow or ignore him. I choose to follow, he’s a miner after all. That’s the second time I have chosen a miner to trust/speak to. Maybe it’s the beards? Do I have a Father Christmas complex? Who knows.

I follow him until he stops in front of three smallish rocks in the wall, all looking a little wobbly. He points to them and tells me that behind one is a treasure, behind the others nothing. Which should I choose? I pick the lowest one, my thinking being again, I’m in a mine, you go low in a mine so choose the lowest. I’m not a complicated fellow. I grope behind the rock and pull out a musty old book. The Book of Cyphers! I fist punch the air and then chastise myself for being such a child, but I still grin broadly as I fish out the book of Cyphers from the forbidden pile of cards that has been mocking me since I started. Right, so I am down to 4 strength, have found 0 diamonds, but now I have a book that should tell me what to do later. Things don’t look so bleak.

Buoyed in spirit if not weighed down by loot, I push on deeper into the mine. It isn’t long before I cross paths with another monster, this one a Cyclops with a large scimitar. I decide to try my luck once more and engage the creature in combat. The book informs me that it needs to be wounded 7 times. It seems a lot, and there was no question of a swift rock thrown at the eye either. I roll and roll and roll, each dice throw resulting in weapons hitting shields, sword against sword, and once, monster face against barbarian face, which I can only assume meant a harsh stare. Soon, the wounds began to flow and I had knocked the creature down to needing 3 more hits. Swords clashed, shields thumped, but eventually I succeeded. The Cyclops lay dead before me, the body still twitching as my hands cupped the diamond that had been pressed into a nook in the cave wall. With another grin (but no air punch this time, I had learnt my lesson) I turned my treasure counter to 1.

I proceed down the tunnel once more and have to choose at a junction whether to go left or right. I choose left, hoping something evil is at the end of it. I was wrong. The danger came from behind. A yellow crackling glow whooshed behind me as a large fireball broiled towards me. I run but it catches me, singeing the back of my head. The heat sucks the air from my lungs causing me to faint.

For the second time in my adventure, I come to with something staring down at me. In this case it is a hideous goblin sniggering at me as he jiggles up and down with glee. He informs me that when I collapsed, the fireball stopped and rolled backwards down the tunnel. My first thought was “What the fuck? A fireball rolling? A fireball rolling backwards?” Maybe this wasn’t a magical fireball. Maybe it was the proverbial “rolling stone that gathers no moss”, but in this case happened to roll through some flammable oil and catch some flint on the way down the hill. But then again, it stopped without killing me and rolled away, so it probably was magical after all.

The goblin offers me three potions of various colours. One will do nothing, one will give me 1 strength back, and one will poison me. Ah ha! The book of Cyphers can be used. Each bottle has the same symbol etched into it, and the book of Cyphers informs me that I should choose the blue coloured liquid. The goblin snarls in irritation as my strength increases once more, the little window on my counter now proudly displaying 4.

I imagine myself walking down the tunnel, whistling some current barbarian pop tune as the goblin punches the wall and swears at me in his strange sounding native tongue. I push deep into the mine and negotiate all manner of obstacles, from rock falls, pits of flame and cryptic clues which are beyond my power to decipher. Not to mention the monsters and their diamonds. My strength counter now shows a forlorn 1, my treasure counter a healthy 3. Laughter drifts up to me from a particularly foisty part of the tunnel. I round a corner and floating white vapours take on the aspect of an elderly man with a long beard and the top of a grand looking robe. This definitely wasn’t a miner. I knew because I didn’t trust him.

It is Murgle, Draxun's sorcerer. He laughs and tells me of the trials I will face and surely fail. I say nothing apparently but this doesn’t discourage him from proceeding. The first challenge is similar to the goblin’s potion trick, and my trusty book of Cyphers swiftly dispenses with it. Murgle is unfazed and throws me into his mind maze with a flick of a ghostly hand. A large statue stands before me with a massive diamond on its head. I am given the choice to climb it or ignore it. I ignore it, something seemed fishy. Moments later the statue vanishes. Had I been climbing it I would have surely broken my neck as my hands and feet suddenly grasped at the thin air.

In the next tunnel a whirlwind blows and tears the air. I am given the option of going left of it, right, or to risk going straight through it. I wouldn’t go through it, if the statue was an illusion, I doubted this one would be as well. It is then that the book informs me of the glowing symbol in the tendrils of wind. Book of Cyphers comes to the rescue and right of it is the way to go. Things fade to darkness and I find myself facing Murgle again. He asks how I liked his mind maze? I would have said “Two sections is hardly a maze” but the book kept me silent again. Murgle informs me that the next part of the mine is the most perilous yet. Gravy.

I forge ahead, leaving the foggy old man behind. This part of the tunnel is interjected with large portcullises, each holding captive a stranger monster than the last. The first is like a large ape. Pass. It looked a bit handy. The second held a smirking lizard man with a large sword. Pass. He was too confident, and I couldn’t see any diamond. Strangely, it occurs to me that my mind is now in the picky mode it enters when looking for a date. Not that I date men or only people with diamonds behind them.

I finally came to a portcullis which seemed to house a monster that had been turned inside out! It was all brain, entrails and muscles snaking around, and fastened to its waist, a large sword. I fancied my chances, there appeared to be no bones, it should just be like cutting through a fat snake. It showed no signs of having a diamond behind it but the book obviously wanted me to face one of these creatures or the macabre procession might never end. It may as well be this one. Eyeing my strength counter and the 1 it displayed, I turned to the page for the creature and saw that 7 wounds were needed. Blast.

I managed to wound it once but the next throw saw its sword slice into me, opening a fatal wound in my torso. It was all over. I sadly twisted my strength counter until a mournful 0 peered back at me. My barbarian had died in the hall of portcullis, a mere hour and a half into his adventure. His story ends there, amongst the tittering goblins and slavering monsters, the three meagre diamonds he managed to find likely to be fished from his pack by skeletal fingers and dispensed to a new crop of hideous guardians once more.

Well, I can say that I enjoyed myself. It was something different for me that I hadn’t tried for a long time. I can’t really remember how many times I read through them as a kid, only that I remember that I did. I don’t think I was as bookish then as I am now though, and looking at it with another twenty years of life behind me, I think I got more out of it. The story was simple and a bit repetitive but some of that would be down to the nature of the medium and what it was trying to achieve.

One aspect that is true for this kind of entertainment and video games is that personally, I never feel the need to play/go through something more than once. Once I know the story, that’s it, interest mainly gone. The book tells you to play through again, getting better and better until you can get all of the diamonds. Nope. That’s quite optimistic of it really, but I think I will play through the other one I found at some point in the near future.

If anyone remembers these books and fancies trying their hand again, there are still a few to be had second-hand in the usual places, but they are quite scarce now. Scarcer than the diamonds in the story at the least.