Saturday, 19 July 2008

#21 - Trial Of Champions

Unlike others, I wouldn't call Trial Of Champions a sequel to Deathtrap Dungeon - it's not as if you're playing the same character with the same motivations or anything. This is probably just as well, as I doubt a corpse would get very far.

This time around you're a slave belonging to the maze owner's brother, Lord Carnass, and he wants a strong contender to represent him in the competition, to stick it to his bro', as all brothers do. Apparently someone won it the year before (not me, mind you) so Baron Sukumvit redesigned the competition from scratch to make it more evil.

Carnass has 42 slaves, but can only send one for some reason, so puts us all through challenges - not like a trial, to be honest, as the losers are put to death, if they're not dead already.

Sounds a little complex and two-parted, huh? Well, that's nothing compared to the adventure sheet. Just skill, stamina, luck, some boxes for fights, and one for equipment/notes. No food, magic, treasure, nothing. Sensing fisticuffs would feature heavily, without even a mention of weaponry in the intro I was glad to roll 12 skill, 21 stamina and 11 luck. Though, somewhat ironically, these high rolls would result in my eventual downfall.

I survived the first test - running on hot coals with a sack of rocks on my back, thanks to a technique I developed long ago while at high school - the slower you run, the less energy you lose. Next up, I had a choice of going into battle with either a sword and shield, or a net and trident. When faced with such a choice, always choose the quirky gear, 'cause you're bound to be facing an opponent whose weaknesses match, and this was no different.

What did amuse me was the name of the creature - Bonecrusher. I had a snail by that name when I was a little one.

Anyway, the next challenge was dodging spinning blades, and a skill of 12 certainly came in handy here. So many times I was faced with challenges of skill, and every time I came out of feeling like I must've been wearing my undies on the outside and a cape. Even a blindfolded fight with morning stars went my way without trouble, as did the final battle against the last other slave alive. Lord Carnuss really should've thought about how much money he was losing with each death!

So although I doubt the chances of making it through this part of the book were 1/42, I still felt pretty good, and even better so when a week of gorging and living in luxury restored my stamina to its initial level. I know in real life when I gorge and live luxuriously, the opposite happens.

Into the dungeon I went, second in line, but obviously whoever went in first was chicken - they didn't even open the door with the 'keep out' sign. I did, killed the hellhound, and found a gold ring. Sweet. I wasn't given the option to wear it and lose skill points, so I figured it must be useful.

Next up I found a bunch of spears hanging from the ceiling, so took one. No, it didn't seem scary at all, for some reason. So far so fail, Sukumvit, I was thinking, till a random crossbow bolt took a skill point off me. Damn you, Livingstone! Yep, when things are going well, it's Sukumvit's fault, when they go badly, it's Livingstone's.

Next up I found some orcs having a dagger-throwing contest, which was unlucky, as I was a much bigger target than the rat they were using before. Oddly, the dagger I had to rip from my arm only did 2 stamina damage; I assume it hit my muscly arm, while the crossbow bolt hit that arm of mine which is directly attached to my heart, or something.

Killed them, took the breastplate, got my skill point back and eventually came across a little mischevious-looking dude in a glass bowl. I should've guessed, but he was a thief and stole my pouch, where I was keeping my gold ring. Bastard! Oddly enough, later on I came across a bell, rang it, and a dove delivered me a gold ring (once again, not one I had the option of wearing); so I figure owning a gold ring must've been important at some point in the book, not that I got to find out.

As if to balance the universe, I then randomly, without much effort stumbled across a magic sword. Now, no indication was given in the text how I knew it was a magic sword - no mention was made of lightning bolts firing out the end or an eerie glow, and I didn't get any increase in skill. What a lame magic sword.

It was even lamer when I came up against a 'Skeleton King' (what, the skeleton king? Weren't the skeleton serfs annoyed their king was living in an amusement park? A deadly amusement park, but one nonetheless?) and I was told that unless I had a hammer, I'd do only one point of damage with each hit. What, a hammer can do two, but a magic fucking sword can only do one? Eh?!

Anyway, before that encounter I did come across a couple of his subjects lounging about, posing riddles. One pointed to the other, and said: "Brothers and sisters I have none, but this man's father is my father's son." I know this is an ages-old riddle, and I should've known the answer right off, but I've been looking at family trees regularly while playing my newly-acquired Medieval II: Total War, and got a little confused, 'cause 'sister' wasn't an option. Eventually my graph (yeah, I know it shouldn't have taken this much thinking) showed me the answer, and I got an iron key for my troubles.

Alright, it's a planned maze, I figure the placement of probably essential items in artificialy situations is probably fair, this time!

So eventually I come across Buddha, except he's masquerading under the name 'Trialmaster'. I beat his caveman in tug-of-war, solved his junior school maths problem and beat him in a bout of kendo. Once again, or perhaps even thrice, it helped having a skill level of 12.

Skipping past a fountain (too obvious, Livingstone, surely!) I defeated the aforementioned Skeleton King and killed a giant worm (I should have known better than to open a grill on the floor, I mean, really...). Still, given the option to check out its lair, I was game. I found a sheet of paper in a bottle with the sentence: "There is a door behind the pile of stones." Strangely, the text told me this made no sense. Odd, cause I know what door means, I know what behind means, I know what stones are, and I've already proved I can do maths and solve riddles - I'm not just an idiot slave, damnit!

It wasn't long before I found the pile of rocks, and the door was right there, behind it, mentioned in the same damn paragraph. Some help, condescending previous location!

I wandered in and found an elf being eaten by a giant tongue. This was the first contact I'd had with another contestant - unlike Deathtrap Dungeon, this was a pretty solitary adventure. Maybe it was written as such, and when it didn't fill 400 pages, the trial was added? Or maybe the trial bloated, so the trip inside the dungeon was simplified? I mean, so far it seemed the only essential thing I'd need would be a gold key! And some brains...

Anyway, I went through the mouth where the tongue was, and heard some music. I slap my forehead now, but being a music geek, I decided to check it out - apparently it was real good! Yeah, I temporarily forgot I was the FF world. It was a siren.

And here's where having a skill of 12 paid off badly! I was heading towards her when a tentacle or something grabbed my leg, pulling me under. I rolled equal to or lower than my skill level, of course, throwing it off and continuing onwards toward doom.

If only I'd rolled a 13 or something, damnit! I had a quick viddy and saw that failing would've saved me, most likely. Dang. I have to say, well played Livingstone. Nice twist.

I think perhaps although Deathtrap Dungeon was definitely better in atmosphere and structure, Trial Of Champions pips it for playability and style. It's easier - maybe not to finish, I can't say as I didn't complete either, but it didn't seem like there were too many die/pass 50/50s. I wouldn't know if I happened to choose the correct way each time though, of course. I also feel like it wouldn't take too many attempts to complete, with decent dice rolls, while Deathtrap seems very particular about what you do.

Overall, I'd say Deathtrap Dungeon was better, but Trial Of Champions more fun. It's like comparing Pinkerton to The Red Album - on any given day I'll chuck on the latter, but every now and then, but only when the time is right, I'll pull out the former and deal with the full-on version.

Or something...!?

My cover's the same as above, but has a '21' in a yellow oval in the top right. I'm not sure what this means, except to guess perhaps they were celebrating FF's 21st. Inside the front cover Crypt of the Sorcerer and Beneath Nightmare Castle are advertised, so I suppose it's a later printing?

Pretty good overall, but a few less 'you find a door - do you open it?' scenarious would've been better.

I'm only one book from my first missing one now, which is #23, Masks Of Mayhem.


Matt Cruse said...

Er... the "21" refers to it being Book #21. The yellow oval was just another numbering design like the original green flash.

FFFAN said...

This was the very first FF book I have ever read. Around 1992 I think. :)

Ed said...

The correct route allows you to encounter (or at least cross the path) of all the other contestants.
You took a couple of major wrong turnings in there (and, ironically, got killed as a result of going the right way for once).

Anonymous said...

Matt - I know it was the 21st book, I just wondered why it got a yellow circle this time - my collection's a hodgepodge of different printings, and this is the first yellow circle I think I've come across.

Ed - was approaching the siren teh right way, or just going through the mouth? Cause I have to say approaching the siren was a terrible blunder on my part, I think. I should have known better.


Ed said...

You have to go through the mouth, or wind up zapped later on for not possessing something found beyond it. Regrettably, a completely arbitrary die roll determines whether or not you then approach the Siren, but you have a 2 in 3 chance of avoiding her. This time round you just got unlucky.
Incidentally, Livingstone's next book is even worse for death by random rolling. And you're doomed if you don't make the right decision as early as section 1.

ParanoidObsessive said...

Worst part of this book is that, the moment you freed the thief and he'd stolen your gold ring, you'd already lost. Period.

There are precisely nine gold rings in the book, and you have to find EVERY SINGLE ONE. You also have to avoid losing or giving even one of them up, because you will need ALL of them to get past one of the final tests.

That's what I always hated about this book - that you can render it completely unwinnable within the first 30 seconds you spend in the dungeon, yet continue to spend hours wandering around blithely assuming you still have a chance when you've already lost.

(PS - I've been reading all your reviews from the first one on, and this is just the first one I've felt like commenting on. But the reviews are awesome. *thumbs up*)

jamesmcgraw said...

Just played through this one- on my first try I followed pretty much the same route as you, but made it through on my second try. Pretty good fun and I think you're correct that it contains fewer insta-kills than Deathtrap Dungeon, but the gold ring factor is a right bugger.

On the other hand, the steady stream of a gold rings turning up is a nice indication that you're on the right route!

TallSilentGuy said...

This is a strong candidate for Worst FF Book Ever. You can map the adventure in intricate detail, give yourself max initial scores and still more likely than not you will succumb to stamina loss. Terrible!