Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Fighting Fantasy: Deathtrap Dungeon

Last time I tried a gamebook I was deeply immersed in the truly outrageous world of fictional eighties pop star Jem. These amazing adventures were sadly cut short by remembering that I was in a band and portraying a woman, even such an outrageous one, left me feeling less than manly. To solve this problem it's time to travel to the senselessly violent world of Fighting Fantasy and take on a dungeon that has nothing to do with debauched CEOs whipping and dominating submissive women and everything to do with death served up with a side of awesome.

No costume jewelry accounts to worry about here.

The story is minimalist, but what is there delivers the goods big time. To generate commerce and tourism a local ruler decides to create a deadly underground maze that is opened once every year. Phony tough and crazy brave volunteers are then sent in, to die. This, we are told, attracts huge crowds. You would think the appeal of watching delusional individuals enter a hole in the ground never to be seen again would be somewhat limited. It would be like going to a football game, watching your team enter a closed stadium but not being allowed in yourself and three hours later hearing an announcement that they lost. Actually, that does sound a lot like most of the games I went to, with beer and grilled food added. I retract my criticism.

I like the medicine balls attached to the skeletons.

How does our hero fit into all of this, you ask? Well, I saw an announcement and thought "Hey, I'm a homicidal and suicidal lunatic, this is perfect!" Yeah, that's the story. I used one of the pregenerated characters the reprint offers. I'm a vaguely Teutonic stereotype named Arran Gottspeed. He's a big dude that might have some giant in him (mom, how could you?) and his fighting style consists of rushing forward swinging wildly and hoping for the best. The good news is he's hard to hurt, the bad news is he's going to get hurt a lot. Also, he's unlucky, but that whole "Mom might have gotten it on with a Giant" thing already told us that.

I'm pretty big, so getting through deadly traps should be no problem.

The big day arrives and I'm joined by my fellow doomed contenders: two barbarians, a knight, a sexy elf woman and a ninja. The knight draws the short straw and enters first, followed by one of the barbarians (how deflating must it be to show up only to discover there's another barbarian already entered. It's the male equivalent of when two women wear the same dress to a party.) then the ninja. Finally it's my turn. Still playing to the crowd I venture bravely into certain danger.

"You told me you were going to be a Cleric. Gah, I'm so angry with you."

Entering a dark corridor I'm greeted by the first deadly trap: a box with my name on it. Since there are no corpses of the previous entrants next to their respective boxes I decide it's safe to open. I'm rewarded with two gold pieces (for the burgeoning economy of an underground maze built to kill anyone who enters) and a mocking letter full of half-clues. I tear up the letter and strut off, feeling pretty confident after defeating a piece of paper. 

I reach a left-right turn, complete with an arrow pointing west painted on the wall. This reminds me of how they ruined the Cheese Maze at the local "Chuck E Cheese" by painting similar arrows inside it. Sure kids would get lost and a few died or became feral cannibals, but it was worth it for the "fun" of blundering around similar looking hallways before going down a slide.

Nothing says a good time like a mascot inspired by vermin.

Showing awesome non-conformity powers I take the road less traveled. I run into some sort of "obstruction" but it's too dark to tell what it is. This could be more vague, I guess. "There's something, of some sort, ahead of you. What do?" Forward.

It's a large, brown "boulder like" object that also turns out to be "spongy." Based on the "attack first and probably never bother thinking" approach that typifies a guy that might have giant DNA, I hack at it with my sword. I'm reward with a face full of spores and end up scratching my "itching lumps."

Watcha gonna do with all those spores, all those spores in a spongy boulder-like object?

Still itching my badly inflamed skin I enter a portion of tunnel where it starts getting hot. Probably nothing. I'm offered a chance to drink a "clear liquid" in some bamboo, but decide that it probably isn't super clean, considering this is a dungeon and all. I struggle on in the intense heat, because turning back isn't an option for some reason. I fail the only die roll I've made so far, fall to the "near-molten floor of the tunnel" and die. My last thoughts are of my unknown father and why he hated me so much that he ran off. Maybe with a proper male role model I wouldn't have developed an interest in death sports and would have been taught that near-molten surfaces = bad.

The critically panned video game inspired by this book. Pixelated rears =/ automatic good reviews.

And so another one of these attempts comes to a highly inglorious conclusion. Apparently the bamboo water would have saved me, or just rolling an eight or lower on two dice. Let's face it, Arran Gottspeed was basically fucked at birth. There's actually a lot of cool stuff in this book I didn't get to talk about because of my super-poor run: the blood beast, a T-Rex (!), a chance to fight the ninja, a homage to classic D&D and a lot more. Instead I got killed by heat. 

 The End.

Aaron Zehner's first novel The Foolchild Invention is available in e-book format at and Barnes & Noble.

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