Friday 12 November 2010

Dickass DM

Remember good, old-fashioned gamebooks? They promised all the fun of a role-playing game, with none of the social interaction - what more could a teenage boy desire? The thing is, that while the gamebook became a great gaming experience in its own right, the only RPG it could possibly have simulated was one being GM'd by Satan himself. 90% of decisions led to certain death, and combat was often fatal.

Satan wasn't available, so Brad will be GMing Rob through an RPG based on the classic Robin Waterfield gamebook Phantoms of Fear. Brad is the DM, and Rob plays his character, Braggolas.

Brad: Okay, so this one runs like most of the Fighting Fantasy games we've played, but you'll notice you have an extra stat: Power. This is used for a) spells, and b) Dreaming. The deities of your people communicate through dreams: they tell you what to do - though sometimes the instructions are open to more than one interpretation.
Rob: Righto. I reckon I can interpret dreams. Can't be that hard.
Brad: They refresh you and restore your powers; the same power allows you to both cast spells and to be an effective dreamer. As you know, most beings dream, but they do not possess the art of dream-control: it is not up to them whether or not they dream, or what they dream, or whether their dreams are the mere ramblings of an unwinding mind or what Elves call "dreams of potency".
Your race has long known the art of active dreaming.
Rob: Right.
Brad: Your training allows you to sometimes not to be taken over by dreams, and to exert your will to manipulate and be effective in that world, just as anyone is in this world. Thus, by dreaming, you encounter situations which parralel, often in a bizarre fashion, the familiar everyday world. You will often find yourself asleep and dreaming in the course of your adventure. The types of situation you will get into in dreams will parralel those of "reality". There will be choices to make, but otherwise dream routes and dream encounters will be entirely governed by your Power stat.
If you die in your dream, you won't die in the real life, but you may lose a fair amount of power. All good?
Rob: Yeah. So if you die in The're fine.
Brad: You do have some spells. Spells can be cast only in the real world, not in a dream. Never confuse the dream world with the real world. You are not a master magician.
Rob: After I had those T-shirts printed?! Damn.
Brad: You only know half a dozen spells, which are mostly of the sort which are useful to a peaceful Wood Elf going about his or her daily business. You can cast each spell again and again (they're not one shot), but each time you use one, it costs you one Power point.
Rob: "Elf business" sounds like a pimping euphemism.
Brad: All the spells have a maximum duration of about fifteen minutes.
Rob: Like a hooker.
Brad: Ugh. I've done you a crib sheet of the spells you know.
Rob: A crib? Word. Let's do it.
Brad: You wake up suddenly, shivering despite the warm mid-summer night air.
Rob: Brrrrrr....I must have been in a polar country in my dreams.
Brad: You are grateful to see the familiar walls and trappings of our hut; you know that you are secure, surrounded by the rest of your tribe and deep in the Affen Forest. The dream from which you awoke momentarily escapes you. What was it? It was a dream of ordinary, everyday life in your village.
Elves were out hunting, tilling the ground, collecting roots for medicine and food, cooking and repairing huts. You could not see yourself in the dream, but you were surveying the scene. Suddenly a voice spoke - a voice which simultaneously made everyone look up from their work and frightened you.

Braggolas: Shut up, fool! I ain't getting on no plain...

Brad: It took you a moment to realise why it filled you with fear: it was your own voice! But what words are these you're speaking?

Dream Braggolas: I must leave you for a while. May the gods of the forest protect you all while I am gone.
Braggolas: I'm going to Disneyworld!
Dream Braggolas: The Demon Prince Ishtra is just beginning to gather a vast force of damned, chaotic and evil creatures beneath our forest. He plans to overrun the entire world - starting with the Wood Elves.

Rob: Demon Prince? Awesome. I'm going to request "When Doves Cry".

Dream Braggolas: His rule over his army is so cruel that even his foul minions would rebel if they could, but Ishtra holds them in his sway by magical power. Thus he must be overcome. If his sway is broken,, his army will have no organisation and power: they will be reduced to civil war between themselves.

Rob: Hmmm...Civil War...
Brad: Guns N' Roses joke?
Rob: I was gonna go with Marvel, but that works...

Dream Braggolas: His army is not yet large, so I must now go to face him, while there is still a chance of penetrating his defences.

Brad: You ever get the feeling you're being volunteered against your will?
Rob: Yeah, but then the book would suck if one of the options was "to pussy out completely, turn to page forty-eight".
Brad: It'd be a dream book for you.

Dream Braggolas: May I fare well, and fare you all well until I return - if I return. Otherwise, we will meet again in Tir Nan Og, the island realm of the Son of the Sea, the Land of Youth where all must go when their time comes.

Rob: I think I had a Tir Nan Og once, coconut-based as I recall.
Brad: It must be really easy being a fantasy author. "Run out of ideas? Why not make some bullshit up? Or just steal from Tolkien?"
" fantasy novel's set in a magic school in the Highlands. Can I still make shit up or steal from Tolkien?"
"For the ninth time, Joanne...yes!"
At this point you wake up. You now take stock of the dream. You know full well that it is a message from your gods, yet never before have they chosen to communicate by having you speak the words.
Rob: Laziness...typical with deities after the warranty expires.
Brad: You realise that this must be their way of impressing upon you both the urgency of the task and the fact that you and only you have been chosen for the mission. But the idea terrifies you. As a Demon Formerly Known As Prince, Ishtra cannot be killed by any weapon of any Earthly race: even the most magical sword of the High Elves would not strike him down, so what can your lesser powers do against him? Nevertheless, you have been commanded to go, and you put your faith in the gods. They would not so command you if there was no hope.
You decide to go back to sleep, to see if you can dream a dream which will give you more information about the noble and awesome task facing you.
Rob: The word "awesome" must have changed definition since 1987.
Brad: In your dream, you walk through Affen Forest, yet it is both familiar and unfamilar.
The trees seem more alive, even more than they normally appear to your trained Wood Elf senses; the tiny noises of twigs and shrubs seem magnified. A vivid force plays over the surface of the trunks, being sustained by the vibrant, slow earth below and spreading to the smallest shoot on the top most branch. Even while you dream, you are aware that this is a vision of the life-force, which your people call Maëlla: it gives all things life, and a minute fragment of it is your power to dream and make magic.
Rob: Paella?
Brad: Maë...yes.
Rob: It sounds like a foodstuff though, wouldn't you agree?
Brad: It sounds like it has a fishy ingredient.
You do not recognise this particular part of the forest you are in. Perhaps it exists only in your dream, but perhaps it has a real counterpart. Affen Forest is vast - but only a small remant of the One Forest of old, when the three continents of Titan were unified.
"Can I steal from Tolk..."
"Joanne, you started this with a fucking flying motorbike. It's physically impossible for you to jump the shark."
Rob: See, now Affen sounds like a breakfast cereal...
Brad: In your dream, branches bend down from the trees and usher you onwards along a trail which opens up in front of you.
Rob: Usher? Is he in my dream?
Brad: He's got no where to live since his house fell down. You are content to be following the trail, but you also detect urgency in the prodding of the branches.
Rob: Who's Urgency? Another rapper?
Brad: Where are the trees leading you? As soon as the question is formed in your mind, it is answered: the trees stop pushing you onwards, and you find yourself at the meeting of three ways.

Braggolas: I'll toss a three headed coin. They exist in this universe, right?

Brad: One way is the trail you have been following; the other two extend in different directions, forking like the angle of a serpent's tongue. The trees have stopped urging you, so this is where they were guiding you. In your dream, you know that the crossroads is more than just the meeting of three ways: the path behind you symbolises your past life and now - with your heart beating fast and with your mind strangely calm - you have a choiceof two ways onward. But where do they lead? At the moment, they both look like greensward tracks through a still forest.
Rob: What do the choices signify, I wonder...On the one hand, I could stick with the job and area I've been doing, or I could risk it all and move to Isengard and end up working for Ye Olde Microsofte.
Brad: Then you notice for the first time - it has only just appeared - or you fluffed your Spot Obvious roll - a statue standing on the exact spot where the three ways meet. She is a beautiful goddess, but in human form, and you know neither her name nor her function.
Rob: Fuck name and function, are there any holes I can fuck?
Brad: She is completely impassive; her arms are folded across her chest and billowing robes shroud her body.
Rob: So...maybe?
Brad: Though made of stone, her eyes seem to bore into your mind and read your thoughts.
Rob: Bollocks.
Brad: Your thoughts, of course, are of which way you should turn at this junction. Right?
Rob: Yeah.

Braggolas: It's your own fault for wearing such revealing clothes...

Brad: The statue's arms unfold, and a small black dog, which she was cradling in her arms and had been hidden amongst her full...
Rob: Yeaaaah...
Brad: ...sleeves, leaps down and runs yelping past you and away through the trees behind you. But you know that, whatever the meaning of this, the dog is not showing you your path, and you remain watching the statue.
Rob: Ah yes... the Red Herring...Labrador...
Brad: Her arms continue to unfold, so slowly that it seems to take eternity, and meanwhile her robes take on the glow of a pale but brilliant blue, and her face unlocks gently into an enigmatic smile.
Rob: Was the dog biting her or something?
Brad: Finally, her arms are simplly pointing down each of the routes between which you have to choose. You look first down the one to your left.
Rob: In one hand she holds a dildo...
Brad:'re worse than RPing with my Dad.
"I open the door..."
"...and in there is an ogre, with a massive axe!"
"No, there's...look...that's my...fine. Ogre."
Rob: I always found your dad a good RPer, he kicked arse at Slasher Flick.
Brad: Yeah, I love his enthusiasm. He didn't really get what I was doing at first though, and started telling me what was on the island. It was really cute and endearing, more than anything.
Instead of the plain forest path, lacking significant features, which you had seen before, there is now a highway that seems, contrary even to your dream expectations, to open up the more distant it gets.
Rob: A Highway?! What, with a BP Garage and a fucking Little Chef?
Brad: Do you still get Happy Eaters? Or are they all Little Chefs now?
Rob: Little Chefs aren't associated with happy eaters in my experience. Although I think they got taken over by one of those poncey chefs with a crazy name.
Brad: The end - if there is an end - is indefinite, but such a sense of health and well-being issues from it that your heart is warmed; and the trees, as they recede into the distance, lose many of their tree-like features, but take on the essence of vitality. Down the other path, however, the trees and woodland shrubs become more and more grotesque, until they are empty shells, not truly alive. but sustained by some fell force which exudes such a malignant power that your nostrils are assailed by the rotten odour of it. Bit like gigging with Aaron Waters, I guess.
Rob: For those who don't know who Aaron is, just read that description and you've got it.
Brad: And as soon as your mind registers the full horror of the putrescence, in your dreams you see its source.
Rob: A petrol station kiosk.
Brad: A wide area of the forest has collapsed into a pit, whose bottom you cannot see; but whatever is there, deep underground, is causing the blight of the forest, your forest. You now see that the statue bears in either hand duplicates of your trusty sword, Telessa.
Rob: It has bears in either hand?
Brad: Yes.
Rob: Superb. I take one of the bears.



As an archaeologist working on the slopes of a dormant volcano somewhere in Mexico, 1940, you get stuck in a cavern. It doesn't take long before you realize this is more than just a cave. You reveal ancient ruins that have been hidden from outsiders for centuries and discover a mysterious artifact, a gold and metal shelled Ball. As you venture deeper into the volcano, you reveal some of mankind's greatest secrets...

* Over eight hours of single-player first person puzzle action adventure
* Innovative physics based gameplay
* Eight huge levels to explore
* Includes bonus Survival game mode, with 4 additional levels
* Wide range of enemies to overcome, including mummies, an undead gorilla and boss characters
* Unique vehicles - an underground train and the mysterious "Ball Chariot"
* More than thirty secrets hidden away to be discovered, as well as multiple achievements for the player to earn
* Steamworks features including achievements and leaderboards

Thanks to our friends at Iceberg Interactive, we've got two copies of The Ball and a limited edition mousemat to give away! For your chance of winning, send your name and full postal address to before midday on Friday 19th November. The first two entries out of the electronic hat will win a copy of the game and a mousemat each!

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