Monday 18 March 2024

Lindenbaum 2021/22: The Eldritch Key (by Tiago Filipe Costa)

This is part of a series where I briefly talk about the Lindenbaum Prize winners and runners-up. This is a friendly gamebook writing competition, organised yearly by Stuart Lloyd. The entry discussed below was submitted for the 2021/2022 competition and won a Commendation Award. You can find the details of the competition here, links to all entries here, and the announcement of the winners here. Needless to say, all of these are available for free in PDF.

In this gamebook you play a master thief who must steal a dangerous artefact known as the Eldritch Key. Although there are multiple routes to get there, the end game plays pretty much the same, and there's only one "good ending".

The game is set in the lawless city of Makivel, located on Anarlan, the Prison-Island. There's magic and weird creatures, and the game has explicit Cthulhu mythos influences.

The combat mechanics are fairly involved: 2d6 + Dexterity vs. 2d6 + Dexterity, greater wins. Then the loser rolls 2d6 + Avoidance vs. the winner's attack score. If the defender succeeds, they avoid damage. Otherwise, the weapon's damage is deducted from the defender's HP. The character's basic stats are fairly decent, but to reliably defeat the stronger foes (especially towards the end), a handful of items are needed to boost the character's stats. I very much enjoyed the item-hunting aspect, but the endless rolling without any decision-making definitely felt tiresome.

At the beginning, the player chooses three abilities from a list of six (things like lockpicking, dark vision, or clean kill). These abilities can be used when explicitly offered as an option, and they are largely responsible for facilitating multiple ways to get to the finish line.

The writing is all right. It's simple, apart from a few embellishments here and there, much like an adventure game; the emphasis is definitely on solving the game like a puzzle.

The game features 100 sections, and the whole document has about 13,300 words, including the rules and background info. Apart from the fights, there are only a handful of game-ending choices (they can be avoided by gathering info or having luckier dice).

Things to improve upon:

  • the combat system involves too many rolls (this is especially true near the end)
  • the inventory system is nice; if expanded upon, I definitely want more of this
  • it's unclear whether damage from wielding multiple weapons stack (I assume the answer is yes)
  • a few of the "save or die" paragraphs felt too punishing particularly the loose stone block, but to be fair, some of these can be ignored with the right abilities and/or items

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