Magical moments in a cult adventure

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Travel into an alternative reality with Dave Eriksson

GRANDSLAM Entertainment, previously Argus Press Software, now has a link with Datasoft in the USA to distribute the role-playing game Alternative Reality which has a cult following over there. The plot is simple: Kidnapped by aliens and deposited in a strange city, you must learn to survive and become an adventurer capable of completing the quests in store.

Entering the city of Xebec's Demise, you pass through an energy field over which are a series of scrolling numbers. These represent your vital statistics, stamina, charm, strength, intelligence, wisdom, skill and hit points. Some numbers scroll quickly and it is not easy to time your entry to ensure a viable character. If the stats are too low, start again. Aim for high stamina, strength and skill and no stat less than 14.

You enter the city with a few coppers, some light clothing and your wits - nothing else. To survive you must eat, drink, and find shelter. All cost money, perhaps earned by working at a tavern, inn or bank. A few coins may also be found after successful fights with the local inhabitants. Creatures met may be good, neutral or downright evil - listen to the music as they appear. Do not attack the first two without provocation.

Initial fights will be with your bare hands, but weapons and armour are for sale at your smithies. There are also shops that have clothes to suit any occasion. Bargain to reduce the asking price to a more affordable level.

IN a fight, hits received will be subtracted from your hit points. You get experience points if you kill your opponent. Gain about 250 and advance a level, after that you go up a level for each doubling of experience points. With each gain in leel your hits points are increased, together with the probability of increasing one or more of your stats.

In odd corners around the city are 12 guilds. On your first visit to each one of your stats will increase. You may try to join guild, and if accepted will be taught their spells, which range from controlling the weather or healing, to changing your stats or throwing fireballs.

The stats set for you at the start include several that are not displayed. These include speed, moral alignment, treasure finding ability and whether you are easily noticed. Some stats will increase as you use them.

You start with neutral moral alignment; how you behave decides which way this will develop. The game is designed to be more difficult for an evil character, but it is not always easy to be good.

You have a choice of six actions when a creature is encountered - attack, trick, charm, offer, leave or lunge. Tricking or charming a good or neutral character is considered an evil act, but it is well worth trying on an evil one if it is intelligent enough to understand what you are doing.

Certain life forms carry diseases or inflict poisoned wounds. If infected, you had better know where the nearest healer lives. There are two and their services are not cheap - each additional request or visit on any one day puts up the price. If you think you need curing it is worth asking for a cure rather than a diagnosis; the subsequent cure, if needed, will cost twice as much.

Defeating an opponent does not always mean that you will find anything useful. Money is the most likely loot, but gems, potions, weapons and armour are always welcome sights after a fight.
Objects found may increase your treasure-finding ability or poison you. A sword may have useful magic or it could be cursed. Potions may be tested, but weapons and armour must be used to learn their secretes. Either way, a mistake may be costly. One guild charges 9000 coppers to remove a curse.

You start in the city square. The city is mapped on a 64 x 64 grid and a rudimentary map is provided in the instructions. However difficult you find the mapping, it must be done. Only then you will be able to locate areas that hide interesting locations.
On the city square are a smithy, tavern, inn, and two shops. Resting at an inn will restore lost hit points, and is also necessary when you become weary. Taverns sell food and drink. A 24 hour clock is used and any inn will tell you the time.

Both the inn and tavern on the city square charge top prices, so it is worth looking for cheaper alternatives. Menus at taverns change every hour. Return later if particular items are not available. Inns offer several types of accommodation. The more expensive will enable hit points to be recovered more quickly.

Sleep for 12 hours and you are almost certain to wake up hungry and thirsty. Food packets, pemmican and water flasks should be bought if possible You can then eat and rink anywhere and are no longer tied to making special journeys to refresh yourself.
The cheapest inn seems to be the Warrior's Retreat on the east of the arena in the north west quadrant up North Main Street. The cheapest bed is seven coppers; in the city square you pay 60.

Best value for food and drink is the Last Stop Tavern in the north east quadrant. Again go up North Main Street but turn east half way up, then keep to the left hand wall and you will eventually get there. Once you have a compass - sold in all shops - you can find a more direct route for yourself.

The screen display is very clear, with your stats at the top and a scrolling graphic picture of your location below. Compass arrows accessed by the mouse make movement simple and positive. If surprised from behind, you automatically turn to face danger, and in twisty alleys it is easy to become disoriented and get lost.
Beneath the graphic display are shown encounter menus and inventory data. You do not have to be super-fast to choose an option while fighting, and the game may be paused or saved to disc at any time.

Make back-up copies of your character disc at regular intervals. Diseases may take days to become apparent. If you die of disease on one disc you know you can visit a healer with the other. If you begin with a character having excellent stats, save and take time out to make a couple of back-ups.

At first, simply staying alive is not easy task. What money you get is soon spent at inns and taverns. Although the manual hints at caches of treasure, potions and magic weapons, I found them to be very few and far between. Having gained many thousands of experience points, I was still living from hand to mouth with a dagger my only weapon.

Initially try to go out only in daylight but once you have gained a few levels, a few trips at night can pay off. Ghosts carry all sorts of interesting things, and if you have a high charm stat they may be charmed. If they do not succumb at the first attempt retreat quickly. Early on, stay clear of wolves, rats, imps, gremlins, mold and slime as the risk of disease or poison is too great.

Alternate Reality is intended to be expanded. The City is the first adventure and The Dungeon the second. Characters form the City may be used in future games. Several locations - palace, arena, dungeon and wilderness are intended to be access points for future additions.

Sadly, I understand that not all these scenarios will see the light of day. Fortunately two more are planned for the Amiga, so all that hard work will be worth the effort. The game is totally addictive and the urge to have yet one more night foray to try and charm a ghost is almost excruciating.