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Treasures of a Slaver's Kingdom

by S. John Ross profile

Part of Encounter Critical
Fantasy
2007

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5 star:
(19)
4 star:
(10)
3 star:
(0)
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(2)
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(1)
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Number of Ratings: 32
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- lobespear, October 31, 2017

- jakomo, September 21, 2017

- Denk, April 1, 2017

- Christopher Hall (London, Great Britain), January 8, 2017

- Witchy W, August 9, 2016

- E. W. B., February 23, 2016

An extensive RPG with parodies of D and D and a lot of adult scenarios, February 3, 2016

Up front, I will say that I stopped playing halfway through when I had to go through a sex scene to advance the plot for the third or fourth time. It was just too much.

In this game, you explorea large rectangular world with pirates, an arena, and a giant, as well as robots and rockets. You level up by defeating weak enemies. The game comes bundled with a mock RPG gamebook.

The game is pretty fun, but it just grates on me when every woman js hypersexualizes and sex is the only way forward, even if it is a parody. Other may disagree.

- mixscarlet, October 14, 2015

- Khalisar (Italy), July 26, 2015

- Keiya, March 18, 2015

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful:
The Snarking of the Hunt, July 26, 2014
A heroic fantasy romp, and probably the best such in IF. Good for many hours of fun. One of those situations where I'd like to be able to give four-and-a-half stars.

Treasures is conspicuously non-literary: it does not try to do anything except amuse, but it has high standards for this. It is written in an overblown cod-medieval heroic jargon. Like a Fighting Fantasy book, a Gygax dungeon or Zork, its worldbuilding is a melange of convenience, with SF and fantasy tropes thrown together in a big nonsensical pile. Its dominant tone, though, is one of old-school swords-and-sorcery, all villainous port-cities, cunning young courtesans and ripped barbarians. The protagonist is a straightforward rip-off of Conan.

None of this is taken remotely seriously. Fond, over-the-top lampoons of a schlocky genre, attempts to replicate the so-awful-it's-accidentally-brilliant, can very easily become lazy and tiresome; but ToaSK is saved by quality of writing, by balanced economy of design, and by meticulous implementation -- none of which you'd expect from a heroic-fantasy thing that presents itself as a retrogame.

The game avoids guess-the-verb by limiting the verb set very tightly: USE, for instance, covers essentially all fiddling with objects. Most of the action, then, is about guess-the-object (difficulty: easy to moderate), or fighting monsters of a low enough level for you to defeat. At the lowest difficulty setting, I encountered only one or two monsters who couldn't be defeated when first encountered; at the highest, a bit more care is required but progress is by no means grueling. The pace and difficulty is very well-measured indeed; I played this in a group on a car journey, and while things were never a cakewalk, we never got stuck for long enough for our enthusiasm to flag. It is (I think) possible to make the game unwinnable in a place or two (edit: I'm given to understand that this has been fixed in the most recent version), or to shut off certain important optional content, though mostly it's pretty generous.

Also, although the game sets itself up as a treasure hunt, this is really not the central interest; almost everything that you gank will end up being used for something else, the non-functional treasures will mostly be used to buy time with Vessa the Delicate Doxy, and having an overfull inventory makes you less effective in combat. Most objects are single-use and disappear when used; so your inventory is a to-do list, rather than an inert pile of points scored.

While the prose is very much a lampoon, it displays a strong sense for (not just a snickering love of) the godawful language of pulp fantasy RPGs and their relatives. There's a freakin' reference to Tarkus, for fuck's sake, a strong contender in the Top 10 Most Embarrassing LPs My Dad Owns. And with its profusion of all-caps phrases, there's a definite aroma of DWJ's sardonic Tough Guide to Fantasyland. Ross has a very fine ear for just how far to push this; the thees and thys, for instance, are used only when they genuinely make a sentence funnier, rather than being slathered all over everything in the hope that comedy will result. This is not always infallible: the pirates and the end boss are kind of cringeworthy. But there's a lot more substance here than mere nostalgia disguised with a thin coat of irony.

Much fun is had at the expense of the barbarian's machismo and stupidity, but this is, crucially, of a good-natured sort that includes the player, rather than blaming them for things that aren't within their control; the player's job is to steer the PC through things he doesn't really understand. (The approach of Lost Pig is very similar.) And, indeed, the whole world feels pretty good-natured, which makes the general tone feel somewhat lighter than the material it's drawing on. While in theory the game-world is ruled over by an oppressive tyrant, in practice you can mostly wander about as freely as you please. All the villainous low-lifes of the port-city turn out to be good-hearted and on your side. Your enemies are mostly independent monsters, rather than agents of the Slaver King. So while there are theoretically tortures and slavery going on, the general feel is never very bleak.

The good-natured non-seriousness is also the thing that lets the game get away with lots of women who have plainly walked off the cover of a 70s pulp novel, by way of an adolescent fantasy. There are lots of heaving oiled chests and sex-for-fetch-quests, but these are not really twinned with the animus towards women or blithe sketchiness that makes so much classic fantasy creepy as hell. Like many heroic protagonists, the barbarian isn't all that interested in women, sex aside; but this is portrayed as part of his risible stupidity, rather than a sensible manly attitude that the reader is assumed to share.

There's something about the whole thing of very early Discworld, back when Pratchett wasn't doing much except sniggering at fantasy tropes. Of course, Pratchett fairly quickly moved on to using the setting to reflect real-world things and explore more complex characters; ToaSK never pretends to be remotely interested in that. But there's a moment at the very end, after the kingdom is saved (in an apocalyptic orgy of violence that leaves most of your allies dead), where the writing steps aside a little from the lampoon and the mood finally takes the barbarian seriously. The ending itself is precisely what the genre demands, but the tone is handled to perfection.

Treasures will not change your life, deeply stir your emotions, or grant you insights into the human condition. Its design does not purport to light a way forward to anything. It will probably be befuddling to anyone who didn't, at some stage of their life, enjoy crap heroic fantasy. Accept all that, and it's a highly entertaining game and an impressive piece of craft, which is precisely what it sets out to be.

- pirkil, June 19, 2014

- Caleb Wilson (Illinois), May 1, 2014

- kala (Finland), November 2, 2013

- Steven Watson (UK), July 5, 2013

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful:
By Huron's all-conquering bowels, a tale fit for a manly-thewed BARBARIAN!, June 19, 2013
by Jim Kaplan (Jim Kaplan has a room called the location. The location of Jim Kaplan is variable.)
Related reviews: s. john ross
Play it if: you enjoy any or all of the following: a) loving pastiches of the science fiction and fantasy of the 1970s, b) games with a strong and thoroughly-implemented narrative voice, and c) a fun, roller-coaster romp that gleefully abandons the emotional jugular in favor of charming the pants off you - because this is perhaps the pinnacle of "fun-over-meaning" in IF.

Don't play it if: you think parody's passe, you want an intellectual challenge or a complex emotional commitment, or you have absolutely no connection with the loved fantasy and sci-fi institutions of yesteryear (though that shouldn't necessarily get in the way of you playing the game.)

Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Internet hides a short, unregarded 1970 publication known to the initiated as The Eye of Argon, authored by Jim Theis.

If you have not read this sacred text, I encourage you to seek it out. It may have been unintentional and to his undying shame, but Jim bequeathed something unique and priceless to the world when he published Argon: a work of fantasy literature so poorly-written - in such a hilarious way - that it is a thing of beauty, deserving its place on the shelf of history alongside such works as English As She Is Spoke and Troll 2.

And most importantly, we now stand in the shadow of its spiritual successor in IF form - Treasures of a Slaver's Kingdom.

The main difference, of course, is that ToaSK is a technically-accomplished work designed as a loving homage to the crappier yet more charming corners of our obsession with fantasy and sci-fi. Whereas Argon abuses the English language with a form of incompetence bordering on subconscious genius, ToaSK does so knowingly and with an eye for provoking the longest laughs out of the player.

It may seem odd that I'm giving five stars to a game which is average in numerous respects - competently executed, yes, but average. The player is limited to a spare handful of commands, which streamlines the "guess-the-verb" problem out of existence but doesn't leave much room for complex gameplay. There's almost no plot outside the puzzle-solving - a lot of the game consists of level-grinding, though through puzzles rather than combat (usually). The game is quite thoroughly implemented but also very under-described in certain ways. It's a throwback - intentionally, yes, but under normal circumstances I'd think of this as a pretty decent beginner effort, worth maybe three stars (in the alternate universe where star ratings actually have meaningful worth as a system of evaluation).

So why the five-star rating? Why the soon-to-follow high praise?

One word: voice.

ToaSK cultivates a narrative voice that proves utterly charming and engaging, one which actually complements the half-baked feel of the rest of the game and makes you totally lose sight of any importance you might place on complex puzzles or narrative ambitions. Basically: it's so funny that you don't care.

Humor is a difficult thing to review as it often simply comes down to a question of individual taste. A couple of reviewers have already expressed a dislike for the story on that basis. But it can be comfortably established that the author is applying his chosen comic devices in a consistent fashion. There's method to the madness, and if it's to your liking, then welcome to the house of fun: find the first five points' worth of ToaSK funny and you'll almost certainly have a ball earning the next 495.

The sheer effort put into structuring the game in the service of the comedy is staggering. Extensive lists of responses to various ludicrous or impossible player actions; deliberate homages to the trends and fads of the late seventies; a fantastic range of feelies that includes an entire fictional RPG format; and a couple of behind-the-scenes tricks that'd make your eyes water.

The game's central success lies in the protagonist and our relationship with him. Lost Pig features a dim-witted hero whose lack of intelligence colors the narration, and much of the fun comes from the player using their own intelligence to help him succeed - a process which inadvertently reveals some hidden depths to his character. There's something similar going on here, though with more of a comedic bent. The nameless barbarian who constitutes our PC is exceedingly dull and more or less progresses through life by killing and screwing everything and everyone in his way, and not giving much thought to anything outside that process. He draws influence from a number of sources. There's the sorts of nameless, wordless protagonists who populated fantasy RPGs at the time - Steve Jackson's Fighting Fantasy series, beginning publication only three years after the fictional writing-period for this game, was pretty crammed with those. Robert E. Howard's anti-intellectual (if not perhaps "stupid") Conan is a more obvious influence, living chiefly for the glory of battle and the satisfaction of hedonistic pleasures rather than the dusty accomplishments of book-learning. (Howard also corresponded with the more sci-fi-oriented H.P. Lovecraft and wove strands of a common mythology into his work; ToaSK also flirts with - no, rather messily seduces - certain loved sci-fi tropes.) We are invited to laugh at the nameless hero even as we carry out his quest and experience his victories - and basically, we do:

>ASSAIL DUFFEL BAG
During many points in your life, the THESKIAN DUFFEL BAG has been your only friend, confidante, and bed-partner. Save your mindless rages for the SLAVER KING, barbarian. Don't hurt the ones you love.

>PARLEY WITH ME
You've tried it before. You never get any of the jokes.

>SEIZE SKY
When thy saga is writ and thy story is told and maidens swoon to hear it, the tale-tellers will, in kindness and in mercy, skip the part where the SKY hath distracted thee so.

It's easy to imagine this sort of thing overwhelming the game and getting terribly stale...but oddly enough, it never does. Ross's effort to devise entire lists of randomized responses to the same basic sorts of errors (over twenty different responses to an unrecognized verb) goes a long way to keeping the game's language diverse. It's almost like the game itself is a fleshed-out character, never answering the same question the same way twice. A given joke's format may remain the same, but the joke itself never will - and so the game remains fresh till the end.

I think what ultimately makes the game work is that it's just utterly charming. How could it be otherwise? It's so clearly a labor of love: hours of effort to tune the humor in the narration, to compose the feelies, to write a draft source code document for would-be sequeleers, to construct all the little details and mechanics from the ranking system to the final battle. How can I not love a story which is so clearly an exercise in fun - from an author who had fun writing it so that we could have fun playing it?

For me, at least, Treasures of a Slaver's Kingdom is the perfect antidote to the wider Hollywood climate that would have us watch Snow White and the Seven Dwarves reinterpreted as a grim, militaristic low fantasy epic. The absolute peak of fun over substance, the ultimate triumph - and I mean "triumph" in the genuine, positive sense - of good-natured ribbing and entertainment over the cynical and the dour.

Though barkest up the right tree, barbarian. Though barkest up the right tree.

- Coldfinger (Germany), March 19, 2013

- Edward Lacey (Oxford, England), January 13, 2013

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
Surprisingly amusing, more than meets the eye, September 11, 2012
by Irfon-Kim Ahmad (Toronto, Canada)
This game come off initially as a sort of stripped-down, nostalgia piece. However, it conceals a fair bit more gameplay, and a fair bit more clever gameplay than it initially seems. Some of the puzzles are downright challenging, and most require patience and extremely careful attention to detail. Most importantly, though, the game is really quiet funny. The writing is crisp and hilarious, even with throw-away jokes or "error" messages. I wouldn't count it among the greats of emotionally moving IF, but it's a wild, fun ride and definitely worth a play.

- Lubulos, September 10, 2012

- Ben Treat (Maine, USA), July 28, 2012

- Ben Cressey (Seattle, WA), September 30, 2011

- baywoof, July 1, 2011

- Mr. Patient (Saint Paul, Minn.), June 23, 2011

13 of 13 people found the following review helpful:
Demented, Hilarious, Brilliant!, December 29, 2010
by Matt Wigdahl (Olathe, KS)
I can see why this game is polarizing. Itís got loads of randomized combat, which is a turn-off for some players. Itís a pastiche of old-old-school imbalanced pen-and-paper RPGs, which may be confusing if youíve never been a role-player. It restricts available verbs to about a half-dozen, and the plot starts off as barely remixed Conan the Barbarian.

But under the covers, this is a fantastic game. Itís tightly-implemented, bug-free as far as I could see, and takes full advantage of Inform technology to make the playing experience smooth and clean. The writing, although it apes the breathless earnestness of early RPG modules, is chock full of hilarious descriptions. Clever responses to unusual commands are liberally sprinkled throughout ((Spoiler - click to show)try to PARLEY with your DUFFEL BAG, for instance).

This is definitely a game where you benefit from sitting down and reading the documentation first. And thereís plenty of it. The distribution comes with a manual that details the alternate history the game ostensibly comes from, followed by the entire sourcebook for the fictitious Encounter Critical RPG that ToaSK is based upon, followed by encrypted clues. Although you donít have to read the documentation, the Encounter Critical RPG setting is the central structure for everything in the game, and understanding it will make some puzzles far more clear. Also, for me, reading the documentation made the game far funnier as I was able to quickly pick out the references.

From a design perspective ToaSK is very interesting. The decision to greatly limit the verbs obviously limits the potential actions the player can take, but doing that also helps the player get interesting responses more easily. If there are only a few things you can do to a given object, itís far easier to code meaningful text for all of them. The result is a game that feels more fully implemented, even though it doesnít have full physical modeling. But who needs Informís physical modeling when you have ďscientific realismĒ?

The other consequence of the restricted verb set is that it makes the player seem smarter. Itís easier to figure out what items do when there are fewer interactions, and even brute-force repetition can work to reveal hidden puzzle solutions. This type of design approach wouldnít work for every game, but it certainly works here, and works well.

To counteract this, the parser breaks the fourth wall constantly and deliberately, and slings gratuitious insults for the slightest deviation in command input. Fauxld English is used throughout (methinks this be, mayhaps, where Tiberius Thingamus got his inspiration).

There is, of course, no detailed conversation model. And anyway, youíre a barbarian ó sophisticated conversation would be wasted on you. Your interactions with characters are limited to the same verb set as inanimate objects, but this still allows a surprising number of things you can do ((Spoiler - click to show)try ENTERing characters, for exampleÖ). And the choice to limit character interaction allows ToaSK to include many different interesting characters, from Gina the willing virgin sacrifice to the Viraxian Dark Gods, to the runecarved, peg-legged dwarf Gunwar. And, of course, thereís Vessa, the Delicate Doxy, to whom you will be returning many times.

The game is fairly well paced via its combat leveling mechanic. Youíll need to explore and solve puzzles to gain health points. Gaining health points will enable you to fight more powerful enemies, which will get you more gear and items with which to solve more puzzles. Most combats are potentially fatal, but multi-level UNDO works wonders to get you out of fights where youíre in over your head.

Overall impressions? The world of Encounter Critical feels like a tall, cold Kitchen Sink made with bathtub gin. Think of a handwritten mixture of Gamma World (the original edition, of course), Eldritch Wizardry, and Traveller, with some Star Trek, The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Dune, Sinbad the Sailor, Conan the Barbarian, and a Godzilla movie or two thrown in for flavor. Add snark and sex, then overheat the writing to taste.

Until Christmas Eve, the full version of this game cost $6.95. Itís well worth it at that price (and I paid it on December 23 after discovering it that day), but itís since been released for free. If youíve only played the intro version, you havenít seen anything. Donít miss the opportunity to play the full game, and experience one of the unsung masterpieces of modern retro IF. Or is that retro modern? Anyway, you should definitely, definitely play it.


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