Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Escape Reality and Climb “Into the Tower”

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I saw an unusually high amount of travel this past fall, and it taught me two invaluable lessons. First, just pay for the extra leg room in the exit rows if you’re on a flight longer than three hours. Second, my father was right about this one, specific thing: always bring one or two books along for the trip. In-flight wifi is, at best, your enemy. Into the Tower: A choose-your-own-path book was my travel companion for several trips across the country. 

Into the Tower frames itself as a single-person TTRPG based around a heist that takes place within the titular building. Written by Hari Conner, this book is a mix of fantasy, historical fiction, horror, and absurdist humor, topped off with a lovely cast of LGBTQ+ NPCs to guide you.

The reader is the player, and in many ways, their own Game Master (GM), though the path they take is laid out in front of them by the book itself. Past the actual story of the book, the action does lay entirely in the reader’s hands. And if you’re like me and always read the end of choose your own adventure books, you’re actually in for a bit more of a winding road than you realize.

You can cheat at this book. You’re the only one playing, so do whatever makes you happy. But I can tell you from trying to pick ideal endings and then backtrack that it’s actually much harder than you realize to navigate the castle. This game presents a lot of real challenges and it’s easier to fail than you realize — though you can keep going, even if you “die.” You’re the master of your own fate! 

Now, watch out for spoilers ahead.

In my first walkthrough, I chose the role of the Libertine, as I can’t resist an RPG role that demands to be the center of attention. This was perhaps not my wisest choice. The book mentions that The Thief is best for easy gameplay, and a good deal of the confusion I encountered can very much be relegated to my loosey-goosey never reading the instructions all the way through style of doing – well, anything, really.

That being said, you have four options in-book to choose from: the mentioned Thief & Libertine, as well as the Sailor and the Acolyte. All approach the tower for different reasons, you’ll get different things out of each role. 

Time to cause problems on purpose

And so even as I bumbled around my first walkthrough, I still found the role of the Libertine delightful. You awake hungover, looking for your lover and nonbinary enemy-of-the-state Venny, and also, surprise! You’re under house arrest for being a traitor to the crown. Venny and that last thing are related. That’s a spoiler, but I had so much fun playing that it would feel untrue to the source material if I didn’t discuss what delighted me. So shout out, as you just read, to Venny, and then another shout out to Lady Tamar, stone butch icon who snuck me into the party in the seat under her carriage. 

King, as the kids say

Into the Tower can’t bring to life the parts of role playing that really require more people, for example, deciding something that isn’t A or B, but rolling for a secret third option. I’d like to have maybe convinced Lady Tamar to take me into the coat room and, you know. You know. But I still found the people I encountered engaging and interesting, frustrating when they were supposed to be frustrating and alluring when they probably shouldn’t have been.

For example, there’s a plant-alien monster in here that’s gonna get you, and honestly? I kind of enjoyed sharing a body with it, the perks well outweigh the issue of having some abyssal horror planted inside of you. Like, your strength and agility stats goes up, and you’re now part of a hive mind! And who doesn’t like to be part of things? 

The beauty of this book is that it’s replayable. Take on a new role from the book, or download the PDF character sheets on Hari’s website and make your own new character. Max out all their stats and just crush your way through this thing. Watch out for the abyss! 

Into the Tower can be purchased wherever books are sold, and is also available for e-readers. If you’re like me, and get motion sick from even FPS, I recommended a hard copy, as looking at screens on planes has been my downfall more than once or twice. Did I say in-flight wifi was evil? My deeply sensitive motion sickness is the real enemy. So don’t forget your in-flight dramamine, and grab this adventure. In fact, you can even read it on the ground. Go crazy! But be careful. Watch which doors you open in-game. You really have no idea where they’re going to lead.

Images and review copy courtesy of Andrews McMeel Universal

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