At various times in my life, I've been a video gamer. One particular MMORG, Everquest, held my fascination for years. I recalled how every once in a while, a player or team of players, or guild, would unlock some new content, or there would be some special event, triggering a game-wide message. I decided to apply this to Tampa Bay Scavenger - whenever a player unlocked one of the four puzzle pieces and solved the final riddle, I posted a game update to the Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/2812736358967184). Below are those updates, which essentially create a separate, interactive storyline.
Following the unlocking of the first puzzle piece by a player, this update was issued on October 14, 2021.
All players and adventurers suddenly pause simultaneously, sensing a shift in the air around them. One by one they realize that it's the stillness, the silence, that has grabbed their attention. Everything has gone eerily quiet except for just one sound, which echoes out from the heart of the labyrinth. It is the unmistakable sound of metal against metal. It is the sound of a key opening a lock, setting something new in motion as hidden gears rumble to life and begin to turn...
...Somewhere, someone has unlocked the first puzzle piece...
Following the unlocking of the second puzzle piece by a player, this update was issued on November 18, 2021.
The blind seer sits at the small, circular wooden table in the center of her cabin – close enough to the docks that she can sometimes hear snippets of conversation and quarrels, but far enough removed that no one stumbles upon her abode without seeking it. Moonlight pours in through the sheer curtains by the window and pools on the uneven tiles of the floor. She knows that the moon is full not by anything her eyes tell her but rather by the cycles within and around her, as she prepares for her nightly ritual.
From the creased and worn deck she draws three cards, running her weathered fingers over each one as she turns it over.
The first is the Ace of Wands, indicating that a fateful step has been taken, setting in motion a chain of events that will lead one to their desired outcome.
The second card she reads by touch is the Seven of Pentacles. The road ahead will be long and arduous, requiring patience and dedication.
The final card takes her just a moment to recognize as the Wheel of Fortune. It’s been some time since it last turned up in one of her nightly readings. She knows that it heralds change, but for good or ill she cannot say.
“Tell me witch, what does this bode?” The voice belongs to a figure who has until now been concealed in the shadows behind her. She cannot see him and does not know if he is a corporeal being, a shade or just some figment conjured from her own fragmented memory. She long ago ceased making any such distinction, as she has discourse with all of them equally. In this instance, however, her reply is simply a broad grin, for she understands precisely what the cards have revealed…
…Somewhere, someone has unlocked the second puzzle piece…
Following the unlocking of the third puzzle piece by a player, this update was issued on December 27, 2021.
The water is calm and quiet, as the two men stand fishing side by side from the deck of their small vessel. They've been doing all they can of late to increase their catch as the nets have been nearly empty every night these last many. There's been talk and rumors that the waters have been cursed, that those adventurers who have of late descended upon the bay area seeking clues and treasure have unwittingly unleased something darker upon it.
The two fishermen are not immune to such superstition - each of them have been making extra offerings to their chosen deity in hopes of restoring harmony and good fortune. As they go quietly about their business, a thick fog rolls in and engulfs their boat. They turn towards each other in confusion as they realize that the fog is moving against the wind, towards the shore.
Before they can say anything, they notice a shape rising from the depths off the starboard side. They rub their eyes in astonishment, for what they see is clearly impossible. A rotted and decaying ship, rising from the depths without creating a sound or disturbing the surface of the water. Seaweed hangs and billows form the masts in lieu of sails, and as it passes alongside their craft, they feel chilled to the bone.
The crew is composed of skeletal pirates, reanimated and called up from their slumber at the bottom of the sea no doubt by that which is happening on land. At the helm, Gaspar the Undying points his rusted saber towards the port and urges his crew to make haste, lest they be beaten to their prize. The pirate captain's empty eye sockets glow red as if illuminated by embers and he lets loose a cackle that is the sound of nightmares as he speeds past the fisherman.
The fishermen wait for the ghost ship to pass, put away their gear and decide to call it a night. Neither one has any desire to speak of what they just witnessed or to be out on the water at night again anytime soon. The older of the two sighs, realizing that there will be no peace or normalcy until the hunt has run its course, and that for those competing to complete it, the dangers will only increase the closer they get to their goal. A goal, he muses, rubbing his grey beard between his fingers, that at least one seeker has just drawn closer to...
...Somewhere, someone has unlocked the third puzzle piece...
Following the unlocking of the fourth and final puzzle piece by a player, this update was issued on April 11, 2022.
The wind that began as a mild breeze picks up and becomes a howl, bending and uprooting trees. Like a droplet of black ink, a roiling storm cloud spreads across the sky. It blots out the sun, turning afternoon into the pitch black of midnight, split by bolts of lightning so bright that they leave an afterimage in the eyes of those watching. The waters along the bay become turbulent, pounding the shores and docks, surging against stone walls. Waterspouts dance over the sea in the darkness. All man-made structures, even the ground itself, seems to tremble from the force of the tempest.
And then nothing. As quickly as it formed, the storm dissipates and when the late day sun breaks free from the clouds that confined it, it shines all the more brightly on one adventurer. Everyone throughout the land reaches the same conclusion...
...Somewhere, someone has unlocked the fourth and final puzzle piece...
Following the deciphering of the final secret message (once the four puzzle pieces were assembled) by a player, this update was issued on July 20, 2022.
All enemies defeated, all clues solved, ZooTech stands before the ancient doorway that leads to the Keeper of Secrets, and of course, whatever treasure he has been guarding. She takes a deep breath and enters, winding through a maze of passageways, sometimes having to retrace her steps. At last she sees the flicker of torchlight up ahead. The passageway opens up into a circular chamber. At the far side sits a figure wearing a hooded cloak. Between them, in the center of the room are a series of letters and in the very center of the room, a massive wooden chest, bound shut with metal chains and a lock.
“Welcome,” the figure says. He rises slowly, as if he’s been seated there waiting to be found since the very dawn of time. “You have proven yourself courageous and curios in solving my riddles. Now there is but one final challenge.” He gestures to the letters throughout the room.
ZooTech notices that they seem to shimmer as she approaches. She studies each carefully, and then it comes to her – the final phrase. She whispers it to the figure and though she cannot discern his face, she has the distinct impression that he is smiling. He takes a key that hangs around his neck and places it in her hands. “Thank you for freeing me,” he says and then begins to dematerialize before her eyes, until all that is left is a dark swirling vortex of dust and the key in her hands.
Cautiously she approaches the chest and detecting no traps, places the keys into the lock. It springs open and the chains loosen and fall away. She lifts the lid and inside she finds… nothing! Wait, that can’t be right, can it? She looks again and feels around in the dark wood. This time she feels something in the corner and pulls away a false bottom, which reveals a ladder descending into the darkness below.
Determined not to have come this far without claiming the treasure, she climbs down into the unknown. At the bottom she finds herself in another circular room, but this one is lined with portals – dozens of doorways glowing blue, through each of which she can see a different path. Though this particular quest has ended for her, the adventure continues without end…
…And isn’t that really the best treasure of all?
Congratulation to ZooTech on being the first to solve all the riddles and the final phrase.
Now, who will be next?