The dice were not kind to me during character creation this time around: I rolled Skill 7, Stamina 16, and Luck 11. That's a good Luck score, but any good scores are irrelevant when you have a low Skill. This was going to be a tough game.
As mentioned in my preamble, when presented with the option of three employers I chose the mysterious Poomchukker, the neutral one. I found his house near the town marketplace, and was surprised when the door was answered by a young goblin girl. She led me inside, and I finally met he of the awesome name, Poomchukker. POOMCHUKKER.
Poomchukker revealed to me that he was a merchant, and he wanted me map a path through the swamp to the town of Willowbend on the far side. He was dubious of my chances of surviving Scorpion Swamp, so I boasted about my magic brass ring.
That's when he surprised me: Poomchukker offered to buy the ring for 100 gold pieces. I looked at the pile of gold, then looked at my Skill score. There were a lot of factors to weigh up here, the most notable being my character's likelihood of staying alive. I didn't like the odds, so I took the gold. Quite gratifyingly, I was told that I had enough to live on for a few years, or to "carouse wildly for a month or so". My adventure was over, and while I technically hadn't won, I still call it a victory for Skill 7 adventurers everywhere. Sometimes you gotta know your limitations.
I rolled much better stats for this game: Skill 11, Stamina 20, and Luck 12. With scores that good I was tempted to take another crack at the evil quest, but in the interests of maintaining the thematic unity of this post, I stuck with the neutral path. I also made another tactical decision: cowardice. I decided to play in as cowardly a fashion as possible, avoiding all combat and just generally trying to speed through the swamp. Haste can often lead to death, but we'll see how it goes.
So, once again I went to visit the magnificent POOMCHUKKER, who gave me a choice of five spells from the Neutral list. I went with Ice, Skill, Stamina and two Fire spells. (Fire spells are always more useful than Ice. It's a magical fact.)
After heading into the swamp I took the right-hand path, then immediately went north from the next clearing (avoiding a potential encounter with a bear). The next clearing I entered was the lair of the Master of Spiders, but I made short work of him and his web-shrouded domain with a Fire spell. The whole place went up in a blaze, the Master was killed, and I fled to the north (with my Stamina reduced to 17 due to minor burns).
In the next clearing I was attacked by some Crab Grass. It wounded me in the first round, so I fled in the second (with my Stamina reduced to 13 overall).
Heading east, I encountered a trio of Swamp Orcs. One of them grazed me with an arrow (reducing my Skill to 10), so I ran away. To the sound of Orcish jeers, no doubt.
I went north, then east, where I drank at the healing pool (restoring my Stamina to 16). From there I headed back west, jumped over some scorpions (which involved a Luck test that reduced my score to 11), travelled north over a bridge, avoided fighting a giant eagle, went west, left a Dwarf to be eaten by a Giant Scorpion, went north, then went west.
In the next clearing I saw a Will o' the Wisp trying to lead me to the west, but I wasn't having a bar of it. Nothing good ever comes of following lights in a swamp. (Nothing good ever happens in swamps period, but Wisps make everything worse.)
Instead I headed south, where I encountered a huge Slime lurking on top of a pond. Before it could attack me, I froze it with an Ice spell which killed it instantly. Ice, you were handier than I thought you'd be.
Heading east I came to a clearing where I found a band of Brigands lying in wait. This really begs the question: who are they lying in wait for? Nobody can survive the swamp! No-one goes in there, supposedly. These guys have chosen a really bad spot for brigandage, but I suppose that if my mission succeeds their business will pick up, as then they can rob Poomchukker's merchant caravans all they like.
My ring did not register the brigands as evil, so I stepped out and greeted them in a friendly fashion. The brigands were a sporting bunch, and rather than gang up on me, they offered me the chance to fight a duel with their leader: if I struck the first blow I could continue to Willowbend, and if the leader struck first I'd have to give them something of value. I didn't feel like I had any better options, so I accepted. The brigand leader was no slouch, but even with my wounded arm (and reduced Skill) I triumphed, and parted from the brigands on good terms.
I headed north, and soon I had reached my goal: the town of Willowbend! I'd made a map of my path through the swamp, and now all that remained was for me to return to Poomchukker. Before that, however, I needed a rest, and I had the choice of three inns: the Black Bear, the Bent Spear and Tancred's Flying Horse. I went with the Bent Spear (as recommended by the brigands) and had a good night's sleep (that restored my Stamina to 18).
The next morning I visited the local wizard, Halicar, who offered to give me some spell gems in exchange for items of value. Alas, I had nothing of value, and so I had to venture back into the swamp with no more spells than I had before.
I had but to retrace my steps, and my mission would be complete. The brigands let me pass, and the slime was dead, so no problems there. I got over-curious with the Will o' the Wisp, though, and decided to see what might happen if I did follow it. (I know, I'm a dickhead.) The Wisp led me into a mud-hole; I was able to pull myself out (and avoid any damage with a successful Luck test that reduced my Luck to 10). (At this point I decided to cast my Skill spell, restoring my Skill to 11. This was a stupid mistake, because in the very next paragraph I failed a Luck test and had my Skill reduced back to 10. Just the worst timing.)
Retracing my path proved to be safe, until I got the clearing with the Swamp Orcs. They were still lurking there, and I had to fight all three at the same time. There was no option to run, so I was forced to battle to the death. Their deaths, as it turned out, although two of them wounded me (reducing my Stamina to 14).
I headed back west, once more fleeing from the Crab Grass (and having my Stamina reduced to 12). I couldn't go back south, as the clearing of the Master of Spiders was still on fire, so I went west instead. Along the way I looted a warrior's corpse (finding a golden magnet). Eventually I emerged in a clearing with an angry Unicorn, but I simply left and waited until it was gone.
From the Unicorn clearing I headed south, where I met my old nemesis: the Sword Trees! I opened with a quick Stamina spell (to restore my score to 20), and a Fire spell to wound them, then I went in with my own sword. This was another unavoidable battle, but one I eventually won (albeit with my Stamina reduced to 16). Killing the Sword Trees is always satisfying.
To the south I encountered a leech-infested stream that I had to wade through (further reducing my Stamina to 12). Even further south I met the Master of Wolves, but he was antisocial rather than actively hostile, and I was able to hurry past him. From there it was a simple trip east, then south, and I was out of the swamp and back in Fenmarge.
With map in hand I went back to Poomchukker, who was well pleased. Not only did he give me a huge emerald, but he cut me in for half of his savings for the next year. I suspect there'll be some creative math involved here, but being ripped off by Poomchukker is beyond the scope of the book. I had succeeded, and a life of carousing wildly was in my future.
That was refreshingly easy. Knowing the pathways is a big help, as is knowing what spells to use, and when to run. I breezed through the journey to Willowbend. Heading back was a bit harder, as I had to fight the Orcs, and there's no way to avoid battling the Sword Trees at least once (unless you have a Wither spell, which I didn't have access to). Still, I was never in any danger, and was able to knock the whole thing off in about half an hour. I figure I have one more post to complete the evil quest for this book; depending on my stats, I'll either try to get all five amulets, or take the easy route and go for three. Either way, I want to wrap this one up and move on.