Saturday, March 28, 2020

Exploring Titan 13: The Seven Serpents

The Seven Serpents covers the Analander's journey from Kharé to the foothills of the Zanzunu Peaks.  That journey goes through a number of geological regions: the Baddu-Bak Plains, the Klatta-Bak Steppes, the Forest of Snatta, Lake Ilklala and Vischlami Swamp.  I'll cover all of these in as much detail as I can, though the book focuses more on the plains, steppes and forest than the other areas.

This region of Kakhabad is a vast wasteland that stretches from the Jabaji River in the south to the Forest of Snatta in the north.  It's comprised of the Baddu-Bak Plains (just north of Kharé) and the Klatta-Bak Steppes (between the plains and the forest).  To the east of those, extending all the way to the coast, are the Vanti-Bak Wastes, which are presumably also a part of the Baklands.  The book doesn't cover them, though, so it's impossible to say.  There's not a great deal to distinguish the Baddu-Bak Plains from the Klatta-Bak Steppes, so I'll look at them collectively as the Baklands.

The Baklands - at least in the area north of Kharé - are eerily silent and featureless, sparse in vegetation and signs of life.  There is little in the way of civilisation here.  The region is completely unknown to the map-makers of Analand, as no Analander has ever crossed the plains and survived.  Most of those that live in the Baklands are solitary creatures or nomadic tribes, with little in the way of organisation.  It's probable that those tribes banded together in the past to attack Kharé, causing the city to lock its North Gate with a spell, but at the present time the tribes are scattered and without leadership.

The most numerous of these tribes seem to be the Klattamen, who live in crude villages in the Klatta-Bak Steppes.  They're a barbaric people, communicating in grunts and wielding only clubs as weapons.  It appears as though they value physical strength and prowess in battle above all.  Visitors to their villages will be shown some hospitality, but must fight the village's champion, and if they win they are seemingly hailed as the new champion.

If there's one thing that's in abundance in the Baklands, it's magic.  Strange phenomena and weird happenings abound, and even the passage of night and day is said to be governed by supernatural forces.  It's probably no coincidence that so many of the inhabitants of the place possess powers of sorcery: Shadrack the Hermit, Manata the Snake Charmer, Renfren the Illusionist and the sorceress Dintainta all make their home in the Baklands, and all of them are magic-users of one sort or another.  It's probable that something about the Baklands has drawn them there, as such a high concentration of sorcerers is unusual.  (Scorpion Swamp seemed to be similarly crowded, and it also had some weird phenomena going on.)


This forest lies north of the Baklands and south of Lake Ilklala and the Kharabak River.  It's seems to be not all that unpleasant at first glance, and full of life: small animals scurry through the underbrush, and small birds sing in the trees.  The forest has its own hidden dangers, however.

One of those dangers rests among the plants themselves.  The Stranglebush is a man-eating plant that uses its vines to immobilise its victims before devouring them.  But the greater danger lies in what is seemingly the forest's most numerous inhabitants, the Snattacats.  Around the size of a large dog, they roam in packs as large as a dozen, and use their innate power of invisibility to stalk their prey.

The forest is also home the the sorceress Fenestra, but I'll discuss her further below.


This lake is fed by three rivers - the Ilklala, the Tinpang and the Vischlami - and the wide Kharabak River flows out of it all the way to the Earth-End Coast.  From the southern shore it appears as a vast expanse of still water that stretches to the horizon.  Despite this stillness, the water of the lake is described as being thick and heavy.

It's evident that some great beast lurks beneath these waters, as the Analander is dragged below by something that grabs his leg if he should fall overboard. The map of Kakhabad depicts Lake Ilklala with a tentacle rising out of it, so it could be some sort of octopus or squid.

The lake is also home to Flying Fish.  Although they are small, their razor-sharp teeth and ability to fly out of the water can make them deadly predators.

The only sure way across the lake is the Ferryman, a scruffy, unwashed, overweight but broad-shouldered individual who will row travellers across the lake for a small fee.  It's possible that he has an arrangement with Fenestra, as the Analander is only able to summon him by using a whistle given to him by the sorceress.  He is said to patrol the lake shore every morning, but for some reason he doesn't appear unless the whistle is blown.


This large area of swampland lies between Lake Ilklala and Low Xamen, the foothills of the Zanzunu Peaks.  It's home to leeches that will attack themselves to travellers and drain their blood.  There is also a tribe of Marsh Goblins that live in the swamp.  It appears they've adapted to their environment, as they have webbed fingers.  They're also friendlier than the more common goblin varieties, as they have dealings with Fenestra on the other side of the lake, and seem happy enough to aid the Analander so long as he helps them in turn.


Rumour has it that the Seven Serpents were created twelve years ago, after the Archmage of Mampang fought and slew a hydra that lived in the caves of High Xamen. So impressive was this foe that the Archmage took all seven of its heads back to Mampang Fortress, and used his black arts to resurrect them as winged serpents.  As an act of faith he assigned each to one of his gods, and turn those gods infused the serpents with their own powers.  The Archmage used them as his own personal messengers and servants.

The Seven Serpents are as follows: the Sun Serpent, the Moon Serpent, the Earth Serpent, the Fire Serpent, the Air Serpent, the Water Serpent, and the Serpent of Time.  Each has powers given to them by their god, but each one also has a closely guarded secret.  The Sun Serpent cannot abide water.  The Moon Serpent is defeated by fire.  The Earth Serpent must remain in contact with the ground, and the Fire Serpent can be smothered with sand.  The Air Serpent can take the form of a puff of gas, but will die unless it can return to its body within minutes.  The Water Serpent is defeated by oil.  The Serpent of Time's only weakness seems to be a specific spell that was given to the Marsh Goblins by Fenestra in the form of a scroll.

The serpents also know many secrets of Mampang Fortress, and are compelled to give them to the bearer of the serpent ring, which is wrought in the shape of a serpent biting its own tail.  The ring's origin is unclear.  It was found in the possession of a beggar who was once the Seventh Noble of Kharé, who believed that it gave protection against snakes.  Possibly the creation of the ring was a side-effect of the magic that created the Seven Serpents, but that is pure speculation.  How it got into the hands of a noble of Kharé is also unknown.

Its apparent that the Serpents venture out into Kakhabad with some frequency, to serve as the Archmage's eyes and ears.  They must also venture out of Kakhabad from time to time, as they learned of the Analander's mission by spying in his homeland.  They were discovered, and fled to give this vital information to their master.


In the Baklands, somewhere roughly north-west of Kharé, is a ruined temple to Throff, goddess of the Earth.  She's depicted in statue form as a woman in leather armour wearing a bronze helmet.  The people who built this temple are described as priests of Yadu, and probably came from the Daddu-Yadu Caves.  It's not really clear whether the temple has worshippers.  The only priest who lived there was a man named Shalla, who was recently locked in the basement by a raiding party of Klattamen who ransacked the temple.  (Presumably this is the same trio of Klattamen that can be encountered elsewhere in the book, one of whom is carrying a Sun Jewel.) It seems likely that this temple was just a place for priests of Throff to practice their worship in private rather than one that was open to a congregation.  What is clear is that Throff is very much real, and has great power within her temple.  She will strike down any non-believers who speak her name within the temple, causing it to collapse on top of them.

Fenestra at one point swears by Gredd, who is otherwise unmentioned so far in the series.  A look at the Titannica wiki tells me that this is another name for Sindla, the goddess of luck.

Last of all, are the strange entities known as the Seven Spirits, who try to trick the Analander into thrice-damning the name of his own goddess, Libra.  They appear as hooded figures with skeletal faces, although when forced to reveal their true forms their heads are like those of snakes. They are apparently spirits sent by the Archmage to entrap the Analander, which doesn't quite ring true: why would the Seven Serpents be rushing back to him with such urgency if he was already aware of the mission?  I suppose that the Archmage suspected someone from Analand would be sent, and dispatched these spirits just in case.  But what of their true nature?  They seem to have a connection to the Seven Serpents, both visually and in their number.  This is speculation, but I think of them as manifestations of the gods that empower the serpents, or possibly spirits serving those gods.  Whatever their nature, they have little power over the Analander unless he divests himself of the protection of Libra.


Shadrack the Hermit
Shadrack lives alone to the north-east of Kharé, in a cave in the Fishtail Rock.  He has some magical powers, displaying the ability to communicate through trees, and he is aware of the Analander's quest before they arrive at his cave.  He is also known and trusted by the King of Analand, who directs the Analander to seek the aid of Shadrack.

Manata the Snake Charmer
Manata lives in a pit in the Baklands, somewhere to the north-west of Kharé, with only his pet snakes as his companions.  He has enough of a reputation that the Baklands Horsemen won't go near him.  He is willing to trade, but if he becomes hostile he will control his snakes with a musical pipe to attack.  He can also use this music to transform his victim into a snake.  Manata describes the snakes in his pit as his sisters; whether he's being literal here is unknown.

Renfren the Illusionist
Renfren is an illusionist who tries to trick the Analander with the image of a Deathwraith.  He claims that this is his idea of a practical joke, but he is willing to use this illusion to kill, and has probably done so before.  (How this is done is unclear. Does the illusion actually wound those who believe in it, or is Renfren doing the fighting while under its guise?)  He is cowardly, though, and when sufficiently wounded will surrender all of his treasure in return for his life.  The encounter with Renfren also includes a Rock Demon; whether this demon is also one of his illusions is unclear.

Dintainta of the Steppes
Also known as "The Sham", this sorceress roams the Baklands in the illusory guise of a fast-moving gnome, and displays great knowledge of magic.  She is fond of gifts, and will help anyone who gives her a gift that she likes.  She is mentioned in a rhyme that was given to the Analander by Shinva, the Fifth Noble of Kharé: For sleeping of the sleepless ram, seek out the one they call The Sham.  This rhyme is said to go back to ancient days, so it's likely that Dintainta is much older than her middle-aged appearance would suggest.  She must also have at least some knowledge of Mampang Fortress to know about the Sleepless Ram.

Fenestra is an elven sorceress who makes her home beneath a hill deep in the Forest of Snatta.  Given her skin tone on the original cover of The Seven Serpents she may be a Black Elf, but I don't think it's mentioned specifically.  She is brusque with those who intrude on her lair with violent intent, but to others she will freely give advice and trade, especially to those who practice magic.

She has a special hatred for the Seven Serpents, especially the Water Serpent, which killed her father.  She intends to avenge her father, and keeps a special store of oil for the occasion.  Recently she gave some Marsh Goblins a scroll containing a spell to defeat the Serpent of Time.  She also recently entrapped the Sun Serpent by luring it down with a rain spell and offering it sanctuary, trapping it inside a glass orb.

The Caravan of Cesstar
This caravan of Black Elf traders is making its way across the Baklands to Kharé, where the elves intend to do business.  I'm not sure exactly what they intend to do once they reach Kharé; the North Gate is locked with a spell, and nobody currently there knows the whole thing.  Besides, the gate is locked precisely to keep the denizens of the Baklands out. Perhaps Kharé has a way of doing trade with the Baklands' people without opening the gate.

The caravan is led by an old elf name Cesstar, and its master of trade is named Oolooh.  It seems that these elves have some dealings with Mampang; they are quite happy to sell the Analander out for a reward.  But they are much fonder of gold they can have here and now, and will trade with the Analander instead of betraying him.


The Seven Serpents has perhaps less variety in the creatures that can be encountered than some other books - I'm not certain, it's just a gut feeling - but most of the creatures that can be encountered within it are unique to the book, or have some twist that makes them interesting.  About the only creature in here that I would class as filler is the Wild Bear in the forest.  I've already covered the Black Elves, Snattacats, Stranglebush, Flying Fish and Marsh Goblins above, but here are the rest:

At the beginning of his journey through the Baklands, the Analander is attacked by a quartet of Nighthawks, black birds with talons and piercing cries.  I've always thought of these birds as being sent by the Archmage's forces, but there's no evidence for that. They fly from the south, so it seems highly unlikely.  It's more likely that they're simply predators, either bold or hungry enough to attack humans.

Goldcrest Eagle
These birds are raised and trained in Analand as messengers and birds of war.  These birds have the ability to hide themselves with a shroud of invisibility. Whether this is innate or something gifted to them by the sorcerers of Analand is unknown.

This large beetle is native to the Baddu-Bak Plains. It hunts its prey by burying itself in the earth and bursting out to surprise those that pass by.  The spit of a baddu-beetle is acidic, and it will send a stream of it from its mouth at anyone that wounds it.

Baddu-Bak Horsemen
This tribe of centaurs are native to the Baddu-Bak Plains.  They are not exactly friendly, but are wary enough of lone travellers not to attack those who don't attack first.  They are especially wary of sorcerers, and steer clear of Manata the Snake Charmer.

Rock Demon
This Rock Demon seemingly inhabits some rocks in the Baddu-Bak Plains, and will attack anyone that disturbs it.  There's a good possibility, though, that it's really an illusion.  The whole encounter happens while the Analander is fighting Renfren the Illusionist, so there's a likelihood that none of what occurs is real.

Golden Snake
This snake has golden skin, and lives in a well near the Temple of Throff.  It's otherwise just a regular snake with a venomous bite, although the venom is deadly enough to kill someone within a day.


  • In a previous post I'd theorised that the sorcerers of the Femphrey Alliance would freely share their magic, given that someone who knew all the spells in the series are known as Imperial Sorcerers.  In this book it's made clear that this is not the case: the Analander finds a spellbook from his homeland and burns it so that its secrets cannot fall into the wrong hands.  It's made quite explicit that the sorcerers of the various nations of the Old World guard their secrets jealously.
  • Holy water in Kakhabad apparently comes from the holy springs in Daddu-Yadu, the Croaking Caves.  Evidence continues to mount that these caves, and the neighbouring Daddu-Ley, are places of religious worship.
  • At the end of the book, the Archmage is referred to several times as an Archduke.  This is probably just a self-given rank, but who knows?

NEXT: I move on to my wrap-up posts for The Crown of Kings, and am finally near the end of this long sojourn with the Sorcery! epic.  It'll be fun to finally get back to playing through the main series.

Monday, March 23, 2020

The Seven Serpents: Final Thoughts

I've been trying to keep a regular blogging schedule lately, but I missed my usual Saturday post because I hadn't quite finished exhaustively reading The Seven Serpents.  What can I say, the book has 498 entries, it's a lot.

The Seven Serpents, written by Steve Jackson and illustrated by John Blanche, is the third book in the series, and this is where things get serious.  Book 1, The Shamutanti Hills, was a leisurely beginning to your quest.  Sure, the hills are dangerous, but there are still plenty of peaceful folks and getting through alive isn't all that hard.  Book 2, Khare - Cityport of Traps, is quite a bit deadlier, but there's no antagonist as such.  You might get murdered or sold into slavery, but that's just everyday life in Khare.  The Seven Serpents is different, though.  In this book, you have enemies.

In many ways, this is where the actual plot of the series begins.  The first two books are just travelogues, and don't have any meaningful ties to the story of the Archmage and the Crown of Kings.  But in Book 3, the Archmage's spies are aware of your mission, and the deadly serpents have been dispatched to bring word of your approach to Mampang Fortress.  It brings a level of threat and tension that wasn't present in the previous books.

And then there's the books setting, the Baklands, a barren wasteland roamed by barbarian tribes and weird monsters, where it seems like everyone you meet is a wizard of some sort.  Even the laws of nature behave weirdly in this place (although that could be the influence of the Serpents in some cases).  It's not quite as intriguingly bizarre a place as Khare, but as wilderness settings go it's a lot more fun to traverse than the Shamutanti Hills.

The book isn't super-difficult to survive, but Steve uses the Seven Serpents to good effect as a way of ramping up the challenge.  Sure, you can make it all the way from Khare to Xamen alive, but how many of the serpents did you kill?  Getting through with all seven serpents defeated is a challenge, especially before you know all of their weaknesses.  My only complaint is that you have to defeat at least two of them; it would be nice if the option was there to traverse the whole book without fighting a single serpent.

This close reading of the book has done a lot to raise The Seven Serpents in my estimation.  For the longest time I've thought of it as the lull between Khare and The Crown of Kings, and I've always been more fond of the city/dungeon adventures than the wilderness ones.  But there's a lot to love about this book: it's full of great encounters, the path to victory is wide open, and yet it still presents a decent challenge.  I've been sleeping on it for far too long, I reckon.


I covered pretty much everything in the second half of the book, from the Forest of Snatta onwards, but there are a bunch of cool encounters I missed in the Baklands.  There's a Temple of Throff, the Earth Goddess, where you can possibly bring down her wrath, or rescue an imprisoned priest.  At one point you can be attacked by the Serpent of Fire while you're camping, and get carried off to an encounter with some Klattamen.  Coolest of all is probably the creepy encounter with the Seven Spirits, who try to get you to renounce the goddess Libra.


There aren't many glaring errors in this book, although there are a couple of entries towards the end that are technically unreachable.  You can't reach the end of the book without defeating the Serpents of Air and Time, but the book still asks if you've beaten 0 or 1 Serpent when you get there.  This makes references 386 and 496 impossible to get to.  Logically, because the Sun Serpent has been captured by Fenestra, reference 479 shouldn't be valid either.

When making fire to fight the Moon Serpent the book gives flash-fire powder as a possible method of doing so. As far as I can tell there's no flash-fire powder in any of the books so far.

It's impossible to have the Staff of Oak Sapling by the time you reach the Temple of Throff, but the book still gives you the possibility of casting FIX there.  Similarly, the book allows the casting of GOD and ZEN at various points, when I don't think you can get a Jewel of Gold or Jewel-Studded Medallion beforehand.  I need to check that I didn't miss anything in book 2; I know for sure that neither item is found in book 1.

The following items can be found in this book, but serve no purpose: a rat spine, some fake holy water, some green leathery leaves, and some yellow bird feathers.  This is in addition to the useless items still lingering since books 1 and 2: a locket; a huge broken stool, a giant's net, various dead giant body parts, some poison, and some moldy goat's cheese.


There aren't a lot of instant deaths in this book - just eight in total - but the ones that are there are all top quality.  I'm a big fan of the one that follows if you get tricked by the Seven Spirits, and the one entry where you get killed by the Time Serpent.  Nothing beats the following entry for sheer gruesome absurdity though:

Yes, that really is the Analander cutting off his own leg.  Every aspect of this is ridiculous: the seeming ease with which the job is done; the fact that the pain merely makes you gasp; the lack of concern over what would surely be fatal blood loss.  Not to mention the total disregard for the fight with the Earth Serpent that should still be going on.  I really want the gamebook that details the Analander's one-legged journey back home, though.


Story & Setting: The Seven Serpents takes the Sorcery! plot and livens it up with a race against time, and some genuinely dangerous antagonists.  The series has a good overall story, but both of the first two books simply involved getting from point A to point B (with book 2 making that journey quite a bit more difficult). Book 3 raises the stakes, and really makes it feel like the story is coming to a head.  It falls down a little in the setting though: the Baklands are great, lacking in character compared to Khare.  Rating: 5 out of 7.

Toughness: This book isn't particularly difficult to get through: you really just need to encounter Fenestra without getting her angry and you'll have all the tools you need to win.  The challenge here isn't so much surviving as it is finding and defeating all of the Seven Serpents, but that gives the book some optional difficulty that takes advantage of the serial nature of the series.  Rating: 6 out of 7.

Aesthetics: John Blanche is once again in good form here, although I feel as though the Baklands don't give him quite the scope to show off that the weirdness of Khare did.  And once again I'm not all that fond of the original cover to this one.  Fenestra is all well and good, but the depiction of the Seven Serpents on the Wizard reprint is much more appropriate even if I'm not keen on the actual rendition.  I rate this category on the Penguin covers though, so it gets marked down a little.  Rating: 4 out of 7.

Mechanics: Steve Jackson keeps things rolling here, using the Fighting Fantasy system to great effect.  There are one or two odd bits where the rules don't quite make sense, but the magic system is still one of the best things that the FF series ever did.  Rating: 6 out of 7.

Innovation & Influence: The spell system remains great, but once again this book isn't really adding anything beyond what was in The Shamutanti HillsRating: 4 out of 7.

NPCs & Monsters: The Seven Serpents is full of memorable encounters, and has some of the best antagonists gamebooks have to offer.  The Serpents admittedly don't have a lot of personality, but they make up for it by giving some of the best boss battles of the series.  Even outside of the Serpents there are plenty of cool encounters, all of which offer something interesting to try.  Rating: 7 out of 7.

Amusement: There's a lot of fun to be had in this book, which leaves the path to victory wide open and has intriguing, entertaining encounters along every single branch.  Rating 6 out of 7.

The above scores total 38, which doubled gives a STAMINA Rating of 76.  I'm not giving it the discretionary Bonus Point, because that would put it equal with Deathtrap Dungeon, and I don't think it quite deserves that.  Even so, it reaches fifth place, a pretty damn good showing.

NEXT: I'll do an Exploring Titan for The Seven Serpents, and then it's on to the wrap-up posts for The Crown of Kings.

Saturday, March 14, 2020

The Sorcery of Sorcery! 3: The Seven Serpents

Normally I'd start this round of wrap-up posts with my Final Thoughts on The Seven Serpents, but due to a combination of coronavirus paranoia and the sniffles, I've spent the week exiled from the house which has been slightly disrupting to my schedule. I live in a bungalow already, so it's not so bad, but it's been a big enough change that I didn't get around to doing a full reading of the book.

For the weekend I'm lounging away in a hotel though, with no responsibilities, so I at least have time to knock out a "Sorcery of Sorcery".  I could get used to this, if I'm being honest...

This is part three of the series covering the use of magic in the Sorcery! epic: where the spell components are found and how often the various spells come in handy.  I've already covered The Shamutanti Hills and Kharé - Cityport of Traps, and today's post will cover The Seven Serpents.

It should be noted that this post may not be as accurate as my previous two in this series, as I've only skimmed the book and not yet done a deep read.  I'll come back and fix any mistakes that I find later.


Below are listed the spell components that can be found within the Baklands between Kharé and the Zanzunu Peaks.

  • Beeswax for the RAZ spell - Traded by Fenestra
  • A Bamboo Flute for the JIG spell - Traded by Fenestra, taken from the Snake-Charmer
  • Goblin Teeth for the GOB spell - Traded by Fenestra
  • Giant Teeth for the YOB spell - Traded by Fenestra
  • A Vial of Glue for the GUM spell - Traded by Fenestra
  • A Medicinal Potion for the DOC spell - Traded by Fenestra
  • Pebbles for the POP spell - 5 found on a path in the Forest of Snatta, traded by Fenestra
  • Nose Plugs for the NIF spell - Traded by Fenestra
  • Sand for the MUD spell - On a path in the Forest of Snatta, on the body of a slain Horseman, traded by Fenestra, taken from some Klattamen
  • A Cloth Skullcap for the TEL spell - Traded by Fenestra
  • A Black Facemask for the GAK spell - Traded by Fenestra
  • A Jewel of Gold for the GOD spell -Traded by Fenestra
  • A Gold-Backed Mirror for the KIN spell - Traded by Fenestra
  • A Potion of Fire Water for the PEP spell -Traded by Fenestra
  • Stone Dust for the ROK spell - In the Baddu-Beetle's hole, on a path in the Forest of Snatta, traded by Fenestra
  • Yellow Powder for the NIP spell - Taken from Renfren the illusionist, traded by Fenestra
  • A Galehorn for the HUF spell - Given to you by Shadrack, bought from the Black Elf caravan, traded by Fenestra
  • A Staff of Oak Sapling for the FIX spell - Traded by Fenestra, given to you by Dintainta
  • A Brass Pendulum for the NAP spell - bought from the Black Elf caravan, traded by Fenestra
  • A Jewel-Studded Medallion for the ZEN spell - Traded by Fenestra
  • A Pearl Ring for the YAZ spell - Bought from the Black Elf caravan, traded by Fenestra
  • A Sun Jewel for the SUN spell - Traded by Fenestra, taken from some Klattamen
  • A Bracelet of Bone for the KID spell - Traded by Fenestra
  • A Green-Haired Wig for the RAP and YAP spells - Taken from a slain Horseman, traded by Fenestra
  • A Ring of Green Metal for the ZIP spell - Traded by Fenestra
  • An Orb of Crystal for the FAR spell - Left behind after the Moon Serpent is slain, bought from the Black Elf caravan, traded by Fenestra
  • Holy Water for the RES spell - Bought or taken from the Snake-Charmer, traded by Fenestra

Wow, I knew that there were a lot of spell components to be found in this book, but I never knew exactly how many. Given that Fenestra will trade you for any spell component you want, the potential is there to be able to cast all 48 spells.  Thirty-six of those were available as of the end of book 2, so there are twelve that have now been added: GOD, PEP, ROK, NIP, HUF, FIX, NAP, ZEN, YAZ, ZIP, FAR and RES.

With enough items to trade it's technically possible to find everything, but Fenestra only accepts two spell components for every one she gives you, so this isn't the best way to do it.  Even taking the right path, there are still a bunch of items that can only be found by trading with her, so it's probably not possible to end this book with a full complement of items.  Although, if you count individual goblin teeth as single items it's definitely doable. I'd say that's valid.


As noted above, all 48 spells are available by the end of this book. Below I've grouped these spells by the number of times they are useful during The Seven Serpents.

Spells Used 5 Times:

  • FIX
    • Allows you to escape from the Bear
    • Deducts 1 Skill point from the Flying Fish
    • Forces the Ferryman agree not to charge you any gold
    • Frees you from the Stranglebush
    • Protects you from rocks while fighting the Earth Serpent

Spells Used 4 Times:

  • HUF
    • Defeats the Air Serpent
    • Defeats the Earth Serpent
    • Disperses the whirlwind
    • Adds 2 to your Skill while fighting the Fire Serpent, and protects you from its special attack

Spells Used 3 Times:

  • SUS
    • Warns you that the hieroglyphics in the ruined temple are dangerous
    • Warns you that the Snake Charmer's music is enchanted
    • Warns you the the Deathwraith is an illusion
  • DOC
    • Restores your Stamina to its initial level while fighting the Earth Serpent
    • Restores your Stamina to its initial level before crossing Lake Ilkala, or you can use it to get the Ferryman to agree to a free trip
    • Restores your Stamina to its initial level inside the ruined temple
  • RAZ
    • Increases damage dealt when fighting the Flying Fish
    • Increases damage dealt when fighting the illusory Rock Demon
    • Increases damage dealt when fighting Water Serpent
  • ZAP
    • Kills the Golden Snake
    • Open's Fenestra's door (although you can just walk in without using this spell, so it probably shouldn't count)
    • Frees your leg from the rocks when fighting the Earth Serpent
  • FOF
    • Allows you to flee from the Snattacats
    • Protects you from the Golden Snake
    • Protects you from falling rubble in the ruined temple
  • FAR
    • Allows you to spy on Fenestra from outside her lair
    • Allows you to avoid the Snattacats
    • Gives you some cryptic hints while fighting the Earth Serpent
  • GOD
    • Makes the Klattamen leave you alone (I didn't think you could get the Jewel of Gold at this point, but perhaps I missed one somewhere.)
    • Stops the old Black Elf from leaving you staked out on the plains (ditto).
    • Makes the Ferryman agree to ferry you for free

Spells Used 2 Times:

  • GAK
    • Frightens the Klattaman Champion into fleeing
    • Deducts 2 from the Attack Strength of the three Klattamen
  • HOW
    • Warns you that the Black Elf is leading you into a trap
    • Warns you to steer clear of the whirlwind
  • WOK
    • Reduces the Water Serpent's Attack Strength by 2
    • Protects you from falling rocks while fighting the Earth Serpent
  • DIM
    • Removes one of the Horsemen from the following battle
    • Reduces the Skill of the illusory Deathwraith, and causes it to act confused in battle
    • GOB
      • May free you from the Stranglebush
      • Help you fight the Marsh Goblins
    • GUM
      • Removes one Snattacat from the following battle, if you are Lucky
      • Allows you to avoid the Firefox
    • SAP
      • Reduces the Klattaman Champion's Skill by 3
      • Reduces the Skill of one of the Horsemen to 1
    • HOT
      • Kills the Moon Serpent
      • Kills the Golden Snake
    • KID
      • Distracts the Snake Charmer long enough for you to loot his pit
      • Frightens the Klattamen into giving you their possessions
    • LAW
      • Saves you from fighting the Nighthawks
      • Forces the Bear to leave you alone

    Spells Used 1 Time:

    • KIN
      • Creates a duplicate to fight the illusory Rock Demon
    • NIF
      • Forces the Firefox to flee
    • POP
      • Kills all of the Marsh Goblins
    • DOP
      • Opens Fenestra's door, but this probably shouldn't count because it opens anyway
    • YOB
      • Moves rocks to free your leg while fighting the Earth Serpent
    • TEL
      • Warns you that the old Black Elf is leading you into a trap, but can be swayed with gold
    • MUD
      • Helps you climb out of the pit while fighting the Earth Serpent
    • MAG
      • Dispels the illusory Deathwraith
    • SUN
      • Allows you to escape from the Baddu-Beetle
    • WAL
      • Protects you from the Flying Fish
    • YAP
      • Allows you to communicate with the Golden Snake
    • BIG
      • Doubles your Skill while fighting the Baddu-Beetle
    • RAP
      • Allows you to communicate with the Marsh Goblins
    • NIP
      • Allows you to flee from the Marsh Goblins
    • YAZ
      • Allows you to escape from the Snattacats
    • ROK
      • Removes three Snattacats from the battle that follows if you are Lucky, one if you are not
    • ZEN
      • Allows you to lift the Earth Serpent and destroy it (although I was sure you can't get the item required so early; perhaps I missed it?)
    • FAL
      • This one might help against the Fire Serpent, but it's ambiguous. The spell says you are protected from falling damage, and shortly after you can fall out of a tree. However, the damage sustained is a combination of falling and being burned, and it's not split between the two. The spell should probably do something here, but it's not clear.

    Spells Used 0 Times:

    • DOZ
    • DUM
    • SIX
    • JIG
    • DUD
      • All of the above spells can be cast during the book, but none are successful
    • FOG
      • This spell only works inside, so it fails every time it's used in this book
    • ZED
      • This spell isn't used until the final book

    Once again looking at the six spells that the book says are the most useful, we find that in this book they run the gamut: ZAP and FOF are used three times, HOT and WAL are used twice, and DUM isn't useful at all.  Overall, there's a flattening of the number of times that spells are useful; with a greater variety available, it's inevitable that spell usage gets spread around a bit. The real stars are FIX and HUF, both newly available. This is understandable, as I suspect Steve wanted to play with his new toys.

    Of course, it also should go without saying that these spell uses are of varying worth. Some will be vital to beating the book, and some will be trivial, or perhaps even detrimental in the long run. I've just included those that succeed in the moment.

    Spell Usage Across All Four Books:

    Below I've added the amounts of times that spells are useful in both books 1, 2 and 3. I'll be keeping a tally for the whole series.

    • DOC - 10 times
    • SUS - 10 times
    • HOW - 9 times
    • WOK - 9 times
    • ZAP - 9 times
    • FOF - 8 times
    • RAZ - 8 times
    • GOB - 7 times
    • YOB - 7 times
    • LAW - 7 times
    • DOP - 6 times
    • TEL - 6 times
    • HOT - 6 times
    • GUM - 6 times
    • DIM - 6 times
    • MUD - 5 times
    • BIG - 5 times
    • GAK - 5 times
    • FIX - 5 times
    • SIX - 4 times
    • POP - 4 times
    • JIG - 4 times
    • DUD - 4 times
    • WAL - 4 times
    • SAP - 4 times
    • HUF - 4 times
    • DUM - 3 times
    • FAR - 3 times
    • DOZ - 3 times
    • KID - 3 time
    • MAG - 3 times
    • NIF - 3 times
    • KIN - 3 times
    • GOD - 3 times
    • FAL - 2 time
    • SUN - 2 time
    • RAP - 2 time
    • ROK - 1 times
    • FOG - 1 time
    • NIP - 1 times
    • ZEN - 1 times
    • YAZ - 1 times
    • YAP - 1 times
    • ZIP - 0 times
    • NAP - 0 times
    • RES - 0 times
    • PEP - 0 times
    • ZED - 0 times

    NEXT: I should have my Final Thoughts on The Seven Serpents ready to go.

    Saturday, March 7, 2020

    Exploring Titan 12: Kharé - Cityport of Traps

    The city of Kharé has numerous names and titles, the gateway to the Baklands and the city of chaos among them. Some say that Kharé simply arose around the only ford across the Jabaji River between Lake Lumlé and the sea, but this is dismissed as an unlikely tale (probably because it's far too ordinary). More probable are the tales that say it began as an encampment of river pirates, who set up there to ambush sailing vessels carrying their wares (mostly fish) between Lake Lumlé and the Kakhabad Sea. This camp became a village, then grew into a city, and became a magnet for the ne'er-do-wells of the Baklands and the Shamutanti Hills. Malevolent creatures, many of whom would kill a man for the laces on his boots, drifted into the city, and it became a lawless place. With no-one else to protect them from the criminals that roamed the streets, the citizens of Kharé created an elaborate system of tricks and traps. This is how the city came to possess it's most famous name of all: the Cityport of Traps.

    Kharé does indeed sit upon the only ford across the Jabaji: crossing the river elsewhere is said to be impossible. The city is surrounded by a fortified wall, and has two main gates. The south gate opens to the Shamutanti Hills, and the north gate opens into the Baklands. Both gates are guarded, but the north gate is also wizard locked, to protect the city from raiders from the Baklands. Obviously the denizens of that land are much more aggressive and deadly than those of the Shamutantis, because the south gate is simply locked with a key, and can be unlocked from the outside. More on the north gate spell below.

    The city is broken into two distinct sections. South of the river is where the poorer residents live, with winding streets, opium dens, taverns, shops and markets. The wealthier citizens and nobles dwell on the north side, where there are elaborate crypts, gambling halls and temples. It also seems to be further sub-divided into racial ghettos: there's an area where dwarves live, another that is home to the gnomes, and just across the river is where the mysterious red-eyes congregate.

    It's not entirely clear how Kharé functions economically, but it is a cityport, and has wharves and jetties along the Jabaji in the centre of town. One trade it definitely indulges in is slavery: anyone who's not careful near the river could find themselves kidnapped and thrown into the hold of a slave ship.

    It's tempting to compare Kharé to Port Blacksand, the other famously lawless city of Titan. Although the two are similar in concept, they differ greatly in flavour. Blacksand feels much more "European" for want of a better word, the sort of city you could imagine pirates frequenting during their heyday. Kharé is more alien, at least to my sensibilities, more exotic, decadent and unknowable. It's also much more lawless: the only guards present man the walls, and it seems as though anything goes within those walls. Blacksand has guard patrols everywhere, and while it seems like you can get away with a lot there, it's all at the whim of its tyrant, Lord Azzur.  Cross him, or his guards, and you're done.  In Kharé, you're at the mercy of its many bizarre inhabitants, and if you get into trouble there are no guards coming to help you out. (Kharé does have a gaol, complete with a scramble spell that negates magic, but it seems to be run by the Red-Eyes, with no judicial system attached to it; as far as I can tell, people get thrown in for no reason and never let out.)


    The door to open the north gate of Kharé is as follows:

    So tumblers two sealed deep inside
    One lock made out of Golem's hide
    By Courga's grace and Fourga's pride
    I bid you, portals, open wide

    Only one person in Kharé knows the entire spell: Sansas, the First Noble. There are four other leading citizens who have been entrusted with one line each. Two of those are nobles, one is a priest, and the other is a well-known scholar.  Presumably this was done in case the First Noble should die an untimely death. Anyone who tries to open the gate without first reciting the spell will be killed by a Sulphur Ghost that is bound inside a wooden box high up on the frame. (Whether the Sulphur Ghost is actually undead, or just a magical creature created out of noxious fumes, is anyone's guess.)

    As for who created the spell and locked the gate, that is not known. All we know for sure is that it was done at least a century ago, as it invokes the god Fourga, who has not been worshipped in Kharé for a long time.


    The current ruler is Sansas, the First Noble of Kharé. He is the only person who knows the entire spell to open the city's north gate, but at the time of the book is away, sailing up the Jabaji to Lake Lumlé.  It's not known exactly how much power he has, but it appears as though Kharé has a rigid hierarchy to its nobility. Aside from the First Noble, the protagonist also hears about or meets the Third, FIfth, and Seventh Nobles.

    The Third Noble of Kharé does not appear during the book, but they are rumoured to be vampire. All we know for sure is that this noble cursed the Fifth Noble to a "living death".

    That Fifth Noble is Shinva, who I suppose would be the former Fifth Noble because he's dead at the time of the adventure. After falling out of favour with the Third Noble, he was cursed to become a Death Wraith, and haunt his crypt for eternity (or until defeated with a silver weapon). Shinva was important enough that he knew one of the lines to the north gate spell. Presumably there's someone else in the city who was given the secret after Shinva's death.  He also knows a couplet about someone called "The Sham", and knows that it will be useful for the protagonist to know. How he knows this is unclear, but it could always be chalked up to the sort of precognition that ghosts and other spirits often possess in fiction.

    The Seventh Noble of Kharé is not named, but he currently lives as a blind beggar on the north side of the city, constantly tormented by Harpies who steal his gold.  He was a noble until three years ago, when he was struck by the "black-eyed curse", which might be natural blindness but could also be the result of being zapped by Red-Eyes.  He knows one the lines of the north gate spell, but his memory is going in his old age and he can't remember it exactly.  He's also in possession of a magic ring, fashioned like a serpent, which he presumably had from his time as a noble. I might delve more into that in The Seven Serpents


    The main religion practiced in Kharé - at least in the poorer side of the river - seems to be that of Slangg, the God of Malice.  There is a chapel there, and despite serving a god of malice, the priest appears to heal his followers: one boy is heard remarking that his friend Salen's lame brother was cured at the chapel yesterday. The priest is something of a showman, and appears to enjoy playing tricks on people in front of an audience. He knows one of the lines of the north gate spell, and offers the protagonist a chance to learn it if he can pass the Test of Slangg: a simple mathematical problem. Failure means the protagonist must renounce their own god and worship Slangg, but despite following a god of malice the priest honours his word if the protagonist passes the test.

    The other major temple seen in the city of the Shrine of Courga, the God of Grace.  Courga's shrine is a large and richly decorated building, located not far from the north gate, but there is nobody in attendance during the book and no priest to be found, so it's not clear how active the worship of this god is in the present day.  One would think a god of grace's temple would be more pleasant to visit than that of the God of Malice, but this place is one of the deadliest in the game.  There is a portal trap near the main altar, and there are stone gargoyles that will animate should anyone try to steal anything. Deadliest of all, though, is the idol of Courga, and the kissing ritual that accompanies it: "On Courga's face you kiss a cross, and finish with the lips; for answers to your questions you must err not else he spits".  Supplicants may kiss the idol and have any question answered, but kissing it in the wrong place or in the wrong order will result in death from a poisoned dart.  The idol answers those questions truthfully, and does seem to have great knowledge, but the answers given will not always be useful.

    Also mentioned is Courga's brother Fourga, the god of pride. Fourga was once worshipped in Kharé, but he fell out of favour with their circle of gods, and hasn't had any followers for close to a century.

    The huge bronze statue that stands outside of the Gambling Halls of Vlada is also said to be one of Kharé's gods. Offerings are made to it in the form of gold pieces dropped into a pot at its feet, and it will animate and try to kill anyone who steals that gold. Its only vulnerability is a plate in its knee, which can be prised away; doing so releases the life-giving gas inside the statue and causes to to topple over.  The name of the god this statue represents is unknown, but it's possible that it could be Vlada, given that it stands outside of the gambling halls with that name.

    There's at least one occasion where it's made apparent that Libra, the goddess of Justice, is unknown in Kharé, which seems a little odd given that Analand isn't all that far away. I suppose that there's not a lot of traffic going through the Cantopani Gate.

    Many other gods are depicted as totems lining the path that leads to the shrine of Courga, but no other details are given.


    There are quite a few interesting people residing in Kharé. I'll discuss a few of them below.

    The One-Armed Sorcerer
    This fellow is first encountered in a jail cell near the south gate. He used to be a sorcerer, before he had a run-in with an Ogre from the Schanker Mines (presumably the same one that can be found in the first book).  The implication here is that two arms are needed for spellcasting.  He doesn't know the north gate spell, nor does he know any of the people who hold the spell lines, but he does know how and why the gate was wizard locked.  It's not clear why he's in the cell, but he's not entirely trustworthy and will happily steal from the protagonist if he lets his guard down.  He seemingly lives with the Chainmaker who has a store not far from the jail, and may help him with his work.

    The Chainmaker
    Not much is revealed about this fellow, except that he is a Svinn from the nearby village of Torrepani, who makes his living by crafting and selling chains.

    Vik is a man of some reputation and influence in Kharé, although his exact position is not known.  Being his friend is of great help, as many residents of Kharé respect or fear him: even the Red-Eyes are afraid to cross a friend of Vik.  He is a good friend of Glandragor, the retired warrior who runs the tavern in Birritanti, and once upon a time he is said to have saved a slave galley captain from the clutches of the Shield Maidens of Lumlé.  He doesn't know any of the lines to the north gate spell, but he does know who holds at least two of them.  He can be encountered in the book, in the market crowd watching a prize fight.

    Vangorn the Murderer
    Vangorn lives in a house in the labyrinthine streets south of the Jabaji. Whether he has a job is unknown, but it appears that his great joy in life is to invite people in for a drink and a chat, and then poison them.  He claims to be Vik's brother, and loves him enough that he will give the poison antidote to anyone who claims to a friend of Vik.  He also says that he has no quarrel with sorcerers, perhaps out of fear, and will let anyone who displays magical prowess go free.

    Lortag the Elder
    Lortag is a scholar who lives south of the Jabaji.  He doesn't like trespassers, and will readily set his pet Bristle Beast upon intruders, but he is quite welcoming to those who approach his house by the front door and surrender their weapons.  He says that he has a good life, and wants to do his part to help civilize the city by teaching the children (some of his students include a gang of Orclings who will happily rob the protagonist; it's also mentioned at one point that nobody knows mathematics in Kharé, so Lortag is doing a bad job). Lortag knows one of the lines of the north gate spell, so he must have some contact with the nobility of Kharé, and be well-respected.  He won't give up the spell line without getting something in return though; in the case of the protagonist he requires the solution to a puzzle that's been vexing him.

    This assassin could be met during The Shamutanti Hills, where he was way-laying travellers to sharpen his fighting skills. He's currently in Kharé, where he seems to be having a grand old time.  He can first be encountered at the market, where he will greet the protagonist jovially and perhaps lead him to the house of his friend Lortag.  After that he heads to the Vlada Gambling Halls, and has a run of luck. From there he goes to the Wayfarer's Rest inn, where he'll happily give the protagonist some of his winnings and warn him not to drink too much of the ale.  He's last seen leaving the inn, arm in arm with two dubious characters, singing and skipping into the night.  (I'd love to catch up with this merry assassin again, but I don't think he's in any more of the books.)

    The Prize Fighters
    There's a fight happening at the markets. One of the fighters is billed as Anvar the Barbarian, and is taller than an ogre.  His origin isn't specified, but I'd think it likely that he hails from the Baklands, unless he's a slave shipped over from Allansia or somewhere else. 

    The other fighter is billed as the "brawling champion of Kharé: the mighty Ogre, the one they call Skullsplitter - Cagou of Daddu-Ley!".  Daddu-Ley, also known as the Copperstone Caves, lies on the coast of Kakhabad, south-east of the Shamutanti Hills.  In the first book it was mentioned that the priests of Daddu-Ley wore skullcaps.  So far, that's all we know about those caves.

    There's a guy who is encountered south of the Jabaji who is an obvious compulsive liar, to the point where every single thing that he says is a falsehood.  He claims that his name is Slangg, that he lives beyond the north gate, that his mother is a skunkbear, that he eats nothing but rat brains, and is the personal servant to the First Noble of Kharé.  He's actually quite a helpful fellow, and will happily direct the protagonist where he wants to go, he just lies all the time.


    There are many mundane traps set up by the denizens of Kharé: the Chainmaker's net, the pot of hair remover that the Flayer has perched over his door, the elaborate series of ropes and pulleys that the innkeeper sets up to hover a guillotine over the neck of his sleeping patrons. There are also magical traps: the paintbrush that paints a doppleganger of its victim, and the Firemaster's fire, which is not hot at first but becomes so when exposed to a handful of special powder. Not to mention the sulphur ghost on the north gate. The most common and notorious of these, however, are the portal traps.

    These portal traps were set up by the nobles of Kharé who live north of the Jabaji, presumably to protect their wealth from thieves.  They appear as a black, shimmering circle, and can be mistaken for a pool of water.  They are only found on the north side of the river, but are quite numerous: there's one inside a monument, one in a side room in the Vlada Gambling Halls, another guarding the entrance to Shinva's tomb, and others besides.   Anyone who falls in will find themselves floating in a black void before being unceremoniously dumped in the sewers of Kharé.  Although they were originally set up as traps, one suspects that they now double as waste disposal and toilets.


    There are a number of varied and interesting creatures that can be found within Kharé, which is has a very cosmopolitan population.  A lot of those are creatures that have appeared in Fighting Fantasy before: gnomes, black elves (although these ones are smoking the drugs), orcs (young orclings, in fact), dwarves, a sprite, a pixie, ogres, an elvin (from the valley in the Shamutanti Hills; he's been imprisoned in the gaol for months), harpies, and gargoyles. The new monsters are mentioned below:

    Living Corpse
    This creature is similar to a zombie, except that when it is struck it splits into six parts which float around and attack their victim. This one is just lying in the street, looking as though it has been run over by a chariot. It seems to have been there a while, as the gnomes are quite happy when you rid their neighbourhood of the creature.

    Bristle Beast
    This is a lizard-like creature - about the size of a dog - with large spines that acts as a pet and attack animal of Lortag.

    Mantis Man
    A spindly humanoid creature with the capacity to remain motionless for great lengths of time. Its method of luring in prey is to pretend to be a statue, then to quickly seize whoever investigates and bite their throats with their huge jaws. I'm not sure about the name, but I think it comes from the way the Mantis Man is posed, as though praying, similar to a praying mantis.  The Mantis Man has a locket around its neck, which might be there as a lure in greedy victims. Its house is full of human bones, so its been pretty successful.

    This creature is a humanoid with a head like a jellyfish. It has no arms, but can manipulate objects with its many tendrils. Some of those tendrils have venomous stingers.  The one encountered in Kharé is a cook, and quite friendly. They're similar to the Brain Slayer from Caverns of the Snow Witch, and both are obviously nicked from D&D's Mind Flayer, but there's no explicit relation between the two.

    This is yet another tiny, winged humanoid, which we've had plenty of variations of in the books so far. This one's been stuck in Hanna's Cabinet of Fortune, where it picks out prizes at random for those who pay a couple of gold pieces. One suspects it's not in there of its own free will.

    Living on the north bank of the Jabaji, these appear as regular people, but go everywhere with their eyes closed. This is because their eyes, when opened, shoot a powerful beam of energy that can vaporise a target or strike it blind.  Those encountered in Kharé are arrogant, disdainful, and belligerent towards strangers passing through their territory. (This monster is almost certainly adapted from Cyclops of the X-Men; we know for a fact that Steve Jackson was a reader of Marvel, and the similarities are too close.)

    Dark Goblins
    The protagonist can buy teeth in this book that are apparently from Dark Goblins. Nothing else is said about them.

    Slime Eater
    A huge sewer-dwelling monster that is blubbery and vaguely humanoid in shape. This one dwells in the muck of Kharé's sewers. It's alone, but Slime Eaters are said to feed in groups. (In fact it can be encountered multiple times, so that line was probably thrown in to cover that possibility.)


    • The guards on the north gate are from Mauristatia. They're human, and can't look too different from the people of Analand, because they'll quite readily accept that the protagonist is from their homeland. They speak Crolian.
    • What's with the silverfish in the fountain that bites you when you try to take the gold piece at the bottom? Is there anything to the word it whispers when you try to listen to it? That word is bwrthhrs. I assume it's a red herring (so to speak), but I'm not completely sure there's not more to it.

    NEXT: It's on to my wrap-up posts for The Seven Serpents. I've been trying to post every Saturday, and I'd like to keep that schedule, but dissecting the books takes a while.  If I'm done in time, I'll have a Final Thoughts post up next weekend.