Thursday, October 29, 2020

Temple of Terror - Attempt 10

Another post, another attempt to find the five dragon artefacts and keep them out of the hands of the evil wizard Malbordus.  Once again, I've skipped ahead because Attempts 8 and 9 were both complete busts.  For Attempt 8 I rolled a Skill of 10 and a Luck of 7, but despite not being all that confident about my chances I gave it a good crack anyway. Predictably, I got killed by the Giant Sandworm; I knew things weren't going my way in the first combat round when I rolled a double 6 for it and a double 1 for me.  For Attempt 9, I rolled a Skill of 9 and just decided to chuck it in.  I skipped through Port Blacksand as quickly as possible, not engaging in any encounters, and when the dwarf warship picked me up I gave the wrong answer when they asked me the identity of their king.  As I suspected, they flogged me and threw me overboard, and my adventure was over.  I do appreciate a quick spot near the start of a book that I can use to kill off weaker characters.

For Attempt 10, I rolled a Skill of 11, a Stamina of 14, and a Luck of 8.  Those were not the most encouraging scores, aside from Skill, but I felt like I had a good knowledge of the adventure now, perhaps good enough to avoid encounters that would needlessly lower my stats.  I just had to hope that there weren't any mission critical Luck tests involved. For my spells, as usual, I chose Read Symbols, Open Door, Detect Trap and Fire.

I had little trouble on the road to Vatos, taking the route through Port Blacksand that I've outlined in previous posts.  Even the Giant Sandworm didn't give me much trouble, as the dice were falling in my favour for a change.  From the Merchant, I bought the Onyx Egg, the Crystal Key, the Bone Flute and Bracelet of Mermaid Scales; I know that three of those are useful during the adventure, and I took a gamble on the Bone Flute.

After my encounter with the Messenger of Death, my stats were as follows: Skill 10 (with a +1 bonus from wearing an Iron Helmet); Stamina 7; Luck 7; no gold, 10 provisions; also carrying: sword, backpack, leather armour, lantern, brass telescope, 2 silver buttons, pearl, golden key, water canister, brass handbell, onyx egg, bracelet of mermaid scales, crystal key, bone flute, sandworm tooth, iron helmet (+1 skill).

I've covered much of the dungeons beneath Vatos before, so I'll go over them as quickly as possible in point form:

  • Opened some drapes, revealing a door leading to a room with a bucket hanging from the ceiling. Killed a Giant Centipede (Skill 9, Stamina 7), had my own Stamina reduced to 5, and found a Bone Dragon Artefact in the bucket.  Ate two provisions, Stamina restored to 13.
  • Jumped a pit in the corridor by rolling under my Skill (10) on two dice.
  • Got past the Eye Stinger by holding up my Onyx Egg.
  • Ignored the iron grille (it's part of the Messenger of Death's trap, featuring the letter H).
  • Turned left at the next junction, fought and killed a Lizard Man (9/8).  Found an Iron Key.
  • Turned left at another junction, traded my Brass Telescope to a Gnome scavenger for a Crystal Dragon Artefact.
  • Back past the junction, fought and killed two Rat Men. Found 3 gold pieces and a monkey's tail. Exited room through left arch (ignoring trapped right arch).
  • Turned left at T-junction, then right at another junction. Fought and killed two Skeleton Warriors (Stamina reduced to 9). Took a shield (+1 Skill).  Found a clay goblet in a crypt - unlocked with my Iron Key - at the end of the corridor.
  • Back past the junction, ignored the door leading into the Death Dog's lair.  The corridor turned right, and I saw a wounded warrior on the floor, reaching for his sword. The man was dying, and I listened as he gasped out his final words: he was apparently a treasure-hunter, seeking a golden skeleton. He also warned me to "beware the shadow of the stone".
  • The corridor turned right again, and I ignored a door leading into a room where I'd had nightmarish visions in a previous game. I continued down the corridor and fought some Giant Fireflies.
  • Walked past a statue with a raised hammer, with no ill effects.
  • Entered the flooded room with the Tentacled Thing, but because I was carrying the Bracelet of Mermaid Scales it fled instead of attacking me.
  • Continued forward at the next junction, found a Silver Dragon Artefact in a dead end alcove.
  • Encountered a Phantom, and survived its stare with a roll of two dice under my Skill. Killed the Phantom by throwing a silver button at it. Luck restored to 8.
  • Turned right at next junction, took a tapestry depicting a Phoenix from the wall. Ignored the Sphinx chair.  Bathed my wounds in a crescent-shaped pool, restoring Stamina to 13.
  • Back past the junction, met Murkegg the artist, who told me about the High Priestess Leesha and her art competition.
  • Corridor turned right, and I ignored the screams coming from the torture chamber. (I don't think this encounter gives anything useful.)  In another room, unlocked with a golden key, I successfully answered the question posed by an ancient idol, and got a +2 bonus to both Skill and Luck (restoring my Luck to 8).
  • With two doors forward, I picked the one on the right. It opened into a storeroom full of rugs, vases, urns and other containers. A red-skinned, horned figure climbed out of one of the urns, breathing fire at me. It was a Fiend (6/8), but despite its fire breath I killed it easily.  It had a 2-in-6 chance of burning me every round, but I managed to avoid it completely.  In a box I found a necklace engraved with a heart, and decided to wear it. Unbeknownst to me it was a necklace for sacrificial victims, and wearing it reduced my Luck to 7.

  • Going through the left door, I was faced with a door with a coin box attached. I declined to put a coin in the slot (because doing so exposes one of the Messenger of Death's letters) and continued on.
  • In the dark corridor beyond I stumbled into a blade at shin height, dropping my Stamina to 11 and my Luck to 6.
  • Disabled a Night Horror with my Brass Handbell (requiring a successful Luck test that reduced my score to 5). Picked up its Silver Rod to stop the ceiling from lowering and killing me. Unlocked the door onward with my Crystal Key.
  • Found an Ebony Dragon Artefact in a carving of Vatos. Luck restored to 6.
  • Challenged by a trio of Dark Disciples. I tried to convince them that I had a gift for Leesha, but the necklace I was wearing made them think that I was a sacrificial victim. They started chanting, and I was compelled to walk towards their altar. I was able to resist their influence (with a roll of two dice under my Skill), and had to fight all three Disciples (9/5, 8/6, 9/5). Only the last one wounded me, leaving me with a Stamina of 9. I took one of their sacrificial daggers with me.
  • Fought my way through four stone arms wielding swords.
  • Turned left rather than walk through the curtain of golden rain. The tunnel led to a dead end, where I was confronted by a Mutant Orc Assassin who had been sent by Malbordus. The Orc was wielding two long knives, and I would have had to reduce my Attack Strength by 2 if I wasn't also carrying a dagger. I whipped out my Sacrificial Dagger in my off-hand to fight the Mutant Orc (11/11). It struck me once, reducing my Stamina to 7. I took one of its knives and went through the arch with the golden rain.

  • Fought a Slave Guard (8/8). Stamina reduced to 5.  Sat down on some cushions, but refused to sleep. Ate two provisions (6 left, Stamina restored to 13).
  • A priest entered the room, and I confronted him rather than hide behind the drapes. Seeing me standing over the dead body of the slave guard, the priest summoned an Air Elemental, which buffeted me against the wall (reducing my Stamina to 11).  It buffeted me again as I looked through my pack (further reducing my Stamina to 9).  I pulled out my Phoenix Tapestry, and the priest - apparently recognising the significance of the Phoenix - dismissed his Elemental. I explained that the Slave Guard had been killed for trying to assassinate Leesha.  (I'm not quite sure what's going on here.  Does this priest think I'm one of the artists?  Or does the Phoenix have religious significance, and grant me immunity? It's not all that well explained.) Ate another provision (5 left, Stamina restored to 13).

  • Hacked open locked door, faced with Sun Door and Moon Door. Exited room through Moon Door.  (I did a translation on the doors this time, using the key from the "DO NOT DRINK" pool I had bathed my wounds in earlier.  The Sun Door has writing that says DOOM and the Moon Door has writing that says DESTINY.)
  • Found three coloured pots. Opened the white pot, found a copper ring. Ignored the other two.
  • Ignored the trapdoor in the next room. (I'd been down there in the dark in an earlier game, and been dropped on by an Iron Eater, so I figured I shouldn't go down there. I was a little worried that I might miss something vital by skipping it, though.)
  • In the treasure room, I ignored the casket and the gems, but took the golden skeleton to honour the fallen warrior that I'd encountered earlier. It was greatly valuable, which restored my Luck to 7.
  • Turned left at a junction. The corridor ended at the bottom of a flight of stairs. I climbed up, opened a door that led outside into the Desert of Skulls. There were footprints leading away, around the city wall, but I thought better of following them and returned to the junction.
  • Found a bowl of grapes, and ate some. Stamina restored to 14.
  • Confronted by two Skeleton Men (9/6 and 9/8). Killed both, Stamina reduced to 8.  This is the furthest point I've yet reached in this adventure.

Taking no time to search the Skeleton Men, I ran through an arch and up a flight of stairs.  In an opulent room lined with marble pillars, a beautiful woman lay on a couch strewn with satin cushions. It was Leesha, the High Priestess of Vatos. A muscular man with milky-white eyes stood behind the couch, fanning her. At a snap of her finger, the muscular Servant moved to attack me.

The Servant (8/8) was no match for me, and I cut him down with ease. Leesha rose from her couch, and held aloft a black, crescent-shaped object.  Rather than attack with my sword, I pulled out my Giant Sandworm Tooth. This was a lucky coincidence, as this was the only weapon that could harm her. (I'm not sure that the book ever clues you in to this weakness, or if it's just pure chance that the hero chooses this moment to use the tooth.)  With a look of horror, she fled from the temple.  Before giving chase, I decided to take a look in a chest near her couch. Written in gold dust on the bottom of the chest was the letter D - left there by the Messenger of Death.  It drained my strength (leaving me with 4 Stamina), but I was glad to have fully avoided the assassin's trap.  (I should have scoffed some Provisions here, but given that the book describes me as trying to chase down Leesha I decided that it would break the narrative.)

I chased after Leesha, in time to see her disappear through a door at the end of a hallway.  A bronze idol shaped like a dog was in the hallway, and I stopped to quickly investigate.  Inside the idol's mouth I found a Gold Dragon Artefact, the last of the five I needed.

Giving chase again, I entered a passage where I could see Leesha running through a door to the left.  To the right, a Dwarf was crawling towards me, delirious with sunstroke.  He called out to me, and I gave up my chase to help him.  He was an envoy from Stonebridge, and had been sent by the wizard Yaztromo to deliver me the legendary Hammer of Gillibran.  Apparently, this warhammer was the only thing capable of destroying the dragon artefacts, and it was vital that I destroyed the one closest to the entrance of Vatos' catacombs first.  The dwarf then died in my arms.  Figuring that my chances of catching Leesha were now gone, I took the time to eat two provisions (restoring my Stamina to 12).

Entering the door I had seen Leesha disappear through, I found myself in a cold room with a high-vaulted ceiling.  There was a circular hole in the floor.  Figuring that my time was running short, I pulled out the five dragon artefacts, and set about smashing the one I had found near the entrance to the catacombs: the Bone Dragon.  It shattered under a single blow from the warhammer.  (This is set up like a test of the player's memory, but it's really not that difficult. You just destroy the artefact that's written down first on your equipment list.)

A thunderous sound came from the circular pit, and a gaunt man with malevolent features rose up through the floor. Malbordus demanded that I give him the artefacts, but I refused.  He clapped his hands together, and I was staggered by a deafening thunderbolt.  It quickly dissipated, though, as the copper ring I had found earlier was a ring of protection.  Realising that his magic could not harm me, Malbordus drew his sword and advanced.

Malbordus was a skilled swordsman (Skill 10, Stamina 18), and our battle was long.  He wounded me several times (reducing my Stamina to 6), until I felled him with a final lucky blow.  (I used a Luck test to kill him a little faster, even though I probably didn't need to.)

With Malbordus dead, I smashed the rest of the dragon artefacts so that no other evil wizard could ever use their power.  Now I could return to Stonebridge, take the warhammer back to Gillibran, and perhaps learn some more magic from Yaztromo.  My adventure was a success.  (It seems more likely to me that Leesha would round up her Disciples and kill me before I could escape, but the book doesn't acknowledge that possibility.)


Success, finally!  Ten attempts seems like a lot for a book that I never remembered as being particularly difficult, but death is much more likely in Fighting Fantasy when you explore every possible option.  My general tactic with FF is to check out everything I encounter, and gradually whittle down the options to the ones that are most beneficial.  It results in a lot of early failures (especially in books that I didn't read a lot as a kid), but it gets me there in the end.

I'll be back soon enough with my Final Thoughts on Temple of Terror, followed by an Exploring Titan post.  After that, it's on to Warlock magazine #5. which features "Search for the Mungies' Gold", a multi-player adventure from Steve Jackson, and "Dungeon of Justice", a solo adventure by Jonathan Ford.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Temple of Terror - Attempt 7

So I'm back with my seventh attempt at Ian Livingstone's Temple of Terror.  But wait, I hear my small cadre of loyal readers ask, what happened to Attempt 6?  Unfortunately, that was a quick one, and barely worth writing up.  I rolled good stats (Skill 11, Stamina 19, Luck 11), and went into it with a lot of confidence, but around the time I made it into the desert I got into some trouble.  First, I rolled a double 6 on my Luck test when I was caught in a sandstorm; this resulted in my Skill being reduced to 10.  Not long after that, I had to fight the Giant Sandworm, and it didn't go so well.  Our Skill scores were even, but the Sandworm's higher Stamina won out in the end.  It was a promising character, but sometimes there's nothing you can do when the dice turn against you.

I was having good luck rolling my stats though, and that luck continued into Attempt 7: I rolled a Skill of 11, a Stamina of 23, and a Luck of 12.  With stats like those, I definitely had a good shot of making it all the way to the end of the book.  For my spells I chose Open Door, Read Symbols, Fire, and Detect Trap.  In Attempt 6 I'd taken Magic Arrow to see if it could get me around the tedious fight with the trio of Needle Flies; it did, but at the cost of a whopping 6 Stamina.  So I decided not to bother with Magic Arrow any longer, and focus on spells that would protect me from danger.

I took my usual route through Port Blacksand, heading south via pirate ship and dwarven warship.  Once I was dropped off in the desert I killed the Needle Flies with my sword, found a golden key on the body of a dead man, traded a silver button to a traveller for a canister of water, and found a brass handbell after weathering a sandstorm.  From the nomad merchant Abjul I purchased an onyx egg, a crystal key, a bone flute, and an ivory beetle charm.  By this point I had a Stamina of 21, a Luck of 11, 9 provisions remaining, and 1 gold piece.

Following that, I was attacked by the Giant Sandworm (Skill 10, Stamina 20); this time I made short work of it, taking but a single wound before I killed it (leaving me with 19 Stamina).  I took one of its teeth as a souvenir.

I used a Fire spell to shelter from the overnight cold (reducing my Stamina to 18), ignored an oasis, and suffered from heatstroke (leaving me with a Skill of 10), but eventually made it to the lost city of Vatos.  The above sequence (further embellished in previous entries) is pretty much what I'll be doing in every game from now on.  I won't bother going over it again in future posts, unless something out of the ordinary happens because of dice rolls.

I gained entrance to Vatos using an Open Door spell (reducing my Stamina to 16), crossed a courtyard and went down some stairs. At the bottom of the stairs I found an iron helmet (restoring my Skill back to 11).  I should note at this point that I'm changing the way I record my Skill score.  Rather than applying bonuses from items directly to the score, I'm recording them separately, and using them where appropriate. In the case of this helmet, the bonus would apply in battle but not when jumping a pit, for instance.  I'm still adhering to the rule that I can't exceed my initial Skill score, but this does allow me to mitigate some Skill penalties when I have multiple Skill-boosting items.  It's my way of fighting against the bone-headed decision many FF writers make to have these items boost Skill and not Attack Strength; adhering to the latter would solve a lot of game balance issues that the series has.

Anyway, after an eerie encounter with the Messenger of Death, I was faced with a T-junction and some drapes.  I pulled back the drapes, exposing a door, and went inside.  There I found a bare room with a bucket hanging from the ceiling, but before I could examine the bucket I was attacked by a Giant Centipede (Skill 9, Stamina 7).  It struck me twice (reducing my Stamina to 12) before I could kill it.  Cutting down the bucket, I found a pile of bones, one of which was carved into the shape of a dragon. I had found the first of the dragon artefacts that I was looking for.

Leaving the room through a door in the opposite wall, I made my way down a corridor until I reached the edge of a deep pit.  Without a Jump spell I was forced to leap across, and I managed to do so with a good run-up. (This required a roll against my Skill, which was effectively 10 in this case; remember, no bonus from that helmet.)

Further north I encountered an Eye Stinger, a floating spiny ball with a single hypnotic eye.  Not wishing to get close to its poisoned spines, I rummaged through my pack for an object to use against it. My hand closed on the onyx egg I had purchased from Abjul, and when I brought it forth the Eye Stinger stopped in mid-air with its eye closed. I ran past while it was immobilised.

Further north was an iron grille, which I decided to ignore (because looking at it reveals one of the letters left by the Messenger of Death).  At the next junction, I turned left, and followed the corridor until it turned sharply to the right.

In the distance, I could see a Lizard Man with a curved sword guarding some sacks piled against the wall. With no Creature Sleep spell to use against it, I had no choice but to attack with my sword.  The Lizard Man (Skill 9, Stamina 8) was easy enough to kill, but the sacks it was guarding contained only spices and grain.  In its clothes, though, I found an iron key, which I pocketed before moving on to another junction, where I turned left.

The corridor ended at a ladder, which led up through a hole in the ceiling.  I climbed up into a small, cluttered room lit by a single candle.  A gnome sprung up from the corner, warding me off with a wooden pole.

I talked to the gnome to calm him down, and we chatted for a while.  He told me that he had stumbled across Vatos years ago, and decided to stay, living as a scavenger.  At first Vatos had been mostly empty, but gradually people were drawn to it, and now there was a High Priestess living here, who would occasionally send her slaves to raid passing merchant caravans.  I asked him about Malbordus, but he knew nothing.  Instead, he offered to trade with me, asking if I had "one of those fancy things you look through to make other things seem a lot closer than they really are".  I gave him my brass telescope (which I had taken from some robbers in Port Blacksand), and in return he gave me a crystal dragon. I had now found two of the five artefacts I was looking for.

Leaving the gnome, I climbed down the ladder and made my way back to the  junction, heading right this time.  The passage opened into a dungy room, where two Rat Men were chewing on the carcass of a goblin. They immediately snatched up swords and attacked me, and I had no choice but to fight back.  The Rat Men (Skill 5, Stamina 5 and Skill 5, Stamina 4) were weak enemies, and I killed them with ease.  In their pockets I found 3 gold pieces (raising my total to 4) and a monkey's tail.

There were two arches leading from the room. I chose the one to the right, and immediately an inner voice told me to cast my Detect Traps spell. I did so (reducing my Stamina to 10), and discovered that the archway was an illusion hiding a pit.  I took the left archway instead.  (If knowing the spell gives me a warning of when I need to cast the spell, why do I need to cast the spell at all?  Couldn't I just back off when the warning sounds in my head?  Or is the spell-casting an involuntary reflex?)  Before moving on I ate two provisions (leaving me with 8, and a Stamina of 18).

The corridor through the arch soon joined up with another. Looking left I could see that the floor was covered with glass (the result of a prankster who loves hurling cursed scrolls in bottles at people, who I'd encountered in an earlier game), so I went left. I came to another T-junction, and turned right.  I was soon confronted by a pair of Skeleton Warriors (Skill 7, Stamina 5 and Skill 6, Stamina 6), the second of which managed to wound me a couple of times (reducing my Stamina to 14).  I took a shield from one of the Skeletons (giving me a +1 Skill bonus that I couldn't yet take advantage of).  The corridor ended at a wooden door, which I was able to unlock with an iron key.  Inside was a room with some empty caskets, and a clay goblet which I took with me.

Returning to the junction and heading left, I came to an ornate door in the right wall.  It opened into a room with scratched up walls, and I didn't have long to explore before a Death Dog bounded in from an arch in the far wall.  The Death Dog (Skill 9, Stamina 10) was tough, and wounded me three times before I could kill it (leaving me with a Stamina of 8).  After the battle I ate three provisions to restore my strength (leaving me with 5, and bringing my Stamina back up to 20).

In the Death Dog's lair I found a dark tunnel, which I decided to explore (not using my lantern for some reason).  I continued crawling in the dark, until my instincts warned me to cast a Detect Trap spell (reducing my Stamina to 18); the tunnel was trapped with a crossbow and a tripwire.  I was able to avoid them both and continue along the tunnel.

It opened into a dusty room, with a door on the opposite side.  As I crossed the room my head was filled with nightmarish images of my own burning flesh, and I lapsed into unconsciousness. When I later woke up, I found that my hands were trembling, and I had lost much of my courage.  (This reduced my Skill by 3, leaving me with a Skill of 7; with my helmet and shield, that made my Skill in combat a 9.)

Leaving the room into a corridor, I saw some dancing lights to the right and went to investigate.  They were Giant Fireflies (Skill 5, Stamina 4, Skill 5, Stamina 5, and Skill 4, Stamina 6), which buzzed in to attack me as I approached.  One of them gave me an electric shock during the battle (reducing me to 14 Stamina), but I was still able to kill them all.  (On any hit, a Giant Firefly had a 50/50 shot of zapping me and delivering an extra 2 points of damage.)

The corridor opened into a large chamber, with a bronze idol in the middle.  The idol was shaped like a man, with a warhammer raised over its left shoulder.  I passed the idol on the side where the hammer was raised, and passed through the room safely.

The tunnel started to slope downwards, until it ended at the edge of a flooded room.  There was a tunnel continuing on the far side, so I waded into the water to cross the room. As soon as I was waist-deep, a pair of tentacles burst from the water and tried to drag me down. The Tentacled Thing (Skill 8, Stamina 10) hit me once (reducing my Stamina to 12), but with a lot of luck I was able to kill it before I was dragged under.  (I had to kill this creature in a number of rounds less than my current Skill. With my current Skill being 7 I knew I'd be cutting it fine, so I used my Luck twice in the battle to increase my damage. This left me with a Luck of 9.)

The water started to turn black and vaporous, so I left quickly.  I ignored a corridor to the left, and kept going straight. I came to a dead end, with a single candle in an alcove, and something glistening behind it.  That something was a silver boxed etched with a dragon motif, and inside was a small silver dragon statuette. I had found the third of the artefacts.  Happy with my find, I returned to the junction and turned right.

In the distance was a cloaked figure carrying a lantern.  It didn't respond to my calls, and as I drew nearer it pulled back its hood to reveal a gaunt face and sunken, blood-red eyes: a Phantom!  I survived its powerful stare (by rolling less than my Skill on two dice), and decided to look through my backpack for an object to use against it.  I pulled forth a silver button and hurled it at the Phantom, which shriveled away to dust (restoring my Luck to 10).

At the next junction, I turned right along a corridor lined with tapestries.  I took one of them with me, which depicted a phoenix rising from the ashes.  Soon I came to a chair carved in the shape of a sphinx, and decided to take a seat.  The chair apparently had mysterious powers, but I was fortunate (due to a Luck test that reduced my score to 9); the chair's vibrations restored my strength (and brought my Stamina back to 16).

The corridor ended at a crescent-shaped pool, full of herbal-scented liquid.  A sign written in unfamiliar runes was on the wall, which I deciphered with a Read Symbols spell (reducing my Stamina to 15): it said DO NOT DRINK. Rather than drinking, I decided to bathe my wounds in the pool, and found it greatly soothing (restoring my Stamina to 19).

Walking back to the junction and heading left, I found myself in a corridor lined with murals.  One of them depicted a great battle between an army of undead and an army of men and dwarves; the leader of the undead was drawing away the souls of the opposing kings with a magical casket. While I studied the mural I was approached by a man who asked me if I liked his work. I replied that I did, and the artist - whose name was Murkegg - was pleased. He told me that the High Priestess Leesha was holding an art contest, with the winner earning 300 gold pieces, and the losers being put to death.  Murkegg didn't know anything about Malbordus, but he did tell me that Leesha's inner temple could be reached by walking through a curtain of golden rain. I shook Murkegg's hand, and we parted on good terms.

The corridor turned to the right, and I soon came to a door from which I could hear agonised screams.  I opened the door to investigate, and entered a torture chamber where a man was hanging from the ceiling by his wrists, being prodded by another man with a branding iron.  I leaped in to face the Torturer (Skill 8, Stamina 8), and at first the battle went in my favour.  But when he was at death's door the Torturer went into a frenzy, and became a nigh-unstoppable killing machine.  Only when my own strength was nearly spent was I finally able to land a blow that brought him down.  (Seriously, I got this guy down to 2 Stamina and then he just went berserk; in the next 11 Attack Rounds he wounded me 8 times, and we drew three times. My Stamina was a mere 3 by the end; I ate 3 provisions to bring it back up to 15.)

I set the torture victim free, and he introduced himself as Thitta, a former servant of Leesha who was being punished for trying to escape from Vatos.  He knew nothing of Malbordus, but when I mentioned the Messenger of Death he warned me that he had seen an evil figure place something in a casket in Leesha's treasure room. I thanked him for the warning before moving on.

Further along the passage was another door, which I opened with a golden key.  In the room was the bronze head of a beautiful woman, which spoke when I entered, telling me that I must answer its question or die.  It then asked me how much Leesha was offering to the winner of the art competition. I gave the answer as 300, and as a reward it issued forth a red smoke that increased my power. (This restored my Skill to 9 (11 in combat), and my Luck to 11.)

The passageway ended at a room with two doors leading forward.  I opened the left door, and entered a room with a mosaic floor.  The floor pattern was random, except near the door on the far wall, where it resembled the head of a Medusa.  The door had a box with a slot on the top, so I decided to cross the room and drop a gold piece inside.  When I did so, a panel in the door flipped open to reveal a letter T scratched into it: the Messenger of Death had struck! (This reduced my Stamina to 11.)

The room beyond was dark (that lantern is useless once again), so I had no choice but to step forward into the darkness.  As I made my way along a dark tunnel, I stumbled into a blade that cut my shin .(This reduced my Stamina to 9 and my Luck to 10. I should probably have been warned about this by my Detect Trap spell.  I ate a provision, leaving me with one remaining and restoring my Stamina to 13.)

The door at the end of the corridor opened into a musty room littered with bones and debris. As soon as I entered I was confronted by a one-eyed mutant, who shot a bolt of white light from a silver rod that burned a black patch on the floor near my feet. This was a Night Horror, stalking the corridors of Vatos for prey after dark.  Reaching into my backpack (and avoiding another bolt with a Luck test), I pulled forth a brass handbell and rang it; the resultant noise caused the Night Horror to clutch its head in pain and collapse. But when it dropped the rod, the ceiling began to lower, threatening to crush me.  I was able to unlock the door with a crystal key and escape (which required another Luck test, reducing my score to 8).

In the room beyond the floor was covered with wood shavings, and there was an elaborate carving of Vatos being menaced by Giant Sandworms.  I took a closer look, and in one of the carved buildings I found a dragon artefact made of ebony. I had found four of the artefacts I required (and my Luck was restored to 9).

The next room was lined with armour and weapons, and I interrupted a group of men ceremoniously dressing themselves in brown robes. They approached me with sickles when I entered, but I told them that I had come bearing a gift for the High Priestess Leesha.  Luckily they believed me (due to a Luck test that reduced my score to 8), but the Dark Disciples refused to allow me to take my gift to her personally. I gave them my onyx egg, and continued on.  (I got to choose which item I had to sacrifice here, so I went with one I'd already used.)

At the end of the corridor beyond I could see a shimmering golden curtain, but barring the way were four stone arms wielding curved swords.  I had no choice but to hack my way through the Swords (all with Skill 6, Stamina 6), which proved to be more tedious than it was dangerous.

The curtain was actually a shower of golden rain. There was a passage heading off to the left, but I decided to walk through the golden rain and into Leesha's inner temple.  The room beyond was opulently decorated, and guarded by a huge, bare-chested man in silk pants.  The Slave Guard (Skill 8, Stamina 8) wounded me once before I could kill him (reducing my Stamina to 11).

I was suddenly tired, and had no choice but to slump in some cushions in the corner of the room.  I refused to let myself sleep though, and soon I heard a noise coming from the corridor behind the golden rain.  I hid behind some drapes, and a white robed man entered the room. Upon seeing the dead Slave Guard he fled, and I decided it was time to move on. There was a locked door, but when I tried to cast an Open Door spell I discovered that the golden rain had robbed me of my magical abilities (it still dropped my Stamina to 9 though; I ate my last provision to restore it to 13).  I was forced to hack the lock open with my sword.

The room beyond had two doors, one with the symbol of a sun, and the other with the symbol of a moon. Each of them had writing underneath, but without the ability to cast spells I was unable to read it.  I chose the moon door at random, and continued on.

In the next room I found three clay pots, one white, one black, and one red.  I broke open the white pot and found a copper ring engraved with a lightning bolt. I put it on my finger, and suffered no untoward effects.  Feeling lucky, I opened the black pot, and inside I found a monkey's paw.  As soon as I touched the paw it grasped my wrist, and I was unable to pull away in time (due to a failed Luck test that reduced my score to 7).  The paw was cursed, and before I could prise it away it had drained my spirit (reducing my Skill to 7).

Figuring that I'd found the worst of the three options, I opened the final pot, and was shocked to see the letter E written in charcoal inside.  The Messenger of Death had struck again (reducing my Luck to 6 and my Stamina to 9).

The next room was empty, with a trapdoor in the floor.  I opened it up, and climbed down to investigate the dark room below (again not using the lantern right there in my backpack).  I could hear something dripping, and unfortunately it landed right on my head (due to a failed Luck test that reduced my score to 5).  It was an Iron Eater, and it dissolved my helmet. (This reduced my effective Skill in combat to 8.)

Climbing back up and continuing on, I came to a room filled with treasure: coins, gems, a golden casket, and a golden skeleton statuette.  I ignored the casket, remembering Thitta's warning. I did try to take some gems, but (due to a failed Luck test that reduced my score to 4) they burned my sword hand (reducing my Skill to 5 and my Stamina to 8).  Deciding that green would do me no good, I left the treasure room without further investigation.

In the corridor beyond I came to a junction, and went right. Along the way I found a bowl of grapes, which I ate (restoring my Stamina to 12).  The corridor ended at an antechamber, which was guarded by two warriors with human bodies and skeletal heads.  One of them demanded that I give good reason for intruding on the domain of Leesha.  I responded that I had brought her a Sandworm's tooth, and one of the Skeleton Men demanded that I hand it over.  I had second thoughts about this (having vague memories that I'd need it later on), so I decided to fight them.

The Skeleton Men (Skill 9, Stamina 6 and Skill 9, Stamina 8) weren't overwhelmingly powerful, but in my weakened state I was no match for them.  I managed to kill one of them, but the second eventually wore me down, and my adventure was over.


I feel like I was pretty close to the end there, but my curiosity got the best of me.  I kept trying things that whittled down my Skill and Luck scores, and by the time I had to fight the Skeleton Men I was in a pretty bad state.  That said, I did manage to find four of the dragon statues, and I discovered a whole lot of things I need to avoid.  Next time around I'll have much better knowledge of what not to do, and I think I stand a good chance of winning the whole thing.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Temple of Terror - Attempt 5

I'm a little late in getting this post up, as I've been sinking most of my time into the first Ultima (which I'm blogging my way through over at  I actually made this attempt at Temple of Terror right after Attempt 4, and I'd been hoping to write it up within a day or two.  Now I'll have to write this up from my fading memories, and hopefully that won't cause any omissions or errors

For this attempt, I rolled a Skill of 9, a Stamina of 20, and a Luck of 12.  That Skill didn't bode well for the inevitable fight against the Giant Sandworm, but with a high Luck score I had hopes that I'd be able to scrape through.  For my spells I chose Create Water, Open Door, Read Symbols, and Fire.

I think I've figured out the best path through the early stages of the book: take the boat to Port Blacksand, haggle the price down with the boat captain, kill the robbers in Port Blacksand (taking their silver buttons and brass telescope), fight the belligerent pirate in the bar (taking his pearl), eat as many provisions as necessary to be restored to initial Stamina, swim towards the warship after your pirate ship is sunk, and befriend the dwarves by correctly naming their king as Gillibran.

On the above path I took quite a pounding, being wounded four times by the robbers and three times by the pirates.  I also got glassed in the face by the pirate.  (At this point, I want to point out the fact that Ian Livingstone rewards you for being glassed and killing a pirate in a barfight, and penalises you a Luck point for being conciliatory and buying a round of beers to avoid the fight.  One wonders sometimes about Ian's social life in his younger days.)  By the time I reached the dwarf warship I only had 5 Stamina left, but I was able to bring myself back up to 20 by eating provisions at no effective loss, because the dwarves replenished my stock of provisions.

Now on the desert coast, I headed south to the shell pattern where I'd been killed by an elemental curse in my last attempt.  I decided to test fate again, but this time when the shell elemental rose up I fled into the water.  This cost me two provisions, but the creature was unable to reach me, so I left the area and went inland to the east.

Along the way I killed three hostile Needle Flies (in a fight that reduced my Stamina to 14), found a golden key on a corpse, and traded a silver button to a camel-rider for a canister of water.  Not long after that I was caught in a sandstorm (which reduced my Stamina to 12).  Once it subsided, I found a brass handbell in the sand (due to a successful Luck test that reduced my score to 11).

I soon came across a nomad tent, as was welcomed by the merchant Abjul.  He gave me some food (restoring my Stamina to 16), and I bought some of his wares: a crystal key, a bone flute, and a silver mirror. This left me with two gold pieces.  Before I left I ate one my provisions (leaving me with 7, and restoring my Stamina to 20).

After taking my leave of Abjul, I headed back out into the desert, where I was attacked by a Giant Sandworm (Skill 10, Stamina 20).  This was a hard-fought battle, but fortune was on my side, and I was able to slay the great beast. I took one of its teeth as a souvenir.  (The Sandworm hit me six times, and there were four rounds in which our Attack Strengths were even.  On every round that I won, I used my Luck to double my damage, so I was able to take it out with five hits.  By the end of the fight my Stamina was 8 and my Luck was 6.  I ate three more provisions to bring my Stamina back to 20.)

That night the desert was bitterly cold, but I was able to avoid the worst of it by casting a Fire spell (reducing my Stamina to 19).  In the morning I investigated an oasis with birds circling overhead, but thought better of drinking the water.  South of that was a pile of rocks, which I ignored.  Soon I was being scorched by the desert heat, and I had no headscarf to protect me.  I became delirious due to mild sunstroke.  (This reduced my Skill to 8.  It can be prevented by exploring the rocks that I ignored, but looking in those rocks gets you stung by a scorpion, at the cost of 4 Stamina.  I wanted to test which of these options leaves you worse off, and I'd have to go with the sunstroke. A Skill penalty is almost always worse than a Stamina penalty.)

I continued on, and soon came to my destination: the lost city of Vatos.  Using an Open Door spell (which reduced my Stamina to 17), I opened a door in the city wall and made my way inside.  There I found an open square, with an archway on the opposite side and some stairs leading downwards.  At the bottom of the stairs I found an iron casket. Inside was a polished iron helmet, which I placed on my head.  (This took my Skill back up to 9.  I may have to revise my opinion that the sunstroke penalty is worse than the scorpion penalty; the loss of Skill is almost immediately offset, so I'm inclined to go that route from now on. Hopefully I won't need a headscarf later in the adventure.)

Further down the corridor I was tapped on the shoulder by a Messenger of Death, an assassin sent by the evil Malbordus; I would have to be careful to avoid finding the letters of the word "death" as I searched the temple.

At a T-junction, I pulled back some drapes to reveal a door in the wall ahead.  I opened the door to reveal a dusty room with a bucket hanging from the ceiling. Before I could investigate the bucket, a scuttling Giant Centipede (Skill 9, Stamina 7) emerged and attacked.  It bit me twice (reducing my Stamina to 13) before I was able to kill it. Afterwards I cut down the bucket, and bones were scattered all over the floor. One of them was carved in the shape of a dragon: this was the first of the bone dragon statues I had been sent to look for.  I put it in my pocket and left the room through a door in the north wall.  (This is the only one of the five dragon artefacts whose location I remember.)

The door opened at the end of a T-junction, but I ignored the left and right paths to head north.  My progress was soon stopped by a deep pit. With no magic to aid me, I had to jump across, and I was able to do (with a successful Skill check).

In the gloom of the corridor I saw a hovering, spherical creature approaching. It was covered in spines, and had one large eye in the centre of its body: an Eye Stinger! I looked through my backpack for something to use against it, and found my silver mirror. It had no effect, and as the creature bore down on me I dropped the mirror and it smashed on the ground (reducing my Luck to 5).  I was forced to close my eyes to avoid its hypnotic gaze, and swing my sword blindly.  Luckily I struck it in the eye, and the creature fell to the floor in a cloud of toxic vapours.  (This involved a Luck test, which I miraculously passed. My Luck score was now reduced to 4 though, surely an ominous sign for the future.)

As I fled from the Eye Stinger, I saw an iron grille on the left wall.  Climbing up to look at it, I noticed that three of its bars had been highlighted with white chalk, to make a letter H.  It had been done by the Messenger of Death, and I reeled at the sight of it (reducing my Stamina to 9, and my Luck to 3).

The corridor ended at a T-junction, and I turned to the right. It soon turned sharply left, and a shrieking shadowy figure hurled a glass bottle at me before running away. The bottle broke to reveal an old parchment. I picked it up and read it, hoping that it wasn't another of the Messenger of Death's traps. I couldn't understand the writing, so I cast a Read Symbols spell (reducing my Stamina to 8).  The parchment was a bad luck curse, taken from a Mummy's tomb. (This reduced by Luck by 4, which effectively put my score at -1.  It's a pure judgment call as to whether to go into negatives with Luck, but at that point it's all rather moot anyway.)

I chased after the culprit, but they were long gone, and soon I came to a junction.  I turned right, and could soon hear footsteps approaching.  I stood my ground as two Skeleton Warriors lurched into view (Skill 7, Stamina 5 and Skill 6, Stamina 6).  The skeletons attacked both at the same time, but I managed to defeat them while taking but a single wound (reducing my Stamina to 6).  I took a shield from one of the skeletons (which would have restored 1 Skill point if I'd needed it).  I sat and ate three provisions (bring my Stamina back to 18) before moving on.

At the end of the corridor was a locked wooden door. I didn't have the correct key, so I opened it with a spell (reducing my Stamina to 16).  Inside was a room with two stone caskets. The caskets were open and empty, but in the corner of the room was a clay goblet with a heart etched inside the rim. I put in my backpack before returning to the junction and heading west.

I came to a doorway in the left-hand wall, carved around the edged with hideous creatures being consumed in flames.  Encouraged by the decor, I decided to open the door and check out what was inside.  The room beyond was piled with bones, and the walls were marked with scratches.  A huge black Death Dog (Skill 9, Stamina 10) came slavering through an arch in the far wall.  We were evenly matched, but after a hard-fought battle I emerged the bloody victor (with my Stamina reduced to 6).  I ate the last of my provisions (to bring my Stamina back to 10).

In the Death Dog's lair I found a dark tunnel, and decided to explore inside.  Without a Light spell I was unable to see, but I decided to keep crawling along in the dark.  I failed to notice a tripwire, and set off a crossbow, which fired its bolt into my throat.  (This was due to a failed Luck test.  With my score of -1, there was no chance I was going to succeed.)


Well, I kind of got what I was asking for by exploring that tunnel: dark tunnels in monster lairs are almost invariably lethal in Fighting Fantasy.  I do have a large gripe though: it's specifically stated that you are carrying a lantern as part of your starting equipment.  Why wouldn't I be able to see in the tunnel? I suppose I can rationalise that the tunnel is cramped enough to preclude the use of a lantern, but it's a stretch.

On a more positive note, that's the furthest I've gotten so far.  I also found a path through the desert that doesn't require the use of the Create Water spell, so I'm going to swap that out next time.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Temple of Terror - Attempt 4

In my previous attempts at Temple of Terror, I've had some terrible luck with the dice.  All three games have ended in combat with monsters (the Giant Centipede, the Sand Snapper, and the Giant Sandworm, respectively). For this attempt, I rolled a Skill of 10, a Stamina of 17, and a Luck of 11, which was heartening.  Finally, I had a character that looked like it stood a good chance of making some progress.
After choosing spells from Yaztromo (my usual array of Create Water, Open Door, Read Symbols and Fire), I opted to take the path through Port Blacksand.  On my last couple of games I fully explored the overland path, and I'm pretty sure that one is both more deadly and less rewarding.

Once in Port Blacksand, I allowed myself to be lured into an ambush by some Robbers.  Their loot included a brass telescope and 3 silver buttons, which I was pretty sure would come in handy later.
At the Black Lobster Tavern I had some drinks spilled over me by a pirate, and rather than back down as I'd done in previous games, I told him to watch where he was going.  The pirate reacted by glassing me in the face, and I reacted to that by swording him in the chest.  It was actually a pretty tough fight; the pirate had a Skill of 9, and managed to wound me four times.  On his body I found 2 gold pieces and a pearl.

The next morning I took off on a pirate ship, which was promptly attacked and sunk by a warship.  In previous games I'd swam away from the warship, but this time I decided to take my chances by swimming towards it.  The crew dragged me aboard, and I was surprised to discover that the crew were all dwarves.  (Ships crewed by dwarves a phenomenon that I've only ever encountered in gamebooks, specifically this one and Joe Dever's Shadow on the Sand.  Most other fantasy fiction has dwarves as being distrustful of the water and boats in general.)  I explained my quest to the dwarves, who decided to test the veracity of my story by asking me who was the current dwarven king in Stonebridge.  I answered "Gillibran", and that was enough for them to trust me.  They took me the rest of the way south, replenished my provisions to the maximum amount of 10, and dropped me off on the coast.  (I feel like the identity of a dwarven king should be common knowledge, but Stonebridge does seem as though it's little more than a village.  Gillibran's claims of royalty may be exaggerated, or perhaps he's descended from rulers of an actual kingdom.)

I decided to head south along the coast, where I found a strange pattern of shells on the ground.  I'd been warned away from this area previously (by using my Read Symbols spell), but I was curious to check out what would happen if I continued on.  It turns out that the area is sacred ground, and the shells formed up into a kind of golem or elemental.  I tried to fight it with my sword, but the swirling shells cut me up pretty badly (making me lose 4 Stamina).  I had the option of either diving in the water, or running away by land.  I chose the land option, only to discover that I was far to slow to outrun the shell demon.  It cut me to ribbons, and my adventure was over.


Well, I got too curious in that game, and it cost me.  I really do need to stop checking out stuff that I know is dangerous, but my desire to explore every option gets the better of me.  The most important thing I learned is that I can use the dwarves to replenish my provisions, which means that it doesn't matter how much damage I take in the early going.  I can heal it all with food, knowing that I'll get it all back.

Less beneficially, I suspect that giving the wrong answer to the dwarves results in an instant death.  I think I can get to that point without getting into a combat or making many dice rolls, so I might designate it as my "suicide route".  Long-time readers may recall that I used the quicksand near the Giant Crab to kill a bunch of low-Skill characters in Island of the Lizard King.  It's always handy to have a quick way to die when you roll an unviable character.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Temple of Terror - Attempt 3

I had another crack at Temple of Terror this afternoon, and let's just say this will be a quick one.  I rolled a Stamina of 19 and a Luck of 11 (not bad), but I also rolled a Skill of 8.  This is yet another Ian Livingstone book where a low Skill makes it pretty much a suicide mission.

After choosing my spells (Create Water, Open Door, Read Symbols and Fire), I decided to take the overland route again.  I didn't relish facing the Giant Sandworm with such a low Skill, and I knew that fight was unavoidable on the path via Port Blacksand.

Heading south, I ignored the encounter with the Dark Elves, as well as the trapped amulet left by Malbordus.  The Dark Elves have a bow and some arrows, but I figured I could go without them.  That night I camped near some boulders, and one a die roll I scored a 1, meaning I was attacked by a Cave Troll (Skill 8, Stamina 7). I started well, dropping it down to 1 Stamina, but then it hit me a few times in a row.  My Stamina was 13 by the end of the fight.

Following that I was attacked by a Harpy (Skill 8, Stamina 5), which further dropped my Stamina to 11.  Then I was picked up by a Giant Eagle sent by Yaztromo, and attacked by a Pterodactyl.  This is where I discovered that I really should have gone for that bow (or taken a Magic Arrow spell): not only does it wound the Pterodactyl, but it also drops its Skill by a point.  As it is, I had to run the Eagle vs. Pterodactyl fight at a 2 Skill disadvantage.  Nevertheless, I managed to scrape through by using a lot of Luck to increase the Eagle's damage.  I'm not sure if that's strictly following the rules, but it's not like Ian Livingstone plays fair so I feel perfectly justified.  My Luck by the end had been reduced to 9.

Further south I found a mirror buried in the sand (and ignored the clay pot with the poison gas inside).  After that, I came to my nemesis from the last game: the Sand Snapper.  This creature has two tentacles, each one with Skill and Stamina of 7.  If at any point the Snapper hits twice in a row, it's an instant death.  I was keen to get this fight over with as quickly as possible, so I burned some Luck here as well.  It hit me twice, but this time I managed to kill it.  Much to my disgust, the bite it had given me before the fight started resulted in me losing a further 4 Stamina, and 1 Skill.  I ate a provision, and at the end of this whole ordeal my Stamina was at 7, and my Skill at 7.

Continuing on, I saw a large lizard-like creature approaching, with large yellow eyes.  It was a Basilisk, but I had the perfect defense: a mirror to reflect its deadly gaze.  I killed the beast and moved on.  (It's odd to see a Basilisk that kills with its gaze, rather than turns its victims to stone.  Killing is more mythologically accurate, as far as I'm aware, but usually these kinds of books take their lead from Dungeons & Dragons).

I found some footprints and decided to follow them, but they only led to a dead body with a horrified expression.  I figure this guy got killed by the Basilisk, and with little else to do I took his water canteen and continued.  Past that I came the tent of the nomad merchant Abjul, who I'd met in my first attempt at the book; I'd finally reached the point where the paths converged.  With a full coin purse, I bought everything Abjul had to offer.

I needn't have bothered, because the next encounter was with the Giant Sandworm.  With Skill 10 and Stamina 20, it made very short work of me.  I didn't even get a single hit in.


Once again I didn't make it far, but I did manage to fully explore the overland path.  Having done so, I think I'm going to ignore it from now on.  First off, it doesn't get around the Giant Sandworm; that one seems to be unavoidable.  Secondly, it has two very deadly battles in addition to the Sandworm: the Sand Snapper and the Giant Eagle/Pterodactyl aerial duel.  Finally, it only has two items to pick up (the bow and the mirror), and both of them are already useful by the time the Sandworm is reached: if I know my Ian Livingstone design sensibilities, they won't be used at all later in the book.  From now on, I'm going to persist with the Port Blacksand path, until such time as it is proven to be the wrong one.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Temple of Terror - Attempt 2

I'm back for another round with Temple of Terror.  Last time I got myself killed by a Giant Centipede very shortly after making it to the lost city of Vatos.  Dying in battle is maybe the most annoying way to lose in Fighting Fantasy.  If you lose because of a choice you made, or because you weren't carrying the right item, at least you gleaned some information from that.  Don't open that chest.  Don't eat that mushroom.  Make sure you find that silver hammer.  If you get killed in a fight, it's no help for future games, except to tell you that maybe you need to roll a better Skill next time.  So, I'm going into this attempt without much in the way of guidance as to what I should and shouldn't do.

For this game, I rolled a Skill of 9, a Stamina of 19, and a Luck of 12.  Not terrible stats, but I didn't fancy my chances in that unavoidable battle with the Giant Sandworm.  There are two paths at the beginning of this book: you can either take a boat downriver to Port Blacksand, or you can journey to the desert on foot.  I'm not sure where these two paths converge, so I decided this time - after choosing my spells from Yaztromo (Create Water, Read Symbols, Open Doors and Fire) - to travel overland in the hope that I wouldn't have to tackle the Sandworm this time.

After an hour of travel through scrubland, I spotted a plume of smoke rising to the east. I decided to investigate, and saw that the smoke was coming from a burning hut.  Two Dark Elves in black hoods were shooting flaming arrows at the hut.  When the owner of the hut was driven outside by the smoke, they shot him dead.

Paragraph 316 says I just burned down your
house and shot your ass full of arrow.

Figuring that the Dark Elves might be servants of Malbordus, I attacked them with my sword.  The first Elf (Skill 5, Stamina 6) got one blow in (reducing my Stamina to 17), but I managed to kill the second (Skill 6, Stamina 5) with ease.  On their corpses I found 2 gold pieces (which brought my total to 27), as well as a bow and two arrows.  I took time to bury their victim before moving on.

Further south I came to a patch of land that was completely blackened, with a smell of decay in the air.  In the middle of this area was a bronze medallion etched with the letter M.  Taking this for another sign of Malbordus' passing, I ignored the obvious danger and picked it up.  Instantly my hand started to burn, and I dropped the medallion to the ground.  Luckily I had not used my sword hand, but the medallion still left the letter M branded on my palm.  (The hand I used was determined by a Luck test, which I passed (reducing my score to 11).  The burn dropped my Stamina to 16.)

When night fell, I took shelter in a clump of boulders and went to sleep.  During the night I was awakened by heavy footsteps, and attacked by a Cave Troll (Skill 8, Stamina 9).  The fight went well for me initially, but the Troll responded viciously, and by the time I killed it I was close to death myself.  (It dropped me all the way to 4 Stamina.  At one point it won four consecutive combat rounds, so things got pretty hairy.)

In the morning I ate a meal (restoring my Stamina to 8, and leaving me with 9 provisions).  Not long after I set off, I saw a bird-like creature swooping down at me, and heard a piercing shriek.  I was being attacked by a Harpy, and I knew enough to stuff cloth into my ears to keep out its mesmerising call.  (This was assumed by the book, not a decision I had to make.)  With no Magic Arrow spell, I was forced to fight it with my sword.  The Harpy (Skill 8, Stamina 5) proved to be an easy foe, and I emerged from the battle unscathed.

As I continued, a leather pouch dropped from the sky, containing a note from Yaztromo.  He informed me that Malbordus was ahead of me, and that he had sent a Giant Eagle to speed me on my journey.  I gratefully boarded the Eagle, who carried me south, but that gratefulness became shortlived when a screeching Pterodactyl swooped out of the sky.  I shot it with an arrow (requiring a roll under my Skill on 2d6+3), but when I tried to shoot it again I dropped my bow.  There was nothing I could do now but hold on as my Giant Eagle (Skill 6, Stamina 11) battled the Pterodactyl (Skill 7, Stamina 9).  I had my doubts as to whether my Eagle was up to the task, but despite sustaining some wounds it managed to kill the Pterodactyl, and we were soon on our way again.

We flew over the Whitewater River, and at dusk we reached the edge of the Desert of Skulls.  I camped for the night, but when I woke up I discovered that the Eagle had flown away.  I would have to make the rest of the way on foot.  After a short time in the desert sun I became parched, and had to use a Create Water spell to refresh myself.  I also took the chance to eat a meal (restoring my Stamina to 12, and leaving me with 8 provisions).

Soon I walked past the bones of some huge creature, and noticed a box half-buried in the sand.  I decided to open it, and found a mirror and a sealed clay pot.  Curious, I cracked the pot open, and got a face-full of poison gas for my trouble (leaving me with 6 Stamina, and reducing my Skill to 8).

Is this the only skeleton in FF history that
doesn't spring to life and attack?

That night I slept out in the open, and ate a meal in the morning..  By mid-morning I was getting thirsty again, but I found some water by cutting open a cactus.  I ate another meal before pressing on. (These two meals restored my Stamina to 14, and left me with 6 provisions remaining.)

Suddenly my foot sank into the sand, and I felt a sharp pain.  I stabbed my sword into the ground, and was shocked when a great beast emerged, like a crocodile with two grasping tentacles.  It was a Sand Snapper, and I would have to sever both of its tentacles to survive.  The first tentacle (Skill 7, Stamina 7) wounded me twice before I could cut it off.  The second, though, managed to wrap itself around both of my arms, and I was helpless as it dragged me below the sand to my death.

A lesser author would have called this a
Croctopus.  And by lesser author, I mean me.

I didn't actually lose all of my Stamina in that last fight.  The Sand Snapper has a special ability whereby it gets an automatic kill if it wins two consecutive Attack Rounds, and that's how it did me in.  I probably owe my death the the Skill penalty I copped when I breathed in the poison gas; I'll have to avoid that next time.

Unfortunately, that early death meant that I didn't get to find out where the two paths at the start of the book converge.  I was hoping to check both out fully, so that I could assess which of them looked the most likely path to victory.  I have stronger memories of the Port Blacksand path from playing this as a kid, so I suspect that's the one I need to take.  At the moment, though, I have no idea, so I have to keep trying both.

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Temple of Terror - Attempt 1

So, uh, about that emotional farewell I gave at the end of my last post...

It seems I'm back.  My circumstances haven't improved, but after a few weeks of not blogging I found that I missed it.  It turns out that I'm mentally better off when I'm producing something, even if that production happens to be as insignificant as a blog about Fighting Fantasy gamebooks.  So, for the moment, the blog continues, with Ian Livingstone's Temple of Terror.

Cover by Christos Achilleos

The dark, twisted power of the young Malbordus is reaching its zenith. All he needs now is to retrieve the five dragon artefacts which have been hidden for centuries in the lost city of Vatos, somewhere in the Desert of Skulls. Each day that passes brings him closer to them and only YOU can stop him! YOUR mission is to reach the lost city before Malbordus and destroy the treasures he seeks. But beware! Each step you take leads you closer to your doom...

Temple of Terror really is the end of an era for Fighting Fantasy, as pretty much the tail end of Ian Livingstone's run as the series' main author.  Of the books before this, Ian wrote or co-wrote seven.  Of the 45 books that follow in the original series, he writes four.  Opening the series up to different writers gives it more scope and variety, and was the only way it was ever going to have any kind of longevity.  But for me, regardless of the many gameplay issues his books have, Ian Livingstone's books are the core of Fighting Fantasy, and the series loses a lot without his regular contribution.

(That said, I had no sense of this back in the day, because I thought Ian and Steve wrote all of them.  After all, their names were right there on the covers.  I was even convinced that they drew the pictures themselves, never mind the wildly differing art styles.  Some kids are dumb, and I was one of them.)

The background of this book begins with Malbordus, a child abandoned by his mother in Darkwood Forest and raised by evil elves.  As Malbordus grew it became apparent that he was gifted in the ways of dark magic, but he had to pass one final test before the elves would teach him their secrets: find five dragon statues in the lost city of Vatos, and bring them to life to lead an army in the conquest of Allansia.

The wizard Yaztromo got wind of this plot, and hurried to Stonebridge to find a hero to go to Vatos to stop Malbordus.  Yaztromo, introduced in Forest of Doom as little more than a means by which the player could buy magic items, comes into his own here as the most important good wizard in Allansia.  He'll fill that role in most of Ian's books going forward, and while he's pretty much a Gandalf knock-off, well... every generic fantasy setting needs a good Gandalf knock-off.  It comes with the territory.

Yaztromo finds the hero of the book resting in Stonebridge after a recent adventure, and while it's not outright stated that this is a sequel to Forest of Doom, it's pretty heavily implied.  The hero is tasked with travelling to Vatos, and destroying the dragon artefacts before Malbordus can get his hands on them.  We're back in familiar territory here, with a classic hero-vs.-evil-wizard plot.

We're in familiar territory as far as the rules go, as well, because Temple of Terror doesn't add anything new to the basic FF ruleset.  Creating my character, I rolled a Skill of 11, a Stamina of 18, and a Luck of 9.  For equipment, I had a sword, leather armour, a backpack, a lantern, and 10 provisions.  Yaztromo also gave me a pouch containing 25 gold pieces (which may very well be the same gold pieces I used to buy stuff from him back in Forest of Doom).

Before sending me off on my quest, Yaztromo took me to his tower to teach me some magic.  He had ten spells to choose from, but only had time to teach me four.  (This is a little ridiculous, honestly.  Pretty much all fantasy fiction treats magic like it's something that takes years of painstaking study to master, but here Yaztromo can teach someone a few spells in what feels like at most a matter of hours.  At least in Scorpion Swamp Fake Steve Jackson had the decency to explain this with one-use spell gems when he wanted to pull the same trick.)

The ten spells are Open Door, Creature Sleep, Magic Arrow, Language, Read Symbols, Light, Fire, Jump, Detect Trap and Create Water.  For my four, I chose Open Door, Read Symbols, Detect Trap and Create Water.  That last one seemed especially vital, given that I was heading into the desert.  For the others, I opted mostly for spells that would allow me to detect and avoid danger.  Or, in the case of Open Door, avoid losing because I failed to find a key somewhere. I know your tricks, Ian.

There's no specific limit on the number of times a spell can be cast, but each casting drains a small amount of Stamina.  The only spell of the four I chose with no Stamina cost is Create Water.

Led by Yaztromo's pet crow, I headed south until I reached Catfish River, where an old barge crewed by unsavoury characters was moored.  There was also a rope bridge across the river, but rather than take it I decided to approach the barge crew and book passage to Port Blacksand.  (Allansia has really come together as a setting by this point.  Pretty much the entire opening of this adventure is made up of elements that were established in earlier books.)

The captain told me it would be 5 gold pieces for passage, and I decided to pay it rather than haggle with him.  I spent the whole journey asleep on a coil of rope, and before long I disembarked in the infamous "city of thieves".  (The hero of this book must be young man, because I'm pretty sure that if I slept on a coil of rope I wouldn't be getting up again for at least a few days.)

As night approached I started looking for a place to stay.  An old man in tattered clothes jumped out of a doorway in front of me, and told me that for 1 gold piece he could lead me to a place that offered a room, soup and bread.  Impressed by this man's obvious integrity, I was 100% convinced that his offer was genuine, so I gave him the gold and followed him to a dilapidated house.  As soon as he knocked on the door, two club-wielding things burst out and attacked me.  I'd been set up in a manner so subtle that I had not even the slightest inkling that it was ever going to happen.

The Robbers (Skill 8, Stamina 7 and Skill 7, Stamina 7) attacked one at a time, and the first one landed some strong hits early, but once I recovered from the shock I made short work of them.  (I was hit twice during the battle, reducing my Stamina to 14.)  The old man had run off with my gold piece, but a search of the robbers' pockets turned up a brass telescope and 3 silver buttons.

Continuing down Clog Street and into Harbour Street, I soon found the Black Lobster Tavern. I paid a gold piece for a room for the night, and another for an introduction to a ship captain who could take me down the coast.  Gargo was the captain of the Belladonna, and the price of passage was 10 gold pieces.  He didn't seem like the sort of man to haggle with, so I paid his price before retiring to my room. Along the way a clumsy patron spilled some ale on me, and I made amends by buying him another round.  This cost me another gold piece, and I started to wonder how long my funds would last.  (Buying these drinks reduced my Luck to 8, and left me with just 6 gold.)

The next morning I boarded the Belladonna, which I was surprised to discover was a pirate ship (because Belladonna sounds like the name of a respectable trade vessel, sure).  Due to crew shortages, I was told that my job would be to man the cannons, and it wasn't long before my services were required.  A ship was sighted off the starboard bow, a man-of-war that opened fire on us.  The Belladonna was no match for a warship, and after a brief skirmish it started to sink.  I managed to get safely to the deck before the ship sank (with a successful Skill check), and decided to float away on a piece of masthead rather than trust to the mercies of the enemy crew.

For two days I drifted on the sea, growing weaker and weaker.  (I had to roll two dice, and subtract the total from my Stamina. I rolled a 10, which reduced my Stamina to a worrying 4.)  On the third day, I was washed up on a sandy beach, with desert stretching to the horizon.  I still had my backpack and belongings, but water had seeped into my provisions, ruining three of them.  Luckily (due to a Luck test that reduced my score to 7), I had washed up near a grove of palm trees, and was able to replenish some of my strength by eating some coconuts.  I ate one of my provisions as well, to get back as much strength as I could for the journey ahead.  (This restored my Stamina to 11.  The loss of provisions was determined by a die roll, for which I scored a 3.  It also caused me to lose a point of Luck, leaving my score at 6.)

I decided to walk south along the coast for a while rather than head inland.  Soon I came to a strange pattern made out of seashells, with a feathered spear thrust into the ground at the centre.  I cast a Read Symbols spell (reducing my Stamina to 10), which revealed that the beach ahead was sacred, and that walking on it would anger the "demon of the beach".  I decided not to risk it, and headed inland.

Not long after I heard a buzzing sound overhead, and was attacked by a trio of giant Needle Flies.  With no spell that could harm them, I was forced to fight them with my sword.  The Needle Flies (Skill 5 Stamina 6, Skill 6 Stamina 7, and Skill 7, Stamina 6) were weak, and attacked me one at a time; only the last one managed to wound me (reducing my Stamina to 8).

Following my battle with the Needle Flies, I stumbled over a dead man lying face down in the sand.  In his hand was a pouch, which contained a small golden key.  I pocketed it before moving on.

As the day wore on, I saw a rider on a camel approaching through the heat haze.  I decided to approach rather than hide, and he offered to trade me a canister of water for some treasure.  I gave him one of my silver buttons, and gladly took his water.

After departing from the rider I was caught in a sudden sandstorm (which reduced my Stamina to 6).  When the storm subsided, I found a brass handbell half-buried in the sand (due to a successful Luck test that reduced my score to 5).

I continued on, slaking my thirst with water from my canister.  Half an hour later I came across the tent of a desert nomad, and decided to enter.  The nomad, whose name was Abjul, was a merchant.  After providing me with a meal (that restored my Stamina to 10), he showed me the wares he had for sale.  None of the items seemed all that practical, but I bought a crystal key and a brass flute (this left me with 1 gold piece).  Abjul told me that he thought Vatos was to the south.  I thanked him, and continued on.

Soon after, a tremor in the ground warned me of danger, just before an enormous Sandworm broke the surface.  I had no choice but to fight the Sandworm (Skill 10, Stamina 20), and it was a long, drawn out affair.  I eventually killed the great beast, but it was a close call (I was left with just 4 Stamina).  I took one of the Sandworm's teeth with me, and ate a provision (restoring my Stamina to 8) before moving on.  (This is the sort of thing I hate most in Ian's books: an unavoidable fight with a really strong enemy.  The Skill here isn't super-high, but that Stamina is ridiculous, and guarantees that the fight is going to take ages.  And let's be honest, the FF combat system isn't interesting enough to justify long, drawn out battles.)

After a cold night which sapped my strength, I woke up in the morning and ate another provision.  (The cold dropped my Stamina to 5, and the food brought it back up to 9).  I passed by an oasis with birds circling above, but decided not to risk drinking from it, as I already had some water (as well as my Create Water spell if I needed it).  I instead decided to investigate a pile of rocks nearby, which turned out to be a bad idea, as I was stung on the hand by a scorpion (reducing my Stamina to 5).  After crushing it with my boot, I found a sack beneath the rocks.  Inside was a glass orb, in which a Sprite was trapped.  I broke the sphere and released him, and in gratitude he blessed me with good luck (restoring my Luck score to 6).  He also informed me that I could use the sack as a headscarf to protect me from the sun, and I gave him my thanks before he left.

Soon I finished the rest of my water, and managed to avoid heatstroke due to the sack I was wearing on my head.  (I do wonder how the Stamina loss from the heatstroke compares to that from being stung by the scorpion.)  Eventually, through the desert haze, I saw the ruins of a walled city in the distance.  Finally, I had reached the lost city of Vatos.  I ate one of my provisions before approaching (restoring my Stamina to 9, and leaving me with just 3 provisions remaining).

The entrance gate was closed, but there was a smaller wooden door nearby.  I opened it with my Open Door spell (reducing my Stamina to 7).  On the other side was an open square, with an archway on the other side.  I entered the archway, and descended some stairs.  At the bottom of the stairs was an iron casket, which I opened.  Inside was an iron helmet.  It seemed suspicious that a helm would be sitting here in the open without being looted, but this was a lost city after all, and presumably uninhabited.  I put the helmet on my head, and was pleased at the fit (and the +1 Skill bonus).

As I continued down the corridor, I was started by a tap on my shoulder.  Turning around, I saw a horrid, gaunt figure, with thick slime oozing from its eyes and mouth.  It whispered one word to me - "Death!" - before it disappeared.  This was a Messenger of Death, who had been sent by Malbordus to assassinate me.  The Messenger delighted in playing games with its victims, and had hidden letters of the word "death" in my path.  If I found all the letters, the Messenger would appear and drain my life.  (I've always loved this encounter, but it's a terribly inefficient method of assassinating someone.  Malbordus would have been better off sending ten blokes with knives.)

The corridor ended at a T-junction, with some drapes hanging on the wall ahead.  I was wary of uncovering any death letters, but also determined to find the dragon statues, so I drew back the curtain.  It concealed a door, which I opened.  The door led into a bare stone room, with a bucket hanging from the ceiling.  I was alerted by a skittering, just before a Giant Centipede appeared and attacked.

I was unable to escape, and the Centipede (Skill 9, Stamina 7) proved to be a formidable foe.  So formidable, in fact, that it killed me, and my adventure ended in its crushing mandibles.

After losing 10 Stamina while drifting at sea, I felt like I was in a constant struggle to maintain my Stamina.  I also got low on Provisions, and got a little conservative with them.  Even so, I should have beaten the Centipede, as its Skill was two points lower than mine.  The odds were in my favour, but the dice weren't, unfortunately.  Next time I need to try to make it to Vatos without losing so much Stamina.