Thursday, September 15, 2016

Sorcery! Attempt 10 - Book 3: The Seven Serpents

Another week, another crack at the Sorcery! epic.  Last time I fell afoul of the Serpent of Time, which I imagine was a sticking point for many a reader back in the day.  Every path provided for that encounter leads to death, so there must be a non-obvious solution somewhere earlier in the book.  The trick is to find it, otherwise I'll be right back to The Shamutanti Hills.  Please, no, and thank you, I'd rather complete The Seven Serpents and be on to something else.

For this attempt I rolled scores of Skill 7, Stamina 22 and Luck 10 (raised to 11 at the end of book 1).  Passable.  In most other books I'd be gnashing my teeth at that Skill score, but in Sorcery! it ain't so bad.

I won't dwell on The Shamutanti Hills or Khare - Cityport of Traps for too long.  I got through them without too much trouble, following my usual paths.  The only new thing I recall discovering is what happens if you keep making successful Luck tests while trying to rob the Chainmaker: eventually you're caught in a net, and the old man from the prison at the start of the book shows up to let you out at the cost of returning everything you just stole.  It's a rare case where it's better to fail a Luck test, as you get to keep the Chainmaker's stuff as well as kill him and take his magic chain.

I also traded for the Large Backpack in the Gnome's shop.  It's not particularly special: it lets you ignore the text whenever you're instructed that you can only take an item by leaving one of your own items behind.  In theory it's a handy thing to have, but I don't recall being told to do this anywhere in the Sorcery! epic.  So unless it happens in The Crown of Kings, the backpack is basically worthless.

I began The Seven Serpents with a Stamina of 12 and a Luck score of 10.  I went through the opening scenes of the book, fighting the Nighthawks and visiting Shadrack.  I discovered that you can't escape the Nighthawks by casting a WAL spell; birds can just fly around a magic wall.  It was worth a shot.  I'll try anything to get out of that initial battle, even though I suspect it's a futile effort.

Following my visit with Shadrack I encountered some Centaurs and befriended them.  This time I decided not to visit the snake-charmer, and had the centaurs take me to the Black Elf caravan, where I posed as a merchant and bought a whole raft of stuff: a Hewing Axe (useful for cutting trees, but with a -2 penalty in combat), an Orb (can be thrown to hurt enemies, but has a chance to break every time), a Pearl Ring (worth 10gp, and useful in casting the invisibility spell), some snake-bite antidote, a vial of water (labelled as holy water, but actually not blessed at all), and a spellbook.  The spellbook was from Analand, and I was forced to destroy it so that it could never fall into the wrong hands, but buying it gave me the opportunity to have a look through the spells again and refresh myself.  (I can always use a refresher on the Sorcery! spells.  There's a small selection that I know well, and a lot that I never use at all.)  All up this stuff cost me 36 gold pieces, and left me with but a single coin to my name.

After leaving the Black Elves I camped for the night, eating my last meal in conjunction with the Bomba Fruit I had obtained in book 1 (which doubled the Stamina gain from the meal).  At this point my Stamina was 16.

The next morning I headed north-west.  (This was off my usual path, but I had to do some exploring to find a way to defeat the Time Serpent.)  The plains in this direction were empty, and all I had to show for it was a day of uneventful trekking and a night of bad sleep, all done on an empty stomach.  (All I lost from this ordeal was a single point of Stamina, which seems a bit lenient.  Based on that my character could survive about 20 days without food, which initially sounds ridiculous but is actually quite accurate to real life.)

After finding nothing to the north-west I veered back north-east.  I encountered a whirlwind, but previous games had warned me against it, so this time I just left without investigating.  Again I headed north-west (exploring in a zig-zag pattern, for no particular reason), and came to a village of primitive humanoids known as Klattamen.  The Klattamen invited me into their camp to eat some roast meat, and I heartily accepted given that I hadn't eaten in over a day.  The meat restored my Strength (raising my Stamina to 17), but there was obviously more to this than good hospitality.  Sure enough, I was soon called out to face the best warrior in the tribe in single combat.

Skippin' leg day.

I could have cast a spell here, but it seemed dishonourable, and I also thought it might hurt my chances of winning favour with the Klattamen.  Instead I fought the Klattaman Champion with my sword.  He wounded me once (dropping my Stamina to 15), but after that I made short work of him.  (Though I considered magic dishonourable in this situation, I wasn't above using my magical Armband of Swordmastery.  It's hypocritical, but it's also pragmatic.)

The Klattamen regarded me with respect following my defeat of their champion, but instead of hanging around and lording over them I decided to press on.  They seemed pissed about it, but none of them tried to stop me, and I was able to move on.  (I'm wondering if I missed anything here.  There seems to be no benefit in this encounter at all.)

Soon I came to the outskirts of the Forest of Snatta, and after a night if undisturbed rest (restoring my Stamina to 18) I made my way inside.  At the first junction I chose the right path, and found my way blocked by an infestation of Strangleweed.  (Readers with a good memory will recall that I was killed by this encounter on my first run through the book.)  Undeterred, I took out my Hewing Axe and carved a path forward.  (And most satisfying it was, too.)

At the next junction, within sight of Lake Ilklala, I took the left-hand path and came to a hillock with a door in it.  I went inside, where I met the elf sorceress Fenestra.  Rather than rush straight into a conversation about the Seven Serpents (as I did last time), I decided to ask if she had any magic that might be useful to me.  She got pretty excited to be meeting another wizard, and offered to trade me any item might aid me in spellcasting.  I didn't take her up on the offer, though, because she wanted two of my items for one of hers.  I guess it makes sense, because logically she already has everything, but it didn't seem like a fair deal to me.

Now that we were getting along, I turned the conversation towards the topic of the Seven Serpents.  Fenestra revealed that the Water Serpent had killed her father some time ago, so she had no love for them.  She gave me a flask of oil, explaining that it would be useful in killing the Water Serpent.  She also revealed that she had the Sun Serpent trapped within her glass orb.  I was expecting that I would have to battle it, but it seemed that it really was imprisoned.  Instead I used my Serpent Ring, and extracted a secret from it: "beware the breath of the Mucalytics".

I asked Fenestra about crossing Lake Ilklala, and she offered to sell me a whistle with which I could summon the ferryman.  I didn't have the 2 gold pieces needed to buy it, so I had to trade her my gold-backed mirror instead.  (I chose that item because I couldn't remember the spell that required it.)

Before I left, Fenestra offered me the choice of three gifts: a medicinal potion, a lucky charm, and the whistle (which I had already purchased).  I took the charm, which can be used once to restore my Luck to its initial level.

After leaving Fenestra, I came to yet another junction and chose the right-hand path.  This might have been the worst possible decision, because I soon found myself confronted by four Snattacats!

I knew that fighting them would be suicide, and I suspected that running away might be equally foolish, so I cast a FOF spell.  The magic kept the Snattacats at bay (reducing my Stamina to 14), and I was able to escape.

Eventually, I made my way out of the forest, and reached the shore of Lake Ilklala.  It was evening, and I couldn't blow my whistle until daybreak, so I settled down to sleep (reducing my Stamina to 11 due to lack of food).

In the morning I blew my whistle and summoned the ferryman, who offered to take me across the lake for 4 gold pieces.  I didn't have the money, so I was reduced to fighting him.  I could have used a spell, but it didn't seem worth it, and although he hit me once (reducing my Stamina to 9) I was able to quickly subdue him and convince him to row me across for free.

The ferryman left, and returned with his boat, though his demeanor had become suddenly ruder than before.  (Should I be surprised?  I just beat the guy up with my sword!)  I called him on his attitude, and sure enough discovered that his body had been possessed by the Serpent of Air.  Rather than use a spell against the serpent, I searched the ferryman's body, found the Serpent's original skin, and tore it to pieces.  That destroyed the Serpent of Air - my first for the adventure.

With the ferryman dead, I was forced to row myself across the lake.  Towards the centre I noticed a disturbance in the water, and went to investigate.  As I drew closer, something tried to tip me out of my boat, but I was able to stay in with a successful Luck test.  That "something" was the Water Serpent, which coiled up to attack, but I was prepared for it: I poured the contents of Fenestra's oil flask over it, and the Water Serpent was destroyed.  Two out of seven!

Soon I had crossed the lake, and was wading through Vischlami Swamp.  I had to test my Luck at this point, which I did successfully.  Nothing happened, so I'm not sure what I just saved myself from.  Knowing Steve Jackson, and taking the terrain into account, it was probably giant leeches.

I heard something approaching from ahead, but rather than hide I decided to stand my ground.  Three Marsh Goblins crashed into the clearing, evidently being chased by something.  Figuring that I'd otherwise be unable to communicate with them, I put on my green-haired wig and cast a RAP spell.  The Goblins revealed that they were running from a great Serpent.  They had been trying to use a sacred scroll given to them by Fenestra to drive it out, but were unable to read it.  I got them to show me the scroll.

I promised to do what I could to destroy the Serpent, and the Goblins continued their flight in the opposite direction.  I marched forward to my destiny, presumably with green wig still upon my head.

Before long I was confronted by the Serpent of Time.  This encounter would have been certain death, but with the aid of the scroll I was able to defeat it.  I read the chant (by deciphering the Roman numerals and turning to paragraph 59), which caused the Serpent to float sluggishly in the air.  The resulting combat was a one-sided affair (with the Serpent having an effective Skill of 1 due to my use of the Sham's Serpent Staff), and I crushed it with gusto.

After a brief rest I continued my journey, and soon reached the foot of the Zanzunu Peaks.  I had defeated (or left trapped) four of the Archmage's Serpents: Sun, Air, Water and Time.  Three of them, however, would no doubt be streaking ahead of me to warn their master.  The third leg of my journey was over, but the final - and most dangerous - was still ahead: Mampang Fortress.

(I hadn't used my prayer to Libra at any point during this adventure, so I used it now to restore my stats to their initial levels.  Gotta be at my fighting best for The Crown of Kings!)

I did it!  As I suspected, the Time Serpent was the last obstacle in this book.  I was also correct about where I would find the means to defeat it: the Marsh Goblins by way of Fenestra.  In the end this wasn't a super difficult book, although finding and defeating all of the Serpents might add a little extra challenge.  I only found four of them in this run through.  I know roughly where to find the Moon Serpent, and the Earth Serpent, but I missed them this time.  The location of the Fire Serpent remains a mystery.  I'm hoping to beat The Crown of Kings in a single attempt, but the chances of that are slim to none.  No doubt I'll have plenty of chances to search for the Fire Serpent on my subsequent trips through this book.

That won't be for a while, though, because as I've worked out release dates (based on ads in Warlock), The Crown of Kings came out circa February 1985, about four months after The Seven Serpents.  Between those I have five main series Fighting Fantasy books, and two issues of Warlock.  For those of you looking forward to the conclusion to the Sorcery! epic that's bad news.  For me, who is looking for a break from the Sorcery! epic, it's like manna from heaven.  Next up is Scorpion Swamp, which has its detractors.  Personally, I have a lot of time for it, and I'm looking forward to re-visiting it.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Sorcery! Attempt 7, 8 & 9 - Book 3: The Seven Serpents

I'm back!  After a couple of months of personal issues (pretty much dealt with now) and a month off to watch the G-1 Climax (because Japanese pro-wrestling is the greatest), I'm making my return to blogging, and to writing about gamebooks in particular.

My busy schedule hasn't been the only thing stopping me from blogging here, though.  I'm somewhat regretting my decision to tackle the Sorcery! epic as one single, long gamebook.  Going back to the beginning from Book 1 or 2 isn't so bad, but now that I've reached Book 3 it feels like a slog.  I still enjoy it once I get started, and I'm still discovering new things when I play the first two books, but it's a daunting prospect to begin again.  I'll stick with it, because I'm stubborn like that, but I'll honestly be happier working on the blog once I have Sorcery! out of the way.

That's enough preamble, it's time to get into my ill-fated attempts at conquering The Seven Serpents.  (You know at least some of them are ill-fated, because I have multiple attempts in the post title.)


This is one I can cover pretty quickly.  I rolled a Skill score of 5, which is the first time I've had to play the series with such a weak character.  I could have tried to boost my Skill with various items (there are at least two good ones in The Shamutanti Hills), but instead I opted to focus heavily on spells, and obtaining the various items needed to cast them. 

The first domino leading to my demise was my encounter with Flanker, the assassin who tries to waylay you in Book 1.  You can't use magic during that encounter, and with such a low Skill score I had all sorts of trouble beating him.  So much trouble that my Stamina score wasn't high enough to allow me to spare his life: you need a score higher than 6, or he just keeps fighting to the death.  I did kill Flanker (barely), but now I was unable to call on his help for Book 2.

This posed a serious problem, because I have no idea how to find the first part of the spell needed to open the North Gate of Khare without Flanker's aid.  I know how to find Flanker, and have him lead me to Lortag the Elder, but I haven't a clue how to find Lortag on my own.

Once inside Khare, I decided to head north at the first junction, which is a path I had never explored before.  This led me into a shabby part of town, with a body lying on the ground.  I investigated, and was soon attacked by a Living Corpse.  This is a monster I've seen in Out of the Pit, but have never encountered in any of the gamebooks.  It's deal is that at first it seems like a normal Zombie, but when you hit it it splits into six body parts and attacks from all directions.  The body parts are weak (we're talking Skill 2 or 3, and Stamina scores of 1 each), but the part you attack is randomly determined.  The real killer is that the body parts you've already destroyed remain as valid targets, so for the last body part you'll have a 1-in-6 chance of hitting it.  If I'd had a decent Skill I would probably have lasted, but with a Skill of 5 I was gradually whittled down and killed.

(This raises the question of when you can call on the goddess Libra to restore your stats.  I had it in my head that you can't do it in the middle of a fight, but that's not supported by the text, which says "you may call on her if and when you wish".  So now I know, by the rules I can restore myself in the middle of battle.  That's handy.)


This was another ignominious failure.  Again I rolled low for Skill (this time scoring 6), but I decided to go for the Skill-boosting items and had no trouble subduing Flanker this time.  My real trouble came in Khare, where I took a wrong turn somewhere after meeting Lortag and gaining the first line of the spell.  Not long after that, I was supposed to meet a fellow calling himself Slangg, who would have given me directions to the Temple of the God of Malice.  Instead I found myself in the home of Vangorn the Murderer, who was quite insistent about trying to get me to drink some poisoned ale.  I was able to escape from him, but eventually I realised that I had missed the second spell line.  After that I powered through the rest of the adventure, skipping as many encounters as possible, and made it to the North Gate with just a single line of the spell.  Once again, my adventure was over (the text said I could start again, but I'm not sure how literally I'm supposed to take that, and I was happy enough to let this character die.)


Finally, I rolled a strong character: Skill 10, Stamina 23, Luck 8.  That's something to work with.  I blew through The Shamutanti Hills, gathering all the combat bonuses and spell items I could.  I passed through Khare - Cityport of Traps with similar ease, and this time I was able to locate the entirety of the spell.  I even found a new section with lots of magical goodies: after fleeing from the Red-Eyes, I stumbled into a shop that was stacked with items.

The shop was run by a Gnome, who would not accept gold; I could only take his items by offering my own items for trade.  The items he had on offer were a Bamboo Flute, a Bag of Goblin Teeth, a Lucky Talisman, an Enchanted Compass, a Large Backpack, and some Beeswax.  I already had a Flute and some Beeswax, so I tried to trade for the Talisman and the Compass (you can only take two of his items).  In return you have to offer him four items: I offered a mirror, a parchment scroll, a Bomba Fruit and another mirror.  The items he chooses is determined randomly.  There's also a chance he won't want anything you're offering, or that he'll demand two items for one of his, but I was lucky.  He took a mirror, and the parchment scroll, and gave me his Talisman and Compass.

The Compass was enchanted to lead me instantly to the final person in Khare who knows a line of the spell to open the North Gate.  At any point I could use it, and be led to that person.  This seems handy, but I feel like it's impossible to miss that encounter, except through willful stupidity.

The Lucky Talisman was better: when wearing it, you don't lose Luck on an unsuccessful Luck test.  At first I had interpreted this as not losing Luck on any Luck test, but that's not the case: you still lose a point if you are Lucky.  Still, it's pretty good.

The rest of the book went as planned, and I was soon out of Khare and into the Baklands, with the following stats:

SKILL: 10 (+3 to Attack Strength)
STAMINA: 23 (currently 15)

GOLD: 46, and 1 gem worth 10gp
PROVISIONS: 2 meals, Bomba Fruit (doubles Stamina gain from meal)

EQUIPMENT: Sword, Backpack, Broadsword (+1 Attack Strength), Bamboo Pipe, Beeswax, Silver Key '111', Armband of Swordmastery (+2 AS w/ sword), Skullcap, Magic Chain (autokills enemy with less than 3 Stamina, two Luck tests to retrieve), Green Wig, Mirror, Lucky Talisman (no Luck lost when Unlucky), Enchanted Compass, Silver Ring '130'

The Seven Serpents opens with a battle against four Nighthawks.  I defended against them for three rounds, until a Goldcrest Eagle from my homeland of Analand showed up to aid me and drop a message explaining the plot: seven magical serpents are speeding to warn the Archmage that I'm coming, and I have to stop them.  Good, let's get on with it.  (I'm still annoyed that this isn't dealt with in the Background section.)

From there I went to meet Shadrack, who gave some more exposition about the Serpents, and provided me with a Galehorn.  I ate a meal and slept (which restored me to 20 Stamina), and left in the morning by following the main trail.

Further along, I was accosted by a trio of Centaurs.  In a previous game I'd acted with hostility towards them and ended up in a fight, so this time I decided to be friendly.  Even when one of them threatened to rob me I kept my cool, and wonder of wonders it all worked out.  After I cast a fake Luck spell on them, they offered to take me to Manata the Snake-Charmer, or to a caravan heading towards Khare.  I was looking for snakes, so I figured that a snake-charmer was the man to visit.

When I found Manata, he was sitting in a pit playing a pipe for a half-dozen snakes.  I shouted down to him, and he asked me to join his friends in the pit.  I climbed down, and he asked me to show him the various artifacts I'd collected.  I was getting suspicious, but I decided to play along to see if he had any clues regarding the Serpents.  He wasn't interested in anything I had (I would have gotten a reaction if I'd had any Borrinskin Boots, but I've got no idea where those are found).

I pressed him for more information on the Seven Serpents, and he didn't like that at all.  I had to fight all six of his snakes in sequence, followed by the Snake Charmer himself.  The fight was more of an annoyance than a challenge; I wasn't wounded at all, I just got irritated with the amount of book-keeping involved.  Something bad might have happened had I not defeated the Snake Charmer within five Attack Rounds, but I did that easily enough.  Looting his pit, I found another Bamboo Pipe, and a Bottle of Holy Water.  Luckily I hadn't been bitten, so I didn't have to worry about poison and I was able to continue on to the north-west.  (I feel like I missed something important with this encounter.  I was convinced I'd find one of the Serpents here; it's a snake-charmer, right?  But no, nothing.  Perhaps it's just a red herring.)

I didn't stop to eat when I had the chance, and later on when I made camp it didn't give me the option of eating.  So while I regained Stamina for sleeping, I lost more due to starvation even though I had some food right there.  I probably should have just ignored the letter of the text here, but instead I dutifully lowered by Stamina to 19.  Like an idiot.

The next day I veered to the north-east, but my progress was slowed by strong winds.  I took shelter near a large boulder, but again I opted not to eat.  While I sheltered, I was approached by a small whirlwind.

I cast a HOW spell to determine the best course of action (reducing my Stamina to 17), and it warned me that the whirlwind was dangerous and had nothing to offer me.  I kept my distance, and continued on my way without investigating further.

I continued to the north-east, and was soon approached by a rapidly-moving figure: a gnome.  I offered him a gift - my spare Bamboo Pipe - and the die roll to determine his reaction came up with the most favourable result.  The gnome was revealed as the female sorceress Dintainta.  She warned me about the Sleepless Ram in the Archmage's fortress, and gave me a vial of gas that could overcome it.  She also warned me about the Earth Serpent, telling me that I would have to separate it from the ground to weaken it.  Finally, she gave me her staff, a special Serpent's Staff that would deduct 2 Skill points from any of the Seven Serpents I fought.  I thanked Dintainta before moving on.

I headed due north, and soon stopped to rest on a large rock.  As I stood to leave, a rock hit my ankle painfully (dropping my Stamina to 16).  Rocks were showering down on me from above.  I tried to blow them away with my Galehorn (which reduced my Stamina to 15), but it was ineffective, and I lost a further 3 points of Stamina from falling rocks (leaving me with 12).

A fall landed me in a pit, where the rocks started to grow red-hot.  Something but my hand when I tried to climb out, but I persisted in escaping from the pit and suffering another bite (leaving me with 10 Stamina).

At the top of the pit I was menaced by cracks in the ground, a teetering boulder, and a snake coiling around my leg.  I grabbed the snake and threw it to the ground, where it was revealed as the Earth Serpent.

(At this point I used my Serpent Ring - obtained in Book 2 - and got  a clue from the Earth Serpent: "Offer no gold to Valignya".  I should be writing these down.)

I cast a HUF spell using my Galehorn (reducing my Stamina to 9), and this time I was rewarded.  The Earth Serpent was blown into the air where it lost its powers, and I was able to kill it easily.  One down, six to go.

I had reached the Forest of Snatta, but I decided to rest and eat before entering (leaving me with no meals, but restoring my Stamina to 14).

Inside the forest, I chose the middle path at the first junction.  I could hear a strange noise, but there was nothing around.  I investigated further, and was attacked by an invisible beast (reducing my Stamina to 12).  It gradually materialised, and I saw that it was a Snattacat, but it disappeared and left before I could do anything.  I was relieved, but that was short-lived, as I was soon surrounded by a dozen of the buggers!

II wasn't about to fight twelve Snattacats, so I cast a FOF spell (reducing my Stamina to 8) and fled while they were blocked by my force field.

At the next junction I turned left, and soon found a hillock with a door in the side.  I was feeling cautious, so cast a TEL spell (reducing my Stamina to 7), but I received no psychic messages.  So I forgot caution and opened the door, following the sound of voices.  At the end of the passage I saw a spindly figure hunched over a glass orb.

I announced my presence, and the figure - possibly an elfwoman - invited me in.  Her name was Fenestra, and she asked about my business in the forest.  I tried to steer the conversation in the direction of the Seven Serpents, and despite her nervousness about the subject she revealed some of their weaknesses: the Fire Serpent is extinguished by sand, the Sun Serpent hates water and the Water Serpent hates oil.  Before I left, Fenestra offered me a choice of three items: a medicinal potion, a lucky charm, or a calling-whistle.  I already had a charm, so I picked the whistle, which she told me I could use to summon the ferryman of Lake Ilklala.  (I knew this was an important find, because it restored 3 of my Luck points.)

At the next junction I chose the centre path, and was soon on the shore of the lake, where I camped overnight.  I had a sense that I was approaching dangerous territory here, so I prayed to Libra to restore my scores to their initial levels.  Then I blew the whistle to summon the ferryman.

The ferryman was a surprisingly jovial sort, though not so friendly that he didn't demand 4 gold pieces for the crossing.  He disappeared to get his boat, and when he returned he was suddenly very rude.  I decided to confront him about it, and to my surprise his body shriveled up, and from inside emerged the Air Serpent!

(I used my Serpent Ring again here, and the Serpent gave me a clue: "In the dark chamber of night, do not light your way with the blood candle.  Good advice.  Personally, I don't advocate the use of blood candles in any situation.)

Rather than cast a spell, I investigated the ferryman's body, and found an old snakeskin.  The Air Serpent recoiled when I found it, so I tore it apart (remembering the advice of Shadrack from the beginning of the book).  Another Serpent dead!

I rowed the ferry-man's boat out onto the lake, and soon encountered a patch of bubbling water.  I investigated the bubbling, only for it to move under my boat and try to unseat me.  I succeeded in a Luck test, and remained in the boat, but soon after that I was attacked by the Water Serpent.

(The ring's clue: "Pay respect to Naggamanteh the torture master.")

I opted not to use a spell, and had no items that would be effective against it (like oil), so I fought it with my sword.  The Water Serpent had its Skill reduced to 8 by my Serpent Staff, so I was able to knock it off without sustaining a hit.  Three dead serpents, huzzah!

Soon enough I had reached the opposite side, and entered the Vischlami Swamp.  I passed a mysterious Luck test (not really sure what I avoided here), and stopped to rest.  I heard a crashing sound followed by cries.  Something was approaching, and I decided to hide.  A few minutes later, a group of Marsh Goblins appeared.  I waited until they left before coming out of hiding and moving on.

As I was leaving, I heard a hiss, and a giant snake appeared.  The Time Serpent!

(Serpent Ring Clue: "The Archmage may be disguised.")

The swaying of the Serpent stopped me from casting spells, so I had to draw my sword.  Then things got weird.  Time became distorted somehow, and the snake bit me to death in a series of disjointed scenes.  My character was dead, but the real-life me was impressed (and a little bewildered) with the way it was written.  So I guess it's not a total loss.

Every path in that last encounter led to instant death, so obviously I've missed something.  Perhaps I was meant to talk to the Marsh Goblins, or maybe I should have done something different with Fenestra; I have an inkling or a memory that she has more important information than what I got out of her.  It could be something else entirely.  The one thing I'll rule out is that I need something from Book 1 or 2; each book in the Sorcery! series stands alone, and should be beatable without the others, so the key to beating the Time Serpent should be in Book 3.

In this game I defeated the following serpents: Air, Earth, and Water.  I met the Time Serpent, but didn't win.  In a previous game I beat the Moon Serpent, which means that I've found five in total.  I need to find the Fire Serpent and the Sun Serpent, and maybe I can knock off all seven.  Fenestra gave me clues about how to defeat Fire and Sun, so it stands to reason that I'll find them after encountering her.  Or maybe not.  Steve Jackson does love to mislead the reader.

Ah well, back to the beginning.  Time to slog it out all over again.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Sorcery! Attempt 6 - Book 3: The Seven Serpents

After a bit of a hiatus, I'm back to begin playing through The Seven Serpents, the third part of Steve Jackson's Sorcery! epic.  The second book - Khare - Cityport of Traps - gave me all sorts of trouble, and I had some vague memories of that one.  I've finished The Seven Serpents before, but my memories of it are basically non-existent.  I remember fighting some serpents with magic powers, I remember needing to cross a lake, and I remember some of the monsters.  It's better than nothing, but not by much.

So, the set-up: I'm on a quest to retrieve the legendary Crown of Kings from the evil Archmage of Mampang Fortress, and have just passed through the city of Khare and into the Baddu-Bak Plains.  Alas, some evil bugger has found out about my mission, and seven serpents are speeding their way to warn the Archmage.  My goal for book 3 is to make it to Mampang Fortress while taking out as many of the serpents as possible.  Sounds dead easy.

My character, carried over from book 2, is as follows:

STAMINA: 16 (currently 5)
LUCK: 11 (currently 10)

CLUES: "For sleeping of the Sleepless Ram, seek out the one they call The Sham"

EQUIPMENT: Sword, Backpack, Pipe, Blimberry Juice (1 dose, restores 3 Stamina), Beeswax, Key (numbered 54), Armband of Swordmastery (+2 bonus to Attack Strength when wielding a sword), Skullcap, Magic Chain (can be used to automatically kill an enemy with less than 3 Stamina, but then requires two Luck tests to retrieve), Mirror, Parchment Scroll, Green Wig, Tinderbox, Snake-Bite Antidote, Broadsword (deals 3 points of damage, but has a -1 penalty to Attack Strength), Bow and 10 Silver Arrows, Silver Ring (numbered 130)

When you lay it out like that my character looks well hard, and has a number of really useful items.  The main concern is that I'm beginning the book with a low Stamina.  The series doesn't say anything about healing between books.  You could do it by praying to Libra, which can be done once per book, but I had already used up my prayer earlier in Book 2.  There's no logical reason that I would otherwise be healed, so I've decided that I'll just have to tough it out.

There's one more thing to do before I begin the adventure proper: investigate the silver ring in my inventory.  I can't quite remember who in Khare gave it to me, but I'm pretty sure that I need to check out its effects before I start.  Turning to paragraph 130 (the number etched on the ring) informs me that the ring can be helpful in defeating the serpents: when I confront one, I can subtract 14 from the paragraph I'm on and the serpent will reveal the secret to defeating it.  Good to know!  I'm super glad I remembered to do this before starting.

As the adventure began, I found myself crossing the Plains of Baddu-Bak.  The book doesn't mess about: right in the first paragraph I was attacked by a flock of screeching Nighthawks.

With my Stamina so low, I decided not to cast a spell, and fought the Nighthawks with my sword.  All four of them attacked at once, but with a lot of luck I was able to kill one of them and avoid being wounded.

Just then a Goldcrest Eagle swooped in and scattered the Nighthawks.  (He needn't have bothered, I was doing fine on my own.)  Goldcrest Eagles are bred and trained for war in my home of Analand, and this one was delivering a message: the Seven Serpents are on their way to warn the Archmage about me.  The message also said that I should seek out Shadrack the Hermit for help.

With that preamble out of the way (seriously, I wish Jackson had just stuck this in the Introduction so that I don't have to fight those Nighthawks at the start of every game) I ventured further into the plains.  I found a solitary tree and rested there for a short time.  While I was resting, the tree's branches twisted into the form of a face, and started to speak.

"You seek the whereabouts of Shadrack of Baddu-Bak, that I know," it said.  "To find him you must detour eastwards from your trail towards the Fishtail Rock.  He is expecting you."  Well of course he's expecting me, they always bloody are.  With no other guides to go by, I dutifully set off to the east, and soon enough I located Fishtail Rock and Shadrack.

Shadrack and I had a good old chinwag, and he also gave me some food (which restored my Stamina to 7).  When the talk turned to the subject of the Serpents, he gave me their whole origin story: about twelve years ago the Archmage fought and killed a Hydra.  He was so impressed with its might that he resurrected all seven of its heads to act as his servants, and assigned one to each of his gods.  In return the gods imbued the Serpents with powers of Sun, Moon, Air, Earth, Fire, Water, and Time.  Each of the Serpents has a special weakness which they guard closely (but which I should be able to pry from them with my ring).  Shadrack only knows the weakness of the Air Serpent: it sometimes leaves its body as a puff of gas, and if the body is destroyed before it can return it will perish.

Not only did Shadrack give me food and information, but he let me sleep overnight in his cave (which restored my Stamina to 10) and he also gave me a Galehorn, which is useful for one of the spells (I can't remember the exact details, and I'm not allowed to look them up).  What a guy!

I headed off, rejoining the main trail, and soon encountered a trio of rather mean-looking Centaurs.

Given their unsavoury look, I thought that an aggressive approach might work best, so I drew my sword.  They didn't take too kindly to this, and the battle was on.  I cast a DIM spell to even the odds (dropping my Stamina to 8), which took out one of the Centaurs, but I still had to fight the other two.  They both fired arrows before closing for battle, but I was able to avoid them.  I decided to fight with my broadsword; I wanted the fight over with as quickly as possible and I didn't think the -1 penalty to Attack Strength would affect me too badly.  I was injured once (reducing my Stamina to 6), but I was able to kill the two Centaurs.

I could have slain the one that I put into a stupor with my DIM spell, but instead I waited for the spell to wear off and allowed him to surrender.  He told me that the Moon Serpent is vulnerable to fire, before escaping and galloping away.  With nothing else to do I looted the bodies of his friends, and found 4 gold pieces (raising my total to 6) and a pouch of sand.

Now I had to decide which direction to set off across the Baddu-Bak Plains.  Checking the map, I opted to travel to the north-east.  Despite my attempts to stay alert, I was knocked off my feet by something burrowing up from underground.  I landed heavily, but a successful Luck test (which reduced my score to 9) ensured that none of my equipment broke.  Of more immediate concern was the creature that was attacking me: a Baddu-Beetle!

Again my Stamina was low, so I decided against using magic.  I hit it with my sword and wounded it, but the Beetle's acidic blood splashed on me (reducing my Stamina to 5).  With every blow I struck there was a chance of being hit by the blood, with various detrimental effects depending on the hit location.  I decided to use my Luck to get the fight over with more quickly (reducing my score to 7), and was able to defeat it with just two more blows, but during the fight the acid splashed on my arm  twice (further reducing my Stamina to 2).

After the fight, I collected some stone dust from the beetle's lair.  (These spell components are starting to become less and less familiar.  I've got no idea which one this is for.)  I also decided to pray to Libra to restore all my stats back to their initial levels.  It was a risky move, but I had my doubts that I'd be able to survive long with just 2 Stamina points

Again I set off, still heading north-east.  There were no signs of life, but eventually I heard a disembodied shrieking, and saw a pair of eyes floating before me.  Around the eyes there formed the sinister shape of a robed, skeletal figure, which was beckoning me forward.

I wanted no truck with this guy, so I ran for cover in some nearby rocks.  This proved to be a terrible idea, as with a gesture the skeleton caused the rocks to come to life and trap my foot.  The boulders formed into the shape of a Rock Demon, and I had to defend myself (with a -2 penalty to Attack Strength due to being trapped).  The first thing I did was free my foot, which got rid of the penalty but gave the Demon and automatic hit, reducing me to 14 Stamina.  The rest of the fight was pretty hairy, but somehow I only suffered one further wound before defeating the Demon (leaving me with 12 Stamina).

Recklessly I charged at the creature, which I now recognised as a Deathwraith.  I drew my bow and silver arrows, and met it in battle.  (The fight here is a melee one, but as the arrows were the only silver weapon I had I decided to fight as normal except that if I hadn't won before all of my arrows were spent I'd automatically be killed.)  The Deathwraith scored two hits on me (reducing my Stamina to 8), but I was able to wound it several times, at which point it was revealed to be an illusion!  It wasn't a Deathwraith, but a portly wizard by the name of Renfren.

My urge for vengeance was less than my need for information, so I interrogated Renfren.  He gave me 9 gold pieces (raising my total to 15), some yellow powder, and  a throwing disc called a chakram that I could use to wound an opponent before every battle by rolling less than my Skill on two dice.  He was also about to tell me about one of the Serpents, but instead he keeled over and died of fright.  The world turned black, and I found myself confronted by the Moon Serpent.

I remembered my silver ring, and used it (by subtracting 14 from the current paragraph number and turning to that section).  The serpent revealed to me that four guardians protect the entrance to the Fortress of Mampang.  Not the most immediately useful information, is it?  I  had thought the Serpents were supposed to reveal their own weaknesses, but luckily I already knew what could harm the Moon Serpent: fire!

I used my tinderbox to light a fire, and battled the weakened serpent with my sword.  It wounded me once (reducing my Stamina to 6), but after I killed it the serpent transformed into a Crystal Orb, which I pocketed before moving on.

After the battle I headed to the northwest for a time, until I encountered a camp of covered wagons and carts.  As I approached two arrows were fired at me, so I held up my hands as a sign that I came in peace.  The camp was a band of Black Elves, who told me that they could not give me food or shelter, and demanded to know why I was walking alone through the Baklands.

I told the Elves that I was a trader, and this changed their tune immediately.  I was ushered into a caravan and shown the following goodies that I could purchase:

There's a whole lot of stuff here, some of it mentioned in the text and some of it only shown in the illustration.  I bought the following: a scroll entitled 'Secrets of the Baklands', a Brass Pendulum, some vittles (enough for four provisions), and some Chainmail Armour (which left me with 1 gold piece).

The scroll made mention of  'The Sham', an old sorceress who lived to the north-east.  It said she might be helpful, but that she was also not exactly as she appeared.  It also warned about the Forest of Snatta, where the plants were as deadly as the animals, although they could be affected by Essence of Bark.

The Chainmail gave a +1 bonus to Skill (as usual, I'm not sure if this should add to my initial total or not; logic says yes, but I defer to the letter of the rules by not applying the bonus).  It also reduces the damage of any combat wound by 1 point if I roll a 5 or a 6.

I decided to take the advice that the Black Elves had previously given me, and opted not to ask for shelter for the night.  The Elves allowed me to leave without trouble, and soon I had made my own camp and settled down to rest.  (Okay, so I must have lost track of some Stamina loss along the way.  Apparently I only had 4 Stamina when I camped, and the food and rest restored me back to 7.)

I headed north-east and soon saw a figure heading towards me at an incredible rate.  It was an old gnome, who told me that if I was a friend of his I would offer him an item.

I gave the Gnome my scroll of "Secrets of the Baklands', as I had already memorised the information.  The Gnome was moderately pleased by the gift (this was determined by a die roll; I got the middle result), and revealed to me that he was really The Sham, otherwise known as the sorceress Dintainta.  She told me to beware the Sleepless Ram when I reached Mampang Fortress, and gave me a vial which could overcome the creature when uncorked.  She also told me that the Earth Serpent lurked ahead, and that I could defeat it by breaking its contact with the ground.  I thanked the Sham and continued on.  (I also ate some provisions in order to raise my Stamina to 9.)

I headed north and came to a rock that looked like a good resting place.  I decided not to bother, but was surprised when a rock I dislodged with my foot reversed its fall and struck me (reducing my Stamina to 8).  The rock exploded, showering me with debris.

I ran from the rocks, but a few struck me (reducing my Stamina to 7). Suddenly a pit opened beneath me, and when I fell in the grounded started to grow red-hot.  I tried to pull myself out of the pit, but something bit my hand (reducing my Stamina to 6).

Unsure what to do, I waited around in the pit, but the heat started to become unbearable (reducing my Stamina to 4).  I tried climbing out again, and a successful Luck test meant that my hand was only bitten once (leaving me with 3 Stamina).  Quickly I drank some Blimberry Juice (restoring my Stamina to 6) and prepared to confront my foe: the Earth Serpent!

Rocks were poised to rain down on me, and the serpent coiled around my leg.  I swatted the Snake to the ground, and after its true nature was revealed I used my ring to learn its secret: offer no gold to Valignya.  Good to know.

I cast a HUF spell, which utilised my galehorn to blow the serpent into the air (and reduced my Stamina to 5).  Cut off from its source of power, the serpent was easy to destroy (I didn't even need to fight it.)

Soon I reached the Forest of Snatta, the next leg of my journey.  I stopped to rest before entering (restoring my Stamina to 8).

At the first junction I chose the middle path.  I could hear a soft plopping sound, but chose to ignore it and continue on.  This was a bad idea, as I was mauled by an invisible beast.  I was able to draw my sword and drive it away, but not before it had a good chew on my arm (reducing my Stamina to 5).

At the next junction I turned right, and came to a path overgrown with bushes.

I squeezed between two bushes (not my choice I might add; this is a case were I was done in by the book assuming actions for me) and was soon hopelessly tangled.  Too low on Stamina to rely on my magic, I decided to draw my sword.  Alas, a failed Luck test meant that I was unable to reach it before the bush strangled me to death.  I could have saved myself by praying to Libra, but I'd used that prayer earlier in the adventure.


I felt like I was progressing reasonably well, despite the fact that I was constantly low on Stamina.  To be honest, that enhanced the atmosphere of the book, and really made me feel like I was struggling to survive in a hostile environment.  The choice of when to cast spells and when to conserve Stamina is a vital one, and I probably chose wrong at the end.  It's not entirely my fault though: I rolled a double 6 on my Luck test, and there isn't much that can be done about that.  Hopefully on my next play through I'll have some more Stamina to work with, and thus more spell-casting options.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Caverns of the Snow Witch (preview) - Final Thoughts

The secondary adventure in a magazine designed to support a gamebook line is never something you expect to be good.  Few would be disappointed if it didn't quite meet the standards set by the main series. Basic competency is enough, surely.  Ian Livingstone had a fair bit of experience writing gamebooks by this point, and one would expect that he could knock up a passable adventure in a lazy weekend.  Caverns of the Snow Witch certainly feels like he tried to do that, and to be honest it's almost as good as I would expect a magazine adventure to be.  Almost,  but not quite.

This is a frustrating one.  The basic set-up is there: a mission to destroy the evil Snow Witch, who is plotting evil beneath the Icefinger Mountains.  It's a classic, tried-an-tested scenario that's perfect for a traditional adventure.  The arctic setting adds a bit of interest, as does the atypical beginning with the hero just trying to make a quick buck by hunting down a Yeti.  It's a solid adventure, but some of the design decisions and smaller details let it down.

Take, for instance, the final battle with the Snow Witch, where you're required to have a Skill of 10 to stake her through the heart.  Admittedly, it's not as bad as I had first thought: this only results in an instant death if you don't have the garlic.  Still, I find it a particularly grating bit of design that goes against the spirit of the FF rules.  (Note that the books rarely follow that line in the FF rules that states that any adventurer, regardless of stats, can win.)

There's also the encounter with the Crystal Warrior, who is very powerful and will most probably kill any less-than-awesome adventurers.  You can avoid it by having a genie turn you invisible, but only if you don't have the warhammer needed to fight it.  So if you have the only weapon that can kill it, you have to kill it; there's no other option, even if you have a low Skill, or you're close to death.  To me it's completely backwards: options to avoid a fight should always be available before the fight.

And then there's the ever-present, ever-increasing Ian Livingstone problem of too many difficult combats.  I understand that FF fans were constantly writing to Steve and Ian to ask them to make the books harder.  Steve had a fair reaction to this request: he increased the difficulty of the puzzles, and made the correct path harder to find.  Ian's reaction?  Throw in a lot of unavoidable combats with opponents of Skill 10+.  It's frustrating, like I said.

The last major problem I have with the adventure is the villain.  The Snow Witch is yet another evil wizard, but being a lady isn't enough to give her a personality.  Even the twist that she's a vampire does nothing for her.  She's just a non-entity, and the confrontation at the end has no weight to it.

I feel like I'm being unfairly harsh to Ian, so I should say a few kind things.  I do like the set-up at the beginning, with Big Jim Sun and the hunt for the Yeti.  Ian's very good at setting adventures up, and he's also quite good at evoking an environment.  The opening stages of the adventure with the hero trekking through the icy mountains is good stuff.

In six attempts at this adventure I covered pretty much all of it.  The only area I missed was a storeroom guarded by a Zombie.  It contained the garlic I needed to help me fight the Snow Witch, and the ground minotaur horn that I could have used to avoid the Dragon.

There aren't any blatant mistakes in the adventure.  There are a few items that never get used, but they're all the sorts of things that you can tell straight away are useless: a stuffed rat, sandals, a box full of teeth, pickled lizard tails, the sort of things that Orcs and Goblins collect that are just there for flavour.

This adventure features nine instant deaths, and one alternate ending in which the hero survives without getting the Snow Witch's treasure.  Most of the deaths are pretty banal, to be honest, and more than a few of them are due to being bitten by a vampire.  I just did that with the magazine version of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, and I don't want to repeat it here.  So I'll go with a personal favourite:

The good old "drop a mountain on them right at the end of the adventure" trick.  Love it.


Story & Setting: The story is decent, though not all that well realised, and does little to distinguish itself from all of the other "kill the evil wizard" adventures out there.  The setting of the Icefinger Mountains is novel for Fighting Fantasy, and evocatively presented (at least in the outdoor sections).  Rating: 4 out of 7.

Toughness: The adventure relies too heavily on unavoidable combats, and is almost impossible for a low-Skill character to complete.  Success relies almost entirely on the luck of the dice.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Aesthetics: Duncan Smith provides the illustrations, which are serviceable if uninspiring.  I do have to give him credit for fidelity to the text, though.  Livingstone's prose is solid as usual.  The magazine format doesn't do it any favours.  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Mechanics: This adventure uses the standard FF rule set, with no changes.  Aside from the standard poor design decisions that are common to the series (i.e. a magic sword that increases Skill instead of Attack Strength), this also has the "Skill 10 or higher" bit in the Snow Witch battle that irked me so much.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Innovation & Influence: The arctic setting is a new one, but ultimately this adventure doesn't add much that hasn't already been done, and done better.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

NPCs & Monsters: This adventure has a few standards (goblins, a dragon), some snow-based enemies (the yeti, a mammoth), and a few new monsters (the sentinel, the ice demon and the crystal warrior).  None of the new entries are all that inspired, though.  Big Jim Sun has a bit of personality, but the Snow Witch is a blank slate.  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Amusement: This is almost a fun adventure, if a somewhat over-familiar one.  A few bad design elements and a profusion of hard fights mars it, as does a lack of interesting choices in the encounters.  I'd certainly had enough of it by my last attempt.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

No bonus point for this one.  The above scores add up to 18, which doubled gives a S.T.A.M.I.N.A. Rating of 36.  That sounds about right: it's on the lower end of mediocrity.

Next: The Seven Serpents!  Get hype!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Caverns of the Snow Witch (preview) - Attempt 5 & 6

I'm back again, with another couple of attempts at finishing the preview of Caverns of the Snow Witch from Warlock magazine #2.  This half-a-gamebook has given me all sorts of bother, but hopefully I'll be able to win this time.

Okay, I said that I made a couple of attempts, but lets all ignore Attempt 5, shall we?  I rolled a Skill of 7 and got my character trampled by the Mammoth.  I always appreciate a gamebook with a quick method for killing weak characters.


The dice were far kinder to me this time around: I rolled a Skill of 12, a Stamina of 19, and a Luck of 12.  I couldn't ask for a finer specimen.

I didn't take any chances in the early stages of the book, and took the same path I outlined in Attempt 3 & 4.  This time I murdered the Neanderthal in the kitchen, and claimed all of that sweet kichen loot: the magic flute and the rune-carved stick.  Otherwise, things were much the same up to the point where I killed the illusionist with the prism.

(My stats by then were Skill 12, Stamina 18, and Luck 9.  I had 3 provisions left, and I was carrying a warhammer, a spear, a cloak, a magic flute, a rune-carved stick, and a sling with 3 iron balls.)

After I killed the Illusionist I took the middle path through the skull mouth, as the other two paths had led me to instant death in earlier games.  The passage opened into a large cavern that was the home of a Frost Giant.  I wanted the rings in his chest, so I was quick to knock him out with a well-placed shot from my sling (this required a roll against my Skill, but with a score of 12 I couldn't miss).

I forgot to add this one last time.

The giant's chest contained three rings: one copper, one silver and one gold.  From an earlier game I knew that one of these rings was cursed, and would significantly drain my Skill.  I didn't want to risk it this time, so I took the gold ring, the only one that I knew was safe.  The gold ring provided me with protection from the cold, and also restored my Luck back to 10.  I left the other two; I knew that one was good, but I couldn't risk taking the bad one.

Further along the tunnel I encountered the dreaded Crystal Warrior, the bane of many an adventurer in the Snow Witch's caverns.  Last time, I had been severely weakened, and it had murdered me.  This time I was at maximum Skill, and I was able to get one back.  It hit me once (reducing my Stamina to 16), but I was able to smash it to rubble with my warhammer.

(I'm aware now that leaving the warhammer behind and using the genie's invisibility power is the far better option here.  I thought I'd take my chances anyway, seeing as my Skill was high.)

After the battle I came to a T-junction, and turned left.  The tunnel came to a large chamber that ended in a wall of ice.  In the centre of the room was a sarcophagus, with the lid propped open.  A white rat suddenly scampered out of the sarcophagus and ran towards me.

The stuff of nightmares.

I wasn't about to trust this situation.  Not only had a friendly Dwarf told me to "beware the white rat", but I've also learned that nothing good ever comes out of a sarcophagus.  Not even cute mammals.

Sure enough, the rat started to change shape.  If I'd had any ground minotaur horn I might have been able to do something about it, but as I hadn't found any all I could do was watch as it transformed into a White Dragon.  A copper ring might have been useful to avoid this fight, but I didn't have that either.  Luckily, my gold ring was enough to protect me from the Dragon's breath: without it I would have been subject to a 2-in-6 chance of taking extra damage every round.

The Dragon had a Skill of 12 and a Stamina of 14, so we were almost evenly matched.  Somehow, mostly through the use of my Luck score, I was able to scrape through with only being hit twice.  Straight after the fight I ate a meal (restoring my Stamina to 16), so I got out of this fight just as strong as I went into it.

After I defeated the Dragon, a figure rose up from the sarcophagus.  It was the Snow Witch, who was revealed to be a vampire.  I had no garlic to repel her with, so she tried to dominate me with her gaze.  I had to roll against my Skill to resist, but once again my Skill of 12 meant that there was no way I could fail.

Gnarly hat.

At this point I realised that I could kill her with a stake through the heart, and luckily I had found one in the form of my rune-carved stick.  I thrust the stick into her heart.

(This might be one of the worst pieces of gamebook design that I have ever seen.  You can only succeed at staking the Snow Witch if your Skill is higher than 10.  There's no roll involved, no element of chance at all.  You need a Skill of 10 or higher, and if you don't have it then bad luck.  I'm pretty sure this is the only way to win, which makes it even worse.  The instructions even have the gall to include the line saying that anyone can win no matter their initial rolls!  What a load of old bullshit! Ian, this is your worst move yet.)

With the Snow Witch dead, I was free to explore her cavern.  Frozen into the wall of ice was a trunk full of treasure.  I hacked it out of the wall and started emptying my backpack so that I could carry as much gold as possible.  There was one last obstacle however: a golden idol transformed into a Sentinel, the Snow Witch's final guardian.

The Sentinel hit me once (reducing my Stamina to 14), but I made short work of it.  Now, with the Snow Witch dead her followers would be free.  I left the caverns and made the trek back to Big Jim Sun.  Even though I was loaded with riches, I was still greedy enough to go and demand the 50gp reward for killing the Yeti.  Business is business, after all!

The beginning of this adventure is solid (if a bit too difficult), but the end just devolves into a series of battles against very strong opponents.  I only made it through because my scores were super-high.  And that bit about requiring a Skill of 10 to stake the Snow Witch?  Unforgivable.  I missed some items that might have made the final encounters easier or more interesting, but as I experienced it it's a poor ending.  Hopefully the book version clears some of these problems up.

I'll do a quick wrap-up post to finish this one off.  I won't bother with an Exploring Titan, because this is so similar to the book version.  After that, it's on to the third book in the Sorcery! epic - The Seven Serpents.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Caverns of the Snow Witch (preview) - Attempt 3 & 4

Half a gamebook.  That's what I'm stuck on right now.  I suppose that there's no reason a short gamebook can't be difficult, but there's something about it that galls me.  It's not even a real gamebook!  I should be done with this thing by now!  I never should have made that no-cheating rule.


I can't blame the dice for my misfortune, because my stats have been rather good in all my attempts so far.  This time around is no different: I rolled a Skill of 12, a Stamina of 21 and a Luck of 10.   It would be nice to be able to point at a guy with Skill 7 to justify my lack of success, but nope.  I only have my own curiosity and stupidity to blame.

I got off to a bad start right at the beginning of my adventure.  As usual I opted for the path with the Mammoth, but despite my Skill being higher it absolutely mauled me.  It hit me five times during the battle, and I was left with a mere 11 Stamina by the time I killed it.  This did not bode well for the future.

The rest of the initial stages presented me with little difficulty, and I was able to raid the trapper's hut and kill the Yeti with only some minor wounds.  I had learned my lesson from last time around, and I avoided the blizzard in my nice, warm igloo.  I still had a Stamina of 11 when I reached the Snow Witch's lair, and I was able to restore that to 14 by drinking the potion near the entrance.

This time around I decided to attack the Mountain Elf when I encountered him.  He was a pushover, but rather than kill him I opted to spare his life.  He was pretty happy about it, and even happier that I was here to kill the Snow Witch, so he gave me his cloak.  Always nice to have a disguise in enemy territory.

At the next junction I followed the Elf's advice and turned right, into uncharted territory.  I soon came to a kitchen, where a Neanderthal was stripping the skin from a dead moose, under the supervision of a Gnome chef.

Insert the Gordon Ramsay invective of your choice.

When I entered the Gnome offered me a stale cake.  This was a pretty meager haul, and I fancied myself against these two, so I attacked them.  The Neanderthal died with little trouble, and the Gnome fled to raise the alarm.  (That's what the text says he does, but the Gnome's escape affects nothing at all.)

For a kitchen, the cupboards were loaded with treasure.  I found a magic flute, a rune-covered stick, a rose that restored my Stamina to 17 when I smelled it, and a book.  Unfortunately, the book had a poison needle in the clasp, which dropped my Stamina back to 13.  In better news, inside the book was an Amulet of Courage that restored 2 Skill points.  This was fairly useless for me, but I kept it anyway just in case it would come in handy later.

After leaving the kitchen I came to the cavern with the Ice Demon and its worshippers.  With my cloak and a successful Luck test, I was able to sneak through unhindered.

Following that I rescued the Dwarf from the pit, and went on to confront the Illusionist and his prism.  At first I tried to trick the Illusionist by saying that I had come to play my magic flute for the Snow Witch.  He seemed happy enough to let me pass, but I didn't trust the path he tried to lead me down, so I killed him, and released the Genie from his prism.

Last time I had chosen the right tunnel after defeating the Illusionist, and ended up trapped between two gates.  This time I went through the skull mouth, which led to a large cavern inhabited by a Frost Giant.  I had the option of running through before he spotted me, but what kind of an option is that for a self-respecting adventurer?  It's no way to obtain loot, that's for sure.  Instead I knocked him out using the sling that the aforementioned Dwarf had given me.  (This required a roll against my Skill, but with a score of 12 it was impossible to fail.)

The Giant dropped a chest, which contained three rings and a cracked bottle.  The bottle was perfume, so I ignored it and moved on to the rings.  One was gold, one was silver, and one was copper, and I made the decision to try them all.  This is always a bad idea in gamebooks, but I was hoping that the benefits would outweigh the penalties.

The gold ring provided magical protection from the cold, a handy thing to have in an ice-themed adventure.  The copper ring gave me the power to summon a warrior to my aid but once.  The silver ring...  The silver ring was cursed, and drained my life force.  I had to roll a die, and subtract the number from my Skill.  Of course, I rolled a 6, and went from legendary killing machine to doomed fool in one stroke.  My only hope was to find a hefty Skill bonus, and soon.

Instead, what I found was a Crystal Warrior.

He looks a bit like Unicron.

The Crystal Warrior was one of the Snow Witch's guardians, and had apparently been sent to deal with me personally.  My sword was useless against it, but luckily I had a warhammer (looted from the trapper's hut).  Unluckily, the Crystal Warrior's Skill was far in excess of mine.  I was able to get one good hit in, but aside from that it destroyed me.

Done in by my curiosity once again.  Well, I say that, but I put the silver ring on first, so I would have suffered the penalty regardless of my decision to try them all.  At least now I know to avoid it next time.

I assume that the Crystal Warrior is unavoidable; I encountered it at a four-way junction, so I figure that the two paths I haven't explored yet converge here.  It's a hard fight, and the annoying thing here is that I should have more options.  What about that warrior that I can summon with my ring?  What about the Genie I liberated, which said it could turn me invisible?  Both of those were options I would have used if the book allowed it.  It didn't, and I was forced into an unwinnable combat.  You win again, Livingstone.


This should be a quick one.  I followed much the same path as the previous entry, with a few minor differences.  Instead of fighting the Elf, I told him I was here to join the Snow Witch, then changed my story and told the truth.  He gave me his cloak without the need for battle, so that seems like the best option to go for.  In the kitchen I took the stale cake instead of fighting; it restored a mere 1 Stamina, so engaging in some chef murders seems like the better way to go.

After killing the illusionist I chose the left path, and much like the right path I was trapped between two gates.  I didn't have the key I needed to unlock them, so I was trapped and my adventure was over.  An abrupt and unsatisfying end.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Caverns of the Snow Witch (preview) - Attempt 2

It's time to take a second crack at the preview of Caverns of the Snow Witch from Warlock magazine #2.  Last time I was done in by a bad Luck score.  Hopefully the dice are kinder to me this time around.

I rolled a Skill of 11, a Stamina of 20, and a Luck of 12.  This is a great character, and only in the balls-hardest gamebooks (cough*CryptoftheSorcerer*cough) would you be disappointed with score like these.

Ice!  Caravans!  Yeti murders! Yes, the time has come for me to strap on my sword and venture into the frozen north to hunt down a murderous beast for a big sack o' gold.  Let's do it.

The first decision in the adventure is whether to cross an ice bridge.  Last time I had ignored it, but this time I decided to cross.  I had to Test my Luck to cross safely; the roll was successful, and I never discovered what would have happened had I failed.

After crossing the bridge, I was attacked by a pair of hungry Snow Wolves.  This being an Ian Livingstone joint, I had no option but to fight them one at a time.  One wolf managed to bite me twice (reducing my Stamina to 16), but they were otherwise unable to match my prowess.

(The choice at the beginning of the book seems to be a decision between a branch where you have to fight two monsters of low-to-medium difficulty, or a branch with a monster of medium-to-hard difficulty.  In most cases I'd opt to fight the medium-to-hard Mammoth, just because the fight is over more quickly.  Besides, if you can't beat the Mammoth you probably won't beat the Yeti either.)

Some surprisingly well-fed Snow Wolves

A blizzard sprang up, threatening to freeze me to death, but rather than build a shelter I decided to tough it out.  (Besides, who could ever carve an igloo with a sword?  What an absurd notion!)  The blizzard worsened (reducing my Stamina to 14) but still I pressed on.  This was a bad idea.  I had proven my manliness, but at the cost of getting frostbite in one arm.  A failed Luck test (against a Luck of 11!) meant that the frostbite was in my sword-arm.  This reduced my Skill to 8, my Stamina to 10, and my Stupidity to 8 billion.

After the blizzard ended I found a fur trapper's hut and went inside.  With little regard for the trapper's privacy I ate some stew, and also stole a warhammer and a spear from under his bed.  (The stew restored my Stamina, and I ate two more provisions to bump my Stamina back up to 20.)

Upon leaving the hut I followed the trapper's footprints, and found him just as he was being murdered by a Yeti - the same Yeti I had been tracking!  (How does the hero know that this is the Yeti he's searching for?  It's a bit of a stretch.)  Due to the frostbite in my arm I wasn't able to throw my spear at it, so I closed for hand-to-hand combat.

I'm afraid this one was a massacre.  I hit the Yeti once, and managed to strengthen the blow with a successful Luck test, but that was the peak of my success.  The Yeti slaughtered me, and I assume that my corpse is now hanging by the ankles in its lair Skywalker-style.

I blame it all on the blog.  Because I need to write about my adventures, I feel obligated to explore new pathways.  That's why I crossed the ice bridge, and that's why I decided to plunge headfirst into a blizzard.  It's not smart play, but a quick game means a quick write-up, so it's not all bad.  Now I can go play some Legend of Zelda instead.