Monday, December 9, 2019

The Sorcery of Sorcery! 1: The Shamutanti Hills

Given that the magic system is so central to what makes the Sorcery! epic great, I've decided to do a series of posts that bring it into focus a little bit. Mostly what I want to do is catalogue all of the spells, how often they're useful, and where the various spell components can be found. It's all going to be very spoilery, but this whole blog is one giant spoiler, so if you're worried about that you're probably not reading it in the first place. Regardless, this is your final warning, there be spoilers ahead.

The protagonist of the series is a wizard of Analand. (I guess you can play as a warrior, and I suppose I should try it some day, but I still don't know why anyone would.) There are 48 spells in the Sorcery Spell Book, and it's interesting to note that these are all the spells known in Analand. A wizard who knows all of these spells is said to be a true Imperial Sorcerer.

This isn't the first magic system introduced in Fighting Fantasy: Steve Jackson himself used a completely different one in The Citadel of Chaos. That one works much like the system in Dungeons & Dragons, with the wizard having a number of spells prepared and using them up as they are cast. If you begin your adventure with three Fire spells, you can only cast that spell three times. Getting those spells back isn't addressed in The Citadel of Chaos, but presumably it happens after a rest of some sort.

In Sorcery! each spell has a three-letter code, and it's up to the caster/reader to memorise that code and use the corresponding spell when appropriate. The only limit to how many times a spell can be used is the wizard's Stamina, as these spells draw power directly from the caster. There are four levels of Stamina drain caused by the spells. The lowest, those spells that only drain 1 Stamina point, also require an object of some kind, such as a green wig or a sun jewel; perhaps the item helps lessen the strain on the caster somehow. The spells that drain 2 Stamina points seem to be a little more specialised, and are perhaps not as powerful as the more strenuous spells. There are six spells that drain 4 Stamina per use, and these are supposedly the most powerful and versatile; the book claims that you can get through the adventure using only these spells, and recommends them as the first ones you commit to memory. Finally, there is the mysterious ZED spell, which drains 7 Stamina points and has never been cast by anyone living. This spell is a whole class in itself, and can only be used at one very specific place in the final book.

I've never read any complaints about the differing magic systems on Titan, but there are always fans around who get irritated by inconsistencies. I don't have a problem with it, though. Just because magic exists doesn't mean that every society has to use it in the same way, and Analand is a long way away from the Vale of Willow. At this point they're not even established as existing on the same world, so it's something of a moot point.

SPELL COMPONENTS

Of the 48 spells in the game, 28 require some kind of object to cast.  Below I've listed the spell components that can be found in this book, along with their locations.

  • Beeswax for the RAZ spell - found in a tree near Cantopani
  • A Bamboo Flute for the JIG spell - bought from the Cantopani trader
  • Goblin Teeth for the GOB spell - 4 can be bought from the Cantopani trader, and a further 8 can be found if you kill some goblins outside of the Schanker Mines
  • Giant Teeth for the YOB spell - 1 can be bought from the Cantopani trader, and an indeterminate amount can be taken from a giant's corpse in the Lea-Ki
  • A Vial of Glue for the GUM - given as a gift by Alianna
  • A Medicinal Potion for the DOC spell - bought from the Cantopani trader
  • Pebbles for the POP spell - 4 are given as a gift by Alianna
  • Sand for the MUD spell - a bag is found if you loot Alianna's hut
  • Nose Plugs for the NIF spell - given as a gift by Alianna
  • Cloth Skullcap for the TEL spell - bought from the Dhumpus merchant

You can't find all of these in a single play-through, but you can get very close: if you follow the correct path you can get all of them except for the bag of sand. I'll be interested to see if it's possible for an adventurer to be able to cast every spell in the game.

No other spell components can be found in The Shamutanti Hills, which means that the following spells cannot be cast: GAK, GOD, KIN, PEP, ROK, NIP, HUF, FIX, NAP, ZEN, YAZ, SUN, KID, RAP, YAP, ZIP, FAR, and RES.

SPELL USES

With 18 spells unusable due to unavailable components, that still leaves a whopping 30 at the player's disposal. I've detailed below every time a spell is useful during The Shamutanti Hills, and grouped them together starting with those used the most times and ending with those used the least.

Spells Used 5 Times:

  • FOF (force field)
    • Protects you from the Bandits outside Cantopani
    • Allows you to survive the flooded room in the Manticore's labyrinth
    • Protects you from getting sick in the plague village
    • Blocks the Manticore's stinging tail
    • Protects you from being pelted with acorns by Elvins

Spells Used 4 Times:

  • ZAP (lightning)
    • Kills the blind Goblin in the Schanker Mines
    • Kills the Wolfhound in the Elvin village
    • Allows you to finish digging holes faster if you take the job in Dhumpus
    • Kills one of the Goblins outside of the Schanker Mines, and may cause the other two to flee
  • LAW (mind controls stupid creatures)
    • Temporarily controls the snakes in the pit in the Manticore's labyrinth
    • Allows you to avoid battle with the random creatures that attack by night (this can happen multiple times, but I've only counted it once)
    • Allows you to avoid battle with the Skunkbear
    • Stops the weird two-tailed Serpent near the Elvin village from attacking you
  • BIG (growth)
    • Scares off the random creatures that attack by night, or doubles your Skill in the ensuing battle (this can happen multiple times, but I've only counted it once)
    • Doubles your Skill when fighting the Hill Giant in Lea-Ki (this fight can happen in two different place, but I've only counted it once)
    • Allows you to finish digging holes faster if you take the job in Dhumpus
    • Drives off the trio of Elvins you meet before their village, or doubles your Skill in the ensuing battle
  • WOK (turns a gold coin into a shield)
    • Creates a shield in the fight with the Troll Sentry (giving it a -2 Attack Strength penalty)
    • Creates a shield in the fight with one of the Elvins you meet before their village (giving it a -2 Attack Strength penalty)
    • Protects you from being pelted with acorns by Elvins
    • Creates a shield in the fight with the Ogre in the Schanker Mines (giving it a -2 Attack Strength penalty)
  • HOW (tells you best course to take)
    • Tells you to use the DOP spell to open the locked door in the Schanker Mines
    • Warns you not to enter the dark passage in the Schanker Mines
    • Warns you to avoid the Ogre's room in the Schanker Mines
    • Tells you not to attack the weird two-tailed Serpent near the Elvin village, and to let it guide you instead

Spells Used 3 Times:

  • HOT (fire)
    • Kills Alianna's Wood Golem
    • Kills one of the three Elvins you meet before their village
    • Injures the Manticore
  • DOP (open doors)
    • Opens Alianna's cage
    • Opens the locked door in the Schanker Mines
    • Opens the door to the Ogre's room in the Schanker Mines
  • RAZ (sharpens sword)
    • Opens Alianna's cage
    • Increases damage dealt when fighting the blind Goblin
    • Increases damage dealt when fighting the Goblins outside of the Schanker Mines
  • SUS (warns of traps and danger)
    • Prevents death and lessens chance of injury when falling into the pit in the Schanker Mines
    • Gives you a chance of surviving the flooded room in the Manticore's labyrinth, at the cost of your provisions and any other inventory items that would be spoiled by water
    • Warns you not to enter the dark passage in the Schanker Mines
  • GOB (creates goblins)
    • Helps you fight the Wolfhound in the Elvin village
    • Impresses the Elvins, allowing you to leave their village unmolested
    • Helps you fight the Manticore

Spells Used 2 Times:

  • WAL (force wall)
    • Stops the rolling boulder in the Manticore's labyrinth
    • Allows you to escape from the Ogre in the Schanker Mines
  • DUM (makes monsters clumsy)
    • Makes the Troll Sentry drop its halberd, giving it a -4 Skill penalty
    • Makes the Hill Giant in Lea-Ki drop its club, giving it a -3 Skill penalty (this encounter can happen in two locations, but I've only counted it once)
  • SIX (creates illusions of caster)
    • Impresses the Elvins, allowing you to leave their village unmolested
    • Gives you a chance to escape the Skunkbear
  • JIG (makes enemies dance)
    • Allows you to avoid combat with Alianna's Wood Golem
    • Allows you to avoid combat with the Bandits outside Cantopani
  • YOB (creates a giant)
    • Helps you fight the Hill Giant in Lea-Ki (either inside or outside the cave)
    • Helps you fight the Manticore
  • DOZ (sleep/drowsiness)
    • Slows Alianna's Wood Golem, giving it a Skill penalty of -4
    • Dazes the Manticore, stopping it from stinging with its tail and giving it a -4 Skill penalty for 4 rounds if you attack straight afterward.

Spells Used 1 Time

  • DOC (cure disease)
    • Cures the family in the plague village
  • DUD (fool's gold)
    • Impresses the Elvins, allowing you to leave their village unmolested
  • MAG (protects from magic)
    • Allows you to escape from the Spirit of Mananka in the Elvin village
  • POP (exploding rocks)
    • Temporarily drives off the snakes in the pit in the Manticore's labyrinth
  • FAL (float instead of falling)
    • Allows you to fall safely into the pit in the Schanker Mines
  • DIM (dims monster's mind)
    • Allows you to escape from the Ogre in the Schanker Mines, or gives it a -4 Skill penalty if you opt to fight it
  • FOG (makes fog, duh)
    • Allows you to escape from the Spirit of Mananka in the Elvin village
  • GUM (makes glue)
    • Stops the rolling boulder in the Manticore's labyrinth
    • This spell should be usable later in the adventure when you're attacked at night, but the book still assumes that you don't have any glue, even though you can find some.

Spells Used 0 Times:

  • MUD (turns ground to mud)
    • Not used, but the sand required can't be found until later in the book.
  • NIF (makes noxious gas)
    • Not used, but the nose plugs required can't be found until later in the book.
  • TEL (telepathy)
    • Not used, but the skullcap required can't be found until later in the book.
  • SAP (saps will of opponent)
    • Not used, despite having no material component required.
  • ZED (it's a mystery!)
    • Doesn't come into play until the very end of the series in Book 4.

Looking at the results above, the six spells recommended for memorisation by the book aren't necessarily the most useful. FOF, ZAP, and LAW are right up there near the top, but HOT, DUM and WAL are lingering somewhere closer to the middle, surpassed by a number of other spells.  SAP is the real oddity here; there are certainly occasions where it would have been handy, and I can't see a reason why it wouldn't be used anywhere in this book. Perhaps Steve just forgot about it? I don't recall ever using it, and I'm wondering now if it gets included anywhere in the series. I'll keep an eye out for it.

Next: I'll finish up The Shamutanti Hills with an Exploring Titan post (where I go through the book's various elements and try to fit them together with the world of Titan as it's developed so far). Then it's on to Khare - Cityport of Traps. I'll be doing Final Thoughts, Sorcery of Sorcery! and Exploring Titan for all of the books, so expect this blog to be mired in the series for a good long while yet.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

The Shamutanti Hills: Final Thoughts




Well, that took longer than expected. Normally the posts I do when I'm wrapping up a book take longer than my regular ones, because I like to go through the entire gamebook and explore every path. This time around it took even longer than that, because tackling Sorcery! in this way is pretty daunting. Nevertheless, I'm back, and ready to finish up with the series, starting with my final thoughts on The Shamutanti Hills.

Written by Steve Jackson with illustrations by John Blanche, The Shamutanti Hills is the first part of the Sorcery! epic. Jackson has often said that he thinks Sorcery! is the best of the gamebooks he wrote, and it's hard to argue with. The series, as a whole, is one of the landmark works of the genre. As one singular work, it's brilliant, but now I have the difficult task of rating each part as a work on its own.

Like most early gamebooks, the story set-up for Sorcery! is dead simple: the Archmage of Mampang has stolen the Crown of Kings that provides peace and prosperity to your homeland, and he's planning to use it to unite the chaotic forces of Kakhabad. You, as either a wizard or a warrior, have to venture into Kakhabad and retrieve the crown, or die trying.

The innovation of the series comes not from the story (although it is well-realised in comparison to the other books of its era), but from its gameplay. The first of these innovations is that the story continues across four books, and the player can take the same character - with stats and equipment earned - from one book to the next. (The other early innovator in this field was Joe Dever's Lone Wolf series, but The Shamutanti Hills was published in October 1983, as opposed to Flight From the Dark in June 1984. I feel reasonably confident in saying that Sorcery! did this first.)

The second innovation comes with the unique Sorcery! spell system. Players had been able to cast spells in gamebooks before, most notably in Jackson's own The Citadel of Chaos, but the system used there was fairly reminiscent of the one in Dungeons & Dragons, where the character had a number of spells "memorised" and would cross them off once they were used. In Sorcery!, Jackson takes that concept to its most literal extreme, basing the spell system not on the character's memory, but on that of the player. Each spell is given a three-letter code, and it's up to the player to remember them. Every time a spell can be cast, a number of options are presented and the player has to pick the one they think is correct. Some of those options will be fake spells, red herrings designed to trip you up, and making the wrong choice can be the difference between life and death. Sure, you can always look things up in the spell section at the back of the book (or the separate spell book if you're using an older copy), but by the rules the spells can't be consulted once you've started your adventure. It's all up to the player's memory, and it's like nothing else I've seen in any other gamebook.

With the generalities out of the way, it's time to discuss The Shamutanti Hills proper. Outside of the background, it might have the most simplistic plot and goal of any Fighting Fantasy gamebook: all you have to do is get through the titular hills and make it alive to the city of Khare. Sure, the hills can be dangerous, but there are no special items that you're required to find, no keys or passwords. It's a gentle start to the series, before Steve starts to ramp up the difficulty.

Even the encounters aren't particularly difficult or deadly. If anything, they err on the side of the mundane. There are a lot of villages, and regular folks just trying to get by, mixed in with some of the more common types of fantasy creatures, such as Goblins, Ogres, Trolls and Giants. Jackson is sure to throw in a few monsters of his own invention, such as the mischievous Elvins, but for the most part he keeps his customary weirdness in check. It's somewhat to the book's detriment, I feel; often it can feel like you're doing nothing but camping and eating between villages. But there are interesting encounters to be had, and Steve really makes up for it in the books to follow.

One of the ways that the book makes its encounters more interesting is to make them feel interconnected. In the Sorcery! epic, there's very little that happens in a vacuum, and most of the encounters have a connection to something somewhere else in the series. The Shamutanti Hills might be a less fantastical setting than in some other gamebooks, but its inhabitants really do feel like they live there, existing beyond their short interactions with the protagonist.

But the main thing that sets this books encounters apart is the spell system. Every hostile encounter gives you the opportunity to try out some spells, and it gives every battle a bit of variety. Yes, you can play it as a warrior, without using any spells, but I have no idea why you'd want to. With the option to cast spells there's always something new to try, and you're never stuck fighting an enemy that's too strong for you.

Overall, I really do like The Shamutanti Hills. It's a welcoming, non-threatening introduction to the series and its mechanics, with a number of fun encounters to explore. It's main drawback is that it feels like a prologue, and as such it's very much overshadowed by its sequels. It's a good book, but one that gives the sense that the author is holding back his best material.

COOL STUFF I MISSED

I had to go back to this book a lot, so I covered most of it. The only memorable things I think that I missed were a fight with a Troll (which is ultimately inconsequential), and finding a locket which I'm pretty sure would have helped me in Book 4.

MISTAKES AND RED HERRINGS

Given the nature of this series, there are a lot of items that aren't useful during the first book: a silver key, a pair of borrinskin boots, a locket, a dog collar studded with green gems, a copper key, and the key to Khare's south gate. I'm pretty sure that all of these come in handy somewhere in the series, though. There are also a bunch of items that I'd lay odds on being genuine red herrings: death-hound teeth, ape teeth, snattacat teeth, a giant's broken stool, a giant's net, a giant skull, and the many unspecified giant body parts that you're invited to carve out of the poor bugger after you kill him.

As for genuine mistakes, there's no way to reach paragraph 319, in which you try to use YOB on the giant but don't have a giant's tooth.

BEST DEATH

By my count the book has 17 instant deaths (though it's always possible I've missed some). Regrettably a lot of those deaths are duplicated, being the result of casting the wrong spell in a deadly situation, so there's not as much variety here as I would like. In the end, I went for the one that is most insulting towards the protagonist.



S.T.A.M.I.N.A. RATING

Story & Setting: As I mentioned above, the background story is a basic "get the macguffin back from the evil wizard" plot, albeit one that's quite well fleshed out and detailed. The plot of The Shamutanti Hills on its own is almost nonexistent, being a simple story of travel and survival. The hills themselves are more mundane than is usual for an FF book, but the encounters that are there are well designed and interconnected; the denizens of the hills actually feel like they coexist in the same space, which can be a rarity in these types of books. Rating: 5 out of 7.

Toughness: There are certainly ways to die in this book, but on the whole it's not that difficult for even a first time reader to make it through. This is especially true for anyone with a good memory for the spell system. That said, as the beginning of a 4-part saga. it's probably pitched at about the right level: you might die through stupidity or rotten luck, but otherwise getting through isn't hard. Rating: 5 out of 7.

Aesthetics: Jackson's writing is evocative and effective at setting the grimy tone, and it's perfectly complemented by Blanche's illustrations. I don't think there's another artist in the FF canon who can convey "squalid" as well as he can. But while I like John Blanche, I don't think he gets the opportunity to show off his best here; there are too many illustrations of villagers and taverns and other non-fantastical things. They're good, but there's better to come. Rating: 5 out of 7.

Mechanics: Jackson's books are always mechanically interesting at the very least, and here he debuts one of his best ideas: the Sorcery! spell system. It's a simple idea (and easy to cheat), but when played straight the spell system is great, providing a lot of flexibility in encounters while always carrying a certain sense of risk. It also becomes more useful the more you play, and become familiar with the various spells. It's certainly the best magic system in Fighting Fantasy, and I'm hard-pressed to come up with one from another series that works better. Rating: 6 out of 7.

Innovation & Influence: As far as I can tell, this is the first gamebook that's part of an ongoing series, where you keep the same character from book to book. It also earns points for its magic system, which is unlike anything I've seen in a gamebook before or since. Rating: 6 out of 7.

NPCs & Monsters: As I've mentioned before, Jackson sticks to the more mundane side of the fantasy spectrum for this book, relying on a lot of mainstays such as goblins and ogres. There are also a lot of encounters with regular people, as well as the odd witch. All of these monsters and people are well-realised, and there are no monsters that are there simply so you can kill them, but I don't find many of the book's encounters to be particularly memorable. Rating: 4 out of 7.

Amusement: This has never been one of my favourite gamebooks, but it's never a chore to revisit, because there's always something new to try, or some new path to take. It's a little bit easy and lacking in Jackson's trademark weirdness for my tastes, but everything that's in the book is well done, and the options given by the spell system mean that there's always at least a little bit of fun to be had on a reread. Rating: 4 out of 7.

I'll give this book the bonus point, because I'll definitely reread it again some day. The above scores total 36, which doubles give it a S.T.A.M.I.N.A. Rating of 72. That's very respectable, putting it equal sixth with the House of Hell preview from Warlock magazine. It's just below City of Thieves, and well above Forest of Doom and Talisman of Death.

NEXT: I might do a post on the magic system as it relates to The Shamutanti Hills, and then en Exploring Titan. After that, it's on to wrap up Khare - Cityport of Traps.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

Sorcery! Attempt 15 and 16 - Books 1-4

On my last attempt, I made it all the way to book 4, and did quite well I thought. Of the four Throben Doors I had to penetrate to make it to the Archmage, I got through two. That's seems pretty good to me for my first serious foray into Mampang Fortress, especially in a book that's renowned for being pretty tough. I'm feeling confident about this one.

For attempt 15, I rolled a Skill of 6, a Stamina of 19, and a Luck of 9. I played this ages ago, and I don't know why I never wrote about it. My memories are vague, but looking at my notes I can see that I died in Book 3 to an illusionary Deathwraith. Normally I would have dispelled this thing with a MAG spell, but I only had 2 Stamina left and no recourse but to fight it. Obviously, I lost. Perhaps I was so demoralised by my failure that I couldn't bear to post about it, but it's long ago enough that I don't remember.

For attempt 16, I rolled a Skill of 8, a Stamina of 20 and a Luck of 8. It doesn't get any more average than that. Stats aren't as important in Sorcery! as they can be in the main series, but I was still a little nervous about this guy.

I got through the first three books with no problems, and started The Crown of Kings with the following scores: Skill 10; Stamina 20; Luck 9; 0 gold pieces; 5 provisions; a sword, a backpack, a broadsword (+1 attack strength), a bamboo pipe, a silver key numbered 111, an Armband of Swordmastery (+2 AS with swords), a skullcap, a magic chain, a mirror, a green wig, a lucky talisman (no Luck lost when unlucky), a bow and silver arrows, another broadsword (-1 AS, +1 damage), a tinderbox, a serpent ring, a galehorn, a chakram, a crystal orb, a suit of chainmail (+1 Skill, -1 damage on  a roll of 5-6), a hewing axe, a pearl ring (worth 10gp), a brass pendulum, Sham's vial, a serpent staff, some sand, a whistle numbered 199, and a cure disease potion. I had also lost the sight in my right eye while fighting a Baddu-Beetle, which hasn't had any negative effect on me so far. Finally, I defeated all seven serpents during book 3, so I could be confident that I was entering Mampang in secret (I could deduct 40 from the current paragraph whenever someone called me the Analander).

Climbing up the Zanzunus towards Mampang Fortress, I had the choice of three caves in which to take shelter for the night. One of those had hoof-prints leading inside. Despite the potential danger, I decided to enter that cavern and see who the hoof-prints belonged to.

Inside, I saw a human-like figure leaning against the cavern wall. It's legs were like those of a goat, and it was unmoving.

This one's for the furries AND the necrophiliacs.


I called out to attract its attention, but got no reaction. Warily I reached out to touch it, and to my shock I found that it was dead. I probably should have found another cave to sleep in, but I was already here, and what could possibly go wrong for me if I bedded down next to the fresh corpse of a goat-man? I ate a meal (leaving me with 4) and went to sleep.

In the morning I left the cave, taking some pebbles and a handful of stone dust with me. There were two paths onward: one via a rope bridge over a gully, and another winding up the mountainside. I chose to go up.

Further along the path I encountered a pair of goat-women, who got my attention by hurling spears at me. They were obviously of the same race as my sleeping companion from the night before, so I told them about their dead friend. They were grateful, and explained that Sh'himbli had disappeared from the village days before, presumably to die of fever in peace. They offered to take me to their village, and I accepted.

At the village I was taken to the leader, who I told about Sh'himbli. She nodded gravely, and informed me that Sh'himbli's disease was contagious, and that by sleeping with the corpse the night before I had almost certainly contracted it. Luckily, they had recently learned that Colletus the Holy Man was able to cure the disease, and that by whistling in a certain way at the right place (and by subtracting 30 from that paragraph) I'd be able to call him. I was also offered a selection of items that I could trade for, but I opted not to trade anything. (It looks like, by getting infected with the disease, I missed out on getting the blessed spear. Hopefully it's not too important.)

Not far out of the village I found an alcove where I stopped to eat (leaving me with 3 provisions). Inside I saw a message written on the wall, telling me that Colletus could be found at the Groaning Bridge.

Further along the path I saw a narrow crevasse, and a rope that could be used to swing across, but I thought better of it. Continuing along the path, I came to another crevasse blocking my way. There was a bridge spanning the crevasse, but when I stepped upon it, it let out a series of disturbing groans. This was obviously the Groaning Bridge, so I whistled to summon Colletus.

The blind holy man appeared, and I ask about his powers of healing. He was more than happy to cure me, and did so with a simple palm on my forehead (or at least so he claimed; it's not like I'd had any negative effects, so how would I know if he's legit?). I questioned him further about Mampang, and he revealed that the Groaning Bridge was an illusion, which would have disappeared once I was halfway across. He summoned the real bridge, and I was soon on my way. Before I left, he gave me three items to help me: a skullcap, some holy water, and a medicinal potion. He also gave me a blessing of good luck (that increased my initial Luck score to 10).

I crossed the real bridge and entered a pass leading to Mampang Fortress. The sight was imposing (lowering my Skill by 1 until I was inside). I crept cautiously, looking out for guards, and was able to sneak past a pair that were asleep (with a successful Luck test that reduced me score to 9).

I found a sheltered spot to sleep in, but during the night I was contacted by my goddess, Libra. She informed me that the netherworld deities that ruled Mampang were strong, and that she could not aid me once I was inside. She also told me of another follower of hers, who had escaped from the fortress via a secret door. She told me the password, and I took note of it before going back to sleep. (When I wanted to use the password, I could subtract 92 from the passage I was on.)

(At this point, Libra also told me about the effects of the trembling disease. Apparently, I wouldn't be able to regain any Stamina, and when choosing spells I'd have to roll a die, and only have the option of casting the spell that was randomly selected. Nothing's said here about being cured by Colletus, so I could interpret this as meaning that the old charlatan hoodwinked me. He's on the level about everything else, though, so I'm choosing to believe that I've already been cured.)

In the pre-dawn gloom I approached the fortress and made my way to the front gate. I gave it a knock, then climbed to a perch above. A guard came out to investigate, but didn't spot me hiding. I decided to wait, and a second guard appeared. Still I waited, until a third and a fourth guard appeared. Then I dropped to the ground, and slipped inside the gate while they were preoccupied.

Ahead of me were two double doors, and there were also doors leading left and right. I took the left-hand door, opening it as silently as possible (with a Luck test that reduced my score to 8). It opened into a short passage, with a door at the end and another to the right. I opened the door to the right, despite the horrid smell coming forth.

That Gandalf rune cracks me up.
What was he even doing here? Nobody in
Lord of the Rings poops.


It was a latrine, and I had to resist the urge to vomit (reducing my Stamina to 19). I decided to search the room anyway, and although I was able to once more resist vomiting (with a Luck test that reduced my score to 7), the flies buzzing around had given me an unpleasant illness. (I immediately lost another point of Stamina, reducing me to 18. I also lost 1 Skill point for battles only. The disease would progress further by the time I first encountered the Archmage, and would seemingly be fatal. It was all pretty moot, because I cured it immediately with a cure disease potion that I had found during book 3.)

Ignoring the door at the end of the passage, I went back to the entrance and chose the left door. I could hear gruff voices beyond, so I kicked the door down to murder whoever lay beyond. It was another pair of Guards (Skill 8, Stamina 6 and Skill 7, Stamina 7). I was able to kill them with the element of surprise, but not before one of them was able to wound me twice (reducing my Stamina to 14). In a drawer I found some keys, which I used to unlock the double doors and progress further into the fortress.

I was in a courtyard, milling with inhabitants of the fortress. I tried to cross as inconspicuously as possible, but a group noticed me and headed in my direction. Trying to avoid them I veered to the left, heading towards a pillory.

Stock image.


A pitiful man was held captive in the pillory, He asked for some food, and I gave him one of my provisions (leaving me with 2). I stopped to chat, and he revealed that he had been placed in the stocks because of his wagging tongue. He then asked if I was another of the Archmage's warmongers, before stopping himself, afraid that he might have gone too far. I threatened him unless he told me more, but he refused to get himself into more trouble. Figuring that I didn't want to be caught freeing prisoners, I left him to his fate.

There were some guards ahead, but I instead turned aside to investigate a ragged shape on the ground. It was a toothless old woman, who held out a hand and begged me for a copper piece.

That's some very chill, casual begging.


I wanted to give her a gold piece, but I didn't have any. Instead, I reluctantly parted with my pearl ring, which was worth 10 gold pieces. She gave me words of thanks, then went to shuffle off, muttering something about her friends from Schinn. I questioned her about them, but she was reluctant to reveal anything until she had touched my face to discern whether I was trustworthy. I let her do so, and she told me that the Samaritans of Schinn were a faction among the Archmage's Birdman allies that were plotting his overthrow. I was told that I could identify the Schinns by asking about their parents; loyalists would only talk of their fathers, while the Schinns would honour their mothers. (My Luck was restored to 9 by learning this information.) I asked her how to get through the doors ahead, and she told me a little about the Throben Doors, but nothing of use. I bid her farewell.

To my left were some guards, and to my right another group who looked vaguely familiar. I ignored them both and went straight ahead, where I saw some double doors. There was also a door in the corner of the wall, and I investigated this. Inside, a short stocky man asked if I was here to torment the Mucalytics. There were two doors onwards, and the left led to the Mucalytics, so I chose that one.

Inside was a room covered in filth. A strange, elephantine creature was slumped in the corner. I decided to ignore it and leave through another door, but it got to its feet and swiped at me with a blubbery arm. I slowed it down with a DOZ spell (reducing my Stamina to 12), but I still had to fight the Mucalytic (Skill 4, Stamina 9). I made short work of it with my broadsword, and searched through the filth. I found a rusty sword, which I left behind, a bracelet made of bones, two goblin teeth and 5 gold pieces.

Going through the door opposite, I entered a passage with a small chamber off to the side. Seeing a raised portcullis over the entrance, I decided not to enter, and continued up the passage. Passing through another door, I entered a plush chamber. A man in a turban with a pet jaguar under his table greeted me. He said that I had to give him a gold piece to enter. Instead I asked him his name, and learned that he was Valignya, First Assistant to the Lord Treasurer of Mampang.

I had been warned about Valignya by one of the seven serpents, so I continued to refuse to give him any gold. Instead, I gave him my serpent ring, which I no longer had a use for. In return he gave me the password for the next Throben Door: "alaralatanalara". I thanked him and left, swiping a pouch containing 10 gold pieces on my way out (raising my total to 15, and restoring my Luck to 10).

I was able to return to the courtyard and the double doors without incident, where I used the password to get through. (I would have been accosted by guards here, but because I'd slain all seven serpents I was able to avoid this encounter.)

Beyond there were two doors leading into the inner keep. The main entrance looked to be guarded by Birdmen, two of which nipped inside while I was watching. The other appeared to be unguarded, but I decided that I wanted to contact the Samaritans of Schinn, so I headed for the main gate.

The door was unlocked, so I slipped inside. I was in a wide hallway, and I could hear Birdman voices approaching. Without much time to think, I had a choice of doors to the left and right. I nipped through the right door. The room was uninhabited, but the Birdmen outside had heard me, and a trio of them entered. I asked them about their mothers, but this only angered them further, as they told me that they had been taught to hunt and kill by their fathers. These were obviously not Samaritans, so I drew my sword and attacked the three Birdmen (Skill 8, Stamina 10; Skill 9, Stamina 8; and Skill 8, Stamina 9). Luckily they could only attack me one at a time, and they only managed to wound me once before I killed them all (reducing my Stamina to 10).

Looting their corpses, I found 6 gold pieces, (raising my total to 21), some worms, and enough bread for two meals. I ate some of the bread right away (restoring my Stamina to 12, and leaving me with 3 provisions).

Leaving quickly, I came to a T-junction. One of the passages ended in a metal door, with a noose hanging over it. This path looked more interesting than the other, so I tried to metal door. It was locked, so I tried the silver key that I had found all the way back in the Shamutanti Hills. To my surprise, it fit, and I was able to enter, avoiding a spiked mace that had been set up as a trap (weirdly, there were no rolls to avoid this, it just happened automatically).  The room beyond was a torture chamber. The torturer was an Ogre, with an eyepatch and a whip.

Naggamanteh does not care for leg day.


He didn't recognise me (because I'd killed all of the seven serpents), so he made me an offer: he would give me what help I asked for, then he would ask me a question. If I couldn't answer, I would be his "amusement" for the rest of the day.

I agreed to his offer. Earlier, one of the seven serpents had given me a clue: "pay your respects to Naggamanteh the torture-master". With this in mind, I complimented him on his torture chamber before asking what he knew of the Throben Doors. Naggamanteh was quite touched by my compliment, and told me that the next Throben Door would be open, but when I entered I would be seemingly plunged into a pit of hell-fire. This would be an illusion, and I would be best to ignore it. (I was told to turn to paragraph 399 when stepping through the door, rather than the paragraph indicated.) Naggamanteh had forgotten about his own question, so I slipped away while he was distracted.

I left through a door to the left, and soon came to a small courtyard. There was a passage onward, with a door to the left, and another to the right. The right door had a sign that said "Nylock - Merchant", so I walked up to investigate. The room was lined with shelves filled with objects, and Nylock eyed me suspiciously from behind his table.

Check out the pictures of Ian and Steve.


I bought the following from Nylock: a rusty cutlass, two candles, a nest containing a golden egg, and a pouch containing four ancient silver pieces. These cost me 11 gold pieces (leaving me with 10). The cutlass was not enchanted, and would reduce my Skill by 1 if I used it in battle. The candles were normal, one made of wax and the other made of blood from a Firefox. The egg was a mystery. The coins were cursed; a short time after placing them in my pack, they burned a hole in the bottom and fell out. This also caused me to lose my silver key. (I was told to cross off the third item on my equipment list.)

I followed the passage around through a door. Ahead of me were two double doors, probably the next of the Throben Doors for me to confront. Off to the side was another door, but I decided to ignore this and make my way through the double doors. As soon as I stepped through I was confronted by a fiery inferno, but armed with knowledge I had gleaned from Naggamanteh I was able to step through safely.

The next chamber had a sign that said "Chamber of Night". I opened the door and stepped through into a pitch-black room. One of the Seven Serpents had warned me about this room, and that I should not light the blood candle. Instead I lit the regular candle, revealing that there were many spikes protruding through the wooden floorboards. I slowly and carefully picked my way across the room, and was able to get through without injury.

No sooner had I left the room than a pair of guards seized me by the wrists. They bundled me into another room, where I met Cartoum, Captain of the Guards. I decided to hear what he had to say.

There's meant to be a clue in this picture,
but I don't see it. It's probably the portrait
on the wall?


I was not recognised (again, because I'd killed all of the serpents), and the captain asked what my business was in the fortress. I decided to bluff, telling him that I had a message for the Archmage. He believed me (which required a successful Skill test), and offered to escort me to the Archmage personally. Along the way another guard appeared to tell him that some mutants had gotten out of hand. The captain had to rush off, but before he did he gave me a key (numbered 17) that he said would open the next Throben Door.

I continued on, and the next chamber I entered was large, with an enormous carving of a ram in the centre.

BAA RAM EWE


As I stepped carefully across the room, the stone ram came to life, to absolutely nobody's surprise. It charged at me, but I was able to avoid it (with a Luck test the reduced my score to 9). It smashed into the wall behind, giving me a few moments to think. I remembered the Sham, who I had encountered in the Baklands, and the vial she had given me to counter the "Sleepless Ram". I still had the vial, so I threw it at the ram. The liquid inside gave off an acidic smell, and caused the stone ram to steam. It toppled over, and I raced for the far doors. Before the ram could recover, I opened the doors with the key the captain had given me, and escaped.

I was at the foot of a spiral staircase, and I climbed up, anticipating my imminent meeting with the Archmage. I stepped through the door at the top, expecting an elegant study, but what I found was quite different.

Maybe the most legitimately frightening thing
I've ever encountered in a gamebook.


Instead, I was in a squalid cell. I was confronted by a man in long undergarments, wielding a brass pot. He was obviously reluctant to attack me, so I spoke to him to calm him down. He introduced himself as Farren Whyde, a renowned inventor of weapons from Ruddlestone. The Archmage had kidnapped him for his knowledge, and imprisoned him in the tower. I asked him where I might find the Archmage, and his reply filled me with dismay. Apparently the Archmage rarely visited Mampang, and had a secret fortress elsewhere in the Zanzunus. Farren Whyde shouted some magic words out of his window, revealing the fortress to me. I asked how I might get there quickly, and he told me of a secret passage that could be opened with a password. Unfortunately, Farren Whyde did not know the password.

I took my leave of him and investigated the wall where the secret passage was said to be. Remembering the password I had been told of by Libra, I tried it. It worked, and the door opened into a dark tunnel that zig-zagged down to a door that led outside. Ready to confront the Archmage, I raced over to the second tower and bashed it down with my shoulder (and a successful Skill test).

Inside was a simple, bare room, with two doors leading on. I took the right door, and entered another room with a staircase at the far end. I started to ascend the staircase, but was startled by a sudden rumbling: the floor beneath me was rising! There was no escape as floor slowly raised, threatening to crush me against the ceiling. I tried to wedge it with my rusty cutlass, but it snapped. I tried searching in the straw for anything that could help, but found nothing. All I could do was wait for death.  My adventure was over.

THE POST-GAME

Well, that was disappointing, to come so far and fail at the final hurdle. I'm not sure how I could have avoided it, unless I was supposed to take a different path. There were no other options offered. Maybe there's an item I missed that might have given me a secret way out?

Hang on.

Wait.

I'm not dead?

No, this was not a deathtrap, but rather the Archmage's Floortrap Chamber, which he used to frighten potential enemies into surrender. A crack opened in the ceiling, and I found myself in a chamber lined with star-charts and a telescope. A scrawny fellow stood across from me, perhaps the Archmage himself. He knew who I was (even though I had killed the serpents), and he offered to give me the Crown of Kings, saying that he would be glad to be rid of it. I was suspicious, so I cast a MAG spell (reducing my Stamina to 10), and he was shocked to find that I was a magician. He tried to capture me with an animated rope, but my anti-magic spell protected me. Instead, the Archmage summoned some guards to take me away.

I was in a cell at the top of the tower. A squeaky voice greeted me, and to my horror I was face-to-face with Jann, the Minimite who had accompanied me in the Shamutanti Hills. With him around, I would be unable to use my magic to escape. Apparently Jann had followed me all the way on my journey, but had been captured by Red-Eyes and had his wings cut off. He also explained that I was in a prison tower, and I had been tricked into thinking that the Archmage lived here.  I told Jann about Farren Whyde, and he informed me that Whyde was actually the Archmage in disguise. (I was told that should I encounter him again, I could deduct 111 from the paragraph to expose him.)

I asked Jann for his opinion about how we should try to escape. He said that maybe I could ambush the guard when he brought me some food, or wait until the Archmage called for me. There was also the possibility of using magic, but only the very strongest of spells would work in Jann's presence. We went through my spells, and as I had "strength to waste" (my Stamina was greater than 8), Jann was happy to hear me out. He was shocked to learn that I knew the ZED spell, even though I had no idea what this spell was for. He explained that the purpose of the spell was to travel through space and time. With proper concentration, I would be able to arrive at the desired time and place. (I was told that I could turn to paragraph 631 after casting the spell.)

I prepared to cast the spell, ignoring my weaker options and going for the ZED spell. The strain was enormous (reducing my Stamina to 3), and Jann was killed by the power of the magic. (Good riddance.) I could feel myself hurtling backwards in time, so I mustered all of my concentration. Past adventures flashed before my eyes, but with the knowledge given to me by Jann I was able to fix the destination in my mind rather than stopping at random.

I was back at the bottom of the staircase leading up to Farren Whyde's chamber. I climbed up, but this time when he confronted me I exposed him as the Archmage. Whyde's expression changed, and he offered me his admiration. He stepped across to a drawer, and pulled out the Crown of Kings. While I was distracted by the crown, he stepped out of my sight. By the time I turned around, the form of Farren Whyde was lying on the ground, and a horrible demon stood before me.

I'm so tired. Why did I commit myself to
putting captions on every image in this
stupidly long post?


With precious little strength left (my Stamina score was 3), I couldn't risk a spell, so I stepped forward with my sword at the ready. The Netherworld Demon was still transforming, and was still weak (Skill 7, Stamina 7). Even so, it managed to hit me once; luckily my chainmail armour softened the blow (leaving me with 2 Stamina points). I killed the demon quickly, and took the Crown of Kings. I had almost reached my goal.

The only thing left was for me to escape the fortress and return to Analand. I didn't fancy my chances of making my way back through Mampang, but I didn't have anything useful in my backpack. I considered the spells I had at my disposal. ROK would turn someone to stone, which didn't seem all that useful. NAP would put someone to sleep, which again seemed useless. LAW, to command someone? SIX, to create duplicates of myself? Neither seemed applicable, and LAW would definitely kill me in my weakened state. The only spell left was RES.  I cast it (surprisingly with no reduction in Stamina).

I sprinkled some holy water on Farren Whyde's body while casting the spell. He woke up, and I explained the situation. Whyde (the actual person, not the Archmage), offered to get the Samaritans to help me. Pulling forth a crystal ball, he summoned an image of Peewit Croo, birdman leader of the Samaritans. He then gave me a silver whistle, and said that I could use it to summon the birdman.

I blew the whistle, and Croo appeared. He gripped me in his claws, and we flew away from Mampang. The fortress was powerless now without the Crown of Kings, and I had succeeded in my mission. And best of all, Jann the Minimite was dead forever.

THE ACTUAL POST-GAME

What a relief. Especially so, given how dangerously low my Stamina was. I had a little bit of confusion at the end; when looking for items I could use to escape the fortress, I was asked if I had a silver whistle or holy water from the Tinpang River. I had a whistle, and I had holy water, but I suspect that these weren't the items I was being asked for. Also, I should have lost a Stamina point while casting RES; at least that's what it says in the spell book. I'm a little annoyed by it, to be honest, because I'd really like to have finished with only 1 Stamina point.

Regardless, finishing at all feels pretty great, especially having done so by treating Sorcery! as one huge gamebook. It feels like an achievement, albeit a fairly pointless one. Ah well, pointless achievements are about all I have in me these days.

NEXT: With one daunting task behind me, I have another one ahead of me. First, I need to give my Final Thoughts on each of the four books in the series, and to prep for that I have to thoroughly read through every path in each book. Then, I have four Exploring Titan posts lined up to cover the series. So for the next eight weeks, at least, the blog will still be stuck in Sorcery! mode. After that, it's back to the main series for Freeway Fighter.


Saturday, August 17, 2019

Let's Talk About House Rules

My next post on the Sorcery! epic is going to be a pretty big one, and I don't have a great deal of time, so I'm going to save that for next week and write about something else instead: house rules! Yes, this isn't the first week I've skipped lately, but I'm bending my own rules in order to write a post about bending the rules.

The Fighting Fantasy rules are pretty basic, let's be honest. They have to be for a series aimed at a more casual gaming audience, and a younger one as well.  They get the job done, and for some books they're perfectly balanced, but for others they're just not quite adequate. I figure that most FF readers have tweaked the rules at one point or another, and I thought it might be fun to share some of the changes I've made.

Customising Your Stats

By the book, you have to roll one die for Skill, then two dice for Stamina, then another die for Luck. Needless to sat this can result in some fairly weak characters, and in some books can lock you out of winning entirely. To alleviate this, I sometimes roll all four dice at once, then place the results were I like. So if I rolled a 4, 5, 1 and 3, I'd put the 5 into Skill, the 4 into Luck, and the 1 and 3 into Stamina.  There's no guarantee that you'll get great stats, but there's less chance of rolling Skill 7 in a killer book like Deathtrap Dungeon. I reserve this rule for books that I've finished a few times already.

Relative Damage

Sometimes I get bored with only doing 2 points of damage per attack. Some of those fights can get a bit long in the tooth, you know? Sometimes, rather than stick with the standard, I use the difference between Attack Strengths to determine how much damage is inflicted. For example, if I score an Attack Strength of 15, and an Orc I'm fighting scores an Attack Strength of 11, I'd do four points of damage. There are some problems with this rule. It does tend to exacerbate the problem of fighting opponents that have a higher Skill than you; they don't get any easier to hit, and they hit you harder than usual. But it does make combat a bit deadlier and more unpredictable, and also makes things go a little faster. It's a lot of fun in books like Scorpion Swamp and Forest of doom, where there aren't a lot of difficult battles.

Balancing Luck

This is a simple one: instead of losing a Luck point when you're Unlucky, you gain a Luck point. So your Luck still goes down when you're Lucky, but it goes up when you're not. This is good for those books with lots of Luck tests, but very few Luck bonuses. It's probably unbalanced for characters starting with a Luck of 10-12, but I've found that it works well with characters that have a Skill of 7-9. I've even allowed my Luck to go over my Initial score with this rule, which works well; your score never goes above 12, and I've found that it tends to hover in the mid-ranges. It puts a stop to the "Luck Death Spiral", where once your Luck gets below a certain point you just can't raise it again without some sort of magic or a bonus from the book.

Campaign Play

It can be fun to play the same character from book to book, much like Sorcery! and Lone Wolf. When I do this, I sometimes start with minimum stats (Skill 7, Stamina 14, Luck 7), or sometimes just minimum Skill. With each book I complete, I raise all of those scores by 1. I tend to empty out my inventory between adventures, keeping only those items that provide a statistical boost. Here are two of the orders that I've played the books in:

  • Caverns of the Snow Witch, Forest of Doom, Temple of Terror, Crypt of the Sorcerer (the Yaztromo campaign, basically. Don't start this one with a 7 Skill though! You could also throw in Return to Firetop Mountain.)
  • Seas of Blood, Demons of the Deep, Trial of Champions, Armies of Death. From pirate, to undersea adventurer, to slave, to army commander.

That's it for this week, and my own house rules. If you guys have your own rules variants, please post them in the comment. Anyway, I should be back next week with more of Sorcery.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Sorcery! Attempt 14 - Books 1-4

My regular readers will be aware that I've been having all sorts of trouble reaching book 4 of the Sorcery! epic.  Despite these failures, I don't feel like that time has been wasted. I'm now very familiar with Books 1-3, and am pretty sure that I've found the optimum path through all of them. Now, dice willing, I shouldn't have too much hassle getting to The Crown of Kings, and taking a real crack at finishing this series up once and for all.

For my 14th attempt, I rolled Skill 10, Stamina 18 and Luck 10. The dice gods were starting out by showing some kindness.

I know I'd said that I thought I'd found the optimum path, but sometimes it's hard not to go exploring. I realised that I'd never been into the dark passageway behind the blind goblin in the Schanker Mines, so I decided to risk it and take a look; if I failed, at least it I wouldn't have lost much time. The tunnel collapsed as I entered, and I decided to throw myself forward rather than retreat. Groping in the dark, I found a pair of Borrinskin Boots, which I know will get some sort of reaction out of the snake charmer in Book 3. The tunnel soon emerged into daylight, and I was able to resume my quest and finish book 1 with no trouble. (In the end, I didn't follow the path to the snake charmer, and I traded the boots in somewhere along the way. I'm not sure you can visit him and defeat all of the Archmage's serpents.)

Book 2 was similarly easy, although I did have a ridiculous battle at the end that featured myself, two harpies, two summoned goblins, and a blind beggar. It resulted in an excessive amount of dice rolling, so I won't be casting GOB during that battle again any time soon.

In Book 3 I followed the same path as my last attempt, except this time I turned right instead of left after fighting the Fire Serpent in the Forest of Snatta. I found Fenestra, so I was able to summon the ferryman and make it across Lake Ilklala to the end of the book. Along the way I killed all seven of the Archmage's serpents, which grants loads of benefits: not just the seven clues from the serpent ring, but a +2 bonus to initial Skill, a +1 bonus to initial Luck, and the option to start Book 4 at reference 237 instead of reference 1.

As I started Book 4, I had a Skill of 12, a Stamina of 18, and a Luck of 12. I had no gold, 1 provision, and I was carrying the following: a backpack, a bamboo pipe, a broadsword (+1 attack strength), a silver key with the number 111, an Armband of Swordmastery (+2 attack strength with swords), a green wig, a mirror, a lucky talisman, 4 goblin teeth, a giant's tooth, a bow and silver arrows, some snake-bite antidote, a tinderbox, another broadsword (-1 attack strength, but +1 damage), a galehorn, a chakram, a crystal orb, a brass pendulum, a hewing axe, a suit of chainmail (+1 Skill, -1 damage on a roll of 5-6), and Sham's Vial. Using my best items, I could have an effective Skill of 16.  Using my second broadsword, I would have an effective Skill of 14, but deal 3 point of damage per blow. The foes in Sorcery! rarely have a high skill, so I was using this one more often than not.

The seven clues I had garnered from the serpents were as follows:

  1. Four guards protect the entrance to the Fortress of Mampang.
  2. Offer no gold to Valignya if you value your life.
  3. Eat not from the larder of Throg if your journey should cause you to meet her.
  4. Beware the breath of the Mucalytics.
  5. In the dark chamber of night, do not light your way with the blood candle.
  6. Pay respect to Naggamanteh the torture master should you meet him.
  7. The Archmage is not as he seems. He may be disguised in Mampang.

Before starting out, I had a look at reference 237. As I had defeated all of the serpents, the Archmage had no idea I was coming. If at any point during The Crown of Kings someone referred to me as "Analander", I could subtract 40 from the reference and turn there instead. Hopefully the element of surprise will help me win through.

My quest resumed at the base of the Zanzunu Peaks; I climbed up through the foothills until evening. I had the option of three caves to take shelter in: one was small, one had hoof-prints outside, and the other had no markings to distinguish it. I chose the latter of these, feeling my way into the darkness. It seemed to be uninhabited, but there were still some dark recesses at the back that I hadn't checked. Not wanting to take any risks, I double-checked the shadows. My foot kicked something soft, and a large animal reared up and knocked me sprawling (reducing my Stamina to 16). It was a Skunkbear (Skill 7, Stamina 6), and I decided to draw my sword and take some revenge on the vile thing.

SKUNKBEAR!!!!

Before the battle, I cast a DOZ spell (reducing its Skill to 4, and my Stamina to 14) . I killed the Skunkbear in just two quick blows, but not before it could spray the cave with its foul stench. (This happens after two rounds of combat. The thing is, I killed it in the second round, so it shouldn't have been able to spray its stench at all. Had it still been alive my Skill would have been reduced by 2 for the rest of the battle.) I left the cave, returning to sleep only when the smell had dissipated. I was refreshed by my sleep, but quite hungry as I had not eaten at all the day before (reducing my Stamina to 13).

Further up the mountains, the trail split in two. The left path led to a bridge (where you may recall I died in Attempt 10 while investigating a nest), but I ignored it and went right. As I climbed, a spear whizzed past my head and shattered on the rocks. I took cover, but before I did I caught a glimpse of my attackers and their disturbing boobs.

One for the furries

They were she-satyrs, which explained the hoof-prints I had seen on the path earlier. (Apparently I could have met one earlier in the book. I suspect it's in one of the caves.)  I cast a SUS spell (reducing my Stamina to 11), but there was no trap to warn me about aside from the obvious. They told me to step forward, calling me a "weak-bowelled cur", and explain my business.  Being rather proud of my bowel-strength, I fired back with some equally choice insults. This amused their leader, and they decided that I should accompany them back to their village. I agreed to go with them.

At the village I was taken to see Sh'houri, their leader. Rather than wait to see what she would do with me, I started regaling her with tales of my great exploits. Other she-satyrs gathered, enraptured by my tale, but saddened by the death of the boatman of Ilklala (did I leave out the part where I totally murdered him?). Once my tale was finished, Sh'houri told me what she knew of Mampang. Four "Throben Doors" blocked passage to the inner keep, each one deadly to those who didn't know how to open it. She also gave me a hardwood spear, saying that I should find Colletus the Holy Man and get him to bless it. (When I found the place I thought Colletus to be, I was instructed to subtract 30 from that paragraph to summon him.) Finally, I was shown a collection of artefacts that would help me with my spells, and told me that I could take any so long as I left behind an item from my own pack. I didn't want to get rid of anything, so I didn't take any of Sh'houri's items.

I continued on, getting closer to Mampang, and came to an alcove where I stopped to eat. Written on the wall of the alcove was a message from Colletus, warning travellers to turn back from Mampang. It said I could meet him at the Groaning Bridge. I finished my meal (restoring my Stamina to 13) and marched on.

Soon the path split in two. One path continued on, and the other stopped at a crevasse. There was a rope for travellers to swing across, but I thought better of it took the path. It curved around, and the crevasse was blocking my way to Mampang, but I soon came to a bridge. As soon as I stepped on it, the boards gave a low moan. Every step produced a moan, and although the bridge was sturdy enough I was loathe to cross it. Besides, this was obviously the place where I might find Colletus, so I called out to summon him (subtracting 30 from the current paragraph).

Colletus appeared, and with his eyes painted black it was obvious that he was blind. I asked for his services as a holy man, deciding to steer clear of the subject of Mampang for now. He blessed my spear when I asked, and I then told him about my quest. He explained that the destruction of Mampang had once been his own mission in life, but the cursed gods of the fortress had struck him blind. He also explained the the Groaning Bridge was an illusion, and that halfway across I would have been dropped into the crevasse. The true bridge was invisible, and he summoned it with a wave of the hand. Finally, he gifted me with a medicinal potion and a vial of holy water, before wishing me "the luck of Cheelah". (This raised my initial Luck to 13. At this point, I had probably the strongest character I'd ever played in any Fighting Fantasy, with the possible exception of the Silver Crusader.)

I crossed the real bridge, and followed the path around into the mountain pass leading to Mampang. The sight of the fortress was unnerving (resulting in the temporary loss of 1 Skill point). I crept forward cautiously, looking for guards. I passed a guard post where two drunken sentries were asleep, and I was able to slip quietly past them (with a successful Luck test that reduced my score to 12.)

They love a horned skull in Mampang.

Further on I found a place to hide and rest before my ordeal in Mampang. As I slept, I was contacted in a dream by my goddess Libra. She said that she was proud of my progress, and informed me that I would not be able to call on her help with the fortress. She also told me of a secret door that one of her followers had once used to escape Mampang, and gave me the password. (When I wanted to try this password, I could subtract 92 from the current paragraph.)

I woke up hungry (reducing my Stamina to 12). Reasoning that I should use my prayer to Libra now while I still could, I had her restore me to full strength.

In the darkness before sunrise I crept up to the main gate. I didn't think a spell would be helpful so I knocked on the gate, then hid on the ledge above. A guard came out to investigate, and I decided to nip inside while he was distracted.

Do I have a torso? Or are my eyes in my groin?

Unfortunately there was another guard there, and I soon found myself surrounded. I took one of them out with a DIM spell (reducing my Stamina to 16), which caused him to rave like a beast, but I still had to fight the remaining three.

Even with superior numbers the guards were no match for me, and I killed all three without them wounding me at all. Only the fourth one caused me any trouble, striking me from behind in his beast-like frenzy (and reducing my Stamina to 14).

Nipping inside, I saw doors to the left and right, and some double doors ahead. The latter of these was probably the first of the Throben Doors I'd been warned of, so I went left instead. The door wasn't locked but its hinges were squeaky. I tried my best to open it quietly, and luckily the noise did not alert anyone (this required a Luck test that reduced my score to 12). Beyond was a short passage, with a door at the end and a door on the right. I investigated the door ahead.

I could hear voices from inside, and stopped to listen, but before I could react the door opened and I was dragged inside by a trio of Black Elves. They insulted me and the paleness of my skin, and I decided to laugh and play along by quipping that at least it meant I would not lose myself in the dark. They found this amusing, and I pushed ahead with another racist joke. Luckily, I was able to calm them down (with a Luck test that reduced my score to 11).

Just a couple of friendly racists.

I asked them how to get further into the fortress. They explained that I'd need a key to get through the Throben Door, saying that I might try being charming to the guards across the way. I went back to the double doors, and this time took the door on the right.

There were voices behind this door as well, and listening I overheard a conversation about Birdmen, and a group known as the Samaritans of Schinn. One of the guards got up to check on the front gate guards, so I hid behind the door as it opened. It was a poor hiding place, and I was soon spotted by the guard (Skill 8, Stamina 6). He managed to wound me (reducing my Stamina to 12) before I could kill him. A second guard stepped out behind him (Skill 7, Stamina 7) but I made short work of him.

Inside a drawer in the guard room I found a key, and I was able to use it to unlock the double doors. I had passed through the first of the Throben Doors!

Beyond was a courtyard, with inhabitants of the fortress milling about in small groups. I tried to cross without being noticed, but one group pointed me out and headed in my direction. Changing course, I moved around closer to another group, hoping to avoid them. The second group had a familiar look about them, and as I drew closer I saw that they were Red-Eyes, a people that I had encountered in Khare.

Are these three all wearing one cloak?

They beckoned me over, and I approached and told them I was from Khare. They were delighted that I hailed from their home, and asked me if I remembered the name of the high priest of Slangg. I was aware that I was being tested, so I replied truthfully that I had no idea. This was apparently the right thing to say, as they let me go peacefully on my way.

Moving on I saw a bundle of rags, but I also saw a group that looked familiar to me. My curiosity was piqued, so I went over the the group. They were Sightmasters, an order that used their special eyesight in service of Analand. I approached them quickly, wondering what purpose they had in Mampang.

Why did I ever trust these creepy motherfuckers?

They had recognised me as an outsider, and offered to give me advice for 3 gold pieces. I had no gold, so I had to refuse them. The Sightmasters were incensed, and drew their swords. Acting on a strange impulse, I pulled out my blessed spear. With ease I stabbed one through the eye, the other through the chest, and the other in the back as he was fleeing. (This isn't me embellishing things, it's just a rad moment straight from the text.) Nobody paid any attention to the battle I looted the corpses of the Sightmasters, finding 20 gold pieces, some sand, a vial of glue, a ring of green metal, and three provisions.

I came to two large wooden doors, which I suspected were the second Throben doors. In front of them was a metal pole, carved with faces and symbols, with axes and swords melded into the base. I decided to ignore this for now, and turn back to the doors. As I watched, a bulky creature approached the door and put his mouth close to the handle. They opened and he went through. I was still wary of the doors, so I decided to take a look at where the creature had come from.

In the right-hand corner of the courtyard I found a door, and went inside. I was greeted by a short stocky man, who asked if I was there to torment the Mucalytics. When I said that I wasn't, he exclaimed that surely I wasn't there to meet the spiny ones. There were two doors onwards, and I chose the one on the left, where the man had gestured when talking about the Mucalytics.

Beyond was a disgusting room covered in debris and thick slime. Slumped in a corner was a bulky creature with a trunk-like snout: a Mucalytic!

I'm not even touching this one.

It looked like it was trying to listen to me, so I stopped to talk to it. No matter how loudly I shouted, it seemed the creature couldn't hear me. It's own reply was little more than a croak. Remembering the serpent's warning about it's breath, I decided not to let it whisper in my ear, but when I tried to exit the room it attacked me. The Mucalytic (Skill 8, Stamina 9) was strong, but I was able to kill it without being harmed.  In the muck I found a rusty sword (which I didn't bother to take), a bracelet of bones, and 5 gold pieces.

There were two doors leading on, and I chose the one opposite where I had entered from. Inside I saw an alcove where I could rest and eat, but I decided to ignore it and enter another door with a sign: "Enter Only Those Who Will Pay the Price". Inside I saw a large man wearing a turban, with a jaguar lounging under his table.

Someone needs to cosplay this guy at FF Fest.

The man told me that I could not enter without paying him a gold piece. I countered by saying that he looked like he could use a bodyguard, and that I was offering my services. He decided to test me by making me fight his Jaguar (Skill 8, Stamina 7). I wounded the beast and allowed it to retreat. The man was impressed, but he still would not let me enter without payment. I learned that his name was Valignya, and my caution had paid off: I had been warned about giving gold to this man by the serpents. I continued to refuse payment, but he insisted that I give him something valuable from my pack. I gave him the Serpent Ring, and he informed me that I would need a password to get through the Throben Door: alaralatanalara. On the way out I snatched a pouch with 10 gold pieces from his desk (and restored my Luck to 13).

Heading back to the courtyard (and avoiding an encounter due to having arrived at Mampang in secrecy), I walked up to the Throben Door and said the password. It opened and I was able to pass through. (At this point I restored the Skill point I had lost due to fear at seeing the fortress. I'm not sure that there's a specific place that tells you to restore it, but I don't think there is. I figure that this counts as being inside.)

The path branched in two beyond the doors. One led to the keep's main gate, which looked to be guarded by Birdmen. The other led to a smaller door, with steam and voices coming from within. I entered the smaller door, into a kitchen.

She probably pays better than George Calombaris.

I tried to sneak through, but the kitchen mistress spotted me. Mistaking me for one of the Archmage's officers, she introduced herself as Throg and insisted that I have something to eat. I was led down into her larder, but once again I had been warned against this by the serpents. I refused to eat her food, until she became murderously angry. She attacked me (Skill 7, Stamina 7), but fled after I had wounded her a couple of times.

I left the kitchen through another exit. I could hear guards ahead, so I hid in an alcove where I accidentally opened a secret passage. The passage led beneath the ground level, eventually coming back up and ending in a door, which I opened. I was in a yard, beneath a cloister. Edging around I came to a short passage, where there were three doors. The one on the left had a sign that said "NYLOCK - Merchant - Open". I decided to ignore this door, and chose to go through the unmarked door on the right.

The passage beyond was dark, but I was forced to enter by the sound of approaching guards. Eventually it ended at another door, which I opened. Inside was a dirty living quarters.

I've lived in worse.

I decided to check the walls for secret passages. While I was searching a heavy portcullis dropped, barring my exit. I had wandered into a cell, and now I was captive. My adventure was over.

THE POST-GAME

Aaaaahhhhhhhh! Done in by the absolute worst trick in the Steve Jackson playbook. Ian likes to get you for not having the correct items, but Steve likes to throw in a path somewhere that leads to inescapable death. For the most part he's a great designer, and his books are fair, but these moments are the biggest black mark on his record. It sucks to lose this way, and I've never been more tempted during the course of this blog to flip back and keep going from an earlier point. (And yes, I tried Libra's password here. No luck.) Still, I feel like I made some pretty good progress for my first proper venture into Mampang. If there aren't any more stupid moments like this one, I should be able to make it even further next time.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Sorcery! Attempt 13 - Books 1-3

For my extremely lucky not at all a cursed number 13th attempt at Sorcery! I rolled a banger of a character: Skill 10, Stamina 22, Luck 9. I had a lot of confidence going into this game, and I was absolutely certain that I could get to Book 4. What could stop me with scores like those?

Predictably, I blasted my way through The Shamutanti Hills. I even got a little cocky at the end, and killed the Manticore with my sword after slowing it down with a DOZ spell. Normally I would fend it off with HOT and run away, but I was feeling a little bloodthirsty.

Khare - Cityport of Traps fell just as easily. With my Skill at the highest level, I took on the Deathwraith with the silver arrows, and didn't resort to calling on Libra for aid. This meant that I was able to start The Seven Serpents with maximum stats. Not only that, but with an enchanted broadsword and an armband of swordmastery, my effective Skill was 13. I had 29 gold pieces, 7 meals, and a bunch of items to help me cast spells and improve my chances in melee. Those earlier run-throughs - giving me a lot of familiarity with Book 1 and 2 - were paying off, as I was in the best shape I'd ever been heading in to Book 3.

My dominance continued with Book 3. I figured out how to avoid fighting the Nighthawks at the beginning.  I defeated the Moon Serpent, and bought a whole load of useful items from the Dark Elves. I met the Sham, and fought the Earth Serpent. My Stamina was holding up well, and everything was looking good.

Even better, when I got to the Forest of Snatta I took the left fork, and along the way I spotted a snake slithering through the underbrush. I followed it, suspecting that it might be the Fire Serpent, and sure enough when I got close enough it caused a nearby tree to explode into flames, badly singeing me.


I remembered to use my ring on the serpent, and got the following clue: "eat not from the larder of Throg if your journey should cause you to meet her".

I didn't have any particular idea how to defeat the Fire Serpent, but when asked if I "have something else in mind" I decided to check out the options. One of those options was to use some sand, and I had found a pouch earlier. I was able to smother the serpent's flames, and easily kill it with my sword.

At a junction further on I took the left-hand path, but as I stopped to rest I was attacked by a hungry bear. I tried to communicate with it using a YAP spell, but all it had to say was how hungry it was. I had to fight it, but with my Skill effectively at 14 now (augmented by a chainmail shirt I'd bought from the dark elves) I made short work of it.


After that I was out of the woods, and I had reached the edge of Lake Ilklala. Unfortunately, I had no way to cross, and without a way to summon the ferryman there was no way for me to continue. I was still alive, but my adventure was over.

THE POST-GAME

Well, I turned left when I should have turned right, which might be the most Fighting Fantasy way of losing a gamebook there is. It's frustrating, because I was doing really well, and was on track to beating all seven of the Archmage's serpents. If I'd gone right, presumably I would have found Fenestra, and gotten the item I needed to summon the ferryman. The most frustrating thing is that my guy just gives up upon reaching the lake. Hey mate, just go back a mile or so, you'll find what you need! He doesn't even try to call on Libra for aid.  What a quitter.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Sorcery! Attempt 12 - Books 1-3

Another week, another attempt at completing the Sorcery! epic. Or should I say another attempt at actually getting to the last book? Because at the moment I'm struggling to even do that.

For my 12th crack at Sorcery! I rolled a Skill of 8, a Stamina of 18 and a Luck of 9. Not an outstanding character, but definitely a viable one. With luck I was pretty sure I'd make it through the first three books and into The Crown of Kings.

Book 1 presented me with little trouble. I even crossed a couple of mysteries off my list along the way. The first was to investigate the third tent in the Elvin village, which it turned out contained nothing but a Wolfhound. I killed it and took its studded collar, but all told it didn't seem worth missing the Schanker Mines for it. The other mystery was the second cave in the Land of the Great Ones, which turned out to be empty except for a few oddments, such as a net and a giant's skull. Again, I don't think it's worth skipping the encounter with Alianna, and the goodies she rewards you with.

The good new is that I'm pretty sure I've solved a riddle that's been nagging at me for years. Near the start of the book you meet an old man who gives you the following rhyme:

"See him though he sees you not;
The black-eyed creature creeps.
A guardian once, but now his lot:
The key to freedom keeps."

He then mentions that the Elvins are keen on finding this key. For a while I'd suspected that this referred to the blind goblin in the Schanker Mines, who does have a key on his person. I've never found a use for that key, however, and it turns out that he's not the only blind character in The Shamutanti Hills. On the way to the Land of the Great Ones, there's a blind beggar whose eyes are painted black, and if you throw him a coin he rewards you with a key. It turns out that he was a jailer in Khare, and sure enough if you get thrown in the cell with the Elvin in Book 2 you can use this key to get free.  All of this fits together, so I'm more than happy to close the book on this particular mystery.

I got through Book 2, but it did not treat me kindly: by the time I finished I had no food and just 3 Stamina points. I'd used my prayer to Libra to help defeat the Deathwraith, so a healing boost from her at the end of the book wasn't an option. As a consequence, I had to use my prayer for Book 3 very early on, so I was operating without that little safety buffer.

After visiting Shadrack and having a friendly encounter with some centaurs, I got them to take me to the Snake Charmer. I'm still convinced there's more to this encounter than meets the eye, but I still wasn't able to get anything out of him. After that I wandered north-east, eventually meeting the Sham and getting her Serpent Staff. Starvation and various other dangers had worn me down by this point, so I was really in danger at the point where I met the Earth Serpent.

Normally the trick to defeating the Earth Serpent is to blow it away with the Galehorn and the HUF spell, but because I only had 3 Stamina points I decided not to risk it; I couldn't remember how many points that spell drained. Instead I tried to lift it with my bare hands, which required a successful test against both Skill and Luck. Alas, I failed the Luck test, and the Earth Serpent bit me to death.

THE POST-GAME
Well, I think it's time to stop exploring off the beaten path, especially in Book 1. If I'd stuck to my usual route and gotten the Armband of Swordmastery from Alianna, I probably wouldn't have been quite so beat up at the end of Book 2, and would have been able to take on the Earth Serpent with no problems. If I can't make it to Book 4 on the next attempt, this is going to start looking embarrassing.