My plan was to play it very safe, and stick to the options I knew were good, but I allowed myself a bit of leeway near the beginning. In my last few attempts I'd been heading towards the Headhunter village, but this time I steered clear of it and veered to the north-east.
I'd explored most of the options on this path already: the pygmies, the healing crystal, the dragonfly, etc. The one mystery was the treehouse, and the man who lived inside. I'd tried to talk to him once in an earlier game, but my approach had been too aggressive, and he had fled into the high branches of the tree. This time I remained friendly, despite the barrage of coconuts he rained down on my head. When I got to the top I offered him one of my provisions, and he became much more friendly. He explained that he used to be a thief on the mainland, until he had been caught and sentenced to five years on Fire Island by Prince Olaf. For another provision he offered to tell me some more information, and I reluctantly agreed. This proved a little more useful, as he drew me a map.
Just when I thought he was done, he said that, for just one more provision, he would provide me with something really useful. Against my better judgement I gave him a third provision, and he repaid me with a picklock's wire. I knew from previous attempts where this would be useful, but I doubted that it would be worth the loss of three provisions. I was also anxious, because running out of provisions and Stamina had been the main cause of my death last time. Now I had only 7 provisions left, and the adventure had barely begun.
For the rest of the adventure I didn't deviate too much from Attempt 14, as detailed in my last post. I chose the safe path through the swamp (if you could call losing 6 Stamina to leeches the "safe path"). In the mines I decided not to get the Horn of Valhalla, as I didn't want to take the 5 points of Stamina damage required to find it. Liberating the mines went smoothly, as did my quest to find the Shaman. I chose the tests that I knew for certain I would succeed at, and before long I was on my way to the Lizard King's fort (having collected a conveniently-placed monkey, of course).
One of the biggest stumbling blocks of this book is the back-to-back fights with the Styracosaurus and the Mutant Lizard Man. Whenever I play this book with a middling character, this is invariably the point where I die. This time I had a character of demi-godlike stature, and the dice were kind to me as well. I got through the fights only taking a few hits, and soon enough I was reunited with the liberated slaves and ready to attack the fortress. Before the battle I ate all my remaining provisions and drank my Potion of Fortune, and I was going in with Skill 12, Stamina 20 and Luck 12.
The random roll I had to make during the assault to determine my foe came up favourably, and I got to fight a lowly Hobgoblin. But without the Horn of Valhalla, there was a tougher fight ahead of me if I was going to rally my troops: a Cyclops!
The Cyclops was tough (Skill 10, Stamina 10), but he only hit me twice before I rammed my sword right down his eyehole. I charged into the Lizard King's stronghold, and chose the path leading into the prison. This time I ignored the old man (who you may remember is really a Shapechanger), and continued straight on into the torture chamber where I claimed the fire sword I would need to kill the Lizard King.
From there I went into the laboratory, where I hid under a bench to avoid a Two-Headed Lizard Man and his Dwarf slave. I leaped out to ambush the Lizard Man, and with a successful Luck test I was able to kill him instantly. This is where the picklock's wire came in handy, as I was able to unlock the Dwarf's shackles. I say handy, but to be honest he gave me the exact same information as he had in my previous attempt, when I'd been unable to set him free. The sole difference was a 1-point Luck bonus, and all that did was restore the Luck point I used to ambush the Lizard Man. The best option here is probably to stay in hiding and let both of these characters pass by.
Up the stairs I went, to my final confrontation with the Lizard King. I made short work of his Black Lion this time, as I had a lot more Stamina to work with, and dice that were in my favour. With the Lizard King's pet dead, it was just him and me. And my monkey.
At the sight of my monkey the Lizard King trembled in fear. I pressed the advantage with my fire sword, and my enemy quailed. He put up a token resistance (Skill 6, Stamina 15), but he was no match for me, and soon lay dead at my feet.
At this point I had three options. I could turn and salute my troops, I could search the Lizard King's corpse, or I could sever the Gonchong's proboscis. The first option is an obviously terrible one. The option to loot the corpse was tempting, and would be my first recall in most circumstances, but here it felt like a bad idea. I remembered the words of the Shaman instead, and severed the Gonchong's proboscis. It died instantly, and I threw its dead body over the wall for everyone to see. My men routed the demoralised enemy, everyone returned home, and it all ended happily ever after. To paraphrase the final line of the book, "Mungo would have been proud of me."
Success has come to me at last, and all it required was persistence. This is an unusual gamebook for Ian Livingstone, in that it doesn't punish you for choosing the wrong path. Instead, it's highly dependent on the luck of the dice, and the only truly wrong decision you can make is to try and play it with a weak character. The reader will finish it eventually, just as soon as the dice come up favourably. And so I did, after a mere 17 attempts. It's a new record for the number of times I've lost a single gamebook, and I wonder how long it will be before that record is broken. (My money is on needing far more tries to complete The Crown of Kings, and even more tries than that for Crypt of the Sorcerer.)
After my customary series of wrap-up posts, my notes tell me that the next chronological release is Warlock Magazine #1. I've never read it before, so I'm dead keen to see what's in there.