Thursday, May 28, 2015

City of Thieves - Attempt 3

There's no easy way to say this, but... I screwed up on my last attempt to complete this book.  I should have beaten it.  Skill 12, Luck 12?  There's no excuse for failing with stats like those, especially on a book I'm so familiar with.  So this time around, I'm getting serious.  No more screwing around, no more exploration, no more failures.  I will take the safest path, and do nothing that isn't integral to my success.  I'm not here to have fun now, I'm here to slay me a Night Prince.  Look out Zanbar Bone, I'm a-comin'!

For my third character I rolled a Skill of 10, a Stamina of 23 and a Luck of 11.  It's another really solid set of scores.  I might fall prey to the Moon Dogs, but otherwise I should be set.  Once again I chose the Potion of Fortune, and set off on my quest.

Not wanting to venture into unexplored territory, I took the same option with the gate guard as last time, and was thrown in prison for my trouble.  I ignored the old man who was offering to help me to freedom in exchange for gold, and instead searched my own cell.  Much to my surprise I found a loose stone with a key hidden underneath, and I quickly made my escape, killing the guards and getting my hands on a merchant's pass and two gold pieces (raising my total to 32).

At the initial intersection I once again headed east down Clock Street.  (I'm not sure why, because the northern path has the most gold, and also a shield that grants +1 to Attack Strength.  Clock Street has the winged helmet, which is just as good, but not as much gold.  I think that perhaps I forgot about the shield.)  I talked to and murdered the crazy hobo, and smashed the globe that contained the winged helmet.  I ignored the Ogre's house completely, and walked right past the boy who was trying to sell me healing water.  I wasn't able to ignore the three Dwarfs who tried to assail me, but a successful Luck test (reducing my Luck to 10) enabled me to avoid being clubbed unconscious.  The Dwarfs fled down an alley, but this time I resisted chasing them, as I remembered that they had robbed me last time.

Further down the street I found a flower shop, and went inside.  I took Mrs Pipe up on her offer to sell me a magic flower in exchange for two of my provisions (I was left with 8).  The flower's petals would supposedly turn to gold coins when dipped in dogs' blood, and I was eager to try it out.

I came to a jeweller's shop and went inside.  I had been here in my last game, but with no money.  This time I was loaded, so I bought a Ring of Fire for 8 gold pieces (leaving me with 24).  He also had a Ring of Ice and a Ring of Invisibility, and I might have forked out for all three if the book hadn't specified that I can only buy one.  (It's seriously irritating when gamebooks impose needless limitations like this.  Let me waste my money!)

I continued on to the market, where once again the old lady picked my pocket and stole a gold piece (leaving me with 23).  I ignored the food stall, as I had yet to lose any Stamina, and I also ignored the fellow playing the lyre.  I did play cannonball-catch with the smug muscle-man though, and this time I defeated him and pocketed 5 gold pieces.  At the equipment stall I bought everything: a throwing knife, a climbing rope, a butcher's meat hook, an iron spike, and a lantern.  This cost me 12 gold pieces (leaving me with 16).

That done, it was back to ignoring things.  I walked right past 'Madame Star, Clairvoyant', disregarded a sudden burst of rain, and paid no heed to the old man at the bridge.  Instead I went down the stairs under the bridge to see Nicodemus, who gave me my list of quest items: hag's hair, black lotus, black pearls, a silver arrow and a tattoo of a unicorn on my head.

After leaving Nicodemus I came to a junction, and turned east down Candle Street.  Down an alley I saw a black door with skulls painted on it, but I didn't go inside.  (I had money this time, and thus no incentive to try my hand at the poisoned pill game.)  As I walked along the street a pot plant smashed on the cobblestones right next to me, and I could hear arguing from a nearby house.  I went inside, and was confronted by this troubling scene.

Two old ladies dressed like little girls, fighting over a wooden duck.  (I'm sure there's a fascinating story behind all this, and it might shed some light on the inner depths of Ian Livingstone's psyche, but I don't want to know it.)  They turned to me and demanded that I give them toys, so I handed over my butcher's meat hook and let them squabble over it.  On a table were two bowls of hot soup, so I sat down and helped myself.  It was disgusting, but I finished it all, and it turned out to be full of herbs with beneficial properties.  I would have regained 4 Stamina points if I had ever lost any.

I left the house and continued, only to find that the street ended at a high stone wall.  I could here growls and cheering on the other side, so I climbed over to investigate.  I found a group of goblin-like creatures playing a game that involved a stick, a ball, and a lot of running.  They were Bays, playing their favourite game, Bays' Ball.  (Ugh.  It's painful just typing it out.)

I asked to join their game, and they handed me a bat and sent me in.  If I could hit the ball over the wall I would win the game for them, otherwise we would lose.  I made the requisite Skill test, smashed the ball over the wall, and was hailed as a hero.  They Bays offered me all sorts of gifts, which I pocketed greedily: 8 gold pieces (raising my total to 24), a Potion of Mind Control, a silver flute, a piece of chalk, an eye-patch, and a bunch of bananas.  I scoffed the bananas, then climbed back over the wall and retraced my steps back to the last junction, where I went west down Harbour Street.

I passed a beggar and threw a gold piece in his cup (leaving me with 23 gold pieces, but restoring my Luck to 11).  Later I passed an alley, and went to investigate.  I was attacked by a pair of Wild Dogs, which I made short work of.  I remembered the golden flower that I had bought from Mrs Pipe, and dipped the petals in the blood of the dead dogs.  The petals sparkled and popped, then transformed into 10 gold pieces that I eagerly scooped up (raising my total to 33).

I continued on, being sure to step aside when Lord Azzur's carriage went thundering by.  I soon came to the Black Lobster Tavern, and the docks.  There was a pirate ship anchored there that I was keen to investigate.  I boarded it my climbing a rope ladder.  On the deck were many boxes and barrels, but there was also a pirate on guard, so I ignored them and made my way below into the cargo hold.  There were two doors ahead of me.  I chose the door on the left, and found three pirates asleep in their bunks.

One of them had a small pouch hanging from his neck, and I decided to creep into the room and steal it.  I succeeded at the requisite Luck test, and was delighted to find six black pearls inside (my Luck was reduced to 10, then instantly restored to 11).  I had found one of the items I needed to slay Zanbar Bone.

I tried the other door, and found a bath full of steaming hot water.  I hid behind the door and waited to see who was about to take a bath, but I was disappointed to find that the captain was a fat man, and not a sexy pirate queen.  Once he was in the water I drew my sword and put it at his throat, and asked him if he knew where I could find the items I was looking for.  He didn't know, but he did tell me that I could find a silversmith named 'Ben Borryman' on Clog Street.  (I have always found that name amusing, mostly due to the meaning of the slang term borry.)  I took my leave of the captain and his ship, strutting confidently after my successful venture.

I headed north up Harbour Street, and came to a junction where Clog Street headed east.  I decided to leave Clog Street for later, and continued along Harbour Street.  The street soon came to an end, but I spent some time chatting with the wives of the fishermen, and one of them told me that some hags have been spotted in the sewers recently,  I gave them my thanks before heading back and going down Clog Street.

I came across what appeared to a young boy lying face down on the road, groaning in pain.  I stopped to help the boy, but in actual fact he was a Goblin, and I had to kill him in self defense.  In his pockets I found a clove of garlic, some knucklebones, and 2 gold pieces (raising my total to 35).

Further along Clog Street was a candle-maker's shop, and I went inside.  The shopkeeper was an Elf, with creepy blue eyes.  I bought a coloured candle from him for 1 gold piece (leaving me with 34), and then he invited me into the back room to see his "magic candle".  I wasn't sure exactly how euphemistic he was being, but I followed him anyway, into a room full of mesmerising purple candles.  While I stood transfixed he stole two of my items and 5 gold pieces (leaving me with 29).  I was unaware of the theft, but I would later be gutted to realise that he had taken my chalk, and my eye-patch.  What a bastard!

I continued down Clog Street and soon came to a shop, with a sign reading 'Ben Borryman, Silversmith' (snigger).  I went inside and resisted the urge to rob the old fellow for his silver, instead deciding to talk to him.  He didn't have any silver arrows in stock, but he offered to make one for 10 god pieces or two magic items.  I paid the gold (leaving me with 19), and after a short wait I left the shop with my silver arrow.  Two down, three to go.

I arrived at a junction, with Tower Street heading north and Stable Street heading east.  I went east, and was soon confronted by an old man with a wart on his nose, who wanted to sell me a drink of his miraculous healing potion.  I declined this tempting offer (mostly because I had yet to be wounded), and further down the street I came to a manhole cover.  Remembering the fishwives' tales of hags in the sewers, I lifted the cover and climbed down.

The sewer tunnel went north and south.  First I headed south, and soon I heard scratching, clicking noises ahead.  They grew louder, and I was confronted by a Giant Centipede.  I had no magic to defeat it with, so I was forced to kill it with my sword.  The centipede wounded me a few times (reducing my Stamina to 17).  Its body blocked most of the tunnel, and I had to climb over it, but soon I found that the tunnel ended at an iron grill.  I was unable to remove the grill, but I did notice a dark recess above it, where someone had removed some bricks.  I reached inside, and found a silver mirror.  Stowing it in my pack, I returned to the sewer entrance and headed down the north tunnel.

I could hear the sounds of squeaking and splashing, and see long shadows on the walls ahead.  It was a trio of Giant Rats, which I killed easily. 

While fighting the rats I saw something skulking in the tunnel ahead, so I investigated.  I was attacked by a Hag, who came at me with a knife, screaming words of demon sorcery.

I could feel her spell affecting my mind, so I drank the Potion of Mind Control that I had won from the Bays.  Her spell was now ineffective, and while she cursed at me I held her down and cut a clump of hair from her head.  Just for good measure I threw her into the sewer water before I departed and climbed back to the surface.  Now all I needed was the lotus flower, and the tattoo.

I continued along Stable Street, which turned north, and was confronted by a trio of men with red stars tattooed on their foreheads.  I would have asked them where they got their tattoos, but they seemed intent on robbing me.  I hurled my throwing knife at the leader, and succeeded at the requisite Skill test.  My knife lodged in his chest, killing him instantly, and the other two picked up his corpse and ran away.

I passed a lot of terraced sandstone houses, but one was made of white-painted brick, and had a door with a serpent's head carved on it.  The room inside was sparse, and silk curtains obscured an archway on the far wall.  From behind the curtain, a woman's voice asked who was there.  I replied that I was delivering flowers, and when she asked who they were from I said "Lord Azzur".  She drew the curtain aside, and revealed that although she had the body of a young woman, her head was that of a serpent.  (At this point the book describes that hero as "feeling uncomfortable", which seems pretty appropriate, and amusing.)

I had no flowers, and the Serpent Queen was growing impatient as I pretended to search for them in my backpack.  I decided to make a run for the front door, but her head darted out and bit me on the neck, wounding me for 4 Stamina points (leaving me with 13) and 1 Skill point (leaving me with 9).  I fought back, and although she wounded me twice more (reducing my Stamina to 9), I soon killed her.  In her house I found 12 gold pieces (raising my total to 31), which allowed me to restore 1 Luck point (which I didn't need).

I came to a junction, but had no choice but to continue north.  I passed by a wooden barn and went inside.  A blacksmith was there, busy making horse shoes, and I made conversation with him.  He told me that in his spare time he makes chainmail coats, and offered to sell me one for 20 gold pieces.  It was a hefty price, but I agreed to pay, as I needed to make up for the Skill I had lost from the Serpent Queen's bite.  He retrieved the coat from beneath a bale of hay, which gave a bonus of 2 Skill points (restoring me to 10), and I paid him the gold (leaving me with 11).

As I continued, a man in rags with a ball and chain came running down the street.  He collapsed at my feet and begged me to cut him free, as the guards were right behind him.  He claimed to have been jailed for being unable to pay his taxes, but I didn't believe him, and besides that I didn't want any trouble.  I handed him over to the guards, and they paid me 5 gold pieces as a reward (raising my total to 16).  The guards claimed that he was an escaped murderer, and I wasn't sure who to believe, but the important thing was that they allowed me to go on my way.

Soon I came to the public gardens, and I paid a gold piece to enter through the turnstile (leaving me with 15).  The gardens were beautiful, though not very large, and soon I found a large earthen bowl containing lotus flowers.

The shrubs nearby had been cut into the shape of animals, and a sign read "Do Not Pick the Flowers", but I had to take one.  My quest depended on it!  As expected, the hedges came to life and attacked when I picked the flower, but I was prepared.  I burned one with a blast from my Ring of Fire, and made my escape with the lotus flower in my clutches.  Now all I needed was the tattoo, and I would be ready to face the Night Prince.

I came to a junction where Mill Street headed east and west.  A group of town guards was approaching from the east, so I headed west.  To my left was a narrow lane, and there was a boy approaching with a barrow laden with fruit.  I ducked down the lane, and found a tattoo parlour.  Inside I was greeted by a large, tattooed man with the unlikely name of Jimmy Quicktint.

He offered to tattoo my forehead for 10 gold pieces, which I reluctantly paid (leaving me with 5).  I specifically told him to do it really small, and right at the hairline so that I could wear a hat and cover it up.  Soon he was done, and I left the shop feeling like a right knob.

Two large guards were approaching as I left the shop, and as they drew nearer I could see that they were Trolls.

I didn't fancy climbing the city wall, so I had little choice but to walk past them.  No doubt suspicious of my tattoo, they asked what my business was in Port Blacksand.  I claimed to be a merchant, and even showed my merchant's pass, but they were still suspicious.  The larger Troll, named Sourbelly, asked if I was one of the fancy folk who have been selling spices on Pepper Street.  Having not seen a Pepper Street while in the city, I said that I wasn't, and that I was selling daggers at the market.  Sourbelly told me that my business in the city was over, and that they were going to escort me to the city gates.  I had found the items I needed to battle Zanbar Bone, so I didn't argue, and allowed them to kick me out of the North Gate.

I began my long journey to Zanbar Bone's tower, enjoying the fresh air now that I was away from Port Blacksand.  As night fell I camped under an elm tree and ate a meal of stewed rabbit (raising my Stamina to 11).  In the morning I cut a branch from a yew tree and made a bow.  As I tested it a dove landed on a branch nearby, with a message attached to its foot.  The message was from Nicodemus.  The senile old bugger had been incorrect about the items I would need to face Zanbar Bone, and I only needed two of the three ingredients (hag's hair, lotus flower and black pearls) he had asked me to find.  He was unsure which two were correct, so it would be up to me to guess.  I made my decision, ground them into a powder, and set off in a foul temper.

On my journey I was attacked by an Orc, which I killed without much trouble.  (This was a random encounter, where I rolled against a table to see what type of monster attacked me.  I remember that the Ape-Man has some kind of treasure, but I'm not sure exactly what it is.)

I pressed on towards the tower, and at this point I ate two provisions (restoring my Stamina to 19).  Soon I could see the tower in the distance, and smell decay in the air.  The moon was rising, and I was too stupid to wait and approach by day.  I marched up to the door, but a howl startled me, and I was attacked by a pair of Moon Dogs, Zanbar Bone's trained killer hounds.  This was a tough battle, though luckily I only had to fight them one at a time.  They reduced my Stamina to 9 before I was able to dispatch them.  I also used a few Luck points during the battle, to increase the damage I dealt (reducing my Luck to 8).  After the fight I ate three more provisions (leaving me with 3, and restoring my Stamina to 21).

The tower door was locked, so I pulled the cord to ring the bell.  A few minutes later it was answered by a thin, pale-skinned man with hollow eyes.  I attacked him with my sword, but to my surprise he was unaffected.  He touched my arm, and left a mark that smelled of putrid flesh and dealt 2 points of damage (reducing my Stamina to 19).  This was a Spirit Stalker, one of the Night Prince's faithful servants.  I stepped back and unshouldered my bow, and fired a silver arrow through its heart.  The creature died, and I retrieved my arrow before entering the tower.

I was in a marble hallway, with two shields on the wall and a spiral staircase leading upwards.  One of the shields had a unicorn crest, and the other a black tower.  I took the shield with the unicorn on it.  Unbeknownst to me it had been taken from a goodly knight who had been killed by Zanbar Bone, and using it allowed me to add 1 Skill point.  I was already at maximum Skill, so it was of no use, but it was still a cool thing to find.

I went up the stairs to the next level of the tower.  There was a door there, and a bedroom inside, but I ignored it and continued climbing.  On the next level was a door, which I opened.

The room was full of art objects, but of more interest was the pale young lady approaching me.  She was friendly and inviting, but the blood-red lips and the fangs were a dead giveaway.  I threw my clove of garlic inside, grabbed the key, fled outside and locked her in before running up the stairs.

On the third floor was a door, which I opened.  It was pitch-dark inside, and I could see nothing.  (At this point I would have been able to see if I had a golden owl.  I'm pretty sure that this is what the Ape-Man I mentioned earlier had.)  I decided not to enter the room, and continued climbing.

On the next floor there was a white door and a black door.  A voice from nowhere started mocking me; it was Zanbar Bone, telling me that I had no hope of ever finding him, before laughing maniacally.  I shrugged my shoulders and opened the white door.

Inside was a room with a stone sarcophagus.  I lifted the lid, and found a mummified corpse inside.  Now mummies in Fighting Fantasy are never just mummies, and as expected this one got up and started walking towards me.  I threw my lantern at it, covering it with burning oil.  As the mummy was consumed by fire, I looted its sarcophagus and found the long-lost Ring of the Golden Eye, which would allow me to detect illusions.

I left the room, and went through the black door.  The room inside was decorated with macabre objects.  There was a black cat sitting in front of a table, and on the table was chest containing a golden skull.  I went to investigate the chest, but the Ring of the Golden Eye told me that it was all an illusion.  The cat was really Zanbar Bone, and now he was standing before me, a skeleton in a black robe with green, translucent eyes.  Before I could react, Bone pulled three teeth from his mouth and hurled them to the ground.  There was a puff of smoke, and three Skeletons stepped forth to fight me one at a time.  They weren't all that strong, but they got a few hit in (reducing my Stamina to 13) before I destroyed them.

Zanbar Bone was walking towards me with his hands outstretched, trying to touch my skin.  I drank my Potion of Fortune (raising my Luck to 12), raised my bow and shot my silver arrow.  With a score of 12 I couldn't fail the Luck test, and my arrow pierced his chest.  He was paralysed, but I would have just a few moments to rub the powder I had made into his eyes and destroy him.

At this point, I had to choose which two ingredients I had used in the powder.  Was it hag's hair and black pearls?  Black pearls and lotus flower?  Or Lotus flower and hag's hair?  (It's a shame that the whole book hinges on this choice.  It's a three-choice guessing game, with no clues as to the correct answer, and it can be really irritating to get to the end and guess wrong.  I can never remember which option is the correct one.)

I chose lotus flower and hag's hair, and rubbed the compound in Zanbar Bone's eyes.  He decayed before my eyes, much to my relief, and became nothing more than a pile of dust.  I set the tower ablaze before I left, and returned to Silverton, where the mayor and the people gave me a hero's welcome, and bestowed me with an orb worth hundreds of gold pieces.


Thursday, May 21, 2015

City of Thieves - Attempt 2

The time has come for my second attempt at completing City of Thieves.  The first time round I got too curious, and it cost me.  My plan this time around is to be a bit more cautious, and try and stick to the choices that I know are good for me, assuming that there are any.

For my second character I rolled a Skill of 12, a Stamina of 19 and a Luck of 12.  Heroes don't come much tougher than this.  I chose the Potion of Fortune, as usual, and it was time to begin.

(New readers, or those unfamiliar with the book, might want to refer back to the previous post.  I'll be glossing over a lot of the sections I covered there, and focusing on the things I do differently.)

I entered Port Blacksand and was stopped by the rad-helmeted guard, but this time I decided not to pretend that I was a merchant.  Deciding that honesty is obviously the way to go in a place called "The City of Thieves", I told him that I wished to be taken to Nicodemus.  The guard told me that he was sending for an escort, but instead I was seized and thrown into a dungeon.  I didn't struggle against my arrest; maybe Nicodemus was in the dungeon as well.

The dungeon was occupied, but not by Nicodemus.  The sole occupant was a crazy old man, who offered to show me a way out for the price of 10 gold pieces.  The guards had taken my sword, but left me with all of my other gear, so I was more than capable of paying.  I handed over the coins (leaving me with 20), and he produced the key from his clothes, giving no adequate explanation for why he hadn't escaped himself.  I must say, he was acting rather wizardy, and I really should have asked him if he was Nicodemus.  Instead I unlocked my cell, retrieved my sword and made for the exit.  Two guards blocked my way, but they were no match for my mighty Skill of 12.  I looted them for 2 gold pieces (I now had 22) and a merchant's pass.  (In my last game, the guard had told me that I shouldn't be caught without a pass.  Now I've found one, but there's  no way to get the advice and the pass in the same play-through.)

I sneaked into the city to the first four-way junction, and headed east down Clock Street.  (Last time I had gone north, but I wanted a bit of variety, and none of these paths contain anything vital.)  The first thing I encountered was an old, depressed beggar. 

I stopped to talk to him (because doesn't everyone stop to talk to sad-looking vagrants?), and the ungrateful bugger attacked me with a dagger.  I killed him (because doesn't everyone do that to sad-looking vagrants?), and was surprised to find a glass ball full of smoke in a bag around his neck.  I smashed the ball on the ground, and the smoke formed into a magnificent winged helmet, which I couldn't resist putting on my head.  Caution be damned!  The choice turned out to be a good one, as the helmet's magic granted me a +1 bonus to Attack Strength in combat.  It also granted me a Luck bonus, but my Luck was already at maximum, so I didn't need it.

Continuing east, then around a corner to the north, I noticed that the houses were much bigger, and that the door to one was open.  With no regard for privacy I barged in, and found that the place was a dirty hovel, albeit one sized for a giant.  In the back room there was an Ogre, who was mattering to himself with worry. 

 What's with this place, everyone is depressed!  Despite my previous experience with the sad beggar, I tried to talk to the Ogre, who interrupted me by shouting that his food had been stolen, and asking if I could give him some of mine.  Now, provisions are a precious, mysteriously wound-healing super-food, and not to be wasted, but I gave him two of them anyway.  The Ogre gulped them down, then told me to get out of his house.  Such behavious could not go unpunished, so I drew my sword and killed the lout (though not before he wounded me, reducing my Stamina to 17).  I only wished that there was some way to cut open his stomach and retrieve my provisions.

While looting the Ogre's house I found a box that I smashed open with my sword.  Inside were 15 gold pieces, two gems, and a white silk glove.  I pocketed the coins (bringing my total to 37) and the gems, then considered the glove.  I should have known better than to put the glove on, really; having found some treasure in the box already, I should have guessed that it was cursed.  Ian Livingstone never gives you a box in which all of the contents are beneficial.  Still, like a fool I put it on, and it burned my hand and caused me to lose 2 Skill points (reducing it to 10).  Serves me right, really.

Further north there was a boy sitting on a barrel, who told me that the liquid in the barrel would heal all my ills, and I could drink some for 3 gold pieces.  I gave him the coins (reducing my total to 34) and took a drink, but it was only water.  It refreshed me, restoring 1 Stamina point (bringing me to 18), and I shook my fist in mock anger as I left.  Seriously, though, that kid is going to get murdered if he plays that trick on someone else.

I followed the street around to the left, and was set upon by a trio of Dwarfs.  They tried to knock me out with a cudgel, but I succeeded in the requisite Luck Test (reducing my Luck to 11), and avoided the blow.  Not only that, put I punched the lead Dwarf iin the nose, and all three fled down an alley.  Sensing loot, I chased them, but it turned out to be a trap.  The Dwarfs entangled me in a net and stole all of my gold, which also resulted in the loss of 2 Luck points (reducing my score to 9).  (This was very, very bad.  Gold is essential to completing this book, so I was going to have to take some risks to rebuild my stash.)

I left the alley and continued west, where I found a flower shop.  Despite my lack of money I went inside, and was greeted by an old woman named Mrs Pipe.  She offered to sell me a special golden flower, which had magic petals that would turn into gold pieces when dipped into dog's blood.  Excited at the prospect of being able to justify the murder of dogs, I traded her two of my provisions for a single flower, then left the shop.

Further along the street was a jeweller's shop.  I went inside, and offered to sell the shopkeep the two gems that I had earlier looted from the Ogre's house.  He offered me 9 gold pieces, but when I tried to haggle he got super-angry, so I accepted this meagre price out of desperation.  He also had some magic rings, but I declined to buy any of them; I was going to need that money for later.

I soon came to the junction where the first three streets converge, and was forced north to the market square and the poor goody-two-shoes being pelted with eggs.  As always, there was an old crone there who stole a gold piece from me (leaving me with 8).  I hurried through the market, not wishing to spend any money.  I ignored the food stall, the lyre player, the smug cannonball thrower, and the clairvoyant.  At one stall I bought a lantern for 3 gold pieces (leaving me with 5), but that was the only money I spent in the market.

It started raining as I left the market along a street heading north, but I decided to ignore a house with an open door and braved the weather.  (The house was full of snakes, you may recall.)  After that there was a bridge, but this time I ignored the old man who was crossing it, and took the stairs down to Nicodemus' house.  He was his usual charming self, and sent me on my way with the list of items needed to kill Zanbar Bone.

After leaving Nicodemus, I came to a junction and went east down Candle Street.  Down an alleyway was a house with a door painted with six skulls, and who was I to resist an invitation like that?  I went inside, and was greeted my a man who invited me to play a game.

He placed six pills on the table before me, and to play the game I would have to eat one.  Five of the pills were safe, and one was a deadly poison.  I would have refused, but the prize if I survived was 20 gold pieces, and I was sorely in need of money.  I sat down, and ate a pill.  After all, there was only a 1-in-6 chance that I would die.  The odds were in my favour.

I rolled a 1.

Now in the olden days of my youth I probably would have made a quick motion that would cause the die to flip over to a different number.  As an older man, I follow the rules, and the rules say I'm dead.  No time for mourning, dear friends, no time for tears,  Just time to roll up a new hero, and carry on with the quest.  I'll be back next week for a third crack at City of Thieves, which is honestly two more than I thought I'd need.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

City of Thieves - Attempt 1

Terror stalks the night as Zanbar Bone and his bloodthirsty Moon Dogs hold the prosperous town of Silverton to ransom.  YOU are an adventurer, and the merchants of Silverton turn to you in their hour of need.

Your mission takes you along dark, twisting streets, where thieves, vagabond and creatures of the night lie in wait to trap the unwary traveller.  And beyond lies the most fearsome adventure of them all - the tower stronghold of the infamous Zanbar Bone!

Ah, the sweet smell of generic fantasy, how I've missed you.  No space ships here, no arbitrary mazes that lie in the interstices between dimensions, no foolhardy flight down the mouth of a black hole.  It's a return to the basics, with swords, orcs, gold pieces, and various combinations of the three.  It's good to be back.

City of Thieves, written by Ian Livingstone and illustrated by Iain McCaig, is the fifth in the Fighting Fantasy series.  I've played this one a lot, so it's pretty familiar to me.  I feel like I should be able to knock it off quickly, unless I roll some really bad scores.


The back-story is a simple one.  Zanbar Bone, the Night Prince, is terrorising the town of Silverton, sending his Moon Dogs to attack every night.  He wants the mayor's daughter (for "dark rituals"), but the mayor has refused, and now the town is at Bone's mercy.

That's where the hero comes in, already a famous slayer of dragons.  He is passing through Silverton in the evening, and notices that the townsfolk are rushing inside and barricading their doors and windows.  The hero enters the local tavern, where he is tracked down by Owen Carralif, the mayor.  Carralif entreats the hero to seek out the reclusive wizard Nicodemus, who now dwells in Port Blacksand.  Nicodemus was a friend of Carralif's, and has magical powers that might defeat Zanbar Bone.  Of course, Port Blacksand is the titular City of Thieves, and a dangerous place.  Carralif offers the hero 30 gold pieces, and a magnificent broadsword, as payment, and the hero sets off on his adventure.  (The reaction of the hero to this sword is quite amusing.  Taken in combination with the background from The Forest of Doom, there's a somewhat sociopathic pattern forming with Livingstone's heroes.  Dudes love their swords.)

(At this time, I feel the need to point out the absurdity of Zanbar Bone, the Night Prince.  What a name!  It's exceedingly camp, but so much so that it becomes awesome.  Or it could just be that I've read this book so many times over the last two-and-a-half decades that I'm inured to it.  Either way, it's a hell of a moniker.)

Mercifully, City of Thieves uses the same rules from The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, with no additions.  I always get a nice cosy feeling from the books that stick to the basics.  They're not necessarily any easier, but they are comfortingly familiar.
The hero begins with the broadsword mentioned above, leather armour, a backpack, 30 gold pieces and 10 provisions.  He also gets to choose one of a Potion of Skill, a Potion of Strength or a Potion of Fortune; these are the same as those given in Warlock, except that they are only good for a single dose.

For my first character I rolled a Skill of 9, a Stamina of 16, and a Luck of 9.  A mediocre adventurer (how he attained the renown he had in the Background section is anyone's guess), but one who could still scrape through this book.  I chose the Potion of Fortune, as I usually do; in addition to restoring Luck it also adds one to my initial value, and that's too good to pass up.  I probably have a 50/50 shot with these stats, provided that I don't do anything stupid.


I approached Port Blacksand on foot, travelling some fifty miles from Silverton, but when I tried to enter the city a rad-looking guard stopped me at the gate.  (Seriously, check out that dude's helmet.  It's the best.)  It seems that security at Blacksand is tight; I would have expected the so-called City of Thieves to be a little more relaxed.  The guard demanded to know my business in the city, but rather than tell him that I was looking for Nicodemus, I lied and said that I wanted to sell some stolen chalices.  When the guard asked to see the chalices, I wove an astounding story, saying that the chalices were cursed and should only be examined by a mage.  I don't think the guard bought it, but he let me in anyway, and even offered to sell me some advice for 3 gold pieces.  I took him up on his offer, and he told me that the city's ruler, Lord Azzur, was a mean man, and that if I were caught without a pass I would be as good as dead.

I left the guard and made my way into the city, soon arriving at a four-way junction.  To the west was Key Street, to the east was Clock Street, and to the north was Market Street.  I chose Market Street, and continued my mission.  (I remember this portion of the book quite well.  Market Street is the way to go if you want loads of gold pieces.)

On the left side of the street was a herbalist's shop, and I made my way inside.  The shop-keep was a half-orc, but I tried not to hold that against him, and asked to see his wares.  He had some pipe-weed on offer, but instead I paid him 4 gold pieces for some healing herbs, which would restore 1 die of Stamina when used.  There would be plenty of time for pipe-weed once my mission was complete.

Further north I saw a tavern called 'The Spotted Dog'.  It was crowded inside: besides the innkeeper there were three dwarfs playing dice, two arguing goblins, and three men sitting around and sticking daggers between their fingers.  I chose to sit with the goblins, though I'm not sure why.  Perhaps I was simply proud of the tolerance I'd shown that half-orc herbalist, and wished to extend the same courtesy to some goblins?  Whatever my reasons the goblins had no interest in my company, and ceased their quarrelling to attack me with swords.  I made quick work of them, and set about looting their corpses.  They had 9 gold pieces and an ivory skull necklace; I took both, and left the tavern.

I had barely set foot in the street when two black-robed thieves set upon me.  I killed them both without a scratch, but I was starting to believe that the stories of Port Blacksand might all be true.  I found 16 gold pieces in their pockets, as well as a phial of green liquid, which I drank.  (It's always my policy to use any item I find if I don't know what the result will be.  I couldn't remember the effect of this potion, so down the hatch it went.)  It was a Potion of Misfortune, which reduced my Luck by 3 points.  I considered using my Potion of Fortune at this point to restore my Luck, but I decided to save it for later; perhaps some other means of restoring it would present itself.

Further along the street a large house was set back from the terraces, and guarded by a large kennel.  I decided to approach, and as expected a huge black wolf came charging at me.  (Well, I was actually expecting a dog, but close enough.)  At this point I had to Test My Luck, but with a score of 5 I failed, and the wolf's chain snapped.  It bit me on the arm before I could kill it with my sword.  I found an iron key inside the kennel (which restored a Luck point), and used it to unlock the house.

Inside the house was opulently furnished.  Searching the front room, I found three upturned goblets on a table, marked A, B and C.  I picked up goblet A, and was surprised when a scorpion darted out from underneath to sting my hand.  I failed the requisite Luck test, and the poison caused me to lose 4 Stamina and 1 Skill.  (Losing Skill is the worst.  Stamina can be restored with ease, and Luck bonuses aren't too difficult to obtain, but getting Skill back can be a real bastard.)

Undeterred, I picked up goblet B, and found 12 gold pieces.  Flush with good fortune, I decided to try goblet C.  I should have known better, as it transformed into a burning coal in my hand, causing me to lose 2 Skill and 2 Luck.  With a measly score of 2 for Luck, I decided to drink my Potion of Fortune, and raise my score to 9.  I could risk no further mishaps!

I went into the back room, and found a wooden chest, securely locked.  I was able to pick the lock with a bent wire, but the chest was trapped, and two poisoned darts flew out at me.  I had to Test my Luck once for each dart, and one of them hit me in the arm.  I feared the worst, but it wasn't so bad; I only lost 2 points of Stamina.  At this point I had been reduced to 7, so I used the healing herbs that I had bought earlier, and rolled a 6 for the number of points restored.  Finally, something was going my way.  Inside the chest were 25 gold pieces, and a shield that would give me a +1 bonus to Attack Strength in combat.

I decided to explore upstairs, because this place was obviously full of valuable stuff.  While I was doing so, I heard the owner walk in the front door and release some kind of pet.  Drawing my sword, I waited, and I was soon attacked by a Fire Imp.  The little thing was skillful, but not strong, and I was lucky to kill it quickly.  I made my way cautiously downstairs, and the owner was there, a fat man in fine clothes.  He was angered at the death of his pet, and tried to kill me with lightning from his fingers.  Luckily I was wearing the skull necklace that I had earlier taken from the goblins.  It absorbed the lightning, and I left the house, heavy with loot but weaker for the experience.

I came to another four-way junction, where Clock Street and Key Street joined up with Market Street again.  I ignored the other paths, and continued along Market Street towards a cheering crowd.  (I hate it when gamebooks force me down a path like this, but I can see the necessity of it from a design perspective.)

The street ended at a market square, where a man in a pillory was being pelted by the crowd with eggs and rotten fruit.  An old lady offered me two eggs to throw, but as I was hurling them she stole a gold piece from my pocket.  I didn't know about it, or I would have murdered the crone.  Instead I moved on to the stalls.

The first stall was selling food, and I paid a gold piece to eat some and restore 2 Stamina.  Close by there was a man playing a lyre, who said that for 3 gold pieces he would play me a song that would bring good fortune.  I handed over the coins, and he sang a song that restored 2 Luck points.

Further along I encountered a muscular man who was asking for challengers from the crowd.  The game was to play catch with a cannon-ball, and whoever dropped it first would pay the other 5 gold pieces.  I had to accept.  Just look at the smug prick, how could I not?  The game is played by rolling a die for each participant in turn, and the first to roll a 1 would drop the cannonball.  The game lasted for some time, but eventually I rolled the fateful 1, and had to fork over my gold. (The mechanics of the game imply that my character is just as good at catching cannonballs as the fellow pictured above, regardless of my stats.  So either he's not as strong as he looks, or I am one totally jacked dude.  I'm fine with either option.)

At the next stall a man was selling small weapons and equipment, and I bought the lot: a throwing knife, a climbing rope, a butcher's meat hook, an iron spike, and a lantern.  It cost me 12 gold pieces, but I had plenty, and this was an Ian Livingstone book after all.  Any or all of these items could be the difference between life and death, so I took every one of them.

Next was a the brightly-coloured tent of a clairvoyant, and I went inside to have my fortune read for the price of 2 gold pieces.  "Madame Star" went into a kind of trance, and told me that the man I was looking for lived under a bridge to the north, and that he didn't welcome strangers.  She seemed to be hiding something, but I didn't press the matter.  How bad could it be?

At the end of the market, Bridge Street ran to the north, and I followed it as the rain started to fall.  I may have been a brave adventurer, but I had never liked the rain, so I took shelter in a derelict house.  I should have braved the rain, because the house was full of snakes.  Or perhaps not; I killed the snakes easily with my sword, and no matter how much I swung there was no way I could kill the rain.

Further north I came to bridge over a filthy river.  There were stairs leading under the bridge, and a one-legged man crossing in my direction. I waited for the old man to cross, and he offered to tell me where Nicodemus was for 2 gold pieces.  I was happy to oblige him, as I was pretty heavily laden with coins at the time.  He very smugly told me that Nicodemus lived under the bridge where I was now standing, but I didn't mind.  He was probably going to be robbed and murdered pretty shortly, anyway.

I went down the stairs and found Nicodemus' house underneath the bridge, just as I had been told.  He was none too happy to see me, until I explained my mission, and then he rambled on for quite some time.  The gist of it was that Nicodemus was too old/lazy/senile to undertake the quest, and that I would have to search Port Blacksand for the items needed to slay Zanbar Bone: black pearls, hag's hair, a lotus flower, and a silver arrow.  I was also going to have to get a unicorn tattooed on my forehead, which...  Look, it's a cool thing to have airbrushed on the side of a van, but right on my head?  No thank you.  Unfortunately, there's no option to pull out of the quest at this point, so I bid my farewell to Nicodemus and was pushed by narrative inevitability back into the streets of Port Blacksand.

At an east-west junction I went west into Harbour Street, and came across a beggar.  I flipped him a gold piece, and got a Luck point restored for my trouble.  It's a fair trade.

Further along the street was an alley, and I decided to check it out; I'm questing for items, after all.  I didn't find any, and instead I was attacked by a pair of wild dogs, which I murdered with alacrity.  If I had some magic flowers at this point I might have gotten something cool, but I didn't, so I got nothing.  Stupid alley.

Further along the street, I heard a horse-drawn carriage rapidly approaching.  I decided to stand my ground, and the driver told me to "Make way for Lord Azzur."  Despite my near-suicidal curiosity, I leaped out of the way, but I was still whipped by the driver as he passed by.  Jerk.

Soon I came to the docks, where I was given the option of boarding a pirate ship, but not the option of going into the Black Lobster Tavern.  This hero has some weird priorities.  Anyway, I boarded the ship by climbing a rope ladder, but that's where the curiosity I mentioned earlier got the best of me.  There were some barrels on deck that I very much wanted to look inside, but there was also a guard that I would need to deal with.  I tried to sneak up behind him, requiring a Luck test, but at that point I had a Luck score of 7.  The odds were barely in my favour, but the dice were not.  I stumbled on a coil of rope, and the pirate turned on me.

For some reason, I had been sneaking up on the pirate without my sword drawn, and I didn't have time to pull it out now.  With a -2 penalty to my Attack Strength, I had an effective Skill of 5, versus his own skill of 7.  I fought my hardest, but it went against me, and I died at the hands of a lowly pirate.


As much as I talked up my knowledge of this book earlier, I let my curiosity get the best of me.  There were a few key points that I couldn't quite remember, and even when I chose some options even though I was pretty sure they'd be detrimental.  Sometimes I can't help myself, you know?  I just have to explore.  The real killer was the trio of cups; I should have quit as soon as I found the coins, because there's rarely more than one good choice in these situations. Next time I plan to play smarter, and take the path that I know leads to victory.