Sunday, November 29, 2015

Island of the Lizard King - Attempts 15 to 17

In my last post I had wondered how many characters I would have to send to their deaths before I rolled up one that was viable.  Island of the Lizard King is a gamebook that requires high stats to complete, so I've been sending my weaker character to a quick demise in a pit of quicksand.  As it turns out, I only had to make two guys commit suicide before I got a decent character.  With Skill 12, Stamina 22 and Luck 11 I had every chance of success, and I was also armed with knowledge from my previous attempts.  Nothing in the world could stop me now!


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.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Island of the Lizard King - Attempt 14

During my last play session I discovered the usefulness of a quick death, and also managed to get ganked by the Slime Sucker in the swamp.  I'd like to say that I plan to play it safe on my next go, but who am I kidding?  I'm probably going to wander off and die exploring some dead-end path.

This is undoubtedly my most viable character yet: Skill 12, Stamina 20 and Luck 8.  What could possibly kill this guy?

The opening stages of this book have become super-familiar to me now, so I breezed past the Giant Crab, Mungo's death, and the headhunters.  Once again I chose to visit the headhunters' village and burn it down.  This time I rolled a rolled a 4 on my die roll while escaping, and the man I was trying to rescue got speared.  (I'd really like to know what happens if he survives, but I'm not going to find out in this attempt.)

The horde were still in pursuit, but I decided against hiding in a hollow log, and continued to run through the jungle.  The headhunters knew the land better than I did, however, and I ended up in a fight with three of them at once.  Being supremely skillful has its benefits, though, and I killed them all before escaping.  The remaining headhunters backed away, thinking of me as some sort of god-empowered warrior, and I looted their fallen comrades.  What I found was some green paste, which did nothing when I spread it on my wounds.  Glad to be free of the headhunters, I continued on my way.  (At this point I had 19 points of Stamina remaining, and had not used any Luck.)

Soon I came to the swamp, and this time I chose the safe path through.  All I had to deal with were the leeches, which reduced my Stamina to 14, and necessitated the use of one of my provisions to remove them.

Once out of the swamp I came to a gorge between some hills.  I avoided the landslide by climbing a hill, then went down into the gorge where I found the snuffbox with the gold nugget and the message inside.

After a brief encounter with a Giant Lizard (which reduced my Stamina to 12), I met and killed the Spit Toad and claimed the treasure hidden in its pond (the Pouch of Unlimited Contents and the leather boots; I knew now to ignore the ring and the potion).  Later a pig crossed my path, but I wasn't able to catch it (will I ever reach this point with the spear?).

When I reached the river I found the boat mentioned in the snuff-box message and started punting up-river.  A crocodile attacked me, but I defeated it easily.  I ignored the man who waved at me from the shore (he's a delirious madman, as I learned in previous attempts), and soon I came to the gold mines.

There were two Lizard Men guarding the village outside the mine.  Last time I had reached this point I ignored them, but with my Skill so high I decided to have a crack at them.  A successful Luck test (reducing my score to 7) meant that I was able to kill one of them before it could react.  The other (Skill 9, Stamina 8) retaliated, and fought well.  It was able to wound me four times before I killed it, reducing my Stamina to 5.  I found three iron keys on its corpse, and pocketed them before heading into the mines.  (At this point I ate two provisions, restoring my Stamina to 13.)

Inside the mine I turned right, then left, and soon found myself in a disused network of tunnels.  At one point I reached a dead end, and lost a Luck point due to feeling lost.  In another tunnel I stumbled into a support beam, and was almost buried alive in rubble (dropping my Stamina to 9).  In yet another tunnel the whole roof collapsed on my head, and my Stamina was reduced to 4.  Surprisingly, this turned out quite well; a successful Luck test led to me finding the legendary Horn of Valhalla.  You know, just stuck in the roof of a gold mine, where you'd expect it to be.  (This brought my Luck back up to 8.)

After eating two provisions (bringing my Stamina back to 12, and leaving me with 5 provisions) I explored the rest of the top level of the mines.  I avoided the bore-hole and the Grannits, and claimed the superbly-crafted sword from the shaft with my Boots of Climbing.  That done, it was time to head below and liberate the slaves.

The liberation went about as smoothly as it could, with the aid of three successful Luck tests (reducing my Luck to 5).  I only had to fight one Lizard Man, and that one got torn apart by dwarven slaves halfway through the battle.  I lost 4 Stamina in the ensuing conflict (leaving me with 8), but by the end I had 63 followers who were ready to fight, and ready to throw a party.

Alas, there's always an elf to spoil things, and I was off to find the Shaman so that I could learn how to kill the Lizard King and the parasitic Gonchong that was controlling it.  After swigging my Potion of Fortune (raising my Luck score to 9), I set off towards Fire Island's volcano. I ate some wild raspberries (and used my Luck to avoid a fight with a Giant Dragonfly), and also some honeycomb and fruit that resulted in me fighting a Bear.  A Hill Troll ambushed me, I found a feather to tie in my hair for the shaman, and I killed a Cave Woman and rubbed some of her red dust on my face.  Before long I was at the base of the shaman's volcano, eating one of my provisions.  (My Stamina was 10 at this point, my Luck was 6, and I had 3 provisions remaining)

In previous attempts I had gone straight up the volcano, but this time I decided to explore around its base.  What I found was a sulfurous pool filled with eggs.  I took a closer look at them, and was rewarded when one of them hatched and a Razorjaw burst forth.

"A hideous creature that has evolved to kill all other species."

The bugger latched on to my neck (reducing my Stamina to 6), but it was easy enough to kill after that surprise attack.  With no other paths to explore, I ate one of my provisions (bringing my Stamina back up to 10, and leaving me with 2 meals) and went up the volcano to see the shaman.

The shaman presented me with his three tests, and this time - having failed the tests on my last attempt - I went for easy pickings.  First I chose the Fear test, which I've described in an earlier post: the shaman fills your mind with horrific imagery, but if you have the red powder from the cave woman you can resist.   The second test I chose was Pain, which is even more of a gimme: all you have to do is say that you resist the pain that the shaman is causing you, and you automatically succeed.  I wasn't completely sure about the third test, but given my high Skill score I chose Dexterity.  The task here was simply to hit an orange with a thrown dagger, which was done by rolling equal to or under my Skill on two dice.  Given that I had a Skill of 12 there was no chance of failure.

Now that I had passed all three tests the shaman gave me the information I was after.  He described the Gonchong as a parasitic spider that perched on its victim's head, with a proboscis that connected it to the brain.  The only way to kill the Gonchong was to sever the proboscis after killing the host, but killing the host was not going to be so easy, as it was immune to all weapons except for a fire sword.  As luck would have it, the Lizard King was super fond of fire swords, and had a stash of them in his armoury disguised as rusty knives.  Oh, one last thing to remember: the Lizard King is scared of monkeys.  I'm sure that will be important.

Armed now with that vital information, I set off south-east for the Lizard King's stronghold.  Soon enough I reached the Hobgoblin guarding the bridge over the chasm.  Last time I reached this point I had bribed him with a gold nugget, but this time I was loathe to give up my treasure.  Instead I murdered the hell out of him, and ransacked his corpse.  I was expecting some minor treasure, perhaps a few gold coins, but instead I found a clay doll that had been cursed by a witch doctor.  This reduced my Luck to 4, which was not a good state to be in, especially with the battle I knew was coming.  I ate another provision, restoring my Stamina to 14 and leaving me with but one meal remaining.

Over the bridge I went, straight into the Mutant Lizard Man and his Styracosaurus steed.  These two had killed me the last time I got this far, and I didn't fancy my chances this time around either.  The dinosaur hit me four times (reducing my Stamina to 6), but fortune was with me in my battle against the Lizard Man: I was able to take it out without being hit.  I looted the Lizard Man's shield (which would have given me a Skill bonus had I needed it), and continued on; this was the furthest I had reached while playing this book for the blog.

As I made my way through the jungle I was scratched by a thorny bush.  Luckily I had earlier drank Baskin's potion from the hut near the beach, and I was protected from being poisoned.

Further on I found a dead seaman and a chained monkey.  What a coincidence!  Who would have thought that I would find a monkey at the very time that I needed just such a monkey to help me on my quest.  I didn't even have to work for it.  It's like Fate just said POOF!  You need a monkey?  Have a monkey!  Monkeys for everyone!

Thanks for the monkey, Ian.

Soon I came to a valley, and I could see the Lizard King's fortress below.  But before I could get to it, I was confronted by Raquel Welch from One Million Years BC.  Oh yeah, there was a sabre-tooth tiger there as well, I guess.

Thanks for the lady, Alan.

I tried to talk to her, but the language barrier was too great.  Somewhat puzzled by this pointless encounter (I suspect that Alan Langford just wanted to draw a sexy jungle lady), I made my way into the valley to reunite with my army.  (At this point I ate the last of my provisions, restoring my Stamina to 10.)

It was time to attack the Lizard King's fortress, but it was apparently not the time to discuss tactics.  I just gathered my guys together, and we all ran towards the fort.  Luckily for me the Lizard King opened the gates, and his forces met us in the field.

I had to roll a die to determine what sort of foe I fought in the battle.  I rolled a 4, and had to fight a regular old Lizard Man that reduced my Stamina to 8.  The battle was going poorly, but I had an ace up my sleeve: the Horn of Valhalla!  I blew the horn and bolstered the morale of my troops.  They were able to open a gap in the enemy lines, and I ran through the fortress gates into the inner courtyard.

I had a choice of doors to my left and straight ahead.  I chose the left door, which opened into a prison complex.  I found an old man chained up in an open cell.  It was a bit suspicious that his cell was open, but just look at the miserable bugger.  How could I not set him free?

Well, as it turns out, this encounter was designed to teach me a valuable life lesson: steer clear of miserable old men.  The old man turned out to be a reptilian Shapechanger, and in the course of defeating it I lost more precious Stamina (I was reduced to a total of 4).

Exploring further I came to a locked door, but I was able to open it with my iron keys.  Beyond was a torture chamber, with all manner of implements lying about.  Among them was a set of rusty knives, and I did not hesitate in grabbing one of them.  Just as the shaman had told me, it was actually a magical fire sword.  If I had needed it, the sword would have given me a +2 Skill bonus, but finding it did restore my Luck to 6.

Another door opened into a storeroom.  Searching around I found a strange bottle, and a took a chance by drinking its contents.  Inside was water from an enchanted stream, which restored my Stamina to 6.  It wasn't much, but at this point even the smallest bonus was welcome.

The next room was a laboratory, but before I could examine anything I heard steps behind me, and I decided to hide under a bench.  A shackled Dwarf entered, being pushed by a Two-Headed Lizard Man.  I decided to leap from ambush, but I failed a Luck test and wasn't able to kill it instantly.  It wounded me before I could kill it, and I found myself approaching the endgame with a mere 4 Stamina remaining.  If I was going to succeed, I would need the dice to be kind.

Without a picklock's wire I wasn't able to free the Dwarf, but he still gave me directions to the battlements, where the Lizard King was directing his forces.  I raced up a set of stairs, and soon I was confronting my ultimate enemy.

First, though, I had to battle its pet, a vicious Black Lion.  I made a valiant attempt, but with 4 Stamina points I just wasn't strong enough, and the Lion mauled me to death.  Mungo would have been ashamed.

Remember earlier, when I wondered what could kill such a tough character?  As it turns out, the answer was attrition.  I made it to the end, but the long, linear slog of Island of the Lizard King just wore me down.  Now I have a better idea of which encounters I should avoid, and my next Skill 12 character will stand a much better chance of success.  The question is, how many guys do I have to send to their deaths by quicksand before I succeed?

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Island of the Lizard King - Attempts 3 to 13

Yes, you did read that correctly: in this post I'll be tackling attempts 3 through 13 of Island of the Lizard King.  This might lead you to believe that I've spent a lot of time reading this book in the last week, but really I only read it for an hour or so.  It could also lead you to believe that I've been playing the book exceedingly poorly.  There's a bit more truth to that, but the situation isn't quite so simple.  The truth is that only two of the above attempts were genuine, and the rest were...  Well, read on to find out.


For this attempt I rolled a Skill of 8, a Stamina of 22, and a Luck of 8.  From previous games I was more than aware how combat-heavy this book is, and I held little hope that this guy could ever make it through.  I doubted he could even get past the battles at the very beginning.  So I landed on Fire Island with Mungo and together we scrambled over the rocks to our left.  Mungo got nippered by the Giant Crab, but rather than go to his aid I decided to make a run for it.  Alas, I ran right into a patch of quicksand and died screaming.  The last thing I saw was Mungo being crushed to death by the Crab.  Gee, that was quick.  Yeah...  Super-quick...

ATTEMPTS 4 to 9 & 11 to 13

For my next character I rolled a Skill of 8 again, and sighed heavily. Another no-hoper.  Then I had a eureka moment: I didn't have to play this guy at all.  All I had to do was march him into the quicksand, mourn for the appropriate length of time (about half a  second should do it), then roll up the next guy.  Cheers Ian, it's a wonderfully handy bit of design.  I wish all of your books had such an early escape hatch.


In the midst of that suicide-by-quicksand montage I did roll an adequate character: Skill 10, Stamina 17, Luck 12.  I seriously considered quicksanding this guy as well, but a mild sense of guilt stayed my hand.  I figured that I should at least have a go with any character that stood a legitimate chance.  Finishing the book with Skill 10 would be hard, but not impossible.

After landing on the island with Mungo, I once more chose the path with the Giant Crab.  This time I didn't run away, but instead went to Mungo's aid and killed the Giant Crab.  I went to the hut and drank the anti-poison potion, killed the three headhunters, and chose the path that leads towards their village.  I had yet to explore that option, and as usual I was keen to get into some new territory.  (By this point I had a Stamina of 12, having been wounded twice by the crab and once by the headhunters.)

I followed the sound of drums, and soon came to a clearing ringed by bamboo huts.  In the centre, a bunch of headhunters were surrounding a man tied to a post.

It's not racist, it's a genre trope.

The headhunters were preparing to take this man's head, so I determined to rescue him.  To that end I set one of the huts on fire, and in the confusion (with a successful Luck test, reducing my score to 11) I was able to sneak into the village and cut the man free.  As we were fleeing, though, a headhunter spotted me and launched a spear.  I had to roll a die to determine what happened, and I rolled a 1.  The spear pierced my shoulder (reducing my Stamina to 9), but the man I had rescued came to my aid and dragged me to a nearby hut.  He then charged into battle with the headhunters, killing three of them before they cut him down.  I was left to do battle with the chief (Skill 8, Stamina 8).  He fought well (reducing my Stamina to 5), but I was able to kill him and take his spear.  No-one else attacked, and I fled into the jungle.

Soon I was out of the jungle and into the swamp; back in territory that I knew from previous attempts.  I ate two provisions to restore my strength (bring my Stamina back up to 13).  Once again the Marsh Hopper appeared to lure me into the swamp, but this time I ignored him and made my own way through.  It wasn't a good idea, as I was soon attacked by a Slime Sucker.

This guy would kill it as a DJ.

I had the option of hurling my spear at the Slime Sucker, but on the requisite die roll I scored a 1.  As a result, the mud on my hand caused the spear to slip, and I was forced to battle it with my sword.  There's a bit of a rule discrepancy in this section, though.  If you don't have the spear, the book tells you that you have to subtract 2 from your Attack Strength due to fighting in a swamp.  If you do have the spear and you miss, the resultant section makes no mention of this penalty.  I considered going with the letter of the rules, and ignoring the penalty, but in the end I opted to go with the spirit, and fight the Slime Sucker with an effective Skill of 8.  I'm my own worst enemy.

(At this point I'd like to point out my annoyance that the spear-throwing was resolved by a simple die roll.  I don't mind this for situations that aren't in my character's control, for example if an enemy fires an arrow at me.  But if I'm taking an action, such as throwing a spear?  I think that should be resolved based on my stats, and not pure Luck.)

As you would expect, the Slime Sucker (Skill 10, Stamina 9) murdered me.  I used a lot of my Luck to try to even the fight, but I never even looked like winning.

I never stood much of a chance with this character, and as usual I succumbed to my desire to explore.  Normally when I play these books I stick to the paths I'm familiar with, but writing them up for the blog makes me want to check out new areas.  I'll definitely go back to the headhunter village, because I want to see if I can properly rescue their victim.  As for the Slime Sucker, I'll probably avoid him next time, unless I have the spear and a super-buff character.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Island of the Lizard King - Attempt 2

Last time around, I got killed in the swamp by a Hydra.  I'm certain that I can avoid that encounter on this attempt, but can I cheat death altogether, and win through to the end?  I doubt it, but there's only one way to find out.

Get a load of these stats: Skill 12, Stamina 19, Luck 10.  It's going to take some genuine stupidity for me to fail with scores like this.

So, once again I'm back at the start of the adventure, with Mungo by my side, determined to kill the Lizard King and free his slaves.  In our last adventure I chose the left path from the beach, and Mungo got nippered by a Giant Crab.  This time I opted for the right path, hoping that my old mate would survive.

No sooner had we climbed over the rocks to the next inlet than we saw six pirates preparing to bury a treasure chest.  Personally I question the wisdom of burying a treasure chest on a beach.  Wouldn't the tide eventually wash it away?  I'm not a pirate, though, so what do I know?  It seems I have a pirate's greed, however, because I convinced Mungo that we should attack the scurvy dogs.  We cut down two of them before they could react, and then I found myself fighting two pirates at once.  They were moderately skilled (Skill 7 and 8, respectively), and working as a pair they managed to wound me a few times before I killed them (dropping my Stamina to 13).

I was too late to save poor Mungo, though, as the Pirate Captain (Skill 10, Stamina 6) stabbed him through the chest.  I was able to avenge my old friend, but not before the captain wounded me twice (dropping my Stamina to 9).  I held Mungo as he died, and listened to his immortal final words: "Make sure you get the Lizard King for me, won't you?"  Sheer poetry.

With combat over, and my companion dead, it was time to turn to more important matters: the looting of treasure.  It was not to be, however, as the treasure contained nothing but iron bars (no doubt a ruse by the captain to throw off his crew and keep the real treasure for himself).  I kept one of the iron bars anyway; this is an Ian Livingstone book, after all.

(On the whole, I think that the path with the Giant Crab is the better one.  It only involves one combat, and I feel like the anti-poison is a better reward than the iron bar.  I guess I'll find out eventually.)

I climbed a goat track up a cliff and into the jungle, and soon I found myself in territory that I had covered during Attempt 1.  I chose not to rest under the tree this time (thus avoiding the strangling vine).  The three Headhunters proved to be little trouble; I defeated them and took just one wound, and was able to heal up afterwards with their food and one of my own provisions (restoring my Stamina to 12, and leaving me with 9 provisions).  In my last attempt I went north-west to avoid the Headhunters' village, but this time I carried on to the west, as I wanted to get back into unexplored territory.

Soon I heard the sound of drums to the south-west, but I ignored it and continued west.  I got lost for a short time, but a glimpse of the sun allowed me to get my bearings, and soon I found myself at the edge of a swamp.  (I feel like I got to this point a lot quicker this time; this must be the shortest and safest path through the book.  I'll remember it for the times when I really just want to rush through, assuming I haven't missed anything vital.)

As I entered the swamp, a Marsh-Hopper raced past, and I called out to it.  I was wary of the danger of following one of these tricksome creatures, but I felt as though I should at least let it guide me for a short time.  This I did, but I was careful to break off and head west before it could lead me to my death (as happened in my last game).  I got through the swamp safely, but I was disgusted to find that I was covered in Giant Leeches.  I was able to remove them with some salt from my provisions, but I was greatly weakened.  (You have to roll a die to determine how many leeches are attached to you, and lose this amount of Stamina.  I rolled a 5, reducing my Stamina to 7 and my provisions to 8.)

I left the swamp and soon came to a gorge between several hills.  I decided to enter the gorge rather than climb the hills, figuring that I should do my best to keep out of sight.  It turned out to be a bad decision, as I was caught in a very inconveniently timed landslide, and one of the rocks struck me when I failed a Luck test (reducing my Luck score to 9).  I then had to roll a die to determine how badly I had been struck; I rolled a 6, and suffered a glancing blow and the loss of 2 Stamina (reducing my total to 5).  Feeling shaken by the ordeal, I stopped to rest and eat some provisions (which restored my Stamina to 9, and left me with 7 provisions).

There were some words carved on a nearby rock: "Turn Back or Die".  It wasn't evident which direction the words were meant for, so I pressed on to the far end of the gorge.  There I found some footprints and signs of a struggle, and I tracked them until I found a shiny brass snuff-box.  Inside was a gold nugget and a piece of paper with a message from an escaped slave of the Lizard King.  It indicated the location of his hidden raft, where the gorge meets the river, and also that the mines were nearby.  Armed with this knowledge, I went in search of the river.

Before I could get there, though, a Giant Lizard attacked!

The Lizard wasn't all that tough (Skill 8, Stamina 9), but I was a bit worried due to my low Stamina.  I needn't have been concerned, as I killed it without a scratch.  (Another pointless encounter.  Livingstone strikes again.)

Soon I came to a pond, and I decided to take a drink despite the layer of green algae floating on top.  The pond was home to a Spit Toad, but I was able to avoid the jet of liquid it shot from its mouth with a successful Skill test.

I quickly killed the feeble Toad (Skill 5, Stamina 6), and took the drink I had been after in the first place (which restored my Stamina to 10).  At the bottom of the pond I noticed a wooden casket, so I waded in to retrieve it.  Inside was a veritable trove of items: a phial of liquid, a velvet pouch, a gold ring and a pair of red leather boots.  Fired by insatiable curiosity, I tried them all.  The phial was a Potion of Clumsiness; from now on I would have to roll a die at the beginning of every combat, and if I scored a 1 I would automatically lose the first Attack Round.  The pouch was a Pouch of Unlimited Contents, which had the ability to store large and heavy objects in an interdimensional space (a find which restored my Luck back to 10).  The boots had no evident special qualities, aside from being snazzy.  Finally, the ring was a Ring of Confusion, which caused me to lose 2 Skill points (dropping my score to 10).  All told, I feel like I got hosed with this particular selection of items, but I'm sure some will come in handy later.

As I continued travelling a wild boar crossed my path, but I had no spear to catch it.  Further along I came to a river, and I remembered the note that I had read earlier. I searched in the bushes, found the raft hidden there, and set off upstream.

I had not gone far before my boat was attacked by a Giant Crocodile.  Normally this would have meant a fight, but I was able to wedge its jaws open with the iron bar I had found earlier.  Let's hear it for ultra-specific, one-use item applications!  (At least I hope it's one-use, I'll be furious if I need that bar later on.)

As I drifted on, a prisoner in rags appeared on the shore, waving to me frantically.

I stopped to talk to him, which turned out to be a terrible idea.  The man was delirious with fever, and he attacked me with a dagger.  I was forced to fight him bare-handed (reducing my Skill in this fight to 7), and despite his low scores (Skill 6, Stamina 5), he hit me twice before I defeated him (reducing my Stamina to 6).  I didn't have to kill him, though, as my second blow sent him flying off my raft and into the water.  I ate another of my provisions before continuing on (restoring my Stamina to 10, and leaving me with 6 provisions).

Eventually I came to a collection of huts, and I steered the raft towards the bank so as not to be seen.  Near the huts was a pair of Lizard Men, and I knew from the note I had read earlier that I had found the gold mines.  I decided to ignore the Lizard Men, and sneaked past them to enter the mines.

I explored a torch-lit mine passage, and soon came to a T-junction, where I turned right.  At the next junction I went straight ahead, and found an over-turned cart with the skeleton of a Dwarf lying nearby.

There was a bore-hole in the wall nearby, and I found myself wondering if the Dwarf had been killed by a Rock Grub (huzzah for monster continuity).  Despite my knowledge of Rock Grubs, and against my better judgment, I decided to take a look inside the bore-hole.  It was dark inside, and I had the option to turn back, but I ignored it.  Soon it became apparent that the bore-hole wasn't going anywhere, so I had to flip around awkwardly and make my way back to the mine passage.  While I was doing so an item fell out of my pack (bye-bye note from the snuff-box), which caused me to lose a Luck point (reducing my Luck to 9).

The mine passage ended at a junction, and I turned left.  This tunnel soon ended at a vertical shaft, which looked cracked and dangerous.  The thought crossed my mind that the boots I was wearing might be magical, and after some testing I figured out that they gave me the ability to walk on walls.  I explored the bottom of the shaft, and found a superbly crafted sword.  Taking it added 2 to my Skill (which restored my score back to 12), and I was also able to restore my Luck to 10 due to my good fortune.

(I can't quite recall, but I'll bet those boots aren't used at any other point in the book, despite how obviously handy they would be.  I'll be keeping an eye out to see if my suspicions are correct.)

I walked back to the junction and continued straight through.  The floor of the tunnel was strewn with what appeared to be coconuts, but were actually tiny creatures known as Grannits.

They're kind of adorable, or at least I thought so until one of the buggers bit me through my shoe (reducing my Stamina to 9).  One of them attacked me, but with a Skill of 4 it might as well not have bothered.  After dispatching the first I tried to kill the other three with a single stroke of my sword, but rolling a 1 on the die meant that I missed them all.  Much like the first Grannit, however, their attacks on me were futile.  (Skill 3, Ian?  Stop wasting my time, mate.)

With the Grannits defeated, and no paths onwards, I made my way back past the cart and the skeleton.  I continued on past the mine entrance, and came to a vertical shaft with a ladder leading down.  It seemed to me that the mine-workers must be down there, so I descended the ladder.

At the bottom of the ladder I could hear the faint sound of singing.  I headed towards it, but some footsteps behind me sent me scurrying into the shadows.  A Lizard Man walked past my hiding place, and I decided to follow it.  I was unable to be stealthy, however, as the Potion of Clumsiness that I had drank earlier was still in effect.  I dropped my sword, but a successful Luck test (reducing my Luck to 9) meant that the Lizard Man was too deaf to hear.  Stoked by my good fortune, I picked up a rock and smashed the Lizard Man's head in before it could react.

Following the singing, I emerged into a chamber where six Dwarfs were toiling under the whip of a Lizard Man guard.

Incensed with rage, I attacked the Lizard Man (Skill 8, Stamina 7).  I struck it two solid blows before the Dwarfs took up their hammers and bludgeoned it to death.  The Dwarfs were more than willing to join up with me on my quest to kill the Lizard King, and they agreed to lead me to the other prisoners.  I disguised myself by wearing the Lizard Man's cloak, but a failed Luck test (reducing my Luck to 8) meant that I had to fight the next Lizard Man I encountered.  It was no problem, as my Dwarf buddies tore him apart after a single attack round.  (Why don't I take these guys with me everywhere?  I could stick them in my Pouch of Unlimited Contents and smuggle them into Deathtrap Dungeon.)

A pair of Orcs were the next to fall to my Dwarven comrades (after another Luck test, which reduced my score to 7).  Together we freed more slaves, including Elves and Men, and we ran riot through the mines, freeing the other prisoners and killing the guards.  I had to roll a die to determine how many wounds I sustained during the battle.  I rolled a 1, which meant that I lost 4 Stamina (reducing my total to 5).

The mines were soon over-run, and I was the leader of a band of 63 rescued slaves.  We proceeded to throw a party, complete with jig-dancing Dwarf, but soon enough a brooding Elf decided to ruin the fun.  This Elf had some proper foreboding exposition to drop on me: the Lizard King had bonded with a parasite known as a Gonchong, which made him invincible.  Apparently, only the island's Shaman knows of the Gonchong's weakness, and the Elf recommended that I go looking for him.  I sent my small army to lay siege to the Lizard King's fort, while I went in search of the shaman.

With no knowledge of where the Shaman might be, I struck out for the island's volcano.  I went back to my boat, but the current was now too strong, so I decided to travel overland.  Soon I found a bush with raspberries, which I ate (restoring my Stamina to 6).  A failed Luck test (reducing my score to 6) meant that I had to battle a Giant Wasp, but I was able to defeat it without being wounded.  (It looks as though something bad happens if you take any wounds in this fight.  I haven't looked, but I suspect an instant death by stinger).

Continuing on, I found a bulging sack hanging from a tree.  I cut it down, and out spilled honeycomb, wheatcakes and fruit.  I ate it all (along with one of my Provisions, restoring my Stamina to 12), but a rustling in the bushes alerted me to danger.  BEAR ATTACK!

Apparently this was the ninja of bears, because it had a whopping Skill of 10.  Even so, I killed it without taking a scratch.  Because I am the ninja of adventurers.  The bear had a brass whistle on a collar around its neck, and I was quick to loot it.  At this point I decided to drink my Potion of Fortune, which raised my Luck score to 11.

As the sun was setting, I found a place to camp.  I successfully tested my Luck (reducing my score to 10), and the night passed without incident.  In the morning, as I was filling my water bottle, I noticed some chalk marks on a nearby rock.  It was a message from the Shaman, telling me that if I desired peaceful contact with him I should tie a feather in my hair.

I set off to find a feather, but instead I found a hostile Hill Troll that instantly attacked (dammit Ian).  The Troll (Skill 9, Stamina 9) hit me thrice before I could kill it (reducing my Stamina to 6).  It also had no loot, further reinforcing the pointlessness of this encounter.

I pressed on, and soon I found a dead seagull and tied one of its feathers in my hair.  Nearby I saw the mouth of a cave, and went to investigate.  As I drew near my foot caught on a string that tumbled some rocks, alerting the Cavewoman who lived inside.

She ran forth and hurled a spear at me.  I successfully tested my Luck (reducing my score to 9), and the spear sailed over my head.  I easily killed the Cavewoman, and set about looting her home.  The only item of interest was a bowl of red dust she kept near her bedding.  I decided to experiment with it by daubing some on my face, and was rewarded with the knowledge that the powder would protect me from mind control.  With my Luck restored to 11, I left the cave and continued on.

Soon I reached the foot of the volcano, and rather than skirt around I decided to climb directly up the side.  I soon came to a circle of polished stones, with a pile of crude items inside.  I thought that perhaps this was a place where visitors could leave gifts for the Shaman, so I decided to leave something in the circle.  At this point, I had a gold nugget, a Pouch of Unlimited Contents, Boots of Climbing, a Ring of Confusion, a superbly crafted sword, and a brass whistle.  The only item here that I didn't want was the ring, and that's what I left.  I really shouldn't have, as it's cursed, and the description when you put it on specifically states that it can't be removed.  I'd forgotten that at the time, and I reasoned that the Ring wasn't having a mechanical effect on me now that I'd found the sword.  So I left it as my offering, when I really shouldn't have.  (As it turns out, keeping the ring would have served me far better.)  Despite my flagrant disregard for the spirit of the rules, a line of rocks turned red to form a path to the Shaman.

I followed the path, and soon an old man with a feathered staff popped out from behind a rock.  I had found the Shaman at last.

The Shaman was convinced of my good intentions by the feather in my hair (seriously, this guy would be so easy to murder), and listened while I explained about my mission to kill the Lizard King and the Gonchong.  He did a comical leap in the air when I mentioned the Gonchong, but despite his shock, and the altruism of my goals, he said that I would have to earn his help by passing three "disturbing and painful" tests.  At this point the book gave me the option to leave, which is tempting to try out one day to see exactly how helpful the Shaman is in finishing the book.  (What I would really like is the option to just not bother looking for the Shaman at all.  It would shave off a considerable part of a quite long book.)

I was game for the tests, and he gave me six options to choose from: Luck, Fear, Pain, Revulsion, Strength, and Dexterity.  The first test I chose was Fear.  The shaman filled my head with "terrible and threatening images", but I was able to resist them due to the magic powder I had on my face.

The next trial I chose was Pain.  He told me to hold two bones, and suddenly I felt as though I was going to explode.  This was dead easy to pass.  There's an option to cry out for him to stop, and an option to suck it up and take the pain.  It's pretty obvious which is the correct one, and if you choose it it's an automatic pass.  No troubles here.

For the final test I chose Revulsion.  The Shaman tapped me with his staff, and suddenly my whole body was crawling with maggots.  "You feel them writhing around inside your mouth and ears."  At this point the book asked me if I was wearing the Ring of Confusion.  If you'll recall, I had taken it off and left it as a gift for the Shaman.  I was feeling pretty good about not having it (albeit  a little guilty for what was probably cheating), but as it turned out the ring would have helped me pass the test somehow.  Without the ring I was unable to bear the experience, and to my surprise the Shaman told me that he could not share his secrets.  What, I only get one failure?  Disappointed, I began the long trek back down the volcano to find my army.

After a time I came to a ravine, and the only way across was a stone arch guarded by a Hobgoblin.

By this point I was weary of the constant grind of battle, so I decided to bribe my way across the bridge with my gold nugget.  The Hobgoblin was very happy to accept the bribe, and allowed me to cross with no trouble.  I'm wondering now if he knew what was waiting for me on the other side.

I travelled for a short time across rocky terrain, but soon I was intercepted by a Lizard Man riding a Styracosaurus.

It was at this point I realised, to my horror, that I only had 6 points of Stamina.  The Styracosaurus was tough (Skill 11, Stamina 10), but through judicious use of my Luck score I was able to defeat it with my own Stamina reduced to 2.  I wasn't so fortunate with the Mutant Lizard Man, who jumped from the back of his dead steed and killed me with a single blow.

I have nobody to blame here but myself.  I was growing weary of the book, to be honest, and not being all that careful.  I still had plenty of Provisions left, and I really shouldn't have entered that fight with such a low Stamina.  There's really no excuse for not finishing this book with the stats I had, and it can only come down to poor play on my part.  Next time I start getting bored, I'll put the book down and play video games or something.