After a bit of a hiatus, I'm back to begin playing through The Seven Serpents, the third part of Steve Jackson's Sorcery! epic. The second book - Khare - Cityport of Traps - gave me all sorts of trouble, and I had some vague memories of that one. I've finished The Seven Serpents before, but my memories of it are basically non-existent. I remember fighting some serpents with magic powers, I remember needing to cross a lake, and I remember some of the monsters. It's better than nothing, but not by much.
So, the set-up: I'm on a quest to retrieve the legendary Crown of Kings from the evil Archmage of Mampang Fortress, and have just passed through the city of Khare and into the Baddu-Bak Plains. Alas, some evil bugger has found out about my mission, and seven serpents are speeding their way to warn the Archmage. My goal for book 3 is to make it to Mampang Fortress while taking out as many of the serpents as possible. Sounds dead easy.
My character, carried over from book 2, is as follows:
STAMINA: 16 (currently 5)
LUCK: 11 (currently 10)
CLUES: "For sleeping of the Sleepless Ram, seek out the one they call The Sham"
EQUIPMENT: Sword, Backpack, Pipe, Blimberry Juice (1 dose, restores 3 Stamina), Beeswax, Key (numbered 54), Armband of Swordmastery (+2 bonus to Attack Strength when wielding a sword), Skullcap, Magic Chain (can be used to automatically kill an enemy with less than 3 Stamina, but then requires two Luck tests to retrieve), Mirror, Parchment Scroll, Green Wig, Tinderbox, Snake-Bite Antidote, Broadsword (deals 3 points of damage, but has a -1 penalty to Attack Strength), Bow and 10 Silver Arrows, Silver Ring (numbered 130)
When you lay it out like that my character looks well hard, and has a number of really useful items. The main concern is that I'm beginning the book with a low Stamina. The series doesn't say anything about healing between books. You could do it by praying to Libra, which can be done once per book, but I had already used up my prayer earlier in Book 2. There's no logical reason that I would otherwise be healed, so I've decided that I'll just have to tough it out.
There's one more thing to do before I begin the adventure proper: investigate the silver ring in my inventory. I can't quite remember who in Khare gave it to me, but I'm pretty sure that I need to check out its effects before I start. Turning to paragraph 130 (the number etched on the ring) informs me that the ring can be helpful in defeating the serpents: when I confront one, I can subtract 14 from the paragraph I'm on and the serpent will reveal the secret to defeating it. Good to know! I'm super glad I remembered to do this before starting.
As the adventure began, I found myself crossing the Plains of Baddu-Bak. The book doesn't mess about: right in the first paragraph I was attacked by a flock of screeching Nighthawks.
With my Stamina so low, I decided not to cast a spell, and fought the Nighthawks with my sword. All four of them attacked at once, but with a lot of luck I was able to kill one of them and avoid being wounded.
Just then a Goldcrest Eagle swooped in and scattered the Nighthawks. (He needn't have bothered, I was doing fine on my own.) Goldcrest Eagles are bred and trained for war in my home of Analand, and this one was delivering a message: the Seven Serpents are on their way to warn the Archmage about me. The message also said that I should seek out Shadrack the Hermit for help.
With that preamble out of the way (seriously, I wish Jackson had just stuck this in the Introduction so that I don't have to fight those Nighthawks at the start of every game) I ventured further into the plains. I found a solitary tree and rested there for a short time. While I was resting, the tree's branches twisted into the form of a face, and started to speak.
"You seek the whereabouts of Shadrack of Baddu-Bak, that I know," it said. "To find him you must detour eastwards from your trail towards the Fishtail Rock. He is expecting you." Well of course he's expecting me, they always bloody are. With no other guides to go by, I dutifully set off to the east, and soon enough I located Fishtail Rock and Shadrack.
Shadrack and I had a good old chinwag, and he also gave me some food (which restored my Stamina to 7). When the talk turned to the subject of the Serpents, he gave me their whole origin story: about twelve years ago the Archmage fought and killed a Hydra. He was so impressed with its might that he resurrected all seven of its heads to act as his servants, and assigned one to each of his gods. In return the gods imbued the Serpents with powers of Sun, Moon, Air, Earth, Fire, Water, and Time. Each of the Serpents has a special weakness which they guard closely (but which I should be able to pry from them with my ring). Shadrack only knows the weakness of the Air Serpent: it sometimes leaves its body as a puff of gas, and if the body is destroyed before it can return it will perish.
Not only did Shadrack give me food and information, but he let me sleep overnight in his cave (which restored my Stamina to 10) and he also gave me a Galehorn, which is useful for one of the spells (I can't remember the exact details, and I'm not allowed to look them up). What a guy!
I headed off, rejoining the main trail, and soon encountered a trio of rather mean-looking Centaurs.
Given their unsavoury look, I thought that an aggressive approach might work best, so I drew my sword. They didn't take too kindly to this, and the battle was on. I cast a DIM spell to even the odds (dropping my Stamina to 8), which took out one of the Centaurs, but I still had to fight the other two. They both fired arrows before closing for battle, but I was able to avoid them. I decided to fight with my broadsword; I wanted the fight over with as quickly as possible and I didn't think the -1 penalty to Attack Strength would affect me too badly. I was injured once (reducing my Stamina to 6), but I was able to kill the two Centaurs.
I could have slain the one that I put into a stupor with my DIM spell, but instead I waited for the spell to wear off and allowed him to surrender. He told me that the Moon Serpent is vulnerable to fire, before escaping and galloping away. With nothing else to do I looted the bodies of his friends, and found 4 gold pieces (raising my total to 6) and a pouch of sand.
Now I had to decide which direction to set off across the Baddu-Bak Plains. Checking the map, I opted to travel to the north-east. Despite my attempts to stay alert, I was knocked off my feet by something burrowing up from underground. I landed heavily, but a successful Luck test (which reduced my score to 9) ensured that none of my equipment broke. Of more immediate concern was the creature that was attacking me: a Baddu-Beetle!
Again my Stamina was low, so I decided against using magic. I hit it with my sword and wounded it, but the Beetle's acidic blood splashed on me (reducing my Stamina to 5). With every blow I struck there was a chance of being hit by the blood, with various detrimental effects depending on the hit location. I decided to use my Luck to get the fight over with more quickly (reducing my score to 7), and was able to defeat it with just two more blows, but during the fight the acid splashed on my arm twice (further reducing my Stamina to 2).
After the fight, I collected some stone dust from the beetle's lair. (These spell components are starting to become less and less familiar. I've got no idea which one this is for.) I also decided to pray to Libra to restore all my stats back to their initial levels. It was a risky move, but I had my doubts that I'd be able to survive long with just 2 Stamina points
Again I set off, still heading north-east. There were no signs of life, but eventually I heard a disembodied shrieking, and saw a pair of eyes floating before me. Around the eyes there formed the sinister shape of a robed, skeletal figure, which was beckoning me forward.
I wanted no truck with this guy, so I ran for cover in some nearby rocks. This proved to be a terrible idea, as with a gesture the skeleton caused the rocks to come to life and trap my foot. The boulders formed into the shape of a Rock Demon, and I had to defend myself (with a -2 penalty to Attack Strength due to being trapped). The first thing I did was free my foot, which got rid of the penalty but gave the Demon and automatic hit, reducing me to 14 Stamina. The rest of the fight was pretty hairy, but somehow I only suffered one further wound before defeating the Demon (leaving me with 12 Stamina).
Recklessly I charged at the creature, which I now recognised as a Deathwraith. I drew my bow and silver arrows, and met it in battle. (The fight here is a melee one, but as the arrows were the only silver weapon I had I decided to fight as normal except that if I hadn't won before all of my arrows were spent I'd automatically be killed.) The Deathwraith scored two hits on me (reducing my Stamina to 8), but I was able to wound it several times, at which point it was revealed to be an illusion! It wasn't a Deathwraith, but a portly wizard by the name of Renfren.
My urge for vengeance was less than my need for information, so I interrogated Renfren. He gave me 9 gold pieces (raising my total to 15), some yellow powder, and a throwing disc called a chakram that I could use to wound an opponent before every battle by rolling less than my Skill on two dice. He was also about to tell me about one of the Serpents, but instead he keeled over and died of fright. The world turned black, and I found myself confronted by the Moon Serpent.
I remembered my silver ring, and used it (by subtracting 14 from the current paragraph number and turning to that section). The serpent revealed to me that four guardians protect the entrance to the Fortress of Mampang. Not the most immediately useful information, is it? I had thought the Serpents were supposed to reveal their own weaknesses, but luckily I already knew what could harm the Moon Serpent: fire!
I used my tinderbox to light a fire, and battled the weakened serpent with my sword. It wounded me once (reducing my Stamina to 6), but after I killed it the serpent transformed into a Crystal Orb, which I pocketed before moving on.
After the battle I headed to the northwest for a time, until I encountered a camp of covered wagons and carts. As I approached two arrows were fired at me, so I held up my hands as a sign that I came in peace. The camp was a band of Black Elves, who told me that they could not give me food or shelter, and demanded to know why I was walking alone through the Baklands.
I told the Elves that I was a trader, and this changed their tune immediately. I was ushered into a caravan and shown the following goodies that I could purchase:
There's a whole lot of stuff here, some of it mentioned in the text and some of it only shown in the illustration. I bought the following: a scroll entitled 'Secrets of the Baklands', a Brass Pendulum, some vittles (enough for four provisions), and some Chainmail Armour (which left me with 1 gold piece).
The scroll made mention of 'The Sham', an old sorceress who lived to the north-east. It said she might be helpful, but that she was also not exactly as she appeared. It also warned about the Forest of Snatta, where the plants were as deadly as the animals, although they could be affected by Essence of Bark.
The Chainmail gave a +1 bonus to Skill (as usual, I'm not sure if this should add to my initial total or not; logic says yes, but I defer to the letter of the rules by not applying the bonus). It also reduces the damage of any combat wound by 1 point if I roll a 5 or a 6.
I decided to take the advice that the Black Elves had previously given me, and opted not to ask for shelter for the night. The Elves allowed me to leave without trouble, and soon I had made my own camp and settled down to rest. (Okay, so I must have lost track of some Stamina loss along the way. Apparently I only had 4 Stamina when I camped, and the food and rest restored me back to 7.)
I headed north-east and soon saw a figure heading towards me at an incredible rate. It was an old gnome, who told me that if I was a friend of his I would offer him an item.
I gave the Gnome my scroll of "Secrets of the Baklands', as I had already memorised the information. The Gnome was moderately pleased by the gift (this was determined by a die roll; I got the middle result), and revealed to me that he was really The Sham, otherwise known as the sorceress Dintainta. She told me to beware the Sleepless Ram when I reached Mampang Fortress, and gave me a vial which could overcome the creature when uncorked. She also told me that the Earth Serpent lurked ahead, and that I could defeat it by breaking its contact with the ground. I thanked the Sham and continued on. (I also ate some provisions in order to raise my Stamina to 9.)
I headed north and came to a rock that looked like a good resting place. I decided not to bother, but was surprised when a rock I dislodged with my foot reversed its fall and struck me (reducing my Stamina to 8). The rock exploded, showering me with debris.
I ran from the rocks, but a few struck me (reducing my Stamina to 7). Suddenly a pit opened beneath me, and when I fell in the grounded started to grow red-hot. I tried to pull myself out of the pit, but something bit my hand (reducing my Stamina to 6).
Unsure what to do, I waited around in the pit, but the heat started to become unbearable (reducing my Stamina to 4). I tried climbing out again, and a successful Luck test meant that my hand was only bitten once (leaving me with 3 Stamina). Quickly I drank some Blimberry Juice (restoring my Stamina to 6) and prepared to confront my foe: the Earth Serpent!
Rocks were poised to rain down on me, and the serpent coiled around my leg. I swatted the Snake to the ground, and after its true nature was revealed I used my ring to learn its secret: offer no gold to Valignya. Good to know.
I cast a HUF spell, which utilised my galehorn to blow the serpent into the air (and reduced my Stamina to 5). Cut off from its source of power, the serpent was easy to destroy (I didn't even need to fight it.)
Soon I reached the Forest of Snatta, the next leg of my journey. I stopped to rest before entering (restoring my Stamina to 8).
At the first junction I chose the middle path. I could hear a soft plopping sound, but chose to ignore it and continue on. This was a bad idea, as I was mauled by an invisible beast. I was able to draw my sword and drive it away, but not before it had a good chew on my arm (reducing my Stamina to 5).
At the next junction I turned right, and came to a path overgrown with bushes.
I squeezed between two bushes (not my choice I might add; this is a case were I was done in by the book assuming actions for me) and was soon hopelessly tangled. Too low on Stamina to rely on my magic, I decided to draw my sword. Alas, a failed Luck test meant that I was unable to reach it before the bush strangled me to death. I could have saved myself by praying to Libra, but I'd used that prayer earlier in the adventure.
I felt like I was progressing reasonably well, despite the fact that I was constantly low on Stamina. To be honest, that enhanced the atmosphere of the book, and really made me feel like I was struggling to survive in a hostile environment. The choice of when to cast spells and when to conserve Stamina is a vital one, and I probably chose wrong at the end. It's not entirely my fault though: I rolled a double 6 on my Luck test, and there isn't much that can be done about that. Hopefully on my next play through I'll have some more Stamina to work with, and thus more spell-casting options.