(As an aside, it's always thrown me off that the good wizard's name rhymes with Skeletor. I frequently have to remind myself that "oh yeah, he's the good one".)
For my stats I rolled Skill 11, Stamina 15 and Luck 12. These stats were the impetus for me choosing evil this time around. I feel like the evil quest is the most difficult to beat, so I'm only going to tackle it when my stats are high.
All right then. I got swamps to explore, murders to commit, treasure to loot, puppies to kick and presidential offices to run for. Let's do some evil.
EVIL ATTEMPT 1
Upon entering Fenmarge I went to the tavern, where the locals told me I was a fool for wanting to enter Scorpion Swamp. One of them had the impertinence to put his hand on my shoulder, so I put my hand on my sword and threatened to kill them all. Much to my surprise the townsfolk weren't scared or impressed, so I slunk away in embarrassment (reducing my Luck to 11).
Before I could leave the tavern I was accosted by a fellow named Gronar, who offered to help me find a quest. Instead I ignored him; random mapping and beast-slaying sounded pretty good to me. He insisted that I'd need help to survive in the swamp, but again I ignored him and made my way to the swamp.
Apparently I should have listened, because my first foray into the swamp (glossed over by the book in one sentence) resulted in me barely surviving to return to Fenmarge. (This required a successful Luck test. If memory serves, failing said Luck test results in a fatal end. I made the roll, and was penalised a further 2 Luck points for general stupidity, leaving me with a score of 8.)
I sought out Gronar and apologised (I didn't mean it), and he told me that there were three local wizards looking for an adventurer to explore Scorpion Swamp: the good wizard Selator, the evil Grimslade, and the mysterious Poomchukker. Reasoning that the forces of evil would pay the highest (and resisting the urge to serve such an awesomly named wizard as Poomchukker), I left to find Grimslade.
Nobody wanted to direct me to Grimslade's tower, until I found a skinny ruffian in the marketplace who helpfully gave me directions. It just goes to show, sometimes the evil people are the best ones. Grimslade's home had the standard super-villain decor, with the gargoyles and the jagged towers and the whatnot. Not only that, but my magic ring was growing hot, warning me that Grimslade was really, really evil. (Stupid ring. Why doesn't it detect that I'm evil?)
When I entered the tower, Grimslade - a skeletally thin figure in black robes with glowing runes on them - was waiting for me, and already knew what I wanted. He told me that he wanted a fearless servant, and I replied that I had no fear. (I skipped the option where I tell him about the ring. Never let evil wizards know you have good stuff.) Grimslade's reply was to use his magic to animate a nearby Statue of a Goblin, which I had to fight to prove myself.
I beat the statue without being hit (using a broken chair leg, no less) and Grimslade was impressed. He cast a spell to restore my Luck (back to its initial level of 12), and gifted me with a magic sword.
(This is another one of those irritating magic swords that increases Skill, rather than Attack Strength. I was so annoyed that I went back and re-read the rules. It says, and I quote: "A Magic Weapon may increase your Skill, but remember that only one weapon can be used at a time! ... Your Skill score can never exceed its Initial value." I was all set to weasel my way around the rules, but it seems pretty concrete to me: there's no weaseling around the word "never". I'm going to allow myself some slight leeway, though, and use that Skill bonus to offset any penalties that I later receive. It's something I probably should have been doing for years, but instead I've only been adding the bonus when I gain a magic sword. I don't know why it never occurred to me to do it this way from the beginning.)
Grimslade explained that several wizards have taken up residence in Scorpion Swamp, and that their powers seem to stem from the amulets they all carry. My task was to bring him at least three of those amulets, with my reward being 500 gold pieces per amulet. Bingo! I knew that choosing evil would pay off.
I was then able to choose six spell gems to take with me, from the Neutral and Evil lists. I chose one each of the evil spells (Curse, Fear, Withering) as well as Fire, Stamina and Skill. I was expecting a lot of battles, and made sure to pick spells that could restore my abilities.
I took my leave of Grimslade and headed back into the swamp, this time with a purpose to guide me. At the first clearing I jumped over a patch of soft ground (thrilling adventure!) and took the right-hand path. That path led to a clearing with a large stone and a hollow tree.
I wasn't about to rest here without checking out that tree first, and it was just as well. No sooner did I approach the tree than a Bear stuck its head out. I attacked it with gusto, and was able to kill it without suffering a single wound. Alas, it had no treasure, so I left this clearing to the east.
In the next clearing was a "small pool". When I approached it, a great, tentacled beast rose up to attack me (I question the description here, because a creature like that wouldn't fit in a small pool.)
The Pool Beast had a violet jewel embedded in its head, and I was never going to flee with such riches on offer. I attacked it with my sword, and although it wounded me twice (reducing my Stamina to 11), I was able to kill it and pry the gem from its forehead. The only exit from the clearing was back the way I came, so I retraced my steps to the bear clearing, and headed north from there.
(At this point, I'd like to point out that the illustration above is completely wasted. The Pool Beast is on the cover already! Use an illustration for something else!)
The next clearing was festooned with spider webs. A pavilion floated above the surface of the swamp, and sitting on a throne inside it was a sinister-looking chap wearing a spider amulet: the Master of Spiders!
I considered casting a spell, but nothing seemed immediately useful, so I resorted back to my usual tactic of sword-to-the-face. The Master fought back with his wand, the tip of which glistened with venom. He struck me twice before I killed him, and the venom made the wounds more severe than they otherwise would have been. (Each blow subtracted 3 from my Stamina instead of the usual 2, reducing my Stamina to 5. I also used a point of Luck to kill the Master more quickly, reducing that score to 11.) When I claimed his amulet, his body burst into flames, setting fire to some nearby webs. I hurried north from the clearing to avoid being burned. (I also cast my Stamina spell at this point, restoring my score to 13.)
The next clearing was thick with grass, which looked pleasant enough, but I should have been more wary. Each blade of grass had a pincer at the tip, and they reached out to attack me. It was Crab Grass! (Oh ho ho, I see what you did there Fake Steve.)
Whipping out my trusty magic sword once again, I chopped the grass down (all 16 bloody Stamina points of it) and continued on my merry way down the path to the east, past a tree with the words "Beware of Orcs" scorched on the trunk. Pfft. Orcs. Nobody has to beware of Orcs. (Except for Boromir, the wimp.)
No sooner did I enter the next clearing than an arrow went whizzing past my head. Sure enough, three Swamp Orcs were there with bows at the ready.
Another Orc fired at me, and the arrow grazed my arm (reducing my Skill to 10, a wound now offset by my magical sword). Enraged, I once again attacked with sword in hand, and had to fight all three simultaneously. I dispatched the first two quickly (using a Luck point to expedite the process, dropping my score to 10), but the last was able to wound me three times before it died (reducing my Stamina to 7).
(When the arrow was fired at me, the book asked if I had a golden magnet amulet. As I recall, having that amulet is very bad indeed.)
The Orcs had a few gold pieces (frustratingly not enumerated), as well as a crude map that indicated a frog with a crown to the south of my present location. My curiosity piqued, I headed in that direction.
As expected, the next clearing was infested with frogs. There was also a man perched on top of a huge mushroom: the Master of Frogs.
He greeted me, and I acted with friendliness in return, all the while eyeing his amulet with greed. I didn't want to tell him about my evil mission, so instead I made up some story about being in the service of Baron Sukumvit of Fang, and searching Scorpion Swamp for monsters to be used in Deathtrap Dungeon. (This might be the sole connection this book has to anything else in the series.) Alas, he did not believe my story (because I failed a Luck test, reducing my score to 9). Not only that, but he set a pair of Giant Frogs on me. I was able to kill them without suffering any wounds, but by that time the Master of Frogs had escaped into the swamp. That was one amulet I would not be getting my hands on.
I retraced my steps back past the dead Orcs, then headed north. The next clearing was empty. Heading east from there, I came to a lovely glade with a crystalline pool of water. It looked inviting, but I decided to wait rather than drink right away. A lizard came and drank from the pool, and seemed to suffer no ill effects. I drank from the pool myself, and discovered that it had magical healing properties (which restored my Stamina to 10).
I decided to retrace my steps back to the clearing where I had fought the Crab Grass, and from there I headed west. In the next clearing I found a dead warrior, with a golden magnet pendant around his neck. I claimed the pendant, and moved on to the west. (I'm pretty sure that the amulet is safe to carry, so long as you don't get shot at by the Orcs.)
In the next clearing I encountered a Unicorn, maddened by claw wounds on its flank. I didn't fancy a battle with the creature, so I cast a Fear spell, and it fled from me. With nothing else of interest here, I continued to the west.
I emerged in a clearing covered in flowers. My ring was warning me of evil, and eventually I realised that I was standing in a patch of Fear Flowers, and breathing in their fear-inducing pollen. I quickly fled to the north, shaken by the experience. (All up I lost 2 points of Skill, which left me with a score of 8. There's little that's deadlier in Fighting Fantasy than a loss of Skill. I'd question why these flowers were registering as evil on my magic ring, but I think I already have my answer.)
In the clearing to the north the swamp gave way to lush, tropical plants, with hundreds of brightly coloured birds flitting through the trees. A large parrot asked what my business was with the Mistress of Birds. Sensing another amulet to purloin, I asked the parrot to lead me to its mistress.
The Mistress of Birds addressed me politely, and I noted that my ring did not sense any evil about her. I demanded that she give me her amulet, but instead she gave me a guilt-trip about serving an evil wizard, and offered to whip me up a fake amulet. Oh, and then she told me that I should totally kill the Master of Spiders for being evil, because Good is always judgmental and hypocritical. Rather than give her the thorough stabbing that I wanted to, I took the fake amulet and went on my way.
Unfortunately, I had to retrace my steps back past the Fear Flowers, which resulted in the loss of another Skill point. Confident that I wouldn't have to navigate the Fear Flowers again, I cast my Skill spell and restored my score back to 11.
The urge to explore deeper into the swamp was upon me, so I retraced my path back past the unicorn (now gone), the dead warrior (still dead), the Crab Grass (destroyed), and the Orcs (slain). From the empty clearing north of the Orcs I headed west. That clearing was overrun with scorpions, but I was able to leap over them to safety and carry on to the north.
I crossed the Foulbrood River using the bridge, and further north found a nest being guarded by a Giant Eagle. The Eagle's keen eyes spied my fake bird amulet, and so it let me pass unmolested.
I headed west from there, just in time to witness a Dwarven Warrior being pincered to death by a Giant Scorpion. With the Scorpion thus distracted, I hastened past without bothering to help; the Dwarf was probably dead anyway, and I figured that perhaps I could come back later and loot his body once the Scorpion had eaten his fill and left.
Heading north I came to a four-way intersection, where I headed north again. Soon I was hailed by a Ranger, who was just chilling on some rocks. Doing some Rangering. (How come he doesn't get lost in the swamp and die? Where's his magic ring? Huh? Huh, Fake Steve?)
I totally lied to the Ranger, telling him that I served the forces of Good. He fell for it (as I passed the requisite Luck test, leaving my score at 8), and allowed me to pass by and head east.
The eastward path was very well-tended, with all sorts of healthy, beautiful plants. I was approached by a middle-aged dude, who introduced himself as the Master of Gardens.
Get a load of this guy. I hadn't met too many folks who looked more in need of a good punch in the snoot, but instead I refrained and cast a Withering spell at him. I had reasoned that, being so in tune with the plants and such, the spell might affect him, but instead it passed through him and killed one of his trees. His reaction was somewhat underwhelming: he set my hair on fire (reducing my Stamina to 8). Hardly the act of a great, powerful wizard.
His next act, though, was a doozy, as the dude simply waved his hand and reduced my Skill score by 3 points. WHAT. THE. ACTUAL. FUCK. That is some potent stuff. Where was that spell in Zagor's arsenal, or Balthus Dire's? Lightweights.
Even with that reduction, my Skill was two points higher than that of the Master of Gardens. I should have beaten him. I almost did, but once I had him down to 4 Stamina the dice turned on me. Thus, I ended my path of evil at the hands of a gardener, and my adventure was over.
There's something faintly embarrassing about dying in Scorpion Swamp, because it has such a reputation for being a cakewalk. That's a fair assessment for the Good and Neutral quests, but it's a bit more difficult to win the Evil quest, especially if you try to go for all five amulets as I did. I really should have headed for the Master of Wolves right after getting the fake bird amulet, but I was determined to try my luck. Next time, I'll know to bring more healing magic.
Oh, and before I sign off, here's my map so far:
Looks like I've got most of it. I'm not sure which quest I'll take on in my next attempt; I'll decide that after my stats have been determined. And if my stats are really high, I might just take a stab at killing everything in the whole damned swamp.