Saturday, October 18, 2014

Steve Jackson's "Sorcery!" - The Seven Serpents playthrough

Originally published at by Justin MacCormack - Please be sure to check out the original article, and support the author by purchasing his latest book, "Return to 'Return to Oz', and other tales".

Written by Steve Jackson, Artwork by John Blanche

Alright, The Seven Serpents. Third part of the "Sorcery!" series. No doubt you've been reading how this has gone recently. In the first part, I fell over and died in a field of flowers. And in the second I managed to die from being eaten by rabid poo. Will this session go any better? Don't bet on it.

This book starts out as I'm leaving Khare, thankfully no longer reeking of human feces. I've reset my sheet once again to its initial stats that were rolled up back in The Shamutanti Hills (skill 10, luck 12, stamina 20) and with only 20 gold and 2 meals to my name. By this point in the campaign, we're heading out into the Baklands, a featureless wasteland of - oh crap a swarm of nighthawks are attacking me.

Amazing, I'm only a few moments into this book and already am being attacked by huge forces of evil animals. I throw up a forcefield spell, but the birds simply fly over it and dive-bomb me. Get used to my magic failing me utterly, because it's going to be a recurring theme today! Just watch and see.

And I don't stand a chance against these hawks, because they outnumber me four to one. Thankfully this is one of those 'survive three rounds of combat' sequences, rather than simply being thrown into a mincing machine full of beaks and feathers. After swinging my sword around for a while, a large golden eagle descends and scares the nighthawks away. The eagle is a messenger from back home in Analand, baring a message.

The message basically states the blurb from the back of the book - the Archmage's seven serpents are bringing news of my quest to him, and I need to go kill the buggers. Who wants to bet on how many of them I'm able to find before I die a horrible and gruesome, poo-smelling death this time? I'm betting on three.

Making camp for the night, I am confronted by a talking tree. My first urge is to purge the abominable thing with fire, but the tree doesn't seem to be about to murder me in my sleep. Instead it simply advises that I head off to the east to visit a friendly neighbourhood wizard. Said wizard, Shadrack, seems a friendly enough chap who tells me the history of the seven serpents, warns me that there is a special way to kill each one, and gives me a horn to blow on if I ever get in trouble. He then lets me sleep in his cave for the night, and surprisingly does not slit my throat, steal my food, or sell me into slavery - which instantly ranks him as a nicer man than the entire population of Khare!

I leave the wizard's cave and head off along the wasteland again, before I promptly fall prey to a giant beetle. I try to zap it with my awesome lightning spell, but this only results in the beetle getting angrier. It then bites me. I whack it with my sword, and it sprays acid in my face, causing me to lose all sight in my left eye. The giant beetle then chews on my leg for a while until my stamina is down to half its initial score, before I finally kill it. I then wonder why this race of beetle is content to just sit around in the desert waiting for prey, when they are immune to lightning and squirt acid - with powers like that, they could have eaten the entire city of Khare and saved me a whole load of trouble.

Anyway, I'm not in very good shape any more, what with dripping with beetle acid and all that. So when I catch sight of a group of caravans in the horizon, I am keen to stop by and see if I can heal up for a while. When the caravan dwellers start to fire arrows at me, I can't even claim to be surprised. I'd pretty much expected to be stabbed, shot at and set fire to throughout this entire strange adventure, after all.

I hold up my hands to show that I mean no harm, and get to eventually meet the inhabitants of the camp. To my utter joy (by which I mean 'distress') I find that they are a group of black elves, who if we have learned anything about during the "Sorcery!" series, exist to make my life even more difficult. I don't want to tell them that I'm seeking the seven serpents, instead I tell them that I'm a trader. They seem glad to hear this, and urge me into their shop.

The shop owner has a large number of very useless items, which I'm sure are all used in spellcasting. Things like brass pendulums and so on. Two things that he is offering catch my eye - a scroll that is labelled "Secrets of the Baklands", and a book with magical symbols. I want to barter with the store owner in order to get possession of the scroll, but the rules for bartering are more complicated than building a space shuttle.

Instead I buy the book, which I find to be a regular spellbook. The book tells me that I am very concerned that such an item has fallen into the hands of outsiders, and will destroy the book at the earliest opportunity. It does give me permission to read over the spellbook section of the rules again for a full five minutes though, which as you may remember is something you're not technically allowed to do during gameplay. But I can't help but shake the feeling that it would be more useful to actually take the book with me so that I could read it several times during my adventure. Rather than, y'know, spending ten gold pieces on something that my character is going to just use as campfire kindling.

I leave the caravan, and make camp elsewhere that night. I am given the chance of asking the elves to sleep in the camp, but given how they've been represented thus far in these books, I suspect I'd have a higher chance of survival if I went to sleep in a pit full of snakes. I make a camp of my own, no doubt lighting the fire using that spellbook I paid ten gold pieces for, and tuck into a meal.

The next day, I press on until I come to a series of outcropping rocks. I'm keen to regain as much of my health as I can, so I take another rest here. My health is starting to look better. While I'm resting, I hear a sound from the other side of the rocks. I check it out, and see a small tornado. It seems to be spinning around back and forth in a little clearing, not particularly doing much.

I decide to talk to this little tazmanian devil creature, and it responds by blowing a little bit of air at me. At a loss of what else to do, I try to get closer in order to make contact, but it continues to spin like a mad thing. I decide to scarper, and flee the area. I've seen enough episodes of Star Trek to know how this would end up - if I don't do the right fancy woo-woo dance required to communicate with this thing, I'll somehow offend it and it will kill all the red shirts on my spaceship. I'll then need to throw techno-babble at it until it stops killing my crew, whereupon it will tell me that I'M too violent and primitive, and fly off into space to bother some other hapless idiot.

Now that I have no meals left, I decide to make my next pit-stop in a small tribal village. The inhabitants of the village seem to hold me in high regard, preparing a feast. This is never a good sign - being given a feast usually indicates that I'm about to be thrown into a volcano to appease an angry god or something similar. It seems that the villagers have a similar but less refined idea - they've simply chosen a champion who wants to hit me with a heavy club.

For the life of me, I don't know why this champion wants to do this, or what he has to gain from it, but I whack him with my sword until he changes his mind and leaves me alone (by dying). The villagers seem unhappy that I have killed their champion, and I quickly make my excuses to leave this silly village behind and flee into the next stage of my adventure - the forests of Snatta.

The trip into the forest proved... interesting. I set up camp, and the next day I'm fortunate enough to scavenge enough berries for two meals, so I'll be fine for a while. It's then that I catch sight of a snake.

Aha, I think, this snake can lead me to one of those vile seven serpents! I follow it eagerly. The snake climbs up a tree, and then transforms into the mighty Fire Serpent! I charge forward, ready for the fight... and right into a spout of fire that envelops my entire head.

I stop, drop and roll, and put the fire out. Deciding that this fight is going to require some strategy, I shoot it with my trusty lightning spell - but among the branches of the tree, the snake is able to dodge and avoid the spell. Wow, I've used that spell twice in this adventure, and it's proved utterly useless. Enough messing around, I draw my sword and climb up the tree towards the snake, ready to chop its head off.

The snake then drops out of the tree, turns around, and sets the whole tree on fire while I'm in it. I am incinerated. Outwitted by a snake. Serpent barbeque, dude. Game over, man, game over!

This book really ups the ante from the previous book, and definitely feels like it's on hard mode all the way through. It's the kind of book that requires a lot of playthroughs to find all of the optimum paths through it, and although it's not as outright insane as Khare, it's definitely a few notches up the insanity ladder than The Shamutanti Hills. I'd love to see more of it someday.

Up next time, we venture into the final part of this campaign, hoping to recover the legendary Crown Of Kings.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Welcome, visitors!

There's been a lot more pageviews over here in the last few days.  If you are new to the blog, drop a comment to say hi and say what you are here for.  I've got 4 year's worth of posts and I might start revisiting and updating the seminal (I love that word) ones on gamebooks.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Fighting Dantasy

Fighting Dantasy has released a couple of posts recently and I rejoiced!  This is the blog that I read
back in 2008, when it was probably the only gamebook blog, and wished that I could make a blog like that.  And then, two years later, I did.  So I have a lot to thank Fighting Dantasy for.  The last playthrough, Temple of Terror, is quite short, but if you haven't seen this blog before, have a look at the archives, where Dan has gone through (almost) every Fighting Fantasy book (just Howl of the Werewolf to go).  Here is his latest post:

It's been six years since I read Temple of Terror, and in that time I've obviously gotten worse at gamebooking, as you'll soon find out.

Also since then there's been a little TV show come out called Game of Thrones, which I doubt a single person reading this blog hasn't watched - or read.

I bring it up 'cause the intro blurb to Temple of Terror is frighteningly familiar to anyone whose imagination has visited Westeros; an evil man who wants to rule the land, vast deserts, controlling wolves and dragons, large armies... okay, so typical fantasy tropes. But hey, it's good SEO for me to mention Game of Thrones, right? Game of Thrones.

Anyway, so this Joffrey-Mother of Dragons-Bran Stark mashup guy called Malbordus is planning to get his dragon army together by collecting some artefacts, 'cause he went to the Ian Livingstone school of badassery. You - I - have to stop him by getting the artefacts first, and save the world - to get you started, ol' stingy Yaztromo gives you a measly four spells and 25 gold pieces.

He knows Malbordus' evil plot 'cause his crow overheard it (if only it was a raven...).

Now there are two ways you can go - through Blacksand, or across the desert. Last time I went via Blacksand, and this time did neither - I jumped on board a giant eagle, was attacked by a pterodactyl and sent plummeting to the ground, and my incredibly early doom. Sorry about that, world.

I actually spent more time getting my USB keyboard to work with this ancient and busted laptop than I did reading Temple of Terror.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

So, I shared a post about Inkle. You might have noticed.

So, it seems that, amazing as If This Then That is, it is possible, to create some interesting combinations.

Anyone who saw my Twitter feed this afternoon would have seen this:

This is due to a combination of several recipes I had made.  I had made a recipe which posted all my blogger posts to Wordpress and Twitter.  However, I wanted all the posts I reblog on Wordpress to appear on Blogger, so i then created a recipe which allowed posts on Wordpress to be reblogged on Blogger.  

However, when that happened the posts sent to blogger then got posted on Twitter and Wordpress, which then got reposted back to blogger which got reposted back to Twitter and Wordpress and so on, until I got home with almost 1000 pageviews and 50 more posts than what I left with.  So there we go.  I've sorted out my recipes now.  I might take a while to sort out The Gamebook feed, because I want to make it work without Feedly (as they require $45 a year to connect to IFTTT) and I don't need it to - I can just put all the feeds directly into IFTTT.  But I'm getting there.  Soon, you will have multiple platforms of gamebooks.  It seems that if I reblog anything on Wordpress or Tumblr, you will have to go to those sites or Twitter to find out, though (anyway, the posts from Wordpress looked awful here)

Steve Jackson's "Sorcery!" - Khare, Cityport of Traps playthrough

Originally published at by Justin MacCormack - Please be sure to check out the original article, and support the author by purchasing his latest book, "Return to 'Return to Oz', and other tales".

Written by Steve Jackson, Artwork by John Blanche

One of the neat things about Jackson's "Sorcery!" series is that the difficulty increases with each book.I don't mean this in terms of combat, though. It increases in terms of complexity in how the gamebook works.

For instance, The Shamutanti Hills is a rather straightforward adventure. You move from village to village, on a journey through the hills, aiming to reach the city of Khare. There's no special items needed in order to ensure you finish the book, it's all very straightforward, with the biggest range of choices coming from the branching pathways that take you to your destinations.

Khare ups the ante by requiring you to hunt for a few items in order to get through the door at the other side of the city. I can't remember exactly which items they are (I don't want to spoil the adventure for myself before I go back in), I seem to remember it was some kind of key or lock or other McGuffin. Either way, the 'find a specific item' requirement is infamous in Fighting Fantasy books, dating back to the first ever one in the series, which as I'm sure everyone will remember fondly - having slain the warlock of firetop mountain, only to curl up in a fetal ball and cry because you couldn't unlock the chest he's stored all his treasure.

The following book, The Seven Serpents, raises it further by making each of the things you need to track down an enemy, one of the serpents, which you then need to dispose of. It uses the full range of environments to make this more challenging, and the game includes a slight twist in the fact that you only need to slay six of the serpents. How's that for thinking outside of the box? And it's taken even further in The Crown Of Kings, where there are multiple branching solutions to get to the end - one of which even involves playing with the narrative itself via time travel!

So you see, the structural complexity of the adventure is ramped up in each book. In this book, we start out arriving at the city of Khare, with the clear goal of getting to the other side of town. Not that easy. Hell, in my playthrough of The Shamutanti Hills, I didn't even get to the city! But we'll give this one a shot. I'm using the same stats as I rolled up for the first book, but without any of the items that this adventure doesn't let me start out with. So if you want to see how I handled the first part, give my playthrough a read first.

Done that? Okay, let's get this underway!

We are treated to a bit of history of the city of Khare, before we arrive at the south gate. The guards do not seem to take kindly to visitors, as the moment they see me they throw me into a prison cell for the crime of not bribing them. Ah, it's going to be one of those cities, isn't it?

While in jail, a fellow prisoner tells me that the only other gate out of the city will only open if I recite a magic spell to it. The four lines of this spell are known only to four of the town's most prominent citizens. He then steals all of my food while I sleep. Bastard. Think it's safe to say at this stage that this is going to be one of those very short playthroughs...

It quickly becomes evident that the inhabitants of Khare are all a bit mad. Possibly not quite as mad as the inhabitants of Port Blacksand, but definitely madder than the inhabitants of Innesmouth. Funny thing about Innesmouth, when Lovecraft wrote his story 'Shadow over Innesmouth', he described all the inhabitants as having a certain look. I live in Portsmouth, and I've noticed that due to the excessive amount of inbreeding and lack of quality psychiatric care, there's a definite 'Portsmouth Look' to a lot of people... especially in the North End area. But I'm getting off track.

I'm given the option of following a bunch of kids down a road. Assuming that these kids, who are all wearing backpacks, are Khare's version of chavs, I decided to follow them from a safe distance. Before long I catch sight of some city guards, and am told that I hide in a nearby house. I haven't done anything illegal or that would require me to hide from the guards, I just assume that my character has learned that it seems best to avoid the law enforcement around here unless he wants to be locked up overnight again.

Inside the house I'm hiding out in, I find a group of black elves. I'm instantly worried that this is going to spiral off into racially insensitive territory again, but instead it just seems that these elves are just sitting back smoking weed. Oh dear. Sigh. I decide to be deliberately obtuse to the game at this point, and sit back to smoke some weed with them. Apparently the medical benefits have not been exaggerated, as it heals some of my stamina (although the odds of it doing this were about the same as the odds of me getting violent and attacking them).

I try to ask them for some advice, but I'm unable to get much sense out of them, so I head out of the house and carry down the road until I get to a fountain. It's at this point that the full effect of the weed I've smoked must have kicked in, because one of the fish in the fountain tries to talk to me. I have a rousing discussion with the fish, during which it gurgles at me. I'm then given the choice of stealing some coins from the fountain, but I choose not to do this in case it upsets the fish. Fish are known to have strong emotional connections to large pieces of metal that people throw into their homes, after all.

My next attempt to speak to an animal occurs when I see a horse standing at the side of the street. Unlike the fish, this horse is sensible and doesn't talk back. Reasoning that a horse may be useful later on in this adventure, I decide to steal it. I climb on board, and the horse kicks into a gallop and charges down the road, leaving me grabbing on for dear life. Did I mention that this book is rather odd?

Eventually the horse kicks me off and runs into the distance. I'm now completely lost in this city. I spy two huts, and opt to enter one. The sign on the door reads 'chainmaker', so I assume that it belongs to a man who makes chains. Indeed, nobody's home - or more accurately, the owner of the shop is upstairs, so I decide to raid the entire store. I test my luck and find three gold coins. I'm then asked if I want to test my luck again, during which I find some blue and bilburry juice. I'm then asked once more if I wish to test my luck, which causes a trap to fall and catch me. I was lucky all three times, so I assume that if I was unlucky on that third roll, the entire shop would explode or something.

Anyway, I'm abruptly rescued from the chainmaker's trap by the prisoner I met earlier, in exchange for giving him all the items I'd found in the store. Thanks, mister prisoner who I suspect was following me around this entire time purely to take more items from me as well as all those meals you stole earlier. I leave the store three luck points lighter and head into another hut instead. I'm desperately hoping that whatever I find in the next hut will be vaguely more useful, or at most I'll be able to keep ahold of without some nasty bugger stealing it all!

Hut number two, and I find a kitchen. Sweet aromas fill the air. I look around and notice the chef, a man with a horrifying jellyfish head. My sanity breaks at this point. "Oh for the love of... what fresh new hell is this?" I mumble aloud, and decide just to kill the silly abomination of nature.

I chuck a spell at it, but the book tells me that no such spell exists and charges me five stamina points for the information. So instead I just beat the jellyfish headed man to death with my sword.

Stealing a mirror and a scroll from the kitchen, I run down the street until I come to a travelling fair, which seems to have set up right in the heart of the city for some unknown reason. I decide that this will be a fun chance to indulge my thirst for wanton cruelty, so I go to watch the dancing bear show.

Hoping to see some ridiculous cruelty seems in keeping with my actions to date, but to my horror I find that during the show I am pickpocketed and all of my gold is stolen. I'm not given the chance to chase down the pickpocket and stick a sword in them, and the man with the dancing bear seems to quickly vanish into the crowd, making me quite convinced that they were in cahoots with each other. So I'm now penniless. Eager to win it back, I push on through the fair until I find a boxing ring.

Inside, I watch a barbarian fight an ogre who is far stronger than himself. Unsurpringly, the ogre wins, and I notice that this seems to be a fight to the death. Because I have no self control in this book, I jump at the chance to enter the arena and try to fight this giant and powerful ogre that has just ripped a grown man's torso apart. Amazingly enough, I do indeed win, and am rewarded with a puny fifteen gold coins.

And, because it's a fair, I immediately waste a few of those coins on a prize machine. This prize machine is rather interesting, because there's six possible prizes and an imp chooses one for you, for only two gold coins. Expecting that I'll probably receive something vaguely useful to my quest, I give it a shot. The imp gives me an apple. Not too bad, because I have no provisions at this point... except that it's a rotten apple, which proceeds to make a mess over the inside of my backpack. I'm now convinced that the whole city of Khare is conspiring to give me a really crappy day.

I stumble blindly through the city streets, holding on to my precious rotten apple in the hopes that I'll find a man with a dancing bear so that I can throw the apple at them. No such luck. Instead it starts to get dark, and soon it's about time for me to get some rest for the night. I won't sleep rough on the streets of Khare overnight, I'd probably wind up getting eaten by a sentient brick wall or something similar!

I spend another eight gold on room and food that night in a local tavern called 'The Wayfarer's Rest', which is located near the center of Khare. That's rather worrying, as I an now sure I've missed at least half of the spell I need to get out of this city. Nevertheless I opt to spend the night at this tavern, which is full of singing sailors and whoring wenches. A friendly sailor offers to buy me some ale, and I opt to pry him for information.

Over the course of several pints, he tells me that one of the lines of the spell is kept by a vampire, and I'll probably need to head to the local graveyard. He also tells me that I should never kiss statues of gods on their cheeks. I then buy him a drink in return, and he beats me over the head until I fall into unconsciousness. I wake up in the hold of a slave galley. Getting a little tired of meeting complete creeps all the time, I shoot a lightning spell at the side of the ship, aiming to sink it and everyone onboard just to teach them a lesson.

Climbing through the hole I've made in the rapidly-sinking galley, I see that it's now morning. Lacking any real sleep for the night, my patience is growing thin. I eventually catch sight of a rather unusual monument that seems to have been constructed in the middle of a city street, to which a variety of elven-type figures seem to be worshiping. I push my way to the monument, keen to see what the source of their curious behaviour is, and see that it's just a small pool of water. I innocently ask one of the elves what it is, and all hell breaks loose.

Among cries of 'unbeliever' and 'heretic', a group of the elves try to throw me into the water for some weird baptism ritual or something similar. I'm in no mood for this, so I draw my sword... which causes the elf to shoot me with his laser eye-beams!! The group drag me off to their special elf prison, from which there is no escape... no wait, I'm still getting over the laser eye-beams. *deep breaths*

Anyway, not particularly wanting to spend my whole life sitting in yet another jail cell, I pray to Libra to break the lock and get me out of here, which she does. I urge a fellow prisoner to join me in my escape, and he's so grateful that he restores my luck to its initial level. Feeling pretty lucky, I decide to head into the world-famous 'Gambling Halls of Vlada', which is just down the road from where I'm now standing.

I manage to lose every single gold coin I have. Again I'm penniless, and just when I'm wondering what the next awful fate will befall me, I see a door that reads 'portal room'. Hoping beyond hope that this is a portal outside of Khare and maybe to a tropical island somewhere I can relax and spend the rest of my days in sunny happy climates, I head in. The 'portal' in question, it turns out, is a hole into the sewer which one of the security guards throws me into. For no good reason, either. I just assume that the security in this casino are so strict that they've dug a massive hole into the sewers to throw troublemakers into. Not a bad idea all in all, but still... blah.

So I'm in the sewers of Khare, piled up to my neck in sewage, muck, slime and vast amounts of human and animal feces. Literally up to my neck. Okay, so the day can't get much worse... then I hear a rumbling from a nearby pipe, as it prepares to shoot a whole load of excrement right into my face.

Inside, my soul breaks apart, just a little bit. I now have to decide if I wish to stand firm and take a fountain of poop to the face, or hold my breath and dive into the mountain of poop that I'm buried up to the neck in and WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME OH GOD WHY....

I hold my breath and duck. I emerge from the mess feeling very sick, and very eager to get out of the sewers. In an especially sadistic twist, the sewers consist of a massive maze full of dead ends. And filled with Slime Eaters, horrible little burbling monsters known for being on the cover of this book. I manage to kill the first two, but the third one eventually drags my stamina down to zero, leaving my body to sink in the depths of the sewers beneath Khare, penniless and smelling of poop. Somewhere in the macrocosm, far beyond this small cityport, Libra is watching on and having a great big laugh at my expense.

This has to be the most humiliating death to any Fighting Fantasy book I've played. I didn't care for this book when I was a kid, but as an adult I really enjoyed it. I didn't find a single line of the spell, and I don't care - I just had LOADS of fun! It's just so utterly crazy and insane that it's difficult not to love this. I haven't had so much fun with an FF book in weeks, and I highly recommend this one to you. Yes, you. Why are you still reading this? Go play the book, now. Tally-ho!

In my next post, we'll be tackling the third part of Steve Jackson's "Sorcery!" series, 'The Seven Serpents'. After having escaped the nightmarish hell on earth that is Khare, we are growing closer to our goal. But the foul seven serpents are flying their way across the great plains, bringing with them news of my quest to the Archmage of Mampang. So as well as getting across the Baklands and all its inherent dangers, we will need to do our best to track down and prevent the seven serpents from sabotaging their mission. The question is, just how much of a total mess will I make of this rather simple quest? Stick around and find out.

Meanwhile, following the death in this book, I have the urge to take a long and hot shower...

Friday, October 10, 2014

Come on, Wordpress

So, it seems that I wasn't posting to Wordpress because I hadn't confirmed the blog.  Well now we have been to the confirmation, this post should show up on Wordpress....

Maelorum has a kickstarter for book 2!  It's raised over $9000 in one day.  Good work!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Another test for If This Then That

Hi all!  I'm just doing another test on If This Then That.  I haven't yet realised its full potential.  However, this week, I realised that most forums have feeds, so now posts from the Fighting Fantazine, Project Aon and AFF2 from Arion games forums will appear on The Gamebook Feed.

I've also used If This Then That to link the feed of this blog to Wordpress, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook (my group and my page), Flickr, LinkedIn and Reddit.

A lot of those accounts I have created and not done anything with for ages, if at all, so I am glad that If This Then That is around to help me.  It is amazing for posting things to multiple platforms.

I am doing this after reading Crush it!  by Gary Vaynerchuk, a short and very informative and helpful book on how to build your brand and reach as many people as possible.  I read the book on the recommendation of the guest from this episode of the Art of Charm podcast (an excellent podcast).  The guest recommends some books (in the resources part at the end of the show notes if you don't want to listen to it) and I have read most of them and they have been a great help.

In other news, are you reading this year's Windhammer entries?