Monday, 17 March 2008

#5 - City Of Thieves

After the outer space diversions of Starship Traveller, it's a relief to back on Allansian soil and carrying nought but a sword, some gold and the classic 10 evenly-portioned parcels of food. But that's not to say Fighting Fantasy's fifth book is a retread of the first three; not at all. Yeah, you're an adventurer in search of booty and whatnot... but City Of Thieves introduces us to the most notorious city in Allansia, Port Blacksand.

You're an adventurer/bounty hunter kind of guy who comes across a town being harassed by an evil wizard - the humorously titled Zanzar Bone. He sounds like some kind of glam rocker, what with that name and the Moon Dogs and Spirit Walkers he uses to terrorise the town. Your mission is to go to Port Blacksand, a proverbial wretched hive of scum and villiany which seems to do its best to keep good, law-abiding folk out, and find Nicodemus - a powerful wizard on the side of good.

The first thing I have to do to get into the city is to kill or bribe a guard. Hmm. Well, I rolled high skill and stamina scores, so there's no guessing which I did.

I turned left, and saw a locksmith. I figure I'll probably need a key of some sort during the adventure - why else would I notice a locksmith and not, say, a sign with a map, perhaps pointing out where all the bars, loos and powerful wizards are?

Then I'm suddenly hit by six arrows, courtesy of a terrible dice roll, and killed. Oh dear.

This wouldn't be much of an entry if that was where it ended, so I re-rolled my stats, and started again - this time I'm not as strong, so tried to talk my way in past the guard. I said I had some expensive chalices to sell - which I most certainly did not - and the guard said he wanted to see them. I told him they were cursed, and could only be examined by a mage - who knows, perhaps he'd tell me where Nicodemus lived - and that didn't work. Bribery did though.

I took a winding route throughout the city, and soon realised not to trust anyone, but interact with them anyway - you never know when a blessing could come in disguise, huh? Money came and went as I found it and lost it (most embarrassingly when I was outwitted by a trio of dwarfs), till eventually I came across a man on a bridge. The book told me I gave him two gold pieces in exchange for being told where Nicodemus lived; which I found rather amusing as I'd just lost all my money playing 'Don't Drop the Cannonball' with a man who looked like a Greek statue. Nicodemus lived right beneath the bridge anwyay, and I'm sure the text would have led me there eventually, so I hope that guy enjoyed his pretend, invisible money.

Nicodemus told me to do the job myself, and that before I met Zanzar Bowie I'd have to get a tattoo of a white unicorn inside a yellow sun - on my forehead. Damn hippie. He also said I'd need a silver arrow, a black pearl, some hag's hair and a lotus flower. Conveniently, I'd not come across any of these things, but soon would - it's like the city's collective consciousness knew to present me with these things after meeting Nicodemus, knowing I'd probably ignore them beforehand.

Well, you never throw anything away in Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, Collective Consciousness of Port Blacksand, so there.

Anyway. I eventually came across a pirate ship, which seemed too good an opportunity to pass up. I dealt to the crew like a ninja, and soon found myself back on dry land fighting a group of robbers, or as I was calling them by this point, average everyday Port Blacksanders. They almost killed me, as did some haunted plant which drove me down to a single point of stamina. I had no food either, having traded it all for a silver arrow.

So when a boy came up to me offering to sell me either plums or apples, I was ecstatic. He recommended the plums, and knowing this town pretty well by now I chose the apples, and they were a bit off, doing a single point of stamina damage. Problem: I only had one point left.

I was killed by an apple marginally past its use-by-date.

So as an introduction to Port Blacksand, an important locale in the Fighting Fantasy series, it does well. By the end I wasn't even trusting well-meaning young fruiterers, and was avoiding even the most minimally-threatening sounding encounters - I walked right past an inviting manhole cover, for crying out loud! The fact I passed perhaps the only manhole cover in the entire city (I'd been down a few streets by this stage, and I hadn't been told of any others) and didn't check it out speaks volumes. Jabba the Hutt would've loved it here, except for the fact I don't think I came across any women bar the old hag who picked my pocket. There was a sweet lute player though, who could've given the Mos Eisley cantina band some much-needed variation.

I'm not even sure why someone would bother helping the townsfolk of Silverton anyway - they seem a stupid bunch. In the introduction, a man rings a bell once, announcing nightfall, and immediately everyone outdoors starts panicking - as if nightfall has an exact moment, and isn't a gradual descending of the sun beyond the horizon and general darkening of the sky.

My copy's cover is the same as the one above, but without the mistakes in the rules that Wikipedia says it has - that part of their article isn't cited, should I change it? The rules in mine read perfectly fine.

So, once again I failed to even reach the primary villian, damnit. I recall these books being easier when I was younger - perhaps then I was a little more open to re-rolls and checking the consequences of a decision before making it!

0/5. I need some weighted dice.


TheWycliffe said...

Ah, my favorite book from childhood. I used to love just exploring the town and all of its wonderfully strange inhabitants. The book contains some of the best illustrations in the series.

Anonymous said...

"I was killed by an apple marginally past its use-by-date."

Thanks for that. Couldn't stop laughing.

I played this through last week, and it was a top book. Easier than most once you work out who to trust (don't give your food to the benefit scrounging giant in a hovel). Although the final battle has an annoying element of chance in it.

Anonymous said...

This is by far my favourite Ian Livingstone and also one of my favourites in the series. This the book where Ian really starts to give some "life" to his creations, both in terms of characters, scenes and setups, rather than generating faceless mobs for you to kill. (Dave Morris, IMO, is the best at this aspect out of all the FF writers: giving life to his characters and locales)

Like I said, this one has the "life" that Forest of Doom lacked, while at the same time the "scavenger-hunt" aspect is nowhere as harsh as his later books. This is one book that really hits the right balance in the "game" and the "book" aspects of gamebooks.

And I agree, the atmosphere is built up so well througout the book that towards the end you start wondering who you can trust (which led to things like getting killed by a well-meaning fruit-seller's out-of-date apple). This is also what I was talking about giving life to your creation: City of Thieves gave me the sense that I was indeed wadering in a city of scumbags, villains and petty theives. Forest of Doom didn't give me the feeling that I was wandering through a forest of doom. Hell, it didn't give me the feeling that I was going through a forest, period.

I suppose Island of the Lizard King wasn't bad, either (good balance of difficulty and flavour), but this book is still my favorite Livingstone creation.

Unknown said...

I'm really torn about this book. In terms of the actual City of Thieves, I love it. The atmosphere is wonderful, the seedy characters are great, and there is an actual reason for meeting a bunch of mismatched loons (as compared to a dungeon, where you wonder what the hell they do when adventurers aren't wandering by).

However, the last act of the adventure drove me wild. SPOILER.

The requirement that only two of the three ingredients needed be used is nonsensical, particularly when pains are given to emphasise that the choice of the correct one is no more or less than pure luck. If only there had been a subtle clue or direction which enabled a savvy or observant player to triumph over a lucky one.

Further, it is possible to lose the game by not having one of the ingredients, even if that ingredient is not subsequently used in the potion!

Make mine Steve Jackson anytime.

Wayne Garfield Ruffles Mulley said...

My fav Fighting Fantasy book. Simples...

Percival Rufus Wainwright ESQ. said...

I like the way Wayne Garfield Ruffles Mulley thinks....

Reginald Arbutnot Smthye the Third said...

Is it about Liverpool? Guffaw! Guffaw!

Tarquin le saux II said...

By Jove! Spiffing adventure. My butler, Jeeves, thought it was capital!

A keen but anxious squirrel said...

Are squirrels allowed to comment?

Anonymous said...

Fuzzy the Ferret says "NO SQUIRRELS ALLOWED"!

Anonymous said...

The Squirrel defense league says "We gonna fuck you up Fuzzy!"

Fuzzy the Ferret said...

Yeah boi?? I is gonna pop a cap in your bottom blud!

The Almighty Poo-bar III said...

Fuzzy got fucked up! The squirrels whacked him. RIP Fuzzy. The Weasels are now seeking retribution... All hail Wassock the Weasel!

Ian Livingstone said...

Mother Fuzzer! I just wet myself.... Up the ferrets!