City of Thieves – Part 1

#5

City of Thieves

The prosperous town of Silverton is being held to ransom by Zanbar Bone and his bloodthirsty Moon Dogs. YOU are an adventurer, and the merchants of Silverton turn to you in their hour of need. Your mission takes you along dark, twisting streets where thieves, vagabonds and creatures of the night lie in wait to trap the unwary traveller. And beyond lies the most fearsome adventure of them all — the tower stronghold of the infamous Zanbar Bone!

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City of Thieves begins with a bit of a juicier introduction than the previous books, the series taking shape and maturing as it hits it’s 5th volume I guess, the Background section spanning just shy of five and a half pages. What we learn is that your character is a renowned sword for hire, you’re a bit of a celebrity, a dragon-slayer no-less. After a long day of travelling I find myself in the trading town of Silverton, the local inn, ‘The Old Toad’, is my destination and its punters seem edgy. It isn’t long though before a banging at the heavily bolted inn door precedes the entrance of Silverton mayor, Owen Carralif, who wants to talk to me! The town was in the midst of terror. Spirit Stalkers, soulless skeletal creatures, had visited the settlement ten days prior and had demanded that the mayors daughter accompany them to reside with their master, the evil night prince, Zanbar Bone. The mayor had refused and ever since, the town is visited by Moon Dogs every night who break into houses and kill their inhabitants, so far leaving twenty-three dead. It is the mayors desire that I tackle this Zanbar Bone on his behalf as the town is on the verge of mutiny. He provides me with 30gp, an exquisite broadsword and the knowledge that the wizard Nicodemus, who can be found in Port Blacksand, may be able to help. Come dawn, I rolled up an 11/22/9 character and left for the port…

Making me feel welcome to Port Blacksand was an endless supply of black flags, heads on spikes, men hanging in cages and ultimately this nice chap. A sign of things to come as Port Blacksand was a rough place to say the least; it had been given the nickname ‘City of Thieves’ for a reason. He demanded to know my intentions in Port Blacksand, bewildered why I would come here uninvited. Not wanting to start off getting my arse kicked, I told him I wanted to see Nicodemus. A reasonable request I thought. He summoned two guards to come and escort me, but what he only announced at the last minute was that they were escorting me to jail! Unsure exactly why they were doing this, I elected to fight back and a successful Skill test later, I’d smashed their heads together, left the pair unconscious and had dashed off into the city.

Three streets with equally quaint little names were before me; Key Street, Market Street and Clock Street. Now, this isn’t a part of City of Thieves, but the Fighting Fantasy Wiki provides us with a Port Blacksand map, which I think is from one of the supplementary rule books I discussed in the prelude to this read-through. So here’s a scan for you to follow along with, dear reader.

Anyway, based simply on the logic that keys are something you often need in Fighting Fantasy books, I opted for the westerly Key Street. Sure enough, a shop sign stating ‘J.B. Wraggins – Locksmith’ was seen hanging above a shop door. I wandered into a  small shop decorated by many hanging keys which surrounded a dwarf sitting at a pedal-powered key cutting device. For a mere 10gp he agreed to cut a Skeleton Key for me. Job done. Nice one, Wraggins!

Key street took a right turn to the North after I left the locksmiths, the street lined by houses and a small boy dressed in rags came running out, passed me a piece of paper and then ran back inside. ‘Arrows from six bows are pointed at you’ it read, I was to leave 10gp in the street and keep walking or I would be in trouble. Not wanting to give up any money, I kept on walking. For my boldness I was to take 1D6 of arrow hits at a cost of 3 Stamina each; fortunatley I only sustained one hit abut even still I was told to also lose 2 Luck points. Bit harsh, I’d consider that outcome very lucky! Another child came running out of another building as the arrows died down and beckoned me to follow her in. An old man rose from a rocking chair and the little girl encouraged me to lie down on a sheepskin rug, the man began to remove the arrows and treat my wounds. ‘Such a nice man’, I thought, until he requested my broadsword as payment. Now this was a really nice broadsword, I mean like a really nice broadsword. In a passage that for some reason enthralled childhood-me, the Background section describes it thus –

‘…touching the edge of the blade, you are surprised to see a droplet of blood fall from your finger. You then examine the marvelously ornate gilded serpents twining around the hilt. You have never wanted anything so badly in your life before.’

I felt like jamming the arrow back into me and walking out. It was just one arrow! But no, my character can stand up to three heavily armed guards, but not an old man, so I handed over my sword, losing 1 Skill point and went on my not-so-merry way.

A little further down the street, I saw a ‘Welcome’ sign hanging above a doorway. Needless to say, I had a look at what I was being welcomed to. A painted red room greeted me, two glass bowls sat there, one containing a silver scorpion, one containing a gold scorpion. I warily took out the silver one and was told it was a regenerative brooch and would restore 1 Stamina after every battle! I decided to push my luck and tried the gold one as well… which turned out to be a lucky brooch, restoring 2 Luck! A flight of stairs took me to the upper level of the building and only as I turned the pages did I think, ‘I’m brazenly wearing two brooches I just stole from this very house and I’m going further inside?’. Of course, those brooches weren’t intended to be freebies, they were on sale, and the salesman was upstairs. He wasn’t a man though, he was a fire-breathing Lizardine, but he was no match for me despite his extra attack where he would do 1 Stamina damage for a D6 roll of 1-3 at the end of every turn. He left behind 4gp and a copper brooch, which I decided not to risk taking given the luck I’d had with the other two.

On leaving the building, I was jumped by two guards demanding to see my merchant pass. Not owning a pass, I found myself in another fight, but at 7/4 and 6/6, these guys were about as difficult to circumnavigate as the last guards and I killed them without taking a single hit. I took 7gp, their keys and their stale bread as trophies. Continuing down Key Street, I took another right turn to head in an easterly direction and couldn’t help but notice a nice pair of boots sitting on top of a pile of rubbish. Investigating further I spied that they were my size and on trying them out discovered that they were magic elven boots! 1 Skill point restored, I clicked my heels and headed onward.

The three original streets converged here and led on towards a market square where a rabble of people had collected to humiliate some poor guy in stocks. Unsure why he was there I did the only thing I could and hurled an egg in his general direction, much like I did at a festival one year, only the guy in stocks was Fallout Boy – I digress. Among the crowd I somehow managed to get pick=pocketed, but lost only a single gold piece.

A variety of food sellers, musicians and other bustling attractions filled the square, but one guy did catch my eye. A huge strong-man was trying to play ‘catch the cannon ball’ with willing volunteers for a bet of 5gp. Like any real man, I stepped up. The rules were simple, throw a D6 for each competitor in turn, the first to roll a 1 loses. I could barely stop laughing when I went first and rolled a six, he followed by rolling a 1. The tit. Just look at him.

Another event did get my attention though, a fortune teller. Despite clearly holding something back, she told me of my journey and I learned the Nicodemus lived below a bridge to the North. And that is where we leave part one, my arrival at this bridge over the Catfish River…

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Vagabonds and creatures of the night lie in wait

Before we get going, Turn to 400 still very much needs your support, so please give up a little money to help make it happen. There are stories there waiting to be told that if you’re reading this blog, you’re surely interested in as much as I am, it would be a terrible shame if they never got told. So go on, back it!

But now, onto City of Thieves! Those who have been around here since the beginning will know that I managed to score an original copy of the book in great condition from Oxfam Books for 99p. So if you ignore Blood of the Zombies, this is my first non-eBay find to be covered. I am pretty excited to read this book as it sticks in my mind as one I enjoyed immensely, particularly the setting of Port Blacksand, the other hive of scum and villainy, being a wonderfully rich place to explore.

Port Blacksand brings up other memories as it lent its name to one of the Advanced rule books, Blacksand! That, combined with Dungeoneer, Titan and Out of the Pit  led me to create a campaign to play with a friend of mine when we were about 12. I’m fairly sure it ended up being an utter farce, but I remember having a great deal of fun all the same. I’m fairly sure some very cruel things were done to a large number of Jib-jibs.

Amazingly, this has just now reminded me that I did also  attempt to write my own game book when I was a kid! I believe this and the maps and notes from my campaign may still exist back home in Yorkshire… I shall investigate this Christmas!

I don’t own the Advanced rule books at the moment and my attempt to find a picture of them all together led me here.

Going back to City of Thieves then, one of the first things that struck me when I opened up this book for the first time was the illustrations. Unlike our last adventure, I will be scanning artwork from this book with great pleasure as some of the work in here is absolutely gorgeous. Finely detailed pictures, full of life and character that go a hell of a long way to help flesh out the dirty, filthy feel of Port Blacksand. Iain McCaig is the illustrator for this book, brought back after his iconic Shapechanger on the Forest of Doom cover. Looking into his work though, he has arguably fried some much bigger fish than Fighting Fantasy, he has a blog, with a personal website on the way.

Here’s a small taster; all those tiny filler images through the books that buffer the text? For the first time I’ve felt compelled to scan one as the detail and character of the scene are so vivid for such a small, throw-away piece.

I’ll be back soon with Part One, please keep an eye on Twitter as always to be kept up to date!

Turn to 400 – The Fighting Fantasy Documentary Film

I imagine that if you’re entrenched enough in Fighting Fantasy at the moment to have actually found your way to my humble little blog or Twitter feed that you may already have noted the existence of this, but I figure I can either a.) bring it to your attention or b.) get you to contribute to the project!

Turn to 400 is a Fighting Fantasy documentary that is in the works by a man named Sean Riley, being funded by Kickstarter, who we in the games community should be forever thankful to for making Project Eternity happen. This project needs your contributions! Tweet about it, get on their Facebook page, let people know this is out there!

You need to click here to give them your money. Be all like…

Starship Traveller – Conclusions

I’m destined to keeping getting the bad endings, aren’t I? Oh well, Starship Traveller was a book I actually quite enjoyed, but at the same time, did have some problems with too. One of the things I enjoyed the most was the variety of situations you would encounter, all those planets I ended up flying past or starports I didn’t dock with, I want to know what was on them! It’s not like a door in a dungeon you pass by, the story and races encountered on the planets in Starship Traveller are all unique to each other and thus made themselves more intriguing, when you touch down on a planet you have no idea what you’re going to get. It’s almost like a collection of short stories wrapped up within your own personal goal, and I think that is the books strongest selling point. But what this variety of encounters and situations did lead to was a slight lack of focus, the new rules for phaser combat and hand-to-hand combat were sometimes difficult to apply and left areas of ambiguity, especially when the fights involved multiple crew members and opponents. That said, I did like the ship combat, but I don’t remember having more than just one ship battle through the whole book. Having a crew of specialised individuals was a great idea to freshen up the decision making process though and I would have liked to see even more attention paid to the interactions in the crew and the tasks you need them to accomplish. At the time, this was quite an experiment, changing the established Fighting Fantasy formula so early in the series was a bold move and mostly, I think it works. Although, despite all this though, I did find myself hankering after a sword and a filthy inn to explore, it’s a personal thing, but the Sci-Fi setting will never appeal to me the same as swords & sorcery.

Now, the next point is something I touched upon in the read-through itself and it may be me being dumb, but it feels like a few Luck and Skill based decisions take you to the wrong pages? I hadn’t encountered this before in a Fighting Fantasy book, well maybe back in my childhood I did when I read this book for the first time, but I probably knew no better at the time! I seem to remember two occasions when it came up other than the one I mentioned in the read-through; a personal Skill test when debating with K’tait before the Contests and a Skill test for my Medical Officer when an infection was brought back to the Traveller after I had some repairs done on the starbase. I can only assume this was fixed up in the later editions? I’d also like to know what the point of discovering the speed I needed to travel into the black hole at the end was? I was never actually asked to take that into account when making my calculations.

I won’t be posting any pictures in my Conclusions because I can’t bear to look at that crappy artwork again!

But as the pot called the kettle black, here’s my abomination of a map that I kept during the read-through! I can’t imagine anyone will be able to follow it or have use for it, keeping track of planetary exploration, ship travel and the decision making that replaces the traditional corridor exploration made it pretty hard to do. Perhaps my skills will be honed as we go along into more complex adventures! Anyhow, I have a long  journey to Port Blacksand to make now so I will leave it there …

Starship Traveller – Part 3

Blasting off back into space with juicy warp-speed related information from the Rain Lord, a red planet caught my eye on the scanner and became my new destination, but not for long however as a small grey planet made itself known as I came out of warp speed and I went down for a little look. Scanners showed no life-forms, but evidence of some sort of machinery inspired me to send down a recon plane to survey the area. I didn’t even know I had a recon plane, might have been useful earlier on! Regardless, my now trusty recon plane managed to spot a crashed ship on what was a barren, rocky wasteland of a planet. The recon team discovered no survivors, only an automated mayday signal and so returned to the Traveller.

Unfortunately, they didn’t come back alone. Shortly after their arrival, a message was given to me that three of the engineers who helped with the recon teams docking had died! My first call was to seal off the whole docking area, no more deaths were reported; it’s what Ripley would have done. Medical officers in protective suits examined the body of one of the deceased and came to the conclusion that he had been poisoned; it was likely that some sort of poisonous gas from the planet surface was the problem and was now on the ship. My response was to flush all the air from the affected areas and within half an hour, my Science officer deemed the area safe.

Really glad I landed on that planet.

Heading back into orbit, I was presented with three options; the red planet I was originally heading to, a blue planet and a fast moving dot which showed signs of life. The dot seemed the most exciting option, so I set a course to meet up with the dot. And guess who it was? Our good old eagle-fearing friends, the Imperial Ganzig Confederation from the very start of the book. I spoke to them of my encounter with Commander M’k Tel, which they cared little for and told me to surrender to them and follow to the nearest starbase. Not wanting to waste any time I entered into ship-to-ship combat with them. They clearly didn’t care about eagles anymore. The ship combat was fairly cool though as shield levels dictated damage sustained, rolling 2D6 under your Weapon Strength would give a hit, then rolling 2D6 again higher than your opponents shields would result in extra damage. Due to my ships awesome stats though, the Ganzig Confederation didn’t stand a chance and I blew them to pieces.

My new location led me to investigate another nearby grey planet, but a nearby stardock seemed to offer the ability to repair my ship which had taken some hits in the previous battle, so I took a detour to check out what they had for me. Warning messages sounded however and a message was received from the dock saying that I shouldn’t land. Obviously, I decided to land. A large variety of alien species wandered about the docking area and the Port Commandant informed me that the facility had been infected by some sort of virulent microorganism and that I should leave, but they would repair my ships damage if we could give them protective suits for their engineers to wear and destroy them afterwards. I was cool with that, so I left the stardock with a fully polished ship, all the dings knocked out and everything. Unfortunately  a few dice rolls told me that one of my boarding party had become infected, but a further roll meant my rubbish Medical Officer, with Skill 8, actually managed to sort out a suitable cure, saving the life of my Engineering Officer.

Returning my attention to the large grey planet, I received communication from a small alien who introduced himself as K’tait of the planets Malini Mining Outpost. I was invited to pay the planet a visit as the ‘Contests’ were about to begin and the entertainment was in full swing. Beaming down, we were greeted by K’tait and in conversation he told us it was likely that someone on the planet may be able to help find the black hole we needed to get home, but before we could go further he was called away to the arena and told us to stay put. After an hour of no K’tait, a robot entered the room and instructed me and my landing party to follow. We were led into a small room where the robot left us, it soon became apparent that we had been tricked into something as an invisible energy barrier had closed behind us and sealed us within the room. A group of guards paid us a visit shortly after and asked if we were there for the Contests. I explained that some sort of mistake had been made, the guards contacted K’tait who apologised profusely and we were let go. As a ‘sorry’ K’tait said we could watch the Contests from the ‘best seat in the house’, the sly grin on his face as we headed off towards this seat should have been all the warning we needed to blow his stupid head off, but alas, that wasn’t an option given to me. It seemed I was destined to take part in the days events and  me and my crew were met by guards who instructed us to don some tight-fitting armour and before we knew it, we were thrust into a roaring stadium, facing combat with a Manslayer robot. Indeed, in the absence of an in-book illustration, it seemed the cover art was what I had to deal with.

Quite a difficult battle too, the old Manslayer. 10/4 Stats initially made me think it would be ludicrously easy, but special rules for the fight stated that on landing a blow I had to roll 5 or above on a D6 to miss the robots thick armour plating and then I would only do 1 Stamina damage, otherwise my hit would be absorbed. This made the fight last a hell of a long time and my party took a lot of damage, but thankfully the Manslayer was eventually taken down without any casualties on my side. The crowd roared its approval and we were led away by the head of the planets mining organisation to be let free, given a lovely pile of malinite ore (ooo!) and after a quick request for help, access to their Astronautical Headquarters. As far as the guys in this department were concerned, the black hole I needed to find would be in sector 083, but the timing they could not be certain of… I smell a page number puzzle!

After our brave victory we again set off into space in search of the final piece of information to get us home and a nearby planet named Terryal-6 was our chosen location. I learned the name of the planet from a brief radio communication with its inhabitants who were ‘white skinned with a thin, bone-shaped face’. I concluded that this was obviously David Bowie and made a bee-line to go and meet the intergalactic rock god.

Beaming down, I actually found that the Bowie aliens were on floating platforms high above the planet itself, but before I could meet them, a small child Bowie-alien ran past and dragged me off in another direction. I’m not sure why, but I thought I’d go along with it. Turned out to be a good choice though as the child explained to me that the Bowie-aliens advance backwards with age; they are born super intelligent and slowly deteriorate with age, so I was in-fact talking to the people in charge! After explaining where I needed to go, a few of the kids crowded around a big telescope and a computer before telling me that the two universes would meet at Stardate 21. However, as part of this deal, I had promised to share information on the Travellers weapons and defensive systems and now the Bowie-children wanted their part of the bargain. Somewhat concerned that they had a sinister motivation for obtaining this information, I thought it was best to kill them all and get the hell out of Terryal-6. And so I did just that.

It was time to draw a conclusion to the adventure. No more life-supporting planets were on the scanner and the crew were becoming restless and anxious about their fates. Given that I had discovered data to make a jump through a black hole, I took the decision to go for it. Subtracting the time data from the locational data, I ended up on page 62. The ship was set-up and headed into the black hole, lurching forwards with an incredible G-force that knocked the entire ships crew out cold. I will never know if this was the correct black hole or not, according to the text, perhaps the timing or speed of travel was incorrect, but suffice to say that the Traveller never emerged from the void, my mission had been unsucessful.

Bugger.