The Crown of Kings – Part 1

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Sorcery #4

The Crown of Kings

At the end of your long trek, you face the unknown terrors of the Mampang Fortress. Hidden inside the keep is the Crown of Kings – the ultimate goal of the Sorcery epic!

Oh boy, here we go then, this one is a big one. In every sense of the word too, coming in at 800 references it’s the longest Fighting Fantasy book by a distance and it’s also the culmination of an adventure I’ve been on for nearly four months now. As a consequence, this one might run on a bit longer than usual. I typically write three 1,200-1,500 word parts for my write-ups, but I have a feeling this one could run to four, perhaps even five parts if I stick to accounting every choice and mistake. We shall have to see how it pans out!

I’ll start off by saying this is easily my favourite of the Sorcery covers, there’s so much vibrant colour and detail, the green and purple of the Archmage is a wonderful contrast and I’d spent ages looking at the image before I’d even seen the small face rising in the smoke. The Seven Serpents came to a close after the battle with the time serpent and whilst he was taken down, two more serpents made it through to Mampang, so unlike the previous books I am not carrying over any advantage into this one. If I may bore you with the map again, we pick things up after having traversed Lake Ilklala and are now in the Zanzunu foothills, making our way through Low Xamen.

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Trekking through muddy pathways, curiously marked by hoof-prints, I picked my way across the rocky landscape. Night was starting to settle in and a brewing storm hastened my search for a safe place to rest. A bit of luck came my way as in the side of a ridge were three caves that could serve as a place to stay the night. One big one, another of a similar size, but with those curious hoof-prints leading into it and one smaller cave.

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My choice was the larger cave without an ungulate inside. I slowly maneuvered myself inside a cave which was so deep I couldn’t actually see the back of it. Knowing I may not be the only one who wanted to shelter from the elements I decided to explore a little further down before I could allow myself to drop my guard completely and catch some sleep. Predictably, whilst fumbling through the dark and rocks, my foot kicked something soft and I was suddenly struck in the chest for a loss of 2 Stamina. Utterly confused, I ran back to the entrance of the cave so as to get a good look at whatever it was that I was now being pursued by. The distinct black and white fur told me that I’d wandered into the sleeping quarters of a Skunkbear!

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Relying on my sword arm against a relatively weak foe (7/6) I wasn’t particularly tested, but slightly worryingly I was told to turn to a new page after winning my 2nd attack round. The important idea here was the ‘skunk’ part of my enemies name, he turned his backside towards me and released a horrendous stench into the cave which caused me to start gagging and thus take the rest of the fight with a -2 Skill penalty. Not such a big deal really, I only needed one more hit to kill him and that was just what I did. After taking a quick breather outside whilst the skunkbear odour filtered out, I settled down in the cave and got some shut-eye as the storm broke and the rain pelted down through the night. Having not eaten the day before, the benefit of rest was seriously impared and I actually ended up losing 1 Stamina overall.

Leaving the cave as the sun started to make a welcome appearance through the clouds I followed a narrow trail which led me through a very steep climb until it divided. To the right the path continued up the mountainside, to the left a narrow rope bridge provided a crossing over a gully. Not being a pussy, I opted for the rope bridge. Unfortunately, my bravery was met with a compulsory Luck test. At this point I believe my Luck was dwindling at 8 and I failed the roll. My foot slipped and went through the ropes but I managed to grab onto the side before I fell to my death. To continue I had to complete a Skill test, which was easily done due to my rather healthy Skill of 10, I kept hold of the now swaying bridge and made it all the way across.

Along the other side as I continued my ascent I could see what appeared to be a very large birds nest, which I decided to leave well alone. Now I’m still actually unclear if the nests are related, but I was suddenly very aware of a shape in the sky, a shape I had already encountered at the start of The Seven Serpents. The Xamen Birdmen are those responsible for stealing the Crown of Kings for the Archmage in the first place and one was hurtling through the sky towards me.

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Probably too late now, but I took the chance that the thing might not have seen me and hid behind a bush. A fairly ridiculous tactic; one thing birds generally have going for them is good eye-sight and so I was suddenly in combat. A little spell-casting this time though, I opted for the SAP spell, designed to demoralise your opponent. It worked a treat too as a 2 Stamina cost made the big feathery idiot fly away and leave me be. And let that be a lesson to you! Moving on, the shadow of Mampang Fortress became larger and larger, I was set to reach it before nightfall at this rate. However, I was offered the chance to rest briefly in a sheltered alcove and have a bite to eat. Although I have no food, a little sit down can’t be turned down. My alcove chill-out zone had been used before though, a message had been written on the wall in dye –

Heed this warning! Proceed no further towards the curse that is Mampang. Every step you take in its direction takes you one step nearer eternal damnation. For I, Colletus, have been there and back and know the truth of its ways. If you do not turn back, you may find me at the Groaning Bridge. You must save you own soul before it is too late. -Colletus

Well nobody told me about eternal damnation when I set off… sigh. Groaning Bridge though? Ok, gotcha.

With Mampang so very close I continued further, my path leading out onto a rocky plateau atop a crevasse. One direction took me towards what appeared to be a rope swing. Now I know a little bit about Steve Jackson by now and in no way am I going to cross a crevasse on a knackered old rope swing, that route clearly ends up in a mangled heap of bone and blood. So I continued onward to find a safer route across, and would you believe it, a wooden bridge. It only occurs to me now as I type that if a perfectly good wooden bridge were available, why would a rope swing have been created? In the absence of this rational thinking, I gave the bridge a go. Oddly, as I began to put my weight on it, the bridge began to vocalise! ‘Oooooooo! Ahhhhhhh!’, said the bridge. I guess this is the Groaning Bridge then? No sign of Colletus the pessimist though… Continuing across I became vaguely amused by the complaints of the bridge until all of a sudden, the complaints stopped. They stopped because the bridge had suddenly vanished from beneath my feet and I was plummeting to the same mangled bone and blood death I had hoped to avoid.

Rather unsure as to what had happened there, but either way, my adventure was over.

So, let’s try that again shall we? Further along from the Groaning Bridge was another route I could follow, although this one had been blocked by rockfall which I elected to cllimb over and managed successfully, except for a small slip which cost me a twisted ankle and -1 Stamina. The rocks had actually fallen from a small landslip which created a natural crossing pint over the crevasse which led me into Mampang itself! My lucky landslide was one of many however and as I progressed along the Fortress side of the crevasse I was soon in danger of being swept away by a fresh fall.

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Magic to the rescue, the most appropriate spell seeming to be WAL, which for a pricey cost of 4 Stamina created an invisible barrier which the rocks piled up behind, allowing me to carry on uninhibited.

What lay before me truly was the final stage of my journey, a bridge that took me into a volcanic chamber which housed the entrance to Mampang Fortress!

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Finally, we’re here! Next time we might even go inside, exciting times indeed…

The Seven Serpents – Conclusions

The Seven Serpents was a book I played through in a single sitting and totally loved the experience. As ever, there is the odd quibble here and there, but overall I had a great time with this book, the wild environments were exciting to explore and the chase of the serpents was a very satisfying goal. Having to pursue their weaknesses as well as the serpents themselves was a particularly nice extra layer of difficulty and an additional option of how to take the serpents down when you did find them. But here seems like a good place to bring about a criticism, and that is towards the illustrations. The wonderful hyper-fine-detail of John Blanches work seems to be underrepresented here, with the likes of the ruins being the few occasions where it features, seemingly with a focus on heavier lines, almost akin to what we saw in Caverns of the Snow Witch. Not necessarily a bad thing, just a personal preference. But mainly my complaint is that the iconic serpents that the book is centered around are mostly ignored. Only the fire serpent is actually shown, I’d have loved to see what a moon serpent or a time serpent looks like – opportunity missed!

Something I missed was this opportunity to go shopping, apparently somewhere is a salesman who has shelves full of his wares for you to browse. I loved the idea of this illustration, when you get to buy some supplies in Fighting Fantasy books it’s always an exciting moment, to get to see the things on offer is not something you get often.

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One interesting encounter I had was with Fenestra, interesting as I never did really establish what was going on with the serpent appearing in her orb. Well, a reader in the comments section pointed me in the right direction and had I discussed magic with her she would have told me a bit more about herself. She too had an issue with the serpents, the water serpent especially as her father was killed by the beast. I was also filled in as to why the image of a serpent was in her orb, ‘I have here the Sun Serpent, lured down from the skies with a rain spell. I offered it shelter – for the Sun Serpent cannot tolerate water – and magicked it into my orb. Eventually, the Water Serpent will come looking for its companion, and when that happens I will be ready’.

So that’s what was going on. I suppose that you cannot actually face the Sun Serpent yourself? So if that is the case, surely this book is The Six Serpents and only two escaped me and made it to Mampang? That’s two more than I’d have liked anyway, there was much of the book I didn’t explore.

Mostly I took left turns, I have no idea why, but you can see in my map that I stuck very much to that side of the world.

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I did like the circular section towards the end though in the forest, certain paths overlapping and different routes leading into each other, the silly insta-death section on the edge of the lake aside of-course. Some of the wildlife was quite dangerous and I did like this image of the stalking Snattacats.

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I never met this chap either, but he does have a look of Gimli about him, a sort of exotic, tribal Gimli anyway. There’s some Yosemite Sam in there too I think…

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My favourite section of the book was the barren Baklands section, the feeling of eerie isolation was very well conveyed in the writing and gave me similar feelings to that of the utterly wonderful PS3 game, Journey.

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One final thing – the time serpent. I think that puzzle wasn’t hard enough! I was prepared for some proper code-breaking stuff there and it turned out to be just roman numerals? More could have been made of that one I think, but even still I did like the use of a visual puzzle. But anyway, best book of the three so far? I think it probably was. But now, please excuse me, there’s an 800 page doorstep sitting ominously on my desk…

The Seven Serpents – Part 3

Having just avoided being eaten by a bush, it was time to press on to the end of this chapter of the Sorcery saga. My first step was to take a left hand turn at a junction which took me up a winding path through the forest which at one point skirted round the edge of a hillock, and from within I could hear sounds. Further inspection revealed a door in the side! Interested to potentially meet a hobbit, I tried the door and entered the hillock. A dimly lit passageway was on the other side and I edged down it, clearly hearing voices coming from the end of it. A spindly creature sat in a candle-lit room, hunched over a glowing orb, whispering to the image of a serpent.

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Seems this creature is the thing on the cover, and despite the fact it was chatting with a serpent, I decided to be nice and not attack. Before I could even announce my presence, I was acknowledged and addressed, ‘All right, all right. Don’t just stand there jittering like a Half-orc. Come in and sit yourself down.’ My charismatic host introduced herself as Fenestra, a sorcereress. I gave her a vague outline of my quest and she seemed interested, listening intently. I asked her about how I might cross Lake Ilklala and for a mere 2 gold she offered to sell me a whistle that would call the boatman. Given my past experience at the lake, this seemed like a sensible purchase. Before I could leave though, Fenestra offered me a gift, I had the choice of a medicinal potion, a lucky charm and a… calling-whistle! She must have a whole box of them. Considering I was in single-digit Stamina, a medicinal potion was the obvious choice, but on accepting it I found that what it actually did was clear me of my Yellow Plague! Two Luck points were mine for my discovery too. I’m gonna need those to power through any combat that comes my way. We said our goodbyes and I left Fenestra in her little hill… but just what was her orb doing exactly and why was she talking to the serpents? I hope I didn’t have to kill her, she was nice.

A three-way junction was my next decision and I took a left which led me back down to the area with the bear I went through on the way up to the lake. As I reached the shore I got my shiny new whistle out and blew on it to take me to page 199. A silent note rang out and sure enough, from the nearby undergrowth an over-weight, un-washed and quite jolly man came into view.

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In exchange for taking me across he wanted 4 gold which I wasn’t willing to pay, I’d already had to buy a whistle, I’m not paying again! So I drew my sword and went into combat, but it was short-lived as I only had to reduce him to 4 Stamina from his initial 7/8 stats so as to force him to yield and take me across the lake for free. He dragged a boat from the bushes, shoved it out into the water and barked at me to get in and get rowing. He seemed much more aggressive towards me now, I can’t think why. Continuing to be a bit of a dick to him, I refused to entertain the idea that I would be doing any rowing myself. At this point he became deflated, and I mean this in a very literal sense as his body began to wilt and a jet of gas rose into the air. Going on what I’d been told earlier in the ruined temple, I had just met the air serpent.

Pressing the serpent for information with my serpent ring I was advised that when in the dark chamber of night I should not use a blood candle. Ok. Now as my memory was serving me correctly, I knew exactly how to kill this serpent. I picked up the limp skin of the ferry-man and ripped it to pieces with my bare hands! Before I could celebrate killing off serpent number two though, the water around the boat began to bubble. Lurching in all directions, my boat threatened to launch me into the water, but a Luck test kept me aboard. A snake-like coil with watery wings rose up from the lake to face me, I guess this’ll be the water serpent then. My quick question-time with the serpent revealled that I should respect Naggamanteh the torture-master, which given that he’s a torture-master, seems like a good idea. Unfortunately, the weakness of this particular serpent was unknown to me and so I would have to take it down in combat. Around about now I remembered that I could call upon Libra and so I asked her to sort out my dwindling Stamina, but not only that, I also cast a WOK spell, creating a shield out of a gold piece which allowed me to deduct 2 from the serpents attack strength. At 10/11 it wasn’t too much of a struggle with the shield in use.

Taking a quick breather after my battles, I realised I had now crossed the lake and was on the shore of the Vischlami Swamp. Before long though, I was disturbed by voices. Standing my ground, I waited until the voices turned into figures. Three marsh goblins were walking through the swamp and were evidently very surprised to see me! But instead of cutting them down, I tried to communicate, casting the RAP spell which allows me to speak a foreign tongue.

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It became apparent that Fenestra had sent these three green-skins off to take down a serpent of godly power and that the scroll pictured above held the key to defeating it. Thanking the goblins for the information, I bid them farewell. The text informed me that there was a page reference hidden within the image of the scroll and that when I confront the time serpent I should turn to the given reference. I set about figuring it out straight away, the potential cypher was worked out, I assumed the ‘LIX’ heading was the reference and the numbers could somehow be obtained by studying the symbols and letters below… Oh how I scribbled and pondered…

About two seconds later, the serpent of time popped up. ‘So the Anlander has the serpent ring!’ hissed the serpent and proceeded to divulge the secret that the Archmage may well be disguised up in Mampang, he will not be as he seems. When it came to take him down, I had no idea what I was doing as apparently the cypher idea wasn’t working. And so, I thought some more and eventually tried what would be the successful option – Roman Numerals. Yep, the only important thing on that scroll is the ‘LIX’ heading, the rest is a total red herring, which led me to page 59 and a formality of an encounter with the severely weakened 3/14 time serpent.

And that was that, the final serpent and the end of this leg of the journey. I went through a section where I was asked how many serpents I had slain, taking out 4 of the 7 was the middle option and earned me no penalty and no reward. Three serpents raced ahead of me to inform Mampang what I was up to, I’d need to be careful now. Entering Low Xamen, the craggy Zanzunu Peaks lay ahead and a climb to the Fortress of Mampang was what I had to look forward to, and incidentally this Mordor-like scenario is depicted in my favourite illustration from this one. We’re reaching the end of the journey and the final book now, wish me luck!

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The Seven Serpents – Part 2

As I headed north, away from the ruins with my fantastic new disease, I became rather nervous as I was coming towards the end of the Baklands and had yet to take out any of the serpents feverishly trying to deliver news of my arrival to the Archmage. Ahead of me lay the great forest of Snatta, but before I could reach it, I was happy to see my first settlement in some time, a number of tiny huts making up a little village, presumably able to survive off the forest. However, it seems they also survive off raids into the Baklands too as the inhabitants turned out to be the Klattamen barbarians that had raided the ruined temple. These lanky, animal-skin wearing, semi-nomads aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer though and I didn’t feel at risk. In-fact, I was invited over for a very welcome meal of wild boar, gaining 2 Stamina. As my new crowd of friends grew quiet thought, I realised something was amiss. Turning round I saw exactly my problem.

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I had been drawn in to be a play-thing for their champion and I was about to be bludgeoned. Although looking at the illustration, given how top-heavy he is with that leg/arm ratio, I could probably have just pushed him down. Despite him being quite a strong character though at 9/8, I took him down with a few well-placed Luck tests as my own Stamina was still not in good shape, especially given the continuing effects of my Yellow Plague. When the peoples hero fell, they stood silent and then offered me more meat! Unfortunately, I didn’t take any with me for later and got the hell out of there.

On the edge of the Forest of Snatta night was falling, so instead of ploughing on through the dark, I decided it was nap-time. An uninterrupted night of sleep gained me 3 Stamina, which I instantly lost to the overnight effects of the Yellow Plague I contracted earlier. Leading me deeper into the forest were three options, left, right and middle pathways. I opted to take the left and found myself in foraging mode as a number of potentially useful items became available to me. Up for grabs were five small pebbles, a handful of leaves, sand, stone dust, the feather of a yellow bird and enough nuts and berries for two meals. The only down side was that to take an item, I’d have to drop an item. I gave up my glue, wax and scroll in exchange for the food, sand and stone dust.

Continuing on my previous path I encountered a snake which slithered ahead, looked at me and then went into the bushes next to the path. This seemed like too big a clue not to follow it, so I headed off into the undergrowth. Almost like it wanted me to follow, the snake kept looking back to me, making sure I was following before heading up a tree. As I went up to the tree to investigate, it seemed like I’d found what I was looking for.

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Suddenly the tree burst into flames at what I can say is a fairly safe assumption to be the fire serpent. Rolling 4 on a D6 I was saved a loss of Skill, but still managed to lose 3 Stamina from the heat. Remembering my ring, I confronted the serpent and spoke to it to obtain whatever knowledge it had to give me. The serpent warned me that should I meet him, not to eat from Throgs larder, but that this was unlikely as my adventure was going to be over soon anyway… I have to admit I guessed my way though this one somewhat as I had not discovered this serpents weakness, but the sand I picked up earlier seemed like a logical option. It was the right choice too as the flames were extinguished and all was left of my opponent was the original snake I was following, which at 5/6, died very quickly. That’s one down, six to go!

Getting back onto the path, I arrived at a junction with turn-offs, left and right. Taking the left turn I came into a clearing and quickly found myself in trouble as a wild bear was lumbering over towards me!

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After the flames of the fire serpent my Stamina was now a horribly low 5, spells could not be risked and so again I chanced combat as my Luck was still very high, which was a good thing as this bear was 8/8 and thankfully I was able to dispatch it without taking further damage. When I left the clearing I found myself on the edge of what the map tells me is Lake Ilkala. I needed a way to cross, but I could see no way of doing so, I walked up and down the bank, I waited some more, but nobody was coming.

My adventure was over.

Yes, I was surprised too. My character seemingly just gave up, sat on the edge of the lake and waited there until he died. What an odd way to kill you off. I did what my character would have done in this situation, I turned around and explored in a different direction! I’d only just recently been given the option of a left or right turn, so I went back to that point and tried the right turn.

My new course took me to another left-right junction, and I again went right. As I pushed through the forest though, this section seemed to get very narrow and more and more tanglesome.

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The bushes were actually wrapping themselves around me, trying to drag me into them. I was asked by the text if I had any essence of bark, which I did! These grasping limbs were that of a Stranglebush, a plant which eats animals, by quickly rubbing the essence of bark on my exposed skin, the Stranglebush mistook me for another plant and quickly released its grip on me, allowing me to continue unharmed.

Through a clearing in the trees I could see Lake Ilklala not too far in the distance ahead of me. I was told that I would need to cross the lake in order to reach the foothills of Xamen, climbing these would then lead me to the Fortress of Mampang and the Archmage, my ultimate goal.

But as we know, I haven’t the means to cross this lake, I’m down to 5 Stamina and there’s also the small matter of six more serpents still out there for me to whack… I’ll see you in part three, wish me luck, I think I’m gonna need it at this rate!