The Crown of Kings – Conclusions

Well that only took me six months to finish!

Blimey, what a ride. I’ll start off with looking at book four I suppose. The Crown of Kings was a very hard book indeed, there was a lot that went wrong there and running into obstacles, mainly in the form of the hardwood spear, forced me to do a lot of exploration to find out where I’d gone wrong, as you might expect from an 800 page title. I take a step back though and remind you that my failings began in the previous book, The Seven Serpents, where I failed to prevent all the serpents from arriving ahead of my in Mampang and telling all and sundry who to be looking out for. Had all seven died then I would have begun The Crown of Kings on page 237 and been given the information that anytime I am referred to as ‘the Analander’ I could deduct 40 from the reference and be sent to a version of events where you are not recognised. This would have saved many, many headaches along the way!

Despite being so tough though I really enjoyed this book, the epic scope just made it a fitting conclusion to this very epic series, this was the huge dungeon crawl that we hadn’t seen much of so far. It was more than just tricks and traps too, I particularly liked the kitchen encounter, the range of mutations was a real creative treat! My only real criticism I think would be the Archmage encounter, I loved how you are tricked into imprisoning yourself in the 2nd tower, but the actual fight itself was a little short. I remember the magic to-and-fro with Balthus Dire in The Citadel of Chaos and it would have been nice to see a more extended fight here as well. Having said that though, there were certain spell options I didn’t take, one of which accompanied by a rather cool illustration where the Archmage annihilates a wood golem you summon to fight for you.

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Something else I missed, but not from this book, was a locket. I was captured by Captain Cartoum during my infiltration of Mampang and was told to look for visual clues on his illustration. Well the clue went over my head, but it was the picture of the young lady on his wall I was supposed to be looking out for as way back in The Shamutanti Hills I could have found a locket bearing her image that if given to Captain Cartoum, he would have been so grateful to get a memento of his sweetheart he’d have sent me on my way with the key!

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When going back and forth through the book, one image continually caught my eye and made me wonder what it was about, but I never did land on it. It was this one –

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This was a simplistic version of darts, white numbers increasing your score, black numbers decreasing it. Winning the game was achieved by the first person to hit 10 or -10. Playing the game was as simple as ‘keeping a tight grip on your pencil, and keeping your elbow firmly in place, stab your book with your pencil!‘. Of all the bizarre mini-games in the Sorcery books, that’s clearly the most mental. All the poor books out there destroyed by over-enthusiastic 10 year-olds, all the thighs punctured by wayward ‘dart throws’.

And despite this awesome stabbing game, it has to be said that the encounter I regret missing the most was the devastating, the dreaded, the… cabbage-sized, Jib-Jib!!

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I already said in my read-through that the nether world demon was my favourite illustration from the book, but I am rather partial to a busy crown scene, and Mr. Blanche came up with another good one that passed me by. Some sort of mutant party I believe!

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And as much as I love reading toilet graffiti, I’m not sure I’d have enjoyed being in this particular latrine, and before you check, none of the scrawl mentions ‘cake’ or ‘lies’.

 

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I certainly didn’t expect this one to take up six parts, but to go into full detail as I always try to, I really did need the space to tell the experience as it happened as best I could. My map did sprawl out a bit as a consequence. Still don’t think it’s as bad as my House of Hell map though!

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As a whole the Sorcery series took my by surprise a bit, I really had no expectations as to what the books would be like and I had been sitting on them for months before I started reading them. When I started doing this blog it was about nostalgia and a means to make myself accountable in collecting the books and actually reading them again, I never really thought I would enjoy reading them as much as I have, but if I take only one positive thing away from the experience of blogging Fighting Fantasy it’s that I got to read the Sorcery books. They’ve been an absolute pleasure to read through and now I’m all done, I find it difficult to actually say which one I enjoyed the most! I loved the relaxing beauty of The Shamutanti Hills, the dirty urban sprawl of Khare, the desperation of hunting The Seven Serpents and the sheer tour-de-force scale of the final battle through Mampang, but if I have to go for one… I think it would be The Seven Serpents. I was so enthralled I did it in single sitting, there were so many elements I liked about the books central theme of a race against time and the discovery of the serpents weaknesses made it feel more exciting than the other, slower-paced books.

In general the Sorcery series really lives up to its name of Advanced Fighting Fantasy. The use of so many little tricks such as puzzles in illustrations, continuity between books, the rest and food mechanic, and the fact I actually had to make notes of clues and hints to be able to progress, it constantly kept the experience fresh and lively and took the medium about as far as I can imagine it going. If I had one criticism it would be that sometimes the spell casting didn’t really fit as I could only cast the spells offered to me when I was told I could use them, obviously this is a restriction based on how the book is written, but it is annoying when you just want to use that DOP spell to get a lock open, but you aren’t allowed because the puzzle doesn’t work that way, but that is a minor gripe at best.

All in all, it has been said that Steve Jackson’s favourite Fighting Fantasy book is the whole Sorcery epic, and now I know why.

The Crown of Kings – Part 6

We pick up the story having just been whacked over the head with a chamber pot by a fat-man who may or may not be the evil Archmage of Mampang Fortress, the man who stands between me and my goal, the Crown of Kings. Giving him the benefit of the doubt I tried to calm him down and have a talk. He told me his name was Farren Whyde and that he was not a native of Mampang, he had been brought here by bird-men so the Archmage could exploit his knowledge of science and weaponry, specifically regarding something which sounds an awful lot like gunpowder. Believing his story, I told him mine and was told that the Archmage doesn’t actually come to Mampang Fortress that often as he feels it in unsafe… FFS… However, Farren was able to tell me where I would find him.  A short spell was uttered in an odd language and the tower appeared out of nowhere, visible through the window as the invisibility spell it had been hidden by faded, There is the Archmage’s tower. That is where he stays!’, said Farren. An opportunity to cast a spell myself arose and so I went for DOC, I needed to get my Stamina back to a respectable level after that marble sheep had kicked me from wall to wall.

Farren told me one more thing, that a secret passageway was hidden within this tower along a specific solid wall and would be released by a password. My visit from Libra way back in part two detailed a hidden passageway that sounded much like this one, so I went to the wall and deducted 92 from the reference as Libra had told me, I held my breath and…. hooray! The wall creaked, cracked and the split open and a door began to open from within the rock, just in the nick of time as I could hear guards ascending the tower in pursuit of me. Zig-zagging down the hidden stairs I neatly avoided any further attention and was very relieved to find the Archmage’s tower still visible when I emerged. A winning Skill test later and I had the door barged down and was ready to go find me a crown.

Two doors led on from this point. I initially chose the right one, an empty circular room lay on the other side, a staircase on the opposite side. What put me off was the scratches that ran vertically from floor to ceiling along the walls. They’re gonna suddenly start moving and crush me when I step on them aren’t they? I still haven’t checked actually, but the option to go back to the left door was given so I gave that a shot. This room was dark but I could tell the floor was scattered with hay, I could also tell there was a smell of decay in the room. A large, bulky shape sat at the far side of the room and as I approached to investigate, it began to rise up…

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Easily one of the most utterly bizarre monsters I’ve seen illustrated in a Fighting Fantasy book, before me slumped a hydra. It was unlike any hydra I had seen before though, infact it had seven necks and no heads, the heads you see here slowly began to form at the end of the necks, one by one. I held back and waited for the remaining heads to form and allowed the creature to engage me in combat. However, as it advanced upon me, at the last moment it simply vanished. It had been an illusion! The bulky shape and stench in the air were both representative of the hydra corpse that lay on the floor, presumably having once guarded the tower. From this room I was able to progress further by climbing a staircase that wound up the tower until it stopped at a large, ornate door bound in brass. This was it.

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‘And who do we have here then?As if I did not know. The Analander!’. I had found the Archmage and I told him I had come to take back the Crown of Kings. Rather unexpectedly, he told me I could have it and was rather anxious to get rid of the thing. I didn’t buy this for a second and prepared for a fight! Being an Archmage I guessed he was going to have some pretty powerful magic at his disposal, so I chose to cast MAG, a magical protection spell. It seemed to have done the trick though as the rope the Archmage sent hurtling through the air to bind my hands stopped a few feet in front of me and fell harmlessly to the floor. ‘We will have to use less impressive means to capture the Analander’, he said, and before I knew it I was being marched off by guards to the prison cell at the top of the tower. Not again…

Oddly enough, in the cell I met a friendly face. All the way back in The Shamutanti Hills I met a minimite called Jann, well, today we meet Jann again! He was supposed to have proved quite annoying as the presence of a minimite prevents a person from casting all the but the most powerful of magic spells, but I hadn’t actually attempted to use magic when he was with me, so that one passed me by. After I ditched him though, the poor thing had apparently been following me, trying to keep up with my progress. Unwilling to enter Khare, he went around the city and tracked me across the Baklands, getting confirmation from Fenestra that he was on the right course before finally being captured by the Red-eyes and having his wings cut off to prevent his escape! Jann told me that what we were in was not actually the Archmage’s tower at all, this was his prison tower where he holds all his most valuable captives. Why Jann was that important to the Archmage I do not know. What did now make sense was the idea that Farren was not who he said he was. I brought this up with Jann and he sniggered and confirmed my suspicions, that had been the Archmage all along and I was told that should I encounter Farren again I could deduct 111 from the reference to expose him.

For now though, we were locked into a tower with seemingly no possible escape, I couldn’t use my magic due to Jann nulifying it but I could perhaps try to ambush the guards when they brought food. I asked Jann if he had any suggestions. After outlining again the futility of our predicament, Jann started talking magic. My traditional spells would not work around him, but there re a few spells that their protection doesn’t work against. He asked if I had strength to spare, the text asked if I had a Stamina above 8? Thanks to my DOC spell-casting from earlier, I did. ZED was the new spell I was learning, apparently a very powerful one too that the Spellbook did mention but conspicuously stated that its exact effects were unknown. Jann gave me a tangent-ridden description of the spell and to cut a long story short, it allows the user to control time and space. I decided to give it a go and everything when swirly and then un-swirled as I was no longer standing in the prison tower, but at the top of a spiral staircase in front of some heavy-set double doors. Now this really is it.

This had been the top of the tower I had previously ascended from the hydra room, and again, Farren was waiting for me there, only this time I had the information Jann had given me and deducted 111 from the page number. ‘So, the Analander knows our secret!’, he said, he began to tease me with the idea of the Crown of Kings itself and began to produce it from a nearby drawer. Whilst I was distracted by the shiny, a creature had begun to form over the now prone Farren Whyde, a Nether-World Demon, which frankly looked like it wouldn’t be out of place in the bowels of House of Hell. A fantastic illustration, probably my favourite from this book.

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As the thing was still in the process of forming when I attacked it, it was actually quite weak at 7/7, I did have a 5-round target to kill it, but with my superior skill and high Luck, this was quite easy to meet.

It appeared to me that the Archmage had attempted to turn into the nether-world demon to destroy me once and for all and having discarded his illusion, left the body of ‘Farren Whyde’ on the ground. Perhaps Farren Whyde was a real person the Arhmage had based his illusion around? A RES spell seemed an interesting option here, so I whipped out some Holy Water and set about bringing him back. I explained what had happened and he praised my efforts and everything I had done for him and the Femphrey Alliance. He set about repaying me in the best possible way – getting me the hell out of there. He produced a crystal ball from within a velvet bag and called upon the Samaritans of Schinn. Peewit Croo, their Chief Disciple was to come to my aid, he was a bird-man and was going to fly me and the crown home.

The Crown was on its way home, the Archmage was dead and somewhere in The Shamutanti Hills, a squirrel is set-up for food over this winter and possibly even the next.

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My adventure was over and I have earned a rest.

 

 

The Crown of Kings – Part 5

It is now seemingly a theme that I start each post by covering up for my inadequacies displayed earlier in the adventure, and in this example of failure we return to moments before I threw myself into a raging inferno. This would be the third of three Throben Doors I needed to pass and to pass I needed the password. Retracing my steps to the second door, I left the kitchen alone and this time decided to try out the entrance guarded by two bird-men. Fortunately, they seemed to have pottered off and left me an opportunity to sneak in covertly. A long corridor stretched out ahead with doors either side and a weapon rack full of swords available to me. My stealthy entrance was suddenly at risk of falling apart though as I could hear voices coming down towards me. A quick decision saw me scramble blindly through one of the doors to my left, which fantastically took me away from a situation where I may potentially meet guards and put me in a situation where I was actually meeting guards.

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The three bird-men were somewhat confused by my sudden intrusion and this presented me an opportunity to think on my feet, I indulged them in conversation, taking the time to ask how their families were! ‘Our blessed mothers are well. But what business of this is yours?‘, was my reply. Safe in the knowledge that their mums were ok and amidst their confusion, I got out of there. My luck held up as the corridor was now empty, allowing me to proceed unchallenged. Three doors were ahead, all within a T-junction, I opted for the large metal door to my left. I was offered the option to try a key, but without one, I gave the door a knock. ‘Come in!‘, was the reply and as I opened the door a large spiked morning star came swinging at my head, requiring a successful Luck test to avoid, but still it managed to graze me, costing 1 Stamina. What I had wandered into was a torture chamber and the ogre standing before me was the tricksy scamp who had just recommended I walk straight into a deadly trap.

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Thanks to the serpents that avoided my attention in the last book, this guy knew exactly who I was and started spouting about the Analander, cracking his whip and laughing. I decided that the best course of action was naturally bribery, so I offered up 10 gold which brought about a Microsoft-style 180 in his attitude and he accepted! The Throben Doors was my number one topic to press him on as I had to find a way to pass this raging inferno. I complimented his fine torture room and he told me that the fire was an illusion and that the only way to pass it was to know and believe it was an illusion, I could do that by turning to page 399 at the relevant moment. Heading out of the torture chamber I could go left or right and so I chose right which took me back to the section which led onto the third Throben Door. Sure enough, the flames licked my sides and I walked through entirely unharmed only to find another door on the other side.

Above the door was a sign which read ‘Chamber of Night‘. I might hang a sign saying that above a door in my house and see how it works out. I opened the door to unsurprisingly, find it to be quite dark. Candles were an option presented by the text and as I’d bought some from the merchant earlier, I had the option of blood candles or normal candles, the blood candles lasting much longer. However, I had been warned by a serpent in the previous book not to use the blood candles, so I went with the regular ones. The flickering flame revealed a floor from which a number of sharp blades randomly protruded. What followed was a lengthy maze-like section, full of entries like, ‘You inch your way slowly across the room. For your next few steps, choose either 488, 341 or 359‘. Not a format I’m too keen on myself, but after a series of random choices, I eventually made it out by finding a reference I hadn’t seen before (52, if you’re wondering).

I stumbled through the door I had found into a very bright room and almost instantly, hands grabbed my wrists. Guards had been waiting for me on the other side and I had again been captured. They took their prize to their captain, Cartoum, who sat behind a large wooden desk, covered in paperwork. I resisted the urge to reach for my blessed hardwood spear and listened to what he had to say.

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The text informed me that within the picture there may be a clue to help get me out of this one. Unfortunately, all I could really be sure of was that there was absolutely no paperwork on his desk. The obvious choice thing to focus on however would be the girl in the picture, but I really had no idea who she was? Did I meet her? I’ll check that one out come Conclusions time… but for now I had to pick a different course of action. I made up a story about having a message to deliver to the Archmage, this obviously wasn’t convincing him in the slightest and he had the guards unhand me, presumably to run me through. At this point I went for a GOD spell that would ensure anyone around had a massive respect for me, a spell I could only cast thanks to the gold jewel I had obtained earlier. 1 Stamina point was the price and I was shown out personally by the apologetic Captain who gifted me a key with which I could use to open the next Throben Door. Now that is how you get out of a tight spot!

The next room on was made of marble and had a giant sheep statue as a center-piece.

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If I am certain about anything it’s that this thing is definitely about to attack me.

Using some sand, I cast a MUD spell and created an area of quicksand in front of the statue for 1 Stamina point, but all this would do was allow me to skip a Luck test I may or may not be about to take… Sure enough, about five paces into the room, the thing was up about and coming straight for me at full pelt. The thing careered past me at a thundering pace and smashed into the marble wall, not even phased a little bit, it turned to go for me again. Not having anything in my possession that could assist me, all I could do was run for the door. Another Luck test followed and even in succeeding it, I was still smashed by the thing for 4 Stamina points of damage and thrown across the room straight into another Luck test.It was a good job I’d obtained that lucky pendant earlier in the courtyard as I was again successful in my roll, but again got caught by the thing for another 4 Stamina. Only this time, I landed by the door I was aiming to get through. Using the Captains key, I deducted 17 from my reference as instructed and slipped through the door just in a nick of time to avoid being destroyed by the ram.

My mission was almost at an end, all four of the Throben Doors have been passed and all that lies ahead now is the Archmage and the crown. A spiral staircase led onward, I climbed to the top and opened the door onto what I expected to be an elegant study. What I saw was this…

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A sparsely decorated room, narrow slits barely providing any light through the stone walls and a bald, fat man in a (presumably) smelly, stained onesie. ‘It’s no use, I just cannot bring myself to do it!‘, he said, backing down from his intended course of action – smacking me over the head with his chamber pot. It was around now that I remembered a serpents warning that the Archmage may be in disguise when I meet him, so from going into the grand finale of Part 6 I would have to proceed with caution…

 

The Crown of Kings – Part 4

It’s fair to say that we (and by which, I mean ‘I’) failed completely in the last part, reminiscent of the Gangees from Citadel of Chaos, I had nowhere to turn. Surrounded by guards, the only way for any progress was to find out exactly where I’d missed out on finding the blessed hardwood spear. So to my map I went and from the start of the book started exploring some of the routes I had not been down on my trek through the mountains to Mampang Fortress. Thankfully, this turned into a much easier task than I envisaged as the first piece if the puzzle was very early on indeed. After the initial section of picking a cave to sleep in I was offered the choice of taking a rickety bridge or climbing the mountain path further and I took the bridge. What I should have done was take the right-hand path and left the bridge well alone. It would have been down that path that I would have come across some hoof-prints…

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Yep, actual boobs on what basically looks like Joey Belladonna. These She-Satyrs were quite clearly carrying spears. Blessed ones made of hard wood? We shall see, but I was stopped dead in my tracks as a pair of them emerged from behind a group of rocks and chucked one of their spears at me. Being very aggressive, they branded me a ‘weak-bowelled cur’ and demanded to know what I was doing here, I went along with what they wanted. As we spoke they realised my accent was not that of a local and asked where I was from. I partially revealed my origin was in Analand and their attitude changed to one of fascination as they desired to learn more about the outside world and the events taking place there, it wasn’t long before they offered to take my back to their village for more story-time. It was here that things fell into place, I spoke with their leader Sh’houri and told her about my quest, a cause to which she was thankfully sympathetic and gave up much information. First she told me of the Throben Doors, I now know that there are four in total and so I believe I’d already made it through two of them? Next up she gave me a hardwood spear! I was told I could get it blessed by a man named Colletus. Now if you remember in Part 1 I had already picked up a clue about Colletus, knowing that he could be found at the Groaning Bridge. Sh’houri told me of a whistling technique that could be used to get his attention from within his hiding place, for which I had to deduct 30 from the relevant reference to reach him. Ahhh! Finally, I was offered a number of spell casting reagents which I could exchange for an item in my inventory.

Making a direct route onto the Groaning Bridge I did my little whistle and sure enough, out pops Colletus. The man was completely blind and confused as to who was calling on him, but on asking him of his skills as a holy man he was genuinely flattered someone had sought out his abilities and he was more than happy to bless my spear. Hooray! So, now that little puzzle is out of the way, lets jump back up to Mampang Fortress and back to the section where Ridd the Gnome had rushed me with a gang of guards…

This time, I wasn’t frogmarched away to a cell. This time, all 12 guards were dead within a few minutes as a simple touch with the tip of this spear can kill a man in an instant. As for Ridd the Gnome, a rather brutal end was his, instead of simply touching him, I rammed the spear straight through his throat! That is totally metal. My path to the next Throben Doors was now clear and I took the password I had learned from Valignya and they clicked open without frying me with lightning bolts or anything like that, which was nice. So NOW that’s two doors done. Through these doors I had progressed into the inner keep, a solid wood door to me left appeared to lead into the main keep, but was guarded by two bird-men.

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To my right was an unguarded door spouting steam and clanking noises, and that was where I headed towards. On closer inspection, this was actually a kitchen entrance. The unpleasant smell of todays special hit me, swine offal and lizard entrails. Lovely. Small nervous creatures scampered around, these minions serving the orders being barked out by a large hobgoblin cook, whipping them around the head with a sapling branch to get them moving. It’s all very Dungeon Keeper in here. Wonderful illustration too, that kitchen looks beyond dirty!

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Rather than sneaking through or mercilessly slaughtering all in my path I decided to announce my presence and have a chat with the cook, she couldn’t see very well and as soon as she’d finished beating her minions, through squinted eyes she asked me what I wanted. For some reason I decided that asking for some food would be a good idea. The best she could offer was pickled dung-beetles, having realised my error of judgement I tried to back out but this quickly angered her, so rather than cause a commotion I just agreed to sample something from the larder. Ant Meatballs seemed as good an option as any. I don’t know how much meat you get on an ant, but they were actually very tasty and restored my Skill and Stamina to initial values! As I went to compliment the chef on her work, she shrieked ‘Oh no! Not THAT jar!‘. She unfolded a crumpled piece of the jars label to reveal its actual content, ‘Mutant Meatballs’. Oops. I was told to roll two D6 to find out what my mutation would be!

My face started to ache. I reached out and was shocked to find my nose was growing and growing, hanging down my face like a proboscis! As well as making me look ridiculous, this made breathing a little difficult and so I had to reduce my Initial and Current Stamina by 2. Leading on from the kitchen was a passageway that presumably led onto the guards’ mess-hall, I say presumably as on making my way along here I heard gruff voices and the sound of chain-mail which led me to hide in the shadows where I unwittingly discovered an escape route. A dark, damp passageway descended below and then back up to floor-level, taking me to a door which opened out into an arched cloister. Three doors led out of here, one to the right, one in the opposite wall and another marked by a sign ‘Nylock- Merchant – Open‘. As merchants are always fun and I have a load of cash to spend, I had a look in there.

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Two things struck me about this image, our merchant friend has a very similar hat to Valignya, must be a cool style up here in Mampang. Also, the two framed pictures on the wall… is that supposed to be two of our favourite fantasy gamebook writers?? Anyway, I ignored the option to steal his wares and went to see how much it would cost to buy out his inventory. He had a supposedly enchanted, Rusty Cutlass (3gp); a set of candles, one made of wax, one blood (2gp); a variety of spell artifacts (5gp each); a birds nest containing a golden egg (2gp) and some silver pieces (4gp). I took the lot to varying degrees of success. The enchanted cutlass was actually just a rusty cutlass and would have cost me 1 Skill point if I had to use it, the candles and spell artifacts were as advertised, any function of the nest and egg was not yet apparent and the silver pieces screwed me over – they had infact burned a hole through my bag and I lost the third item written on my inventory, which I believe was some glue. I was then forced on by the text through another door leading into a widening passage that opened into a hallway. Here I had two options, a small ornate door and one huge double door. The latter I deduced was likely a Throben Door, so not knowing how to get that one open, I opted for the smaller door.

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Behind the door was a room empty save for a large piece of machinery made of brass and iron, it’s function seemingly to be some kind of metal-working apparatus. Having no idea how to work it I had to pass a Luck test to get it working, but when I did I realised it was a machine for sharpening blades! I got to work on my weapon and was able to add 1 to any of my future Attack Rolls. Back out into the hallway I had only one option, the double doors, which I’m 99% certain are about to kill me. Curiously, they sat ajar and as I walked over to them a huge fire flared up, behind the doors was an absolute inferno that I could not pass. Now rather frustratingly, I’d have quite liked to go back and explore some other areas, but the only option granted to me was to run head-first into certain death. Very single-minded this hero of ours. So yes, I took a run-up and blasted with heat, screaming wildly as my blood boiled and my body destroyed, my adventure was over. Told you.

The Crown of Kings – Part 3

Last time around we’d just taken in the story of an old pile of rags who was actually a human woman down on her luck, shuffling through her existence in the courtyard of an evil Archmage. I’d left her with the promise that I’d try and sort out the Sightmasters who had been giving her some trouble, so I moved on away from a group of guards towards a group of individuals who apparently seemed familiar to me. And would you believe it? A group of large-eyed beings that could only be Sightmasters, the guys who had sent me on my merry way all the way back in The Shamutanti Hills. These fellows were therefore likely traitors to the cause and they seemed to realise who I was. Damn those serpents. I was beckoned over went to see what they had to say.

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As expected, they talked to me as though they knew exactly who I was and my intent in Mampang, what wasn’t expected was that they were making out that they were trying to help me. I was offered a disguise in the form of a very heavy looking coat, held together by thick buckled straps. Now I don’t know about you, but this is something I would usually regard as a straight-jacket and was reluctant to wear it. Remembering my promise to rag lady I ignored their comments completely and launched straight into combat. A very easy fight awaited, they might be blessed with giant eyes or far-sight or whatever, but they can’t fight for shit. With stats of 7/4, 6/4 and 6/5 the battle was a formality. Many travellers must have been accosted by these guys as they had a nice little stash of loot for me to take away with me; 20 gold, some sand, a vial of glue, a ring of green metal and enough food for three meals were all mine for the taking. Remembering to deduct 100 from the reference I went back to tell rag lady. ‘You’ve made an old woman very happy‘, she sobbed and so the rewards kept flowing. Firstly this came in the form of a luck pendant which not only restored my Luck to initial value, but increased the value by one, taking me up to 12. She also gave me some holy water which could be used in a healing spell. Information was probably the key thing she handed over though, she told me that ahead lay one of the Throben doors and that I should in no way attempt to open them without the password. Valignya knows the password, but to get to him I would first have to contend with the Mucalytics. I have no idea who Valignya is or what a Mucalytic is, but I guess I’m going to find out pretty soon.

A small victory had been achieved in that I had now crossed the courtyard in one piece. That I had just slain three men in plain sight seemed to have gone unnoticed. I assumed that the two large wooden doors ahead of me were the Throben Doors that I had been warned of, so I steered clear of them for now and so was left with the option of exploring either a small door to the right or a perculiar-shaped metal pole in the ground just in front of the doors. Taking a look at the pole, I found it to be covered in ornate markings and had a number of weapons laid at the base. Not in a very trusting mood, I took the chance to try a SUS spell and of course a warning flared up so I left the weapons be and went over to the small door. The door came swinging open as I approached it and I was beckoned in by a short, stocky creature who asked if I was there to torment the Mucalytics. Well, I wasn’t, but if I had to torment something, then that’s what I’ll do, I just want to get past the things. He showed me to a door on the left whilst standing by a door to the right. I had no idea what was going on so I just went with it. I should have exercised more caution, but we’ll get to that later…

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So this is a Mucalytic then. A sort of cross between and elephant and the ‘stink god’ from Spirited Away. Slumped in a mess of slime and rubbish it stood up to about the size of a bear, holding a hand to its ear as though trying to hear what I was saying, even though I wasn’t saying a word. I wasn’t particularly interested in its opinions or smells and so I tried to leg it across the room to the door on the opposite side. A gunky arm swung out and before I knew it I was fighting this thing, 8/9 weren’t too shabby and I think it even landed a hit or two but I did manage to finish it off before it could get three hits in, which would have presumably had a negative effect based on the text. For some reason I had a sort through the slime afterwards I managed to actually find some useful items; a bone bracelet, two Goblin teeth and 5 gold pieces.

I continued through the door on the opposite side of the room and found myself in short corridor. To my left was an empty room with a table and chair, perfect for some food and drink, but a raised portcullis hung above the doorway. Ahead was another door bearing a sign – ‘Enter Only Those Who Will Pay The Price’. I decided to have a look at this crappy little dining room as I could do with a rest at this point. 2 delicious Stamina points were given along with a question – had I visited anyone called Shadrack on my travels? Well as you may remember, this very helpful chap met us in the desert at the very start of The Seven Serpents and as I sat at the table eating some dinner, a ghostly shape appeared in front of me and began to speak – it was Shadrack. Some exposition followed as he told me about the Throben Doors, the secret to opening them held by the Archmages most cunning followers. As we already knew, Valignya ( who Shadrack referred to as ‘the miser’) held one, Naggamanteh the torturer another, alas the final was unknown to Shadrack. Good news came in the knowledge that a group within the fortress known as the Samaritans of Schinn would be allied to me as they too opposed the Archmage and his desire for power – but specifics were unfortunately lacking. On asking why he had come to tell me these things, he sadly revealed that the Archmages men had paid him a visit two nights ago and that his body had died this morning, I was being visited by his actual ghost. I swore revenge on the bastard murderers of this friendly little hermit!

Curiously walking out underneath the inactive portcullis I ventured thowards the pay warning and before I could grasp the handle, a voice came from inside – ‘Inside! But do not waste my time unless you carry gold!’. Well at this point I had about 50 gold, so I think I’m about to blow this guys mind.

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I’ll be honest, keep the Crown of Kings, that guys hat is amazing and I’d hand over 50 gold for that thing right now, it is surely more powerful. But as this wasn’t an option I gave him a chance to speak. What he wanted was a single gold piece to actually converse any further, he mocked my ‘tawdry rags’ and doubted I had money at all. I had been under the impression that he was a merchant of some kind, but based on the advice of rag lady and Shadrack, I realised that having passed the Mucalytic, this must be Valignya the miser! Paying no real attention to his request I told him he could make use of me as a hired sword to help guard his finery. I was of course ignoring the fact that he had a large black jaguar sitting under his table doing just that. He heard my statement, which was now taken as a challenge and set me up against his jaguar to see who was the better. Naturally, I was the better, and despite being given the opportunity to spare the beast when it was reduced to 2 Stamina, I killed it in front of its master. ‘That was unnecessary!‘, he sobbed. Well so was making fun of my clothes. I grabbed his throat and demanded to know how to gain entry further inside the keep. Reluctantly he gave me the password to the next Throben Door – ‘Alaralaramalana’. Letting him go, I headed off to the doors.

Making my way back through the Mucalytics room, I could hear voices in the room beyond. Opening the door I found the short, stumpy character who ushered me in screaming at a group of at least a dozen guards, ‘There you are! I told you! The Analander! And when you capture the dog, remember to tell our master that it was I, Ridd the Ghome, who gave you this information’. The little swine. He had been very eager to get me in there, now I know why. Curiously, I was asked if I had a blessed hardwood spear. I did not.

I was totally outnumbered, with no chance at survival I was quickly pinned to the ground and then frogmarched out of the room, captured and unable to succeed in my mission.

It was at this point I started trying to figure out where I’d gone wrong, I retraced my steps through the last stages of the courtyard segment, the metal pole, through the Mucalytic and Valignya, yet every route ended up with me being rushed by a large group of guards and without this ‘blessed hardwood spear’, I had absolutely no way to progress any further.

For now, my adventure was over.