Sorcery! – The Seven Serpents

The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were blockbusters of the era. Now let’s head into the grand mini-series of gamebooks in the lands of Kakhabad: SORCERY! – THE SEVEN SERPENTS!

In 1982, Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, founders of Games Workshop, released the book ‘The Warlock of Firetop Mountain’. Intended as an introduction to tabletop role-playing games of the era, the book’s choose-your-own-adventure format mixed with simple dice-based combat proved massively successful, giving rise to a full series of books – Fighting Fantasy. With over 65 books in the series by a legion of authors and illustrators, the series’ legacy continues to this day. Come along with us as Cybe and co play through each one – with no prior knowledge, no hints or walkthroughs and no cheating!

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We resume our adventure through Kakhabad in this, the third volume of Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! series. After our inauspicious trek through the city of Khare, which ended with a most undignified dump in the town’s sewers, things can only get better! At least, that’s what we hope… The vast Baklands await, a huge wilderness with few inhabitants, loads of monsters, and more environmental hazards than a Pentex landfill.

Our adventure wastes no time, for shortly after leaving Khare we are attacked by a swarm of giant crows. Unusually large and vicious, the beasts swoop down to attack, and I opt to fend them off with my sword. It looks momentarily grim as I’m sharply outnumbered, but after only a few rounds the fight is interrupted as a large eagle swoops in to save the day.

The eagle is the loyal servant of the King of Analand, and has been dispatched to deliver a vital message to me. Word of my mission has reached the Seven Serpents – vicious minions of the Archmage – who now rush across the Baklands to bring warning of my quest to their master. Our mission is now to not only reach the end of this region, but take out the seven monsters during the trip. Sound good? Yeah, we’re screwed.

I rest for the night near an old tree. In the morning, I wake to find that the tree’s branches have taken the form of a face. The tree advises me to seek out a hermit who lives in a nearby cave – I tend to trust the words of pieces of wood, so I head in that direction. The hermit, as it turns out, is a wise man called Shadrack who greets me well, providing enough food to heal my injuries and regaling me with the tales of the serpents.

As it transpires, the serpents were created by the Archmage from the remains of a slain Hydra. The heads of the serpents have been imbued with the power of an element – fire, earth, sun, water, air, heart, and potassium. He also tells me that each one has special weaknesses. That’s useful and all, but it doesn’t really help me in finding the buggers. He does give me a Galehorn however – a magical item. Ooh, thank you!

Thanking Shadrack, we head off northwards, eventually stumbling into the hunting ground of a desert-dwelling beast called the Baddu-Beatle. “Fine” I say, and ready up a good ol’ ZAP spell. Hurling it at the beast, the bolt crackles off its heavy armoured shell, making it only angrier. Lovely. “Right” I say, grabbing my sword and swinging it at the giant beetle. It’s at that point that I discover its penchant for spraying acidic blood when injured. Lovely. Just… just lovely.

I stumble away from the fight with the beetle, rather the worse for wear. Dented and bruised, I head through the wilderness until I hear the echo of a distant cackling from a remote rocky outcropping. As I approach, a skeletal figure shrouded in black robes emerges and beckons to me menacingly. Now, at this point I’m quite badly injured from the fight with the beetle and haven’t really had much of a chance to recover, so it’s not too smart for me to get into this fight – but on the other hand, the skeletal figure has a big full-page illustration, so I figure it’s important to go check it out!

The creature is a Deathwraith, a powerful undead fiend. Fearing launching into a fight with it without proper defences, I quickly cast the MAG spell, hoping that it will defend myself from any deathly magic that the undead monster possesses. Unexpectedly, the Deathwraith vanishes entirely, revealing a hermit! The monster was entirely an illusion. Gosh, the Baklands are quite populated, it seems! And also, hermits tend to have some rather potent magic!

The man is infuriated and attacks me, but I fend him off and choose to spare his life. Angrily, he gives me all of his possessions if I promise not to harm him. He hands over some valuable gold, a throwing disk (which allows me to get a first strike in combat) and some magic powder. Nice! I then ask if he knows anything of the seven serpents, only for him to point behind me and say “There’s one right behind you!” I’m… not really the kind to fall for that trick, but the fact that he collapses dead from sheer terror immediately after saying that is a bit worrying…

I turn around, and the Moon Serpent is upon me! The world turns black, and the serpent is all that can be seen, shimmering with a silvery light. At this point, the book asks if I wish to make a fire, so I quickly fashion one with a small tinderbox and, boom, we have a potent tool which just so happens to be the serpent’s weakness! The battle is none too challenging, as the serpent now has a rather low stamina score. I slay it, and it leaves behind a curious crystal orb. I take the orb and, feeling a bit relieved, head off to the north. One down, six to go!

That night I settle down to sleep, only to be awoke during the night by a blazing light. I open my eyes and what do I see before me? The Fire Serpent, trying to steal my backpack and fly off with it! If there’s one thing I can’t stand, its backpack-thieves – especially serpent ones! So what do I do? I grab onto my backpack, and am promptly carried off into the air with it! Well that’s… not ideal. The serpent flies off with me dangling under it, until eventually I release my grip and fall, fall, fall…

I wake up from the nightmare (dammit, Steve Jackson! Normally I have to go to a Goosebumps book for that kind of twist!) to find myself under attack by three bandits. I guess they like to pick on people who are asleep and dreaming of falling. I kill the lot of them, and then spend some time trying to remember what it means to dream about falling while trudging off to the north. Ahead waits the Forest of Snatta.

As I draw close to the forest, seven translucent figures rise from the ground before me. They float around ominously for a while and speak in hushed ominous whispers, much like how the world does each time I drink too much. Gosh, this is a strange adventure. Anyway, the figures tell me that they are spirits, who have adopted translucent forms to move through this world, and wish to share powerful wisdom with me. When I ask that they reveal their true forms, however, they show that their faces are those of hissing, terrible snakes. Yeah, definitely reminds me of my last drunken revel.

The spirits, revealed to be the minions of the Archmage, depart, taking one of my skill points with me. Like, ouch! Anyway, I push on into the forest. I’m given the chance to exchange any of the items in my backpack for various bits of leaves and twigs – I’m sure some of them are useful, but I don’t bother – and before long I catch sight of a little red snake darting through the undergrowth. Oh, hello there plot point!

I follow the snake until it arrives at a tree. Drawing my sword, I approach cautiously. No sooner have I done so than the little snake darts up the tree, transforms into the Fire Serpent, and hurls flames down at me. Like, ouch! Damn, my stamina is running very low. So I use the HUF spell, blowing the Galehorn that Shadrack gave me at the start of the adventure. It reduces the difficulty of the fight by some, although it’s still pretty frantic and leaves me severely wounded. Like, three stamina points left kind of wounded.

Killing the Fire Serpent gives us no fanfare, as I’m quickly ushered onwards to choose which route through the forest to continue. I opt to head to the leftmost path, and settle down for a short meal. My stamina goes up to five. Then a bear attacks. God damn it! I really don’t want to risk the fight, so I use the LAW spell to command the bear to sod off and leave me alone. It works, but the cost of the spell is four whole stamina points. Once again I’m on death’s door.

Eventually I arrive at the shore of a lake and settle down for the night. In the morning, I wake and try to figure out how to cross the lake. I walk along the shoreline, but can’t seem to find any way around the lake. I call out for anyone who might be nearby to help, but there is no answer. I try walking around again, with no luck. What is this, the never-ending body of water? What a crap sequel for the never-ending story! Eventually I just slump down and determine to wait for something to happen. I wait, and wait, and wait, and eventually the book tells me that without any means of summoning the ferryman, my quest is at an end. Oh poo.

This is a bit of a disappointing ending. Okay, a hugely disappointing ending. I had hoped that we wouldn’t run into dead ends like this – not when the Sorcery! series has your character possess access to Libra, the goddess, who can intervene to help on your adventure. This seems like the opportune moment for her to aid in some way. But ah, to no avail. Well, join us for the next part, The Crown of Kings! Maybe we will do better then!

Cause of death: Gave up, sitting on the lakeside.