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!

Before continuing, please be aware that all of this content is made possible by the goodwill and support of my backers on Patreon. If you enjoy the work on this site, please consider supporting the creation of more content like this by clicking the button.

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.

Sorcery! – Kharé, Cityport of Traps

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! – KHARE, CITYPORT OF TRAPS!

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!

Before continuing, please be aware that all of this content is made possible by the goodwill and support of my backers on Patreon. If you enjoy the work on this site, please consider supporting the creation of more content like this by clicking the button.

One of the neat things about Jackson’s “Sorcery!” series is that the difficulty increases with each book.I don’t mean this in terms of combat, though. It increases in terms of complexity in how the gamebook works.

For instance, The Shamutanti Hills is a rather straightforward adventure. You move from village to village, on a journey through the hills, aiming to reach the city of Khare. There’s no special items needed in order to ensure you finish the book, it’s all very straightforward, with the biggest range of choices coming from the branching pathways that take you to your destinations.

Khare ups the ante by requiring you to hunt for a few items in order to get through the door at the other side of the city. I can’t remember exactly which items they are (I don’t want to spoil the adventure for myself before I go back in), I seem to remember it was some kind of key or lock or other McGuffin. Either way, the ‘find a specific item’ requirement is infamous in Fighting Fantasy books, dating back to the first ever one in the series, which as I’m sure everyone will remember fondly – having slain the warlock of firetop mountain, only to curl up in a fetal ball and cry because you couldn’t unlock the chest he’s stored all his treasure.

The following book, The Seven Serpents, raises it further by making each of the things you need to track down an enemy, one of the serpents, which you then need to dispose of. It uses the full range of environments to make this more challenging, and the game includes a slight twist in the fact that you only need to slay six of the serpents. How’s that for thinking outside of the box? And it’s taken even further in The Crown Of Kings, where there are multiple branching solutions to get to the end – one of which even involves playing with the narrative itself via time travel!

So you see, the structural complexity of the adventure is ramped up in each book. In this book, we start out arriving at the city of Khare, with the clear goal of getting to the other side of town. Not that easy. Hell, in my playthrough of The Shamutanti Hills, I didn’t even get to the city! But we’ll give this one a shot. I’m using the same stats as I rolled up for the first book, but without any of the items that this adventure doesn’t let me start out with. So if you want to see how I handled the first part, give my playthrough a read first.

Done that? Okay, let’s get this underway!

We are treated to a bit of history of the city of Khare, before we arrive at the south gate. The guards do not seem to take kindly to visitors, as the moment they see me they throw me into a prison cell for the crime of not bribing them. Ah, it’s going to be one of those cities, isn’t it?

While in jail, a fellow prisoner tells me that the only other gate out of the city will only open if I recite a magic spell to it. The four lines of this spell are known only to four of the town’s most prominent citizens. He then steals all of my food while I sleep. Bastard. Think it’s safe to say at this stage that this is going to be one of those very short playthroughs…

It quickly becomes evident that the inhabitants of Khare are all a bit mad. Possibly not quite as mad as the inhabitants of Port Blacksand, but definitely madder than the inhabitants of Innesmouth. Funny thing about Innesmouth, when Lovecraft wrote his story ‘Shadow over Innesmouth’, he described all the inhabitants as having a certain look. It’s… a little bit worrying. But hey ho, let’s push onwards!

I’m given the option of following a bunch of kids down a road. Assuming that these kids, who are all wearing backpacks, are Khare’s version of chavs, I decided to follow them from a safe distance. Before long I catch sight of some city guards, and am told that I hide in a nearby house. I haven’t done anything illegal or that would require me to hide from the guards, I just assume that my character has learned that it seems best to avoid the law enforcement around here unless he wants to be locked up overnight again.

Inside the house I’m hiding out in, I find a group of black elves. I’m instantly worried that this is going to spiral off into racially insensitive territory again, but instead it just seems that these elves are just sitting back smoking weed. Oh dear. Sigh. I decide to be deliberately obtuse to the game at this point, and sit back to smoke some weed with them. Apparently the medical benefits have not been exaggerated, as it heals some of my stamina (although the odds of it doing this were about the same as the odds of me getting violent and attacking them).

I try to ask them for some advice, but I’m unable to get much sense out of them, so I head out of the house and carry down the road until I get to a fountain. It’s at this point that the full effect of the weed I’ve smoked must have kicked in, because one of the fish in the fountain tries to talk to me. I have a rousing discussion with the fish, during which it gurgles at me. I’m then given the choice of stealing some coins from the fountain, but I choose not to do this in case it upsets the fish. Fish are known to have strong emotional connections to large pieces of metal that people throw into their homes, after all.

My next attempt to speak to an animal occurs when I see a horse standing at the side of the street. Unlike the fish, this horse is sensible and doesn’t talk back. Reasoning that a horse may be useful later on in this adventure, I decide to steal it. I climb on board, and the horse kicks into a gallop and charges down the road, leaving me grabbing on for dear life. Did I mention that this book is rather odd?

Eventually the horse kicks me off and runs into the distance. I’m now completely lost in this city. I spy two huts, and opt to enter one. The sign on the door reads ‘chainmaker’, so I assume that it belongs to a man who makes chains. Indeed, nobody’s home – or more accurately, the owner of the shop is upstairs, so I decide to raid the entire store. I test my luck and find three gold coins. I’m then asked if I want to test my luck again, during which I find some blue and bilburry juice. I’m then asked once more if I wish to test my luck, which causes a trap to fall and catch me. I was lucky all three times, so I assume that if I was unlucky on that third roll, the entire shop would explode or something.

Anyway, I’m abruptly rescued from the chainmaker’s trap by the prisoner I met earlier, in exchange for giving him all the items I’d found in the store. Thanks, mister prisoner who I suspect was following me around this entire time purely to take more items from me as well as all those meals you stole earlier. I leave the store three luck points lighter and head into another hut instead. I’m desperately hoping that whatever I find in the next hut will be vaguely more useful, or at most I’ll be able to keep ahold of without some nasty bugger stealing it all!

Hut number two, and I find a kitchen. Sweet aromas fill the air. I look around and notice the chef, a man with a horrifying jellyfish head. My sanity breaks at this point. “Oh for the love of… what fresh new hell is this?” I mumble aloud, and decide just to kill the silly abomination of nature.

I chuck a spell at it, but the book tells me that no such spell exists and charges me five stamina points for the information. So instead I just beat the jellyfish headed man to death with my sword.

Stealing a mirror and a scroll from the kitchen, I run down the street until I come to a travelling fair, which seems to have set up right in the heart of the city for some unknown reason. I decide that this will be a fun chance to indulge my thirst for wanton cruelty, so I go to watch the dancing bear show.

Hoping to see some ridiculous cruelty seems in keeping with my actions to date, but to my horror I find that during the show I am pickpocketed and all of my gold is stolen. I’m not given the chance to chase down the pickpocket and stick a sword in them, and the man with the dancing bear seems to quickly vanish into the crowd, making me quite convinced that they were in cahoots with each other. So I’m now penniless. Eager to win it back, I push on through the fair until I find a boxing ring.

Inside, I watch a barbarian fight an ogre who is far stronger than himself. Unsurpringly, the ogre wins, and I notice that this seems to be a fight to the death. Because I have no self control in this book, I jump at the chance to enter the arena and try to fight this giant and powerful ogre that has just ripped a grown man’s torso apart. Amazingly enough, I do indeed win, and am rewarded with a puny fifteen gold coins.

And, because it’s a fair, I immediately waste a few of those coins on a prize machine. This prize machine is rather interesting, because there’s six possible prizes and an imp chooses one for you, for only two gold coins. Expecting that I’ll probably receive something vaguely useful to my quest, I give it a shot. The imp gives me an apple. Not too bad, because I have no provisions at this point… except that it’s a rotten apple, which proceeds to make a mess over the inside of my backpack. I’m now convinced that the whole city of Khare is conspiring to give me a really crappy day.

I stumble blindly through the city streets, holding on to my precious rotten apple in the hopes that I’ll find a man with a dancing bear so that I can throw the apple at them. No such luck. Instead it starts to get dark, and soon it’s about time for me to get some rest for the night. I won’t sleep rough on the streets of Khare overnight, I’d probably wind up getting eaten by a sentient brick wall or something similar!

I spend another eight gold on room and food that night in a local tavern called ‘The Wayfarer’s Rest’, which is located near the center of Khare. That’s rather worrying, as I an now sure I’ve missed at least half of the spell I need to get out of this city. Nevertheless I opt to spend the night at this tavern, which is full of singing sailors and whoring wenches. A friendly sailor offers to buy me some ale, and I opt to pry him for information.

Over the course of several pints, he tells me that one of the lines of the spell is kept by a vampire, and I’ll probably need to head to the local graveyard. He also tells me that I should never kiss statues of gods on their cheeks. I then buy him a drink in return, and he beats me over the head until I fall into unconsciousness. I wake up in the hold of a slave galley. Getting a little tired of meeting complete creeps all the time, I shoot a lightning spell at the side of the ship, aiming to sink it and everyone onboard just to teach them a lesson.

Climbing through the hole I’ve made in the rapidly-sinking galley, I see that it’s now morning. Lacking any real sleep for the night, my patience is growing thin. I eventually catch sight of a rather unusual monument that seems to have been constructed in the middle of a city street, to which a variety of elven-type figures seem to be worshiping. I push my way to the monument, keen to see what the source of their curious behaviour is, and see that it’s just a small pool of water. I innocently ask one of the elves what it is, and all hell breaks loose.

Among cries of ‘unbeliever’ and ‘heretic’, a group of the elves try to throw me into the water for some weird baptism ritual or something similar. I’m in no mood for this, so I draw my sword… which causes the elf to shoot me with his laser eye-beams!! The group drag me off to their special elf prison, from which there is no escape… no wait, I’m still getting over the laser eye-beams. deep breaths

Anyway, not particularly wanting to spend my whole life sitting in yet another jail cell, I pray to Libra to break the lock and get me out of here, which she does. I urge a fellow prisoner to join me in my escape, and he’s so grateful that he restores my luck to its initial level. Feeling pretty lucky, I decide to head into the world-famous ‘Gambling Halls of Vlada’, which is just down the road from where I’m now standing.

I manage to lose every single gold coin I have. Again I’m penniless, and just when I’m wondering what the next awful fate will befall me, I see a door that reads ‘portal room’. Hoping beyond hope that this is a portal outside of Khare and maybe to a tropical island somewhere I can relax and spend the rest of my days in sunny happy climates, I head in. The ‘portal’ in question, it turns out, is a hole into the sewer which one of the security guards throws me into. For no good reason, either. I just assume that the security in this casino are so strict that they’ve dug a massive hole into the sewers to throw troublemakers into. Not a bad idea all in all, but still… blah.

So I’m in the sewers of Khare, piled up to my neck in sewage, muck, slime and vast amounts of human and animal feces. Literally up to my neck. Okay, so the day can’t get much worse… then I hear a rumbling from a nearby pipe, as it prepares to shoot a whole load of excrement right into my face.

Inside, my soul breaks apart, just a little bit. I now have to decide if I wish to stand firm and take a fountain of poop to the face, or hold my breath and dive into the mountain of poop that I’m buried up to the neck in and WHY IS THIS HAPPENING TO ME OH GOD WHY….

I hold my breath and duck. I emerge from the mess feeling very sick, and very eager to get out of the sewers. In an especially sadistic twist, the sewers consist of a massive maze full of dead ends. And filled with Slime Eaters, horrible little burbling monsters known for being on the cover of this book. I manage to kill the first two, but the third one eventually drags my stamina down to zero, leaving my body to sink in the depths of the sewers beneath Khare, penniless and smelling of poop. Somewhere in the macrocosm, far beyond this small cityport, Libra is watching on and having a great big laugh at my expense.

This has to be the most humiliating death to any Fighting Fantasy book I’ve played. I didn’t care for this book when I was a kid, but as an adult I really enjoyed it. I didn’t find a single line of the spell, and I don’t care – I just had LOADS of fun! It’s just so utterly crazy and insane that it’s difficult not to love this. I haven’t had so much fun with an FF book in weeks, and I highly recommend this one to you. Yes, you. Why are you still reading this? Go play the book, now. Tally-ho!

In my next post, we’ll be tackling the third part of Steve Jackson’s “Sorcery!” series, ‘The Seven Serpents’. After having escaped the nightmarish hell on earth that is Khare, we are growing closer to our goal. But the foul seven serpents are flying their way across the great plains, bringing with them news of my quest to the Archmage of Mampang. So as well as getting across the Baklands and all its inherent dangers, we will need to do our best to track down and prevent the seven serpents from sabotaging their mission. The question is, just how much of a total mess will I make of this rather simple quest? Stick around and find out.

Meanwhile, following the death in this book, I have the urge to take a long and hot shower…

Cause of death: Just… just gross.

Sorcery! – The Shamutanti Hills

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 SHAMUTANTI HILLS!

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!

Before continuing, please be aware that all of this content is made possible by the goodwill and support of my backers on Patreon. If you enjoy the work on this site, please consider supporting the creation of more content like this by clicking the button.

If someone asked you to travel from your home in Analand across the land of Kakhabad, across the Shamutanti Hills and over the Baddu-Bak plains and the dreaded Forest of Snatta to get to the fortress of Mampang that lies in the peaks of High Xamen, and recover the Crown of Kings from the villainous Archmage of Mampang, you’d probably say “How did you come up with all those silly names?”

But that’s what Steve Jackson did really well. That, and make up encounters with very strange people, in very odd locations, which were all very colourful and strange. In those early, slightly trippy days of Fighting Fantasy, Steve Jackson brought a lot of the weirder elements. Ian Livingstone brought the risk of being instant-killed by a horde of zombies. They complimented themselves perfectly, like Rob Grant and Doug Naylor did when writing Red Dwarf.

So when Steve Jackson wrote a series of four books, all of which continued on from each other to form one massive and epic adventure, it was a really neat twist. Like many of the early FF books, it had an experimental magic system, and artwork by the amazing John Blanche, whose unique flair gives this series a fantastic atmosphere. In fact, I like his artwork so much, it’s pretty much all I’ve used in this post. Enjoy!

The storyline is simple enough – you need to cross from the borders of Analand to the port city of Khare. Later books in the series take you further in the journey, but for now, our focus is on crossing the Shamutanti Hills and getting to the city. I had a copy of this book as a kid, which I got at an indoor market in Blackpool one year. The eyes on the monster on the cover were covered over in black marker pen, possibly because his despairing expression scared a previous owner of the book. I do regard this as the better version of the cover, though, because the newer one has a rather grotesque dismembered body littering the floor by the manticore, it’s not even a cartoonish body, it’s simply too realistic and grotesque.

So let’s get things underway. The book can be played in two ‘modes’, basic and advanced. If you choose basic, it works just like any other FF book, then you play as just a regular adventurer. If you go for the advanced mode, you take a slightly diminished skill score but have access to a variety of magic spells. The spells are listed in a separate section in the book, and all have a simple three-letter name like ‘zap’ or ‘dim’, which makes them easier to memorise – and memorise them you must, because you’re not allowed to look at them once your adventure has begun!

And given that I have managed to win a grand total of zero Fighting Fantasy books so far in this blog, I am clearly ready to charge head-first into an advanced escapade!

My stats are very fortunate when starting out – a full 12 in luck, 20 in stamina and 10 in skill (the highest that you can have for a wizard-type character in this game). I also have 20 gold pieces, and only two meals which I can eat only when instructed.

The adventure begins as I stand at the gate from my homeland of Analand. I have to admit, any country that marks its borders by building a giant wall around it tends to be a little suspicious in my book, and I’m now starting to work on the theory that I’m not so much ‘liberating’ the crown as instead ‘sneaking in and nicking it’ or something similar. Nevertheless, a guard in a silly hat opens the gate and lets me out, telling me that he won’t wish me a safe journey because I’m pretty much dead meat.

A short walk from the border gate, and I’ve found my way into a trader’s village. Given that I have only twenty gold, I take the chance to buy a few useful items, but I’m unsure at this point what would count as useful. I know immediately that a lot of the objects listed are used in spells, because I remember them being mentioned in the spell section of the book. I play it a little conservatively and don’t buy all the items I want right away. I end up with a bag of monster’s teeth, and a bottle of Bilbury Juice. I remember that the teeth are useful in a few spells, but the juice’s use eludes my memory. It does, however, refresh some stamina, so maybe I can use it as a quick energy drink.

I leave the village, and quickly encounter my first combat sequence of the game, in the guise of a pair of bandits who demand that I pass over my worldly goods (namely the bag of teeth and bottle of juice). They should be easy enough to dispatch by hand, but I’m keen to try out the magic system. I recognise one spell from the ones I’m allowed to choose, and select that one, which creates a force-field. The bandits hammer on the field for a while, before they get bored and go home.

Pressing on in my travels, I soon encounter an old man who seems to be stuck in a tree. He explains that he was chased up the tree by some elves, who stole all his belongings. I help him down, and he gives me a little riddle about a monster who protects a key. It’s not very useful at this stage, only really telling me that the monster in the riddle may be a bit near-sighted, so I convince the old man to go home so that I can steal some honey from a nearby beehive. I manage to swipe the honey without being stung by the bees, which will serve as a spare meal. Lovely!

I press on until the sun is going down, whereupon I make camp for the night. I dine on honey that night, and fall asleep beneath the stars. During the night, I am woken by the sounds of elven creatures playing in the river, tormenting fish and the like. The book actually asks if I wish to call out to them. Knowing the way that elves are racially profiled in these books, this would count as suicidal, so I hide from them and am lucky enough to not be noticed. The next day, I continue my travels.

Crossing at a bridge, I push on through the undergrowth when something unusual happens. The flooring beneath me collapses, and I am about to fall into a trap… when the book gives me the option of NOT testing my luck. This is really odd. why would I choose not to test my luck? This makes me curious, I choose this option. Sure enough, I collapse into the pit trap, only to wake up being tied and bound by a group of headhunters. Not quite sure what the point of this was…

I try to blast them with a spell, only to be told that I have now learned that magic does not work when my hands are bound. This is a mistake I won’t make again, I can attest to that. Meanwhile, the dark-skinned headhunters who wear animal skins and have bones through their noses start to gather around a large boiling pot filled with human bones and oh god this is so politically incorrect right now.

I’m unsure if now is a good time to pray to the goddess Libra to free me, or if I should sit tight and wait for the cannibals to start doing their impersonations of the crows from Disney’s “Dumbo”. That’s another point that I’d neglected to mention about this book – in desperate times, you can pray to your goddess for salvation. She can help free you if you’re trapped, or you can ask her to restore your stats or cure you from a curse/poison, but you can only choose to invoke her once during the adventure.

It’s a bit of a gamble, because I was hoping to save this for later, but I’m not really wanting to think about what might happen if we let this silly escapade go on any longer. My prayers are answered as clouds start to gather and rain pours down, extinguishing the cooking fire and sending the natives fleeing at this terrifying display of typical British weather. I toddle along on my merry way.

Before too long, I find my way to the entrance of a goblin’s mine. Deciding to be especially greedy, I slip into the mine and poke around for a bit, until I find a processing room where the minerals are shoved through machinery by a large ogre, resulting in a few pretty gems coming out of the other end. The other end of the machine, that is. Not the ogre. We don’t want to think about what comes out of the ogre’s other end. Any way, I kill the ogre (with my sword this time, rather than risking a spell) and take the gems.

I head down from the hills and into a small village. Hitting the nearby inn to unwind, I decide to spend the evening chatting to an old man, because old men often have strange wisdom and are usually powerful wizards in disguise. It seems that this time it was just a local farmer, because he tells me a little bit of advice (informing me that there is a lady who lives in a cabin that I should probably avoid) and giving me an apple. I don’t think it’s a magic apple, but you never know!

The local inn rips me off for a full 5 gold pieces for a night’s dinner and bed, but in exchange I do manage to get my stamina points up to their full level once again. The next day, I head across the hills and make route towards the unfortunately named village of Dhumpus. I feel sorry for anyone who ever has to admit that they’re from a village called Dhumpus. The people of Dhumpus seem nervous, possibly because all the people from neighbouring villages make fun of their village’s name, but also because I’m carrying a sword. So as to avoid a diplomatic incident with the noble village of Dhumpus, I leave my weapon to one side and chat with a few of the locals. Sadly, this all goes down badly when I say something insulting (possibly “So what’s it like being from a village with a name that sounds like a genital disease?”) and wind up being chased out of town. To make things a little more entertaining, I’ve managed to leave my sword in Dhumpus, meaning that my skill now has a -4 pentalty, bringing it to a mere rating of 6.

I make camp for the night, and the book asks me to roll to see if I am attacked by a random monster. Sure enough, during the night a wolf attacks me, and I have to cast a spell to fend it off (because with my skill of a mere 6, I’m liable to fall over and hit my head on a rock, resulting in instant death). I cast a spell which transforms me into a twelve-foot tall giant, which causes the wolf to flee in terror.

I don’t want to use my remaining provisions, so when I’m told to eat, I don’t. Instead I chug down the Bilbury Juice, as I still can’t remember what spell it has any use with, and make my way into the next village. And here is where I display a total lack of any kind of common sense whatsoever. The villagers, many of whom are sickly and missing limbs, flee from the sight of me. Some of them lock themselves inside their houses. I decide that they must be hiding something, so try to make friends with a family that is cowering in terror. Only after shaking hands do they tell me that they have THE PLAGUE!! And although I thought it required a bit more than just a handshake to catch the plague, I’m also now infected. Joy of joys. Silly question, but if you’re reading this, do you remember if Bilbury Juice was a cure for the plague?

It seems that the book was not satisfied to simply give me the plague, because it then decides to give me something even worse – a little pixie companion. Her name is Jaan, but I call her Navi. This charming little creature asks if it can accompany me along my journey, I decide to allow it in the hopes that I can feed her to a monster at some point. Navi goes on to tell me that the next village is quite large and populated with very annoying children who are running wild.

A little word about the kids in this village, and this is something that’s quintessentially Steve Jackson – there is a local festival going on at the moment, a day during which children and adults swap roles. The kids, of course, take this a step too far and run riot. I initially thought of checking out one of the local sights, but decided not to risk it in case I run afoul of the Children Of The Corn. This little town offers a place to stay, but at a cost of 9 gold for bed and food – I opt to pay for this by handing over a gem, as I only have seven gold pieces left. I go to sleep, hoping that the children of the village won’t decide to tie me up and feed me to a rancor overnight.

I wake the next morning, and I’m sure that Navi laughs at me while I spew up part of my lungs as the plague causes me to lose three stamina points. I hate this little pixie, and I’m sure that it is plotting my untimely demise. This suspicion is later confirmed to be correct. I pick a route to lead me to the next stop on my journey, and the pixie cheerfully advises that yes, this lovely and merry field full of sweet-smelling flowers is definitely the quickest route. So off I go, through a field full of black lotus flowers, on the advice of Jaan the Demented.

It’s only by the time I start to see all the skeletons of previously-deceased adventurers that I realise that the pixie’s plan has succeeded. Sure enough, the scent of the flowers is poisonous, and I die there in the field. All I can hope is that I have the strength remaining in my body to grab Jaan and bite her little pixie head clean off. It’s a fair death, because it gave me the choice of using a spell to determine if this route was indeed the best route. I was foolish enough to trust an evil, demented pixie who has no doubt lead many poor adventurers to her field of death over the years.

This is a fun adventure for sure, and definitely has that classic Fighting Fantasy feel that is so unique to its time. I’d forgotten how much fun this was, how unique it feels, and hopefully if you’ve not played this before you’ll want to give it a shot!

Cause of death: Damn you, Jaan!!

Curse of the Mummy

The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were blockbusters of the era. The final book in the original line is here – CURSE OF THE MUMMY!

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!

Before continuing, please be aware that all of this content is made possible by the goodwill and support of my backers on Patreon. If you enjoy the work on this site, please consider supporting the creation of more content like this by clicking the button.

I guess that quite a few people want me to play this. I received two copies in the post, after all. One of which was from the author himself. This is always a nice thing, and I certainly could get used to it. I’d encourage other authors to maybe someday send me free copies of their books, so that I can read them and rate them on a score out of ten. I also accept bottles of wine as gifts, by the way.

I never actually played this adventure as a kid, mostly because mummy men are’t really my type. No, really, it’s a sore spot that definitely needs some bandaging. Nah, I’m not going to look a gift Horus in the mouth here… Okay, enough bad puns.

I had the chance to get this book in a shop when I was a kid, but chose Revenge of the Vampire instead, because at the time I didn’t know that Revenge was as awful as it would be.

The only additional stat to take care of is poison. If it hits 18, you die. Simple enough. Must admit, by this point in the franchise we’re all a bit tired of the more complicated, unnecessary additional stats, so a simple one like this is a breeze. We begin the adventure by washing up ashore from a shipwreck, which only goes to support my belief that undertaking ANY journey by water in one of these books is always, always doomed to horrible failure.

I find my way into a nearby merchant town and take a job as bodyguard to an archaeologist who tells me that there is a particularly nasty old mummy in a tomb somewhere around. He intends to rob the tomb for all its worth, but a particularly nasty cult of villainous villains want to bring the mummy back to life, because they’re gits like that.

No sooner have I taken the job, than a group of said cultists attack. Together we fight off the group, causing one to flee. I give chase, but he escapes when he sets a nearby giant black lion on me.Pausing for a moment to consider the health and safety ramifications of any merchant town that lets people carry around giant killer lions in easily-unlockable boxes that any villainous cultist could open and unleash on poor hapless adventurers…. Okay, done.

We head out into the desert, and make camp for the night, during which we are attacked by giant scorpions and the archaeologist is killed. This is the usual fate for any companions you make in Fighting Fantasy adventures. In some parts of Titan, they call you ‘doombringer’.

Stumbling around in the desert, I find an old ruined amphitheater where I meet a crazy old man who is convinced that he’s an actor. He has a few items that he’s willing to trade, no doubt for items that I could have picked up in the market earlier if I’d stuck around to do so, and no doubt very important key items for the plot. But without any, all I can do is wave him goodbye.

My next destination is to find an old shaman, purely because the archaeologist told me to check in with him. My path to him takes me through an old gorge, which the locals use to ambush travelers Thankfully the actor warned me about this, so I’m able to avoid being attacked.

It isn’t long before I find the shaman’s hut, which is on top of a very nasty cliff. I attempt to climb said cliff, and only wind up in falling off the side of it, breaking a few ribs and bones along the way. Fortunately I survive, although I’m in some very bad shape.

I’m also slightly poisoned by this point, because I indulged in my habit of eating random plants I found lying on the ground. Oh well. I chew down on some provisions and decide to head onwards anyway, without any real clue which direction to travel in.

That night, I’m attacked by a nandibear, a creature I’ve not seen in quite a few FF books, and it manages to deal quite a bit of damage to me before I kill it. I find a cultist’s ring in its cave, and shortly thereafter I find an explorer’s journal in another cave, this time belonging to a giant lizard which I’ve also killed. Y’know, I really should have kept a list of how many things I’ve murdered during all of these books, it must number in the thousands by now.

Without anything to light a fire with, I’m forced to spend a night shivering for warmth, just like I’m needing to do in this new flat here in Leeds. Bleh. The next morning, however, I reach the valley of the kings. Heading right along into the ruins, I find a large map of the area carved onto an old wall. I expect that it will guide me to the mummy’s treasure, or at very least, to the lost arc.

But without any way to decipher the map, I’ve no idea where to start looking for the entrance to the tomb. So my adventure ends here. I suspect I’d have fared better had I got a few items from the market, traded them with the actor, and actually managed to speak with the shaman, who I expect was meant to tell me how to use the map. That’s just my guess, though. It’s a fair ending, for a first playthrough.

I’d like to play this again, mostly because I really don’t think I got very far. And partly because I think that I know what I’d need to do in order to succeed, which is something that a lot of the FF books tend to lack – a feeling that you can win if you play again and do this, this, and this differently.

The structure of this book is nicely different from the usual ‘go kill the evil wizard’ type, instead giving you more the feeling that you’re exploring a new region of Titan with a new history to it. In short, it’s a first-rate book, clear to see why it earned a wizard reprint, and I’d have much preferred it instead of Revenge of the Vampire.

Cause of death: Got lost.