Thursday, 26 July 2012

The Instruction We Find in Books

Back to Fighting Fantasy with The Citadel of Chaos, another gamebook I first experienced by borrowing someone else's copy. First time round, playing without dice, I got as far as the Ganjees' room. I didn't have any of the items that could be used there, so I cheated and pretended I did. Only I selected the one item that's not any help there, and wound up falling to my doom, as I'd wasted my Levitation spell on a Super Happy Fun Slide earlier. Except that, not having learned my lesson, I cheated again and restored the spell to my inventory. It didn't work. There was no third opportunity to cheat. My adventure ended there.

In case you've somehow managed to get here without knowing the premise of TCoC, it's another 'break into the wizard's home and kill him' plot. With the significant difference that this wizard is a warmongering villain, gathering together an army in preparation for invading a nearby region (though it's probably just a coincidence that his name contains all the letters of the word 'Hitler'). I play the part of a magician-in-training, sent on a covert mission of assassination, armed with only my wits, my sword and... Hang on a minute...
Skill: 12
Stamina: 21
Luck: 8
Magic: 13
... and a baker's dozen of spells. More specifically: Creature Copy (times three), E.S.P., Illusion, Levitation (times two), Luck (times two), Shielding, Stamina (times two) and Weakness. That should cover most of the contingencies I'm liable to encounter.

Like Firetop Mountain, this place has guards. But these guards are awake, though they can't have been particularly alert when they got up, as they've come out wearing each other's heads. It's a good deal more noticeable than odd socks, as one of them's an Ape, the other a Dog. Or, in their current mixed-up state, a Dog-Ape and an Ape-Dog. Or is it an Ape-Dog and a Dog-Ape? Paying attention to the text makes it clear that the naming convention goes (animal head type)-(animal body type). So now you know, and can avoid making social blunders when meeting hybrids of this nature.

I pretend to be a herbalist, summoned to heal a sick guard, as I know how to blag my way through this encounter. It is worth mentioning, just for the comedy value, that, should the simio-canine/cano-simian twosome turn hostile, it is possible to cast a Strength spell and inadvertently fling your sword into the middle distance as a result of flourishing it too hard. But I'm playing to try and break my losing streak, not to make people laugh, so I make up a vaguely convincing name for my patient and am allowed in.

Only as far as the courtyard, though. Not wishing to make myself conspicuous by trying to avoid attracting attention, I join a group of more conventional fantasy non-humans around a fire. There's an Orc, a green Dwarf, and a couple of Goblins. That's 'couple' in the relationship sense, though I'm afraid the female Goblin will soon have to start looking for a new partner.

As I'm in a wretched hive of scum and villainy, I disregard social niceties and sit down without being invited. This sufficiently intimidates the group that I'm able to get them to tell me the password for the next door, but then my questioning irritates them enough that the males attack me. I make short work of them, and Ms. Goblin departs in search of a singles bar while I loot her ex and his friends. For no adequately explained reason there's a limit to what I can take, so I ignore the cash and grab a key, a jar of ointment and a potion that'll let me reuse two of my spells.

Proceeding towards the main entrance to the tower, I am waylaid by a sentient female whirlwind. I have little fondness for the wind, and try to ignore her, so she blows me over. This annoys me, which pleases her. She likes making people angry. After a while, she drifts off, waiting for someone to invent the internet so she can troll discussion groups. I carry on to the door, and the password I learned gets me past the Rhino-Man guarding it. The Rhino-Man, incidentally, is an anthropomorphised Rhino rather than another head-swapped hybrid, so don't expect a Man-Rhino to show up. That would be weird.

Swaggering my way past the Igor-esque butler, I carry on to the reception room, which contains a light-sleeping Gark. Half-Goblin, half-Giant (don't consider the implications, it'll only upset you), and tough enough to use an axe for a pillow. I take a little damage fighting it, but prevail all the same. The loot available here consists of a little money and a hairbrush, and as the Gark was bald except for a ponytail, I'm guessing the brush wasn't for personal use.

Two doors lead onwards. Past experience has taught me that one leads to a gaming room, where I get mistaken for someone with a very odd name and can be maimed or killed if I choose to play one of the more hard-core games. I pick the other door, which leads me to the library. Yes, Mr. Dire may be a bloodthirsty warmonger, but at least he provides an opportunity for his troops to get some reading done when they're not out slaughtering and pillaging.

The first book I read mentions the combination for the lock that bars entry into Dire's private room. Balthus' making this fact publically available is about as sensible as my telling you all that the password to my gmail account is 'elbillugosmi'. Similarly daft is the fact that the next book I look at describes a lethal weakness of Dire's. It'd be understandable if the weakness were a food allergy and I'd read about it in the kitchen, but that's not the case. Mind you, this does indirectly suggest that he doesn't eat cucumbers.

The librarian is getting an 'I could close up early and get an early night if you weren't still here' look on his face, but I ignore the warning signs and start looking for a copy of Booby-Trapped Staircases of the Black Tower. This turns out to be pushing my luck that bit too far, and I wind up in the dungeons. My jailer today is a Calacorm, a two-headed lizard that talks to itself a lot. Like Grey Star, I use an illusion to gain my freedom. Oddly, the only exit is a secret door at the top of a staircase at the end of a long twisty-turny corridor, which must be a bit annoying to any guards who have to bring prisoners in. Though the ones who captured me in the library appeared to teleport in, so maybe they don't need to use the passage. Even so, I imagine it's a bother to the Calacorm on his days off.

Behind a locked door I encounter a Leprechaun, but I'm too familiar with the encounter to fall for any of his tiresome pranks. No wasting spells to protect myself from hurled tomatoes or illusory monsters, and no letting him use his joy buzzer on me. Just endure the shenanigans and grab the magic sword and mirror he hands over before I go on my way.

Disregarding the insoluble-with-the-available-data puzzle of which is the best exit to take, at least according to the Leprechaun, I just choose a door and wind up in the wine cellar. The Black Elf who works there lets me sample a glass of Château Sérum de Vérité, and in vino veritas I let slip that I'm here to kill his boss, as a result of which I have to kill him, too. Okay, so I could have avoided that situation quite easily, but the Elf owns a nifty multi-purpose weapon known as a Pocket Myriad, which I fancied owning. Besides, sampling a wine after he's popped his cork allows me to take a bottle of Château Cracheur de Feu, which tastes like burning, but is functionally indistinguishable from a Fire spell.

Further meandering brings me to the room where Marsten failed in his mission. Normally I wouldn't waste my time in here, but this time I'll tarry so as to show him what he could have won. So I advance to the chests on the table, the Golem attacks, I manage not to get as killed as Marsten did, and I turn my attention to the boxes. I force open the first one, which contains the key to the second one. The second one contains the key to the third one. The third one does not contain the key to the first one, though that would have been amusing. No, the ultimate treasure that can be acquired in this room is a jar containing a spider with the face of an old man. Which, for inconsistency's sake, is known as a Spider-Man rather than a Man-Spider.

From there I proceed to the bottleneck that is the dining hall. There's nothing to be gained by loitering here, so I'd better go upstairs. Never did get to check which flight was the dodgy one, and I choose poorly. Still, one Levitation spell and a sip of potion later, I'm up on the balcony and none the worse for wear.

Three doors again. The one I try is locked, but the key I got in the courtyard opens it, gaining me access to the private bedchamber of Mrs. Lucretia Dire. She is not entirely happy about this, and her fiery temper is matched by the fiery beams that lance from her eyes towards me - at least until I say I have a gift for her. Yes, I may be intruding in her bedroom in the middle of the night (well, not quite the middle, actually), but she forgets her anger the moment I offer her a hairbrush. And while she's trying it out, I steal her bedspread. Which is a Golden Fleece, but 'I steal her Golden Fleece' is such an odd phrase that readers might have taken it for a double entendre. Not sure what it would mean, but I don't advise Googling it without putting SafeSearch on first, just in case. And if it does happen to mean something obscene, I do not wish to know the details.

Stairs lead up to two doors. I pick one, and enter a room containing a deep, wide, circular trench around a chest. Just by the door is a coil of rope. I suspect that this is the Doompit Trap mentioned in the first book I read. It's certainly a trap, and I shall not be demonstrating how it works.

More stairs, and this time just one door. Beyond it is a very dark room inhabited by the mysterious Ganjees, who mock me in a variety of pitches and terrify me with a big glow-in-the-dark face. They might not sound like much, but if you reach this room without the right item, you die. Why the right item turns out to be that jar of ointment, I have not the faintest idea, but it is.

Another flight of stairs, another single door, and behind this one is a Hydra, star of the cover illustration of the most recent editions of the book. There are three possible ways of getting past it, all of them open to me, but two depend on random factors, so I'll go for the 100% reliable one and hand over the bedspread. No, I don't imagine the expression 'give the Hydra Mrs. Dire's Golden Fleece' means anything naughty, but you Google it at your own risk.

Stairs: the final flight. The door at the top has a combination lock, but that's not a problem for me. The trident hurtling towards my throat the moment I open the door, now that's a problem. Or would be if I'd wasted my Shielding spell on a tomato.

And here he is. Balthus Dire himself. Sporting a similar hairdo to the Gark, only his ponytail is levitating because he's a Demi-Sorcerer. In one of the most famous lines from the entire FF range, he calls me an 'Impudent peasant' and sets a Clawbeast on me. Clawbeasts are hairy, vicious, and quite staggeringly vulnerable to Weakness spells. So that fight's over before it can begin.

Dire wasn't expecting that. While he's surprised, I cast my E.S.P. spell, which elicits a paraphrase of the infamous, "No, not the Mind Probe!" Most of the fragmentary images pulled from his thoughts relate to potential aspects of the ongoing confrontation, but one, 'a sense of horror at a high-pitched screech' goes unexplained. Unless it's indicative of marital troubles in the Dire household.

In retaliation for my mind-reading, Dire causes the room to shake violently, though it has no effect on him. Nor on me as soon as I cast a Levitation spell. And now I can play it safe, or go for a slight challenge. That lethal weakness I read about in the library? Sunlight. And back in Mrs. Dire's room I said it wasn't actually the middle of the night because I knew that by the time I got to Balthus' room (as opposed to the Balthus Room, which I'll get to (or pass) in a later entry) it would be morning. So I need only bring down the curtain, and he'll join the choir invisible.

But I can probably take him in a fight. Almost certainly, if I arm myself with one of two items I spotted in his mind. So I take the chance. Nip behind him, steal his magic Ring of Swordsmanship, and the 2-point Skill edge that gives me should compensate for the 1-point Stamina advantage he has. En garde!

Like the Gark and the Golem before him, he manages to wound me just the once. Even without my choosing the instant kill option, it's curtains for Balthus. Apologies for the dire pun.

So Mrs. Dire will be joining the female Goblin in the singles bar, Dire's battle plan is in flames, and I'm using my last Levitation spell to exit via the window and avoid finding out what the Ganjees have planned for a rematch. A win, at last.

Of course that wasn't my real gmail password (read it backwards if you thought it was). For all my faults, I am smarter than Balthus Dire in at least this regard.


  1. Well done for completing this. I wasn't so lucky in my own recent blog post playthrough, due to poor skill score. Think you got the best way through to boot.

    1. Even if the Golem hadn't got you, you had nothing the Ganjees would have accepted.

      There's not a great amount of variation possible in a successful attempt at this one. I could have joined the men haggling over a knife in the courtyard. There's no actual need to visit the dungeon. All three doors from the Leprechaun's room are viable. So are the three doors from the balcony, provided you're able and willing to try one of the more hazardous methods of getting past the Hydra. The alternate door to the Doompit Trap is also workable, though it'll cost you. And there are plenty of options available once you're past the Clawbeast (though for some you do need a mirror).

      I know the early FF books ridiculously well. The legacy of a misspent childhood. And middle age. I'm pretty sure that only bad dice or carelessness can doom me in the first dozen.

    2. Well done! I see that you didn't have a levitation spell to get yourself safely out of the castle, however. Why don't you try this short adventure as a continuation?

    3. Did you miss where I used the Potion of Magik to renew the Levitation spell I used on the stairs? That meant I still had two by the time I got to Balthus. One to get away from the shaking, and one to make a discreet exit afterwards.

      I already have a copy of BoB, thanks. Currently undecided on covering non-Fantazine fan adventures here. Where to draw the line? There's some good stuff, to be sure, but there are also atrocities that make Crypt of the Sorcerer look playable and Sky Lord seem coherent, and the catharsis of ranting about such monstrosities only takes some of the sting out of having to endure them in the first place.

  2. This is hilarious. Great stuff. The early FF books have a charming ridiculousness to them, but it takes a real sense of humor to fully appriacate it. "Serious" players like me tend to just get lost in them...

    So thank you for providing ;)

    P. S. Darn, I was about to go try that gmail password...

  3. Nice playthrough :) I always had trouble with finding the library for some reason. It took me four attempts to get through and I was fortunate that the only time I got as far as the locked door also happened to be the only time I found the library on the way through.