Originally published at http://ift.tt/1EGkpyr by Justin MacCormack – Please be sure to check out the original article, and support the author by purchasing his latest book, “Return to ‘Return to Oz’, and other tales”.
Written by Steve Jackson, Artwork by John Blanche
Alright, The Seven Serpents. Third part of the “Sorcery!” series. No doubt you’ve been reading how this has gone recently. In the first part, I fell over and died in a field of flowers. And in the second I managed to die from being eaten by rabid poo. Will this session go any better? Don’t bet on it.
This book starts out as I’m leaving Khare, thankfully no longer reeking of human feces. I’ve reset my sheet once again to its initial stats that were rolled up back in The Shamutanti Hills (skill 10, luck 12, stamina 20) and with only 20 gold and 2 meals to my name. By this point in the campaign, we’re heading out into the Baklands, a featureless wasteland of – oh crap a swarm of nighthawks are attacking me.
Amazing, I’m only a few moments into this book and already am being attacked by huge forces of evil animals. I throw up a forcefield spell, but the birds simply fly over it and dive-bomb me. Get used to my magic failing me utterly, because it’s going to be a recurring theme today! Just watch and see.
And I don’t stand a chance against these hawks, because they outnumber me four to one. Thankfully this is one of those ‘survive three rounds of combat’ sequences, rather than simply being thrown into a mincing machine full of beaks and feathers. After swinging my sword around for a while, a large golden eagle descends and scares the nighthawks away. The eagle is a messenger from back home in Analand, baring a message.
The message basically states the blurb from the back of the book – the Archmage’s seven serpents are bringing news of my quest to him, and I need to go kill the buggers. Who wants to bet on how many of them I’m able to find before I die a horrible and gruesome, poo-smelling death this time? I’m betting on three.
Making camp for the night, I am confronted by a talking tree. My first urge is to purge the abominable thing with fire, but the tree doesn’t seem to be about to murder me in my sleep. Instead it simply advises that I head off to the east to visit a friendly neighbourhood wizard. Said wizard, Shadrack, seems a friendly enough chap who tells me the history of the seven serpents, warns me that there is a special way to kill each one, and gives me a horn to blow on if I ever get in trouble. He then lets me sleep in his cave for the night, and surprisingly does not slit my throat, steal my food, or sell me into slavery – which instantly ranks him as a nicer man than the entire population of Khare!
I leave the wizard’s cave and head off along the wasteland again, before I promptly fall prey to a giant beetle. I try to zap it with my awesome lightning spell, but this only results in the beetle getting angrier. It then bites me. I whack it with my sword, and it sprays acid in my face, causing me to lose all sight in my left eye. The giant beetle then chews on my leg for a while until my stamina is down to half its initial score, before I finally kill it. I then wonder why this race of beetle is content to just sit around in the desert waiting for prey, when they are immune to lightning and squirt acid – with powers like that, they could have eaten the entire city of Khare and saved me a whole load of trouble.
Anyway, I’m not in very good shape any more, what with dripping with beetle acid and all that. So when I catch sight of a group of caravans in the horizon, I am keen to stop by and see if I can heal up for a while. When the caravan dwellers start to fire arrows at me, I can’t even claim to be surprised. I’d pretty much expected to be stabbed, shot at and set fire to throughout this entire strange adventure, after all.
I hold up my hands to show that I mean no harm, and get to eventually meet the inhabitants of the camp. To my utter joy (by which I mean ‘distress’) I find that they are a group of black elves, who if we have learned anything about during the “Sorcery!” series, exist to make my life even more difficult. I don’t want to tell them that I’m seeking the seven serpents, instead I tell them that I’m a trader. They seem glad to hear this, and urge me into their shop.
The shop owner has a large number of very useless items, which I’m sure are all used in spellcasting. Things like brass pendulums and so on. Two things that he is offering catch my eye – a scroll that is labelled “Secrets of the Baklands”, and a book with magical symbols. I want to barter with the store owner in order to get possession of the scroll, but the rules for bartering are more complicated than building a space shuttle.
Instead I buy the book, which I find to be a regular spellbook. The book tells me that I am very concerned that such an item has fallen into the hands of outsiders, and will destroy the book at the earliest opportunity. It does give me permission to read over the spellbook section of the rules again for a full five minutes though, which as you may remember is something you’re not technically allowed to do during gameplay. But I can’t help but shake the feeling that it would be more useful to actually take the book with me so that I could read it several times during my adventure. Rather than, y’know, spending ten gold pieces on something that my character is going to just use as campfire kindling.
I leave the caravan, and make camp elsewhere that night. I am given the chance of asking the elves to sleep in the camp, but given how they’ve been represented thus far in these books, I suspect I’d have a higher chance of survival if I went to sleep in a pit full of snakes. I make a camp of my own, no doubt lighting the fire using that spellbook I paid ten gold pieces for, and tuck into a meal.
The next day, I press on until I come to a series of outcropping rocks. I’m keen to regain as much of my health as I can, so I take another rest here. My health is starting to look better. While I’m resting, I hear a sound from the other side of the rocks. I check it out, and see a small tornado. It seems to be spinning around back and forth in a little clearing, not particularly doing much.
I decide to talk to this little tazmanian devil creature, and it responds by blowing a little bit of air at me. At a loss of what else to do, I try to get closer in order to make contact, but it continues to spin like a mad thing. I decide to scarper, and flee the area. I’ve seen enough episodes of Star Trek to know how this would end up – if I don’t do the right fancy woo-woo dance required to communicate with this thing, I’ll somehow offend it and it will kill all the red shirts on my spaceship. I’ll then need to throw techno-babble at it until it stops killing my crew, whereupon it will tell me that I’M too violent and primitive, and fly off into space to bother some other hapless idiot.
Now that I have no meals left, I decide to make my next pit-stop in a small tribal village. The inhabitants of the village seem to hold me in high regard, preparing a feast. This is never a good sign – being given a feast usually indicates that I’m about to be thrown into a volcano to appease an angry god or something similar. It seems that the villagers have a similar but less refined idea – they’ve simply chosen a champion who wants to hit me with a heavy club.
For the life of me, I don’t know why this champion wants to do this, or what he has to gain from it, but I whack him with my sword until he changes his mind and leaves me alone (by dying). The villagers seem unhappy that I have killed their champion, and I quickly make my excuses to leave this silly village behind and flee into the next stage of my adventure – the forests of Snatta.
The trip into the forest proved… interesting. I set up camp, and the next day I’m fortunate enough to scavenge enough berries for two meals, so I’ll be fine for a while. It’s then that I catch sight of a snake.
Aha, I think, this snake can lead me to one of those vile seven serpents! I follow it eagerly. The snake climbs up a tree, and then transforms into the mighty Fire Serpent! I charge forward, ready for the fight… and right into a spout of fire that envelops my entire head.
I stop, drop and roll, and put the fire out. Deciding that this fight is going to require some strategy, I shoot it with my trusty lightning spell – but among the branches of the tree, the snake is able to dodge and avoid the spell. Wow, I’ve used that spell twice in this adventure, and it’s proved utterly useless. Enough messing around, I draw my sword and climb up the tree towards the snake, ready to chop its head off.
This book really ups the ante from the previous book, and definitely feels like it’s on hard mode all the way through. It’s the kind of book that requires a lot of playthroughs to find all of the optimum paths through it, and although it’s not as outright insane as Khare, it’s definitely a few notches up the insanity ladder than The Shamutanti Hills. I’d love to see more of it someday.
Up next time, we venture into the final part of this campaign, hoping to recover the legendary Crown Of Kings.