Comics Wizard Books cover, by Martin McKenna

Published on January 10th, 2013 | by PJ Montgomery

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City of Thieves – A Fighting Fantasy Flashback part 2

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Wizard Books cover, by Martin McKenna

Wizard Books cover, by Martin McKenna

Yesterday, on my first visit to Port Blacksand, I escaped the City of Thieves alive and in one piece, but without the hag’s hair I needed in order to defeat the evil Zanbar Bone. How will I fair on my second attempt? Read on…

Attempt 2

Skill: 8

Stamina: 19

Luck: 12

Well. That skill score doesn’t fill me with confidence. But, let’s do this, avoiding as many fights as we can. Once more, I approach Port Blacksand, and once more I use my cursed booty (steady) to gain entry to the city, ignoring the guard’s offer of selling my advice this time. Choosing Clock Street, I walk along until I spot a miserable looking man in rags. I try to talk him, but the crazy fellow attacks me, so I kill him. Searching him, I find a small glass ball, filled with smoke, which I immediately smash on the ground. The smoke turns into a magnificent helmet, as smoke is wont to do, and I place it on my head. The helmet adds one to my attack strength, proving the old adage that you should always wear a helmet made of smoke. Or something. Look, it’s a common occurrence around these parts, and in no way a weird development even in a fantasy world such as this, okay?

I arrive at a house which I decide to explore. It turns out to be pretty grim, but some murmuring coming from within takes my interest. I investigate, and find an ogre whimpering because some scoundrel has stolen all of his food. I take pity on him, and share some of my own food with him, after which the ogre rudely orders me to leave. Forgetting my no fights this time out rule, I decide to teach him a lesson. Good thing I have that totally normal magical helmet on. I beat the rude ogre, then rummage through his stuff, finding a box containing two gems, fifteen gold pieces, and a glove. I put the glove on, but it is an evil glove which burns my hand, causing me to lose two skill points. This adventure’s going well, eh?

Further along the street, I encounter a small child sitting on a barrel. He tells me the barrel contains magic water which will cure my ailments, and I can have some for three gold. I pay up, and drink the water which turns out to be in no way magical at all, then shake my fist at the child in what the book tells me is mock anger. There’s nothing mock about this anger, Livingstone! I needed that gold for some other thief to steal off me later!

Speaking of, I’m soon jumped by some dwarfs, but thankfully my luck score makes up for my poor skill, and their clumsy blow doesn’t connect. The dwarfs run away, and I sensibly decide not to follow them. I’m learning, see.

Arriving at a flower shop, I meet the owner, Mrs Pipe, who offers to trade me a magic flower which will turn into gold when dipped in dog’s blood (quite how she found out she could make these, I don’t know, but then, I’m wearing a helmet made of smoke, so what do I know?) for any magic item, piece of armour or food. Having already lost some food to that ogre, and not currently carrying much in the way of armour, I, perhaps foolishly, relinquish my smoky helmet (steady), reasoning that gold is more useful to me than skill in Port Blacksand. Maybe. Hopefully.

Coming across another shop, I discover myself in a jewellers. Hey, I have some jewels! I offer to sell them to the shopkeeper, who says he’ll give me nine gold pieces. Knowing how Port Blacksand works, and being low on skill, I decide against haggling, and accept his offer, then enquire about the rings he’s selling. Feeling flush with cash, I purchase rings of invisibility, fire and ice before taking my leave.

Canonball Catching, by Iain McCaig

cannonball Catching, by Iain McCaig

Back in the market square, I’m once again pickpocketed, this time for a gold piece. I avoid the luck song and the food stall, but do, perhaps foolishly, opt to play cannonball catching again. In fact, it’s definitely a foolish move, as I promptly lose again. However, not wanting to lose my gold to Port Blacksand this time out, I immediately play again, and win this time. Having broken even, I decide to move on. At the market stall, I find myself with enough gold to purchase all the available items, and immediately do so. Bypassing Madame Star, I walk on until I come to the bridge Nicodemus lives beneath.

The encounter with the wizard goes exactly as before, and since I know where the pearls are at least, I choose to make my way down Harbour Street again. This time, I do have some gold, so I give a piece to the unfortunate beggar, and gain one luck point as my reward. Nice.

Coming again to the alleyway where I fought the dogs before, taking them on and winning despite my poor skill score. This time, I happen to have a magical flower which changes into gold in dog’s blood (thanks Mrs Pipe!), and I gain another ten gold pieces. Leaving the alleyway, I once again find myself in the path of Lord Azzur’s carriage. Not wanting to get myself whipped this time, I hide straight away and simply watch it pass by.

The Pirate Ship, by Iain McCaig

The Pirate Ship, by Iain McCaig

Next, I find myself back at the pirate ship, and board via a handy rope ladder this time, in an effort to avoid confrontation. Once aboard, I follow my previous route and get myself some pearls before disembarking, and heading down Clog Street to the silversmith again.

I decide to fall for the goblin posing as a child trick again, and kill him for his garlic, reasoning that if you get some garlic in a Fighting Fantasy book, there’s probably a vampire somewhere in it. This time, I bypass the candle shop, so as to avoid any awkward situations, and head straight to Ben Borryman. This time, being a bit richer, I don’t have to part with all my food, and simply pay cash for a silver arrow.

At the end of Clog Street, I opt this time to take Stable Street, where a man offers me a healing potion for two gold pieces. Feeling wary after being stung by that small child a while back, but also very aware of my low skill and falling stamina store, I take him up on it, and this time find myself gaining both stamina and luck points. Yay!

I soon come across a manhole cover in the middle of the street, and, remembering what the fishwives told me in a previous life, I descend into the sewers of Port Blacksand. Not surprisingly, I’m soon fighting for my life against some giant rats, which I manage to overcome, then spot someone moving up ahead. Investigating further, I run into a hag. She attempts to cast a fear spell on me, which makes me see scary things which aren’t there. However, a successful test of my luck means that, as I swing my sword around, trying to hit things which aren’t there, I accidentally catch the hag a good one, breaking the spell. We have a proper, fair fight, which I win, but only just (I’m quite thankful that I didn’t have to trade my provisions for the silver arrow at this point), and I cut myself some hag hair before heading back to the street.

The Hag, by Iain McCaig

The Hag, by Iain McCaig

Continuing down Stable Street, I’m soon approached by what appears to be a gang of thieves. I decide to throw my throwing knife at them in an effort to even the odds, but this requires a test of skill, something I’m not overly burdened with, and I fail completely. I’m forced to fight tha gang, and although I prevail, it’s another very close thing. For my troubles, I get one gold piece. So, totally worth it.

Coming to a house further up the street, I decide to do more investigating, really hoping for an item which will boost my skill score a little. My luck can’t hope to hold out much longer. I walk into a room with some silk curtains hanging at one end, from behind which a woman’s voice asks who I am. Thinking I’ve got a handle on how Blacksand works now, I tell her that I’m a tax collector, and promptly get given a bag with twelve gold pieces in it. I have your measure now, Port Blacksand!

I next come to the stable I visited on my first adventure, but this time, I can afford to buy a chainmail coat from the blacksmith, and do so, gaining two precious skill points in the process. Leaving the blacksmith, I once more encounter the escaped prisoner, and this time don’t even bother trying to free him. Handing him over to the guards and netting the gold, I carry on to the public gardens, and pick myself a lotus flower. The leaf beasts attack me again, but this time, I have a ring of fire in my possession, which I use to immolate them, without any need to even roll the dice.

The Tattoo Artist, by Iain McCaig

The Tattoo Artist, by Iain McCaig

I proceed straight to the tattoo parlour at this point, deciding to pawn my ring of fire, since I’ve already made use of it, to make up the required cash. Freshly tattooed, and with all the items Nicodemus told me I needed, I walk on, only to be approached by the two troll guards again. This time, I simply try and walk passed them, but wouldn’t you know it, they want to see my merchant’s pass. You know, the one I don’t have. The generous trolls (one of whom is named Sourbelly) offer to either fine me all of the gold in my backpack and kick me out of the city, or throw me in the dungeon for a year. Not wanting to risk a fight at this point, I pay the gold, managing to keep hold of one piece.

The trolls escort me out of town, but this time, I’m ready to face Zanbar Bone, so I head off towards his tower. Soon after, I receive a letter sent by Nicodemus via bird. Apparently, he gave me some dodgy information. Of the three items I have to make the compound which will kill Zanbar Bone, I actually only need two of them. But he can’t remember which two. This never would’ve happened to Yaztromo.

Grumbling about the daft old wizard, I rest for the night, and end up having to fight a wandering monster, which turns out to be an ape-man. I beat the ape-man, and get an owl talisman which allows me to see in the dark, which is nice.

The next day, I arrive at Bone’s tower, where I’m promptly attacked by two of his Moon Dogs. These are tough opponents, but my luck holds out, and I manage to win the battle. However, it’s a close thing, and I’m left with only three stamina points, and no provisions left. Gulp. Turning to the tower door, I discover that if I had a skeleton key, I could get in. But I don’t on this occasion, so I just ring the doorbell. The door is answered by a pale-skinned servant, who I tell I’m a lost traveller. He offers me a bed for the night, and takes me to a spare room, but a few minutes later, I leave the room to explore the tower.

The Vampire, by Iain McCaig

The Vampire, by Iain McCaig

I open the first door I come to, only to find myself confronted by a vampire lady. Good thing I got that garlic, earlier, eh? Warding the vampire off, I close the door and lock her in her room, before ascending further up the tower. I open the next door, finding a room in complete darkness. Thankfully, I’m wearing that handy owl charm, which allows me to see in the dark, and spot a booby trap in the room. Nice try, Bone!

I climb further, and come to a floor with two doors, one black, one white. Choosing the white door, I find a sarcophagus. You only ever find good stuff in sarcophagi, so I open it, forgetting that you also often find mummies in them. However, I’m able to throw my lantern at this particular mummy, setting it on fire. A quick inspection of the sarcophagus then yields me Ring of the Golden Eye, which allows me to detect illusions.

With my new jewellery on my finger, I leave the room and open the black door. There’s a black cat in the room, and a treasure chest on a table. Bing a fan of treasure, I head towards it with the intention of opening it. However, my new illusion detecting ring kicks in, and I realise that not only is the chest not actually there, but the black cat is actually a skeleton wearing robes and a crown. It’s Zanbar Bone!

Bone summons three skeletons to do battle with me, and it’s here where my luck runs out. I manage to take down one of the skeletons, but the second one kills me.

Failure.

Zanbar Bone, by Iain McCaig

Zanbar Bone, by Iain McCaig

Attempt 3

SKill: 12

Stamina: 19

Luck: 12

That’s more like it! On this attempt, I know exactly what I need to do and where to go, so I make short work of Port Blacksand, and head to Zanbar Bone’s tower. When I reach Bone himself, I swiftly defeat his skeletons, then fire my silver arrow at the Night Prince. It hits its target, and I move to rub my compound into his eyes. But it turns out that the flower and the pearls is not the right mixture, and Bone kills me. Balls.

Failure.

Attempt 4

Skill: 10

Stamina: 19

Luck: 12

How about flowers and hag’s hair? Phew, that did it. Victory!

The Troll Guards, by Iain McCaig

The Troll Guards, by Iain McCaig

City of Thieves is a Fighting Fantasy book which it’s well worth your time tracking down and playing through. It’s wonderfully written by Livingstone, who gives you a real sense that Port Blacksand is a bustling hive of scum and villainy. The nature of the city keeps you on your toes, as you never know if one of the denizens is going to help you, or try and stick a knife in your torso. Blacksand is the first setting in the Fighting Fantasy series which feels truly alive, with a cast of colourful characters and interesting places to visit, and it’s testament to Livingstone that. with the endgame section requiring a high skill roll and a lot of luck to successfully clear, you really won’t mind visiting Port Blacksand again and again. Livingstone is ably assisted by Iain McCaig, whose illustrations are the best the series has seen so far, being both detailed and full of character. McCaig really helps bring Blacksand to life, and is easily this writer’s favourite artist to have graced the pages of the Fighting Fantasy series (it’s a shame he only ended up doing internal illustrations for two of the books).

City of Thieves was very much an early high point for the series, and would be the start of a run of classic Fighting Books from Ian Livingstone, which would include Island of the Lizard King, Caverns of the Snow Witch, and the next book we’ll be looking at in this series.

Coming soon: Deathtrap Dungeon!

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About the Author

Writer of various things, lover of comics, films, books and computer games, loveable rogue and proud Sidekick.



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