Monday, 11 July 2016

Crypt of the Sorcerer Playthrough

Written by Ian Livingstone, Artwork by John Sibbick

Both covers for this book. Why does he remind
me of the puppet from Tales from the Crypt?
So yeah, when I first had these Fighting Fantasy books as a kid, one of the ones I never got around to playing was Crypt of the Sorcerer.

I'm not sure why, but I suspect that the cover may have something to do with it. It had a fine enough cover back in the day, but something about the original's image of a hunched and decrepit old man that looked as if he was about to fall over and break his hip, just didn't really inspire you to grab a copy in the same way that a vicious dragon or a bloodthirsty vampire would. The modern version is certainly more energetic. Although, when I look at them as an adult, I really do appreciate the original's atmospheric colouring and moody shadows.

First up, I'll mention the rules I'm playing these books by. No turning back to a previous page if I don't like the decision I chose. Play through all combat sequences and required tests by rolling dice, rather than just pretending victory. Basically 'play it fair and as it's meant to be played, no cheating'.

The powerful mage Yaztromo
No, really. He's powerful.
The story begins with your character being given a fairly hefty monologue from your wizardly buddy Yaztromo, who I pretty much imagine looks a bit like Dumbledore. He tells you that long ago, an evil sorcerer was slain by a heroic adventurer. It seems that now the sorcerer has got bored sitting around in his tomb... I kinda imagine being dead as a large waiting room for these wizards, where you sit and read magazines until you're called back to bring havoc on the living. Maybe they even have a little ticket machine that reads out your number. "Now resurrecting ticket number 7." Curiously, I imagine that this waiting room is also used by superheroes in comic books when they 'die'.

Either way, to kill the sorcerer again, I need to pick up the sword from the adventurer who slew the sorcerer in the first place, who is living up at a local lake, and is a skeleton now for some reason. Right. Well, no point sitting around, off I went.

I'd rolled up some fairly decent stats - not 'Conan the Barbarian' good, but not 'keel over and die if a goblin sneezes on me' poor either. Dumbledore gave me a healing potion with enough for five solid gulps, and the advice that I should look for magical amulets. In FF games, that's always a clue. "Look for keys", "Look for dragon's teeth", "Look for magic amulets". It basically translates into "If you don't find these items, you may as well just start over again, because you're screwed if you don't find them."

This adventure didn't seem especially punishing or unfair, but a lot of the encounters I stumbled across felt rather disjointed. I'll explain this as I go. The first problem I came up against was a swarm of tracker-jackers that assaulted me near a river. Much like Katness in The Hunger Games, I was very lucky with my dice and managed to only suffer a few small scratches that were of no huge concern.

I hurried along past the next potential distraction, and came across a dying dwarf, whose hut had been attacked by generic wandering monsters. Like a noble warrior, I gave him my remaining health potion and nursed him back to health... nah, just kidding, I robbed him. The only noteworthy possessions he had were a knife, and a pendant of sanity. Remembering what Dumbledore told me, I figured that this pendant would be very important later, so I felt proud of myself. Yay.

Also, pendant of sanity. Best item over. One of these days, I'll set up a stall on the seafront and sell pendants of sanity to tourists.

I killed a few chameleons, and painted myself with their blood. The book told me that it had magical powers, but when I tried it, I found that I was immune to their blood. For some reason. Either way, I was now a man running around with chameleon blood on my face, waving a pendant of sanity around. For some reason I don't think the pendant is working.

I feel a little
uncomfortable with this...
In a boneyard, which I imagine looking something like the bone ship from the movie 'Alien', I met the Bonekeeper, who I imagine looking something like John Cleese (I don't know why, I suspect my brain just made a Monty Python reference that I didn't quite consciously grasp). I gave him my knife, and he gave me a ring that kept werewolves away. I did not encounter any werewolves for the rest of the time I possessed the ring, so I can only assume it worked.

I killed a few goblins, found a rhyme carved on a rock, and things were looking very positive for a while until I came to a forest. I followed another figure I seen in the forest, hoping it was the fabled adventurer skeleton dude, only to find that he was a 'black faerie'.

A black faerie. I checked the illustration, and sure enough, he had dark skin. Black faeries are, according to the book, "the most evil of all faeries". He also had a gang. Who mugged me. Yeah....

Racial overtones aside, they stole everything I had, including my pendant of sanity. Although as it turned out, it was the healing potion I would soon need most of all. I escaped, set up camp, and was attacked by fire beetles.

Now seriously wounded, I staggered onwards towards my goal, when suddenly a woman riding a gryphon flew down and killed me.

You can see where I had to scrub out
ALL my inventory items. Ouch!
This confused me, because this encounter felt so unexpected and random that I first assumed I'd turned to a different page by mistake. This was a rather difficult fight, and without the healing potion to recover from the fire beetles the night before, I knew I wouldn't make it. Sure enough, I died.

I don't understand who the woman is, or why she attacked me. She literally just flew down and started thumping me with her gryphon. Was she a bandit of the skies? A local mad woman who'd stolen some poor gryphon, tamed it and took it for a joyride? If she was a mad woman, would my pendant of sanity have helped at all? We may never know...

Overall this is a pretty solid book and I definitely enjoyed trying it out. I'd like to give it another shot at some point. The environments feel suitably wide and descriptive, and the combat is paced well (not too much, not too little), although losing all your items is always a beast when playing these games. I can't believe that nobody took the chance to modify the 'black faeries' description though...

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