Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Fighting Fantasy #5 - City of Thieves

(For those who have read the first attempt, click here to skip to the second one.)

Title: City of Thieves

Author: Ian Livingstone

Illustrator: Ian McCaig

Published: 1983

Level of previous knowledge: Reasonable. I seem to remember that a thorough approach is required to collect necessary items and that there's a fairly tough fight near the end. I don't really recall the details of any specific encounters though, so success will depend on whether the situations I find myself in jog my memory.

Plot summary: Hi, I'm a generic adventurer. You might remember me from such playthroughs as Fighting Fantasy #3 - Forest of Doom. After wandering into the town of Silverton, I have a very one-sided conversation with its mayor, who talks me into undertaking a simple-sounding task. I must find a wizard called Nicodemus in Port Blacksand and persuade him to come and save the town from the wicked Zanbar Bone, whose minions have been steadily murdering the population night by night.

Rules: After the plethora of new rules in Starship Traveller, it's comforting to be back in the realm of normality.

Click here to skip the adventure log

Adventure Log

Attempt #1
Stats rolled: SKILL 12, STAMINA 21, LUCK 10
Blimey. With stats like these I should be able to lay waste to Port Blacksand. A shame this mission is such an ostensibly simple one...

As I approached the gates of the notorious city of Port Blacksand, I was met by an unpleasant member of the town guard who politely requested that I state my business. He didn't appear to have the head/body of an ape/dog, so I decided to attempt a novel approach and told the truth. I was therefore surprised when more guards emerged with the intention of locking me up. Inwardly shrugging my shoulders, I wrenched myself free of their grasp, knocked their heads together and dashed into the city.

Picking a street at random, I soon came across a scruffy, miserable-looking fellow sitting in the gutter. I approached him, intending to cheer him up with some witty banter and maybe glean some information, and was rewarded for my efforts when he leapt at me brandishing a knife. Making short work of him, I found a smoke-filled glass ball on his corpse, which I smashed on the ground. Inexplicably the smoke coalesced into the shape of a helmet, which solidified before my eyes. Bemused, I placed the hard-won treasure on my head and continued on my way.

After a left turn I came across a large house, the door to which had carelessly been left wide open. Never one to miss out on a spot of opportunistic burglary, I decided to have a poke about inside. I was disappointed by the contents, however, as the first room was very sparse, and more than a little smelly. Investigating further I soon came across the occupant, a worried-looking ogre. He asked me for food and I refused on the basis that he could easily have eaten everything I was carrying and it would barely touch the sides. Before I could offer to go and hunt down a hippo or giant badger (I don't know what ogres eat) he decided that I looked tasty and tried to hit me with his giant bone. This was not as fun as it sounds; however I was able to escape bonage and overcome him. A rummage through his belongings revealed a small wooden box. After a quick listen for any suspicious hissing noises from within, I smashed the box to smithereens and took the gems and gold within. There was also a dainty-looking silk glove, which I tried on immediately - if vagrants carry skill-enhancing helmets around town in glass balls, then surely this would be something equally as fantas-- aargh! The glove became hot and burned my hand, permanently damaging it in the process. Stupid glove.

Further down the street I was conned by a small boy into paying to drink some water which he claimed to have magical healing properties. Upon realising that the water was unremarkable (although it is perhaps remarkable that it wasn't yellow) I shook my fist at the boy 'in mock anger'. Mock? I'd just wasted three gold pieces, and if the fate of the world rested upon my shoulders (I wasn't sure it did, but you never know) then I was going to need every possible resource I can get! That boy may have just doomed us all. Oh well.

Muttering distractedly to myself, I was surprised by three dwarven muggers who jumped at me from an alleyway. They were annoyingly successful at knocking me out and I woke up to find that the rest of my gold had been stolen. Those dwarves may have just doomed us all!

Cursing my luck and rubbing my sore head, I staggered into a flower shop. Despite having no money I doubtfully agree to have a look at one of the florist's 'special' flowers. She seemed aware of my unspoken plight, explaining that the petals of her golden flowers will turn into gold pieces under the right set of circumstances. Bizarrely, those circumstances involved dipping them in dog's blood, but I assumed that ingredient probably wouldn't be too hard to find in Port Blacksand, so traded some provisions for the flowers and left the shop, wondering if the petals might have more interesting uses.

In the next shop I sold the gems I found in the ogre's house (which the dwarven muggers must have ignored on the basis that they're not gold). My attempts at haggling nearly provoked the shopkeeper into a frenzy of violence, so I calmed him down and accepted the measly sum he offered.

This was further reduced a short while later when I was pickpocketed by an old woman in the town square. She may have just doomed us etc etc. Refusing to pay a colourful-looking musician to sing a song of fortune (although judging from the start to my adventure, I'm in need of it), I notice a muscle-bound man challenging all-comers to a game of catch with a cannon-ball. Confident in my skill and strength, I took him up on his challenge. Unfortunately it turned out to be a contest of random chance rather than skill or strength, and I lost the game and 5 gold pieces.

Having been fleeced of my gold so many times be this accursed city, I thought that I may as well carry on in the same vein, and handed over more gold to hear a clairvoyant proclaim more doom and gloom upon me. Sure enough, no sooner did I leave her tent than it began to rain steadily. Taking shelter in a derelict house, I found myself sharing the abode with a swarm of snakes, which of course attacked immediately. I escaped without any bites and left the house to find it had stopped raining already. Just a passing shower, I guess.

Eventually I arrived at a bridge over the river, and descended the steps to find Nicodemus in his hut. My joy at reaching the end of my quest soon evaporated when he informed me that he was too old for adventuring and he would instead tell me how to defeat Zanbar Bone myself. Hurrah? (OK, I wasn't really naive enough to think I could just hand the quest over to an old wizard and go off home). I also received the happy news that I would need a whole stack of obscure items in order to complete my quest, as well as the kind of tattoo that would ensure I would be laughed at for the rest of my life. Which would probably be very short, anyway, because Zanbar Bone had a whole host of minions which I would have to deal with first. Hmph...

Muttering to myself about lazy wizards, I continued on my way until a doorway caught my eye. Something about the six skulls painted on it made it feel quite welcoming, so I entered and found myself in a dimly-lit room with a smiling man who sat me down and offered me the chance to participate in a deadly game. Six pills, one is poisonous, survive swallowing one and acquire a tidy sum of gold. If I died, he would keep all my possessions. Well, it seemed legit. It wasn't like the citizens of Port Blacksand were scoundrels who would, say, manipulate the odds by giving me five poisoned pills and one safe one, or something like that. Anyway, I was desperate for the cash, given the recent acquisition of a large shopping list, so I agreed to the game - and survived! Blacksand 5, Me 1!

Skipping happily along the street I was alerted to the sound of an argument coming from a nearby house. Peeking inside revealed two old women, dressed as little girls and squabbling over a child's toy. They demanded a toy from me, but I handed over some food instead, hoping it would shut them up for a bit. I took advantage of their distraction to look around but, finding only a bowl of soup, thought better of the whole thing and left.

At the end of the street I was recruited into a game of 'Bay's Ball' by a group of odd-looking (although not odd for this city) creatures. I managed to hit the Blacksand equivalent of a home run to win the game for my side and the supporters hailed me as their hero. I emerged from the crowd slightly richer and with a myriad of useful-looking useless items. Pleased with my change of fortune, I tossed a gold piece to a nearby beggar, and was rewarded with a LUCK point.

With a new, positive attitude, I decided to wander into a nearby alleyway, where I was set upon by a pair of slavering wild dogs. I dispatched them without fear, and then remembered the golden flowers I was carrying around. After dipping the petals in the blood of my foes, I emerged from the alleyway richer to the tune of 10 gold pieces. I wondered how I had managed to walk into an alleyway in Port Blacksand without being robbed, murdered or press-ganged, and could only assume that the dogs had eaten whoever had been lying in wait. And then buried the bones.

After dodging a poorly-driven horse-drawn carriage I found myself at the quayside, looking up at a pirate ship. I couldn't make out its name, but I assumed it wasn't the Black Pearl that was on my shopping list. Nevertheless it was worth checking out, so I walked casually down the jetty and climbed a rope ladder to the deck. I decided to knock out the guard here to allow me to search around, so I found a piece of wood and bashed him over the head with it. Obviously a SKILL of 12 does not enable me to knock a man out with the hilt of my sword - only a 2x4 will do. Sadly I found nothing of interest on the deck, but the lower deck proved more interesting. In one room I found three sleeping pirates, and was able to cut a leather pouch loose from one of them. The pouch contained black pearls, so I was finally able to cross something off my list. Emboldened by my good fortune, I threw open another door, where I surprised a fat, unarmed bathing pirate who turned out to be very informative, advising me that I would find a silversmith to make me an arrow on Clog Street. Things were definitely looking up!

Leaving the ship without incident, the next junction conveniently met with Clog Street. Stopping briefly to help and then kill a small boy who turned out to be a nasty little goblin with a knife, I entered a candle shop because all hardened adventurer types obviously love candles.While I stared at the dazzling candles the elven shopkeeper doomed us all by stealing from my backpack. I had no recollection of the theft, however, so maybe I'd notice next time I opened my pack for any reason...

The next shop I came to was the silversmith, who helpfully made me a silver arrow there and then and asked for 10 gold pieces. Reaching into my pack for my money I -- aargh! Who stole my precious eye patch and knucklebones? I bet it was that elf! I've a good mind to go back and...

Turning into the next street I was confronted by a crazy, warty man who offered me the dubious opportunity of buying a drink of his 'healing potion'. Given that 1) I was in no imminent need of healing, 2) everyone here was a con artist and 3) if the potion would give me that many warts I'd rather go without, I refused the offer and continued on.

I soon came across a manhole, which of course I lifted and climbed down into the sewers. No respectable adventurer ignores the chance to wander dank, smelly tunnels and slaughter some giant rats. In fact, doesn't every respectable adventurer start his career that way? I got exactly what I expected when three large furry forms launched themselves at me from the darkness, and defeated them with ease. Further along the tunnel I was attacked by a hag wielding vile sorcery. Fortunately I had time to rummage in my pack and retrieve the Potion of Mind Control which was apparently among the prizes I received from the Bay's Ball supporters. Under the effects of the potion I was able to pluck out a tuft of the hag's hair (good thing I remembered that was on the shopping list - ahem) and throw her into the sewer in a surprising fit of mercy. Exploring the tunnel in the other direction, I killed a giant centipede that may have given lesser adventurers quite a bit of trouble. At the end of the tunnel I sensibly reached into a dark, slimy hole and retrieved an inexplicably located mirror. I then decided that I'd spent enough time wallowing in excrement and made my way back to street level.

Around the corner I encountered three vagabonds intent on robbing me. Each of them boasted that he could kill me single-handedly. Unfortunately for them, they did not have access to the same statistical information as I did.

The next door to catch my eye was a large, wooden affair with a serpent's head carved into it. As I entered the house, a woman's voice challenged me from behind some curtains, so I pretended to be delivering flowers from Lord Azzur himself. The curtains were drawn back and the woman revealed herself to have a snake-like head. She asked for the flowers, and at this point I realised I hadn't really thought this plan through. A fight with the Serpent Queen ensued and after my victory I found a pouch of gold while rummaging around. City of Thieves indeed...

Moving on, I visited the local blacksmith, who offered me some fine chainmail for the pretty sum of 20 gold pieces. By this point I was rather weighed down by all the money that was coming my way, so I agreed and left the shop 2 SKILL points better off. (Note - I apply bonuses like this to my Attack Strength rather than my SKILL as it makes no sense that I'd have to have a crippled SKILL to benefit from new armour)

Outside a man in rags with a ball and chain staggered up to me and begged for my help. My first instinct was to help the escaped prisoner, so I attempted to cut through his chains. I looked rather stupid when I was unable to do so and four town guards quickly surrounded me. Realising that I was a wrong move away from being thrown in prison myself, I quickly offered them a bribe. Sadly I had nothing of interest to them, so I was forced to make a run for it, tossing some gold on the floor as a distraction.

My escape led me into the public gardens, which I thought would be a good place to hang out until the heat was off. They also happened to contain some lotus flowers which I required for my mission. As I picked the flowers, however, I was attacked by some local topiaries. Fortunately my shiny new armour saved me from any damage and once again I ran for it before I drew any more unwelcome attention.

Before long I found myself outside a tattoo shop, and sighed with resignation. This was it - the moment I would kiss goodbye to my looks, my self-esteem, and any chance of striking fear into the heart of an enemy again. Laughter, maybe. I went inside, and before I could say "Do you have anything in non-permanent ink?" I was pricked into submission. Seriously considering going back to the blacksmith and asking for a full helmet, I resumed my journey.

As I passed a couple of trollish town guards, I was stopped and interrogated, then arrested for no apparent reason. I was, however, allowed to pay a fine of all the gold left in my backpack (not much, at this point, and my shopping list was complete) and be thrown out of the city. As my backside hit the road outside, I vowed that if I ever came back here, it would be to see those two guards hung by their own intestines. For now, I had more important things to do.

I made camp that night under a tree, and awoke to find a bird with a message. Apparently Nicodemus was a complete idiot and gave me false information about the ingredients I would need to kill Zanbar Bone. I would only need two of the three, but the wizard could not remember which, so rather than tell me to hang back a bit and let him do a bit more research, he simply suggested that I try one of the three possible combinations and accept that there was now a two-thirds chance that I'd be screwed before I even arrived at Zanbar Bone's tower. Gee thanks, Nicovingstone. I vented my rage on a passing orc and made the trek to Zanbar Bone's tower.

I was greeted at the entrance to the tower by a pair of Zanbar Bone's Moon Dogs, which I had obviously disturbed from chewing on the bones of thousands of previous adventurers. They met their match this time, however, and it was with an air of smugness that I tugged on the cord hanging just outside the door. Hang on a sec - why does an evil mastermind even have a doorbell? And more importantly, why did I just ring it, announcing my presence to the entire tower? I did not have time to consider this for long, however, as the door opened and a servant peered up at me. I pretended to be a lost traveller, and he invited me in to stay the night. Don't mind if I do! I was shown to my room, where of course I climbed into bed and settled down for a pleasant night's sleep...

...or not. After the servant was out of earshot, I sneaked out of the room and climbed the stairs. Opening the door I found here, I found myself face to face with a vampire. Luckily I seemed to be carrying some garlic in my hand, and she recoiled in horror, allowing me to back out of the room and lock the door. I encountered another door on the next floor, which I opened to find nothing but pitch blackness. Having no way to illuminate the darkness, I shut the door and continued onwards. Surely Mr Bone would be waiting at the top of the tower anyway.

So I climbed the stairs again, to find myself on a landing with two doors - one white and the other black. Zanbar Bone's voice then boomed out, mocking me for the ridiculous tattoo on my face. Opening the black door, I found myself in an unsettling room. Looking around, I saw black candles, a large mirror and a large, open chest containing a golden skull. Walking across the room, I was disconcerted when the chest  vanished before my eyes. I was even more disconcerted when skeletal fingers touched my skin and began to drain my life force. Before long I was just another of Zanbar Bone's skeletal servants. Maybe he'd let me be a skeleton rather than a zombie, though - at least that way my stupid tattoo wouldn't be visible any more...

Conclusion: Failure. But so close...

Number of combats:18

Attempt #2
Stats rolled: SKILL 7, STAMINA 20, LUCK 10
Ah, crap.

Somewhat less confident in my abilities than my previous incarnation, I decided to take a different approach at the gates. Fortunately I was able to convince the guard that I was here to sell some stolen booty, which happened to be cursed and not suitable for viewing by untrained eyes. Rejecting his kind offer of advice for gold, I wandered straight into the city.

Turning left into Key Street, I immediately came across a locksmith's shop. The dwarven proprietor boasted that he could make a key to fit any lock in Port Blacksand. Surely, I thought, everyone would want one of these keys, as this city consists of nothing but thieves. Somehow I found myself disbelieving of his claim and left without paying his exorbitant price.

Further down the street a young boy ran out and handed me a note, before disappearing around a corner. The note warned me that I should leave 10 gold pieces in the street before moving on or I would be shot by watching archers. I would have liked the option to pretend to leave the gold, or perhaps to run for my life, but I could only leave the gold or carry on walking. Believing that this whole thing was probably a con anyway, I shrugged and continued on my way - and seconds later an arrow pierced my side. Only the one, though. Definitely worth 10 gold pieces!

As I staggered onwards a small girl beckoned me towards a house, and I followed. Inside an old man treated my wound, restoring most of the health I lost, then asked for my sword as payment. Rather than offer him something else (I still had all my gold this time around!) I handed over the weapon in the absence of a sensible option.

Now possessing all the combat skill of a doorknob, I proceeded carefully, coming to a brightly coloured house with a welcoming sign hanging from the door. Wondering if a particularly festive weaponsmith might reside within, I entered the house. Inside I climbed the stairs and came face-to-face with a reptilian creature who calmly asked if I would like to buy one of its brooches. Given my current weaponless situation, I thought I'd take any help I could get, and purchased a brooch which would heal me slightly after each combat. Assuming I survived...

...which I didn't. As I exited the building two town guards approached and asked to see my pass. I said 'pass', which didn't amuse them in the slightest, and they attempted to arrest me. Rather than go quietly, I drew my -- erm, posed narcissistically and threw myself into combat. I was able to take one of them down but by that point the other only had to sneeze on me and I was finished. Rats.

Conclusion: Failure. And not remotely close.

Number of combats:2

Attempt #3
Stats rolled: SKILL 11, STAMINA 19, LUCK 10

OK, I might stand a chance this time.

Fooling the guard at the gate with my imaginary cursed merchandise, I entered the city and took the street in front of me, hoping for a more direct route to the market square. Along the way I popped into a herbalist's shop and bought some healing mixture. Surprisingly I wasn't ripped off, and the stuff seemed to be genuine. Wondering if I had come to the wrong town, I left the shop and continued northwards.

I then came to the Spotted Dog, a dingy establishment but one that I felt compelled to investigate. Striding confidently past the collection of miscreants inside, I ordered a drink from the innkeeper. Unfortunately the level of service was below par, and I was refused service. Given the choice of a fight or dignified retreat I chose the latter, and continued on my way.

The unfriendly nature of the citizens of Port Blacksand was further reinforced when a pair of thieves attempted to relieve me of my possessions. They failed in this, of course, and I was free to help myself to their no doubt ill-gotten riches. I ignored a phial of liquid, though, expecting it to be some kind of poison.

Seeing a grand-looking house set back slightly from the street, a mischievous voice in my head alerted me to the potential opportunity for some light thievery of my own. When in Blacksand, after all. My attempt was nearly abandoned, however, when a large wolf rushed out of the kennel I had previously ignored (I would have failed my thief exams) and aimed for my throat. Fortunately its chain was too short and it was left snapping at thin air. I successfully forced the door (OK, I'm more of a thug than a thief) and headed inside, my eye quickly caught by a large chest. My clumsy attempt to pick the lock succeeded, and I was lucky to avoid being hit by a pair of poisoned darts. Inside the chest I found a heap of gold and a shiny shield. Wondering what other goodies this house had in store, I crept up the stairs and cursed as I heard the owner return home. Seconds later a flying imp appeared, spitting fire. I spitted it on my sword (huh? huh?) then proceeded downstairs to confront its master, who unexpectedly chucked a bolt of lightning at me, knocking me to the floor. In my prone state, however, I was still able to throw my sword at him, piercing his chest and killing him outright. Feeling slightly embarrassed, I retrieved my weapon and left the house, giving the kennel a wide berth.

Soon after, I found my way to the now familiar market square. Here I bought some nameless food, listened to a lucky song and bought a throwing knife, a lantern and a rope with some of the vast amount of gold I was carrying. Then I left the square, ignored the snake-infested house and continued to find Nicodemus in his hut. Re-treading old ground, I ignored the house with skulls painted on the door, as I had no need to risk my life for money. I also ignored the sounds of arguing from an open window, and carried on to find the Bays playing their game behind a stone wall. Joining a team, I once again saved the day and was rewarded with a selection of dubious prizes.

As focused as I was on my goal, I walked straight past a miserable-looking beggar, who I probably could have fed for a year. Oh well. Finding my way to the pirate ship, I retrieved the black pearls from their owner with surgical precision, and continued on to the silversmith, from whom I bought a silver arrow and a set of matching tableware. Ignoring a crazy old man, I performed the very sane series of actions of lifting a manhole cover, playing with some rats and pulling out an old woman's hair. Climbing back out of the sewer, I cleaned myself off with my new ratskin handkerchief and continued down the street.

I was prepared for the vagabonds this time, and a timely knife thrown at their leader took him down and deterred the others from taking me on. Ignoring other distractions, I made my way to the blacksmith's shop where I purchased a shiny chainmail coat for a mere 20 gold pieces. Upon leaving the shop I was approached by the escaped prisoner who almost got me into so much trouble on our last meeting. Turning him over to the guards like the model citizen I am, I was rewarded with more gold! This easily paid for my trip into the public gardens, where I performed the public service of trimming (well, hacking) some hedges, before leaving with the important lotus flower.

The final item on my shopping list was soon taken care of by the tattoo artist, and I was free to annoy the guards into throwing me out of town. That night at my camp site I battled a giant snake for the right to take on Zanbar Bone. Maybe I should have let the snake win, although I don't think he would have been very successful with the whole firing-a-silver-arrow thing.

After a fairly easy battle with the moon dogs, I found myself at the door to Zanbar Bone's tower. Unsure as to what I did wrong previously, I resolved to do things a bit differently this time, and attempted to break down the door. My attempt was successful but not without painful injury, and the noise alerted a servant. Determined that no-one would stand in my way, I ran him through with my sword, to remarkably little effect. I resorted to firing my silver arrow at him, which had a much better result, and the spirit stalker melted into a puddle of goo. Stealing a shiny shield from the wall (are there bonuses for wearing two shields?), I climbed the spiral staircase.

I soon found myself in familiar territory, and ignored the doors concealing vampires and impenetrable darkness. Eventually I found myself on the landing with a black door and a white door. I opened the white door into a room containing nothing but a decorated sarcophagus, the opening of which disturbed the resident mummy. Fortunately I had remembered to light my lantern when I entered the tower earlier (ahem) and I threw it at the creature, which burst into flames and was consumed in a matter of seconds. Inside the sarcophagus I found a gold ring, which my in-built Encyclopaedia Allansia informed me was the Ring of the Golden Eye, famed for its ability to allow the wearer to detect illusions. Handy!

Hoping that I now had everything I would need to defeat my nemesis, I crossed the landing and opened the black door. As I walked into the room, my shiny new ring alerted me to the illusion before me, and suddenly Zanbar Bone himself stood before me. In true evil villain fashion, he summoned several skeletal minions for me to deal with before I could fire my silver arrow. I supposed he was stalling for time, as the skeletons were much weaker than the moon dogs which I had casually dispatched outside. As the third skeleton fell, I fired my silver arrow and pierced the Night Prince's dark heart. Dashing over to the prone form, I frantically rubbed my compound into his eyes - black pearl and lotus flower. Sadly I chose wrongly, and it had no effect. Zanbar Bone reached out, and once again I was recruited into his employment.

Conclusion: Failure. Did I mention that I hate wizards? I hate wizards.

Number of combats:15

Sigh. From this point on the adventure logs will be much shorter as I'm re-treading old ground...

Attempt #4
Stats rolled: SKILL 12, STAMINA 18, LUCK 12
Right, no excuses this time. Except that there's still a 50/50 chance of getting the wrong combination...

...phew! No need for a long tale this time - just imagine the previous attempt, but this time getting the combination right. It was a walk in the park, with only the moon dogs managing to so much as scratch me in combat. Setting fire to the tower on the way out (you know, just to make sure I kill any innocent prisoners within) I made my way back to Silverton and a hero's welcome. Funnily enough the mayor's daughter didn't volunteer for marriage - something to do with the ridiculous tattoo of a UNICORN ON MY FACE perhaps? Join us next week for the sequel, Revenge of the Other-Four-Moon-Dogs-The-Hero-Forgot-To-Kill...

Conclusion: Success!

Number of combats:12


Writing: The hero's characterisation may be fairly thin, but the setting for this book, Port Blacksand, makes it a much more enjoyable read than Forest of Doom. The world feels more fully realised and vibrant, and every step of the way through the city provides opportunities for adventure. You really get the impression that it is a city in chaos, where a wrong move could end with you in the gutter, but also where you can come out ahead if you're willing to 'play the game' like everyone else in Port Blacksand. From the city guard to the lowliest beggar, you're never quite sure who is out to get you, or who might be helpful... for a price. The writing throughout is descriptive, and although there are occasions where obvious options are not included, there are usually multiple ways to deal with each situation.
Writing: 4/5

Artwork:The illustrations are incredibly detailed and do a great job of depicting the setting of Port Blacksand. You really get the impression that everything is cluttered, from the dirty, rubbish-strewn streets to the interiors of the various houses and shops. The sheer level of detail makes the artwork stand out as some of the best I've ever seen in a Fighting Fantasy book.
Artwork: 5/5

Design:I liked that this was a traditional romp in that there are no extra rules to contend with - the setting did not need any. Instead you can just sit back and enjoy the ride as you progress through the city, rather than faffing about with adventure sheets for too long. The first stage of the book offers three main routes to the market square, none of which contain anything essential to the plot, but all present their own opportunities and challenges. After the meeting with Nicodemus, the game becomes an item hunt. Most of the shopping list can be obtained simply by being thorough - however a couple can be missed entirely if you turn the wrong way at a junction. This wouldn't be so bad if the route weren't so linear, but I guess the ability to go backwards would make things far too easy. As much as I would have liked the opportunity to explore Port Blacksand, sandbox-style, the book does a decent job of giving you a few choices while keeping you on the right track.

The end game is much tougher than the rest of the book, the fight with the moon dogs being an obvious example. Up until this point you probably won't have encountered anything with a SKILL of more than 7 or 8, so a SKILL 11 mutt is a bit of a shock to the system. Surely this kind of fight could have been reserved for a final tussle with the boss's minions, before the confrontation with Zanbar Bone himself. Instead you are in the situation where, if you are able to even enter the tower, you are obviously more than capable of defeating any opponent in normal combat, so the skeletons, for instance, are a bit redundant. The tower itself is also a bit of a letdown, with a selection of red herrings and one door which must be entered before the final room.
Design: 3/5

Fairness:As far as combat goes, the book is fairly easy until you meet the moon dogs. If you play the rules as I did, with shiny shields and chainmail adding to your Attack Strength rather than your SKILL, it is a little less hard to swallow when the formidable doggies welcome you to Zanbar Bone's tower.

Most items you need are fairly straightforward to find, but as a wrong turn at a junction can cause you to miss one of two of them, it could be a little frustrating. On one occasion there is the opportunity to hear a fishwife's tale about a hag who lives in the sewers - unfortunately there is no indication of on which street the entrance to the sewers can be found, and in order to meet the fishwife you have to ignore advice you may have received about finding the silversmith by turning on to a different street (although you are forced to turn back on to the correct street anyway).

Within a few playthroughs, however, you will find yourself breezing through the city, and providing you rolled a decent SKILL, the endgame shouldn't be a problem either. Except for the final touch - the combination of ingredients required to kill Zanbar Bone. Whatever percentage chance you had of completing this adventure successfully before that buffoon Nicodemus sends you his apologetic note, well just go ahead and divide that by three. Git.
Fairness: 3/5

Cheating index: 0 Razaaks

Average enemy stats
Successful path
12 encounters, SKILL 6.8, STAMINA 6.3
Entire book
73 encounters, SKILL 6.7, STAMINA 6.1

Instant death paragraphs: 11

Any player can win no matter how weak initial dice rolls: Depending on how you apply SKILL/Attack Strength bonuses, this could be either TRUE or a LIE. A SKILL 7, STAMINA 14 adventurer applying bonuses to Attack Strength might just stand a chance against the moon dogs with a +1 shield and a +2 set of chainmail, but it's still pretty unlikely.

Final thoughts

This is one of the real classics - an old school adventure with no fancy extras, a great setting, and a lot to do. A couple of mechanics are too harsh towards the end, but the book is fun enough to warrant a few replays. Clearly Ian Livingstone thought it was far too easy, as he followed it up with Deathtrap Dungeon. And so will I...
Final score: 7/10


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  1. You got further than I did.

    There's nothing essential pre-Nicodemus, so I hope you'll try a different street at the initial crossroads next time.

    1. Good to know. Hopefully I'll get as far as the town square without losing most of my cash!

  2. You also got further than I did, hehe. My main problem seemed to be finding the manhole into the sewer, no idea where it went...

    1. I only got that far thanks to my high skill score - I suspect any characters with a skill less than 10 will have rather shorter adventures :)

    2. Ah and on a subsequent attempt I realised that the manhole is entirely missable. There's a junction between two streets and taking the wrong one will bypass the manhole and re-join the true path further on.

  3. It should be easy to win next time as long as you get a high enough skill to kill that unavoidable skill 11 moon dog. I enjoyed the TVTropes references.

    1. That depends on whether I get the combination of ingredients right!

  4. Hey, can you upload or send me the illustration of the vampire lady (one ob the best for me) included in this book?


    1. Drop me a email at (first word in this blog's URL) at gmail.com :)

  5. " It makes no sense that I'd have to have a crippled SKILL to benefit from new armour." Thank you, sir, for addressing that old, old elephant in the room!
    Even if your skill was below initial level, does it seem realistic that gaining new armour would thereafter assist you in "Test Your Skill" situations? Nope.
    City Of Thieves was the first FFG I ever played and will always have a special place in my memory. Allow me to point out the glaring goofs that vexed me:
    1) Why can't you just pretend to swallow the creepy guy's pill and then spit it out after you've relieved him of 20 gold pieces and strolled away?
    2) Why not just mix together all three compound ingredients to rub into Mr Bone's eyes? We are never actually told that mixing together all three
    would result in failure.
    3) Paragraph 133 you are invited to either turn off down a lane or stop and buy fruit from a barrow boy. If you do stop to buy fruit then, for no logical reason, the option to explore the lane is withdrawn and all you can do is continue along Mill St. Just so happens that the lane contains something crucial for victory - the tattooist shop! Stopping to buy fruit dooms us all.

    1. Proof, if any were needed, that fruit is bad for you :)

  6. check out this great map of city of thieves. all the encounters in the city are detailed -


    this is one of my favourite adventures. the artwork was done by ian mccaig; the same man who designed darth maul in star wars!