Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Fighting Fantasy #7 - Island of the Lizard King

Title: Island of the Lizard King

Author: Ian Livingstone

Illustrator: Alan Langford (interior), Iain McCaig (cover)

Published: 1984

Level of previous knowledge: There's this lizard, right, and... erm, he's a king of some island or something. I remember surprisingly little considering that I recall quite enjoying this one. Of course I remember a certain ill-fated companion called Mungo :)

Plot summary: There's this lizard, right, and he has proclaimed himself king of Fire Island. Frankly he's welcome to it, but his minions have started to raid the villages of civilised people and enlist them into slavery in the gold mines. The Lizard King clearly needs a good slapping, and Mungo is the man to do it. I've decided to go along and watch, though.

Rules: Normal stats, check; ten provisions, check; inexplicable free potion; check. Nothing unusual here.

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Adventure Log

Attempt #1
Stats rolled: SKILL 10, STAMINA 19, LUCK 12

Mungo and I did some catch-up bonding on the boat as we sailed the short distance to Fire Island, and I learned more about his family than I was really interested in. Apparently his father was a circus freak who committed suicide via the medium of Deathtrap Dungeon (good fighter, couldn't tell the difference between a real emerald and a fake one? I know the chap). I soon found myself hoping that Mungo did not inherit his father's sense of adventure. After all, it would be a disaster if he got himself killed early on, wouldn't it?

'Land ahoy!' yelled Mungo, somewhat unnecessarily, pointing at the ever-nearing island with a great big volcano poking out of it. Checking my, err Mungo's, provisions, I put on Mungo's backpack and prepared to follow him like the dutiful companion I was. Disembarking, I was surprised to be given the choice of which direction to clamber. Surely Mungo, the hero of the story, should be making these decisions! Respectfully steering him to the west, we emerged on a beach upon which sat a tiny hut. Musing on the subject of deck chairs I was taken aback when I heard a cry of pain and looked up to see Mungo playing with a crab the size of a house. From his advantageous position within one of the creature's pincers, Mungo looked like he had everything under control, but I thought I should show willing and wandered over to help out. Mungo dropped agilely to the ground and laid down to watch the fight, a master confident in his protege's abilities.

The crab soon went down, but not without snipping away half of my health first. Disgruntled, I turned to Mungo to demand why he did not simply slay the creature instead of toying with it. Then I noticed that his body looked slightly more crushed than usual, and it struck me that all that blood should probably have been inside his skin. He said a few heroic last words before expiring in front of me, leaving me with the task of killing the Lizard King all on my own. Selfish bastard.

The hut proved a disappointment but a thorough search turned up a jug accompanied by a note recommending the potion within as some kind of protection against poisonous plants. Knocking it back, I left the hut and followed a goat track up the side of the cliff. Gasping for breath, I made it to the top and drank most of my water on the spot, before noting that I was low on water. Did I not think of this before? Wouldn't it have been prudent to bring more than one flask? Did I bury Mungo's supply with his unhelpful remains? I'll never know.

Now that I'd arrived on the island proper, I decided to set up camp for the night. Either we timed our arrival perfectly to experience an unnecessary night in the jungle or it took all day to kill a crab and walk up a path. I survived the horrors of the night, however, and in the morning headed directly through the trees towards the volcano. Almost immediately I was given the opportunity to rest, which I accepted gratefully - all those minutes of leisurely hiking through the jungle had really taken it out of me. Unfortunately the tree I leaned against had other ideas, and tried to choke me with its vines. I struggled free, but not without suffering the effects of a minor throttling, i.e. minus 1 SKILL point.

Deep in the undergrowth I had the misfortune to meet several of the locals, fellows with an unpleasant hobby of collecting and wearing the heads of their previous victims. Happily they lined up to fight me one at a time, and I was able to keep my head. Ahahaha. Their bag of bananas and coconuts restored a single STAMINA point, making me wonder what sort of superfoods were present in my own, much more effective, provisions. Climbing a tree, I spotted what I believed to be the headhunters' village to the west. Choosing a life unhindered by shrunken head-wearing freaks, I took a route which avoided the village altogether.

map of the island
Soon I came across a crazy man who lived in a tree. He took objection to my offer to visit him, but I insisted despite the barrage of coconuts he launched at me. He then gave me a whole load of information about the island and the lizard men, offering more if I was willing to hand over some of my provisions. I almost asked why he was so happy to throw away his collection of coconuts if he was struggling for food, but then I remembered how nutritious the food on this island wasn't. He also gave me a bent wire with which I was supposed to stab the Lizard King. Or something.

After a brief altercation with a giant dragonfly I spotted some fungus attached to a log. Breaking some off, I created a cloud of spores which made my face all lumpy. This reminded me of my resolution never to eat anything mushroom-like in a Fighting Fantasy adventure, so I quickly discarded the fungus, opting instead to rub some random nearby leaves on my face. Contrary to common sense, this actually improved the situation and my face was soon back to normal. Moving on, I encountered a strange crystal in the middle of a clearing. Continuing with my dangerous habit of investigating the unknown (except mushrooms) I touched the pretty rock and received a health boost.

Hacking my way through the vegetation, I managed to attract the attention of six more locals. These pygmies did not share the repulsive habit of wearing shrunken heads on their belts; however they did have blowpipes aimed at me. Missing the option to run for it, I chose to attempt communication rather than combat, and found them to be surprisingly un-hostile, merely expecting me to hand over one of my possessions. Or at least that was the general drift I inferred from the grunting. Giving them an axe I picked up somewhere, I was surprised when they gathered around it and starting chanting. Obviously this axe was of great value, and I had just given it away. Prodding the nearest pygmy, I made the universal motion for "give me stuff or I'll destroy you and everything you hold dear". He forked over some nuts and berries, which were obviously genetically modified as they were twice as nutritious as the bag of bananas consumed earlier.

marsh hopper
Deep in the swamp I encountered a strange green reptilian creature. Rather than simply ignoring it or slaying it for the evil lizard man-thing that it was, I decided to call out to it. I then realised it was a marsh hopper, a creature which would know its way through the marsh, but was also likely to lead me to its bigger, man-eating colleagues. I followed it for some distance but when it changed direction I became suspicious and went my own way... straight into an area populated by giant leeches. I was forced to use salt from my provisions to remove them from my skin - sadly I must have dropped the rest of the meal into the swamp and was unable to gain any further benefit from it.

Eventually the swamp gave way to grassy hills and after dodging a suspiciously well-timed rockfall, came across an ominous sign reading 'Turn back or die'. Declining to take either option, I found a snuff box half-buried in the sand. Inside was a note written by one of the slaves, directing me to his hidden raft and giving me directions to the mines. Soon afterwards I was attacked by a random lizard, which steadfastly refused to lead me anywhere and insisted on gnawing on me for a bit. Eventually I tired of this and chopped its head off, continuing on to a pond where a random toad tried to gnaw on me. The toad kept his loot in a casket at the bottom of the pond, so I waded manfully in to retrieve it. Inside I found some kind of inter-dimensional bag, some boots and a ring of oops-I-dropped-my-sword. Muttering under my breath, I downed the skill potion I had brought along for such an occasion.

I soon came to a river and found the raft that the snuff box-owning note-writing mine-slaving chap had informed me about. Punting upriver, I saw off a crocodile which tried to hitch a lift, then ignored a crazy-looking man who was also trying to hitch a lift by jumping up and down and waving his arms around. Eventually I arrived at my destination and ditched the raft by a group of mud huts. Channeling my inner ninja, I swiftly dealt with a pair of lizard men (so *that's* what they look like) and headed into the mines. Within minutes I was lost, taking one random turning after another. At one point I was assaulted by a crowd of angry armadillos, but their combat prowess proved insufficient to prevent my progress.

At length I arrived at a vertical shaft and immediately considered turning back, but then remembered that I was wearing a pair of nondescript boots. In a flash of absolute genius, I decided to walk down the wall of the shaft, in the hope that my boots just happened to be enchanted with some kind of walking-on-shaft-walls spell. And they were! Brilliant. At the bottom of the shaft I found an extremely shiny sword. Tossing my old one noisily down the shaft (let's not attract unnecessary attention or anything, eh) I returned to the previous junction and wandered about in a lost fashion for a further while. After hiding from a couple of patrol guards, I bashed another one over the head and took his bucket of water. I soon arrived in a chamber containing six dwarf slaves toiling at the rock face (obviously Happy was on a break) accompanied by a whip-waving lizard man who was not as pretty as I might have expected. Carefully setting the bucket down I charged at the creature, and eventually the dwarfs decided that hammering lizard man skull was more fun than hammering rock.

Disguising myself with the lizard man's cloak, I followed the dwarfs deeper into the tunnels, where we soon came across another lizard man. My cunning disguise fooled him into believing I was a member of his species, and we passed without incident. Eventually we turned a corner and found a group of slaves and a pair of orc overseers. I didn't have long to ponder why orcs were allowed more rights under the lizard man regime than better-looking humanoids before one of them hurled himself on to the point of my very shiny sword. I led the slaves out of the mine and back to the mud huts where we partied long into the night and planned our assault on the Lizard King's fortress. One of the slaves took me to one side and informed me that the Lizard King was virtually invincible due to a strange parasitic creature sitting on his head called a Gonchong, and therefore such an assault would be suicide. he advised me to seek out the island's shaman who could apparently help me out.

So off I went. Having no idea where the shaman might be, I headed for the volcano which may as well have had 'Chez Shaman' written all over it. Avoiding an overly-tempting fruit tree, I opted instead to investigate a sack of food hanging from the next tree. Sitting down for an impromptu meal I was soon forced to earn my lunch when a bear lumbered out of the undergrowth and demanded that I share. I declined, things got messy and I ended up with a chewy steak on the side. Moving on, I came across some chalk writing on a rock which advised that a feather worn in my hair would ensure peaceful contact with the shaman. At least I was on the right track - part of me was thinking how hilarious it would be if the shaman lived on a beach at the other end of the island, keeping a giant crab for company.

Pausing briefly to dispatch an angry hill troll, I soon noticed a dead seagull on the ground. Plucking a feather and tying it to my hair I thought that the convenience of this find was more than outweighed by the fact that I now felt like a bit of a tit. Still, it could have been worse. Further up the hill I was attached by Racquel Welch, who fortunately proved to be a lousy shot with a spear and an even lousier melee fighter. In her cave I found some red powder, which I did not hesitate to... dab on my face? As I did so a mysterious internal voice told me that the powder would protect me from attempts to control my mind. I replied that I suspected it would also protect me from any sensible person trying to engage me in conversation.

not a good look

Eventually arriving at the foot of the volcano, I came to a pool of disgusting yellow mud and thought it would be a great idea to interfere with some odd-looking eggs in a bizarre-looking nest beside it. I should not have been surprised when a bizarre-looking odd creature broke out of one of the eggs and launched itself at my neck in a frightening display of rapid early learning. Ending its short, violent life, I proceeded to climb the volcano. Before long I came to a circle of stones, within which were placed several items of useless-looking items. Here I was offered the chance to place one of my own items in the circle, or to try to remove one of the existing items. Lacking any option to ignore the circle altogether, I deposited some junk and some apparently magical rocks started glowing, leading the way onwards.

Before I knew it I was face to face with the shaman, who barely contained his snigger at my appearance. Bloody hypocrite. He told me that in order to share his knowledge of how to defeat the Lizard King and his Gonchong, I would have to undergo disturbing and painful challenges. "Bugger that", I said, and turned to leave. "They're easy really" said the shaman. Still suspicious that he was going to force me into combat with some twisted zombie resurrection of Mungo, I reluctantly agreed. First I opted for the revulsion test, figuring that the encounters on my journey so far would have desensitised me somewhat. Seconds later maggots were crawling all over me, but unknown to me (but now known to me) the ring of oops-I-stabbed-myself I was still wearing (damn Loctite) gave the wearer the ability to see through illusions. The maggots disappeared, and I grinned smugly (and confusedly) at the shaman. The second test was a test of fear, which the red powder on my face enabled me to pass. Lastly I endured the painful and disturbing task of throwing a dagger into an orange, and this convinced the shaman that I was worthy of his knowledge. I would require two things to defeat the Lizard King - one of his own fire swords (disguised as rusty knives) that he kept close by in order to give potential usurpers a fair fight, and a monkey, which he didn't.

Heading back whence I came, I bluffed my way past a hobgoblin who was inexplicably guarding a bridge across a ravine, before bumping into a lizard man riding a dinosaur which was unbluffable, inescapable, and very nearly undefeatable. My shiny sword prevailed, however, and I was then forced to fight the lizard man, who fared no better against me than did his mount. As my reward, a short time later the gods of served up another platter of convenience when I came across a monkey, chained to the corpse of its previous owner. I set it free and it perched on my shoulder rather than rushing off to its natural habitat or something silly like that. After a brief, awkward meeting with Racquel Welch's sister and her pet cat, I was reunited with my army of ex-slaves.

Several minutes passed while I hastily explained the presence of the monkey, the seagull feather and my somewhat flushed appearance. Eventually I managed to persuade them to march on the Lizard King's fort. Battle was joined. We got our butts kicked for a while before I managed to poke a cyclops in the eye and break through the enemy lines into the fort. Inside I found an old man chained in a prison cell, but before I could free him my ring of oops-was-that-your-eye? buzzed and warned me, quite specifically, that the old man was in fact a shapechanger. I dashed out of the cell and tried another door. I entered a torture chamber, full of nasty sharp looking things, among which were some rusty knives. Heeding the finally-useful words of the shaman, I grabbed one of the latter and it transformed into one of the Lizard King's fire swords.

lizard king and pet
Fully equipped, I continued through the fort, rescuing a slave dwarf from a two-headed lizard man by employing some l33t ninja skills. Soon I found myself at a spiral staircase, which I 'had a feeling' I should climb. At the top I emerged on to a balcony overlooking the battlefield, and found the oddly-guilty-looking Lizard King himself and his pet. The black lion shredded me generously before I put him down, and I staggered towards the scaly monarch. Then he spotted the monkey on my shoulder and a puddle started to form at his feet. Taking advantage of the creature's maimouphobia, I had no trouble cutting him down. As soon as he crashed to the floor, I destroyed the Gonchong before it could get up to any more mischief. The battle was won!

Conclusion: Success!
Number of combats: 20


Writing: Following on from the success of Deathtrap Dungeon, this is another well-written entry to the Fighting Fantasy series. This is perhaps the first book where you feel that the main character has a bit of a background, with connections that exist previous to the events of the book. The author does a good job of making you feel attached to Mungo in a very short time, before taking him out of the picture quite abruptly, which is a shame. The environment is nicely described in detail but does feel a bit samey at times. On the whole, the story is an interesting one, but not really exploited as much as it could have been, with most of the book devoted to simply travelling around the island.
Writing: 3/5

Artwork: Another fantastic front cover by Iain McCaig sets the tone for the book perfectly. The internal illustrations are very good, capturing the tropical feel of the island perfectly, and the monsters encountered along the way are extremely detailed.
Artwork: 4/5

Design: This adventure is a fairly linear one. There are alternative paths to take on a few occasions, but more often than not they end up merging again before long. The main problem is, whichever path you take the encounters seem to be selected from a random encounter table - enemy after enemy is thrown at you with no sense of progress or cohesion. Clues and items are presented to you without requiring any effort to find them, and even if you somehow miss them, most of them aren't actually important anyway. It's obvious that Ian Livingstone has attempted to do things a bit differently compared to his last two books in that there is no 'shopping list' and no one true path, but this one somehow lacks urgency or direction.
Design: 1/5

Fairness: In terms of the structure of the adventure there is nothing too difficult here - anyone playing sans dice would waltz straight through the adventure without any problems. It's a different story with dice however - a low-skilled character is unlikely to make it past the 5th paragraph or so, and a couple of unavoidable SKILL 11 opponents towards the end will prove a tough challenge for all but those with the most impressive numbers. A SKILL of 10 was just enough to get me through first time when applying combat bonuses to attack strength rather than SKILL.
Fairness: 2/5

Cheating index: 0 Razaaks

Average enemy stats
Successful path
23 encounters, SKILL 7.5, STAMINA 7.6
Entire book
69 encounters, SKILL 7.5, STAMINA 7.2

Instant death paragraphs: 9

Any player can win no matter how weak initial dice rolls: This is an outrageous LIE.

Final thoughts

I enjoyed my romp across Fire Island but it all felt a little bit straightforward. The difficulty is both too low in terms of finding your way through the book and too high in terms of unavoidable combats. You are not required to achieve anything in order to win - even the shaman's tests are almost irrelevant because the items he tells you to find are easily found along the way. Nevertheless the adventure is fun, but doesn't necessarily have much in the way of replay value.

Final score: 5/10


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