Curse of the Mummy

“I refuse to be intimidated by a swarm of wasps that forms into a giant wasp.”

Curse of the Mummy by Jonathan Green

The last book in the old series and reputedly rather difficult, though apparently toned down for the new series. I know little about it other than there’s a mummy and he’s got some kind of curse.

Mummies seldom make a lot of sense in fantasy roleplaying games that aren’t tied to Earth, but that’s because we’re so used to them being in the context of Egypt instead of generic fantasy worlds that it’s hard to swallow when they don’t come with it all. One of my favourite ways to justify all this is in the Forgotten Realms setting for Dungeons and Dragons, which has an entire kingdom called Mulhorand which is Egyptian themed by the simple excuse that the people there are actually descended from people from “some other world” who were brought there. Yes, like that film.

The things that go with mummies – sand, pyramids, animal-headed gods, sand, great stonework tombs, rivers, crocodiles, sand – are seen as essential to them. Though to be fair, the reason Egyptian mummification was so effective was the arid desert environment, so in some ways it comes as a package deal. In Fighting Fantasy there’s no good reason for mummies and Egyptian motifs, but they turn up in the oddest places. For example, Zanbar Bone has a sarcophagus in his tower. This might seem a little out of place in the medieval European inspired setting of early Fighting Fantasy books, but Zanbar Bone is the motherfucking Night Prince and a legit gangster necromancer, so he’s allowed any damn cliché he wants.

Yeah, okay, I’m looking forward to that book a wee bit. But I should probably concentrate on this one right now. Anyway, all else aside, this book finally gets down and dirty with explaining where all those sarcophagi and mummies and ankhs come from. So that’s a good thing.

Statistics

Skill: 11
Stamina: 17
Luck: 9

Poison: 0

I’ve been stung, bitten, stabbed with poisoned blades, and drunk poisonous concoctions for no good reason, and built up some resistance. But too much poison is bad for me. If the poison score reaches 18, I die.

Equipment: Sword, Backpack, 5 Gold, and no armour or provisions or lantern. Uh oh.

Onward to Adventure!

Having booked passage on a ship to Port Blacksand and been attacked by pirates, shipwrecked, and washed up on a desert shore – I should have assumed this would happen, it’s called the Pirate Coast – I’ve decided to find some work to buy passage on another, more heavily armed ship. Thankfully they have an adventurer’s guild here. Adventurer’s guilds are handy for tips about dungeons full of evil wizards, but sort of useless on all other fronts. There are no standards to being an adventurer. Usually they just send you to the basement to kill some rats to prove you deserve membership. So, having killed some rats and unblocked the drains, I get to check out the job board. It’s really just a wall with some nails in it. The only job going is advertised thus: “Brave warrior required for dangerous mission into hills around the Desert of Skulls. Great rewards guaranteed.” I make some enquiries. The person who stuck the notice up is an archaeologist, whatever that means, and has a bad reputation among the local adventurers. They think he’s little more than a tomb-robber.

Adventurers calling someone a tomb-robber? Um… Okay…

I find Jerran Farr in a tavern and get to hear the history of Djarat, a lost civilization that fell when the lone continent on Titan was split into three. Apparently the last ruler, Akharis, was rather evil and swore to lay low the lands with plagues and destruction should he be woken from eternal sleep. Oh, and some cultists are trying to do just that. This wouldn’t be a problem, but some explorers happened to find a map to the Tomb of Akharis in a ruined temple, right before the cult killed all but one of them. The survivor managed to find the archaeologist’s campsite and then die before he could explain where this lost tomb is.

“I take it there’s a lot of valuable stuff in this dead king’s tomb?” I ask.

“Well, probably,” Jerran replies.

“Okay, stop the cultists, save world, and most importantly get stinking rich: I’m in.”

We get about ten metres outside the bar before three cultists attack. Two are dispatched, but the other escapes. I figure stopping off at the market is a good way to find him – he’ll try again. Farr hands me 30 gold and lets me buy supplies. I buy a ridiculous amount of ways to make fire, and also grab some rope and a telescope. I also get a sandworm tooth, since I’ve heard they come in handy in this desert, and then we set out. After much travelling we reach the dig site, and camp down for the night. The plan is to find some shaman who lives in the wilderness and pester him for help, and then go and find the map to the tomb. Of course, nothing is ever easy, and a giant scorpion slays the archaeologist in the middle of the night and has a good try at killing me too. I am not so easy to kill, and in the morning I bury Jerran Farr and set off into the hills. It’s not long before I find a ruined amphitheatre. I figure checking it out can’t hurt, right?

Wrong. A loud voice asks me who I am to enter the Theatre of the Gods. Now, there’s a lot of gods on Titan. A whole bucketful. But I don’t ever hear about them making personal appearances. I demand to see the owner of the voice. It turns out to be an actor – naturally, since who else would live in a disused theatre? I ask the Actor of the Ruins where to find the Shaman of the Wilderlands and he gives me directions, and also lets me trade my brass telescope for some of his various mementoes. I grab a key and a cryptic scroll, because they seem the most useful, and leave.

I decide finding this shaman is a good plan, since the more occult help I have the better. As I stop for lunch I plan ahead: If he’s not cooperative, I’ll just kill him and take his stuff. Shaman, wizard, it’s all the same. Anyone who won’t help stop an evil mummy destroy the world is probably a bad person. The growling I have been hearing all through my meal eventually annoys me enough that I have to go and see what it is. Staked under a net is a part lion, part dragon creature. I approach warily, and it starts shouting at me to get the net off. I think I know how this story goes, so I help it out. The Dracon is thankful, but there’s no time for chit-chat, as the trappers arrive and are angry. I kill their leader, and the creature is so grateful it flies off and returns with a large, gold, jewel-encrusted ankh. This is turning out well.

I reach Spirit Rock, which is a boulder balanced precariously atop a spire, and climb up. The shaman turns out to be a humanoid canine who wants to ask me riddles. I play along and get some more history and am teleported closer to the ruined temple with the map to the tomb. The next day I find the ruined temple, and it’s not too hard to guess where the tomb is. I saunter out, feeling clever, and see a red-robed figure running away. I figure the only good apocalyptic death cultist is a dead apocalyptic death cultist, and chase him… only to find he can psychically control wasps. I’m worried at first, until he makes them form one giant wasp to attack me. I struggle not to laugh as I kill the giant wasp made up of a million smaller wasps. After the swarm is dispersed, I notice the cultist has fled. I figure I’ll see him again, and head off, taking the shorter route through the hills.

I like hilly country. A flat plain only has so much visual interest going on. Unfortunately, even though I’m in the hills there’s still sand, and some of it happens to be a golem which attacks me. Have you ever tried to dig a hole using a sword? That’s what I’m doing here. I’d stand a better chance in this fight with a shovel. Eventually I defeat the walking litter box and continue the long trek through the hills, coming at last to the sprawling vista of the valley where the tomb is located. I can tell because it’s a wide-open doorway in the hillside with some saddled up lizards outside. As I watch, a cloud of sand appears and the cultist steps out. Oh, right then, they get to have magical sandstorm travel powers while I have to walk. Maybe I should sign up.

After sneaking past the giant lizards, I explore the depths of the temple. It’s really quite splendid, the high ceiling, the pillars, the paintings, the snake people throwing fireballs at me… You know, just once I’d like to visit an ancient tomb that isn’t crawling with reptilians. After killing them I proceed down the vast entry hall and find a T-junction. Left is best, so I go that way. I promptly trigger a trap and only just save myself. As I cling to the edge of the spike-filled pit I reflect on the life decisions I made that resulted in my ending up hanging on to the edge of a pit in an ancient tomb. Mainly the one to always go left. I clamber out, and wonder if I should change my world-view. Or maybe it would be good if there was a collapsible pole, maybe ten feet long, to tap at floors with? No, that would be silly. I’ll just rely on sheer luck and always turning left in future, like always.

Up ahead I come across a room, inside of which The Cultist is poking at the walls. A secret door opens, and he’s through and closed it before I can stop him. There’s three stones I can push, each marked with an animal. Snake, vulture, or scarab? I decide on scarab, snake, vulture, and am rewarded with a trap being triggered. This is not a subtle trap. No poison darts or guillotine blade swinging through a perfect arc, no. It’s a giant statue toppling down. I narrowly escape this with my life.

“Right,” I say to the millenia-old air of the tomb, “it’s going to be one of those dungeons.”

I find some stairs and descend into the ancient darkness. There’s a nicely built door down there, and also an animated rotting corpse. I’m not sure how there’s a rotting corpse in a desert tomb, because it should be desiccated, but whatever, I stab it a few times, accidentally inhale some foul spores, and proceed through the door. It opens into a corridor that goes left and right. I hesitate, but go left anyway. What is the worst that can happen? Well, first of all, after I steal a statuette of a cat I am attacked by two statues. Then I find a door with an inscription on it, which once decoded tells me how to open it. Inside, a statue of a ram-headed god gives me the ability to understand Djartan. That’s going to certainly be useful if anyone speaks to me in a forgotten language. You might think I’m being sarcastic, but I’ve been in tombs before: every second dead corpse is going to be mouthing off at me, and even if they just say “die, accursed one!” I’ll be sure to understand it.

Further on I find a room with three exits. I opt for the large ornate door. Ornate door means treasure, right? Well no, it means snake-headed animated corpses. Snake-zombies dispatched with consummate ease I continue and find a room crawling with snakes, left here to block my path to a box on a plinth. I’m not impressed by this stereotypical creep-out-the-explorer display. I scare the snakes off with a torch, gingerly lift a scroll out from amongst the scorpions in the box, use another torch to escape, and find I did all that for the Djartan Book of the Dead. Some use that is, I don’t want to mummify anyone.

I go back and try another door. It opens into a long room lined with statues of dead kings, and a large ornate chest displayed prominently at the other end. The worst case scenario here is that as soon as I open the box, all the statues come to life and pummel me to death. Do I take the chance? There’s a gilded chest on display in an ancient tomb: Do I ever. All that’s in the box is dried flower petals. This is a bit of a rip-off, so I sift through them. Of course, the dust is poisonous. I cough and hack a bit, but do not die thanks to my impressive poison resistance, built up through long years of being an idiot and getting bitten and stabbed by poisonous things. All adventurer skills are the result of prior stupidity. My reward in this case is an earthenware jar containing some indescribable body part. Okay, score! Onward into the tomb.

I wander for a bit, and eventually find a passage blocked by rubble. I figure that the rocks seem to have been placed deliberately, so I start to clear them by hand. Naturally, a lurching horror comes by while I’m working. Of course I don’t see it at first, and when I do realise something is standing next to me I start passing it lumps of rock. This continues for a few minutes, until I stop, and look slowly to the side. One dead tomb guardian later, I kick away the rest of the rubble and enter a featureless, boring chamber. Well, boring apart from the ghost doing maths puzzles. Typical, even lost civilizations were obsessed with this sort of thing (and for some reason almost every number puzzle on Titan has an answer which is less than 400). I tell him the answer, and he says he was the architect of the tomb. I resist the urge to call him names, and instead ask him a couple of questions about the tomb. As the ghost fades away I set off to find the secret treasure room, and find another canopic jar and a fancy breastplate. There’s also a tiny sarcophagus. I open it, and a mummified monkey leaps out and attacks me. Monkey re-deadened, I find a key in the sarcophagus.

Things are looking up, until I walk into a crushing ceiling trap. Not just any crushing ceiling trap, but one with spikes as well. Thankfully, the advice from the tomb builder gets me out of this jam. I press deeper into the forgotten depths, and find a huge statue of a cobra. It’s gold. It’s encrusted with jewels. It’s also two metres high, so I’m not going to be able to get it out of here. I figure grabbing that amulet it’s holding will have to do. I narrowly avoid falling into a pit of acid, swipe the prize, and get out of there. I wander onward, eventually finding a staircase down. At the bottom are two giant scorpion/human hybrid things guarding the door. I assume they’ve been sealed up in here for millennia waiting for someone to break in. I kill them, and proceed into a room with two archways and two skeletons slumped on the ground. As soon as I approach an archway they leap up, but I decide to just run for the other archway. I find myself in a chamber shaped like a pyramid, with a pillar in the middle and steps leading up to the top. I climb up, and find that the chamber is an all-purpose Djaratan healing and blade sharpening pyramid room. Well, that’s handy.

Further on I descend some more steps and find a partially flooded network of tunnels. I proceed to make several left turns, only to find a pair of crocodiles. I kill them far more easily than I really have a right to, and wander about hopelessly lost until I find a staircase out of the underground water park. I promptly run into a T-junction, and turn left, opening the door I can see right in front of me and finding a pantry. Now, a lot of the things left here as offerings to the dead Pharaoh are withered to uselessness, but I can always scavenge, right? I give it a go, like all good adventurers, and turn up four meals worth of food. I’m a natural at this! Unfortunately it turns out that the ancient belief that the images of servants would come to life is true, and one steps off the wall to attack me. Of course, the tomb builders painted kitchen staff in the pantry, and so I make short work of the larder guarding fresco.

I leave the ancient larder and gleefully saunter along the corridor, and spot a shaft in the ceiling. I decide to climb up it, and haul my way into a large gallery. I proceed, and eventually find a large pair of doors flanked by statues. I also find a strange shaggy beast which I kill with not a care. I figure that this thing, which I somehow know is the Djartan Guardian of the Dead, is my clue that Akharis is is through the door. Inside is a vast chamber, with huge piles of treasure visible in rooms to the side. There’s also a huge pile of serpent wrapped around the upright sarcophagus. I kill it and then open the coffin only to find Akharis isn’t inside. Oh, that’s not good. Neither is the torrent of sand filling the burial chamber.

This is ridiculous.

I notice there’s a way out under the sarcophagus, and push it aside, because I’m not thinking clearly enough to just topple it over. I escape down the newly revealed stairs and find myself in a huge cavern where there’s a lake, and a boat, and off in the distance, a necropolis. Nothing is ever simple! I row across and open the door of the first building I find, only to meet a Sphinx.

“So, mortal, why are you here?” she asks.

“I’m going to find Akharis and kill him. Er, re-kill him. Or stop him from coming back from the dead. So if he’s not back from the dead then I guess I’ll make him extra dead.”

“So I expect you know I’m going to ask you some riddles?”

“The answer is: A Man.” I say smugly.

“No, we stopped using that one about a thousand years ago.”

She proceeds to ask me who built the tomb, who the Ferryman of the Gods is, and how many trials are faced when journeying to the Djartan underworld.

“Those are not really riddles,” I say after answering the last one. “They’re more like trivia questions.”

“Shut up,” says the Sphinx, “I’m not in the mood. Big black pyramid on the other side of the city. Go.”

I make for the ominous black pyramid, and skirt the outside looking for a way in. There’s a crawlway several feet up, so I take a run-up, charge up the slope, and dive head first into the hole. Thankfully it’s not a trap. I fall out of the chute inside the temple, and start exploring. This lasts about as long as it takes for a cultist to sneak up behind me and knock me out. I awaken chained to a pillar, two cultists nearby watching the proceedings instead of me. I see there’s a ritual in progress. What must be Akharis is laid out on the slab in front of the priestess of Sithera. I wonder who they’re going to sacrifice… to…

Oh shit.

I pull on the ancient chains, and they give way. I knock out the two cultists that were supposed to be guarding me, and grab my sword and backpack. Okay, kill the priestess, destroy Akharis… but first, fifteen mummies. I throw burning oil and firepowder and my lantern, and then have to use a flaming torch to fight the remaining ten. I barely escape with my life, but I approach the priestess of Sithera for a final showdown…

…and die when it turns out the amulet I swiped from that cobra statue lets her mind control me. I’m forced to watch helplessly as my life force is syphoned out – via a hose in my ear – to resurrect Akharis. So close, yet so far.

Wrapup

There’s a glaring problem with this book: It’s possible to bypass the actual adventure. That wasn’t so bad in Spellbreaker, where the sideline was full of fun encounters, but here it’s just bland. After figuring out the fun path through the book it became much more entertaining. The other fun failure path is getting captured early on, taken to the endgame, and then sacrificed to bring back Akharis. Not to mention the ending where you win, but are crushed in the collapsing tomb. I suppose that’s a victory given the whole eternity of evil plaguing the world alternative.

I think it’s not such a great thing that a third of the book is a trek to the dungeon, and the second third is easy to miss. The last part is quite fun, but is frustratingly hard – and if you follow some advice from a helpful character, you will definitely lose the game (like I did). That is cheating. The final sequence when Akharis gets up out of the coffin he’s lying in is actually quite exciting, but you need a high skill score, a host of items, and also some lucky dice. I pretended I didn’t have that damn fool amulet and played through it anyway, and somehow, in some kind of miracle, managed to win the book – with a single point of stamina left. But the really galling part was that to make it to the actual victory you have to win a luck test, which could be impossible if you’ve burnt it off in combat.

One of the pictures feature a crowd of mummies, one of which looks suspiciously like an Osirian Service Robot.

Suspension of Disbelief Shattered: When the Sphinx asked me Djartan trivia instead of real riddles. That was startlingly blunt and dropped me out of the plot. Sphinxes ask riddles, not pub trivia!

Ridiculous Battle: I’d say Akharis, who is ridiculously powerful. But there’s a paragraph where you fight 15 enemies, one at a time, and they all have skill 9 and stamina 12. So that’s 90 attack rounds to win in a single entry (as it’s 2 stamina per hit). If you have a flaming torch you get double damage, so it’s only 45 rounds. If you’re really forward thinking you can just about whittle them down to maybe ten enemies. Still, 30 rounds is far too many to win without a scratch (not to mention that if one fight takes longer than nine round, game over) – and the main villains come after this.

Victory: After being teleported out, you collapse by Lopar’s fire, exhausted. That’s it. Not untold wealth, no cheery ending, just someone saying “oh hey good job, take a nap now” – after all that? Hey, the back cover says I’d get treasure. Hmph.

What Was I Thinking? In my first playthrough I charged through the giant serpent maw portal on the basis that it looked cool, got captured, and then sacrificed to bring back the world-destroying pharaoh before I’d barely gotten ten feet into the tomb. Giant serpent mouths are almost as dangerous as wells!

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One Response to Curse of the Mummy

  1. Pingback: City of Thieves « Seven Fourteen Seven

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