The Shamutanti Hills

“What do you mean, go and save the gi- huh? Kill the cave demo- Wait, what’s that ho- oh shi-“

The Shamutanti Hills by Steve Jackson

Covers: John Blanche, Mel Grant.

Illustrations: John Blanche

Now that is a fantasy landscape. Get out of the way, Manticore, you're blocking the view!

Now that is a fantasy landscape. Get out of the way, Manticore, you’re blocking the view!

This is the first book in the epic saga by Steve Jackson which makes for a serious and hardcore adventure. The goal is to recover a magic crown that gives people who wear it leadership powers. The evil Archmage of Mampang is going to use it to unite the lawless land of Kakhabad and invade all the other kingdoms, who will be powerless to defeat an army of evil from the Verminpit at Earth End. This is a bit of an embarrassment for the people of Analand, whose ruler had the Crown of Kings at the time. The other good nations of the Old World were a bit pissed that the artefact they’d been passing around was stolen. Well, I guess someone better trek across Kakhabad and get it back…

Wait, hang on, there’s a gimmick isn’t there? Yes, in this one there is: Magic. None of that Citadel of Chaos stuff where there’s a bunch of spells and you use them up and it’s mostly an exercise in having the right one. Here, if you choose to play a wizard, you get to cast spells from a list and often there’s more than one right answer. They cost stamina so it’s easy to overreach and die later because you tripped on a rock or something. This is supposed to be the “advanced” game but I think the warrior option – standard Fighting Fantasy rules – is a lot harder since as a wizard you only need to fight a couple of opponents. Oh I guess if you roll low for Skill you’re dead meat: Wizards only get 1d6+4 so it is apparently possible to roll so low that you have to take a narrow path picking up combat aid items for the few times you have to fight.

All right, enough mucking about. Time to trek across an entire country, save the world, and get some neat souvenirs!

Statistics

Skill: 8 (aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!)
Stamina: 18 (AAAAAAAAAAAAH!)
Luck: 12 (That’s more like it!)

Equipment: Sword, leather armour, backpack, 2 provisions, 20 gold.

Special: I can call on Libra, the goddess of justice, for aid. She can restore all my stats, cure curses and diseases, or help me escape from deadly peril. But I can only do so once between Analand and Kharé.

Oh, and if I don’t eat and sleep each day I suffer penalties. This is a serious adventure, people!

Onward to Adventure!

I stay up late the night before my journey, studying my spellbook. I’m not going to be allowed to take it, so of course I’m paranoid I’ll forget all the spells about thirty seconds after stepping through the Great Wall of Analand and into the Shamutanti Hills. I tried to convince the local wizards to give up their spell components for the cause but they refused, the selfish gits. “Sorry, we don’t have any goblin teeth to spare,” said one, trying to prevent me seeing past him into the room where I could hear a groaning goblin. I think he was hiding some pliers behind his back, too. Oh well. I eventually go to bed, but have nightmares about my magical powers being drained away and having to survive by the sword. In the morning I think that was a foolish dream. I’ll be fine, really. I pack my supplies and get ready to head out. On this mission I have got the backing of all of Analand. That means two cheese sandwiches, and 20 gold pieces. It’s sort of like they think I’m going on a field trip. In a way I am going on a field trip…. TO CERTAIN DOOM!

My, what big eyes you ha- Yeah, okay, that's a tired joke.

My, what big eyes you ha- Yeah, okay, that’s a tired joke.

The guards at the wall – they have magical vision, which seems kind of handy – tells me that the whole region I’m going into is a lawless and evil place, which seems a bit redundant. But he does manage to tell me that there’s three routes from the nearest village to Kharé, and from the city I get to travel across the Baklands, which is a place where the lawlessness of the land even extends to the cycle of day and night.

This is going to be awesome.

I set off, still wondering why no-one would give me more than a couple of meal’s worth of provisions, a measly 20 gold, and no armour. The populace of Analand must really trust in my skills. I wish I could. I soon come to the village of Cantopani, where someone asks me my business there. I tell him I’m a trader and I get pointed towards the local merchant. There’s some interesting stuff there. I buy a bag of teeth, a musical pipe, and a battle axe. The bag of teeth has some goblin and giant teeth, and with the musical pipe I’m kitted out for some handy spells now. The axe used to belong to someone called Glandragor and has a number carved into it, so maybe I’ll find him and give it back. What are the odds of that, though? Next to nothing, I’ll bet.

On my way out of the village some bandits attack me. Or they try to. I just whip out my new flute and pied piper them back to the village with a spell and then carry on my merry way until I reach the fork in the road outside the village. As I stand there dithering I realise there an old man in a tree, apparently placed there by some Elvins. I help him down and am given a page from a spellbook for my trouble. As he hobbles off I notice there’s a beehive in the tree. I’m feeling brave, so I climb up and grab it. The bees somehow fail to sting me, and I make off uphill with some honey and the beeswax. It’s a lovely walk in the hills, not nearly so dangerous as I expected. As the sun sets I make camp and go to sleep…

Night Creatures: Creatures of the Night.

Here come the niiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight creaaaaaaaaaaaaaatures!

…and am rudely woken by a werewolf which I see off with a costly spell. Clearly Night Creatures are going to be an ongoing problem when camping out in the Shamutanti Hills. In the morning I trek onward only to find a crossroads with a lot of heads on poles, and a big X on a tree. There’s a path downhill to the left or uphill to the right. I suppose uphill is better since if I have to flee it will be easier to do so running downhill. This is called tactics. I travel upwards only to find a clearing full of goblins, who are hauling rocks out of a cave. I sneak into the mine to see what can be found. What can be found is an angry goblin. Who doesn’t respond well to lightning. I grab a silver key from the goblin and head onwards through another door, only to have the roof cave in. I run ahead and fall into a pit, but my magic saves me from hitting the ground. At the bottom of the pit I find some boots, which are always handy. There’s also a way out.

I wander down the hillside and eventually find a small village called Kristatanti. The local alehouse seems like a good stop after my adventures in the mines.

Trick question coming up!

Trick question coming up!

I buy a drink and the barkeep asks me where I’m from.

“I’m from Analand,” I reply.

“And what?” he says with a smirk, and everyone in the tavern laughs. I hate my country sometimes.

I do manage to get some information from a local about the way onward, as well as a magic fruit. Then I head off to the inn, which is exorbitantly expensive for an establishment in the hills of almost certain doom, but certainly provides a good night’s rest. The next day I have to pick my way onwards, and I head westward, eventually coming to a junction which will take me straight on to Dhumpus, or west to Alianna. I heard about her, and think paying a visit might be interesting.

Her cottage is very picturesque. I knock on the door and get no reply, so I go in and find she’s locked in a cage. Apparently the Elvins did this. I don’t really think too hard about why she had the cage in the first place, but magic the door open for her. She offers me a choice of magical items or an aid in combat. I opt for the latter and get something called Ragnar’s Armband of Swordmastery, which might come in handy if I ever have to get into a proper battle. Unfortunately Alianna is bonkers, and she turns a chair into a wood golem to attack me.

I see you wish to play musical chairs! I will oblige you! Ha ha!

I see you wish to play musical chairs! I will oblige you! Ha ha!

I respond by producing my flute and casting the Jig spell, making the golem dance to my tune instead of Alianna’s. With the chair monster occupied, I back out the door and head for the town of Dhumpus. Thanks to my buying everything I found on the way into the hills I’m too poor to stay at the inn, so I camp outside the village and then make my way onward at dawn. The next town is… well… they have a crow tied to an overhang and everyone looks like they’re about to drop dead. I think this place might not be the best to hang out in, so I hurry onward. Further on, in the late afternoon, I come across a large village. Plus some pixie thing which wants to have a chat. The creature is a minimite called Jann, who thinks I’m going to be pleased with his company.

For pity's sake, put some pants on.

For pity’s sake, put some pants on.

The village is called Birritanti, and is in the throes of one of those irritating festivals where the underdogs get to behave like idiots for a day. In this case it’s the local children. I decide to go and have a drink at… Glandragor’s Tavern. Hey, what are the odds of that? He’s rather pleased to get his old axe back, and gives me a free pass for the local attraction, the Crystal Waterfall. I also get a spare sword, a free mug of ale, and told to look up someone called Vik in Kharé, who is apparently an old friend of the Glangrador’s and has some influence in the city. Though from what I’ve heard how anyone can have influence in a city like Kharé is beyond me.

The waterfall is sort of like the local therapeutic spring, which doesn’t do me much good since I’m not in need of healing but at least I am getting to take my mind off the mission. Then I camp down outside the town, and in the morning move on westward. I’m immediately attacked by an assassin looking to practice his swordplay. Well, that’s fine, I want to practice my magic…

It's not really assassinating someone to kill random travellers and take their money, is it?!?!

It’s not really assassinating someone to kill random travellers and take their money, is it?!?!

…but it doesn’t work. Jann yells at me that minimites are protected by an aura of anti-magic. THE HELL? He didn’t mention that before now? I draw my sword for the first time on this journey and get to it. The black clad bandit assassin psychopath puts up a good fight but I get in a couple of blows and then he surrenders. He’s called Flanker and is a bit embarrassed by all this, and says that he will remain a friend to me when I get to Kharé. I suppose the more allies I have in that city, the better. Flanker disappears into the undergrowth and I carry on, asking Jann if all minimites are bastards or if he’s just special like that.

Further up the trail an old woman sitting outside her cottage calls me over. Now, I don’t know about you but this seems slightly suspicious to me. An old woman, living in the dangerous and lawless Shamutanti Hills, happens to live on the trail and wants to have a chat to any passing sword-wielding ne’er-do-well? Probably a witch or sorceress or enchantress or something like that. Which means she’s got magic stuff! She claims she’s lonely living in the hills and offers me some tea.

I totally don't see a problem here...

I totally don’t see a problem here…

She bustles back to the kitchen for the teapot and I glance down at the cups. If she’s a shady character she’s drugged my tea, but would also expect me to be suspicious and give me the safe cup because a shady person would assume everyone else is like them. But what if she’s expecting this and it’s the other way around? Argh, ouch, my brain hurts… Whatever, I’ll just drink the tea. It’s pretty good. Hers seems to be kind of bad because she’s shaking and becoming sleepy. Haha, hahahaha. HAH. She bustles off to the kitchen and drinks the antidote, and then asks if I’ve met an old man with a spellbook page. I have, in fact, and offer it to her. She’s ecstatic, and offers to cast the spell. It’s a pest removal spell and even works on minimites. Oh, yes bloody please! Goodbye, annoying little sprite, hello magic powers! Gaza Moon is a nice enough old bat when you get to know her, and when she’s not trying to poison you.

I carry on, free of the annoying Jann, and finally reach Torrepani, which is a village of orc people called the Svinn. They’re a bit gloomy due to some kind of ancient curse that says if the chieftain’s line ever ends their village will be destroyed, and the only heir has been taken away and chucked in a cave with a manticore. Which I’d heard from Glandragor, but it’s always good to get the news from the source. Then they realise I’m a badass adventurer and throw me in a locked hut. The next day they tell me I’m being thrown down a cave to rescue the comely lass who was kidnapped. I am so surprised by this I will probably die from being surprised and the doctors of Analand will have to make up a new listing in the Big Book of Ways Adventurers Can Die.

Once in the cave I go left and left again, and find the Svinn woman who was kidnapped. Okay, so far so simple. The hard part is the manticore just showed up.

"Can you add more gore, and a dismembered torso?" "I thought you'd never ask!"

“Can you add more gore, and a dismembered torso?” “I thought you’d never ask!”

I immediately cast a spell to slow it down to a more manageable pace, and then hurl a fireball at it. It’s not very happy, so I summon a magical wall and run out of there (so heroic!) dragging the girl with me. Back at Torrepani everyone is happy and I get given some gold and a key to the city of Kharé. I also get magically healed and sent on my way the next day with the feeling that I’ve probably had it easy so far…

Usually I get given gold for killing orcs.

Usually I get given gold for killing orcs.

Wrapup

Summary!

The trick in this book isn’t really a trick for the book so much as an accumulation of bonuses for the next book (and others if you’re kind of lucky). It’s a good read though, and the lightweight adventuring means it’s a walk in the park for the experienced reader, but it’s a whole lot fairer than some of the later books. The truth is I love this book for the way it’s just an exploration exercise. Sort of like an Elder Scrolls game but with that Fighting Fantasy style which seems quite unique these days.

Suspension of Disbelief Shattered: In a world of magic, why haven’t the wizards gone and stomped all the minimites into a smear on the pavement yet?

Ridiculous Battle: The manticore is Skill 12 Stamina 18, but of course only a warrior has to fight it (and can potentially have a pretty good set of bonuses to make this fair). A wizard can totally mess it up with magic… providing she’s got enough stamina to survive casting the spells.

Victory: Fully healed and cured of curses and diseases, 10 gold, a key to the city of Khare, and a one-point increase to the initial luck score. Oh, and if you still have Jann he gets banished. I hate minimites.

What Was I Thinking? FLAWLESS VICTORY! Well, almost. There’s an item that makes one of the later books a lot easier that I didn’t get. I suppose we’ll see how that turns out later…

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One Response to The Shamutanti Hills

  1. Rob Lee says:

    When you got to writing a blog for the fourth book (Crown of Kings) be sure to upload a screenshot of the latrine below the Mampang Citadel (serious!!! For real :P ).

    The graffiti scribbled all over the walls is bloody hilarious!!! :)

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