Kharé – Cityport of Traps

Previously on this Adventure

“Coming up: one trip to a sewer…”

Kharé: Cityport of Traps by Steve Jackson

Covers: John Blanche, Mel Grant.

Illustrations: John Blanche

Will I meet the dreaded slime-eater? Find out in this post!

Will I meet the dreaded slime-eater? Find out in this post!

Kharé is some kind of evil city which happens to be built over the only crossing of the Jabaji River, so I have to go up and try to find my way through to the mysterious Baklands. Oh goody. Kharé is so full of criminals and lawless scum that it’s littered with traps and deadfalls to catch out unwary thieves and adventurers (there is a difference, but it’s a bit academic at this point). Why do I have to bother with this? I have to cross the city to recover the Crown of Kings, of course.

Oh and all my stats and items carry over from the first book so I have a lot of stuff. Also bonuses and things like that.

Statistics

Skill: 8
Stamina: 18
Luck: 13 (Yeah, really. I got a bonus at the end of the last book)

Equipment: Sword, Backpack, 13 Gold Bag of Miscellaneous Teeth, Silver Key no. 111, Borrinskin Boots, Bomba Fruit, Ragnar’s Armband of Swordmastery, Spare Sword, Kharé Gate Key no. 12.

Spell Components: Flute, Goblin Teeth (4), Giant Teeth (1), Beeswax (1).

Special: I can call on Libra again. I didn’t do it in the first book, but it doesn’t accumulate like other items. Dammit. I also have the ability to name-drop some guy called Vik in some situations in the city. Oh and I might bump into someone who is grateful I didn’t kill him…

Onward to Adventure!

So picturesque! Until you realise those birds flying overhead are vultures.

This is going to be so awesome!

Well, there’s Kharé down the hill. A dirty nasty dump full of evil people who would kill me for my bootlaces. Well, good thing I don’t have to… wait, I do have to go in there. Dammit. At least I have the key to the city. I unlock the door and head on in. No-one is around so I stride ahead, and promptly get grabbed and thrown in the jail cell by the gate. That was fast. Most adventurers get thrown into jail after a few hours in a city. In the cell there’s a one-handed sorcerer, who tells me that I will need a spell to get out of the North Gate into the Baklands.

Why am I always being thrown into jail in these books?

Awesomeness so far: -200

“Do you know this spell?” I ask.

“No, only the First Noble of Khare knows the entire spell. But worry not, brave adventurer, for I can tell you that lines of the spell are four in number and-”

“Are each known by a prominent citizen of Khare and thus I may be able to find the spell after all though it will be a difficult task to find them in this dangerous city?” I finish for him.

“How did you guess?”

“Just a feeling.” I say as I turn to the cell door and magic it open.

Outside the old man strides away up the road to the right, while I’m left trying to decide where to go. I decide to opt for left, and carry on up the road. Unfortunately there’s some guards coming the other way so I duck into the nearest hut. It’s an opium den. I try in vain to get some information out of the elves inside but all they can do is vaguely motion me further along the road. Okay, whatever. I carry on past a fountain and a horse and find myself in midget town, where I visit the local store. I buy some gauntlets, a vial of dust, and a honeycomb with enough beeswax to last me for the whole trip to Mampang. The gauntlets are magical combat aids, and the vial actually contains sand which might come in handy later if I need to conjure up some quicksand.

Further up the road I find a grotesque statue wearing a gold locket outside a hut. The hut looks interesting, so I check inside. It’s full of bones. Probably human bones. Oh, okay, this is turning out great. I search around and turn up 15 gold pieces and a bracelet of knucklebones, which I take. As I leave I notice the statue has turned around and it’s looking at me. That’s odd. I cast a spell that lets me control creatures, and order it to give me the golden locket it’s wearing. Inside is a sun jewel, which is handy for spell casting. If this is the best this city can throw at me I’m not too worried.

As I wander the streets looking for a sign that says “NORTH GATE SPELL LINE HOLDER THIS WAY” I come across the local fairground. It’s rather noisy, full of all kind of ne’er-do-wells. For example, that assassin who tried to kill me in the Shamutanti Hills. He happens to know where someone with one of the lines for the spell lives, and takes me there before disappearing into the crowds to no doubt shank someone and take their gold. Whatever. I knock on the door of the house and am greeted by Lortag the Elder, sage, schoolteacher, and spell-line-knower. He will tell me the line if I can decipher some runes for him. It’s a trivial task. I am rewarded with the spell line and a green wig, which is rather dusty but will do for spell casting.

Further up the road I stop to look at the magical fires created by someone calling himself the Firemaster. They are boring, but he suggests I take a look at the “special” fire inside his hut. It’s a fire with no heat and also it’s totally not burning the chest in the flames. The Firemaster is outside so I cast a spell that negates magic and steal the contents of the chest and then get out of there with a quick “well it’s very nice, but I already have so many magical fires at home…”

I wander the streets. It’s very odd how everyone happens to have spell components in their houses. Maybe they are bait for spellcasters? If they are, then the traps probably shouldn’t be ones circumvented by simple magic. Maybe they’re bait for people who want to sell spell components to spellcasters? As I ponder such conundrums, I find myself back at the fair. I try out a bizarre cabinet which has random prizes and luckily win a talisman that makes me even more lucky. Score.

Cabinet of STUFF!

The booby prize is a minimite.

A few turns in the road and I’m outside a chapel. I wander in and find I’m in the chapel of the god of malice, who probably lives in an evil chasm somewhere.

This religion's golden rule says something about burning people's houses down for fun.

This religion’s golden rule says something about burning people’s houses down for fun.

Slangg’s high priest will ask anyone a question and if they can answer it correctly then they are granted one wish. By the god of malice. Okay that’s certainly shady. But simple maths puzzles are no problem, and if the malicious one wants more followers then maybe he should set calculus problems instead. I get a line of the north gate spell for my feats of amazing mathematical skill and head out into the mean streets. Outside the temple it’s getting dark, so I ask for directions to the nearest inn. When I arrive at the Wayfarer’s Rest it turns out to be a rowdy tavern and inn on the waterfront.

The innkeeper subscribes to the "pile of drunkards" school of tavern organising.

The innkeeper subscribes to the “pile of drunkards” school of tavern organising.

Inside I bump in to the assassin Flanker as he’s on his way out the door with some other shady types. He’s won big at the gambling halls and he gives me some of the winnings. Clearly he’s also drunk, but free gold is free gold and I’ll not argue when the prices here are exorbitant. Four gold for a meal? With no vegetarian option? It better be good. I give it a try… It isn’t actually too bad, come to think about it. The meat is certainly tasty. I finish up, get good and drunk, and then pay for a room for the night, which sets me back another four gold pieces.

I wake up to this:

Obvious trick number 372: When it's pull or release, pull is obviously the one people will choose.

Of all the women to wake up in bed with after a night of hard drinking, Madame Guillotine is one of the least attractive options.

The innkeeper has rigged up a deathtrap while I slept. This really is ridiculous.

“So uh, you guillotine the guests and cook them?”

“Muahahaha! Yes!”

“So I ate human flesh last night?”

“Muahahaha! Yes!”

“It wasn’t that bad, actually.”

“Muahahaha! Yes!”

“Are the exorbitant prices are because you don’t get a lot of repeat customers?”

“Muahahaha! Ye- wait a minute, don’t be a smartarse.”

I quickly assess the pulley system and release the rope, which makes the guillotine blade rise up.

“Wouldn’t it be more efficient to just cut people’s throats while they sleep?”

“Muahahaha, yes,” says the innkeeper dejectedly as he wanders off, leaving me free to untie myself and get the hell out of there.

On the other side of the Jabaji river I find myself in a little community full of spindly people with their eyes closed. This is probably extremely magical stuff, so I’m keen to avoid an approaching gang of surly youths. I weave through some side streets and duck into a hut. It’s full of miscellaneous stuff, and occupied by a gnome who offers to barter with me. I figure that I can offload some of my junk for some new junk, and take a seat and start rummaging in my backpack. In fact, as I rummage around I cast a spell on my spare sword to make it look like a pile of gold, and offer to exchange it for two of his items. I take a large backpack which will let me hoard more spell components with ease, and also an Enchanted Compass of North Gate Spell Line Holder Finding, which seems like it might be kind of handy if I miss the last person with the line.

Back out on the mean streets I find a fork in the road. The right way leads a short distance to the Gambling Halls of Vlada, and the left seems to lead out of town. In the middle of the road is a large bronze statue with a bucket of gold coins at its feet. Hmmm. What’s the bet that if I take the gold it will come to life?

This is one of those obvious traps that people simply cannot resist because hey, fighting a giant bronze statue! Who doesn't want to do that?

This is one of those obvious traps that people simply cannot resist because hey, fighting a giant bronze statue! Who doesn’t want to do that?

Pretty good odds, as it turns out. I’m not taking any crap from a giant statue, and throw my vial of sand at its feet and turn the ground to mud. I decide to waste a gold coin in the gambling halls and then head back outside to find a market being set up. While I have immense self control over gambling, I have none when it comes to shops selling weapons and equipment, and I walk away with a bow and silver-tipped arrows, tinderbox, some anti venom, and a pile of provisions.

Further along the road I find a cemetery. There’s a crypt which apparently holds the remains of the Fifth Noble of Kharé. Maybe there’s a spell line scribed on the wall or something. However, in front of the door is a shimmering black circle on the ground. I’ve seen a few of these, and wonder what the hell it is. I cast the handy dandy threat assessment spell and it tells me to not risk jumping over the circle, and to make sure I’ve got some gear ready before going inside. Gosh, I wonder if I’ll need this bow and arrows I bought earlier in a crypt?

Inside I head downstairs and witness a ghostly white ghost rise up from the sarcophagus.

I'm like this with Jehovah's Witnesses.

I’m like this with Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Despite my cynicism I’m too scared to cast a spell, and instead resort to shooting arrows at the deathwraith. It goes down like a thing that falls down easily, and then another ghost comes out of the coffin. It’s the now un-cursed Fifth Noble of Kharé, and he gives me the third line of the spell and tells me to look for someone called The Sham in the Baklands. I thank him and head back up to daylight. I wander past a wishing well that babbles couplets at anyone passing, and give a gold piece to a blind old beggar. Immediately a pair of harpies fly down to attack him.

"If I had a gold piece for every time those harpies stole a gold piece from me then I'd... still have no gold? Um..."

“If I had a gold piece for every time those harpies stole a gold piece from me then I’d… still have no gold? Um…”

I use some magic to turn a coin into a shield and get stuck in with my sword. The beggar actually gets a lucky shot in on one of the monsters, and eventually we win. The blind man turns out to be the former Seventh Noble of Kharé, and he knows the last line I need. Or most of it. All he can remember is By Courga’s grace and someone’s pride” which is not really helpful. I can maybe find out who the missing person mentioned in the line is in the temple of Courga down the road. He gives me a silver ring that looks like a serpent to make up for not knowing the spell line.

The shrine of Courga is possibly the most ostentatious building in the history of gaudy architecture, but Courga is the god of pride, I suppose. I look around inside and notice a black circle woven into the carpet that seems to be a portal of some sort. I avoid it and then go up to the idol. It’s got some instructions for some kind of ritual involving kissing the statue. Ew. There’s probably no end to the germs on that thing, but I have no choice. I go through the ritual and ask the idol what the name of the god of pride is, get told it’s Fourga, and then I skip out to the North Gate. I trick the guard by speaking in their native tongue – they apparently think I’m from wherever that is and don’t realise I was casting a spell when I shoved the green wig on my head and babbled some magic words – and they let me up to the gate. All I have to do now is put the spell in the right order.

Oh, for pity’s sake. What the hell is the right order?

I figure the line with no numbers is last and put the rest in in the order I got them, and hope like hell I’m right as I say the spell. The gate opens! I give a quick prayer to Libra to heal me, and then set off into the Baklands…

Let's blow this popsicle stand!

Let’s blow this popsicle stand!

Wrapup

And so conclude my adventures in Khare, the only city in the world where the population heard about Port Blacksand and thought “We can do better than that!”

This is a lot easier than I remember, but then I kept getting shoved into a sewer when I was young. I always thought it was necessary for some reason. Ha ha, no sewer trip for me! This is a pretty good book for exploring a city, possibly better than City of Thieves for the non-linear nature and the multiple ways to backtrack. Kharé is perhaps better as a setting than Port Blacksand because there’s some slight background for the lawlessness and wicked ways of the citizenry, but Port Blacksand wins on style points, having more varied shops and some really crazy encounters. Kharé is more of a run-down dump though, without any real law and order so it feels like a chaotic city where everyone is out for themselves and struggling to get ahead. I think it’s great that there’s two settings that are on the surface the same but ultimately come across as so different. For both books the illustrations and writing work together to convey it.

Woe is me, I never got to show off the Vik “spell” – which goes to show that it’s more of a special option for warrior-types to get out of a jam that a wizard would cope with easily. I do mean easily: The spells are at their most useful in an environment where there’s locks and traps everywhere. There’s a lot of use for utility spells in this one, possibly more so than the first book. Well, I suppose I’ll be seeing how things go in the next adventure.

Suspension of Disbelief Shattered: Why do they have guards on the north gate in the first place? It’s a magically sealed gate with a ghost made out of sulphur trapped inside to attack anyone who tries to open it.

Ridiculous Battle: Nothing ridiculous in terms of sheer overpowered opponents, but more in fairness. It’s a toss up between two scenarios. The deathwraith is ridiculously dangerous: You either have to win a couple of attack rounds to get the option to pray to Libra to kill the monster, or you have to have the bow and silver arrows, which involved winning an attack round and then testing your skill each time to see if you can hit with an arrow. Cruel! It’s only Skill 9 and Stamina 8, but imagine being a wizard in that fight. I used luck in that particular battle, since a luck of 13 makes me guaranteed to get four damage on the first two hits. Remember that wizards have an initial Skill score between 5 and 10, so basically this is game over if you don’t have some good bonuses.

On the other hand, the beggar only gives you the line if you give him some gold and then kill the harpies before they kill him. This means that once again a wizard is in deep trouble, unless you’ve got a super-high luck score: casting the Dum spell is the best bet, it takes out one of the harpies and then you can decide the other doesn’t attack him. But it requires a luck test! If he dies, no north gate spell for you… unless you backtrack and let him magically come back to life through the miracle of gamebooks not dealing with loops very well.

Victory: You get to feel smugly satisfied that you didn’t get killed by a Sulphur Ghost. And then realise you’re only halfway through the books and you’re going to have to take out seven super-powered opponents before you’re at the fortress.

What Was I Thinking? Getting that compass from the gnome. It’s mostly for people who don’t know what to do to get to the end of the book safely. As in, if you get to the gate guards without the last line of the spell you just turn to the right page and there you go.

If you want you can read the running tally of ADVENTURE.

The adventure continues in The Seven Serpents.

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2 Responses to Kharé – Cityport of Traps

  1. RoboPunk says:

    So when are you gonna tackle The Seven Serpents?

    • Already finished it, and the last book. I’ll post them when I eventually have time to finish the post to a standard I consider acceptable (which sometimes is “low” but I really don’t have a lot of time lately). I may possibly have to post some stuff when all the UK fans are at the con. Stupid living-on-the-other-side-of-the-planet-from-everything-interesting.

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