The Seven Serpents

Previously in this Adventure

“Oh right, the bird has a better invisibility spell than I do.”

The Seven Serpents by Steve Jackson

Covers: John Blanche, Mel Grant

Illustrations: John Blanche

Sun Serpent secret spoiler!

Mel Grant puts the band back together.

Now it gets interesting, because I only owned the first two books when I was young – the second hand bookstore I got Fighting Fantasy books from sold the last two before I got copies – and thus I have only read this one once before. Oh well, let’s have a try anyway.

The plot is not just for me to cross a dangerous wilderness, but the Archmage’s seven magical flying serpents are also out there for me to take down before they warn him I’m coming. The fourth book has extra options if you kill them all, letting you avoid any trouble from the fortress inhabitants. Er, I mean avoid extra trouble.

People keep making a joke about this book but I refuse to perpetuate such terrible puns. I have terrible puns of my own!

Statistics

Skill: 8
Stamina: 18
Luck: 13

Equipment: Sword, Extra Large Backpack, 5 Provisions, 22 Gold, Bag of Miscellaneous Teeth, Silver Key no. 111, Borrinskin Boots, Bomba Fruit, Ragnar’s Armband of Swordmastery, Gauntlets of Weaponry, Gold Locket (without picture), Lucky Talisman, Enchanted Compass (now useless), Bow, Silver Arrows (8), Tinderbox, Snake Bite Antidote, Silver Serpent Ring.

Spell Components: Flute, Goblin Teeth (4), Giant Teeth (1), Beeswax (infinite), Bone Bracelet, Green Wig, Gold-Backed Mirror.

Special: I can call on Libra again, who is apparently bound by some kind of rules about geography. I also have the power, thanks to my silver serpent ring, to command information from any Serpents (well, only those seven) I happen to meet.

Onward to Adventure!

I trudge across the Baklands. First up in this no-man’s land is the Baddu-Bak Plains, which is nothing more than a dry, desolate waste devoid of anything remotely interesting. The most dangerous feature is probably the mind-crushing boredom that awaits all who set foot in this land. But wait, a cry! What could it be? It’s some angry birds.

At least it's not harpies this time!

At least it’s not harpies this time!

The boredom has driven all knowledge of useful spells from my mind, so instead I draw my sword. I am incredibly lucky to only take one wound from the avian offensive before a magical eagle appears and mauls them. It’s carrying a message from home. The message says I have to find and kill seven magical serpents if I want to stand a chance, for they will tell the Archmage of Mampang I’m coming. Apparently a fortress of evil has no defences ready unless they know trouble is coming – though I’m not complaining! The note also says to find someone called Shadrack the Hermit, who apparently knows everything that’s going on in the Baklands. Given that he lives in this desolate and tedious place I’m guessing that’s not too hard.

The goldcrest eagle has turned invisible and left, so I’m on my own. I set off, and take some lunch under a dead tree. The tree forms a face out of its branches tells me to go east to meet Shadrack. What a helpful dead tree. I set off to Fishtail Rock and meet the old hermit, who gives me some of his food and tells me all about the Seven Serpents. Apparently they were magically created from the heads of a hydra slain by the Archmage and given the powers of the seven gods he worships. One for each element, one for the sun and moon, and of course a time serpent. Oh goody. Shadrack knows that the air serpent can leave its body for a few minutes as a cloud of gas, but the body is still vulnerable. The serpents apparently keep their own weaknesses as their closest secrets (who wouldn’t?), but my serpent ring might help me there.

The next morning I set off back to the main trail. Shadrack gives me a galehorn before I go, which might prove handy for casting spells. On the trail I encounter some centaurs…

They're kinda metal. Or punk, since this was written in the early 80's.

They’re kinda metal. Or punk, since this was written in the early 80’s.

I cut a deal with them: I’ll cast a luck spell on them if they drop me off somewhere helpful. I can’t actually cast that spell, because I’m lacking one vital spell component: it actually existing in the first place. But they don’t know that. They suggest I could visit a caravan heading to Kharé, or Manata the Snake Charmer. The latter sounds like he might have some good advice for dealing with magical serpents, so I get them to take me there. It turns out Manta lives in a pit and has quite a few scaly friends. The one thing he wants is my borrinskin boots, which is no big deal since I found them at the bottom of a mineshaft. He trades me knowledge of the whereabouts of one of the Seven Serpents, which his sisters – the snakes – have found out.

I trek across the wastes, keeping an eye out for ophidian opponents. Instead a skeletal figure materialises. It’s a deathwraith. Except this doesn’t seem like suitably deathwraithy place for it to be hanging out, so I try to dispell it. Bingo! There’s an illusionist behind it. He’s more than relieved that I offer him a chance at not being killed, and gives me all his gold, a chakram, and some yellow powder to snort for one of my spells. I ask him if he knows anything about the Seven Serpents and he says he does, then screams out in fright at something he sees over my shoulder and keels over, dead. Gosh, I wonder what he saw behind me?

That's no moon!

That’s no moon!

Yeah, it’s the Moon Serpent.

It snuffs out all the light and tries to attack me. First I compel it to tell me some information – four guards are at the gate to the Mampang Fortress – and then I waste it with a fireball. Sucker. It dies and shrivels up into a ball, leaving behind a crystal orb, which I pocket. With nothing left to do here, I set off to the northwest, and find a caravan of dark elves who fire a few arrows at me just for effect. I tell them I’m a trader and they let me peruse their crowded shop.

Best shop in Fighting Fantasy EVER! Well, other than Yaztromo's Emporium Of Single Use Magic Items.

Best shop in Fighting Fantasy EVER! Well, other than Yaztromo’s Emporium Of Single Use Magic Items.

So much to choose from, so little gold. I grab a brass pendulum, some chain mail, and some more provisions. Then I decide to leave, since I’m not keen to spend the night in a trade caravan that fires arrows at every lone traveller they meet.

I camp out on the plains and eat cheese sandwiches. In the morning I head off to the northeast and meet a tiny little dwarf thing that zooms about very quickly. As I wonder to myself if it’s friend or foe, it tells me that’s up to me! Oh good, a mind-reading gnome. It demands a gift, so I offer it some of my bottomless supply of beeswax. The gnome turns out to be a sorceress in disguise. Diatainta, aka The Sham, is overjoyed by my gift of what amounts to industrial cement made by bees, and tells me how to take out the nearby Earth Serpent (which is no surprise because it’s obvious it’s going to be more powerful on the ground than in the air), gives me a vial of vapour to take on something called The Sleepless Ram, and gives me her serpent staff, which is made of oak and therefore a Staff of Oak Sapling. Then she turns back into a gnome and speeds off over the horizon. I can’t say I am not relieved though. Gnomes are trouble, and they’re always out there. Waiting…

Gnomes: The hidden killer.

Gnomes: The hidden killer.

I travel north and scout ahead from the top of a hill. On the way down a chunk of rock that I knocked loose comes rolling back up and hits my ankle. Um, okay, not what I expected. The top of the hill exploding is something I expected even less. I create a magical shield and hold it over my head as I run…. right into a pit that opens before me. Then a rock rises from the ground and starts to heat up. What the hell?! I jump up to get out and something bites my hand. I have a feeling I know what that was! I try again, and get bitten again, but this time I make it out of the pit.

On the surface, the ground starts to split open around the pit. A boulder up the hill is wobbling, getting ready to roll down and crush me. On top of that, a tiny little snake is coiled about my leg and is about to bite me. I think I’ll got for the tiny snake. Or not so tiny – it splits open and giant brown serpent with wings emerges. Right, then. Time to put this galehorn to use: I cast the Huf spell, which blows it into the air where it turns into a tiny green snake again. I catch it and break its neck. Job completed, I set off again.

I trek onward towards the Forest of Snatta, and camp for the night on the outskirts of this mysterious forest. Apparently there are things called snattacats living here. I don’t know much about them other than their name. What could they be? In the morning I set off, eyes peeled for these cats, gathering all kinds of things in the forest. Stone dust, sand, pebbles, yellow feathers, nuts and berries, leaves…

Now I have UNLIMITED POWER!

Now I have UNLIMITED POWER!

It’s a good thing I brought that large backpack back in Khare. Further along the trail a red snake slithers across the path. I decide to follow it, on the basis that it’s probably evil and needs to be killed with extreme prejudice. In the undergrowth I find it climbing a tree. Then it bursts into flames.

Only you can prevent forest Fire Serpents!

Only you can prevent forest Fire Serpents!

Right, it’s the fire serpent. I climb into the tree to fight it, like an idiot, and it drops to the ground. I follow (which is totally not code for “fall down”, no, absolutely not), and when it bursts into flames I chuck a handful of sand over it to put the fire out, and then kill the serpent.

This serpent killing has been pretty easy so far.

I set off further into the forest and stop for a rest on a fallen tree. It’s quite peaceful here. Except for that odd noise I just heard. What could it be? It could be the invisible thing that just bit me. I make like a tree and get out of there, and come across a door in a small hill. I know what you’re thinking: I have an important mission and shouldn’t get side tracked by underground lairs. Unfortunately, it’s too late for that, because I’ve already gone inside!

At the end of the corridor I find an elven woman staring intently at a crystal ball. I’ve had a pretty even run with witches, enchantresses, and magically inclined women on this adventure so I see no reason to not be reasonable here. I step into the room and say hello.

Sevent Serpents: Puffin Edition

Fenestra does me a huge favour since who knows how bad the Sun Serpent would have been to fight?

The occupant of this cave is Fenestra, a sorceress who is pleased to meet someone else who knows magic. I trade her a pile of teeth for a pearl ring I may find useful later for turning invisible related purposes. She then slyly tells me she’s trapped the Sun Serpent as bait for the Water Serpent, who she wants to kill in revenge for murdering her father. She even has a large supply of oil which will break its watery form up, and gives me some just on the off chance I meet it. I then demand information from the Sun Serpent and it tells me to beware the breath of the mucalytics. Um, okay, I’ll watch out for them, whatever they are. Fenestra also tells me that she gave some marsh goblins a scroll with a magic chant that can deal with the Time Serpent, and I’ll have to find them to get it. She also offers to sell me a whistle that will summon the ferryman at Lake Ilklala. Then she gives me a potion that cures disease. Then I get given the kitchen sink too.

As I set off again I consider that I might actually make it through this after all. I set off into the woods, following a stream. Then I trip over something I can’t see. Then I can see it, and so I finally get to find out what a snattacat is. Here’s what it is: A tiger that turns invisible. Damn, I didn’t see that coming!

The invisible tiger, pictured in its natural habitat.

The invisible tiger, pictured in its natural habitat.

Thankfully I have some magic that will fix the Snattacat problem. I produce my crystal ball and cast a spell that will let me see them, and thus can avoid them with ease – they’re obviously not used to having their edge neutralized. I wander out of the forest and camp out near the shore of the lake.

In the morning I use the Magic Whistle of Ferryman Summoning and he wanders out of the undergrowth. It’s hard to tell though because he’s so grubby it looks like part of the undergrowth came with him. I pay the four gold pieces required to get across and he goes off to get his boat. He’s a lot more surly when he comes back, even expecting me to row the damn thing. I’m not taking that, he’s the ferryman not the boat hire man. I tell him to get stuffed. Then it turns out he was – by the Air Serpent!

I’m not entirely intimidated by an animated wisp of air, because I know it must have stowed its body here somewhere. It’s in the deflated ferryman’s disgusting and rat-dropping filled pocket. The Air Serpent freaks out and tries to cut a deal. I don’t accept that, and shred the snakeskin, killing it. Of course, now I have to row the damn boat myself. I set off on my lake crossing, resolving that if I get back to Analand I’ll be creating some kind of flying spell, or teleporting spell, or rowboat-auto-rowing spell. Anything to avoid this irritating task. Look at me, powerful sorceress, quest to save the world from the armies or evil, and I’m having to row my own damn boat.

As I row I notice there’s bubbling water up ahead. Goodness me, I wonder what could be causing that? I’m pretty sure I know what’s causing that and sigh as I head towards it. The thing, whatever could it be, tries to capsize my boat but fails to tip me into the water. Suddenly up from the lake rises – big surprise – the water serpent. I’m not very impressed and compel it to give me some advice. Then I throw some oil over it, breaking the watery form of the creature up into thousands of droplets. No problem. Time to get off this lake.

Eventually I reach the Vischlami Swamp. It’s a swamp, you know? Full of mud and slime and water. Also marsh goblins running away from what I find out, thanks to wearing a ridiculous green wig to cast the spell that lets me speak any language, is a magical serpent. They show me the magical scroll they were given and I memorize the chant and promise to take care of the winged serpent troubling them.

Wait a minute, there's no spell of Read Magic in my spellbook!

Wait a minute, there’s no spell of Read Magic in my spellbook!

As I head off in the direction they came from I hope like hell this works. The Serpent of Time is probably bad news. I run into it and find out it’s terrible news, since it can slow me down to a crawl. I compel it to advise me while I mutter the chant under my breath. The serpent slows down in mid air, its own powers turned against it! I kill it easily and then trudge out of the swamps and into the foothills of Low Xamen. I can see the Mampang Fortress on the skyline as the sun sets. Well, this last stage of my quest should be fun…

Wrapup

Well it’s a lot better than I remembered, though I question why the author even bothered putting a possible score of zero serpents at the end of the book since you have to kill at least two to make it through to the end (whatever justifications you hear for this, the real one is the obvious PEOPLE MIGHT SEE IT IN ADVANCE). The book is very linear, though there’s a nice touch in that for readers who chose to use magic there’s more than one way to approach dealing with the serpents.

Suspension of Disbelief Shattered: What kind of rowboat lets the rower see what is in front of them?

Ridiculous Battle: There are so many hard fights for the unprepared adventurer!

Moon Serpent: Skill 13 Stamina 10 (7/6 with fire)
Earth Serpent: sk 12 st 14
Fire Serpent: Sk 13 St 12
Air Serpent Sk 11 St 14 (You have to hit it twice in succession and that only deals 3 damage. The serpent only deals 1 damage, but for every successive round it wins the damage is doubled)
Water Serpent Sk10 St 11

Of course all of them can either be severely reduced in power or outright killed with no effort.

Victory: All stats restored, permanent bonus to maximum Skill of 2, permanent bonus to maximum Luck of 1, and a special stealth ability in the next book. Pretty good, that. Of course that’s for the perfect victory of all seven.

What Was I Thinking? If you tell some goblin jokes to the trade caravan everything becomes half price. Of course, I wouldn’t have been able to buy everything I wanted anyway since that option requires dropping some gold on a meal first.

You can see a summary of the running totals here.

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