Saturday, July 21, 2007

50th post! Ah my drastically inconsistent blog...

we've been through so much together...

Fighting in Vietnam...

Being arrested last week for picking fights in Vietnam...

Playing rock, paper, scissors with ninjas...

Mopping up where they committed Seppuku...

Shooting the moon...

Planting the rifle on the sun...

Ripping off Strong Bad...

Good times.

Still, there's no time for sentimentality! The fight must continue!


'Steve Jackson's Sorcery!' (yes, the exclaimation mark is part of the title), was written by Steve Jackson, and beautifully illustrated by John Blanche, in 1983 and has been re-published several times since then (including recently with new cover art in 2003, under the new shorter title 'Sorcery!').


'Steve Jackson's Sorcery!' is similar to the 'Choose Your Own Adventure' series, as it gives the reader the freedom to choose what path the main character takes, and to some extent, what choices he makes along the way. The series was unique, however, in its incredibly in-depth combat and magic system, which had many similarities to early dungeons and dragons.

Combat, testing for luck, and other game features that rely on chance, are all resolved by the roll of two six-sided dice. If the reader does not have a pair of dice, they can flip to a random page of the book, and look at a pair of dice printed on the bottom of the page, to see their roll (this was exploitable, however, as the pages most read would probably be the pages most flipped to).

There are four books total within the series, all a part of the same single storyline. To go along with the four books was an optional spell-book, which had to be purchased seperately, but came free as part of the final book (most likely as a way to get people to buy all four books at once).


The first step is to choose whether to play as a warrior or a wizard. The warrior has a skill rating (used in combat, we'll get to that later) of six plus the role of a six sided die. The wizard has a skill rating of 4 plus a six sided die. Warriors actually get kind of gypped, as it's quite possible to have a wizard much stronger than an average warrior, but wizards are more complicated and carry other, inherent risks.

The starting stamina (the generic life in the game) is 2d6 plus 12.

The starting luck is d6 plus 6 (luck comes into play only a few times per adventure, but it can literally be the difference between life and death, so it should not be used frivolously).

The starting equipment is a sword (if you lose it and don't have a backup weapon, your skill receives a penalty of -4), a backpack (assumed to carry all your items), two meals (eating is important in the game), and twenty gold (the money system).

Your character also worships the goddess Libra, the goddess of justice, and once per adventure you can call on her to raise all your stats to their original level (which is good if you're about to die), or to save your life. This often (especially if you're the warrior) can be your only way to escape death.

Every day you must have at least one meal (which heals either two stamina if it's your first meal, or one if it's your second), or else you lose three stamina the next day. You also lose a measure of stamina (one to three) if you skip sleeping.

Combat is resolved by rolling two dice, adding their sum to your skill rating, and then doing the same for your opponent/s. The side that had the lower roll loses two stamina (usually). If there's a tie, no one loses stamina. This continues in turn until one side is dead (unless otherwise prompted by the text). Sometimes there are special rules, for multiple opponents, special attacks and other miscellaneous circumstances. Most opponents have a comperable skill to yours (theirs is usually 7 or 8), but you have far more life (again, theirs is usually 7 or 8), so usually the challenge is the wear and tear of several fights, or one very difficult opponent.

Magic is usually used before combat begins (and usually only once per battle), where you receive a choice of five spells to choose from. Magic always costs stamina (the cost varies by the relative power of the spell), and there's a large 5 stamina penalty if you make a choice that isn't actually a spell, but a trap to trick people who are guessing.

Why would they have to guess? For security reasons, the player is not allowed to read the spellbook during the quest. You're expected to memorize the spellbook before the first book begins and then go from memory from there (although there are ways of collecting new spell books). Some spells also have material components which are found through the quest, and the stamina for the spell is lost regardless of whether you possess the item or not.

Magic may seem difficult, but many fights are ended immediately, or are placed largely in your favor. Magic can also save your life in situations where only Libra would suffice otherwise, although it can only be used if your character can speak, and has both hands free.

The spells all have a three digit name that hint at their power, and the most powerful of them (costing a whopping 4 stamina a piece, when most cost 1 or 2) are: Hot (Fireball), Zap (Lightning Bolt), Fof (Forcefield), Wal (invisible, invincible wall), and Law (commands animals). Most of these spells are powerful enough to end an encounter immediately, but the choice to use them is not always given (I guess the circumstances must be right).


You are a brave hero of the kingdom of Analand, and Analand, like its surrounding countries, has benefited from ownership of the Crown of Kings. The countries have taken turn possessing the Crown, and it has given them to mysterious power to control their nations, and bring peace where there once was war and disharmony. That being said, there is no actual evidence of how the Crown works, or even if it does anything at all (and the benefits are largely imaginary), but in any case it works and has always worked...until it was stolen.

The neighboring war mongering country of Kakhabad has always been a problem, but their complete lack of focus and leadership has kept them from being an actual threat to the kingdom of Analand. The Archmage Mampang, however, sent birdmen who successfully stole the crown, bringing it to him. Without the Crown, your country is doomed to fall into disharmony, while Kakhabad is destined to fall under the control of a brutal tyrant!

The kingdom's only hope is for you to seek out and re-claim the Crown. The book doesn't mention why it doesn't send more people, or give you more supplies, but I assume you're not expected to succeed, and they're usuing most of their resources to prepare for the almost inevitable war.

Your quest starts in the nearby Shamutanti hills (a generic fantasy setting), which lead up to the city of Khare (which rests upon a wide, highly dangerous river, leaving you no choice but to pass through the city, rather than around it), and then opens up into the Bakland plains (a wild and feral land). After the plains, you have to make your way into Mampang Fortress, the capital of your enemy itself, find the Crown and then find a way to get back safely.


This game is almost impossible. To beat any single one of these adventures will require several plays through, mostly due to the traditional 'turn left and die' gameplay within the 'Choose Your Own Adventure' genre. Yes, some of the traps and instantaneous deaths are the result of bad choices, but there's just as many random deaths that are not the fault of the reader, giving the story a try/fail gameplay system. (It's a good idea to keep a copy of your character from the start of each adventure, as kind of a 'save point')

Depending on the adventure or situation, it's also quite possible (especially in the fourth book), to miss something and then have no way of winning, but not know until much later in the adventure.

This aside, it's always been my favorite of the 'Choose Your Own Adventure' type books, both for the wonderful fantasy setting, and amazing artwork. Nearly every serious encounter includes a full page drawing to accompany it, which is always very well drawn, often very scary, and carries a grungy, dark ages feel to it.

I've never minded playing through several times, which is a good thing, as it's often very easy to miss something vital, and going back to the beginning of that book is often all you can do (or two books, in one despised instance which we'll go to later). The depth, importance of clues and special items (often codes that tell you what passage to go to) practically necessitate several plays through, especially if you're a warrior (more on this later).

The books are also unique in that you are often free to steal and murder on a whim, with no obvious penalty or punishment from your goddess. I guess it's assumed that since so much is at stake, the ends justify the means.

The magic system is also absolutely wonderful, requiring both a good memory and a good imagination, as you not only have to remember what the spells do, but decide which will be best for each situation, and if it's worth the cost in health.



This book has a frightening manticore on the cover (part lion, dragon and scorpion, the leader of the book), is the shortest of the four books, and is a good introduction to the series.

There are a few situations that can be seen as unfair (if you succeed a luck test at one point, you die, and although you get the option to intentionally fail, there's no logical reason why you would), and for the most part it's a standard and interesting fantasy setting.

About two-thirds of the way through the adventure you get accompanied by an infamous fairy Jann (called a Minnimite), that magically keeps you from casting spells. You have to find someone to remove it by the last dungeon, or you won't have your magic, which is basically death for your average wizard.

The last dungeon is a quest to save a Svinn (basically an elf) chieftan's daughter from the manticore. The dungeon is filled with danger, near death experiences (especially for warriors, as they can only call Libra for help once, and often have no other way of surviving random dangers), and the manticore is very dangerous, but can be defeated by magic alone if you choose correctly.

Victorious, you get some gold, the key to the next city (which is basically useless) and your stats refilled.


This is probably my favorite of the four books, as it has a very interesting setting (a grimy and crime filled city), an interesting twist to the quest and an optional reboot button at the end.

In order to get through the crime and trap filled city, you're going to have to find the four lines (although you really only need three) of the password that opens the gate at the other end. The lines are known by four important men within the city (a scholar, a priest, a beggar and a dead man...who's now a scary killer ghost), and within the lines are numbers which you use at the end to decipher the passage you need to go to leave the city.

Overall, the puzzles and traps within this book are the most fair and intuitive of the series, although you can easily miss one of the men with the lines of the password of no fault of your own. This is somewhat negated, however, by the book's option to start over, and be more careful in finding the lines of the poem.

Now, it's a little unclear as to if it's giving you the option to literally have your character walk back to the beginning of the city or if it's saying GAME OVER, but there really isn't any reason why your character would die at the end if they didn't know the password. They could literally make their way to the front of the city and start over, as the text says to do, so I've always taken this as a 'go back to start with what you already have' option.

Granted, it doesn't make sense why everything would be back to the way before you went through it, but there's no other clear resolution (you only die if you screw up the password, but to even do that you need all the necessary lines).

For the record *SPOILER ALERT!* the lines of the poem are:

I bid thee portals open wide... (from the priest, not necessary)
I bid thee TWO tumblers open wide... (from the scholar, kind of redundant)
ONE lock made out of golem's hide... (from the dead guy)
By Courga's grace and ******'s pride! (from the beggar...sorta)

The beggar forgets who's pride it is (damn him!) so you have to go to the temple of Courga and go through this highly deadly and unfair kissing ritual which will kill you several times before you get it right. Afterwards, you will find out that missing word is FOURGA (for the love of...).

With that, you make it through to the Baklands...


This book is interesting, but has several small (and one giant) unfair traps along the way. In this book, you have to track down and defeat the seven serpents of Mampang, before they get to the fortress and rat you out. The benefits you receive in the final book depend on how many you defeat (usually a bonus or penalty to skill, luck and stamina, although there's a big reward/penalty for defeating all/none).

Each serpent reflects an element, and each has their own weakness, if you can figure out what they are through the clues. Each weakness either severely weakens them, or defeats them outright (or may be the only way to defeat them).

This adventure is an interesting counterpart to the city adventure, as it includes far more combat than puzzles/traps, and is also far longer.

The only downside is Sham.

Sham is a humble dwarf who is actually an enchantress in disguise, and if you give her an item that she happens to like, she'll give you a magic vial.

Now, I don't believe you always necessarily run into this encounter. You also have to give them something that they randomly happen to like. Then, and only then, you get the vial which is NECESSARY in order to complete the game.

You can easily miss the encounter, choose not to randomly give something to a passerby, give her something she randomly happens to not like, and then go on to the last quest, not knowing that one of the items you need in order to get through the game WAS IN THE LAST BOOK!

This is the only really unfair puzzle in the whole game, because it relies so heavily on chance (in an earlier book there's a clue that you have to find Sham, but it's still random as to whether you run into her, or get her to help you), and you can go all the way through to near the end of the game, not knowing you lost halfway through the third book.

This is what I call 'feeding the eagle a pie' (in honor of the much loved and despised King's Quest series).

Otherwise, a great book.


The last book will break your back over its knee like a Mad TV pro-wrestler. Not only is the combat very difficult, and the story includes many instantaneous deaths, but it's also filled with clues, secret words to open passages and vital magic items which are easily missed.

That said, it's not completely unfair, as most of the really dangerous traps and encounters have clues received earlier which help you know what to do (with the exception of a room with a mask on the wall, where if you walk into it, you die). The danger is made even worse by the fact that a third of the way through the adventure, Libra comes in a vision to let you know she can no longer help you when you go inside. Dag.

This adventure is INCREDIBLY difficult if you're a warrior, as you have to find a very specific item near the beginning (a genie bottle) in order to survive, and in any case you have to find a wooden spear AND get it blessed by a priest, or you have no chance (however the weapon is amazing when you finally get to use it).

There are a lot of difficult puzzles, a stone ram that can only be defeated by the vial from Sham (god damn them), many scary mutant goblin things, the chance to mutate into a horrifying monster (always fun), and an interesting near-final scene, where you're imprisoned, meet that evil Jann the pixie again (which keeps you from using your magic). Jann does, however, tell you the secret identity of the Archmage Mampang.

In an interesting twist, all the artwork for the Archmage is actually, in fact, pictures of his apprentice. The real Archmage (who is one sneaky bastard), is disguised as a fat, humble peasant, who resides around the middle of the game. With this knowledge, you can now expose him and get the Crown of Kings.

There you have to either use the genie, or cast the ultra-mega-forbidden spell ZED (costs seven stamina), to go back in time to an earlier part of the game (the only time in the game you get to do so), which is either random or if you discovered who the Archmage really is, you can go directly to him.

The Archmage is not a particularly difficult fight, but if you don't defeat him quickly, he'll automatically win.

With that, you get the Crown, and assuming you found a way to get rescued, you get to go back home, the savior of your land! Congratulations, you really earned it!


Let's see how that measures up...

The wiki site has a lot of good details, pictures and random facts...and only about a paragraph of description for each book, and absolutely no description of the game system other than a brief description of magic!



I AM GEEKIER THAN WIKIPEDIA! I'll have to slip some of my stuff into there to see if it sticks (he, he, he...).

Well, enough of the random geeky things I obsessed on when I was young, next time...for better or worse...I'm going all out.

Amber thinks I'm crazy for my choice of the last Wikipedia battle. Will you?

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Hey everyone! I've been a bit busy lately, and I lost internet for a little while, so I'm afraid I didn't have time to continue the absolute thrashing that Wiki has been giving me, but I wanted to mention that I just won an online writing contest through (my screen name is Blompkin)!


I'd like to thank Raymond Chandler, who drank himself to death so that we might have awesome detective stories!

Anyway, here's my first place winning story. It was for a 'twist ending' contest, where every story had to have a twist ending. I hope you like it!

Black, White, and Dead All Over

Laura's world was monochrome. Soon it would be gone.

It was night outside, but that meant nothing to the city. The city had virtually eliminated the night with a never ending supply of neon that flushed out the darkness. The only purpose the endless, hanging fluorescent monstrosities had was to inform the world around them that just inside were Beautiful Girls, cheap drinks, and/or the greatest show on Earth.

There would be no girls within those towering blocks of steel and wood. Those hard eyed, stern faced, half naked, and incredibly accommodating women all stopped being girls a long time back. That was just fine with me. I liked my women to have shattered lives. It saves a lot of time and trouble. Sure, you couldn't believe a word those women said, but it was an honest form dishonesty. You know they're lying, and you don't care.

The shows would only be as good as the ticket price required, as anything more would be a waste. A normal Joe or Jane didn't need the best show ever anyway. They just needed to be moderately entertained before their next shift.

There would be drinks of course, a seed of honesty in an ocean of lies that warms even the hardest hearts with its sweet, mind destroying waves of tranquility. It's almost enough to make a hard drinking detective tear up a little.

None of this mattered in Laura's apartment, of course. Laura's world was monochrome. The rug was an off-white, leaning slightly into grey, save for near the door, where some stupid detective forgot to wipe his feet. It was nothing a high priced cleaning lady couldn't handle, and with Laura, everything was high priced. I expected nothing less from the daughter of a senator.

The shelves and furniture were a more pure, immaculate white, save for the tables, which were all an equally pitch black. The appliances tended to be dark, a welcome contrast to the grey tiling in the kitchen and traditional white icebox. I don't know where Laura managed to find a black bathtub, but she had managed it.

There was no place for unnecessary color within Laura's world, not even lipstick or eyeshadow. The only color she allowed herself was the emerald green of her own eyes, which she used no makeup to bury or hide. I understood this. I understood this all too well. What I didn't understand, was why that perfectly sterile world held a place for me.

If life had taught me anything, it was that everyone wanted something. Laura could be no exception. Everything I had was up for sale, I made no attempt to hide it. All it would take was the slightest movement of an inked pen over a rectangular piece of paper and Laura could own me lock, stock and barrel for the rest of my life.

So why was I sitting on her couch, staring directly into those emerald eyes? Why was my brown jacket and hat hanging on the hook by the door, instead of still upon me as I sat in a bar, chatting up a shattered, honestly dishonest woman? Why did Laura's pale fingertips slowly encircle my arm? Why were her pale, full lips slowly moving closer towards me? What could she possibly want that her father's checks couldn't buy?

I didn't care.

Laura's face was sweet, like a child's, but serious like a woman's. I allowed my calloused hand to encircle her palm and I discovered her skin to be smooth, but her muscles to be firm. Her choice of clothes suggested she was in mourning, but her small smile told me she was pleased.

It was at that moment that I first realized that everything within Laura's life was opposed to itself. Happiness and sorrow. Love and hate. Pure and dark. Success and failure. Black and white. Her and me.

She slipped completely into my arms. My thin, tanned lips were a stark contrast to hers as they pressed against each other. Cupped in her arms, it would have taken a maniac, kicking the door in, to have gotten me to let go.

In fact, that's exactly what it took.

The front door was a mere fifteen feet behind us when a slam of a boot shattered the premium lock of her apartment. The chain held strong though, literally saving both our lives.

The part of my mind that refused to believe in miracles and happy endings had me on my feet in a flash, ready for violence...somehow vindicated by the violence. My other hand pushed against Laura, trying to get her to stay low, but she was adamant, and with surprising strength she pushed herself to her feet. Why? I will never know.

I fumbled for my pistol as the intruder elbowed the door off its chain, scattering metal links over the front stoop. As the entryway swung wide, I could tell it was McGrady. He was even carrying his lucky Tommy-gun, with the thirty-four tiny stars upon the side. I was determined to keep it from becoming thirty-six.

Everyone who had ever heard about McGrady could have easily recognized him on sight, thanks to the news reports of the giant scar going down the center of his face. I didn’t need any news report to recognize him though, not when I was the one who gave him the scar.

For a moment, I blamed myself for bringing a sadistic lunatic such as McGrady into Laura's perfect world, but somehow, inexplicably, his rage and fury were directed at my monochrome angel, not me. That had to change.


The better of his two eyes shifted towards me and widened. I hadn't been expected. For all I know, McGrady didn't even know I was working for Laura. What had brought him there? Why was he alone, unwilling to share the kill with any cronies? To find out, I'd have to spare his life.

That was much too high a price.

The tommy gun whipped towards me, but the arm holding my pistol was already extended. The blast shattered the silence, and the small slug of metal spun through the air. The shot caught his shoulder, whipping his gun arm high and to the right, sending a volley of bullets tearing through the unoccupied half of Laura's apartment, shattering everything in their path.

Why didn't Laura run? Dive? Duck? Anything except stand there? I didn't have time to ask. The cleaning woman would have her work cut out for her, as now drops of blood were dripping to the floor from McGrady's wound. Somehow, the maniac didn't seem to care. McGrady was fueled by the same dark, primal drive that allowed small wolverines to kill bears. Luckily for us, those instincts did nothing for his aim.

Before he fully regained control of his gun, I put another slug in his torso, this time in the center of something vital. Besides throwing him off balance, the bullets seemed to have virtually no effect on McGrady. A piece of metal ripping into his body merely meant he had to re-adjust his aim.

Seemingly immune to pain, McGrady placed both hands on his favorite cop killer, and raked it straight across the center of the room. I dove forward with the drive that allowed rabbits to escape from wolves, and fired once as I sailed through the air. I aimed the bullet upwards, directly at the scar, and that is exactly where McGrady received it.

Almost a year ago, a bullet of mine had ripped directly up his face, tearing and splitting as it flew. This time the bullet caused considerably less visible damage. All it left was a small round hole.

Even the fiercest beast can't survive without a mind. McGrady' made a last sideways stumble straight into the wall. At first I thought he'd just lean there, but it wasn't long before he slowly slid to the floor, leaving a long red streak all the way down to the floor.

I hardly noticed. It didn't matter. The damage was done.

McGrady's final spray of bullets had cleaved straight across Laura's chest.

I dove to her side, feebly examining the numerous bullets that littered her torso. Her breaths were short and silent. Besides a slight clutching at my arm, she did nothing more before going limp.

Her emerald eyes gazed up into mine and a final, single tear ran down the length of her porcelain cheek.

What could I do?

What was there left to do, now that my angel, my last glimpse of light in a world of darkness had been taken from me?

I did the only thing I could.

I selected 'Continue'.

If she dies again, I'm switching the game to easy.