I was pretty lucky with City of Thieves today, because I rolled a 12 on my skill score. This luck seemed to filter through to most of the actual gameplay as well. Still not enough to actually win the game, though!
In City of Thieves, you are a hearty adventurer who wanders into the town of Silverton, which is beset by attacks from the villanous Zanzar Bone. The foul monster wants to claim a young maiden for his own (I'll resist the 'bone' comments), and when the village decided to resist, he has set his moon dogs to lay siege to the poor villagers. I don't know what a moon dog is, but I imagine that their theme tune would be sung by a 1960s David Bowie.
Before you know it, you've agreed to help out. It seems that the wize old sage Nicodemus knows exactly how to slay Zanzar Bone, so I'll need to talk with him. Unfortunately for all, Nicodemus lives in a wretched hive of scum and villainy, Port Blacksand - also known as the CITY OF THIEVES!!
My trouble began at the city gates, where one of the city's guards refused to let me into the city until I'd bribed him. Oh lovely, a corrupt law enforcement agency, I'm sure that won't come back and make trouble for me later in the adventure. Y'know, being a corrupt guardsman must be a very profitable job. I wonder how this conversation would have gone. "Listen, mister city guard, I'm not trying to get philosophical here, but if the city of thieves' own law enforcers are thieves, then who are the thieves? Think about it. Whoa, zen!"
Deciding that it'd be a good idea to head to the market district, I took a path leading through some narrow alleys, and was attacked by two thieves. Killing them gave me some more gold. Strangely enough, I found that it was my gold that went up and down most in this adventure. Killing thieves is a good source of income, it seems. I was able to get to the market square without too much trouble, where I seen a group of people pelting rotten fruit at some poor sod who was locked in some stocks. Oh how lovely. I wonder what the poor chap had really done - probably refused to take part in Monty Python's Life of Brian stoning scene.
|Nobody is allowed to make any Monty Python |
jokes until I blow this whistle.
Stopping in at a local clairvoyant (who, in FF books, are legitimately able to see the future, and not simply hucksters skilled in cold reading like they are in real-life), I was told that it'd be useful to look under the nearby bridge for Nicodemus. Sure enough, when I got to the bridge, there he was - a gruff old wizard who told me to bugger off because he didn't want to help me.
After some arm-twisting, I convinced him to tell me what I needed to do in order to get the job done by myself. Namely, I needed to find a silver arrow in order to paralyze Zanzar Bone, then I needed to rub him with a lotion (I'll avoid any 'rubbing lotion on bone' comments) made from lotus flower, black pearls and hag's hair. Also, I needed to get a tattoo of a unicorn on my face. A tattoo... of a unicorn... on my face... Yeah, I strongly suspect that Nicodemus was just wanting to make sure I made a total fool of myself.
Along the way, I was almost hit by a falling plant pot that had tumbled from a nearby window. Curious, I went into the building. In there, I seen two old ladies who were dressed up like babies, who were fighting over toys. Why does this kind of weird stuff always happen in these books to me? And why do I have a creepy feeling that there's several websites online that're probably dedicated entirely to this sort of thing.... Anyway, they wanted a toy from me. Not feeling especially in the mood to cater to this kind of insanity, I gave them the iron spike that I'd bought from the market to play with.
Further along Candle Street, I found a group of little gnome-like creatures playing a game much like baseball. Given my high skill score, I decided to join in, hoping I'd get something useful. Sure enough, I hit a home run and was rewarded with; some gold coins, a potion, a little flute, some bananas, a stick of chalk and an eye patch. So in general, the contents of the city's gutters. Pah. What, was an empty tin can too good a prize to give away? I left the playing field in disgust. It was now my firm opinion that Candle Street is the Arkham Asylum of Port Blacksand, so I promised never to go back there again, and instead walked in the opposite direction as fast as I could.
|The usual type of citizen in Port Blacksand|
On the way to the silversmith, though, I tried to help an injured boy who was lying sobbing in the road. Because I'm a good person. And of course, the injured boy was in fact a goblin thief who attacked me. I chopped him in two, and took his gold, some garlic, and some knuckle bones he happened to be carrying for some reason. The gold was immediately useful, as I came across a candlemaker's shop. I bought two scented candles, just in case they may be useful.
I didn't have any papers to show that I had a right to be in this city. So I handed him over to the guards instead. Curiously, the guard told me the truth - that the man was an escaped MURDERER. For once, betraying a man in need of help was the right thing to do.
Is it surprising that Port Blacksand has a city garden? It surprised me. From everything that I'd seen before, I imagined that the city garden would consist entirely of different kinds of mud, possibly with thieves hiding under it. But no, it actually did have flowers. Real flowers. Including a lotus - my third item! I grabbed it, quite aware that the topiary animals would then immediately attack me. They actually did a bit of damage, so much so that I had to use one of my meals in order to recover some stamina.
|I have a tattoo, and even I think he's an idiot.|
Unfortunately, killing two of the guards wound up attracting all sorts of attention. Thankfully, one of the townspeople lead me to his cart, where he smuggled me out of the city beneath a bale of hey. By now, the city was in an uproar, and probably under martial law to boot. There was no way I could get back inside in order to get the hag's hair, or to get that stupid tattoo.
I actually breathed a sigh of relief here, because this would mean that my character wouldn't be stuck looking like some kind of social loser from the dregs of the Jeremy Kyle Show for the rest of his life. The book didn't give me the option of just drawing it on my face with the chalk I'd found, though (which is probably the least stupid option), and instead told me that I went back to Silverton in failure. The saddest part of this story is that I will never get to see a moon dog with my own eyes. I bet they're awesome. They probably poop stardust.
The city of Port Blacksand needed me. They needed a hero. They needed someone to strike fear into the superstitious hearts of the criminals. I would prowl the night. Blacksand would be my city now. I would be a hero - not the hero that Port Blacksand deserved, but the hero it needs. I would be that hero. So no, my adventure has not been a total waste. Not at all.
I still very much enjoy City of Thieves. This was the first FF gamebook set inside an urban environment, and it came off very well. In terms of writing, all they really had to do was change the tunnels to streets and rooms to shops, but in doing so the city comes off as feeling very vibrant and alive. There feels like there's a lot going on at all times, and it's still one of my favorite of the series.
(If you've enjoyed this article, be sure to check out Justin MacCormack's two bestselling collections of horror stories - "Return to 'Return to Oz'", "Cthulhu Doesn't Dance" and the young adult coming-of-age comedy "Diary of a gay teenage zombie". His newest novel, book one of "Twilight of the Faerie", is available now)