Sunday, 28 February 2016

Scorpion Swamp playthrough

Written by Steve Jackson (USA), Artwork by Duncan Smith

You see the way I had to make two character
sheets there? Yeah, that means that this
game didn't go quite according to plan...
Oh boy. I thought this would work out better than it did.

Scorpion Swamp was a book that I remember being very easy. But I was a kid at the time, and cheated on these books a lot. Either way, I thought this would still be pretty easy. I was wrong! WRONG, I say!

First, a little on the history of this book. It was written (along with Demons of the Deep and Robot Commando) by Steve Jackson - the American Steve Jackson, not the British one. I'll call him Steve 2, just to avoid confusion. Steve 2's games tend to have a strong sense of comedy, as can be seen in the multi-award winning Munchkin card game. I believe he has a few projects on Kickstart if you want to give him some support on things.

Anyway, this is a very different type of Fighting Fantasy book. The main aim is to make a map of the Scorpion Swamp. That means you, the player, has to map the thing. Your actual reason for going into the swamp is determined by which quest you want to take - and you have a choice of three quests. This will make more sense as we go on, so let's get to it.

I began the game being given a magic ring by an old lady. The ring in question would ensure I could navigate through the swamp, working kinda like a compass. I'm pretty sure that the old lady had this planned in advance. Anyway, the book itself starts your choices in the local tavern, where you are advised by the local villager that if you are to go into the swamp, it'd be best to have a good reason, so maybe you should have a quest. How meta.

Anyway, I jump at the chance to have a quest. He tells me of three wizards who live in the village. Nicey Goodiepants, who serves the forces of good. Evilnasty McBabyeater, who serves the forces of evil. And serving the neutral space between, we have Poomchukker. The thing is, the name 'Poomchukker' is just terrifying. Definitely the name of sheer evil. If Sauron had chanced his name to Poomchukker, not a single army would have stood against him. I'm not even joking, Poomchukker brings to mind the idea of a man who lives in a plant pot the size of a double-story house, who has 37 cats and uses his phenomenal magic powers to make a wide variety of cheese. And if that just seems whimsical and merry to you, you obviously don't know the ways of evil wizards, my friend.

Anyway, I don't trust him, so, I chose to serve Evilnasty McBabyeater. He seems a trustworthy type.

Off I ran to his castle, which was swarming with bats and other assorted nasties. I like to imagine that his chamber was full of dark tapestries and dramatic lighting. Either way, I pledged myself to his undying loyalty, and offered to show him my magic ring. He then started to cast a spell, and - in self defense, I promise - I decided to kill him.

Anyway, I decided to make the most of this time to steal everything that Evilnasty had in his castle. Despite the book telling me that awful, powerful evil was approaching, I decided that I could surely take care of whatever it was - after all, the most evil wizard in the village didn't stand much of a chance. So imagine my surprise when, midway through nicking Mr McBabyeater's silver candlesticks, who else turns up but SATAN HIMSELF. He then promptly says that he has been waiting to claim Evilnasty's soul for a while, and to reward me for helping send the foul wizard into the lord of darkness' waiting talons, he rewards me by blowing up the entire castle with me inside. I was SO happy!

Now, dear reader, I'm going to have to
turn you into a dog for a while.
Realising that this would probably be the shortest playthough in the history of the internet, I decided to play the game a second time. This time, I opted to play a servant of good. Sadly, as you can no doubt see on my photo, my skill roll was pathetic. Utterly awful. I decided that I would be best off trying to avoid combat as much as possible, to make sure I didn't accidentally stab myself in the knee.

This time, when a villager in the tavern asked me if I wished to aid the good magician, I said "Yes, I would love to. I will serve only the forces of good." He then turned into an angel and flew away. No doubt marvelling at whatever the tavern's landlord put in the ale, I made my way to the good wizard, who lived in a little farm. I'm not entirely convinced he wasn't just a farmer.

Still, the wizard farmer asked me to go into the swamp and find him a magical plant. The plant, it seems, has no uses whatsoever to the forces of evil - so rather than just ignore it, they have been trying to hunt down and destroy every surviving plant. Maybe the forces of evil have too much time on their hands. "Find and crush every single plant that is of no use to us, my minions!" Yeah, I know, I'm padding this play-through out. This is because once I get into the swamp, I do not last long.

I head on into the swamp, and from the very first clearing, I head east. So far, so good. In the second clearing I come to, I find myself running away from a bear. I decide to flee to the north.

If only someone had told him that
with great power comes great
responsibility, none of this trouble
would have happened...
 In this clearing, I meet the master of all spiders. I immediately sense that he is utterly evil, and this time I decide to actually listen to the book when it tells me this. Sadly, lacking the ability to swing a sword without chopping my own arms off, I make the tragic decision of talking to the master of spiders, to try to convince him that I am no threat. While I am trying to explain this, spiders jump up and eat me. Gee, thanks, master of spiders! You're a real pal!

While writing this, I have checked some details on the book. It contains 20 instant-death sections, which... yeah, that's a lot. It's no surprise I died quite as often as I did. Also, it seems that Poomchukker is not a wizard at all. Either way, I did not do too well with this book at all. I chose it because I was hoping I'd get at least one that I could finish, but instead all I wound up doing is getting eaten by spiders and exploded by the devil.

It's still an enjoyable enough book for the way it's written, the occasional moments of comedy and the sense of breaking with formula. But I don't remember it being quite so difficult. I think my next book will need to be one of the easier ones. Hm, my copy of House of Hell should be arriving soon, that should do the trick...

(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, "Twilight of the Faerie", is available now)

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