By Steve Jackson (USA)
Scorpion Swamp was the first book not written by one of the co-creators of the serious but in a very strange twist of fate, was written by a man called Steve Jackson!
Scorpion swamp is a maze of clearings in amongst the marshland and has always thwarted any attempts to map it because compasses don’t work in its twisting pathways. Before this adventure starts, however, I am given a bronze ring that has two distinct advantages – it can detect evil and it always knows the direction of north. I decide this is what I have been looking for to enable me to map the Scorpion Swamp so I decide to take on the challenge.
I soon find out that there are three wizards looking for errands to be run – an evil wizard, a neutral wizard and a good wizard. I decide to pay a visit to the good wizard. I head off towards Selator’s abode and having seen his picture, he doesn’t look very wizardly and a bit simple. As it turns out, however, he is the right man and tells me that he has been looking for a plant known as Antherica that he maintains is somewhere in the swamp. I agree to go on this potential wild goose chase for him and set off.
I tread carefully in the first clearing and head East. I arrive at a clearing with a suspicious hole in a tree and a flat stone. Being the lazy oaf that I am I decided to sit down on the stone and see what happened. Sure enough as I lounge around on the stone, a shaggy bear emerges from the tree. Now, I quite like bears so I didn’t want to hurt it so I ran away.
Heading east I come to a clearing that contains a very nasty looking beast. It is none other than the Pool Beast from the front cover. I can’t believe I have met it so early as the front cover beast up to this point have been pretty mighty. I hurridly wrack my brain for a spell to use and decide to incinerate it with a fire spell. Unfortunately it is too slimy and the fire does not take hold so I am forced to attack it using less magical means. As it happens, this beast was not that dangerous and it only hurts me twice before I make sushi out of it.
I grab the purple gem embedded in the beasts head and have to go back the way I came due to this being a dead end. Unfortunately this means I enounter the bear again and have to kill it. I backtrack all the way West and encounter the woodsman known as the Master of the Wolves. He tells me to get lost so I befuddle him with magic and he then welcomes me with open arms. He tells me a way to subdue Wolves which I suspect may come in handy and I bid him farewell.
Heading north, I wade throught some water and end up bitten by leaches before arriving in a clearing that would have a big affect on my adventure. This clearing containes Sword Trees and they quickly became the bane of my life. They were surprisingly strong and damaged me three times before I destroyed them and left to the West. All that seemed to happen in this new clearing was that it contained s “Dire Beast”. I didn’t like the sound of that so I cast an illusion on it and fled. To my dismay, the only way I could go was back past the Sword trees and sure enough they had grown back and I had to fight them again. This time they injured me 4 times before I left to the North.
Shortly I arrived in a clearing that contained a Unicorn. Phew, these things are never aggressive so I should be safe for now. The text told me that it was injured so I blessed it to bring it back to health. My reward for this selfless act was two more spells. The next clearing too I thought looked safe. It contained some pretty flowers. Sadly these flowers were “Fear Flowers” and they reduced my skill by 2 points before I could run past them. This is going to make things rather difficult, given my rather lowly stamina remaining score.
The next clearing, however, was an antidote to my problems. It contained the Master of Birds. She was a delightful woman and not only restored the skill points that the flowers took off me but also told her pet eagle to help me on my quest. It picked me up and carried me north, missing out several potentially dangerous encounters. It set me down in a clearing and I headed off East.
The next clearing I got stuck in quicksand but was lucky and only lost 2 stamina escaping. Moving on I see a Giant. He does not attack me on sight but doesn’t want me to pass so I try and reason with him. Turns out his wife has lost her favourite red handkerchief. Sadly I don’t have it so can’t help him but he is happy to let me pass.
Next I bump into a pack of Wolves. Aha! I know how to get past them! Sure enought the advice that the Master of Wolves gave me is sound and they turn into simpering little puppy dogs. But what is this? There is a strange plant with strange berries on it! This is the plant that Salador wanted me to find for him… hoorah! Half of the task is done, I just need to get out of this swamp now. I am a little concerned as my stamina is very low but I am now filled with optimism.
Backtracking somewhat, I remember the quicksand and wishing to avoid it go a different way. I see a Giant Scorpion delivering the death blow to a hapless Dwarf. Knowing that a battle against such a creature would probably be the death of me, I sneek past. The next couple of clearings are quite uneventful. I cross a bridge over a river and sucessfully jump over some scorpions.
The next main encounter is with a man that my ring tells me is evil. He is sitting on the floor, beckoning me over. I don’t want to sit with him and a battle at this stage would surely kill me so I run away. Unfortunatelly I must be quite slow on my feet as he runs up behind me and strangles me. I pass out, lose a load more stamina and have all my magic items stolen. Great! I have 3 stamina points and no way to cast any spells! I am pretty much dead by this point.
Moving on, I come to a part of the swamp that I recognise – I must be nearly home. Unfortunately the only way back that I know of is past the Sword Trees. I don’t stand a chance against them so I have to find another way back. I briefly encounter some Crab Grass that reduces my stamina to two before I arrive at my final clearing.
In this clearing is the Master of Spiders. My ring tells me he is evil and without any magic my only options are to fight him or engage him in conversation. As any battle now would be my last I foolishly try and talk to him. As I talk, a spider bites me and paralyses me. I am wrapped up in silk ready to be eaten at the spider’s leisure. Superb!
Overall then, I quite like this book. It is almost completely non-linear and there is a very neat workaround to avoid the problems encountered with continuity in The Forest of Doom. There are also three different quests to try which gives it a lot of replay value. Despite my nasty demise, it is also not that difficult so I think it makes an excellent introduction to the series.