By Ian Livingstone
This is another story I remember from my youth, and the first that is written by Ian Livingstone alone. The first thing I would like to say is -what a great front cover – the Shape Shifter that is depicted really stokes the fires of my imagination.
My character in this book encounters a dying dwarf who relates a story of hill trolls attacking his village but the king needs the sacred warhammer to “arouse” the villagers (yes, that is the word used in the book!). My character sees pound signs here and thinks there will be a great reward for helping the dwarfs so he loots the body of the dead dwarf and heads to Yaztromo’s tower, the home of a wizard who has many artefacts that will be useful in my quest that I can purchase with my newfound gold.
I have rolled a great skill score here and from my memories, this book is not that hard so I am feeling very confident going into this adventure.
When I arrive at Yaztromo’s tower, I consider running the old man through with my sword (really, that is an option!) but I somehow control my bloodlust and end up buying a number of trinkets that I predict will be useful in the adventure ahead.
After heading East my first encounter was with a talking crow. After I paid it 1 gold piece, it told me to travel North. Turns out Yaztromo turned a man into a crow and he was looking for 30GP to turn him back… I listened to the bird and went North.
I soon heard some voices but was overcome by cowardice and hid in the bushes to wait for them to pass. Before long I cam across a hole in the ground covered in slime. Unable to resist a slimy hole I decided to take a look. Sure enough I encountered the hole’s owner, a Sting Worm. After slaying the worm I found some gold and a bottle of liquid. Thinking this could go one of two ways I decided to drink the liquid, which turns out to be a potion of weapon skill that enabled me to add one to my attack strength for the next two fights. Nice.
Next I saw a cave so decided to investigate. I saw an Ogre with a pet creature in a cage. I could have let them be but instead thought I’d try and free the creature so I throw a rock at the Ogre. Not having purchased the Glove of Dexterity from Yaztromo, my feeble throw sailed over his head so, quite rightly, the Ogre decides to attack this intruder. He was quite sturdy but did not have a skill to match mine so the fight was pretty one sided. The creature in the cage was a Goblin with a shiny black rod round it’s neck (promising). I let the Goblin out, but the ungrateful thing proceeded to attack me. It was rather week so I killed it with two swipes of my sword. It did, however, have the shaft of the lost warhammer round it’s neck! Excellent, that is half the quest done already – I had a good feeling about this. Before I left the cave I saw a silver box. Emboldened by my recent find but thinking I have probably already been rewarded for this encounter I opened the box. Sure enough it contained poisonous gas. Luckily I have purchased nose clippers from Yaztromo so emerged unscathed.
Walking further down the path I am caught in a man-trap. Luckily I am able to escape and never found out who set the trap.
Moving on, the next set piece was a tree house with a rope hanging down. I decide to climb up and see an Ape Man going about his business. Remembering that I seem to be rewarded for aggression in this book, after breaking into his home I decide to attack the Ape Man with my sword. The Ape Man defended himself well but in the end I was too strong so having broken into his house and murdered him I decided I should probably steel some of his possessions too. I found a Copper Bracelet. Again, this could go one of two ways so I was a bit apprehensive when I put it on. Bonus. It was a Bracelet of Skill bestowing a permanent +1 attack strength. Hoorah!
Next I came to a junction and went East. The path then turned north before I encountered some tangleweed! This didn’t sound too dangerous but I broke out the Potion of Plant Control that I bought from Yaztromo in any case. The tangleweed obeyed and let me pass.
The path then ended in a river. There was no bridge but a “magnificent” Centaur standing there. I was given the option of conversation this time (as well as hostile action) so I struck up conversation with him. The Centaur rather cheekily asks for 3 gold to carry me over. I decide to accept and note the green river probably contains creatures waiting to attack me. I make it across without any problems. Carrying on I set up camp and go to sleep.
I was rather rudely interrupted by a Giant Spider before it was easily slain.
Further up the road, there is a path to the East which I take. It ends in a cave so I check it out. I see a sleeping Cave Troll but my character’s eyes bulge when he also sees a leather bag containing his possessions. I lack a net of entanglement (another possible purchase from Yaztromo) so I decided to try and sneak in for a bit more thievery. Hopefully he wouldn’t wake or I’d have no choice but to slaughter him. Luckily I am getting good at this thievery and half inch his bag without waking him. Inside the bag I see some gold, and more interestingly a brass bell. I take these and head off again.
I come across some junctions and head West. After some time I find a well. I toss down a gold coin, thinking I might be able to make a wish. I wish for the head of the hammer but nothing happens so I decide to head down the well.
The well turns out to be a lair of several Gremlins. They seem to be a factory making ceramic human hands. To cut a long story short, I kill them all, take a big ingot of gold, a medallion and a clay hand. Pleased with my haul and the relative feebleness of my opponents, I carry on West.
I then encounter a Gnome sat on a large toadstool. He is sleeping so I give him a shove to wake him up. The Gnome then falls of the toadstool and wakes up. Understandably he is not happy but I bravely suppress the urge to run him through with my sword and start a conversation with him. In the end, I pay the Gnome 5GP for some information and he tells me he thinks the hammer head is in a tomb to the North. Hmm.. thanks.
The path then turns north and I see a hut that I decide to investigate. I rummage around a bit and find a vase. I am given the option to put my hand in or to drop it. I don’t like the idea of putting my hand in a strange vase so I decide to add vandalism to my adventure. This was evidently the wrong decision. It pretty much starts an earthquake and lacking a potion of stillness (another of Yaztromo’s wares) I am unable to stop the Earth Elemental from escaping. This doesn’t seem to do much but I am obliged to lose some luck in any case.
Shortly I turn East and encounter a Cat Woman. She “looks like she is about to pounce” so I draw my sword and attack. She is no match for me and I take her gold earrings before I head off.
Soon I come across a Dwarf sat on a log. I am given the option of talking, attacking, and hilariously, pushing him off the log and running away. This is too funny to resist so I do this and carry on.
Eventually the path turns North and I hear a large creature approaching. Remembering the disappointing outcome earlier when I hid, I decide to hold my ground. It turns out to be a Forest Giant who is rather hostile (likely my reputation precedes me). He attacks me so I have to kill him. He drops a lantern, which in the text I am told could be magic. Therefore I decide to rub it rather than light it and it turns out to be geenie. He restores my luck and then disappears.
The twisting path continues and I am attacked by three Death Hawks. They are so feeble, they may as well be Blue Tits so I make short work of them.
I come across a sign that says Stone Bridge is to the North, so rather than realising I don’t have the complete hammer and search on, I am forced to go towards the Dwarf town.
Continuing, I see a lair of a beast. In the nest I see something shiny so me being me, I just have to take a look, drawn like a moth to a flame. Turns out the lair belongs to a Wyvern. Luckily the fireball it fires misses me but sadly I don’t have a flute so I have to fight it. Turns out, this is a tough battle but I kill it and find a variety of treasure. I find some gold, a gold ring and a gauntlet. I am given the option of trying both on so I try the ring. I picked the wrong one as it is a ring of slowness. The Gauntlet of Weapon Skill went some way to counteracting it’s negative affect on my attack strength, however.
Before I arrive at the village, I am accosted by a group of bandits. They demand 5 gold pieces to pass so I decide to give it them and they let me through.
After arriving in Stonebridge I have to tell the dwarfs I have failed so I am sent back to the start to look for the hammer parts again. On my way back I am attacked by some Wild Hill Men but luckily I am able to run away.
So, after all that I am back at Yaztromo’s tower. Strangely the old wizzard doesn’t seem to recognise me. Not so wise, after all I guess. I buy a few more items and head off West this time. I continue West past another junction and the path then turns North.
Shortly I see a man stuck in a trap. Resisting the usual urge to attack everyone on sight I decide to help him. As a thank you he steals two of the items I bought from Yaztromo. That will teach me a lesson!
The next encounter is a Goblin sat on a tree trunk. I remember the lessons I have learned and decide to attack him on sight. Unfortunately it doesn’t pay off and he starts to metamorphose into a Shape Shifter. This is the chap on the front cover! I am rather pleased but he turns out to be a tough foe and he does some damage on me. As a reward for killing him, I am able to eat some mushrooms. Surely everyone would eat some random purple mushrooms seen in a forest, right? Well it turns out this was the wrong decision – my excellent skill score is swapped with my mediocre luck score. This is where things start to go downhill for me on this adventure.
I turn East at the next junction and come across some Treemen. I have some Fire Capsules purchased from Yaztromo so I scare them away with these.
I go over some more junctions and eventually choose a path to the North. Shortly some Pygmies shoot darts at my neck. Luckily (I am very lucky now after the mushrooms) they both miss me so I hunt them down to show them who’s boss. I manage to find 6 gold pieces on their resulting corpses.
Next I am attacked by a swarm of killer bees. I don’t have a potion of Insect Control (again from Yaztromo) so I run away and jump into some nearby water. This was a real mistake, however, as as well as escaping the bees, this has the effect of ruining all my provisions. This combines with my lower skill score has just made this quest look a lot more difficult.
I use the bridge to cross the river before bedding down for the night. This time I am woken by a pack of three wolves. They are not mighty but I am weakened and there are three of them so they cause me a lot of damage before I kill them all. I had to use luck during this fight and the lack of provisions mean I am now precariously weak. I take the valuable collar from the Wolf as I leave.
Next I come to a hut which I investigate. No one is home so I rummage around for some items to steal. My search turns up a valuable ring which I take with me before heading off again.
My final act of curiosity involves some moving rocks. Turns out they are Bolder Beasts and given my precarious stamina after the encounter with the wolves, they are too much for me and I am killed by a moving boulder.
This book, the first by Ian Livingstone gets some bad press from some quarters but I have actually really enjoyed this adventure. The structure is very much one set piece after the next and my character is a bit of a bloodthirsty thief but the non-dungeon setting helps and some truly iconic foes mean that this book sticks in my memory long after I have failed. Finally, the artwork by Ian McCaig is some the best in FF. 7/10