A few weeks ago we presented the second in Malcolm Garcia's series of Second Swordsman blog posts. Well he's back, and what with the collector's edition of City of Thieves currently funding on Indiegogo, and Ian Livingstone revisiting the port later this year in his new gamebook, it is rather appropriate that Malcolm's new piece is entitled...
The Second Swordsman – ‘Beware Blacksand!’
By Malcolm GarciaWith the possible exception of Fang’s Deathtrap Dungeon, there is unlikely to be a place in all of Titan as infamous as Port Blacksand. Nestled on the western coast of Allansia, astride the Catfish River, Port Blacksand is mentioned in several Fighting Fantasy adventures, usually in unflattering terms. But for two of the books, Port Blacksand is the main place where you, the adventurer, will spend much of your time attempting to complete your quest (while trying to avoid being killed or becoming ensnared).
In City of Thieves Port Blacksand is where you seek out the wizard Nicodemus for his advice, and thereafter you rummage through the city searching for the various objects on Nicodemus’s shopping list. In Midnight Rogue you are a wannabe thief and the port is yours to explore as you attempt to discover the hiding place of the gem known as the ‘Eye of the Basilisk’; finding it is essential if you want to be welcomed into the Port’s Guild of Thieves, for which you have apparently spent several years in training.
So, did the Second Swordsman process result in success in either of these quests?
However, as has happened in a few of my adventures, consistently choosing the second option made my journey last a surprisingly long time. Also on the positive side is that at the end of both City and Midnight my character was still alive, and not a meal for a creature, or variously crushed, impaled or poisoned by a trap. However I was burdened, respectively, with the heavy shame of letting down the people of Silverton and failing to join the Thieves' Guild. In City I managed to meet Nicodemus (for a man hiding away from folks, he was easy to find) and escaped the city guard, but once outside the city walls I realised I’d failed to gather any of the special items I needed to defeat Zanbar Bone. And in Midnight I did manage to find some information about where the Eye of the Basilisk was hidden during my skulking across the city, but I didn’t gather enough clues and so failed. (Can anybody else figure out how the Guild of Thieves has so many members when the entry test is so difficult?)
In both City and Midnight I had the enjoyable feeling of exploring a large city, rather than crawling through a dungeon or lurking in the corridors of a castle. Despite this, City pushes you constantly forward, giving opportunities to visit various places of interest along the way but with no possibility of going back and exploring streets you haven’t already walked along; which is never the best environment for the Second Swordsman method. On the surface Midnight doesn’t have the same pacing and you’re given the option of sneaking around and visiting places right across the city, in a non-linear manner. But, once you’ve been to an area, you cannot return later – you must gather whatever you need in the one visit and then go somewhere else. Though there are some welcome, if rare, occasions when, if you ignore an option the first time, you’ll later be given the option to do so again.
In City, the Second Swordsman process made for an inauspicious start – the first thing I did upon arriving in Port Blacksand was to flee from one of the city guards. I then chose to ignore both a herbalist and a tavern, surely staples of any adventure. After pelting eggs at a man in the stocks, I then ignored a clairvoyant (although if they were any good they would have known I’d do that) and I ignored a house with skulls painted on the door, but there may well have been ne’er-do-wells in there - this is the City of Thieves after all!
I also ignored a warty man, some other men fighting, a manhole cover, a beggar, a beguiling alleyway, a candle maker and a silver smith. I even ignored the opportunity to check out a pirate ship – as good as any place to find the mysterious items I needed for my quest. While some of these would have undoubtedly led to hostile encounters, not investigating any of them made me less hopeful I’d find what I needed to defeat Zanbar Bone. I did take a break from ignoring things for just long enough to return a convicted murderer into the hands of the city guards, but I then ignored some, almost certainly, interesting gardens (the City of Thieves would never have uninteresting plant life).
Second Swordsman process did not have the same ignoring effect; maybe because it’s one of the later books in the series and the choices had, by then, evolved beyond the basic ‘do’ or ‘don’t do’. Constantly choosing the second option didn’t make me do anything dangerously stupid – even though I did explore some places that I wouldn’t usually have chosen – and it helped me gain the skill to hide, defeat a gargoyle, and find the aforementioned clue about the location of the precious gem.
Midnight has been the first book I’ve attempted using the Second Swordsman process that has required me to select various skills before starting and I found this a welcome addition. Even though I had to choose every second one available, I found what I selected to be generally very useful. When compared to The Citadel of Chaos (where I burned through my levitation spells in short order but never used some others I had chosen) the process of having an ability for the duration of the book was enjoyable. As was the possibility of gaining extra skills.
Unlike Caverns of the Snow Witch and Trial of Champions, neither City nor Midnight confronted me at an early stage with any especially difficult enemies. In City my only fight was with the most apt of enemies – a pair of thieves. And in Midnight, in a serious case of collateral damage, I made short work of the poor guard and footpad (why aren’t they members of the guild?) who got in the way of me passing my exam.
For now though, I’ll shuffle off into the wilderness of Allansia, head held low in shame but always seeking out the next adventure for the Second Swordsman.
Thanks again, to Malcolm, for his blog post, and don't forget to get in touch if you have any suggestions for item for the Official Fighting Fantasy blog via email@example.com.