The Second Swordsman – It’s Not Easy Being (the hero in a book written by Jonathan) Green
By Malcolm Garcia
After my previous trio of adventures, which were set in the all-too-familiar territory of Allansia, I crossed the ocean to see how the Second Swordsman process would fare in the Old World, the continent where the Sorcery! series is set and a land where I’ve so far feared to tread. And who better to be my guide than Jonathan Green who, although he penned his first FIGHTING FANTASY adventure in 1993, is still the most recent author to contribute to the world of Titan.
In Spellbreaker, YOU are trying to stop a horrible evil from being unleashed. In Stormslayer, YOU are trying to stop a jealous sorcerer from destroying the world with a horrible machine. And in Bloodbones, YOU are seeking vengeance upon the pirate who murdered your family and who might not be as dead as people believe.
So did the Second Swordsman process get me to 400 in any of these?
In no particular order, I died during a battle against a much stronger enemy, died suddenly at the hands of a supernatural evil, and didn’t-quite-die but failed due to my stupidity. But despite these botched attempts, I did have some good adventures along the way.
Overall, in Green’s books, I got the sense that I was actually exploring the countryside during my quest, and not just slogging my way through a dungeon searching for magic objects while fighting every single creature I encountered. That’s not to say there wasn’t any fighting – in all three of these I had to fight something within the first couple of sections; some of which were quite strong for early stage enemies. But there are also whole towns and landscapes to explore with people I cannot attack who might either help me on my quest, or lead me to my doom.
Of these three books, my shortest-lived adventure as the Second Swordsman was in Bloodbones. My starting SKILL, STAMINA, and LUCK scores were good, I had a purse full of gold, and I was intrigued how the addition of a time factor would play out. I had an early fight with some pirates who might have been part of the possibly-undead Captain Cinnabar’s crew and then headed for the gambling halls of the Port of Crabs – which is possibly an even more perilous port than The Port of Peril. But then the process of choosing every second option made me ignore the games of chance on offer and I left with no more gold pieces than when I had arrived.
I continued to explore most of the city in my quest for clues and equipment. This resulted in me buying some weapons which held the promise of making future fights somewhat easier, but it also added much time to my tally. And when I decided to go and warn the Governor of the Port of Crabs about the risen Cinnabar, I foolishly chose not to bribe several people and ended my adventure prematurely, locked in a cell.
Spellbreaker was Green’s first FIGHTING FANTASY book and with its opening scene of monks and a fight against a demon it created an interesting Middle Ages atmosphere for the north-eastern part of the Old World in which it was set. The adventure sets me up with a deadline of four days in which I am to recover a stolen book that has been taken by a dark wizard to a nearby town so that he can raise a monster. But it soon becomes apparent that this adventure is not just about getting a book and that a larger evil is at work. However, once I left the monks I ignored a lot of opportunities to learn things – I didn’t escort a local noblewoman, I didn’t pay a jester at a local tavern, I didn’t buy a beer at a different tavern, I hurried through several small towns, and I didn’t take advantage of several opportunities to make offerings to various gods and martyrs – although when I finally did do this, I gained nothing.
However, I did get to fight a bear (without having to endure rounds of combat) and killed a Warlock and a local fiend called the Lurcher. I also found a local herbalist, one of the few helpful characters I met during my journey, who would have been even more helpful if I’d managed to collect a variety of plant life during my adventure. This encounter made me start to think that by taking every second option I had missed numerous potentially useful opportunities to find things. This feeling was confirmed when I failed to have two special objects in a row and suffered an instant death at the hands of a Wraith Rider.
And so to Stormslayer, probably the most enjoyable FIGHTING FANTASY book I’ve used the Second Swordsman process in since Battleblade Warrior. In this adventure I had some good starting scores, a decent supply of meals and gold, and a special dragon-slaying sword. As with Bloodbones and Spellbreaker this book throws you into combat at the very start – within the first few sections I’d fought a Manticore and an Ice Elemental. But these were not the only monsters I had to defeat during this adventure – my tally at the end being 22 (the same number that I faced in Battleblade Warrior). There was a good balance amongst these, some were weak creatures, others much stronger, and there were some melees (such as that against a trio of Naiads) that really wore down my STAMINA and made me grateful for my supply of food.
Early in the adventure I learned that a sorcerer named Balthazar Sturm has built a weather-altering flying machine that is powered by four elementals, and that to defeat him I need to travel across the western part of the Old World. The scope of this adventure is great. Sure, there are still some caverns where you need to choose between the left tunnel or the right tunnel. But you also choose where in the Kingdom of Femphrey you want to travel. And when you do travel long distances you need to keep track of the day of the week; arrive in a place on a certain day and your enemies will have temporarily become more powerful.
In a welcome change, using the Second Swordsman process in Stormslayer did not mean that I ignored everything. Through it I gained the much-needed assistance of a Dwarven brewer when journeying through the Witchtooth Mountains. And, in one of my favourite sequences of the book, when I chose every second option while journeying underwater, I set two massive aquatic monsters against each other rather than becoming a snack for either one of them. But eventually my adventure ended; killed by a Fire Elemental in a cavern deep beneath Mount Pyre. I was already suffering an imposed loss of two SKILL points and only scored one hit against it. So unfortunately I never got to find Sturm’s flying machine, or even use the dragon-slaying power of my sword.
While the Second Swordsman met with universal failure in my escapades in the Old World, in these three books by Jonathan Green it did provide me with some enjoyable adventures. I didn’t make too many obviously stupid decisions; I didn’t miss each and every opportunity to collect some valuable information or gain a special object; and, while I still ignored a lot of chances to explore, this didn’t make the books boring. I’ll look forward to trying the process on some more of Green’s adventures later on. Although maybe not Knights of Doom – I don’t fancy taking out another mortgage right now.