on 16 December 2012
'City of Thieves' is basically the equivalent of 'Forest of Doom' in a city. Instead of searching Darkwood for items to save the dwarves village of Stonebridge form trolls, you must search the city of Port Blacksand for the items to save the village of Silverton from Zanbar Bone. Despite the basic similarities between the plots and the similar playing tactics you need to adopt there is great variation between the adventures. Both adventures do depend upon creating plausible, disconnected scenarios relevant to their environment. This often makes them distinctive and there are some truly memorable moments.
There is no doubt that Port Blacksand is one of Ian Livingstone's most successful creations in the Fighting Fantasy range. The cultural and historical aspects of the city work well. It is highly atmospheric and has a sense that this is a living, working community (albeit of many dubious practices). It's problem is that it is a little too linear. There is no chance to backtrack or revisit areas you have previously visited and what you do in one area has little bearing or effect on another. These issues can make the adventure frustrating as it means vital items and information are easily missed by opting to turn left instead of right (the sun tattoo is a good example of this). Some of these flaws have been addressed by later Fighting Fantasy adventures that have contained a strong urban element, the best examples being 'Master of Chaos' and 'Moonrunner'.
The black tower of Zanbar Bone works as an excellent contrast to the city. It is eerie and claustrophobic with a real sense of dread. Whereas much of the city , despite the dangers, has the illusion of being somewhat pleasant as you walk around shopping and interacting with various characters. As you head to the black tower the difficulty level increases. There are some strong opponents and you will need to have found the right equipment in Port Blacksand to face them and ultimately Zanbar Bone. The hardest part of the book is preparing for Zanbar Bone.
Zanbar Bone, himself, is an accomplished creation but a little under-utilised. He could do with a larger appearance and needs to be more interactive with the reader. The book also fails to explain exactly what he is. He is clearly some formed undead but other than that... It also isn't really explained what his Moon Dogs are. Zanbar Bone looks fantastic though and the artist, Iain McCaig, has done a stirling job realising him (there are even rumours that Bone inspired the appearance of Darth Maul).
Some of your other opponents also contain a lot of character. Sourbelly and Fatnose are quite amusing whereas the hag and the serpent queen permeate evil. You will get to interact with urchins, merchants, drunks, shopkeepers, city guards and market street traders; anyone you might expect to find in a city. Unfortunately Lord Azzur, despite re-occurring mentions, never makes an appearance.
Nicodemus is another fascinating character that could have benefitted from a longer appearance. It is a shame he doesn't reappear in later FF adventures as Yaztromo does. But then he is a little similar to Yaztromo.
'City of Thieves' greatest strength is probably its influence on the FF range and the legacy it leaves behind. Port Blacksand clearly captured the imagination of many readers in the eighties. The city gets a few more mentions and appearances in other FF books, most notably 'Temple of Terror', the later adventure 'Midnight Rogue is also set there and it spawned its own spin-off with the Dungeoneer book 'Port Blacksand'. This is yet another strong adventure that helped to establish the series.
on 25 February 2005
This Fighting Fantasy book was written by Ian Livingstone, way back in the early eighties. The cover art and internal illustrations are the work of one of my favourite FF artists; Iain McCaig. I've always liked this FF book. From the first time I read it in January 1987, I knew that it was going to be a cut above many others (it was also the second FF book I ever read)...
You start the book in the medieval world of Titan, on the west coast of the Allansian continent, in the small, prosperous town of Silverton. You're the usual Sword-for-hire, adventurer type; a loner, tough, smart and honest (snigger). Travelling from town to town, living by your sword, saving whole communities by slaying nasty monsters and kissing babies (hey, when this book was written, this kind of hero was original)!
Anyway, while you're in Silverton, the merchants, recognising your vastly superior greatness, plead with you to help them in their hour of need! You're told that the infamous Zanbar Bone (a sorcerer/warlord type world conqueror bloke, who lives in a tower near to Blacksand; the City of Thieves) is holding the poor town of Silverton to ransom! To back up his threats to the townsfolk, each night he sends his bloodthirsty Moon Dogs, in an attempt to terrorise the town into submission!
Are you prepared to just stand by and let this tyrannical Zanbar Bone bloke give these poor, innocent peasants a damn good grinding under his armoured boot? No, god damn it! Even if he is a great and powerful sorcerer warlord.. Even if he can't be killed by normal weapons... Even if he does own a bloody great fortified tower, with a personal army of nasty monsters to back him up.... Gulp! Brushing your fears aside, you promise the good folk of Silverton that you'll rid them of this curse once and for all. You agree to slay Bone by your own hand!
So, off you journey to the nearby city of Blacksand, controlled by the iron grip of it's mysterious, robed master; Lord Azzur. Infamous across Allansia as the 'City of Thieves', due to the somewhat large crime rate. Not a very nice or safe place to live.
Now, you'd think that you'd want to avoid this place, but enter it you must. For, inside it's treacherous walls and dangerous, scum filled streets, are a number of important objects. These objects must be retrieved as they're vital to completing your mission of killing the inhuman Warlord (or, as I like to call him; 'ld Boney)!
The thing I like about this book is that it's well written and has a brilliant atmosphere. You get to explore many different places in the city; underground in the sewers, many dark, twisting back streets, Lord Azzur's gardens, a pirate galley, different shops, houses and a tavern or two!
You also come across lots of interesting characters; the cruel, bullying town watch, excellently portrayed by the two orcs you meet. These guys really like to abuse their power; they're all corrupt as hell. The gracious Lord Azzur; who has a habit of trying to ride his citizens down, while he's thundering about town in his horse-drawn carriage, on 'state' business. The people at the town fair; the cannon ball chucking game is especially fun. The mysterious wizard; who can help you (no, I won't tell you his name or where you can find his home) and not forgetting the regular Blacksand 'inhabitants', if you can call them that!
These people must be the biggest collection of cut-throats, murderers, vagabonds and thieves in the whole of Allansia. Every other person you meet can't resist having a go at separating you from your money in some way! Some of them have friendly or harmless intentions, while others are absolutely murderous! You have to be cautious of everybody to stay alive!
If you survive your adventures in Blacksand, the next thing you have to do is to find some way of escaping the city and confronting your foe at this tower stronghold. All I can say is this; Cold steel on it's own doesn't cut it! if you confront Zanbar Bone without all the things you need, you can forget about trying to slay him with your sword and expect a nasty death...
Anyway, I'd say that this book has many good points and few, if any, bad points. It's original, well planned out and written. The enemies you meet are varied, fairly frequent and are of a level that makes this adventure challenging, but not impossible (unlike some later books. It always makes me laugh when I read the character creation section at the start of a book, these frequently say that you should be able to complete the adventure regardless of low initial rolls, if you choose the correct path. Yet then you're challenged by enemies with 12 skill or higher! And it doesn't give you any alternative way of defeating them!!)
An all-round excellent book. A must for all 'true' FF fans.