I’ve enjoyed “choose your own adventure” style solo games ever since I first played Fighting Fantasy, back in the early 1980s. For some reason, given that it was nearly holiday time from school, the other week I grabbed “Conan and the Queen of the Black Coast” by Steve Jackson Games in printed format from Amazon. These print-on-demand titles are great and have kept alive the GURPS Third Edition that I am growing to love!
Here, then, are my solo play notes as they occurred in session. As ever, these are unedited and presented raw. I’ll quote from the book but (obviously) will need to cut down some large passages and omit much else lest my records prove unfair use. Oh, and obviously reading this will spoil the adventure if you intend playing it for yourself! Enjoy!
Character: Conan (as per book)
Crew Morale Rating: 0
The morning is still young when the Tigress anchors. Nearby is the mouth of a broad, slow-moving river. “Odd,” you think, “a river this large will usually have a settlement at the mouth, but there is no sign of man. Only white beaches and the emerald jungle exist, as far as the eye can see.”
Belit tells Conan of the river Zarkheba and legends of a great city or ruin upon it. She insists that the Tigress (our ship) go raiding up river and sack the city. Despite the depleted crew from recent raiding, Conan agrees.
The Tigress rounds the bend into the Zarkheba, rowers taking up the beat to forge against the sluggish flow. The jungle soon blocks out much of the morning sunlight, leaving a pallid glow to illuminate the ship’s passing. The waters are clouded and unusually dark. “The waters of the Zarkheba are poisonous,” says Belit. “Nothing can abide them but the serpents of the river. The Subas avoid the river, and claim that it is accursed.”
The sounds normally heard in a jungle are ominously absent. No animal comes to the bank to drink; no bird flies overhead. The only signs of life are on the river’s sandbars, where reptiles wholly unknown to old N’Yaga’s lore writhe. Belit orders the helmsman to keep a long distance from the sandbars.
Roll one die… 1
Standing watch, Conan suddenly becomes aware that something is not quite right. The hairs on the back of his neck stand up. His Danger Sense is tested… 13 is a success! He turns just as a giant river serpent looms over the bow!
We grab out the tactical map for the Tigress and combat commences!
Conan acts first, given his Move 9 versus the serpents Move 6. He will fast-draw his sword – rolls… 11 to succeed – and then makes an All-Out Attack, moving 3 yards forward to try and do extra damage. Rolls to hit… 11 is on target. The beast tries to Dodge, needing 7 or less… 10 fails. Conan’s broadsword rolls 1d+3 cutting, +2 for the all-out attack… scores 11 = maximum damage! The serpent has no damage resistance, so that’s 11 through, inflicting 16 wounds from the cut! The beast reels in shock as Conan inflicts a possible knockdown. Oh, my – this is what a 500-point character plays like, eh? Rolling the beast’s HT… hang on, that’s a 20… scores 15 to pass. The beast is merely stunned, but only has 4 hits left. Nice.
The Giant River Serpent is facing off with Conan and I rule it will attack him back… if it can recover from the stun, testing HT… 15 is a pass (I rolled because it might critically fail on a 17 or 18). The beast will bite at Conan, suffering a massive penalty for the shock of the wound (-16), but only a 3 or 4 (a crit) will succeed… 7 is a miss.
The scenario says the beast will attack other crew but doesn’t specify how many are on deck. I rule there will be 2d6 crew within running distance… 5. All five will converge on the beast, shortswords in hand.
Conan roars at the beast and stabs with his sword, aiming to kill it with one All-Out Strike… 9 means the attack is on target! The serpent dodges… 13 fails. Conan’s broadsword used to stab does 3D+1 impaling… 7 is a poor roll but no armour means all penetrates the beast’s body and impaling doubles the total for 14 wounds. The beast is slain! It smashes down into the river and disappears beneath the waves. Hurrah!
You shake your sword toward the swirling waters. “If that’s the worst the river can do,” you bellow, “then sink me if it isn’t good practice for the sword arm!” The corsairs are heartened by this unlooked-for success. Add 2 to the crew’s Morale Rating, and add 1 to any Reaction rolls for the crew toward you.
Crew Morale Rating 2.
Time advances to the Evening watch.
Roll 1 die… 2
One of the crewmen cries out, pointing to the sky. As your eyes adjust to the gloom, you note a large winged shadow soaring overhead. It doesn’t look like a bird — for one thing, it’s far too big…
Conan decides to observe it further, struggling to identify the strange creature. Test Vision… needs 16 (13 plus 3 for Alertness), rolls 9, succeeds by 7.
The shadow floats overhead for some time, tantalizingly out of the reach of spearcast or bowshot. Curious, you study it, trying to discern what manner of being it is. Surely that can’t be a second set of wings — no, those must be arms. The more you gaze, the more convinced you are that it is some unnatural humanoid form. Knowing the superstition of the sailors, you feel some relief at knowing that you have the best eyesight on the Tigress. You say nothing of this to your crewmates. After ten minutes or so, the creature soars away over the jungle, headed upriver.
Time advances to the Night Watch.
Roll 1 die… 1.
Noting the rowers tiredness, Belit orders the crew to anchor for the night.
Time advances to the Morning watch.
Continuing the row upriver, eventually, over the tops of the trees, we see towers looming in the distance. Belit calls for the crew to make ready and arm themselves. Riches await us! Add 1 to morale.
Crew Morale Rating 3.
The Tigress clears a wide, overgrown point in the river. The city beckons beyond. Once it must have been splendid, with wide plazas, tall buildings and broad avenues. Now it is a ruin. Weeds and grasses split the paving blocks of the streets, the wharves that could berth a fleet lie shattered, mighty towers sway drunkenly against the stark sky. Everywhere, the jungle encroaches on the remains. In the middle of the city stands a marble pyramid, topped by a column. There is a dark statue surmounting the column.
Test Vision… 13 is a success. Conan spots that the figure on the top of the column is alive! As we watch, it unfurls huge wings and flies off into the jungle. N’Yaga tells us that it’s a winged ape or some kind of demon. He declares the place accursed! Belit laughs at this superstition and orders the ship tied up at one of the wharves.
Belit disembarks first, Conan close behind with the rest of the crew. Gripping his sword hilt firmly, Conan feels uneasy. Belit reassures him and encourages the crew to explore the ruins.
Test IQ… 13 or less… 9 is a success.
Conan realises it would be wise not to take the whole crew and advises Belit to leave some sailors behind to protect it.
Test her IQ, needing 12 or less… 9 is a success.
“Good idea,” Belit says. With a command, Conan sends the men off to guard the ship. We pick up the Plot Word: GUARDED.
Belit sends Conan and a picked team off to search the ruins. I get to pick up to ten men, with two subchiefs. I just take the first two Subchiefs and first 10 Crewmen from the crew manifest.
Walking through the ruins requires care. The paving stones are cracked and overgrown by weeds and grasses, and footing is uneven at best. Your wary eye also notices that the cover is excellent — if there are lurkers waiting in ambush, they’ll be hard to spot. You resolve to keep alert. While the city is largely ruined, there are several intact landmarks.
I need to choose which landmark we search: the pyramid, one of many towers, the buildings, or the dockside area. I decide to begin with the dockside.
Conan searches the crumbling warehouses and wharves with no success. Eventually a messenger finds us and tells us Belit thinks she has found something important. Returning, Conan faces a row of columns leading to a high tottering tower. Before the tower is a huge slab of stone. We can see traces of massive walls and Belit expresses the view that this impressive structure must have been the temple.
Conan inspects the stone slab.
You examine the slab of granite. It must have been the altar for the temple — the discoloration from centuries of hellish rites still remain. “A thousand years of rain has not washed it clean,” muses Belit.
Conan inspects the altar further. He must test his IQ at +2, adding levels of Alertness = 18 or less (remember: 17 or 18 always fails)… 8 is a success.
After a moment of examination, Conan finds some handholds on each side, “oddly unsuited to human hands.” Belit orders the crew to scrum round and prepare to left the stone, proclaiming that the treasure must be underneath.
We must test Belit’s IQ of 12… a 6 is a success!
As you grip the altar, Belit shrieks. Everyone freezes except you. Whipping around, weapon drawn, you look questioningly at her. “There is a serpent in the weeds here. Come and kill it.” She waves at the corsairs. “The rest of you lift that altar.”
Irritated squealing about snakes is out of character for Belit; you scan the grass for the snake. In the meantime, the warriors heave at the altar. It doesn’t lift, but instead shifts and, at the same time, the tower above crashes down on them without a moment’s notice. Aghast, the other spearmen rush to the pile of masonry. Belit holds you back. “I lied,” she whispers. “There’s no snake — I feared a trap. Let us clear away the stones.”
Blimey – Belit is a bit of a character, eh? It takes a while but the rubble is cleared and the mangled bodies of our comrades borne away. A great stone lid is uncovered, concealed beneath the altar. Two sailors are ordered to open the lid.
There is a blaze of light as the lid is lifted and the jewels beneath are revealed! Gems of all kinds are there – uncounted riches! Belit leaps into the pit, swimming in the stones. She pulls out a golden necklace strung with huge rubies and stands triumphant as she orders a litter made and the treasure hauled back to the ship.
Conan watches for intruders as Belit supervises the task. For all practical purposes, the find is priceless – the book says, “$5,000,000 – at least”. We note the gems on our sheet and the crew morale goes up by 3.
Crew Morale Rating 6.
We decide to leave the city – I fancy cutting out before we lose the biggest haul ever! We store the treasure on the Tigress and head back towards civilisation.
The sail snaps out with the sea breeze as the Tigress leaves the river’s mouth and turns into the broad ocean… This adventure is over.
Rewards time. We escaped with more than half of the original crew, so we gain 1 Character Point. Belit is still alive so that gets me a second CP. We gain one more for finding one significant cache of treasure. But the implication is that there are many more caches to find… so now I feel a little timid.
The tone of the adventure and the flavour of the text is great! It felt very heroic and cinematic to kill the Giant River Serpent with two strikes. I also liked the way in which you got to make decisions around more than which direction to take, for example choosing a team.
The random die rolls for events also added to the experience. There’s a lot to take away from it for solo play in general, such as using random events and tracking time in watches.
At the end, I realised that I was chickening out after just one treasure haul but, well, I was feeling done for the session and wanted to see if it was as simple as bugging out. I felt bad about it but, oh well, perhaps I will return. The adventure certainly has significant replay value and I’d like to try with the option to build your own 300-point character instead of playing Conan.
Overall, very enjoyable!