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Literature / City of Thieves (1983)

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What happens in the City of Thieves stays in the City of Thieves.
City of Thieves is the fifth entry of the Fighting Fantasy series of gamebooks, written by Ian Livingstone.

You are a traveler who has entered the city of Silverton, where at night the terrified inhabitants gather together in the barricaded inn. You learn that they live in fear of the terrible minions of the demonic Zanbar Bone, a wicked undead sorcerer who has set his sights on Mirelle Carralif, daughter of the wealthy mayor of Silverton. The people are quaking in fear, and some even suggested giving Zanbar the girl. That's where you come into play: Owen Carralif, the mayor, begs you to travel to the infamous town of Port Blacksand, the most wretched and corrupt town in Allansia, to seek the advice of Nicodemus, a reclusive sage who may know a way to permanently destroy Zanbar Bone. And thus, you face a perilous journey through the fetid streets of Port Blacksand, gathering items that will allow you to face the perils of the tower of Zanbar Bone and end his reign of terror once and for all.

City of Thieves follows the traditional Livingstone pattern, having you looking for several MacGuffin items as you navigate through the city, often facing dangerous and powerful enemies on your way through. This book also introduces for the first time the city of Port Blacksand, which appears again in many other books, sometimes as a minor background.

Would later receive a Spiritual Successor in Midnight Rogue, another adventure set in Port Blacksand, as well as a sequel, The Port of Peril. Not to be confused with the novel City of Thieves.

City of Thieves provides examples of:

  • Absurdly-Spacious Sewer: Then one under Port Blacksand is no exception, and houses nasty critters looking for their next meal.
  • All There in the Manual: The guide Titan The Fighting Fantasy World states that the Serpent Queen was cursed into her current form by the Snake People.
  • Bar Brawl: In a crowded tavern, if you try sitting near some goblins, they react to you with hostility and draw weapons on you, forcing you into a fight.
  • Bedlam House: One of the possible locations in Port Blacksand you can visit, with the first thing you see upon entering being two mentally unwell old women dressed up like little girls in a room full of destroyed toys.
  • Big Bad: Zanbar Bone, Night Prince and threat to Silverton.
  • Bow and Sword in Accord: As usual, you're armed with a sword. You will also need a bow with silver arrows.
  • Butterface: The Serpent Queen has a gorgeous, scantily-clad body tipped with the head and long neck of a massive, venomous snake.
  • Buy or Get Lost: Some of the shopkeepers you encounter in Port Blacksand will react with hostility if you enter their shops without making any purchases, a notable case being the jeweler who, if you tried haggling over the price of his magic rings, will actually threaten you with an ax.
  • Cloudcuckoolander: Nicodemus is a hermit mage like Yaztromo, but more absent-minded than him, to the point that he forgot to tell you which two of the three ingredients you looked for are required to kill Zanbar Bone, much to your frustration.
  • Climax Boss: At the peak of your adventure - after leaving Port Blacksand, but before infiltrating Zanbar's Tower - you will need to battle two Moon Dogs, one at a time. The second one is the strongest compulsory opponent in the book, having a Skill of 11.
  • Cruelty Is the Only Option: Sometimes, doing the "right" things leads to more trouble than it's worth.
    • In one abandoned house, you can come across a hungry ogre who begs for food. If you decide to share some of your food to the ogre, said ogre will tell you to get lost, and you lose provision points for nothing - meanwhile, choosing to attack the ogre leads to no penalty at all.
    • There's also an encounter where an unarmed prisoner fleeing from city guards begs you for help. If you try helping the man, you'll get into a fight with the guards for nothing, and the man will simply abandon you. Hand the man over though, and the guards will thank you for catching the escaped murderer for them and reward you with some gold.
  • The Dead Have Eyes: Zanbar Bone, despite being a skeleton, still has green eyeballs in his skull. Good thing too, since there's where you're going to rub the ingredients to kill him.
  • Dem Bones: Zanbar Bone is, as the name implies, a living skeleton wizard, and loves to summon even more skeletons in combat.
  • Don't Wake the Sleeper: While in the pirate's quarters, you'll need to steal a pouch of black pearls hanging on the neck of a sleeping pirate with a Luck test. If you're unlucky, the pirate wakes up and calls for help, dragging you into a fight.
  • Draconic Humanoid: The Lizardine is a humanoid dragon (who can even breathe fire) you can run afoul of, especially if you stole one of his brooches.
  • Everything Is Trying to Kill You: Who needs Darkwood or a monster-infested dungeon to fight when a simple walk across Port Blacksand can provide you all the fighting you're looking for? Even shopkeepers are ready to fight you to the death if you mess with them.
  • Evil Tower of Ominousness: The one where Zanbar Bone resides, though north of Port Blacksand. Surprisingly, his quarters aren't even at the top, but rather halfway through.
  • Extremely Short Timespan: You reach Port Blacksand in the morning, leave and begin your journey to Zanbar's tower by dusk, and confront Zanbar at night. The whole story from beginning to end takes place all within 12 hours or so.
  • Fake Difficulty: You need to find three magical ingredients to defeat Zanbar Bone, and if you don't look in exactly the right places, you'll miss one and be unable to complete your quest. To make things worse, only two of the three are actually used in the final encounter, and you need to choose exactly which two without any hints. Guessing wrong means instant death. This is one of the most well-known instances of this trope in the Fighting Fantasy series.
  • Five-Finger Fillet: You can play it against some cutthroats in a tavern for a magic item.
  • Gameplay and Story Segregation: There are a couple of references in the story where you're forced to discard your shield, inflicting a penalty of 1 Skill point. However, you don't start the adventure with a shield, and may not have acquired one before reaching those references.
  • Garden of Evil: Downplayed with the city park; it's pretty small, you have to pay a toll to enter, and not all of the plants and flowers are all that impressive, but the player character is surprised that a place like this even exists in Port Blacksand. The Evil aspect comes in once you try to take one of the lotus flowers in the center of the park...
  • The Ghost: Lord Azzur, dreaded master of Port Blacksand, doesn't directly makes an appearance, though he's mentioned throughout the story, and his personal carriage can nearly run you over at one point.
  • Gotta Catch Them All: You'll need to collect a bow and a silver arrow, the three ingredients needed to kill Zanbar (a black pearl, hag's hair and a lotus flower), and a special unicorn tattoo. Out of the three ingredients, though, one is superfluous.
  • Hellhound: Zanbar's ferocious Moondogs, which guard his tower and are sent each night to torment Silverton. You fight a couple of them outside Zanbar's tower in a rather difficult battle.
  • I Am a Humanitarian: The Hag will make a stew out of you if she defeats you.
  • Luck-Based Mission: After you find everything you need to take on Zanbar Bone, you suddenly get a follow up message from Nicodemus. It seems he misremembered the formula he gave you; you actually only need two of the alchemical ingredients he told you about to kill Bone, but he doesn't remember which two. You have to lock in your random decision with no guidance, go through a final dungeon and confront Zanbar Bone... and then probably have to start the book over from the beginning because of the 66% chance of making the wrong random guess. At least the player's avatar is frustrated when they get this message too.
  • Luckily, My Shield Will Protect Me: You can find and equip a shield, which grants you a Skill bonus.
  • Magic Potion: Halfway through the adventure, you can partake in a baseball game with a group of goblins and win a potion that helps you resist mind control, which is necessary to save you from getting killed by a hag.
  • Man of Wealth and Taste: One of the rooms of Zanbar's tower is filled with exquisite paintings and artistic works. Oh, and a drop-dead gorgeous vampire lady...
  • Mystical Lotus: Lotus flowers are one of three magical ingredients used to create a paste that can destroy even the strongest of demons.
  • Nintendo Hard: As noted in many reviews, the fights in Port Blacksand can be rather difficult, finding the ingredients isn't a walk in the park (figuratively, not literally, as one of the items actually is located in a park), and the final section of the game opens with a rather difficult fight and forces the player to guess which of the three possible combinations of ingredients is the correct one.
  • Our Liches Are Different: Zanbar Bone is an undead sorcerer who's Nigh-Invulnerable, commands undead and other monsters, and even lacks a Soul Jar. Furthermore, the method for destroying him is complicated and obscure.
  • Pirate: You can sneak aboard a pirate ship in the harbor, and it's actually required to progress, as this is where you'll find the Black Pearls. They're in a pouch hanging around the neck of a sleeping pirate in a cabin below deck. If you're stealthy, you don't have to fight him, but if you screw up, you have to kill him AND his two crewmates.
  • Planimal: The topiary animals in the botanical gardens come to life and attack you when you pick one of the Lotus Flowers needed for the salve.
  • Power Tattoo: In order to win against Zanbar, you must wear a tattoo of a unicorn on your forehead. Quite embarrassing...
  • Produce Pelting: In the market square, a man in the stocks is being pelted with fruit and vegetables by the crowd. A poster on the stocks proclaim the man as a "Ye Goody-Too Shoes", implying he's being punished for being too nice. Considering the crapsack nature of Port Blacksand, this is likely a light punishment, as an actual criminal would probably have been executed.
  • Pun: You can run into a group of small, goblin-like creatures called Bays playing a sport with a leather ball and a stick. They call it Bays-Ball.
  • Random Encounters: On your way to Zanbar's tower, you must roll a die to see which creature stumbles into you.
  • Shock and Awe: The owner of a house you can break into has the ability to conjure a very nasty lightning attack, which really packs a wallop. However, a magic item you can find in a tavern earlier has the power to absorb the attack, and being a Fat Bastard merchant, he has no other means of fighting you, allowing you to leave unharmed.
  • Shrunken Head: Zanbar Bone wears one like a talisman around his neck, presumably tied to his sorcery.
  • Sick Captive Scam: If you get thrown into a dungeon by the city guards early in the adventure, you can feign sickness and lure the guards to investigate. You can then choose to attack them (where you fight unarmed and at a Skill penalty) or claim you have the plague, at which point the guards will react with horror and quickly leave.
  • Silver Has Mystic Powers: Zanbar Bone's Stalkers can be permanently killed with a Silver Arrow to the heart, and the same thing can paralyze (for a while) Zanbar himself.
  • Skeleton Key: One of the first items you can purchase in Port Blacksand, from a dwarven blacksmith. It's even called a Skeleton Key by name, and can be used to unlock every single door and closet you might come across during your adventure, right up to Zanbar Bone's front gates at the end.
  • Smoking Is Not Cool: You can buy a pipe and some tobacco, but it has no effect other than to reduce your Stamina.
  • Snake People: The Serpent Queen has a human body with a massive snake head and neck on the top. Though in her case, it's the result of a curse, not her actual species.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Zanbar kicks off the plot by lusting after Mirelle Carralif, the daughter of Silverton's mayor, and will send his Moon Dogs to kill the citizens unless his request is granted.
  • Swallow the Key: Choosing to rob Ben the silversmith will have Ben respond by swallowing the key to his silver cabinet before he attacks you.
  • "Test Your Strength" Game: In the marketplace, there's a strongman who challenges anyone in the crowd to a game of toss using a cannonball, with a sum of gold pieces being the reward. If the player accepts, they'll take a Skill test that lasts until one of them drops the ball.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: At one point, a sorcerer floors you with a lightning bolt. You're given the chance to throw your sword at him from the floor, though you'll miss if you fail a Luck roll.
  • Trial-and-Error Gameplay: You are given absolutely no hints on how to combine the three ingredients to kill Zanbar Bone, forcing you to guess at random.
  • Troubled Toybreaker: One of the places you can visit in Port Blacksand is the local Bedlam House, where upon entering first thing you see is a pair of mentally unstable, elderly women dressed as little girls in a room full of destroyed toys, and quarreling over which one of them gets to carve up a wooden duck. They're harmless and don't attack you, but you can offer them a random item to destroy and explore the asylum while they're distracted.
  • Touch of Death: Zanbar's touch will kill you and turn you into a skeletal minion on the spot.
  • Unwinnable by Design: The encounter with Bignose and Sourbelly, the troll city guards, leads to you being forced to flee Port Blacksand, either using a magic rope or being assisted by one of the citizens as thanks for killing the hated trolls. However, this means that you can't go back into town, as you'll now be hunted by the entire city guard, and if you haven't found all three ingredients and the silver arrow, you'll never be able to complete your quest, resulting in a Non Standard Game Over.
  • Vampires Hate Garlic: The one in Zanbar's tower can be repelled with garlic.
  • Video Game Cruelty Punishment:
    • If you attack the blacksmith in the market, the book goes out of its way to make you feel bad for killing one of the few good people in Blacksand, and punishes you with a permanent loss of 2 Luck points. You really should just pay for the chainmail armor he offers...
    • If you join the crowd in throwing produce at the man in the stocks in the market square, the old woman giving out the produce picks your pocket and steals some of your gold.
  • Weaksauce Weakness: Zanbar Bone has probably the oddest one yet: first, you must shoot him with a silver arrow to paralyze him, then you have to rub a special compound into his open eyes to permanently kill him.
  • Wretched Hive: This novel introduces Port Blacksand as the greatest one in Titan, with other cities such as Kharé and Tak coming second.