Saturday, 24 January 2009

#52 - Night Dragon

Night Dragon was one of my favourites as a kid and reading it 15 years later, it's no surprise. One of the most complex, intriguing, enjoyable yet oddly fair gamebooks of the FF series, Night Dragon manages to not only combine open-ended gameplay with a developing, coherent plot, but has a scaling difficulty that never seems unfair or over the top - even if the titular Night Dragon has a skill of 17 and a stamina of 32. Not that I made it that far.


Reading on the back cover that the Night Dragon is a 'creature of pure evil from before time existed', I figured when it came to rolling my stats I'd need more dice. Instead I settled for the lucky, non-matching green dice I used on Island of the Undead and hoped for the best, rolling 10/17/10. Not bad - then the book let me add two points to anything - err, skill, thankyou very much. Combined with the 12 provisions, I figured finally the FF authors were acknowledging that some FF books were more equal than others in the difficulty department.

Something else the book kept from FF51 is the combat system when you're up against more than one opponent - that everyone rolls, and the highest lands a blow. This is certainly quicker and simpler than the old system of rolling against everyone, but only being able to attack one, the rest are parries; but it's also pretty unrealistic. I mean, if I have a skill of 12, and I'm up against 50 goblins of skill 5, under the new system it'd be a walk in the park, but under the old, it'd be a slog, but I'd eventually succumb. And if more than one has a higher attack strength than I do, shouldn't I be hit more than once? Despite this, I think it was an improvement, if only for the time and brainpower saved.

Anyway, a dark elf tells me about this evil dragon, and coming from a dark elf, I figure it must be pretty serious. Being in Blacksand, I decide to hang out a bit, 'cause despite what the text says I actually like Blacksand. I buy some crap from a local store, you know, the usual - a rope, luck potion, etc. On leaving, I can take the road or a boat - My skill's good, I don't trust boats, so the road it is.

I'm soon in Marzail, and not needing to gain any stamina, given the option I save money and crash outside without incident. I suppose in this way, Marzail has it over Blacksand. Heading on, I soon come across what appears to be a small group of druids or monks walking along the road. I join them, eventually crashing further north.

Unfortunately, these monks are less Desmond Hume and more the Others, but I wake up just in time to stop them murdering me in my sleep (okay, I promise, no more Lost references. Maybe). Being the Rainman I am, I notice their tattoos are of spiderwebs, each with exactly 20 strands.

The next day, I rescue a dude who's been left for dead by theives, adding one to my honour score. Being a latter-day FF book, there's loads of extra scores and things to keep track of - like honour (self-explanatory but seemingly irrelevant, at least as far as I got), nemesis (how well-known you are to the Night Dragon's minions), and time (how long has elapsed since you set off - two points a day, approximately). 

The guy we rescued lived in Sharndale, a town whose economy is based on fur trapping. Once again I have to question the writers off FF's grasp of economics, as I was able to sell some fur there for a pretty decent price. Maybe I was sharked.

Anyway, I went shopping, picked up a few more obviously useful items,  like an ice pick and a mirror, and some less obviously useful items, like walrus oil, and then split for Rentarn, where the dark elf told me a room would be waiting for me at the Rudderless Galley, a tavern.

Turns out someone else knew I'd be there, as it was full of assassins. It wasn't hard to convince the owner of the tavern they were the bad guys, and he apologised as he summoned the local constabulary. Bah, the cell was probably a better sleep anyhow - this is an Allansian pub after all. Less chance of a fight breaking out.

One of the assassins was carrying a plaque with the word 'Endimion' on it, which was my only clue. Four days of investigation, and I finally discovered it was a boat - a boat on which was my next contact, cruelly murdered as we met. Before he died he told me to head northwest and find the Frost Giants, to take them firewater, and 'Ismater'. Err, okay.

I went northwest, slept in a cave, then the next morning found a sign on the trail: 'TO IS   ER'. Ah, Ismater. The next day, the twelfth since I left Blacksand, I arrived in Ismater and hit up the local pub. One of them bastard monks was there, but he didn't know who I was, and I couldn't track him once he bailed. I decided to go shopping, but apart from the same old items on offer, the book told me there was nothing else of interest - like harpoons. Err, I'm going to fight a big-ass dragon, it's kind of like a whale, I could totally use a harpoon. If I need an excuse, will 'scientific research' do?

I pick up some firewater as instructed, then come across a shop named 'EVIL'. Awesome! I could do with some evil - fight fire with fire, and all that. Turns out the shop is named after the guy who works there, Nevill, and the paint is just flaky. I spent the last of my money on firewater, and when I mention the dickhead monks, Nevill kicks me out. Dang it.

Next up I'm forced by the text, in perhaps the only annoying piece of linerity, to go to the Dragon Conclave. It's like the UN, or the Justice League, but for dragons. They tell me there are all these magical items just laying about the place that will help me defeat the Night Dragon, but they can't help me because of some code that prevents dragons taking up arms against other dragons. There's no option to say 'take a vote and overturn that stupid rule', because I assume the Night Dragon is on the council and has veto power.

So I head southeast back to the Frost giants, bribing my way in a vial of firewater. Bad move it turns out, cause head Frost giant wants two vials, and a bunch of other stuff, in exchange for the magic shield. I challenge him to a rumble, and what follows is perhaps the weakest example of virisimilitude in the book: The chief is seven metres tall. He brings out his champion son to fight for him. The son makes the chief look like a 'pygmy'. But his skill is a whopping... 10.

And wouldn't one hit from this 10-20m tall thing kill me? Would he even notice the papercuts I was inflicting on his foot?

Anyway, I take the shield regardless, and head off in search of the sword. On day 24 I find myself in a tomb, and eventually up against an undead chieftan who'd carrying an awesome-looking shiny sword. Turns out it's the wrong one. Well, it might actually be the right one, but apparently it's too big and feels unweildy, and I dump it. Er, okay. The outside-of-book me raises his eyebrows and plays along.

But not for much longer. I'm out of food and struggling, and despite a wicked run of rolls (thankyou mismatched green dice) I'm dispatcehd by a Wizard Wraith living at the top of a frozen waterfall.

It's lengthy, it's involved and it requires maths. But still, Night Dragon just can't be denied a top-five placing at the FF table, I feel. You can detect spots where it's struggling to fit the plot into 400 paragraphs, and not an entry is wasted. From one reading I can't really comment on the mechanics of the extra statistics as others have, but they seemed to work well (though I've no idea how honour works, really).

It's hard to believe there are no plans to republish this one - perhaps a subtle, if unintended suggestion they're aiming the new series at a younger age?

7 comments:

Lady Oblada said...

I only have a blogger account, so I thought I would post this here...I just read your LJ post on Microsoft Songsmith. Holy shit! EPIC. I can't stop laughing at the Van Halen one. :)

As for this book, it's on my list. I've never seen it here in Canada :(

dan duran said...

Haha, cheers. I've been making a few of my own - http://www.youtube.com/user/julianphilipkevin - it's great fun. And completely pointless, but hey.

Kieran said...

A lot of people seem to like this one, but I've always found it tiresome. It spends more time telling you to make calculations and alter your stats than it does actually getting on with the plot. The whole Dragon Council thing always struck me as naff too. The various assassination attempts were quite cool though.

Karl said...

This is one of my favourite FF books, which I have sadly misplaced long ago. I do remember the one thing that annoyed ME, though: when you can use the harlequin's flying boots, you are asked to convert the harlequin's name into numbers, and go to that paragraph. The trouble is, the harlequin never introduced himself by name!

foadiron said...

A total hairy-chested man's book with a final boss that a grown man wouldn't be ashamed of facing (and yet a boss that isn't just ludicrously overpowered like that twat Razzak (bastard).

Brilliant book that only suffers from an overabudance of stats to keep track of, some of which turn out to be quite unimportant anyway.

Oh well, at least it can be completed on fairly modest stats.

Lovely cover too.

Anonymous said...

huh 17/32? thats pretty much impossible to beat even with a 12/24 character, the odds of rolling 6 more than your opponent 16 times before NOT rolling 4 or less than your opponent 12 times is mathematically astronomically unlikely. Are you all cheating?

Anonymous said...

Believe me - even a 7/14 character has a chance to beat the Night Dragon if they take the optimum path ;-)