FF29: Midnight Rogue

Nicholas Campbell
Ray Holt (spoilers - win condition, true path)
Jonathan Hughson (spoiler - true path)
Per Jorner
Phil Sadler
Jason Smith


[Nicholas Campbell]

This gamebook is different from most other Fighting Fantasy gamebooks in that your mission is not to save one of Titan's continents, or even Titan itself, from the latest threat to befell it. Instead, you are an apprentice thief who wishes to join the Thieves' Guild in Port Blacksand, that notorious city of thieves. However, before you can become a member, you must undertake a test set by Rannik, the Master of the Guild. You must retrieve the Eye of the Basilisk - a beautiful gem that has recently been acquired by a merchant known as Brass - before the morning.

So far, this sounds like a thrilling gamebook. After City of Thieves, it's great to read another gamebook set in Port Blacksand - and the scenario is a refreshingly original change from the normal Fighting Fantasy settings. Unfortunately, it's not quite as good as it could have been.

Midnight Rogue can be considered as an adventure in two parts. In the first part, you skulk around Port Blacksand at night, sneaking into offices and houses and trying not to set off traps or wake up their occupants. You need to find three clues to the location of the Eye of the Basilisk, and if you don't get all three, you will fail the test. I thought this part was rather exciting. In the second part, you explore a dungeon full of traps and monsters. This part is a let-down, since the 'dungeon' essentially consists of one long underground corridor, with the Eye of the Basilisk at the end of it.

To make things a little more interesting, Midnight Rogue, like several other Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, allows you to select three of seven Special Skills which enhance your mastery of theft in different ways - picking locks, moving silently, hiding, climbing, and so on. However, they're not implemented very well here. Several of the Special Skills can be obtained simply by acquiring certain objects, and after a few goes, it becomes obvious which Special Skills you should choose. Another aspect which annoyed me considerably was that the book repeatedly asks if you possess a particular Special Skill, when the author should have known that you could not have reached that point unless you had that Special Skill!

If the dungeon and the Special Skills had been a little better thought out, I would have enjoyed Midnight Rogue a lot, even though it's rather easy to complete; there are very few instant death paragraphs, although there is a tough opponent to defeat near the end. The ending itself is a bit of an anti-climax, and interestingly, the Eye of the Basilisk is yellow in the text, but pink on the book's cover! In summary, Midnight Rogue is worth playing, but don't expect too much of it.

Rating: 6/10


[Ray Holt]

It's quite a turn up for the books: a glorified driving test turning out to be one of the best FF offerings.You play an apprentice in the Thieves' Guild of Port Blacksand, on the verge of becoming a full member - once you have completed your test. Entry into Allansia's most notorious guild does not come easily - you must steal The Eye of the Basilisk, a gem belonging to the merchant Brass (whose symbol is a coin). And that's all you're told, before being turned out onto the Streets of Port Blacksand, with only the hours until sunrise to succeed.

Thus begins a game of two halves - the first sees you visiting various parts of Port Blacksand to find out where the gem is hidden; the second is a more traditional dungeon, as you fight your way to the gem itself.

To help you in your quest, you get to choose three of seven Special skills, to represent your thieving talents. They're classic thieves' fare - Climb, Hide, Sneak, Spot Hidden, Secret Signs, Pick Locks and Pick Pockets - but add a distinct flavour to the book, and your choice makes a huge difference to how the book progresses.

The adventure itself runs well - Graeme Davis conjures the eerie feeling of Port Blacksand at night. Your choices have a real impact - in fact, choose well and you can get through the most of the book without a single fight. There are a number of neat touches that make the book worthwhile: some clever encounters around Port Blacksand; paragraphs specifically designed to catch out those who try to cheat; and a brief cameo by Nicodemus.

The book is not without its flaws, however - and two are pretty gaping. Firstly, if you don't have the Pick Locks skill, or go through the one chance encounter that gives you the lock picks, you cannot complete the adventure. Also, you must visit The Noose to get all the clues you need - an option only given in the first paragraph. Choose any other starting destination, and that's it - you've failed.

These gripes aside, the book is excellent - it's nice to play an anti-hero, for a change, and to have a mission which does not see the fate of Allansia, Titan, some town or village hang in the balance. Only you care about the outcome. The skills, stealth and "night-time" feel all combine to form a unique book that deserves to be a classic.

RATING: 8/10


[Jonathan Hughson]

In this FF you aren't the usual adventurer hero guy - you are an apprentice in the Thieves Guild of Port Blacksand. Your mission is to steal the Eye of Basilisk, a rare gem. Completion of the mission means that you a full member of the Thieves Guild.

I have to admit that the thief gimmick makes this otherwise quite poor FF into something that's about average. The writing is a bit too basic for my liking, but that's alright. What annoys me is the sheer easyness of the mission. To actually find the resting place of the Eye is far too easy, with the problems having easy solutions. The adventure only becomes slightly difficult towards the end, when there are lots of SKILL tests.

The Special Skills don't add much to the adventure either - 2 in particular are overused, meaning that if you did not pick them you have little chance of reaching the end. This is a real missed opportunity, as Special Skills can really make an FF excellent - have a look at Moonrunner's Special Skills for an example of this. Also, Davis decided to add items that give you the Skills (such as Lock Picks which give you the Lock Pick Skill), which makes the choice at the beginning worthless. The structure of the book isn't very good either - in order to find the Eye you must find 3 clues from 3 locations. You are given a choice at the start, but if you do not pick one (The Noose) at the very start you are not given the option to go there ever again. This annoyed me a lot when I was reading it for this review, as I'd found 2 of the 3 clues and was doing pretty well, but then found that I was unable to go to the Noose to pick up the 3rd clue.

I also don't agree with the plot of the book. Port Blacksand is supposed to be a dangerous and lawless city with thieves who will kill you for a few gold pieces. In this the thieves are all nice people who help each other out and train new thieves using over-the-top missions such as this. Surely if you want to be a thief you just start stealing stuff rather than joining a Guild. Also, why woould a thief want to help and train other thieves? Surely they are prospective rivals.

The main character is also far too nice and honourable, despite the fact you are supposed to be a Port Blacksand thief. I realise that Penguin probably wouldn't have allowed a non-heroic character, but in my opinion it is pretty unrealistic.

However, it's not all bad. The adventure is fairly interesting (if a little too easy) and playing a thief makes a change from the usual adventurer. Overall a pretty average FF.

Rating: 5/10


[Per Jorner]

This is the first and only Graeme Davis FF, unless you count brief appearances such as Rogue Mage. The plot rests on the premise that the thieves and beggars of Port Blacksand are joined in a big happy family, the Thieves' Guild, who train and look after one another. That's nothing like the chaotic, simmering PB we know and love from City of Thieves (to which there is the odd reference here), where everyone was just looking out for themselves and doing their thing, or at least seemed to be. Instead of sending out recruits on suicide initiations, you'd think the Guild would just let them get on with thieving in whatever way suits their abilities.

As it turns out, half of the book is pretty much a lost opportunity, as instead of the alleys and houses of Port Blacksand you find yourself in a dungeon which, apart from the flavour of the special skills, could have been set anywhere and been explored by anyone. On top of that, what we see of the flip side of PB is limited to two straight-up burglary jobs and a little tinsel on the side; the streets are strangely lifeless. The book is also somewhat easy (I won on my first attempt). A piece of advice: don't play this book with Skill 11-12 characters, as it takes all the fun out of the myriad Skill checks you have to perform, not to mention the fights. Going against your instincts when choosing skills will also serve to raise the difficulty.

Two of the skills are overemphasized, and one of the others is too easily gained (it is possible, but tricky, to acquire all of them in a single game). One skill is strictly needed to pass critical waypoints, but beyond them you are still asked numerous times if you have it, just as if the writer really thought you might not. There's a large number of pointless "screw this, I'm going home" options, and plenty of "if you haven't already"'s missing throughout the book (of course, seasoned readers should fill these in automatically). There's no justification for why your mission hangs on getting all three clues (one of them only refers to the other two, and those say essentially the same thing), turning the transition between the book's two stages into a meta-event. There's a rule on carrying capacity, but not enough things are identified as backpack items to make it worthwhile.

John Sibbick's art isn't bad, but some illustrations may seem inappropriate. This happens because many of them aren't used to introduce encounters but only accompany certain outcomes, yet they don't always reflect that fact. One image reveals something you are looking for, by accident facing a paragraph saying you fail to find it. In any case the cover is quite nice, overlooking the fact that the gem is supposed to be yellow, and any objections one might have to the title's colour scheme of magenta against dark cyan. (Maybe the yellow colour separation got high and just sort of wandered off?)

Short notes: Although it's not obvious, you can join the pin-finger game without being able to cover your bet (which is impossible). In paragraph 169 I decided you can switch to the stone axe if you have it, even if you didn't state out loud to the world that you used it to begin with. Speaking of choices of weaponry, one paragraph implies that using a torch is a general option in combat, which doesn't seem to square with the rest of FF. In paragraph 386 you need the Climb skill to turn to 4, but in others you don't. 73 lacks a "none of the above" option. 373 states a penalty for fighting without a weapon, but 184 doesn't. 338 gets very weird if you already did everything in the previous room.

Sadly I get the impression that Midnight Rogue was a left-handed job done without much thought given to how the various design elements actually work, let alone how they work together. Certainly I'd have given it one or two more points had I simply tossed it back on the book pile after my first game, but sloppy design bothers me, like the fact that seemingly valid clues and puzzles are made completely irrelevant by design features the author seems to have been only vaguely aware of, or that a choice which should be interpreted by the book to say "kill me, kill me now" leads to something purely positive. I expect a publication such as this to be crafted by someone who's paying attention to what he's doing, and Midnight Rogue just doesn't show enough sign of it.

Rating: 3/10


[Phil Sadler]

In this book you are not the hero! That's right, you heard what I said, pick yourself up off the floor and read on.

You, as the star of this adventure, are a low-down and no-good villain! A thief to be precise. OK, so you are not exactly a murderer or anything like that however, you have to admit, it sounds like a pretty original idea.

Prepare yourself for a further shock because, within this tome you are not trying to save the whole world! You are, in fact, trying to prove to the Thieves Guild that you are a worthy addition to their esteemed circle of acquaintances. Unfortunately, the only way they'll let you prove yourself is by making sure you risk your neck as often as possible!

It's not all bad news though, because you'll have a number of skills to choose from and, if lucky, may attain more during the course of your adventure. This initial skill selection and possible in-book skill additions really help the book's replay value.

So, to gain the guild's respect, you must head out into the dead of night (accompanied by some of the series' best illustrations) in an attempt to locate several clues from a number of differing places, all the while aware that the slightest noise could give you away. Then, when you have the necessary clues, you can progress into an interesting - but deadly - little maze. Once through the maze you can retrieve your ultimate goal - the Eye of the Basilisk!

A very nice book then: different, with memorable illustrations and heaps of atmospheres. Well worth hunting down!

Overall grade: 7 (out of 10)


[Jason Smith]

Midnight Rogue is a FF book written in the classical medieval style vein of the earlier gamebooks. This book, illustrated by John Sibbick and written by Graeme Davis, is a close look at the darker side of Port Blacksand, the City of Thieves. You start your adventure as a young, human apprentice on the Blacksand Thieves' Guild. With your training finally over, it's time for you to go through your final test, a 'baptism of fire', to decide if you've got what it takes to become a fully-fledged member of the Guild.

Your mission, set by your Guild leader; Rannik, is to find and steal a priceless gem, called the Eye of the Basilisk, owned by a rich merchant named as Brass. So off you go into the night to explore the backstreets, burgle houses and the like, as the city sleeps.

You start your adventure with a number of thief-like skills (which you can choose at the start), such as 'pick lock', 'climb' and 'Hide', which can aid you in your mission. If you get stuck, you can always find a helpful 'friend' of the Guild, who may help you (providing you cross their palm with gold first). But beware! The streets are frequently patrolled by City Watchmen, who generally tend to be sadistic bullies; attempting to arrest or beat for any excuse.

I think that this book is quite well written. It really takes on a interesting trip into the seedy, dangerous, scum-filled backstreets of Port Blacksand. I mean, in what other city do thieves get beaten up and robbed by their own kind; Footpads and the like. Not to mention some 'over security concious' folk, who put magically animated statues on their roofs to maim and kill anyone thieving for a living!!

The traps and puzzles are up to the usual standard of the earlier books; challenging but not impossible. Your enemies are also well balanced, for once there isn't some massively powerful villain right at the end with 12 skill and 25 stamina!

I think this book is a good read, There wasn't anything I really disliked about it (It may of been fun to let you break into Azzur's Palace, instead of automatically having you seen and maimed by 30 armoured guardsmen!!).

Altogether, a stirling effort from Graeme Davis and a fine addition to the FF series.

Rating: 7.5/10



The most satisfying thing about this book is that you play the role of a most sinister character. Not neccessarily evil but just enough to confidently evade the stereotypical 'sword-wielding hero' most other fighting fantasies are faced with. The story line is mercifully simple and short yet satisfying: Retrieve a gem to join Blacksand's Thieves Guild.

Character creation is quite original, this is the only adventure where thought is given to backpack items. Your character is also given the choice of an array of thief skills - from the predictable 'open locks' to the more mysterious 'secret signs'. As you progress through the dark adventure you are given the opportunity to attain more abilities. The game is clearly split in two, the first half consists of prowling the streets of Blacksand in search of the Gem. The second takes place in an underground network of caves and passages which lead to your final goal. The first half is by far the most enjoyable - your thief character is given the luxury to do that which thieves do best, cat-thieving through windows and sneaking through sleeping households while acquiring various items and avoiding the hands of justice is exactly what you bought the book for. Even under the veil of night Port Blacksand is an interesting and suitable place for such an adventure. Players of Temple of Terror or City of Thieves will recognise the corrupt militia, unbalanced poverty and lurking dangers easily. One annoying feature of this is that you must find three clues to progress onwards, failure to see even one of these clues (and at least one is a very vague clue that would not be needed) results in your eventual death.

The second half is a bit less enjoyable, unlike the labyrinths of Deathtrap Dungeon and Creature of Havoc this is much more linear, in fact at times it seems like one gigantic long tunnel. The traps and puzzles of this place are well done and challenging, yet it is tedious when your character is slain and you must progress over the same area all over again knowing of the exact dangers you will face. The ending is certainly interesting though I think it is a tad improbable and even a little annoying (I will not spoil it by telling it to you). The illustrations are well done and the game is well-balanced in terms of difficulty, it should take about three-five reasonably decent characters to complete this adventure and most of the dice rolling is plesantly easy.

All in all a very good book placed in a very worthy setting, I recommend this adventure to all those who are looking for something different in a Fighting Fantasy Book yet want to stay within the medieval fantasy genre.

Rating: 8.0/10