FF52: Night Dragon

Nicholas Campbell
Mat Cooper
Robert La Vallie
Phil Sadler
Laurence Sinclair
David Whyld


[Nicholas Campbell]

Deep within the Dragon Reaches in northern Allansia, the Night Dragon - the Ancient One - is beginning to rise. However, this is no ordinary dragon, but one which will bring devastation to Titan should it once again awaken - and now it has done so. The other races of dragons which reside on Titan are bound by an oath to their creator which means they cannot touch the Night Dragon, so help is required from a lone adventurer to save Titan from eternal chaos.

When I say the Night Dragon is no ordinary dragon, I mean it. The Night Dragon has a SKILL of 17 and a STAMINA of 32. This is the most fearsome opponent any Fighting Fantasy adventurer will face! Clearly, there isn't a snowball's chance in hell of you slaying the Night Dragon - but fortunately there are some magical weapons which were used against it long ago, and you must locate them.

Your journey is a long one. It starts in the notorious city of Port Blacksand, but your stay there is a brief one. From there, you travel northwards, passing through several villages on your way. After a meeting with the Conclave of Dragons, which very few humans have ever been invited to, you then have to explore the surrounding area in your search for the magical weapons. You may wish to visit the town of Carnex - home to a cult which worships the Night Dragon - while you're at it. The final stage of your quest involves travelling even further north into the Dragon Reaches and the Night Dragon's lair. The book is very open-ended, and you can explore the different areas of the region in any order you wish, which I appreciate very much indeed.

Night Dragon is arguably one of the most complex gamebooks in the Fighting Fantasy series. There are all sorts of extra rules to be aware of, and Keith Martin uses addition and multiplication a lot, as well as associating numbers with certain items, to prevent cheating - another thing which I like about this gamebook, although this isn't to everyone's taste. You're given two extra 'points' which you use to improve one or two of your Initial scores, and there are not one, not two, but three extra scores to track - HONOUR, Nemesis and Time Track. HONOUR is self-explanatory; Nemesis reflects how well known you are to the Night Dragon and his minions - the higher it goes, the more likely it is that you will meet and be attacked by his army of Stalkers. Your Time Track indicates how long it is taking you to reach the Night Dragon, but it's implemented rather badly; it makes a negligible difference to the Night Dragon's strength, and you will be changing your Time Track in almost every other paragraph you turn to, which soon becomes an annoyance.

Another noticeable thing about Night Dragon is that you will eat a lot of meals during your journey into the Dragon Reaches - the going is tough in the mountains. You'll also have to buy equipment in the settlements you visit, but prices vary, and you'll soon discover where to get your money's worth. In most gamebooks, you can only buy equipment in one place, so the ability to buy items in several places at different places is both interesting and a refreshing change from the norm.

In short, Night Dragon is an excellent gamebook. The number of extra rules to watch out for, particularly during combat (and there's a lot of that), may not appeal to everyone, but the encounter with the Ancient One himself is not something you'll forget easily! Even though the Night Dragon is far more powerful than your average end-of-book opponent, the book isn't too difficult to complete, although you'll need an Initial SKILL of at least 10 if you want a fair chance of defeating the Night Dragon. As usual, Keith Martin provides a book which is full of menace and atmosphere, and I reckon it's the best of his many contributions to Fighting Fantasy.

Rating: 9/10


[Mat Cooper]

Bold Statement: This is quite possibly the finest Fighting Fantasy book ever written.

The whole experience is so in depth, involving and atmospheric I have trouble finding a FF book that can beat it. At heart, the plot is as simple as they come: An evil dragon is awakening and will destroy the whole of Allansia and possibly the rest of Titan with it unless someone stops it. That someone is, of course, YOU!

The plot obviously doesn't set this book apart from crowd; the gameplay however is where the book comes into its own. With Keith Martin at the helm it will come as no surprise to any FF fans that the main system of SKILL, STAMINA and LUCK is supported with a number of extra rules and stats to keep things fresh and interesting. In this case, we have NEMESIS points (to keep track of the Night Dragon's servants in turn keeping track on you) and a TIME score (as you have a limited amount of time to reach and destroy the book's namesake before it draws its full strength and starts destroying everything).

The writing style is one that a more mature audience may appreciate. As the 52nd book in the Fighting Fantasy series it reads far more adult in fashion than many other FF books; especially the earlier ones such as Forest of Doom and The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, which avoid complex vocabulary altogether.

Keith Martin isn't afraid of drawing the book towards a more mature audience, and the atmoshpere generated whilst doing so is matched only by the equally excellent Martin penned story, Revenge of the Vampire. Paragraphs are of a suitable length to be able to flesh out the story without generating boredom during repeated play, and the high quality of the writing remains consistent all the way through to the famous 'paragraph 400.'

One other way that this book is handled by Martin sees Night Dragon set apart from Fighting Fantasy crowd: the incredibly clever use of numbers and puzzles. We've seen similar puzzles explored in other FF books; for example basic statements such as 'you find a copper key with the number 111 engraved on it.' Chances are, at some point you will be asked if you have the key; if you do, subtract the number on the key from the paragraph you are on at the time and turn to this reference.

Night Dragon approaches this in similar fashion in its heart, but on the surface of things it's done in a much more open and fun style for puzzle lovers.

As a FICTICIOUS example in order not to give anything away: You may have picked up a book called The Sixty-Six Tales of the Demonic Plane given to you by an old wizard called Yaztromo. When the book comes into play later in the adventure, you will be asked to convert the Wizard's name into numbers using the 'A=1, B=2, C=3.......Z=26' formula, adding the letters together. Subtract the number in the title from the number you have just converted and turn to this paragraph.

Night Dragon proves to be a great book that is expertly crafted, meticulously designed and is a pleasure to play through again and again. Proof that Fighting Fantasy never lost its way, and arguably got stronger and stronger right until the end of the Puffin publications in 1995.

Revenge of the Vampire (Keith Martin, FF book #58). Another fine example of how gamebooks should be written, from the same author as Night Dragon.

MY SCORE: 10 out of 10


[Robert La Vallie]

Night Dragon Will Brighten Your Day

What type of evil dragon can instill fear in the hearts of other dragons? Why, the Night Dragon, of course. Think about it, a dragon which other dragons will not fight. And yet, someone must fight this dragon. And that someone is YOU!!!

Keith Martin's penultimate foray into Fighting Fantasy is enthralling, to put it mildly. Throughout Night Dragon, you are asking yourself one question, "What is this night dragon?" And when you see the other dragons quake with fear at the dragon conclave, you curiosity increases.

A problem could have existed if the Night Dragon turned out to be a lame enemy. But, he isn't.  Hey, any creature with a skill of 17 and a stamina of 32 ranks as T-U-F-F in my book. And, if you defeat him, if you think the book ends, well, pilgrim, you just don't know Keith Martin. There is a surprise ending, which makes Night Dragon a truly remarkable novel. If I had to pick a flaw, it is that Night Dragon is a bit long-winded. Just a bit. But hey, How many Fighting Fantasy books are perfect, anyway? Still, aside from this minor flaw, Night Dragon is a book that definitely ranks in the upper echelon of the Fighting Fantasy series.

Rating: 7.5/10




In common with all the Fighting Fantasy (FF) series, this is a part-novel, part-RPG gamebook in which the player takes on the role of the hero and attempts to battle, path-choose and problem-solve a route through to success. Combat, tests of luck and skill, and various other events are managed through dice-rolls against statistics held by the player and various adversaries.

Night Dragon highlights some of the strengths of the gamebook genre, but also some of its weaknesses. The story is fantasy on an unusually epic scale even for FF - a long-dormant dragon is awakening from its sleep, threatening doom to the world, and forces of good and evil are uniting to stop it. The reader takes on the role of the hero chosen to slay this monster before it can arise. In fact the Night Dragon has the highest statistics of any opponent in a FF gamebook - though fortunately it is vulnerable to certain magical weapons. The story - reminiscent of the Dragonlance storylines - is one of the strengths of the book, which plays to FF's strengths, creating the feeling of a viable fantasy world and a quest of sufficient import and urgency for any reader to become engaged. The villain of the piece is built up to truly monstrous proportions which gives the final battle a sense of importance. As a story, Night Dragon is unusually nuanced, complex and developed for a FF book. As a game, too, it is unusual. The gamebook adopts an unusual, strongly segmentary structure with various distinct areas the player can visit. These can be visited in a number of different sequences, with different outcomes and levels of difficulty depending on the order in which they are attempted. It is difficult, but not (with good initial stats) impossible; in fact it's fairly easy to rectify errors on later attempts.

One problem is the book's difficulty - while the final battle will not be too difficult if the player acquires the right items, there are a whole series of earlier battles of considerable difficulty, as well as a long list of items the player needs to collect for maximum chances of success. The structure is also not very replayable because every adventure passes through the same locations every time. The gamebook structure is also frustrating because the player is often confronted with, say, four indistinguishable options; one of them progresses to the next stage, others contain rewards or traps, but there is no possibility of going back, so a player who chooses the progression option at a first attempt has no further opportunity to explore the area. And there is an excess of statistics, numbers and codes to keep track of, some of which (like the "honour" and "time" scores) have only a minimal effect on the adventure, and also a lot of use of codes involving maths, converting numbers into letters, etc., that will require some skill with maths and/or a handy calculator. Popular with FF fans, this is definitely a book for the established gamer rather than the casual reader.


[Phil Sadler]

We all know that Dragons are tough right? That nothing would scare them, right? Wrong. The Night Dragon would and, what's more, he'd take over the world! I'm glad I don't live on Titan; there's always an insane wizard, powerful giant, evil necromancer or deadly dragon that's trying to take over it.

The first thing you will notice about this book (apart from the fantastic cover) is the large number of new rules you have to learn because, besides from the usual Skill, Stamina and Luck stalwarts you also have Time, Honor and Nemesis. It's also one of the few adventures where even your provisions box goes up and down like yo-yo on a trampoline. What's more, in an interesting twist, you get 2 extra 'points' to spend to improve your initial stats! So there's an awful lot to keep track of, perhaps too much? Your Time box is the biggest culprit when it comes to 'micro-managment' because you will be changing it more than an incontinent Baby's nappy. I mean you will be altering that damn stat literally every other paragraph! That's not the worst aspect of this new rule though because, unless you waste a truly absurd amount of time, it will have almost no bearing on the story!

Honor is a far less annoying stat to keep track of (I only ever had to change it 3 times) but it can certainly save your neck on more than one occasion! It's also, as well as a good stat to improve, quite a satisfying one too, because you'll only improve it by being... honorable. Nemesis is the opposite of honor in that (apart from one occasion) you'll never want to raise. It basically indicates how much your many enemies know of your quest and, should it get too high, you'll be a dead man! By the way, I only ever found one occasion to lower this stat. Like I've said, you'll also need to constantly adjust your Provision's box and, even then, you rarely gain any stamina from them! I don't know how many meals I ate on this quest (which probably lasted a couple of weeks game time) but it must have been at least 3 dozen! What a greedy hero I was controlling!

This book's good points far outweigh its bad though, for instance, I especially liked the fact that there were few instant deaths but rather a lot of 'ifs' and 'buts.' What I mean by this is that if you don't have a certain artifact you will may be in trouble but there may be another way to deal with it. That's not to say that there's never a tough situation: by the time I met the High Priest I had an Attack Strength of 14, a Stamina of 19 and a Luck of 10, suffice to say that by the time I left him I had a Stamina of 1!

The book has excellent atmosphere and you really do feel that it's you verses them and there's an awful lot more of them than there is of you. This engaging feeling is further helped by the fact that there is constant reference to the Night Dragon and his followers, couple this with the fact that there are numerous ways to weaken him before you ever meet him and you can't help thinking that you're dealing with a truly awesome creature of ancient descent and incredible power.

With further reference to the book's atmosphere I feel particular note must be paid to the 'living' lair that the dragon inhabits - very sick and more than a little warped and twisted to boot! I've already noted a few of this books unusual features and here's another one - your Attack Strength can go through the roof! I mean, I started with 11 and by the end of the book when I faced the Night Dragon himself, it was 19! You needn't think he's a pushover even then, because It will take more than a sharp sword and a few scraps of armor to best him! I found I had an unusual sense of accomplishment when I finally did battle with the ancient and destroyed him, unusual in the sense that most books just don't get you feeling that way. A final word of warning: the Night Dragon is by far the most powerful creature anyone has ever had to face in all of the FF books. We're talking about something that fears nothing. Actually, that's not true, there is one thing that even he fears but you'll have to find it yourself...

Overall grade: 8 (out of 10)


[Laurence Sinclair]

Two in a row from Keith Martin, and this book follows much the same lines as his earlier Island of the Undead. The complexity has been toned down ever so slightly, but still you'll have to be good with multiplication and know your alphabet to complete it.

The most powerful Dragon in the world has awoken, but all other Dragons have sworn an ancient oath not to harm it, so it is up to a lone human hero to retrieve the lost weapons of ancient heroes and confront it before it can plunge the world into primal Chaos.

Cue horribly powerful 'boss' monsters at various stages, each guarding one of the artefacts that you need to win. This time, however, you are directed towards them, instead of having to find your waya round blindly. There are many 'bonus' items to be found too, things that will give temporary bonuses to your combat proficiencies but aren't needed to be victorious. You also have a Nemesis score to keep track of how much attention you ahve drawn to yourself, and a Time Track that is pretty self-explanatory.

You travel the world to gather the weapons, aided by a magic cat (!). Giants and dragon-headed Stalkers lie in wait for the unwary, and you must also deal with an evil cult devotrd to the worship of the Dragon. Evil cults are always a Good Thing.

All in all, the book comes across as a hybrid cross between Crypt of the Sorcerer and Island of the Undead, and manages to come across relatively coherently. The final few passages, deep within the Dragon's lair, are slightly confusing and muddled, and after the epic journey are something of a let down, but the fianl confrontation is one that will live forever in your memory.

Rating: 7 out of 10


[David Whyld]

By the time Night Dragon came out, Keith Martin was perhaps the most prolific writer of Fighting Fantasy gamebooks since Ian Livingstone. Unfortunately, he also shared quite a few of IL’s bad points: a liking for throwing incredibly powerful enemies at the player irrespective of the fact that they could well be starting the book with a Skill as low as 7 and a long (overlong?) storyline that contains more than a few opportunities for the player to mess up the entire adventure with a single bad move. Night Dragon has all these bad points, and several more besides, but still remains a fairly decent gamebook overall.

The storyline concerns the awakening of a dragon of unimaginable power, one that other (good) dragons are unable to take action against due to an ancient curse from their God forbidding them. So they need to find a hero to defeat the night dragon for them, and that hero, not very surprisingly, is YOU. (Why they just decided to choose one hero instead of a whole army of them is never made clear. Dragons, clearly, aren’t good thinkers.) Now on the face of things, this might seem like a fairly lame plan - after all, if dragons themselves are unable to defeat the night dragon, what chance has a mere human got? - but you do have the opportunity to acquire several very powerful magical items along the way. And believe me, the final fight with the night dragon itself is one that will require every item you can come across and then a few more. With Skill 17 and Stamina 32, it’s a truly awesome enemy and one that - as is true of most FF gamebooks - you won’t defeat if you start the book with "average" statistics. Yep, this is another one whereby starting with anything less than a Skill of 11 or 12 just means you're doomed to fail.

The night dragon isn’t the one formidable enemy you'll face during the book. Far from it. You also encounter his stalkers from time to time, each and every one of them more than a match for the average fighter. Expect to take more than a few attempts to get through the book due to the difficulty of some of these encounters because a fair number of them can be sprung upon you very early in the book, long before you’ve had the opportunity to acquire any of the magic items mentioned above.

Night Dragon is well written for the most part and the only time the style of writing dips is when the player enters a strange place called Dreamtime. Nothing is as it seems here and, frankly, I found the whole thing quite confusing. I was glad to be out of it and was never sure afterwards if the whole confusing nature of the experience was deliberate or just a flaw on the writer’s part.

There are several bad points that bring the book down, though. The obvious one - and something the majority of FF books fall into - is throwing incredibly difficult enemies at the player and blindly assuming they have the abilities to combat them. All well and good if you do. Not so if you’ve started the book with Skill 7 or 8. Best if you just close the book and try something else. Or do what I did and give yourself instant stats of Skill 12, Stamina 24 (the only way to guarantee you'll have a chance of getting to section 400 in one piece).

Another bad point are the new rules. New rules are generally something I'm all in favour of: they add a nice level of complexity to FF that I always felt was lacking and overall make the books more interesting to play. But the extra rules in Night Dragon are frustrating more than beneficial. Time is the worse one, something you'll be expected to update in just about every new section you turn to. Even more annoying is the fact that, unless you dawdle about for a godforsaken amount of time, it won’t make the slightest bit of difference in the long run; even if you do dawdle, the amount of difference it makes to the night dragon’s stats is pretty minimal so feel free to take as long as you like. The Honour rule was pretty much a waste of time, too, although as it wasn’t used anywhere near as often as Time it doesn’t become quite as irritating. The only new rule that actually worked well was the Nemesis rule. Cause too much fuss in the locations you visit along the way and you'll find yourself attacked more and more frequently by the night dragon’s stalkers; keep your head down and they’ll tend to leave you alone. Unfortunately, it’s often difficult to know what actions that you're about to take are going to affect your Nemesis score and which ones won’t but it was an interesting and welcome addition to the rules all the same.

All in all, I’d say Night Dragon was an above average FF gamebook which could have been better. The final fight was quite an exciting one - weaknesses of the FF combat system aside - but I never felt the night dragon was as well described as it could have been. For the mightiest enemy you’ve ever had to face in any of the FF gamebooks, he packed less of a punch than Zharradan Marr or Balthus Dire and was far less memorable than half a dozen other enemies I can remember fighting.

Overall grade: 6 (out of 10)