Eye of the Dragon

The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were blockbusters of the era. Now let’s visit the series as it was reborn under a new publisher, in EYE OF THE DRAGON!

In 1982, Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, founders of Games Workshop, released the book ‘The Warlock of Firetop Mountain’. Intended as an introduction to tabletop role-playing games of the era, the book’s choose-your-own-adventure format mixed with simple dice-based combat proved massively successful, giving rise to a full series of books – Fighting Fantasy. With over 65 books in the series by a legion of authors and illustrators, the series’ legacy continues to this day. Come along with us as Cybe and co play through each one – with no prior knowledge, no hints or walkthroughs and no cheating!

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Eye of the Dragon seems a bit odd to me. I’m writing this intro before sitting down to play it, so consider these my initial thoughts.

It was published in 2005, and was the first Fighting Fantasy book in about a decade, following the conclusion of the original series. But it seems a fairly standard FF book. It doesn’t have any of the special rules or extra stats that we’ve seen in the other new-FF books. It has 407 paragraphs, which is an odd number, and I can’t really see any reason for it. In general it seems that an odd one to be the ‘big return to the franchise’ that we’d have imagined after a decade of nothing.

This book was evidently also owned by ‘Alec’ before me, and he had a skill of 10 when he began his adventure – I know this because he was nice enough to fill out the sheet in pen. Thanks, Alec! I hope you’re reading this right now, because if you are, I hope the titular ‘dragon’ in this book ate you.

My adventurer (with a skill of 10 and a stamina of 19) is on hard times, struggling to afford to eat – I guess I’ve already emptied most of the dungeons around. While kicking back in the town of Fang, presumably considering whether to enter the Deathtrap Dungeon contest or not, a particularly suspicious chap called Henry Delacour joins me and tells me about his adventures. The book makes a point of telling me that there’s something very dodgy about Henry. Please remember that.

Henry tells me the story of a golden dragon statue which is worth untold riches. He has found the dragon, but cannot pick it up unless the dragon’s ‘eyes’ (two emeralds) are returned to its sockets. If you touch it without both emeralds in place, you die. Somehow. He never explained how, if this is simply an ancient curse or if some stupid bugger painted the dragon in asbestos paint. Either way, Henry hands me over one of the dragon’s eyes, and tells me that if I can find the other one and bring him back the dragon, he’ll split the profit with me.

Then, to make sure I come back, he asks me to drink some poison. Without so much as questioning if it’s a good idea to drink some dodgy liquid offered to me from a dodgy man in a tavern, my character gulps down the poison. And yes, the character KNOWS it’s poison! Henry tells him so! The idea is that if I come back with the dragon, he’ll give me an antidote. My character isn’t tricked into drinking it, he volunteers! “Ooh, poison? Yummy, I’ll have a pint of that, barkeep!”

I’m only four pages into this book, and I’m already convinced that my character was dropped on his head as a child. I don’t mean just once, I mean repeatedly for an entire hour.

It immediately seems that most of this adventure is going to be a dungeon crawl. I’m sent off to the Forest of Doom (which I’ve still got to play at some point soon), and find the entrance to the dungeon via a woodcutter’s cabin. This strikes me as a rather odd entrance, because the dungeon is very busy – I wonder if anyone has noticed all the people going in and out of this woodcutter’s cabin in the middle of a forest. Still, I find an axe head in the cabin before I venture down…

In the dungeon itself, I soon come across a room in which I find an old painter. He seems to be creating quite a gallery, although I’ve no idea why he’s deciding to display his entire life’s works in a pit beneath a forest. He tries to sell me a painting of an owl, but I’m not interested and continue on my way. I head down the tunnel for a while, before I find a merchant’s store – why is this here? This surely can’t be a good place to get customers! Is this a dungeon, or a subterranean village?

I want to ask the merchant why he didn’t just set up shop in the abandoned woodcutter’s hut, so that he could get a better location for his store. I want to ask the merchant why he looks like Ian Livingstone. Instead I just buy a silver dagger, because I know how these books work and know that silver weapons are the only things that can kill dungeon-dwelling spirit beasties.

I leave the store, activate a trap in the tunnel and am almost impaled by arrows. Why is this trap here? So far, the only people I’ve seen in this dungeon are old men who want to sell me things. The painter doesn’t seem the type to be dodging traps, and surely it doesn’t help the merchant if half of his customers are shot with arrows before they even get to the door of his store. What is going on with this place? God damn it book, MAKE SOME SENSE!!

I enter another room. This new room is almost entirely empty aside from a statue of a cat. I notice that it has jewel eyes, and thinking that this may be some sort of clue, I take a closer look. The statue then hypnotizes me, and I collapse. I wake up later, with 2 stamina points missing, a splitting headache, and the cat statue has turned to dust. I then leave the room. Could anyone explain to me the point of this? What was the statue doing there? Did I lose my stamina points by hitting my head on the floor? If not, how did I lose them? Who put this statue here? What is it doing here? Who does it belong to? The merchant? Why did it turn to dust? THIS MAKES NO SENSE!! BLAAARRGHLGGLGHG!!

catches breath Okay, okay, I’m calm, I’m calm. Let’s continue.

The next room I stumble across is a torture chamber. Okay, fine, that’s in keeping with the theme of the dungeon… But whose torture chamber is it? The merchants? Who does he torture? There aren’t any prisons or… agh, stop thinking about it! Just… just focus… okay, okay… there’s a treasure chest in the chamber. I open it, and find a silver box and a crystal dagger. Yay. Happy yay. Yay. YAY! YAY YAY YAY YAY!!. All is good in the world. Let’s not question it. Keep going. La la la. Yay.

Things seem to start to make more sense now, as I find a large chasm. Deciding not to cross it just yet, I climb down into the pit, and on the chasm floor I find a ghoul. Ghouls are nasty, as any FF player will remember – they can paralyse you if they get enough hits. Thankfully this one’s rather weak, so I manage to kill it and find a rather nicely polished shield. Good. Things are definitely back to normal now. I climb back up, head over the bridge, and continue down the tunnel.

In the wall of the tunnel, I find a large fountain. The face of the fountain is of an old crone, the water trickling from her mouth. The book asks if I want to drink this old woman’s spit-water. Because I’m feeling masochistic, I go for it. Curiously enough, it’s actually quite a refreshing drink, and heals some of the damage I took from the ghoul.

I come across an alcove in the wall, which contains a chair made from skulls. Hmm, I’ve always wanted to sit on a chair of skulls, preferably after I’ve taken over the world. I decide to try this one out for size. Expecting horrible things, the book instead tells me that this is a ‘chair of life’ and that I’ve regained some stamina… If it’s a chair of life, why is it made of skulls? Shouldn’t it be a chair of death, or at very least a chair of skulls? I.. but… it… no sense….

I press onwards, feeling more and more that this isn’t really an adventure. I figure that instead it’s actually an LSD trip that’s being caused by the poison I drank at the start of this silly series of events. I find a door which has rats nailed to it… I expect a rather unpleasant chap inside this room. Sure enough, I find a troll. Not just a regular troll – a two-headed troll. Due to a series of unlucky dice rolls, it nearly beats me to death, but I’m able to scrape through with 6 stamina points remaining. Most of its loot consists of silver, namely a silver arrowhead and a silver charm in the shape of a lion.

I feel I’m actually making some progress when I come across a river. By this point I’m having flashbacks of Warlock of Firetop Mountain, and decide to ride across the river in the raft. The book has other ideas – instead it gives me an instant-death segment in which the river tumbles into a series of horrible river rapids, from which I plummet down a waterfall to my death.

Or at least, that’s what the book tells me. Truth is, I suspect that my character simply passed out as a result of excessive poisoning caused by mind-altering chemicals he’d drank at the start of the adventure. He would awake later on to find himself chained to a table. Looking around, he would see Henry Delacour in the corner of the room. “Oh, foolish adventurer” Harry would say as he stepped closer, “I hope that you will enjoy the rest of your existence as part of one of my experimental humunculus!”

The adventurer would glance around, stricken with panic. Sure enough, the room would be lined with many other experiments. Half-pigeons half-sharks would fly through the air. Half-people half-books would cry in pain as they try to read what’s written on them, but just can’t manage to see. An orc centipede would stumble pass, far more family friendly than the human centipede variety. “Your fate will be similar” says Henry, “For I plan to take your brain out and replace it with the brain of someone who won’t just randomly drink any poison that strangers in the pub give to them!” Reaching up, Henry would remove his mask to reveal the true mastermind of the dungeon, the most sinister and evil of all of Titan’s creatures… THE MERCHANT!

Yes, Mr Livingstone, I’m on to your little secret!

Cause of death: Fall down a waterfall!