Dead of Night

The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were blockbusters of the era. It’s time to head out and explore in the Dead of Night!

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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Written by Jim Bambra and Stephen Hand, artwork by Martin McKenna
I haven’t read this one before, I think. No excuses. It has Martin McKenna’s artwork though, which is always a huge plus for me. His moody, dark work always seemed a great fit for a lot of the later Fighting Fantasy books.

In this book, you play a noble paladin, who battles the forces of evil and demons etc. In fact, you even have a score called ‘evil’ which indicates how seduced by the dark side you’re becoming. I guess I’ll have to get all the ‘evil’ out of my system now, so please excuse me while I laugh maniacally and kick a nearby box of kittens. Mwa-hahahah!!

The book gives a very simple background for your character, who is on a quest to find the evil demon lord Myurr and say to him “My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my brother and kidnapped my parents. Prepare to die.” It’s not exactly Shakespeare, but it’s significantly more than is typical in a Fighting Fantasy book, whose character backgrounds usually involve the words ‘sword for hire’.

I take three skills with me – heal, sense demon and meditation. There’s a decent list of skills, one of which is rather interesting as it’s called dark veil, which will make you invisible to enemies, but at the risk of increasing your evil score, evidently because the word ‘veil’ is an anagram of ‘evil’. No, really, that’s what the book says.

Enough of this, let’s get on with the adventure. Having just received a message from the demon lord Myurr telling me that he’s captured my parents, I rush back to my childhood home. It starts off fairly badly, because I come across a skeleton hanging from a gibbet by the roadside. It tells me that I am too late and that all is hopeless, so I opt to thump it with my sword, which causes the gibbet to fall on top of me. Oh yeah, this bodes so well.

Sure enough, my parent’s home is empty. I rush to a nearby tavern, hoping to find someone who knows a little more about it all, but I’m met by an old friend. He asks me to meet him later, but it turns out that most of the villagers are terrified of me. I try to meet my old friend, but a group of angry villagers tell me to just get out of town and spare them all the trouble. So naturally, I beat the living snot out of them. Which… earns me two points of my evil score… Okay, I think I know to be a bit more careful from now on.

Leaving town, I opt to head to go and see a Seer. I wish I knew what it was about these books that caused my characters to so frequently pay visits to Mystic Meg. Anyway, I pause at a nearby wagon to heal an old woman who’s been bitten by an undead demon monster thing. Following this, I help a group of torch-wielding villagers put a stake through a vampire’s heart, both very quick little missions, but in the process I’ve lost track of how to get to the seer. Oh well.

There’s a little road-side temple I stop in to meditate at, during which I manage to find a holy amulet, which I was apparently destined to find. It’s just hidden in a little alcove, I don’t know who put it there, maybe the gods themselves. Anyway, I nick it from the temple, but because I was ‘destined’ to find it, I don’t earn any evil points for this blatant theft. Soon arriving at a nearby village, my horse decides to make a run into the woods, leaving me stranded for the evening.

My demon-sense (kinda like spidey-sense, but not as fun) warns me that there’s a demonic presence in a nearby wooden house, so instead the book tells me that I avoid it and stay in a stone house instead – eh? I want to go in and fight the bugger! I guess I’m not much of a demon hunting paladin. Maybe the only reason I’ve survived this long is because I know where to hide from the demons. Anyway, the book immediately gives me a chance to redeem myself, because it throws a bunch of demons at me nonetheless. Not all paladins are great. Hell, in Ultima 9, your character doesn’t even know what a paladin IS, despite the fact that he’s the physical incarnation of all Paladins, grrr…I don’t even know what made me think about this, despite the fact that I’ve been re-playing Ultima 7 this last week.

A bunch of villagers rush up to me, armed with torches and pitchforks… y’know, I really wonder where these rampaging mobs get these torches and pitchforks. It reminds me of a scene in the 90s X-Men cartoon, when a village were rather scared of the mutant Nightcrawler, and decided to form an angry mob armed with pitchforks and torches… in the very middle of the 1990s… it just looked very weird. Anyway, the villagers enlist me to make their little hovel safe for the night. Over the course of that night, I fight three demons for the ungrateful buggers, who don’t even open their purse-strings in gratitu – oh wait, I’m meant to be a goodly paladin hero in this one, aren’t I? So I guess that no reward is necessary….. crap….

The next morning I press on, snarfing down breakfast as I go in order to recover some stamina from the battles of the night before. I assume that we’ve managed to recover my horse along the way, as well. No sooner am I a few feet down the path, then I start to hear the beating of giant wings. I am swept up by a giant elemental beast, which flies away with me into the air.

I’m all ready to chop the thing apart, but the fall is not too appealing. Plus, the book makes sure to mention that I experience the sensation of a magical aura around the beast, and sense the wizard’s name “Aha,” I think, “Maybe a kindly wizard has sent this beast here to escort me to safety.” When the beast sets me down in the middle of a puddle of quicksand, I start to think I may be wrong.

I pull myself free of the quicksand and head into a nearby mill, chopping apart a few wandering zombies as I do. I sense great magic inside the mill, so I assume that the kindly wizard who has summoned me is barricaded inside, hiding from the zombies. I climb in through a hole in the wall, and meet the wizard, who is a necromancer lord of the undead, and probably isn’t as kindly as I had hoped. A few villagers give me five gold coins for the act of slaying the foul necromancer who is the enemy of all who live – hey, big spenders!

I rest up at another road-side temple, and as I meditate I receive a vision from the gods warning me of a horrible course of events going down nearby. Being especially heroic, I rush along the road until I start to hear some ominous chanting in the woods. I charge on in, sword drawn, and encounter what I can only describe as a satanic ritual.

In the clearing of the woods, a moon demon has put the body of the mage I’d killed the night before on an evil-looking pedestal, and is in the process of resurrecting him as an undead demon monster hybrid thing type of a thing. I find it a bit hard to believe that I wouldn’t have chopped the wizard’s head off in the first place, but eh, whatever. I rush on in and kill the demon, but it’s too late as the ritual has already taken place.

The wizard’s head then splits apart and a load of tentacles shoot out. I am already pretty damn low on stamina by this point, but this creature (called an Abomination, and rightfully so because the wizard is now pretty much composed of tentacles and one giant mouth) is tough to kill, but not impossible. Except for a slight problem in which you get an instant-death if the monster’s attack roll is five points higher than yours. Guess what I rolled. No, go on, have a guess. If you guess that I’ve rolled the instant-death option, no shit!

So yeah, the git which looks like Cthulhu’s dangly bits then wraps me up in his tentacles in a way that’s not been seen since Japanese porn, and yanks me into its giant mouth, which falls like a guillotine. The book tells me “Your adventure is most horribly over.” That’s no exaggeration. Has anyone been keeping track of how many deaths by tentacles I’ve suffered in these books? I’m sure it’s a lot…

I’ve talked previously about the books 30-39 in the Fighting Fantasy series being rather samey and dull, and I really do think that the ones 40-49 did pick up a lot on it. They’re far more atmospheric, often more experimental in how they deliver the story. They cross over a lot more into the gothic fantasy subgenre, which I really do care for. This is all personal sentiment though.

I rather like this book. It’s got a dense, moody atmosphere with a lot of darkness and creepiness. The things you encounter along the way do seem a little episodic and self-contained though, but it’s all held together by the overarching quest to recover your parents from the demon’s grip. It’s not quite to the same heights as Vault of the Vampire, but it’s definitely on the level with Legend of the Shadow Warriors. In short, I’d recommend giving Dead of Night a shot if you haven’t had the chance to do so before. It’s enjoyable, and worth it. And I’d really like to do a play-through aiming to be as evil as possible.

Cause of death: Death by tentacles. So much fun, I’m sure…