Today I start my long-awaited look at the ‘Golden Dragon Fantasy Gamebook’ series, one of the many rivals to Fighting Fantasy that appeared during the ‘golden age’ of gamebooks in the 1980s; this one I missed out on at the time for some reason, but given the people involved, I think I can assume that I am in fairly safe hands; the two writers of this series were key in one of my favourite role-playing games, Dragon Warriors, as well as the Blood Sword gamebooks that I enjoyed (which are just coming back into print again, and are definitely on my to-buy list.)
One immediate impression I get as I open the book is that it looks very much like a Fighting Fantasy in style; were it not for the different logo I would be quite prepared to think this was one. I suspect that is no coincidence; indeed, at least one of these books was originally destined to be part of the Fighting Fantasy series before ending up in this alternate imprint. I’m reading the original version, I should clarify; these have been reissued recently.
First of all I roll my statistics - Vigour, Psi and Agility. I get to a good start with my Vigour, 30 out of a possible 32, which suggests I might survive for a while, but Psi is not so good - 5 out of a possible 9. Agility is worse at 4, again out of 9. Basically I appear to be a lumbering barbarian who struggles to get through doors, so as the book calls upon me to name my character, I opt for ‘Thodd the Barbarian’. Bonus points to anyone who gets the reference. Fortunately the combat rules suggest that I won’t need my dud scores to fight, so I might get somewhere…
The adventure starts with my character wandering through a wood in the middle of the night, when I come across the entrance to Castle Dra…to a mysterious castle. I think personally I would just keep on going, but Thodd wants in, so I attempt to get in - only to find my first battle, against a Gatekeeper! I stomp him without too much trouble, and head into the grounds, where I see an Elf with a bow walking towards me. Talking fails, so I fight...again. Welcoming place, this. He actually does quite a bit of damage to me on his way down - despite suffering from ‘fever’. So far I have killed a sick man and a servant. I am a real hero. His fever, incidentally, was caused by two odd marks on his neck, and with his dying breath he asks me to deal with a ‘Dark Lord’ by midnight. This is not at all ominous.
Heading for the entrance to the hall, I decide to throw three gold pieces into a pool, almost at random, and see a strange, evil face appear - I am forewarned, apparently, that my quest to kill a Dark Lord will involve fighting someone evil! Walking down a corridor, I steal the Dark Lord’s lantern so I don’t trip over his other victims, and enter his library. Thodd loves books; he finds them very absorbent, so he looks over the tomes. Pulling down the Encyclopedia Vampirica, he sits down at a chair to study it more closely. (‘V’ for Vampirella, no doubt. She probably has a centerfold.) The chair, of course, tries to eat him, but he gets up, noticing hidden creatures in the shadows. It’s still better than a Premier Inn. Going upstairs, I find some dusty bedrooms and an offered the choice to have a nap - but Thodd has bad people to smash and loot to find!
Returning to the ground floor, there is a room with a crucifix that seems tempting. Probably a trap, but what the hell, smash goes the door. Inside is Brother Cadfael - sorry, Father Harkas - who gives me nourishing herb tea and a crucifix; I turn down the Potion of Iron Will. He also gives me a lantern, and I dutifully add it to my collection, swinging one in each hand. Looks kinda cool in the dark. The High Priest of Exposition gives me the story, of a fallen noble house gone to evil, and challenges me to deal with him. Which I was anyway; it’s a dull old night out here, and there’s nothing else to do.
Off I go to the wine cellar, and stumble down to a door. Even Thodd has more sense than to taste the wine...yet. He’ll save it for the ‘I killed the Bad Guy’ party afterward. Inside are two silver candlesticks, which I promptly steal, and then am caught in the act by a witch, who tells me to get out. When I refuse, she summons a monkey, and after yelling, “Damn Dirty Ape”, Thodd runs off, fearful that Roddy McDowell will turn up at any minute.
Further down the corridor lies an evil chapel, and once again, I wander inside, peeking around at the dark candlesticks, chalice of obviously-blood, and sinister sigils. There seems to be nothing of interest, so I wander off - evidently Thodd’s attention span is about that of the average goldfish. Now comes the gallery of evil; the first twelve Lords all looking pompous, the 13th looking like a Vampire. Perhaps he had it done at a Hammer Horror convention? On the ground is a dead skeleton clutching a glowing sword, and given that I am an adventurer, I must loot the corpse. Hell, it’s probably how he got the sword in the first place. Stepping through, there is another painting - and this one starts firing arrows at me! Fortunately, I have a spare lantern (and big points to the book for noting that possibility, by the way) so I throw one at the painting and burn it to a crisp. Take that, Mondrian!
Venturing along a long, twisted corridor - and ignoring a door (was this book once longer, and that edited out, I wonder?) I find another door with a golden hand. This almost demands to be opened, so in I go, to see a man who wants to play chess with me. So that’s where Bobby Fischer ended up! Of course, there is more than first meets the eye; it turns out to be an invitation to step into the board and fight the Black Queen. Naturally, I win, but she really does me a lot of damage on the way; I’m down to only twelve points of Vigour. Fortunately, I get it all back and then some - and more smarts to boot! Thodd can have another try at those ‘Where’s Wally’ books when he gets home. I even get a White Bishop as a momento.
Actually feeling fairly confident, I wander deeper into the dungeon, and find a chest to examine. Of course, it tries to kill me - well, a magic rope has a go that was resting on it. Fortunately the word to disarm it - Nesool - is on a scroll in the chest, so I only get hurt a little. There is a potion inside, and down the hatch it goes, healing me up. I’m quite far in now, and back on maximum health - all of this seems very promising. No doubt I am being set up for a huge fall. Dodging another trap, I find an oil-lamp, and stuff it in my backpack in the event I need to destroy more art. Instead, I use it to kill two lurking assassins...don’t know why I even wrote it down!
Then I die under a pile of rubble.
You get to see the Count. More than poor Thodd did.
Wow. Er...wow. That was sudden. I was really enjoying this one, actually - it had me hooked in classic Fighting Fantasy style, and I was going to say how fair this book seemed to be - plenty of chances to top up health. Then I get smashed by a Gygaxian insta-kill trap, which I had to throw four or less to save...and predictably, failed with a double-4. This book, I will say, is huge. For a book with only 290 paragraphs, it seems to have lots of twists and turns to it, and the dungeon has a heck of a lot of scope. Aside from my demise...I will recommend this one. An excellent start to the series, and I hope it bodes well for tomorrow’s book!