Thursday, 5 July 2012

Eye of the Dragon playthrough

Written by Ian Livingstone, Artwork by Martin McKenna

Here's lookin' at you, kid.
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.

Also, while flicking through the book, I swear one of the drawings of a shop merchant looked JUST like Ian Livingstone... 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.

Every rose has its thorn, just like every night has its dawn
just like every cowboy sings a sad, sad song...
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...

Would you like some items
with your insanity, sir?
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....

Not pictured - the troll's giant sod-off massive axe
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!"

Dare you look upon the face of He Who
Spreads Chaos Across All Of Titan?
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!

For most of the older FF books, I make excuses for strange things because they were wrote in the 80s and have a retro charm to them. I can't really apply that same logic to this book, because it's so much more recent. For the first FF book in a decade, I really hoped that they'd do something bigger than a standard dungeon crawl, even if the rooms in the dungeon did contain random nonsensical things. If this book had been written in the first ten of the original series of FF books, it'd have fit in well - but the series has progressed a lot since then.

Just looking at the other new-FF books like Bloodbones, Howl of the Werewolf and Night of the Necromancer, they all show much more willingness to play with the rules, create new risks and try to achieve bigger things. Eye of the Dragon just doesn't take that risk, and as a result it feels very plain. The upcoming 'Blood of the Zombies' sounds like it's going to take far more of a gamble in both setting and style, which is a welcome treat - I just wish the same could be said here.

In either case, while I've been traipsing around in the dungeons beneath the forest, my colleague Galactrix has been having even more fun up on the surface of the Forest of Doom, in the sunlight, without the LSD-fueled merchants. I'd definitely recommend checking out his blog, as he's managed to do something I've yet to do in my blog - bleedin' well complete one of these books!


  1. I've yet to play this one at all but it sounds like a bit of a dull affair. Half-pigeon half-sharks sound like an excellent way to liven things up.

  2. Nice read through :). I think the most entertaining part of reading play throughs is the readers' rationalisations of these crazy situations.

    The Eye of the Dragon released by Wizard books is an extended version of a mini FF published in 1982 which is why it has the feel of an early FF adventure.

    Here's the Titannica page for the mini adventure

    1. Thanks, that definitely helps add quite a bit of context to it. It definitely fits in better with the early classics of the series.

  3. I read somewhere that one of the illustrations in this was based on Ian Livingstone, but for some reason I thought it was the one of Henry Delacor/Sharcle, although it must be said that merchant looks more like him, so I'm most likely wrong. What I found most disappointing when I first read through Eye of the dragon was how the totally awesome Hell demon was reduced from the big bad it so excellently was in House of Hell to a petty monster that offered no real resistance or posed a real threat to you in this. That and the unimaginative story didn't really draw me in. That said, the dungeon beneath Darkwood is far more interesting than what lies above...

  4. Here's an intriguing question:
    What if you were to return to Henry anytime before the 14 day deadline and say to him (truthfully or otherwise): "I have failed to obtain the dragon statue. Please may I have the antidote"?
    But then again, even if you uphold your side of the bargain and divide the spoils with him, what is to stop him giving you a false antidote before watching you keel over and taking the whole lot for himself?
    Come to think of it, how exactly DO you split a solid gold, meter high dragon statue worth 335,000 gold pieces? Somebody really hasn't thought this background story through!

  5. This was an old draft Livingston did ages ago. He just submitted it without trying to update it at all and it was accepted.