The Second Swordsman - Enter the Dragon!
By Malcolm Garcia
While most of the foes to be fought in FIGHTING FANTASY adventures tend to be humanoids, such as Orcs or Goblins, there are rare occasions when YOU can encounter a creature that exists towards the top of Titan’s food chain, the Dragon. In attempting the Second Swordsman process, I’ve so far fought (and defeated) only a White Dragon (in Caverns of the Snow Witch) and met a Dragon Librarian (in Spectral Stalkers). To gain more exposure to these mysterious beasts I decided to try only choosing the second option in two dragon-themed adventures, Night Dragon and Eye of the Dragon.
In Night Dragon the stakes for my quest could not be much higher – an ancient dragon is awakening, and when it does so it will destroy everything in its path. Night was penned by Keith Martin, author of seven FIGHTING FANTASY adventures including Vault of the Vampire and Revenge of the Vampire. It also marked the first time I’d returned to Port Blacksand since attempting Temple of Terror. Eye of the Dragon was also set in Allansia, but that was where the similarities between the two books ended. Written by Ian Livingstone, the eponymous dragon is, in fact, an almost priceless golden statue which has been hidden in a trap- and monster-filled labyrinth beneath Darkwood Forest. (How these subterranean mazes are maintained is one of the great mysteries of Titan. Surely the residents are not solely relying on a steady supply of foolhardy adventures to provide them with food. And don’t the creatures within miss the sunlight and fresh air they could find outside?)
Both adventures had me starting with decent SKILL, STAMINA and LUCK scores. This was through luck of the dice in Night and by choosing the second pre-rolled character in Eye. The beginning of both Night and Eye also gave me a decent amount of provisions – not a universal thing in the latter FIGHTING FANTASY books of the series – and a purse of gold pieces. In Night YOU also have two bonus points to add to your attributes and need to keep track of several additional scores; not something I had to do when trying the Second Swordsman process previously in Martin’s, Stealer of Souls.
By choosing every second option, I started Night by, once again, passing up opportunities to fight creatures, acquire objects or learn anything about the journey ahead of me. In my journey from Port Blacksand to Rentarn I gained nothing and ate more than a third of my provisions. Upon arriving I quickly got into a battle with a trio of Assassins and learned an obscure clue. But I then wasted time and money wandering around the town, until I was put in jail. This is not an unusual situation when using the Second Swordsman process – previously I’ve been apprehended in both Chasms of Malice and Fangs of Fury, albeit temporarily. Although my adventures have ended in jail in both Bloodbones and Black Vein Prophecy.
After a while my captors released me and I learned enough to leave Rentarn and continue my quest. Within a few more choices I had encountered my first dragon of the book, and it was a friendly one. Whisked away to a conclave of dragons (where there is a White Dragon that has to be a relative of the one I’d previously slain) I’m given a load of information about how to defeat the Night Dragon. I then headed into the mountains and managed to navigate a subterranean maze and found some special armour, which will supposedly assist me in my final showdown. At this point I was feeling good about choosing every second option, even though I was down to just one meal. But the armour was damaged and the stone dwarves who could fix it would only do so if I defeated their nemesis, the Mountain Basilisk. Finding this creature was easy enough, but the fight against it wasn’t. Without a mirror I was forced to choose between two equally unpalatable impediments – a temporary skill loss of four, or testing my LUCK each round. I opted for the latter as I had not yet tested my LUCK. But the beast’s STAMINA was too great and eventually the dice failed me and I was turned to stone.
Constraining myself to only every second option was even more limiting in Eye. In total I ignored the opportunity to investigate what was behind thirteen doors! Even in The Warlock of Firetop Mountain I only ignored nine doors. By ignoring all of these doors I almost certainly avoided some fights and other bad things. But I also would have missed plenty of opportunities to find objects or gain some knowledge that could help me to successfully find the golden statue. On four occasions in my adventure I was asked if I had a certain object, and every time the answer was no. The final occasion had dire consequences as I was bitten by a poisonous spider but did not have a healing potion. Eye did feel like a return to the dungeon crawls of the earlier FIGHTING FANTASY adventures, reinforced with shout-outs to The Forest of Doom and House of Hell (and maybe even Island of the Lizard King).
In both dragon-themed books my promising starting SKILL proved handy. Although in Night I was eventually killed in the aforementioned one-sided battle against the Basilisk, I had previously triumphed in five battles, three of which were resolved with me not losing a single STAMINA point (these being against some of the multitude of Assassins who’d been sent to kill me). In Eye I fought six creatures, with four of my victories being flawless. However my final fight was against a Doppelganger (why couldn’t it have been a Shapechanger?), during which I had to endure an imposed two point SKILL loss. As I’d already lost one SKILL from the spider bite this battle proved to be too tough for me and I fell, without seeing any Dragon – real or artificial.
Although choosing every second option did not help me to find my fortune or save the world, it did get me a surprisingly long way in each adventure. A repeated attempt at both would have me explore more in the hope of finding some way to defeat the Doppelganger and Mountain Basilisk. This was also the first time that my failure in each of the adventures undertaken was due to a lost battle, rather than an instant death from a trap, overwhelming numbers, or not finding the right keys or gemstones.
Next month marks a year since Malcolm set out on his Second Swordsman quest. Which adventures will he be tackling to commemorate this momentous occasion? You'll just have to keep checking www.fightingfantasy.com to find out!