Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Book Non-Review - Dicing With Dragons

I keep promising myself (and Darth Phil) that I'll review Dicing with Dragons, Ian Livingstone's 1982 RPG-ing handbook but...

I just can't be arsed to do a proper job.

The problem is that both Fighting Fantasy - The Introductory Roleplaying Game and What Is Dungeons & Dragons? have good memories for me and were informative and educational because I read them Back In The Day whereas DwD turned up at Coop Towers last year via eBay and got skim read. So I have no great feelings towards it while accepting that it's probably as useful and as well-written as WiDD.

So, just to pass this annoying kidney stone and get it out of the way - take the earlier post about WiDD. Extrapolate from that so that instead of just looking in an in-depth fashion at B/X, it now covers AD&D, Traveller, RuneQuest and (for some reason) Tunnels & Trolls instead. Amend painting chapter to be more in depth with a few mono drawings to explain what he's talking about, rewrite computer chapter (in the 1983 edition I have) to acknowledge the UK microcomputer revolution of 1982 and that's about it. Oh, and illustrations by Russ Nicholson of course.

Hopefully Darth Phil will now be pleased I've covered DwD in the blog.

(Not overly interesting point of OSR archaeological interest but noteworthy none the less - in his example of play of B/X, Livingstone the DM rolls his player's damage dice for them without noting this as unorthodox. Perhaps he does this to further isolate the players from the mechanics of hit points. Clearly the accepted practise of the GW high command Back In The Day).

But suddenly fucking WOOT!!!!111 There's an Ian Livingstone gamebook with Russ Nicholson illustrations in the middle of this book! That I've never read before! Can this get any better?

Well, yes it can actually. It's shite. It's just a mickey mouse thing of 134 paragraphs called Eye of the Dragon and is nothing but a procession of unrelated encounters within unrelated dungeon rooms. In itself that's not too bad but for some unfathomable reason in 2005 it was expanded out to full 400 paragraph format and published separately thus...

...which is, as you may expect, effectively a mickey mouse introductory 134 paragraph gamebook dragged out to 400 paragraphs. It's OK in it's original form because it serves the purpose of explaining dungeon fantasy to noobs but as a standalone release it's just a lazy appeal to nostalgia (and how do I know this? Surely I'd have needed to have succumbed to misplaced nostalgia and bought it to discover all this? Errr.... yes, well enough of that).

Enough with the digs, in the context of introductory handbook DwD, Eye of the Dragon is OK and serves it's role.

But, there is possibly more.

In my self-appointed role as Chief Archaeologist of the Brit Old Skool, I've noticed something interesting. It goes like this.

1 - J&L split the writing of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain into two, using the underground river as the border between the two halves.

2 - The styles clashed badly so Jackson ended up rewriting all of Livingstone's text in a style that matched his own. The two never worked on a co-authored FF book again and anything of the books with both names on were actually just the old "Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone present..." thing.

3 - At Games Expo 2010, the two discussed the writing of Warlock and admitted that up until the eleventh hour they had two different systems in the manuscript and didn't decide until then as to which one to go with. Livingstone then mentioned that the SKILL, STAMINA and LUCK system was Jackson's and that his was called something "rubbish like Fantasy Quest".

4 - Eye of the Dragon Mk.1 is apparently written with the "Fantasy Quest" system.

So is this the rejected prototype of Fighting Fantasy? Could we have ended up with this system instead and the classic S/S/L one been discarded to the cutting room floor?

Furthermore, it might just be Russ's mono artwork talking here, but is Eye of the Dragon Mk.1 actually "deleted scenes" from Livingstone's half of Warlock? While nothing seems to be a direct lift, it all "feels" very similar. The dungeon rooms are unrelated to each other, it's a classic no-logic, 1970s funhouse, there's a Ghoul, a stone bench in a corridor marked "Rest ye Well Stranger",a single room with a shopkeeper, an underground river, Giant Rats and a sleeping humanoid to sneak past (an Ogre here, a Goblinoid in Warlock). The more I look at it, the more I'm convinced that Livingstone has just re-used his old material that was dumped by Jackson and quickly put together a solo adventure out of it.

So what's this Fantasy Quest system like?

You have a Combat Factor(CF), a Strength Factor(SF) and a Fortune Factor all of which are generated with straight 3d6 rolls. Fortune is obviously a parallel to FF's LUCK but works in a different fashion. Each time it is tested against 3d6, it increases by +1 for a successful test but -1 for a failed one. It cannot increase any higher than 18 or your initial FF +2 which might make a 3D6 test somewhat pointless when it hits 18 and can't fail, ever thus staying locked there forever. Compare this with FF's LUCK which is finite and dribbles away each and every time it is tested.

Combat is a question of throwing 3d6 and equalling or exceeding the opponents Combat Factor, somewhat awkwardly removing the martial skill of the attacker out of the equation. On a successful hit, the attackers Wound Factor is checked (yours is d6), that dice rolled and damage done straight off the Strength Factor. Rinse and repeat until somebody dies.

With an average CF and SF of 10.5 (3.5 * 3), the enemies in Eye of the Dragon look like this

Two-Headed Troll - CF:13, SF:12, WF:1D6+2
Barbarian - CF:12, SF:9, WF:1D6+2
Gremlin - CF:7, SF:4, WF:1D6
Giant Spider - CF:9, SF:7, WF:1D6+1
Goblin - CF:9, SF:2, WF:1D6+1
Knight - CF:13, SF:12, WF:1D6+3
Vampire - CF:11, SF:8, WF:1D6+2
Ghoul - CF:10, SF:9, WF:1D6+2
Vampire Bat - CF:9, SF:8, WF:1D6
2 x Giant Rats - CF:7, SF:4, WF:1D6 and CF:6, SF:5, WF:1D6
Ogre - CF:13, SF:11, WF:1D6+2
Orc - CF:7, SF:4, WF:1D6

With most stuff doing more than a single D6 of damage to the player and the player only starting with 3D6 hits, it's clear that without healing (6 rations given out each restoring 2SF) it will on average take slightly less than 3 hits to kill the player. Pretty vicious really.

If this was was the alternative take upon an FF system, you'd have needed a pretty big SF to get through Warlock - with the FF system doing damage in 2STA increments, the change to about 3.5-5.5 per hit probably would have required an SF of about 3 times what Eye of the Dragon gives you. Coupled with the skill system that sees the little Gremlin as likely to hit you as the Vampire and Knight I can see that the published FF system is much better.

Anyway, alternative cover time.

(Some of my all-time favourite Citadel miniatures on the cover of this one. And, no, there are none of these miniatures in the Coop collection sadly).

(Note classic Citadel Jabberwock on right of pic. Don't have this one either...)


  1. If I could find my copy of Dicing With Dragons, I would review it myself. It must be about ten years since I looked at my copy. Fond memories of the book having bought it when it came out.

  2. Interesting "non-review", particularly concerning Eye of the Dragon. There's a cringe-inducing line in one of the fluff pieces in the 25th Anniversary edition of Warlock of Firetop Mountain where it claims the new 400+ paragraph version of Eye of the Dragon was written with all of Ian's gaming experience gleaned from working at Eidos, which is obviously complete bollocks!

    Was the Jabberwock made under licence from Ral Partha? I've got that mini and I'd swear mine's a Ral Partha one, not Citadel.



  3. Not overly interesting point of OSR archaeological interest but noteworthy none the less - in his example of play of B/X, Livingstone the DM rolls his player's damage dice for them without noting this as unorthodox.

    Why should it be unorthodox, when that is the stated procedure in the B/X rules?

  4. I am appeased.

    On an unrelated note I was looking at the new Mongoose printing of Lone Wolf Book 2 : Fire on the Water and as well as the artwork being changed there is also the addition of a short bonus adventure featuring one of the minor characters from the main story.

  5. Interesting non review. It was also interesting to read that Fighting Fantasy may have had a completely different system.

    Crossing the river in WOFM still feels like you are going into a different gamebook. The first half is a jam packed dungeon full of varied if not logical encounters. The second half is aminly a featureless maze of which I am not a big fan of.

  6. The barbarian woman on that third cover has her, um, Conans out. How on earth did they get away with that?