Daggers of Darkness

“A horse dungeon? I suppose that makes a change.”

Daggers of Darkness by Luke Sharp

All I really know about this book is that the cover is bonkers. Check it out:

Bald man with eye patch, waving a spiky flail, while surfing on two sabre-tooth tigers, with pet falcon following behind. No, really.

What the hell is going on?!

Apparently I’m from the land of Kazan, and the evil vizier Chingiz is trying to seize power. This makes a nice change from all the destroying ancient cursed evil I’ve been doing. Oooh, there’s a map inside the front cover. I love maps – blame Tolkien – and this one has all sorts of cool place-names, like Hulugu and Yigenik. So this should be a thrilling old-school fantasy adventure as I try and… let me see… Oh, for crying out loud. I’m poisoned – AGAIN – and thus am on a timer. To be cured I have to hand this thing called a Death Spell Dagger (also known as a Dagger of Darkness, which is the only answer about the cover I managed to extract from the book) back to Chingiz before I die.

Oh, and that’s not the half of it. I’m one of the “Select” which means I was chosen to be a candidate for the throne, kicked out of Kazan at age nine to be an adventurer, and to claim the throne I have to go and raid some mazes, steal some medallions, and get to the throne. This explains why some vizier wants to have me killed. So this is one of those quests, then. Good thing I was hanging about just over the border in Gorak, I suppose. Also lucky that a handy wizard was on hand to stop the evil death spell killing me.

It’s all rather convenient, but I suppose there’s something to be said for not even pretending there’s a sensible plot behind all this. With that cover, no-one would believe it.

Statistics

Skill: 11
Stamina: 22
Luck: 10

Equipment: Sword, leather armour, backpack, 10 provisions, potion of fortune (oh, good, a potion), 6 gold (one of which can’t be used except in emergencies, so I know I’m getting captured at some point), Death Spell Dagger, and a small bag of almost worthless iron coins.

Onward to Adventure!

I trudge through the mountains. It’s cold enough that it’s starting to hurt. People could die up here. Like this person in front. Well, the cold didn’t get him… It was probably the dagger sticking out of his chest. Unless the weather has started carrying weapons, I’m probably going to have to watch out for more assassins. The body dissolves just as I get told the assassins headed off to the left. I grit my teeth and turn right, and then take another right hand fork. But to my dismay I hear the hoofbeats of approaching riders. Thinking quickly, I walk off the trail and hide behind a rock. Not quick thinking enough: There’s snow on the ground. Ooops.

I come out into the middle of the road and decide if I’m going to die, it will be on my terms.

“So I’m one of the Select, and this is totally not cool.”

“Why didn’t you say so?”

Yeah, okay, sure. There’s arseholes with magic daggers trying to kill me and these clowns expect a cheery “hi there!” to every pack of bastards I meet. Also, they set their falcon on me. In exchange I get a horse and escort to the first ridiculous test to see if I get to be Empress of Kazan. Of course, some Orcs attack in the middle of the night but that’s not a problem, really. Soon I’m at the main Yigenik settlement and eager to take the Test of the Yigenik.

The test is to run along a bed of hot coals while everyone in town tries to stab me.

These Yigenik are crazy. I accomplish this with relative ease, only getting stabbed three times and my boots merely scorched. Then they take me to the maze, which is made up of highly toxic thorn bushes and has three sabre-tooth tigers inside. I’m thinking I may be in for a poisonous time now, but then everyone is in an uproar because an Orc has managed to steal the medallion from inside. Someone shoots down the large bird it’s flying on, and I give chase through the streets, up a tower, through some Goblins with spears, onto a bridge… but I was too slow. Drat.

No point hanging around here, then. I head off downhill to the nearby forest. I stop for lunch, and get shot by an arrow. For fuck’s sake, what is with this country? It’s like I’m on one long journey through stab-happy-arrow-mad land. It turns out a band of women are angry I’m in their forest.

“You have trespassed in Owlshriek!”

Well that’s a cute name for a forest. Apparently the penalty for trespassing is to have to pick a test. Either chopping wood on a timer which kills me if I’m not lumberjack of the year material, or running away from the huntresses. Joining their sadistic and cruel society of women is not an option. Kind of disappointing, really, I think I’d fit right in. I opt for running away, since that’s pretty much what I want to do anyway. I manage to escape, and then meet a Troll. Now, elsewhere Trolls might be a problem, but in Kazan any being who can live up to the ridiculous and cruel tests the various regions have is considered a valued member of society. Oddly enough this equality results in Orcs, Goblins, Trolls, and whatever else being quite amiable compared to their counterparts everywhere else on the entire rest of the continent. This troll is one of the Vizier’s Troll Fighters, which means I’m going to have to use all my cunning to make sure I stay alive. Hah, but he’s a Troll, so all I have to do is explain how to read a map and he thinks I’m a great person to have around. His friends on the road don’t. I flee.

Further along my journey I’m passed by a rider, who demands to know who I am. Before I answer, I am surprised to see she’s armed with a Dagger of Darkness, and she sees my surprise, and rides off. I decide to head across the plains in case she comes back with any more psychopathic assassins. I happen across a group of riders, who are some of the locals. The tests of the Bogomil are horse related and stupid. But whatever, I get through them okay thanks to a lot of luck. Then they send me into a maze. Oh good, a dungeon. But not any dungeon. This is a dungeon full of horses and horse themed traps. Eat your heart out, Baron Sukumvit. I negotiate the maze and swap out the medallion for a bag of coins to stop the inevitable trap triggering. Victory!

I exit the maze and then set off cross country. In the morning a bird turns up and delivers a message from Astragal. Apparently all the medallions are claimed, and I have to head for Sharrabbas. Then it warns me that I have to go to… somewhere… and be sure to… someone called Vetch… and on no account do… something. Mental note: Birds make unreliable recording devices. I set off, taking the left hand path and after a short walk I’m faced with another fork in the trail. Never one to learn from mistakes, I decide the path down into a wooded vale is the best choice. It’s not so bad. There’s cart tracks, so I must be on the right road. There’s also fishing holes. You can tell because one of them has a fishing rod propped up beside it. I figure, what the hell, and try a spot of fishing. Fishing is a restful, peaceful exercise… but what I get is being dragged into the pool and attacked by a horrible water monster. I kill it and drag myself onto the shore, and then wonder why I want to rule this land anyway. It’s full of lunatics and monsters and cursed fishing poles. Perhaps things will look better in the morning.

In the morning I find that a pitched battle happened behind the rock I was sleeping next to. There’s a dead person who was presumably an adventurer – the backpack full of useless junk such as various teeth, keys with numbers stamped into them, sword hilts, and a broken chair is a big clue – and they have a note indicating there’s someone to meet in the city. I continue through the woods, and eventually arrive at a plain leading to the capital, and plod along with a cart. Soon we meet a pair of trolls collecting tolls. Toll Trolls – try saying that three times fast. I kill them for being bastards, and the cart driver helps me sneak into the city. Apparently any ruler is going to be better than Chingiz and his illegal toll trolls. I then decide to check out the local stores. They’re not very exciting. I do get to see a procession with Chingiz being carried aloft by bearers. Someone in the crowd points out for the benefit of a blind person someone called Vetch, standing next to someone else called Mandrake Wolfsbane. Right, I suppose I should follow him since he’s either some kind of werewolf hunter, and thus an adventurer who might help me, or a wizard, who I can kill and steal his stuff.

He turns out to be an over-dramatic locksmith. He’s also a friend of Astragal, and suggests I go and visit a local tavern. I leave the locksmith’s shop by the back door and wander around until a bird turns up and hops into an alley to deliver a message. This one writes it out in the dirt on the ground. Apparently there’s a wizard hanging out at that tavern sending smoke signals up the chimney. Much better than just being told “find that tavern” without any directions. At the Dragon’s Wing I get told the score by Mandrake and Astragal’s wizard cohort: There’s some dangerous secret entrances. There’s a bunch of necromancers. There’s Chingiz and his even more dangerous daughter Meghan-na-Durr. All the other Select are dead, so the only hope for the kingdom is… me.

Shaping up to be a fun time.

I pick a phial containing Potion of Secret Entrance Walking Throughness and they lead me to the castle. Inside, I’m faced with a large and also ominous door. The medallion I have opens it… but I need another for the next room. Since I don’t have a second medallion. I head through the door to the side where a magical voice tells me that I have to mix one of three bottles of vile stuff with the contents of some jars and hope it doesn’t kill me. Then I get to do it again. Let’s see… Eye of newt is always a winner, and 1000-fathom seawater is something I probably will survive. I put them in a cup and gulp it down… and somehow know I’m invulnerable to swords. This is working out okay! Now, how about dragon claw and volcano dust? The worst that can happen is I die, but I’m hoping for fire powers. I drink the resulting mess down and find that instead I have the power of persuasion. Oh well, still pretty good. The magic voice says I can go and sit on the throne now, so I leave the chamber to find it… and promptly get stabbed by a pair of assassins. But they used swords, so I’m not hurt in the least.

“Totally not going to work,” I say with a laugh. The assassins run away. I saunter off and find some orcs guarding a door. I persuade them that their purpose in life is to let me through the door. You know, these powers make adventuring much easier. I barge through the next door and find a necromancer. Not just any necromancer. This is Zizzadek, who has just killed a whole bunch of Mamliks, knights and trolls. He’s obviously enjoying his job here. He throws a fistfull of knives at me – I’m not immune to knives – and then turns into a dragon to attack me. I’m also not immune to dragons, but I pull through. I continue into the castle, and some gremlins try to stab me. Not a problem, they’re using swords! I talk the one survivor into giving me the key to the next door.

Inside I find Chingiz, lying in bed, and not very well. He can barely speak, and is trying to steady himself… so I stick the Dagger of Darkness that stabbed me in his hand, and he dies. That’s kind of hilarious, actually. I go into the next room, where sits the throne of Kazan. And also Meghan-na-Durr and four ogres. She tries to stab me with a dagger, so I duck out of her way and make for the throne. The dirty trick here is that the throne kills anyone who tries to attack anyone in the same room as it. I sit down and watch as My enemies are reduced to ashes. This throne is pretty cool.

Wrapup

Holy shit! I won one on the first try! I never thought I’d see the day I manage to win a Fighting Fantasy book without dying at least once.

The book is generous in restoring Stamina and Luck, which means reckless and foolish things are even more appealing. That means it’s more of a fun trip through a land of barbarian tribes with crazy trials. It’s like a fair version of Deathtrap Dungeon (which I will get to eventually). The poison gimmick is not a proper timer, instead only being added to after battles and other exertion. It’s thus a timer that you only have to add to if you’re stupid or unlucky. I like this idea, since it makes the game a lot more fair and becomes an exercise in making good choices. Common sense? In a gamebook? That’s a first!

I never did find out what the cover art is about. That will have to be a mystery for another day.

Suspension of Disbelief Shattered: The sheer number of times I got tied up. Even by a magic fishing pole. It’s kind of tedious, really. Maybe the author thought the other books didn’t have enough bondage scenarios.

Ridiculous Battle: Zizzadek, who is totally not fair. He throws an armload of daggers, then turns into a dragon. For reference, he’s almost as dangerous as the Warlock of Firetop Mountain himself, but without any clever tricks for the player to make the fight easier.

Victory: You get to be a benevolent ruler and set up an army to protect the people of the land, and ensure trade. I suppose a whole kingdom is a good reward, right?

What Was I Thinking? That fishing bit was so obviously a trap. I even thought “No, this is a trap,” and then went with my first instinct anyway. Because that’s how dead serious I am when it comes to these reviews. Besides, it was bound to be funny.

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One Response to Daggers of Darkness

  1. Hey, I enjoyed reading this! I remember when I was 7-8, adventuring in this book, and finally tried to find the series via google, since I wanted to see if I couldn’t find more information about it. The other one I read was Samurai Showdown, shortly ill be looking to see if you’ve done that one.

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