Salvations Malevolence- Dead Of Night

I had wanted to include something Fighting Fantasy related for our Seven Nights Of Samhain series but I simply couldn’t get it finished on time. Those books were so influential to me and frankly now that I’m running the show over here, I wanted to shine a spotlight on them. Admittedly there’s already loads of great blogs and fanzines dedicated to Fighting Fantasy and providing great coverage but I had plenty of questions of my own. I wanted to explore the inspiration behind the settings, the names behind the ideas and art, the spin offs and the future.

So where’s the best place to start? The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is the ground zero but it’s also been covered to death by just about anyone with an interest in the series. Play throughs have been similarly rinsed. So I decided to start where I left off in 1990 and investigate where Fighting Fantasy went after I disappeared into an abyss of teenage angst, alcoholism and punk rock. 

Dead of Night is the 40th book in the series. I asked around on the Fighting Fantasy Facebook group for suggestions on a book I could cover for Halloween and Dead Of Night kept cropping up amongst the recommendations. I already had a copy chilling on my shelf so I figured why not?

Now I’ll admit to a certain amount of trepidation when commencing upon this mission. I have always placed a lot of emphasis on Fighting Fantasy. They form one third of my own personal unholy trinity of influences (alongside Star Wars and 2000AD). Returning to them fully, to play the game, to visit the world and get the muck of Titan  beneath my finger nails once more. Would it still feel special? Like a  comfort blanket made of 400 paragraphs. Or had time, bitter experience and the trials of life eroded my ability to find simple joy in childhood things?

I would always have a Fighting Fantasy book in my school bag as a kid. A staedtler pencil and a couple of dice. When things were rough at school or home I would find myself a quiet corner somewhere and drift away to a better place. Flash forward thirty years and the rough times, well they don’t ever really stop do they? You just get better at being able to see them coming, to prepare your defences when you see the signs. But that feeling like you got a a bowling ball of despair sitting deep in your guts..yeah that’s still around.

Artists depiction of the author in conversation with his mother

I found a quiet spot at work for my lunch and took my break twenty minutes before everyone else so I wouldn’t be interrupted by the tea room zombies. With photocopied adventure sheet in hand  I determined my stats. Stamina, Skill and Luck all sorted. The adventure sheet also contained a statistic box for….Evil? Curiouser and curiouser. You start with an Evil rating of 0 and throughout the book the reader will encounter people or creatures, or do things that will increase this score. You’ll be asked to Test Your Evil at certain points in the same way to Testing Your Luck

There were also boxes for optional additional Templar skills. Again this is a new twist on the traditional mechanics and you must select three ‘talents’ from the list:  Banish Undead, Dark Veil, Heal, Holy Circle, Meditation, Sense Demon, and Speak Demon. The addition of these attributes lends Dead Of Night more of an RPG feel, in that there are variables and consequences to the outcome of your quest based upon the skills you select early on. Also most of those skills sound metal as fuck. Had I read this back in 1996 I would definitely have used ‘Speak Demon’ as a song title for my very sincere jarg vegan Straight Edge band. Too bad for hardcore that I was in complete denial of anything that gave me joy at the time.

Anyhow the book commences with you, a Templar, committed to thwarting the demon lord Myurr. Whilst Dead Of Night is set in Titan, authors Jim Bambra and Stephen Hand side stepped Allansia and used The Old World to frame their story. The Old World was largely unexplored allowing the authors to have a bit of fun without tripping over familiar NPC’s or complicating things with existing lore. Indeed the setting is what makes this particular book so fucking awesome because it is BLEAK mate. Rather than the kid friendly/higher fantasy locations of Allansia, Bambra and Hands world feels like a mist shrouded 16th century England, closer to the sinister pulp vibe of Hammer Horror or Terror Of The Lichemaster than Terry pissing Brooks. I mean one of the opening sequences involves you heading back to your old village, (which you left after your brothers murder years prior) to discover your parents are dead and you have to dig up their bodies for confirmation. Like I say, bleak. The authors slip in some subtle politics here and there as well, I picked up on some social commentary on the blight of industrialisation.

I also noticed some genuine occult imagery and ideas in Dead Of Night. Now by the time this book was originally released the Satanic Panic was cooling off a bit. One can’t help but smirk and wonder what sort of stink Dead Of Night might have kicked up had it been released a few years earlier!

Long and the short of it Myurr has got a mad on for You, The Hero. Over the years you’ve scuppered his plans for attaining dominion over the mortal realm and the book winds it’s serpentine way toward an inevitable confrontation with him. I won’t spoil it for you by exposing specifics or dropping hints because honestly, this book is great. As a forty one year old I found myself challenged, entertained and somewhat horrified. The quality of the writing is exceptional, the challenges fiendish and the setting flawless. If you’ve ever seen the movie The Black Death starring my Uncle Sean, well that’s as close to a cinematic equivalent to Dead Of Night in terms of tone and visuals as you’re likely to get

Martin Mckenna’s artwork is absolute filth and perfectly compliments the grimy descriptions in the text. His depictions of hanged men and rabid demons clawing their way from splintered coffins amidst a haunted medieval landscape really are a grotesque feast for the eyes.

“The devil take your stereo and your record collection”

I really couldn’t have wished for a better starting point for my glorious return to Fighting Fantasy. With less time on my hands to play D&D with my friends, this solo adventure gave me the gaming caffeine fix I was desperately jonesing for without ever feeling childish or overly simple. Indeed Dead Of Night has inspired me to dig out my Advanced Fighting Fantasy manuals and start writing a small campaign of my own using Bambra, Hand and Mckenna’s template. We’ll be running some retro games nights in Leeds next year and I hope to debut it there.

Dead Of Night gets an 8/10 from me and I’d heartily recommend it to anyone as an ideal starting point from which to explore solo gaming. Master Of Chaos up next…

 

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2 thoughts on “Salvations Malevolence- Dead Of Night

  1. Where in Leeds are you planning on running this? I am not that far away and would be interested in coming along for that!

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