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Grafton Books (Dragon imprint) -- United Kingdom
Complexity Level : Advanced (Full Game System)
Format : Paperback
Game System : Combat
Game System : Inventory Management
Game System : Magic
Game System : Randomization Method : Dice
Game System : Scores
Genre : Fantasy
Target Age Group : Older Children
Target Age Group : Teenagers
Writing Style : Present Tense
Writing Style : Second Person
Dragon d'or (French)
Forums eventyrspil (Danish)
Golden dragon (Italian)
Gooruden doragon [ゴールデン・ドラゴン] (Japanese)
Tú eres el protagonista (Spanish)
This series of gamebooks was designed as a direct competitor to Fighting Fantasy, and the similarities are obvious. Characters start out by rolling values for three attributes (Vigour, Psi and Agility), combat is resolved using six-sided dice, and treasure and useful items are gathered during the course of each adventure. The system is, if anything, slightly simpler than that of Fighting Fantasy, and each adventure is a bit shorter than the average Fighting Fantasy book. There is no plot continuity between the books, although the sixth book in the series is actually an expanded and altered version of an adventure first serialized in White Dwarf magazine. All six volumes were reprinted in the United States with strange new cover art showing weapon-wielding children in heroic poses. An additional mini-adventure using this series' game system was published in Crunch magazine.
In 2013, all six of the books in this series were re-issued by Fabled Lands Publishing with different updated cover art through Amazon's print-on-demand service.
Golden Dragon / Lone Wolf American Advertisement
from Dragon #107, page 13
Golden Dragon #1 Character Sheet
Golden Dragon #2 Character Sheet
Golden Dragon #3 Character Sheet
Golden Dragon #4 Character Sheet
Thanks to Ben Nelson for providing this file.
Golden Dragon #5 Character Sheet
Golden Dragon #6 Character Sheet
Ah, Golden Dragon. At first it might appear to be a simplified take on Fighting Fantasy to appeal to a younger group of readers, especially with the cover art of kids fighting demons and evil wizards. Upon closer examination, one can see a whole different animal.
In each book, you play a daring adventurer on a certain quest, but one thing the book does that sets it apart it from other, similar series is the push to personalize your avatar beyond the generic anyhero I'd always played before I realized from these books I could decide what they were like. The character sheet has a slot for the adventurer's name, and the books suggest they might be "a noble knight, a crafty rogue, a dashing swordsman or a rugged Viking." It's a nice touch, making the adventures seem a little more personal. Too bad it's a gimmick the writers weren't completely aware of; half the books in the series come up with your character's background for you.
Like any book of this kind your character has a few basic stats, determined by dice rolls; Vigor, life, basically, Agility, and PSI, which measures your ability to see through illusions and resist mind control. The latter two are an interesting inclusion, especially PSI, although to my mind they felt a bit under-used on the whole. What was unique about those stats is that they max out at 9. In Fighting Fantasy if you rolled up a character with a Skill and Luck of 11 or 12, you'd be pretty much unstoppable. In Lone Wolf, the right special disciplines could almost always make up for low rolls or even keep you from having to roll completely. In Golden Dragon, you've always got a significant margin of failure in non-combat trials even when you're not under some kind of curse.
Combat is similar in that most all opponents pose a threat to your hero. Who gets wounded in a round is determined by rolling dice and consulting a chart unique to each battle; if you roll high, you wound the enemy, if you roll low, they wound you. A weaker monster might have a 6 or so to beat, while a really tough one, or a group of mediocre ones, could require you to beat an 8 or 9 to inflict a wound. Some enemies are so bad they can kill you all at once if you roll snake eyes. All in all it makes the series rather more memorable than similar books for making it so even the strongest possible character stands a good chance of being defeated.
The humanity of your character can be a bit of a drag at times, unfortunately. If I have one complaint about the series, it's the rarity of chances to heal your character. Except for a few scattered locations that might heal you from one wound, most of the time you're expected to make it through the entire adventure with your starting Vigor score. I'm not asking to have 40 spare HP at the beginning of the game like Fighting Fantasy, but only two books really give you a chance to carry around something that can ease your HP woes as you get near the end of the adventure.
To someone who's read every Fighting Fantasy book Golden Dragon probably sounds like the kind of book, made simpler. Fortunately, the books are also filled with memorable and memorably bizarre encounters that have stuck with me through the years. I have a hard time seeing anyone forgetting the skeleton symphony in Crypt of the Vampire, the use of the polar bear skin rug in Castle of Lost Souls, and troll grammar and the fish-faced swordsman from The Lord of Shadow Keep.
When it all comes down to is that Golden Dragon is a remarkable series for a number of good reasons, but can seem even more harsh than most when the dice aren't on your side. In spite of the latter, most dedicated gamebook fans will enjoy the experience, even the diehard Fighting Fantasy and Lone Wolf aficionados who think they've seen everything this type of gamebook can offer.
This is a six-book series released by Grafton Books in Great Britain between 1984 and 1985. This series features the first gamebooks to be written by Dave Morris and Oliver Johnson, who would later become famous for the Dragon Warriors role-playing game, and the high-quality gamebook series Blood Sword. The books in this series superficially resemble typical Fighting Fantasy gamebooks: in every one of them the reader plays a human warrior on a quest in a fantasy world (except in the fourth book where the protagonist is a warrior-mage). However the series does have a strong identity of its own and, although not as often recognized as Fighting Fantasy and Lone Wolf, it is indeed a seminal work in the history of gamebooks.
Although at first glance the series appears to borrow a lot from Fighting Fantasy, both the system and setting in Golden Dragon differentiate themselves clearly from their more famous contemporary. There are three stats: Vigour (a measure of life points), Agility and Psi. Psi is a measure of mind power and resistance to magic, and it's notable because, to the best of my recollection, this is the one of the first gamebook series to incorporate a "mental" stat. Agility and Psi each are determined on a scale of four to nine, which means even the highest score has a good chance of failure when checked by rolling two dice (a cool idea later used in other series like Forbidden Gateway).
The combat system is simple but effective. A single roll of two dice determines the result of each combat round. Scores in a high range mean you hit your opponent, while a low score means your opponent hits you. The stronger the opponent, the higher the to-hit number will be. In this series, you often have to fight more than one opponent simultaneously, so that a very low roll in a round results in the player character being hit by more than one opponent. Thus combat can indeed be very deadly (and is one of the reasons why this is remembered as a series of tough books).
The series does have a lot of character and atmosphere. Right from the start the player is encouraged to personalize her / his character by choosing a name and personality, which I think is a cool idea especially considering how little attention is paid to such details in Fighting Fantasy. While the setting for some of the books is pretty generic fantasy, at least two of them take place in the authors' fantasy world of Legend, which in subsequent years would be further detailed in the Dragon Warriors RPG and the Blood Sword series of gamebooks. This is indeed the first series to present Legend to the public, and the books set in it are well-written and exciting. Indeed, the whole gamebook canon would be much less rich and interesting without Legend.
All the factors mentioned above are enough to consider Golden Dragon a classic gamebook series and, despite its short run, an essential read for those interested in the history of the genre. Personally, I believe I owe much of my love for gamebooks to this series, at least as much as I do owe Fighting Fantasy and Lone Wolf.
I like the writing and somewhat creative game system of this series, but that's about it. The odds are so stacked against you that you have a better chance of beating a Final Fantasy game, hardcore style, on your virgin play, than you do in completing one of these books in less than ten tries. In short, expect to die . . . a LOT! Be sure to explore and make a map of every avenue, no matter how trivial, as there are so many twists and turns that at first seem unnecessary, yet may prove to ultimately be the right path. And may luck TRULY be with you!
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