Wizard Books, £5.99, ISBN 978-1-84831-118-3
Night of the Necromancer is a brand new gamebook in the Fighting Fantasy series, and it’s by Jonathan Green. Before you groan and make the sign of the cross, however, you should know that this particular gamebook isn’t that unfair. It is still very difficult, though.
You are a crusader knight of Valsinore and, returning from a recent crusade against evil in Bathoria, you are ambushed by the remnants of the evil army that you fought against. And you die, thanks to a timely blast from a Death Acolyte’s magical crystal into your chest. However, your ghost remains in this world, and it is in your ghostly form that you begin your quest to discover who is behind the ambush that killed you.
Jonathan Green pulls out all stops for Night of the Necromancer, and like his previous gamebooks, this one has very vivid and strongly depicted setting. This time around, his incorporation of elements from European folklore is a little more subtle than before, but there is no mistaking his influences when you come across them. This is not a bad thing, as he incorporates those elements very well and coherently into this setting of Ruddlestone.
The actual rules of being a ghost seem murky enough and even inconsistent, though. For example, you are required to acquire a human body for some parts of the campaign – in these parts, having a human host is actually essential – but there is no rhyme or reason to how you can possess a body. There are some skills you can acquire – randomly, and if you manage to stumble upon the option to acquire a skill – and one of these skills allows you to possess a body. However, there is an occasion where you can reclaim your own body by succeeding a Will roll. So which is which? Also, the campaign requires you to discover details that you should already know, like the name of your beloved hound. It doesn’t make sense to make your character know the name only after he has chanced upon the hound in question.
However, it is easy to overlook these inconsistencies and irregularities as this campaign is, for once, rather well designed compared to Mr Green’s previous efforts. There is no need to fail an easy roll to acquire an essential item, for example. In fact, it is possible to succeed in this campaign without acquiring some Special Items, but the method to do this is very tough as it requires some gargantuan success in save rolls. As a result of this comparative fairness, the campaign is actually quite fun to play. There are many twists to enjoy, and some combat encounters are actually interesting and memorable, such as the one with the Hellfire Golem.
A unique point to this campaign is that, if you are to die, usually there is an opportunity for you to reset the adventure and return to a spot close to where you die. However, such opportunities are limited and eventually your character’s death will be permanent. To succeed in this quest, you will have to actually die at least once, though.
Night of the Necromancer therefore requires a navigation through an arc that requires some dying and some lucky chancing upon the one true path. Still, I manage to discover the correct true path in my second attempt, so I don’t think the one true path is that tough to figure out.
If there is one weakness in this campaign, it’s Mr Green’s relentless throwing of enemies and monsters at your character. On one hand, someone has kindly forced Mr Green to reduce his favorite number for his monsters’ Combat Skill, 12, to 9. Yes, you will be facing many opponents with a Combat Skill score of 9 for some reason, so cheat, or plan your character’s stats accordingly. While 9 is still better than 12, these combat encounters are hurled at you at such a regular basis that it seems like you can’t even sneeze without being pounced by a few monsters. Coupled with the campaign’s constant requirement of converting alphabets in words into numbers and adding these numbers up, it is very easy to the campaign to become a tedious number-crunching chore.
Night of the Necromancer is almost a great campaign, especially one to come from this author. However, some of the author’s awful DM from Hell habits still mar the campaign. All things considered, three oogies would be a fair score for this gamebook.