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Midnight Rogue

Twenty-seven years after the fact, the Sidekickcast blog has published a review of my Fighting Fantasy book, Midnight Rogue. Reviewer PJ Montgomery seems to like it, although he raises a point that concerned me at the time.

Inspired by tabletop RPG supplements like Chaosium’s Thieves’ World and TSR’s Lankhmar: City of Adventure, I set out to write a city adventure for a thief character. The best-known city in the Fighting Fantasy world of Titan was Port Blacksand from Ian Livingstone’s earlier book City of Thieves, so I set my book in the same city and called it Prince of Thieves. Ian worried that this was too similar to the title of his book, so mine was changed to Midnight Rogue.

The essence of a thiefly adventure, as I saw it, was that it should involve a lot of sneaking and very little fighting. After all, the most successful thief is one who is never seen, let alone challenged. In the first draft, fighting was always the worst possible option. That didn’t go down too well with the editors at Puffin.

Their response to my first draft was an order to add a lot more combat, accompanied by a tart reminder that “it is Fighting Fantasy after all.” I thought they had missed the point, but I set about rewriting to give them what they wanted. I shortened the city part of the adventure, adding a few combats here and there, and I used the recovered space to put in a dungeon at the end, which I hoped would satisfy them.

Midnight Rogue did fairly well – as did anything that carried the Fighting Fantasy logo in those days – but it has never been regarded as one of the better FF books. Mr. Montgomery really puts his finger on the problem in his review:

“Midnight Rogue is very much a book of two halves. It’s just a shame that one of them really isn’t anywhere near as fun as the other.”

What makes me feel vindicated, after all these years, is that the part he likes is the city adventure.

“…the first half in Port Blacksand is great. Tracking down the clues that will eventually lead you to the Eye of the Basilisk is great fun, with Davis’s writing drawing real tension out of your mission. It’s great to have a proper run around in Blacksand again, as it’s a place with a lot of character. Unfortunately, once you leave Blacksand, the book becomes just another dungeon crawl, and honestly, it’s a pretty generic one at that. ”

Could I have written a better dungeon for the end of the book? Probably. As good as an Ian Livingstone masterpiece like Deathtrap Dungeon? Probably not. But even if I had, it would still have felt odd after all the sneaking about and city exploration. Looking back, I don’t think the book could ever have worked well as this odd hybrid.

Maybe it’s sour grapes. When I wrote Midnight Rogue I was also working on the early part of the Enemy Within campaign for Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and I wasn’t in a dungeon-friendly headspace at all. Subconsciously, I was probably trying to turn Fighting Fantasy into WFRP, ignoring the fact that it was quite happy being Fighting Fantasy, thank you very much.

Still, I’m sure every writer loves to read a review that bears out everything they thought about one of their own books, both good and bad. How intelligent and insightful this reviewer is, one thinks, and fights the sudden urge to track down the editors in their comfortable retirement and wave the review in their faces, shouting “See? SEE?”

Not that it makes any difference at all after 27 years. But still.

If you are interested in finding out more about my career as a Fighting Fantasy writer, I did an extensive interview for Fighting Fantazine a few years ago. I can’t link directly to it, but issue #7 (and all the others) are free PDF downloads. If you’re a gamebook fan from the ’80s you’ll find a lot to like about this magazine, and I’m sure you’ll be happy to learn that the hobby is still going strong in various electronic formats.

  1. jam
    September 17, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    Madness. Midnight Rogue definitely makes my top ten list and many fans’ top 5. Dont knock a series Picasso 😉

  2. September 17, 2014 at 1:23 pm

    Yeah, definitely in my top 10. it’s one of the few FF books from my youth that i never got rid of. Well done Mr Davis and thanks.

  3. garathon66
    September 17, 2014 at 6:06 pm

    This was one of my favourites!!

  4. September 18, 2014 at 3:30 am

    Graeme – I’ve never read Midnight Rogue (but was intrigued from the Fighting Fantazine story), so have just bought a copy from eBay and will find out for myself if the editors did destroy your book!

  5. Gaetano
    September 25, 2014 at 10:16 am

    A great story, but what really brought the book down for me (as far as memory serves) was that it was very linear.

    • September 25, 2014 at 11:06 am

      Writing a gamebook involves a balancing act. If you put in too many options, then the book takes a short time to complete and the player may feel it is not good value. If you include too few options, the story is longer but it necessarily becomes more linear.

      In a dungeon setting, the restricted environment helps to make linear design a little less obvious, but in a city it is harder to allow the true freedom of, say, a tabletop RPG adventure.

      I tried to counteract linear flows by allowing the player to pursue leads in any order, but from what you’re saying that did not completely solve the problem.

  6. October 28, 2014 at 3:28 am

    I’ve just finished the book and can only agree with the comments about it being a story in two parts. The shortened version of the city adventure didn’t allow me enough time to explore Port Blacksand (a setting of genuine interest), and the dungeon section, whilst featuring some good moments and interesting creatures, didn’t quite fit the earlier tone of a thief secretly searching for information and ultimately locating the hidden gem. Once the original version was heavily edited I think the true spirit of the story was all but lost, which is a real shame.

    I should also note that I finished the book in under 3 hours – not something I regularly do with a Fighting Fantasy adventure. Did I just get fortunate with most of my choices, or is it one of the quicker books to successfully complete?

  7. October 28, 2014 at 8:42 am

    You’re not the first person to comment that the book didn’t take as long as others in the series. Perhaps I made the best course too obvious, or maybe the smaller number of combats in the city section means that players don’t get killed and need to start over as often as in other books.

  8. December 3, 2014 at 4:37 pm

    I just found the Goodreads page for Midnight Rogue, and the reviewers there seem to agree with the commenters here. That’s always nice. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1261629.Midnight_Rogue

  9. Nir
    December 4, 2020 at 2:15 am

    I just ran into this post while googling ‘midnight rogue’.
    The reason I googled it is because after playing ‘the snow witch’ with my girlfriend in a nostalgic outburst, we still had a taste for more, but looking at the other similar books on my shelf (‘deathtrap dungeon’ included, btw) I lamented what used to be the best and most enjoyable fighting fantasy book in my collection (that was fittingly stolen by a friend) – ‘midnight rogue’ and thought to google it.
    This defeated and apologetic post is uncalled for!

  10. April 14, 2022 at 12:48 am

    Dear Graeme,
    You might find it interesting that Danish podcasters Han Duo are playing Danish-translated Fighting Fantasy books.
    They just did Midnight Rogue, and were very complimentary – and it was a blast listening to them play it.

  11. June 4, 2022 at 4:29 pm

    Far from not being one of the better FF adventures, for me it was one of the three best books in the series (the other two being Warlock OFM and Trial of Champions). I absolutely adore the part in the city and preferred it to the city sections in City of Thieves, as I honestly believe the difficulty curve was insane on that one and it always reminded me of the TV show Knightmare (where you could soldier on with the wrong item never knowing that you were already dead). A fantastic game-book that stands up really well to replaying: you wrote a classic! The tension at the house of Brass was palpable!

  1. December 17, 2014 at 4:20 pm

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