How to simulate a dragon battle in turn-based interactive fiction

Hey everyone. This is not a technical question as much as simply looking for good ideas.

I am currently working on a game which takes place in a western/fantasy world in which everyone lives underground. At one point in the game the player comes out of an air vent leading into a vast inactive volcano. I want the player to battle a dragon living there, but I don’t know how to make it engaging through the medium of interactive fiction.

The player is armed with at least one gun (perhaps colts, a buffalo rifle, musket, etc.), perhaps a sword, and has one bundle of dynamite. I would like the dynamite to play a key role in defeating the dragon, but simply throwing it at the dragon’s head when it opens it’s mouth to breath fire is kind of simple, and I want the fight to be drawn out.

I considered having the player sneak around to a crack in the volcano and lodge the dynamite there before sneaking back into the vent and shooting the bundle, collapsing the cave.

I also considered dividing the volcano into sub-rooms. One might be called “Pile of Bones,” and another might be “Large Boulder.” Perhaps the player needs to strategically move around so that he will be shielded from the dragon fire whenever he blasts his flames. This could be done well, but has the potential to either be incredibly hard to play or far too simple. Either case (dying a bunch of times or winning too easily) is anticlimactic.

The trouble is that this is the final climactic fight scene of the game. It would be nice if the player was somehow able to use strategy to win without losing the feeling that he is actually in the battle. I want him to win, but feel like he just barely survived and that it was all due to his brilliance. It would be cool if the environment could be used to some extent as well.

If anyone has any ideas for how to do this it would be greatly appreciated. The more detail you can provide for your idea the better.

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Hmm… you could include multiple possible paths to victory, in order to increase the likelihood that a player will figure out one of them without recourse to a walkthrough. But each path can be somewhat difficult or complex, so that the player still feels proud of their accomplishment.

As for the dying a bunch of times/winning too easily balance, you could make it easy to survive but difficult to proceed. Going off of your idea of using the environment, maybe it quickly becomes obvious that the player needs to only move at certain times in the dragon’s cycle of fire-belching and fire-non-belching in order to avoid getting scorched. Thus it becomes easy to survive and move around, but the puzzle of actually fighting back against the dragon is not nearly as obvious.

If that’s not quite climactic enough, you could add a hidden timer, make it clear to the player that they’ll die if they don’t defeat the dragon quickly enough, fire some events where they get progressively more injured the more turns they take, but give them a number of turns to work with that is actually more generous than you might lead them to believe.

To brainstorm some possible paths to victory, with no implied warranty of fitness:

  • Suppose the player is carrying a rifle (bonus points if it’s a Volcanic repeating rifle) and an old flintlock pistol. Neither gun can penetrate the dragon’s thick skin, but the flintlock can do something even better - put the dynamite’s fuse in the pan and use the flint’s spark to ignite it so that the player can throw it at the dragon. (Why can’t the player just throw it and shoot it? Uh… they’ve been injured and can’t aim straight. Why don’t they have some other means of lighting the dynamite? Uh… they just found the dynamite and weren’t expecting to have to light anything. How could this be drawn out more, since it’s a very simple solution once the player realizes it’s possible? Uh… maybe instead of starting with the flintlock, they have to loot it from one of the dragon’s hoards, which requires a lot of moving and dodging to get to.)
  • Maybe the terrain can be used to lure the dragon into a vulnerable position. Suppose there’s a smaller cave that the player can run into. The dragon will stick its head in after them, forcing the player to retreat through a convenient passage that goes back to the main cave, basically starting back at square one. But suppose, upon entering the smaller cave, the player gets a free couple of turns to examine the scenery and notice a ledge overhead. If the player then comes back with a lasso that they stole from some other would-be dragonslayer’s smoldering remains, they can lasso a stalagmite on the ledge, climb up there, and then jump down onto the dragon when it sticks its head in, allowing them to slay it with the sword.
  • Maybe there are various items hidden around the cave that allow the player to improve their appearance. They can sift through a pile in the dragon’s hoard to find a tin of lard or bear fat, and use it to make their hair slick and shiny. They can knock a gemstone off the wall of the cave and combine it with some wire to make a ring that they can wear. They can jump into a pool of water and emerge clean and fresh-smelling after their adventures up to this point had made them filthy. Enough of this, and the dragon will eventually fall in love with the player, and unlock the secret ending where the two of them live happily ever after.

What is the dragon’s weakness? Like Smaug’s single missing scale and his overweening hubris. If you want players to use their brains, then having a narrative line that, if the player pays attention, will allow them to discover the weakness and exploit it might be good.


Since this is the final scene of your game, please be sure to make the “fight” a rather easy one. The hard work getting to the end of your game to meet the dragon should result in a sweet and short experience for the player.

That being said, defeating the dragon should feel earned. One way to do this is to make sure that along the way before encountering the dragon, the player should have:

  • Acquired the necessary object(s)/weapon(s) to defeat the dragon
  • Learned the weakness(es) of the dragon
  • Discovered the/a strategy for defeating the dragon

Then, the last battle is simply putting all those parts to use in a way that feels intuitive and “I figured it out myself” to the player.


Perhaps the problem isn’t killing the dragon so much as killing it quickly before it does too much damage? So the player will always get to an ending, it’s just that the obvious “> hit dragon with sword” x 25 gets the worst ending, with the town wrecked, all the treasure melted, all the player’s companions and pet stoat dead, and the locals, extremely ticked off, now intent on getting their fee back from the newly-infamous “Dragon Killer”?

An autosave before the start of the scene would likely prevent you from meeting a similar fate at the hands of players. :wink:

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