Quest: The War Torn Kingdom/Book and Dice (New Gamebook) Paperback – 1 Apr 1997
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By '95/96 I was in my late teens. I'm not sure if I grew out of gamebooks or if they simply stopped releasing them. Probably the latter, given that I'm writing this review and showing an interest in 2015. I spotted the first two books in the series in a newsagent and as soon as I recognised the names of veterans Dave Morris and Jamie Thomson I bought them.
The structure and format was something I had never experienced at the time in a game book - a free roaming sand box adventure. You decided the goals, quests and approach. You could charge round as a mighty warrior, play as a mage, a noble priest or a cunning morally ambiguous rogue (which is incidentally how I almost always end up playing). You could buy houses, come and go as you please. You could trade, and make accumulation of wealth your primary goal. You could become involved in political machinations. You could purchase a ship and hire a crew and sail off to far distant adventures, focus on magical studies and artifacts. Gameplay included a rank and stats system, depending on your activities you could advance your character in more than just wealth. You can rely on more than just brute force to achieve your ends, charisma and thievery will get your far in the world of Harkuna.
One the greatest features of the series is codewords. This ingenious system allows the game to track your actions in other areas of not only the book, but the entire series. This means that not only are you in a free roaming world, you are in one where your choices have consequences. Turning to a certain section of the book will have a different outcome depending on the codewords you may have accumulated on your travels. People and events will play out differently.
The first book `The War Torn Kingdom' is one of the strongest in the series. The difficulty here is just right. There is a threat to your character early on (I personally feel the threat of death is vital to atmosphere in gamebooks), but progress through a few quests and you soon find yourself advancing and the money rolling in. Quests can generally be obtained in towns, guilds, listening in taverns for rumour, or through random adventuring. There is so much to do. And from there you can adventure on to the other books, all of which have their own merits and unique setting. I particularly enjoy The Plains of Howling Darkness (book 4) and The Court of Hidden Faces (book 5).
The original releases were striking A4 size with card boards and fold out maps. These recent reprints may be print on demand and not quite the artifacts the originals were, but they are affordable and more than adequate plus I am happy to say contain the original illustrations of the legendary Russ Nicholson.
If you are a gamebook fan, Fabled Lands is a unique experience and should be a mandatory purchase. My only real disappointment with the series is that it was originally planned for 12 books and only 6 were ever written before the series was dropped by the publishers. Just maybe, with the re-release of the originals enough interest may gather for the authors to consider finishing the series..
‘The War-Torn Kingdom’ places the reader in a land recently ravaged by civil war where the military have deposed the king. Political tensions are high as the military to continue to exert control and those to loyal to the crown try to re-instate the monarchy. It is easy enough for the adventurer to get caught up in all this. The reader can be employed for missions by either side. This also serves as the storyline for this book. Either way, it is a volatile state in flux that gives the gamebook a strong atmosphere. There is a palatable tension among the people.
The book progresses, as indeed does the series, through the personal passage of time of the adventurer. The overall mission element of adventure gamebooks is thus replaced with developing your character, much in the way you might do so in a multiplayer role playing game. You begin with more attributes than most gamebooks and these vary according to the type of character you chose to be. As play progresses and you explore more, these will generally slowly improve; although it is entirely possible to make them worse. In certain cases a higher attribute can unlock a previously inaccessible part of the book.
As your character’s personal development continues so will the amount of equipment, items and wealth you possess. This process begins quite slowly to start with and can be a little frustrating. Once you start making progress, however, it suddenly snowballs and it requires some effort and note making to keep up with it all. Eventually your character can own houses, ships and a bank account.
The ship side of things is a little disappointing in ‘The War-Torn kingdom’. There isn’t really that much to trade and what there is fairly uninspiring. Effectively you are confined to a small area of coastal waters with not much to explore. This is part of the book that really needs to be read in conjunction with one or more of the other books in the series.
With far more passages/references than most adventure gamebooks, there is a lot to be explored in ‘The War-Torn Kingdom’. It has an enticing atmosphere that encourages the reader to explore as much as possible. The more you do in the book the more enjoyable it becomes. Even though it is meant to interact with the rest of the ‘Fabled Lands’ series (and, indeed, some bits you are unable to access without reading more of the series), it stands up well enough on its own. With hours of adventuring it’s a worthwhile purchase.