In Part One, we covered Choose Your Own Adventure, Which-Way Books, and Dungeons & Dragons' Endless Quest Books--plus Wizards, Warriors and You! Now we can get into the more advanced stuff: these game books have hit points, some use dice or other random number generation, and the play is much more complicated; more like a role-playing game than any that came before. Let our journey begin....
1-on-1 books took reading adventures to the next amazing level. You read one of the two books that came in the set, and a friend read the other. You each took turns reading one section at a time, and made choices just like in a CYOA book. This time, though, you would actually have to fight enemies which your friend would play in simulated battle. Ultimately, you wound up confronting your friend and you and the allies you accrued during your adventure tried to beat the snot out of him (or her) and his (or her) allies. Unfortunately, your friend could cheat like a Republican in a Presidential election and you really couldn't tell until you were dead and they screamed out, "Ha, ha; I cheated!"
Some of the 1-on-1s had different elements such as the Japanese Warlord set in which you had to convince neighboring nations to ally with you. If I hurt anyone's feelings with that Republican joke, I will throw in a Democrat joke to balance it out. I'll let you know when it is coming.
Where traditional Dungeons & Dragons (D&D or AD&D) used the famous twenty-sided die, also known as the d20, to resolve attacks, game books needed a different mechanic. The publisher, TSR (the same company that published D&D), couldn't just assume that the reader had their own d20s at home and packaging one with the books wouldn't work well. 1-on-1 books solved this with a couple of charts, one on the back of each book. Along the left side and the top were the numbers 1-20. You and your opponent each called out a number from 1-20 and found the row and column that intersected at your choices. That told you if you hit, missed, or did double damage. These books were some of the first to use a real combat system where the players had to track how many hit points or life points each player and his allies possessed. Previous adventure books didn't use a system like this; they just told you that you died...or occasionally you defeated or avoided a monster.
Castle Arcania, written by James M. Ward. Illustrated by Larry Day. Released April of 1985.
Castle Arcania may have been the best in the series. You chose to play either Eric Sunsword (hero) or Neves the Wizard (villain). At stake: the fate of Eric's betrothed! The story revolved around the typical quest and contained all of the heroic and magical elements you'd expect in a traditional fantasy. I did enjoy the idea of playing the "bad guy" for a change.
Battle for the Ancient RobotBattle for the Ancient Robot
James M. Ward, author. Mark Nelson & Sam Grainger, illustrators.
Released June of 1985.
could only suck more if it came with a vacuum cleaner. Your mission required jumping all over the universe to try to find pieces of the Ancient Robot. As much as I love science fiction, I can't give this book a good review. Bender from Futurama
could kick the Ancient Robot in the jibblies while eating nachos and
going to the bathroom at the same time.
Revenge of the Red Dragon by James M. Ward. Valerie A. Valusek, illustrator. Released September of 1985.
I enjoyed these perhaps the most. Of course you are enemies and want nothing more than to kill each other; however, the dragon is too strong for the knight. If you're playing Raven Quickblade, you need allies and magic items and the only way to acquire them is by adventuring around before finding the dragon. I played these over and over, which grows more challenging because you have to convince a friend that even though you have played both sides a dozen times they still stand a chance against you. =)
Written by James M. Ward. Illustrated by Keith Parkinson (covers) and Mark Nelson (interior). Released February of 1986.
The Dragon Sword of Lankhmar offered some interesting game play. On one side, you could play Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, two pulp fantasy heroes from the days of yore. These two, created by Fritz Leiber, were a couple of adventuring scoundrels who, in this story, want to steal the Dragon Sword. I think they were under orders from Baba Yaga, a figure from Russian mythology and in this story a powerful witch. On the other side, you could play the Thieve's Guild Assassins, hired to take out the scoundrels in question.
Here is where this adventure gets cool.
If you play Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, when you die, Baba Yaga raises you from the dead and sends you off again, but only a limited number of times. If you play the Assassins, each time you die, you get a brand new group of killers to play! They had different names and powers, and it really made the game interesting. It was cool!
Written by Greg Fahlgren & Nancy Fahlgren. Illustrated by James Holloway. Released in 1987.
I enjoyed the Dragonwand of Krynn, but mostly because it took place in the Dragonlance world created by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. Otherwise the game play about matched Castle Arcania, with magic items, hit points and such.
Prisoners of Pax Tharkas, pictured above, allegedly took place in and during the Dragonlance series. You played heroes who were in Pax Tharkas at the same time that Tanis Half-elven and company were wrecking havoc, releasing aged dragons and squishing Berem Everman under a couple of tons of rock. The thrill of playing in that fantasy world suffered because you really couldn't do anything that would mess up the main storyline.
In its time, The Soulforge ruled. Everyone loved Raistlin Majere. Just look at every MMORPG; every third character is named Rastlin, Raistlinn, Wrastlin...another third is named Drizzt, Drizztz, Dryzzt...all others: "Bob". My point is, at the time fans would literally kill to read more about Rasitlin and how he became so powerful, eventually defeating his childhood bullies with magic so strong he could in fact have killed a god. This book was the only thing you could actually PLAY AS RAISTLIN! Wow. It was awesome.
What could be better than an adventure book written by Gary Freaking Gygax--the inventor of Dungeons & Dragons for those of you who dated in High School. These books took place in the world of Grayhawk, which was in fact a D&D campaign setting. They had lots of combat, lots of choices and lots of cheating. Hey I was like 12 and they were hard, ok!?! Seriously, these were worth the money to play and I did play them a few times to see all the areas.
I include the above because Roger Zelazny dominated science fiction and fantasy for a few decades. Well, he influenced it heavily. The Chronicles of Amber set the bar for my low fantasy expectations. Sadly, these adventure books didn't really live up to his awesomeness. Amber The Diceless Roleplaying Game, released much later, was fantastic and really delivered a game that had the feel of Zelazny's universe filled with shadow realities and world-walking princes.
Combat Heroes wins some props for trying to innovate in a field where, come on, how much can you do with a book anyway? What made these books different was that, you had to buy both....they were useless alone....but they didn't sell them in a pack like 1-on-1 books. Also, instead of telling you that you can go left or right, these books showed you a picture and you could easily see that you could go left or right or straight or down a ladder, etc. Unfortunately these didn't work out to be very fun, and I don't even think we played it all the way through to the end.
Now we get to the good stuff. The Lone Wolf series is quite frankly the BEST adventure books ever released, that I have read, and remember. There was an eastern, ninja feel to the books. The world was rife with legends and character and atmosphere. The stories were compelling and dark, dangerous at every turn. The books used hit points and combat, but also you could turn left in the swamp and get swallowed up by quicksand without any chance at all. You played these books over and over again because YOU HAD TO IN ORDER TO WIN. That's how many times you died.
Even better, the story continued in many volumes as your character grew and the story lines continued adding depth to the world.
Look at this heroic list of titles!
1. Flight from the Dark
2. Fire on the Water
3. The Caverns of Kalte
4. The Chasm of Doom
5. Shadow on the Sand
6. The Kingdoms of Terror
7. Castle Death
8. The Jungle of Horrors
9. The Cauldron of Fear
10. The Dungeons of Torgar
11. The Prisoners of Time
12. The Masters of Darkness
13. The Plague Lords of Ruel
14. The Captives of Kaag
15. The Darke Crusade
16. The Legacy of Vashna
17. The Deathlord of Ixia
18. Dawn of the Dragons
19. Wolf's Bane
20. The Curse of Naar
21. Voyage of the Moonstone
22. The Buccaneers of Shadaki
23. Mydnight's Hero
24. Rune War
25. Trail of the Wolf
26. The Fall of Blood Mountain
28. The Hunger of Sejanoz
Steve Jackson is iconic in gaming, and his Sorcery! series certainly lives up to his reputation. These books are beyond sophisticated, difficult as hell, and gorgeous. I remember my friend Todd Seibert had to coach me through them. "Don't forget to get the McGuffin in the beginning." If you didn't do everything right, you could get to the end and still lose. I'd love to play through these and the Lone Wolf books again now. All the others are probably too silly and immature.
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