TSR, $2.00, ISBN 0-935696-86-5
Series: Endless Quest
With the proliferation of gamebooks in the 1980s, it is only natural that TSR, purveyor of tabletop role-playing games and more, gets into the scene and makes use of its various fantasy IPs. Dungeon of Dread is the first gamebook in the Endless Quest line, and it’s written by Rose Estes, who has the honor of writing some of the worst fantasy books set in Greyhawk, heh. Fortunately, this one is far less ridiculous and campy.
It’s a straightforward dungeon crawl. You are Caric, an adventurer who has spent years pitting brain and brawn against various villains and perils in your rowdy days. When this campaign opens, you stumble upon a starving halfling, Laurus, who informs you of the wizard Kalman.
Like all wizards in gamebooks, Kalman is predictably evil. His very presence is causing the people of the village to sicken, the crops to die, et cetera. Naturally, Laurus has to be telling the truth and Kalman is evil, so you set off, with Laurus in tow, to kill that wizard. This is another campaign where it’s okay to kill and rob a wizard just because someone says he’s evil. Hurray for heroism! Anyway, Laurus shows you an entrance to Kalman’s home in the mountain, so there you go. It’s the Dungeon of Dread!
This one is a Choose Your Own Adventure-style gamebook, so even with numerous chances to battle with orcs, hobgoblins, and other staple monsters of the fantasy genre, there is no need to grab a die. Interestingly enough, your character here often defeats your opponents by wit as much as brawn. Oh, and while Laurus starts out as an irritating baggage, he becomes more tolerable later on, especially when your hero begins teaching that halfling how to be a hero, often in the process making amusing digs at the tropes of the genre,
Still, this campaign is not very difficult or long, and it is possible to breeze through it at the first run by making random choices without really reading the text on the pages. There is one ending which sees you exiting the tunnels and passageways without taking down Kalman, but if you do happen to defeat Kalman, you will be asked whether you have a special item. Oddly enough, the ending that comes up when you don’t have that item is also a happy one.
Dungeon of Dread, therefore, is a pleasant way to introduce the concept of fantasy gamebooks and dungeon-crawling to folks new to the genre. The plot may be paper-thin, but the writing is serviceable enough to make things pleasant for the one hour or so it takes to complete this campaign two or three times in one go. Folks looking for more sophisticated and challenging gamebooks may want to look elsewhere, though.