by Ashley P Martin, fantasy (2013)
Pure Indigo Publishing, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-9571352-2-2
Dragon's Deep takes your character, a squire named Toby, once again on another adventure. This time around, you serve Sir Henry in your homeland of Norland, and all is well until a big mean red dragon begins terrorizing the neighborhood. You'd think all the knights in the land can handle one dragon, but no.
First, you need the Dragon Spear, as a prophecy says that only it can bring down the dragon. But that spear has been stolen by the Silver Locust Clan dark elves and it's probably somewhere in the dangerous Crooked Fens. Once you've located it, then it's off to Dragon's Deep to impale the reptile with extreme prejudice. Sounds easy, right? Well, think again. Once again, the knights are not exactly useful, so it's up to Toby to once again save the day.
Well, this one is certainly a pleasant surprise. The cover is prettier than that of the first gamebook, which I also noticed had been redesigned in subsequent editions, and there are some illustrations inside. The difficulty level is a bit lower, as the campaign is more forgiving on mistakes. There are many items lying around that can reduce damage or offer all kinds of protection. It is more difficult to figure out the most useful things to buy with your limited amount of money, although you may get lucky and win lots of money from gambling opportunities present here.
The narrative is only semi-serious, and there are some humorous moments. The humor can feel out of place, however, such as when someone dies and your character ends up being the only one not caring much about the poor sod's death, despite the fact that you are the one closest to this fellow. Your character can often seem the most unfeeling or even the most bipolar fellow of the bunch due to such moments of awkward humor. Things would have been better if Mr Martin had ramped up the comedy, like JH Brennan did for the Grailquest gamebooks, so that everyone is crazy at an equal footing.
The campaign is also inconsistent when it comes to maintaining the momentum. Mr Martin has Toby narrating a chunk of the events in flashback to a talking bird - don't ask - so making choices during this flashback feel markedly odd indeed. It's like listening to a crazy fellow ramble only to have him pause at regular intervals and ask you what you think he did next. This method also makes fatal endings awkward, as Toby basically talks about his humiliating end, then says something like, "Wait, that's not what happened!", and makes you choose the other option. The flashback technique is not well integrated in this campaign - the more straightforward style would have worked so much better here.
The set up is interesting, and while the campaign can be quite generic, things seem to be shaping up to be something good... at least until the whole flashback thing comes in and everything becomes weird. Then the flashback is over and things look promising again, until the campaign then turns into basically a maze-crawl where you end up having to pull all kinds of lever. To Mr Martin's credit, he provides enough details and color to make each choice somewhat more interesting than the usual dry and tedious "Go left or right?" maze-crawl typical of too many gamebooks. But you are still going through an increasingly monotonous and repetitive pattern of choices, and once again the momentum deflates.
Dragon's Deep is a significant improvement over the previous gamebook, and it's a pretty entertaining campaign despite some prevalent technical issues present. While it may not be an amazing gamebook, it is a step in the right direction when it comes to more old-school gamebooks, and it would be interesting to see what Mr Martin would come up with next.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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