Puffin Books, £3.50, ISBN 0-14-034137-4
Series: Fighting Fantasy
Gamebook veteran authors Dave Morris and Jamie Thomson can usually be counted on to deliver a solid and enjoyable read, and The Keep of the Lich-Lord is indeed one such gamebook.
You, the hero, are a hardened soldier who recently joined the famed White Tiger Regiment, the army of the government of the Arrowhead Islands east of Khul. Now, you have decided to pack your bags and seek for greener pastures… when you are summoned by the rulers to an urgent meeting. Their fair land is under attack by an ancient enemy who has somehow been resurrected after being killed 200 years ago.
Somehow the undead lich-king Lord Mortis of Balthor is back, and now he is leading an army of zombies on a quest to finish what he started before he was inconveniently killed. Bloodrise Keep has already fallen. Therefore, with the threat of an army of undead smelly creatures hanging over their heads, these good rulers of Arrowhead Islands can only come to a logical conclusion: they will send one fellow – you – to head over, infiltrate Bloodrise Keep, and kill Lord Mortis. Hey, if it worked for John Rambo…
The Keep of the Lich-Lord is a pretty enjoyable gamebook, with plenty of interesting encounters that don’t feel too random or out of place in the overall story line. Where there are a number of twists and turns you can take to reach Bloodrise Keep, none of these path is the absolute “correct” one. Some paths will allow you to find weapons, items, or knowledge that will help you avoid a hard melee confrontation with Lord Mortis, but you can still triumph at the end of the day without obtaining them. If anything, my criticism is that it is too easy to defeat Lord Mortis without lifting a weapon if you have the correct “ingredients” to defeat that old coot.
Indeed, it is quite odd that, considering that this gamebook is published at the time when one Jonathan Green decides to vent his frustrations at being thwarted at RPG sessions on poor hapless readers of his gamebooks, this particular baby is actually quite lenient. You will take shockingly little damage after falling into a spiked pit trap or being shot in the chest by an arrow, for example. If you decide to go man-on-man with Lord Mortis, the only problem you may face is that his skill point is 11. Meanwhile, you may actually find yourself having amassed an amusingly high amount of luck by the time you meet Lord Mortis. Let’s just say that if you want a tough campaign, you won’t find it here. There are some sudden deaths here, but if any of them happens to you, it’s usually because you opt to do something really foolish and therefore you deserve such an undignified end.
A solidly written story with good dialogs, adequate world building, and fine atmosphere, The Keep of the Lich-Lord is a solid entry during a time when the series is approaching its inevitable decline. The only drawback that matters is its leniency that causes it to become too easy to breeze through.