Dragon Books, £1.25, ISBN 0-583-30749-3
Crypt of the Vampire is the first book in Dragon Books’s Golden Dragon fantasy gamebooks series. Like Fighting Fantasy, there is little continuity between gamebooks in this series, the only similarity being the gameplay system. Therefore, there is no worry about having to play the gamebooks in a specific order.
Since this is the first gamebook in the series, I’d spend some time describing the gameplay system of the series here. Gameplay design is pretty simple. You need a die, as usual. There are three statistics you have to keep track of for your character. Vigour reflects your standard hit points – if this score reaches zero, you die. You can have a maximum of 32 Vigour points. Psi is the reflection of your affinity to magic and psychic attacks – you have a better chance of detecting and even resisting magic attacks if your Psi score is high. Agility reflects your ability to climb, jump, and perform any other action that requires physical coordination. Both Psi and Agility scores can hit a maximum of nine points. Combat encounters are simple to manage as you just need to roll two dice and refer to the text to determine who gets hit and how many Vigour points are lost in that particular round. That’s basically it, really.
In this one, the plot is threadbare. Basically, you are an adventurer wandering through Wistren Wood when night approaches. Seeking shelter for the night, you come across a creepy manor which you will later learn is called Tenebron Hall. You will also learn that the 13th Lord of Tenebron Hall has terrorized the area for centuries, for he is a Vampire with a capital V. Naturally it is up to you to slay that fiend, but it won’t easy as you enter Tenebron Hall without even a light source, much less the standard battle arsenal of crucifix, garlic bulbs, and magical weapons…
While there isn’t anything noteworthy about the plot, this campaign is pretty fantastic due to some excellent atmosphere-building and storytelling. It is hard not to feel even a little unnerved as your character wanders in the dark halls, trying to figure out what is going on even as you try to locate a light source and a friendly face. Slowly, you learn of the nature of the inhabitants of Tenebron Hall. While you will have to wander around some corridors and rooms without much clue as to where you are heading, there are several ways to reach the big boss so you don’t have to worry too much about locating that one true way. However, you need to have the correct items to defeat this Vampire, so be prepared to make a few runs if you are unlucky during your first few tries. There are also some options that lead to sudden and ignoble death even early on in this campaign. While the overall battle encounter difficulty is fine, the design of the campaign is such that you can still fail if you pick a wrong option or are particularly unlucky in your rolls.
There are plenty of interesting moments here, such as an unusual chess game and a strange musical orchestra. Mr Morris has put plenty of thought into making this dungeon crawl a memorable one, and his effort pays off here.
Crypt of the Vampire is an entertaining campaign, one that is simple and yet with ample challenge to appeal to even jaded players.