Puffin Books, £3.99, ISBN 0-14-037013-7
Paul Mason’s Magehunter is interesting, original… and very difficult to the point of being unfair.
You are a Magehunter from a world that is, judging by the flintlock pistols that you carry, comparable to Earth in the 1700s or 1800s. All Mages are evil in your world, and you are well-skilled to take them down. However, when the campaign opens, you are going to face your biggest challenge yet. Your nemesis, the Mage Mencius, has fled via a portal to Kallamehr, a cityport in Southern Allansia with mystical Arabian Nights-type influences. He has taken the heir of your late mentor with him, and when you enter the portal to Kallemehr, you learn that you are now inhabiting the body that man, Reinhardt. Great.
Magehunter is definitely an unusual campaign. The story line is not the usual formulaic pap and your stats change as you switch bodies along the way. Mr Mason has taken pains to develop the characters in this campaign and there is a strong storytelling element to the proceeding. The setting is rich, full of interesting encounters with both foes and NPCs.
Unfortunately, this campaign is also a very difficult one to the point of being unfair. Your preparations early in the campaign all come to naught as you end up switching bodies. This also means your stats are lowered in the process, giving you an artificial handicap in combat encounters. Not only that, the presence of many routes and options in this campaign is an illusion, because there is only one true route to victory, and discovering that route can be a tedious process involving some bizarre counter-intuitive choices. After repeated failures, you may very well feel tempted to cheat your way through.
All things considered, the storytelling is almost good enough to make up for the frustrating and often counter-intuitive gameplay. Almost, that is. Magehunter would have made a better fantasy novel than a gamebook.