TSR, $2.00, ISBN 0-935696-93-8
Hello, you. You’re Brion, the son of the elven King Cedrus. You’re five feet tall, you weigh a hundred pounds, and you can see in the dark and are smarter than icky humans. Isn’t that awesome? Mind you, the cover of Return to Brookmere suggests that you’re three feet tall if you’re lucky, but then again, everyone lies about their height, no?
For your adventure, your father, King Cedrus, has given you a finely made suit of silvery chainmail that covers you from head to waist. Chain mail looks like a heavy knit silver sweater but it’s woven from metal, not wool. Chainmail is light, flexible and will protect you in combat. You wear your chainmail under a purple wool tunic. Sturdy black leather breeches and tall black boots complete your outfit. You are armed with a sword and a dagger and carry a polished metal shield. A leather pouch filled with food and water is tied at your waist.
You may be wondering why you are dressed so fancily. You see, you used to live in Castle Brookmere, but during a time called the Great Hunger, the typical villains in this gamebook series – orcs, giants, etc – swarmed across the land and reduced the castle to ruins. Now, your father is sending you and four scouts to explore the ruins and find out whether the treasures in the dungeons are still there. Yes, your father is risking his son’s life for some gold and bauble – you have to wonder whether you’re adopted.
Wait, something is missing… ah yes. It’s not an Endless Quest gamebook without some annoying talking thing to bother you throughout, so it’s your medallion, the Mouth of Mimulus. Mouth being the operative word here. It also helps you understand the language of every creature you come across, so there’s that.
Soon after you guys have made your move, you quickly fall down a collapsing set of stairs and become separated from your pesky tag-along companions. What will you do now?
Let’s start with the good things first. There are some pretty interesting encounters here, whether it’s you tangling with gnolls, kobolds, orcs, or even an invisible stalker. Rose Estes could have served up some mind-numbing, unimaginative dungeon crawl like Ian Livingstone would do, but for once, her inner desire to be a novelist works to her advantage here. Mims, your necklace, isn’t too annoying here, and he isn’t some always-correct deus ex machina too, how nice.
However, the structure of this gamebook is a mess. Either Ms Estes has no pages left to wiggle or she can’t be arsed, so you will find yourself shoehorned into turning to only a few limited options – you may choose to avoid that option that looks bad, for example, but a few turns of the page later, you find yourself going that route anyway. You may decide to avoid that scary opponent, to give another example, but oops, other options eventually funnel you to that opponent anyway. This kind of thing smacks of laziness, and if you are really unlucky, you find yourself looping around the same entries over and over.
The bad endings can see you die, but of course, given that everyone expects you to be a fragile child who will be traumatized for life by such endings, you will also be given a choice to go back and pick another option. The good endings can be anticlimactic in that you leave the ruins, but you don’t get to perform any dramatic acts of heroism. This actually makes sense, though, as you are a force of one against a horde of enemies – it’d be more unrealistic for a brat to be able to vanquish an entire army with only a sword, a talking necklace, and some dumb luck on his side.
At any rate, Return to Brookmere is an alright kiddie fantasy story, but playing it as a gamebook can be a chore at times.