Knight Books, £3.99, ISBN 0-340-41206-2
The Demon’s Claw is a solid gamebook with a great story, an amazing array of non-linear paths, and plenty of solid encounters set in a beautifully drawn exotic setting with rich infusion of folk elements from Middle-eastern mythology. Unfortunately, this campaign has only one certain path to success, so choosing the wrong path will lead to a frustrating dead end late in the campaign.
Taking place about a year after you have defeated the Warlock-King in The Kingdom of Wyrd, you have finally located the blade of the Blood Sword. It is located somewhere in the city of Crescentium, the jewel of the land called Outremer. Outremer is the name of the lands of the heathens that were conquered by Crusaders of the True Faith. This setting is clearly inspired by Jerusalem in the height of the Crusades back in the old days, with the religions True Faith and Ta’ashim having recognizable counterparts in the real world. Don’t get too offended by the “True Faith” thing – the name is given by practitioners of that faith, and you can bet the Ta’ashim folks have a more colorful name for that religion.
To locate the blade, you will need to find a clue to its location. And that is when the fun starts. From finding a place to stay (each class offers its own options) to locating the man who holds the clue to getting him what he wants in exchange for the clue, The Demon’s Claw is non-stop pure magic from start to finish. From djinns to an encounter with an immortal pirate king to dealing with the colorful locals, this is easily one of the most entertaining gamebooks around. The level of difficulty is also pretty high in that there are going to be some really tough encounters here.
But the biggest drawback to this campaign is that there is only one true way to victory, and you may need several tries to discover the very stringent conditions you have to fulfill to get there. This campaign is probably the closest you’ll ever get to a Fighting Fantasy campaign in that way. It’s much easier if you have a Trickster, because this character provides a back-up plan if you fail to meet the set of parameters needed to reach this triumphant ending. Of course, it’s not that easy to find the conditions to activate this back-up plan thing either, so anyway, have fun.
This gamebook also has some pretty mature elements for a book targeted at young readers. While there is no reference to explicit sex, there is no mistaking the intention of a young Ta’ashim woman bringing a drunk nobleman to her quarters, for example. Still, I’m sure young kids reading this gamebook will survive all this.
The Demon’s Claw is a lush and gorgeous campaign, one of the best I’ve played… and it is also one with the most stringent restrictions for victory. The many options to choose are but a smokescreen because there is only one convoluted path to victory. Therefore, this is a tough gamebook to rate. It’s a fabulous campaign if you get it right, worthy of full score, but only if you are willing to overlook the design of the campaign.