TSR, $2.50, ISBN 0-88038-215-5
You are a male fighter—that’s the warrior class in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, upon which this gamebook system is somewhat based off—named Carsten Soldar. Clearly, something went wrong with the Random Fantasy Character Name Generator when your parents were clicking on the buttons to get a name for you. You are also accused to be a thief at the start of this campaign. You found a purse, only to then be ambushed by the soldiers of the evil Count Lasson. Sadly, you aren’t multi-classing as a thief (maybe that’s for a later edition), you’re just wrongly maligned as one.
It’s clearly a set up, as the Count says that he will pardon you if you would help him retrieve a Soul-Gem. Wait, is that the thing used by night hags to store the souls of their victims? Anyway, it can be found among the ruins of Castle Parcesstar—what in the name of Pelor’s scented toilet brush is in the beverages of these people when they came up with these names?—but there’s a catch. It is found in a ghostly tower called, well, The Ghost Tower that will only materialize for one night in a year. Of course, the time is nigh and the Count has this bright idea of setting up and sending random player characters to go get that gem. That always work!
You have two companions, also prisoners assigned under your command. There’s Flip, a halfling thief because that’s clearly what all halflings are. Naturally, she’s always snappy and sassy, countering everything you say with a quip, maybe because a distant ancestor of hers stepped through a portal into Krynn and committed heresy by shagging a kender. There’s also Sulex, a cleric of some “gods”. Is polytheism a thing in Greyhawk? You can’t recall, honestly, because you’re all for Iuz being the one true god of everything in that place. There is some unfortunate implication to be had when Flip is always addressed by her species, halfling, while you and Sulex are addressed by your class. “Oh, here’s Amudabi the sexy cleric of Zuggtmoy, Crestus the bard that suffers a hundred STDs, and I guess there’s Mumu… the halfling that halflings.”
At any rate, all three of you head out. You have to keep track of all your companions’ stats as well, but don’t worry, this is elementary RPG, so you will be told only to roll dice and deduct points when you have to. Seriously, you can skip all the tedious rules listed early on because this campaign holds your hand well and tells you where to stick that thing into.
Initially, you will be annoyed because this campaign is one of those that don’t offer you any option other than to read. You are led into an armory to gear up, for example, but you can’t even pick what you want. You are on autopilot, a reader more than a player. You can’t even decide how to get to Castle Parcesstar—the campaign tells you that the three of you walk right in through the front gate. It is only when you have no clue what to do that the campaign starts giving you the option to make random choices on where to go next. Seriously, you have no maps, and the description of each choice gives you no clue as to which one may be the correct or better option. Even then, after making a choice, you have to read on and on for quite a bit on what happens after you make that choice. Eventually, you realize that these choices often share the same numbered passages. After going through a few entries, the campaign will ask you whether you initially took the left or right turn, for instance. That means that choice of taking the left or right turn has no real consequence most of the time, as each decision leads to a similar set of events until the campaign decides to split things up again.
Hence, you begin to make a random choice, then set aside the gamebook to make yourself some coffee. Make another random choice, read the next few entries inattentively while keeping one eye on the TV, repeat and rinse.
Then, something weird begins to happen. You realize that this campaign may seem like some random-generated Ian Livingstone brain gas at first, but as you turn the entries, you realize that the campaign is actually structured like a pretty decent tabletop role-playing campaign. There are some solid and memorable scenes and encounters, which is always nice. Jean Blashfield’s narrative style is solid, with good pacing and structure, so you also begin to enjoy reading the entries. Sure, Sulex is only useful in situational moments and for the most part is an anchor dragging everyone down (at crucial times, sometimes his spell may fail with you not given any option to roll against the fail), and Flip really needs to shut up… but you are also starting to warm up to them. When they help you, and you help them, you feel like a proud DM that had just guided your players through a successful and satisfying campaign. You think this is a great campaign…
… And then comes that stupid ill-explained puzzle thing that will see you, more often than not, making random choices without really knowing what is happening. Your heart momentarily stops when the entry you flip to sees Flip and Sulex getting automatically killed, no saves allowed. Luckily, you are prepared and you have dog-eared the previous entry, so you go back and pick another option. Yikes, after a few more entries, they are both dead again. Back you go. Oops, dead. Back again.
Finally! You have no idea what happened, but you finally get to the Soul-Gem, only to realize that you now have to go through some rolls to release that thing into your grasp, and unlucky rolls can get either yourself, Flip, Sulex, or a combination of any or all three, killed. Fine, you say, you’ll just skip the whole nonsense and go pick the success route without bothering to roll anything. Then you realize that there is no way to have a good ending that see all three of you walking off into the sunset. It’s like having to choose between leaving Kaidan or Ashley behind on Virmire to die, and after making your painful choice, the game ends with a “LOL kthx for playing bye!” on the screen.
Horrible. Truly horrible.