Dragon Books, £1.25, ISBN 0-583-30760-4
The Lord of Shadow Keep is Oliver Johnson’s solo debut as a gamebook author, and it’s not a bad effort at all. It’s nothing unusual, but it’s fun enough if one feels inclined to play the campaign.
The plot is standard RPG material. An evil necromancer, Arkayn Darkrobe, tyrannizes the land of Lalassa from his Shadow Keep. Arkayn’s latest foul plot involves turning the king into a vampire completely under his control. You, the most loyal and amazing Paladin of the king, decides to go one on one with Arkayn. What is it with these gung-ho heroes and their tendency to charge headlong into danger alone? At any rate, you’re going to have a lot of fun breaking into Arkayn’s Shadow Keep. It’s crawling with undead creatures.
There are some memorable encounters, such as the one where you find yourselves in the company of genteel vampires and you need to get out of the room before your identity is exposed. There is also an amusing banquet for ghouls. Arkayn’s castle is amazingly well-run, let’s just say, and if one is an undead monster, that place is actually a well-managed hotel that is worth at least four stars. Arkayn may be an enemy of valiant heroes, but he’s clearly concerned about the well-beings of his undead subjects!
The difficulty level is quite high, but not too unfair, although if you are unlucky in rolls, you should be aware that there is not many opportunity to heal. Be prepared to die a few times while playing this campaign.
Well-written, occasionally amusing, and challenging, The Lord of Shadow Keep is a dungeon crawl that nonetheless doesn’t feel too much like one. It’s a generic gamebook with few inventive elements, but it is never boring. All in all, a pretty fun adventure.