Fabled Lands Publishing, $14.99, ISBN 978-1-909905-29-0
The Serpent King’s Domain is the seventh entry in the Fabled Lands series, and this time, everyone’s going to a South American transplant setting. There are feathered serpents, witch doctors, huts, and forests everywhere, along with the usual dragons, pirates, and other dangerous wildlife.
It’s been a while, so a recap may be necessary. If you aren’t aware, Fabled Lands is an open world gamebook series, with the planned gamebooks are coming together to span an epic world where your character are doing all kinds of side quests, without any bother of an overlying arc to tie everything together. It’s an ambitious, unique series that would be made obsolete when video games evolved and open world gaming was something people do in games by Bathesda. Playing Fabled Lands is tricky because not every entry is written or published yet even at the time of writing, and with gamebooks now mostly falling into the crowdfunding bandwagon, you need to have enough people paying the authors to get the books out. To be honest, The Serpent King’s Domain isn’t something you’d buy to play a campaign as the campaign is just a bit past midway point by the time it comes out, with no guarantees that the series will even wrap up. If you’re buying this, you’re probably a collector.
So, back to this one. Paul Gresty is behind this one, but the campaign still faithfully follows the structure of previous gamebooks in this series. However, this time around, if you are starting fresh in this gamebook without having played any of the previous ones, the plot is even worse than before. You wake up in a cottage in Dunpala, the major trading hub of Ankon-Konu, which probably means “We’re like the Mayans and Incans minus the bloody sacrifice thingies… really!”, and are told by the lady who had been caring for you all this while to leave now that you are feeling better. You have amnesia. And… that’s it. Shoo! Go out there and start making random turns of pages!
It’s better if you have been playing from the first gamebook and Ankon-Konu happens to be a stop during your epic travails in the giant sandbox setting, because that’s what this gamebook feels like: a pit stop of sorts. The descriptions of various locales and locals are skimpy, just like the previous gamebooks in this series, but this time around, the issue feels worse than before because this one doesn’t have the sense of place and atmosphere of those previous gamebooks. Sure, there are some old-days South American flavoring, but everything feels more like wallpaper than anything else.
By this stage, if you have been playing all this while, you know the deal. Find this, help that person, kill this, explore that. Everything feels rather rote now, which is why there should have been more flavor and character in this setting to make things feel fresh and interesting. Oh, and watch out for that annoying deity that will switch your character class to a different one – ouch – just because, and then throw you to someplace else, again just because. There are also some fights that will see you getting killed even after you’ve won, so it’s best to have some resurrection arrangements made at any time during your stay in Ankon-Konu.
The Serpent King’s Domain is the seventh entry into the Fabled Lands series, and that’s basically all it is.