Unwin Paperbacks, £1.25, ISBN 0-04-793080-2
Treachery in Drakenwood is the first gamebook in the Unicorn Fatemaster series, and while the setting is a typical high fantasy one, the gameplay system is quite different from what you may expect.
You play a typical mercenary looking for fame and fortune. One night, while sleeping in the Drakenwood in the land of Esgaron, you come across some horsemen carrying a bound and gagged woman. You manage to overhear that these horsemen are working for a Sir Roderick. When you reach the town of Becksford the next day, you get the big picture. Lady Arowen, the daughter of the Count of Esgaron, was on her way to her wedding to Duke of Romark when she was kidnapped by men who bore the arms of the Baron of Drakensfield. You know that the Baron is not the culprit, it is Sir Rodeick, the Baron’s brother, who is up to no good. So off you go, to rescue the fair lady and reap the rewards of your great deed.
Since this is the review of the first gamebook in a series, let’s touch on the gameplay design first. You have three scores to keep track of – Strength Points, Agility Points, and Power Points. All three kinds of points can increase or decrease throughout the campaign. Strength Points affect your Attack Bonus, Agility Points affect your Defense Bonus, and Power Points come into play when you want to cast spells. Casting a spell costs Power Points, and do keep in mind that Power Points also help defend you from magical attacks, so you will need to strike a balance between casting spells and defending yourself against magic.
It seems quite complicated on paper, but if you play this one for a while, you’d get the hang of it pretty quickly. The whole combat system involves too many calculations for my liking, but it’s nothing more exacting than your standard Advanced Dungeons & Dragons tabletop gaming session.
However, you also have to keep track of the time you spend wandering around. Not only that, this gamebook has its own fog of war in that you need to keep track of where you are going. You are expected to keep a map of the areas you have gone to, which is fine were not for the fact that this system is a little bit whacked. No actual grids or coordinates are given, so you end up having to settle for rough estimates. There are many cases when I discover that what I thought was adjoining areas don’t fit together very well.
Because most of the time you have no idea where you are going, you will be stuck in a loop of random combat encounters. The writing is sparse. While under other circumstances Mr Vernon’s prose will be serviceable, here you are already trying to keep track of all kinds of numbers and making a map to boot, so the writing could have been a little more exciting to elevate the tedium.
Treachery in Drakenwood has an interesting concept, but it’s one better suited for a video game platform than a gamebook. I’d recommend this one if you have a thing for number crunching, rules lawyering, and repetitious grinding, because it certainly isn’t the most exciting gamebook around.