Wizard Books, £3.50, ISBN 0-14-032877-7
Vault of the Vampire is about – what else? – taking down the big bad vampire in his creepy castle.
You are a hero who has decided to pay a visit to Mortvania, a province in the Old World country of Mauristatia, in your constant search for fame and fortune. Alas, Mortvania is a heavily-forested land devoid of riches. However, when you are petitioned to help rescue a young woman from the clutches of the foul ruler of the land, Count Reiner Heydrich, you surely can’t refuse some poor scared villagers in need. So it’s off to Castle Heydrich you go, where you will learn not only that Reiner is a vampire, there are also some unexpected sources of great good and even allies in the Castle. That is, if you know where to look for them.
What I like about this campaign is how the story and the hack-and-slash elements fit together nicely like hand in glove. The setting borrows heavily from European folklore but instead of coming off as hackneyed and overtly clichéd, Mortvania is a dark and forbidding place, just lovely for the horror fantasy campaign. The dungeon crawl elements of this campaign are well done – you won’t have to make random and unconnected “left or right” choices and hope that you are going the right way. Oh, there are elements of randomness here, but you won’t end up in the Maze of Zagor for hours, wanting to scream in boredom. Exploring Castle Heydrich is a fun adventure, especially when there are always some memorable encounters and occasional humor to come across.
Do be aware that you need to carry out a few tasks first before you meet Count Reiner Heydrich if you want to vanquish him. There are also some weapons, armors, and shields that would greatly help you in the final fight. Count Reiner Heydrich can only be killed by specific weapons, but you are given some leeway in that you have two sets of optional items to locate when it comes to your item hunting. Needless to say, lacking both sets will spell instant doom when you meet the Count, but it is pretty easy to find at least one of the two sets of items. One set is more “stylish” than the other, of course, so if you want to finish the campaign with flourish, you may want to make a few runs to locate that set if you fail to do so the first time around.
Difficulty-wise, this one is challenging. There are some afflictions that can spell a bad end to your character if you make a few wrong choices and become exposed one time too many to conditions that worsen these afflictions. You have a new set of points here, Faith, which measures your resolve against evil. Like Luck, it can go over the initial value, and you will need a high Faith score when you need the final boss in order to make your life easier. Luckily, there are some ways to increase your Faith score, but getting there isn’t easy. And, as been mentioned, you have to carry out a few tasks in order to fully defeat Count Reiner, tasks that you won’t know about until you are asked to account for them. There are some monsters with high stats here, but if you have located enough unique weapons and armors, you’ll most likely be fine.
The downside to a campaign this linear is that there is not many replay value once you’ve figured out the correct path to victory. Nonetheless, because this is a gamebook that has it all – satisfying story, challenging gameplay design, and well-drawn setting – it is still replaying the campaign just to savor again the brilliance that is Vault of the Vampire.