Monday, April 4, 2011

Played Lately: DestinyQuest Book 1: The Legion Of Shadow by Michael J. Ward

  • I never got over gamebooks. From the time I found the Choose Your Own Adventure and Time Machine books, through the Fighting Fantasy and Lone Wolf series, I have long been a fan of the genre. When I discovered Fabled Lands a few years ago, I was amazed that people had advanced the form long after I lost track of it. But that seemed like the last gasp of a dying genre. Gamebooks went underground, becoming amateur downloads or iPhone apps. So when Dave Morris pointed out that a new honest-to-goodness, printed on paper, gamebook was being released, I knew that I had to see it for myself.

  • DestinyQuest Book 1: The Legion Of Shadow is the new gamebook by Michael J. Ward. Like me, Ward was long time fan of the gamebook genre. But instead of lamenting its decline, he decided to put forth a massive work that celebrates everything that is great about it while taking advantage of the advanced in gaming that have occured over the last few years.

  • For those of you familiar with normal gamebooks, DQ works on a paragraph system (in this case, about 750 in total). But instead of encounters leading one to another directly, each act of the story has a map with color-coded encounters labeled on it. If you want to go to town, you turn to the paragraph for the town marked on the map. There are green, orange, blue, and red difficulty quests, as well as legendary monsters to slay and end of act boss encounter. And if that's not enough, the author is releasing additional quests on his website.

  • The combat system is a little more complicated than your standard Fighting Fantasy. From the website:
    Rolling for attack speed - Both opponents roll two dice and add their speed to the total. The winner is the combatant with the highest score.

    Rolling for damage - The winner rolls one dice and adds their brawn or magic to the total (whichever is highest). This gives them a damage score.

    Applying damage - The loser of the round deducts their armour value from the damage score. Any remaining damage is then deducted from their health.

    Applying passive damage - Some abilities inflict damage at the end of a combat round. Both combatants should update their health before starting a new combat round.

  • Your statistic scores come from the gear that you find during your quests. As well, your gear also provides abilities like blood rage, dark pact, and might of stone. With about 140 abilities in the game (link is to the ability glossary PDF), there are a lot of strategic choices to make about building your character and winning battles.

  • If gamebooks could be plotted on an axis where one end is the highly linear Fighting Fantasy books and the other is the openly structured Fabled Lands books, DestinyQuest falls firmly in the middle. The quest structure give you a high degree of control as to how you experience the game. But the color coded quests as well as the act structure give him a lot of control over the narrative. The Legion Of Shadow, so far, is one of the best written, best plotted gamebooks I have read. Although I have just started the second act, I'm am already engrossed with the story. And the writing is far better than some fantasy fiction I've endured in the past.

  • If I was rewriting my Top Five: Gamebooks post, The Legion Of Shadow would earn a spot easily. I can't wait to finish the book and see what else Michael Ward plans in the future.

© 2011 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.


  1. That sounds like a lot of fun. I don't know if you ever played any of the old Middle-Earth quest gamebooks, but several of them had a similar system where there was a hex map that keyed you to entries. There were also advanced rules where your could run an honest to christ Middle-Earth Roleplaying PnP toon through them (Iron Crow Enterprizes). Since MERP and Rolemaster could be inter-translated, I actually played through them with RM characters.

    The books seem to have had very low print runs. I've bought every one I've ever seen in a used book store, and I still only have 3 or 4 or them.

  2. Wow, I just noticed that's almost an exact duplicate of my comment to your previous post on gamebooks. Although I failed to mention I was nerdy enough to convert RM characters to MERP to play them last time :-)

    Speaking of gamebooks, when are you releasing yours into the wild?

  3. @ Yeebo - That's pretty funny. I know that I saw one of the MEQuest books, but I don't remember if I ever bought one or not. I think that hex map intimidated me at the time. :)

    My gamebook needs a couple of tweaks before it's ready to launch. I wanted to do that earlier this year, but other things intervened. It has been very interveney around here.

  4. Wow, that seems pretty cool.

  5. Glad you liked it. I got my copy in the mail a few weeks ago but I haven't opened it yet. Too much Rifting still.

  6. @ Jayedub - If you are at all interested in gamebooks, this is an easy recommendation. Assuming the international shipping price doesn't kill you. :)

    @ Blue Kae - Thank goodness. It took forever for mine to show up because of customs issues. I'm glad you did get yours. I'm interested to see what another fan thinks of it.

  7. I'll do a review when I eventually get around to reading it. So far I've just flipped through it and briefly scanned through some of the play instructions. Just too many hobbies to split my time between.