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The Castle of Darkness

(British cover)
(American cover)
Series: Grailquest #1
Contained In: Grailquest Boxed Set (Collection)
Translated Into: Ankokujo no majutsushi [暗黒城の魔術師] (Japanese)
Il castello di tenebra (Italian)
El castillo de las sombras (Spanish)
Le Château des Ténèbres (French)
Hrad temnoty (Czech)
Den sorte borg (Danish)
Author: Brennan, J. H. (Herbie)
Illustrator: Higgins, John
Release Dates: 1984 (British edition)
October, 1986 (American edition)
ISBNs: 0006923070 / 9780006923077 (British edition)
0440911206 / 9780440911203 (American edition)
Length:187 pages (156 regular sections plus 11 dreamtime sections, a prologue and an epilogue)
Number of Endings:2 (one bad ending led to from 33 places and one victory)
User Summary: Queen Guinevere has been captured by the evil wizard Ansalom, and a young boy named Pip is chosen by Merlin to recover her.
Demian's Thoughts: This book gets a lot of things right. First of all, it's built around an appealing central premise -- the book is actually a complicated spell created by Merlin which sends you (or more specifically, your inner self) back in time to occupy the body of a boy named Pip, chosen for heroism by the eccentric wizard. Because it is supposedly written by Merlin, the text of the book frequently takes on an amusing, conversational tone with a distinctly British flavor. This is another thing that the book gets right -- humor definitely has its place in gamebooks, and its use here is quite appealing. In addition to Merlin's eccentricity, a running gag about a lost king and some rather wacky encounters are worth a smile at least.

The author is also very obviously aware of the way that most people actually play gamebooks. The rules, which are explained during the course of the adventure rather than before the beginning of the story, are actually designed to allow (indeed encourage) a certain amount of fudging. At the very beginning, you can reroll your LIFE score three times and pick the best one. Once in the adventure, should you be killed, you start again with a new LIFE score but leave dead all of the monsters that you have defeated. Players are encouraged to map as they go along, and in at least one case, if you have already mapped a certain area, you are allowed to skip the trap in it on the second time through. Another reason for mapping is that players are encouraged to note section numbers on their maps so that they can backtrack if necessary to search for missed secret doors. As a member of the presumed minority that tries to follow gamebook rules to the letter, I found this a little disconcerting at first; however, once I got used to it, I found that it did reduce the usual gamebook frustrations without adding any cheater's guilt. My only complaint is that a couple of points are handled too loosely -- there's a mention early on about regaining a point of LIFE every hour, but without indication of the passage of time, this is meaningless. Also, while you are supposed to gain a point of EXPERIENCE after killing monsters and solving puzzles, there are no reminders in the text after defeating monsters nor are there indications (that I saw, at least) of which puzzles merit rewards.

The book could stand to be a little more challenging. Pip starts off armed and equipped to the teeth, and at least some of these initial items could have been scattered around for him to find later on, thus offering more reason for exploration. It's also too bad that there are so many healing items around that few players are likely to risk sleeping and entering the Dreamtime sections, which are one of the more interesting innovations of the series. Of course, it's possible that my experience with the book was distorted by the fact that I accidentally discovered a well-hidden secret door very early on; perhaps if I had missed that, it would have seemed a great deal harder. Additionally, I see from the beginning of the second book that I missed out on finding a number of useful items that I could have carried forward. In any case, it probably wasn't such a terrible idea to use a relatively easy quest to get players comfortable with the game system and unique style of the series; I'm certainly eager to proceed to the next mission.

More reviews by Demian

utfanatic's Thoughts: Great concepts in this book, Demian has pretty much said it all. I have the first three books in this series and will be submitting reviews of each.

To begin with, the writing in this book is top notch and quite humorous, in a very appropos manner.

Lots to keep track of in this book, in terms of additions and subtractions in battle, but worth it. Additionally, the option to bribe your potential foes is available at times, and the option to try to "make friends" with your foes is always an option, albeit one very difficult to achieve.

Experience points are said to be rewarded at the rate of 1 per battle won or puzzle solved, but no reminders are forthcoming throughout the book. As well, I didn't find a situation where more than 1 XP is awarded for a battle or puzzle, although the book mentions this being a possibility.

I never needed to take advantage of the "sleep" option, which takes you to DreamLand, where you can actually end up dead, due to the copious amounts of healing options available throughout the book.

The tale is interesting enough. Merlin's spell has transported you to Arthur's time, where you inhabit the body of one "Pip," a young lad living close to Camelot. You are given liberal doses of healing potions, a nice sword and armor by Merlin before being sent off to rescue the kidnapped queen from the evil wizard Ansalom. Standard enough fare, but superbly executed.

There are a few errors in the book where you are directed to the wrong page, and at least one example that I found where if you enter a room, there is no way out. Toward the end, there is one strange opportunity to "bribe" dogs with gold.

Lots of choices in this book, lots to explore and find.

I didn't find the correct path initially, so it took some doing for me to eventually find the way.

Good book, great writing, fun adventure.

Rating 1-10: 8

More reviews by utfanatic

Errata:Sections 7 and 104 end abruptly without outgoing references. Presumably, 7 leads to 8 and 104 leads to 14.
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outspaced
Rori - British cover

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Related Documents

Play Aid

Grailquest #1 Character Sheet (back)

Grailquest #1 Character Sheet (front)

Grailquest #1 Rules Reference (back)

Grailquest #1 Rules Reference (front)

Structure Diagram

Grailquest #1 Map
This flowchart of the book was contributed by Christopher McGeorge.