Armintrout, W. G.
Carroll, Dan (interior)
|Length:||560 sections, plus introduction|
|User Summary:||You are a mercenary in an Aquilonian fort in the Pictish Wilderness, helping to defend it against forces commanded by a powerful wizard. You must uncover and - if possible - foil a plot to weaken the fort's defenses against an enemy assault.|
This solitaire adventure for GURPS Conan is based on an original story by Robert E. Howard titled "Beyond Black River." The transition to interactive form is done quite well, in that it is possible to achieve quite different endings to the one in the original story. The adventure gives you a pregenerated Conan character to use, but it also accommodates a reader-created character.
The adventure involves a lot of exploration of both settled and wilderness areas, with many subquests for the reader to try. This being a Conan the Barbarian adventure, there are many combat encounters, which may ultimately prove tedious if you play the adventure as intended. GURPS, after all, grew out of a series of combat miniature games, and that influence definitely shows in this book. There are many combat maps included with the adventure, requiring you to print them out and use miniatures while playing (if memory serves, you can end up having to resolve combat for as many as fifteen characters during a single battle). The adventure itself, however, is entertaining and engaging in spite of its complex combat system. There are several endings which represent varying degrees of success, also making replay worthwhile. Ultimately, reaching the most successful ending is not too hard, but the real challenge in the adventure comes from completing all (or most) of the subquests successfully. These require a lot of nontrivial combat and skill rolls, so achieving a high degree of success should take even seasoned gamers a while.
Also noteworthy is the use of a codeword system, which would later be picked up in the British Virtual Reality series. In this adventure, the reader rolls dice to determine which plot words he or she gets, and these change the plot in meaningful ways. It is also possible to gain additional plotwords in the story as a result of your character´s actions. The book encourages the reader to choose plotwords rather than determine them randomly during play, in order to explore different possibilities.
Storywise, the text moves along at a fast pace (which is a good thing, since the reader spends a lot of time rolling dice). The story features a bit more sex than that present in the Endless Quest Conan gamebooks, though still not as much as the level present in the original Conan stories.
I only have minor gripes with the book. First, while the high section count represents the scope of this adventure (there are many subplots and also many options to try), it also represents the fact that there is too much section hopping. A single encounter may need you to move along four or five short sections. I believe the author could have done a better job by incorporating all instructions for a given encounter into a single section. Secondly, the scoring system at the end of the adventure is sloppily done. After having spent a long time with the book, I am sure there is no way to get the maximum score suggested, since some victory conditions exclude others (it is certainly possible to get really close to the maximum score, though). There are also some design errors, with a few sections in the book being unreachable (though I might be wrong). Actually, there may be more errors than I noticed, since the publisher released an extensive errata sheet online several years after the book´s publication (available at http://www.sjgames.com/errata/gurps/conan-beyond-thunder-river.html).
Overall, despite my complaints, I recommend this adventure, and will definitely keep an eye out for other works by this author. If you are having trouble locating a print version, you can buy a PDF version from the publisher here.
|Special Thanks:||Thanks to Guillermo Paredes for the plot summary, back cover image and other details.|
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GURPS Solo: Conan Beyond Thunder River
from Dragon #135, page 34