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Prisoners of Pax Tharkas

Series: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Gamebooks #1
Translated Into: Dragefolkets fanger (Danish)
Pakkusu toride no shuujin [パックス砦の囚人] (Japanese)
I prigionieri di Pax Tharkas (Italian)
Prisioneiros de Pax Tharkas (Portuguese)
Prisioneros de Pax Tharkas (Spanish)
Author: Simon, Morris
Illustrators: Parkinson, Keith (cover)
Nelson, Mark (interior)
Release Date: February, 1985
ISBN: 0880382090 / 9780880382090
Length:189 pages (201 sections)
Number of Endings:28 (22 failures, 5 worth one point, 1 worth two points)
User Summary: You are Bern Vallenshield, a ranger in the world of Krynn (from the Dragonlance campaign setting). When you return to your home town of Solace you discover that it has been destroyed by dragons and that your younger brother is in danger!
Aussiesmurf's Thoughts: I absolutely worshipped the Dragonlance series of novels as a youngster. When I saw this book at the local gameshop, I snapped it right up.

Unfortunately, while it is fun, in a way, to meddle around the edges of the Dragonlance plot, it presents a major hindrance to a enjoyable gaming experience. It becomes very clear early on that your character will not be permitted to do anything which would impact upon the plot of Dragons of Autumn Twilight. Therefore, it can be said that this both helps in terms of choices (as you know that any choice which would affect the plot is wrong) and hinders in that most of the more interesting and obvious choices are circumscribed.

The gameplay is functional, if nothing more. Based loosely around Dungeons and Dragons, it serves a purpose.

This was the only one of the series that I ended up reading. Can't comment as to whether the others solved the plot problems present here.

More reviews by Aussiesmurf

Demian's Thoughts: I've never been too fond of the system of rules this series uses, and this first book uses it particularly poorly. In addition to the fact that the section explaining the rules is rather poorly written (and repeats the name "Bern Vallenshield" to an extent that is somewhere between humorous and annoying), there is a point value placed on each ending which allows the reader to have a slight edge upon later plays. This means that there is no real end to the book; even upon finding the "best" ending, you are encouraged to read through again. This doesn't make the book particularly satisfying (and if the happy endings are unsatisfying, imagine how some of the bad ones feel!). Despite these flaws, the book does have some good moments and its continuity with the first Dragonlance novel (Dragons of Autumn Twilight) is quite good.

More reviews by Demian

Guillermo's Thoughts: (review based on the Spanish translation; contains heavy spoilers)

I found this first book to be rather poor, both from the point of view of the main Dragonlance storyline and as a game. While the fact that it casts the reader as a minor character from the Dragonlance Chronicles series of novels may seem to have some appeal, so much effort is put into preventing the player character's actions from disrupting the continuity of the main series that one wonders what's the point of reading this book when the time could be better spent on reading the main novels instead. In fact, nearly the entire book feels either like wasted space or like an ode to Murphy's Law: it's possible to attempt to fight some villains from the main series, but that will unavoidably result in failure; it's also possible to venture into the Catacombs of Sla-Mori and find the same dangers and treasures the protagonists of the main series will eventually encounter (thus making this book redundant), but it's not possible to do anything there that will be really meaningful to the overarching series storyline, and when the choice is given to take some course of action which could go against continuity, the adventure, predictably, also ends in failure.

The book is structured in a rather disconcerting way, which only adds to the frustration as it takes far too many tries to discover there is no real point to it: far too much space is dedicated to dead-end paths which either lead the player to failure or to relative safety, but which are so short that more often than not the adventure seems to end abruptly without having really gone anywhere. In order to reach what could be called the "optimal" ending (which, considering the limitations of the story outlined above, is little more than a euphemism) the player has mostly to find a very linear and narrow, long path, avoiding most dangers without attempting to do anything that would defy the main Dragonlance continuity. Once this book is finished, it feels so much like a lame work of linear fiction in the Dragonlance setting that it seems the only way to get it published was to disguise it as a gamebook.

As if the above weren't bad enough, there isn't much in the way of gameplay to speak of. Die rolls aren't usually too hard, and it's also possible to breeze through the adventure making very few of them (plus there are Experience points to tilt the results in your favour if you need to). As a result, the difficulty of the adventure for the most part resides in the choice-making, and as the only rationale for most of it involves being herded along a narrow path while avoiding pretty much everything you meet, I didn't find much to recommend about it.

Despite the fact that, for the reasons outlined above, the book is mostly a waste of time, it still deserves mention for being one of the first to establish a style of writing which differentiated American gamebooks from their British counterparts like Fighting Fantasy and Lone Wolf. With few exceptions (Cretan Chronicles being one of the most noteworthy), characterization in British gamebooks is usually sacrificed in favour of other aspects, like exploration or encounter design. In contrast, the characters in this book (and in most of this series as well) have personalities, and even if their complexity and depth doesn't exceed what you would find in a TSR linear novel, the dialogue and character interaction make this a rather entertaining read. It's only a shame we had to wait until later releases in this series to see this feature being coupled with decent design and gameplay.

More reviews by Guillermo

Kveto's Thoughts: Another spin-off from Endless Quest (like HeartQuest and Crimson Crystal), these would prove to be the most durable, reaching into double digits and later being renamed to the equally generic title, Advanced D&D Adventure Gamebooks.

This series is clearly influenced by Fighting Fantasy books, as the sections become shorter and the game element is introduced (rolling dice, skill checks, hit points, etc.). Each comes with a bookmark with all of your character stats. I was unable to actually play this book as my used copy came without the bookmark and the character's stats aren't to be found in the book itself. The game system is clearly underdeveloped for this book as most of the "deaths" are from poor choices rather than loss of hit points.

Interesting to start a new series off this way. This is the first book set in the Dragonlance world of Krynn (but won't be the last). For this series, the writers were quick to adapt scenarios and even actual adventure modules to the series, which makes sense. They have all these great D&D modules, why not adapt them to another format?

Interestingly, you don't play one of the main Dragonlance characters but a ranger named Bern Vallenshield, specific to this book. This is a kind of side adventure to the first Dragonlance book, Dragons of Autumn Twilight (the best of the series). It kind of takes the opposite approach. In the Dragonlance book, the heroes have to break into Pax Tharkas; in this one, the heroes break out. If you have read the Dragonlance book, you can use some of that knowledge to help you, although they won't let you kill off Verminaard or any important bad guys.

It's not a bad start. Interestingly, you can "win" the book very early on by passing a skill check or two and escaping capture before even being taken to Pax Tharkas. With you running around Pax Tharkas and the Dragonlance heroes sneaking in, the book really makes the villains seem incompetent. However, I think you could argue that the heroes here are the ones who contribute useful info about the location to the Dragonlance heroes, thereby filling in a "missing" story. Very similar to the way Rogue One tells the missing Star Wars story about how info on the villains' hideout got smuggled out.

You are joined by a Kender named Willow and a female elven Wizardess, both of whom appear on the cover with glorious 1980's hairstyles. The interior art is pretty poor.

Not a bad start to the series, but the game element and shortened sections are very annoying.

More reviews by Kveto

Users Who Own This Item: arcaril, Ardennes, Aussiesmurf, B0N0V0X, BarefootJimmy, bigcobra, bookwormjeff, Chanticrow, Cloquewerk, Crazyscotsman, CSquared, Cyan, dArtagnan, dave2002a, egokun, Fireguard, Garrick Muttley, Grifter, Gurvo, hoops4ever, horrorbusiness, jr, Jubal, karalynn, katzcollection, keving, kinderstef, kleme, knginatl, Kveto, le maudit, LordJR, mattender, mlvoss, nelsondesign, Nomad, outspaced, peterm2, Pirrakas, Pseudo_Intellectual, Robert Mammone, Sir Olli, sireeyore, spragmatic, StagQuests, ThisIslandEarth, Tremendez, truce57, twar, Virtua Sinner, Von Scotty, Yalius
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Users with Extra Copies: Chanticrow - Slight edge wear and natural yellowing. Bookmark is unmarked and still attached to binding.
Sir Olli

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