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Item - Quest for the Elf King

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Series: Swordquest — no. 4
Author: Fawcett, William B. (Bill)
Illustrators: McPheeters, Neal (cover)
Hamilton, Todd Cameron (interior)
O'Malley, Gerald (Jerry) (cartography)
Date: January, 1987
ISBN: 0441203264 / 9780441203260
Length: 93 sections
Number of Endings: 2 (one bad ending led to from 27 places and one victory)
User Summary: Lor the elf isn't having a very good day; after a near-death encounter with a weretiger, he finds that all is not well with the local royalty....
Demian's Thoughts:

This is a thoroughly disappointing conclusion to a series that, while not brilliant, showed some promise. Despite a few nice touches (like the book's handling of small details of elf and lycanthrope culture), there are far more flaws than merits. As before, the game system is pointless and the plot is linear. Losing the flexibility added by clerical spells in the previous volume is unfortunate, and things are rendered all the more boring by the near-total lack of items to collect during the adventure. Apart from a clever trap or two, there are almost no meaningful choices, and far too much time is spent rolling dice over and over in tedious combats. The difficulty is rather too high as well; I eventually found the optimal path through the book, but I only had one remaining hit point at the end even after taking the optional healing potion recommended for lowering the challenge level of the book. Despite the low section count and barely-branching storyline, there are even some continuity problems and loose ends. It really feels as if the author was tired and wanted to get it all over with, and the fact that he designed rules for some later gamebook series without writing many more actual adventures seems to support this theory. When I put this one down, I didn't really feel any sense of accomplishment or satisfaction; perhaps the series should have quit while it was ahead.

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Fireguard's Thoughts:

With this book, Swordquest goes out on what was probably the weakest entry of an already confused series. The gameplay is some of the sketchiest and most poorly utilized I've seen from a gamebook of this type. In the first battle, for instance, the player's character is said to be using a sword. However, a sword is not listed in his equipment, which left me confused as to how I was supposed to calculate the damage I was dealing. The villain's stronghold also reminded me of Knight of Illusion (not a good thing) with dice-rolling, and what decisions there were tended to be dry or to center around which threats to disbelieve. Not fun or immersive. The parts involving the hero's love interest were especially limp when they weren't flat-out confusing. The romance facet of Freeway Warrior worked better (and it didn't work very well). Quest for the Elf King is also the book in the series hit hardest by the hard to discern rules about armor modifying enemy strike values, with no mentionable armor of any sort being available to the hero. It was plenty hard not taking that into account, I wonder if it was intentionally supposed to be even harder.

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Shadeheart's Thoughts:

[Rating: 2/10]
[Recommended? NO]

There's something particularly refreshing about epic fantasy when it's been done right. When a work comes along that understands the genre well and is written with a greater purpose from the very beginning, the efforts often pour through and are evident in the finished product. Bill Fawcett's "SwordQuest" series takes the very best qualities of fantasy gamebooks and allows them to shine, but something imperceptible is missing from "Quest for the Elf King"... and that's a real shame, because the potential in this story is remarkable.

The ever-promising, flashy sword-and-sorcery feel of the story's setting is reminiscent of the best works of Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith and Tanith Lee, just as epic glimpses of this otherworldly scope are evoked in the narrative's finer moments. Where this title loses its way is in the mechanical details; the occasionally refreshing use of tone and emotional resonance is never allowed to fully shine because of the way the experience was designed to read. In theory, interactivity should boost the quality of the reader's abilitiy to become immersed in the story, and in practice, the gameplay system should never get in the way. I was disappointed that "Quest for the Elf King" never overcame its unbalanced combat system, inconsistent production values and odd relationship with the law of conservation of detail, to which I wish Fawcett relied less on the conventions expected on him in making the story "suitable for use" with the Dungeons & Dragons tabletop roleplaying game. Was the book composed as fuel for the imagination of further stories? Was it meant to be a deliberate tie-in/cash-in? Were the conventions originally drafted up for this story intended for a product of greater/different scope? Readers are likely to encounter these and other questions after (and while) playing, and there sadly aren't any answers to offer. This book aims high and misses the bullseye, that's for sure - this is a combination of odd-length passages, faulty results from the combat/gameplay system(s) and overall sense of ephemerality derived from the unattuned marriage of too many rules with an otherwise salvagable story.

Do I recommend this adventure? In a sense, I believe it to be highly underappreciated, historically important and well-defined as an interactive experimentation which could be studied for its merits and its misaligned qualities. This is a decidedly mixed experience which I cannot outright call a satisfactory one, and thus I am hesitant to call it an essential classic. Despite this, there are enough peculiarities the right reader can appreciate between the lines, and there are some genuinely bright, creative sparks of potential. Ultimately I recommend using one's discretion when discerning the value to be found here - the endlessly uneven passages won't live up to their promising potential, but that doesn't mean there aren't occasional glittering jewels scattered throughout... only problem is, some of them are be fool's gold. ^^

(Mysteriously disappears into the shadows.)

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Special Thanks:Thanks to Ken G. for the back cover scan.
Users Who Own This Item: Alatar001, Arkadia, B0N0V0X, BarefootJimmy, CSquared, dbriel, desdichado66, Dronak, Eamonn McCusker, Erikwinslow, Ffghtermedic, Fireguard, horrorbusiness, jdreller, Joe_TC, JoshW, katzcollection, knginatl, le maudit, Malthus Dire, marnaudo, mattender, mlvoss, Naniyue, nelsondesign, Nomad, Oberonbombadil, Pessimeister, peterm2, plowboy, Pseudo_Intellectual, Robert Mammone, Sheridan77, Sir Olli, sireeyore, spragmatic, StagQuests, Tremendez, truce57, twar, waktool (US 1st printing), Yalius
Users Who Want This Item: Crazyscotsman, Cyan, Gartax, greyarea13, kinderstef, NEMO
Users with Extra Copies: twar - 1 copy. Small markings on front cover. One spine line. Crease on back. No pencil markings. Old remains of removed price sticker on front cover.

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