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Crypt of the Vampire

(British cover)
(American cover)
Series: Golden Dragon Fantasy Gamebooks #1
Contained In: Golden Dragon Fantasy Gamebooks Box Set (Collection)
Translated Into: La casa di tenebra (Italian)
La cripta del vampiro (Spanish)
Jagten på Grev Draculas skat (Danish)
Kyuuketsuki no doukutsu [吸血鬼の洞窟] (Japanese)
Le Tombeau du vampire (French)
Adapted Into: Crypt of the Vampire (collector's edition) (Gamebook)
Author: Morris, Dave
Illustrators: Elettori, Bruno (original cover)
Warhola, James (American cover)
Hartas, Leo (interior)
Release Dates: December 13, 1984 (original)
March, 1986 (American edition)
October 20, 2013
ISBNs: 0425087611 / 9780425087619 (American edition)
0583307493 / 9780583307499 (original)
1909905054 / 9781909905054
Length:290 sections
User Summary: During a rainy night you seek refuge in a strange house in the middle of a wood. Soon after you learn that an evil vampire lives in the crypt below it, and you vow to seek and destroy him.
Fireguard's Thoughts: Stepping back and taking a long look at Crypt of the Vampire, it doesn’t seem like a book I'd enjoy.

For one thing, I don't generally enjoy dungeon crawls, wandering from room to room dealing with whatever trap or finding whatever item is there, repeated ad nauseum until the writer feels he's kept me busy long enough and foists a final confrontation on me. Really analyzing the book, there's no way to mistake it as anything but a simplistic dungeon crawl.

And yet, atmospherically, the gamebook succeeds quite well. Your first few encounters are actually out in the dark, rainy woods surrounding the haunted house, setting the stage nicely for your search for the undead tyrant. Soon the player is bumping around the creepy house looking for a source of light, which also helped the creepy atmosphere.

There are a couple other interesting experiences to be found in your search for the crypt, such as the chess game, the skeletal orchestra, and climbing back out of the dungeon and finding you're not alone once you do. The battles you face aren't too difficult, yet not too easy either, giving a nice introduction to the series which isn't likely to frustrate less-than-seasoned gamebook readers. Golden Dragon is off to a good start.

More reviews by Fireguard

Guillermo's Thoughts: This is a good, solid first entry in the series. It's for the most part a fairly typical dungeon-crawl, and although the design is rather weak in the first few passages of the adventure, there are lots of encounters designed in a creative and entertaining way, with the end result being very satisfying. Many of them, such as the showdowns with the witch, the archer in the painting and the illusion-concealed spider are brilliant, in that not only lucky die rolls are needed to get past them, but careful choices do also help. However, some of the encounters, such as the ones with the musical skeletons and the bats, are probably more convoluted than they should have been. The writing is very lively and entertaining; both it and the way the encounters are designed already show signs of Dave Morris' extraordinary talent, which would mature in later books in this series. The book pays tribute to a lot of different influences, such as classic horror films and earlier Fighting Fantasy books (since a Hellhound appears here). I also couldn't help but wonder whether the end villain was influenced by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau's classic film Nosferatu, since Leo Hartas' illustration work (which is excellent all over, by the way) certainly bears some resemblance to that film's main character.

The dungeon is not too large, but it's complex and cleverly designed, and there are several routes to reach the final goal (although some are far easier than others). There are also a few design flaws, such as an instance where a single failed die roll means instant death, or another one where you are given a list of items to choose from, and choosing one of them also causes instant death (there should be a law against those, for God's sake). However, these flaws are not very frequent and thus the book is never too difficult. It was also a bit annoying that, although the main villain is fairly tough to beat hand-to-hand, there is one counter-intuitive way to defeat him without combat, which is really too easy. This did not hamper my enjoyment of the adventure, but is nonetheless a stumble, although understandable considering this is one of Dave Morris' first efforts.

Overall, while this book is not among the best in the series, and shows faults characteristic of a first-time author, it's a well-designed and entertaining adventure that will challenge even experienced gamebook readers. In my opinion, it has stood the test of time far better than other "early" gamebooks such as Caverns of the Snow Witch or Fire on the Water. Definitely worth picking up if you can find it.

(Just an aside: this gamebook has no 'Background' section, so the adventure begins on section 1. A British gamebook with no 'Background' section is so unusual that I must confess I actually spent a few minutes flipping through the pages, thinking my copy might have been somehow incomplete. I think it's pretty effective, though; it was a good idea to let the player get the feel of the place before the plot of the adventure is explained; it helped the atmosphere a lot.)

More reviews by Guillermo

Johnny S Geddes's Thoughts: This is easily a milestone in gaming lit history. Emerging at a time when the Fighting Fantasy genie was offering ever-swelling legions of gamers not just three 'wishes' but well over a hundred points of choice per adventure course, Crypt of the Vampire seemed to present a formula that could have posed serious competition for Jackson and Livingstone, never mind the Also-rans of the day.

Morris's first work put a fang in a major artery of gamebook acumen, not least because it offered a gaming system that was innovative and simple (die rolls tend to have more power in the moment and players' strengths/weaknesses are resultantly somewhat downplayed by opponents' attributes). You could play this book in the back of a car or in the bath far easier than you could many of its contemporaries. Couple that with its having only 72.5% the number of references of, say The Warlock of Firetop Mountain or Deathtrap Dungeon and you have a book than can be played with less time put down, therefore throwing open the marketing doors to younger (and less patient) players.

Content-wise, where Crypt of the Vampire works best lies in its generating an atmosphere that is mystical and unnerving, but simultaneously cosy and re-enterable. Any gamebook that sustains the player's interest after the first attempt (this is usually done through the player's premature demise during the maiden voyage) is good. But one that is re-readable because the reader wants to explore and explore and explore (despite having successfully completed the book earlier) is a surefire classic worthy of a better fate than cult nostalgia. The same swooning, swirling mists that blanket Wistren Wood and infuse the 'playscape' with bucketloads of atmosphere tragically seem to mirror the mists that have obscured this great title in the near quarter-century since its initial UK release.

As a game, Crypt is a respectable entry. After an exciting opening, there is something of a spoon-fed trail leading on to the actual dungeon. While nowhere near as lethal or esoteric as The Temple of Flame, Crypt of the Vampire will still stump any player relying on blade, brawn and brave dice rolls in place of his brains. It would be folly to assume that Morris had not programmed a complex and danger-fraught dungeon into his rich storyline. Yet, with a debut of this kind, the difficulty level did truly need to keep the book relatively survivable. Of course, it also would need a few sudden death areas (I think another reviewer has touched on what these are), just to keep the tone appropriate. You're in a vampire's mansion, not Euro Disney.

In terms of originality, there are only a few appearances of the traditional adversarial fare. We have a Wight, a Hellhound, a Barbarian and a Giant Spider. However, we also have ourselves teleported into a chessboard battlefield at the behest of a creepy dungeon servitor, a Philharmonic Orchestra of Doom, an arrow-firing painting and a gate that... no; I won't say it. That's a spoiler.

By the way, for the princely sum of 1.50 GBP in 1984 money, you were also exposed to the perils of taking communion (or snuffing out black candles) in a cursed chapel, being schlooped into a stone floor beside a sarcophagus, and....

And let's not forget meeting the real star of the show (the atmosphere itself comes in second place, though)! Lord Tenebron ('Tenebrae' carries a nefarious meaning in Italian, I believe) is a fine distillation of vampire images. He carries the refined authority of Christopher Lee's Hammer Dracula. Yet, there is a portrait which casts otherworldly overtures of 'Nosferatu.'

Crypt of the Vampire isn't fantastically challenging, but there are a lot of places at which to run aground. A major point lies at the conclusive confrontation, and you need at least one special item just to stay alive.

If you consider that the book's introduction begins with 'Imagine how it would feel to be Indiana Jones, or Conan the Barbarian, or Luke Skywalker,' you might be lulled into thinking that this was pure Choose Your Own Adventure meets an ancestor of a famous boy magician meets quaint horror movie / comic book nostalgia. But the sense of youth here isn't a weakness at all. Rather, it underlines the sheer power of the Golden Dragon series. Instead of tiredly recycling D&D scarescapes, Dave Morris (and Oliver Johnson) would work a magic that makes the reader wonder at his surroundings with the zest of a younger player.

Case in point, I received this book as a gift when I was 10 years old, having spent most of 1984 fattened up on late night horror films and 'Scream!' weekly. One of the reasons Crypt of the Vampire has stuck as closely to me as a Gideon Bible does to a hotel bedside table is because, every now and then around midnight, and especially when there's thunder outside, I do go back and take another tread through the enchanted forest leading to a dark mansion...

...And I am glad that I've lost any map I may have once drawn.

More reviews by Johnny S Geddes

Special Thanks:Thanks to Guillermo Paredes for the plot summary and Dave Anderson for the British cover scan.
Users Who Own This Item: aehalpin, andyr, Aniline, Ardennes (US), B0N0V0X, BarefootJimmy (reissue), Belgarath, bigcobra, bookwormjeff, Crazyscotsman, CSquared, dArtagnan, dave2002a, Dirk Omnivore, domj29, Dronak (reissue), Ed, egokun, firefoxpdm, Fireguard, Gartax, greyarea13, hoops4ever, horrorbusiness, Johnny S Geddes, juski, katzcollection, killagarilla, killagirilla, kinderstef, knginatl (US), knifebat (This title brought me back to gamebooks.), le maudit, Maginomicon, Malthus Dire, marnaudo, mattender, mlvoss, nelsondesign, nerelax, Nich, outspaced, Pessimeister, Pirrakas, Pseudo_Intellectual, Robert Mammone, RonaldFrobnitz, rongallo, Ryuran333, Sabreman, sebastian, Sir Olli, sireeyore, spragmatic (US), StagQuests (UK), Tamerlane1396, ThisIslandEarth, Tremendez, truce57, twar (US), Twoflower, Uraniborg (USA), Vampireman (reissue), Von Scotty, Yalius, Zolika
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