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Complexity Level : Advanced (Full Game System)
Format : Paperback
Game System : Character Advancement
Game System : Combat
Game System : Inventory Management
Game System : Randomization Method : Dice
Game System : Scores
Genre : Horror
Target Age Group : Older Children
Target Age Group : Teenagers
Writing Style : Present Tense
Writing Style : Second Person
Äventyr i det Okända (Swedish)
Oltre l'incubo (Italian)
Les Portes interdites (French)
Tú eres el protagonista (Spanish)
These gamebooks tell horror stories in the vein of H. P. Lovecraft. The game system is straightforward, with five attributes (Strength, Stamina, Mentality, Endurance and Dexterity) that can be tested with two six-sided dice in order to perform various actions. A "conflict table" provides a way of pitting one individual's attributes against another's, thus making combat and other opposed actions possible. Various weapons can be collected which inflict varying amounts of damage to enemies' Stamina and/or Endurance, and other non-combat items may be collected during play. As in the popular Call of Cthulhu role-playing game, it is possible to fail either by being physically killed or by being driven insane. The two books feature a connected storyline, and characters may be carried from the first book into the second.
Gamebooks1. Where the Shadows Stalk
2. Terrors Out of Time
This is a (sadly) short-lived series of gamebooks written by Ian and Clive Bailey, two Games Workshop designers, and published in Great Britain in 1985. The books are set, apparently, near the beginning of World War II, in a world similar to that of the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game, where the player character is a paranormal investigator. However, unlike that game, the player can actually engage many of the horrors s/he meets in combat using a variety of magical and modern-day weapons.
The character creation system deserves recognition for being very detailed as gamebook systems go, yet elegantly simple. Three basic stats must be rolled: Strength, Mentality and Dexterity. It's not possible to increase them above nine, even with magical intervention, and since they are checked by rolling under each score on two dice, this means even characters with high scores have a significant chance of failure. Players also ought to keep track of two other stats: Stamina (a measure of hit points), and Endurance (a measure of sanity and spiritual strength). The game ends when either of these is reduced to zero.
There are two main mechanics for task resolution. One depends on checking stats by rolling two dice, where a roll equal to or lower than the corresponding stat means success. The other is a combat table, used when the relative strength of two parties must be compared (for example, in a tug-of-war between two characters, or when trying to pick a complicated lock). The comparison of two opposing values on the combat table provides a value, which must be checked on two dice as described earlier.
The combat system is one of the high points of the series. In most gamebooks, a combat situation means you are given a set of monster stats, then follow a predetermined "combat sequence" which is the same for each battle. In the Forbidden Gateway series, each monster has a completely different set of attacks, and the player is given several different strategies to try against each opponent. In each encounter, the player will be directed to a different paragraph depending on the strategy chosen, and in each paragraph s/he will be instructed to check for a different skill or to use the combat table. The outcome of each skill roll will in turn determine which paragraph the player turns to next, where the monster's next strategy will be revealed, and so on. This "narrative" approach to combat makes it much more exciting, and makes each book feel as if you were in a film, or as if you were playing a roleplaying adventure with a Gamemaster. There are few other gamebook series I can think of which use similar procedures (the AD&D Adventure Gamebooks series being one).
This series was also one of the first to incorporate a "critical hit" mechanic: a roll of double one in combat means double damage is inflicted to the opponent. Weapons do differing amounts of damage, and also vary in whether they reduce the opponent's Stamina, Endurance, or both.
The series has received criticism for being "too linear" or for "railroading" the player along a preset route. I believe these criticisms are unfounded. While it's true that the design is more driven by the plot than by exploration of myriad paths a la Fighting Fantasy, the books are not devoid of exploration, and there is enough challenge and variety in the choices to make for a satisfying interactive experience.
Even though the first book is probably too difficult, this series is held in high-esteem by many people. It's only unfortunate only two books were released, because they were well-written and conveyed an eerie atmosphere successfully. As far as I know, the authors' subsequent gamebooks were only published in French. It would be great if this series was published again, along with English editions of their other works, so as to make them available to younger generations.