Prince of Shadows

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After his time working with Joe Dever on the Lone Wolf series, Gary Chalk started this new collaboration with David Kerrigan and had it published by Knight Books, a prolific producer of British gamebooks. The books are quite similar to Lone Wolf in style -- you carry your character from book to book, gaining skills and items along the way. There are two different kinds of skills (Princely Skills and Street Skills), and it is randomly determined at the start of the first book which type you have more of. Also randomly determined is your Strength, which serves as both your combat skill and your hit points. Combat is straightforward, involving adding your Strength to the value of your weapon and any applicable skill bonuses, then subtracting your enemy's armor value (if any) and attempting to roll under the resulting number on percentile dice (or, if dice are unavailable, using the Lone Wolf style random number table) in order to hit. There are some problems with vagueness in the rules (fighting multiple enemies is unclear, and it's not explained whether or not you can exceed your initial Strength value), but it's a pretty workable system overall. The most unusual thing about the books is not their content but rather their format. They're thin, staple-bound, oversized books with the pages inside intentionally stained yellow to simulate age. This format isn't quite as comfortable as a more standard paperback, but it does allow Chalk's artwork to be showcased in a larger format.

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 1. Mean Streets
Authors: Gary Chalk and David Kerrigan
Illustrator: Gary Chalk
First Published: 1988
ISBN: 0-340-42390-0
Length: 64 pages (232 sections)
Number of Endings: 31
Plot Summary: You are Edrix, the rightful heir to the throne, forced to live the life of a thief while waiting for the moment to claim what is yours. Your shadowy existence is no longer a secret, so the time is right to make your first move....
Translation: Danish
My Thoughts: I'm not a big fan of gritty urban fantasy (though I admit to have enjoyed a few Thieves' World anthologies in my day), so this book didn't thrill me as much as the more adventurous Lone Wolf series. An excess of totally goofy fantasy names didn't help matters any, though occasional comic relief redeemed the proceedings somewhat. In any case, though I was never really gripped by the story, I'll admit that the game design here is pretty solid. Although the adventure is fairly linear, there are a lot of different ways to get from point A to point B, allowing for different strategies of character design and gameplay. You're unlikely to complete this book on your first try, but since there are so many possibilities, it never becomes tedious or frustrating to tweak your character a little and start again. The only bad thing about all this flexibility is that once you are successful, the path through the book turns out to be rather short. For this reason, I wouldn't recommend going too far out of your way to get hold of this book (which, unfortunately is quite rare); still, if you should stumble across it, it's worth the couple of hours it'll take you to get through.
Errata: The character sheet in my copy of this book has a sticker pasted into the Combat Value Chart box. I wonder if this means that some copies of the book either have an empty box or feature incorrect values in the chart.

 2. Creatures from the Depths
Authors: Gary Chalk and David Kerrigan
Illustrator: Gary Chalk
First Published: 1989
ISBN: 0-340-42835-X
Length: 64 pages (223 sections)
Number of Endings: 32
Plot Summary: The usurper of your throne has planned a politically convenient marriage for himself, and you plan to intervene by kidnapping the bride-to-be.
Translation: Danish
My Thoughts: This book picks up nicely from where the last one left off; interestingly enough, while it does allow you to carry over your character from the previous book, it also lets you re-roll your Strength if you so desire. This is nice, because it means that you're not locked into a poor score if you happen to complete the first book after rolling poorly. The story also nicely resupplies you so you're not disadvantaged as a result of your experience. The only thing that might pose a problem is if your previously-chosen Princely Skills were inadequate, since there's no way to change or add on to these, but this isn't too severe a problem. As for the book itself, I found it to be an improvement over the debut volume. The story moved along quickly, featuring a diversity of options, characters and situations, and keeping me engaged throughout. As in the first book, events are fairly linear but there are enough alternative paths to make replay worthwhile. Replay didn't prove necessary for me, though, as I actually completed this successfully on my first try (though I only barely survived one major combat). The low challenge factor may be a turn-off for some, but I didn't mind; the story was fun, and it's nice to feel really clever once in a while by succeeding without being killed over and over. Really, my biggest complaint is that the series had to end here. Considering how short these books are, the story was only barely getting started at this point, but the seeds of romance and adventure that were sown here might have led to great (or at least above average) things. Definitely a shame. I wouldn't be surprised if the large format of the books was the source of their downfall. The books cost more than standard-sized paperbacks but offered less actual content, and Gary Chalk's artwork isn't spectacular enough to justify the extra expense; perhaps a more modest approach would have allowed the series to survive longer.

Danish Translations

Both books were translated into Danish as the "Skyggernes Prins" series and published by Gyldendal. Unlike the original English editions, which were staple-bound, the translations are perfect-bound with lettering on their spines.

 1. Ondskabens Gader
Translation Of: Mean Streets
Translator: Arne Herløv Petersen
First Published: 1988
ISBN: 87-01-03662-9
Length: 66 pages (232 sections)

 2. Væsnerne Fra Dybet
Translation Of: Creatures from the Depths
Translator: Arne Herløv Petersen
First Published: 1990
ISBN: 87-01-03574-6
Length: 66 pages (223 sections)

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