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This series of books, released in the mid-eighties by Ace, claims to be "suitable for use with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and other role-playing games," and does in fact feature a fairly familiar game system complete with Strength, Intelligence, Wisdom, Constitution, Dexterity, Charisma and Hit Points, though all randomization is done with six-sided dice instead of multiple polyhedral types. It's a little ironic that this unauthorized rip-off features a more faithful adaptation of TSR's famous game system than the official AD&D Adventure Gamebooks do. In any case, it strikes me as rather odd that the books make such a big deal out of allowing you to use your own characters (and also that they offer character advancement rules) when their style of play is fairly restrictive, with each book having relatively few sections, being written in the third-person present tense and being tailored to a different specific protagonist.... It would take a great stretch of the imagination to use anything other than the default hero for one of these books. I suppose that this alleged flexibility was just an excuse for the marketing people to put a familiar trademark on the book's cover without getting sued.

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1. Quest for the Unicorn's Horn
Author: Bill Fawcett
Illustrators: Neal McPheeters (cover), Teanna Byert (interior), Jerry O'Malley (maps)
First Published: July, 1985
ISBN: 0-441-69715-1
Length: 114 sections
Number of Endings: 2 (one bad ending led to from 15 places and one victory)
Plot Summary: The reader controls the actions of Talien, a young Kuven, a leader of one hundred men. He gained his position after the premature death of his father at the hands of ogres, and he soon finds that a position of power doesn't make his life any easier....
My Thoughts: This book starts on bad footing with an awkward and embarrassed-sounding introduction, and further hurts itself with fairly dreary rules -- the character creation is particularly stupid, as it says nothing about how to equip a newly-created character (in the example, some magic items are just made up seemingly at random). You're best off using the pre-created adventurer. Things pick up a bit once the actual story starts, but the book is still a mixed bag. It's ultra-linear, in the fashion of many American gamebooks of this complexity level, with the story following almost exactly the same path barring death by a stupid choice or poor dice roll. It doesn't help that the dice-rolling aspect of the game is rather pointless; most rolls require the use of three six-sided dice, and due to the probability curve for this particular dice combination, things tend to be a little too predictable, with combats dragging on endlessly. Pacing in general, not just in combat, is a problem as well; some sections go on far too long, and it's easy for the reader's mind to wander while waiting for the next choice to arrive. Still, it's actually worth paying attention. Despite its many problems, which include stylistically unimpressive writing, the book's main saving grace is its plot -- most of the book is standard fantasy fare, but it does feature a couple of twists which save it from utter pointlessness. Ultimately, if you're looking for lots of interactivity, you should avoid this; if you're looking for a mildly intriguing fantasy quest with a bit of dice rolling, though, this certainly isn't the worst way you could pass your time....
Errata: Although it's not an error as such, be warned that section 78 features a third choice which wraps around to the next page and is easily missed.

2. Quest for the Dragon's Eye
Author: Bill Fawcett
Illustrators: Neal McPheeters (cover), Teanna Byert (interior), Jerry O'Malley (maps)
First Published: July, 1985
ISBN: 0-441-69709-7
Length: 98 sections (plus prologue)
Number of Endings: 2 (one bad ending led to from 25 places and one victory)
Plot Summary: Ceddwein, a thief turned guardsman, must travel with his military unit to recover a magical gem in order to defeat a demon.
My Thoughts: This book is much like the last one; it's a highly linear adventure featuring a mediocre design but a better-than-average story. Bill Fawcett is a rather uneven writer -- sometimes his text is downright boring and confusing, but other times it's inspired and evocative. Fortunately, his strengths more than make up for his weaknesses. This is unashamedly cliche-filled high fantasy, but it still manages to have a flavor of its own and to introduce some interesting ideas here and there. Too bad the writing is let down so much by the pointless, tedious game design. There are very few choices in the book of any consequence; most branch points involve winning or losing combat or succeeding or failing in skill rolls. Most non-fatal failures simply deal some damage and then reconverge with the successful path, and several perfectly good opportunities for decision-making are completely ignored. This means that replaying after failure is dull and frustrating, a situation made worse by the same plodding combat system seen in the previous book; the odds of anyone hitting anything are so low that I can't help but suspect the book was originally designed with a twenty-sided die in mind but that this was replaced by three six-sided ones at the request of the publisher. One nice touch which can potentially reduce the tedium of replaying the book over and over is the fact that the failure paragraph suggests increasing Ceddwein's skill level to make the book easier -- this is reminiscent of a similarly-motivated mechanic used in the second Knuckleduster interactive Western years later.
Errata: In a rather dramatic oversight, somebody appears to have accidentally put the back-of-book text from the previous volume on this one as well! In a less dramatic but more annoying oversight, Ceddwein's character sheet neglects to mention what kind of sword he is armed with. Finally, though probably correct, the transition from section 70 to section 65 is awfully abrupt.

3. Quest for the Demon Gate
Author: Bill Fawcett
Illustrators: Neal McPheeters (cover), Todd Cameron Hamilton (credited as Todd Hamilton) (interior), Jerry O'Malley (maps)
First Published: September, 1986
ISBN: 0-441-13807-1
Length: 138 sections (plus prologue)
Number of Endings: 2 (one bad ending led to from 28 places and one victory)
Plot Summary: When a dangerous magical artifact is left at his abbey, Alynn, a cleric of Cearn the protector, is drawn into a dangerous mission.
My Thoughts: This book follows the same basic format as the previous two; it's a mostly well-written but highly linear adventure that's blatantly inspired by Advanced Dungeons & Dragons but which still manages to include some fairly fresh twists on very familiar ideas. From a gameplay perspective, this is marginally better than its predecessors thanks to the fact that the reader controls the actions of a cleric. This means that at several points during the adventure, spells have to be chosen, so even though the storyline itself doesn't give the reader much choice in what happens, the spell selection adds some strategy to the proceedings and reduces the number and length of tedious combats. As in the previous book, when the reader fails, the book suggests making the next attempt a little easier. Rather than increasing a skill level, though, this book proposes adding an extra healing spell to Alynn's repertoire. In terms of storyline, the book is fairly short on plot, consisting mainly of one battle after another, but it is made interesting by an effectively creepy portrayal of the undead and a conflict based on the reader's eventual indecision over which of Alynn's companions can be trusted. Of course, this conflict would be more interesting if more actual decisions were based on it, but at least it keeps the pages turning. There is some continuity with the previous volumes; the Mistwall and the Darklord are prominently featured, and there's even a cameo by Talien, hero of the first adventure. Ultimately, in spite of its good points, the adventure is pretty forgettable; still, it's above average for its type, and if the linearity isn't a major deterrent, it makes for an enjoyable evening or two of reading.
Errata: The spell selection rules neglect to mention early in the book how many spells Alynn may memorize at a time. The number is eventually revealed (in section 16) to be three. The book also fails to mention until near the end (section 136) that healing spells may be cast any time, even during combat. In sections 22 and 23, be sure to turn the page for additional options to choose from. Section 63 should lead to section 75, not section 66.

4. Quest for the Elf King
Author: Bill Fawcett
Illustrators: Neal McPheeters (cover), Todd Cameron Hamilton (credited as Todd Hamilton) (interior), Jerry O'Malley (maps)
First Published: January, 1987
ISBN: 0-441-20326-4
Length: 93 sections
Number of Endings: 2 (one bad ending led to from 27 places and one victory)
Plot 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....
My 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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