By Art Schmidt
Once upon a time, there was a book called The Cave of Time, which was the first Choose Your Own Adventure book written by Edward Packer in 1979. In this book, the idea of a fictional story and a fast-paced action adventure game were married into an experience which placed the actions of the story, and therefore the outcome, into the reader’s hands. Every couple of pages would present the reader with a situation and then a choice: if you turn right, go to Page 29, if you turn left, go to Page 32. Once you turned to that page, the story continued based upon your choice. The Cave of Time was the first of its kind, and quickly led to nearly two hundred books of its type being published by Bantam Books for almost twenty years. Subsequently additional books (and reprints) have been issued and continue to come out every few years, including The Magic of the Unicorn published just last year.
The folks who created the original Dungeons and Dragons product back in the 1970s, TSR Hobbies, Inc., quickly saw the potential of this creative type of book, and published their own choose-your-own-adventure books under the heading Endless Quest books starting in 1982. Dungeon of Dread was a much longer and detailed novel than the original Choose Your Own Adventure books, twice as many pages and a more detailed story and background for the protagonist whose persona the reader undertook. The books were popular, and TSR published three dozen over a five-year period. The Endless Quest books were republished years later, and some more titles added, but with the surge of video games and other cheap, immersive entertainment, the books lost their charm for the fantasy gaming public and went out of print. Other books were added in the 1990s but were largely out of print until this year.
Wizards of the Coast (who purchased the Dungeons and Dragons gaming brand in the 1990s) has revived the Endless Quest line of books and has licensed Candlewick Press to publish four new books based in the world of the Forgotten Realms, available today. All four are written by Matt Forbeck, an award-winning and New York Times-bestselling author and game designer, whose credits include the Rogue One junior novel, the Magic: The Gathering comics, and Captain America: The Ultimate Guide to the First Avenger. Unlike the previous books of the 1980s and 1990s, these books are each based on one of the four core character classes from the Dungeons and Dragons game: cleric, fighter, rogue and wizard. Written in the second person, the novels focus on characters who are nameless but of specific race and gender.
In Escape the Underdark the reader plays a human fighter, and the story follows the Out of the Abyss hardcover adventure from the Rage of Demons storyline from the Dungeons and Dragons season three. The main character begins the story unarmed and enslaved by the evil drow elves of the dreaded underdark, the vast underground world which exists just below the surface of the Forgotten Realms world. As the publisher describes the novel: “You awaken in an underground cell, stripped of your armor and your sword. Your fellow prisoners inform you that you’re trapped in the Underdark, soon to be taken to the great drow city of Menzoberranzan and sold off as a slave. But word is that demons are stirring in the underworld’s depth…”
Much like other secondary offerings from Wizards of the Coast, the books all feature recycled artwork from previous rulebooks and adventure hardcovers, an easy thing to do when re-using the excellent storylines from previous published seasons. One would assume that, if successful, these books will become a standard offering with each subsequent storyline season as the current edition of Dungeons of Dragons perpetuates going forward.
The book Big Trouble follows the adventure of an elven wizard which follows the Storm King’s Thunder adventure hardcover from the storyline from season five. The protagonist’s family is in search of her little brother, against a backdrop of marauding giants who are causing trouble all up and down the Sword Coast for no apparent reason. The character’s journey, led by the choices of the reader, thread in and out of the season five storyline, including a broad cast of characters that the reader encounters along the way. “When evil giants attack your home in Ardeep Forest, your parents think you’re dead and they go hunting for your missing little brother. You wake up and set out after them, helped by a giant wizard who lives in a flying tower. You don’t know where they’ve gone, but you know that if you don’t find them, you’re all in big trouble…”
The story has many forks, usually every page or two, and often the reader is provided three choices at a time which provide multiple opportunities for change in the story. This series of the Endless Quest books is fairly short, coming in at around 120 pages each, and are geared for a younger audience. The artwork, though re-used, is of excellent quality and helps immerse the reader into the story.
Into the Jungle follows the story of a dwarven cleric who finds himself in the jungles of Chult, mirroring the season seven storyline from the hardcover adventure Tomb of Annihilation. As the book descriptor says, “The Harpers have lost one of their own, a legendary adventurer named Artus Cimber, keeper of the artifact known as the Ring of Winter. They’ve hired you to travel to the jungle-clad land of Chult to find him. If only you can manage to find Cimber before the frost giants do — or the zombies that infest the land get you first…”
One surprising thing about the stories is that they are highly unpredictable, and a familiarity with the hardcover adventurers upon which they are based does not necessarily grant the reader any advantage with regard to the choices made in the story. A reader might make a choice which seems reasonable based upon the printed adventure in the hardcover, and end up being eaten by zombie dinosaurs! This keeps the sense of danger and adventure alive even for those folks who know the original stories inside and out. Great fun!
The book To Catch a Thief follows a young halfling rogue along the storyline of the current season eight, the Waterdeep: Dragon Heist and Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage adventure hardcover books. As described on the back cover, “When you tried to pick the pocket of a civilar in the night-shrouded streets of Waterdeep, you never thought she’d catch you — and you never dreamed she’d force you into her service. Now you must find the baby griffon stolen by the beholder Xanathar, leader of the city’s powerful Thieves’ Guild. And if you should fail… you can count on spending the rest of your life behind bars, rogue…”
The books are fun to read and can be enjoyed over and over again due to the multitude of choices and vastly varied outcomes. They are accessible to younger readers and suitable for middle school and some advanced grade school readers, and they should enjoy the excitement of taking on the role of an adventurer and controlling the story themselves.
These four novels are available beginning today at your friendly local game story as well as here at Amazon and other fine retailers, online and down the street.