It's 10 years since I started this blog. Where does the time go?
In a departure from what happened in previous anniversary posts, I've decided to do a bonus playthrough here. Earlier this year I acquired the Fabled Lands Publishing reissues of the Golden Dragon gamebooks. The first one, Crypt of the Vampire, has apparently undergone some changes beyond the correction of errors, and there's more than one viable route through it, so I could potentially play it again without just repeating exactly what I did last time. It also happens to be one of the first gamebooks I actually won on this blog (and I've only recently replayed the very first one I beat here, for reasons I shall be going into a little later on in the year), which makes playing it again quite an appropriate way to celebrate the occasion.
The differences between the two versions of the book start before the adventure. The original's dedication to author Dave Morris' parents has been replaced with a quotation from Dracula, and the introduction now explains something of what the author was trying to achieve with the book.
As for the rules, while everything appears to work as it originally did, some of the text has been rewritten. The bit about thinking up a name for your character has gone, the explanation of how the combat system works has been rephrased, and, bizarrely, the mock paragraph used to help illustrate how it works has been changed in parts: most of the colour text and all of the stats are the same, but the section numbers mentioned are different, the opponent has transformed from an Ogre into a woodsman, and the terminology describing a successful outcome is different.
The paragraph on items has also been modified, and starting equipment has been pared down, losing the armour and backpack. Finally (for the pre-adventure material), the lead-in to the first section replaces 'the adventure' with 'your nightmare'.
Time to generate my character.
I think I'd better give the chimney-climbing a miss this time round.
The first section of the gamebook is the same atmospheric scene-setting passage as before up until the last line, but the description of the latticework gate into the grounds of the house where I seek shelter is less informative, merely describing it as 'unusual' rather than pointing out that it's in the shape of a large humanoid with talons. Trying to make it less obvious that the figure will animate and attack if you touch the gate? Trusting in Leo Hartas' illustration to get the point across?
Oh, and I'm reaching for the latch rather than about to reach for it when I notice the design. The choices available are the same, though, and I'd rather not unnecessarily risk death this early on, so I'll avoid the gate altogether and use vines and creepers to climb over the wall.
As I approach the mansion, I see someone approaching, but instead of a bow-toting Elf, this is a soldier in a dishevelled uniform, armed with a musket. Morbid curiosity had me sneak a peak at the consequences of speaking to him rather than immediately attacking, and to my surprise, this doesn't give him a free shot at me. In either version of the book: I've been misremembering that detail for years.
Observing him to be crazed and preparing to fire, I attack, and the combat stats are unchanged. A few poor rolls highlight one problem arising from the change of weapon: the Elf nocking a fresh arrow after each round I can just about accept, but reloading a musket isn't the sort of thing that even a clear-headed soldier would be able to do with ease while fending off a swordsman, yet this frothing individual manages it at least twice before I run him through.
My opponent's dying words are largely unchanged, beyond repetition of 'His eyes!' in reference to the 'evil lord', and my character is still so clueless as to attribute the puncture marks in the corpse's throat to an unspecified animal. Stashing the body under a tree to keep the rain off it, I continue towards the house, which has a somewhat unsettling appearance.
I'm pretty sure that money is largely irrelevant in this adventure (beyond the fact that some lethal traps are baited with what appears to be valuable treasure), so I throw a few coins into the stagnant pond outside the house. For some strange reason, this briefly causes the water to turn red and show me a vision of a hostile face with hypnotic-looking eyes, which is enough to get even my dopey character to suspect that there may be something ominous afoot around here.
Nevertheless, I proceed to enter the house. The double doors on my right lead to a study or library, where I find a lantern and discover that it's not possible to set light to the logs in the fireplace. Returning to the hall, I head up the stairs, finding bedrooms so dusty that they can't have been used in years, and a minor rewording of one sentence. The thought of sleeping here does not appeal (not so much on account of the dust as because I remember that doing so leads to an Instant (Un)Death), so the only option that remains to me is to investigate the downstairs passageway leading deeper into the house.
The walls have wood panels, which have been deliberately broken in places. Could that be a consequence of people trying to improvise stakes? And the section number for one of the options here has changed in the new edition - but bypassing the two doors I'm approaching would be a bad choice, possibly even fatal in the long run, so I won't look into the differences just yet.
The first door leads to a small storage room, 'little more than a closet' (and this is the first time I've picked up on the fact that the animated skeleton hiding in it is a joke). Another thing that hadn't registered before: the listed clutter includes coils of rope, but I don't get to take one. I'm not sure I'll ever need one in this adventure, but considering how important having rope can be in gamebooks, it's odd to have the stuff mentioned in the descriptive text and then just disregarded.
Anyway, I search the closet, defeat the skeleton with ease, find the golden helmet it was guarding, and go on my way with new headgear (but no rope). Oh, and the section covering returning to the passage is right next to the one that, in the original text, covered proceeding straight to the end of the passage, so I imagine the changed numbers are just to avoid having a 'turn to 105' option in section 104.
The next door has a crucifix-shaped design on it, so even if I didn't already know that this is where I can acquire an essential item, basic knowledge of tropes relating to vampires would indicate that investigating here is advisable. Behind the door is a workroom, in which a monk is putting the finishing touches to a shuttered lantern. There was an illustration of the scene in the original book, but it's gone from the reissue.
So far the changes made to the text have been minor, leading me to wonder if the consequences of threatening the monk are still as mild as in the first edition. Still, if the decision has been made to now penalise unprovoked aggression, that could guarantee failure, so I'll stick with a friendly greeting.
The monk, now Brother Hark rather than Father Harkas, offers food and drink that puts right some of the damage I took from being shot by the soldier, then tells me about the history of Tenebron Hall and its vampiric Lord, and explains that he uses his holy talismans to keep himself safe from the house's monstrous denizens so he can equip potential heroes to confront Lord Tenebron. It turns out that the soldier had been on his way home from the wars when he came here and was persuaded to oppose the vampire, which slightly enhances the tragic nature of his failure. I accept a second lantern and a crucifix from Brother Hark before heading off in search of Tenebron.
The corridor ends in steps leading down to the cellar. Being amply provided with light sources, I descend to find long-abandoned racks of wine. Passing up the opportunity to impair my stats with intoxication, I open the barred door on the far side with the obligatory creaking noise and proceed along another corridor.
A door on the right leads into a bedroom, currently unoccupied, though by the time I've checked that the candlesticks on the mantelpiece are solid silver, a crone in a pointy hat and her pet crow have turned up to glower at me. She turns the smoke from the fireplace into a monster when I refuse to leave, but opts not to hang around once I've used my wits to get rid of it. I then help myself to the plate of food on her desk, which restores the rest of the Vigour I lost fighting the soldier.
My low Agility makes climbing up the chimney (after dousing the fire) inadvisable, and now I'm at full health, I don't think there's anything to justify the risk, so I head back out to the corridor and move along to the evil chapel located beyond a nearby archway. As in my previous playthrough, a lucky roll while searching the altar turns up a concealed compartment containing a bone carved from marble, which I add to my inventory before going on my way.
The corridor opens up into a gallery, decorated with portraits of the thirteen Lords Tenebron. It also contains the remains of another of my predecessors, now just a skeleton in rusting armour. As his sword shows no signs of decay, I help myself to it, retaining my original one as a back-up.
Beyond the gallery is a dining hall, its contents covered in dust and cobwebs, apart from the painting of an archer on the far wall, which fires an arrow into my shoulder. I retaliate by setting the picture alight with one of my lanterns, and head up a flight of stairs to one of the two exits leading onwards. The room beyond is occupied by a drunken Cossack, virtually indistinguishable from the Barbarian who was here in the original text. He injures me a couple of times, but I win the fight. His drink of choice is rye beer rather than fermented yak's milk, but apart from that everything he owns is as it was in the first edition. I take his money and the food items that could be of use to me later on.
The room has one exit other than the one through which I came, proceeding down a passageway to a junction. To the left the corridor ends in a door with a hand-shaped handle, which I open. The room beyond has an unidentifiable light source, and is occupied by a man dressed in black and white, who sits by a chessboard and silently invites me to play against him. As I am about to make my first move, I find myself on a stony plain, commanding an army dressed in white, and opposing a force of black-clad soldiers. Eventually I wind up in single combat against the Black Queen, who wins more rounds of combat than I do, but has a lower Vigour and ultimately falls to my sword.
Just like that I'm back in the room with the man and the chessboard, restored to full health and having just won the game. My opponent causes the pieces to disappear, and then brings three of them back, now adapted into amulets, one of which I may claim as my prize. I take the rook, which increases my maximum Vigour and boosts my current score to match.
Returning to the junction and heading the other way (which causes me to turn from 243 to 242, a transition that remains unchanged in the reissue), I ignore the suit of armour I pass, as I have no need to replace my sword. The corridor leads to a room containing a chest with a coil of rope on it, another scene that was illustrated but is no longer.
I take a closer look at the chest, and the rope animates and starts to throttle me. Passing up the opportunity to experience a bit of authorial overkill (a bad roll while attempting to cut the rope results in slicing open your jugular and not quite bleeding to death before the rope snaps your neck), I fling open the chest and use the item within that deanimates the rope. The only other thing in the chest restores me to full Vigour, which would be more impressive if I hadn't been at maximum before the rope attacked me.
Two doors lead onwards. This is where the book splits into two different but viable routes to the endgame, but can I remember which one I didn't take last time? Yes I can, so now I can proceed to some encounters that weren't covered in the previous playthrough.
As I approach the door, I hear strange music coming from beyond it. Wary, I break a couple of small chunks off the cheese I took from the Cossack, and use them as ear plugs before opening the door. Stairs lead down to a chamber in which a quartet of skeletons plays music to an apparently enraptured knight in armour. The illustration of this is also missing from the reissue.
Speaking to the knight, I discover that he's dead and turned to dust, having been fatally captivated by the music a long, long while ago. His possessions consist of a little money and a bottle of now undrinkable water, both of which I take. I then turn my attention to the musicians: two playing violins, one on the harpsichord, and a percussionist whose instrument is the harpsichordist's skull. A flute lies unused on the podium, animated skeletons lacking the lips and lungs required to get the best out of such an instrument, so I add it to my belongings.
I don't think there's anything to be gained by trying to steal one of the glowing crystals that illuminate the chamber, so I move on to the far doors. They're soundproofed, so once I've shut them behind me, I can take the cheese out of my ears. This enables me to hear the snoring emanating from a curtained alcove close by. I investigate, finding a drunken brute with warts and leathery skin (and another picture absent from the reissue).
Not content to let sleeping whatevers lie, I creep closer. Randomness determines that I disarm him before he wakes, and strike a rather unsporting lethal blow as he becomes aware of me. Somehow while doing this I learn that... Well, originally he was a Hobgoblin, but the reissue turns him into a Szgany, one of the people who were encamped outside Dracula's castle in Stoker's novel. Despite avoiding the really prejudicial term for such people, this is (in my view) a somewhat regrettable edit. The reissue also contains a comma that really doesn't belong there, but that's more trivial.
As he dies, he attempts to cast a spell on me, but my PSI is high enough that I can shrug off the effect of the curse, and go on my way. If I remember rightly, I could have learned something useful from him had my sneak attack failed, forcing me to face him in battle, but as it is, the encounter was pointless, and leaves me feeling a little uncomfortable.
Passing a flight of steps leading up, I realise that the two paths from the room with the chest have converged sooner than expected. So, as on my previous attempt, I visit a paladin's tomb and, as a consequence of attempted shroud-theft, acquire a shield that helps me get past the nearby zombie-filled pool of water (another deleted illustration) unscathed. Parts of this book are odd.
Up ahead are three doors, and as a consequence of having gone through the room with the skeletal musicians, I have no key and must again diverge from the route previously taken. The only unlocked door leads to a large cavern, home to a multitude of bats. They don't appreciate being disturbed, and swoop to the attack, so I pull out the flute and play it. The music (the book doesn't specify the tune, so I'm going to assue it's a certain well-known piece by Neal Hefti) disrupts the bats' sonar, enabling me to evade them as I make for the exit.
Again the different routes through the adventure converge, this time at a crossroads, and authorial fiat compels me to go straight ahead. From this point onwards things happen much as they did last time: the helmet I found near the start enables me to avoid being tricked by a bogus treasure hoard (and has been renamed in the reissue), a more elaborate illusion briefly distracts me, leading to a fight with a giant spider (illustration omitted from the reissue), and I use the marble bone to distract the hellhound which guards Tenebron's chambers. With a crucifix and the Cossack's garlic I weaken the vampire, and while he puts up a better fight than before, I still win, using the sword I found in the gallery, which has powerful enough enchantments to ensure that Tenebron stays dead when I kill him.
So, I win again. The changes made to the text for the reissue are less substantial than I'd expected, but they do achieve the goal of shifting the tone of the book a little closer to Hammer Horror than generic fantasy. I do think the Szgany was an inadvisable edit, but overall, this new edition compares favourably to a lot of the other gamebook reissues on my bookshelves.