One of the earlier original products of the 21st century gamebook renaissance was Rescue the Princess, by Paul Turner. To my knowledge, there was never any follow-up to it, perhaps in part because of the price, which was a consequence of the fact that the bulk of the accompanying art was on a CD-ROM that came with the book. It's probable that the adventure was, at least in part, written to match the pictures rather than the other way round: several of the illustrations were almost certainly created to show scenes from The Lord of the Rings, and the 'fruits' that can be bought at one point are obviously baubles on a Christmas tree. Still, while it's nothing particularly innovative, I remember the adventure being a good deal more entertaining than some of what I've played for this blog.
My character is Jack, who pretty much fell into the profession of adventuring (to the disappointment of his parents, who had a career in bookkeeping planned out for him). The book gets a bit confused over whether he's from the southern or northern kingdoms, but whichever it is, he's just returned from assorted minor quests in the other region and learned of significant developments that occurred during his absence - the death of King Andrew at the hands of an Undead horde, the defeat of the invaders by the army raised by the late King's brother, and in the midst of this conflict, the abduction of Princess Amber. A reward is being offered for her safe return, so this looks like a job for Jack.
There's a pre-generated version of him in the rules section, but as it's also possible to roll up my own Jack, and the sample character has universally below-average stats, I'll make my own, who looks like this:
Tougher and smarter than book-Jack, and equally lucky and healthy.
In conversation with old man David - a family friend and the local Record Keeper - I learn that the Princess is rumoured to be in the Lost City, formerly a prosperous trading centre, but now a fairly typical hive of scum and villainy, ruled over by the Warrior Demon known as... Roger. Owing to Roger's magical prowess and fighting skill, David advises me to seek the assistance of the wizard Brian. I'm not entirely sure what to make of the mundane character names. They're certainly a change from the 'headbutt the keyboard and see what comes out'-type names found in a lot of bad fantasy, but different isn't automatically better.
Before setting off, I visit the market, buying a rope, grappling hook, Health potion, lantern and suit of armour. I could also get a large bag of mints, but a recent misadventure has rather soured me on unnecessary purchases. After four days' travel I reach the edge of the Dark Wood, and catch sight of a tavern. It has a sign proclaiming it the last friendly tavern for 50 leagues, and some disgruntled patron has scrawled a sarcastic rejoinder at the bottom of the sign. I decide to see for myself what it's like, finding it cheap and of a quality appropriate to its prices. An Orc persuades me to play cards with him (another way in which the setting of Rescue the Princess differs from your average generic fantasy world is that Orcs are just members of society like Dwarves and humans), and I gamble away a little money before tiring of the game.
A pale man with a scythe invites me to join him in a game of chess. If I win, he'll tell me something that might help me in my quest. If I lose, he will take my soul. Just kidding - the penalty for failure is actually a gold piece. Though some people would probably consider that a higher price. I play anyway, and lose. A noise distracts me for a moment, but turns out just to be an inebriated Dwarf passing out, and when I turn my attention back to my opponent, he's vanished. All in a day's work for an adventurer, I guess.
In the morning I set off again, riding into the Dark Wood. Before long the trail forks, and I go for the path less travelled by. Suddenly a Lion Man jumps out in front of me, startling my horse, though I'm able to avoid falling off and being injured. The Lion Man apologises (in very refined tones) and explains that he needs help rescuing a friend from danger. I decide to see if I can be of assistance, and he leads me to the edge of a gorge. His friend, a Lion Woman, slipped on moss and is trapped on a ledge some way below. Not so far down that my rope won't reach, though, and she is perfectly capable of climbing up unassisted. The Lion people invite me back to their cave for dandelion leaf tea, and offer me the use of a magical portal located there. It would save me some time, but can't transport large quantities of metal, so I'd have to abandon the armour. Consequently I politely decline and resume my ride through the Wood.
Further along I see a hut, and knock on the door. An old woman invites me in, tells me that I'm two days' travel from Brian's abode, and asks if I can spare any food. I don't really have enough to share with strangers, but as the only options are to give her some or to refuse in an unnecessarily rude and arrogant manner, I'll have to risk hunger later on. In return for my generosity, she reveals herself to be a faerie of the wood, and gives me a health potion. Delightfully, the label includes the warning, 'This product may contain traces of nuts.'
Further along I encounter one of those repurposed TLotR illustrations, as a female Elf archer rides towards me, tells me to leave as strangers are not welcome, and fires a warning shot. I carry on through the Dark Wood anyway, as turning back and going the long way round leads to failure (while I'm faffing about on a lengthy detour, some braver hero gets the rescuing done).
Towards the end of the day, as I reach the halfway point of a bridge across a river, three more Elf archers confront me. I charge at them... and I really should have jumped into the water and hoped that the author was overlooking the non-buoyant nature of armour, because the Elves have plenty of time in which to perforate me before I get anywhere near them.