Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, June 05, 2012
DestinyQuest: The Legion of Shadow

Fantasy roleplaying games are full of heroes overcoming challenges, frequently in the form of monsters, but also challenges of exploration, story decisions, or obstacles. Thus somebody has to "play" the monsters or challenges, and tell the story. In a pen & paper game that will be the Dungeon Master (DM), while in a computer game the computer will take over that role. But back in 1982 very few people had computers, and you couldn't always have your friends around to play pen & paper games. So Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone invented the first Fighting Fantasy gamebook, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, in which the book would tell the story, and have you play both the hero and the monsters.

Fast forward 30 years, and it turns out the gamebook isn't dead yet, in spite of everybody having lots of computers now. Author Michael J. Ward published his first gamebook, DestinyQuest: The Legion of Shadow, with Orion Publishing. (Disclaimer: This review is based on a free review copy that the author sent me.) And it turns out that gamebooks are still fun, at least if you like rolling dice and don't mind having to take notes with a pencil on a character sheet.

Not only are gamebooks still alive, they have visibly evolved since the 80's. DestinyQuest: The Legion of Shadow is not only a lot thicker (Over 650 pages, over 900 numbered sections) than the Fighting Fantasy books, it also has a lot of new elements: For example several maps, to which you return regularly, and from which you can choose your next quest, color coded by difficulty. And a game system which relies heavily on gear, with your stats mostly deriving from what gear you are wearing.

Then as now one of the strong points of gamebooks is the role that decisions play in the game. Decisions range from the random ("do you want to go east or west?"), to moral ("do you want to kill the witch or let her go?"), to the game mechanic decision of what of the found gear to equip, or which character path (class) or career (specialization) to choose from. Every decision, or outcome of a challenge you encounter, leads your hero from one numbered section to another. DestinyQuest also makes heavy use of character notes, for example if you picked up a torch in one section of the book, a later section of the book might give you additional options if you have "torch" noted on your character sheet. Besides challenges relying on dice rolls or decisions, there are even some puzzles that you have to figure out to get a reward. There is even some limited "crafting" of items from bits and pieces you found during your quests.

DestinyQuest is like the Diablo of gamebooks: There is a lot of combat, leading to a lot of gear, helping you with the next combat. The combat system has you roll 2d6 and add your speed vs. the monsters 2d6 plus speed, with the winner hitting the other, adding either his "brawn" or "magic" to the score, and then reducing that by the enemies "armour" value. But many items have additional special abilities, and so do many monsters, so that there is quite a lot of variety in combat. Nevertheless I have to say that personally I found the speed stat too powerful in comparison to the other stats, as it determines both whether you hit the enemy, and at the same time whether you are hit. The gaussian distribution of 2d6 results in the combatant having the higher speed having a big advantage.

The writing of DestinyQuest: The Legion of Shadow is quite good for a gamebook, and much better than the typical writing you'd find in the quest text of a computer RPG. The story is divided in three acts, with three separate maps, and major events and decisions between them. Thus you are a generic adventurer in Act One, and choose a character class (warrior, rogue, mage) on the way to Act Two, receiving a further specialization on the way to Act Three.

A second book of Destiny Quest, The Heart of Fire, in the works. And there is a computer version called DestinyQuest Infinite being worked on at Adventure Cow for iPhone, Android, or browser. But personally I quite like having a game as a book. Take the book, a pencil, and a few dice with you on holiday, and you can have quite a good roleplaying game experience with neither computer nor other players around. It isn't quite a "paper MMO", but it clearly innovates the gamebook genre with elements inspired by MMORPGs. Recommended!

I'm going to give this a try. I found a used copy on Amazon for $39. New was around $180 which seems a bit pricy.
Thanks for the nice review Tobold. To the comment above, sounds like you were looking at my old version of the book, which is out of print.

If you visit and click on the BUY page, there are links there to the new edition.


No matter how hard I tried or how detailed the maps I made, I could never make it out of the maze in The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, it used to drive me mental.

I can't access that website, it's blocked here.

What's the prices on the site? Is there an alternate link to buy them from?
I would suggest going through the Book Despository:

They have free worldwide shipping.

You can also order a signed hardback from and get the four collectible bookmarks with it (each one has an item of rare loot).

Otherwise, there is the usual
I'd try, they have the book for £8.83, which is about $13.60.
Nice review!

I've been looking for a gamebook that's a bit more complex than Fighting Fantasy.

Buying this so I can take it with me on holiday this summer :)
Hah I used to go book shopping in France when I was a teen to get these "Choose your own adventure" books! They used to be quite hard to finish too, and come in series (so one character could go through a whole series even). They were what lead me onto the path to RPGs to begin with! From those books to a German RPG (The Dark Eye!) onto ADnD and then on to a myriad of systems. I only ever DM'd The Dark Eye, the old Star Wars system, and DnD 3 and 4 though. But I did have at least a single session in plenty thanks to this kind of books :)

I shiver now though how bad a system ADnD really was compared to 3.5 and 4.

Or how a single fight in RoleMaster would take a full evening, in which my character got critted in the first round and dropped to the ground with a broken neck unable to do anything but wait until the fight was over and someone could fix me... Or the madness of Paranoia.

If there's an ebook version of this I might pick it up :)
The other big series from that era that I recall is the "Lone Wolf" books. Very good storyline, pretty solid system. And, best of all, now available on the 'net, in English, Spanish and Italian, legally available for free. You do have to abide by the license, which allows you to read, use and enjoy but not redistribute.

Good stuff!
@ Baktru

Yes, there is an eBook version coming out in the next couple of weeks :)
Any chance you could keep us posted on that ebook Mr. Ward?

I was going to purchase a real copy but if an ebook is coming soon, I would much prefer that.
@ Sine

Sure thing. I'll post here when I get more info. Note that the eBook is not an app (as I'm sure you guessed), so its interactivity is limited to clicking on the page entries and being taken to your relevant choice (which is neat in itself!).

The eBook should be really nice, but I have to say, nothing beats the print version with the glossy full-colour maps... but each to their own ;-)

If you're able to access my site, updates will also be appearing on there too, along with other news, sneak peeks of Book Two etc:

Cheers for the interest!

Fighting Fantasy, Lone Wolf, Grail Quest along with D&D's adventure game books were among the big fantasy gamebooks but the popular mainstream titles were Choose Your Own Adventure books.

Fighting Fantasy Books are now available on iphones/ipads.
I actually still have The Warlock of Firetop mountain in my bookshelf! Never properly won the damn thing since I couldn't find all the keys in 1 run.

Much harder is Deathtrap dungeon - lotsa insta-death/failure and frustration to be had there.

Stormslayer is great though. Highly recommend as it is the most "fair" to the player. :)

I'll probably keep an eye out on the ones you mentioned. Thanks Tobold!

I bought it off the book depository link. We will see how long it takes to get here. Do I just need D6 or a full set of D&D dice?
Only d6 needed. Pro Tip: Rolling 5 d6 in 3 different colors (2+2+1) at once significantly speeds up combat.
I'll shoot you an email after I go through the book. I'll give you my opinion of the book.
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