Endless Quest: Escape from Castle Ravenloft and The Mad Mage’s Academy

I’ve always loved interactive books that let the reader make decisions, so last year when Dungeons & Dragons released a series of four ‘choose-your-own-adventure’ style children’s books, successfully relaunching the ‘Endless Quest’ series, I picked them up for my children right away. Written by Matt Forbeck, each of these four books cast you in the role of different classes, explored different iconic locations, and tied in with other Dungeons & Dragons campaigns. They were fun, exciting, filled with colourful characters, and featured a bigger sized font perfect for my children. My kids and I were impressed with the quality and content of these books.

Currently consisting of four books — Big TroubleEscape the UnderdarkInto the Jungle, and To Catch a Thief — the Endless Quest series is expanding on September 3rd, 2019 to include two more releases, Escape from Castle Ravenloft and The Mad Mage’s Academy! We are absolutely thrilled to be in possession of advance copies of these delightful new books, which we’re going to share with you today!

But first, what is Endless Quest?

Endless Quest 2

Endless Quest is a series of six ‘choose your own adventure’ style novels aimed at middle-grade readers (eight to twelve year olds). My kids are seven and eight years old, placing them at the young end of the intended audience. To Catch a Thief lets your kids (or you!) be a halfling rogue, Into the Jungle casts you in the role of a dwarf cleric, Escape the Underdark lets you play as a human fighter, Big Trouble lets you play as an elf wizard, Escape from Castle Ravenloft lets you play as a cleric, and The Mad Mage’s Academy lets you play as a rogue. While reading the book your character’s gender — and often their race — has no bearing on perspective or story. It’s invisible, honestly. Only the image on the front reveals your gender. Which is awesome! Both of my kids immediately assumed the character was just like them, irrelevant of the cover image, slipping into the role without hesitation.

Each book is exactly 122 pages long. Most of the pages are filled completely with text and images (no wasted pages here!), and both of my kids found the font size comfortable. All of the books contain a lot of awesome artwork. Some images are in full colour — typically locations or a main character/villain — while the rest are in sepia tones. You’ll find images of allies, enemies, items, equipment, scenery, and locations. Some of the images in the earlier books are even tactical maps, which everyone in the house enjoyed examining, although the two newest books do not contain any maps. Some of the images are on the gory or creepy side, and both of the new books are quite suspenseful.

Each of the Endless Quest books follows a different kind of story, features different main characters with unique motivations and personality traits, involves different situations and enemies, and takes place in vastly different locations. You’ll get to visit actual places from the Dungeons & Dragons campaign setting, both on a large and small scale, which fans of D&D will love. Each book also has cameos from known D&D personalities (including Elminster, Volo, and Xanathar, to name a few, with the new books featuring Count Strahd von Zarovich and Halaster, the Mad Mage). The decisions you get to make are important. Common choices include deciding which way to go, how you choose to deal with other characters, and how you react to situations. Each of the books has ways to ‘win,’ to happily survive but fail, to survive but fail horribly, and to die. The number of these outcomes varies between each book, with the most deadly having more than half of its endings fatal. None of the deaths are graphic, and many are suggested more than described. Some of the endings are quite abrupt, and if you make poor decisions right from the start your story could be over in only a few pages. But, that’s to be expected in books of this kind. The first four books in the series feature some very hard to pronounce names, although the two newest didn’t, which my kids found an improvement. In the earlier books battle was nearly always fatal, although the two newest books allow you to fight and win at least half the time, which made your adventurer seem much more capable. My kids loved this! Particularly because one of the two newest books are the spookiest of the series, and being able to overpower some of the opponents made my kids feel more in control, and less scared.

endless-quest.jpg

Escape from Castle Ravenloft is written by Matt Forbeck, designed by Wendy Bartlett, and edited by Kirsty Walters. The art in this book was created by Adam Paquette, Autumn Rain Turkel, Ben Oliver, Brynn Metheney, Chris Seaman, Claudio Pozas, Conceptopolis, Baarken, Eric Belisle, Jedd Chevrier, Jesper Ejsing, Kiernan Yanner, Lake Hurwitz, Lars Grant-West, Mark Behm, Milivoj Ceran, Richard Whitters, Sidharth Chaturvedi, Vincent Dutrait, Vincent Proce, Wayne England, Zack Strella, and Zoltan Boros. Cover illustrations are by Eric Belisle, Mark Behm, and Ben Oliver.

Escape from Castle Ravenloft casts you in the role of a cleric of Tyr, god of justice. Originally from Waterdeep, you character finds themselves in the mist-shrouded, gothic realm of Ravenloft where you catch the eye of the infamous vampire Count Strahd von Zarovich. The story begins with you awakening in a bedroom in his castle, bereft of all your gear except for your holy symbol. Count Strahd welcomes you to his castle, informing you that you’ll be staying indefinitely as his guest. Not wanting to become his vampire spawn or dominated thrall, your character will need to find a way to escape Castle Ravenloft alive. This book coincides with and features characters from the Dungeons and Dragons adventure, Curse of Strahd.

My kids both agreed that this was the spookiest of the books. They were on the edge of their seats the entire time, slinking through eerily silent halls, peeking into dark chambers, and desperately hoping they don’t run into any vampires or werewolves. They squealed in surprise quite a bit — in a good way — and decided they did not want to read this book near bedtime. Haha. It’s a light horror story that my kids really enjoyed. However, it is definitely the scariest Endless Quest book to date, so it will not be for everyone.

This was a bit of a deadly book, but also had quite a few ‘successful’ endings. The majority of the endings involving dying trapped within the castle, a good number involving dying during or after your escape, a few endings leave you trapped within the castle but alive, and a good number result in your escape and survival. Despite its lethality, both of my kids adored it.

There’s a few different characters for you to interact with during the course of the book, two of which my kids really enjoyed — the clockwork jester Pidlwick and a naive young woman called Gertruda. Most of the time my kids were invested in trying to save themselves and figure out which characters were trustworthy and which would betray them. But, after the introduction of Gertruda, their priorities changed, and they became determined to save both her and themselves. Some of the endings involving Gertruda give you difficult decisions to make, such as putting yourself in danger and potentially missing your chance to escape in order to save an innocent — or not! My kids agonized over that a bit, but never chose to abandon the girl — unless they were sifting through the book to try to find the endings they missed.

Although there’s a lot of cool places to explore in this book, it all takes place in and around Castle Ravenloft, meaning there is very little drastic changes of scenery. My son’s favourite part of the book involved combating minor undead with his holy symbol and strength of faith, which always made him feel very proud. He also really liked an ending where you escape the castle but get transformed into a werewolf. My daughter, who has a terrible fear of werewolves, did NOT like that ending at all. Instead, her favourite parts of the book involved interacting with the traitorous Pidlwick!

The Mad Mage’s Academy is written by Matt Forbeck, designed by Wendy Bartlett, and edited by Kirsty Walters. The art in this book was created by Allen Douglas, Andrew Mar, Bryan Syme, Chris Seaman, Christopher Moeller, Clint Cearley, Conceptopolis, Cynthia Sheppard, Cyril Van Der Haegen, David Palumbo, David Vargo, Emily Fiegenschuh, Eric Belisle, Ilya Shipkin, Jason Juta, Jim Pavelec, John Stanko, Kiernan Yanner, Kurt Higgins, Michael Berube, Olga Drebas, Scott Murphy, Sidharth Chaturvedi, Wayne England, and Zelda Devon. Cover illustrations are by Cynthia Sheppard, Jesper Ejsing, and Titus Lunter.

The Mad Mage’s Academy casts you in the role of a thief tasked with stealing the spell book of the Mad Mage himself, Halaster Blackcloak. You’ll need to pose as a student at Halaster’s magic academy, locate and steal the spell book, and escape — all without getting caught! This book coincides with and features characters from the Dungeons & Dragons adventure, Dungeon of the Mad Mage.

This book involves a lot of subterfuge, interacting with other characters, lies, and betrayal — both from you and the people you meet along the way! My kids really enjoyed this, and were often surprised at the results of their choices. There were lots of interesting characters to interact with, including the mind flayer Cephalossk, tiefling sisters Violence and Turbulence, and the night hag Wormriddle. Both of my kids favourite character was Spite, a child wizard protected by a half-ogre named Dumara (or so they first appear…).

Of all the Endless Quest books to date, The Mad Mage’s Academy felt like the least deadly. Although over half of the endings left you dead and without one of the multiple spell books hidden throughout the academy, the rest all involved your survival, with about half of those also letting you escape with one of the spell books. Much like Escape from Castle Ravenloft, this book all takes place within a single complex, so there’s not much variation in the locations you can visit.

My son’s favourite part about this book was interacting with Cephalossk, and seeing all of the cool traps and magical defences you can come up against your quest for the spell books. My daughter’s favourite parts of this book was interacting with Spite, a wide variety of the ‘escape with the spell book’ endings, and an ending that allows you to take over the academy, which she thought was amazing.

Both my kids and I really enjoyed the Endless Quests books. I highly recommend them for any kids who have an interest in fantasy novels, adventure novels, choose your own adventures, or tabletop RPGs. They’re engaging, variable, and a ton of fun, with each book very different from the others. Fans of D&D will particularly enjoy all the famous places you can visit and people you can meet. Best of all? My kids have read and re-read these books over and over again. They’re going to see a lot of use.

Endless Quest: Escape from Castle Ravenloft and Endless Quest: The Mad Mage’s Academy are scheduled for release on September 3rd, 2019.

My family and I would like to give a special thank you to Penguin Randomhouse Canada, for providing us with advance copies for review.

Jessica

 

Author: d20diaries

Author of d20 Diaries.

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