I have always loved ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books. Whenever I see one that my kids might like I let them give it a look-see or check it out from the library. Both of my kids enjoy them, particularly the ‘You Choose: Scooby-Doo‘ series. There’s plenty of others they’ve read. Choose your own adventure style books featuring Superman, Batman, the Justice League, LEGO® Batman, and even Pokemon (ReaderActive). And, of course, my son’s tried the official ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books. My daughter’s too young to read them, and my son could, but he just doesn’t like reading small letters.
So this past holiday season when I realized that Dungeons and Dragons had put out a series of choose your own adventure style kids novels, I immediately looked them up online, put them on hold at my local bookstore, and took a trip out to pick them up. I stood there in the bookstore, opened them up, and was… IMPRESSED! They’re really high quality, with lots of cool artwork and a bigger sized font my son will be happy with. So I brought them home, wrapped them up, and that was that. When my son opened them he was amazed. Absolutely thrilled. He started reading them almost right away.
After about ten minutes he stopped and said: “Mom, I just died. Actually DIED! This is… This is… This book is dangerous! Poisoned mushrooms killed me!”
I laughed and he went on reading.
“Okay, now I got squished by a giant!”
Which got me thinking. Death was a pretty common occurrence in the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ series of books I read as a kid. So was failure. But in the ‘choose your own’ books my kids have read? Not a thing that happens. Batman doesn’t die. Superman doesn’t die. Scooby-Doo doesn’t die (okay, once Fred dies). Ash obviously doesn’t die, either. Not every ending is a ‘win’ — although most are — but losing isn’t quite so final.
I watched my son for a while, curious if he would get frustrated and put the books down.
He read them, read them again, and read them a few more times. Then he moved onto a different one. In the weeks since he’s read them all a lot. Finally, just yesterday, he let me pick them up and give them a read myself. Now, I’m a bit of a completionist when it comes to this style of book. I read through the way I want to, then go back and try out the different options, then go back further and do the same again, and again, until I’ve got to experience most (if not all) of the book within a day or so.
And you know what I’ve come to realize?
My son makes horrible decisions! Hahaha. It’s not that there’s no way to ‘win,’ because there is. There’s plenty of ways to lose but survive, as well. But my son? Nope! He dies every time.
Curious, my daughter gave one a try. It was ‘Into the Jungle,’ one of the books that has a lot of ways to die, a lot of ways to survive, but I hadn’t yet found the ‘perfect ending’ where you live and achieve all your objectives. So, there was my daughter, sitting there and reading the book aloud. It took her a while, since the books are a bit above her reading level. But an hour or so later she smiled, put down the book, and said: “That was good.” I sat down beside her to see how her story had ended. Much to my surprise she had found the ‘perfect ending.’ Hahaha. My son was so jealous! Heck, I was jealous!
We’ve had a ton of fun with these books. So, today we’re shining a light on them and spreading the word!
Endless Quest is a series of four ‘choose your own adventure’ style novels aimed at middle-grade readers (eight to twelve year olds, although my kids are six and seven years old and both enjoyed them). Written by Matt Forbeck, each official Dungeons and Dragons book casts you in the role of a different class. Endless Quest: To Catch a Thief lets your kids (or you!) be a female halfling rogue, Endless Quest: Into the Jungle casts you in the role of a male dwarf cleric, Endless Quest: Escape the Underdark lets you play as a male human fighter, and Endless Quest: Big Trouble lets you play as an female elf wizard. While reading the book your character’s gender 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 softcover 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, maps, scenery, and locations. Some of the images are even tactical maps, which everyone in the house enjoyed examining. Two of the images are on the gory side (a zombie with his insides hanging out from ‘Into the Jungle‘, and a grotesque female hill giant devouring hunks of questionable pink meat from ‘Big Trouble‘). Each of the 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). 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 about 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. My biggest complaint? Names! A lot of characters and places have difficult to pronounce names which the vast majority of kids will just skip over instead of bothering to sound out. Some of them I even stumbled over on first glance. For my kids? Those words are just Sli-jibberjabber or Nya-somethingsomething. Also? Battle is nearly always fatal. Fair! But, at the same time, battle is a big part of RPGs, and some of these characters — the cleric and the fighter particularly — seem like they should be capable combatants. That they die so easily and so often in a fight is a little jarring. For me, anyway. My kids didn’t mind too much.
It should also be noted that these books very often intersect with other D&D books and products. Two books directly mention Volo’s Guide to Monsters and one mentions the kids book Dungeonology (also penned in lore by the infamous Volo). Characters and events from some of the other books also connect to major campaigns, as noted below. My kids and I thought this was awesome! But, not all parents will. Particuarly if it makes your kids want those (pricy) books. Haha.
So what exactly are these books?
My son’s favourite book was ‘Into the Jungle,’ which lets you play as a male dwarf cleric of the god Clangeddin Silverbeard, the dwarven god of honourable battle. Your character was given a mission by the Harpers, to track down an ex-member of their order by the name of Artus Cimber and retrieve a powerful magical ring that is in his possession, the Ring of Winter. In the wrong hands this ring could bring about an eternal winter, and the Harpers want the ring to remain in their possession. Artus has disappeared in the jungles of Chult, and its up to you to track him down, retrieve the ring, and bring it back. This was the most deadly of the books, with only one ‘perfect ending’ (which my daughter discovered on her first try), a heavy amount of ‘survive but fail’ (only two of which have a happy tone), and a whole lot of fatal endings. Despite its lethality, both of my kids adored it. There’s a pair of lovable characters you can befriend (Qawasha the druid and Kupalué the friendly vegepygmy), a wide variety of exciting locations to explore (from dinosaur races to ancient ruins), tons of cool enemies to encounter (including a stone golem, froghemoth, zombie tyrannosaurs rex, green hag, and the witch Nanny Pu’Pu), and a variety of interesting races to interact with (like pterafolk, grungs, aarakocra, and goblins). Famous cameos include Volo, the Harpers, Artus Cimber, and the Red Wizards of Thay. The majority of the book deals with the hazards of the jungle, and the undead which are rampant throughout it — particularly zombies. My son’s favourite part of the book was the variety of cool places you visit, and a timely rescue from stone golems by an aarakocra (eagle-people). My daughter’s favourite part was when she read the book for the second time and was killed by eating a tasty (but poisonous) dinner with a tribe of adorable grungs (humanoid poisonous tree-frogs). My favourite part? Your side-kicks! Qawasha and Kupalué are wonderful guides and great fun. As an added bonus, certain circumstances can make them turn against you, which gives your decisions extra weight. There’s also a series of lovely interactions with the witch Nanny Pu’Pu which will force you to choose between your morals and survival. Your character will then have to deal with the ramifications of that decision. Awesome! The downsides? I found that the main character doubts his faith a lot. He’s he’s in a bad situation he often wonders why his god is displeased with him or has abandoned him. Now, I’m not saying it’s not alright to have a crisis of faith, but he has them a LOT, which is a strange character trait to give a devoted cleric. My other complaint? As previously mentioned, if you get into a fight chances are you lose. Which is unfortunate when you’re playing a cleric who gets to fight against undead and worships a god of honourable battle. That’s not to say he never wins a fight — cause he does. It just doesn’t often happen. I’m totally fine with him dying against a stone golem, or a froghemoth, or a swarm of pterafolk who drop him to his death. But against a few zombies? Or a few goblin and some zombies? It makes him feel a little lame. Overall, we all really enjoyed ‘Into the Jungle.’ My kids loved it most and both give it a rating of “Awesome,” while I really enjoyed it. The characters and events in this book are tightly intertwined with the Tomb of Annihilation campaign and Board Game. Artus Cimber also appears in the books Realms of Valor: The Family Business, and The Ring of Winter (which I can’t seem to find available online, but I could find as an audio book).
The second most-deadly of the Endless Quest books is ‘Escape the Underdark.’ In this book you play as a male human fighter who is captured by drow. You begin the book by waking up in a prison cell (classic!) alongside a motley crew of other prisoners. It’s up to you to escape or die trying! But, as you’ll soon learn, escaping isn’t the hardest part. Getting back to the surface alive is. Depending on your choices you’ll get to face off against a wide variety of underground hazards and enemies. Much to my surprise the fighter can make a lot of allies. In addition to the other prisoners you start the book alongside, you can befriend myconids, and ally with an opportunistic kuo-toa, duergar, a dangerous red dragon, and even an intelligent gelatinous cube named Glabbagool. My favourite of your allies are a pair of quirky goblins named Spiderbait and Yuk Yuk. They were both adorable and hilarious. I love them! The locations you visit are surprisingly varied, including cities, underground lakes, and even a crevasse filled with spider webs that acts as a kind of highway for adventuresome locals. In addition to the prison located in Velkynvelve, which is where you start the book, you can travel to the famous drow city of Menzoberranzan and the duergar city of Gracklstugh. Although Menzoberranzan has no happy endings, visiting the duergar can lead to a variety of adventure, some of which can lead to back to the surface. There’s plenty of foes for you to face off against, although nearly every single fight you get yourself into will end in death (even more so than the cleric) which is an odd choice since your playing as a FIGHTER. You’ll need to rely on your wits more than your fists. The most terrifying foe you encounter? Demogorgon. Yup! The demon lord himself! Yikes! Despite its lethality, this was my favourite of the Endless Quest books. The large cast of characters is a lot of fun to interact with and, if I’m being honest, I’ve always been a sucker for drow. It also has some of the most satisfying endings out of the Endless Quest books. Even some of the deaths and failures where you never escape the Underdark are surprisingly satisfying. It was great fun. This book, its overarching events, and its characters are intertwined with the D&D campaign Out of the Abyss and the Rage of Demons storyline.
Next up is ‘To Catch a Thief‘ which places you in the role of a female halfling rogue who picks the wrong pocket! After being caught by Lord Laeral Silverhand, the Open Hand of Waterdeep and a contingent of the City Watch you’ll need to use to wits to escape jail time. This will lead you to either trying to flee or taking on a dangerous task for Lord Silverhand. Recently her pet griffin was stolen by the Thieve’s Guild and she wants you to retrieve it for her. Sound easy? Not so! The Thieve’s Guild is incredibly powerful and far-reaching. It’s leader, The Xanathar, is a powerful beholder. Not someone to trifle with! Stuck in an impossible situation, its your wits, adaptability, and shifting allegiances that will see you out of this whole. That and fleeing! Running away is a common ending in this one, and you often have the chance to abandon your mission — whatever it may be at the moment — and skip town. Which is awesome, actually! Very in character for a rogue. I also really enjoyed that you have plenty of chances to change sides, trick, and betray someone. This book takes place in both the city of Waterdeep, and the underground city of Skullport. You get to visit some famous places, and interact with a few well-known characters. You may also get to disguise yourself as some famous characters including Marune the Masked, and the infamous Drizzt Do’Urden. Surprisingly, the wily rogue manages to survive most of the fights you can get into, and dies rarely. Most often she survives by fleeing, but sometimes finds herself beholden to one faction or another. Likely for life. It’s probably that however you ‘win’ this book you’ll make enemies, meaning even victory can be dangerous. By far the most satisfying endings involve rescuing the griffon, which lets you take on the role of hero. But that’s not necessary. Not everyone wants to tangle with a beholder, after all. Another wonderful ending involves saving a group of slaves from their bugbear kidnappers and leaving town with them. Other than a beholder, bugbears slavers, and bandits and thieves of all kinds, you can also face off against pirates, assassins, thugs, guards, a demilich, and even start a bar brawl! Lots of danger in this one! All in all, my kids liked this book least (although they still enjoyed it a lot) due to the lack of scenery changes. You’re in a city and you might move to another city. Not much in the way of far-flung and exotic locations, here. However, it was my second favourite of the Endless Quest books. I thought it was lots of fun. Waterdeep, Undermountain, and Skullport are the main locations in a variety of adventures, including Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, Waterdeep: Dungeon of the Mad Mage, and Tales From the Yawning Portal.
Finally, we have ‘Big Trouble.’ This is both the least lethal, but the saddest of the books. In it you take on the role of a female elf wizard whose home is attacked by an army of hill giants. During the attack you’re told to take your younger brother and flee, though whether you listen to that sound advice is entirely up to you. Although its possible you get out with your brother, it’s most likely you end up alone. Lost and worried about your family you set out on a quest to find them and bring them home. Along the way you (very likely) meet up with a cloud giant wizard named Zephyros who travels around in a flying tower and is a friend of your parents. With his help you can choose to track down either your father, or your mother and brother. Both choices lead you on a variety of adventures to some far flung locations. The quest for your father can take you to the Eye of the All-Father in the frozen north and pit you against bandits, giants, a blue dragon, and a dragon cult. The quest for your mother and brother will lead you to Grudd Haug, a hill giant settlement where they have been taken prisoner by the disgusting Guh, a female hill giant that believes if she is the fattest hill giant her gods will give her their blessings. She’s gross. There’s plenty of ways for things to go awry on your journey, and a surprisingly large number of ways you can rescue some of your family. However, there are no endings where you can rescue everyone. You might save your brother, or your mother, or your father, or your mother and brother — or no one — but you can never save them all. That means that even the happy endings are bittersweet. Surprisingly, this determined wizard gets into a lot of fights throughout the book, and can even take down (or help take down) some very powerful enemies with low-level magic. She proves that even the young and inexperienced can make a difference. This was a really wonderful, welcome change from the previous books, which often end with you dying in such circumstances. It was also really unexpected. Some important locations you can visit in this book include Ardeep Forest, the Eye of the All-Father, and Grudd Haug, and some famous characters include Harshnag, Claugiyliamatar, Zephyros, and the infamous wizard Elminster! Events and characters in this book directly intersect with the Storm King’s Thunder campaign. Some of the characters can also be found in the old Heroes’ Lorebook, and the old City of Splendors: Waterdeep. Elminster, of course, can be found in a LOT. It was a lot of fun!
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. Fans of D&D will particularly enjoy all the famous places you can visit and people you can meet. Best of all? Each one is very different.
Well done, Matt Forbeck! My family is sending you a round of applause for writing these delightful kids novels!
As for everyone else? I hope some of you have the chance to share these books with the kids in your life. They’re great fun and well-worth the money.