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

 

Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloween, everyone!

We carved pumpkins last week with my sister. My daughter carved a rabbit, and my son a cat.  Or, more accurately, I carved a rabbit, and my sister carved a cat while my children bossed us around. Both of my kids shrieked when they had to put their hands inside and scoop out the pumpkin’s innards. Mostly they poked at it with a spoon. In fact, my kids didn’t do much at all. But, we had fun! We drew on some more pumpkins at home yesterday. Again, my daughter made a rabbit. My son went with a classic jack-o-lantern face.

This morning I packed up my kids costumes, and sent them off to school. They’ll have a party this morning, change into their costumes after lunch, and spend the afternoon at a school dance and haunted house. They’re absolutely over the moon. My son’s going to be a red dragon for Halloween. And my daughter? One guess.

Yup. A rabbit.

She might be obsessed.

My kids can’t wait to head out trick or treating.

And me?

To celebrate I’m taking a look at my five favourite Horror Adventures!

Ooooooh!

*cue the ominous theme music*

Cries from the Drift, Joe Pasini, Starfinder 1-04,
Starfinder Society Scenario #1-04: Cries from the Drift by Joe Pasini.

We’re starting off small with Starfinder Society Scenario #1-04: Cries from the Drift by Joe Pasini! This delightful little adventure is intended for Tier 1-4, features one starship battle, and tasks the player’s characters with exploring a derelict ship, uncovering what became of it’s crew (Spoiler Alert: NOTHING GOOD), and collecting the valuable intel they were carrying. This scenario does a great job of setting an ominous atmosphere right from the moment you step foot on the ship, and, with a solid GM, can be quite suspenseful. It’s got some surprises, so I won’t go into too much detail, but I will say that this adventures features some body horror, so it’s not for the faint of heart!

Up Next? The Strange Aeons Adventure Path! Strange Aeons is a six part series of adventures that will have your characters questioning their past, their allies, and their sanity! Strongly inspired by the works of H. P. Lovecraft, it’s spooky, macabre, and downright strange. With alien, unknowable entities, crazed cultists, and a whole heck of a lot of weird! I LOVE this adventure path. Seriously. Love it.

Strange Aeons, Part One, In Search fo Sanity, F. Wesley Shneider
Pathfinder Adventure Path 109: In Search of Sanity (Strange Aeons Part 1 of 6) by F. Wesley Schneider.

Strange Aeons begins with your characters waking up in an insane asylum with no idea who they are or how they got there. Oh, also, there’s some strange monster performing invasive surgery on someone else right outside your cell. Not the way you want to wake up! After your daring breakout you’ll have to explore the asylum, battle strange, shape-changing creatures, and find a way to escape — without being devoured by the… things outside. From there? Well, let’s just keep that under wraps for now. This is one of those campaigns where being in the dark is half the fun!

Strange Aeons begins with Pathfinder Adventure Path 109: In Search of Sanity (Strange Aeons Part 1 of 6) by F. Wesley Schneider. Following that is #110: The Thrushmoor Terror (Part 2 of 6) by Tito Leati, #111: Dreams of the Yellow King (Part 3 of 6) by Ron Lundeen, #112: The Whisper Out of Time (Part 4 of 6) by Richard Pett, #113: What Grows Within (Part 5 of 6) by John Compton, and it finishes with #114: Black Stars Beckon (Part 6 of 6) by Jim Groves. I also highly recommend picking up Pathfinder Pawns: Strange Aeons Pawn Collection to go with it if you intend to play this wonderfully creepy campaign. The Player’s Guide is a free download!

Curse of Strahd, D&D.
Curse of Strahd: A Dungeons & Dragons Sourcebook

Next we leave behind the psychological terror, and head into some classic gothic horror! Curse of Strahd! This hardcover adventure path for Dungeons and Dragons takes place in the Ravenloft campaign setting’s  country of Borovia and will take characters from levels one through ten. It’s a spooky, atmospheric, delightful piece of horror that features the vampire Count Strahd von Zarovich himself! Play it with a good DM and you’re guaranteed to get chills! This campaign has some tough fights, and was the winner of THREE Ennies in 2016: Winner (Gold): Best Adventure, Winner (Gold): Best Art/Cover, and Winner (Silver): Product of the Year. Special player options are available to download here, untagged maps are available here, and some special notes for DMs are available here.

Carrion Crown Haunting of Harrowstone
Pathfinder Adventure Path 43: The Haunting of Harrowstone (Carrion Crown 1 of 6) by Michael Kortes

From Dungeons and Dragons, we skip back over to Pathfinder, with the Carrion Crown Adventure Path! Carrion Crown is a six part gothic horror campaign that is like a tour de force of classic horror beasts! The first volume, Haunting of Harrowstone, tasks the players with investigating a haunted prison, while later volumes feature carrion golems, werewolves, foul cults, strange beings, vampires, undead, liches, and more! The best part? You don’t always have to kill these beasts. Some have the potential to be allies (if you’re brave enough)! The plot? Stop the Whispering Way from freeing the Lich King Tar-Baphon! I ADORE this campaign!

Carrion Crown begins with Pathfinder Adventure Path 43: The Haunting of Harrowstone (Carrion Crown 1 of 6)by Michael Kortes. It continues with volume #44: Trial of the Beast (Carrion Crown 2 of 6) by Richard Pett, #45: Broken Moon (Carrion Crown 3 of 6) by Tim Hitchcock, #46: Wake of the Watcher (Carrion Crown 4 of 6) by Greg A. Vaughan, #47: Ashes at Dawn (Carrion Crown 5 of 6) by F. Wesley Schneider, and concludes with #48: Shadows of Gallowspire (Carrion Crown 6 of 6) by Brandon Hodge. The Player’s Guide is a free download on Paizo’s website.

Carnival of Tears
GameMastery Module E1: Carnival of Tears by Tim Hitchcock and Nicolas Logue.

So what’s my very favourite horror adventure? Carnival of Tears by Tim Hitchcock and Nicolas Logue! First of, let me point out this is a dark, gory, violent, disturbing adventure. Second, I loved it. Carnival of Tears (more properly known as GameMastery Module E1: Carnival of Tears) is a 3.5 adventure from Paizo Publishing intended for fifth level characters that takes place in the desperate little town of Falcon’s Hollow. Man, that place has gone through a lot! So what better way to relax than with a winter carnival? Right? WRONG! When dark fey take over the carnival they twist it into a nightmare, and use powerful illusions to hide the truth from the citizens. The PCs need to stop the fey, save what townsfolk they can, and try their best to survive the night! I find this scenario is particularly effective when played in a town the player’s have grown fond of (even if that means you don’t play in Falcon’s Hollow), and when they’re forced to help deal with the aftermath of the so-called Carnival of Tears. Just awesome. The horror!

And that’s it!

Or is it..?

There’s one last thing I want to talk about: the future! The horror adventure I most want to play (and read), but haven’t.

Signal of Screams, Diaspora Strain
Starfinder Adventure Path 10: The Diaspora Strain (Signal of Screams Part 1 of 3) by Chris S. Sims.

Signal of Screams!

Signal of Screams is a three-part adventure path for the Starfinder Roleplaying Game that starts at level seven. It begins with your PCs on vacation at a luxury resort on an asteroid when suddenly the staff and guests begin to get violent! They’ll need to protect themselves and the uninfected guests. But, what if they’re not immune to the madness? I can’t wait to find out!

Signal of Screams begins with Starfinder Adventure Path 10: The Diaspora Strain (Signal of Screams Part 1 of 3) by Chris S. Sims, which releases in a few more weeks. It continues in December with #11: Penumbra Protocol (Signal of Screams Part 2 of 3)by Jenny Jarzabski, and culminates in January with #12: Heart of Night (Signal of Screams Part 3 of 3) by Saif Ansari.


Got a favourite horror adventure? Let us know in the comments! We’d love to hear about it.

Happy Halloween!

Jessica

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