"Come to Middle-earth
! The world of brave and cruel Men, Hobbits and Elves, Orcs and Trolls and Wizards both good and evil lives on in this series of Middle-earth Quest gamebooks
. You too can now become entwined in the world's richest tapestry of high fantasy." That how this gamebook (and the series) is introduced to you, the reader, who is about to play as an apprentice to the great Saruman the White!
It is set in the time before the start of the epic journey of Frodo and the Fellowship of the Ring, so to the free people of the Middle-earth Saruman is still the head of the White Council, the wisest amongst the wise, and Head of the Order of Wizards. And as the person who lives with him, you are aware that something is wrong with Saruman and that he is not the same person of a few years back. Orcs have started to move into the walls of the Nan Curunir. A terrible suspicion grows in you: has Saruman betrayed the White Council and turned into an ally of the Dark Lord? That is what you are trying to prove, searching Orthanc for clues and proofs about Saruman's change of heart, before meeting with a messenger from Lothlorien, sent by the Elven Queen Galadriel herself, answering the note you sent by messenger bird.
That's how the gamebook begins, and everything that happens after that is consecuence of your decisions, the skills of your character and your luck with the dice. The first in a serie of gamebooks set in the Middle-earth, it is also one of the most complex and less linear of all. Whenever you decide to play with the pre-rolled character or roll your own, you are free to roam through Orthanc (at least, the parts that you are able to find) and the Nan Curunir, finding clues and fighting against the evil henchmen of the fallen Istari while you try to rendez-vous with the messenger from the Elves. But, if you are playing by the advanced rules (more on this later), you have a time limit to complete your quest.
During the course of your quest, you will collect clues identified by a letter, that you must register on your character sheet. They are not only physical clues, but they are also non-physical clues, bits of knowledge, changes in the game enviroment and red herrings. You would do well to take note of every one of them.
The game comes with a map, both of Tower and of the surrounding valley. Both these maps are necessary to navigate your way during the quest, so I would recommend printing it or having a capture of the map in another file while playing, to reduce the amount of page flipping (which are even worse on a PDF).
This gamebook (and the serie) is not recommended for begginers, but its rules system would make the table-top RPG gamers feel comfortable with it. Being a simplified form of the Lord of the Rings Adventure Game rules, it was published by Iron Crown Enterprises (a.k.a. ICE), the publishers of the more complex Middle-earth Role Playing (a.k.a. MERP), and it even has an appendix to let you play the game with a MERP character. The gamebooks are played with two 6-sided dice and you have the option of playing with the basic system (mainly consisting in no time restrictions, no magic and no equipment limits) or the advanced system (a little more complex combat sequence, magic system, equipment rules, time management, race selection and experience earning). Which variety to choose depends on taste, although I would recommend the advanced system if you plan on playing all the serie for the additional options. Although you can relax the time system a little if you want (go ahead, I will tell no one
), for this particular book I will recomend against it, because it gives a feeling of urgency to your mission and because Isengard would seem to be too static otherwise.
Should you choose to create your own character, it is created rolling the dice for the stats and distributing bonuses to the skills. If you are playing the advanced system, you could also learn magic (choosing not to assign a skill bonus lets you to select two spells for your character to cast) and race, the last option giving you aditional modifiers and certains restrictions.
What is great in this serie is that although the plot in the different gamebooks are not related between themselves, you could export your character to use it in the other books, much like in a table-top RPG. Here is where the experiencie system comes into play: at the end of each book, you can exchange 150 XP for a special bonus, like an Endurance increase or new spells to casts.
All things considered, it is a great begining for a series that, unfortunately, only extended for three more books before running into trouble with the Tolkien Enterprises. Its (comparative) complex system is great for those unsatisfied by the often simple rules of other gamebooks, while giving the freedom to create a character more to your liking. And the non-linearity of this first book also set it aside of it followers, much more linear in nature. In my opinion, it deserves a 4 due to design, enjoyability, and robustness. Only the sometimes too static encounters, the quantity of empty exterior locations and some other minor details prevent this game from reaching a perfect score.
Grab your sword, prepare yourself for danger and go on with your quest!
The pdf is badly assembled by the scanner, with pages of different sizes and some little changes on the boldness of the letters and lacking both covers. Also, each page (or double page) scanned is added as an image and not as text, so vision impaired players would need to convert it to text before being able to play it.
In the extras section, you will find some dice rollers. I would recommend them if you don't want to stop looking at your screen to search for your dice, rolling them and checking the result. Also, they are more silent and have less of a tendency to roll over the border of the table and stopping under the furniture.
Editor's rating: 4/5