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Subject: Blood Sword - a light review rss

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Federico Galeotti
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I believe you find life such a problem because you think there are the good people and the bad people. You're wrong, of course. There are, always and only, the bad people, but some of them are on opposite sides.
Blood Sword is one of the most innovative gamebooks series ever published, and it manages to couple this with an high standard of quality in both the writing and gameplay departments. It is also far more complex than most of the other regular gamebooks series ever published.

The series is composed of five books:
1) The Battlepits of Krarth
2) The Realm of Wyrd
3) The Demon's Claw
4) Doomwalk
5) The Walls of Spyte

The first thing that comes to mind about Blood Sword is the story and settings that come alive throughout the five books. The volumes are very thick, more than 600 paragraphs each, so the authors have all the space at their disposal in order to give depth to the world, either through the descriptions of the surroundings or the characters that live and work in the fantasy world of Legend, or through the narrative of the various myths and legends that permeate the various cultures, and which are liberally taken from the various backgrounds of our own Earth (there are reworkings of Norse legends, Arabic legends, and so on). Even in the very first book, which is more or less stand-alone and works as an introduction to the saga (the Blood Sword of the title is not even mentioned there), the amount of details that the authors manage to fit in is staggering.

The fantasy world of Blood Sword takes its inspiration from every fantasy archetype possible, from the Conan the Barbarian of Howard to the Elric saga of Moorcock (i.e. the twin swords of Life and of Death, or the relentless nemesis of the players, the sorcerer Icon the Ungodly). Moreover, Morris and Johnson manage to get inside the saga, without it feeling forced, the theme of the True Faith, which makes the quest of the players an holy mission to save the world from eternal damnation. This is however done without falling in the trap of making every encounter a manichean juxtaposition between good and evil. Au contraire, the world of Blood Sword has the same scale of gray and ambiguity that is present in our own world, so in more than one case the plot serves as the basis for quiet remarks on such themes as sacrifice, devotion, tolerance and free will. Even the contrast between the True Faith and the Ta'ashim religion (during a time of crusades, none the less!) resolves (even if only at a personal level) in a message of understanding and peaceful cooperation. Touching such deep themes inside a gamebooks saga, without making it feeling forced on the readers, is obviously elevating it above the competition.

That takes care of the book part of the gamebooks. What about the game? Also from this point of view, Blood Sword is a revolutionary concept. The series can be played alone, as a normal gamebook, with a single very powerful adventurer. But it can also be played in a group, similar to a role-playing game, where every player takes a different adventurer, up to 4 different people. More adventurers are there in the party, less powerful each single character is, but more options are opened in the approach to solving the encounters along the way. Each player chooses one between Warrior, Enchanter, Sage and Trickster, and every one receives different Special Abilities and has different merits and flaws. However, the most important characterization of the different classes comes from the text itself. In almost all cases when the party encounters a dilemma, each character can use his or her approach to solve the situation. The Enchanter has various useful spells, like Prediction, Detect Spells or Deliverance; the Sage has the ability of mind-reading, levitation and is a well of knowledge on every myth and legend in the world, the Trickster is the loveable rogue that manages to charm and swindle his way out of every situation; the Warrior uses his strenght and honour to take every problem head on. Every time a character wants to make his own way out of the situation, he has some dedicated paragraph that he must read, and there are some sections which he has to keep for himself, giving each character different informations about what is happening. Moreover, each of the characters has a very different background and personal history, and they have different knowledges of places and people everywhere they go in the world.

The rules are very complex. Each volume has more than twenty pages of rules, most of them describing the various characteristics of the different classes of adventurers. Each one has scores for Fighting Prowess (attacking in combat), Awareness (speed of thought and initiative), Psychic Ability (casting and resisting spells), Endurance (life points) and Damage (done in combat). A great deal of it is taken from a typical RPG pattern, like the use of map for visualizing the movement of the players and the enemies, and the rounds of combat in which every character can move, attack in melee or from a distance, prepare or cast a spell, or even flee. After every successful adventure, the characters receive experience points that make them advance in Rank and better their own abilities. The rules on magic for the Enchanter comprise a great deal of different spells, every one of them available from the beginning, but with different difficulties for the actual casting. The complexity of the rules is quite possible the only flaw in the series, but even then, is almost a necessity in order to make the game experience so fulfilling.

To wrap it up, Blood Sword is quite possibly the best gamebooks series ever written, and I happily recommend everybody to read it, possibly in a group of players to make the best of the experience.
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