Several years ago I stumbled upon a preview of a series called Destiny Quest. It promised a return to form for the fantasy gamebook. The Fighting Fantasy series by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone formed the backbone of my reading from the age of seven until eleven. Without them I may never have discovered roleplaying, wargames, and ultimately GeekDad. The prospect of recovering some of that nostalgia was incredibly enticing.
It was the middle of the night; my youngest son was only two months old. I wasn’t concentrating very hard when I fired off an email in response to a giveaway related to the book. The next morning a long email arrived in my mailbox. Weird.
It turned out the author of the Destiny Quest series was an old school friend and member of my college RPG group. It’s no surprise Michael J Ward ended up being the member of the group who would go on to write a book. Whilst most of us were studying science, he was into ‘the arts’ (whatever they were), and was often found working feverishly on novel treatments and screenplays. When we roleplayed, most of us were in it to kill the bad guys and steal their treasure. Mike was actually bothered by things like story, consistency and character progression.
All of this is evident in his Destiny Quest series. He has produced three hefty tomes each containing in the region of 800 playable entries. Each book stands alone in its own right, but there is an overreaching story arc that connects the three. The books are aimed at an 12+ audience, but Ward says he has readers as young as 9. They are certainly more bloody and frightening than the Fighting Fantasy books I was weaned on, but there is no language or sex in them that would cause anybody any concern.
Character progression through each book is intricate and excellent. These are not simple books where “YOU” are the hero, with puzzles to solve and monsters to fight. In these books your decisions matter. Much like modern digital RPGs, your decisions not only progress the story, they also affect the type of character you are playing. It’s this level of complexity that makes the books so weighty, in all senses of the word. I really enjoyed the Destiny Quest’s storytelling aspects. All three books have segments that are breathtaking in scope, with complex multiple pathways to wind your way through. Ward really does take the gamebook to new levels.
The only drawback with playing them, now that I’m a parent and not a child, is finding time and opportunity to roll those dice. I played some sections fully, but much like I used to as a schoolboy, I cheated in others. I simply didn’t have the time to properly defeat every monster. Nevertheless, it’s possible to cheat and still feel like you are building your character as you go. Character improvements come in the form of various items of equipment that improve one or more of your main stats: Brawn, Magic and Speed. There are countless variations of equipment giving rise to a myriad of character options. Ward’s system is elegant and simple, yet gives rise to great complexity. It may well be Destiny Quest’s crowning achievement.
Destiny Quest does feel like a revitalization of the gamebook. It’s a wonderful rejoinder for print media in the battle against digital gaming. It is perhaps a trifle unfortunate then, that I couldn’t help thinking as I played, “What this book needs is an app.”
Something that took away the dice, saved time, and removed choking hazards, would free up time for me to concentrate on the bits of the book I enjoyed the most. The story.
Stepping up to fulfil my needs is DestinyQuest Infinite. Created by Questforge, DestinyQuest Infinite sees the first of the DQ books, Legion of Shadow, converted into a playable digital format. The experience is a good one. It’s not as polished as something produced by a major games company, but it plays well, and above all, captures everything that is good about the books upon which it’s based. It handles all the dice rolls, boosts, and inventory cataloging, so that you don’t have to, meaning it’s quicker to progress and easier to concentrate on the story. The only thing it lacks is the ability to place your fingers in four entries at once, facilitating the undoing of a bad decision, but apparently you’re not meant to do that anyway…
Warning: Above Trailer has unexpected blood spattering 3 seconds in.
DestinyQuest Infinite’s version of the story is faithful to the original book, and is an excellent way to bring Michael J Ward’s storytelling prowess to an audience that is not time-rich enough to fully enjoy the printed versions. You can try a demo here.
If that still isn’t enough classic gamebook nostalgia for you, or you’d like to see Ward’s work in action, a new live-streaming Twitch channel, Page Flippers, has popped up, and their first streams will be playing Legion of Shadow. This father-daughter-led channel was borne out of a young girl’s desire to learn about roleplaying games and her father’s love of reading bedtime stories. This endeavor is the epitome of what being a GeekDad is all about, so do pop over and give them your support. Page Flippers Twitch channel can be found here, and on YouTube here. They have also made a comprehensive “How to play Destiny Quest” video.
It’s great to see Destiny Quest going from strength to strength. From humble self-published beginnings to people playing his books across the globe, Michael J Ward has created something special with his innovative and accessible series. So what next for Mike and Destiny Quest? Well, there’s still two more books to bring to the screen and there is hope for a fourth book to continue the saga. There are still plenty of pathways and dungeons to be explored in the Destiny Quest universe.
Three books are available in the Destiny Quest series, all available now, published by Gollancz. Michael J Ward is a long-time friend and I received free access to Act 1 of DestinyQuest Infinite in order to review.