Legendary Kingdoms: The Valley of Bones
Author: Oliver Hulme
Publisher: Spidermind Games
Page Count: 193
Available Formats: PDF & Print
PDF (DTRPG) – $15
Print (softcover)- $30
Print (deluxe hardcover) – $75
You awaken to find that you are being held captive, restrained in the back of a wagon bound for an unknown location. Gazing out through the bars, you see a vast desert on one side and the rocky crags of an unknown mountain on the other. Eventually, the wagon you are in arrives in Satdad, the seat of power for the tyrant Iron King. Gaunt-looking slavers rattle the cages and threaten you further with their spears. Welcome to Legendary Kingdoms, a choose-your-own-adventure solo roleplaying book series.
Originating in the late 1960s, choose your own adventure books had variable paths from the beginning to the end. However, they lacked roleplaying elements that would be seen in later series, like those published for Tunnels and Trolls beginning in the mid-1970s, and the more recognizable Fighting Fantasy series began in 1982. Both styles of adventuring have been used in a modest amount of book series over the decades, and each has its fans and detractors. Those with roleplaying elements have done okay for themselves, appealing to a particular type of reader. In contrast, the more traditional ones that lack roleplaying aspects have been mostly relegated to younger readers.
The Legendary Kingdom series, for which two books are available and four more are in development, is the latter type. Having its own roleplaying mechanics and decision-point options influenced by the outcome of dice rolls and character decisions, much like the 1980s Fighting Fantasy series. Legendary Kingdom was heavily inspired by the Fighting Fantasy series.
Note: Spidermind Games provided Rolling Boxcars with a review copy for this article. Please visit our Product Review Request page if you have an item you’d like Rolling Boxcars to review.
So, what exactly is Legendary Kingdoms? It is a fantasy adventure book series in which the reader takes a party of adventurers into a dangerous and adventure-filled land. Each book in the series covers a different area of the world. The party of adventures remains the same throughout, improving in skill and power, and discovering new people and places. At any time, you can move from one book to another by simply traveling off the edge of the map in your current book or through any number of fantastical means. There is no right or wrong to play. Like traditional roleplaying games, you are free to decide how the story unfolds. The Valley of Bones is book one in the Legendary Kingdom series, but play can begin in any of the six books when they are all released.
Legendary Kingdoms uses a simple D6 dice pool mechanic to resolve skill- or combat-oriented challenges. Each party member has five skills: Fighting, Stealth, Lore, Survival, and Charisma. These form the foundation of all resolution rolls. Skill checks come in two varieties—individual or team checks. Each entry calling for a skill roll (or combat) will provide the skill to be used, a difficulty rating (target number to meet or beat on each die), and the number of successes required to overcome the challenge. Using the specific skill, its value equals the number of dice in the pool. For team checks, two characters are chosen, forming the team, and their combined skill values form the basis of the dice pool. The dice are rolled and compared to the difficulty rating in the entry; those at or above this value are successes. Meeting or exceeding the required successes will drive the story to a specific entry; failing to overcome (or dying in combat) will move the story to another entry elsewhere in the book.
The process above is also used for combat, but there are a few changes. Combat is conducted in rounds, with the player’s characters always going first. Weapons may increase the Fighting value of the character. Attacks are made on a one-on-one basis. Entries requiring combat will provide the enemy’s attack, defense, and health values. The attack value represents the number of dice in the enemy’s attack dice pool and the value needed for success. The defense value is the same as the difficulty rating noted above; characters score a success by meeting or beating this number. Hits (reduction of health points) may be mitigated if the target is wearing armor through armor saves. The armor value represents the number of dice rolled for the armor save; success is a 4, 5, or 6s. Each success reduces the number of hits by one. Hits are subtracted from the target’s health value.
Additional mechanical elements worth noting are spells, equipment, and codes. Some characters can cast magical spells, which are stored in their spellbook. There are four types of spells (Adventure, Combat, Mass Combat, and Sea Combat); each “tag” dictates when the spell can be cast—some may have multiple tags, such as Adventure/Combat. A spell must be charged to be cast and becomes drained as soon as it is cast. A spell’s description includes the recharge cost, a monetary value. Spells can only be recharged when staying at an inn; the recharge cost represents the material costs involved in preparing the spell. Characters may carry no more than ten items on their person. In situations where a character exceeds ten items, they must either drop one or more of them or transfer items to their “vault” via the Magic Cabinet spell. Lastly, codes are used to keep track of events that happen in your adventures. When an entry directs, circle the indicated code. Sometimes, having a specific code will drive a situation’s outcome or change the story’s direction.
The Valley of Bones
The Valley of Bones is an interesting story, but unfortunately, I cannot give you a sense of the scale or scope of the entire unfolding story. There are just too many decision points and codes (remember those from above) that drive the story in different ways. However, I can tell you some of how my version of the story has unfolded, but I won’t give too many details so as not to spoil anything.
Starting with The Valley Bones, all characters find themselves captives of slavers who send them into a coliseum-like arena to fight. This blood sport is for the benefit of the Iron King and the loyal elite assembled. Characters’ actions and reactions drive the plot forward, and in my case, I was lucky to survive the arena, but my characters did not emerge unscathed. While recovering in the pens under the arena structure, we had the good fortune of encountering several individuals that would eventually aid us in escaping.
During our escape attempt, which was almost an abysmal failure, we ran into a young woman we had met earlier, another slave. She inspired and spurred us to help her and her faithful followers. Making our way out of Saltdad, the city of our enslavement, we travel to nearby locations, trying to find our place in the world and further the young woman’s goals.
My team of four characters traveled to several cities, the latest of which led to the senseless death of one (RIP, Tasha). They are working on several different lines of inquiry and action plans, all in an effort to aid the young woman.
The story of my remaining characters… to be continued…
The emerging story has been an interesting experience thus far. The plot lines that have begun to evolve are getting more interesting and providing me with some rather challenging decisions. A misstep can have far-reaching consequences, but a smart and perhaps bold decision (and a lucky roll) can dynamically change where the story is headed. Like a good novel, I want to see what happens next.
The story’s beginning is very much a railroading experience. This design choice appears to be taken as a means of teaching the rules in a measured and programmed way. It isn’t until the characters break from their imprisonment that the guide rails seem to widen, allowing for more choices, until they fade away completely.
I loaned the second copy of The Valley of Bones to a trusted friend and supporter of the blog; her experience is the polar opposite of mine. She is an avid solo gamer keen on new options that provide engaging and fun experiences. She commented that she quickly became bogged down in the coliseum experience, which is meant to teach the rules. And while she learned the rules, she felt the game was too scripted and railroaded her in directions she would not have opted for if playing a more traditional roleplaying game. Stymied, she never progressed any further as a result.
As with all games, the player experience will vary.
Having been provided all three versions of this book, both soft and hardcover and digital, I can comment on the quality of all versions. Both physical versions are similar in quality. They are each printed on a similar weight, high-quality paper. The softcover version features a full-color cover with a perfect bound binding, while the hardcover has a linen-finished case wrap cover with copper debossing of the title and author’s name. It also comes with a full-color dust jacket and a sewn-in ribbon bookmark. The story prose is well-written and engaging, and the editing is on point.
The book’s interior is black and white, with a limited amount of black-line artwork strategically placed throughout to effect. With its justified text, the two-column layout makes for an enjoyable reading experience. In the digital version, all decision options that point toward a numbered entry are fully hyperlinked, making navigation easy.
This type of game may not be for everyone, but for those that enjoy the choose-your-own-adventure games with a roleplaying element, I think you’ll find an enjoyable game experience here. The story is engaging but not over the top, which is what you want with this type of game—a moment to make informed decisions. The mechanics are simple, quick to learn, and intuitive after just a few skill checks. Interested readers will need to be okay with railroaded experience at the beginning. It is used both to teach core mechanics and set the stage for the story itself. Still, it seems to be a necessary evil, given the plot as I am coming to understand it.
The Valley of Bones presents beautifully for a book with minimal artwork and a simple layout. It is clean, clear, and easy to read. The digital version is nicely done, the hyperlinking making all the difference in the play experience.
I look forward to delving back into The Valley of Bones to see what happens next to my intrepid heroes. Watch here for a review of future books in the series.
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