Review: Pen & Forge Productions – Discovery and Deliverance (Lost City of the Dwarves)


Discovery (Part 1) | Deliverance (Part 2)
Discovery and Deliverance are parts 1 and 2 of the new gamebook series Lost City of the Dwarves, written by Christopher J.A. Young and published by Pen & Forge Productions.
By The Warden
Lost City of the Dwarves, Part I: Discovery

Learn more about Lost City of the Dwarves here
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Find other Lost City of the Dwarves products here

No one has heard from the Dwarves in nearly one hundred years, long enough for them to have become myth to the next generation. Yet one wizard knows of a route leading directly into the heart of the mountains fabled to have been their home, tempting you with stories of hidden treasures and legendary tales of your exploits upon your return. Even though that same wizard has brought you nothing but trouble before, there’s something about the fire in his words and the conviction in his tone to urge you on. Before you know it, you’re stranded at the doorstep to the ancient Dwarven kingdom and thrust waist deep in a war with the Goblins and Rhodents who seek nothing more than total domination of the world under the stone.

Lost City of the Dwarves is a two-part gamebook experience, written by Christopher J.A. Young, utilizing familiar aspects of the d20 system to create a familiar and expansive gaming experience. Tapping into the familiar trope of dungeon crawling, this tale goes further and focuses on the story and the character to create a vivid and revealing exploit where the hero – you – lives and dies by your actions, not by your choices. It’s as much a pleasure to read as it is to play and makes full use of the gamebook format, including hyperlinked sections – which is something you don’t find in a lot of PDF gamebooks, believe it or not – random magic items, bartering, level increases, and optional rules for sneak attacks, surprise, and more. The story begins in Part I: Discovery as you struggle to help the Dwarves claim what they need to rebel against their invaders and just as you reach Level 5, it’s time to move on to Part II: Deliverance and lead the Dwarves to freedom. As your strength grows, the danger rises and it’s up to you to make things right in this world of darkness and stone. It’s the right blend of traditional d20 roleplaying and gamebook action to create a unique and enjoyable experience that will definitely entertain you for hours. It is, after all, a total of 489 pages.
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There’s nothing like a good gamebook to sate that gaming appetite when your friends are nowhere in sight and you absolutely need to roll dice. Gamebooks have been around since the classic Fighting Fantasy series created by Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson and they have made a comeback over the past few years in both their original format and converted into tablet devices. Lost City of the Dwarves delivers the classic gamebook experience and extends it with the familiar d20 ruleset to provide a familiar tone and feel for D&D fans the world over.

As a recent fan of the genre, I leapt at the chance to write a review for a gamebook for the sheer reason that I get to play a gamebook. Even in this age of Hangouts and near instant roleplaying, sometimes there’s nothing better than simply sitting down at your desk with a gamebook and some dice. Lost City of the Dwarves provides what it promises and more. So much more that it takes two volumes to cover the entire story of a lone warrior stumbling onto the fabled Lost City of the Dwarves and aiding them against the underground threats that have held these proud people back for close to a hundred years. Far from a traditional dungeon crawl, this is a story involving characters, camaraderie, and combat with fierce creatures. You don’t need a map to figure out where you’re going, it’s about what you’ve done and what’s yet to come. And you don’t go it alone. Aiding your pursuits is your new comrade, Hatchet, able to give you a helping hand and advice along the way. You can trade items in exchange for new ones, use potions to increase your chances of success and survival, and live with your consequences instead of watching the story come to an end.

For me, everything I tend to dislike in gamebooks was never a factor, and that alone gives it a big thumbs up. Even if I didn’t survive an encounter with a giant spider after falling into a pit trap ambush and my dice decided they had enough for one night. Lost City of the Dwarves found a way to combine all the beloved features of roleplaying games and gamebooks without getting bogged down with heavy handed details like character creation, excessive rules, and death by choices. As someone who’s ended quite a few journeys simply by choosing left instead of right, I really appreciate games where death does not come by choice alone.

Add to that the hyperlinked sections – just click on the number of your choice and you’re there, no page turning required – thorough explanation of the rules at the beginning of each book and story-based level expansion, you have a very welcome addition to the genre. Your accomplishments are not tracked by reaching the end of the book, so even if you die by misfortune and bad rolls, you’ve still done something with your character’s life before their unfortunate death. If there was anything missing from these books, it would be hyperlinks to the rules sections and appendices (such as when it’s time to roll for magic items) simply to keep things simple and max out the technology, but it’s a very minor request of fuzziness. Lost City of the Dwarves is a great hybrid of tradition and creativity, one that I plan to dive into again and again until I stand victorious with the Dwarves a free people and my good friend, Hatchet, by my side. I hope.

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