Ildre is a land of monsters, werewolves, vampires, shapeshifters... There are creatures so weird and terrifying people don’t even have names for them. They dwell these lands, they are part of the daily lives of the common folk, and they kill them slowly, one by one. Lycanthropy and vampirism are not something supernatural or the result of an awful spell. They are diseases which erupt episodically or sometimes in epidemic proportions. Most commonly “healed” with metal and fire rather than herbs or potions.
Author: Eric Bert
Published in: Bulgarian
Publisher: Gamebooks Association (SKI)
Date: December, 2015
Sections (Episodes): 146
The game has a unique system. Instead of following a single plot, your goal is to hire heroes and send them on quests they need to complete for you. Thus you have several story lines to play. Many other gamebooks are designed in a way that doesn’t let you read much of them because of how they branch as well as the volume and format they are published in. As a result your gameplay ends rather quickly. However, you get to play most of the episodes of Heroes. You send your heroes to complete a mission but some of them die, abandon the mission and leave you, or they’re just not able to succeed for one reason or another. Like so, you often get to play a quest more than once with a hero of your choice, which results in a different experience each time.
What is more, the fact that every hero has their own story and agenda to follow - something you need to take into account when offering them a mission - adds up to the uniqueness of the game, as well as to the level of difficulty and engagement of it.
I learn that I am a powerful wizard who finds himself in the land of Ildre - a land full of monsters and creatures, some of which are even more hideous and dangerous than the average werewolf or vampire that are said to be inhabiting this place. It is a land of legends speaking of blood-drinking creatures, dark witches and spectres, dwelling the forests. Behind these legends, however, are real tales - terrible stories of mothers killing their own children because the latter have fangs longer than usual; horrifying stories of noblemen who are burned alive in their mansions by their own servants, suspicious of them having closed a deal with some invisible dark forces. Ildre is a twisted land of horror and perverted terror, and I am in it to undo this wrong.
The author informs me that I am a wizard who’s been wandering the world, fighting evil. I suppose that I must have heard about what is happening in Ildre, hence the reason I am here. Even though I must have been places far worse than this, it won’t be an easy task to deal with this, because a mysterious curse conveniently prevents me from using my almighty magic (makes you wonder what good I am then). But there is another way in which I can find the source of evil and destroy it. I can hire young lads and gals as mercenaries to complete the quests I cannot go to myself - they will be my heroes. Therefore, the first place I head for when entering Ildre is naturally the local tavern - an emblematic place which often holds most of the answers one needs (though much more often it holds the drunkards and dangers one doesn’t need).
You can hire two types of folks to help you - adventurers and heroes. You start with 20 gold pieces (gp) which is money you need to pay your ‘mercenaries’ when appointing them a mission.
Adventurers: once they accomplish a mission, they won’t take a new one; not to worry, there’re available to hire all the time so this rule doesn’t really affect your game with them
Payment: they want 2 gp if they lack skills, and 5 gp if they have one of the following: fighting, diplomacy, seeking or thievery (you decide which to attribute to them, depending on the mission you send them to)
Items: if you equip them with one or more items you deem necessary for the mission’s success, consider these items lost as adventurers never return them - them stealing curs!
Heroes, unlike adventurers, have specific skills and each hero has different ones. Therefore, the gamebook very helpfully provides me with a character sheet where I can see more details of the heroes I meet in the tavern and are ready to help me:
Heroes: you can use them as many times as you want for your missions, as long as you can pay each time
Payment: 5-10 gp in average, but each hero has different skills which means a different price; also, the 1st time is usually free - no ‘Buy one get one free’ though, sorry!
Payment alternative: if out of money, you can pay with items (the price of each is written next to it)
Items: heroes grow fond of the items you give them, and they keep them, so you know they will have them next time when sent a mission - smart move, I’ll use it!
Missions: I begin with a list of missions that I set for myself as I try to learn more about what is happening around Ildre. Next to each mission is noted whether it is: easy, relatively easy or difficult. Throughout the game it is possible that more missions are ‘unlocked’ as I get closer to revealing who or what is behind the curse on these lands. Should I fail a mission, I can always send a new mercenary and try again - so I better be able to afford them!
I start the mission with a few items, zero code words, and, what is worse, zero reputation! I need to prove my worthiness to the people of Ildre - these are people, living in fear and suspicion, so the only way to increase my reputation is by successfully accomplishing my quests. The more my reputation grows the more inclined will the locals be in providing me with items, information and help.
In order to unravel this whole story I decide to stay at the town’s tavern for a while. I’ve been here before so the owner knows me and helps me stay under cover. People here are suspicious of everyone and I don’t want to attract any attention yet. I spend my days hiding in churches, listening to monks’ conversation in secret, then talking to common folk, trying to learn more about the unfortunate events that have been happening, but nothing seems to provide me with real information. That is when I decide I have to look elsewhere, thus marking new places on the map where I might find something - places a.k.a. my first missions.
The locals (easy)
This mission is not a fighting one - it’s about negotiating. I will need a mercenary who possesses charm and knows how to use it so to extract information from the locals.
The Order of Monster Slayers (easy)
The members of the order are fanatically pursuing anything that is out of the ordinary and due to their drastic, brutal measures they are no more wanted than the objects of their own hunts. What is more, they have developed paranoia themselves to such an extent that you will need someone really convincing to incline the keepers of the archives share the many documents on the monster encounters the Order has had (information you can definitely use), or you will need someone skilful enough to sneak inside and steal the documents.
The Count’s Castle (easy)
In the castle I am likely to discover documents with important information about Ildre. As far as I know, the whole family of the count is murdered by a vampire hunter, and the building is now desolate. There might be some creatures which have settled down in it during the years, but they can hardly be dangerous.
Baba Yaga (relatively easy)
There are many witches in Ildre but most of them are merely old women who know how to perform one or two charms and a defensive spell. The witch of the witches, however, is still in Ildre - Baba Yaga. She has been burnt, impaled and killed in various other ways only for her to return again a decade later, or even the next day should she chooses to do so! The chances of your mercenary being transformed into a toad are big but Baba Yaga is someone who can be negotiated with as long as her company possesses charm.
Shooting Party (hard)
As trivial as it may be for Ildre, there’s a monster terrorizing one of the nearby villages. The creature is unknown in nature but they say it leaves traces which are as big as those of a huge wolf. Although killing it won’t help you get to the bottom of this, no one will mind if you take care of this pest that gives no rest to the poor villagers.
I see all my quests are easy and I have only one that is marked as ‘hard’ so I make the sensible choice to go for it - #feelignbravetoday! However, I realize that if I go for the second hardest - Baba Yaga - I can use my Silver-tongued hero for this quest and will pay him nothing because he accepts his first mission for free (unlike the other heroes on my list). Also, the mission is marked as ‘Negotiations’ and the hero I am choosing is a diplomat. Perfect! I’m not in a rush to spend my money, so off to the old witch’s hut he goes!
The witch looks horrifying of course and freezes the blood in the young lad’s veins but the Silver-tongued has charm which can affect even this old hag. She succumbs to his sweet words and after listening to his story she shares a tale of her own. Baba Yaga speaks of old times, long before Ildre was cursed - times when magic flew everywhere and there was balance in the world. One day there was an explosion of an unknown, dark energy, hatred, perversion and rage - an explosion of everything that was evil and wicked. The world changed that day but that was not all. Soon after that, magic began to loosen its power over the world, and that helped weakening the grip of the dark force which had taken over. When magic gradually vanished, everything had logic once more and balance set in. Nevertheless, for reasons still a mystery to all, Ildre remained the sinister place it had transformed into. That is why she moved here, Baba Yaga confides in the Silver-tongued, to find out why this was. The witch tells the young man he needs to climb to the top of the highest mountain and find there the entrance of a cave where a staircase of steps many thousands long will wait for him. Once he descends it, he will find all the answers he seeks. With that she sends him on his way, having raised more questions than she answered.
As I never expected to have half of the mystery unveiled after my first choice, I’m happy I am onto something, but, what’s even more, I feel awesome as I unlocked one more mission - The cave at the end of the world (type: search / difficulty: difficult), and one more hero - The Wizard (a seeker and a fighter)! I note my Baba Yaga mission as successful and choose to go to the cave I just unlocked.
NO WAY! What is up with the wizards and witches’ society?! The Wizard I wanted to send requires some crystal skull object that I don’t have, and he was the perfect choice for the Cave quest - he was a seeker and the quest is a seeking one, and he is also a fighter, and I bet this will prove to be useful down that cave!
Anyway... I have the Mnemonist who is a seeker too. I send him to this adventure and I do well to set my eyes on him. Going up the mountain, then right into the cave’s entrance and way down the endless staircase seems to be no obstacle for my mercenary. He is exhausted, and giving the way his character is drawn in the gamebook - so feeble and fragile - I wonder how this peasant is still alive. Seriously, look at him:
Despite the way he looks, however, he continues on his way into the unknown when he reaches a place so beautiful one may think they’re in heaven. Greenery surrounds beautiful waterfalls and rooks whose rumbling of the water is only accompanied by the gentle tweet of birds. The Mnemonist, on the other hand, knows that there is no Eden - there are only monsters lurking in the dark, awaiting their time. That is why he persists the enchantment of this unusual place, and what might have been the end of other mercenaries he leaves behind his back, moving forward.
Then he finally finds something - a woman at the end of the cave, sitting on the ground in labor position, holding a box in her hands. She gives a pleading cry and calls for you to approach her. Then she reveals herself to you - the woman tells you that she was once loved by a god whom she didn’t feel the same for and was therefore punished for it. Because she had feelings for another, the god decided to punish her by giving her a mysterious box, telling her never to open it. As he saw, however, that his evil plan would never take place due to her conscientiousness in following the god’s order, he tricked her into opening the cursed box. Then all the evil and wickedness which were entrapped in it were unleashed free into our world. The woman managed to close the box and keep inside what was left of all the malice and was then sentenced to spend an eternity here in the cave, with the box still with her.
As she finishes her story, the woman hands my Mnemonist the box. He outstretches his hands to take it (‘No, you idiot!’) and as he lays his fingers upon it, the woman suddenly vanishes in thin air. Right before she disappears she says: ‘He is gone now but he left his son... our son...dwell these lands, at the place where we first met, the place where the bear and the salmon meet...’
The Mnemonist comes back to me and tells me everything. The moment he finishes his story, I start going through my books and learn that there is a place in Ildre still referred to as ‘the place where the bear meets the salmon’. It is where the river springs from the mountain - a place called The Black Moors, or yet another mission I just unlocked.
Okay, let us make a quick analysis - I am looking for the reason why Ildre is cursed and full of demons, and I just discovered that the son of a vengeful god is in The Black Moors here in Ildre. On top of this, I have what seems to be Pandora’s box in my possession (did I mention that I wrote down the code word ‘Pandora’s box’?) so all I need to do is go to The Black Moors.
Then the author interferes! ‘If you have unlocked the mission ”The Black Moors” but lack the code word ”oblivion”, go to episode 79’ - that can’t be a good episode, I tell you. Episode 79 tells me that I cannot sleep well - tossing and turning the whole night I look like I am fighting something within me which finally overcomes my resistance because in the morning I don’t remember having discovered The Black Moors at all. This mission, the writer informs me, will be unlocked again if I manage to unlock it again somehow. That twist!
Alright, so far I have two successful missions and I have all my money which is great. I think I was lucky to unlock these episodes, hidden deep in the after-fifties pages of the gamebook. I gained valuable information, not to mention new heroes. Yet, I cannot help but think there are small treasures, such as objects and information, that are hidden in the first set of missions I somehow neglected. Therefore, I will go back to something easy, choosing to send The Bandit to the Order of Monster Slayers.
I reluctantly pay him 5 gold pieces and send him off. He enters the fortress of the Order and, looking for the archives, he wanders down the corridors and opens a door which in the classical tradition of any good, self-respecting fantasy is an absolute mistake! Bricks falling off the ceiling, arrows flying toward him and fire and maces darting in his direction are only the essential starter pack the Order uses to greet its uninvited visitors. However, I am lucky that I followed my intuition and chose none other but the Bandit for this quest!
(Again, in the ancient traditions of playing a gamebook, my intuition had me double-check if the Bandit was a safe choice indeed. Won’t happen again, I promise. But, please, appreciate my honesty, it’s a damn hard game!)
This hero makes a great choice for this quest. He may be a bandit but he’s no brainless bag of muscles as one may think - after studying the habits of the Order for days, as well as all its passages and entrances, he realizes he needs to come up with something creative to use as a distraction. That is why he hires an amateur who tries to sneak in and is right now being the victim of all the devious traps of the Order who don’t take long to come and seize him before the bandit’s eyes. He watches from his hideout the guards taking care of the poor intruder and leaving the room after that.
Undisturbed, the Bandit takes all documents and maps he can lay his hands on after the guards go away, then brings everything to me. What is the best, however, is that he shares with me that there were more secrets he learned, and more objects he saw. For another 10 gold pieces he can go back and bring me this information, which is not the great part obviously - the man is extorting me!, BUT I am willing to pay. I do so and in a couple of days I am presented with the Forbidden Book (a new item for me to note in my character sheet). The Bandit’s little extra quest unlocked a new mission, called The Sect of the New Beginning. Another perk from it is that I now have the code word ‘oblivion’ the lack of which prevented me once from going to the Black Moors, whose existence I no longer remember. And last but not least, there is one more thing I gained - I unlocked The Black Moors again! Best 10 gold pieces spent!
No time to spare (feeling dramatic, hearing drums in my ears, blood rushing in my head, my pulse is racing) so I check who takes the cheapest! The Witch only needs to be paid an item worth 3 gold pieces because she takes no money. That suits me perfectly and I give her an occult medallion (2 gp) and a reed flew (1 gp), then I send her to The Black Moors - just the seeking mission for the seeker she claims to be.
The Witch goes to the Black Moors and the most surrealistic thing happens. This place filled with forces far beyond the understanding of my hero decides to reveal part of its secrets to her. An illusion of a city long lost emerges from beneath her feet and right before her eyes. Standing there she sees its past glory and the wonder it once hosted - seven big statues, made of marble and engraved with strange symbols. The statues were a true wonder back in their days - each symbol contained knowledge about one thing or another, and all the symbols of a statue represented a seventh of the world’s knowledge. Thus, for example, on one of the statues she finds all that was known about words, literature, poetry and theatre; another contained knowledge about numbers, construction and architecture. All of a sudden everything disappears. The Witch sees nothing but the murky moors in front of her. And then, as if driven by madness, she starts digging into what must have been the footstall of one of the huge monuments, thrusting her fingers in the soft soil, thirsty to quench her thirst for knowledge. Gradually, she loses her mind, and I lose both her and The Black Moors because I forget once more that it exists.
I have the feeling that The Black Moors is a mission which is vital for unveiling the mystery around Ildre - it always slips away and now who knows when I’ll unlock it again. With this in mind, I look for another mission I can complete and send The Silver-tongued to The Calm Field (a mission the Witch unlocked earlier). There he stumbles upon a people of little fairies who possess dangerous magic. Being good in negotiating he makes his way through them with sweet talking and they even advise him to go to the Cave at the end of the world where he will find answers (did it - there weren’t that many answers!). I know I made this sound like a short episode but the fairy mission actually took some time to play. At the end, it unlocked me one more hero and gave me 2 Reputation points which, giving the time I spent on it, is not very useful and is exactly not what I needed to unlock The Black Moors!!!!!1
All right... calming down I check out the new hero I won to my side - the Knight Templar who seeks an artefact his Order calls God’s Tear. He promises to accomplish the mission The Sect of The New Beginning for free, and who am I to disagree?! Well, let’s face it - I am a man with 5 coins in the pocket (you were not counting them, right? Well, I did, and now it’s just 5) and five exclamation marks in his head, so be sure that I accept his offer.
The Templar goes to the hideout of the sect which is in the tunnels of the old mines of Ildre. Going deeper, he reaches a big hall that has an altar in the middle of it. However, this is not the only thing in the hall - many of the sect’s members are there too. The moment they notice his presence, they all pounce on him. He seems weak to push them away until he looks at the altar and recognizes the artefact he is looking for. At this moment the strength he gains is indescribable, and making his way through his adversaries, he reaches the small, round object. Taking it in his hands summons the souls of all those who have died because of their faith - the white ghosts of common folks, priests and even templars surround my mercenary, and surrounding him like a defensive wall they repel all who still try to advance on him. At the end, he is the only one standing in the hall and is back to his normal self, the round globe still glowing, safely guarded in his grip.
I have to say that all this felt like a waste-of-a-time distraction from my mission because it only lead to another two Reputation points added to the two I already had, plus it gained me the code word ‘mystic’. But as I need answers rather than more mysteries I am not impressed. Things got slightly better with the next sentence though which rewarded me with the free-of-charge services of the Templar one more time - so thrilled and mostly grateful is he with the success of this mission and his round globe that he offers me to fulfil one more mission for free.
Great but I only have 3 missions - Shooting Party (which probably involves a werewolf so I need a silver dagger - an object I gave to the Silver-tongued who will now want 5 pieces for the task if I choose to send him, and this is my last money; giving it to him means end of the game for me because I cannot hire any more heroes or adventurers after that); The Count’s Castle (Count who? Count Dracula? Will I need anything silver again? Is using the Silver-tongued and my last money my only choice again?); and The Locals which is an easy mission, I guess - go around and ask peasants tell you more about what has been going on in Ildre (giving money for something so simple, on the other hand, is insane; but my other choice for this mission would be using the free services of the Templar, which is also crazy as he can be much more valuable elsewhere).
Things started to look messy...
Anyway, decisions must be made. It may be a waste, but as a good merchant I decide to save some money (okay, I know I’m a wizard, not a merchant, but I can still save some money, all right). Templar, I command thee to go to the locals! My mercenary goes to a temple where he finds a man sitting in front of a small rock which serves the role of an altar. The Templar sits next to him and for a while both remain silent. The other man then asks him of his story and listens to what my mercenary has to share. When the other man speaks again he seems to be in some sort of trance with an unusual gleam in his eyes. He tells my Templar that Evil has settled down in the Moors and controls the whole of Idlre from there. That it is stronger than any weapon or magic, and only God can fight it. With these words he sends the Templar away.
This information proves to be even more useful than I thought because it unlocks The Black Moors one more time, and after the Templar gives me his report I am ready to send another one of my heroes to The Moors - I choose the Metamorph (I haven’t used him yet and I just realized he costs me nothing!).
The Metamorph goes to The Moors and feels the powerful energy flowing in this place. He is, however, not affected by the illusions it tries to play on him and goes deeper than my Witch did. Reaching The Heart of the Moors (the name of a new mission I unlocked) he sees a creature which looks as if made of mud - it has grown to become one with the moors and one cannot tell apart its form but can sense it very strongly. It has a powerful grip on the Metamorph’s mind and emotions. He decides to return to me instead of risking it by making a move. Telling me everything about his encounter with the creature of the moors gives me a chance to prepare better for my next meeting with the son of the vengeful god.
I read a book on this sort of creatures, coming to know they are called Children of the Gods. They are said to spread horror by entering people’s dreams. Feeding on chaos, fear, and hatred these creatures change the lands they dwell in order to quench their hunger. In time they grow stronger as everything around them collapses and is destroyed.
How to kill such creatures is not something I find in the book. Despaired, I am asked if I have more than 3 Reputation points, and if I have met the princess - "Yes, I do" and "No, I haven’t". Nevertheless, luck is on my side because the Metamorph’s mission unlocks a new hero - The Princess.
Finally, I got to the bottom of this! Now, I need to find a way to destroy the creature. Stats so far: lots of heroes and adventurers to play, only 5 gold pieces to spare and 3 missions to play as one of them is crucial - The Heart of the Moors!
The missions I have will give me either objects or Reputation points. Information is out of question as I have enough, and I don’t really need reputation anymore. I decide to ignore the possibility of a good loot and handle the situation with the objects I already have. Thus I choose the Princess (a diplomat and a fighter) who will complete her first mission for free, and send her to the Heart of the Moors (type - fight; difficulty - impossible). I boost her with Pandora’s box, the Forbidden book and a magic ring to light her way (all are items I was initially given, or found throughout the game).
Hallucinations and illusions of all sorts pour over the Princess as she goes deeper into The Black Moors, but her mind is stronger so she doesn’t let herself be weakened or stopped by them. What is more, she has the code word/phrase ‘path through the moors’ which is the reason why she bravely moves forward into these wicked parts of Ildre.
As my mercenary makes her way, it takes her strength and will far beyond those of any human to overcome the mental attack she is subjected to. Having to fight each of her vibes which scream at her to run away from this place, she keeps making one step after another, exposing herself to a force she cannot comprehend.
And here is where it gets tricky. At the end of this episode I am presented with my last set of choices. The author asks me so specific questions that I realize how impossible to win, yet how great, this game is:
Who have you sent to this mission:
- If it is the Mnemonist or the Wizard, and one of them has both the Globe of Time and The Forbidden Book, go to episode 2.
- If it is the Beast Woman and she has a Dragon Dagger or Fur Mantle, or if you have chosen the Hunter who is wearing a Fur Mantle, go to episode 19.
- If the hero is the Princess and she has the code word "heritage" along with a Branch of the Tree of Life, go to episode 140.
The list goes on with 4 more choices which are described in no less detail. Despite the fact that I have the Princess, I miss the other inventory in the instructions in order to go to episode 140, so I go to episode 104 instead as the book tells me to ("In all other cases go to episode 104").
They tell me there that a mere human stands no chance against such power. Should one show inhumane bravery, incredible luck and iron will, only then will they have the advantage of mere seconds more than they would have otherwise in order to do anything, which cannot even begin to compare to the immense power of their adversary. The battle is lost before it even started, I realize.
Days pass and there is no sign of the Princess. Neither do I hear from her, nor do I have any idea whether she is alive. I move on to spending my last 5 gold pieces with another one of my trusted mercenaries who accomplishes one of the few left quests successfully, but this doesn’t unlock the Heart of the Moors, as I hoped it would. I cannot afford to hire any more heroes or adventurers, and I cannot do anything myself.
Therefore, I regretfully read my last sentences of the book which tell me that in the eyes of the locals I seem more and more like the cursed man I began to think myself I am. It is time I left here and maybe come back in a few years when the memory of my quests fades away and there is chance that people accept me once more. Until then, the author believes that I need to rebuild my reputation. He kindly informs me that it looks like there are dragons in the north - something which should be no problem for me, and even more, something that will lift my spirit, as he advises. All right then. The north awaits me as it seems so I get up early, pack my things and set off toward the breaking dawn.
Number of combats: I could not find official information on that but I personally had the big one at the end. Combats are of course text-based and it’s important who is the hero you play with at the moment the combat takes place (not every hero makes a good choice for every battle), as well as what items you have equipped him/her with. This time I had one combat but I had another attempt when I had about 3.
Replayability: You will have all the replayability you want with this read, trust me. Constantly unlocking more heroes and missions, the gamebook gives you hours of replayability.
Artwork: If I need to be completely honest, I have seen better, but it does not mean I did not like it. The artwork is very pleasant. It consists of nice drawings, evenly dispersed throughout the book.
Fairness: I think the system is fair enough. There is no throwing of dice or other ways which count on sheer luck to get you through the missions. Everything depends on your choices and how well you know your heroes and missions - the better you know them and read the signs, the more reasoned choices you will make i.e. the bigger the chances to succeed.
Writing style: The writing style of Eric Berth is incredibly intriguing. I have read some gamebooks which tend to focus on the story and have really long paragraphs where no choice is presented to you. This is fine, and if the story is good, it is worth playing / reading such a gamebook, but the gameplay of such writings is usually poor.
On the other hand, I have played gamebooks with very intensive gameplay - a lot of choices with lots of checkups you need to do. Then you can really feel you are playing a game, but I have always missed a good writing with them. This comes as no surprise to me because achieving a good balance between writing and gameplay is quite a challenge. However, that is where I think Heroes stands.
Personal impression: This is one of the really good gamebooks I have played. The reasons for that I stated above - great writing and gameplay, great replayability and very good art. In other words, all the things I am looking for in a gamebook.
1 “Five exclamation marks, the sure sign of an insane mind.” ― Terry Pratchett, Reaper Man