Today, I’m going to be reviewing Maelorum, Volume 1, by William Fincher. The book launched in 2012 with the first of two successful Kickstarter campaigns. The second campaign brought a reprint, along with a hardcover version and some fun extras. William has proven that he can run and deliver a successful Kickstarter campaign. I say this because the campaign for Volume 2 is coming October 10, 2014.
This review is something that’s been on my to-do list for way too long. Specifically, since I worked through the book after backing it the first time. And with Volume 2 on the way, I wanted to make sure people were aware of its existence. So with apologies to Mr. Fincher for the tardiness, let’s get this rolling.
The story of Maelorum centers around rumors of the return of goblins, and their search for a mythical stone called the Heart of Maelorum. You play one of three characters that is sent to the Black Cloister, the hidden enclave of the wizards, to determine the truth of the rumors. But something has happened in the Cloister, because you find it empty.
If this gamebook has a single strength, it’s the story. It’s worth replaying just to experience the different perspectives of the 3 characters. Each one is on the quest for a different reason. And William ties the threads like a master weaver.
Rules & Game-play
Each of the three characters also represents a different level of challenge. The Knight has the best equipment, and the most health out of all of them. The Rogue is somewhere in between, and the Wizard is frail, but can cast powerful spells. As you play, you will also pick up an ally. This is one of the other characters, but it depends on who you are playing as.
There are six main stats that you will keep track of for the characters through your adventure: Health, Magic, Damage, Defense, Persona, and Intelligence. As you defeat enemies and complete tasks, the characters will gain experience and go up levels, which will boost your stats. The first four are easy to understand. Health is how much damage you take. Magic determines how many spells you cast. Damage, how much you hurt enemies. And Defense negates some of the damage done to you.
The remaining two aren’t as useful. Persona is the only one that is not increased as you go up levels. It has one use that impacts the plot, so I won’t spoil it. Intelligence has a use with traps, but I never used it, so it didn’t feel important.
Combat is simple. The main character takes a turn, followed by your ally (if you have one). Then the enemy attack your ally, and then you. All damage is calculated with a single die. Your character and ally need to roll a 2 or better to succeed in attacking, casting a spell, or using an item. The rules for your enemy are explained on the page.
There is something refreshing about the simplicity of the combat. I have played, and enjoyed, other gamebooks with more complex combat rules. But this one allows you to read and focus more on the story. Combat doesn’t take a long time, which allows for shorter gaming sessions.
I also enjoyed that each enemy is a section of two pages: the description and picture, and the stats and combat rules. This allows enemies to be reused. So, that Wraith that you just defeated will probably pop back up as another enemy later. This is used a number of times for traps and other encounters. In a game like this, it makes sense, and worked well.
One thing that can be hard to balance is the item distribution. You don’t want enemies or the player character too over powered, or under powered for that matter. Maelorum walks the line through the whole story, and only stumbles at the end. The characters receive a major power boost that reminds me of those Saturday morning adventure shows when I was a kid. But in this case, it took me out of the story for a moment, and that’s not an ideal thing when you’re reading a story. To be fair, the enemy that I was facing was a lot stronger than other enemies as well.
I should mention that this book has full color illustrations, all done by William Fincher. Yes, he’s not just the author of this story. William’s style fits perfectly with the book and adds to the richness of the tale that is being told. You can tell that this book has been a labor of love, and not just in the prose. He has worked hard on refining his craft through the art as well, and it shows.
With the second Kickstarter campaign, William created some new extras for the book. The two that I want to mention are the map and the cards. There are also bookmarks and dice, as well as a Prologue adventure, which I don’t own yet.
The map is really cool, but really isn’t useful for Volume 1. Although, it is neat to be able to see the lands where the adventure is taking place. I suspect it will find more use in Volume 2, possibly showing areas where the next quest will be taking place.
The cards are not required, but offer small extras. They give extra depth through a few pieces of bonus equipment, alternate enemies, and some expansions of parts of the story. Again, each card is drawn by William. Like I said, they aren’t at all required. I would get them if you’d like to support William in his future endeavors, like I did.
I heartily recommend Maelorum. The issues that I’ve mentioned end up being minor in the long run. It’s a fun dungeon crawl. And with the Volume 2 Kickstarter starting shortly, you can get a chance to pick up both at the same time. I’ll be updating this post with the Kickstarter link when it goes live. So, watch here, or Twitter. I’ll make sure I tweet it. Also, make sure you follow William on Twitter (@Maelorum) for the most up to date info related to Maelorum.
And as promised, the Maelorum Volume 2 Kickstarter has launched! Go take a look and give your support to William.