The Third Age of Endless Quest is Upon Us!
A Book Retort by John Enfield of the Endless Quest game books
Once upon a time in the fabled world of 1982, Dungeons and Dragons enthusiasts failing to gather a group (a quest more arduous than slaying a dragon at times), yet pining for the game, had few options besides the only slightly less arduous task of attempting to be their own Dungeon Master. If you were content with wandering a maze and slaying monsters (which can be great fun), you could buy David Megarry’s Dungeon! board game. Those who happened to own, or have access to a network terminal running PLATO, a home computer like an Apple II, Commodore PET or Tandy/Radio Shack 80, or a game console like an Atari-80 or Intellivision could play against a computerized DM in a story varying from a basic dungeon crawl in Advanced Dungeons & Dragons for Intellivision to more detailed (if not officially D&D) quests like Ultima I for Apple II. If you didn’t have such gadgets, or you wanted to take your D&D game with you, your best option was an Endless Quest game book.
The First Age of Endless Quests began with game books by Rose Estes like Dungeon of Dread, Pillars of Pentegarn and Return to Brookmere. These books were rather different from the computer role playing games of the 70’s and early 80’s in that they were significantly cheaper at $2.00 per book, had detailed illustrations by Larry Elmore, Jeff Easley, Clyde Caldwell, Harry J. Quinn, Timothy Truman and Jim Holloway rather than somewhat crude pixelated graphics, and a very simple rules system of making choices and turning the pages. Rose’s stories are at once charming Medieval European-style fairy-tales and exciting present-tense adventures full of monsters, magic, cliffhangers and feats of daring-do. The series continued for four more years with Rose joined by authors including Linda Lowery, James Ward, Mary Kirchoff, Roger Moore, Margaret Weis and Douglas Niles. While most of the game books were set in generic D&D, a few explored other TSR game worlds such as Top Secret, Star Frontiers, Gamma World, Hyborian Age, and Tarzan.
After a seven-year hiatus, the Second Age began. Published from 1994 through 1996, these game books were based on several of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons’ game worlds including Ravenloft, Al-Qadim and Greyhawk, as well as TSR game settings such as Gamma World, Wildspace / Spelljammer, as well as the board game Dragon Strike. Authors included Jean Rabe, Nick Pollota, Allen Varney and Michael Andrews. Cover art was primarily done by Jeff Easley along with Clyde Caldwell, Roger Loveless, Dennis Kauth and Keith Parkinson on some of the books. Terry Dykstra did all of the interior art, making the interiors of this series more consistent in style.
Now, starting in 2018, the Third Age is upon us thanks to author Matt Forbeck and quite a few artists in each book including Conceptopolis, Chris Seaman, Daarken, Matt Stawicki, Olga Drebas, Jesper Ejsing and Klaus Pillon among others. The cover price has gone up to $16.99, a bit of a jump from Series 2’s $3.99, but totally worth it. Unlike the books of the previous two series, these are presented like top-end graphic novels with their full-color printed hard covers (even under the dust cover), thick and smooth pages and with most of the interior illustrations in full color. The books feel thinner, but have almost as many pages as the thickest of the early Endless Quest books thanks to their taller and wider book formats that also make room for a larger, easier to read font. The spines feel solid, like the pages are not going to fall out if you re-read these books several times.
Cover illustrations in Endless Quest books have always been pretty top-notch, featuring some of the best artists ever to work on D&D products. The ones for this series are very high in detail, quite colorful and evocative of the character you’ll be playing in each book. However, these player characters seem to be floating in front of the background rather than grounded within a scene as they usually were in past series. The interior illustrations, however, are superior to most of those inside the previous two series with their oil painting-like qualities and a look that is consistent with most of the fifth Edition rule books and guides. Interior art in many of the earlier series varied wildly from looking like a fine-art engraving to a cartoony doodle that, while fun to look at, detract from the otherwise epic feel of the book.
The stories by Matt Forbeck such as Into the Jungle, To Catch A Thief and The Mad Mage’s Academy are every bit as charming, fun and exciting as the best of the previous series were. Players of D&D 5th Edition and readers of the Forgotten Realms novels and comic books will recognize some of the places like Chult, Baldur’s Gate and Skullport, events and characters such as The Harpers, Volothamp Geddarm and the Xanathar mentioned in these stories.
As with the previous series, you are cast to play a specific race and class of character in each of these stories, though you are encouraged to imagine most of the other details of your character’s appearance. As you read/play each book, some details of your character’s past are revealed which cause you to adjust how you imagine your character somewhat.
Playing any Endless Quest book is an escape from the potential difficulties of group-play like arguing over the rules, waiting for another player to decide what to do, etc. yet, it also is missing the friendship-building aspects of bad jokes that still make everybody laugh, shared exultation over victories and lamentation over defeats.
You don’t necessarily have to play these books solo either. If you and one other person, say a spouse, friend, or perhaps someone new to RPGs and a bit intimidated by what they consider excessively complex rules, want to play, you can be the DM and read the book to them. They can then play the hero and make the decisions. This can be a lot of fun and you may be surprised by the different decisions they make versus the ones you would have chosen. Who knows? Playing these books may encourage them to join your next full-fledged RPG campaign.
Some Endless Quest books have been better than others have over the years, with some being almost masterpieces of fantasy and others being mostly good for a laugh. Matt Forbeck’s are closer to the former than the latter. While most of the first two series are now out of print, you can find used copies of them online and at your favorite used bookstore. Matt Forbeck’s series are available at his website Forbeck.com as well as almost anywhere new fantasy books are sold.