Moonrunner

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Moonrunner (ISBN 0-14-034937-5) is a single player roleplaying gamebook written by Stephen Hand, illustrated by Martin McKenna and first published in 1992. It forms part of the long-running Fighting Fantasy series, numbered 48 in the original Puffin edition and not yet included in the Wizard reissuing. While consisting of the usual 400 sections, it deviates from the standard formula in that the final section does not contain the conclusion of the story.

Set in the aftermath of the War of the Four Kingdoms in the Old World, the central character of Moonrunner is a war veteran turned Bounty Hunter, dedicated to capturing war criminals who escaped justice. The last remaining of these — and the greatest villain — is the notorious Inquisitor General Karam Gruul, the "Hand of Death", who has just been tracked down to a location near the town of Blackhaven in Gallantaria. To bring him to justice will involve an undercover mission of great danger, first to locate him precisely without alerting him to the hunt, and second to gather the means to overcome his powerful sorcery. And Gruul has a special connection to the player that is only revealed at the very end...

One of the more unusual of the Fighting Fantasy series, the book is notable for its vivid writing, with many colourful characters and a darkly whimsical sense of humour, and a style that mixes the influence of works such as Hammer Horror and gothic writing with pulp fiction and film, crime noir and mystery stories. Among the various side-stories are comic references to the Friday the 13th movies and the Phantom of the Opera, while Karam Gruul himself has a distinct flavour of the notorious Fu Manchu. Gameplay is enhanced by the mechanism of allowing the player a choice of special skills which make parts of the adventure easier or more difficult.

The story is an indirect sequel to Stephen Hand's previous Fighting Fantasy gamebook, Legend of the Shadow Warriors, another richly atmospheric work set in the same historical period on Titan. Although the storylines do not overlap directly they share a number of common threads, which were apparently to be brought to conclusion in a third (never completed) work, Blood of the Mandrake. Both are also notable among Fighting Fantasy adventures for an unusually sophisticated sense of morality, bringing home the horrors of war and conflict and, in contrast to the usual climactic slaying of the villain, ending on a surprisingly redemptive note.

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