"A great cat sits upon the northern grasslands, my friend, waiting to pounce on adventurers just like you." As you part the tall grass with your sword, the words of the tavernkeeper echo in your head.
"He was the mightiest wizard we'd ever known, and that Lion Castle was his home." Your friends' voices mingle with the tavernkeeper's. "He's but a ghost now, haunting those halls, and waiting for an heir."
The ground rises slightly. A strong wind rushes through the field. Suddenly, the grasses part, and Lion Castle rises majestically before you!
"Magical riches await those who enter!" "Beware of man-beasts!" Voices flood your head again. Will you brave the haunted castle? Can you afford not to? It is all up to you in the D&D Solo Adventure.
Ghost of Lions Castle is for one player only, but that one player makes all of the choices and enjoys all of the rewards. An entire castle and courtyard await your exploration. The adventure also includes a complete solo combat system.
BSOLO: "Ghost of Lion Castle" (1984), by Merle M. Rasmussen, is the second in a new series of Solo adventures for Basic D&D. It was published in May 1984.
Origins: Basics & Solos. By 1984, the Basic D&D line of adventures (1978+) was already quite mature, with the newest being B6: "The Veiled Society" (1984), which offered a groundbreaking look at a central city in the Known World. Meanwhile, TSR had recently rebooted its Solo adventure line with XSOLO: "Lathan's Gold" (1984), an open-ended adventure set in the Sea of Dread. Now, just a few months later, TSR was bringing the new solos to the Basic Rules as well, with this return visit thanks also to "Lathan" author, Merle M. Rasumussen.
Adventure Tropes: Choose Your Own Adventure. "Lathan's Gold" had been a complex, sandboxed solo adventure, appropriate for the Expert Rules. In contrast, "Ghost of Lion Castle" is a much simpler delve into a castle. The numbered paragraphs are broken into two sections the "C"ourtyard (and other castle outskirts) and "L"ion Castle itself.
Three elements bear additional note:
- The adventure is intended to be dynamic. It instructs you to cross out items from rooms when you take them, then record your corpse when you die, creating an ever-changing castle.
- The combat is largely normal Basic D&D, with a set of charts helping players to step through it.
- Though the adventure is laid out through paragraphs, players are provided with outline maps that they can fill in as they explore. This was a step up from most choose-your-own-adventure books, which left the map entirely to the player's imagination, but didn't go as far as a few rare books such as ICE's forthcoming Middle-Earth Quests (1985-1989), which allowed players to access paragraphs by moving about a map.
"Ghost of Lion Castle" is somewhat notorious for being a tough delve. Many a player has decided to use it as a multiplayer adventure — conducting a group of characters through it rather than just a single solo adventurer.
Exploring the Known World. "Ghost of Lion Castle" is only very lightly set in the Known World. That wasn't unusual for the "B" adventures prior to B6: "The Veiled Society", but it was a big change from Rasmussen's previous solo, "Lathan's Gold", which offered an authoritative view of the islands in the Sea of Dread.
Theoretically "Ghost of Lion Castle" in set in Ethengar: six days east of the village of Sarsdell along the Streel River, then two days north. That puts it somewhere in the Sea of Grass, but you won't find Lion Castle or even Sarsdell on any of the official maps of the area. This was their only appearance.
Overall, the Ethengar Plains are a pretty odd location for this mysterious, magical castle; its location probably reflects the immature state of the Known World at the time. Modern fans seem to prefer it in the deserts of Ylarum or as ruins somewhere in Glantri.
NPCs of Note. The star of the adventure is Sargon the Wizard, the builder of Lion castle; he's another notable element from this adventure that you won't find anywhere else in Known World lore.
Rasmussen probably derived the name from Sargon the Great (24th century BC), an Akkadian king from Mesopotamia. However, one can't help but think of another Sargon with a similar appellation: Sargon the Sorcerer (1941), from DC Comics.
Future History. After "Ghost of Lion Castle", TSR turned back to gimmicks for their solo adventures. MV1: "Midnight on Dagger Alley" (1984), which was the only AD&D solo, and CM5: "Mystery of the Snow Pearls" (1985) both used a red-tinged "magic viewer". However, TSR also published one other normal solo adventure for this version of Basic D&D, XS2: "Thunderdelve Mountain" (1985), which came out a few months after the last magic viewer adventure.
Meanwhile, TSR was also experimenting with solo gamebooks, similar to GW's Fighting Fantasy series (1982+). The first of these Super Endless Quest adventures was Prisoners of Pax Tharkas (1985).
About the Creators. Rasmussen worked at TSR for about two years, and was very busy in 1984 on Known World adventures, also including X6: "Quagmire!" (1984) and XSOLO: "Lathan's Gold" (1984).