Being a brave hero and having to embark on perilous adventures is bad enough, but spare a thought for the Gun Dogs of the Empire of Five Cities.
These chaps are convicted criminals who are sent against their will on certain death missions in the hope of earning a pardon for their sins. Not only do they face almost insurmountable odds, but they are also forced to wear magical collars that 'strangle' them should they try to escape their fate.
If this sounds like a pretty dismal arrangement, get used to it. In Tin Man Games's new gamebook adventure, you see, you're the latest recruit to the ranks of the Gun Dogs.
The book begins with your being arrested and clamped in irons for treason against the Emperor. Your only hope for salvation is to take the collar (and we're not talking about joining the clergy).
Built using Tin Man's tried-and-tested gamebook engine - the one that has powered numerous successful adaptations of Fighting Fantasy novels and the studio's original outings - Gun Dogs is a joy to play.
All of those elements that were mildly irksome in actual gamebooks - keeping track of your page progress; noting down your health and items; throwing easily lost dice - are beautifully automated here.
Dog and gun
Given Tin Man's impeccable track record, it goes without saying that the gamebook foundations here are solid. An outing of this type, however, lives or dies by the quality of the story and the illustrations that accompany it.
With Greywood Publishing's Jamie Wallis providing the story and famed fantasy illustrator Gary Chalk in charge of the artwork, the result was never really in doubt.
In fact, Gun Dogs ranks as one of the finest gamebook adventures we've ever experienced. Period. The Empire of the Five Cities may share many similarities with fictional worlds seen in other books, but the way in which it is described by Wallis and visualised by Chalk is little short of astounding.
It's a grim and often depressing world into which you are thrust. The tale is barely a few pages old when reference is made to rotting, gutted corpses hanging from cell walls. On this front, the creators of Gun Dogs don't let up.
Wallis does a wonderful job of immersing you in this relentlessly foreboding world, while Chalk generates an incredible atmosphere through his iconic art style (honed during years of working on the Lone Wolf series, contributing to Games Workshop's Warhammer franchise, and creating his own criminally underrated Fantasy Warlord universe).
Gun Dogs is a very mature adventure, and that extends to the challenge. This is a difficult book to complete, largely because combat plays such a vital role.
Armed with a sword and three-barrelled pistol - the latter being the signature weapon of a Gun Dog - you'll have plenty of opportunity to draw blood during your mission. With every confrontation, though, comes the risk of your failing your quest and having to begin the story anew.
A hearty challenge means plenty of repeat play, so even when you've finished the tale, there's the temptation to start over and take a slightly different route to see what you missed.
Of course, there will come a time when Gun Dogs 'surrenders' all of its secrets. But when you've reached that point, you will undoubtedly feel that you've got more than your money's worth. This is superb stuff, and further proof that Tin Man really does have the Midas touch when it comes to this kind of escapade.