Friday, October 31, 2014

Interactive advertising

Not a gamebook, but certainly some sort of interactive fiction - the new Honda Civic Type R ad is outstanding. And, very possibly, a small step towards more interactive viewing experiences.

Tip: tap 'R' on your keyboard as you watch the ad.

Oh, and sorry about sharing any sort of advert. This one is worth a view, though.

A 'Choose Your Own Adventure', indeed...

Ad of the Day: This Interactive Honda Civic Type R Ad is Absolutely Brilliant

(Post by Paul Gresty)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Cymerian - Dice or no?

Hello all!

So I'm thinking about cymerian again and I was wondering what would be better when I start doing a
series of mini gamebooks using the system.  Dice or no dice?

I have put the outlines of character creation and items for diceless and diced systems here.  Tell me what you think.

Happy gamebooking!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Codewords in gamebooks

Why use codewords?

Codewords are there to mark an event that has happened because it might have a consequence later on in the gamebook.  They can be used to mark many things such as things you've done, things you've learnt or friends you've made.

What codewords can you use?

Some codewords have something to do with why you got them.  For example, if you stole something, the codeword thief is used.  In Moonrunner, these words were used, but backwards.  When you read them in the gamebook, you can probably work out how you would have got them, so to a keen metagamer, these kind of codewords are clues.  Other gamebooks use completely irrelevant codewords, which give no information away, or, if the author is really devious, misleading.  One thing to point out is that having a codeword is not always good, so it's not a good (like rennur in Moonrunner).

Things you can do with codewords

In their Fabled Lands books, Dave Morris and Jamie Thomson made all of their codewords start with the same letter for each book (A for book 1, B for book 2 etc.) this gives you an indication of where you can get the codeword from, and it probably helped them a lot when they were planning out all the gamebooks at once.  They have also put all of the codewords at the end for you to tick off, rather than just write them down as they appear, so it is something for you to anticipate when you play the gamebook and also, you can aim for getting a certain number of codewords.

Also, the Crimson Tide has a neat little trick where if you follow the correct path, you will get a sequence of codewords that give you a clue as to what you do at the end.  Also, be aware that 400 is not the successful ending.  That's a devilish trick.

Items as codewords

There are some items that you obtain purely to mark that something has happened, such as the crystal pendant in Lone Wolf 2 (yes, they are all free online, so don't spend lots of money on book 28 for Kai's sake).  Anyway, an item could be a more physical version of a codeword, and may have other uses, for example, if someone sees the crystal star pendant, then they will know that you are friends with Banedon.  Siege of Sardath also uses items as codewords - in their case, it has rings with numbers associated with them to show that you have made friends with the elves and the dwarves.  In most cases, the item could be replaced with a codeword, but items have a difference feel to codewords.  They are less abstract.  However, if you lose the item as codeword, then things might break down.  You will have to work out which items are more important because of what they represent rather than your actual possession of them (so you could replace the option with 'If you were given a crystal star pendant, turn to x', but then I guess you could just say 'If you met Banedeon in book 1, turn to x').

codewords in apps

The thing with apps is that a lot of what is going on can be put 'under the bonnet'.  It might also provide some surprises.  So, you may not know any more that because the guy at the market stall told you about the secret entrance to the castle that when you get to the castle, you avoid the guards.  The app no longer needs to ask you any more, because it knows that you talked to the guy and it can skip the asking you bit (which means that you don't know that it was checking in the first place) and go straight for it.  Now the question is - does that encourage more replay or less?  If you know that the app is asking you something, you will know that there is an alternative at that point, but if you know that there are alternatives, but they are hidden, you might play the game more trying to find them all.  Maybe it depends on your level of persistence?

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Steve Jackson's "Sorcery!" - The Crown of Kings playthrough

Originally published at by Justin MacCormack - Please be sure to check out the original article, and support the author by purchasing his latest book, "Return to 'Return to Oz', and other tales".

Written by Steve Jackson, Artwork by John Blanche

Well, it's been a long journey to get here.

The Crown of Kings is the last in Steve Jackson's "Sorcery!" series, and definitely the most difficult. That isn't really saying much, though, as my poor adventurer has been through a lot on his travels to get here, at the foothills of the High Xaman mountains, ready to find his way into the Fortress of Mampang and recover the legendary Crown of Kings from the evil Archmage. Specifically, I have been lured into a field of death blossoms, drowned in poo, and set on fire by a cunning snake. My odds of surviving this step of the adventure is extremely slim.

Also, while reading through the rules for this book again as a quick refresher, I recall that I could very easily have called on Libra, my patron Goddess, for assistance during the last adventure in order to avoid being burned by the Fire Serpent. And while technically that is the case, because the book doesn't stipulate if I can or cannot do so in combat, I'm going to assume that it is not meant to be used during the heat of battle. Using it like that just seems a bit cheap. 

I'm forced to remember the first NPC character I met, way back in The Shamutanti Hills, the guard who told me that he wasn't going to bother wishing me luck because my quest was basically doomed. I suspect he knew just the kind of things that were waiting for me. But here we are, starting out again. Just as in the last two books, I'm using the same stats I rolled at the start of The Shamutanti Hills, with no backpack items except for my 20 gold pieces and two meals.

 We start out on the trail drawing close to the Mampang Fortress. It is visible in the distance, over the mountains, and I am determined to get there. The trail is dusty and marked with hoofprints... Y'know the sensible thing for the people of Analand to do would be to give me a horse for this journey. And an army. But at very least, a horse. Either way, there are three caves which I can shelter in, and I choose the one that the hoofprints are leading into.

I turn to the next section, which is way up in the '500' numbers... Yeah, I should mention, this book has 800 sections. It's twice the size of a normal FF book, which just shows how ambitious this series really is. Anyway, the hoof prints belonged to a family of Satyrs who seem to have died of the cold in the cave, so I decide to light a fire and keep warm instead, ignoring the decaying bodies. I'm sure that's hygienic. If I was a bit more heroic, I may have been willing to perform some kind of funeral ritual, but nuts to that.

The next day, I note that there doesn't seem to be any animal or plant life in these rocky climates, which tells me that I've probably wandered into Mordor somewhere along the way. I stumble across a flimsy rope bridge, and before too long I am attacked by killer bird-men. I'm not given the chance to use my lightning spell, but I'm not too fussed because that one spell failed me repeatedly on my last leg of this adventure. Instead, I chuck a fireball at the bird-man, which has far better results. Nothing beats a fireball to the face, it seems.

I clamber my way further across the mountains, and soon come to a large chasm that separates me from the fortress. The book offers me a rope to try to swing across the chasm, but I don't much want to risk falling horribly to my death this early in the adventure. Instead I press on until the book gives me the option of taking a wooden bridge, but on closer inspection the bridge makes some very dubious "Oww!" noises when I try to walk on it. I opt for finding a third option, which involves climbing over a rock-fall and spraining my ankle. But at very least I'm still alive.

The next thing to get in my way is a rock-slide, which threatens to block off my path to the fortress. But with a quick wall spell, I'm able to push my way through the tumbling rocks without any problem and then bang, before you know it, I'm at the fortress. Yes folks, I have made it to my destination. Mampang Fortress.

The route to the fortress's entrance is guarded, but in typical Fighting Fantasy style, the guards are asleep. Being the guard for an evil warlock's fortress must be the easiest job in the world, knowing that all you need to do is sleep and get killed by adventurers. I find a cave just opposite the fortress, and head to sleep. That night, I am confronted by a vision of the goddess Libra.

Because I'm such a loyal and awesome devotee who has certainly never cursed Libra's name while I was being sprayed with human fecal matter in the depths of the sewers of Khare, Libra tells me a few useful things. Firstly, she cannot help me once I'm inside the fortress, because the entire building is the nexus of all evil in the multiverse or something, and if she helps me then she will possibly be eaten by Darkseid or something, I dunno. Either way, no help. Second, there's a secret entrance. And third, those Satyrs from earlier? Well, it wasn't the cold that killed them, it was the most horrible plague imaginable, and now I've caught it.

With that lovely bit of info, Libra promptly buggers off. Hey, not so fast, my dear. I still have one chip to cash in before I head into the fortress, and I'm using it right now. I demand that Libra cures me of this horrible disease that would make it impossible for me to regain stamina, and then tell her to toddle off back to Valhalla while I do the important work.

The following day does not start off well. Oh boy...

I head up to the entrance of the fortress, and cast a spell on the guard in order to confuse him and allow me to pass. It does not work. I then decide to knock on the door, hide, and dart inside when he's not looking. I do this, only to find that there is a second (even larger) guard waiting inside the gate, with two of his biggest mates.

I immediately cast a spell to create a blinding fog, but this spell also does not work. Now convinced that I am just some random madman who thinks he can do magic but is in fact only waving his arms around crazily, the guards proceed to pummel me until I have only four stamina points remaining. But, and this is the important part to remember, I am not yet dead.

The main doorway into the fortress' inner walls is opposite, but I opt to take the smaller creaking door into the guard's area, hoping to work my way around the fortress' hallways more covertly. I'm lucky enough to not be noticed as I slip through the creaking door, and head into the first room I come across, which is the guard's toilet.

The guard's toilet is quite possibly the second most hideous thing I have ever experienced. I am violently sick from the sheer smell of it, and I after I fail my test of luck, I am reduced to vomiting loudly in the hallway. I am now down to only two stamina points. Let me just restate this for you here - the smell of the toilet is so bad, that it has injured me as much as being hit with a sword.

Clutching my bleeding nose (which I assume has ruptured open from the awful smell of the guard's toilet), I hear a group of men in one of the nearby rooms laughing. They are, no doubt, quite aware of this reaction to the guard's toilet. I expect that it is a common reaction. Hell, the Archmage's minions probably use it as a means of torture. Or take bets on how long a new recruit can last. I decide that enough is enough. I head off to give the laughing men in the room a piece of my mind.

The moment I enter the room, I realise that the inhabitants are black elves. Oh dear. Throughout this adventure, black elves and the subject of race has been rather problematic. It turns out that this time, the boot is on the other foot, as the laughing elf immediately points at me and says "Hey, check out the colour of this guy's skin!" and proceed to hurl racial epitaphs at me. 

The book then offers me the chance to try to make friends with them, which is best assumed to mean attept some self-deprecating humour. Instead, my character in the book promptly launches into the kind of racist rant that would make Kramer from 'Seinfeld' feel bad. I promptly scream every kind of race-related insult at the elves that I can possibly think of, and for some strange reason, they get a bit upset at this. Honestly, here's a clue for any budding comedian - if the punchline of your joke is "the black people kept bumping into each other in the dark because they couldn't see each other", find another line of employment, unless your name is Bernard Manning.

Given that I have only two stamina points left, I take a gamble on a spell in order to repel them. I'm given the chance to use the 'niff' spell, and my mind drifts back to the guard's toilet. Determined that this spell could cause them to flee, I use it. Sadly, the toxic emissions that I have created affect myself even worse than I could have expected, dealing a full three additional points of damage to myself. Silent, but very deadly.

I am sure that the elves then gather around and kick my body for good measure.

So there we are. Having crossed the Shamutanti Hills, braved the cityport of Khare, went up against the Seven Serpents, and in the end I choke to death on my own magic fart.

This book is without a doubt one of the best FF books. It is so indepth and intricately written, with so many challenges delivered with such variety, and marked with a uniquely twisted sense of humour, and Blanche's artwork is just so amazingly evocative and captures all of that. Playing through the "Sorcery!" series is a real thrill, its epic scope and ambition is a real hit. It's been great to return to these books after so many years. These really are some of the high points of the gamebook genre.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Roger Zelazny and Amber - a Primer

To my knowledge, there are two gamebooks which take place in Roger Zelazny's Amber universe - 'Seven No-Trump', and 'The Black Road War,' both by Neil Randall, and both out of print for a couple of decades now.

Roger Zelazny is really one of the finest science fiction authors that the human race has managed to produce. True, his ten-book Amber series is more fantasy than sci-fi; it is, nonetheless, an utter masterpiece. If you haven't read it yet... I mean, seriously, go and find it now, and do so. Back in the pre-Amazon days I laboriously tracked down all ten volumes in bookshops on two continents. Rather irritatingly, all ten books were republished soon afterwards in one mighty 1000-page volume. Gah. So I bought that too. If I were for some reason condemned to read just one book for the rest of my life, it'd likely be that one. I'm not joking.

The setting is fairly mind-bending: every imaginable universe exists. Our Earth exists, and crops up fairly frequently. But so do all the universes that are wholly different to our own. Imagine a universe where Lewis Carroll's characters from Alice in Wonderland are real. That's an actual place, in these books. Or a world that worships a god that is identical to you, where you can inspire a legion of followers to live and die at your command. That's a real place too.

Well, these universes are real, but not really real. The only truly real, truly solid place in all of creation is the realm of Amber, of which all other universes are Shadows - pale, imperfect reflections. The royal family of Amber have the unique ability to traverse these Shadows. And, as luck would have it, they're a jealous, power-hungry lot.

As I say, it's all quite mind-bleepery - made even more so that when you consider that Roger Zelazny was pantsing (that's literary shorthand for 'not planning') as he set out on the saga. The books inspired an RPG, Amber Diceless Role-Playing, as well as a fanzine, comic books, and a prequel quadrilogy by John Gregory Betancourt. And, as I mentioned, a couple of gamebooks.

So, gamebook writeups to come, in the near(ish) future. As a longtime fan of Roger Zelazny, and Amber, I'm really excited about getting to do this.

Also, while we're talking about sci-fi - which I sort of did, a few paragraphs back - the raison d'ĂȘtre of science fiction is the subject of discussion right now over on Roz Morris's Nail Your Novel blog. Some good points here.

That said, keep in mind that Roz isn't a big fan of Doctor Who. And in my book, that's tantamount to heresy.

(Post by Paul Gresty)

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Steve Jackson's "Sorcery!" - The Seven Serpents playthrough

Originally published at by Justin MacCormack - Please be sure to check out the original article, and support the author by purchasing his latest book, "Return to 'Return to Oz', and other tales".

Written by Steve Jackson, Artwork by John Blanche

Alright, The Seven Serpents. Third part of the "Sorcery!" series. No doubt you've been reading how this has gone recently. In the first part, I fell over and died in a field of flowers. And in the second I managed to die from being eaten by rabid poo. Will this session go any better? Don't bet on it.

This book starts out as I'm leaving Khare, thankfully no longer reeking of human feces. I've reset my sheet once again to its initial stats that were rolled up back in The Shamutanti Hills (skill 10, luck 12, stamina 20) and with only 20 gold and 2 meals to my name. By this point in the campaign, we're heading out into the Baklands, a featureless wasteland of - oh crap a swarm of nighthawks are attacking me.

Amazing, I'm only a few moments into this book and already am being attacked by huge forces of evil animals. I throw up a forcefield spell, but the birds simply fly over it and dive-bomb me. Get used to my magic failing me utterly, because it's going to be a recurring theme today! Just watch and see.

And I don't stand a chance against these hawks, because they outnumber me four to one. Thankfully this is one of those 'survive three rounds of combat' sequences, rather than simply being thrown into a mincing machine full of beaks and feathers. After swinging my sword around for a while, a large golden eagle descends and scares the nighthawks away. The eagle is a messenger from back home in Analand, baring a message.

The message basically states the blurb from the back of the book - the Archmage's seven serpents are bringing news of my quest to him, and I need to go kill the buggers. Who wants to bet on how many of them I'm able to find before I die a horrible and gruesome, poo-smelling death this time? I'm betting on three.

Making camp for the night, I am confronted by a talking tree. My first urge is to purge the abominable thing with fire, but the tree doesn't seem to be about to murder me in my sleep. Instead it simply advises that I head off to the east to visit a friendly neighbourhood wizard. Said wizard, Shadrack, seems a friendly enough chap who tells me the history of the seven serpents, warns me that there is a special way to kill each one, and gives me a horn to blow on if I ever get in trouble. He then lets me sleep in his cave for the night, and surprisingly does not slit my throat, steal my food, or sell me into slavery - which instantly ranks him as a nicer man than the entire population of Khare!

I leave the wizard's cave and head off along the wasteland again, before I promptly fall prey to a giant beetle. I try to zap it with my awesome lightning spell, but this only results in the beetle getting angrier. It then bites me. I whack it with my sword, and it sprays acid in my face, causing me to lose all sight in my left eye. The giant beetle then chews on my leg for a while until my stamina is down to half its initial score, before I finally kill it. I then wonder why this race of beetle is content to just sit around in the desert waiting for prey, when they are immune to lightning and squirt acid - with powers like that, they could have eaten the entire city of Khare and saved me a whole load of trouble.

Anyway, I'm not in very good shape any more, what with dripping with beetle acid and all that. So when I catch sight of a group of caravans in the horizon, I am keen to stop by and see if I can heal up for a while. When the caravan dwellers start to fire arrows at me, I can't even claim to be surprised. I'd pretty much expected to be stabbed, shot at and set fire to throughout this entire strange adventure, after all.

I hold up my hands to show that I mean no harm, and get to eventually meet the inhabitants of the camp. To my utter joy (by which I mean 'distress') I find that they are a group of black elves, who if we have learned anything about during the "Sorcery!" series, exist to make my life even more difficult. I don't want to tell them that I'm seeking the seven serpents, instead I tell them that I'm a trader. They seem glad to hear this, and urge me into their shop.

The shop owner has a large number of very useless items, which I'm sure are all used in spellcasting. Things like brass pendulums and so on. Two things that he is offering catch my eye - a scroll that is labelled "Secrets of the Baklands", and a book with magical symbols. I want to barter with the store owner in order to get possession of the scroll, but the rules for bartering are more complicated than building a space shuttle.

Instead I buy the book, which I find to be a regular spellbook. The book tells me that I am very concerned that such an item has fallen into the hands of outsiders, and will destroy the book at the earliest opportunity. It does give me permission to read over the spellbook section of the rules again for a full five minutes though, which as you may remember is something you're not technically allowed to do during gameplay. But I can't help but shake the feeling that it would be more useful to actually take the book with me so that I could read it several times during my adventure. Rather than, y'know, spending ten gold pieces on something that my character is going to just use as campfire kindling.

I leave the caravan, and make camp elsewhere that night. I am given the chance of asking the elves to sleep in the camp, but given how they've been represented thus far in these books, I suspect I'd have a higher chance of survival if I went to sleep in a pit full of snakes. I make a camp of my own, no doubt lighting the fire using that spellbook I paid ten gold pieces for, and tuck into a meal.

The next day, I press on until I come to a series of outcropping rocks. I'm keen to regain as much of my health as I can, so I take another rest here. My health is starting to look better. While I'm resting, I hear a sound from the other side of the rocks. I check it out, and see a small tornado. It seems to be spinning around back and forth in a little clearing, not particularly doing much.

I decide to talk to this little tazmanian devil creature, and it responds by blowing a little bit of air at me. At a loss of what else to do, I try to get closer in order to make contact, but it continues to spin like a mad thing. I decide to scarper, and flee the area. I've seen enough episodes of Star Trek to know how this would end up - if I don't do the right fancy woo-woo dance required to communicate with this thing, I'll somehow offend it and it will kill all the red shirts on my spaceship. I'll then need to throw techno-babble at it until it stops killing my crew, whereupon it will tell me that I'M too violent and primitive, and fly off into space to bother some other hapless idiot.

Now that I have no meals left, I decide to make my next pit-stop in a small tribal village. The inhabitants of the village seem to hold me in high regard, preparing a feast. This is never a good sign - being given a feast usually indicates that I'm about to be thrown into a volcano to appease an angry god or something similar. It seems that the villagers have a similar but less refined idea - they've simply chosen a champion who wants to hit me with a heavy club.

For the life of me, I don't know why this champion wants to do this, or what he has to gain from it, but I whack him with my sword until he changes his mind and leaves me alone (by dying). The villagers seem unhappy that I have killed their champion, and I quickly make my excuses to leave this silly village behind and flee into the next stage of my adventure - the forests of Snatta.

The trip into the forest proved... interesting. I set up camp, and the next day I'm fortunate enough to scavenge enough berries for two meals, so I'll be fine for a while. It's then that I catch sight of a snake.

Aha, I think, this snake can lead me to one of those vile seven serpents! I follow it eagerly. The snake climbs up a tree, and then transforms into the mighty Fire Serpent! I charge forward, ready for the fight... and right into a spout of fire that envelops my entire head.

I stop, drop and roll, and put the fire out. Deciding that this fight is going to require some strategy, I shoot it with my trusty lightning spell - but among the branches of the tree, the snake is able to dodge and avoid the spell. Wow, I've used that spell twice in this adventure, and it's proved utterly useless. Enough messing around, I draw my sword and climb up the tree towards the snake, ready to chop its head off.

The snake then drops out of the tree, turns around, and sets the whole tree on fire while I'm in it. I am incinerated. Outwitted by a snake. Serpent barbeque, dude. Game over, man, game over!

This book really ups the ante from the previous book, and definitely feels like it's on hard mode all the way through. It's the kind of book that requires a lot of playthroughs to find all of the optimum paths through it, and although it's not as outright insane as Khare, it's definitely a few notches up the insanity ladder than The Shamutanti Hills. I'd love to see more of it someday.

Up next time, we venture into the final part of this campaign, hoping to recover the legendary Crown Of Kings.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Welcome, visitors!

There's been a lot more pageviews over here in the last few days.  If you are new to the blog, drop a comment to say hi and say what you are here for.  I've got 4 year's worth of posts and I might start revisiting and updating the seminal (I love that word) ones on gamebooks.