Thursday, January 29, 2015

Book 4 of Legend of the Wayfarer out for free!

Howdy gamebookers! I have released yet another free gamebook as part of my Legend of the Wayfarer series (you can find all of my books here).

This book is called Ruination and it involves your character exploring an ancient ruin that they find in the mountains in order to get treasure.

All of my books reveal something more about the world of the setting. This world is littered with ruins of many previous civilisations that all encountered some catastrophe eventually. This was my reasoning for having dungeons in a world - it was also a basis for my world in my 2009 Windhammer entry, City of the Dead.

The book also introduces the fact that giants, undead and constructs are present on this world. Despite it being a very human centric setting, other races are around and an intrepid traveller such as yourself is going to run into them more than most people.


So go and download book 4 (or all of them - they're all free!)

You can get a pdf version of Ruination here.

You can get an ePub version of Ruination from here.

And if you love my books so much, you want to show your appreciation, you can support me on Patreon for as little as $0.35. This will allow you to access the patron only stream with loads more material and discussions.

Happy gamebooking!

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Under the bonnet

I am just playing through all the Lone Wolf books on my tablet for free (I would recommend the simple
version for expedience and also because maps and illustrations are part of the game in some books as well as being very pretty to look at.) Thanks, Joe Dever.

I remembered how easy to read they were.  There are no complex mechanics and combat is a case of just picking one number and cross referencing it.  All the complicated stuff is done for you.  Of course, some decisions have little to no difference between them in terms of consequences (fire on the Water is full of them), but that didn't seem to bother me as much as I thought it would as the story was well detailed and also I wasn't reading the other options.

Resolving situations was also a case of do you have x, y or z discipline?  If not, something bad happens (but usually quite minor) so it is easy to check.

Other things are determined by picking a random number and then seeing what happens.  Sometimes you modify it if you have a discipline.

And that's it - the rules for almost every situation are not made apparent - you see them work, but the mechanics stay under the bonnet.  It's usually a case of having the right discipline or getting the right random number.

This reminded me that simple rules are needed to make the reading experience less clunky.  An absence of dice is a big advantage (in Lone Wolf, you just put your finger on a random number table) and the fewer numbers to modify, the better (just Combat Skill and Endurance).  Of course, that means that it is harder to know whether you will be able to deal with different situations (am I a good negotiator?  What about sneaking around?), but that is the trade off you make, and it doesn't have to be a bad thing.

The message of David and Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell is that more is not necessarily better.  David did not beat Goliath despite his weakness, but rather because of it.  It goes on to highlight other situations where more is not necessarily better, such as how the heavily armed British Army turned the Catholics of Northern Ireland against them with their heavy handed approach or how dyslexia might be an advantage, or how it is better to be top of the class in an unknown university rather than bottom of the class at a prestigious university.

So a really simple and even fragmentary system (compared to an RPG system) for gamebooks might be an advantage and trying to emulate the exhaustive approach of an RPG system is a waste of time.  Let's see why.

A gamebook is something that is read until you complete it, or until you realise that the probability of winning is lower than the probability of being struck by lightning just as you win the lottery or until you are tired of wandering around and decide to buy a house and settle down.  Compared to an RPG (where you can spend up to a decade playing one campaign), you spend very little time playing a gamebook, you come across fewer situations and you cannot make up your own actions.  So a full set of rules that cover every situation might not be needed if you only have to sneak past someone once.  The only stats you really need are the ones you use a lot, and, with some imagination, you can have few stats cover a lot of different situations (like luck in Fighting Fantasy) and if something comes up that isn't covered by the stats, then you just roll a die and assign outcomes to the results.  As long as the outcomes are logical and the probabilities believable, then I don't mind.  Lone Wolf does this a lot.  There are lots of situations where you just have to pick a random number and see what happens.

And you don't need to make the tests completely consistent between books.  So you succeed at sneaking on a 1-4 on 1d6 in book x but only on a 1-3 in book y.  The situations could be different.  You could be playing different characters with different levels of skill in sneaking.  The guards could be more alert in book y.

It used to bother me that I din't know the exact justification for why rolls like that were different and tried to come up with a consistent and full gamebook system.  I've realised now that it is futile.  Full systems are for RPGs where players can suggest what they want, DMs need guidelines for everything that might come up and you have to be consistent over a long time because you might have built a whole world.

In Fire on the Water, a sword costs 4 gold crowns from one shop and a night in an inn costs 2 gold crowns.  Is it realistic that spending two nights in an inn is worth the same amount of money as the materials and the time and equipment of a highly trained individual has to use forming those materials into a sword?  No it's not.  Does the reader of the Lone Wolf series have to manage the day to day living expenses of Lone Wolf? Does the reader have the chance to go to all the shops and compare prices?  Does the reader get the chance to buy their own steel and make their own swords? No, they don't.

Also, in Lone Wolf, it doesn't seem to matter what weapon you fight with most of the time (apart from weaponskill purposes).  Fighting someone with a spear is exactly the same as fighting someone with a sword, yet we can see that the techniques are different and each weapon has its own advantages and disadvantages.  The Wizard from Tarnath Tor is a gamebook that cares a lot about what weapon you use.  Apart from that, most gamebooks don't apart from the odd "Do you have a blunt weapon vs skeletons" classic.

So calculating realistic costs for these things will take a lot of time for something that the reader is not going
to appreciate (No reviewer I have ever read has ever spent time going into the relative cost of all the items in a particular gamebook).  Or it will provide far too much detail in the rules and prevent the reader from actually reading the story.

There is one disadvantage in not having a comprehensive system and that is if multiple authors are writing a gamebook with the same system.  That can lead to some inconsistencies between them.  The solution would be for them all to talk about each die roll, or for them to come up with a complete system and then work out which bits stay hidden.  Or maybe just carry on doing their own thing.  Maybe it's something people don't really get bothered about.

So the rules-lite nature of gamebooks can be a advantage.  As long as my suspension of disbelief is not broken by the results of a die roll, then I don't mind that I didn't see how it was determined and that the system (whether by careful calculation, intuition or just plain arbitrary thinking) remains under the bonnet.






Wednesday, January 14, 2015

An interview with Kyle B. Stiff


How's it hanging, gamebooklings? Excellent news: Sol Invictus, the sci-fi gamebook app and sequel to last year's award-winning Heavy Metal Thunder, is available for download. To celebrate this momentous occasion, I've managed to rustle up an interview with the game's author, Kyle B. Stiff. Read on for wily words of wondrous wisdom...

What's with the name? 'Kyle B. Stiff'? That's a pseudonym, right?

If only! No, I was blessed with an absurd name by my parents and sisters. I thought about changing it so that I could be taken seriously, but all my ideas were even more ridiculous than Kyle B.Stiff, so I figured I should just stick with that. I may put something in the front to sound a little more respectable… Doctor? Reverend? DJ? Lots of people put Doctor in front of their name to sound more respectable, so I’ll probably end up going that route.

Can you talk a little about the villains from HMT/Sol Invictus, the satyr-like Invaders? Why create this specific type of alien antagonist?

The inspiration comes from the same thing that inspires all art: Satan. Just kidding… or am I? I guess the horns work on a couple of different levels. The first really is that its Satanic, its scary, its very heavy metal. The second is that the Invaders aren’t that “alien” compared to us. So its kind of like when you’re a kid and you learn about Satan, hell, demons, its all pretty terrifying, but then when you grow up, you do a little research and you find out that the “horned god” was what we worshipped before Christians started burning our lady shamans at the stake.


So it comes from the idea of “demonizing” the enemy. From the perspective of the humans in Heavy Metal Thunder, nothing is more terrifying than a heavily-armed, black-armored Invader with two rune-carved horns curling around either side of a featureless black mask. The humans don’t know anything about the Invaders' culture, homeworld, philosophies, religions; they just represent a hostile, demonic, alien presence.

But the Invaders are a lot like us… alright, this isn’t a spoiler, this is just a train of thought. The Invaders have to expand because their economy is a pyramid scheme just like ours. They could have sent a handful of diplomats to Earth and said, “I know it’s exciting to find out there’s life on other worlds, yadda yadda yadda, but let’s get down to brass tacks: We need resources X, Y, and Z, more land for our booming population, and LOTS of slave labor to keep the whole thing running. Is there a way we can peacefully get all that from you guys?” But that’s not how life works. Empires find out pretty quick that it’s better to send an army if you want to be taken seriously. The Invaders have a moral compass just like ours, and some of their civilians may protest the idea of endless expansion and endless war, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure their leaders pull the same tricks ours do. I’m sure they have all kinds of televised broadcasts showing how bad things were on Earth, so instead of thinking, “Our people went to Earth to conquer another species and take their world,” it’s a lot easier for their citizens to sleep at night when they think, “We had to go to Earth to stop all those evil dictators.”

What are the last 3 books you've read?

DMT: The Spirit Molecule by Rick Strassman (I admit I had to skip ahead to the mind-blowing parts), Larry Niven’s The Magic Goes Away (which was very interesting, and the version I found had some cool illustrations by Esteban Maroto), and the incredibly badass Thor God of Thunder: The God Butcher by Jason Aaron (and beautifully illustrated by Esad Ribic).

Any time a writer is asked something like this, I always wonder if they’re lying. “Last three books? It would have to be The Collected Works of Shakespeare… let’s see, Strunk and White’s Elements of Style…” I guess if I was really being honest I would fess up and admit to reading a novel’s worth of social media notifications.

There's a fairly pessimistic flavour to Heavy Metal Thunder - it's science fiction that focuses on the losers of war rather than the winners (à la Firefly, or Battlestar Galactica). Is there still room for an optimistic, Star Trek-esque tone to science fiction - a message that everything is going to be okay?

I’m reminded of early 19th century thinking. They saw how the industrial machine was taking off, and they thought, “People can make more with less effort, therefore people are going to work four hours a week and live lives of wealth and ease. Things can only get better!” Fast forward a few years and the newly-invented machinegun was tearing people to pieces on battlefields of unimaginable, nightmarish proportions, and the common man found himself looking at a stack of bills that no one could possibly pay. Instead of thinking “Well this certainly sucks,” they figured that if they went deeper into the machine then they would find utopia at the end of the tunnel. Now we’re clicking on Facebook notifications out of habit, the battefields have gotten even more nightmarish, and the stack of bills have turned into something like that cube from Hellraiser. I can’t even imagine a Star Trek-flavored future when our inner world of emotion is either unexplored, suppressed, or in complete turmoil.

There’s got to be another way, but I don’t know “the way”. So in my stories I like to show people wrestling with that. Life is a hellacious struggle, and the big goals that we aim for are mostly delusions that keep us going. That sounds dark, but the other side of the coin is that, to me, heroism only makes sense in a world of darkness. The biggest badass in the world would have to be someone who simply is not affected by all the different mind control schemes constantly being thrown at us. He de-programs himself. He taps into the power that lies at the root of all good things. He finds a way to be happy even while enduring incredibly intense suffering. That’s what makes a hero even more terrifying than the monsters and the freaks that rule the world.

What do you think the future holds for gamebooks, or for interactive fiction in general? Are we going the way of the mobile app?

Of course I’d love another renaissance of gamebooks, but even with the popularity of CYOA back in the day, it’s one hard sell of a genre. It has a lot of trouble gaining traction in the public consciousness. If you want to make money as a game developer, make a game about a shiny thing that spins around or goes into a hole; if you can make it zombie themed, that’s even better. Otherwise, the land of gamebooks is a freezing tundra where only the most merciless, die-hard entertainers can survive. You have to care about this stuff to be here. We have to adapt the way of the mobile app, otherwise we won’t be noticed. I truly appreciate any readers who follow us along the way. I’m going to dig in and keep doing what I do; I promise all the readers out there that the tale of Cromulus has a lot more twists, turns, and gore-drenched action in store before the war ends!



Pertinent links: -




(Post, and interview, by Paul Gresty)

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Forest of Doom playthrough

Written by Ian Livingstone, Artwork by Malcolm Barter

Forest of Doom is one of those early books that tried something new.

Think about it like this - the first two FF books were dungeon crawls. One takes place in the dungeon of Firetop Mountain, the other changes the general design and goes for a castle, but they're still dungeon crawls. This is the first book that tries to create an outdoors area. It is a mostly cosmetic change though, with pathways through the forest acting like hallways, and clearings acting as rooms, so it's still a long way to go before it develops to the type of vast landscapes like you see in the Sorcery! series, but it's a first step in that direction.

I don't remember much about this book from when I was a kid. I've read other playthroughs of it, but deliberately avoided picking up clues. The story is straightforward enough - somewhere in the forest, two halves of an ancient dwarven hammer are hidden. Find them. Then go and get a pint at the local pub.

I know that this has been pointed out before, but your character in this book does immediately come across as a borderline psychopath. It's nobody's fault really, the writing tries to make him seem like an excitable adventurer. The problem is that it goes a little overboard - the introduction sequence talks just a little bit too dramatically about how you have rejected society and wander the wastelands with only your sword for company, dreaming at night of murdering green-skinned people, getting thrills from killing 'evil' men... the first choice the book offers you is if you want to attack an old man or not. These are not the actions of a heroic individual, these are the actions of a crazy person.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves, let's back up a little. One night, while making camp, I stumble across a dying dwarf who tells me about the hammer that's lost in the forest, and that his people desperately need the hammer in order to save his people from an army of trolls. He tells me to go and speak to Yaztromo, the wizard who lives in the forest, who later goes on to appear in several other Fighting Fantasy books. I assume that I agree to this quest because I'll be able to kill things along the way.

You have my axe!
And my other axe!
And my hammer!
The next day I get to Yaztromo's tower, and the book asks if I want to attack him. Of course I bloody don't. He then shows me a bunch of items that I can purchase. So, time for some shopping - let's go wild in the aisles on today's episode of Supermarket Sweep! Today I have bought fire capsules, boots of leaping, armband of strength, potion of plant control, headband of concentration, role of climbing, garlic buds, ring of light, net of entanglement, holy water, and nose filters. And with that, I head off into the forest!

I instantly start to wander around with no clue where I'm going, until I find a talking crow. It offers to give me a clue if I pay it, but I've already spent my gold, so instead I just pick a random direction and walk in it until I run into two hobgoblins. I kill them easily, looting their bodies of their hard-earned possessions. I don't know when I'll need a brass flute, two maggot-filled biscuits and a necklace made of mouse skulls, but you never know what might be useful in these books. Also, I could have been an accountant if I'd have gone to university, rather than a hobo that murders green people and steals their maggotty biscuits.

The next clearing contains a hole in the ground. As much as I try to avoid the urge to dive into random holes in the ground, this time I just can't resist. As the Gatekeeper in the board game 'Atmosfear' would say, I head into the black hole. Inside, I find a giant Stingworm, which I kill. There's not much in the hole, except for some gold coins and a potion which, when I drink, increases my attack ability. This proves useful very soon.

My next 'clearing' is a small cave, in which I can see a large ogre. The picture looks more like a traditional mountain man, but the book says it's an ogre, so it's an ogre. Either way, ogre or not, it seems to be tending to a goblin which it has caught and locked in a small cave. Being a violent psychopath, my only options here are to react violently, so I'm unable to talk to the ogre, instead running over and stabbing him to death.

A mountain man.
Clearly not an ogre.
I then unlock the goblin's cage, stab the goblin to death (I feel that I'm going to be describing this adventure to a therapist one day) and take the object that the goblin has hidden on a string around its neck - the handle for the hammer!! Wow, that was easy. First part done. I'm also able to grab a silver box that the ogre had hidden in his cave for some unknown reason. No idea what it'll be useful for, though.

 Emerging from the cave, I am quickly caught by a hunting snare. I cut myself down with no injury to myself, and continue on my way. Eventually I spot a small hut up in one of the nearby trees. I climb on up, hoping to meet some friendly elves. Instead I find a giant ape man. Gorilla Grodd smacks me with a bone a few times before I kill him. At least, I think that's what happened - this might just be a case of being an unreliable narrator and I may have just butchered the poor defenceless man in his sleep, that would certainly be in keeping with character.

However I did it, I claim the ape man's bracelet of skill for myself, which boosts my skill by one point. I'm now pretty impressive, although my stamina is flagging a little. I head through the forest's undergrowth until I'm being bitten and snapped at by some especially nasty plants. I clug down some potion of plant-control (which I'm fairly sure is the origin of Poison Ivy in the 'Batman Forever' movie) and command the vines to quit bothering me.

The next clearing boasts one of my least favorite types of fantasy creatures - a centaur. I hate these things. I resist the urge to attack him, and instead actually have the option of speaking to him! He gives me a ride across the river in exchange for some gold - a decent deal, because river water shouldn't be that shade of greenish-brown... I make camp for the night on the other side of the river.

I was just going to make a centaur
joke about this character, but when I
find gay porn on page 1 of Google
image search, I just kinda lose all hope
 for the human race instead...
I'm attacked during the night by a giant spider, but I kill it easily enough and the next morning I find another cave containing yet another ogre. This one, however, is sleeping. I wrap my net of entanglement around it and steal everything it owns, which consists of a leather bag. I feel a right little thug now. Fleeing the ogre's cave, I find that the bag contained a few gold coins and a brass bell.

Trudging along towards the west, I eventually come to a small well. I throw a coin in, and the book tells me that I wish for more gold coins. I decide that wishing won't make this happen, I'm going to need to climb down into the well and find the coins! I head into the well, and emerge about half an hour later significantly richer and bathed in the blood of many goblins. It seems that the little people had set up their own network of homes in the tunnels under the well, where they grew rich on the gold that people threw down there - until I slaughtered the whole lot of them. Feel a bit guilty now.

Y'know, I know that other FF bloggers have pointed this out before, but it bares repeating again - you really come across as a demented serial killer in this book. I mean, I just massacred an entire community of tiny, mostly weak little gremlins... Remember those jokes I made at the start of the book about how your character is written a bit strangely? Well it has really panned out to work EXACTLY like this in practice. Maybe this is what they were going for when they wrote it - "The slash-happy adventures of Mr Murderey McStabYourFace". If so, this is really well executed in the murderous choices you're given throughout the story.

While you've been reading that, for instance, I've been lathering some healing mud on my wounds and butchering a Pterodactyl. A bloody Pterodactyl! You thought they were extinct? Well they are now! That was the last one I've just hacked apart. Hope nobody will miss them.

Your character in 'Forest of Doom'
The next part of the adventure becomes very strange. I venture into a small tunnel, which leads to a large mining area beneath the forest floor. Inside are a group of clones, small hairless beings who have been enslaved and forced to mine fungus. I make my way out of the place as quickly as possible, being very careful not to overstay my welcome, attempt to kill any clones, and not to eat any freaky red mushrooms. Inside a barrel I do manage to find a well-crafted shield, which is very helpful in my battle against the lord of this mine...

THE BALROG. Well, maybe not the Balrog of Tolkien's story, but any whip-wielding fire demon is a balrog to me. It's a pretty tough fight even by the standards of the book, but I manage to kill it with the help of my newfound shield. With that, I hurry out of this strange area and get back to the sunlit upper world.

I continue through the forest, until I find a small house. Sadly I don't have a silver key to unlock the door, and I don't want to risk trying to force my way in because that never works well in these books (running into doors has a tendency to hurt me as much as being hit by a sword, for some reason), so instead I push on through the undergrowth until I see something especially sparkly in the leaves and debris. I lean down to examine it, when all of a sudden a giant dragon flies down and shoots fire at me.

It misses, but the book then tells me that I have a weird compulsion to play that brass flute I found at the being (which is actually a wyvern, not a dragon - is there much difference really?) I must be honest, that's not really what my first compulsion would be if I seen a giant fire-breathing flying lizard. I wouldn't be thinking "Hey dude, want to jam a few tunes?", I'd more likely be thinking "Aaaaaaaagh oh my god run! Save us!" but I suppose my character knows best. Perhaps one of the voices in his head told him to play the flute. One of the many, many voices....

A terrifying dragon, from a children's education
show that nobody out there will remember. Be afraid!
Thankfully, the flute is a magical Flute of Dragon-Sleeping-ness.... oh, sure. Of course. Such things exist, right? Nevertheless, I creep past the sleeping lizard and am now able to find a pair of gauntlets in the debris, which raise my skill level even higher. I'm quite happy with this, and with the throwing knife I find there as well, and so I continue to push through the undergrowth until I am confronted by a traveling band of bandits.

They demand five items from my backpack. So I give them five of them - specifically the useless fire capsules, the throwing knife, the mouse skull necklace, and two maggot-encrusted biscuits. Enjoy your dinner, fools!

And with that, I stumble through the tree line and see the village of Stonebridge ahead of me. I have survived the forest... But have only part of the hammer! Oh no, I have failed... Except I have not. The book gives me the chance to travel around the forest and start over from the beginning. And this is where things get very, very peculiar.

"Hello" I say to Yaztromo. He stares at me, not a speck of recognition in his eyes. "It's me, again." I say.

"Do I know you?" he asks.

"Yes" I say, "I was that guy who was searching for the hammer?"

"Young man, I have never seen you before in my life" says the wizard.

Powder of Levitation in action
And so on. I go back up to his storeroom, and buy every item that I'm not already carrying, leaving me with only ten gold coins in my pocket.

And so I journey through the forest once again, this time resolute to choose every different option possible this time in the hopes that it will in some way aid me in my travels. I manage to get my pockets picked by a thief who I've been kind enough to release from a trap. I kill a shape-changer (the same one pictured on the books cover, I expect). I eventually stumble across and kill a wild boar, whose gold nose ring helps refill my supply of gold. And as I camp overnight I am attacked by vampire bats, who I fend away with garlic.

So yes, I travel through the forest again. This time I manage to find a silver key along the way. When I find my way to the locked hut again, I unlock the door and find a stairway that leads down into a tomb. There is a sarcophagus there, but I am unable to open it without something called 'powder of levitation', which Yaztromo didn't have for sale. Aside from that, the adventure plays out mostly the same - I avoid the wyvern, I give my junk items to the bandits, I leave the forest...

And I go back to the start to begin the adventure again. Yes, I played through this adventure three times. My skill had been buffed to the point where combat was easy, and by gulping down the potion of luck that you start the adventure with, my luck score was suitably high enough and... by the third time I went through it, I was getting a bit sick to death of Forest of Doom, to be honest.

The book is in a time warp, so.....
This time through, I manage to stumble upon a mud hut in which a man is challenging... who exactly?... to arm wrestling contests. I beat him by cheating with the armband of strength, and he gives me some powder of levitation. I really don't know who this person is challenging to these contests, but urgh, I don't care, I've got the item I was needing. Maybe he wrestles bears. If so, he would be the coolest person in the entire book.

I kill a werewolf when I make camp that night, and the next day I arrive back at the silver key house. You can kinda tell that I write these blog posts after having played through the book, because finding these items were important. Everything else was just wandering around blindly, hoping to find some kind of clue or some useful item or other... And yes, I played through this book three times!

But it all paid off in the end. Because in that tomb inside the house, I find a ghoul, who I easily dispatch with Yaztromo's holy water. And inside the tomb, beside the ghoul... I find the head of the hammer.

If this book was Warlock on Firetop Mountain, I'd have failed. If it were City of Thieves, I'd have failed. But no. Forest of Doom, in letting you start over from the beginning, let me read those fabled words, 'turn to 400'.

The dwarves of Stonebridge are overjoyed that I bring the hammer to them. They give me a golden helm, and fill by backpack with gems. And throw a massive feast and celebrate. No doubt I will butcher them all in their beds that very night. But for now, that doesn't matter, because....

I HAVE WON!!


I know that it's rather a cheap way to have done it,  but it's my first victory since I started this blog, so let me enjoy it a while, eh? In retrospect, I think that this may be why Ian Livingstone wrote in this kind of feature to restart the book. It's not a fool-proof way to play repeatedly though - eventually your luck score will get so low that you're unable to restart and die en route back to the beginning of the adventure. From a gameplay perspective, it's interesting to see this type of feature.

Forest of Doom is a pretty solid book, for this early in the series. You can still see the dungeon crawl formula at work, but it dresses the cosmetics in such a way that you are easily able to look past that (which was a big problem in books like Space Assassin). There's even a few moments that, when I played it, made me think of how this type of cosmetic style has been used in later forms, in particular during the second and third Zork video games. 

But I could continue to analyse this book for hours, would that even interest anyone here? Point being, this book came out before the FF books even had a decisive formula, and it was already pushing to develop something new and explore different locations for the hero to adventure. There's a whole load of new ways for puzzles to work, and the item system takes the place of the magic system from Citadel of Chaos in a very curious way, reminiscent of the inventory system in video games. If you're so inclined, you can see the way in which elements from this book were later developed in City of Thieves and so on.... but who cares? I won! I WON!! 

I WON!!!!!

Friday, January 2, 2015

Fun Stuff for 2015: Sol Invictus


Happy New Year, my gamebooky buddies. All across the world, a hangover fug is lifting, and men and women everywhere greet a shining new age free of dehydration and aspirin.

So, let's kick off this wondrous era with a look at some of the gamebooky goodness coming our way in 2015. First up: Sol Invictus.

Eons ago, in 2014, a company called Cubus Games created an app adaptation of a gamebook called Heavy Metal Thunder, written by an improbably-named man called Kyle B. Stiff. It was awesome. The story was dark and moody; you take the role of an elite jetpack soldier, part of the Black Lance Legion. Humanity is beaten; the war against the extraterrestrial Invaders is lost. Wounded and suffering from partial amnesia, you have to find your home unit and warn them of an impending attack, before everything you know is lost forever.

It was atmospheric, well-written science fiction. It had a great bit where your character went a bit mad, because he had to fly through space with a little jet pack for months on end. I really enjoyed it - I wrote a review of it, in fact, which you can read here. Nor was I alone in that. The app won a Pocket Gamer Silver Award

Sol Invictus is the sequel to Heavy Metal Thunder, and the continuation of the story that began there. Three years into the war against the alien Invaders, humanity manages to launch an offensive against its oppressors - an offensive spearheaded by Admiral Franks and his Black Lance Legion. And yet, might Franks himself be as great a threat to humanity as the aliens?

As I'm writing these words, Sol Invictus is just five days away from being released, on 8th January.

I'm thinking it's going to be great.


(Post by Paul Gresty)

Legend of the Wayfarer books 1, 2 and 3 are out now!

Hello gamebookers! I have some good news! The first three Legend of the Wayfarer books are out! You can get them and the core rulebook from my Lulu page.

However, if you want some more content to do with Legend of the Wayfarer for a very small cost, head over to my Patreon page, where for $0.35 per book, you get some exclusive material about my plans (including more videos) and for $2 per book, you get to see the books early. Some people have already read my books, so that's something to be jealous of.

If you just want them for free, however, go to my Lulu page.

Here's me talking about my books:


video


You can find my author spotlight here

You can find the core rulebook here

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Thursday, January 1, 2015

Legend of the Shadow Warriors playthrough

Written by Stephen Hand, Artwork by Martin McKenna

This was another one of the very first Fighting Fantasy books I played. Legend of the Shadow Warriors was one of the darkest ones I remember, although that may be simply because I was young at the time. I remember the story being rather nightmarish and ghastly, so I'm keen to see if it lives up to my memory.

I also recall this as being the first gamebook I couldn't win even by cheating. The titular Shadow Warriors were nigh-indestructible, and would always wind up overwhelming me in the end. Maybe that's why I remember it being so terrifying. The cover itself always creeped me out, a few levels more than the House of Hell cover... so yeah, this is my Halloween post! Enjoy!

One thing I do notice is that this adventure seems to incorporate an armour system. This is a nice touch, as it will hopefully diminish some of the damage taken. The armour itself has a level of hits it can take, so that replicates the idea of the armour degrading over time.

So let's begin.

Hmm, could use these for
finishing these FF gamebooks
The adventure starts by giving us a bit of an exposition dump, telling us a bit of history that reminds me a little of Creature of Havoc, but more brief and to the point. It doesn't mention the Shadow Warriors though - the only reference we get to those is when a poor villager comes to ask me (the mighty adventurer) if I will help protect them. We're then informed that these titular Shadow Warriors are sinister boogymen that are nothing but myths.

Nevertheless I agree to help the villagers, and am about to leave the comfort of the local tavern when I meet the city's most infamous gambler. He challenges me to a game of dice, which I quickly accept. I win, only to notice that he has cheated by using loaded dice. I take his dice, and throw him out of the tavern, loudly proclaiming him a cheat.

I head to the market in order to stock up for my adventure, buying some provisions, some firecrackers and a mirror. Midway through my shopping, I am stopped by a short well-dressed man, accompanied by several city guards. He loudly proclaims that he is the tax inspector, and demands that I pay upwards of 500 gold in back taxes. I don't even have a home, and have only pennies to my name, and he still wants me to pay excessive taxes. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what happens when you vote for the tories!

The most terrifying vampire
in recorded human history
So I do what any self-respecting, law-abiding citizen would do in this situation - I kick the tax man in the knees and run for it.

As I sprint down one of the alleyways, I start to wonder if this is the kind of adventure that my character had in mind when he first picked up his sword. Surely this is more of a 'mis'adventure. I do run face-first into my gambler friend and two thugs, who are wanting revenge for having humiliated them earlier. I'm in no mood for playing games, so I stab them repeatedly (hey, if I'm being chased by the guards for tax evasion, resisting arrest and assault, may as well add manslaughter to the list) and run into the alleyways.

Growing desperate, I dive into the sewer system. As we learned back during my adventures in Khare, the sewers are a happy place, filled with joy and fun. Or giant monsters made of poo. In this instance, you can guess what I find in the sewers. If your guess is that I find a giant monster made of poo, congratulations, you're king of the obvious. I chuck a firecracker at it and run like buggery.

The whole silly debacle ends with me escaping from the city on the back of a rubbish cart, eventually to meet up with the villagers on a highway pass. As I do, we are beset by none other than the five Shadow Warriors themselves - ghastly monsters much like the nazgul, but wearing silver masks and robes. Strange, I remember them looking like the monsters in the cover. Maybe my youthful mind got mixed up. Any way, they decimate the entire group of villagers, stab me in the knee, and leave me for dead.

But I do not die. My hate sustains me. Well, hate and provisions.

I head to the home of a wise hermit, who is sagely in the ways of such things. Two things I know about the wise hermit - the first is that he is a hermit. The second is that he is wise. The third is that he lives not far from a well, where I am assailed by a dandy highwayman. He tries to take my cash while looking flash, I kick him in the shin and finish my drink of fresh well water.

Eventually I manage to arrive at the hermit's cabin, where he tells me the tale of the Shadow Warriors, servants of the dread god-monster Voivod. As he tells me the story, there is a knock on the door. "Let me in" says the visitor, "I am your son". But it cannot be - for the hermit's son died some years before! I knock the hermit on the head until he quits this whole Monkey's Paw debacle, and the monster at the door gives up and goes home.

The hermit then tells me something very useful - that if I rip their masks off, the Shadow Warriors can be defeated. I suspect that this is valuable information. I thank him and head out on my travels, opting to cut through the fields rather than stay on the roads. Along the way the atmosphere of the game really starts to ramp up, with dramatic thunderstorms rolling in, lightning striking the earth, and some very creepy trees trying to kill me.

In all seriousness, this
is a damn good comic.
I know that normally, trees aren't as horrifying when they're attempting to kill you. But I'm wielding an axe that I picked up in the city - of course! An axe is the natural enemy of a tree! So I make short work of it without too much trouble at all.

As I stumble through the fields, I encounter a strange voice in the winds, a rustle of the leaves. The avatar of the wilderness, a demigod by the name of Jack-in-the-Green (who, being the incarnation of the forces of nature, will hereafter be referred to as the Swamp Thing), speaks to me and asks that I be his champion in defending the world from the evils of the Shadow Warriors. This is a really nice touch. It's a bit abrupt, but the inclusion of this type of anthropomorphic earth-god deity adds a lot of the mythical atmosphere to this game. I'm not even sure if I got this sequence in my playthroughs of this adventure when I was a kid. The character really came as quite an interesting surprise, and incorporates quite a few of the elements of the 'Green Man' style. If you're interested, there's a decent page on this on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_Man

I've mentioned the atmosphere a few times so far, and really it's around this point in the book when you really start to pause and appreciate it. I don't remember if the prose actually specified, but you end up picturing the entire next few locations as occurring entirely at the depths of night, possibly in the rain as well. It's such a little thing, but atmosphere really is so very important. Like in horror movies (although that's a very blanket statement, given how terribly bland some horror films can be). Just, whatever you do... don't go and watch Paranormal Activity 4, okay? I studied film at university for three years, these films are a banal, tedious, insipid, not remotely scary, and are an insult to an artform that I love. If you really, really want to watch it, you can enjoy entirely the same experience by staring at a pair of rich douchebag white people sleeping for hours on end, climaxing in screaming at a closing door. Do not pay to see these films, the people who are making them do not deserve your money. If you want to watch a film this halloween, get a copy of Dario Argento's 'Suspiria'.

Huh... sorry, I've gone off on a rant now, haven't I?

Still creeps the
hell out of me!
Eventually I stumble into a town, to find that it is here that the monsters on the book's cover make their appearance. The pumpkin-headed entities are the constructs of a witch who is laying assault to the town, for no real reason other than to cause strife and chaos. I kill one of these creatures (who remind me of the disturbing pumpkin-headed thing in the movie 'Return to Oz', which is surely a precursor to both Jack Skellington and the Slender Man) without too much trouble.

Soon enough I am over-run by them as I try to sneak into the witch's makeshift tower, and am dragged into her study. She explains that she is no simple witch, but is in fact a type of undead called a wampyre (like a vampire, but a bit more effete). She boasts about her fantastic power, and I tell her that if she is so powerful, she should try freeing her pumpkin servitors. She does, and they promptly chuck her into the fireplace.

In gratitude, Swamp Thing teleports me to stonehenge for a while, where a large number of mythological figures sit around in merry avalon-style frolics. The great horned god gives me a powerful spear of instant-death, and tells me that I can use this to defeat Voivod. This entire sequence is very nice, with some lovely and imaginative characters, and definitely ranks highly in the level of creativity it shows.

Typical orc kitchen. Only cleaner.
I am returned back to the mortal realm, and push into the next part of my journey (I have no clear destination in mind, so I'm just wandering from place to place). I manage to wander right head-long into a troupe of orcs, who kidnap me and force me to work in their kitchen. For a bit of a laugh, I tell them that I'm actually a spy from their enemies. They don't have much of a sense of humour, because they promptly kill me. Which means I don't need to work in their kitchens any more, so it's not all bad.

So yeah, we come to a rather undignified end to this adventure. But curiously, I feel that I've been making a lot of right turns along the way too. Finding the method on how to dispatch the Shadow Warriors was a real strong hint, and acquiring the spear weapon was very portentous, hinting that I was on the right trail with those ones. Maybe if I'd have just been able to keep my mouth shut around the orcs, I'd have even managed to win this adventure!

I'm really impressed with this book. The atmosphere is very immersive, the sense of mythology and characters is excellent. You spend so much time meeting new and interesting characters that you quickly get involved in the story, which is not as insanely difficult as I remember it being. I've taken quite a fondness for this book. It's not your traditional Halloween gamebook, maybe you might prefer House of Hell, Vault of the Vampire, Blood of the Zombies, Howl of the Werewolf etc, but this one really fits for me, so don't count it out either. Give it a shot, eh? It really is very cool.