Monday, February 8, 2016

GAMEBOOK STATTING - Part 2

Hello again!

This time around I'm adding that old favourite, Deathtrap Dungeon.  I've added some more rows which you can see below.  Findings as always at the bottom.  Oh, I've added a new feature (because I like the sound of my own writing) called (Dis)Honourable Mentions.  It's bits and pieces that pop up at me as I'm going through statting out the book.

Quite a sizeable post this one, so for those of you who hate reading, here's the summary:

TL;DR = "DD is very, very dangerous"


RESULTS



WoFM
FoD
DD
Dead end paragraphs
5
2
31
Instadeath paragraphs
0
0
2
Total Attribute Tests
24
18
39
 Test Your Luck
21
12
25
 Test Your Skill
2
6
13
 Test Your Stamina
1
0
1
Total Gold
127
79
4
Luck modifier total
59
0
-2
 Luck from opponents
39
4
2
 Luck bonuses
20
10
6
 Luck penalties
0
-14
-10
Skill modifier total
-1
-2
-13
 Skill from opponents
4
0
1
 Skill bonuses
7
2
3
 Skill penalties
-12
-4
-17
Stamina modifier total
-18
-67
-151
 Stamina from opponents
5
0
-5
 Stamina bonuses
16
12
15
 Stamina penalties
-39
-79
-161
No. of combat encounters
36
38
21
Total number of opponents
56
65
27
Average Opponent skill
7
7
8
Average Opponent stamina
6
6
7
Lowest Opponent skill
4
3
5
Lowest Opponent stamina
1
2
4
Highest Opponent skill
11
10
12
Highest Opponent stamina
18
12
15


FINDINGS


DEAD END PARAGRAPHS vs INSTADEATH (NEW)
When I first thought of this I had a clear idea of what I meant: turning to a paragraph and simply dying without any real warning.  That annoys me and I know it annoys a lot of other people.  I tried to quantify it as any paragraph that doesn’t lead to another, but that comparison isn’t fair.  For example, in WoFM, you discover what happens when you’re defeated by the Vampire and Ghoul; you’ve already been defeated, you simply read how they bite into your arse for some juicy adventurer meat (yum, yum).  I feel these paragraphs were put in so they could reach a total of 400, so it’s more like extra flavour.  But in Deathtrap Dungeon, when you prise out the wrong eye jewel, some poison gas is released and you fall to your death.  Where’s the warning?  Where’s the clues that you shouldn’t do that?  Nowhere, that’s where.  And the room of dead, previous competitors you walk into (after losing Throm to a falling boulder trap), that you can’t escape from.  Where were the warning signs for that!?


But you know what, you’re in a dungeon famed for it’s deadly traps, so I’m not bothered by that so much, although these two are still going in the Instadeath column.


What I’m really referring to are things such as Masks of Mayhem, when you walk too far to the west in a forest and you simply disappear.  Or try to raft it across a dangerous lake (surely the quickest end to an adventure short of trying to attack Yaztromo in FoD).  You have NO warning, no clues to dissuade you from taking that western path in the forest. At least when you charge Yaztromo in his tower, he shows you his 9mm and says, “Don’t dis me in ma crib boy, I’ll light yo ass up” or words to that effect.  


So that is Instadeath and in my humble opinion, we need fewer instances of it (might be a bit tricky now that all the FF books have pretty much been written).  So think of the Instadeath column as a badge of shame.  The higher the number, the greater the number of people that should walk behind that book’s naked body in the street, ringing a bell and crying out “Shame!” every few seconds.


TEST YOUR ATTRIBUTE (NEW)
As suggested by Stuart, I’ve included the attribute tests.  What’s immediately striking here is that DD will ask you to test your luck 25 times to WoFM’s comparable 21, but whereas the original book will have a stonking 59 pts available to you to make up for all those rolls, DD will actually work against you having a final modifier of -2 pts.  Strange, it’s like the Dungeon actually wants you to fail?  


DD is also a lot more demanding of its Skill Tests too (more than WoFM and FoD combined).  It certainly sorts the wheat from the Skill=7 chaff.  And actually that’s a good thing (see opponents).  Especially from the viewpoint of saving yourself time and unnecessary bother.  This pretty much equates to Michael Palin's Roman bureaucrat from Life of Brian at the registration booth saying to contestants, “Skill 9 or less?  Out the door, one cross each, line on the left.  Skill 9 or less?  Out the door, one cross each, line on the left.”


GOLD PIECES
Well, you certainly don’t go to DD for the money!  That’s a grand total of 4 gold pieces you can pick up.  Woo hoo!  Still, if you make it out you get a lovely (exact) amount of 10,000 gold pieces.  I wonder if the hero actually counted it all out?  What if Sukumvit decided to just pay 9,000 gps?  Could you tell the difference? Come to think of it, what kind of independent audit procedures does Baron Sukumvit actually have in place?  Do you have to pay tax on your winnings or is it more like the lottery?  I’d like to see the Allansian Inland Revenue try and demand 40% of your gold as you stagger out, bloodied and bruised.  Wait a moment, I’ve just had an idea for a new gamebook!  Let’s call it Deathtax Dungeon.


SKILL/STAMINA/LUCK MODIFIERS
We covered Luck and Skill earlier, but who cares about that, just look at the Stamina modifier total!  Dear lord, -151!?  DD certainly can’t be accused of not living up to its name.  So where does all that come from?  Well, there are a fair few instances of roll a d6 and lose that many stamina points x 2!  Remember that I’m using the maximum possible damage result, so where it says you take 1d6 x 2 stamina damage from the Manticore spikes, I put in -12 (not an average).  Also skewing the results somewhat is the incorrect jewel combination penalty at the very end.  Each wrong combo dishes out 1d6+1 (so 7 pts) stamina damage.  Multiply that by 5 wrong answers before you hit the last (and correct) combo and you’ve already taken -35 pts.


Now you could argue for a more average result of the dice rolls, but honestly, I’ve got friends who would roll that badly (no doubt paying for sins in a former life) and if you didn’t play Mastermind as a child (with it’s black and white pegs) then the Gnome’s ‘help’ at the end with his “crowns and skulls” equivalent isn’t going to be much use to you either.  So just suck it up and take 151 points of stamina damage like a man.  A very dead man.  Or woman.  These reviews aren’t gender biased.


COMBAT ENCOUNTERS/OPPONENTS
Okay, so even with its paltry 21 combat encounters the creatures you face in DD are like the frikkin’ SAS!  Even if you didn’t end up crucified out the front, you’re by no means guaranteed an easy run.  From two 'dead end paragraph' results from measly Hobgoblins to the Mossad trained Pit Fiend, you’re in for some really tough fights.  And it doesn’t let up either.  Pinballing from one fight (Bloodbeast skill=12) to another (Manticore skill=11), your hero really goes through the ringer.  


Talking of the Bloodbeast, if you read the advice on it in the Red Leather book, you’re forced down the path of having to actually fight it for 2 combat rounds.  This guy has skill 12!  If your luck is in decent shape, you’re better off making a luck roll (to fall unconscious too far away from the Bloodbeast to tongue snare you), then a skill roll to run past his flappy tongue.


Anyway, back to the stats.  The average skill score may not seem like much at 8, but it takes some really high numbers to drag it up from 7, especially when you have only 27 creatures.  And like WoFM we have our highest skill and stamina values from one creature: that Pit Fiend.  I’m pretty sure the Warlock and the Pit Fiend get together and go bowling on their nights off.

One final thing, a statistic I’ve recorded but not programmed for yet is whether you can escape from combat.  In WoFM it’s 17 allowable escapes; FoD it’s 12; and DD it’s 3.  Yep, pretty harsh.  What’s more, 2 of those 3 escapes involve you actually hanging around for a bit first before you can leg it.


So Deathtrap Dungeon certainly earns it's name. Whilst this gamebook isn't a favourite of mine (I know, I know, I've just ostracised myself), I do appreciate the overall structure of it. Especially as it's not as random as I first expected.

As I've dissed it enough now, I think I might tackle Masks of Mayhem next. Stuart mentioned Crypt of the Sorceror as being the most difficult, so that's also an option. Anyone have any other suggestions and reasons why they'd like to see it statted?


(Dis)Honourable Mentions


Not to do with stats, this section is just about things I’ve spotted that seem odd or out of place or just worthy of pointing out for discussion.  Grouped by book.


Forest of Doom
In the Fire Demon’s cavern you come across a bunch of clones.  They’re operating some kind of fungi farm.  Demons are well known for their desire to project manage vegan plantations, but what I find totally unbelievable is this: you fight 4 Clone Warriors, but these guys all have different skill and stamina scores.  If they’re clones shouldn’t these scores be identical?


Why is the Catwoman wearing earrings?  She’s not a Werecat, so it’s not like she was wearing the earrings as a human and then transformed and then went to lie on a branch shortly before you happen upon her.  As a Catwoman she has opposable thumbs, so she can put the earrings in herself (or take them out).  It must be for vanity.  But if none of her possessions show a mirror, she must do it to attract a mate.  And to be fair, whenever I see a naked woman completely covered in thick body hair with feline features and a bad attitude, the first thing I look for are earrings.


Deathtrap Dungeon

At the start of the book it states that the Trial of Champions is a popular affair, attracting large crowds in the run up to and during the event.  What I don’t understand is the Trial is set deep in the side of a hill.  There are no viewing galleries.  So it’s not really a spectator sport.  What do these people do whilst it’s going on?  Chances are no-one’s going to come out the other side.  How long do they wait?  This is akin to turning on tv to watch Strictly Come Dancing, watching all the intro, the backstories, the build up and then seeing the screen go black for the next 8+ hours.  After an indeterminate time, the picture comes back on and shows an empty stage.  “No one won, thanks for watching!  See you next year”.  Yay.

The Caveman you fight near the start, he has skill=7. If you put on his bracelet you suddenly lose 4 skill points! Does that mean the Caveman actually had skill=11 naturally? Wow. He must be one of those Navy SEAL trained Cavemen you always hear about.

Finally, the Dwarven Trialmaster who gives you the anagrams to work out who to fight (either the Minotaur or Scorpion), who didn't choose Scorpion first time around. "Yeah, bring on that little sucker and I'll step on him". When the M1 Abrams sized scorpion rolls out and starts pincering you to death, the book clearly states GIANT SCORPION. That wasn't in the anagram! What a jip! Clearly a Trades Description Act violation if ever there was one. I'd complain except I've been scissored in two and have a gallon of venom inside me.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Blog posts I read to improve my gamebook writing - updated

Hello gamebookers! I was just going through past April A to Z posts to find people to interview this year and it reminded me of a very important series of posts on gamebooks from Grey Wiz. So here is the updated list.

The Problem with Gamebooks - Part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5 and part 6 - this series of posts provides an in depth analysis and discussion on the structures of gamebooks, their shortcomings and how to fix them. If you're going to work with something, you need to know its weaknesses as well as its strengths and this is an excellent post to get to know gamebooks better.

The Brewin's Guide to Writing Better Gamebooks - This is full of tips and things to avoid when writing a gamebook. I reminded myself of them when writing Asuria Awakens and realised that I had included all the items that you need to avoid instant death at the beginning, so I added an extra item towards the end to avoid the death section.

Game Design Principles by Ashton Saylor - I go back to this one normally for rule 1. I have put some things in gamebooks that I thought were funny or clever, but they turned out to not work because they annoyed the player.

A Bestiary of Player Agency on These Heterogeneous Tasks blog - this is an important blog post to read if you want to get the most out of your options in gamebooks. There is a lot more to options than just offering sections to turn to and this post allows you to think about more options that you could use.

Standard Patterns in Choice Based Games on These Heterogeneous Tasks blog and also Classifying and Rating Linearity on Jake Care's blog. I like these posts as they let me classify the gamebook I am making and then let me think about whether it is panning out in the way I want it to. Now that I am using the Gamebook Authoring Tool which provides flow diagrams, I compare general shapes of the diagrams.

So there you go. These 5  posts are all quite long, so there is plenty to get your teeth into there, but if you read them, digest them and follow the principles, you won't do much wrong with your gamebooks. Unless you don't proofread them.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

The Foundling Saga - A Fighting Fantasy Fizzle


 
In 2013 Gallimard, one of the biggest publishers in France, invited Steve Jackson to the Salon du Livre, France's huge annual literary trade fair. Gallimard had been publishing Steve's books non-stop for the last 30 years; it was about time he made the guest list. I met Steve there, and pushed a copy of my gamebook Arcana Agency: the Thief of Memories into his hands. I also tried to hustle for a little writing work, even talking about some storylines for wholly original Fighting Fantasy apps. Steve was very polite and professional with me – though in retrospect, I was a bit pushy and over-eager. I'd already had a little email contact with Steve; he very kindly said it would be okay for me to send him a more fully-developed proposal. I got to work.
The proposal I ultimately sent him was for The Foundling Saga, a story taking place in Gallantaria during The War of the Five Kingdoms. I prepared a comprehensive outline, and even went so far as to create a demo of the first part of the game using Inkle's excellent Inklewriter engine. One idea I particularly liked was the notion of an app that could be played in the second person – gamebook-style, recording stats and items – or in the third person, in a more literary style. I still feel there's some merit to that idea, even given all the extra development work it entails.
Steve didn't go for the proposal. In truth, I'm not sure he really even read through it – he mentioned it would have been difficult contractually, so it probably wasn't worth a great deal of attention. Plus I got the impression the idea just didn't grab him, and he was being diplomatic. But he was very cool with me throughout. The guy's a pro, and it's a crying shame he hasn't written any gamebooks for a while now.
So I think I'm never really going to do anything with The Foundling Saga; it is now and forevermore relegated to the status of fan-fiction. Feel free to take a look at the online playable demo I prepared for The Foundling Saga, Part 1: Return to Titan. It's a nice little gamebook in its own right, I feel, copyrighted names and places notwithstanding.
Pfft. You win some, you lose some.

(Post by Paul Gresty)

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Statting the Fighting Fantasy books and You are the Beer-O

Hello gamebookers!

I case you haven't noticed, we have a new member of the team. Ben Roberts is statting the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks and coming up with some great analysis and comparisons. Check out his first post in case you haven't seen it.

Also, I just saw this on my Facebook feed:

 Rob Learner is organising this great event. I'm planning on being there at some point.

The Facebook Group for the event is here.

Enjoy!