Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Wondrous Nightmare Begins!

I wonder if, one day, Summer 2015 will be remembered as The Summer of Gamebook Kickstarters. We've recently seen the Kickstarter for the interactive fiction app The Frankenstein Wars - and, as one of the people intimately involved with that project, I'm overjoyed that we (just!) managed to reach our target. Thank you, thank you, thank you, good backers. In just a few days we'll see the start of the Kickstarter for the next Fabled Lands gamebook, The Serpent King's Domain. And in the nearish future (I'll have to check my dates) we'll see a Kickstarter for the Jamie Thomson / Ashton Saylor gamebook The Good, The Bad & The Undead.

But today is the day that Jonathon Green launches his own gamebook Kickstarter for Alice's Nightmare in Wonderland. Have you read a Fighting Fantasy gamebook in the last 20 years? Then you know who Jonathon Green is, and that the quality of his writing is up there with the best.

Alice's Nightmare in Wonderland seems a wonderfully odd bird. Though it's based on a work of classic literature, it seems to place a firm focus on game mechanics and playability - it is both game and book, you might say. Uniquely, the Kickstarter's project page mentions it can be played with three different sets of rules - one using dice, one using playing cards (how flavourful!), and one without any random component at all. Curiouser and curiouser.

Enough shenanigans. Here's JG's press announcement on the book: -

On Saturday 4th July, at 1.00pm BST (which is 8.00am New York time and 10.00pm in Melbourne, Australia), I am launching my latest Kickstarter project, ALICE'S NIGHTMARE IN WONDERLAND.

ALICE'S NIGHTMARE IN WONDERLAND is a brand new nightmarish gamebook - a multi-path book, very much in the style of Choose Your Own Adventure and Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks, in which you choose the course of the story - inspired by the works of Lewis Carroll and the Steampunk genre.

ALICE'S NIGHTMARE IN WONDERLAND is set several years after the events of 'Through the Looking Glass'. Alice finds herself back in Wonderland and called upon to save the realm from the increasingly deranged Queen of Hearts. But all is not as it first appears, and soon Alice is battling to save herself from the nightmare that is rapidly overtaking Wonderland.

If you've ever wondered what would have happened if Alice hadn’t drunk from the bottle labelled ‘Drink Me’, or if she hadn’t joined the Hatter, the March Hare, and the Dormouse for tea, now you can find out. In ALICE'S NIGHTMARE IN WONDERLAND, rather than becoming Alice yourself, YOU guide Alice through the fluctuating dream world, deciding which route she should take, which perils to risk, and which of Wonderland’s strange denizens to fight.

But be warned – whether Alice succeeds in her quest, or meets a dire end as the nightmare escalates, will be down to the choices YOU make.

If you think this project might be for you, please check out the project's preview page here - - and set your alarm for 1.00pm on Saturday to make sure you don't miss out on your ideal reward. After all, there are some limited rewards that gamebook fans and Alice aficionados alike are going to want to get their hands on before anyone else.

(Post by Paul Gresty)

Sunday, June 28, 2015

What would happen if fighting Fantasy went from 2d6 to 1d12?

First of all, go and back The Frankenstein Wars, an awesome gamebook app with Paul Gresty, Dave Morris and Cubus Games. It costs a mere 4 euros (or £2.85) to get the app! Do that first!

Ages ago, I wrote a post about using dice and what the probability of rolling a particular number on 2d6 was as well as the probability of winning an attack round depending on the difference in your skill and your opponent's skill. (at one point, I'm going to revisit my big posts to update them with my new knowledge, make them clearer and more pithy).

We all know that some Fighting Fantasy books involve impossible die rolls.  However, maybe if 2d6 was changed to 1d12, would that change things?

Just in case you don't know, different numbers in 2d6 have a different probability due to the different number of combinations that produce different numbers.  There are 6 ways to get a 7 with two dice, but only 1 way to get a 2 .  This produces a 'bell curve' where it is easier to get numbers in the middle and less likely to get very large or very small numbers.

This produces some interesting results, especially when you realise that increasing your skill by 1 point does not increase the probability of success by the same amount depending on what value your skill was to start with.  Going from 6 to 7 increases the chance of success by 16.67%.  Going from 9 to 10 increases the chance of success by half that - 8.3%.

I then went to look at the probability of winning an attack round depending on the difference between your skill and your opponent's skill.

So if your skill is 3 or more lower than your opponent's, then you're pretty much stuffed.

So, how would things be different if we replaced 2d6 with 1d12?  Well, for a start, there would be a higher chance of rolling a 1 (:P), but what about success in a test for skill?  Or the chance to hit someone in combat?  

Unlike 2d6, increasing a score with a 1d12 system increases your chance of success by the same amount.  Increasing your stat by 1 increases your chance of success by 8.3% whether its from 1 to 2 or 11 to 12.

The graph below shows the probability of rolling at least a certain number from  The 1d12 probability is a line, indicating that the probability changes by a consistent amount.  The 2d6 probability is a curve, indicating that it changes by different amounts.

Black = 1d12
Orange = 2d6
Here is the chance of succeeding at a test (rolling equal to or less than a number on 1d12 or 2d6)

Here are some funny things:

Rolling a 7 or less has the same chance on both rolls.  

With 1d12 it is more likely to get extreme numbers (1 or 12) on 1d12.

So having a low score is more forgiving with 1d12, but then after 7, having a high score has less benefit, making both a great failure and a great success less likely.

What about winning a combat round?

Compared to 2d6, the probability of winning when your skills are equal or there is a difference of 1 between you is very similar.  Once the difference gets bigger, the chance of winning or losing the round does not change by as much as with 2d6.  There is a 25% chance to win an attack round against someone whose skill is 3 higher than yours (compared to 15% with 2d6), so once again, the middle values have similar amounts, but once you get very large or very small numbers, the changes are not so extreme - having a lower value is not as bad, but having a high value is not as good.

So would using 1d12 make Fighting Fantasy easier?  Considering a lot of the books have enemies with skills that are too high, yes.  It will give a character with a lower skill a fighting chance.  It would also make the books better for characters with higher skills as it will make combat less one sided and give them a chance of losing out.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Frankenstein Wars - The Hard Part Is History

You could make a solid argument that it's more challenging to write good interactive fiction than good literary fiction. In a gamebook, say, all of the requirements of high-quality literature must be present - such as plot, pacing, character; those old chestnuts. And yet you have to work within a very specific form, one that emphasises the meaningful choices within the text. This creates a great big decision tree, and for practical reasons of space, you can't spend a lot of time exploring the nuances of every specific route within that tree. Sadly, that means you can't devote a lot of words to dialogue, say, or inner monologue, or exploring complex socio-political situations. Out they go.

Oh, the consequences of complex socio-political situations can stay. The great big, bloody battles, and soldiers getting smashed to smithereens - all of that stuff can make the final edit.

Fantasy settings work great in gamebooks. In a really strong fantasy setting, everything can be expressed in such a beautifully shorthand way that you have a ton of room left over for the really important stuff, such as telling a great story. Don't misunderstand me - I'm not saying that the worlds themselves are simple; far from it. A handful of gamebooks have been set in Tolkien's Middle-Earth, and that's mind-blowingly rich. In more purist gamebook terms, Joe Dever's Magnamund isn't so far behind when it comes to sheer detail. But these worlds are inspired by legends that tap into the familiar, satisfying tropes of absolute light and dark. When it comes down to it, there are guys who worship good gods, and guys who worship evil gods. A sword is a sword, a big metal helmet will stop you getting bonked on the head, and wizards are mysterious and difficult to trust.

You know which setting is even more realistic than Magnamund, or Middle-Earth?

That's right. Reality.

The Frankenstein Wars gamebook app is an ambitious project in several ways. Dave Morris's concept of the reanimated lazarans as intelligent, feeling beings is a dramatic step beyond the majority of interactive fiction that currently exists. And the guys at Cubus Games are performing technical miracles with the game - I think, in terms of visuals and gameplay, we'll be able to create something that's right up there with the Sorcery! apps, or the best of the Tin Man adaptations.

But, perhaps most challenging of all, the game will be rooted in real-life history. We hope to successfully capture the discontentment of France during the reign of Charles X, the incompetent king. This is a game that will feature a host of characters who really, truly existed - such as Marshall Ney, Ada Lovelace, Lord Blakeney, and a certain deceased (and somewhat petit) former emperor of France.

And yet this is no documentary. Make no mistake - the star of the show here is Victor Frankenstein's resurrection technology, and the world-shattering power it grants to those who possess it. The game focuses on the schism between brothers Tom and Anton Clerval, yes - but it focuses too on the schism between Britain and France, and between the living and the once-dead.

Let the big, bloody battles commence. Let the soldiers get smashed to smithereens - and let Frankenstein's technology stick them back together again afterwards.

Sound interesting? At the time of writing, The Frankenstein Wars Kickstarter is hovering at around 54%, with just a few days to go. Why not click on over that way and back the project right now?

(Post by Paul Gresty)

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Tinkering tinkering

Hello all!

I have made some more changes to Legend of the Wayfarer system. And I need to stop them. I need to make a promise to only change the system every 6 books or so, to stop constant tweaking. Here are the latest tweaks:

Changes to the abilities:

My ideas with the abilities was to keep them balanced and keep them concrete. What I mean is that I didn't want one ability to be useful more than the others and I also wanted any situation that involved an ability test to be clear as to which abilities will help, so I wouldn't have to think so much about it. For this reason, I made these changes.

Insight has been replaced by perception and lore: Originally, the insight ability covered both general knowledge AND spotting things. This was because I used 6 abilities in the first edition and because of that, insight covered 2 abilities worth of things. It also didn't make sense from a flavour point of view. Someone who knows a lot isn't necessarily perceptive and vice versa. So when I decided to have starting characters choose 3 abilities from a list of 12 (instead of 1 from a list of 6), it made more sense that I could have the abilities cover smaller areas and this was the obvious choice.

Mysticism now also covers what intuition used to: In the original 12, mysticism covered communicating and repelling the fey whereas intuition was about detecting Fey creatures and magick. Since insight also covered detecting things, intuition seemed to cover too narrow a field, so it is now covered in mysticism and perception took its place.

Cunning is gone: Cunning was a pretty awesome ability to have in the Virtual Reality series. It conjured up the idea of the quick thinking trickster and I usually chose it, especially when doing the 'Most unlikely hero skill set' challenge (usually meaning no swordplay, archery, magic, charms or brawling). However, I found it a bit nebulous to fit into the books. Where to use it seemed a bit arbitrary and the skill itself seems to be a mix of roguery, charm and lore. Since it is not as 'concrete' as the other abilities, it got the axe.

Roguery no longer covers sneaking and hiding. Stealth does that: Cunning was replaced with stealth, which covers hiding, sneaking, disguise and blending in with the crowd. Originally roguery covered stealth as well as picking locks, picking pockets, disarming traps, forgery and the other things you consider a rogue to do. This seemed like too broad a skill set for one ability, so I split it up. Also, rogues do not necessarily get a monopoly on stealth. It fits just as well with a outdoors hunter type.
Use of 1d6 instead of 2d6

I always want to make things as simple as possible, so using anydice, I made a few calculations on the probability of success in a 1d6 and 2d6 system. It turned out that using a 1d6 system gives players a small (about 5-8% decrease) in the chances of success, but then I remembered that these values are rough. I'm taking the standard test as difficulty 4 on 1 die (so roll 4 or more), which is 50/50 normally. I will name 3 abilities. So the probability of success then is 64%, which is OK. If I used a 2d6 system, the chance of succeeding at a difficulty 7 test with 3 abilities mentioned is 70%, which is better.

However, this does not take into account the fact that sometimes, I will let items and codewords give the player rerolls as well as having the spend 1xp for a reroll rule. Also, this is only for characters with 3 abilities and some characters may have more if they have bought them with experience. Coupled with a personal rule that no ability test should lead to instant death in the case of failure, I don't think that the 6% decrease will be a big problem and coupled with the increase in simplicity, it's a no-brainer. It might even be that the 2d6 system was too easy.

Also, I had the idea of fate rolls being 1d6, 2d6, 3d6 or 4d6, but all of my fate rolls turned out to be 1d6, so I won't bother with the other dice rolls.

Experience increase for critical success in ability rolls only if experience is 6 or below

I thought of a little loophole that might happen over time. In my old rules, you got 1xp if you rolled a double 6 on an ability test. The idea of this was for you to have a special treat and also to make sure that players will never see any ability test as pointless (for example, if they come across an easy test and they have 3 abilities for it, they may not want to roll the dice as the chances for success are certain. This way, they will roll to see if they get the double 6). However, if you get more xp, you can get more abilities, which leads to more rerolls, which leads to more double 6s which leads to more experience and so on.

In the 1d6 system, I changed this to a single 6 which has a 17% chance of being rolled before any rerolls. So I changed the system so that you only got experience if your experience was 6 or less. I've come up with a couple of flavour reasons, but the main one is to prevent a vicious cycle of rerolls.

Vitality and will start at 6 and have a maximum value of 12

They have smaller values as I wanted to get the size of the consequence of each gain and loss of vitality and will right. What I mean is that I don't want a loss or gain of 1 to be inconsequential and I don't want a change that is inconsequential for one character and devastating for another. If your starting value is 6 and your maximum is 12, a change of 1 is never inconsequential, whereas if you could start with a value of 12 and there's no maximum, 1 could be inconsequential. Also the range between 6 and 12 for starting values might be too much where a change of 5 could be a huge problem for one person, but no big deal to another. So I'm reducing the variance to 0 at the beginning and putting a maximum on so that no one gets too powerful.

So now, with 3xp to gain 1 will or vitality and 12xp to get a new ability, you need the following xp to get the maximum scores.

9 x 12 = 108 for all the abilities.

6 x 3 = 18 to maximise your will

6 x 3 = 18 to maximise your vitality

-3 because you start with 3 xp

So you only need 141xp to get all the abilities and maximum scores, as long as you don't spend any on rerolls. However, since I only give out 3xp max per book, it's going to take a while.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Non-adventurer class for DnD 5th edition

Hello all! Recently, I made an E2 version of DnD where I introduced the master class, a class that basically gets lots of skills and is used mainly for powerful NPCs. I did this because I wanted some NPCs in the world to not just be '0 level' people who get trodden all over by the heroes. There are powerful and skilled characters out there who aren't necessarily adventurers. So I decided to expand this class for normal DnD by raising it to 10 levels. There were some rules for it, though. I didn't want it to be objectively weaker than PC classes, so it's not a commoner, but I also didn't want to make it too complicated so that DMs could make NPCs on the fly.

Basically, this non-adventurer has a lot of skills and a higher proficiency bonus in a lot of skills, but little combat knowledge and no knowledge of magic. They are not necessarily worse than PCs, but less suited to adventuring. PCs could take a few levels in this class to increase their skills, or PCs could all start with a level of non adventuring class to signify them being normal people thrust into adventure.

If the non adventurer goes above level 10, they will have to choose a PC class at level 11.

Some people in certain jobs could have 2-3 levels of non adventurer and 1-2 levels of PC class. The green militia might start off as a level 1 non adventurer and then have to work their way up to level 3 non adventurer before having actual training as a fighter. A trained soldier might be a non adventuer 3/fighter 1 and an officer might be a non-adventurer 3/fighter 4. A lay priest might be a non adventurer until level 3 before gaining a level of cleric. A sage may get 3 levels of non-adventurer before learning a level of wizard and an entertainer might ply their trade as a non-adventurer before enrolling into bard college. However, the majority of non adventurers will just have the non-adventurer class.

This is a good class if you want an obscene number of skills and a minor bonus during down time, but it won't do much else. It is quite straightforward so DMs can create NPCs with a minimum of fuss.

Anyone who wants to multiclass into non-adventurer does not need to have any minimum ability requirements.

The non-adventurer

Hit points 

Hit dice: 1d8 per level.


Armour: Light armour
Weapons: Simple weapons
Tools: Any two from the list of artisan's tools and musical instruments.
Saving Throws: Intelligence and wisdom
Skills: Any three.


Any simple weapon
Leather armour
One set of artisan's tools or one musical instrument

Proficiency Bonus
Bonus training
Downtime bonus
Ability score improvement
Bonus training 
Ability score improvement
Downtime bonus
Ability score improvement
Bonus training


At 1st level, choose two from your skill proficiencies, tool proficiencies or musical instrument proficiencies. Your proficiency bonus is doubled for any ability checks that use those proficencies, tools or musical instruments. You do this again at 9th level.

Bonus training

At 2nd level, you may gain proficiency with one skill, one language, one set of tools or one musical instrument. You do this again at 5th level and 10th level.

Downtime bonus

At 3rd level, you can choose one of the following features:

Better living: If you practise a profession or a craft or perform in your downtime, your standard of living can be 1 step higher that what you normally have.

Paid research: You do not have to pay for your standard of living whilst you research in your downtime. In addition, you do not need to spend any money to conduct your research.

Fast learner: It only takes you 125 days (instead of 250) to learn a set of tools, a language or a musical instrument in your down time. It also means that you only have to pay 125gp.

At 7th level, you may choose another downtime bonus.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Weaponising Frankenstein's Monster

The military gets to play with all the best technology before it filters down to the general public. The ironing board in your cupboard is made from heat-resistant materials originally developed for the engines of the Mirage 2000C jet fighter. Your toaster only knows when to pop up because its timer is based on the guidance system of Reagan-era Hawk anti-tank missiles. Or maybe not. I haven't done a lot of fact-checking on this. 

In the forthcoming gamebook app The Frankenstein Wars, Victor Frankenstein's resurrection technology emerges in France, in the early nineteenth century. And it is immediately seized upon for its military potential. It makes sense - what fighting force is more durable than soldiers who can be blown apart, then reassembled and resurrected, and thrown back into combat once more? The options are better yet for a general willing to mix and match the living raw materials under his command. A soldier with four arms, and two brains, will likely slaughter twice as many enemies as a regular soldier. A soldier with enlarged lungs, and three hearts, will be able to run far faster than a normal human, and shrug off injuries that might cripple or kill a lesser man. These resurrected soldiers - these lazarans - are living weapons.

There is one potential drawback: the lazarans are not mindless zombies. They are living, feeling people. Imagine yourself in the place of such a lazaran for a moment, dear reader. Perhaps you love your job, or perhaps you don't. Regardless, one morning you wake to learn that your boss has grafted an extra head to your shoulders, and given you one extra arm. He's severed your own scrawny legs, and replaced them with the brawny limbs of a champion sprinter. Not just one champion sprinter, mind - they are quite clearly mismatched in colour. All because he feels it will make you more effective in your work. How would you fight the wave of madness that such a change would surely engender? Could your husband or wife understand this transformation? How could you explain it to your parents, or your children?

The Frankenstein Wars is a tale of revolutionaries who believe that the ends justify the means - and of those who suffer for such fanaticism. In this world of murky morals, you can play as exploiter and exploited. The revolutionary Zeroistes use Frankenstein's technology to wage war against the French government and its British allies. The conflict threatens to tear apart the heart of Europe. And yet the damage to humanity's soul may be far greater still.

Sound epic? Check out The Frankenstein Wars Kickstarter project page. At the time of writing, we've just passed the 33% mark - a strong start, but still with some distance to go.

(Post by Paul Gresty)