Wednesday, February 25, 2015

RPG - Maelstrom

Maelstrom was brought to my attention thanks to Graham Bottley at Arion Games who republished the Maelstrom Domesday.
original book and then followed up with expansions and then his own version -

The original Maelstrom was published in 1984 by Alexander Scott, who was 16 at the time, obviously in order to tell me that I wasted my teenage years.  The game, is set in Tudor times when there is significant upheaval in the country.  Characters are ordinary people who have to survive in such times.  Your characters can be butchers, traders, priests, mercenaries and rogues.  If you want, magick can be introduced or left out with no real effect on the game.  This is because most magick in Maelstrom works by producing outcomes that are likely to happen anyway (such as making someone fall over etc.) except they would be things that the mage wants.  Things that are physically impossible would be spells of the highest power and extremeley difficult to pull off.  It's always amused me that Magic Missile, which would be a simple spell for most magic users, would be almost impossible for a Maelstrom mage.

Characters have 10 stats with values from 1-100.  Tests are done by rolling a d100 and trying to get under or equal to that value.

Maelstrom is very good for being very simple and also very realistic.  There is a wide range of weapons with different levels of quality, which is demonstrated by having different modifications to attack skill and defence skill and different dice for damage.  Combat is very punishing, but the idea of the game is not to fight all the time - it is to navigate your way through a time where the monasteries were being dissolved and poverty was rampant.  Peasants hunted witches and greed and betrayal were everywhere.

Maelstrom is a very versatile game as it can cover almost every theme - you could have a party of traders and labourers and do a business campaign. Or you can have a band of mercenaries, bladesmiths and rogues for a miltary campaign.  Or, you could have a group of priests and mages for a supernatural campaign or a campaign where all of your characters are beggars and rogues who have to eke out a living.  The Maelstrom Companion and the Beggar's companion help expand on the original rules.

If you fancy a standard Fantasy Dungeon Crawl, then you could use the Maelstrom Fantasy Toolkit.  The mechanics in Maelstrom are versatile enough that they can fit into almost any setting.

Graham Bottley has improved upon the orignal ruleset with Maelstrom Domesday.  In the original Maelstrom, you had your stats and a living, which allowed you some special privileges.  However, these extra living based privileges were not systematised in any way.  The only way you could pick locks was to become a burglar - there was no pick locks skill.  What Graham has done is put certain talents along with each living making the system more streamlined and systematic.  He has also created a lifepath character creation system, where you roll dice to determine what careers your character has.  I have done some and put them here.   Some turn out OK, but some end up with broken ribs and leprosy before they start.

Maelstrom is very versatile and puts lots of detail into many things such as its herbs, alchemical recipes and
other situations.  It got me thinking about the balance between complexity and options in gamebooks.


However, gamebooks have the advantage that no one needs to know the inner workings of the mechanics because their limited options and lack of human interface mean that the writer of a gamebook does not need to think of every rule in detail before deciding the outcome of a decision, especially when it may be the only situation in the gamebook when that situation in the whole gamebook.

There does, however, need to be a balance.  It may not be a detailed rule that informed the decision but it has to have some logic or common sense to it.  In a lot of ways, gamebook writers have it easy.  We don't have to memorise and familiarise ourselves with massive tomes of rules and remember endless numbers.  In fact, it is better that we don't and that we keep the numbers simple.  However, we do have to make more rules than the ones we present the players in the book - for example, laws of magic, maps of the areas the players go to, characteristics of different people and groups.

 These rules may not present themselves overtly in our books, but they might become apparent to the
observant reader.  When I see a sense of consistency and logic in a gamebook, I do find that comforting.  It shows that the writer has thought about their world and how it works and that I might be able to work out something that could help me later.  It's something I will endeavor to do in my future gamebooks.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Legend of the Wayfarer simplified

Hello gamebookers!

After writing a few books using my Legend of the Wayfarer rules, I have a better idea of what I want from them and what I don't. Basically, I could make the rules even simpler and got rid of item creation, fate points, die rolling over small consequences and accounting when it came to herbs and ore. I'm hoping that the rules are as simple as possible and I will be changing the current books to accommodate them.

Here is the latest copy of Legend of the Wayfarer. It is a mere 2850 words long. Enjoy!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Legend of the Wayfarer - new abilites

Hello all,

As I expected, I had to change the rules to Legend of the Wayfarer as I wrote more books. The main change came with the abilities. I knew when I started that I was going to add more abilities, but I just wasn't sure what they were. For a moment, I increased the number of abilities from 6 to 18, but now I have it down to 12. The abilities are:

Combat:  This ability covers the act of fighting, whether unarmed, or with weapons.  It also covers ranged combat and grappling.

Roguery:  This ability covers the talents of larceny – picking pockets, picking locks, sneaking around, looking for a weak spot to enter etc. 

Athletics:  This ability covers physical activities – running, climbing, swimming and many other things.

Insight:  This measures your level of knowledge of the world and also how good you are at perceiving things.

Psychic:  This ability is a measure of your intuition and your sensitivity to the supernatural and spiritual goings on in this world.  With training, you can harness your psychic talent to influence the world around you.

Social:  This ability covers anything that involves working with other people, whether it is selling goods, bribing them, intimidating them or making an impassioned speech.

Magick:  The ability to bend the tides of fate to your will and to better understand arcane language and to cast magical spells and rituals. If you have the magick ability, you may spend 3 will points to reroll any fate die.

Survival:  The ability to find food and shelter in most terrains and the knowledge of the animals that live there. A character with the survival ability is also able to identify healing plants and use them. If you have the survival ability, you are able to use plants to make healing preparations. This means you may spend 3 will points to restore 3 vitality points. Survival does not cover perception outside (covered by insight) or the ability to get across tough terrain (covered by athletics).

Alchemy:  The ability to use various minerals to make different substances. If you have the alchemy ability, you are able to use minerals to make dangerous substances such as acid and firepowder. If you have the alchemy ability, you may spend 3 will points to inflict 3 damage to an opponent as a ranged attack. This attack ignores armour.

Mysticism:  This ability gives the character a better sense of the energies holding beings together. It allows characters to have some limited power over the fae and spirits of the world when warding them.  If you have the mystic ability and you win a round in a contest of will, your opponent loses 1 extra will point (usually 3 points instead of 2).

Tactics:  The ability to excel in situations that involve the character to read opponents, exploit their weaknesses and organise allies. If you have the tactics ability, if you are wearing no armour, your armour score is 1. Also, you damage score is 1 higher than normal.


Pathfinding: The ability to navigate and use vehicles and animals for travelling. A character with the pathfinding is able to work on ships and ride most common mounts and use carts and carriages. They are also less likely to get lost.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Legend of the Wayfarer - Item creation and abilities

Hello all! How's wayfaring? 
It's another Legend of the Wayfarer post today. To see the books, go to my Lulu page and for more treats, support me on Patreon.

I'm still not happy with item creation. In future, I plan on having adventures where your character can learn different professions and some of them are able to create items. Herbalists can make 6 different potions from herbs, alchemists can make some items from ore and blacksmiths can make some items from iron bars. It is for this reason that these items are present to obtain in the books. 

However, I am unhappy with this for several reasons. First of all, herbs, ore and iron bars are available to buy in all villages at low prices, making going out of your way to find them a bit pointless. Also, iron bars weigh 1 so you won't get many. Also, if you go out of your way to find these things, you will end up with a huge list of potentially useless stuff on your equipment list - this is one thing I set out to avoid, which is why you never have to track your food or copper pennies. 

Also, I don't feel happy with how to limit herbal and alchemical items, even if they weight 1. So I've thought of another way. I have created the magi career which allows you character to spend 3 will points to reroll 1 fate die.

I also had the idea of the weaponmaster who could spend will points to reroll combat dice. I think the heart of careers is being able to spend will points for a unique effect. This is not necessarily magical (although it is in the magi case). It is more a case of your character expending effort to use their skills for an effect. So I was thinking that a herbalist/healer could spend 3 will points to restore 3 vitality (I might set all will costs at 3 for simplicity) and the alchemist could spend 3 will points to deal 3 damage to an opponent using a ranged attack that ignores armour.

The rationale behind these effects is this - the herbalist healer is able to utilise plants that they find/buy for a few copper pennies and unleash their healing potential whereas the alchemist can find some common chemicals to make substances that can damage opponents (for example, heating sulphur through water to create acid or mixing charcoal, sulphur and niter to create firepowder). A priest could spend 3 will points to do 6 damage to an undead creature or evil spirit (like holy water) etc. 

This way, you can still buy some healing items (but not make them) and they can weigh 0, since it is now impossible to replicate an infinite number for a tiny cost. Also, you no longer have to keep track of a load of raw materials and different alchemical and herbal items. What do you think?

Also, I'm thinking of careers. At the moment, there are six abilities that you can get by spending experience and they cover the main abilities that adventurers would need. However, in future books, your character will have the chanced to learn other careers, such as magi, priest, weaponmaster etc. They will do this by completing side quests in adventures. I'm finding the line between the original 6 abilities and the others blurring. Ideally, I might just have a complete list of abilities and you can spend xp to learn all of them. The problem is that I am not quite sure what the complete list is yet. I'm going to have to write a lot more books to see which careers stick and which won't. And then I'll change the rules retrospectively to accommodate that. Some careers may need codewords to learn (to prove that you are able to learn them).

Happy gamebooking!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

The Road to Jove


I have a confession to make.

I don't 'get' Warhammer 40,000.

Don't get me wrong. As a setting for battlegaming, it's the shizz. Giant death-dealing spaceships, hulking space marines, extraterrestrial... things... born of chaos itself. There's a lot of fun stuff going on.

But as a setting for good storytelling, I don't get it. It seems it's all about the endless conflict between the guys who are being hoodwinked by the fake god-emperor, and the guys are aren't being hoodwinked. War stories can be fantastic; stories about fighting, and fighting, and more fighting, tend to be less so.

I've tried to engage with it. I really have. Maybe it's me. Maybe I'm just missing some important detail, somewhere.

And here's where I get conflicted. Aaron Dembski-Bowden is a writer I rate very highly - in all honesty, his blog is one of my favourite things on the whole internet. And these days, he's mostly known for his Warhammer 40,000 tie-in novels. He's a two-times New York Times Bestseller thanks to those. You can probably see where I'm going with this. I like the books - I love the guy* - but... y'know... it's Warhammer 40,000. It's hard for me to get on board, in a 'crazed superfan' kind of way.

The Road to Jove, a wholly original webcomic by Aaron Dembski-Bowden (writer) and David Sondered** (artist) has just launched, and it's a world away from Warhammer. As I write this - at half past eight on the morning of February 7th - the first three pages of the comic are online, and they are achingly beautiful. A girl. A great big robot. And real tenderness, already, in just the comic's cover and the first three pages. Oh, and some grisly horror too.

So, go read it. Bookmark it. Wait for more. Repeat.

Y'see, now I'm getting into the 'crazed superfan' zone...


(Oh, and I know this post is stepping a little way outside the Lloyd of Gamebooks remit of focusing on gamebooks, interactive fiction and maybe RPGs. But ADB has done a whole bunch of RPG writing, and is a big gamebook fan. So I figure, why not?)

(Post by Paul Gresty)

* ...I have even hugged the man, on occasion.
** ...who I've never hugged.

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.