Monday, August 3, 2015

Artist Profile: Callie MacDonell

This is Ashton Saylor again, this time here to talk to you about the woman behind the beautiful art we've been providing for "The Good, the Bad and the Undead." At the time of writing this, we are 85% funded, and only on the 3rd day of the Kickstarter campaign! I think the magnificent illustrations by Callie MacDonell are a significant driving force behind this success. Here's to good art! And another to the people who make it! Us writers wouldn't be half what we are without you lot.

Finding the right artist for "The Good, the Bad and the Undead" was a project in itself. Time after time, we thought we found a great artist, only to have it fall through for one reason or another. Just as I was ready to tear my hair out from frustration, Callie came along with the right skills and talent and agreed to join the team.

A stylized self-portrait by Callie MacDonell

Callie MacDonell is a professional artist and designer. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, in California, where she works full time doing art, design, and video production for the mobile game company Kabam. She got her undergraduate degree in Media Arts and Animation from the Art Institutes International Minnesota, and went on to get her graduate degree in concept art from The Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

She has a remarkable array of eclectic experience, having done animation, writing, illustrations, motion graphics, design, video production, and concept art. She was a character and environment concept artist for the short film Curpidgeon, where she worked along side Pixar Art Director, Anthony Cristov. She did design work at Marvel Comics, using Marvel artwork to design merchandise such as T-shirts, jackets, children's wear and the like. And she worked as a writer for a TV show pilot for FonCo Creative Company... but if she told you the name, she'd have to kill you ;)

Callie is a lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy movies, tv shows and literature. She loves art in all forms, but is especially excited by opportunities to work on sci fi and fantasy projects within the comic and animation industries. She is currently working on her own short animation for children, "Cat Walrus," about an exchange student who is a cat-walrus mix, and she's struggling because it's picture day at school and she's clumsy on land and has nothing to wear... it's adorable!

In her own words, she couldn’t be more excited to be working on The Good, The Bad, and The Undead! We're excited to have her :) The book wouldn't be the same without her vision bringing it to life.

Callie MacDonell painting her own self-portrait

If you like her work, check out more of it!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Lone Wolf 1 - Flight from the Dark playthrough

Originally posted at

"Flight from the Dark", written by Joe Dever, illustrated by Gary Chalk.

Our adventure begins, as I'm sure we are all aware, with the destruction of the Kai monastery by the armies of the darklords. You are the sole survivor, etc. You, doubtless, know the story and how it begins. So let's dive right in to rolling up our titular character - Lone Wolf.

Character generation is remarkably forgiving on me, for a change. I have a decent 17 for my combat ability, equal to about a solid 10 for Fighting Fantasy's skill points. I have rolled endurance of 25, which would be equal to roughly 15 stamina points.

Kai disciplines are the core magic type of system in the Lone Wolf series. You pick five in this adventure, and gain more as the series processed. The five that I have selected here are - hunting, healing, sixth sense, mind shield, and animal kinship.

I start the adventure with an axe, probably the same one that Lone Wolf was using to cut firewood when the evil army attacked. In addition, I have 4 gold coins, one meal, and a quarterstaff.

This is the part where I would normally discuss the adventure back story, but it's relatively sparse in this book. The seeing is a traditional fantasy kingdom, you are a monk ranger type of a chap by the name of Silent Wolf. The land has historically been benighted by the terror of a group of lords of darkness called, surprisingly enough, the darklords. One morning, while Silent Wolf was out gathering firewood, the evil army invades and burns the monastery down, killing all your friends and adopted family. Impressively enough, this means that the entire Kai order has been massacred, because they were all in the monastery at the time enjoying the festival of big dinners. You are now alone - Lone Wolf.

So, let's get on with this, then. Our route is clear, we need to go and see the king, who will... Ek... Do whatever kings do in this situation. Raise an army or something. I start off, trudging through the forest, avoiding the energy orcs (called Giaks in this series) until I eventually run into a wizard. He is fending off a group of the giaks, and I help him out by hurling a rock at one of the buggers. Just call me Lone Hobbit.

Our wizard here is Banedon, and he has been sent here to tell the Kai about the army that are coming in our direction any moment now... Oh, woops, he arrived a little too late, ehh? Still, he gives me the symbol of his brotherhood, the pendant of the crystal star, which is bound to be useful. He also tells me that his order was betrayed by within - one of his below mages, Vonotor, betrayed them. I'm sure we'll see more of him again, probably two books from now. Anyway, I really like Banedon, and genuinely hope to see him again soon. Let's hope he appears in a future book (possibly Lone Wolf book 34: Wrath of the Rock-Throwing Wizard)

I stumble through the forest for a while until I'm chased by a pack of giaks. Attempting to his in a cave proves no use, as they find me and I have to fight two of them. They're not too tough, and I managed to find some gold in the cave for my time.

After meeting an old hermit who lives in a tree and gives me yet another weapon that I don't need because I have my axe, I stumble upon a hill. There is a tunnel through the hill, and a memory from childhood stirs. I remember that something bad happens if I either climb the hill, or go through the tunnel - one or the other, dammed if I can remember which. I chose the tunnel, and was immediately attacked by a giant insect monster, one which was actually damn hard to beat for this early in the game. The book grants me twenty gold for my effort, and yet another weapon. I should say here, finding a specific weapon is very useful if you have chosen the weapon skill ability for your character, for that respective weapon. So in that respect, it's good that the book makes so many available to you. However, it does mean that I am essentially tripping over daggers and war hammers all through the forest for this part of the adventure.

We eventually leave the forest and find a massive caravan of refugees, fleeing the evil army. I join them on their travels, and protect them from an airborne attack from the dark lords flying monsters. Choosing to protect some children who are trapped under a caravan leaves me open to assault from a horde of giaks, but the book is nice enough to treat them as a single enemy, so they aren't too much of a threat.

I heal up in an old farmhouse, and push onwards, where I encounter as royal regiment lead by the prince. He isn't doing too well though, as the battle quickly turns against him and he is felled by a monster called a Gourgaz. The damn thing is an utter tank and bloody near impossible to kill, in fact I'm sure that it's outright sadistic on the part of the author. Somewhere, Joe Dever is laughing at me.

With a spare four endurance points left after that utterly brutal fight, the price gives me a message to take to his father. I'd make a comment about inconsiderate quest givers, but given that he provides me with a horse, I can't really complain. I push onwards away from the battle, riding through the forest to avoid rampaging packs of doom wolves, and eventually catch sight of the capital. For a moment, I think I might make it there intact. But no, the book decides to remind me that my endurance is so low that I'm likely to die from enemy attacks if I ride right to the gate. It gives me two alternatives - jump into the river and swim, or take a short cut through the nasty, vicious, haunted graveyard of the dead, famous for the many thousands of innocent adventurers who have snuffed it from the ghosts that dwell within. Joy.

So, let's assess the choice here. The book indicates to us that running across the field is likely to attract attention of the enemy army, so it's clearly begging us to choose another option. Of the two, the river is the most innocent. Which means, I think, that it's a trap. Remember the Clash of the Princes Fighting Fantasy book, when I was eaten by invisible, carnivorous, implausible fish? Yeah, I'm not taking the river. So it's easier the graveyard of nastiness, or the field. The graveyard is the most likely option. It's set up to be so evil and dangerous, that we are bound to think that it hides a great treasure. Treasure which would attract the most desperate of adventures. But no, I'm not going to fall for that either. I make a break for the field.

I think that I choose quite well, because the biggest threat I encounter is some easily avoided wolves. After a quick stop at an old hut in the field, I'm beset by three bandits dressed as the kings soldiers. I'd actually have almost fallen for their disguise, were it not for my sixth sense. I push onwards for another day, and arrive at the capital.

The guards recognise me as one of the Kai and offer to take me to the king. Eager to stop in at some shops and spend s some of my considerable wealth of gold, I turn down his offer and head off on my own. Almost immediately someone steals some items right out of my backpack, I injure myself in a massive crowd of people, and I'm attacked by the city's resident madman.

I'm rather thankful to get out of the city streets when I find a herbalist. Even though my senses tell me to watch out and be careful, I decided to stick around and do some shopping. Whilst looking at the various magic wands that are on special offer, the herbalist's son jumps out from behind the counter and tries to kill me. Very poor customer service, let me tell you! My best guess is that he thought that I wasn't going to spend any gold, so he decided to kill me and take it all from my body anyway. I'm doing fairly well in the fight, until he throws an explosive pellet at me, and then proceeds to cut my throat.

That herbalist is getting a very bad review on trip advisor, let me tell you!

As one of the only three Lone Wolf games I had as a kid, Flight from the Dark has held up very nicely. The atmosphere is rich, with promising world building (although they rarely try to go beyond the usual fantasy genre tropes). The sense of tension is very nice, though, leaving the reader with a real sense of desperation as you try to flee the darklord army. This is still a very good book, even when you take off the rose tinted goggles of nostalgia. But where it really shines is that it perfectly sets the tone for a franchise. If this book had been any weaker, the Lone Wolf franchise would never be the strength it is today.

Come back in two weeks time, when Lone Wolf is sent on a mission to recover the only weapon that can turn the tide of the invasion and save Sommerlund. Will he manage it? Doubt it, but it'll be a laugh finding out!

Lone Wolf Statistics at this point
Combat Skill – 15, Endurance – 25
Kai Skills - hunting, healing, sixth sense, mind shield, animal kinship
Special items – Map, Crystal Star Pendant

(If you've enjoyed this article, be sure to check out Justin MacCormack's two bestselling collections of dark fantasy stories - "Return to 'Return to Oz'" and "Cthulhu Doesn't Dance". His newest book, "Diary of a gay teenage zombie", is currently available now)

The Midnight Legion book 1: Operation Deep Sleep review for Kickstarter

And so we have a gamebook review! Here, I'm Reviewing the Midnight Legion book 1: Operation Deep Sleep by Aaron Emmel and illustrated by Aaron Kreader. This will be the first in a trilogy (book 2 is The World Reborn and book 3 is The Portal of Life).

It's hard to give away the plot without spoilers, but when you begin, you are an android agent that has been woken up in the far future by a super computer called MELMA. The base you were put in stasis on is under attack, and you have a mission to carry out. However, you have no recollection of who you are, where you are, why you were put in stasis, or what your mission is.

Just as you are woken up, your room is attacked by large humanoid rats. If you manage to defeat them or escape them, you can explore the rest of the base. As you do, your memories will return and you will realise that things are not as you expected...

Aaron has a system where memories are gradually given to you, allowing for the story and your background to unfold as you read. This is a great strength of the book, where every few sections gives you a new insight into the mystery around you.

He also has insights (basically codewords) which allow different NPCs and situations to interact differently with you depending on what you have done with past decisions. The world here is not static.

There are also many secrets in this book - some skills allow you to gain extra information, which means that you can go to extra sections - for example, with hacking, you might be able to get more information from computer based items. Also, information you learn might allow you to interact differently with areas or people that you come across.

There are plenty of NPCs to interact with. First of all, you have MELMA, who you interact with Marathon style through different terminals (and who may be about as trustworthy as a Marathon A.I). Then you come across the invaders to your base and realise that it is not as simple as expected...

The art is great and conveys the futuristic setting very well and I hope the funding means that there is more of it.

So there we go. If you want to solve the mystery, back the book on Kickstarter. $28 gets you book 1.

To see Aaron Emmel's website go here.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Summer of gamebook kickstarters

It is an exciting time, gamebook friends, with no less than five gamebook kickstarters this summer. So have a look at them and get your pledges ready!

I've listed the kickstarters in reverse order of finishing date because I wanted some kind of order, but couldn't decide on what would be best, so I just went with this one. Enjoy!

The Good, the Bad and the Undead

Deadline: End of August

Status: Soft launch page up.

Ashton Saylor volunteered himself to write this western based gamebook which was an idea from Dave Morris. Dave lost hope on getting it done, but now that Ashton is on board, it looks like it will LIVE! (mwahahaha). The kickstarter will launch at he beginning of August, so keep an eye on the Facebook page for the time being. You can read a demo story for it here.

There is now a soft launch page up.

The Midnight Legion: Operation Deep Sleep

Deadline: 29th August

Status: Almost $3000 backed (out of $14500)

Aaron Emmel is a writer who is producing this sci-fi gamebook series. In this book, you wake up with no memories of your previous mission, but they gradually return to you as the story unfolds. Aaron has clearly done his groundwork, using the bits he wants from Lone Wolf and Fighting Fantasy to enhance the experience. $28 gets you one book and $50 gets you three. Have a look at his fabulous book!

Alice's Nightmare in Wonderland

Deadline: 3rd August

Status: Backed

This is a project by Jonathan Green of Fighting Fantasy fame (but he has done a lot more!). In this gamebook, you guide Alice as she returns to Wonderland and you help her explore the fantastic place. £15 gets you the ebook and £20 gets you a paperback.

Fabled Lands: The Serpent King's Domain

Deadline: 3rd August

Status: Backed (a lot!)

This is Paul Gresty's second gamebook that he is writing, has put on Kickstarter and is working with the Fabled Lands crew on. If you are new to gamebooks, the Fabled Lands series was a wide open sandbox gamebook series that was originally planned to be 12 gamebooks long. Unfortunately, it only reached 6 gamebooks before being cancelled in the mid 90s (the time when gamebooks went into hibernation for almost two decades).

This project was funded in around 45 minutes, so you will be guaranteed anything you back for. A lovely book is 35 Euros (around £25), but it will be a high quality hardback. I'm looking forward to this one!

The Frankenstein Wars

Status: Finished and backed.

I am looking forward to this one. Paul Gresty (Arcana Agency) and Dave Morris (everything) have teamed up with Cubus Games to create an interactive app that is fabulous in every way - the look, the story, the sound. The original idea is Dave's - Victor Frankenstein's technology has been stolen and it has been used to create an (almost) unstoppable army. Your job is to stop it.

The project raised its target on Kickstarter in a campaign with almost as many highs and lows as the book is going to have. I've never been as gripped as I was since I watched Distrcit 9 (good film). If you did not back it, keep an eye on the project for when it comes out.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Demo Story Available for "The Good, the Bad and the Undead"

Hello, Gamebooker fans! Ashton Saylor here, writing as a contributing author of Lloyd of Gamebooks.

As you may or may not know, I'm collaborating with Jamie Thomson of Fabled Lands to write 'The Good, the Bad, and the Undead," a Weird West interactive novel. I like to describe it as 'Clint Eastwood meets Night of the Living Dead.'

Here's a little excerpt...

"The sun was a tiny sliver of reddish gold on the horizon. A fly buzzed near him, fairly glowing in the red light of the dying day. A wooden shutter flapped in the wind, a lonely sound.

As the last burning sunlight vanished across the town, Josiah heard the creak of a door opening nearby. He whirled, searching for the sound, his gun leaping into his hand."

The cool thing about "The Good, the Bad and the Undead," (aside from cowboys vs. vampires... duh!) is the style of interactive narrative it uses. It's not so much a 'gamebook' in the traditional sense, as instead an 'interactive novel.' There are absolutely no mechanics, no dice, no character creation, no inventory--nothing that would interfere with your experience of immersing yourself in the story.

Furthermore, it's written in past tense, third person, just like most mass market novels. And it even jumps around in point-of-view between three protagonists.

So how is it interactive, then?

As you read, you get to inform the decisions of the whichever character is in the driver's seat at the time. Your choices let you discover and create that character at the same time. You get to make decisions that reveal who that character is, while simultaneously changing who that character is. You can tilt them toward good, or toward evil. You can tilt them toward cooperation, or toward strife.

It blends the lines between reader and author, between recipient and creator. As you read, you will make decisions as to which character's point of view you want to follow, and affect choices that character makes while you're following him or her. And your input, the way you influence these characters, can have a profound effect on how the story turns out.

It's a pretty unusual interactive fiction style. To my knowledge, it hasn't been done before, at least not in a paper book. Therefore, to help people get a sense of what they would be getting into should they decide to support the forthcoming Kickstarter...

I have prepared a short demo story for "The Good, the Bad and the Undead!" It is a short story, written in the same style, set in the same world, featuring two of the same characters, but at a different time and place compared to the main book. You could consider this a hint of a prequel.

Will you read the demo story? Will you capture the criminal, or let him escape? Will you save the family, or let them die?

Will you support the Kickstarter and read the full book? Only YOU can choose!

Read the full demo here :)

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)