Saturday, November 20, 2010

Your adventure is over part 1 - Victory in gamebooks

"Nothing in life is certain except death and taxes"
- Benjamin Franklin

However, in the world of gamebooks, neither is certain.  For one thing, in a world where evil sorcerers are plotting to bring down civilisation and brutal monsters roam the land, decimating whole populations, no one has had much time to collect taxes (unless you live in Port Blacksand where Lord Azzur invents a new one every week or want to save the world from the Shadow Warriors where your first great opponent is a short fat man who wants a load of gold.  It led to a great chase sequence though).

So in the world of gamebooks, you are more likely to end up on the wrong end of a sword rather than having to fill in a tax return.  However, even this is not certain as you may reach the victory paragraph.

Endings in gamebooks are strange as you need several endings but only one will be used at any given reading.  However, after scouring the forums and reviews, all endings - good and bad - need to be well done to maximise the level of entertainment. 

For example, there are some books where the victorious ending is a couple of lines saying congratulations, such as these endings

'"There" You say to Abdul, flinging your coffer open to reveal an amount of gold substantially greater than his own.  "I am the victor, I am the greatest rascal, the best sacker of cities!" Abdul bows his head, admitting your victory.  You have won." - Seas of Blood

'Victory is yours!  The Masks of Mayhem will not be released upon the land.  At least not in your lifetime...' - Masks of Mayhem

'With the capture of 'Blaster', you have wiped out the leadership of the criminal organisation.  Congratulations.  You have smashed the drug ring.  Your victory is a complete success.' - Rings of Kether.

'You drag the unconscious Cyrus from the Waldo.  Your mission is a complete success.  Congratulations' - Space Assassin.

(A Waldo is a bit like this except way less awesome.)

These endings give me and other people a sense of 'Is that it?'.  These endings do not give justice to the trials and tribulations I have gone through to get to the end.  I know that they were all in my head, but as this article about video games states (under number 4), we are hard wired to collect rewards, whether real or imaginary.  I want an epilogue to the story stating exactly how everyone in the world acknowledges my awesomeness and/or how I used the hordes of riches that all sorcerers inexplicably seem to be sitting on (in the case of Return to Firetop Mountain, this is literal) pile of treasure.

All of the above paragraphs do not do this.  First of all, they give very little hint as to the story you have experienced that led you up to this moment of triumph.  From above, I wouldn't know that the Rings of Kether was a Sci fi book.  I could just have easily been a modern day cop adventure.  If you didn't know that the first paragraph was from a book called Seas of Blood, you could imagine that you were a kind of barbarian sacking cities in the mainland.

Second, what happens after you have reached this moment.  Now that you and Abdul have established that you are the best pirate, what happens next?  Do you both go back to plundering as usual, confining this adventure to your log books?  What's going to stop him saying he won?  After all, you're both on a deserted island with only a severely beaten up cyclops and some aged creature to adjudicate. 

In Masks of Mayhem, how is your journey home?  In Space Assassin, what happens to Cyrus's ship?  How do you get Cyrus off the ship where his crew are still loyal to him and get him to a nice safe cell?  Who knows?

Thirdly, all of the paragraphs above say congratulations or make some obvious statement about you winning.  I know I've won.  Now please tell me what I've got.  Eyes on the prize, people!

I guess part of the reason why some victories are short is because of the original aim of the adventure.  If the aim is to slay the warlock to save the world and you have just beaten the warlock in the fight, then what more is there to add apart from 'You saved the world'?  I guess the endings are efficient.  They could be written like this.

'Let's look back at the aims of today then, shall we.  Right, one.  Capture mad scientist.  Check.  We've done that.  Well done!' 

However, even if the book has a simple aim and it's obvious when you achieve it, you can still add more to a victory.  Books involving Zagor do this well.  The aims are always simple - slay Zagor.  However, the endings are not short and simple.

In The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, the aim is simple and it is not too surprising to find a ton of treasure in Zagor's chest, but then there is also his spellbook.  Ah.  Do you take the treasure or do you stay and rule over Firetop Mountain?  The rest of the story is left to your imagination.

In Return to Firetop Mountain, after you slay Zagor, you return with some villagers to gloat over Zagor's corpse, only to find the left arm missing dun dun DUN.  Cue sequel...

In Legend of Zagor, you kill Zagor for good by dropping him in a chasm full of fire (although in the novels, even this isn't enough to off him) and you are told that you land is still a very trouble place but you have given it a chance of survival. 

Some gamebooks treat your victory with an in depth epilogue full of people telling you how great you are.  All Lone Wolf books and Grailquest books have this kind of ending with all but one Lone Wolf book (Masters of Darkness) giving you the title of the next adventure to look forward to.  That is what I'm talking about.

Some gamebooks have endings that are good because they are intriguing as well as complete.  Slaves of the Abyss does not end as you would expect, but it grows (literally) into a bigger story.

Finally, I'd just like to point out the ending to Night Dragon which has me thoroughly confused.  You have defeated the eponymous Night Dragon and leave its mountain to have the Lord of Dragons fly you somewhere.  However, you are not told where.  You are merely told that while you are on the Lord of Dragon's back, you fall asleep and that when you awaken ' will be glad that it was a dreamless slumber.'

What the hell does that mean?  Answers in a comment please.

I was going to write about death endings at this point, but this post is long enough.  I will put them in a separate post.

Friday, November 19, 2010

News and links

Hi, I've been busy recently.  I've been planning more posts on gamebooks and buying gamebooks on Amazon, including familiar and unfamiliar Choose Your Own Adventure books.

I've also been reading gamebooks that I have had for ages but never tried.  For example, I am flicking through Duelmaster gamebooks 3, The Shattered Realm. 

I meant the plural - the duelmaster series is made up of four parts, each one consists of two gamebooks.  More is explained here on an encylapedic gamebook website, which I recommend:

The books seem very innovative.  One contains even numbers and the other contains odd numbers.  The aim is that two players battle each other with the books. 

In The Shattered Realm, the players take the roles of rulers of two countries that are going to war.  Each player picks from three rulers.  They are different by name, but each country's three rulers follow the same kind of description - one ruler is in charge of the army, one is a magic user and the other is a woman (really - that's her USP).

The plotis split into two halves.  The first halve involves travelling the land to recruit allies to your cause.  You have to sweet talk several rulers to provide soldiers to boost your army.  However, if you both decide to visit the same country at the same time, you may end up duelling your opponent. 

you would wonder how some of the other countries manage to not implode.  There is a country ruled by the priesthood of death.  There is also an anarchic city.  It makes you wonder what our moderate democracies are doing that is so wrong if a country ruled by a priesthood that has no problem with spreading disease and sacrificing babies is able to thrive.

The second half involves a battle, which I haven't taken part in because I haven't found someone to play against.  However, I enjoy the format and flavour of the books.  In the future, I will write a post about multiplayer gamebooks.  There are four Duelmasters, The Scarlet Sorcerer by Joe Dever and The Fellowship of Four (based on the heroquest boardgame -

Just as one competition ends, another begins. is holding a competion where you enter a 50 or 150 Choose Your Own Adventure gamebook using its program found on the website.  Check it out.  The deadline is December 15th.  I'm going to write for it as it fills the void left by the Windhammer Competition.

Which brings me to the competition - I won it!  I'm so pleased.  I have entered it for the 3 years and I feel I have improved a lot.  My first gamebooks were not very descriptive and quite linear - in fact, everything I didn't want my gamebooks to be.  However, I have taken the feedback provided from this group:

and looked at what made the winners so successful.  I would like to thank everone who voted, provided feedback over the last few years and to Wayne Densley for providing a platform for me.  If it wasn't for this competition and Yahoo group, I wouldn't have written any gamebooks.  I have learnt a lot about gamebooks and writing because of it.

Look at his Arborell gamebooks online.

One last website I would recommend is Litopia, a writers' community website:

I have listened to several 'after dark' podcasts and found them entertaining and informative. 

I have ideas on other things to analyse in gamebooks and will be posting them soon.  Have a nice time!

Dice in game books - conclusion

how to Anyone ever played Civilisation 3*?  It's great to be able to build up your civilisation and lead them through exploring unknown territories, building cities and wonders, barbarian attacks, natural disasters, wars and finally get them to Alpha Centauri?  It's even better when you've lost a few times before. 

Then you can do it on cheat mode.  You can create hordes of units, build cities all over the place, have nukes when every other civilisation has bows and own every wonder in the world.  Then you wait a while as you watch the other civilisations desperately struggle amongst themselves before you crush them like flies.  And then you realise that it wasn't half as much fun because you knew what was going to happen.

*Can apply to almost any game with a cheat mode.

When I started writing about random elements in gamebooks, I had a bit of a downer on them.  Then I started writing about the good points of dice in gamebooks, thinking that it would be a short post with lots of 'but they only work if...' after each good point. 

However, after reading the post, I realised that there are a lot of good points of having a random element in gamebooks.

Basically it boils down to the escitement of having an element you are not completely in control over.  You can play the game to improve your chances, but you will never know for certain.  You might win or lose depending on the roll of the dice. 

It's straying into psyhology here, but there is a sense of excitement about the unknown.  Knowing everything and being in complete control can get boring.  So in theory, gamebooks with dice last longer than diceless gamebooks. 

The flipside is that it has to be done very carefully to be done well, otherwise it will spoil the whole gamebook.  It completely destroys the thrill of the risk to know that you will lose. 

There are a lot of gamebooks that are spoilt by requiring you to perform an almost impossible series of dice rolls.  This just gives a sense of frustration.  This is the reason why I had such a downer on dice in gamebooks. 

Before I wrote this series of posts, I was against using dice.  Now, I'm open to it again, but I need to make sure I do the following things with any gamebook I write where I include random elements.

  • With the combat system, I will work out the probabilities to make sure that all combats are challenging but not impossible.  By doing this, I can estimate how many hits the hero will take and then plan how damaging other situations will be.  I will only place super powerful monsters if there is a means of making the combat easier in the book, or if it is a result of the hero doing something completely stupid.
  • I need to playtest the book to see if the dice rolls needed for victory are not too unlikely.  This opens the new question of what should the probability of victory be if you make all the right choices.  Should it be 100% or a little lower to add tension.  If so, what should it be.  95%?  90%?  85%?  How low could I go before it becomes frustrating?
  • If I use die rolls to add variety (random monsters, random items or random encounters for example), I need to make sure that they do not unbalance the gae one way or another.
  • I will give my hero alternatives in the adventure so they can increase scores that they have low values in or choose not to if they want a challenge.
  • I need to make sure that I don't overdo it on the numbers and bookjeeping.  I need to keep it simple.  This raises the question of how simple or complex I can go.
So my conclusion to 'Are dice good in gamebooks?' is yes - but only if done well. 

Less than a week left to vote for your favourite Windhammer books!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Dice in game books part 4 - The good things about dice.

“The Fighting Fantasy series popularised the use of a dice mechanic in gamebooks, a random element which contributed hugely to the suspense and the enjoyment of the play experience.”

– Wikipedia.

First of all, when I talk about dice, I also mean any random elements in gamebooks. Lone Wolf books used a random number table rather than dice but the outcome of having it is the same as having dice.

Dice have had to roll with the punches but there are many sides to them and they can add a lot to a gamebook. They can bring more variety, more tension and can give a numerical value to how successful you are. However, to do this, they have to be used very carefully. One wrong use of dice can ruin a gamebook. Here is a list of good things that dice can bring to a gamebook and what, how it can go wrong and what happens if it goes wrong. I’ll post a conclusion later in the week.

Dice allow you to swing the odds in your favour.

“My skill is a bit low. I’m going to pay Cyrano a visit.” – Demons of the Deep.

“The Iron Cyclops may have a higher skill than I, but I can test my luck to inflict more damage when I do hit it.” – The Warlock of Firetop Mountain.

If you have a random element in gamebooks, it requires a whole new set of skills to succeed. You have to be able to put the odds in your favour. This means that your character could take different paths depending on their scores. If one score is high, then you can take a path that requires rolls against that score. If one score is low, then you can hunt for an item that makes it higher. The downside is that sometimes, you can still do this and get an unlucky die roll, something you will just have to expect as a player. Allowing the player to play the odds will only work if the situation where they do everything right and still lose is a rare occurrence caused by freak die rolls.

“Right, I’ve got a combat skill of 23. He has a combat skill of 16. I’ll only lose if I get seven 1s. My random numbers are 1,1,1,1,1,1,1. I’m dead. Oh well, how many times does that happen?” - Lone Wolf.

If done badly: There is a combat or other encounter that requires a good die roll that is improbable to achieve if you have certain scores. Or the die rolls make the gamebook just downright impossible to achieve. This is what spoils a lot of gamebooks.

'So I have to kill this Razaak dude. What's his skill? 12. Ok. What's his stamina? 20. Ok. Oh and if he hits me twice in a row, I automatically die? Errr, I'll give it a try. But first I have to get close to him and for that, I need a magic shield, an obscure Hameki spell, some smoke that protects me from fire, a horn from a rare almost unkillable beast and a magic sword that doesn't even give me any bonuses but will turn me into a skeleton if I use it? That's it, I'm outta here!' - Crypt of the Sorcerer.

Using dice means that you can take risks.

“Is the spear going to hit? The fate of the Old World rests on this skill test. This is tense!”
– Knights of Doom.

With a non die gamebook, any decision you take will always have the same outcome. Eventually, once you have gone through every single path, you have done it. Paths in non die gamebooks are finite. However, introducing a random element means that you could do the same things and succeed or fail in different tasks which could take your adventure in different directions.

If done badly: Same as with playing the odds. There is an impossible set of rolls that you have to achieve, making the book unwinnable.

Dice allow more variation in gamebooks.

“Pirates this time? This will much more interesting than plain sailing.” – The Court of Hidden Faces (Fabled Lands book)

Ooh, nice. 1000 shards and a silver flute. This means I can buy that house this time round.” – The Court of Hidden Faces, after defeating the pirates.

This is good as long as you make sure that a random encounter does not spoil the whole adventure. You also need to make sure that an item you can only obtain through a random die roll is not:

a) really needed for an adventure or
b) Completely derails the adventure and makes it easy.

The best way to do this is to offer common items such as food, money or basic equipment. This small change may also then open up other possibilities later in the book. For example, the player can buy an expensive item later on.

The same applies to negative things. You could roll a die to see how many stamina points a fireball does to you, rather than a fixed amount. This may affect your decision later.

If done badly: Rolling a certain number for an encounter could mean death, which makes it an unfair die roll. That makes the book less enjoyable.

If you need an item to succeed, but you can only get it randomly, that also makes the book more unfair and less enjoyable.
If there is a random item that makes the whole book easier, then you have destroyed the challenge in the book.
If the items you get or the encounters you face are of too little consequence, there is no point in having them in the book.

There is a lot of balancing needed for this to work.

If you have dice, you probably have character stats. Character stats can be improved.

“An increase in initial luck for killing the manticore? That’s better than a sack full of gold any day.” – The Shamutanti Hills.

This links in with playing the odds. If you are rolling a die against a characteristic then your character can obtain training or items which will increase their stats and make it more likely for them to succeed. Of course gamebooks without dice can have scores which can be improved and you can have a gamebook without scores where you have to roll dice (I can’t think of any examples of this) but if you have dice, you are probably rolling them against some character stat, so this is why I included it.

If done badly: Having so many point increases makes success automatic so die rolls become irrelevant. Having too many modifiers means increased bookkeeping which detracts from the entertainment of the game.

Dice have numbers. If you have numbers, you can give yourself a ‘score’ for the game.

“I killed Zagor with a few items last time, but this time I’m going to have 10 gold talismans, 4 silver daggers, acid, magical arrows, a magic slingshot, 50 gold pieces, 12 provisions in my backpack and without spending any one of my four luck points!” – Legend of Zagor.

If you have stats for stuff, then you can show how successful you are. If there is an item that you need to win the book and all the book does if ask if you have it, then it matters not if the item is a small wooden brick or a magical shield that protects you from lightning. The success ‘score’ for both is the same – you have it, you win. You don’t have it, you lose. However, if you have stats, then you can show how successful you are by how powerful your item is. This can happen in non die gamebooks with scores, but more gamebooks with dice have scores, so this occurs more in gamebooks with dice.

If done badly: Too many things to keep track of means lots of bookkeeping which detracts from the enjoyability of the book. Also, too many rewards make them all meaningless.

You can set yourself challenges

“I could offload five items I don’t even need onto the bandits so they will let me pass, but where’s the fun in that? Let’s fight!” – Forest of Doom.

“If I look for the Antherica berry, everybody helps me. If I try to kill all the masters and take their amulets, everyone wants to kill me. Where’s Grimslade’s tower?” – Scorpion Swamp.

“I could use the eye of the cyclops, but where’s the challenge in that? Come on warlock, let’s make this interesting!” – The Warlock of Firetop Mountain.

Finished the book? Ok, now finish it and fight the tough monster you avoided. See if you can do it without the magic sword. This links in with allowing you to play the odds in the sense that you can choose not to play the odds and see if you can succeed. This links into the taking risks, however, in this case, you a taking unnecessary risks just for kicks.

As an interesting side note, in Scorpian swamp, if you go into the swamp without magic gems, you get lost and harried and can’t succeed. However, there is nothing stopping you getting the spell gems and not using them. That can be another dimension to the challenge of the book.

If done badly: The challenges are all impossible, which makes the gamebook more linear, but still playable. However, this reduces the point in rolling dice, since if you cannot win without a sword that adds 2 to your attack strength, why bother having combat without it at all? Why not just have an instant death paragraph?

It prevents tedious tasks in your book

“Hang on. Which spells have I just cast?” – Green Blood (Virtual Reality)

“How many times have I read this freaking paragraph? Isn’t there a way out of this maze?”
– The Warlock of Firetop Mountain.

You could spend 5 paragraphs playing through picking a complex lock or you could just roll a die to see if you succeed or not.

Some non random battles require you to make lots of decisions in order to achieve victory. This can get complicated and requires a lot of paragraphs. This might mean that my book would have fewer good encounters. A dice based combat system can just put the battle onto one paragraph and get it over with. It also does not mean that you do not make decisions any more. You could have special attacks or items which you can decide to use or not. Every combat round can be a decision in itself, so one paragraph could mean that you have to make ten decisions.

There are non combat situations which use a lot of paragraphs. To me, mazes are a good example of this, simply because they involve tedious page turning through paragraphs that all read the same.

‘You are at a junction. Do you go north or west?’ – It’s not entertaining and does not further any plot.

‘You are at a crossroads. Where do you go?’ - Towards the nearest cliff please.

The example that riles me the most is the Maze of Zagor. I go through the interesting, varied dungeon of Firetop Mountain, cross a river and then I’m traipsing around some non descript corridors. In Greek myth you had to cross a river to get to the land of the dead. That’s how I felt.

If I put a maze in my book, It will be something along the lines of ‘roll a die. If you roll these numbers you get out. If you roll these numbers you get tired. Lose 1 stamina point and roll again’.

If done badly: The book can become tedious because you have to roll dice all of the time. There is a balancing act between dice rolling for an outcome and making decisions for an outcome.

Random stuff happens. Get over it.

If I’m lucky, I listened in class the day they were talking about these runes. If I’m not, then I must have been poking the goblin with a dagger.’ – The Seven Serpents.

I rolled two sixes? But my stamina was 11. Oh well, you win some, you lose some.’
- Moonrunner.

Things in life a random. Nothing has a definite outcome, even if you do exactly the same thing twice. You could argue that having to deal with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. So you do everything right and things still go wrong. That’s life. You just have to deal with it.

If done badly: The book just becomes a succession of die rolls where your choices are irrelevant.

In summary, I write gamebooks to entertain, have in depth plots and give the characters interesting choices or a good mystery to solve. All this can be achieved perfectly well without any random elements in gamebooks and from my own experience, random elements should only be included if they can be done well. They should be done to add tension, variety and a measure of success to a gambook. However, it does not take much for random elements to completely ruin a gamebook. I must tread carefully!

I will post an in depth conclusion later in the week.

Only 2 weeks left to vote for your favourite Windhammer books!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A table of probabilities

Hi all!

Just a quick post to give the percentage probabilities of winning, drawing or losing an attack round depending on the difference between your skill and the skill of your opponents.

If you want more info on how I calculated this, look at the explanation under the table.

The headings mean:

Skill difference: If you subtracted your opponent's skill from your skill, this is the skill difference. I have done it from +6 to -6. any bigger than that and I wouldn't bother rolling dice.

% chance to win, draw or lose: Self explanatory.

If the probabilities do not add up to 100, it is because of rounding.

Of course, these values do not take into account special combat rules.

For example, in Slaves of the Abyss, you automatically kill an opponent if you roll a double 6 (you have a 1/36 chance of winning automatically).

In Creature of Havoc, you automatically kill your opponent if you roll a double (that equivalent of a 1/6 chance of killing your opponent. It is interesting that although Creature of Havoc is one of the hardest FF books, it has the easiest combats)

I also haven't calculated the probabilities of rolling 3 dice and taking the best 2 which occurs in Legend of Zagor.

It appears that if you face an opponent with a skill 3 or more higher than yours, then you are stuffed. You could just about survive an opponent with a skill 3 higher than yours if you are very lucky, but it seems that if my gamebook has an opponent whose skill is 3 higher than the possible initial skill of the hero and the hero has not had a chance to make a choice to avoid the combat or find a way to increase his or her attack strength, then my gamebook has ended there probably with a lot of frustration.

Hope this helps in some way. In the next few days, I'll post about the good points of having dice in gamebooks.

Have a look at Fighting Fantazine ( Issue 4 is coming out soon and I am writing an essay for issue 5 on a particular Fighting Fantasy book on why it is so great. However, I acn't say which one. You will have to wait until issue 5!

How did I work it out?

The way I calculated the % chance to win was to take the sum of the probabilites of rolling a number on 2 six sided dice that has a chance of winning you the attack round and multiplying by the probability of your opponent rolling a number on 2 six sided dice which would mean their attack strength would be lower than yours.

Quick maths lesson - to express something as a probabiliy, you put it in square brackets. For example, the probability of rolling a 2 can be written as [rolling 2]

For example, if your skill difference is 0, the sum is:

([rolling 3] x [rolling 2]) + ([rolling 4] x [rolling 2 or 3]) + ([rolling 5] x [rolling 2-4]) + ([rolling 6] x [rolling 2-5]) + ([rolling 7] x [rolling 2-6]) + ([rolling 8] x [rolling 2-7]) + ([rolling 9] x [rolling 2-8]) + ([rolling 10] x [rolling 2-9]) + ([rolling 11] x [rolling 2-10]) + ([rolling 12] x [rolling 2-11])

If your skill difference is -6, the sum is:

([rolling 9] x [rolling 2]) + ([rolling 10] x [rolling 2 or 3]) + ([rolling 11] x [rolling 2-4]) + ([rolling 12] x [rolling 2-5])

To get a draw I took the sum of the probabilities of rolling numbers where the attack strength was equal.

Once I had calculated the % probabilities of getting a win or a draw, I did the sum 100-[win or draw] to get the probability of losing in %.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Stuff I like

I would just like to point out a couple of blogs I enjoy reading.

One is by Dave Morris, who has written the Heroquest gamebooks, the Fabled lands series, the Knightmare series, the Bloodsword series and other gamebooks as part of other series. He also created the Dragon Warriors RPG.

His blog is found at

It has lots of good information on how to create and run an RPG.

Also, there is another gamebook blog out there which has linked to mine (thanks for that!) called Great Gamebooks. It is found at It is written by Jasan Barnett.

It has some good articles on gamebook writing. Jasan has written some gamebooks as part of his Woodland Forest Chronicles series.

I'm listening to HP Lovecraft on audiobook at the moment. He is an author who I liked before I even knew about him, if you see what I mean. I enjoyed works he influenced such as the film Alien and the Fighting Fantasy book Beneath Nightmare Castle. Discovering that these works were all tied to his style was a nice discovery for me. I've been enjoying his works for free (since he died in 1937, all his works are public domain in Europe at least) on the following websites. - audiobooks by HP Lovecraft. - HP Lovecraft's works online. - A podcraft about HP Lovecraft's works.

Dice in game books part 3 - Blocking Victory

Ok, this will be the last time I'll be down on the dice. They do have their good points too.

This post links in with part 1 about how dice could foil your last attempt for victory despite you doing everything right. It is the fact that using dice makes a gamebook completely unfair if you do not work out your probabilities.

Someone was telling me yesterday that he had to cheat at some gamebooks by not rolling dice and just assuming that he won all combats. I told him that with some books, it was the only way to win.

Some of the most unfair books in terms of unfairness were some Fighting Fantasy books.

The biggest source of unfair die rolls is probably your first one - your skill score.

Your skill represents your fighting prowess. Every round, you roll two dice and add the result to your opponent's skill, then roll two dice and add the result to your skill. The combatat with the highest score wins and inflicts damage the loser.

This is a fine method of combat, but the problem lies in the range of skill you can have. In most books, your skill is determined by rolling one six sided die and adding 6. This gives a skill score of 7-12. This is a massive range when you consider the statistics involved with rolling dice.

If maths doesn't thrill you, skip over the probability part.


For an introduction to probability, try this:

There are 36 possible permutations when you roll 2 dice:

So when you roll 2 dice, there is only a 1 in 36 chance of rolling a 12. There is a 6 in 36 chance of rolling a 7.

This means that a skill 7 hero fighting a skill 12 boss monster needs to roll 8 or more to even have the remotest chance to win an attack round. The odds of that is 15/36. That is not even taking into accound what your opponent needs to roll. To wound an opponent if you roll an 8, your opponent needs to roll a 2.

The probability of this is 5/36 x 1/36 = 5/1296.

Hmm. Not looking good is it?

Ok, so that's just if you roll an 8. You *might* win the round if you roll an 8-12, but your opponent needs to roll low scores so you can win. If you roll a 12, your opponent needs to roll a 6 or less.

After doing some calculations on excel, I calculated that the probability of winning an attack round if your skill is 5 less than your opponent's is 5.4%. And you have to do this several times to win a combat.

You're stuffed.

If you fight an opponent with the same skill, you have 44% chance of winning a round with 44% chance of losing and 12% chance of drawing.

If you fight an opponent with a skill 1 above yours, you chances of winning are now 34%. Fighting an opponent with a skill 2 higher than yours and your chance of winning a round has now dropped to 24%.

Even a small change in skill rapidly decreases your chances.


So fighting somone with the same skill gives you a 44% chance of winning a round.

If their skill is above yours by 1, your chance of winning becomes 34% and if it is above yours by 2, your chances fall to 24%.

What appears to be a difference in 1 gives a huge difference in probability. This means that it is very difficult to give any character who has a skill between 7 and 12 a challenging yet do-able game. A skill 7 character will probably find weak opponents quite deadly, whereas a skill 12 character would find all the combats tedious as they just win them.

There are a few ways around it such as:

  • Having other skills or spells (Citidel of Chaos and Sorcery! are good examples).
  • Not having mandatory combats or few mandatory combats (Spectral Stalkers and Space Assasin are good examples).
  • Being able to find items in the book which mean that you can avoid difficult combats (Warlock of Firetop Mountain has items which allow you to avoid combat with both the warlock and the dragon. It's a shame you have to still fight a skill 10 opponent. Beneath Nightmare Castle is a good example of not having to fight difficult opponents if you get the right items).

I quickly realised this so almost all Fighting Fantasy books I have written involve the character having a skill picked from 2 or 3 possible values. This makes combats fairer.

I'm sure when these books were first written was that there was a progression in strength of monsters, but you cannot have their skills increase too much as your character will soon be out of their depth. Soon, if you work out the probabilities, it would become apparent that you have more chance of winning the lottery than some FF books.

Some later ones got worse in terms of unfairness.


Black Vein Prophecy (which is one of my favourites despite its flaw) requires you to fail your first test for luck to win. So if your luck is 12, you're stuffed. Who said it is better to be lucky than to be good?

Knights of Doom, Magehunter and Spellbreaker just have a huge number of dice rolls and combats, Magehunter while you are in the body of a feeble old man. I love the stories in these books, they were just let down by their dice rolling.

I endeaver to make sure that there are no unavoidable unfair combats or rolls in my books as it is basically like having a gamebook you can't win. No gamebook should have victory decided by a die roll. You have to play the odds in order to win (but of course, as mentioned in post 1, there will be one time where you do everything right and the dice are against you which means you lose)

Oh yes, there's also stamina and luck too, but they are fair and you could get through most books with a minimum stamina and luck.

I guess it's all about the skill in Fighting Fantasy.

Other books ahve other stats and these seem quite fair, apart from fear in House of Hell. You can't win if it is below a certain value.

If I can't put fair dice rolls in a book, I won't use them at all.

Speaking of which, I did that with my Windhammer entry. It is a diceless gamebook, but when I started it, I decided to have dice. They just became less and less relevant. Read all of them and vote! Voting closes on October 31st!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Dice in gamebooks part 2 - bookkeeping

I was going to say something positive about random elements in gamebooks, but I think I'll do all the negatives first.

Dice usually have numbers on them. Even if the dice have symbols, you can express them in terms of a probability, which is a number. This seems a bit of an obvious statement. However, this leads to all the possibilities of working with numbers and probabilities.

If you use numbers, then you can manipulate numbers. This leads to a lot of work.

I remember reading a few choose your own adventure books. I think the only time I had to keep track of something was whether I had picked up some item. The other times, all I had to do was make a choice and enjoy the story. I didn't like it at the time, though. I wanted stats, so that I could get lots of items that increase them. I used to play Fighting Fantasy books with the challenge of finishing with the most items and gold pieces. More about that in another post though.

Choose your own adventure books were not hard work. Make a choice, read a it of story. Make another choice etc. This , coupled with a very non linear format where there were sometimes several happy ends meant that you could immerse yourself in the fantasy world without having to swim to the surface of reality to check an adventure sheet to see if some stat was good enough for you to do anything. Nowhere was blocked off to you because of some dice roll at the begining.

Of course, I could never improve anything. The only reward I had was a happy ending. But it wasn't complicated.

On the other end of the scale were certain Fighting Fantasy books which were laden with items which improved your chances in some way, usually in combat. This was great as it meant progression, but it also meant that some combats involved rolling several dice and it was difficult to keep up. right, so I have a sword that adds 2 to my attack strength, but I can fire an arrow at my opponent first and test my skill to cause 2 stamina points of damage, then deduct an arrow from my adventure sheet. Then every time my opponent hits me, there is a table to see how much damage it causes, so I roll a die for that, but then I roll a die because I'm wearing armour and it will reduce my opponent's damage by 1 if I roll a certain number.

Then I'd forget how to adjust my stamina because the attack strength roll was about 5 minutes ago.
The Sorcery! series was the worst offender for this, especially since you would be walking around laden down with four books worth of stat changing equipment as well as a huge list of spell components which you had to check every time you were given the option of casting a spell.

I loved the Sorcery! series for many reasons, but simplicity was not one of them. Rolling dice, then adding and subtracting modifiers can detract from the setting, themes and characterisation of the book part of the gamebook. It just turns into a number crunching exercise where I wouldn't care if I owned some wonderful piece of magical treasure; all that mattered was the numbers associated with it.

Fortunately, the items with modifiers did not spoil the feeling of Sorcery! and all of its diverse and interesting wierdness.

Legend of Zagor, however, did not escape so easily.

My feeling about the gambook is best summed up in this thread from the official Fighting Fantasy website:

"Go into a room, fight something, pick up item, leave room. Go into another room, fight something, pick up item, leave room. Go into another room, fight something, pick up item, leave room. Go into another room, fight something, pick up item, leave room. Go into another room, fight something, pick up item, leave room. Go into another room, fight something, pick up item, leave room.

Some books you cheat with because otherwise they are impossible. This one you cheat with just to get it over."

If a gamebook does need stats, then there needs to be a limit of the number of things (items, spells etc.) that can modify them and by how much. For example, maybe everything that restores stamina in a Fighting Fantasy book should restore a certain number of stamina most of the time to avoid confusion. Talisman of Death was good at this. The vast majority of things restored 4 stamina points with a few things restoring 2 and a couple of things 6.

If you go further and use dice to determine something, then ways of manipulating the dice roll should be limited. For example, all magical weapons add 1 to your attack strength and that's it.

Otherwise you end up bookkeeping, which is something I don't want to do in my leisure time.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Dice in game books part 1

Are gamebooks better for having random elements? Here's the first part of this discussion.

Everyone knows about the Death Star. An invulnerable fortress capable of destroying whole planets. Surely such a weapon would bring the galaxy to its knees. However, it didn't.

That pesky Skywalker took advantage of the Death Star's one weakness - a small hatch on it. And he blew it up.

Darth Vader must have felt very annoyed. He probably felt cheated as well. He put all this effort building a huge weapon so he could rule the galaxy with an iron fist. He had strangled countless commanders with British accents so that promotion on a death star was not followed by the new commander planning a party. Rather it was followed by him planning a funeral.

And it had all been blown up.

This is how someone who has played gamebooks with dice might have felt at one point. They may have won the game if they rolled 2-11 on two six sided dice and they rolled a 12. NOOOOOOOO!

This is how some gamebooks with dice may turn up. You may just end up playing the odds. This sword will make this combat easier. This charm gives me a bonus when I test for luck. You can collect all the best items and avoid all the hardest combats and an unlucky die roll can still ruin your plans.

This is a case against dice in gamebooks. Since there is a random element, you can do everything right and still fail, even if the only way to fail is by rolling a 12 on two dice (1/36 chance). And I beleive that leads to the reader feeling cheated.

If the reader loses a gamebook through bad choices, their reaction will probably be. 'You got me there. But I'll get you next time.' They would probably still be entertained and would want to come back for another go.

However, losing because of a dice roll despite making all the right choices would probably lead to frustration and a feeling of not wanting to play again.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

On bad choices...

I was thinking about the last post. Gamebooks need bad choices but a choice that is always bad becomes a dead choice. The bad choice needs to give a small bonus or only be bad in certain circumstances to stop it from being a dead choice. By the same token, if a choice is always the best possible choice out of a set of choices, it turns every other option into a dead choice.

This is where making a replayable gamebook tricky.

One way is the character creation system. I've just been re-reading the Tyrant's Tomb and the Screaming Spectre by Dave Morris. The stories are well written. If they need improvements, I think that the combat system can be less damaging as it makes any combats dead choices and the gamebook bits can be longer, because I enjoy them immensly.

The Tyrant's Tomb has no options for modifying your character. You are the barbarian and you have a sword and a bow. The choices you are given are whether to join two rogues or fight them. The next choice you are given is a choice of three places to go. Being with the rogues produces more bad results than good, but they can help get you through certain points. Out of the three places, I think one is a lot less rewarding than the other two, but if you make certain choices in the other two, they can be just as bad, so none of the three routes are dead choices.

The Screaming Spectre offers you more choice. You choose 9 out of 12 spells and you may take an amulet that increases your stats and an item called 'the lucky bottle'. There are places where your choice of spell is very rewarding, so a combination of choosing the wrong spells and going to places where a spell you don't have is required is a bad choice. However, you cannot say that any particular spells are bad in isolation and also, most places are not bad in isolation either (apart from the city in The Abyss). However, the book does have it's bad choices


You cannot win without the lucky bottle.


Maybe that's how you make gamebooks playable and replayable. You do not have a set of options where one choice is good and the others are bad, but instead you have a combination of choices which are good and a combination of choices which are bad.

That way, there are no dead choices which are the worst choices of all.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Good choices and bad choices but no dead choices.

I picked up Dave Morris's Screaming Spectre and Tyrant's Tomb Heroquest books yesterday from a charity shop and enjoyed reading them again.

I noticed that in the Tyrant's Tomb, Dave had been very shrewd. In the book, you are given the option of asking a wizard for a gift. He offers you strength of arms, magic or foresight.

Strength of arms gives you an axe that always hits first time, magic gives you an amulet that protects you from hostile sorcery and foresight gives you some information that once you know it you won't forget after the first time you've played the book and so you don't pick it again.

However, Dave must have known this trick, so the foresight option also gives you a stone which lets you see an elvish market where you can buy game winning items from.

Every time you play a gamebook past the first you are forewarned of knowledge of the previous attempt, which you will work on. This is not really a form of cheating as you cannot will yourself to forget this knowledge and the writer does not want you winning on you first attempt and not reading the book again as it won't feel satisfying. Maybe they want it to be hard so you have to read it several times. That is why they offer you many choices, some good and some bad.

However, paragraphs which just offer information and do not open or close new paths will end up as dead choices. You won't want to go back to your paragraph after you've been there before. Sometimes, an option is a dead choice because you know that it is useless or bad before you even go there (Such as in Fighting Fantasy's Demons of the Deep where on paragaph 1, you are given the option of swimming back to the surface where lots of hostile pirates are. You know that's bad).

This is why Dave Morris decided to reinvigorate the foresight choice with a helpful item.

A good gamebook needs your choices to be good or bad. It doesn't necessarily mean that every paragraph ahs to have an adjustment in stats or an item. It could just mean you have a new path opened up to you or one is closed off. However, the last thing you need are dead choices. If you read a paragraph and think 'I don't need to go back that way next time', you've just hit a dead choice. The only reason you might want to do it is for flavour reasons, so it is part of your story.

In Dave Morris's other book, The Screaming Spectre, Dave carefully avoids dead choices with codewords and items. You may get to a stage where you save a woman from a monster and she offers you dinner. Then you hear music play. If you listen, she tells you that it is a water elemental that gives a magical harp to a mortal which makes people dance. The elemental's music speeds up time and you miss your meal. If you do not listen to the music you get nice food and restore 1 body point.

After the first run through, you would rather take the meal over the info you already know, but Dave gets around this with a codeword. If you do not listen to the music, you do not get the codeword.

I must endevour that my gamebooks have less dead choices and more bad choices. The option of bad choices increases replayability as you are striving to find the best possible path for your character. I do not put as many bad choices in my books as I should do. All moy options seem to be beneficial in some way.

Had to modify my Windhammer entry. I missed that you could end up trapped in the marketplace. This is due to a last minute change I made, forbidding the hero to return to the docks if they got the guards' attention. This stopped them from being able to get a merchant ship out of the city and closed off their last option of an ending if they had missed the others.

It's all changed now. Have a look at the entries at:

Saturday, August 28, 2010


Less than an hour after sending my entry to the Windhammer prize, I thought of two changes to make to it.

They didn't come before, did they?

When I hit send, I felt a sense of relief that it had been done, so I must have felt a bit stressed about it. This is probably why I didn't have the ideas to change the book.

However, the changes are extremely minor and have nothing to do with the game itself, so I guess I should be happy that I want to change it in minor ways rather than the change being something that completely mucks up the game.

Done it!

I've finally emailed my entry for the Windhammer 2010 gamebook prize.

I knew it was time when I was just scrolling up and down the document, not changing anything any more.

If there is one thing that writing this book has taught me, it is that a book needs to be picked through with a fine tooth comb once it is finished. It needs to be read by people who have had nothing to do with the book (I thank my fiancee for doing this. XXX) and and their opinions need to be taken on board and then it needs to be proof read.

Finishing a book is only the beginning. However, I do not want to think about these things as I write or I will never finish a book. That is a very common trap for writers.

I enjoy the creative process of writing and I enjoy finishing. I enjoy the revision process less so, but that is what needs to be done, because every first draft I write is riddled with mistakes. I'm sure I will make fewer mistakes the more I do this, but I think that no one alive ever has produced a perfect book on their first draft.

However, 'perfection' can never be reached. I'm sure if I looked at my entry further, I would change words purely because I thought other words were better. They would not add anything to the book; they would just make a different book. Those changes would depend on my whims. I got to that stage last night, but decided that I would sleep on it before emailing the book off. I looked at the book this morning and played through a couple of bits. I made a couple of very minor changes and then started scrolling up and down. That is when the timer in my brain went off, telling me to get the book out of the oven and start to serve it to people.

I look forward to the Windhammer prize. I get constructive feedback which I have found invaluable. I also get to read a lot of fresh amateur gamebooks. The voting begins on the 14th September and you can send in your votes until the 30th October. This is so we can read through all the books and make a good judgement of all of them, so we can choose a two favourites to vote for.

I look forward to it. However, I am now going to do something that doesn't involve checking a gamebook. I've had enough of that for the time being.

Friday, August 27, 2010

I should just complete things!

I like gamebooks and I have planned lots of them.

I have finally finished writing a collection of short gamebooks which are on the Gamebooks group in Yahoo. They can be found here:\20Books.pdf

The idea of these books were to educate me in the mechanics of writing gamebooks. This was after a few gamebooks I put out there did not get good reviews.

It has been an education. However, I started this a year ago, made lots of plans for books, had ideas for more books and then left it. I then left it for several months before decided that I shoud just finish the project. I now have.

The last lesson that my short gamebook collection has taught me is the value of finishing projects. Unfinished books do not teach us anything and are just a waste of time. However, my pronlem is that every time I write a book, I get two more ideas. It's an exponential nightmare.

I need to put a lot of vague ideas to the side and finish something concrete. I then need to select the ideas that will bring forth the most valuable products. Of course, I need to learn to be that selective too.

I have also finished a book for the Windhammer Short Gamebook competition. The closing date for entries is 7th September if you have a short gamebook lying around.

I'm off to bed now. Night night all!