Wednesday, February 23, 2011

What microadventures taught me - don't be a waste of space - addendum

I've just thought of a few other ways of creating an intresting and immersive gamebook which challenges the player even if it is over a small number of paragraphs.  This is by turning random choices into decisions.

Most gamebooks have some ultimate aim in order for you to win (Fabled Lands is an exception.  You decide what your criteria for success are and there is no 'winning' end).

However, most of the time, you have no idea on how to achieve that aim and you do not receive any direction from the book.  It becomes a matter of random choices or trial and error.  And if your success or failure depends on random trial and error then losing is going to feel very grating.   

For example, in Temple of Terror, you are given the opportunity at the beginning of paying for passage on a barge to Port Blacksand or travelling by foot.  If you go by foot, you've lost.  Really.  There's an item that you need in Port Blacksand that you need in order to trade it later on for a vital item.  How were you supposed to know that?  You weren't.  You just read through the whole book, not knowing that your were going to die towards the end because of something you did right at the beginning.  You didn't enjoy spending all that time losing?  Suck it up, princess.

Now drop and give me 399
'cos you aint good enough
to get to 400.

I was being a bit harsh there, and so was the book.  So how can you turn seemingly random choices like that into informed decisions that stretch your abilities so that at least if you do win or lose, the responsibility is yours alone.  Victory will be sweeter because it was you who did it.

So how can we turn these seemingly random choices into informed decisions?


It comes in handy but
having a maze with a
map of it at the entrance
kind of defeats the point of it.
All those arbitrary decisions of 'East or west?' can be made less arbitrary if you have a map at the beginning of the book.  That way, you have some idea about where you need to go.  Want to go to a village?  Go south.  Want to go to a castle?  Go west.  It is also useful in Spectral Stalkers. 

Too many dungeon crawls have similar corridors and identical doors which give no indication of whether you will be successful by taking them.  In its most frustrating form, taking random doors can lead to sudden death paragraphs.  Not very enjoyable.

Of course you don't know exactly what will happen at the locations on the map, but having a map makes the decisions less random and of course, going to random places is fine if the success of the hero does not depend on it.

Have puzzles

This is the game from Curse of the Mummy. 
What's the winning move?
Having a puzzle on a paragraph means that you have to make a series of decisions on what the solution is.  This gets a lot of milage out of one paragraph. 

However, I have come across puzzles where I have had to work out the number of a paragraph, hit a brick wall and got very frustrated about it (I'm looking at you, Tower of Destruction)! 

To make it easier, it could be a multiple choice puzzle or, if it does involve finding out which paragraph to turn to, make the solution paragraph obvious so that I can flick through the book and work out where it is. 

The devil is in the detail
Either he's an imposter or he's still
bitter about that time you put dog
poo in his lunch.

Some choices that may seem random are not actually random if you look at the details in the text or in the illustrations.  For example in Siege of Sardath, you come across Sorrel, one of your best friends.  He taught you archery, tracking and how to respect the forest and you taught him swordplay (bit of a bum deal for him if you ask me) and the text tells you that he has a scar on his right eye as a testament to this (I've never scarred my right eye as a testament to my friendship with someone.  Obviously, I'm not a good friend). 

The illustration opposite goes with the paragraph.  Notice anything out of place?

Another example is in Andrew Wrights microadventure, Debacle at Dead Mans' Inn.  At the end of the book, you have to decide which of the villagers is a shape shifter.  You are given a brief description of each villager.  All I'm going to say is that you need to read the descriptions of the villagers before you see them then.

So there are some more ways on getting more milage out of gamebook paragraphs.  A lot of the above ideas will be needed to make micro adventures more substantial but they will also work for longer adventures too and this means that there will be more space for plot and more encounters.

If you have any other ways of making a short adventure more substantial, please post it in the comments box. 

Blog updates
I am really getting sucked into this blogging thing.  I have several posts written and ready to post, but I need to slow down.  I'm finding it very easy to just spend all of my time surfing the blogosphere and writing posts about gamebooks.  I'm loving it and I'm getting a lot out of it, but there is one small problem.
I'm not writing any gamebooks.
I need to make time to actually write some gamebooks, so I'm going to limit this blog to one post a week.  I aim to post on a Sunday morning (GMT) from now on.  My next post will be about narrative in microadventures and then I will be writing about Fabled Lands.  And then I will also write some more gamebooks.  The posts will be less frequent but they will be more regular. 
Thankyou all for all of your attention so far!  Please keep in touch and tell your friends about this blog! 
Have a lovely day.



  1. I've really enjoyed this series of posts on microadventures Stuart! I really should dig out my notes for the fourth adventure in the FF microadventure series I did.

    Zachary Carango did some good ones too - did you play his 'Incredible Shrinking Knight'? That was fun!



  2. I'm glad you're enjoying it - I'll be posting the last one tomorrow about narrative. If you do write your fourth microadventure (The Maze of Mheng?), I look forward to it.

  3. I have also played The Incredible Shrinking Knight and found it enjoyable - the premise was original and the idea that a wizard's table could be so dangerous was great.