Sunday, March 27, 2011

Fabled Lands - War Torn Kingdom Review

Wouldn't this have been a better title screen for The Plains
of 'Owilng Darkness?  (Thankyou, I'm here all week).

After my first journey into Fabled Lands in which I took advantage of being a merchant and killing pirates to get lots of money and go up in rank faster, I was left feeling a little empty.  There were no challenges any more - all my ability scores were high for the books, I was of a very high rank (and therefore had a very high defence score making me extremely difficult to hit in combat) and I had several tens of thousands of shards.

Feeling left without a challenge, I decided to play Fabled Lands properly in order to enjoy it fully for what it is - a big world to explore and create your own narrative in - and to review it for this blog.  

It is a little known fact that
The War Torn Kingdom has
a yellow sub theme.
I'm only reviewing the War Torn Kingdom today, so, with that and my previous rampage in mind, I decided to make some rules for myself.

1)  I will not take advantage of any infinite loops in the book.

2)  I will stay in Sokara (i.e. book 1) as I am just reviewing book 1 and I do not want to take advantage of any of the things in the other books, even if there are some tasks that you cannot complete unless you get information or items from other books.  I want to see how far a starting character can go in just one book.

So, how did my journey go?

I decided to be a wayfarer.  While not having the broken levelling up ability a warrior has, I would still be a good combatant while still being able to look after myself in the wilds.  I was also quite a decent thief.  However, anything involving magic, the supernatural or charming people would not go well.

What's yellow and above
our heads? The sky. 
The War Torn Kingdom starts with me in a small boat, drifting through the sea on brink of death.  You have your map, an heirloom, which you have already memorised.  I'm on the brink of death, but eventually, I crash into the shore of Isle of Druids and meet a crazy old man who tells me to follow him where he will show me the gates of the world...

It's Ok, old man.  I'll take a look around here first.  

I checked out the village near the coast and went to the temple of Lacuna, the nature Goddess.  However, becoming an initiate costed 30 shards and I only had 16, so I entered the forests, thinking that I would be right at home there.

It required a scouting roll of 10 to not get lost.  With a scouting score of 6, all I needed to do was roll a 5 or more.

I got lost twice and lost 4 stamina points each time.  Not wanting to die prematurely, I went to the inn and spent 4 shards to restore them both times.

What's yellow, smelly and busy?
Yes, barkeep, I got lost again.  Why don't you try it rather than swilling that bilge water you call ale?

I succeeded a third time, met a tree who liked me because I was a wayfarer.  I then found another city where a druid gave me a staff to deliver to another forest, because I was a wayfarer.  It was time to leave the isle of druids.  I left through the Yellowport arch an was greeted by the disgusting smell of the sulphur saturated stinking river.

Exploring the city at night, I was confronted by a thug who I easily killed and took 15 shards from.  That was the only time I did that.  

I then went to the tavern where I bought a round of drinks in order to glean some rumours.

Here you go, friend.  I hear this is a nice place to visit.

What's yellow and should be thrown
into the blessed srings?  A vial of
yellow dust.
I was told by a scholar that it certainly was not a nice place to visit and that he was annoyed because the scorpion people had stolen the Book of Seven Sages.  If I return it to him, he'll reward me.  With a quest to complete and an insatiable curiosity, I decided to leave Yellowport and explore the countryside.  I headed to the Forest of Larun in order to deliver the staff.  After passing a sanctity test of 9, I handed the staff to a druid who handed me another staff and told me to take it back to the Isle of Druids.  I returned to Yellowport, hitched a lift on a boat and gave the druid a staff.  In return, he let me train with the best druids and wayfarers.

I'm no longer an outcast.  I have reached the heady rank of commoner.  

I had many other adventures.  I got beaten into submission by a group of rat men.  I tracked some ghosts down only to find out that they were people.  I took the book from the Scorpion Men.  I fought some knights.  And much much more...

The verdict

From a gameplay view, The War Torn Kingdom is second to none.  In my other posts, I have already talked about the huge variety of things to do and the many rewards, but there are other subtle touches that makes the game balanced and playable.

What's yellow and doesn't
appear in this book?
The Yellow Dragon Knight.
First of all, the difficulties for the tasks are calculated well.  The first tasks that you will face will have a difficulty of 9 or 10.  Even if you have a 2 in the required characteristic, investing in a stat boosting potion and a blessing should make them doable.

The book is not too lethal either.  A lot of tasks are not combat based and you have the chance of escaping many combats.  For example, you can avoid combat with the thug if you make a charisma roll at a difficulty of 8.  Some combats are not lethal even if you lose them.  For example, if you lose a combat against rat men in the sewers, they just beat you and take all of your items and money rather than kill you.  The dragon knights in the dragon castle challenge you to non lethal combat for a wager of your weapons and armour.

This is all good as at the beginning of the book, you will not have enough resources or knowledge to buy things such as stat boosting equipment and potions, blessings and resurrection deals and so your life might be painfully short if failing all of your challenges had lethal consequences.

The game will also never grind to a halt if it all goes wrong.  If you need money for passage on a ship to complete a quest, you can sell most of your items.  If you sell an item and realise that you need it later, you can probably buy it from elsewhere.  If you get all of your possessions stolen, you can store a spare set of equipment in a house or cache so that you can start out again.  If you are terrible at combat, then you can find other ways of getting money other than combat.

What's yellow and wet?  The Lake of the Sea Dragon.
For example, after I had been beaten to within an inch of my life (my stamina was reduced to 1) and had all of my possessions stolen by the rat people, I left Yellowport and headed north where I came across the ghosts taking an offering.  Not wanting to fight them, I tracked them with my scouting skill, where I discovered that they were people.  The villagers gave me 80 shards.  I also managed to catch a smolder fish which I sold in the village by the lake of the Sea Dragon.  I used the money to buy an ordinary weapon and some leather armour.  I then went to the castle of the dragon knights where I beat two of them in combat in order
to get two suits of heavy plate mail, one of which I sold for
1440 shards.  I had recovered from that set back.

The Yellow Dragon Knight in
another role.
The game is hugely replayable.  Once you get used to the area, you could try it as another character.  However, as soon as you incorporate it with the other books then the potential for different adventures increases exponentially.  Playing this book along with the other books opens up new areas in all books.  For example, there is a door in the Forest of Larun in book 1 which can only be entered if you learn the password in book 3.

Since all of the books are made up of several small quests, there is little chance for characterisation or an overarching storyline, but as I have said before, thinking of your own story adds an extra dimension to the gameplay.

I would recommend that you buy all of the Fabled Lands books and enjoy being immersed in the world that Fabled Lands has to offer.  For more  information about Fabled Lands, go here.  To buy Fabled Lands from Amazon, go here.


More profession rules

I was just thinking of how to add more dimension to gaining a profession.  Here is another way of doing it.

How about a rule where you can gain a profession every x levels if you have an ability score which allows it.

The abilities linked to the professions are:

Charisma - Troubadour
Combat - Warrior
Magic - Mage
Sanctity - Priest
Scouting - Wayfarer
Thievery - Rogue

For example, you can gain an extra profession at level 5 and then at level 9 but you can only gain a profession if the ability linked to that profession is 6 or higher without any items to boost it. This means that the player does not have to make a difficult decision between losing a level and gaining a profession, which some people may not like.  This idea is for all of the people who don't want to take a penalty.

You can change the rank number, the ability requirements and also limit the number of professions if you wish.

This also opens up the optional rule that if your unmodified ability score for your profession drops below 6, you are not allowed to count as having that profession until it has increased again.

Or for every ability score you have at 6 or more, you can count as having the related profession.  Or maybe, for your second profession, the score has to be 7, for your third, it has to be 8 etc.

The dimension for extra challenges and rewards are limitless.

Finally, just for flavour, here are some profession titles for characters with dual professions.

Priest/Mage:  Miracle worker                  
Priest/Rogue:  Inquisitor
Priest/Troubadour:  Preacher
Priest/Warrior:  Paladin
Priest/Wayfarer:  Druid.
Mage/Rogue:  Trickster
Mage/Troubadour:  Bard
Mage/Warrior:  Warlock
Mage/Wayfarer: Wiseman/Wisewoman
Rogue/Troubadour:  Spy
Rogue/Warrior:  Bandit
Rogue/Wayfarer:  Vagrant
Troubadour/Warrior:  Spreader of sagas.
Troubadour/Wayfarer:  Keeper of folklore.
Warrior/Wayfarer:  Ranger

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Titan - the Fighting Fantazine blog

Hi all!

Poor Triceratops felt left out from the
dinosaur races.
Just a quick note to say that the Fighting Fantazine magazine has now got its own blog.

Each issue has a Fighting Fantasy adventure, a post from the Fighting Dantasy blog, an editorial and many other great features.  The last issue had a ranking of all of the Fighitng Fantasy books with essays on the top ten.

Take a look at it as well as all of the issues so far.  The next issue is accepting letters too, if you would like to pen one and email it to them.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

April Adventures update

Thanks to Jonathan Green and Ikaros for their suggestions.  My list of villains now looks like this:

Balthus Dire
Why didn't you choose me?
Karam Gruul
Lizard King
Necklace of Skulls
The Overlord (from the Citadel of Chaos by JamieThomson)
The Sorcerer (Siege of Sardath)
Titanium Cyborg 
Vonotar the traitor
Winter King
Zharadon Marr

The only one I am doubtful of now is Y.  If I can't find any better alternative, I'll look for instances where you fight yourself in gamebooks or I could interpret that the mercenary leader in the Crimson Tide is yourself if you had submitted to your ferocity or I could look at instances where you can make really stupid decisions to get yourself killed and so you are your own worst enemy.  

Saturday, March 19, 2011

My Fabled Lands review - my first foray into the lands

I will be reviewing The War Torn Kingdom in my next post.  I have already posted on the concept of Fabled lands and the game system.  In this post, I will highlight just what an addicitive gamebook range it is and tell you the story of my first play through. 

There are some infinite loops but if you try to take
advantage of them then you will miss the interesting stuff
and the game will just drag on (get it?)
When I started, I went through a portal to come to a stinking heap known as Yellowport. I had a bare minimum of equipment and when I went to the market, a lot of the stuff was way above my price range.

However, I found 15 shards (the local currency, which are not actually shards) after I killed a thug who attacked me while I was exploring the rough area of the city.

It was an easy fight and I realised that if I did the same again, I could easily kill another thug and get another 15 shards.

However, I felt that this would not be within the spirit of the book.  I should be exploring, not continuously killing some random mook for some paltry sum groundhog style day.

I then got kidnapped by some cannibals.  I fell for the trick of answering a call for help and before I could do anything, I had been knocked out.  I woke up, almost ready to join these cannibals as dinner, but managed to annoy them so much by shouting the name of their god that I escaped their bonds and fought my way to freedom.

I said earlier that I did not think it was right to continuously kill some mook just to get some paltry sum.  However, when I bought a ship and a lot of cargo, which I later sold for hundreds of shards, I realised that some repetative things were OK.

That hidden face dude was
lucky that his book hasn't
been republished because
he definatley would have
stuck that sword in him.
For maximum experience,
kill lots of these.
As soon as the rewards were big enough, the power gamer in me took over like some evil body snatching alien.  Gone was the drive to enjoy the atmosphere and explore the lands - I wanted my stats to be as good as possible.  I wanted thousands of shards.

When I was attacked by pirates and managed to win an outright victory against them (which I could do quite easily as a warrior), I was given a chance to level up.  That was it.  I became the scourge of pirates, buying goods in Sokara to sell in Metriciens and hoping that pirates would attack me so that I could loot their treasure, get more cargo and level up, making it easier for me to beat the pirates next time. 

Soon, I was a level 10 warrior.  I couldn't stop - I went all over the place, slaying beasts and men, finding ways to increase my stats.  This wasn't min maxing.  This was just maxing.  After I repeated myself several times so that I could max out my stats I travelled around all four books causing havoc usually just wading in and slaying all my foes. 

Republish, dammit!
I quickly got addicted to Fabled Lands.  I discovered the frustration I felt when an option told me to go to another book if I wanted to do something.  Except it was a book I didn't have or even worse, it was a book that hasn't been published yet.

Then I had a realisation.  I had gorged myself on Fabled Lands and now I was satiated.  I wanted to go back to what I was originally doing - wandering around, exploring the terrain and talking to its inhabitants.  I went back to the beginning, started with a new character and promised I'd just stick to the War Torn Kingdom and I'd explore it in the way the authors intended...

What did my first play through of Fabled Lands teach me?

A big number on a piece of
paper is still just a number
on a piece of paper.
My first idea was to get all the best items and make my stats as great as possible.    Most of the time, I wouldn't read a paragraph in detail, but just skim it for any adjustments that I needed to make to my adventure sheet.  Then, when it happened, I felt that I had missed out.

Looking at some of the first gamebooks I wrote, I realise that this was also the way I approached writing gamebooks.  I would really neglect the description, storyline and three dimensional characters and put all of my efforts into making a balanced and fair game system where the hero could get plenty of rewards.  These books were also missing out on a lot.

There is more to a gamebook than the system.  The system is only there to support the narrative.  If you make it all about the system, it just becomes another load of numbers, which, even if you get a big load of numbers, is still unsatisfying.

BONUS - Variant rules

I like setting challenges for myself in gamebooks by playing with the rules (for example, you can successfully complete Necklace of Skulls with no skills). 

Points based character creation

For Fabled Lands, I thought of a customisation process involving points and you can give yourself a number of points based on how difficult you want the book to be.

I started this system by taking an average of the sums of the abilities of the starting characters.  

The sums of the ability points are:

Priest:  21, Mage: 19, Rogue: 22, Troubador: 22, Warrior: 20, Wayfarer: 22.

So the mean number of ability points that the characters have is (21 + 19 + 22 + 22 + 20+ 22)/6 = 21.

So a starting character has 21 points to distribute amongst their abilities.  

However, since your ability score cannot go below 1, 6 of them have been distributed already to each score.  So a starting character should have 15 points to distribute amongst their abilities and a score of 1 in each ability.  

There is also the matter of which profession to pick.  Instead of picking one profession to start with, I gave a profession a value of five points and added five to the starting number of points a character has.  This means that you can start with no profession and higher ability scores or more than one profession, in order to take advantage of the profession based quests and the other perks that different professions have.

That gives a starting score of 20 with starting ability scores as 1 for each score.  1 point increases an ability by 1 and getting a profession costs 5 points.

In the name of realism I may have a two profession limit (also, if you spend too man points on your professions, then your abilities will be too low to let you survive).

There is also a maximum limit for an ability which is 5 + the book number you are starting at. 

However, you can adjust the difficulty by giving yourself more of fewer points.  

You can substitute going up in rank with gaining a profession

This allows you to take advantage of the other parts of the book open to other professions.  You may or may nor want to put a limit on the number of professions you can have as in book one, getting a profession means that you have access to another quest which allows you to go up in rank again.  

Maybe you could swap two ranks for a profession, but that will mean that you would have to remember how much your stamina went up by when you gained the last two ranks.

Your stamina goes up by a fixed amount when you go up in rank

I hate to roll a 1 when I want to see how many points my stamina can go up by.  It's a bit like getting a big, nicely wrapped box at Christmas and opening it to find something rubbish. 

I would say that the default number should be 3 as it is half of six but you can pick any number you like to make it easier/harder or maybe base it on profession e.g warriors and wayfarers gain 4 stamina points per rank, rogues and troubadours gain 3 stamina points per rank and mages and priests gain 2 stamina points per rank.  
Where are the Blessed Springs again?

You can't use the map - you have to make your own

This would add an extra dimension of challenge and provide more of an opportunity for explorers and people who like drawing maps.

Being unarmed reduces your combat score by 1

I noticed that having an ordinary weapon is no different to being unarmed, except the weapon takes up an item slot.  So this rule will make sure that you do carry a weapon around and don't just sell it for 40 shards.

Start with no possessions

This would not be a major setback, but it is a minor extra challenge.  I think the biggest setback would be having no money.

Inventory/adventure sheet adjustments

It can hold tons of grain but
it can't hold some potions?
You can carry more of fewer items or you can restrict yourself to the number of blessings you can have or the number of ability boosting items you can have.  Maybe you can limit the amount of money that you can carry around.  For example, you can carry 250 shards and every 250 shards after than counts as an item.

Ships as caches

You can store items and money in ships.  This is actually quite a strong benefit as secure caches that won't get burgled or destroyed are few and far between.  However, it also means that your caches may sink or get lost.  

Lower defence scores

This only applies in later books where some opponents have high defence scores.  There are several ways around it, none of them great as it means that combat is more deadly for you (unless you reduce your opponents' defences and not yours).  

Removing the effects of rank on defence would disadvantage the player.  The only way to work out how to reduce opponents' defences by a certain amount is by reducing them by the number of the book.  However, most of the time, the player will have a higher rank than the number of the book.  

Maybe defence could be based on half the combatant's combat score round down (so you can reduce opponents' defences by half their combat score rounded up).  This is probably the easiest way as you have know way of knowing whether your opponents are wearing armour and what their ranks are.  

Also this means that combatants will have a higher combat/lower defence combo, making the combat faster but more deadly.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

April Adventures

So I was looking through my blog list and found a post on the Sword +1 blog.  There is a challenge out in the blogosphere to post something every day apart from Sunday weekday in April.   
Points for working out.
Points deducted for hairstyle.

After some quick thought, I've decided to enter.  I will write a post about a different gamebook villain beginning with each letter of the alphabet.  I will give them a score out of 10 for the following things:

Prominence - Does the villain harry you with minions and traps or do they just sit in a dungeon and wait for you to come to them?  Do you encounter the villain before the finale?  Is the villain proactive in achieving their ambition or are they just a boss monster at the end of the book?

Karam Gruul would score highly whereas Balthus Dire would have a low score.

He's hard.
Hardness - How difficult is it to achieve victory over the villain in your encounter with them?  I do not mean the whole book (after all, Zanbar Bone wasn't causing you the trouble you had in Blacksand) but the point from where you enter the room with them in or tackle the minions immediately around them.  If the situation is hazy, it is down to my arbitrary and biased judgement.

It is also not all about stats either as you may not even enter into combat with some gamebook villains.  It is more to do with the items and actions that you need to beat them.

Razaak woud get a high score for this whereas the netherworld demon from Crown of the Kings would get a low score.

These guys do not lack ambition.
Ambition - What are they actually out to do?  I'm marking this simply on the scale of what they want to do as their means of achieving their ambition comes under style. 

Globus (wants to capture the Aleph and probably rule over a multitude of worlds) would have a high score whereas Abdul the Butcher (tries to prove himself a better pirate by looting a few hundred gold pieces) doesn't really haev much ambition.

StyleDoes the villain have many and varied ways of trying to achieve their ambition or is it just a bog standard 'invasion plan'. Does the villain just set out to kill you or do they try to torture you, harass you, kill your friends and generally enjoy their villany rather than see it as some kind of boring job?  Is their lair a humdrum dungeon or do they enjoy wierd and bizarre structures?  Are they distinctive or just another evil sorcerer?

Necklace of Skulls has a lot of style whereas the guy from Stealer of Souls lacks in this area.

Diabolical genius - Any idiot can install a pit trap in their home but it takes brains to kill off all of your contacts before you've even found them (Moonrunner) or simultaneously transport you to another world while  stealing your young fit body and leaving you in an old one (Magehunter).
Peace out, man.

Mencius would score quite highly on this whereas Zanbar Bone would not.

Below is the list I have made so far.  If I have written more than one name, I'll base it either on a vote or on m whim when I come to that letter.  The villain does not have to be the big bad of the book.  If anyone can think of a villain whose name begins with P, Q or Y, I would be grateful (Queen, Liche is a bit lame but it's the best I've got so far).

I will then end with a special bonus piece on Zagor as to why he actually isn't a villain.  

Agglax, The Archmage
Balthus Dire, Bythos
Grim Dugald, Gnaag, Globus
Hate, Count Heidrich
Karam Gruul
Lizard King
Malbordus, Myurr
Necklace of Skulls
The Overlord (Coils of Hate and/or Citadel of Chaos by JamieThomson)
Queen, Liche 
The Sorcerer (Siege of Sardath)
Titanium Cyborg 
Vonotar the traitor
Wizard Ansalom (also a bit lame)
Zharadon Marr

If anyone has any suggestions, please leave a comment.  I look forward to it!

Friday, March 11, 2011

My Fabled Lands review - the game system

Double 6 for Fabled Lands?

I'm posting this on Friday as I'll be away this weekend.

So there is a lot to explore in the Fabled Lands, but what is the gaming system like?  What characteristics are measured?  What rewards and penalties can you get?  Are the die rolls fair or is Fabled Lands made impossible by difficult tasks?

You begin the game as a lowly first rank character.  Your rank goes up when you complete quests and overcome great odds.  A higher rank character is harder to hit in combat and is better at succeeding at certain tasks that are especially difficult.

An example of an adventure sheet.

In addition to rank, you have six primary ability scores.  The descriptions are taken from the book:

Charisma - the knack of befriending people.
Combat - the skill of fighting.
Magic - the art of casting spells.
Sanctity - the gift of divine power and wisdom.
Scouting - the techniques of tracking and wilderness lore.
Thievery - the talent for stealth and lock picking.

You also have a stamina score, which determines how much damage you can take before you die.  You start this book with 9 stamina points.

The last statistic is your defence score which determines how hard it is for you to be hit in combat. 

Your defence = your combat score + your armour's defence score + your rank.

What would you like to do when 
you grow up?
You then have to choose your profession which determines your six primary ability scores.  You could choose to be a priest, a mage, a rogue, a troubador, a warrior and a wayfarer.  Each profession has a high score in one of the primary abilities with medium and low scores in other abilities. 

Your profession also determines how certain characters in the book respond to you and which quests you can embark on.

The citizens of a small nation used
actual shards as currency.  They are
also famous for bandaging their
hands a lot.  
Finally, you can carry up to 12 items of equipment.  You start with a weapon, some armour, a map of the lands you are about to explore and 16 shards (the currency, which are not actual shards, they're coins).

Tasks are given a difficulty and require a certain ability.  You roll two dice and add the result to your ability.  If the result is higher than the difficulty, then you have succeeded in the task.  If it is equal to or lower than the difficulty then you have failed in the task.

Combat is similar.  If the sum of your combat score and the result of two dice is higher than your opponent's defence, then you reduce your opponent's stamina by the result of that score minus your opponent's defence.  Your opponent then attacks you in the same way.

I didn't know that would happen.
Sometimes, however, you do not know what action you are going to take by rolling against this ability.  Combat, thievery and charisma are quite clear through their connotations but when you are prompted to use magic, you may not be told what effect you will produce.  This is not a huge thing as succeeding at a magic roll always produces a positive effect (it would be mean if you succeeded at a magic roll only to be told that it was the wrong effect when you didn't know what you were doing) but there is no spell system and so you can't really work out what your plan is unless you are told what you could do before hand.

He's got a high sanctity score.
Whatever that means.
Sanctity has the same problem - after a while, it becomes clear that sanctity can be used to destroy undead, banish spirits and lift curses amongst other things (including getting you barred from the a wizards' school for being too closed minded).

He's go a high scouting score
He should stay outdoors.

Scouting covers climbing, tracking and finding your way - it is a general outdoor skill.

It takes a few experiments to work out which ability will be useful in which situation, but eventually, you will find out which tasks require which ability.  Once you know this, it will be easier to pick quests that you will    succeed at.

From the point of view of someone who writes amateur gamebooks, a lack of clear rules on what your abilities can do, which situation requires them and how difficult the task should be means that it can either be easy or hard to write an amateur gamebook involving this system.  If you are the sort of person who worries about making a system tight and waterproof and knowing exactly what kind of spell a magic roll with a difficulty of 10 can cast, then it will be quite difficult.  I think the best way to approach an amateur Fabled Lands adventure is to work out what you wnat the character to do first and then apply the difficulties and the abilities to it.  Of course, the RPG could clear up some of those problems.

So the system isn't too complicated - it is mainly based on your ability scores so it shouldn't take too long to get started.  However, you will soon realise that the Fabled Lands series is like chess - easy to master the basics but this opens up an infinite variety of strategies and approaches.

Where does the horsey thing go again?
The difficulty is quite appropriate for you assumed level and the consequences of failure are rarely instant death, depending on your quest.  Quests with high stakes and high rewards (an increase in rank) are a lot more dangerous.  For example, slaying the provost marshal of Yellowport might get you sold into slavery and being stripped of your possessions if you get caught.

Most quests can be completed in a variety of ways which means you could complete a task with a roll against magic or thievery.  Or you could just fight your opponents.  This means that all professions havea good chance of completing several quests.  The rub is in finding out which quests are best suited to your abilities.

1 Item slot.
Scouting +1.
There is plenty of opportunity to increase your ability scores.  The most common way to do so is to buy items that raise a particular ability score.  For example, an amber wand increases your magic score by 1.  You can only use one item to increase each ability score.  However, these items take up an item slot in your inventory which leads to some interesting decisions.  Should I take the wand or leave the slot open in case I find something more powerful?

May give you magic +1.
If you are lucky, you can also find places and people who train you in certain statistics.  For example, there is a monastary in Cities of Gold and Glory where you can increase your magic score.  However, it will only increase if you can roll higher than your magic score on one die.  This means that the better you are, the less chance you have to learn something new and you will get to a point where you will have learnt all you can from your studies.

If you are really lucky and you complete certain quests, you can increase any ability score you like, no questions asked.  This is when you have to very careful in your decision.  Opportunities like this don't come along every day.

You can go from outcast
to duke.
If you do something fantastic, then you will be able to go up in rank.  The immediate benefit of this is that your stamina score increases by 1-6 but there are also critical tests of strength and character which are determined by a roll against your rank.  For example, if you slay the provost marshall in his own base, you will be pursued by a horde of his soldiers.  You need to roll on your rank or less on 1 die (modified if you are a rogue, wayfarer or troubador) to see if you can elude them.

Other rewards include being given a title which may garner favour with certain people, given a blessing which will allow you to reroll a failed ability roll for one ability (good if you want to complete a quest where there is a task which requires an ability you are weak in) or protects you from storm, being given a resurrection detail which allows you to continue with the same character if you are killed or being made an initate to a religion which is a type of title.
The main benefit to that is that blessings and resurrection deals are cheaper from temples of the same religion.

Would you store a
treasure horde in here?
If you are really after material rewards, you can collect a horde of valuable items and money, but beware!  You can only carry twelve items and there are very few places that are completely safe to store items.  You can't carry all your money around as you could get your purse stolen but merchant guilds charge you to withdraw money and every time you visit a house you have bought, it may have been burgled or it may have burnt down.

In addition to possesions you could carry around, you could also buy a house in most settlements and a boat in ports along with trade goods with the idea of selling them for a higher price.  Or you could invest some money with a merchants' guild in the hope that your investment pays off.

I've probably forgotten some way of getting rich, famous and powerful but that is because there are so many ways to achieve all of these things.   If the huge list above is not enough for you, then nothing will be. 

The Dragon knights aren't as
belligerent as this one.  Apart from
the black dragon knight.
You can also pick up codewords which are markers to show that you have been part of certain events.  For example, you get the codeword anvil if you defeat the dragon knights three times in a non lethal combat.  This is an indicator that the knights are sick of you being much better than them and that they will not accept any challenges from you any more.  Conveniently, all the codewords are written down on the adventure sheet at the back and you just have to tick the box for the relevent codeword.  All codewords in book 1 begin with an 'a'.  In book 2, they all begin with a 'b' and so on.   

Your choice of profession provides a very different playing experience in the books.  In the War Torn Kingdom, each profession has their own quest to complete that no other profession can, but it does not stop there.  Since your ability scores are different, then you will want to do the quests that can be completed with socres that you have high values in.  For example, you are not going to go to the Castle of the Dragon Knights and challenge them to combat if you are a mage unless you have found a way to increase your combat score.  This adds to the already huge replayability factor in the book.

Don't get trapped in a
gamebook Skinner box.

The scope of the book is so big that there are bugs and infinite loops which could be exploited.  For example, if your combat score was high enough, you could kill an infinite number of thugs in Yellowport in a sort of Groundhog Day style loop in order to get 15 shards each time but it is not really in the spirit of the book to take advantage of these.  If anything, it distracts you from the more interesting challenges in the book.  And is it really fun to do the same thing over and over again?

Harry started Fabled Lands in
1984 and has killed over a
million thugs for 15 shards a
kill.  He left them in his house.
It has just been burgled.
To be honest, if you want to exploit an infinite loop in a gamebook, it would be more expedient to just write whatever values you want in your
adventure sheet.  It's not a computer game, so you can manipulate it and you won't be cheating anyone else (this won't apply if you are playing a multiplayer gamebook).  So if you're going to cheat, do it smartly.

Sure, he's invincible and he can kill
you with a thought but is he
actually having fun?
Also, if you change your stats or get an infinite amount of money and buy all of the best equipment then the book will just become too easy and it will lose its thrill.

You could also adjust your situation to make the gamebook more challenging.  You could start with no possessions or not have a profession.  You could reduce your stats by a certain value or start book 2 as a level 1 character.

The best way to play this book is to explore, explore, explore.  Sure, you're going to come across situations that you are ill equipped or prepared for but the best way to play Fabled Lands is to create a narrative for yourself, not to 'win' as there is no big end to the book.  Instead of trying to grab victory, you should just sit back and enjoy the experience.  

I should know because I have done both as my next two posts will illustrate.

What has Fabled Lands taught me about game systems?

Give heroes many tools to complete their tasks.  

Unlucky?  That's good.
There is nothing more frustrating in a gamebook to have a tiny chance of winning despite everything you do.  This is usually done by having to succeed at lots of difficult rolls or combats.  In some gamebooks, you are required to fail certain rolls in order to win.                                                      

Fabled Lands goes out of its way to help you succeed.  Your character will not be good at everything and there are so many tasks that you will almost certainly come across something that requires an ability that isn't your speciality.

However, the book provides ways in which you can succeed.  First of all, most quests give you many ways to complete their tasks, each one requiring a roll against a different ability, or if you are lucky it may just require an item, a codeword or some money.  So you are able to complete at least a few tasks, get more rewards and become better at succeeding at the harder tasks.  

Secondly, if you do come across a task which requires an ability that you are not very good at, there are many ways to make your roll easier.  There are many ways to increase your abilities.  You can increase them permanently through rewards for tasks or by buying ability boosting items or you could increase them temporarily through potions.  You can also obtain blessings which allow you to reroll a failed ability roll.  

There are plenty of religions to join.
In case you are worried that it all goes badly and you do end up on the wrong end of a spear, then you are able to become initiated to a temple and make resurrection arrangements at a temple, at a lower cost if you are an initate.  You will wake up in your temple.  You would have lost all of your gear, but you are alive again.  You are also able to store spare equipment in a cache or house, so you can still pick up all the basics after you have died and continue your adventure.          

It is important in gamebooks to make tasks challenging but if the player fails them, then the penalties should not be too crushing so that the player can recover.  Then they should be given means to succeed through their decisions and strategy and if it goes wrong, at least to reduce the effects of their penalties.  There is nothing more frustrating than dying horribly for failing a single roll or by making a single decision where you think that the consequences are going to be good.

Make the system work for the gamebook, not the gamebook for the system

I have looked at dozens of RPG sourcebooks and I can't begin to imagine how difficult it must be to have such a wide variety in the skills and abilities of characters and be able to come up with a consistent system which allows the DM to be able to look up an appropriate skill or ability to roll against with the correct difficulty to almost every eventuality (which is good because player characters probably try to attempt all kinds of crazy stuff).  It must take ages to come up with a consistent system.

Did Dave Morris and Jamie Thomson come up with a
table like this?  (From SRD DnD)
I am a little unsure as to whether in Fabled Lands, the difficulties assigned to each task are consistent.  That is, I am unsure if the authors made a big list of tasks and assigned a difficulty to each one with the relevant ability that should be rolled against.  They must have decided on which ability covers which task but I think it would have been unnecessary to make a list of difficulties.   Rather, I think they
decided on the difficulty of a task based on which book it was in.    

He's as confused as anyone about 
what his rank actually is. 
Book 1 is for a rank 1 character, book 2 is for a rank 2 character etc.  The difficulties and combats seem appropriate for each book.  For example, the Black Dragon Knight, clad in full plate armour (+6 defence) and made out to be quite a formidable opponent in book 1 1 has a combat score of 5, a defence score of 9 and stamina score of 11.  However, a drunken mutineer in book 3 has a combat of 6 a defence of 9 and a stamina of 9.  So a drunk mutineer can take a knight in plate mail apparently.

Looking for a ghoul in a huge city requires a scouting roll against a difficulty of 9 in book 1 but trying to follow three mutineers through a city in book 3 requires a scouting roll against a difficulty of 14.  

In a gamebook I think it is better that the tasks are do able rather than consistent with some system.  After all, if the tasks were all consistent in their difficulty, then book 1 may be full of tasks that are impossible and it will just be frustrating for the reader.

Questions gamebook authors do not have to consider:
What happens if I cast magic missile on this door?
What happens if I cast magic missile on my dinner?
What happens if I cast magic missile on this cat?*

Also, unlike tabletop RPGS where players tell a human DM what they want to do and the DM has to come up with the consequences of pretty much any idea for an action, gamebooks offer a limited range of options where other alternatives are not considered.  It is because of this reason that coming up with a comprehensive and consistent game system for a gamebook is not necessary. Is it consistent that a knight, Sir Leo in book 4 has a defence of 20 when a dragon in book 2 has a defence of 11?  No.  Is it important because heroes in book 2 will have a lower combat score than heroes in book 4?  Absolutely.
The inconsistencies may annoy hardcore world builders but I am grateful that all the difficulties are balanced by book.

They're both invulnerable.  Sit back.
It's going to be a long fight.
This is now leading into what makes a good system for a gamebook, which needs a whole new post of its own.  On quick reflection, I believe that you need a system to be quick and simple or it will direct attention away from the story and make the reader focus on die rolling and book keeping.  When I mean quick, I mean that most tasks can be determined with a quick roll of a die.  When I say simple, I mean that there are few things to memorise.

Fabled Lands meets this criteria as the rules are 7 pages long.  The authors deal with the problems of determining difficulty of tasks so that you don't have to.  The rules are definitely simple.  Most of the time, the system is also quick as when you roll dice, you do so once for a result.  However, some combats can drag on if both you and your opponent have high defence scores compared to your combat scores as this means that you will be unable to hit each other.  There is no way to overcome this stalemate.  This topic is discussed here.  So Fabled Lands falls a bit in this respect.

Fabled Lands offers all of these goals
to your player.   
A good system can also provide options to the player.  Fabled Lands definitely provides options.  You can accomplish most tasks with more than one ability.  you can buy many many items and you have many choices of career and which abilities you can focus on improving.  There is also an encumbrance limit which forces you to make decisions.

A good system would also be able to allow the player to progress.  Fabled Lands does this.  My first post in the series lists the many rewards that you can obtain.

Overall, the Fabled Lands system is excellent.  There are tiny flaws (infinite loops but with tiny rewards, difficulty based on book rather than how hard the task should be and the high defence problem) but they will not take away from the enjoyment of the six (and hopefully twelve) huge interlinked gamebook series.  It has  taught me a lot about what a good gamebook system should be like.

Go to the Fabled Lands Blog in order to order the Fabled Lands books in many different media and to read the latest news on the creations of Dave Morris and Jamie Thomson.

*No cats were harmed in the writing of this blog post.

It's OK, Midori.  No one would harm a cute cat like you.