Sunday, May 29, 2011

Love in gamebooks

Today is a big day for me.  It's my wedding day.  If you a reading this, I may be getting ready, in the ceremony or I may already be married.  :).  I'm writing this post in April, but the thought of it gives me butterflies.

This post is dedicated to my wonderful wife to be, Nicky <3.

So since it is such a love filled day, I thought I'd write about the instances of love in gamebooks.

Romantic Love

Charms and Tiny Arrows

This is an original and entertaining little adventure by Andrew Wright, where you play Kupidus, a sprite whose mission it is to help Princess Infatua by finding three objects which will help a prince to fall in love with her.  It is a quirky adventure which is all about making love happen.  Ahhhh.

Citadel of Chaos by Jamie Thomson

There's not a big love theme here, but there is a good paragraph under the description of Larcen Tyler.

Larcen likes Jetta Max.  A lot.  He admires her for her ideals and hatred of tyranny.  She admires him for his unswerving refusal to kill unless he has to.  And they admire each other quite often.

I'm sure they do.  Ahhhh.

In the Name of Love

This is one of mine.  In the book, you are a loner and a skilled warrior with a chequered past brought on by a loose cannon attitude (a romantic hero) teams up with a young idealistic soldier who is on a mission to win the heart of the woman he loves.  However, you realise that you have some enemies in common and together, you may be able to clear your name and bring the solider and his love together.  Ahhhhh.

Wrong Way Go Back

This a very amusing and immersing series of gamebooks by Ulysses Ai which involves you trying to get a girlfriend in a sci fi setting.  Unfortunately, it doesn't go too well and gets you into all kinds of trouble.  For example, one beautiful girl who takes an interest in you turns out to be a plant.  It captures the experience of being a teenage boy with added aliens, robots and starships.  Ahhhhh?

Family Love

Night of the Necromancer

As well as having you killed to extend his own life, Unthank the Necromancer is also planning on sacrificing your sister to his evil masters.  This adds an extra dimension to the story beyond simple revenge and also makes it about saving the ones you love.  You could also find you faithful hound who will help you even though you are a ghost.

Crimson Tide 

Once again, this is not just a tale of revenge as you need to save your mother too.  This is more important in the book because if you don't save her first then you fail.  The lesson:  Don't let revenge get in the way of your love.  In fact there is lots of love in the Crimson Tide.  You also help the King find love and when you start, you are the leader of a band of children, bought together by the tragedy you have shared.

Necklace of Skulls

It is not clear that Necklace of Skulls has actually released any monsters upon the world, so the only crime that you know he's committed is the killing of your twin brother.  This is enough for you to travel many leagues and possibly even through the land of the dead to get to his abode and then endure the ordeals of his sadistic and cruel hyena like servants in order to bring him back to life and send the sorcerer back to hell.


Nakama is a Japanese word for a very deep freindship you form with others to the extent where you would think of them as your family.

Down Among Dead Men

Dave Morris does a good job of writing a gamebook where you lead three other very deep characters.  You, Blutz, Grimes and Oakley see each other through many trials and tribulations and eventually struggle to victory.

Heroquest - The Fellowship of Four

This is another book by Dave Morris with four characters, but you and your friends play them all.  Their abilities compiment each other very well and its hard not to imagine doing the quest without the band of four heroes from the boardgame.  The story is also good at describing the strong bond between the heroes.

Island of the Lizard King

Mungo is a great and loyal friend who you help find the Lizard King.  It is quite sad that he dies so early.

Slaves of the Abyss

You have a great relationship with your blademaster Baralo, despite the fact that he threatens you with a knife when you first meet.  He is the one who gave you your fine sword and he teaches you how to throw it.

Deathtrap Dungeon, Trial of the Champions and Armies of Death

Despite competing with each other, some of the competitors in both of the Trials of the Champions are friendly towards you and helpful.  The best example is Throm the barbarian, which makes it all the more poignant when you have to kill him.

When you are enslaved on Blood Island in Trial of the Champions, you form a strong bond with your fellow slaves despite being made to fight.  This bond is shown at the end where you demand to challenge Lord Carnuss to combat.

You also form a strong bond with your soldiers in Armies of Death as together you are facing a demon that will bring about the destruction of Allansia.

Gamebooks are not places where I expect to find much love.  Yes, in some of them, the closest you get to someone is when you lean forward to stick a dagger in their throat, but in some books, you get a feeling of the relationships and the bonds that you can form, which make the game all the more immersive.

Have a great week!  I know I will :).  

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Destiny Quest review

A new gamebook was published and I rejoiced.  Destiny Quest hit the market and soon it was all over the web.  I first noticed it when Andrew Wright interviewed Michael J. Ward about its creation (more about that later). 

Two posts here and here showed just how big the book is.  And it is a behemoth of a book, split into three acts, each one jam packed with different encounters.  

In Destiny Quest, you play a character who has no memory of your origin and your identity.  All you have is a dark mark on your arm and a sword that has been bequeathed to you by a dying squire, ready to be trained by a wizard known as Avian Dale.  Somehow, you have survived a bloody battle and the squire tells you to take his identity and train under Avian yourself.

So there is a big mystery from the start, which is always a plus.

The story takes you on a path of discovery about who you are and this becomes intertwined with the Legion of Shadow which starts to invade the land at the end of act one.  Act two involves you trying to find out how to stop the legion and act three is the climax where you face the legion itself.  As well as the main story line, each quest is its own contained story which takes elements from all media from fairytales to cinema to Lovecraft.  A particular favourite of mine is the quest involving a castle full of vampires and the great description of the double sword wielding Witch Hunter Eldias 'Glad you could join the party' Falks and his apprentice who takes out a load of vampires by pouring holy water into a cauldron of soup and then tipping the soup all over the vampires.  Inspired.

Where you go and what you do is determined by selecting different quests on a map and turning to the relevant paragraphs.  There is a different map for each act.  Quests are colour coded by difficulty.  There are also legendary monster quests which involve fighting one powerful opponent.  Finally, each act  has a boss monster quest which is the quest that you need to complete to move onto the next quest.

Which brings us onto the quests themselves.  The main reward from each quest is to get better items and help your character grow, increasing their stats.

Your stats are speed which makes it easy for you to hit an opponent, brawn and magic to determine the damage you do (you choose which one you use) and armour reduces the damage you take.  Finally, you have health, which if it reaches zero, means that you have to go back to the map and choose another quest.

That's right, you don't have to start from the beginning if your health reaches zero.  From a rules perspective, this makes the gamebook much more enjoyable as you do not have to repeat the first act every time your health reaches zero.  And, as I discovered later in the book, this was also done for story reasons.

Combat is similar to how Fighting Fatasy combat is resolved but with extra bits.  You roll two dice and add the result to your speed.  You do the same for your opponent.  The winner adds the result of one die roll to their brawn or magic then subtracts their opponent's armour score from the value to determine how much damage they deal.  That's the basic outline.

All the quests involve battling various monsters.  There are some puzzles and non combat decisions that you need to make, but their consequences make little difference to the storyline.  Instead, most of the decisions are made during combat and how to develop your character.

After each combat, you are given a selection of items where you may take one or more.  At first, the items just increase your speed, brawn, magic or armour, but eventually, you get items which give you special abilites which allow you to manipulate dice rolls or change your stats for a round of combat.

This leads to the decision making.  When you have several abilities, every round in combat becomes a complex decision making exercise.  Should you use your charm ability to change a die roll which you add to speed or damage?  Should I use a health potion now or risk another round?  The number of options available to you combined with the fact that every quest provides a different opponent with a different strategy makes every combat a complex and engaging tactical exercise.  There were a few occasions where it was good if I lost an attack round.  For example, the combats where I had an ability which let me reflect damage back to my opponent.

After the combat, you usually have the option of taking one of two or three items (occasionally, you can take all of them) which also adds to the variability of the game.  As well as simply selecting an item, you also need to think about which direction you want to take your character in.  At the end of act one, you select a path from warrior, mage or rogue and each one requires high values in each stat.  I quickly decided that I needed to land hits well, so I concentrated on increasing my speed.  This made rogue the natural choice for me.

As well as deciding on a path, you can then get a career which gives you additional abilities and more options.  I chose the pickpocket career which allowed me to choose all the items left behind if I wanted to.

Destiny Quest has been compared to a MMORPG.  It is like an RPG computer game, but it is better than RPG games that I have played for two reasons:

1)  All of your combats are challenging yet fair and give you a meaningful reward.  In RPGs, I spent a lot of time hacking my way through an army of mooks that were no threat to me.  This definately does not happen in Destiny Quest.

2)  In Destiny Quest, you choose a location and you are there with the turn of a page.  I have spent too much time in RPGs running through empty corridors to return an object I just found which means that all of the time I spent on Destiny Quest was meaningful and entertaining.

In his interview with Andrew Wright, Michael said that he made a herculean effort and spent immense amounts of time playtesting this book and it certainly shows.  Every combat and every item is balanced.  There are no overwhelmingly powerful opponents as long as you make some sensible decisions about your items (focus on either magic or brawn - don't try to increase both).

The format kept me hooked.  I wanted to do just one more quest so I could find an item that increased my speed by one more point so that I could finally take on that quest where I was killed.  The entertaining and immersing stories made it feel more than just a stat boosting exercise (also mentioned here).

I thought Destiny Quest was great.  Michael has been very clever with the way he set out the quests as he can create some add ons for the book in the form of more quests or more shops.  He has already done this on his website.  

Destiny Quest will give you many entertaining and challenging hours and I look forward to the new quests and another book.  

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Zagor - misunderstood hero?

Zagor gets a bad reputation for being a big bad villain, even though he hasn't actually done anything to deserve that reputation.

There's a case that Darth Vader is
the real hero of Star Wars.
I'm taking all of the information given to me from the source material - The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, Return to Firetop Mountain, Legend of Zagor, Creature of Havoc, Titan, The Trolltooth wars and The Zagor Chronicles (however, I do not have the Zagor Chronicles for reference but I am going by my memory).

I will be giving an alternative character interpretation of Zagor's actions from the source material. 

Although the books describe Zagor as completely evil - and not even all of them do as the Warlock of Firetop Mountain does not state Zagor as being evil or doing evil deeds at all - it can be put down to propaganda from the so called Lawful side or people making snap judegements about powerful sorcerers who own their own mountains without looking for the details.  

Chadda Darkmane -
captain of Salamonis
and Zagor's biggest fan?
The writers of Titan obviously have no love for Zagor as well as Yaztromo and the people who try to slay him.  These are the people who wrote or influenced the accounts of the three gamebooks - Warlock of Firetop Mountain, Return to Firetop Mountain and Legend of Zagor. 

The account of Zagor in the Trolltooth wars was from Chadda Darkmane, who, although he is an officer in Salamonis, he is a man of his word and would not badmouth someone just because they have a bad reputation. 

Let's look at the facts:

How does he write battle   
plans wearing  bracelets
like those?
How does he write battle plans with
all those animals in his library?
Admittedly, Zagor's formative years don't make a good start for my case.  Zagor became an apprentice to the unapologetically evil and chaotic Volgera Darkstorm along with two other obviously evil characters. 

However, I'm sure that good teachers of magic are hard to find and that Zagor, as a gifted student did not want to squander his talent, so he picked the best teacher he could find.  Accounts say that he and his friends used to terrorise nomads.

How Volgera Darkstorm's
life ended.  Zagor seems to
get a bad reputation for
killing an evil wizard.
However, this is a classic case of peer pressure and, desperate to fit in, Zagor had to go along with these sadistic jokes.  However, he had the greater good in mind. 

It is then stated that the 'Demonic Three' as they now became known, slew their master, looted his library and went their separate ways.  Most people would put it down to their evil ways and the need for them to usurp their master, but although this might be true for Balthus Dire and Zharradan Marr, Zagor did this in order to rid the world of a powerful evil sorcerer.  A clever strategist, he planted the seeds of dissent in his co-pupils' minds in order to turn evil upon evil.  It also shows that Zagor was obviously the cleverest of the three. 

However, despite being a formidable and driven sorcerer his early associations and practice of magic gave Zagor a bad reputation with pretty much everyone.

Zagor's home

Some monument, as seen in my dreams.
Zagor then went on to Firetop Mountain, inspired by demon sent dreams, apparently.  I find this doubtful considering that Firetop Mountain is the only mountain for miles around that has a red top.  If you need demons to tell you about one of the most unique landmarks on Titan then you must have had a pretty sheltered life and Zagor had not had a sheltered life despite learning magic in the Flatlands.

The 'official' story states that Zagor led an army of chaotics and undead to wipe out the dwarves in Firetop Mountain and took their treasure.  Sounds bad, but I bet that's not the whole story.  I think that behind this story is the story of how Zagor discovered just how judgemental these 'good' types are. 

Here is what really happened.

Zagor is an enthusiastic protector
of Allansia's heratige sites.
Wanting to do some sightseeing, Zagor headed to Firetop Mountain, asking the dwarves if he could lend them a hand.  After seeing a demonstration of his magic, Zgor earned the dwarves' immediate distrust and inspired a great level of hostility in them.  A confused and hurt Zagor was chased out of the mountain by an army of angry dwarves. 

The only creatures that Zagor felt welcome amongst were the undead who don't really think or say very much and orcs and other monsters who also don't really think or say very much.  Determined to beat the bullies, Zagor went to the mountain and demanded a tour of the world famous attraction.  It was his right a s a fully paid up member of the national trust. 

The dwarves once again refused since they were a snobbish and elitist lot, so Zagor set his friends on them.  After a long and bloody battle, Zagor decided that he would remain in Firetop Mountain to protect it and make sure that all could visit it.

Firetop Mountain, which although looks a bit strange, is certainly not an evil place.  The red on the top of the mountain is not due to anything sinister or destructive like a volcano but rather it is due to some lovely flowers.  How many evil sorcerers do you know of whose criteria for a base of operations include a lovely range of flora?  I know of none. 
He doesn't want you
harming the wildlife.

These flowers, as well as being sleep inducing are also an integral part of the ritual that cures one of a powerful death spell, which afflicted Nicodemus and the hero of Caverns of the Snow witch.  If Zagor was such an evil person, surely he would have got rid of the flowers once he had realised that one of Allansia's greatest forces for good had cheated death on the top of his mountain?  No - he let a vampire slaying hero become cured of the same affliction.  Thanks for protecting the mountain, Zagor. 

It's just a hobby. 
In Warlock of Firetop Mountain, there is no allusion to Zagor doing anything evil.  All he does is sit in his mountain and play with his cards, surrounded by guardians, who, yes, let's face it, aren't the most savoury types.
Now the fact that he uses orcs instead of humans may make some people think that he's evil, but which superstisious uneducated soldiers are going to work in a freaky mountain for a sorcerer?  I bet magic has a bad reputation in the area as well.  It seems that orcs, however, are far more accepting of activities which veer from the mainstream. 

If they're both enjoying it in the
privacy of their own home
then who are you to judge?
And are the orcs performing evil acts?  It seems all they are doing is sleeping, getting drunk and engaging in some activities which although you may not agree with, they seem to like.  Sure, they may be lousy employees, but that doesn't make them evil.  For example, if you try to save this orc servant from being whipped, he still fights against you.  What does that say?

Zagor also has a few nice characters in his mountain such as the dwarves and the old shopkeeper who are a bit tired of all of these chaotic types, but maybe they see tham as a necessary evil as they don't go out and kill them all.  They don't want the bad old days where a bunch of snobbish dwarves kept out all visitors.

No, old man, I don't know
about the Long Dark Night
because I don't live in a place
where there's hundreds of
metres of solid rock between
myself and the Sun.
The only allusion to sinister goings on are the long dark nights the old man in the giftshop refers to.  But who is to say that Zagor is causing them or that he is trying to protect people from them.  Lastly, you have to question the credibility of a man who talks about the length of the night when he lives inside a mountain. Especially when he's using it as an excuse to charge an extortionate TWENTY gold pieces per candle. 

What about the hero's motive?  Are the villagers worried that Zagor is about to do something nasty to them?  No.  Does the hero want to do some sightseeing?  No.  I doubt the hero is even a member of the National Trust.  The 'hero's' motive is pure greed.  In the end, Zagor does get slain by a greedy adventurer who takes his treasure  and then may or may not use Zagor's spellbook to rule over Firetop Mountain and maybe do a whole lot a crazy stuff. 

After all, this sword swinging thief probably has less ability to handle all the powerful magic in the book.  Who is to say that they do not get corrupted by the power and try something nefarious?  Even sorcery for the cause of good is dangerous and shouldn't be used by the wrong people.  Zagor obviously had the inner strength to not go crazy with it, but most people don't.  Maybe its best that Zagor was in charge of the book.

However, if this adventurer does use the book, then they get their comeuppance a decade later when Zagor returns to claim what is rightfully his and may even save the area from this lunatic. 

I mean, how would you feel if someone broke into your house and started trashing it and the area where you  live?
Now you've annoyed him.
This could explain Zagor's behaviour in Return to Firetop Mountain. 

Sure it says in the background that casting a spell on yourself so you come back from the dead makes you evil but maybe that's superstitious peasants again.  Or maybe this book is written by the adventurer who slew him the first time and later got ejected from Firetop Mountain by the powerful sorcerer when he returned to claim what was rightfully his. 
And you can explain all of Zagor's behaviour (getting body parts, wanting to take over Allansia) as being hacked off (no pun intended) about being killed for no reason the first time.  After all, if hordes of fortune seekers kept marching into my home to kill me and take my treasure, I would give my right arm (once again, no pun intended) to take every precaution to stop it happening. 
Maybe he wanted to take over Allansia because he thought that sorcerers were getting a bad reputation and wanted to build more schools for sorcery and educate the young Allansians to show its useful side too.  Or maybe he just wanted to purge it of treasure seeking rascals.

However, once again, he is slain by another treasure seeking rascal, this time with the blessing of Yaztromo and the citizens of Kaad.  However, thankfully, the 'hero' or Yaztromo can do nothing about Zagor's resurrection magic.   
Then we get to Legend of Zagor - now Zagor wants to take over the world of Amarilla.  Or does he?
Zagor before...
He managed to get there when the Bone Demon was banished from that world.  Maybe he saw the portal as an opportunity to go to a more accepting world instead of a place where people kill him every ten years. 

and after.  He's obviously
had a change for the worse.
He's not looking after his
fingernails for a start.
However, as Yaztromo says, Zagor became mixed up with the demon, so it is not Zagor you are trying to kill, but a Zagor/demon hybrid. 

Maybe that's what made Zagor so evil in Legend of Zagor.  If it was just Zagor, then he would have just sat in Castle Argent like he did in Firetop Mountain.

In the book, Zagor performs a heroic sacrifice.  He has been fused with an evil demon who wants to destroy the world, but he does small things to help the hero.  The crystal ball that Yaztromo uses gets destroyed, but maybe Zagor was buying time by distracting the demon.  If it wasn't for him, Yaztromo may not have been able to get through at all.  Yaztromo sends gold talismans and silver daggers.  Maybe when Zagor was in the portal and he could feel himself being fused with the demon, he kept it open for a bit longer so that the talismans and daggers could get through. 

And when you are carrying the demon to the Heartfires, maybe Zagor is struggling to keep the demon unconscious so that you can complete your task, even though he knows that he will be destroyed in the process.
Zagor isn't actually
in two of these books
because he's not the
real villain - the
demon is.

I know he gets very angry because he is being faced by a 'wretch like you.', but of course he's angry.  Having his hobbies interrupted by being slain by some sword wielding vagabond is the story or Zagor's life.  It's already happened twice.  Now he's sharing his soul with a demon and although he knows he has to sacrifice himself to destroy this demon, he is bitter that the person who will slay the demon is not so different from the rogues who killed him before. 

Zagor has put all this work into being a powerful sorcerer.  All he wants is to face someone of legendary reputation.  He must feel very insulted that the people selected to slay him are basically bums of the street.  He must feel that no one respects him enough to send someone with a good reputation to slay him.  Or at least an army.

I think this all applies to the Zagor Chronicles too.  I have not read them for a while, but if I remember correctly, Zagor is not in book 1, book 2 is basically the novel version of Legend of Zagor, book 3 is set on Titan, sans Zagor and in book 4, they face the Zagor/demon hybrid again. 

Not a warlock in sight
Zagor was also in the Trolltooth Wars, where, once again, he was not trying to do anything malevolent.  In fact, he helps Darkmane to stop Marr from taking over Allansia.  Sure he's not too welcoming at first, but Darkmane and his gang have killed a few of his servants and Mantrapper tried to kill him straight away (but I'm not revealing why - read the book). 
He's not going to teach
you magic. He's tallying
you bill. 
In fact, once they are all on the same page, Zagor is a very helpful a courteous host. 
He does not demand any money for his services whereas the seemingly good Yaztromo takes 40 gold pieces for an enchanted dagger he gives to Darkmane, even though he is going to use it to save Allansia.  What a greedy so and so. 
So Zagor has helped to save Allansia once from his ex 'friends' who probably annoyed him with all their evil talk and the fact that they were giving him a bad name.  He has protected a place that was used to save the lives of Nicodemus and the slayer of the Snow Witch and when he unfortunately became fused with an evil demon he weakened it so that someone could slay it. 

So Zagor has killed an evil sorcerer, helped save the lives of two champions of good, helped save Allansia once and sacrificed himself in order to save the world of Amarilla.  He has performed more heroic acts than most protagonists in Fighting Fantasy books.   

Zagor has been widely misunderstood, partly because of peoples' distrust of sorcery and partly because he kept bad company when he was young (Balthus Dire and Zharradon Marr, who both tried something Malevolent in their gamebooks). 
Any hostile act he performed could be seen as justified anger at being socially excluded by dwarves, being constantly attacked by lowly fortune hunters or by being fused with an evil demon. 

He just wants a hug.
I think Zagor needs to be vindicated and be in a gamebook where he is allowed to let his true heroic colours show.  How about a book when Zagor comes back from the dead to find that his slayer is forcing the creatures of Firetop Mountain to invade Allansia and only he can stop it as he knows the mountain better than anyone.  However, even if he succeeds, he is still treated as the villain just because he's a sorcerer.  Which then leads to Return to Firetop Mountain...

Poor Zagor's had a hard life.  I suggest we start a 'Clear Zagor's Name' campaign where we put an end to his bad reputation.   

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Did Graham Bottley grant my wishes? Advanced Fighting Fantasy Review part 1

OK, I will post a review of Advanced Fighting on June the 6th, but I really want to get something out, so I will post thie bonus post too.  Enjoy!

Back in April, I published a wishlist with what I would like to see in the new Advanced Fighting Fantasy sourcebook.

In this post, I will look at what I wanted and comment on whether I am happy with the result based on the wishlist.  I will also include bonuses that I liked but didn't anticipate.

Priest rules

Priests are now completely different to wizards, and what is more they are just a strong.  Priests do not cast spells the way that wizards do but they are granted three powers by their gods which they can use once a day (they can use a power again if they spend a luck point, but then that's it for the day).  Magical healing is mostly down to the priest now.  In fact it is mentioned later in the book that wizard spells should not be used to restore stamina.

Priests also receive an ability depending on which god they worship, a higher social class and help from their religious network.  

Nonhuman rules

The nonhuman rules not only met my expectations but exceeded them.  My problem with the 1st edition rules was that being a nonhuman meant that you had to spend precious skill points on skills that you may not want.  2nd edition gives humans elves and dwarves the same choice for special skills with bonus skills for their race.  This means that every race gets a bonus and no penalties.  Sure, you may not care very much about having minor magic if you are an elf, but that does not take away points that you can spend on skills you do want.  

First edition Advanced Fighting Fantasy had rules for creating goblin, orc, troll and centaur heroes, but 2nd edition gives you rules to turn any race from Out of the Pit (or indeed one that you create) into a character.  This gives directors and players plenty of options for character creation.  The book gives you an example of a goblin and rhino-man player character.  

Armour rules

Graham has exceeded my expectations again by elegantly creating a good armour system and giving a use to the armour skill.  Heroes can wear armour but suffer a penalty if their skill + armour skill is lower than a certain value depending on their armour, which means that adventurers can't just buy and don a suit of full plate mail as soon as they grab their first haul.  Armour also means that wizards have to spend more magic points on spells.  

Armour does provide real damage reduction.  There is an armour table just like the weapons table from the old AFF.  If you are wearing armour and you are hit, you can roll a die to see how much damage it absorbs.  To balance this out (or to just speed up combat), some weapons deal more damage.  The preview showed us that a sword deals between 2-4 damage now rather than 1-3 as in the old rules.  

Making magical items rules

Gone is the confusing enchant item spell and as Graham said in a comment in this post there isn't much.  However, spellcasting heroes have a chance to become powerful archmages who can develop powerful rituals which can create enchanted items.

Minor magic rules

I made a list of minor magic spells that I considered too powerful on this post.  I am glad to see that the Hold it! spell has been completely removed and some of the other spells listed have been changed.  Stutter cannot affect any spellcasting whatsoever.  Inebriate allows a saving throw against luck (an if a monster does not have a luck score then they are allowed to use skill).  The effects of honesty and smudge have not been changed but they are not big offenders and since the rules state that any creature without a luck score can try to resist the spell with a skill roll, then they will not work all of the time.  Pucker has in fact been made stronger as the victim of the spell suffers a -2 penalty to social skills that rely on speech and spellcasting.  

The number of minor magic spells (known as cantrips) is also not determined by luck but by multiplying the number of points the hero has in minor magic by three.  This stops the hero starting off with a maximum of six cantrips (or nine if you are an elf).

Some cantrips have been made stronger in the sense that they can give penalties to certain skill rolls.  Since they are minor spells, they only work for certain skills, for one round and give a small  (-2 at most) penalty but that gives them more utility.  These cantrips are push, slip and pucker.  

Minor magic now provides a range of spells which all have uses rather than a few overpowered spells and lots of less useful ones.  

More about Khul and  the Old World

There is a little about the history of Titan, the character of each continent and some locations in Allansia, but it does not expand on the material from Titan.  However, as Graham said, there will be a Titan II.

Better treasure tables

The 1st edition rules had eleven magical items including two magical weapons.  Special items could be found on the roll of a 5-6 of humanoid creatures.  The tables have been greatly improved.  It is now impossible to find a random sword that gives you a +2 bonus to skill and the book states that if a certain object does not fit the campaign then you can ignore it.  

Instead, the book gives a large range of items that heroes can find including many weaker but still useful magical items.  I noticed that a lot of these items have been inspired by Fighting Fantasy solo gamebooks, giving a good chance to reminisce over objects such as the pocket myriad, rind of fire or blue candle.  These items sometimes have different effects to what they did in solo games, however, for the sake of game balance. (for example, the pocket myriad in this book does not provide a sword that increases you skill by four).  

Streamlining of skills

Skills are now very streamlined and the offending overpowerd skills mentioned in this post have either been removed (in the case of scouting, disarm and two weapon fighting), changed so that they do not have a game breaking impact on combat (dodge can be used to reduce damage like armour does but only if the hero has the swashbuckler talent and is not wearing armour - not increases in attack strength for them and strength does not affect combat but has much more use for movement, carrying and other actions) or other situations (leadership and con together can't be used to persuade anyone to do anything and world lore has been expanded to be more specific on what people can know to prevent people arguing that anything can come under world lore).

There are fewer skills but they all have a good use and no skill is a dead choice.

Wait, there's more...

The new Advanced Fighting Fantasy also includes things that I did not anticipate including a very easy to use, dungeon generator, tow pre made dungeons (one is the wishing well from Fighting Fantasy but with different creatures), combat options (Fighting Fantasy was in dire need of these as combat was just a comparison of attack strengths), three types of magic (wizardly which uses magic points, priestly which is uses powers that can be used once or twice a day and sorcery which uses the 3 letter codes from the Sorcery! series and uses stamina points), alternative rules and some expansion on the creatures from Out of the Pit.

The new Advanced Fighting Fantasy has really fixed the major problems from the old edition and provided plenty of options for character creation and development to make it a great RPG.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Stuff that's happened, stuff that will happen.

There is a new gamebook blog on the web.  Jaoa Maia has started a blog where we all play a gamebook together by voting on the options.  Owen at Fighting Fantasist has also done this before and it can be good fun.

My copy of Advanced Fighting Fantasy arrived yesterday and I've been flicking through it and enjoying the new material inside it.  I will be posting a review on it in June after I have digested it properly.  I have enjoyed my initial read through immensely though and I recommend that you buy it (along with the reprints of Titan and Out of the Pit if you do not already have copies of them) or try to win a copy from Alex, editor of Fighting Fantazine.

So what am I posting for the rest of May?  On Sunday 16th May, I'll be posting my article on why Zagor is actually a hero rather than a villain, accidentally advertised a while ago.  On the 22nd May, I will post a review on the latest paper gamebook to hit our shelves, the brilliant Destiny Quest.  And on the 29th May I'll be posting a topic linked to a special event that is happening on that day.  :).

Have a good week, until my next post on Sunday.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Advanced Fighting Fantasy preview on Arion Games website.

Hey all.

I was looking on the Arion Games Advanced Fighting Fantasy website as I was trying to see if there were any updates and today, my perseverance was rewarded.  Arion games has released two pages from the Advanced Fighting Fantasy book from which we can discern a few things.

The adventure sheet.

From Arion Games.  Click for a larger image.

There are a few interesting tidbits from this adventure sheet:

1)  Social scale has been replaced with social class.  Will the heroes have new titles depending on their social scale?
2)  Heroes now have a magic score and a magic points score.  
3)  Heroes can have talents.
4)  Instead of spells with a cost, you have spells with a value (what value?) and cantrips (is that the new name for minor magic spells?)
5)  There is a weapons table where you can put in the damage for your weapon based on your die roll.  On this sheet, a sword deals more damage than it used to.  In the old version, itdealt 1 damage on the roll of a 1, 2 damage on the roll of a 2-5 and 3 damage on a roll of 6 or more.  
6)  There is also an armour table with a value for each die roll.  It looks like when you hit an opponent, you roll for damage and then your opponent rolls for damage reduction.  This is probably why the sword deals more damage now - because the damage may be reduced by armour.  

We also have a couple of pages from the character creation part of the book.  

From Arion Games.  Click for a larger image.
What great hints can we get from this?

First of all, character creation is now points based and does not have a huge range any more.  The range of skill scores a hero can have is between 4 and 7 and everyone can have a skill of 7 if they want.  They can also have a magic score from 0 to 7 although what this means and how your magic points score can be determined  is still a mystery.  Also skill is no longer the ability score that allows heroes to succeed at everything as sometimes the magic score can be used instead of the skill score.  I think I will still max out my heroes' skill scores unless I want them to have high magic scores when I will give them a skill of 6 and a magic score of 6.  

Different races also get bonuses now and do not have to spend finite points on certain skills that may not come in handy.  Instead, each race still gets the same range of choices of special skills with a few add ons.  Particular languages now seem to be skills and so does crafting.  

Finally, how many points you have to spend on special skills has nothing to do with your initial skill score.  Everyone gets three skills with a value of 2 and six skills with a value of 1 in addition to racial bonuses they may receive.  

I'm looking forward to my delivery more than ever now.  

I am not the only one excited about the new Advanced Fighting Fantasy.  Fighting Fantazine, is doing a competition where you could win all of the new 2nd edition Advanced Fighting Fantasy books.  To enter, you need to write an Advanced Fighting Fantasy adventure by 10th June 2011.  The rules are here.

Have a good week!

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Good bad guys

So what has my odyssey into exploring and ranking gamebook villains taught me about what makes a good villain?

A good villain has many different methods of causing death and destruction.

He also has a sphere
The mercenary leader in the Crimson Tide has a lot to learn.  He just cuts people up.  Sure, he's good at it, but that makes him vulnerable to magic.  Jaxartes, on the other hand, does not just get a huge army to invade Kazan.  He also puts out the fire to the Fangs of Fury and assassinates all of the Warrazi.  He gets his mage warriors to infiltrate every level of the volcano and he has a traitor in the city of Kazan.  He knows how to approach a problem from all angles.

A good villain makes their presence felt.

Darklord Gnaag does not just sit in his castle in Helgedad looking at the latest insectoid steampunk fashions.  He is always hatching plans to get you killed and sending minions out to take over the world.

A good villain poses an immediate threat with massive consequences.          
When you finally confront Karam Gruul, he is surrounded by an army of vengeful war criminals and is about to unleash a doomsday device upon Gallantria.  That's something that really gets the blood pumping.  

A good villain does bad things to the hero and their friends.
It is not clear that Necklace of Skulls has actually caused any havoc in the wider world, but it is certain that he has killed your twin brother for no other reason than the fact that he is a sadistic pig.  He and his hyena servants are cruel and spiteful.  They take great pleasure in your suffering and break any items that you use to help you.   When you play the sacred game, they all come to watch you fail.  It is their actions that turn Necklace of Skulls and his servants into 3 dimensional characters that you really want to beat.  In Trial of the Champions, Lord Carnuss kidnaps you, puts you through painful ordeals, makes you fight against and kill your fellow slaves and then forces you to take part in the most dangerous dungeon in Allansia. It feels really good to kill this guy.  On the other hand, Balthus Dire wants to invade some place and you never see him until the end.  You don't really get a buzz from killing him. 

A good villain takes a lot of effort to kill.  

I might be undead,
bit I'm still buzzing!
The netherworld demon from the Crown of the Kings is a disappointing opponent for the climax of a four book series.  You need someone like Razaak who needs so much stuff to kill him, it takes most of a gamebook to collect it all.  The main villains of gamebooks should be difficult to kill because killing them should be the climax to the story and so it needs to be suitably epic and dangerous to make the reader feel like they have achieved something (but not so dangerous that they can't achieve it).