Sunday, October 30, 2011

Ten horrors inspired by Magic the Gathering that can be used in gamebooks

It's almost Halloween, so I thought that I would go to my favourite collectable card game and treat you to some terrible monsters that could rise up from the night and hunt you down.

All of these creatures are black.  I will focus on other coloured monsters in another post.  It is quite easy to find lots of evil nasty creatures amongst black although people over at Wizards of the Coast have said on many occasions that black does not necessarily mean evil .  However, in the article, Mark Rosewater does state that black is the most predisposed for evil.

EDIT:  I wrote this post in July before I knew what cards would be in Innistrad.  As it turns out, Innistrad is all about horror based cards.  Take a look here.

Phyrexian Battleflies

I used to have nightmares about being covered in insects that would crawl all over my body and in my mouth while stinging me.  These battleflies a created on Phyrexia to do just that to the defenders of Dominaria.  A swarm of small creatures is difficult to defeat with a sword or other weapon that adventurers normally carry. However, sometimes a nice wizard might be able to sell you a potion of insect control.

Sengir Vampire

Vampires turn up almost everywhere in fiction to the point where there are loads of different versions.   Sengir Vampire is pretty similar to most vampires - it has the power to fly and it gets stronger if it kills something.  The flavour text also suggests that these vampires are immortal.  Having vampires is a safe bet for a bad guy.  They pop up in a few gamebooks, sometimes as main villains.

Consumptive Goo

Being slowly absorbed by some horrific pile of goo while simultaneously strengthening it is one of the more terrifying ways to go.  The death scene in Coils of Hate where Hate absorbs you is pretty chilling.  There is also a life draining goo in Beneath Nightmare Castle.

Nether Shadow

Another recurring nightmare I used to have (and sometimes still do) involves being paralysed in my bed while a shadow person watches over me.  It seems to be quite a common experience with possible paranormal connections (the blog of the book's author is here).  The scary thing about the shadow people is that they are insubstantial and can't really be killed by normal means.  The shadow also represents our repressed weaknesses in psychology.

Black Knight

Opposite of White Knight.  Sometimes it is harder to fight a Lawful Evil foe who is just as organised as you who won't turn against itself.  The good guys in Dragonlance found this out when they faced the Order of Takhisis.  Black Knights are known to be notoriously hard to kill  and they do things like open portals to the Ghastly Kingdom of the Dead.  It is also hard to kill black knights when King Arthur's friends dress up like them.

Drudge Skeletons

What's worse than watching a pile of bones assemble into a skeleton and attack you? Watching a pile of bones reassemble into the skeleton you just destroyed and attack you again.  The Prince of Persia got through this by finding a useful pit.  The hero in Moonrunner might come across a similar situation if they kill a certain guard in a windmill.

He wasn't kidding when
he said 'We have eyes everywhere'.

Initiates of the Ebon Hand

Secret cults are great.  They have eyes and ears everywhere.  You don't know who to trust and if you're not careful, you might end up being dragged to sacrificial altar just because your car broke down.  The initiates of the Ebon Hand corrupt whatever they touch (turns any mana black) but may also be destroyed by its power (so the initiate may die if too much black mana is made) which is the price of such greed.  Some initiates also get a big eye on their chest which reminds me of a real life cult conspiracy theory(?)

Fallen Cleric

The most terrifying zombies are those with just a hint of their old selves left.  

What's worse than fighting a servant of evil?  Fighting a servant of evil that used to be good but who was captured, killed and corrupted by evil magic.  Fighting someone you cared about really rubs salt into the wounds as you may have to do in Keep of the Lich Lord if you find your old friend Kandogor.  Having this happen to someone in a gamebook is a good way of making the reader care about defeating the big bad rather than just making them think of them as another generic 'evil' wizard.  

Cabal Inquisitor

Beneath Nightmare Castle is unique in the sense that one can argue being killed is actually not the worst thing that can happen to you. It ranks behind being driven insane by some alien abomination while parts of you are sawn off and attached to a sentient mass of limbs.  Cabal Inquisitors have a much more direct way of destroying your mind and actually look quite normal.  However, being left an empty shell is not a good way to go.

Squirming Mass

There's nothing like a bit of Lovecraftian horror.  strange tentacled cosmic horrors rise from the earth and from the sea which would drive us insane with the sight of them.  At least we wouldn't feel the tentacles suffocating us while the thing devours us slowly.  This card sums up the terror that just the sight of such a thing inspires.  However, such things may be quite weak.  This monster is a mere 1/1 and so can be killed by pretty much anything.  To be fair, it does follow in Cthulu's footsteps(does Cthulu have footsteps?) as the mighty 'god' went pop when it was rammed with a steam ship.


I wrote this article before the new Innistrad set was released or spoiled, so at the time, I had no idea that it would be chock full of its own horror based cards.  I will do a whole Innistrad horror post later on.

So there we go.  Once again, I have drawn from the deep well of inspiration built by Richard Garfield and improved upon by the staff at Wizards of the Coast.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

How to write a gamebook part 12 - summary

Marr's been writing  gamebooks
since the'mirror incident'.
So we have come to the end of our how to write a gamebook journey.  I'm glad that I have done it as it's helped me to organise my thoughts on gamebooks and get a clearer idea on what I need to do.

Here are some parting things that I've learnt:

  • Carry a notebook with you at all times.
  • Get information from pretty much anywhere.
  • Read gamebooks and sourcebooks for inspiration for systems.
  • Come up with a good method to plan the book
  • Get into a good routine
  • Write, write write and don't give up
  • give your book to others and listen to their feedback.
  • Talk with other gamebook lovers from Yahoo Groups and forums.
  • Have their feedback to mind when you write your next gamebook.  
I hope that you have got as much from it as I did.  Now fly my pretties and write lots of gamebooks!  

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Windhammer reminder

Hi all,

Just to remind you that the voting phase of the Windhammer competition will finish on the 30th October.  If you haven't already, please read all the entries and vote for the two that you like best.

The link is here:

Happy gamebooking!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

How to write a gamebook part 11 Ulysses Ai on the gamebook writing process

While I was writing my How to Write a Gamebook series, I emailed Ulysses as he has written the longest gamebook I can find - The Diamond Key clocking in at a whopping 1000 paragraphs.  He has also written an amusing serial of scifi adventures which begin with the Wrong Way Go Back.  Here is what he has to say about his writing process.

The Diamond Key (tDK) was my first gamebook and it's large size is mostly the result of inexperience and inability to plan.  I started with an idea of a journey with several componants, and vague ideas about what I wanted to happen in each componant.  My writing style is very organic, I usually just start and see where things go as I use intuition and spontaneous creativity.  With tDK each leg of the journey is in effect a mini-adventure since they all have the same start and end points.  In that respect the size of the book is not so impressive.  

In retrospect, tDK would have benefitted greatly from the kind of probability planning you seem to be talking about.  There are several paths which I realised later are so difficult to get to that it is possible no one has ever played through them.  Since the Diamond Key offers so many paths to success with the best ending available without the need to find the obscuure paths, those obscure paths don't really add to the book since they are rarely if ever experienced.

If I was writing a similar gamebook now I would make it more structured in terms of how different paths contribute to different endings.

In terms of planning out the gamebook, I start out with a vague idea about how it works.  For example in something like Wrong Way Go Back, My initial idea was that you were on a space ship and had a limited amoutn of time to escape.  Various actions would waste time without contributiong to escape.  Then I started writing.  As I write I basically put myself in the shoes of the character and come up with some options.  After I have decided on the options, then I decide if they are helpful or not and write accordingly.  In this way the story progresses and for Wrong Way Go Back
(WWGB) was all done in this way.

For longer stories there tends to be a little more structure overall based on different locations.  For example in the Golden Crate I knew there were three basic locations: On the ship, on the planet where the escape pods crash, and finally on Amorphonon 12 for the finale.  Each location is written about in turn in the same way as WWGB, and can have several exit points, giving several entry points into the next location.  As the paths expand, I normally write them simultaneously, e.g. write one option on one path, then another option on the other (generally following  chronological progress).  This then allows me to decide when/how to link back into one or two main paths.

My method for managing all of this is to use pen and paper to create tree diagrams with branches for each of the choices or consequences.  I assume everyone does becuase I can't imagine any other way of doing it.  I label the nodes with codewords or items were applicable, so I can see for which paths downstream the codeword/item is valid.  Once it's all done, I check it by reading through and recreating the tree diagram.  There are always mistakes.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

How to write a gamebook part 10 - proofing and playtesting

I've done a bad thing.  I've forgotten to cover something very important to the writing process, which is what I what I do when I actually write a book.

I write the storyline, put it into a flow diagram then write out the paragraphs and test the system.  It's all over, isn't it.  Of course it isn't.  You need to proofread the book and make sure that the game system works.

Proof reading is not just an add on that you have to drag yourself through after you have done all the hard work of actually writing the book (I'm still trying to convince myself of this although I still think that a book is finished once I type the final word).

When you are writing a gamebook, the spelling, punctuation and grammar are not the only things you have to make sure you've done correctly.  You then have to make sure that your game system works.

Proofreading need not
be a harrowing experience.
Armed guards not required.
Reviewing the book bit

I find it very useful to leave my gamebook alone once I have finished it.  If I try to proofread it straight away, I am too 'immersed' in the book to see its mistakes.  I need to give myself time to get a new perspective on it.

Even after some time, I might still be blind to my own mistakes so I get someone else to check it, usually my wife who has very good attention to detail.

I find this does the trick, but I found these good tips if you want to be more systematic and disciplined in your proofreading.

Reviewing the game bit.

It helps to read your book out
loud and get other people to
I have found another gamebook guide online that has fortunately not made such an oversight.  It tells you to make no less than six read throughs of your gamebook.

Run 1 – Punctuation
Starting at section 1 I go through every single section (not following the actual story but instead read section 1, then 2, and so on) to myself. What I am doing here is checking for spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors. The key to doing this is reading out loud. You may sound stupid to your family members but reading every word in your story out loud to yourself is the easiest way to catch grammatical errors.

          Run 2 – Connection
Using the Story Bubble Chart should eliminate the problem of sections accidentally not connecting correctly. However, while writing it is not hard to accidentally write 331 instead of 231. If something like this occurs while you are reading through your gamebook first consult your Bubble Chart. You should be able to see where the problem is. If the problem is not solved by that you may have to scan through until you find the correct connecting section.

Also, while doing this make sure you keep an eye out for sections that may have been reversed. For example, text on section 21 allows the character to climb up or down a flight of stairs. To climb down, you must turn to 200. To climb up you must turn to 322. Somehow you could easily mix up the numbers so section 200 should actually contain the text of section 322 and vice versa.

I would also like to add to this advice that when I was looking at the connections of some of my gamebooks, I would gravitate for the successful path and ignore the paths that would eventually lead to failure.  This was a bad bad thing that I did.  All the paths should be analysed.  However, since I can sometimes get too connected to my writing to the extent that I cannot see my own mistakes, I find having someone else read it (see run 6) very important.

Here's the one guy who thinks that
you shouldn't test books for combat
          Run 3-5 – Combat Difficulty
Game balance is important. This process includes three different runs. First create a character using highest possible stats. For example, in Lone Wolf, using a character with starting values of 19 Combat Skill and 29 Endurance. Run through the adventure, making sure that combat is not entirely too easy for your character. If the main character is rarely, if ever, receiving damage, than you may want to up the strength of the enemies the reader will come across.

Next run through it again, this time using a mid-level stat character (E.G. Lone Wolf with 14 Combat Skill and 24 Endurance). Combat for this character should be enough to make it difficult for the character to get through the story.

For your third run you make a character with the lowest possible stats (E.G. Lone Wolf with a Combat Skill of 10 and Endurance score of 20). Run through the adventure again. The adventure should be extremely difficult, warranting needing to run away or use skills and disciplines to get the main character out of difficult situations. However…it should NOT be impossible to make it through simply because a reader rolled lowest possible stats.

Run 6-? – Outside Influence
The looks you might get if you
misuse apostrophes.

Have a friend run through the adventure. Better yet…have several friends run through the adventure. If you have someone who did not write the adventure they will be able to spot grammatical errors, story inconsistencies, and flaws in the writing that you might have missed. This also helps with determining the difficulty of the adventure. See how often they reach sections with ‘auto death’. While running your characters through you were able to avoid them because you knew where they were. If it is far too easy for a character to die while running through your adventure your friends will surely say so.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

How to write a gamebook part 9 - Notes from my own gamebook writing

We're almost at the end of our gamebook writing journey.  Next week, I will write a summary on gamebook writing as we have gone through a lot.  I had no idea when I started how much I would have to write, but I am glad that I've done it.  This week, I am going to give some comments on three gamebooks that I have written.  It will be best to read the gamebooks first so that you have an idea of what my comments are about. I will be presenting my comments as videos so that you won't read them by accident.

If you would like to read some more gamebooks by myself with comments, you will find them in my imaginatively name book Ten Short Fighting Fantasy Books and One Long One.

If you would like to your submit your gamebook, you could email it to me at or put it on a comment.  All rights remain yours.

City of the Dead

This was my entry to the 2009 Windhammer competition (the current competition is going through its voting phase at the moment.)  You can find a review of it by Per Jorner here.

Here is my analysis in vlog form.  You can see it on Youtube here.

The Path to Greatness

I wrote this book for the Adventure Cow  website.  Since I was not able to have stats or an inventory list in the gamebook, I tried to come up with a way of winning without making the decisions too arbitrary or too easy.

Here is my analysis in vlog form.  You can see it on Youtube here.

Sharkbait's Revenge

This was my entry to the 2010 Windhammer competition (Please read the entries to the current competition and vote on them)

Here is my analysis in vlog form.  You can see it on Youtube here.