Saturday, September 29, 2012

Should it always be good to be lucky?

This post is based on a post I made in the official Fighting Fantasy Forum back in February 2010.

However, if you are lucky, shouldn't you always get the 'good' result even if it looks bad? I know your aim was probably to avoid the missiles but if fate is smiling upon you then shouldn't you be hit if you pass? Even if it looks bad at the time, you will ultimately win so surely its the result you want. Or should being luck rolls not look at the 'bigger picture' of the book and only show a short term gain? 

Here's an example:
At the beginning of Black Vein Prophecy, if you fail a luck roll, you get struck by something that gives you multicoloured scales. At the time, it looks bad, but you actually need them to win.

You are walking down a corridor in a dungeon and a trapdoor opens in front of you. You can test your luck to avoid it. If you do avoid it, you carry on down the corridor and get killed by a horde of zombies. If you don't avoid it, you fall into another level of the dungeon and lose stamina. Should you fall in the trapdoor if you are lucky or unlucky? 

Here's another one (this is purely hypothetical as I wouldn't do this in a book):

You are on paragraph 1 in a book and trapped in a dungeon. You are searching for an exit to the surface, which depends on luck. If you find it, you get to the surface and ultimately lose the game. If you don't, you have to go deeper into the dungeon and fight a tough monster but you find an item which means you win at the end. Should you find the secret door if you are lucky or unlucky?

Opinions please?

September is the busiest month

Good day to you all!

Sorry to drag you away from reading all the Windhammer competition entries or the Tin Man's September update or reading how the Adventurer Games Guild is doing.  I just have a short message for you all.

As a teacher, my workload varies between six week summer holidays to frenzied activity throughout the year.  September is one of those times of frenzied activities as the school year is just starting which means that instead of trawling the web to find everything new gamebook related (speaking of which, here's Anjin in Exile, a blog by Windhammer entrant Martin Runyon) to posting things from my stockpile of posts which I have been saving up for the rainy (an occasionally, snowy) days of the winter months.  It also means that I might be a bit slow in replying to emails and comments.  I'm still thinking of you all, I just have my day job to concentrate on. 

There's still plenty to look at though - I've written a new review for the Lone Tigers and if you are stuck for choice, have a look at the Gamebook Feed.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Quest for the Aubern Pelt review

The front picture
I was intoduced to this one page gamebook (which you can download from Demian's page on it) by Jake Care on his post about one page gamebooks.  After playing his enjoyable little gamebook, I went over to the page and downloaded the images to give the gamebook a go.  Despite being on two sides of A4 (or possibly because of being on two sides of A4 - as Mark Rosewater says, restrictions breed creativity), the gamebook contains a lot of innovative elements that provide the player with lots of choice.

The one page adventure is available for free as two image downloads from Demian's gamebook page on it, so have a go at it before reading the review.

Theme 1/5

Since the authors had to fit a whole adventure onto one page, something had to give and so the background is rather light.  However, they devote 1/6 of the adventure to it.  A selkie has had her pelt stolen from her by a sidhe and she cannot live beneath the waves without it.  It is up to you to enter a dungeon full of Sidhe and get the pelt back.  Pretty straightforward but it's pretty good for 1/3 of an A4 side of paper.

Illustration 3/5

There is only one actual illustration to the one page gamebook and that is a drawing of the back of a lovely young woman who appears to have nothing but an otter to cover her up.  The authors, however, make good use of pictures in their rules systems.  You have to draw yourself a map of the dungeon using the diagrams provided which, whilst not too pretty, seem to make a which door choice a bit more entertaining, especially as you know that there will be a room behind the door and not a deadly booby trap.  The combat system is also shown using a picture, listing all the manoveres you can make and whether they are offensive or defensive.  Also, instead of getting a list of spells, you are given a grid of runes which make up spells that you can cast in the book.  As you use the runes, you cross them off from your grid.  An inspired idea.

They say a picture paints a thousand words and this certainly rings true when writing a one page gamebook.  With an innovative use of pictures, the authors have come up with a magic system, a mapping system and a complex combat system on two sides of A4 and still have room for a bit of nudity too.  A lot of ful length gamebooks could only boast one of those things.

Gameplay 4/5

Once again, James and Chris have managed to pack a lot of choices into two sides of A4.  The use of the map means that the gamebook is very free roaming.  The book also has 34 paragraphs which also offer lots of choices.  You can cast a spell or fight a monster.  Do you eat the gruel or use up runes to cast a spell on it first?

The gamebook also offers you interesting puzzles with combat.  In combat, you have a choice of actions that you can take which are ranked in order of power.  For example, backstab is the most powerful attack mode and dodging is the most powerful defence option that you have (monsters have alert which is more powerful).  After you have made an action, you have a limited choice of actions that you can take in the next round depending on what you did.  So for example, if you chose to backstab the monster in round 1, then you have to wait in round 2 which is the weakest action to take.

The puzzle comes from the fact that you are given all of the monster's manouvers so you need to work oout the sequence of manouvers that will kill the monster and cause you the least damage or you could fight defensively until the monster runs out of manouvers and so it flees (very useful of you enounter a monster in a dead end that you don't have to kill).  The combat system also incorporates the magic system by having two spells that you can cast as your actions.  I enjoyed working out which actions to take in the combat system, especially agaisnt the mimc which takes whatever action you took in the last round.  Try and work that one out!

Exposition 1/5

This, along with the theme are the two things that were cut to fit the adventure into two sides of A4.  After the introductory paragraph and the rules, you get very little description of the dungeon.  The paragraphs on the encounter table aren't written in full sentences and the adventure doesn't even describe what a sidhe or a selkie is (although they are mythological creatures so you could look them up) and it does not describe the effects of the spells you are casting.  Much like the Take That You Fiend spell in Tunnels and Trolls, you have to imagine how the defensive combat spell defends you and why casting a spell lets you avoid combat (is it invisibility, or does it grant speed to help you run away or does it teleport the monster away?  It's up to you).  I suppose you could write your own narrative of what happened if that's what you're into.

Rules 4/5

As I've stated in gameplay, this adventure has fitted in a combat system, spell system and way of exploring a dungeon, all on two sides of A4.  There is also a character creation system where you distribute 10 points between magic and stamina and cross of a rune for each stamina point you take.  However magic points aren't used in the adventure and I never ran out of runes, so I guess a stamina of 10 is best.  Whether this was an error or that magic would have been used in later adventures, I'm not sure.  The rune system is also slightly inconvenient as runes are randomly placed on a grid.  It may have been clearer to have a tally for each rune which would save me having to hunt around to make sure I have all the runes I need.

However, these are minor niggles in an excellent and innovative rule system that covers less than two sides of A4 paper.

Conclusion 13/25

This is a great adventure and a good education for someone who wants to push the boundaries of solo gamebooks whilst simultaneously saving space.  Yes, the score is mediocre, but lets remember that this adventure covers 2 sides of A4 paper.  It lost points on exposition and background because the authors had to cut something and these are two things that the players could provide themselves if they wanted.  A great little adventure.  I would like to see more in this style.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Five stupid decisions that you can make in a gamebook

If you don't get one, it will reflect
badly on you.  
For the April A to Z, I wrote about enemies you may face.  However, there are times when you are your own worst enemy in gamebooks.  Here are ten of them in no particular order.  

1)  Not picking up a mirror in Portal of Evil.

I lost the count of the number of times you have the opportunity to pick up a mirror or mirror like object in Portal of Evil.  When you finally meet Horfack, you realise why it is so important.  You also realise that Peter Darvill-Evans is being very helpful.  What would you rather face - a mindless skill 8 stamina 10 zombie or a powerful skill 10 stamina 20 fighter who reduces you skill by 2?

He hasn't done it
for a reason.
2)  Losing the map in the Tyrant's Tomb.

How blatant does Dave Morris have to be when he says 'Guard it (the map) with your life as you cannot complete your quest without it.'  If you don't have it when you reach the desert then your bleached bones deserve to turn to dust in the wasteland.

3)  Throwing Singing Death into the pit in Sword of the Samurai.

You've come all this way for the sword, it boosts your initial stats and you still throw it away and destroy it.  Even the demon Ikiru isn't that evil.

You're batty if you do.
4)  Swimming to the surface in Demons of the deep.

You have gills.  You can see a big underwater city.  If you swim to the surface you will be seen by the ship load of evil pirates who have just thrown you overboard to drown.  How blatant does the clue need to be?  Explore Atlantis.

5)  Putting on a slave collar in Chasms of Malice

There are plenty of random deaths in Chasms of Malice but putting on a collar  that only the slaves of your enemy wear is not random and although you probably will die in about four paragraphs time, you shouldn't die  in this way.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Windhammer is here! Windhammer is here!

Hello all!

As Aston Saylor has already noted, September brings us much goodness in the world of gamebooks.  The entries to the Windhammer competition have now been published.  All 22 of them!  Yes, you read that correctly, 22 wonderful gamebooks to delight our eyes.

Betweeen now and the 7th November, we can all vote on our 2 favourite gamebooks by sending them to  We can also send feedback about the gamebooks to

It would be great if you could jot down a few notes for the entrants about your thoughts and feelings on their books.  I'm sure all writers appreciate constructive criticism. 

And that's it from me.  I don't want to drag you away from the excellent entries to this years Windhammer competition.  Enjoy the read!

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Computer games - Populous II

Some settlements.  The land is not too flat here, but they
have a leader.  The big Sun thing is what all the people
want to get to.  The big house has a small sun over it
to show that it's the leader's residence.  
I first came across Populous II as a demo on an Atari ST Format cover disc.

I enjoyed the game because I was allowed to build up huge armies of followers and send them out to annihilate the enemy.  As well as doing this, I could also look after my people by manipulating the landscape to make it flat and give them lots of space to build better settlements which were able hold more people (more people meant more manna or magical power which was needed to use your powers) and also bigger settlements could produce better weapons which made the tribes more effective in combat.

I could also appoint a leader my making them go on a pilgrimage to a huge Sun object where the first tribe that stepped into it could become the leader and any other tribes would join with them.  This meant that I could create a super powerful tribe which would go where I wanted it to (wherever I placed the sun thing) as opposed to mill around, which is what they normally did.

Forest + fire = fun
If my followers were being a bit slow, I could take matters into my own hands and create some powerful effects to destroy the enemy.  There are six categories of powers - people, plant, earth, fire, air and water.  My favourite trick was growing lots of trees and then creating a pillar of flame to set fire to them and burn all the people and houses in the forest, creating lifeless burnt out ruins.

Another great trick I learnt was to put a baptism font (a pool of water which made whoever fall into it switch sides) under the opponent's leader generator (a medusa's head) and watch a queue of bad guys just fall into it.  This would only work if my opponent could not change the lay of the land.

Not a suitable place to build
a settlement.  
Each time you battled a god, you would have a selection of these powers and a different landscape.  You had to get creative with them in order to win (although I always used to play a one off game where I had access to all the powers).  The hardest games were the ones where you could not manipulate the land as this meant that you could not make it flat for your people to make some good settlements.  It was even harder if your opponent could.

Populous II had a simple concept which was easy to learn quickly.  Its replay factor came from the different strategies you had to adopt depending on which powers you had access to.  The same principle applies to gamebooks - you can have a very simple system that can create many options with a few ways to fiddle with it.  Destiny Quest has done this well with a simple combat system but a whole host of abilities that you can use in combat to your advantage.  However, you need to develop the correct strategy to do it well.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

When I decided to write gamebooks

Good morrow to you all, gamebookers!

Today, I'm going to blog about when I decided to write gamebooks, when I decided to write my blog and how I nearly didn't.  I'm doing this because my decision to write gamebooks was not before I wrote my first gamebook.

Back in 2007, before the Windhammer competition had been created, gamebooks had nowhere near the internet presence that they do today.  There were some gamebook Yahoo groups, ffproject , Demien's awesome site and a few other sites.  There was only one gamebook releated blog I could think of - Fighting Dantasy and I had pursued them all with some interest.  Then, in the summer of 2007, I decided that I would kill some time by writing my own Fighting Fantasy gamebook which turned into War of Deities part 1.

I went easy on myself with this one - it was to be a dungeon crawl with an evil wizard at the end of it.  I put the effort into making sure that a character with minimum scores could get through the dungeon and I also added one twist - you were racing against another character who was a constant hindrance to you.  I also wanted to add in a few cool things - being able to learn spells (well, a spell), pyromaniac dwarves, a powerful golem and some magical items. 

It went as well as expected and I am quite proud of it for a first attempt.  I was going to make it into a four part saga full of classic Fighting Fantasy characters leading to an epic climax.  I won't write about the plan now because I might write it in the future, but I later realised that the first book is not really needed so I'll do it as a trilogy. 

Chuffed with my beginner's luck, I went on to write another epic, this time adding to the Fighting Fantasy rules and storyline.  And so I wrote Shadowcaster  I wanted to create a trilogy that was a prequel to Beneath Nightmare Castle which fits in with the Rise of Skarlos by Ramsay Duff.

It had over 500 paragraphs and a magic system that worked on morality.  As a shadowcaster, you trod the narrow path between light and darkness and so could wield the magic of light and darkness (I did not want to call them good and evil as I wanted the side of light to also be bad guys even though they had an appearance of traditional good guys such as knights and priests). 

In the adventure, the southerners of Zagoula along with an army of undead threatened to take over Transoxalia, the area where Beneath Nightmare Castle and Portal of Evil is set.  In the trilogy, you would eventually find a way to turn back the army.  However, you were not able to stop a certain sorceress from stealing a tin box containing the immortal part of Xakhaz and so it sets the scene nicely for Beneath Nightmare Castle.

I consider Shadowcaster as a failure.  When I wrote it, I did not have a good idea of what Lovecraftian horror was all about, which is what Beneath Nightmare Castle is based on.  Shadowcaster is more like heroic fantasy.  I also got some of the paragraph references wrong and didn't really make the most of the morality mechanic. 

After writing Shadowcaster, I entered the first Windhammer competition  with Triad of Skulls which didn't go too well.  First, I stuffed up the skill calculation.  It was supposed to be 10-12 which you got by rolling a d6, dividing by 2 and adding 9 except that I forgot about the divide by 2 part and so peoples' skill was 10-15.  Fail.  It was also linear and with confusing rules.  Fail.  It got a lot of criticism.

So the next year, 2009, I decided that I would make my gamebook as well as I could and created City of the Dead.  I put a lot of effort into the system that I created and made sure that it was as balanced as it could be.  However, it still got a lot of criticism as the description was a bit minimalistic and the rules took up a huge part of the book.  Also, the city was not really a city of the dead as it contained animals and a barbarian tribe.  I had ideas for extra scenes such as a horde of zombies but they got cut to keep the book within 100 paragraphs. 

Its readers said that the book was better than Triad of Skulls but very light on description. 

This is where I realised that I had stopped looking at the story aspect of gamebooks and just looked at them as stats.

So after my initial non failure of War of Deities 1 (which is a functional, if dull, gamebook), I had three setbacks where my failures as a writer were given to me.

This is when I decided to be a gamebook writer. 

I could have given up then as I had put so much effort in and messed up so much.  But I didn't.  I started this blog to keep me going in order to complete the 2010 Windhammer competition which is what my first three posts are about.  I also wrote lots of short gamebooks in order to educate myself on what I can do in gamebooks to get more mileage out of a small number of paragraphs.  I almost stopped this blog at the end of 2010 as I thought that my pageviews were really low but then Andrew Wright wrote a post which included me and that kept me going as I knew that people were really taking notice. 

And that's when I decided to continue my blog.

I imagine that everyone goes through a process like this at some point.  They start up some enterprise that comes across initial setbacks.  It's almost like the Universe is trying to make sure that you love your enterprise enough to put up with the pain of the setbacks.  It's happened to me many a time with other activities such as cricket and playing the guitar where I did give up but I guess that if there wasn't some setback, I wouldn't know for sure if I loved my pursuit or not.  As far as gamebooks were concerned, I did.

So there we go.  My decision to write did not happen when I wrote War of Deities.  That was just a decision to kill time.  I decided to write when people pointed out my shortcomings as a writer and I said to myself that I would continue writing to overcome them.  I'm still writing gamebooks and blog posts about gamebooks today because of it. 

Also, you, my dear reader fuels my enthusiasm for gamebooks by reminding me that there are people that share it, so keep it up.

Happy gamebooking!