Sunday, March 31, 2013

April A to Z 2013

I've been writing posts for the whole of April, so I feel that I'm allowed to make this one short.

The April A to Z will revisit some gamebook buddies of mine as well as highlight some projects that I am taking part in.  I'll be writing a post for the April A to Z every day except Sunday and then I'll be writing normal posts for Sunday, so I'll be writing a post every day for April.  Also, check out the many hundreds of blogs also joining in with the challenge.

If you have anything that you would like to post for the April A to Z, it is not too late.  Email at

Happy gamebooking!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Gamebook terminology

This week, my post ends with a question.  I'll be happy to hear your thoughts!

So I was reading Grey Wiz's post about the problems with gamebooks  and I clicked on one of the links to find a glossary of terms for games.

This was big news to me (and I kicked myself for not thinking of it sooner).  I love looking up all kinds of terms and defining them.  I don't know why, but when I was younger, I enjoyed looking up words in the dictionary that weren't even rude.  I then stumbled across the Curious and Interesting Book of Numbers where I could find out all about the numbers out there, right up to Graham's number.  Ever since I discovered   it, I am an enthusiastic TVTropes addict and I enjoy looking up words in Urban Dictionary.  I think I enjoy looking terms up so much because it is a discrete bitesize chunk of information that I can gobble up quickly.

So anyway, I am enjoying my latest dictionary of terms and it made me think.

Having common terms in any field of study is essential to move it forward.  With common terms, two people are able to have a discussion and exchange information far faster than two people who have to explain what they mean to each other first.  If we did not have common specialist terms, no one would make any progress - instead, they would just explain to each other what they mean.

So the question is, what game terminology should we use and is there any gamebook specialist terminology that we should nail down.  For example, does one play or read a gamebook?  Is a gamebook different to interactive fiction or a subset of it? Would there be a different term for a book like Destiny Quest (stat heavy) and Frankenstein (a story that you explore)

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Refining my outlook - gamebook player types

Greetings, lovers of all things gamebook!

I have now come to a proud moment in my blog - the moment where I can reference my own posts.  I'm going back to my gamebook player types post.  I think I can improve upon my classification, especially the puzzle solver, which I didn't like as I thought its definition was a bit too narrow.

So I'm going to try to refine my gamebook player types.

Also, there are plenty of gamebooks that are not entirely devoted to one player type.  Some gamebooks have strategic combat and a good storyline, for example.

Also, whilst gamebook players may have a preference on their play style, it may change, depending on their mood.


What does an explorer want?  The explorer wants to see what happens when they make different choices.

How does an explorer decide what to do?:  Explorers generally pick options that they have not tried before. Explorers are also the people who think the lease about their choices, doing them purely to see what will happen.

How would you appeal to an explorer?  Fabled Lands is the quintessential explorer's book.  Choices in explorer books involve deciding which places to go.  Each location will have a set piece.  Some explorer books make a good use of maps with paragraph numbers on them to help with this.  

How do I know if I am an explorer/in an explorer mood?  I know if I am in an explorer mood if I want to try something that I have not done before.  I also make choices that seem dangerous or illogical just out of curiosity.  Basically, I stop thinking about my choices and just choose with a completely open mind.

Puzzle solver which I will now call the Strategist

The puzzle solver was the player type I felt least happy with as the idea of puzzles in gamebooks sounded a bit narrow.  There are plenty of gamebooks with no puzzles, such as Choose Your Own Adventure books and even some dice based books.  I did mention that battle tactics came under this, but I think that battle tactics are a bigger part of gamebooks than puzzles so  I will widen this out to call the gamebook player type the strategist

This article which I found on Grey Wiz's blog sums it up nicely.  It talks about the difference between a puzzle and a problem.  To quote it (from the top of page 3):

'What’s the difference? With a puzzle, the challenge is working out how the designer wants you to solve it. A problem is something that you solve on your own. A problem can have consequences, and ones that are all the more effective because they were your solution.'

What does a strategist want?:  A strategist wants to work out the best way of overcoming a situation which can be overcome by using the information provided.  This could be a classic puzzle or a combat where you are allowed to make choices about what strategy you could employ which will lead to certain consequences or manipulate the die rolls in a certain way.  Books where your decisions affect just the narrative would not appeal to strategists unless there were some clues in the text to help your decisions.

How does an strategist decide what to do?:  In a book with a random element, the strategist's decision is based on improving their odds.  Destiny Quest is a great book for strategists as it presents a simple combat system and then offers you tons of items and abilities that give you options for combat.  Most of your choices are about which tactic to use in combat or which item you think would help the most.  Choices outside the puzzles and combats would usually revolve around finding items/abilities to help them out with the puzzles and combats.  E.g searching for all the elementals in Stormslayer.

How would you appeal to an strategist?:  You need either a puzzle element or some kind of random element in the book that can be manipulated in various ways so that the player has to work out a best way.  The satisfaction comes from beating the puzzle.

How do I know if I am an strategist/in an strategist mood?  You are wondering which ability you can use against monster x.  You are wondering when the best time to drink your potion of strength is.  You want to try a new way to beat the big monster at the end.  That's when I'm in a strategist mood.


What does a champion want?  A champion wants to win.  They want to find the best ending and they don't care how.  It doesn't matter if they don't have to explore new lands or think something out or play a deep and meaningful character as long as they get to the paragraph that tells them that they have killed the wizard and won the treasure.

How does a champion decide what to do?:  The champion will base their decision on whether they think it will get them to the winning paragraph.  If they know a route leads to death, they will avoid it.

How would you appeal to a champion?:  Having some level of difficulty will appeal to a champion as if it is too easy, they will not enjoy the challenge.  Also, the winning paragraph has to be something that befits a champion and describe how grateful the people are and how much treasure and glory you will get.  Deathtrap Dungeon is a good champion book.

How is a champion different to a strategist?:  At first a champion seems similar to a strategist as they both want to win, but in different ways.  A strategist gets intellectual satisfaction from beating a puzzle or winning a combat through the use of their thought processes.  Winning each combat does not necessarily mean winning at the gamebook.  A champion just wants to find the right sequence of choices to get the best possible ending.  They can do this without thinking and by using trial and error and they don't necessarily get their satisfaction by overcoming a puzzle through thought but just by being able to move past it.  


What does a storyteller want?  A storyteller wants to interact  with interesting characters and be part of a narrative.  

How does a storyteller decide what to do?:  A storyteller thinks about their character and the characters around them and base their decisions on how they think the characters will react or how they want them to react.

How would you appeal to a storyteller?  Having a book with several named characters is a good way to appeal to a storyteller.  If you are part of a group, even better, such as Down Among the Dead Men or several Choose Your Own Adventure books such as the Race Forever.  Also ways of growth and change are good in a story, either in the narrative or through stats, though stats are not necessary and may detract from the story if they do not fit in well with it.  Many different endings, all with different degrees of success also appeal to a storyteller.  Also, storytellers may not be too worried about bad endings for the character as that is just their story that they have played out.  Bad gamebooks for storytellers are ones with one happy ending and the rest ending in your death.

Endings that appeal to storytellers have epilogues about the characters involved or are quite open, implying that there are future adventures to be had so that the storyteller can imagine what happens next (or buy the seque, if there is one).  Avenger! and Lone Wolf are good storyteller series.

How do I know when I'm in a storyteller mood?:  I don't want to just chop up orcs but I want to interact with some characters and see what happens to them.

How is a storyteller different to an explorer?  There is some similarity between the explorer and storyteller as they both want to take lots of paths.  An explorer does so purely to just see what happens whilst a storyteller  bases their choices on how they want their characters to play out.  

There's plenty of gamebook stuff going on - check out the Gamebook Feed for more info.

Also, check out part 2 in Grey Wiz's excellent Gamebooks are Broken series.  Part 1 is here.

April A to Z:

I have emailed various gamebook people about what they are up to for the April A to Z and I will put them in order for April.  If you would also like to be part of the April A to Z, email me at and answer the following questions.  I will the npost the answers with a link to your website.

  • Who you are and how you got into gamebooks/solo adventures/RPGs/art. 
  • What you have done since April 2012 (if you posted last year) or what you have done relating to gamebooks/solos/RPGs/art (if you didn't)
  • What you plan on doing now related to gamebooks/solos/RPGs/art. 
  • What you think the future of gamebooks/solos/RPGs/art  is. 

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Why do we read gamebooks?

It sure is broken.  Missing all the es.
There is an excellent post at the Mysterious Path blog which is the first of a trilogy entitled The Problems with  Gamebooks.  The first heading to this post is 'Gamebooks are broken'.

It is a very thought provoking post and I look forward to the next two installments.  It got me thinking about why we all read gamebooks and what makes my favourite gamebooks.

My favourite gamebooks include such classics as Heart of Ice, Moonrunner, Necklace of Skulls, Beneath Nightmare Castle and Avenger!.

So, it's perfect if you use a
forty six sided die.
These books all have a very balanced game system whilst having some great story elements and I thought that it was the key to a successful gamebook and I have tried to emulate that.

When writing my Windhammer entries and during my random scribblings, I have been trying to come up with a gamebook system that is simple, versatile and does not involve lots of book keeping so that it will not interfere with the narrative.

After my first entry, where I used the Fighting Fantasy system (it was awful, not because of the system but because it was linear, had an error with the skill score and had very little story), I tried to come up with a GAMEbook where the system allowed me to balance the gameplay perfectly (which came at a huge cost to the narrative), then I noticed that most of the entrants that did well focused more on story, so I used a diceless system in Sharkbait's Revenge which won me the prize.

Encouraged by my success, I used a similar system in Rulers of the NOW (though I still managed to put too much book keeping into it) and then a simpler system in the gameBOOK Call of Khalris where there was only one stat which covered an array of things and I wanted the player to interact with the story by writing a journal and having a cheat score.  Turns out it was too much and it spoiled my entry).

Just keep writing and it will
be OK.
Now that I've done the extremes, I have been cooking up systems that allow a nice balance and I may use them in future gamebooks.

This is the process that I've been through and I have found it very useful, but after reading Grey Wiz's post I realised that I would never get the perfect balance.  No one could and that the balance of story and game in my favourite gamebooks wasn't really a perfect 50/50 balance.  It was more a case that there was something I liked about either the game system or the story or the setting and that the other aspects of the game did not interfere with it.

I've come to the conclusion that spending ages getting the perfect balance between the game aspect and the book aspect of a gamebook is in no way linked to how good  the gamebook will be.  There are people out there who just want the story,there are people who want to number crunch and strategise, ,there are people who want to play an RPG system they love solo and there are whole new audiences out there such as  people who want to explore different aspects of a story.  All of these people fall into the category of gamebook people, so, with such a diverse audience, no one gamebook is going to please everybody.  And so, with that in mind, I thought about the gamebooks I love and why I did so.

I think a good gamebook has to connect with the reader/player on some level.  For example, with a gripping story, or with some detailed and compelling world building or with some difficult choices or with an exciting game system.  As far as gamebooks are concerned, this is both a blessing and a curse.  There are so many aspects to a gamebook that there is probably one that everyone is good at and can use as their USP.

There's something for everyone.
On the flipside, you have to be good enough at all of the other aspects so that they do not spoil the good stuff.  Some Fighting Fantasy books with great settings and characters were let down by impossible odds or just poor editing.  Lone Wolf also suffered from this in later books (such as in book 11).

Destiny Quest - Legion of Shadow had a system full of excellent strategic choices and lots of depth but the narrative choices were a little lacking and most choices determined nothing more than what ability you get.

However, all of the above books are still popular because there are plenty of readers who are not bothered by the flaws.  I enjoy all of the above books.  I'm not a big fan of Deathtrap Dungeon due to the fact that it is just a dungeon crawl and the die rolls are impossible but it is a hugely popular gamebook (no.7 in the Fighting Fantazine survey) because of the crazy monsters and traps, and, in some cases, because it is so impossible.

So I guess the moral of the post is that I should try to find my niche and make sure that I'm good enough at the other aspects of the gamebook so that I do not spoil it.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

How items can be useful and unmagical

I've done a post on how you can give out cool magical items that won't completely unbalance the game but you can also have cool and powerful non magical items.  Here are some ideas:

How can items be powerful and unmagical?

Fire powder - blow stuff up!  Also leads to...

Firearms - a powerful (even perceived as magical?) weapon.

Acid - corrode stuff away!

Telescope - see things from far away!

High energy rations - a days food that weighs very little.

Compass - help your navigation check!

Clothes and jewellery that indicate high status - pass for the mayor!

Signet of a particular organisation - show the Seal of Hammerdal to anyone in Durenor and you get anything you want.

Ancient relic of a particular people.

Tomes of knowledge – maps to places, records of historical events, manuals, star charts.

Skulls/bones of powerful animals - a sign of strength and status amongst hunters/warriors as they think you killed them.

Trophies/awards from tournaments - will give you a reputation for skill at arms.

Keys - they don't have to be key shaped.  They can be gems or strange stone shapes.

Silver weapons - harms powerful undead.

Herbs - have many healing and other effects.

A lost relic - it puts you in good standing with a particular religion or country.

Special material – mithril, adamantite, darkwood, cold iron.  If it is rare enough, people will want it!

Musical instruments that can calm animals (ape pipes, snake charmer flute).

Any more, people?