The original idea
The idea of mages known as shadowcasters came from a unit in the free strategy game Battle for Wesnoth. The level 1 version of the unit is called a Rogue Mage. It then levels up to a Shadow Mage and finally a Shadow Lord. The idea behind these units is that although they practice evil magic, tehy are not evil themselves. They are pragmatic about magic. They just see that evil magic is useful and want to use it for whatever ends they wish.
|Shadow Lord from Wesnoth|
I wanted the shadowcasters to be the good guys, so I created the faction of light as the way that white magic in Magic the Gathering can go wrong - a totalitarian regime where those out of line are brutally punished as heretics and evil doers.
As Mark Rosewater says in his article, The Great White Way:
However, the shadowcaster had to be very careful to make sure that their actions didn't advance the causes of light or darkness too much, otherwise they would lose their powers. Also, they couldn't use their powers of light or darkness too much or they will stray onto the path of light or darkness.
I quantified this with the morality score. It started at 15. The shadowcaster could use neutral powers at all times, shadow powers as long as their morality stayed between 11 and 19, darkness powers as long as their morality stayed below 20 and light powers as long as it stayed above 10. So a shadowcaster could use all powers when their morality was between 11 and 19 and they were most powerful when their morality was 15 as it was smack bang in the middle. Shadow powers and neutral powers did not affect morality but light powers increased it and darkness powers decreased it so you couldn't use them too often.
The book ends with you fighting a battle against the armies of darkness, having a quick combat with an enthralling female enchantress and failing to defend a town. You escape with one of your mentors who is posing as a priest of the ligtht faction.
The book intended to be a trilogy. In the second book, you gain wisdom from the head of your order, the Shadowmaster, infiltrate a town ruled with an iron fist by the light faction and flee once again as the army crushes them too.
female enchantress who escapes through a mirror with a tin box (what could that be all about?) but you have other things to think about. You can also get the Talisman of Loth but you aren't very good at using it if your morality is below 20. I won't go into how I imagined the final epic battle to go, but if you win, you find the lich's crystal which animates and controls all the undead. If your morality is below 11, you take it for yoruself. If your morality is above 19, you destroy it but then the southerners attack the weakened area and win. If your morality is between 11 and 19, you use the crystal to turn the undead upon the southerners, decimating both armies and leaving the area safe.
A few weeks later, you hear that Baron Tholdur has returned with some southern soldiers and you are sent to investigate. However, you are ordered not to get involved as the Shadowmaster has noticed another who is more suited to the task. Instead, you mission is to simply distract this warrior and lead him into a trap in order to set events off...
The problems with Shadowcaster
I tried to make it too big
I took this idea and tried to shove every other idea into the book and make it a trilogy of epic proportions. For this reason, it felt a little unwieldy and I felt very tired with it after the first book.
I didn't know Lovecraft at the time
When I wrote Shadowcaster, I did not know about H.P. Lovecraft and his influence of Beneath Nightmare Castle. It is for this reason that Shadowcaster is more like heroic fantasy than cosmic horror. It does not fit the flavour of the book it was trying to prequel.
Too many ideas
I was trying to tie in a trilogy of books and use my own system and use spells and many other things. Looking back, none of the ideas were particularly well executed. I actively prevented morality from being explored, simply killing of players if their morality was not 11-19 later on in the book. What was the point of the concept if I was just going to railroad people?
I was manaully trying to randomise the paragraphs and so made a few mistakes. This has probably made the book unplayable.
Not much description
Just like a lot of my early gamebooks, I was a bit minimalist on the description front.
What I can take from Shadowcaster
I think that the concept of morality and the shadowcaster character can still be reused in a more open ended book where you are allowed to have whatever morality you want and also I can account for how people will treat you for having a different morality instead of killing the player for not walking the path of shadow. I would not try to tie it into any other gamebook and may not even use a Fighting Fantasy system.
If I ever try to do a tie in to any other book, I'll keep it withing the flavour of the book. So if I do ever do a Beneath Nightmare Castle prequel, it will involve Lovecraftian monsters, a willpower score and lots of horror.