Sunday, August 25, 2013

Year 3 in review

Wow, gamebookers!  Lloyd of Gamebooks turns 3 on the 27th August (and, coincidentally, Fighting Fantasy turns 31 on that same day) and so once again, I will look back over the last year and see what's gone on in the world of gamebooks, and it seems like the world of gamebooks has expanded beyond what anyone could have imagined.  Let's break this down into different parts:

My blogs and Twitter

So, here are the numbers - as of August 17th, I am now on 210235 pageviews and 110 followers.

My stats are starting to show a pattern now where there is a peak in April due to the April A to Z and then there is a drop in views.  I think this every year, but I really think that I've peaked on the pageviews on this blog without putting any serious time and/or money into talking more on the blogosphere and tidying it up. 

Here are the most viewed pages.  As with previous years, a lot of reviews are popular as well as how to write a gamebook.  However, I have no idea why Z is for Zombies is the most popular post, beating everything despite only being on this blog since April 30th 2013.
The most common links come from the Android forums about Goblin's Bounty and then from other gamebook sites - Fighting Fantasist, Fantasy Gamebook, Fabled Lands and The Brewin.  I'd just like to thank these people and everyone else who has brought traffic to my site.
The Gamebook Feed is still around (and if you want your blog added, give me an email at but Lone Tiger has not had any updates for a while.  I would like to continue with that but I think that is lowest on my priorities at the moment.
I also enjoy being on Twitter, particularly to hang out with my buddies David Walters (who is gradually taking over the gamebook world here and here) and Scott Malthouse whose USR system is taking off.  Just like the blogs, I don't think I can get more followers unless I put lots of effort into it.

My writing

Since last year, I have written my 2012 Winhammer entry, Call of Khalris, and  then embarked upon three larger projects that have yet to be released yet, which is why you haven't seen any Tunnels and Trolls solos (but I have a couple that I would like to write) or the complete Rulers of the NOW (which I am kind of glad that I didn't finish because I am better now and I think I might do it justice).  My writing has involved writing The Ascent of Darkness for Fighting Fantazine 11, finishing off Goblin's Bounty, and writing a gamebook for the prolific Tin Man Games.  I will then be writing a gamebook for Adventurer and then I will think about works of my own.  I have also written a short gamebook for the 2013 Windhammer Competition (get yours in by September 7th!) as I always enjoy the feedback that I get from fellow gamebookers across the world and a few resources for Adventurer.  So not much writing from me this year that has been released, but that is because I am saving it up for later.  Hopefully, we will see the fruits of my labours in 2014.

Other gamebook stuff

So I am also the news editor for Fighting Fantazine now, which, under Alex's editorship, is going from strength to strength - issue 11 has been printed out.  It's also great to see how the number of releases and the amount of gamebook news has exploded - just have a look at how many pages of news there are in each issue - as a sample, there are 2 pages of Omens and Auguries in issue 1, four pages in issue 6, seven pages in issue 10 and nine pages in issue 11.  It has turned out that there are actually tons of gamebooks and gamebook writers out there and that both gamebook apps, electronic gamebooks and physical gamebooks are enjoying a massive resurgence.

Personal stuff

Things have been moving fast for me since I started this blog - in 2011, I got married and then, later on, I had a baby.  This, coupled with all the gamebooks I have had to write, has meant that I have focused less on the blog - this year, I have barely released any more posts than once a week and every day in April.  However, there are several more gamebook blogs now, as noted by The Gamebook Feed (if you have a gamebook blog and it is not on there, email me with a link at or leave a comment and I will put it on there).

What have I learnt from this year in gamebooks?

This year, I have learnt to be a lot more organised in my gamebook planning and writing.  At the beginning of the year, I have three massive gamebooks to write, which I predict, when I have finished, will amount to about 250000 words of gamebook.  Having a massive target like that was off putting at some points and stopped me from doing anything, so I just decided to spend about 20 minutes a day, doing some and I was surprised at the progress I made - I also got really into the writing and spent a lot more time on it some days.  The good thing with this method was that it seemed like I was taking no time out of my day when I was doing the writing, but when I would look at my progress over a week or so, I could see quantifiable results.

Also, before all of this, I used Dia to organise and flow chart out the gamebook before writing out the summary of each paragraph.  This meant that when I was writing, I was just writing and not concentrating on what choices there should be etc. 

Another thing that has helped me is my iPod Touch which has both a notepad program and a voice recorder.  I have spent several hours writing notes on various gamebooks in my iPod Touch and also having conversations (and sometimes arguments) wit myself about what to write. 

A combination of all of these has lead to me being more organised.  In future, I will try out Crumbly Head Games' GameBook Authoring Tool (GBAT) which incorporates both a flow diagram and then converts it into text, which would skip the process of me copying it from Dia (as a side not, the free version lets you write 100 paragraphs max and then converts it to Rich Text Format, which is perfect for Windhammer).

So yes, this year, due to having masses of things to write, I have learnt to become more efficient in my writing.

I have just had a thought over the past day or so too.  The jobs I got writing gamebooks were over social networks where people where looking for gamebook writers.  I then thought to myself whether there are lots of people who would like someone to write a gamebook for them, maybe for a game or franchise that they have.  I was also wondering whether the large number of amateur gamebook writers out there would also like to advertise their services.  I would love to, but I have too much to write already, so I think other people should be advertised.  So I've created the gamebook noticeboard where people can advertise whether they want gamebooks written or whether they are willing to write gamebooks.  If you want to be put on it, email me at

The future

The future is a bit uncertain.  My life has taken a dramatic shift in the past year - baby, new job, people asking me to write gamebooks for them and becoming news editor for Fighting Fantazine.  With all these responsibilities, its less likely that I will be making tons of extra posts on the blog (but I will be sticking to one a week at least).  It's like I've stopped treating the world of gamebooks like a playground started taking responsibility for stuff.  Once I've completed the gamebooks I have been given to do, I would like to kick back for a bit and just write my own to put out there, but we will see what happens. 

Sunday, August 18, 2013

TV Show turned gamebook - Knightmare

Hooray!  Knightmare is showing a bit of a revival what with the Youtube episode and Knightmare Live.  It also had its own gamebook range, written by Dave Morris...

Knightmare was a popular fantasy childrens' TV show in the 90s.  It had an original premise.  A group of four children would turn up.  One of them (the dungeoneer) would be sent through a dungeon to find an macguffin while the other three would stay back and watch their hapless friend's progress while giving them some advice.

Are you sure you're
on my side, Treguard?
Treguard, the host, or dungeon master (and in later series his assistant) would provide some advice to the puzzles and challenges that they would come across.  Oh, and also, he also thought it helpful to put a helmet on the dungeoneer's head so that they couldn't see anything.  Great job there, Treguard (in reality, the helmet was there because otherwise the dungeoneer would just see the blue screens that the background was drawn on.)

The dungeoneer would have a life force value which would be replenished by finding food and putting it in their knapsack.  The life force value seemed of little consequence - it was low when you found some food, high just after the dungeoneer had eaten and zero if the dungeoneer died.

The first life force meter had a face with a helmet on.  Bits of the helmet and later, face would fly off as the dungeoneer's life force went down.  In later series, it was a suit of armour that lost bits to reveal a skeleton.

It's a difficult game and you shouldn't
get cut up about it if you lose.
And there were many ways to die.  Few teams actually beat the Knightmare challenge as there were many riddles, puzzles and challenges in communication, agility and wit to overcome.  The dungeoneer had to converse with some strange characters, work out which items they needed (like a gamebook) and sometimes just rely on their friends to get them to dodge trouble.  There were sometimes some epic fails and losing teams were usually hit by Treguard's catchphrase 'Ooh, nasty!'  There were also some spectacular victories (look at them under Indy ploy on the TVTropes page for Knightmare)

The TV show branched out into other media including a series of books (which you can also read about here).  The first one, Knightmare: Can you beat the challenge? was by Tim Child (the show's creator) and Dave Morris whereas the remaining six books were all by Dave Morris alone. The first four books were made up of a novalla and a short gamebook.  Books five and six were made up of a story then a puzzle and book seven was a puzzle book.

The stories revolved around Teguard and how he became the Lord of Knightmare Castle.  I have only read Can you Beat the Challenge and book 4:  The Sorcerer's Isle  but I enjoyed them very much.  It was good to have an expanded universe of the TV show I loved so much.  I actually like Sorcerer's Isle better, especially the final battle with a winged demon who had a beard embedded its neck (the last person to fight it tried to strangle it with his beard.)

The gamebooks were pretty good too.  Again, I liked the Sorcerer's Isle as it was more non linear and involved roleplay and living up to the ideals of chivalry to win.  The first gamebook was a lot like being on the TV show, where you would walk around a dungeon, pick up objects and interact with strange people.  In both cases, as long as you followed certain rules laid out to you at the beginning you would do OK (attacking people in the first book was always a bad idea.)  The Sorcerer's Isle had a score system for chivalry so it was more flexible, whereas the first book would kill you off if you veered off the path, making it a bit linear.  However, the books were entertaining, so if you find them cheap on the internet, buying them will bring a few hours of entertainment.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Why I consider Shadowcaster a failure and what I can take from it

From here.
I consider Shadowcaster a failure which is why I do not have it on my gamebooks page.  It is very sparse on description and has some mistakes with the paragraph numbers so I do not really talk about it much.  However, looking back on it, I think that there are some good ideas and lessons to take from it and it was a necessary (if painful) step in my development.  Let's see why.

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 then came up with the idea of a mage who wanted to harness all kinds of magic - both the 'good' type of magic with blessings and healing and the 'evil' type of magic that involved harming others and raising the undead.  I did not want a clear cut good and evil in this world, so I called the factions, the factions of light and darkness.  Between them lay the faction of shadow which could use both light and darkness but not be beholden to either. 

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:

Many humans share some global beliefs (the taking of a human life is wrong, for example). Some of white’s tenets line up with some of these universal human beliefs. Therefore white is sometimes seen as the color of “good.” Ah, but white is neither inherently good nor evil. White, as well as every other color in Magic, will do things that can be labeled both “good” and “evil,” and even that might not be consistent from person to person. Preservation of life is very white. Most of you would probably classify that as “good.” Fascism is also very white. Most of you would probably classify that as “evil.”

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.

I orignially had Shadowcaster as a prequel to Beneath Nightmare Castle, a gamebook I loved.  I wanted it to be about how Xakhaz returned and how the southerners managed to take over Neuberg.  The story starts when you are teleported to the deserts in Khul to investigate what appears to be a huge army of southerners accompanied by undead.  However, the shadow portal you use is under the control of the faction of darkness and you get thrown into a cell.  You manage to escape and run into the Baron of Neuberg who helps you and tells you that he will hold off the army with negotiations (we see him later in BNC as a brainwashed pawn).  You have to travel north to try to warn your order. 

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.

In the third book, you now know from the Shadowmaster that the leader of this army is a Lich in the town of Neuberg so you head there to kill him.  Success depends on actions from the previous book and on keeping your morality score in that happy medium.  You once again encounter the 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?

Paragraph errors

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.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Summer of gamebook!

Good day to you all, gamebookers!  I am hoping that you are having an enjoyable summer (or winter
if you live in the Southern hemisphere).

Today, I've got some exciting snippets of news that I came across whilst getting then news together for issue 12 of Fighting Fantazine out later this month, but there are some things that just can't wait that long, so I might tell you about them now.

Interactive radio story on Kickstarter!

It seems that gamebooks and interactive fiction are doing very well on Kickstarter, with most projects being funded, some well above their targets.  Well, there is currently one project running, called Codename Cygnus where you play as a secret agent, where instead of reading about your choices, you listen to them in old style radio fashion.  As of posting, there are 7 days left on the kickstarter and the team have raised almost $8000 of their $11000 target, so it is reachable.  Why don't you have a look at their lovely Kickstarter page?

New gamebook series out!

There is a new gamebook series out entitled Your Adventure Begins Here.  There are currently two books in the series, The Renegade Wizard and Dragon's Deep, written by Ashley P. Martin.  You can buy them both as paperback or for Kindle, so why don't you have a look at his lovely website?

EDIT:  How could I forget the Windhammer competition?

Windhammer competition!

The entries for the 2013 Windhammer competition are now open!  Glory and renown are available for the winners, who could win 100 Australian dollars and have their gamebook published by Tin Man Games.  The two runners up will also be published by Tin Man Games and 50 Australian dollars.  There will also be three winners of a commendation award. 

You only need to write a gamebook with a maximum of 100 paragraphs (so anything less is also valid), so even if you have not thought of one yet, you still have time to plan and write a short gamebook.  You  can have a look at the guidance I wrote last year. 

Since I wrote that post, there is a new gamebook creation program around, the Gamebook authoring Tool from Crumbly Head Games.  This program allows you to write your gamebook as a flow diagram before randomising the paragraphs and then publishing it.  The free version allows you to write a maximum of 100 paragraphs and turn it into a rich text format gamebook (tailor made for entry to the Windhammer competition) and if you love it so much, you can use some of your winnings to pay £39 for the pro version and write an even bigger gamebook to publish and earn yourself tons of money (it's a little known secret that interactive fiction is probably the most lucrative way to make a living since the beginning of time).

Even if you don't win, the feedback you get from the Windhammer community, made up of writers, gamers and gamebookers, is extremely valuable and it is well worth entering just to get the feedback for your entry.

So enter.  There is still time.

Way of the Tiger set to return!!!!!!!!
Yes, gamebookers, it's true.  Those lovely people at Megara Entertainment who produced the fantastic and gorgeously produced Arcana Agency are now going to make some gorgeously produced Way of the Tiger books!  But that is not all, no, no, no.  The series will expand with a prequel written by awesome writer and knower of all things ninja, David Walters.  Also, if the stretch goals are reached, we will also get book 7, which will finally resolve the cliffhanger which left Avenger in a sticky situation. 

Megara will be launching a kickstarter in October so start saving up your pennies for something I'm sure we can all get behind.  If you want to see what they have planned for the series, you can go to this page where you can download a 100 page preview of Avenger and also take a look at the Kickstarter page that they plan to release here.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Knightmare Live - A guest post by David Walters

Knightmare Live

From the BBC
On Friday afternoons at school I would sit in class watching the clock slowly tick and waiting for the final bell to go, but my eagerness to rush home was not to start the weekend: instead it was to catch Knightmare on TV. The show featured a contestant in a helmet (that effectively blindfolded them) being guided through a fantasy dungeon. It was the nearest

thing at the time to watching Fighting Fantasy gamebooks on TV, and the nearest thing at the time to making fantasy a mainstream TV phenomenon.

Now, though, a live version of the show was coming to my home city of Edinburgh for the International Festival, and I had to go. Last year I had surfed the wave of nostalgia by attending Ian Livingstone’s Blood of the Zombie’s tour, could Knightmare Live up to the same high standard?

As I stood waiting to enter the theatre, I wondered if the TV show should be reborn in this way. Sure it was technically ground-breaking for its time, and sure it gave me great pleasure to shout at the kids on the TV who could not navigate their dungeoneer left instead of right, but having watched the TV show again recently (it is on Challenge TV in the UK) I wondered if the theatre version would be similarly dated. Could it be relevant to a modern audience?

I was admitted into a darkened theatre, so spooky that few people dared to sit in the front row which bordered directly onto the dungeon set. The dungeon was represented by some dungeon walls on a small stage, and I began to realise the constraints that such a live performance had to deal with compared with the TV show. Another constraint was the timing of the show itself, wedged in between two other Edinburgh International festival shows, late in starting and having to finish before the next show was due despite its contest format.

How could such a venture hope to succeed? The theatre version soon showed that it could do things that the original show could never dream of. Firstly, it could interact with the audience. You can be heard when you call out to help the beleaguered team trying to master the dungeon, you can help them answer a riddle (instead of shouting at the TV), you can cheer or boo the characters, or even ask Treguard a question during one of the pauses whilst the scenery is changed when they reach a new level of the dungeon.

Secondly, the show works in the live format as it has an abundance of humour. The TV show was in many ways unintentionally funny, laughing at kids who could not tell their left from their right, but the live version boasts a different style of humour. The actors are comedians in their own right, and the dungeoneer is guided by a comedian, which lends itself to parodying the original series and making it feel new and fresh. For Knightmare Live you have to be 14 or over to watch, and the humour is geared towards the child of the 90s who is now a thirty-something: Knightmare Live is Knightmare’s older, cooler, streetwise brother who will go into those fun areas that you wish the TV series could have.

The third reason the live version works better is that you have more improvisation. The tripartite relationship of actors, contestants and audience leads to more ad-libbing and a more free-form experience. The dungeoneer started an impromptu conversation with the rock demon in the wall, much to the hilarity of all. In another scene, the contestant did not have the right item to progress but through interaction with the actor he was able to provide an improvised solution. This was more the interaction of role-playing than the gamebook mechanic of ‘have the right item or fail’ which was prevalent in the TV series.

The acting throughout was generally excellent. Paul Flannery plays a young Treguard with humour and guile. He is joined by Tom Bell who plays Lord Fear (amongst others) and Amee Smith who plays several beloved female characters from the series. There is also a hapless goblin character (I didn’t catch the actor’s name), who adds much comic relief throughout.

A quick poll from Treguard during a scene change indicated that pretty much all the audience had watched the original show, and most recognised lines and characters from the original series. What was interesting was that of all the audience, most indicated that they would prefer to be the main character in the helmet rather than someone guiding them, essentially blind to the show and its performance. Perhaps nostalgia is the biggest prop of all in this live show?

For Paul Flannery, who produced the stage performance, this whole enterprise was clearly a labour of love. He had a tremendous knowledge of the Knightmare world, and even had on stage the original chest and shield from the TV show. He was able to spout numerous lines from the original series, although the audience were desperate to hear in particular that infamous phrase ‘oohhh nasty’. You can read more about Paul’s genesis of Knightmare Live here:

After the show if you wait outside you get a chance to wear the famous Knightmare helmet and get your photo taken. Unfortunately for me I had to dash before they emerged (it took a while for them to pack up to vacate the stage for the next show), but I did get to stand alongside our dungeoneer (the self-proclaimed ‘Euan of legend’) for the evening who had met an untimely demise in the room of blades.

It had been a victory for Lord Fear that night, but the shows would continue with new contestants and audiences, never quite the same. Just like its dungeoneer contestant in the famous helmet, the Knightmare franchise is asking ‘Where am I now?’ having just arrived at somewhere new. The answer is sure to be an interesting one.

Knightmare Live is running from the 1st to the 25th August at the Edinburgh International Festival, and if successful is hoping to do a UK tour.

Also look out for the special new episode of Knightmare being featured on YouTube for geek week from the 4th August, featuring the Treguard from the original series and adult contestants!