Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy new year from Lloyd of Gamebooks

Hello gamebookers! Just a quick post to say happy new year! Hope you have a great 2015!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Legend of the Wayfarer is now out!

Good news everybody! I've managed to finish the rule book and the first 3 gamebooks of my gamebook series, which I've decided to call Legend of the Wayfarer. You can find the rule book on my Lulu page as an epub or pdf or on my Patreon page. I have finished the first 3 gamebooks which I will release next week, but if you pledge $2 or more, I will send them to you ASAP.  Otherwise, it is free. Everything will be free or pay what you want in this series.

Happy gamebooking!

Friday, December 26, 2014

My top podcasts of 2014

Namaste, gamebookers! I have a confession to make. This post has about 5% gamebook material in it but since I am an information addict and a podcast junkie, I have decided to tell you which podcasts I think are so awesome that I listen to them at every opportunity (at 1.5 speed, so I can get through more of them). There is a bit of gamebook stuff here (which I've put in bold).

Side note: there's a song that I'm listening to on loop whilst writing this post. I won't say what it is, but it's awesome.

Pod Your Own Adventure: Here we have an awesome gamebook related podcast where Thom Rosell plays through a gamebook with a guest. Very amusing. If you enjoy it, you can support Thom on Patreon.

Tim Ferris Podcast: The author of the 4 Hour Work week (an a fledgling "4 hour" series including the 4 Hour Body and the 4 Hour chef) has a great podcast in how to maximise your productivity.

The Cracked Podcast: I am a big fan of the Cracked website and the podcast is basically the writers bringing you more Cracked goodness through your ears rather than your eyes. Only touch, taste and smell left now...

I Should Be Writing: An awesome writing podcast from science fiction writer Mur Laffery. Her podcasts involve interviews, her reflections on writing or answering listener feedback. You can support Mur on Patreon here.

The Art of Charm Podcast: Another great podcast on basically making you so awesome that you can attract anyone you want. Interviews include learning the benefits of minimalism to how to learn a language even if you're older than 7 and was terrible at it at school, both of which apply to me.

Freakonomics podcast: I loved the book which had several gems including how Superman beat the Klu Klux Klan or how fining parents for turning up late to pick up their children made more of them late. This podcast explores the bizarre but true from an economist's point of view.

Less Doing Podcast: Another podcast about productivity. This podcast is split into two parts. The first part involves a discussion on the latest hacks in health, productivity or technology and the second half is an interview with a guest on productivity.

Manager Tools and Career Tools:  Two podcasts which are very useful for managers and non-managers everywhere. It costs about £100 to get into the archive of all the podcasts (I think you get the past 50 for free), but it is well worth it. I first found these podcasts from the podcast awards.

The Overwhelmed Brain: A personal growth show which does not involve woo woo stuff. Instead it involves the host talking about his own issues and how what he learnt from them and how he worked through them. Something I can relate to.

I also have a list of podcasts that I want to spend more time on in 2015:

Mark Rosewater's Drive to Work podcast: I have dipped in and out of this podcast this year, but everything Mark Rosewater says is game design gold. And, being the head designer for Magic the Gathering, he knows a thing or two about game design and creativity. Which reminds me, I still want to write a blog post about how awesome he is. If you enjoy his podcast, just wait until you read his column.

Hardcore Histories: This is a long running podcast where Dan Carlin presents something historical as an awesome story. I can't wait to get my teeth into this one.

Write 2B Read: I have listened to a couple of podcasts of this writing podcast and I hope to get into more of them in 2015.

Honourable blog mention - The Tao of DnD: I have written about this excellent blog before and also recommended Alexis's books as they helped me with my DMing experiences this year, at Fighting Fantasy Fest and Dragonmeet this year. His blog is truly awesome.

I hope you find these podcasts (and blog) as useful and entertaining as I did. I wish you all an awesome new year!

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas from Lloyd of Gamebooks!

Merry Christmas one and all! I hope you have a great day and a happy new year!  See you all in January and happy gamebooking!

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Midnight Rogue playthrough

Written by Graeme Davis, Artwork by John Sibbick

Ah, nostalgia time. Let me talk about how I remember this book.

I don't think I played Midnight Rogue more than once or twice after I first found it, back when I was a kid. Being from a working class family, my grandparents would insist that we go to Blackpool for summer holiday each year. By the time I was 12 or 13, I was rather bored of it all. But one year, in the city's indoor market, I was able to find a copy of Midnight Rogue. I read through it in a day or two, and it still reminds me of Blackpool.

The task is simple enough. You are a trainee in the Thieve's Guild in the city of Blacksand, and in order to earn your stripes and become a fully-fledged thief, you are asked to find a large gem called the Eye of the Basilisk. Easy enough, right? Course not!

The gameplay in this adventure works the same as most FF books, with skills and stamina and no new stats. I rolled up decent enough stats, although my luck was rather low at 8. But you're given the opportunity to select from a variety of thief skills as well, from which I have selected pickpocketing, sneaking, and the ever useful spot hidden (which no game of Call of Cthulhu would be complete without).

Rannik, the head of the thieve's guild, tells me that the gem belongs to a merchant. He tells me that this particular merchant's symbol is the coin, which I'm sure would be valuable information, if it weren't for the creeping feeling that this is probably the same symbol that every merchant in the entire world would use. I mean... you're a merchant. What ELSE would you use for your personal symbol? Anyway, I head out into Port Blacksand.

I decide to start my investigation at the merchant's guild. I head out there and, on my travel, see a rustling near a patch of trees. I investigate, and am quickly attacked by a ghoul. I wonder why there's a flesh-eating ghoul just lounging around the city streets of Port Blacksand, but then I remember that I'm in Port Blacksand, a place which makes Ankh-Morpork seem cultured and polite. The ghoul is probably a citizen.

After beating the ghoul to a pulp, I work my way into an alleyway beside the merchant's guild offices and high-tail it up a drainpipe. At the top of the drainpipe, one of the building's gargoyles comes to life and tries to kill me. My sword has no effect on it, and the book asks if I'd like to try something else. Naturally I take this option, and it leads to a segment which asks if I have a grapple, a cloak, or a heavy chain. I have neither, but there is no option to choose 'none of the above'.

By the rules of this blog (no cheating, no turning back to previous segments, etc), I need to choose one of these items which I don't have. I settle for the cloak. Magically, a cloak appears on my character. He throws the cloak over the gargoyle, catching it and sending it crashing to the street below. Good to know that it wasn't just Revenge of the Vampire that suffered from lack of editing, eh?

I slip into the guild via the skylight, and manage to find a door with a coin symbol on it. But I can't get into the merchant's office, because it's locked. So I'm told that I can't do anything else here, and should go to the merchant's house instead. Feh.

The merchant lives in the rich part of town. And like all rich parts of towns, there are more police in that area, because the wealthy are the biggest thieves and crooks in the world. One group of city guards notices me, and I'm not given the option of bluffing an excuse to them as to why I'm here. Instead, I'm only given the options to trying to run, attacking them, or bribing them. I try bribing them. They aren't happy. Obviously I didn't give them enough money. They threaten to take me in, so I do what any sensible person would do in this situation - leg it.

After I lose the guards in the maze of city streets, I eventually manage to find the merchant's house. The front door is locked, so I climb up yet another gutter pipe in order to get through the window. But there are bars on all of the windows. The only way in is via the door, and I can't pick the lock.

Are you seeing a recurring theme here? Long story short - take the freakin' lockpicking ability, otherwise you're screwed. You're given the option of selecting three skills from a list, but without lockpicking as one of them, you simply can't proceed in the adventure. The book is only giving you the ILLUSION of a choice, and I suspect that this is one of those puzzles in which you need to pick the 'correct' skills to be able to complete the game, rather than the skills being different options to unlock new avenues on how you may complete the game. Failing to choose the 'correct' skill results in... what's about to happen...

The only option I have now is to try to pick, at random, a location where I think the gem is hidden. The book gives me four choices, and it's clear that one of them is the correct one. I'm not given an option to choose 'no bloody idea where it is', so I pick one, barrow hill, because it's the name of an adventure game I played on the PC a few years back. The others are either dull-sounding (a bridge or a street) or insanely dangerous (Lord Azzur's Palace), so even if this is barking totally up the wrong tree, at very least I'll be going somewhere vaguely interesting.

The book then outright TELLS me that this was the correct choice, and that although I know it's located in Barrow Hill (I don't know, I just chose at random!), I don't know WHERE in Barrow Hill it is, and sends me back to paragraph 1 to start all over again. That's what happens if you don't select lockpicking as a skill, you eventually get to a point where you're just told 'Start again'. Oh boy. I'm already starting to notice a lot of problems with this book, in case you didn't notice...

So, I tear up my character sheet and make a new one, this time with a specialist skills in Sneaking, Picking Locks and Pickpocketing. My stamina is a bit lower this time, but at very least I stand a better chance of actually being a vaguely useful thief. We start all over again, this time opting to go to a seedy area called the Noose in order to see if I can get some clues first.

The Noose is a grimey, nasty part of town and I manage to waste some time playing games in the local pub. You know the game, it's the one where you try to stab a knife between your fingers and quickly wish that you'd chose a better game to play. Either way it earns me some gold, which I use to pay one of the local beggers for some info. He has no info, but gives me a grappling hook instead. That's... kinda like asking someone to go get you a bottle of milk, and they come back with a hammer.

The adventure then takes a rather odd turn, as I venture onto a dark desert highway. I feel cool wind in my hair and smell colitas rising up through the air. Up ahead in the distance, I saw a shimmering light, and soon I had to stop for the night. I see a woman standing in a doorway of a hotel, and while I heard a mission bell ringing in the background, she lit up a candle and she showed me the way inside. As we walk through the chambers, the woman shows me a lot of pretty, pretty boys she calls friends who dance in the courtyard, it's all quite strange. When I finally get to my room, I called up the Captain, and asked him to please bring me my wine. He said, "We haven't had that spirit here since nineteen sixty nine". I confront the woman about this, all very confused, and she said "We are all just prisoners here, of our own device".

I tried to explain to her that I really had no idea what she was talking about and just wanted to leave, but instead she invited me to the master's chamber to enjoy a feast with the other guests. The feast was a bit weird though, because when the gathered guests stab it with their steely knives they just couldn't kill the beast. I'd had enough of this silliness at this point, and the last thing I remember, I was running for the door. While scrambling to find it, I bump into the night porter, who tells me that although I can check-out any time you like, I can never leave. So I stick my sword through him, kick down the door and flee back into the city. Feh. Stupid hotel. I really don't know why this was even part of the adventure, to be honest with you, it's all quite odd.

In desperation I go to see a psychic, Madame Star. She tells me that I am on a big quest to find something, and that I will need to go to somewhere of sleep and somewhere of work. So, the merchant's home and office... oh gosh, thank you. Her prediction was then followed by a heavy thumping sound, caused by my head hitting my table very hard. At some point, I need to stop basing my important life decisions on information I've bought from Mystic Meg's Psychic Charlatan Store!

So, let's make this nice and short. I go to office. Now that I have grappling hook, I hit gargoyle with it and therefore manage not to lose my precious non-existent cloak. I slip through the skylight again, but without my spot hidden skill, I manage to accidentally step on a hidden switch which opens a secret panel in the wall. Inside the panel lurks a small creature, a Jib-Jib. Essentially a Tribble with feet, the Jib-Jib threatens to scream the entire place down with its cries that can be heard for miles around. Kinda like an alarm system that you need to feed. I stick my sword in it before it can scream.

Thankfully I'm now able to get into the merchant's office, and raid his desk drawer for information. It tells me that yes, the gem is hidden in Barrow Hill. Astonishing. He has a few coins and a key hidden in the drawer, but the office also has a heavy steel door that may lead to a more interesting treasure. Naturally, I want to get it. So I pick the lock and head into the other room.

Once inside, I find a large treasure chest. It tries to eat me. Great, I've stumbled across Rincewind's Luggage. Why is this even here? Does the merchant routinely lock monsters in the spare office rooms? I start to get worried about the merchant's guild. Their alarm system is a living creature, their treasure chests are made of Sapient Pearwood, I'm half expecting that the heavy iron door to come to life and - oh crap, the door's swinging shut.

There's a small mark on the wall which, if I can read secret signs, may have told me how to escape from this room. But I don't have that skill. As a result, I am locked in the spare office room with a dead treasure chest monster, and there I am to stay until the merchant opens up the door the next morning and I get dragged out of the place by angry city guards. Yeah, suffice to say I'm not going to finish this one.

Ah, but the game doesn't end there. You see, there's a twist in the tale. Naturally, this means that the next point is a spoiler. It's also recalled entirely from memory. I did say that I had strong memory about this book, didn't I?

You see, when I was a kid, I'd cheated my way through all of these books, naturally. At the ending of this story, you do indeed uncover the gem. But it's a fake. In fact, the entire adventure was a fake, orchestrated by the Thieve's Guild. Every step of the way has been planned, plotted, and constructed. Which makes it one of the most lethal 'tests' possible. All of your guildmates turn the lights on and celebrate your accomplishments with a big party.

It's a real twist in the story, and made the book memorable as a kid. But thinking about it now, as an adult... I hate that. I mean, what if I'd have got eaten by the ghoul? "Oh, I'm sorry," Rannik the Thieve's Guild Master would say, "But you failed the test by getting your limbs ripped off by our pet ghoul. No guild membership for you." I mean... if it's a test to see if you'd make a decent member of the club, maybe it'd be an idea not to have the entry exam be lethal!

Let me tell you a story. When I was a little older, I had a copy of Ultima 7. I loved this game. As part of the game's quest, you need to infiltrate a sinister religious organisation called the Fellowship. The head of the Fellowship, L. Ron Hubbard (named Batlin in the game, but we know who he really is!) asks you, as a new recruit, to head to an abandoned dungeon and pick up some gold they'd stored there. Abandoned dungeon. And he assures you that it's totally harmless and that there's nothing dangerous at all. Once you get to the dungeon, you find that it is full of DRAGONS. One of the most dangerous enemies in the game. Just one of them can kill you, and there are whole swarms of the buggers here. If you return to Batlin with the stuff he asked for and complain that he, like the Thieve's Guild Master, had sent you off to die in a lethal death-trap of fiery and tooth-filled doom, he just says "Woops, I must have been mistaken. Oh well. Would you like a cup of tea or something?"


Overall, this book has some lovely ideas. It's got a great premise, and looks at the Fighting Fantasy genres in a whole different light. It does use the setting of Port Blacksand to its advantage, and the idea of gathering info before hitting the dungeon is great. But... it all fails in execution, for the reasons detailed in the playthrough. Which is a damn shame, and I'm very disappointed that this book was less fun to play through honestly and properly than it was to just cheat my way through. Hey, actually.... wouldn't it be a nice idea if the only way to win at this gamebook IS to cheat? That'd be some real lateral thinking problem solving there, eh?

It's certainly not on my top five list of the most disappointing things in the history of the universe (a list which consists of the video games Ultima 9, Mass Effect 3, the movies Highlander 5, Star Wars Episode 1 and The Hobbit, and the last of Stephen King's Dark Tower novels), but I don't speak for everyone. If you've finished this gamebook, let me know what you think.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Not Cymerian

Hello all! Are you excited about Christmas? I know I am. Anyway, here is a video about my gamebook series, which I have completed the first 3 books for (hooray!) I will release them soon, but there's the minor issue of the title to clear up (and a couple of names for stats).

You can find my revised gamebook player types post that I refer to here.

If you have an opinion, please leave a comment.

Happy gamebooking and Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 19, 2014

Celebrity Dungeons and Dragons

First, Celebrity Dungeons and Dragons should definitely be a thing. It'd be entertaining, and low-budget. Depending on who you booked, anyway; I guess Rihanna would want a decent fee.

Second, it's rare to see any sort of crossover between my twin passions of RPGs and post-mid-90s-esque alt-rock. So it's been great to see some D&D love coming from the rock star - the rock star - Ben Kweller. He recently posted a Facebook vid of a D&D game he was playing with his kids. Awesome parenting + D&D = Win.

Click here to see the vid - sadly, I can't embed Facebook vids directly into Blogger posts. Oh, and BK himself is not in shot here; he's the guy filming.

If you aren't au fait with Kweller's oeuvre, he's just... swell. Here's one of his more recent songs. He doesn't sing about D&D in this one, though (you really have to delve into the back catalogue for that).

Man, I love BK. Oh, he has a new pre-Christmas single out, 'It Ain't Christmas Yet'. Get it. Because it's great. And because he's a D&D fan.

So, who's in your dream D&D group? You can choose anybody you like. Except Shakira. Because she's already DMing for me.

(Post by Paul Gresty)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Appointment with F.E.A.R. playthrough

Written by Steve Jackson, Artwork by Declan Considine

Never had this one as a kid. In fact, it didn't much appeal to me as the cover makes it look like a sci-fi adventure, and I wasn't much into sci-fi. I was quite familiar with the cover though, because it featured in the Fighting Fantasy poster book, which was a lovely collection of high-quality prints of the covers. Also included were Daggers of Darkness, which featured the evil viking man jet-skiing on two tigers. But it turned out in the end that this isn't full-on sci-fi - it's a comic book superhero adventure! If anyone is interested, I'm reading Green Lantern, Batman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman these days, mostly.

Comic books are a funny thing. As I'm writing this, fans of DC Comics are grouped into those who are enjoying a freshly relaunched, rebooted setting, and those who are snarling and hating everything they see. Fans of Marvel Comics are wondering how many months it will be before Peter Parker comes back to life, and just how desperate for ideas the X-Men writers are that they've tried to make freakin' Cyclops into a tough guy anti-hero.

Comics be weird, man. So here's a superhero gamebook.

I never owned it as a kid, purely because other ones appealed to me a whole lot more. And I've never really been into superhero comics until the last few years. I'm one of those kids who cut his teenage teeth on Sandman, y'see. In fact, remember that Sandman poster that Darlene had in the sit-con 'Roseanne'? I had the very same one. Currently, I happily read Batman, Green Lantern and a few others. Because Green Lantern is boss, man.

So this copy of Appointment with FEAR is my first copy of the book. I bought it in a shop in Southsea, Portsmouth. The owner of the shop had stuck a little label on it which reads '1st print', and was charged £5 for it. Also, looking inside the book, it's a fifth printing. In addition, the sticker can't be removed without ripping the cover. I'd say that I should just rip it off, but I don't want to be mean and say anything about ripping off in relation to this store... bleh. Let's press on with the adventure.

This book is a little different from most FF books in that you're given an identity right off the bat - you are Jean Lafayette, aka The Silver Crusader. The mission in this adventure is to uncover the meeting of the terrorist organisation FEAR (the Federation of Euro-American Rebels) and defeat their villainous leader, the Titanium Cyborg. We get to choose from four possible super-powers, and because I'm not feeling too imaginative tonight, I go for super-strength. The ability to hit things really hard, with my fists.

Even before the adventure begins, we're given a full background on the character, who was the result of genetic experimentation to create the perfect superhero. Which has evidently failed, because I wind up as the Silver Crusader instead of Batman. But even so, I am superhero enough to be given a couple of useful clues and sent out to save the city.

And so it's morning in the city, and I'm given a few possible courses of action. I can continue walking down the street on the way to work. Or, off in the distance I can hear a police car speeding down the road, and I have the option to follow and help out there. Or, there's a third option. A man and a woman are arguing in the middle of the road because the woman's dog has left a pile of poo in the middle of the street. Obviously, this is the option that requires the attention of the Silver Crusader! I give the woman a firm talking-to about good manners, and use my super strength to throw the dog into the sun... no, I head to the police car.

The car is parked at a crime scene, where it seems a businessman has been murdered. I change into my Silver Crusader gear and investigate the area. I find a gold medallion, possibly belonging to the victim, and decide to take it to a local jewellers to see if he can tell me anything about it. Instead they try to offer to buy it from me, so I hit a dead end in my investigation. Shortly thereafter, I receive a call on my superhero wrist watch communicator thingy that tells me there's some nefarious goings on at a local chemical plant.

It seems that the people who've been performing studies here have been breeding dangerous radioactive dogs, and they've now got loose and... sorry, why were they doing this in the first place? "Hey Bill, know what this alsatian dog needs? More radioactivity in its teeth!" I just... Oh who cares. I go and beat up some puppies. This game has a system where you can defeat an enemy if you reduce their stamina to 2 or less, which does make combat work quicker.

As I'm standing outside the plant, signing autographs and generally enjoying people's adulation and worship (y'know, like any superhero should), I'm called to help a shoplifter who has been robbed. I chase down the robber and find that it's just a kid who swiped a chocolate bar. Urgh, so this is the life of a superhero? I can't help but think that Aquaman has a better deal at the moment... He's surrounded by fish most of the day, but at least he doesn't have to clean up dog mess.

I sulk off back to my one-bedroom flat, eat a lukewarm microwave lasagna and watch reruns of Home & Away all night. The next morning, I get an urgent call to head to the local dairy, where a chain-saw wielding murderer is on a killing spree. En route though, I encounter a stray cat and I'm given the option of instead taking the cat to an animal shelter. Or stop a chainsaw wielding murderer. Or help a stray cat. I... this is so weird... It does kinda showcase us Brit's excessive obsession with animals that these two incidents are even thought to be comparable, though. I ignore the cat (or possibly just punch it into the middle of the sun) and beat down on the criminal.

What do you mean, I'm still fired?
Finally I decide to go to work. But I'm going to be late, oh no. Never mind the fact that I didn't actually turn up to work at all yesterday, and I decide that the best way to handle this will be to waste even more time by buying my boss a present to apologise for being late. So I head to the local shops and, expecting to find a note on my desk telling me that I'm fired, try to decide if my boss would like a copy of Trivial Pursuit. While I'm shopping (as opposed to going to work), four bikers come into the shop and start causing trouble. When the shop assistant confronts them, they turn into fire. Because the book needed a weirder thing to happen, so it gave us four Human Torches trying to set fire to the local board game shop.

I manage to beat up all four of them, but I'm rather injured by the end of it and there's no way to recover stamina at this point. The game tells me that I'm still late for work, so I assume that I just forget my idea to buy my boss Hungry Hungry Hippos as an apology, and sprint for the subway train in order to get to the office, figuring that this will get me to the office nice and quick. Naturally, I wind up chasing a pickpocket halfway down the subway train instead. By the time I get to the office, my boss screams at me and sends me home without pay. So I decide to cheer myself up by going to the local amusement park. What? Anything unusual about that?

So I decide that the best thing for the Silver Crusader to do is play on the dodgem cars. I drive around for a while, my cape flapping behind me, cackling like a madman... it strikes me that this is a rather strange adventure. Sadly when a kid falls off one of the cars and gets injured, I decide to finish playing around and leave the theme park. Instead, I decide to go to see the smash broadway musical 'Rats' which is currently showing in town. This is how superheroes spend their afternoons, ladies and gentlemen.

It's not regular dodgem, it's Super-Dodgems!
Naturally, I can't go anywhere without some crime happening, because I'm a giant magnet for this kind of thing. The star of the show is almost kidnapped by a supervillain called The Serpent, and I'm able to find them and beat the silly bugger down. He tells me of a plan to assassinate the president, which is something that is so utterly shocking and deadly that I head right home and go to bed. The next morning I get up, go in to work, and am a little confused as to why there's no big crimes happening on that day.

I go down to the police station to ask them where all the crime is, because the only other option is to go and visit my aging old aunt instead (no, I don't know why I'd do this either). I get to the station and talk to one of the officers, who tells me that there was a prison break earlier, and although I really would like to go and round up some of these super-villains, there's something far more important I need to look into - a man has turned up at a local hospital with some really weird hands.

I go to the hospital, and I'm told that the man has died, presumably from weirdhanditis. I head down to the morgue to investigate the body, but IT'S GONE!! I'm so shaken up by this shocking and frankly rather confusing turn of events that the book asks me if I want to go and visit my aunt again. Given that the only other option would be to go and see Georgie Boy and the Vulture Club in concert (possibly singing their hit song Karma Colour-Changing-Lizard), I rush to see my aunt as if my life depended on it.

I catch the bus over to my aunt's neighbourhood, and am promptly mugged by a bunch of thugs. I decide that I'd rather like to beat the living snot out of them for the insult. In doing so, though, one of them manages to look at my driver's licence, and realises the true identity of the Silver Crusader. Soon, my secret identity is public knowledge, and the book tells me that I have to retire from my life of superhero-ishness. Given that I pretty much just spent my time wasting the afternoon shopping and going to theme parks, I doubt anyone will really notice.

I'll give kudos to this, the book does point out that the superhero keeps his identity secret in order to protect not himself, but those who are close to him. I mean, remember what happened when Spiderman revealed his identity.... It lead to his aunt being put in hospital, and Spidey making a deal with the devil in order to save her life in exchnge for his marriage to Mary-Jane. Which was weird. Not quite as weird as his current "Hey, I'm a ghost now, and my arch nemesis is Spider-man. We're like Randall and Hopkirk, only with tights!" storyline, but still damn weird. Anyway. This book is weird too. I've laughed more at it than any FF book I've read in a long while. It feels very crazy and quite wild. I'm not sure if I was even close to winning or how well I was doing at all. I certainly managed to beat up a lot of criminals and had a lot of very silly encounters. I doubt I'll leave the same kind of legacy at Batman did, though.

Yeah, overall I rather enjoyed this book. It's definitely not the kind of book I'd have thought I'd enjoy, and it has some very random moments which seem to come out of nowhere and offered some very twisted and unusual sense of humour. I'd say this one is worth trying out. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Revisiting a slightly more complex Fighting Fantasy RPG system

Hello gamebookers! Christmas is almost upon us, and I celebrated this fact today by going to the dentist. Although the experience was not painful, I sometimes feel some discomfort, mainly at the high pitched whizzing of the drills or the implement he used that reminded me of a glue gun.

I like to equate a visit to the dentist with being tortured, except torturers have the decency to not ask you for money afterwards.

In all honesty, though, I actually like my current dentist. He doesn't judge. It takes some gall to violate someone's mouth with strange implements, demand payment and then tell them off for not being good enough afterwards. At least he doesn't judge.

Anyway, enough of that. You probably wanted to read something gamebook related and I've gone off on one about oral hygene. Well, this post revisits one I wrote last year which was based on a forum game I ran ages before that.

An hour on the rack? That will
50 gold pieces. And try to be
less short next time. It
makes my job easier.
On the official FF forums, I ran a game using Fighting Fantasy rules, but with classes. I chose 6 classes and gave them special abilities. The system was based on the classes from the Conan RPG. Well, now I've gathered more experience, read more game systems and invented one of my own (realising that there are a lot of iterations when you invent a game system).

Now I've created a new version.  Tell me what you think - it reduces the importance of skill to just combat and the other skills are based on a 1d6 roll (like in Lamentations of the Flame Princess). You can use magic and there are 12 spells that adventurers can learn - none are super powerful, but they provide more options. None spellcasters have magic points too, as I thought you could incorporate magic items to use magic points to be activated (I have learnt from designing my system that a little 'wiggle room' is always needed and also just letting everyone start with 3 magic points seems simpler and doesn't mean that people have to choose to be all mage or all warrior from day 1).

So have a look and tell me what you think.  Happy gamebooking!

P.S. Now that I've got 4 years of posts, I'm going to be revisiting a lot more of my old 'big' posts with updates based on my experience. I'm trying to refine the gamebook writing experience.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Night Dragon playthrough

Written by Keith Martin, art by Tony Hough

February is always a short month. My total pageviews for this blog in February was lower than several of the proceeding months, which is to be expected, but has still left me thinking that I'm not keeping my readers as happy as I should. I keep telling myself 'be more funny'. As a result, today's playthrough will end each paragraph with the words 'pie in the face'.

So, Night Dragon. This is the 52nd book of the original Fighting Fantasy series, and you can tell that because it loads up several pointless little scores that it wants you to keep track of, like honour, nemesis (how aware of you the enemies are) and time. I don't think the book's actually going to need all three of these, they just strike me as extra busywork. Anyway, I roll up stats and am told that a dark elf has asked to meet me in the city of Blacksand (which as any Fighting Fantasy reader will remember, is like Ankh-Morpork but without the friendliness). He then tells me that there's an ancient dragon who's going to wake up and eat the planet or something, and a bunch of the other less-evil dragons are having a meeting to decide how to stop it. He asks me to go and save the world from this ancient, evil Night Dragon before it slays us all with a pie in the face.

So before I can say to the dark elf "Wouldn't it be more useful for you to go and make a king aware of this so that he can raise an army or something", I'm off on a quest to save the world again. I wouldn't worry too much. If 'World of Warcraft: Cataclysm' has taught me anything, it's that evil world-eating dragons can be easily handled by a time-travelling orc and a group of ten random strangers. The dark elf has given me enough gold to catch a nearby ship off to the north, so before long I'm sailing away off to the chilly north. Almost immediately, we are attacked by a large eel-type creature called a Greel, who kicks my ass with a pie in the face.

No, really, it kicks my ass. This beastie is ridiculously strong for so early in the game. After we're able to overcome it, it isn't too long before I see a body frozen in the ice out in the sea. I sail out to check and find that it has a serpent tattoo on its hand. The book tells me that this is important, maybe it will be, maybe not. Returning to the ship, I'm given a bowl of hot stewed Greel and we dock in a nearby town. I head to the local tavern, where I'm to meet one of the dark elf's friends. But when I get there, I find that the elf in question has been murdered and a bunch of dark robed assassins are waiting to stab me with a pie in the face.

I'm... going to stop doing that pie in the face thing now. It's stupid. And I'm confused. Did a giant rampaging ancient dragon from before the dawn of time hire some assassins? Anyway, the body has a plaque on him with the word 'Endimion', so I flee the room and head out into the town, aiming to find out what this name could mean.

Two days later, and I've not been able to find anyone called Endimion. But I am able to see a robed figure darting into the back of a shop. Given that I can't resist following robed figures, I sneak on in and listen as he chats with a few of his friends, discussing a ship that's due to dock soon. Heading down to the docks, I find that it's a ship, and not a person, called Endimion. It's a rather tentative connection, I know, but it's good enough.

This wildly tentative series of detective hooks does pay off, because we're able to find another dark elf who's arrived with the ship, and... the split second I meet him, he's assassinated by a robed goon. The elf babbles about Frost Giants and tells me to go to a pass far in the north-west. And here's where I start to hate the book.

I try to leave the town, but the book tells me that I need a pass in order to leave. Rather than just asking me if I have the pass, it instead tells me that I need to know the NAME of the pass, and that I need to convert the name of the pass to numbers in order to move to the next paragraph. I don't know the name of the pass, so the book sends me back to the tavern.

And I mean 'back' as in 'back in time', because I wind up entering the tavern to find that the dark elf I was to meet has just been murdered by the assassins - again. Urrgh. Yeah, the book's sent me off into one of those horrible loops where the paragraphs point to each other, round and round and round. I kill the assassins and escape the tavern, I track the Endimion to the docks, I get told to go to the north-west to play with the Frost Giants, I'm asked for the name of the pass, I'm sent back to the tavern, where I fight the assassins again... I think you can see where we're going with this.

So there you go, I'm stuck in a time warp. Death by throwing the book across the room in annoyance, I'm afraid. Seriously, it could all have been resolved by just pointing the reader to the paragraph after you leave the tavern murder scene, but NOPE. To be honest, I feel sorry for the poor dark elf contact, being doomed to be murdered by robed assassins over and over and over again, for all of time.

That's another thing about books at this point in the series, the editors just didn't give a rat's arse.... Now I do admit, I could rather simply keep playing over and over and over until I stumble across the name for this pass that I'm supposed to find. But at this point, why should I? If the book itself doesn't care, then why should I?

Nevertheless, I do care. So I read over Fighting Dantasy's playthrough in the hopes that I can pick up something that I've missed. And, finally, I decide to just cheat. Seems that I did indeed entirely miss the pass, and I quickly read through the rest of the adventure without it. The challenge on this really seems to ramp up a lot.

By the end of the adventure, you're fighting the titular night dragon who is by far one of the toughest monsters I've ever seen in a Fighting Fantasy book (with the possible exception of Legend of Zagor). Even though you do start the game with a rather slight skills boost, it'd still be a massively challenging fight. And then, to top it all off, the dragon's head does weird things... Which, let's face it, all dragon's heads should do weird things.

Aside from the rather massive editing gaff that seems to have caught me, this is a damn challenging book which feels suitably epic. I really would have liked to have seen it fixed up a bit before being released, because then it would have been a real gem. It's nowhere near as broken as Revenge of the Vampire, and from what I understand it's entirely possible to play through the entire book without falling into the same editing hole that I did. But still, it happened to me.

Guess you could say I ended this book with pie in the face. A-ha, ha ha... sorry....

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Fangs of Fury playthrough

Written by Luke Sharp, artwork by David Gallagher.

Yes siree, time for another playthrough. This time we're delving into Fangs of Fury.

This is yet another one of the books I didn't own as a kid. In fact, the only experience I had of it was with the Fighting Fantasy poster book, as it included the cover art as one of the posters. It's a rather confusing image showing what I assume to be an orc, wielding a small axe and a GIANT FLAMING SWORD. The orc seems to either be in the middle of being caught by a giant snake, or riding it from tree-top to tree-top. Both of which are unusual situations to be in.

This book changes up the formula of "go and kill evil wizard" for a bit, by asking you to go and restore the power of six stone dragons that are protecting a kingdom. Said kingdom is under attack from a typical evil baddie type person, and the eponymous YOU are asked to head off to steal some sacred fire from the heart of a volcano, so that you can re-ignite the power of the stone dragons.

And just to make sure that you don't decide to ditch the quest and go off on holiday or anything, the court wizard fits you with a bracelet that will blow you up if the kingdom is invaded. Because he's a dick like that.

Honestly, this isn't quite as mind-bendingly bewildering as your character willingly drinking poison simply to show how awesome he is (a la Eyes of the Dragon), bu
t this is definitely not the kind of thing that you would expect the good guys in any conflict to be doing. Therefore my new theory is that the invading army is actually trying to STOP the council of courtly wizards in this kingdom from summoning some kind of horrible dragon-type monster, and they've just sent me off to go and get their last requirement they need.

I know that's not the actual storyline as written, but it makes more sense. So I'm going to refer to it throughout this playthrough. Deal with it. I need some small amusement here, the book is by the same writer as the truly awful Chasm of Malice, and it shows.

My character isn't much of a combatant, but that doesn't seem to matter much because I don't run into all that much in the way of combat. The adventure starts as I'm thrown into an emergency exit tunnel at the basement of the king's castle, with words of very forgettable advice ringing in my ears. Before long I've emerged from the tunnel and I'm promptly spotted by a few goblins.

The goblins talk to me for a while, and I have the chance to try to convince them that I want to join their invading army. It seems that they think I'm just a really big, non-green goblin, because none of them even mention that I don't look at all like one of them. And neither do any of their friends for the remainder of this adventure. I don't know why, maybe a wizard did it. Anyway, the goblin eventually chucks me into a cell.

The cell hosts a crazed old priest, who tells me that he is there purely to help me on my quest. He then attempts to explain some kind of very metaphysical concept involving dice, which outright doesn't make a lick of sense. It's so badly explained that I had to read over it several times to make any sense, but I think it amounts to something like this - if I see an illustration in the book that incorporates cubes, I can roll dice and have a chance to acquire some cubes. The priest doesn't explain why I should want to do this or what benefit it has to me, and the entire thing just doesn't make much in-character sense either. This is just so jarring and poorly explained that I don't even know what the purpose of it is supposed to be.

After confusing me with his rambling diatribe about cubes, the priest breaks us all out of jail. I promptly turn to run, but am immediately caught by a goblin general who assumes that I'm one of his soldiers. Again, no idea why he'd think this. He asks for a bribe, and when I refuse to pay up he sets two of his soldiers on me. Upon killing them both, I'm promptly chucked into his regiment, who spend a few hours either training arduously or sitting about doing very little (the writing is so poorly constructed that I'm not sure which nouns the verbs are referring to at any point).

At some point, there is either a large battle or a small skirmish. I don't know which it is, because the writer doesn't tell me. I get caught up in the middle of the fight, and before long I have the chance to rescue a knight who I'm familiar with. I save his life by slaying one of the goblins, but the knight opts to take his own life instead. I can only assume that a wizard genuinely did put some kind of 'goblin disguise spell' on me at some point, because there is no justifiable reason for the knight to commit suicide at that point if he doesn't genuinely feel that I'm about to kill him anyway.

I don't get any time to figure out this predicament, though, because no sooner so I step away from the knight's body, does the goblin general knock me out and drag me away to get my head lopped off. Just before the orc executioner can chop my head off with his axe though, I am rescued by an indeterminate amount of people. I suspect it's just a lone warrior woman, but again, the book is so unclear on this that it's hard to say for sure and oh fuck why am I still reading this?

At this point in reading, I took a break to cook dinner and watch Les Miserables.

By the time I got back, the warrior woman was leading the character away from the goblin encampment and into a forest. She wouldn't or couldn't speak, so instead opted to draw some stick figures in the ground, and then ran off to fight some kind of forest monster. She leaves me alone with no indication as to who she was, or why she rescued me. Possibly this is expanded upon later in the book, but I don't survive that long.

Soon after this, I trudge along to a small cliff. I clamber down it, and meet an old sailor sitting on the beach. I know that he's a sailor because he's wearing an eye patch, because all pirates have eye patches, unless you're Johnny Depp. Who, by the way, had his first film appearance in the first Nightmare on Elm Street character, where he played a character who was entirely unlike Captain Jack Sparrow (which is now every single character he plays, even when he isn't in a Pirates of the Carribean film. Typecasting is a horrible fate).

The sailor gives me his small boat to ride out to an island, or a harbour, or to somewhere. Again, the book doesn't really give a clear explanation. What it does do, though, is tell me that when I get out into the middle of the lake/ocean/sea/body of water, I am immediately pulled under by a giant octopus monster which eats me. Which frankly comes as a bit of a relief.

This book is second only to Chasms of Malice in how dreary and awful it is. The only redeeming feature it has over Chasms is that it doesn't include that awful instant-kill attack mechanic. But this is just awful, it really is. And it comes right at the tail-end of the '30's of the series, which is no small help here. Just to explain, I tend to think that the books in the 30s were the worst the FF series had to offer. From 1-10, there was a lot of experimentation that either paid off or didn't, they were breaking new grounds. From 11-20 you had the cementing of formula and strength in ideas, and by 21-29 you had a real sense of dynamic worlds and varied encounters. I think that around 30-39, it all rather hit a bit of a wall, with books that felt samey and uninspired, and felt as if they were being rushed out to meet a deadline and to fill up the bank accounts. I think that turned around with the 40-49s, who tended to have a wealth of setting and atmosphere to fill up the gaps, and the ones released in the 50s did genuinely feel as if the series was winding down to its conclusion. This one ranks right in with the 30s.

I want to have something positive to say about this book, I really do, because I think that the internet lacks a lot of positivity. There's too many 'grumpy' or 'angry' reviewers, and it's become cynical and stale. God damn it, I want to have something GOOD to say here!!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Names, numbers and beginnings

Heaven-o, Gamebookers!  In this post, I'm asking you for a bit of advice regarding my new gamebook series (the first one will be out soon, because, at the time of writing of November 2014, I had already done 1/5 of it).

I also have my Patreon page set up. If you appreciate my work so much that you will want to pay me for it, take a look! The minimum backer level is very small.

I have three questions:  What to call it, how do you think the system will work and what should the first book be about?


So I came up with the name Cymerian for my game system before realising that it is the name of a band.  So I need to come up with a new name.  I am terrible at names.  So, what could I call it?

The first question to me is:  should I use a new fantasy name (used in Numenera for example) or a phrase from English (such as Way of the Tiger, Fighting Fantasy, Lone Wolf etc.)


Another thing I was wondering is about the stats.  The stats for abilities at the moment range from 0-3.  However, I was looking at the probability distributions for 2d6 Cymerian and I decided that, if I was going to allow Fate Points and Experience Points to do ability rerolls, maybe abilities should be allow 0 rerolls or 1 reroll (more like skills).  I want Cymerian to be as simple as possible, so I prefer a 2d6 system over the others as it requires fewer dice rolls.  A 1d6 system is not versatile enough deal with the system, I think.

The probability increase for 2 rerolls (blue) is significantly less than for 1 (orange)
0 rerolls is black.  3 rerolls is green adn 4 is yellow.

This is closer to what I wanted for the system in the first place - I wanted ability points to be spent for rerolls so that introduced more choice and resource management, but I removed that aspect because I couldn't think of a way of restoring them that would work across the series.  I did not just want to say that the stats restored at the end of the gamebook because some could be 100 sections long and some could be 800 sections long.  I then thought of restoring them at the end of a period of time, but that was also a pain because then writers would have to think about how long everything took.

So ability scores became fixed and reusable, leaving Fate Points to be the only resource left to spend.  I then introduced the idea of spending experience to get rerolls with the idea that a small amount of experience could reflect a very specific piece of knowledge of skill that the character had that would only work in this situation (like in  the wonderful Numenera) which game the player lots of options, but then I thought that there were too many - the player has abilities, Fate Points and Experience now.

So, now that there are two resources that you can spend for rerolls, abilities can have less of an effect.
 You could either have an ability or not and if you have it, you can get 1 reroll.  Any more means spending Fate Points or Experience Points (both can be used for other things, so that creates tension).

If I do this, I might have the player choose 1 skill to have when they begin and limit them to having 3 skills maximum.  It's OK, though because your character can get other skills from certain books that allow them to make life easier and give them more flavour (for example, they might be able to train in magic that allows them 1 free reroll on fate rolls as they can manipulate the laws of the universe, or they might train to be a weaponmaster and get a free reroll and bonus +1 to damage when they use a particular weapon.  However, I wasn't going to let people learn these skills easily - being determined worthy to learn them will be an adventure in itself).


One last question I have is what the debut book should be about.  Based on Alexis Smolensk's excellent book about running a game, it might be good to have a relatively safe place to start the adventure.  So I've written an adventure for a town that has its quirks but isn't very life threatening.  Upon returning to the town, instead of playing the adventure again, you roll on a random event table.  you can also avail yourself on all of the options that the town has available.

However, since character advancement is a big part of the series, I'm going to release 3 books in one go at first - one is in the town, one is in a forest and one is guarding a merchant caravan between the two.

I was also thinking about my Patreon page. What kind of rewards would you like as a backer?  Would you like to see books early?  Would you like your name mentioned? Would you like to have some say over the content? Would you like an exclusive insight into updates and what I'm working on?  These are a few thoughts I've had after looking at Scott Malthouse's and Thom Rossell's pages.

What do you all think about my questions?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Stupid decisions in gamebooks

There are a few times in gamebooks when you can really see that a decision is going to have really bad
consequences.But then they surprise us with having really good unexpected consequences.

One of the main problems with writing a gamebook is in making sure that the consequences of what people choose to do will be logical.  This requires a bit of forethought.  In RPGs, the referee has the luxury of thinking through every action players decide to take, listening to the rationale behind them, and, possibly altering the scenario to fit those choices.

Gamebook writers cannot do that.  We must think of all the likely actions that someone would want to take in the situation described and then think of the likely consequences from that action.  For some reason or another, we might want to include 'stupid' decisions.  Decisions that look obviously bad.  Or maybe they don't look obviously bad.  In that case, how can we make sure that those decisions will not be seen as unfair?  That will really kill someone's enjoyment.

Why are obviously bad options included?  Sometimes, if it looks obviously bad, it is (Ashton Saylor has one in his gamebook Castle of Bones where the character can choose to jump off a cliff.  With the consequences you would expect).  Other times, you don't know where the consequence will lead, and it looks stupid, but it actually produces good results (the fortune teller scene in the Castle of Lost Souls by Dave Morris and Yve Newnham is an example of this.  The best way to get the ball is to ask her for a drink.  That way, you distract her, get her drunk and manage to get back to her tent to get the crystal ball (there are other, non-castle examples).
How does taking a dump affect my initiative?

So why have obviously bad decisions?  A lot of gamebooks seem to have one early on (Demons of the Deep, Fellowship of Four), maybe to demonstrate what is expected of the hero(es) in those books.  In Demons of the Deep, the stupid decision is swimming to the surface where the pirates are (you can tell from the title where you are supposed to go) and in the Fellowship of Four, if you mind your own business when you hear about trouble, you don't even leave the inn.  The book is saying 'You need to understand what this book is about'

That is one reason why there are stupid decisions.  A lot of gamebooks have a 'philosophy'.  Sometimes it is spelled out (take the right path in Knightmare) and sometimes, you ahve to work it out by looking for consistencies in the consequences (in the Way of the Tiger series, direct confrontation is rarely the best option.  You are a ninja after all, not a valiant knight).  So the method to finding out if a decision is stupid is looking for clues in the book.  You might not see them at first, but the more you play the book, the more you might realise that actually, you should die at point x.

It should be noted that outside knowledge of the world may be of little use here.  In a gamebook world, the
author is a god and so relying on common sense, or even the laws of physics may still yield bad results.  However, it is fine if a gamebook is not realistic, as long as it is consistent.

And then there are gamebooks full of 'which door?' choices where one leads to success and one leads to death.  If there is no information to help you with this choice, then you cannot make a stupid decision, even if it is the death door as there was no thinking or logic or information involved in the process, so, in this case, success is based on luck (or prior playthroughs) rather than clues.

One reason why an obviously bad decision is included is that maybe the author does not see it as obviously bad.  Or maybe there is an option that you think has good consequences that turns out to be bad that the author would think is obvious.  I can't really give examples here as I don't know what the authors are thinking when they write their books, although it is for this reason I am always keen to hear how difficult people found my books and why to see if their opinion is similar to mine.  I have been guilty of making my options either too easy or completely arbitrary and I need to find a medium where there is challenge.  The author's idea of what is difficult might also be a metagame clue as to whether a decision is stupid or not.

The key to winning Creature of Havoc?
I guess that no reader will be able to guess an author's intentions completely, unless the 'philosophy' of the book was the first thing decided (so that the author can write to it consistently) and that the author also spells out the philosophy or drops some clues about it.  In other cases, a 'failsafe' might be prudent, such as ways to heal damage from stupid decisions, or fate points to avoid death etc.  That way, the one time someone doesn't get my intentions, at least they will still live.

So what am I trying to say?

  • You can't make stupid decisions in gamebooks where the decision is completely uninformed and the consequences are arbitrarily decided.  Stop beating yourself up because you went through the nondescript door that just happened to have an insta kill monster disguised as treasure.
  • A decision might be obviously stupid (for various reasons).
  • The author and the player might have different opinions over what is stupid or not.  The author needs to make apparent to some degree the 'philosphy' of the book - telling the player what is stupid and what is not (Knightmare books do this best - right hand path and don't get into any fights!)
  • No matter how obvious you make your philosphy, you might want a mechanic that gives the player 'lives' or 'chances' in case they make a 'stupid' decision.
So it seems all down to the author.  I'm sure some people don't care about/love arbitrary deaths, whether its reading or writing them, but I want to avoid giving them to my readers.

Happy gamebooking!