Sunday, September 28, 2014

Food and water in gamebooks

I'm finally getting round to writing about the things I said I would back in January 2011.  Better late than never!

So, does food restore about 17%- 28% of your entire stamina or do you lose 10%-14% of your endurance if you do not eat them? Or is food just another item that might come in handy?  Or does the gamebook rarelymention eating and drinking and lets you concentrate on other things?

It seems that food and water has mixed effects in gamebooks, but why is this?

Food, water and sword fighting in real life

We eat and we drink to prevent starvation and thirst.  It's a constant struggle to hold off suffering.  Sure, substances in the food will eventually be used by out body to help with repair and healing.  The act of sitting down to a meal and taking your time over eating and drinking will help remove some fatigue and it will leave you feeling relaxed, but wounds will not heal up before your eyes as you eat.

Now, if you look at some real life sword fighting (number 4 on the list), it seems that people do not wound each other anyway, until the killing blow it seems.

Food and water in Fighting Fantasy

So it seems that if you were engaged in a fight using the Fighting Fantasy system and you lost stamina, you are wounded.  A meal of provisions cures the effects of two wounds (such as being hit with a sword twice), so food is unrealistic.  It certainly wasn't written with simulation in mind.

Provisions also rarely come up in the text after the rules beyond buying them or feeding the odd creature, and, in most cases, we're not even told what you are eating, so they have very little to do with the narrative.  Provisions in Fighting Fantasy were there for the game - the writers needed some way to replenish stamina and came up with food and water, and, if you play Fighting Fantasy books not expecting a detailed simulation, that is fine.

Ian Livingstone changed provisions to a healing potion in Crypt of the Sorcerer and Keith Phillips used healing herbs in Seige of Sardath (a narrative choice, as your character is a woodland ranger who would know where to find them) and there were various other items in the sci-fi books that may or may not have made more sense, but it seems that provisions in Fighting Fantasy are there purely for the game.
as being worn down, then sitting down to eat provisions and restoring 4 stamina points might be quite realistic.

However, it is clear in the Fighting Fantasy rules that every 2 stamina point strike you deal is a wound, so each meal cures the damage from two wounds.  Also, you are not allowed to eat during combat, but you are allowed to eat when being pursued by a horde of zombies, climbing down a cliff or swimming across a river.  So, provisions restoring 4 stamina is not very realistic and so it is not an attempt at

Water comes up occasionally in survival situations where you are likely to not have much water (the desert in Temple of Terror, a bit of Caverns of the Snow Witch and a bit in Island of the Undead are some examples), but the rules are inconsistent.  In Island of the Undead, being thirsty causes 4 stamina points of damage in Island of the Undead, which seems a bit much (but then it is quickly restored) and 1 stamina point in Caverns of the Snow Witch (which is also quickly restored).

Food in Lone Wolf (and Sorcery!)

Most food in Lone Wolf does not restore any endurance (unless it is a laumspur meal), but if you do not eat, you will lose 3 endurance points.  This is closer to the idea that if you don't eat bad things will happen, but using this system, if Lone Wolf did not eat, he would be dead in 7-10 days.  Sure, not eating anything for a
day gives discomfort and hunger pains, but it will not bring you 10% closer to death.

It is possible for almost everyone to not eat for a week and survive, and food is rarely named, so this is added more for game reasons.Sorcery does a curious thing where food restores a small amount of stamina (2 for meal 1, 1 for every other meal) but lose 3 stamina points if you don't eat at all.  This would lead to a player death in 5-8 days.  So not very realistic from that perspective.

Also, I like this less than food restoring stamina as it makes food just one more thing that could kill you.  It always seems less fun to have a task that does nothing if you fulfill it and does bad things if you don't.

Ignoring food

So, it seems that Fabled Lands, by ignoring food and water, has the most realistic system.  It also lets you concentrate on more fun game things, such as exploring and levelling up.  There is recourse management in Fabled Lands (light sources, blessings, money), but food and water do not take part in it.  It seems to assume that if you are in good health, you will just find food and water or buy it for a negligible cost.  There is a section in book 1 where you might get enchanted to wander around for a few days without being able to do anything and you do lose stamina because you forget to eat and drink for several days, but otherwise, you don't have to think about it.

Food for narrative reasons

Some gamebooks name their food items (such as Necklace of Skulls) and you can use this food to give to people, so it has much more of a narrative purpose.  There are also situations where you might want to nameOutsider has this example, where you might find a crust of stale bread at the beginning.  You are then given the option to feed it to a guard dog, but if you do, you are chastised for trying to feed it something inappropriate.
food - for example, you might want meat to feed the guard dog.


So, it seems that if food is a big part in your system, it will not play a realistic part, but, to be honest, I doubt anyone plays gamebooks for a simulation.  A system where food has a realistic effect will be too complex for most gamebook systems (which are usually very simple).  The most realistic option seems to be ignoring food and water until it might become relevant (if you are stuck in a desert, for example).

But we don't play gamebooks for realism.  I, for one, am happy with carrying 40 stamina points worth of food around with me, and  the endurance loss in Lone Wolf is only mildly annoying.

So the conclusion is - if you want to be realistic, do not include food in the game system, but not being realistic is something we can live with and if the food can cure two hits with a bloody great axe, then no one is going to complain.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Return to Firetop Mountain playthrough

Originally published at by Justin MacCormack - Please be sure to check out the original article, and support the author by purchasing his latest book, "Return to 'Return to Oz', and other tales".

Written by Ian Livingstone, Artwork by Martin McKenna

Sometimes, they come back.

It was 1992, ten years after The Warlock Of Firetop Mountain was published. The Fighting Fantasy series had been a big hit, a huge hit. By this stage there were 49 books in the main series, not counting all of the side series and spin-off items. For the fiftieth book, Ian Livingstone wrote Return To Firetop Mountain, a book which boasts its pedigree right on the cover.

And that's a lovely cover, showing a veritable army of monsters, with the imposing mountain itself looming in the background, atop which stands the haunting visage of the now-undead warlock Zagor himself. The cover also features the letter '50' in huge, powerful lettering, making damn sure you know what number in the series you're holding. I've a sneaking suspicion that this may have been intended to be the last in the series, because of the strong theme of returning to where it all began.

Funny thing, for the 30th anniversary of FF, I was in London to get a copy of Blood of the Zombies. In 1992 on the tenth anniversary of FF, I bought a copy of Return to Firetop Mountain in London. Specifically one of the airports, while waiting for a flight back home from a peculiar adventure involving the BBC which we won't get into at this point. I hadn't even realised at the time that FF books had been out for 10 years, all I knew was that this was the fiftieth and Zagor needed to be taught a lesson.

So let's get to it. I've been spectacularly lucky with my rolls in creating my character here, with a skill of 11 and a stamina of a full impressive 24. From what I remember of the book, I need to collect dragon's teeth in order to win, just like you collect keys in the first game. Only this time, rather than stealing his treasure, your goal is to destroy the evil warlock. I have to admit, it's a more noble and heroic goal. To paraphrase from a Dungeons and Dragons game I played once, the truth of the first book is that we'd broken into an old man's home, beaten him up violently, and stolen his possessions like a group of chavs.

Eager to go and pick on the poor old man again, my adventurer has grabbed the quest to head into the mountain, where Zagor is imprisoning local villagers and using their body parts to create a whole new body for himself.... ick. I'll try not to think about that too much. Anyway, as I set out on the journey to the mountain, only to be stopped by the tavern keeper from the local town, who tells me that a pair of scouts are on their way ahead to alert Zagor's forces to my arrival. Together we duck into the undergrowth, where I find a rather nice polished shield just laying in the dirt.

Geek references FTW
The shield comes in quite useful, because the scouts attack soon after and I'm able to deflect their throwing dagger with it. Together, myself and the tavern keeper make short work of the scouts, and find a few coins marked with the letter 'Z'. I guess that Zagor is minting his own coins now. Got to admit, that's the mark of a real evil genius. I wonder what the exchange rate is between Zagor coins and the Euro right now. In fact, the British pound sterling is still very strong against the Bison Dollar, due to M. Bison's inability to kidnap the Queen.

The scouts were also carrying a scroll which puts a curse on me when I look at it, lowering my skill to a 9. Why would they even have this kind of thing? And why would they be carrying a cursed scroll around in their smelly boots? I'm sure it's some kind of evil plan of some sort. I opt to press on towards Yaztromo's Tower, which along with Port Blacksand is one of the most important (and often-visited) locations in the whole of the FF universe. I'm pretty certain that Ol' Yaz will be keen to help me. We're friends, see, from way back in the Forest of Doom days.

As I travel to the tower, things are certainly not uneventful. I am given a mushroom from a travelling mushroom seller, and am rewarded with a ring of invisibility in gratitude for saving a man who has been tied to the ground by bandits. Nearing the dwarf village of Stonebridge, I spend the night in a rickety old hut, and find a key hidden there (keys are always, always useful). I spend the night in the celler of the hut, and although I can hear scratching of claws and inhuman mutterings from the main part of the hut, but they don't come down to bother me. The next day, we arrive in Stonebridge.

The dwarves are taking a break from drinking ale and singing about gold. In fact, they have discovered a new hobby - sailing. They tell me that my buddy Yaz isn't in the tower, but has gone off on a little holiday to the village of Kaad, which needs to be said in a William Shatner voice from now on. They invite me to sail with them down the river to get to KAAAD!! so I pack my things up and go along with them.

This does not end well. Along the way we are sabotaged by a boat full of orcs, who shoot half the boat's crew. After managing to escape the orcs, we sail along until we catch sight of an important messenger bird flying over to us, carrying extremely important information for the success of my mission - but before it can arrive, a giant eagle catches the bird and eats it. And to top the day off in the best possible way, the ship accidentally collapses and we all fall into the river and the whole crew get eaten by piranhas. Except for me. I suppose I had been sure to bring a snorkel with me.

To be fair, it could have ended worse. The sky could have spat fire at me. So I guess we got out of it alright in the end. 

Dragging myself along the bank of the river, I realise that I'm probably not going to live to see Firetop Mountain. It all seems so far away. As I lay there trying to recover, I renew my determination to succeed. I refuse to just lay down and give up, even when a poisonous snake decides to crawl over me. I get up and march on towards KAAAD!!

Along the way I see an old hunchbacked man. He asks me for a gold coin, and being the generous and kindly sort, I hand over one to him. Sadly, he seems to take offense to my asking if he'll accept Zagor Money, and beats me with an ugly stick. No, really, his magically-enchanted walking stick turns me into a hunchback too. My skill score has now plummeted to a mere 7. So much for a good deed! I explain to the man that I'm not one of Zagor's minions, and eventually he believes me and apologises. But tells me that he can't fix the power of his ugly stick. Seriously, old man, why do you even have something like that?

I arrive in KAAAD!! to find that it's a plague site. It seems that Yaz's holiday out here wasn't just sight-seeing after all. I'm eventually able to track him down, or at least someone who looks just like him. I'm rather suspicious of the kindly old man I meet who claims to be Yaztromo, as I've never known him to be particularly friendly in any of the previous books. Turned out that this is indeed something of a beginner's trap, because this man is an imposter. It's a changeling monster posing as Yaz, and he proceeds to kick me around the whole town before I'm able to land a lucky blow and kill it.

I have already used up all of my Star Trek Deep Space Nine jokes about Changelings, so let's just move on. 

When I find the real Yaz, he grumbles and moans about everything, so I know it's the real him. He then gives you the means to kill Zagor - finding the gold dragon teeth that are hidden around Firetop Mountain, and also figuring out the right magic words to use them. He gives me some gold coins to buy some items, and... does not heal my hunchback-ery status ailment. Oh gee, thanks sooo much Yaz.

So after a quick bit of shopping (wherein I gather the usual dungeoneering supplies of rope, leather gloves, garlic, silver knives and the like), a friendly local elf gives me a ride on the back of a giant eagle to the base of Firetop Mountain, and we are finally ready to begin the adventure proper. With my both my skill, stamina and luck now just a mere 7 apiece. Gosh, I'm doing well at this!

I venture into the entrance tunnel of the mountain, and am confronted with the first choice from the very first Fighting Fantasy adventure - turn left or right. In Warlock, turning right leads to a pit trap, so I decide to see what new twist this book has put on this. The door into the room is boarded up, but I find a bottle on the floor that contains a small brass egg. No idea what that's doing there, or how someone managed to fit an egg into a bottle. Oh well, let's get exploring!

Eggs, eggs everywhere! Eggs!
A good few of the rooms from the original layout are sealed shut, but I eventually find one occupied by a group of skeletons, who all seem to be arguing over what to have for lunch. There's about five of the buggers, and because I'm barely able to survive a strong wind at the moment, I decide to sneak out of the room before they can stamp on me. I head into the next room I come across, which seems to be a rubbish site. I dig around and do manage to find a tin whistle and an onyx egg. Odd, I wonder why there's been two eggs already in the dungeon.

I find a chain on the wall and, hoping it's not an alarm bell, give it a good yank. It opens a secret chamber. I can't quite resist the urge to stick my hand into secret chambers, so I grope around inside it until I find a sealed container inside the chamber, immersed in enough acidic goo that is sure to ruin those nice leather gloves I'd bought. Inside the container I find a gold dragon's tooth. Not too bad, not too bad!

Then I notice something odd. Yaz told me that the dragon's teeth had numbers printed on them. This one has an icon, a little heart  surrounded by a ring of fire. No idea why this is. Could be that it's a code of some sort, which I'll decipher later in the adventure. This reminds me of an curious thing that happened a few weeks ago. I bought some incense for my flat, to create a relaxing zen atmosphere. I read the label on the dragon's blood incense, and I'm guessing that the company must have had complaints from customers because the box included a large section which read "Dragon's blood is a type of plant. This product does not contain real blood from any dragons." My mind boggles sometimes, it really does.

I figure that it's pretty unlikely that the next room would contain anything useful after that, so I skip it and instead go into the following room which appears to be a torture chamber. There's a skeleton laid out on a rack, and he's sporting a rather nice gold ring. Hey, who's averse to a little bit of looting the dead? I try to pry the ring off, when a net damn near descends on me. It's only by the luck of the dice that I barely (and I do mean barely, as if I'd rolled even one number off then I'd have been caught) avoid it.

I notice that the trap was set by a goblin, and I lose my patience. I charge after the little bugger, my low stamina score be damned, I'm not going to be caught by a damn goblin. I follow him into a tunnel, where I find the ancient sword of the first Chaos Warrior... wait, what? I... don't even... huh? I genuinely don't know what this is doing here, but eh, I take it with me planning to sink it into the goblin's head. I charge after him, scrambling through tunnels (and falling over) and leaping over piles of skulls, until I eventually admit to myself that he's escaped and I've lost him. Pah. Pah, I say. Pah, pah, and pah again.

I try to figure out where I am, and find that I've wound up somewhere completely off the map of the original game. Again, the way that the dungeon here is structured to be built 'on top' of the old one from the first book, it's very impressive! So instead of trying to figure out where the heck I've got to, I go into a nearby room and find that it's full of statues. Each of the statues look like a warrior, except with an expression of horror on their faces. Then the door behind me slams shut, and a wall on the room starts to lift up, revealing something snake-like beneath. Oh joy. I employ my amazing special technique for how to deal with horrifying medusa-type monsters - I try to run away.

Oh great, the door's locked. But not to worry, because the book gives me the option of using an item to help me. I'm so lucky that I found that polished shield at the start of the adventure, eh? Just like in the original Clash of the Titans, I'm sure that a polished shield will help me slay this monster. I turn to the section and.... oh, I can't use my shield. I don't know why, the section just simply doesn't list it as an option. Maybe I lost my shield at some point. Maybe it was rendered scratched and dented when the scouts threw a knife or two at it. Must be honest, I'm a bit disappointed that it isn't even mentioned.

Instead I have the option of using garlic, a mirror, or a tin whistle. I don't have a mirror, and garlic is for use on vampires, which leaves me the whistle. Hey, maybe medusas are allergic to loud noises? Let's try it.

No. No, they are not allergic to loud noises. I'm turned to stone on the spot. On the plus side, I like to think that I strike a stunning pose, in order to make sure that I leave a damn beautiful corpse.

Return to Firetop Mountain ranks up as one of the underrated gems in the Fighting Fantasy canon. The way that it uses the original dungeon layout as a base, but builds on top of it to create a whole different adventure is very impressive. The inclusion of the entire adventure tracking down Yaztromo is excellent, giving the player the chance to see a see and experience some classic Fighting Fantasy tropes.

The atmosphere feels rich, and the writing is very strong with Livingstone's style. It feels that there are traps and dangers around every turn, and I strongly feel that I only got as far as I did on this playthrough by luck. The artwork is among the best in the series, fully detailed and utterly vibrant. It's a real shame that this book is overlooked so often, because if the series had gone through with concluding with this book as was initially planned, it would have been a damn good send-off.

Out of all of the Fighting Fantasy books, I consider this to be an under-rated gem, and definitely suggest that you give it another playthrough today. Go on, do it. It's raining outside, you may as well put your feet up and play this for a few hours. You'll enjoy it!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Fighting without dice

Post by Paltogue.

I'm currently in the planning stages of writing a gamebook (or even a series of gamebooks) and, as a long-time fan of Fighting Fantasy, my first inclination is to go with the familiar and use FF rules, including plenty of fighting (it is FIGHTING Fantasy after all). But there's a problem, currently being discussed in blogs and on Twitter by people like Dave Morris and Matt Hill, which I want to explore in this post on Lloyd of Gamebooks.

OK, picture the situation. You're lying asleep just before dawn in a first floor bedroom in an inn, on your way to deliver an important secret message to ... well, I'm not going to give the whole game away right now, just assume it's someone important! Test your Skill. If you are successful, you wake up, having heard noise from the floor below, which sounds like someone breaking into the inn. If you fail, you remain asleep. Let's say for now you were successful (which of course depends on what your SKILL score was in the first place, in large part determined by another random roll of the dice before you started your adventure). You bolt awake, realising your enemies are coming to get you before you can deliver your message. So what do you do now? Do you grab your stuff and stand by your door, preparing to attack anyone who tries to come in (this would be the only option if you didn't pass the SKILL test just before by the way), or do you grab the first thing at hand and get the hell out of there, jumping out the window to the back street below? Now, that's a proper choice that you as the reader get to decide, and I like it, as I have no idea who or how many people are coming up the stairs to get me, and as it's near dark outside I fancy my chances with the jump (the inn isn't very tall after all). So you chose which of your possessions to grab and out the window you go. Test your Luck. If you are lucky, you land well and get to your feet. If you are unlucky, you land awkwardly and twist your knee. Lose 2 STAMINA points (and maybe even a SKILL point if I'm being mean). You stand up and see a gaunt REIVER wearing a wide-brimmed hat standing in front of you. He is holding a flaming brand in one hand, and a jagged-edged knife in the other. You must fight him!

REIVER        8            9

After two attack rounds, another REIVER, this one short and waving a sword over his head comes running towards you and joins the fight. You must fight them both at the same time.

2nd REIVER         7           7

If you survive this fight to the death, you head off into the night in the hope of escaping your pursuers.

I don't know about you, but I thought this was quite fun up till the point when I had to fight the Reivers. But suddenly I've got to stop the enjoyment for a bit, while I roll some dice a couple of dozen times (allowing for a re-roll or two, let's be honest!). That was completely BORING (and would have been even more so if you'd chosen or been unlucky enough to have to fight the four Reivers coming up the stairs to your room, each in turn)... And what is it about those bloody dice anyway, especially the one I once filled in the dimples of with a blue pen? Why does it always seem to roll a low number?! I mean, I almost had to stop reading this book I've spent a fiver on and start it all over again just because of some annoying little red cubes that don't want to roll the way I want them to. And don't get me started on the fact that I only had an initial SKILL of 8 in the first place - again the fault of the pesky dice!

Don't get me wrong, I like dice as much as the next person. They are tactile, loaded with history and (a little bit of) mystery, and they make a nice noise and movement when you roll them on the right surface. But I don't want to depend on them for enjoyment of a story. Imagine reading your favourite novel, and not allowing yourself to start each new chapter until you'd rolled equal to or over a random number between 7 and 12 with two dice. Seriously?! As a long-time fan of Fighting Fantasy, you can imagine that this has presented me with a bit of a quandary. Actually, it hasn't really. I decided, pretty much after my first combat in Island of the Lizard King in 1985 that there was no real fun to be had rolling dice to see how good at adventuring you were and then rolling some more (again and again and again and again) to see if you could continue reading the book. Nope, not for me. I loved these books, but from now on I won every fight and succeeded in every roll (and had enough gold too, at least if the amount I started with was arbitrarily decided by the author). I didn't claim to have things I didn't or have done things I hadn't, but I did keep a spare finger or three in previous paragraphs just in case the author was going to kill me off without warning (another problem with the FF approach). And that's still how I play Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, and I don't suppose I'll ever do it differently (I have tried playing by the rules many times, but I just get annoyed; oh, and curse you, Paul Mason, for your subversive ways!). Now maybe some of you are aghast at this, but seriously, how many of you really enjoy playing a book 100 times just to find out what happens if the dice go the right way for you? The internet is littered with gamebook playthroughs which (being generous) 9 times out of 10 don't get very far, even when the person doing them knows the book pretty well.

So what's the alternative for those of us wanting to write gamebooks which include some fighting? And who doesn't want fighting, really? I mean, I'm sure I can't be the only one who gets a shiver down my spine when I turn to a new paragraph and see something like BLOODBEAST plastered across the page! But I don't want that to mean "spend the next five minutes rolling dice in a monotonous fashion, after which you may have to start all over again anyway" or even "flick on to the next page, nothing of interest here YOU BIG CHEAT". Nor do I want to dodge the issue entirely and ask the reader if they want to run away or stay and get eaten/defeat the enemy automatically. That's equally boring and pointless; why include the 'fight' in the first place?

Obviously I'm not the first person to wrestle with this gamebook conundrum, so let's look at some possible solutions. First of all, we could go all Way of the Tiger ninja on the Reiver's ass, and present a range of different fighting moves, some of which will be more effective than others. But WotT still relies upon rolling dice and a lot of guesswork as to the best moves to make. I can imagine though that this is definitely an avenue we could pursue, though we would want to get rid of the dice from it completely (and perhaps simplify the kinds of moves you can make, as we're not all going to be ninjas). The recent Inkle adaptations of Steve Jackson's Sorcery! books go for a trade off between attack strength and energy levels, with textual clues as to the best approach to adopt in each attack round for each opponent. Again, this is an improvement, but it would be hard to do in a paper gamebook without dice, and in any case boils down to a set number of moves which are the same for every combat (and it sometimes feels like the combats are a rather easy formality that are only in there because this is a Fighting Fantasy adaptation). A kind of a half way house between WotT and the run away/get eaten approach is the one used in the Virtual Reality/Critical IF books, where you are presented with a list of possible actions to take, some of which you can only do if you have certain Skills. This works well, as in the example from Heart of Ice where you encounter a huge Fijian bodyguard. You can either run away, try and blag your way out of the situation, brandish your gun at him to make him back off, or fight him. This is a nice variety of options, certainly better than almost anything you'll encounter in Fighting Fantasy, but only one of them really involves you fighting, and the result is a single outcome (you lose some Life Points, then knock him out and make yourself scarce). So not really a fight as such, but let's be honest this is much better than rolling dice till you're sick and being told to turn to paragraph 236 if you win (and it's helped by the evocatively descriptive text of course). A more complex example is furnished by the Hydra in Necklace of Skulls. Here you can try to dodge, parry or attack. Each of these options leads to other similar options, and some may lead to loss of Life Points, but, depending on your Skills and what you chose before, the choices may be subtly different (you can dodge further away; you can now use a spear if you have one), or you may be returned to the original set of choices in a nice take on the repeated attack round. Depending upon your choices in this dangerous fight, you may be killed outright, suffer repeated loss of Life Points, or work out the right combination of choices to survive the fight with minimal or no injury. I think this works really well as a fight against a dangerous opponent - there's certainly a danger of injury and death, but thinking about your choices in light of your equipment and Skills should get you through. Most importantly, it's not boring or arbitrary. There is a danger of death here, but it's not one of those unavoidable Instant Deaths or the result of the author trying to kill off the reader, so I slightly disagree with Dave Morris here, who recently said on Twitter that "If you can fight you'd expect you can die, but that's always a fail for author & reader". After all, there has to be some risk in a gamebook, otherwise it's JUST a story with different ways of reading it (no harm in that of course, but that's a rather different kind of thing I think).

So I think this gives us a decent kind of fighting interaction which doesn't involve dice but which also doesn't constitute a removal of fighting from gamebooks entirely. But it does mean abandoning my nostalgic attachment to the Fighting Fantasy system which, after all, I've personally abandoned using in my own adventures years ago, so why should I inflict it on others?!

With all that in mind, how does the following version of the scenario I started the post sound? Does it capture that essence of fighting and fantasy without recourse to dice and arbitrary decisions?

You're lying asleep just before dawn in a first floor bedroom in an inn, on your way to deliver an important secret message to ... Suddenly you wake up, having heard noise from the floor below, which sounds like someone breaking into the inn. (Let's be honest, as an author we want to give the reader the chance to make decisions, not have them forced on them, so there's no value in randomly having it decided if they wake up or not.) You bolt upright, realising your enemies are coming to get you before you can deliver your message. So what do you do now? Do you grab your stuff and stand by your door, preparing to attack anyone who tries to come in, or do you grab what you can and get the hell out of there, jumping out the window to the back street below? As before, I like the idea of jumping out the window, as I have no idea who or how many people are coming up the stairs to get me, and as it's near dark outside I fancy my chances with the jump. So out the window you go. You land with an umph on the ground, but you aren't hurt. (Let's not make the reader's life a misery here by deducting Life Points - punishing them for doing the wise thing and escaping when the other option was fighting a bunch of Reivers in a bedroom is just mean.) You stand up and see a surprised, gaunt REIVER wearing a wide-brimmed hat standing in front of you. He is holding a flaming brand in one hand, and a jagged-edged knife in the other. Which of the following will you do?
  • Try to talk to him? (He will stick his fingers in his mouth and whistle loudly, and shout "He's ower here" at the top of his voice. Not good, but really, what did you think was going to happen? Another Reiver joins him for the fight.)
  • Charge right at him to try knocking him out of your way? (Good idea. He's as shocked as you are, and he's gaunt, i.e. not a big meaty bloke. You knock him off his feet and, with the stink of his beery breath oomphing out all over you, you leap over him and run off into the night.)
  • Attack him?
Of course, this last option is where it gets interesting. There's a couple of things to remember though. As an author, my job isn't (or at least shouldn't be) being the reader's enemy. I don't want my reader to die here, as I want them to enjoy the adventure and I've put them in this fix (and being down here on the street is a lot better than being upstairs with the Reivers). So I want the reader to work out what the best thing to do here is and to only get badly harmed if they do something stupid (this is a dangerous and important situation after all; you can be damned sure that this is a life-and-death situation for the person in the adventure, and I want the reader to feel a bit of that too). First things first. I neglected to tell you that you could play this adventure either as a soldier (fighting is good!) or as a friar (fighting not so good!). Also, following the lead of VR/CI, you have a list of Skills and some equipment. If you are going to get into a fight with an armed Reiver, you want to make sure you have a combat Skill, otherwise this isn't going to go so well for you. Why would you fight someone with a knife in their hand if you didn't?! (The friar may not have any combat skills.) You also want to make sure you have a weapon, otherwise it's fists against knives, and we all know how that can end (the friar has a staff and can use it for combat). So a number of variables that you already know about should dictate your actions and, if you decide to do something where the odds are very much stacked against you, don't expect it to go well. So the friar without any combat Skill who has left his staff sitting by the bed is only asking for trouble if they select the option to fight the Reiver. Better to run right at him, don't you think (especially if like me you imagine yourself as a portly and still-slightly-drunk-from-the-night-before kind of friar)? The soldier on the other hand might see combat as a reasonable option - they should have had the sense to pick up their sword from the bedside and will have a combat Skill. A quick lunge at the gaunt Reiver sends him reeling back with a cry as you thrust your sword into his shoulder. Now you can either stop to finish him off, or just run off and leave him (come on, the place is crawling with enemies, get the hell out of there unless you want another Reiver to come running at you from behind and slash at you with his sword!). If you end up having two Reivers to fight, you can't expect things to go quite as well, but unless you stand in the street shouting "Come on all of you if you think you're hard enough", it should be possible to get away from this situation with your life at least. The short Reiver comes running slashing his sword around. The gaunt one is just standing there surprised. Which do you attack first? If you go for the gaunt one, you'll certainly injure him, but the other one is already on the attack and will wound you before you can have a go back at him (if you are still alive of course). If you go for the short Reiver first, you can swipe his attack aside, perhaps even unbalancing him or disarming him, before turning to the gaunt Reiver who, by now has his defences up, but who shouldn't be too much of a problem (let's settle for a little bit of damage, not as much as if the short Reiver got a whack at you first). You knock him out off his feet and can run off into the night (again, if you are daft enough to hang around after that, you're going to have more Reivers to deal with and things aren't going to be pretty, but I should have given you enough hints by now that the name of the game is getting out of here as quickly as possible). Oh, and if you are still fighting Reivers in the bedroom, you have my sympathies. You should by now have stuck the first one to appear, shoved something against the door and dived out the window.

So I think it is possible, using a combination of textual hints, descriptions of your opponent's strengths and weaknesses, Skills, equipment, the possibility of returning to the same sets of choices, good judgement, as well as carefully graded Life Point penalties, to include an element of combat in gamebooks without belabouring it or relying on the vagaries of dice. The VR/CI system, maybe with some adaptations depending upon the kinds of Skills you offer and combats you want, seems like the best way forward. I think this can be entertaining and productive. What do you think?

The new, improved Gamebook Feed

Hello, gamebookers!  I'm just writing to tell you that I have changed the Gamebook Feed and that it
is new and improved.  I'm particularly proud of the blog now.

It used to be a collection of gadgets where each blog had a feed.  The trouble with that was that it was too busy and blogs that didn't update were taking up space.  However, after some searching and tinkering, I found a new way, where I just have a Feedly list of gamebook blogs and sites and every time a site on that list posts something, it will also appear as a post on the gamebook feed with a hyperlink.  No business, no fuss, and if one of the sites disappears, it won't make a mess.  If you want to see the list of sites I have used, I have it in Excel form and OPML (Feedly file) here.  I will try to keep it up to date.

There is also a list of websites that do not have an RSS feed and so won't work on Feedly.  I have found a website to RSS converter (there are several - just Google them), but I have no idea whether they will work if I stick the URLs into Feedly yet - if there's any social media whizzes who know the answer, I would be grateful if you could tell me.

I'm also going to tell you how I did it in case anyone wants to create a similar sort of feed for other topics.  Enjoy it!

So how does this feed work?

Well, first of all, I needed to know which blogs and websites I needed to add to the feed.  I then signed up to Feedly and added all of those websites to one Feedly group.

Then I signed up to If This Then That.  I clicked on Create a recipe and then the big this.

I then had a massive list of apps and websites.  I found Feedly and clicked on it.

I then chose "New article from category" and then chose the Gamebook Blogs category on the dropbox.

I then clicked the large that and chose blogger as my "that" action.

I then clicked "Create new blog post"

I then got this page:

Almost done!  Myself and some other people really wanted the link to the pages hyperlinked rather than be a copy and paste job (the script I was given at first did not hyperlink the link), so after some tinkering, I managed to get it to work with this script:

Where it originally said Article URL, I put on the left ,<a href="{{ArticleURL}}"> and to the right of it, I wrote </a>, turning it into hyperlink.  I also experimented with more and fewer <br> (breaks), but that is just window dressing.

And there you have it. I'm writing this because it took me about 4 hours looking for websites to help (I eventually got Feedly from Charlie Feming on Twitter.  Thanks Charlie), finding the websites to add to the feed (which you won't have to do if you want the same feed, because you can just upload this OPML file of my feed) and then work out how to hyperlink the links.  So, if you want to do something similar, it will take you a lot less time.

So there we go.  One lesson I have learnt is that if you have a bit of time to search and/or talk to your online network, anything is possible.

Happy gamebooking!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Down Among the Dead Men 2014 - the App

Down Among the Dead Men has been floating around on the seas of fiction since 1993, when Dave Morris wrote it as book number 2 in the Virtual Reality Adventures series. The story is excellent, a seafaring tale of revenge against a truly despicable pirate foe, the black-hearted bastard Skarvench. In game terms, it allows you a wide variety of character builds, and presents a ton of different routes to explore, particularly in the early parts of the story. And that equates to a gamebook you can reread again and again. And indeed I have; my own copy of Down Among the Dead Men is a battered, ex-library copy. I've battered it quite a bit more in the years that I've owned it.


When I learned that Inkle had converted this book to app format, my first thought was that it was an excellent choice - containing no randomness, no dice-rolling combat, it seemed a fine candidate for conversion into a gamebook app with a fairly literary tone. My second, contrasting thought was to wonder if it would hold up against the interactive fiction of the last few years. Y'see, the challenge to 'beat the book' is quite out of vogue, these days. Story is all-important; you can complete the story well, or complete the story badly, but death or truly miserable defeat are increasingly rare.

I needn't have worried. One of the first choices you get to make in Down Among the Dead Men is about the nature of the world in which you live - is it an optimistic land of high adventure, a grim world of harsh realism, or somewhere in between these two extremes? For those learned in the lore of interactive fiction, it's quickly apparent that you're choosing your difficulty level - or, if you prefer, the type of reading experience you're about to have. Will you read the book as originally written some twenty-plus years ago, or do you prefer to read a story where you need not fear the protagonist's sudden death, and any unfulfilling lack of dramatic resolution that results from such a fate?

This update to the original book by the guys at Inkle is a lovely touch, and an example of the sort of flexibility that allows stories told through the Inkle motor a great deal more nuance than those in the classic gamebook format. Difficulty levels aside, other nuances crop up throughout. When I played as a changeling sorcerer, who knew nothing about my origins, I passed mysterious buildings that seemed oddly familiar, and I wondered whether I might once have lived there, once. When I played as a pirate queen, disguised as a man, I struggled with the difficulty of hiding my sex during my travels with my fellow pirate escapees. Like DM's previous Inkle project, Frankenstein, Down Among the Dead Men keeps the game mechanics - your character's skills, and so on - hidden away 'under the hood'. And so much the better - if the game does your bookkeeping for you, why bother with them? If you've never read 1993's Down Among the Dead Men, you'll have little Inkling of the variables at play here. I came away from this story kind of wishing that I didn't know the original so well, in fact - I'd have loved to approach this app with no knowledge of the gamebook elements at work.

Another point worth mentioning is the price of this app. Just now it costs 0.89 euros for iPhone/iPad, or whatever that is in your local currency. That's super-cheap. And probably a bit less than I paid for my battered ex-library copy of the book back in the day.

(Review by Paul Gresty)

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Crimson Tide playthrough

Originally published at by Justin MacCormack - Please be sure to check out the original article, and support the author by purchasing his latest book, "Return to 'Return to Oz', and other tales".

Written by Paul Mason, artwork by Terry Oakes

I may have rented 'The Crimson Tide' from the local library once, as a kid, and don't remember it making much of an impression upon me. But if there's one thing I've learned in the year-and-a-half I've been doing these blog posts (bloody hell, that's far longer than I thought I'd be doing them!), it's that the books may surprise me.

'The Crimson Tide' is a book I fully intend to get through without making a single menstruation joke. It has a very similar setting to Sword of the Samurai, so it's likely to be quite a challenge. It has two new stat gimmicks, first being Ferocity. Ferocity apparantly helps to fuel me in combat, in theory at least.

But after reading the rules, I can't find any way in which it impacts on combat directly, which makes it feel a little pointless. Age, however, is a nice stat. As you age, it has a knock-on effect on Ferocity. I'd like to see this implimented in a more grand manner, with your skill points and stamina rising and falling as you grow into a full adult, and then slip into old age. That's not quite how it works in this particular book, but think of the potential that it could have.

So let's get stuck in. We start with out hero, a young peasant child in a rice field, witnessing his family being killed by evil samurai. This fills me with rage, so with a gang of other kids who've survived the attack (each of who, I am sure, will die off very shortly thereafter) we head off on a rip-roading rampage of revenge. Or something.

The gang head out on their journey, and quickly make reference to the enemies being from the nearby nation of Hatchiman, which I remember from 'Sword of the Samurai'. That's a nice touch. We promptly wander off into a field, and get attacked by a giant mudworm, which is an odd creature because it's stamina is about half it's skill score, resulting in it being hard to hit but squishy once I manage to do so. Surprisingly, none of the companions are horribly killed yet, which I feel is a bit unusual. This is a Fighting Fantasy game, after all, so any companions I have should be very dead in the next segment or two!

I'm told that I remember that I have an uncle who lives around the area, who I decide to seek out. I'm told to record the word 'art' on my sheet, which seems rather random as it has no context. Is my uncle an artist? Who knows. Our entire entourage find a boarding house to sleep for the night, and I sneak out to go and visit my uncle. When I find his house, his wife gives me a bag of money and he tells me that I should go and train in the fighting arts. Nice that I have a family member who is suggesting I become a brutal vigilante.

I decide to sneak back to the boarding house to meet up with my friends again, and go to talk to the local magistrate, hoping that he'll be a little more disposed towards sending out men with swords and axes whilst I relax a while and let him deal with it. The magistrate instead decides to laugh at me, whilst his guard thumps on my head with a stick for his amusement. Eventually I tell him that maybe he shouldn't be such a corrupt git, and his guards thump me a bit harder. The magistrate laughs as his friends beat up the homeless poor person, which shows us all where David Cameron learned his hobbies.

I trudge back to the boarding house once again, and together we plan to head to the monastery in the north, where we will learn the secret arts of the kung-fu monks. I hope. To my surprise, none of my companions are dead yet, either. I'd expected that at least one of them would have exploded from spontanious human combustion by this point, at least.

On the journey, we set up camp beneath a rather nice tree, and as I stand guard that night we are attacked by another giant worm. This worm is different from the previous one, because once I've killed it, it transforms into an old man. My entire party gather around and stare at it in confusion. "Who's that guy?" they ask. I shrug. Y'know, I can't help but imagine that I simply told all my companions that the old man was really a giant worm monster, to cover up the fact that I'd beaten an old man to death in the middle of the night by mistake.

We continue our travels. One year later...

Yeah, really. I'm instructed to add 1 year. You know what that reminds me of? The PC game 'Grim Fandango'. It was one of Lucasarts' later point-and-click adventure games, except it was keyboard-driven so not quite 'point and click'. But a lovely game, and it was spread over a period of four years. I suddenly want to play it again. The way it handled the transitions between the times was amazing, and gave the entire game a sense of being a true epic.

A year later, we arrive in a city. Our group are exploring the marketplace, when suddenly a large fight breaks out and a guard starts to attack me. Having no chance to surrender or run away, I fight him to the death. As I drop him, twenty of his best friends jump on me and drag me off to jail. A few days later they chop my head off because, apparantly, I'm a public nuisance.

Now I'll give the book this, it does give us an option where if my stamina point lands at exactly 1 during that fight, I may perhaps survive, I'm not sure, I killed the guard outright so didn't have the chance to take that path. But this is rather anticlimactic, and as it's an instant death segment that you're given because you WON a combat, that always rather leaves me feeling a bit unhappy with how the adventure turns out...

Having said that, this is a pretty good book. The atmosphere is lovely, it's nicely laid out, the encounters are solid, it has a good pace and feels like a sweeping epic. Overall I rather like this one. I'd like to give it another shot sometime.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Testers wanted for Destiny Quest Infinite

Hello all!  This email just appeared in my inbox.  Maybe YOU can be a HERO and help here release an app of the beloved Destiny Quest gamebooks, written by Michael J. Ward.

Development for our digital gamebook DestinyQuest Infinite is nearing an end, and we're ready to squash some pesky last bugs and put a polish on the user experience. Whether you’ve been a gamebook fan since you were a kid or you’ve never even heard of the genre before, we want to make sure DQI is fun to play and easy to understand. 

Now we need some help: we're looking for testers for our game-meets-book.  We're interested in people from different walks of life and different levels of experience with gamebooks.

To apply, anyone interested just needs to fill out this form: We'll then select a handful of people to test with. 

You can find more information about DestinyQuest Infinite on our website or by following us on Twitter @QuestForge.

Below is some additional information:

Testers will:

Play through the Prologue and one quest of DestinyQuest Infinite in a Skype session. (This should only take about 30 minutes).
Share your thoughts as they play: what's good, what't bad, what’s confusing.
We'll do the rest! There is no technical knowhow or previous experience required.

As a way of saying thanks, testers will receive:

A free copy of Act 1 of DestinyQuest Infinite when it becomes available.
A listing of their  name (or nickname) on our website.
A chance to play DestinyQuest Infinite before anyone else!

Again, the form is located at this link: . We'd appreciate if you spread the news. 


Testing the feed out

Hello  gamebookers!  I've been tinkering around on the internet to find ways to bring you news more Gamebook Feed should automatically make a post linking to it.  Hopefully this works!
easily.  In doing so, I've discovered Buffer, Feedly and If This Then That.  Between them, they have managed to get my feedly posts on my Twitter feed.  However, that is not all.  If this works properly, then whenever a blog about gamebooks makes a post, then the

If it does, then I won't need to post feeds around the blog.  You will just get posts on the blog whenever someone else does it.  If you want to see which sites and blogs I am using, have a look at this Google Drive folder.  The list of websites in the Excel document is a list of websites that when they get updated, I will automatically tweet the updates on Twitter.  The OPML file is my Feedly file.  I have two categories - for Fightign Fantazine is the sites that I look at for Fightign Fantazine news and they are the ones I tweet about automatically.  Gamebook Blogs is the category that will get mentioned on the Gamebook Feed.

Let's see what happens.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Clash of the Princes playthrough

Originally published at by Justin MacCormack - Please be sure to check out the original article, and support the author by purchasing his latest book, "Return to 'Return to Oz', and other tales".

Written by Andrew Chapman and Martin Allen, artwork by John Blanche

Clash of the Princes is perhaps the most unique of the Fighting Fantasy series. It's slightly rarer than Steve Jackson's Sorcery series, and is the only FF book (outside of Fighting Fantasy, The Riddling Reaver, and Dungeoneer/Blacksand/Allansia) that have multiplayer capabilities. It also predates these multiplayer books by several years, I believe. What is the big pull for this book? Well, it's two-player. And it's two books.

Two-player gamebooks weren't unknown, but were better known under the 'Duel Masters' series, which really captured and perfected their form. With Clash of the Princes, each book could be played solo, unlike the 'Duel Masters' series. But the real heart of Clash of the Princes was the impression of freedom that it gave the players. The very first choice you make in the game, for instance, is if you want to work together or not.

But as I said, it's also one of the rarer Fighting Fantasy adventures. This is mainly because it was sold as a box set of both books. Many bookstores simply didn't know what to do with this big box - split them up? Display them seperate? And then there was the price tag, which was a hefty £3.50. Can you imagine, two books costing that much? For 1986, that was crazy money. Let's say that you're 9 years old, your parents usually can be coaxed into indulging you with a Fighting Fantasy book for £2 every couple months or so. Now try begging them for one that's almost twice that much!
Of course, books don't cost anywhere near that little these days. Except for my book, that is - available on Kindle now, if you're interested.

But anyway, the first book (The Warrior's Way) sets you as Clovis, fighter-prince. The second book (The Warlock's Way) sets you as Lothar, mage-prince. Both princes are sent out into a world full of crazy mad things that want to kill them, and told to find a magic gem in order to prove that they are worthy of ruling their nation. I am unsure if this is a good means to select a ruler. On one hand, I doubt that David Cameron could complete a quest any more dangerous than kicking a disabled person. On the other hand, I can't really picture Clovis's great-grantfather, Mad Douglas the Demented, would have much grasp on the economic nuances of ruling an entire empire when his only claim to rulership is that he headbutted a gryphon to death and nicked its ruby.

Clovis, the warrior, plays exactly the same as your typical Fighting Fantasy adventurer. Lothar, the warrior, has less skill points - but makes up for this with a number of magic points, which he can use either when the text allows him to cast a spell, or before combat to give him a variety of stat boosts or injure his opponent. I'd generally suggest that of the two players, the less experienced FF player take Clovis for the first few playthroughs.
Me and my partner decided to give this a shot. In order to keep both players synched up, we are required to record Status and Action scores. Both scores are essentially little more than flagpoints, but they work very smoothly. For instance, we might come to a section where Lothar has the chance to lay a trap for Clovis. If he does, he would change one of these two scores to a set number, and then continue on his way. When Clovis gets to that point, he is asked to look and see what number is set. If the score is set to the number associated with the trap being set, then Clovis would fall into the trap - otherwise, play continues as normal. This method of synching is very smooth and works surprisingly well.

As an example for this - the first choice we are asked to make is to decide if we want to travel together. I was playing Lothar, my partner was playing Clovis. Lothar wanted to travel together, so the text told me to change the Action score, and wait until the Status score changed. When Lothar changed the Status score, the text told me to turn to a paragraph ("If the Status score changes to X, turn to section Y. If it changes to anything else, turn to section Z.") Section Z would mean that Clovis didn't want to journey wth me and ran off on his own. You follow? No? Tough!

We decided mutually to travel off together. It wasn't long before we come across a villager who tells us that his home has been over-run with orcs. Those pesky orcs, they're worse than woodlice. We decide to split up, with Clovis charging in through the door whilst Lothar opens the window and chucks spells into the house, assuming that the villager doesn't mind the inside of his home being consumed in a myriad of fireball spells. Unfortunately, Lothar's plan fell apart when he got caught in a magical rope snare that was waiting at the window, leaving Clovis to chop his way through a bunch of unhappy orcs.

Clovis freed poor Lothar and claimed the majority of the loot for his trouble. Together the two hurried along to their next location, a large bridge across a vast river. The bridge, more a small fortress, had an upstairs area which was abandoned. Together the two princes hurried upstairs, only for Clovis to be caught by a giant moth. Lothar saved the day by turning the moth into a mouse (he had the option to cast a fire spell, but given that Clovis' player was screaming for him not to use any fire because that would result in surely certain death, he went for the more sensible choice of spells). Lothar took some of the moth's silk as a reward, and then promptly fell down a hole in the floor and got swept away by the river.

With both princes seperated, they began their adventures apart. Clovis crosses the bridge and ventured north, going onwards until his path ventured into a small valley. The walls of the valley grew narrower and narrower, until they were wide enough for only one person to walk. Then Clovis seen someone in the distance. It was himself.

Realising that he was standing in front of a giant mirror that some mad bugger had installed in the middle of a ravine (and really, who does all this stuff? Fighting Fantasy books are replete with odd bits of geographical features that could only have been put there by mad buggers), Clovis stands around looking confused for a while. Then his reflection steps out from the mirror and tries to kill him. It's a tough fight, because the mirror image had the same stats as Clovis, but Clovis is able to win through. No sooner has he killed his reflection, however, than Clovis begins to fade away. Without a mirror of his own to create a new reflection, he fades out of existence.

Lothar, meanwhile, fares no better. He drags himself out of the river and trecks across the landscape for a while until he encounters a lake. A group of boatmen tell him that it is the Lake Of Death (with capital letters, no less), and that it is filled with venemous, flesh-eating fish, which are also invisible!

Lothar, being no rube, tells then "You're having a laugh, mate. Pull the other one!". He isn't stupid enough to fall for such a blatantly fake and utterly moronic story, especially not when it's coming from a bunch of boatmen who are asking for almost every penny Lothar has in order to ride him across the lake, which is only a yard deep anyway. So the warlock-prince wades out into the lake to cross it. Whereupon he is promtly eaten by venomous flesh-eating invisible fish.

So ended the royal line.
I like to think that in the aftermath of this tragedy, the regent decrees an end to mad buggers installing geographical features at random and a cull on all implausable nonsensical monsters. But frankly, that wouldn't be half as much fun. Early FF books really captured this sense of whimsical madness perfectly, and this is a wonderful example.

Clash of the Princes plays spectacularly. It has a whimsical atmosphere and a system that compliments it excellently. It is also fiendishly difficult in the traditional Fighting Fantasy manner. Playing it is a joy - the game advises that you play in silence and only talk with the other player when instructed to, but we had so much fun comparing the madness that occured when we went our seperate ways that we couldn't resist speaking. I would recommend that if you love your Fighting Fantasy books, scrape your way through ebay to find a copy of this one. It tends to go for about £15 these days, but it's worth it.