The Lindenbaum prize for short gamebooks is running! Entries accepted from 1st December 2021!

Sunday, June 27, 2021

News roundup and future events for June 2021

 Hi all! The months are flying by. June is almost over and we are now entering summer. Here's the latest from the gamebook world.

Immersive Authorship - Digital Writes - STOP PRESS

Keith Phillips (of Siege of Sardath fame) is helping young people write an awesome gamebook. If you want to join the production group and get guidance from an FF author, click on the link above.

Story Mechs

Story Mechs is a great interactive experience run by Sam Richards where you vote on the choices in a story. Sam has just finished his latest story, the Adventures of Molly.

Here is a summary of the next adventure:

The story is a videogame parody inspired by the Dark Souls series. The adventurers will be taking on the role of a low-ranking boss monster who is feeling disillusioned with his monotonous role.

The next adventure is set to start in September. Keep your eyes peeled!

David Lowrie

David Lowrie has released a new book which is a mixture of novel and CYOA - Varney the Vampyr. You can get it on Kindle and paperback from Amazon.

Don Bosco

Don Bosco has released LAST KID RUNNING _____ Night of the Six-Headed Robogator. You can get it from various places if you follow the link.

Martin Noutch

Martin Noutch has released Steam Highwayman 3: The Reeking Metropolis. You can get it on paperback from Amazon.

Lone Wolf

You can now Pre-Order Lone Wolf 27: Vampirium collector's edition now! It also comes with a bonus adventure, The Shadow Stalkers.

Gamebook News

Gamebook News has several new articles about recent gamebook releases.

Gamebook Academy

Gamebook Academy has posted a new interview with David Lowrie, author of many great horror gamebooks. Interview with David Lowrie

Samuel Isaacson

Samuel Isaacson has written a new blog post: Seven steps to playtesting

Current Kickstarters

Move aside, Spinal Tap. Swen Harder is doing a Kickstarter for a gamebook called Metal Heroes and the Fate of Rock to create the "Loudest gamebook on Earth". I wonder if your character can die in a bizarre gardening accident. This is already funded.

Metal Heroes and the Fate of Rock [ENGLISH HARDCOVER] by Swen Harder — Kickstarter

Delta Dreams is doing a Kickstarter for a 4 gamebook series relating to Lovecraftian lore. This is already funded.

Arkham Archives: the Complete Collection by Delta Dreams — Kickstarter

Storymasters Tales is making an interactive adventure! The Kickstarter has not started yet, but you can sign up for notifications.

Storymaster's Tales Spoken Adventures Game-Map. by Oliver McNeil — Kickstarter

Upcoming events

Interactive Fiction and Gamebook Discussion Group

July's book will be the Druids of Pneuma by Jam Hirons.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

"Trial and error" gamebooks

I recently played Warrior: A Legend begins as part of the Facebook Interactive Fiction and Gamebooks discussion group. I died a lot. I died for various reasons - attacking creatures instead of fleeing from them, using the wrong item, taking the wrong turning. 

It made me realise that there is a gamebook type that is out there, which I call the trial and error gamebook.

I'm still working on this problem.


What do I mean by a trial and error gamebook?

There are many "which door" choices - choices where you have no idea which choice is the best choice.

The "wrong" choices end in sudden death, or, at least, punishment.

There may or may not be random elements.

Winning the book is done by making the choices and seeing if they are the correct ones

A simple trial and error gamebook would have the consequences to a player's choice happen immediately after the choice. It could be a literal which door choice where one door leads to death and the other door moves on to the next stage. Or it could be a case where you have to take an item from a list of items and then if you picked the wrong item, you will die.

Hang on - isn't this bad game design?

I guess it depends on your frame of mind. So, years ago, I would have said that it was, hands down. I did not like arbitrary decisions. However, this was from the frame of mind that I did not want my character to die. However, if you don't mind character death, then it is no problem at all. There's still plenty of entertainment in the flavour of the game - what items you get, what spells you get, what characters you meet and what the most entertaining way to die is.

So, it is not necessarily a bad idea, and I don't think I'm the first one to know this. After all, some of the most popular gamebooks are trial and error gamebooks. Deathtrap Dungeon is a trial and error gamebook, as is any Choose Your Own Adventure gamebook.

Also, trial and error gamebooks are good ways to practise gamebook writing. The most simple trial and error gamebook would have 2 choices per section where 1 choice leads to death and the other leads to the next choice. This is a simple way to learn gamebook writing and it is in fact one of the exercises in Write Your Own Adventure by Martin Noutch, writer of the Steam Highwayman series and teacher who has done these exercises in classes.

Why play a trial and error gamebook?

The joy in a trial and error gamebook lies in cracking the correct sequence. Once you have done that, you can have the satisfaction of getting to the end. I think they appeal to people who want to win and who want to have bragging rights for cracking a system. I wouldn't say that they appeal to puzzle solvers as I define puzzles as problems where you are given enough information to solve them and when you do, you know the answer. Since the choices are arbitrary and you can't know if you are correct or not, then they are not puzzles.

How long should it be?

The length of the book is important here. The longer the book, the more time it will take to complete. This might sound super obvious, but people only have so much time and can stand so much. Personally, I quite enjoy a trial and error gamebook of 200 sections or less for a casual playthrough. I find anything more than that more involved.

Ways of making trial and error gamebooks more elaborate

Hit points

Hit points provide options other than success or death. Maybe you have 3 hit points and you lose 1 with every wrong choice which means that you could have 2 chances at getting things wrong.

More than 2 options in some choices.

The more options there are, the more variance there is. You could make it simple and have x options with 1 success and x-1 sudden deaths or you could make it more elaborate where option 1 is success, option 2 is sudden death, option 3 is success but you lose hit points, option 4 is success with a bonus idea etc.

Delayed consequences

Instead of having a choice where death or success is immediate, maybe have the consequences appear later. Warning, though! If there's a sudden death for something you did about 100 sections before, then that could get frustrating. That would just lead to wasted time.

Have a "philosophy of success" for the gamebook

At first glance, the correct choices may seem arbitrary, but as you experience more of the book, you might notice some themes come up. Maybe all the monsters you come across are too strong to fight and so you have to use your wits to defeat them. Maybe you have to be polite to goblins. Maybe left turns lead to death. It could literally be anything. These themes act as clues which make the gamebook less arbitrary as the player plays the gamebook more. The gamebook could drop cryptic or even obvious clues about the themes or it could not mention them at all and make the player work them out.

Have "save points" 

Instead of dying and starting from the beginning each time the "wrong" choice is made, if you make the "wrong" choice, you go back to the beginning of a section.

Make what looks like a bad choice actually be a winning choice

Some choices are never completely arbitrary. Entering a room full of snakes sound more dangerous than entering the empty room, but hang on. What if the snakes are an illusion and they disappear when you enter to reveal the key to the treasure chest? Then actually, what appears to be the worst choice is actually the best choice. Personally, I have a blindspot for this tactic - I just discount what looks like a bad option which leads me to not explore failure dice rolls or what looks like suicide, which would mean I would take longer to win the book.

Random elements in trial and error gamebooks

Random elements in trial and error gamebooks make them more difficult to complete, because in addition to making the correct arbitrary choices, you just have to be lucky as well. This might be frustrating if it's the one thing that prevents success, but it can also be exhilarating to succeed at a tricky roll. If there are random elements as well, then you just need to accept that it will be harder to succeed at the gamebook, because even if you have the optimum choices, it is still possible to lose (or you could just cheat and ignore the rolls).

Things to think about with trial and error gamebooks

Since death comes easily in a trial and error gamebook, they would not be good for a gamebook series where you want your character to grow and advance over a series of several books. They are better for one shot adventures.

Examples of trial and error gamebooks

Choose your Own Adventure books

There is no game system in these books. They simply involve a series of choices and most of them have arbitrary results.

Amazing


Ian Livingstone Fighting Fantasy gamebooks

These books usually involve you taking the correct arbitrary route through a dungeon or overland to find the correct arbitrary items in order to defeat the correct arbitrary creatures.

Cutting


Knightmare gamebooks

These books involve you taking the correct items from a selection of items and going through the correct portals and approaching the characters in the correct way. These books had the philosophy that violence was usually not the answer and they also have clues in them.

Treemendus


Warrior: A Legend begins

This is a new book by Lukas Latham and Adam Mitchell which involves you exploring a dungeon to reach the end. It is a great gamebook worth checking out. Another book is in the works.

Adoorable


Sunday, June 13, 2021

Modifiers vs rerolls vs tables

 When you have a game system in your gamebook, the chances are they are to show what your character is good at and how good they are at it.

Also, you might want to give the character opportunities to get better at these things, such as with armour, tolls or magic items. Aside from winning a book, getting the highest stats possible is probably the second best measure of success (possibly tied with getting the most treasure or most magic items).

For example, the SKILL score in Fighting Fantasy is mainly a measure of fighting ability. The higher the character's SKILL score, the better they are at fighting. This is shown by rolling 2d6 and adding the results to SKILL. 

Another method of showing that someone is good at something is allowing them to reroll dice and picking the best option. This is my main mechanic in SCRAWL, but it pops up in other games (not usually as the main mechanic). It appears in blessings in Fabled Lands, Advantage in Dungeons and Dragons and occasionally in Fighting Fantasy.

Another method is by making a die roll and then referring to a table to see what the result is based on the roll and/one of your stats. This is how combat is determined in Lone Wolf. It is also how damage is determined in Advanced Fighting Fantasy.

Seems clear enough


However, adding random elements and numbers into a gamebook can come with problems because you then need to make sure that the gamebook isn't a cake walk or impossible. This is a tricky balancing act.

So how can you show that someone is good at something and what are the good and bad points of each method?

Modifiers (or stat scores that you add to dice rolls)

Modifiers add or subtract things from the dice rolls.

The good thing about modifiers is that they are the easiest way to see progression. Someone with a +3 modifier can easily see that they are better than someone with a +1 modifier. Modifiers also have no ceiling or floor (unless the game imposes one), so you can always get better and better and increase your modifier to as high as you can.

How else can you give the right stats for a 
giant, errrr tiger person.


If they are not carefully controlled, modifiers can make the game either way too easy or way too hard. Sure it's fun to get a +4 attack strength weapon, but now all combats lose their tension. Also, a spell might make you lose 4 SKILL instead of killing you, but that is basically a death sentence. 

The simplest way to control modifiers is to limit them to make sure that you don't give out too many or make them too big. 

Also, the range of the starting modifiers is always important. There are many Fighting Fantasy books that can be fixed simply by giving the starting character a SKILL score in a smaller range of 7-12. For example, the Warlock of Firetop Mountain has a lot of SKILL 5 goblins and orcs at the beginning. This makes combat busywork for anyone with a SKILL of 10+. It also requires you to defeat a SKILL 10 STAMINA 10 iron cyclops to get the treasure and kill the warlock without combat. That is very unlikely to do with a SKILL of 7. If the SKILL range was 9-11 or even 8-10, then then it will still be challenging without being impossible.

Another way of making sure that modifiers are not too high or too low is with a points buy system. Advanced Fighting Fantasy 2nd edition did this because the first edition had characters with a SKILL between 7 and 12. Since initial SKILL also determined the number of special skill points you could get and the special skill points were added to SKILL in tests, a SKILL 12 character way outclassed a SKILL 7 character.

This kind of system is also the reason why you can't travel the whole world in Fabled Lands all at once. Someone who starts in book 1 as a level 1 character can't just wander over to book 4 where the tests are catered to a level 4 character. Also, you can start in book 7 and head over to book 1 to steamroll over everyone.

Makes you wonder why the people of Nerech
don't just invade Sokara.


So modifiers are great if you want to make your character have no ceiling to their power, but you need to be very careful with your numbers to make sure that the game isn't either impossible or easy busywork.

Rerolls

Rerolls allow you to roll more dice than you need and then take the best result. If you want to have a penalty using rerolls, you can make someone roll again and take the lowest result.

The main thing about rerolls is that they don't increase the maximum score or lower the minimum score.

I use rerolls and not modifiers in SCRAWL. The reason for this is that SCRAWL is intended as a game where you can play any adventure in any order and at any stage of your career as an adventurer. This means that every test will have a difficulty between 3 and 6, so anyone can succeed or fail at them. The greenest adventurer could roll a 6 with a single die. The veteran can roll 3 dice on a difficulty 3 test (they have to roll at least 1 3 or higher) and all 3 of them could be below 3 so they fail. This means that no adventurer is excluded from an adventurer based on their experience level. This is the big advantage rerolls have over modifiers.

If I had modifiers in SCRAWL and started having difficulty 7 tests (where the character has to roll a 7 or more on 1d6), then any character who is not experienced enough to have the modifier is excluded.

Of course, some people might not like rerolls for the same reason. Having more rerolls might make the game easier, but it might not show too much progression as no matter how many rerolls you get, you can't get higher than the maximum dice roll. Rerolls worked for SCRAWL because it is an open game world where a character of any experience level could go anywhere in the world.

What? So a normal human couldn't survive this?


Tables

A table will take your result and then assign another number based on what the table states. The most common example of this is the Lone Wolf combat table.

If you squint at it, you see a puppy.
I'm not telling you what image this one is hiding.

Tables give you a lot of power over your game system. They allow you to have whatever number you want based on the difficulty. They allow you to limit bad effects and good effects so they don't go crazy.

If you look at the Lone Wolf table, then you will notice that the numbers are skewed in Lone Wolf's favour which means that combat is not so deadly for Lone Wolf. It also limits the bad effects against Lone Wolf as the effects are the same whether Lone Wolf's CS is 11 higher or 20 higher. This means it doesn't make combat a walkover for either side if the differences are obscene.

So the tables give you a lot of control and they let people increase their scores to as high as they want to be. The disadvantage is that they are not very elegant - the numbers are all there for you to see. Also, it increases the time as you both have to roll a die and then refer to the table.

So hopefully, this will give some ideas on which system to use to show progression and how to make sure the system stays both challenging and fair.

Happy gamebooking!

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Road Trip Kickstarter


Hi all! I've found a new Kickstarter that ends in 56 hours at the time of writing - I didn't know about it in May and it will be over before my next update in June.

This one is called Road Trip, an Immersive Puzzle Adventure Fiction adventure (IPAF).

What is an IPAF? Well, this is the explanation on the Kickstarter:

"Simply put, IPAF (Immersive Puzzle Adventure Fiction - a genre I created in 2018) is a cross between a point-and-click video gamea pick your own adventure book and a solo rpg twisted with a dark mystery novel."

Leona also created Omniverse which is along similar lines.

At the time of writing, Road Trip is 102% funded, so you will get what you pledge for!

So go and back it!

Sunday, June 6, 2021

The anatomy of a conspiracy theory

NOTE: This was a draft that I had left in my blog for ages - I think I wrote it in 2015. I think in light of the last few years, I'm going to write a sequel with an update.


I really quite enjoy conspiracy theories. I first came across them when, after lazily googling for aliens one bored afternoon, I came across the Serpo Project. The guy who ran the project was co-founder of the Project Camelot website, where the first video I saw was Dan Burish's video. I watched other videos and enjoyed the brand new perspective that these theories gave me. At the time, I was living alone in a new place and working in a difficult school. I still like listening to some conspiracy theories for entertainment and inspiration purposes.

I entered a conspiracy theory based book to the 2012 Windhammer competition called Rulers of the NOW. I intended it to be a longer book and got up to about 250 sections, but never finished it. I'm actually quite glad as I don't think I was good enough for the idea at the time and one day I intend to write it anew.

Selling a conspiracy theory seems to be a massive juggling act. You are basically trying to drastically
change someone's perspective on certain events, people and/or organisations, in some cases, making them have the opposite opinion of them. To do this, you need to work relentlessly to create a connection with the consumer to suspend their disbelief - even more so than in fiction, because you are trying to rewrite someone's perception of reality. Your story needs to be consistent with what people understand or what they could research, which is probably like trying to write an episode of Star Trek that doesn't contradict any of the canon from the past 50 years. And then, you need to have a philosophy or message to give people.

This is all something that good fiction writers do, but conspiracy theorists are doing this with the

added burden of making people reconsider what they think of as fact.

After writing this post, it appears that coming up with a good conspiracy theory and capitalising on it is actually a lot of work. The people who do this really must love it or believe in what they are doing or earn a ton of money from it as they could probably earn a decent wage with a lot less effort than this. And I don't even know how people get into conspiracy theoring. Some people have experiences that they genuinely cannot explain (such as the Paratopia guys - I would recommend you listen to this podcast as they never have some conspiracy stories and actually try to expose some of the less ethical members of the community). Some people seem to be con artists or unscrupulous and some people seem genuinely interested in researching it. Some people come from highly trained backgrounds (such as Stan Friedman) or ex-military backgrounds. However, the field is so steeped in disinformation and changing stories and accusations that peoples' past or qualifications are made up that I'm not really sure of the background on any of these people. I would like to know why some people don't just write science fiction stories.

I'd also like to point out that I'm not denying the existence of conspiracies or saying that people don't have unexplainable things happen to them. What I'm trying to do is make the distinction between people trying to tell us about real funny business (bribery, phone tapping, corruption etc.) and people who are trying to take our money by telling us about a worldwide or universe wide philosophy that the hidden elite are hiding from us. Also, I want to distinguish between people who have things happen to them and people who claim that that the spirits or aliens told them that they are the messiah or something. To me, genuine reports are usually small scale and may not offer an explanation, whereas unscrupulous conspiracy theories offer massive world wide problems along with solutions that require a lot of time and effort.

Of course, logically, I can't say how valid any story is as I don't have any info on these people. I just have their stories. What I'm saying is that some stories seem to be small scale accounts of events that people may not offer an explanation for, or they may be some exposes of small scale corruption that someone has investigated and has evidence for. Other conspiracy theories involve shadowy organisations or aliens ruling the world where their unprovable accounts are backed up with unprovable evidence or tenuous links to pop culture and then the people spreading these theories need money to continue their crusade. I am suspicious of the latter, for some reason.


Since there are so many shadowy organisations trying to take over the world, I can't really cover all
of them. If I mention a shadowy organisation, I will refer to it as the Illuminati for the sake of convenience, but I do know that there are plenty other organisations out there and I'm sorry if I've missed any out. I really don't mean to offend any members of secret organisations I haven't mentioned.

I'll also point out that I will try to link to as many sources as I can remember, but I've devoured so much conspiracy stuff that I can't remember all of it and I don't have the time to sift through reams of sources.

They link their conspiracy to a provable conspiracy theory or piece of "funny business"

Conspiracies happen - there's bribery, corruption and lots of funny business going on. For example, the MKUltra program is real. It even passes Brian Dunning's rigorous analysis, so it must have happened. Everyone knows about Jack the Ripper, who killed people and then mysteriously disappeared and the who killed JFK debate will probably never go away. The Masons is a secretive organisation that seem to go from 'club for men who meet up and donate to charity' to 'club for men who do favours for each other, such as getting them off criminal charges' to 'ultra powerful cult that rules the world'. And all of these real life and provable mysteries or conspiracies or just secrets seem to feature a lot in the conspiracy world. H.H Holmes may have been Jack the Ripper. (As an aside, I would recommend the Binnall of America podcast for the variety of guests and stories and the laid back nature of the show). The Masons are a front for the Illuminati. MKUltra was a front for the Monarch Mind control project. Why do they do this?

1) It reminds us that conspiracies are real.
2) It's to make us think that if conspiracy A is real, which definitely happened, then conspiracy B which is their conspiracy is also definitely happening now.

They link their conspiracy theory to a disaster

People who are touting big world wide conspiracy theories like to link either man-made disasters (such as 9/11) and natural disasters (such as earthquakes) are caused by the Illuminati. The main reason is to create a problem so that they can come up with a pre-made solution and then bring people under their control. This is something Alex Jones calls the False dialectic (based on the quite useful Hegelian dialectic). For example, people say that shootings are caused by mind controlled people to make people call for gun control, because an armed population is too hard to control.

Once again, this is another method to link the conspiracy theory to something familiar to us already and also something with a lot of emotional weight.

Their assertations stand up the basic research

I ancient civilisations and their parallels with ours or how many films have alternative messages which would require good knowledge of both the film and the alternative message. It seems that conspiracy theorising requires a lot of knowledge of history, politics, economics, science and a few other random subjects that sceptical people can confirm with some research. It also requires knowing how tenacious people are willing to be.
t seems that to have a great conspiracy theory, you need to do quite a lot of research. A lot of conspiracy theories speak of

However, some of their assertations are unprovable for some reason

Despite holding up to several searches on Wikipedia and other sites, there's only so far that research can go with most conspiracy theories. There are some parts to the story that you couldn't find without putting in a lot of time, effort and money. Did Reagan really tell Speilberg that Close Encounters was close to real life? No one can know. Are their aliens in Area 51? Only military personnel who aren't going to blab know one way or the other and anyone else won't be allowed anywhere near Area 51. Did something crash at Roswell? Any evidence for that has either been locked away or rotted away. This means that they can't be proved wrong. And if someone had irrefutable proof of the existence of aliens, they probably wouldn't be on conspiracy theory websites.

They make innocuous and/or fun things more sinister

This happens all over the place, but the website Vigilant Citizen focus particularly on Illuminati
symbolism in popular culture. It's message is that a lot of media is there to control people and make them more susceptible to the plans that the Illuminati have to either enslave the world's population (by microchips us all for example) or kill most of us off (to make the survivors more easy to control).

The website does a great job in weaving a new narrative around the things presented in films, music and other popular culture. This narrative has a very sinister effect of making things you originally loved into some thing you hate. Other websites, such as this one, suggest that Disney World is built purely to abduct children. But why would they do this?

One of the reasons is that it is another way of linking the conspiracy to something you already know and feel comfortable with, so it makes the theory to something more palatable.

Well, its so you transfer your energy away from those things with the hope that you will pour it into the conspiracy community instead.

This was explained in a much better way in 1984 where the Party make sex out to be disgusting. Julia's theory is that after sex, you have no energy and don't care about anything. The Party want you to put all of your energy into caring about them.

The website does this by indicating special signals people make (such as the A-OK signal) or symbols in popular culture (such as the pyramid with eye symbol) are actually sinister signals that they are part of the Illuminati and that you should follow their example and join them.

There is sometimes a surprising amount of cutting edge information in them

I first heard about 3d printers from conspiracy theorists way before they appeared in the mainstream. I first heard about bitcoin from the Corbett Report. It seems that conspiracy theorists like to keep ahead of the mainstream, probably because some of their stories are so far fetched that it helps to bridge the gap between reality and their stories by saying something slightly far fetched but true.






They might involve information overload

Information overload is a good way to slow people down or get them to make the wrong decisions. I feel that my critical thinking faculties are screwed if my brain gets overloaded with information. David Wilcock is good at providing tons and tons of information, adding new bits to the mix, answering questions, but not really answering them until your brain just gives up and says 'Fine, whatever, I agree with you, just take my money and go away.'

The people in the interviews either influenced history behind the scenes or almost did something that would have changed history dramatically

Duncan O' Finoan almost killed George Bush Jr but resisted his programming to do so. This is yet another way of making a connection to the reader/watcher.

They make 100% accurate predictions. But we only find out about them after the predictions came true

There were apparently dozens of 9/11 predictions in the media. It's just that I only found out about them after 9/11. I never once saw anything before 9/11 where someone wrote "x TV program has predicted that someone will crash planes into the twin towers".

However, after 9/11, all this symbolism became clear. The Simpsons told you about it (see below). Even the American Steve Jackson was telling you about 9/11 with his card game Illuminati. The Lone Gunmen spin off to the X Files had someone hijack a plane and try to fly it into the World Trade Centre in their pilot (shown in April 2001). However, none of these copious signals were picked up by anyone as predictions of 9/11 until after the event. It's almost like that there is so much pop culture that it would be inevitable that someone would portray attacks on the World Trade Centre or have the number 9/11 and people picked up on this after they became significant.


 


If they say there will be a massive disaster/apocalypse, it will happen within a certain time frame

A lot of these whistleblowers predict some kind of massive upheaval, such as the collapse of the
world economy, the government trying to exterminate 90% of the population, massive earthquakes, Planet X coming to get us etc. However, they always predict them to by from 6 months to, at most, 5 years away. Why this time frame?

My guess is that it is long enough to actually think about it and let it sink in, then do something about it (possibly by buying stuff from places they advertise?) but short enough that we will care about it. No one will care if I said that the world will end in the year 5367, as any inconceivable trace of their lives would have been long gone. Likewise, no one is really bothered that the Sun will explode in 5 billion year's time. Talk about shifting responsibility. Also, what would happen if they said that the world will end tomorrow? In 24 hours their credibility will be destroyed. At least if they have a few months, they could work out some more stories and possibly sow the seeds for a reason as to why the world didn't end when they said it would.

It also gives them time to work out what they will say when their prediction does not ring true.

They give a name to the cause of peoples' powerlessness

I latched on to conspiracy theories because I was in a stressful job, spent most of my time alone
(except when I could see my lovely girlfriend now wife in the holidays and weekends) and had nothing else to really do. As I've become happier, I've needed them less, but they did give me something at the time. However, it was nothing really concrete and I found that being constantly told that society will collapse in 6 months just got too stressful. Also, they never came true. I found out that the conspiracy circuit is just a never ending wheel of secret organisations, imminent crises and false solutions. Now conspiracy theories to me are on the same level of Dr Who or Star Trek and they provide me with ideas. Giving a name to someone's problem is no help if it is the wrong name. Also that means that the solution will be wrong. And sometimes this solution will involve giving people money.

Conspiracy podcasts I would recommend

Skeptoid - despite being a website that looks at conspiracies with a critical eye and finds almost all of them wanting, it still has a huge breadth of conspiracy theories and sometimes the 'mundane' explanation is more fascinating than the fantastic one.

Binnall of America - once again, this offers a wide breadth of theories (including some non paranormal ones such as cruise ships and basketball referees) and it does not preach too much. Binnall is a laid back guy who just lets his guests tell their stories. I get the impression that he himself gets a bit sick of big conspiracies.

Paratopia - this show has ended, but you can buy all of the episodes for $30 (very cheap). The guys here are funny, sceptical and love to debunk unscrupulous conspiracy theorists. However, they've had strange experiences of their own which they talk about.