Tuesday, May 24, 2022

The costs and benefits of rolling dice part 2 - the benefits of rolling dice

 Last time, I wrote about the costs of rolling dice. It takes time, it might result in bad things and if the system isn't thought out properly, then it will just be frustrating.

So why do it? 


As Radnoff said in my last post, there is excitement of the possibility of success, and if success happens in unlikely situations then it is even more exciting. 

There is also excitement from rolling dice because they offer the chance of variety.

Also, rolling dice means that you never know what's going to happen with each different read through.

 With enough random events, it is possible to read a completely different story with each read through.

It can help decide whether something happens or not

This can determine whether a wandering monster finds you or whether there is treasure at the bottom of the lake or whether the strange monster will attack you or run away.

It can be used to work out how much something happens

Instead of finding a fixed amount of treasure or taking a fixed amount of damage when something bad happens, the die roll can add some randomness to it. Sometimes, it won't make much of a difference, but it might if the treasure is needed to afford something awesome or if a certain roll could kill your character. 

It can work out what happens

A random event is going to happen to you in Fabled Lands, but it could range from finding a staff to being attacked by a wolf. 

It can be fun for stats nerds

One thing I like about gamebook systems is that I can analyse them and work out whether the system makes the game possible to win. I usually use Anydice. to analyse systems and work out how easy it is to win the book.

Champskees in the Fighting Fantazine forum includes tables or probabilities of winning certain Fighting Fantasy books depending on your stats. 


Rolling dice can add extra variety to a gamebook and also add extra excitement. If you do it, however, you need to make sure that the statistics have been calculated to make sure that these dice rolls are going to be exciting instead of impossible or too easy. 

The variables in the numbers need to be added in the right places so that the random numbers actually have an effect. It is more exciting to lose 1d6 stamina points towards the end when the character may only have a few stamina points left rather than at the beginning where 1 or 6 points won't make a difference.

If they are used for random events, then you need to make sure that the events will be significantly different.

Next time, I'll do...something else. Random elements is a multifaceted issue. I might do the difference between probability and consequences and how they fit together. 

Sunday, May 15, 2022

The costs and benefits of rolling dice part 1 - the costs of rolling dice

Hello all! Back to my series on the good and bad points of having random elements in gamebooks. This week, I'm going to look at the costs of doing so and how these random elements might cause work for the player.

So, when I say work, I do acknowledge that rolling a few dice is nothing like doing an actual job. What I am trying to express is that the idea of getting a random result has the advantages of some tension and excitement and if too much dice rolling and number picking has to happen, then the excitement might wear off and all the dice rolling and number picking will be a chore.

So what situations does this happen in? Firstly, it does not seem to happen in skill tests. They all seem to be one die roll (for the sake of brevity, I will refer to do rolls despite the fact that it could include picking numbers at random from a square of random numbers, coin flipping, picking cards from a deck etc.) with a pass fail, if that. A lot of times, the book simply asks if you have a particular skill, so no dice roll is involved. In these cases, you either roll a number and the higher the score the better, with the skill giving a bonus (Lone Wolf) or you roll to get higher than a number and add a stat (Fabled Lands), equal to or less than a number (Fighting Fantasy) or just less than a number (Fighting Fantasy which wasn't able to make its mind up sometimes).

In the cases with trying to compare your scores to the dice roll, the tricky bit has always been what to do with the case when the dice rolls are equal to your score. In all cases, the book decides that rolling equal to the score is either a pass or a fail. This means that you don't have to reroll your dice if you get an equal value to your score. 

For some reason, in some cases, this idea goes out of the window in combat.

In Fighting Fantasy, you roll 2d6 and add to your skill, then do the same for your opponent. If the scores are equal, nothing happens. Unless there is a time limit to the combat, then all that dice rolling has resulted in nothing. That's one way to watch the excitement drain down. However, at least the chances of getting a draw in a Fighting Fantasy combat are quite low - 11% with two fighters with equal SKILLs and lower if they are unequal.

Having a draw in combat does have utility if something will happen after a certain number of rounds, but I don't think that it is worth it. The solution here is simple, though - simply state that rolling equal scores is a win or a loss for the character.

In some cases, the character needs to roll equal to or less than their skill to hit an opponent. This turns up with ranged weapons, which makes sense. There is less interaction with the opponent, so it is more like a skill roll for you than for both of you. This turns up a few times in Fighting Fantasy (Starship Traveller, Space Assassin, Siege of Sardath)

However, this has the potential to make combat drag out even longer because both combatants can roll above their skill and miss, so nothing happens. Siege of Sardath has a mechanic where if you miss with an arrow, you can test your luck to make it a hit, reducing the probability of missing (which is good, because there is a case in Siege of Sardath where you have to hit with an arrow or get an instadeath). You could also do a luck test to turn a hit for an opponent into a miss. This would be good in Starship traveller where ranged combat normally involves a one hit kill.

What about other gamebook series?

Well Fabled Lands has two scores in combat - Combat and Defence. 

To hit an opponent in Fabled Lands, you need to roll 2d6 + Combat to get above their Defence. The difference is how much damage you deal. The fact that damage is not a fixed number means that combat could be over very quickly.

The scores are linked - Defence = Combat + Rank + Armour, so the better you are at hitting opponents, the better you also are at not being hit. People used to include Combat bonuses from weapons to Defence, but that made characters unbeatable, so when book 7 came out, they decided that only your character's innate Combat would add to Defence.

However, they are not completely linked, so it is possible to have a high defence score whilst having a low combat score. 

This is where combat could get tedious because if a character is bad at hitting but good at defending and they are fighting a similar opponent, then there will be several rounds where nothing happens. 

Some people on the Facebook group have thought up ways around it. If you search "Defence", you will see what people say. One person has stated that if someone rolls a double, they deal damage equal to their combat score. Rolling a double on 2d6 has a 1 in 6 chance, so that would definitely speed up combat. 

Tin Man Games had a Gamebook Adventures system similar to this. You rolled a number of dice equal to your Attack score and compared the results to the dice rolled from your opponent's Defence score. You hit your opponent if your highest die roll was higher than their highest die roll and did damage equal to the sum total of the dice. This was find when attack was 3+ and higher than the opponent's Defence, but with low attacks, it was hard to hit. TMG had a mechanic in play where if you rolled equal to or less than your Fitness, you got a +1 to your highest die roll which made it more likely to hit your opponent.

It is Lone Wolf, however, who wins the prize for making sure something happens in a combat round. If you look at the combat table, then, whatever number you pick, someone loses Endurance points every round. That means that combat will always flow. Of course, this means making a table for such a purpose, so the solution is not the most elegant. It is up to the person making the system and the person playing it to decide if that is a sacrifice they are willing to make. For me, it is. The system is very simple, so referring to one table is not going to overcomplicate things compared to some RPGs.

So there are basic systems where we find out whether something happens in a combat round. Of course, a combat system can still have a possibility of nothing happening in a combat round, but the wasted time and effort can still be reduced if the player has options to change things about that combat round, like manipulating dice rolls or having a special attack, having an ability that deals damage every round or doing various other things. 

There can only be one winner when it comes to this and that's Destiny Quest. Seriously - look at the 9 page glossary of abilities (and that's just book 1!) you could use in combat. Combat is similar to Fighting Fantasy - roll 2d6, add your Speed attribute and the highest one wins. However, once you include all the abilities you could have (and you can have loads when you are fully kitted out), that gives loads of choices so that each combat round is less about rolling two dice and comparing numbers and more about making decisions about what abilities to use. 

And if you love Destiny Quest, remember there is a Kickstarter for the World Companion coming out on the 17th May!

So it seems that the lesson from this is that in every combat round, have something happen - at least one combatant's stats have to decrease somehow. Or at least let the player have the opportunity to decide on making something happen.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Rulers of the NOW Scathing gamebook review

 Hello gamebook team! I know last week, I did a post on random elements in gamebooks which I fully intend to continue. Unfortunately, I haven't had time this week to do post 2, so here is a post I saved up. A scathing gamebook review of my book Rulers of the NOW.

Welcome to scathing gamebook reviews, where I rip gamebooks apart, sometimes literally, but always figuratively.

In this issue, we look at Rulers of the NOW, a dystopian, self described comedy, by Stuart Lloyd.

The author has described this work as a near future, dystopian, cli-fi black comedy, probably because he thought that putting as many adjectives as possible into the book’s description would be funny, or at least distract the reader from how dire it is. Unfortunately, it does neither.

The best part of the book is the cover. It is skilfully crafted by Sammy who is a talented artist and the author of the Two Fisted Fantasy gamebooks. Unfortunately, she had to bring to life the products of Stuart’s diseased mind, but she nonetheless takes his insane ramblings and produces an awesome cover art. If only other authors would pay her to do something, then she would not have to associate with the author who is a clear raving maniac.

After the beautiful cover art, it goes quickly downhill from there.

In this book, you play a lowly office worker, who, at the beginning of the story, gets branded a terrorist. From there, you can decide whether to go along with the authorities or go on the run. The author clearly has a problem with authority because going along with the authorities gets you thrown into jail and sent to a re-education camp for years, then the book ends. Going on the run has a far longer route where you can meet some rebels, find a home, and, if you go far enough, go aboard the space station where the billionaires live.

The beginning of the book appears to be a homage to Kafka, if the person doing he homage had attempted to skim the summary of Kafka’s work on Wikipedia, but actually read Dan Brown’s page instead without realising it.

The book seems to be taking potshots at certain philosophies or lifestyles and tries to point out the problems with them. As if his gamebook is going to solve the world’s problems. I mean, whenever did a book ever highlight a possible horrible future that it could slip into to warn its readers to avoid it?

Well, lots of times, obviously, but they were good. This book is like a cross of The Trial, The Illuminatus Trilogy, Nineteen Eighty Four and The Divine Comedy, because why not, I guess?

The book moves from chase to search to heist to rescue mission, each time, attempting to raise the stakes or teach you something about how messed up the world is. In reality, it just made me want steak and it taught me how messed up Stuart’s head is.

There are many of what the author would probably describe as jokes in the book. I’d like to say that these jokes deliver the book’s message skilfully with wonderfully crafted humour. However, if I did say that, I would be lying. These “jokes” can be seen coming a mile away. The first section has a joke about Youtube ads and flatulence. I mean, some on, flatulence is just too easy. It gets even worse, where you could come across a cannibal whose heinous crimes are played for laughs. There is nothing funny about cannibal blancmanges.

The book is clearly a love letter to socialism and environmentalism, which is not inherently bad in itself. Everyone is entitled to political opinions and the right to broadcast them in whatever media they like, but the messages of this book are delivered with the subtlety of an anvil being smashed into your face by an elephant wearing a top hat. The author obviously has a massive bee in his bonnet or there is a satanic death cult ruling the world that paid him handsomely to inflict this steaming piece of work upon the world, probably in return for a human sacrifice to grant him eternal youth (have you seen Stuart Lloyd? He claims to be in his late 30s!) .

The book is currently free on Itch and Drive Thru, but, after reading it, I felt like the author owed me money for having to sift through it in order to write a review of it. I would have given a better review if he had taken a dump on my doorstep and told me to sift through that instead.

Score: 4/5 turds

Thursday, May 5, 2022

Destiny Quest World Companion Kickstarter


Hello all! I've got some exciting news that can't wait until the end of the month because it's about a Kickstarter.

It's the Destiny Quest World Companion!

As you may know, Destiny Quest is a series of huge gamebooks where you can create and customise your own character as you go, fighting many epic battles with a combat system with many many options. All the books are superb and beautifully produced. Now you can get to know the world of Destiny Quest even more with this awesome world companion!

The Kickstarter will launch on the 17 May at 10.00 EST (3.00 in the UK). The Kickstarter will be running for 30 days and offers a range of pledge levels to cater for different fans. 

You can sign up to be notified for the launch here.

The World Companion is a hardback collector's item, that provides the following: 

A detailed history of the world, from its creation by the celestial Fates, to the current ‘end days’ of crumbling empires and war-weary kingdoms.

A comprehensive timeline that charts the key events that have shaped the world of Dormus, right up to the present-day narratives of the gamebook series.

An overview of the magic system, detailing the chaotic forces of the Shroud and the effects of its demonic taint, as well as the runic magic of the dwarves and the dangerous arts of elemental sorcery.

Exciting character stories and biographies, exploring some of the key heroes (and villains) who have influenced the Destiny Quest world, including the legendary witchfinder, Eldias Falks, and the enigmatic archmage, Avian Dale.

Detailed summaries of the main factions that vie for power and influence within the Kingdom of Valeron, from the secretive enclaves of the Arcane Hand to the scheming masters of shadow, the Nevarin.

Whether you are a fan of the DestinyQuest series or a gamemaster looking for a new and immersive setting for your homebrew roleplaying campaign, The World Companion delivers a wealth of exciting secrets and discoveries – everything you need to arm yourselves for epic adventures ahead.

The Kickstarter is on this page: DestinyQuest: The World Companion by Michael J Ward — Kickstarter

Sunday, May 1, 2022

The costs and benefits of rolling dice - introduction

 Hello gamebookers! I'm sorry I'm a bit late - spring is a busy time for me.

This post is an introduction into what is probably going to be a few posts and it is about whether or not you should be making people roll dice (or use some other random method) to determine things.

Random elements provide replayability value and they also provide excitement because you don't know what's happening. 

Of course, it's really annoying if the random element decides to screw you at the last minute (or maybe it isn't because it's the thrill of anticipation that's important?) or if the random element is lots of work, but the results are pretty consistent anyway.

In this series, I'm going to explore whether random elements are needed a particular gamebook, and, if you decide to put them in, how do you implement them.

These thoughts probably started whilst I was playing Fighting Fantasy, which involves rolling 2d6 for your opponent, 2d6 for yourself and adding your skill values. The highest one inflicted 2 stamina points of damage on the lowest one. If both results were the same, no one got hurt. You could choose to test your luck to either increase the damage you inflict or decrease the damage dealt to you, but since luck decreased with each use, this was almost never a viable option. 

I have crunched the numbers for the Fighting Fantasy system. If your skill is 3 points higher than your opponent's then you will almost certainly win. Which means that my skill 9 hero fighting a bunch or orcs in Firetop Mountain or a skill 6 stamina 16 statue in Demons of the Deep would be rolling a ton of dice just to see if they lost 2 stamina points or not, which, for a game where you carry 10 items of food that is so yummy, it can cure two blows from a sword, is negligible.

Add in the fact that when I rolled the dice, I had no options to manipulate the rolls by spending resources (not like Destiny Quest, where you have a ton of options!), I was basically just going through the motions to see how something turned out, but with no tension because I knew that it would ultimately have no effect on the game.

I found this a bit wearing some times. 

So this series of articles is about deciding how to maximise the fun in a gamebook using random elements.

The first question, though, is whether you think your gamebook will be enhanced with random elements.

Some gamebooks don't need a random element at all. Sometimes, they want to tell their story and the game elements don't add to anything. In fact, they might detract from the message of the book. I realised this when I was writing Rulers of the NOW. At first, I wanted it to be a huge open world gamebook with a complicated game system (similar to SCRAWL) which had lots of choices. Then I realised that the core of the book was not about that. The core of the book was the message of doing something now or (NOW) to avoid the dystopian future presented. That didn't need a random element, because if the player failed a test, they might lose the game and not get to the message. It would also take away from the message of having control over your future if you lost through chance. 

Trying to include all these elements in Rulers of the NOW also contributed to why it too 11 years between the Windhammer entry and me actually finishing the book. Once I had stripped away all of the superfluous elements from the central message, the book was actually really easy to write (on a side note, if you have a project you want to do, but can't finish, why don't you see if there are superfluous elements to strip away?). I had originally tried to release it for 21st December 2012 (Mayan calendar apocalypse day), which I could have done if I had just focused on the core.

So, if random elements are necessary, how can it enhance the gaming experience? How much rolling are people willing to put up with before the excitement wears off?

I remember playing the Trial of the Clone app. Whenever you had a test, you rolled three d6s and used the best result. The app presented this like a fruit machine with one number coming up at a time. I remember feeling the tension and excitement if the first number was not high enough - will the next number be high enough? and if that wasn't high enough, then the excitement would build at the anticipation of seeing the third number come up. That really milked the tension.

You know what would also milk the tension even more? Giving people options to manipulate those rolls, but not make them auto successes.

Michael J. Ward, writer of the Destiny Quest series, is a master at this. He gives your characters a whole load of options for rerolls, rolling extra dice, bonuses, negating effects, enhancing effects and more. It really is a gamer's dream.

So that's it. I'm not really sure what the post titles will be - but I'll make a lot of them.

Does anyone have any opinions on random elements? How much they like? Which gamebooks do it in a way that they like? Let me know!

Happy gamebooking!