Friday, September 1, 2023

Want to write a gamebook? Then here's a reading list (2023 edition)

Hello all! I first published the reading list back in 2017, but then realised that some people have written articles since then, so I will repost this reading list with updates every year. Here is the 2023 version. 

Whassup! Here is the fruits of my labours on a little project I was working on. I wanted to collect a definitive  list of gamebook analysis that anyone who wants to write a gamebook has to read. So far, I have come up with the following blog posts and links to give you a good grounding in the art and science of gamebook writing. Enjoy!

EDIT: The links weren't working because I had pasted hyperlinks in from a Word document (!?) but I have re-inserted the links so they should all work now.

Grey Wiz

Andrew Drage

Ashton Saylor

Sam Kabo Ashwell

Jake Care

Paul Gresty

Fabled Lands: Gamebooks: the value of doing it with dialogue

Richard S. Hetley

Jon Green write-adventure- gamebook-part-1.html

Heather Albano from Choice of Games

Adam Strong-Morse from Choice of Games

Dan Fubilich from Choice of Games for-designing- great-stats/

Emily Short

Peter Agapov 

Just about anything on his blog. It's all so in depth.

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Writing Gamebooks the Uncle Mac Way


All right, kids, gather 'round and park your butts. Uncle Mac is gonna talk your ear off for a bit.

Quite a few of you write gamebooks, or want to write them and are still figuring out the best way to do it. Word on the 'net is there are a number of softwares you can use to help navigate the labyrinthine process of piecing a gamebook together. I shall refrain from commenting on those, because I am what you might call a "cantankerous old coot" and prefer not to go out of my way to learn newfangled technologies if I don't find it absolutely necessary.

Writing screenplays, for example, required that I purchase special software to write in screenplay format easily. My word processor of choice is problematic enough without my having to jury-rig its default formatting to the anal retentive degree required by the film industry. So I broke down and bought Fade-In (not a plug, but kind of a plug).

My approach to writing gamebooks was different. I didn't bother getting any computerized aides because I found a way to write and organize gamebooks without them that suits me fine. And also because I prefer to do things the hard way, apparently.

Being a decent writer is a good start to writing a good gamebook. Natch. Most of you probably figured that out already. But it's best if you also have experience as a game designer. For simpler gamebooks like CYOA, it can help you better organize the book's structure and keep it engaging; for more advanced works ranging from Interplanetary Spy to Fighting Fantasy, it's essential if you want to design effective mechanics, puzzles, and games. In either case, it can help a lot with worldbuilding, too. You'd be surprised how much easier it is to world-build with a board game, video game, or tabletop RPG prototype than with a simple novel and a ream of research notes as long as your leg.

So far I'm wearing my Captain Obvious cape. You didn't come here to listen to me prattle about writing a chapter book. Writing a chapter book isn't all that hard. The tricky part is writing a chapter book with forking paths, and then mixing them up, all without losing track of which choices lead where.

I have seen a few useful ideas for structuring a gamebook on the 'net, but when I started out writing gamebooks I found their usefulness was pretty limited. The most common method I've seen is to map the book somehow, either with a diagram, or with index cards / sticky notes.

Ghetto Scribble Diagram Method

Plot Map for Dinah-Mite #2 and several painkillers.

At a glance, the diagram approach looks like it's more trouble than it's worth. I've found it does have its uses, however. Much like writing a synopsis before tackling a story in detail, a plot map like this can help get you started on a new gamebook project when you aren't quite sure where you're going. 

It is messy, however, due to the amount of erasing you'll end up doing whenever you re-plot a section, and I mostly recommend this method if you want a quick and dirty way to get the ball rolling.

Index Card / Sticky Note Method

The index card/sticky note method has its uses, too. Basically it's the same as the plot map technique, except it's easier to rearrange things and add new chapters. It has the added bonus of making it a lot easier to decide on chapter order: once you have all your paths sorted out, rearrange the cards into whatever order suits you and then number them.

The downsides here are 1) running out of space, which may require the purchase of a bulletin board dedicated to your gamebook projects; and 2) the page-organizing aspect only really works if you are going the CYOA route of one-page chapters, OR the Fighting Fantasy style gamebook with paragraph chapters rather than page chapters. If you want to write a basic gamebook with more involved narrative like Dragontales, the sticky notes won't help you with reorganizing pages.

Uncle Mac's Method

When I sat down to write the first Dinah-Mite gamebook, Holiday in Castle Quarantine, I quickly realized that the above techniques would only get me so far. I didn't want to write chapters as short as Which Way, nor as long as Dragontales; and I wanted a protagonist with a backstory rather than the generic "You" of CYOA. Essentially I wanted to write a maze-like adventure in the style of The Wizard of Oz, Harry Potter, and The Neverending Story, something that would stand on its own as a story or as a gamebook.

Both Holiday in Castle Quarantine and its upcoming sequel were written in two main drafts: the Chapter Draft and the Page Draft. Someone else probably writes their gamebooks the same way and has their own name for it, so I'll refrain from pretending I've invented something super unique and useful and worthy of accolades. I can only be so pretentious in one sitting.

Phase 1: The Chapter Draft

Let's assume for the sake of argument that I'm writing a Dinah-Mite story where Dinah has a misadventure in the American West. I start by writing the first chapter as if it were a linear novel, and I give the chapter a header that reads "Ch1." When I reach the first fork in the plot at the end of Ch1, instead of listing a page number, I list a chapter number.

If Dinah enters the saloon, turn to Ch2.
If she explores the train station first, turn to Ch5.

Nearly all of the chapters are only a few pages long, so now I start adding blank pages with appropriate chapter headers (Ch2, Ch3, Ch4, etc). As I add each new page, I write a one-sentence summary of what will happen in that chapter. This helps spark ideas for what happens next, if I haven't already started a plot map like the one pictured earlier.

If I don't know which chapter will come next, I'll use "ChX, ChY, ChZ" as placeholders. And if I think I might have a puzzle in a particular chapter, I'll list generic options that I can figure out later.

Dinah enters saloon full of surly, uncooperative customers who are angry that the player piano isn't working. She tries to get piano working to lighten the mood.

Solution A? Turn to Ch3.
Solution B? Turn to Ch4.

Dinah gets eaten by the player piano, but at least the music her dead body produces is catchy.

~ THE END ~ 

Everyone starts dancing. Dinah befriends saloon keeper.

~ Dinah gets the Poker Chips ~
Turn to ChX.

Dinah enters train station and meets lost hillbilly kid, who helps her if she doesn't anger him.

Choice A? Turn to Ch6.
Choice B? Turn to Ch7.

Dinah and hillbilly kid hit it off. He hooks her up with a horse to ride to the next town.

~ Dinah got the Work Horse ~
Turn to ChY.

Hillbilly kid tells Dinah to jump in a lake and won't talk to her anymore. Now has to find another way to reach her destination.

Turn to ChZ.


Eventually I make my way through every possible idea for branching paths, coming up with games and puzzles on the fly (or creating placeholders). Once I know how many chapters I'm dealing with, I go back and write the chapters proper. When the entire book is written, and every chapter has been thoroughly edited and proofread, that leads into...

Phase 2: The Page Draft

So now I have all the chapters written in the order I came up with them, and they all have a chapter header designation. Now comes the tedious part: I rearrange all the chapters until they're thoroughly mixed up (preferably with a lot of space between sequential chapters).

I then go through the document and find every instance of the chapter headers listed thusly: Ch1, Ch2, Ch3, etc using the Find/Replace function, and replace them with their designated page number. So if Ch2 is on page 100, I Find/Replace all instances of "Turn to Ch2" with "Turn to Page 100."

Finally I go through every chapter and remove the "Ch" from the header, and probably add a cute bit of art around the chapter number to indicate which act of the book the reader is in.


Some of you will no doubt find the Chapter Draft/Page Draft method standoffish. The disclaimer did mention that I like to do things the hard way. But I've found this method makes it easy to streamline cranking out chapter content. Also, by the time you're done putting it all together, it's already organized the way you want it, formatting and all. Relying on the sticky note method could lead to chapters occupying the wrong page numbers, forcing you to seek out the point where you went wrong and reorganize your chapters all over again.

Of course, the previously mentioned gamebook software probably makes all of this easier. If you don't want to bother experimenting with a new interface, though, give these methods a try and see if they gel with you a little better.

Time for bed. Uncle Mac out. Come visit anytime.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Ravages of Hate

 Hello all! Yesterday, I finished a project, which was a reboot of Green Blood and Coils of Hate, both by Mark Smith. I have now completed it. It is called Ravages of Hate. You can get it here:

Any playtesting feedback would be welcome! Many thanks!

Sunday, June 11, 2023

A question...

 So hen I was running Lindenbaum, someone suggested that there could be an "open" gamebook competition with no limits on sections or word count. I'm not against running one, but only if it's a Nanowrimo type event where people just write something over a month or some other time frame just for the challenge because I don't want to spend any more money on prizes or spend any more time running another competition.

Any interest in a gamebook Nanowrimo?

Tuesday, May 30, 2023


 Hello all! I'm very sorry, but the recent few weeks have been very busy. Here is a lot of news from the gamebook world.

The passing of Russ Nicholson

Russ Nicholson, a superb artist who has illustrated many, many gamebooks, passed away recently. He will be greatly missed.

I never met or worked with Russ, but I loved all of his artwork from the books he illustrated. 

You can read dedications to him on Fabled Lands and on the official Fighting Fantasy blog.


New releases

The Citadel of Bureaucracy

The Citadel of Bureaucracy holds many perils for civil servants unprepared for its labyrinthine cubicle walls. Yet enter you must. Working against the clock, you must fight unreliable transit, dodgy IT, the dreaded Canada goose, and a rising sense of nihilism in order to get paid and clear your desk for a much-needed vacation.

YOU decide which paths to take, which dangers to risk, and which colleagues to confront. May the Janus-faced God of Finance and HR be with you, for you’ll find little succour in the Citadel’s unhallowed halls.

Novels | J.D. Mitchell (

One Roll Gamery

One Roll Gamebooks has released the Seeker of Valenreath

The Seeker of Valenreath: Makin, Matthew D: 9780645661507: Books

If you seek adventure, then enter the fantasy realm of Lorelos and embark on a quest to find an ancient relic. You are a Seeker and must choose one of multiple paths you can take to reach your goal. You will need one six-sided dice, a pencil and an eraser to keep track of your attributes, record your discoveries and determine the victor in battles. You will use a unique, 1d6 combat system to do battle with Orcs, Goblins and many other formidable foes. Your success will oftentimes be decided by your strategy and the roll of one six-sided dice, be it combat or the execution of a task or skill of your choosing. You may come across puzzles to solve and riddles to decipher. Use alchemy to overcome the many challenges you will face and discover items and potions to aid you in your quest. You will journey through the mysterious Faewood or the marshy Fens of Lorelos, before embarking on your perilous ascent of the Blackspire Mountains to find the entrance to the ancient ruins. The many challenges that you will face and the characters you will meet on your journey, are contained in this adventure gamebook of over 350 pages and 1000 paragraphs. There are multiple paths to achieve your goal and each playthrough will be different depending on your choices and selected abilities. Containing 50 hand-drawn illustrations, your friends and foes are revealed in 22 full page illustrations with many secrets to discover.

You can follow them here:

One Roll Gamebooks | Facebook

Escape to Glitter Land

Escape to Glitter Land (

In this world are two kinds of people: The Privileged and the Unprivileged. Unfortunately, you are the latter. That's why you are trapped in Dunghill Land, forced to perform menial tasks day-in and day-out, just to survive. You long for a way out.


Dragon Warriors Day of Legends

DRAGON WARRIORS is the key to a magic world. A land of cobwebbed forests and haunted castles. A land where dire monsters lurk in the shadows of the night, where hobgoblins shriek across the bleak and misty moors, where wizards and armoured warriors roam dank dungeons in their quest for gold and glory. The realm of your imagination.

On July 15th, 2023, we come together on a Day of Legends. We meet old friends and make new ones. We drink, we eat, we game, and we celebrate.

We gather just before midday at Brewdog Chancery Lane, London, UK. This is a face-to-face meet with no online element.

Day of Legends. The Ultimate Dragon Warriors Convention | Warhorn


Home - NarraScope

Celebrating Narrative Games

June 9 – 11 at the University of Pittsburgh

In-person registration is now closed.

Online registration still open!

(through June 8th)

NarraScope first took place in 2019, live at MIT. In 2020, Narrascope was fully online, and for 2021 we skipped a year, returning for 2022 as an online event. Our conference aims to be a place for everyone interested in narrative games to hang out, exchange ideas and get inspired. We do this through a broad selection of talks, keynote speakers, discussions and workshops.

Subjects vary from interactive fiction tools to writing best practices and everything in between. Previous talks had titles like “Choosing Your Happily Ever After”, “Shaping Your Story with Emotional Intelligence” and “Adapting Film’s Techniques for Nonlinear Stories”, to give you a bit of an idea. The NarraScope History site lists everything we did over the past years.

Home - NarraScope



Voidspace is currently on issue 6.

The Warlock Returns

The Warlock Returns is currently on issue 9.

The Warlock Returns Issue #09 - Arion Games | Advanced Fighting Fantasy |


A Puzzled Adventurer's Journal is still exploring gamebook design.

A Puzzled Adventurer's Journal (


Fantastic Flights gamebook podcast is currently on Armies of Death.

Campaign on Dice is currently on Battleblade Warrior.

Fighting Fantasy 21 - Trial of Champions - Vintage Gamebook Podcast | Podcast on Spotify


Antarctica: a solo sci-fi post-apocalyptic gamebook by Chronicle Craft — Kickstarter

Embark on a journey through a post-apocalyptic world after the climate has changed everything. Explore, survive & forge your own path.

This Kickstarter is yet to launch.

Wallace Designs – Everything Martin Wallace

Wallace Designs is excited to announce its next major release, ‘Fighting Fantasy Adventures’, which will be coming to Kickstarter on the 1st July 2023. Based on the iconic series of books created by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone the co-operative card game allows up to four players to experience the classic adventures in a completely new way. Martin Wallace, the co-designer of the number one rated board game ‘Brass: Birmingham’ has developed an elegant card-based system that gives the feel of a role-playing game without the need for a games master. The first campaign will comprise of five adventures, based on four beloved books, with the promise of more to come.

In Fighting Fantasy Adventures (Campaign 1), you can experience the stories in a whole new way. Now you can play with up to three friends, in a co-operative format. Gameplay is easy to learn and engaging, downtime is limited to some dice rolls and your characters level up after each adventure.

This Campaign includes the stories below:

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain

Island of the Lizard King

Deathtrap Dungeon

The Forest of Doom

Subterranea: Empire of Wrath A SAVAGE REALMS GAMEBOOK by Savage Realms Gamebooks — Kickstarter

The small becomes large as the large becomes small. What you would normally squash in the palm of your hand, now stands equal to you. The shock of the sudden change in perspective is nothing compared to the dangers you now face. A pin becomes a weapon that could save your life! The beat of a fly's wings now deafens you! A spider's web is the deadliest of traps! To birds, you are food, but to the Murina People, you are an imposter in their realm and imposters are unwelcome in the black eyes and outlook of the Rat Emperor himself.  

The underground miniverse of Subterranea and its denizens await you...

This Kickstarter is funded, but you can still follow it.

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Fantastic Fights gamebook podcast awesomeness

Hello all! Here is a post from Hieronymous J Doom, host of the awesome gamebook podcast Fantastic Fights. His podcast involves playthroughs of the Fighting Fantasy books and other books along with his thoughts and some design lessons he has taken from them. 

Hieronymous releases two podcasts per month. One is about a Fighting Fantasy book (at the time of writing, he is on Daggers of Darkness) and a bonus playthrough with a gamebook from a different series. These gamebooks have included Destiny Quest, Grailquest, Transformers books and many more. The podcast is always entertaining and informative.

Hierronymous also releases his own gamebooks. However, these are only available to people who back him on Patreon. However, Hieronymous only requires as little as £1 per month, and since you get a lot of awesome gamebooks in return, it is a bargain!

You also get posts about Hieronymous's design process. Hieronymous has kindly let me copy one of his design posts to share here as a taster of the value you get for as little as £1 per month.

I do a lot of my design in my head before I even start sketching out basic ideas. I like to turn ideas over and over, looking at them from different angles and considering what potential ramifications different decisions might have for the design of a game or a book. It’s not something I’d recommend to everyone, I’ve always had a good memory for this kind of thing. When I was a teenager I would regularly run roleplaying games with zero preparation and took very few notes. Instead I’d spend the intervals between sessions turning the characters and situations over in my head and thinking about possible directions that I could take events. I do the same thing in the early stages of designing a gamebook. I audition a bunch of ideas in my head and then turn them round, mentally sketch out different possible iterations and then try something else to see if that feels better. There’s a lot of instinct at this stage of design, I tend to wind up settling on something that just feels right. The important thing for me at this point is to start with something concrete that I can use to orient my thoughts. I think of this part of the process as being like improvising a musical solo, a guitarist needs to know what the basic chords of the song are in order to be able to improvise successfully. Quite often I’ll decide that I can’t come up with enough to do the premise justice. That’s when I move onto another premise and start turning that around to see what I can do with it.

These aren’t failed ideas, I quite often find myself coming back to them months or even years later and I’m always careful to make a note of what I had when I let the idea go so that it can act as a memory aid for future development. They just didn’t feel right for me at the time and that’s fine. Thinking about those ideas helps me sharpen my critical faculties. There’s nothing worse than starting a large project like a gamebook and finding out halfway through it doesn’t actually work.

I thought I would share some of the ideas that I tossed around in my head before abandoning and the reasons why I abandoned them. Then in the next development diary I’ll talk about the idea that made it past the mental stage. I think the majority of these are things I’ve mentioned at least in passing on the podcast.

The first idea that I auditioned was an idea for a science fiction book. I’ve always wanted to do a sci-fi one and this one would have involved the player trying to regain control of a spaceship that had been captured by space pirates. You’d be trying to free crew mates, take control of key sections of the ship before a final showdown with the space pirate chief. There’s definitely the kernel of a good idea here, I’d be riffing on Star Trek, a show I love, and big spaceship would lend itself well to gamebook design being a nice constrained space. I abandoned it only after reluctantly concluding that I couldn’t think of quite enough memorable encounters to get a full book out of it. The premise was great but I couldn’t see a way to avoid a certain amount of repetition without watering it down.

The second idea was a werewolf book where the player would take the role of a human afflicted with lycanthropy. The key thing I wanted to explore was phases of the moon, I loved the idea of the character’s stats and options changing depending on where the moon was in its cycle. I also liked the idea of the character being hunted by professional werewolf hunters. It would have been a great opportunity to bring in some gothic horror in the vein of Hammer horror. I mentally sketched a simple system for tracking phases of the moon but in the end it was clear that it would add a great deal of complexity to the book-keeping and complicate every single encounter design to an outrageous degree. Tracking time is also not something easy to do in a gamebook format where paragraph descriptions are set in stone. The simple answer is to move the phases of the moon from a system approach to a narrative approach, so that early sections of the book take place during the new moon and the climax takes place at the full moon. This a pretty good premise and would allow the finale to be the moment where the hero finally goes full werewolf but it wasn’t the book I wanted to write so I let it go.

This second idea failed partly because it was a mechanics led idea rather than a narrative led idea. I’m a sucker for a simple clever mechanic but I find that whenever I start from the mechanics the final idea is never quite as strong because I’m looking for a reason to justify my mechanics not a narrative hook. In general I believe starting from a mechanical approach is putting the cart before the horse for gamebooks and RPGs. The systems should always be in service to the fantasy not the other way round because you end up designing a board game with some narrative features. Board games with narrative features are a fine thing but it’s not something I think works all that well in a gamebook.

In the next installment I’ll explain what idea has wound up winning the audition process, why it doesn’t resemble my initial idea all that closely, why I think it has legs and what my next steps are.



So, to listen to HJ Doom's awesome podcast, you can get it here - Fantastic Fights — Haunted Phonograph

To back HJ Doom on Patron, starting at a mere £1 a month (you can also give him more!) and get his gamebooks and access to his design posts, go here - HJDoom | creating podcasts and writing/journalism | Patreon

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Results announcement to the 2022/2023 Lindenbaum competition

I am pleased to announce that the winner of the 2022/2023 Lindenbaum Prize for short gamebook fiction is Niall Turner with Phoenix.

Merit awards go to Thomas Betsworth with Milly and Joe Cheal with the Endless Asylum.

Commendation awards go to Jeremy Johnson with Awakening Aboard the Anastasia, David Donachie with Escape from the Tower of the Stars, Paul Partington with Ghost in the Shadows, Andrew Greene with Hollywood Noir and Sean Loftiss with The Horn of Blaat. This is due to a tie between three books.

I would like to thank everybody who participated, the authors and those dedicated readers who took the time to evaluate all the entries, and also a further thanks to those readers who provided feedback and comment to the authors.

If you intend to write feedback in a public place, please email me the address and I will link to it.

It is no small thing to as entrants to write original gamebooks. To write a gamebook (even one that must be limited to 100 sections) requires considerable time and creative effort. It is the type of writing project that can take months to accomplish and I appreciate greatly the work done by all the authors who entered this year's competition.

Many thanks for helping make this year's competition such an excellent competition with a wide variety of gamebook genres and styles. This was the second year I ran the competition and you continued to help me make it as brilliant as it was.

I would also like to extend thanks to Peter Agapov who sponsored the competition, Tammy Badowski who donated her time and talent to the competition and Crumbly Head Games who has donated free subscriptions to GBAT for the top 3 entrants.

The entries can be found here: Lloyd of Gamebooks: Voting is now open for the 2022/2023 Lindenbaum Prize!