Saturday, November 20, 2010

Your adventure is over part 1 - Victory in gamebooks

"Nothing in life is certain except death and taxes"
- Benjamin Franklin

However, in the world of gamebooks, neither is certain.  For one thing, in a world where evil sorcerers are plotting to bring down civilisation and brutal monsters roam the land, decimating whole populations, no one has had much time to collect taxes (unless you live in Port Blacksand where Lord Azzur invents a new one every week or want to save the world from the Shadow Warriors where your first great opponent is a short fat man who wants a load of gold.  It led to a great chase sequence though).

So in the world of gamebooks, you are more likely to end up on the wrong end of a sword rather than having to fill in a tax return.  However, even this is not certain as you may reach the victory paragraph.

Endings in gamebooks are strange as you need several endings but only one will be used at any given reading.  However, after scouring the forums and reviews, all endings - good and bad - need to be well done to maximise the level of entertainment. 

For example, there are some books where the victorious ending is a couple of lines saying congratulations, such as these endings

'"There" You say to Abdul, flinging your coffer open to reveal an amount of gold substantially greater than his own.  "I am the victor, I am the greatest rascal, the best sacker of cities!" Abdul bows his head, admitting your victory.  You have won." - Seas of Blood

'Victory is yours!  The Masks of Mayhem will not be released upon the land.  At least not in your lifetime...' - Masks of Mayhem

'With the capture of 'Blaster', you have wiped out the leadership of the criminal organisation.  Congratulations.  You have smashed the drug ring.  Your victory is a complete success.' - Rings of Kether.

'You drag the unconscious Cyrus from the Waldo.  Your mission is a complete success.  Congratulations' - Space Assassin.

(A Waldo is a bit like this except way less awesome.)

These endings give me and other people a sense of 'Is that it?'.  These endings do not give justice to the trials and tribulations I have gone through to get to the end.  I know that they were all in my head, but as this article about video games states (under number 4), we are hard wired to collect rewards, whether real or imaginary.  I want an epilogue to the story stating exactly how everyone in the world acknowledges my awesomeness and/or how I used the hordes of riches that all sorcerers inexplicably seem to be sitting on (in the case of Return to Firetop Mountain, this is literal) pile of treasure.

All of the above paragraphs do not do this.  First of all, they give very little hint as to the story you have experienced that led you up to this moment of triumph.  From above, I wouldn't know that the Rings of Kether was a Sci fi book.  I could just have easily been a modern day cop adventure.  If you didn't know that the first paragraph was from a book called Seas of Blood, you could imagine that you were a kind of barbarian sacking cities in the mainland.

Second, what happens after you have reached this moment.  Now that you and Abdul have established that you are the best pirate, what happens next?  Do you both go back to plundering as usual, confining this adventure to your log books?  What's going to stop him saying he won?  After all, you're both on a deserted island with only a severely beaten up cyclops and some aged creature to adjudicate. 

In Masks of Mayhem, how is your journey home?  In Space Assassin, what happens to Cyrus's ship?  How do you get Cyrus off the ship where his crew are still loyal to him and get him to a nice safe cell?  Who knows?

Thirdly, all of the paragraphs above say congratulations or make some obvious statement about you winning.  I know I've won.  Now please tell me what I've got.  Eyes on the prize, people!

I guess part of the reason why some victories are short is because of the original aim of the adventure.  If the aim is to slay the warlock to save the world and you have just beaten the warlock in the fight, then what more is there to add apart from 'You saved the world'?  I guess the endings are efficient.  They could be written like this.

'Let's look back at the aims of today then, shall we.  Right, one.  Capture mad scientist.  Check.  We've done that.  Well done!' 

However, even if the book has a simple aim and it's obvious when you achieve it, you can still add more to a victory.  Books involving Zagor do this well.  The aims are always simple - slay Zagor.  However, the endings are not short and simple.

In The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, the aim is simple and it is not too surprising to find a ton of treasure in Zagor's chest, but then there is also his spellbook.  Ah.  Do you take the treasure or do you stay and rule over Firetop Mountain?  The rest of the story is left to your imagination.

In Return to Firetop Mountain, after you slay Zagor, you return with some villagers to gloat over Zagor's corpse, only to find the left arm missing dun dun DUN.  Cue sequel...

In Legend of Zagor, you kill Zagor for good by dropping him in a chasm full of fire (although in the novels, even this isn't enough to off him) and you are told that you land is still a very trouble place but you have given it a chance of survival. 

Some gamebooks treat your victory with an in depth epilogue full of people telling you how great you are.  All Lone Wolf books and Grailquest books have this kind of ending with all but one Lone Wolf book (Masters of Darkness) giving you the title of the next adventure to look forward to.  That is what I'm talking about.

Some gamebooks have endings that are good because they are intriguing as well as complete.  Slaves of the Abyss does not end as you would expect, but it grows (literally) into a bigger story.

Finally, I'd just like to point out the ending to Night Dragon which has me thoroughly confused.  You have defeated the eponymous Night Dragon and leave its mountain to have the Lord of Dragons fly you somewhere.  However, you are not told where.  You are merely told that while you are on the Lord of Dragon's back, you fall asleep and that when you awaken ' will be glad that it was a dreamless slumber.'

What the hell does that mean?  Answers in a comment please.

I was going to write about death endings at this point, but this post is long enough.  I will put them in a separate post.

Friday, November 19, 2010

News and links

Hi, I've been busy recently.  I've been planning more posts on gamebooks and buying gamebooks on Amazon, including familiar and unfamiliar Choose Your Own Adventure books.

I've also been reading gamebooks that I have had for ages but never tried.  For example, I am flicking through Duelmaster gamebooks 3, The Shattered Realm. 

I meant the plural - the duelmaster series is made up of four parts, each one consists of two gamebooks.  More is explained here on an encylapedic gamebook website, which I recommend:

The books seem very innovative.  One contains even numbers and the other contains odd numbers.  The aim is that two players battle each other with the books. 

In The Shattered Realm, the players take the roles of rulers of two countries that are going to war.  Each player picks from three rulers.  They are different by name, but each country's three rulers follow the same kind of description - one ruler is in charge of the army, one is a magic user and the other is a woman (really - that's her USP).

The plotis split into two halves.  The first halve involves travelling the land to recruit allies to your cause.  You have to sweet talk several rulers to provide soldiers to boost your army.  However, if you both decide to visit the same country at the same time, you may end up duelling your opponent. 

you would wonder how some of the other countries manage to not implode.  There is a country ruled by the priesthood of death.  There is also an anarchic city.  It makes you wonder what our moderate democracies are doing that is so wrong if a country ruled by a priesthood that has no problem with spreading disease and sacrificing babies is able to thrive.

The second half involves a battle, which I haven't taken part in because I haven't found someone to play against.  However, I enjoy the format and flavour of the books.  In the future, I will write a post about multiplayer gamebooks.  There are four Duelmasters, The Scarlet Sorcerer by Joe Dever and The Fellowship of Four (based on the heroquest boardgame -

Just as one competition ends, another begins. is holding a competion where you enter a 50 or 150 Choose Your Own Adventure gamebook using its program found on the website.  Check it out.  The deadline is December 15th.  I'm going to write for it as it fills the void left by the Windhammer Competition.

Which brings me to the competition - I won it!  I'm so pleased.  I have entered it for the 3 years and I feel I have improved a lot.  My first gamebooks were not very descriptive and quite linear - in fact, everything I didn't want my gamebooks to be.  However, I have taken the feedback provided from this group:

and looked at what made the winners so successful.  I would like to thank everone who voted, provided feedback over the last few years and to Wayne Densley for providing a platform for me.  If it wasn't for this competition and Yahoo group, I wouldn't have written any gamebooks.  I have learnt a lot about gamebooks and writing because of it.

Look at his Arborell gamebooks online.

One last website I would recommend is Litopia, a writers' community website:

I have listened to several 'after dark' podcasts and found them entertaining and informative. 

I have ideas on other things to analyse in gamebooks and will be posting them soon.  Have a nice time!

Dice in game books - conclusion

how to Anyone ever played Civilisation 3*?  It's great to be able to build up your civilisation and lead them through exploring unknown territories, building cities and wonders, barbarian attacks, natural disasters, wars and finally get them to Alpha Centauri?  It's even better when you've lost a few times before. 

Then you can do it on cheat mode.  You can create hordes of units, build cities all over the place, have nukes when every other civilisation has bows and own every wonder in the world.  Then you wait a while as you watch the other civilisations desperately struggle amongst themselves before you crush them like flies.  And then you realise that it wasn't half as much fun because you knew what was going to happen.

*Can apply to almost any game with a cheat mode.

When I started writing about random elements in gamebooks, I had a bit of a downer on them.  Then I started writing about the good points of dice in gamebooks, thinking that it would be a short post with lots of 'but they only work if...' after each good point. 

However, after reading the post, I realised that there are a lot of good points of having a random element in gamebooks.

Basically it boils down to the escitement of having an element you are not completely in control over.  You can play the game to improve your chances, but you will never know for certain.  You might win or lose depending on the roll of the dice. 

It's straying into psyhology here, but there is a sense of excitement about the unknown.  Knowing everything and being in complete control can get boring.  So in theory, gamebooks with dice last longer than diceless gamebooks. 

The flipside is that it has to be done very carefully to be done well, otherwise it will spoil the whole gamebook.  It completely destroys the thrill of the risk to know that you will lose. 

There are a lot of gamebooks that are spoilt by requiring you to perform an almost impossible series of dice rolls.  This just gives a sense of frustration.  This is the reason why I had such a downer on dice in gamebooks. 

Before I wrote this series of posts, I was against using dice.  Now, I'm open to it again, but I need to make sure I do the following things with any gamebook I write where I include random elements.

  • With the combat system, I will work out the probabilities to make sure that all combats are challenging but not impossible.  By doing this, I can estimate how many hits the hero will take and then plan how damaging other situations will be.  I will only place super powerful monsters if there is a means of making the combat easier in the book, or if it is a result of the hero doing something completely stupid.
  • I need to playtest the book to see if the dice rolls needed for victory are not too unlikely.  This opens the new question of what should the probability of victory be if you make all the right choices.  Should it be 100% or a little lower to add tension.  If so, what should it be.  95%?  90%?  85%?  How low could I go before it becomes frustrating?
  • If I use die rolls to add variety (random monsters, random items or random encounters for example), I need to make sure that they do not unbalance the gae one way or another.
  • I will give my hero alternatives in the adventure so they can increase scores that they have low values in or choose not to if they want a challenge.
  • I need to make sure that I don't overdo it on the numbers and bookjeeping.  I need to keep it simple.  This raises the question of how simple or complex I can go.
So my conclusion to 'Are dice good in gamebooks?' is yes - but only if done well. 

Less than a week left to vote for your favourite Windhammer books!