Wednesday, July 27, 2011

How to write a gamebook - introduction

It has taken almost a year, but I have finally got round to writing about actually how to write a gamebook.  When I started this blog I had no idea that one could write so much about gamebooks.  However it seems that there is actually plenty to write about.

However, enough with looking back.  That's what I'll be doing on August 28th when I do a post of how the blog has come along in the past year.  With the exception of August the 28th, all of my Sunday posts between  this one and the 2nd October will be about how to write a gamebook.  The titles of the posts will be:

31st July 2011:  Thinking of a plot (and a few more plots).

Gamebooks are not just about one story; they are about many stories and how they could play out.  It's like creating several alternate timelines for your particular story.  What kind of choices could you give the reader?  What is the best way of planning all of these events and possible choices?  What conclusions do you want to give to your reader?  Do you plan this all out at once or start from the beginning and see where it takes you?

7th August 2011:  Splitting the plot into paragraphs.

Now that we have all of your 'timelines' sorted, we need to write out the paragraphs that a gamebook is split into.  How many paragraphs should you have?  When should you tell someone to turn to a new paragraph?  How long should your paragraphs be?  How should you arrange your paragraphs in your book?  How should you randomise the paragraphs if you want them to be random?

14th August 2011: Genre and Setting

You can buy GURPS here.
What genre will your gamebook be?  Fantasy, modern or science fiction?  Where will it be set - a dungeon, a castle, on a spaceship, in your mind?  A gamebook can be set in any place, any time or any world.  You can even have a gamebook where you travel across time and space  .  What kind of tropes could you have in each setting?  Is your gamebook based on a single site that you could show with a map or do you have to plan different events in your adventure?

21st August 2011:  Characters and descriptions

What makes for good gamebook characters?  What should you describe about the location that the player is in or the characteristics of the new inkeeper or hostile orc?  What kind of stock characters appear in gamebooks?  When do you need a deep interesting character and when do you just need an orc with a sword that will be dead in three dice rolls time?

After these first posts, then you could produce a short (about 25-50 paragraphs) gamebook much like Choose Your Own Adventure gamebooks  where there are no stats, no inventory lists and all you have to think about is writing the paragraphs and working out the choices.  Then you could send them to me for me to comment on, send them to me to put on the blog for myself and other people to comment on or keep the book and feel the pride of having written a gamebook.  

28th Agust 2011:  Year in review

This will have nothing to do with the How to write Gamebook series, but it will give us all time to write a choose your own adventure style gamebook and send it to me for me to comment on or put it on the blog for everyone to comment on.

Week beginning 4th September 2011

If anyone writes a Choose Your Own Adventure style gamebook, they can send it to me and I will comment on it, or they could send it to me to ask me to put it on the blog for others to see and comment on it.  All rights will still stay with the author.

4th September 2011: Using a game system.

We now get into using an RPG style system in a gamebook.  The basic rule is that the system should serve the plot, not the other way around.  What things could you measure in a system?  Why do we need them?  Do we need a randomised system?  How simple or complicated do we dare make the system?  When do systems go wrong?

11th September 2011:  Advanced stuff with numbers.

This is for those of use who have used a game system where the character has ability scores and/or some things are decided randomly.  How do you make sure that your system is fair?  What do you consider if you use dice?  Are you willing to put extra time into playtesting the book's system?

18th September 2011:  What is wrong with these examples?

This post will be about playtesting a book and the common errors that gamebooks contain with examples from other gamebooks.

25th September 2011:  Weird and wonderful things to try in your gamebook.

Some gamebook authors have tried all kinds of things.  Now that we can write a gamebook with an RPG system, how could we go further?  What about the use of secret paragraphs, puzzles or the use of maps?

2nd October 2011:  Notes from my own gamebook writing.  

In this post, I will write some notes about my own gamebooks.  I will scan in some of my planning notes and I will also write my own critiques of gamebooks I ahve written.

Week beginning 9th October 2011:  Gamebook submissions for comments.

Just like the week beginning 4th September, if you would like to submit a gamebook for me to comment on, then I will.  You could also submit the gamebook for me to post onto my blog or you could post a link for others to see.  The difference is that your gamebook can all kinds of crazy things in it - 3d20 rolls, page numbers that aren't in numerical order or every good decision turns bad.  Just like before, all rights remain with the author.

So that's what we have to look forward to over the next few weeks, but if you want to do some preliminary reading, here are some other how to write a gamebook posts.

From Jonathon Green:

From the Fighting Fantasy official website:

From J P Barnett:

There are some links to gamebook writing resources in this part of the Project Aon forum:

There are more links that I have been reminded of (and should have thought of in the first place)

First of all, Andrew Wright reminded me of the treasure chest of amateur Fighting Fantasy gamebooks that is has an old website by Mark J. Popp archived on the bottom of its downloads page. This has some instructions on how to write a gamebook.  You need to go to the amat file and the instructions are HTML files named ffinst1, ffinst2, ffinst3, ffinst4 and ffinst5.

Also (and how could I have forgotten this one considering I've written for it?), Fighting Fantazine (complete with blog) has a series of how to write your own andventure, written by Andrew Wright.  There are two parts at the moment.  The first is in issue 4 and the second is in issue 5.  The third part will be in issue 8 (thankyou, Alex.)

However, it you haven't read all of the issues, there are six so far, each one with great interviews, articles and Fighting Fantasy adventures.  You can get all of them from here.

EDIT:  Ashton Saylor has started a blog where he has written some great posts on what makes a good gamebook.

Please tell me if I've missed any more how to write a gamebook links.

Have fun!


  1. Oh My god! I can't hardly wait!
    Thanks in advance Stuart! You don't know how long I have waited to find this kind of post/article. I wish you the best luck in this enterprise!


  2. @Ikaros - I'm glad to know that my series will anticipated. I just need to get it written now...

  3. Don't forget Andrew's series of articles on this in "Fighting Fantazine". Part 3 will appear in issue #8.

  4. Thanks for the reminder, Alex. I'm looking forward to it. I've posted links to the first two parts of the series.

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