Wednesday, August 10, 2011

How to write a gamebook part 2f - what to consider when you write a gamebook by yourself.

Hi all!  I was going to include this on Sunday, but the article was getting long and I do not want to give 

Gamebook creation systems (links are halfway down the page)

ADVELH automatically creates a colour coded
grid as you go along.  It can also randomise paragraphs
for you.
Using excel can be a long process and many people have made their own gamebook creation systems (look halfway down the page to find the links.)  I prefer to use ADVELH.  I have not tried all of the systems (and I intend to one day) but ADVELH has everything I need, so I have not felt a need to move onto another system.

You may be wondering why I decided to use excel first.  My idea behind that was that you get an appreciation of the structure of a gamebook an it is better to know many methods than to just find one methd and stick to it.  Although I use ADVELH, I still need maps and flow diagrams for my planning, and I also use excel but only to mark paragraphs which have been written properly as to paragraphs where I have just written an outline as ADVELH only detects paragraphs that have been written in, not whether they have been finished or not.

Colour coding your grids

It is always good to have a colour coded grid for your paragraphs so that you can chart your progress.  At the very least, we should colour code the numbers of completed paragraphs which is something I use even if I use ADVELH as it cannot tell the difference between a rough outline for a paragraph and a completed paragraph(it can only tell if you have written in the paragraph or not.)

Here are some paragraphs that ADVELH colour codes.

Orphan paragraphs (purple in ADVELH) - no paragraphs lead there.  In most gamebooks only the start paragraph is an orphan paragraph (exceptions will be highlighted in later posts)

Death paragraph (green in ADVELH) - This is a paragraph that does not lead anywhere.  Although they are described as death paragraphs in ADVELH, you can have good endings too.

Typed paragraph (red in ADVELH) - you can get there from a paragraph and it leads to another paragraph.

Reserved paragraph (turquoise in ADVELH) - does not lead anywhere yet but another paragraph leads there.

Other boxes you could code for are combat (so that you know that the player is losing a lot of 'life points') or 'good endings' vs 'bad endings' (so that you know which ending is which)

What if I have to write a certain number of paragraphs for my book and cannot go above or below that number?

With the gamebook we have written, we chose the plot and we used however many paragraphs we needed.  However, there may be some situations where you have to write a certain number of paragraphs and you may need to reduce the number of paragraphs you use or increase the number you use.    

Maybe, you want to write a microadventure that only fits on one page (Andrew Wright has done this.  You can find them in this Yahoo Group amongst some of his gamebooks) or you are writing a gamebook for a competition and the maximum number of paragraphs that you can have is 100.

If you have too many paragraphs, then I have tackled this problem in two posts, here and here.  I don't have anything more to add on the topic.

You may, however, want to increase the number of paragraphs you have.  Here are a few ways to deal with that.

Split a paragraph into smaller paragraphs

If you have a lot going on in one paragraph, then you could always split it up.  Maybe you have a description of a place, followed by a set of choices.  Maybe you can split the choices up.  For example, if you have a paragraph which describes a room then gives the player the choices of leaving through the north, leaving through the south, searching the room or resting in the room, you could split that into first describing the room and then asking the player if they want to leave or stay.  You then have two extra paragraphs, one asking the player if they want to leave via the north and south and another paragraph asking the player if they want to search the room or rest here.

Splitting up a paragraph can also be a good way to hide information from a player.  For example, instead of telling a player that they are in a room where they find a sword under a table, you can say that they are in a room and then ask them if they want to search it.  They only find the sword if they choose to search the room.

Write the effects of a mystery item on a paragraph and tell someone to turn to that paragraph when they use it

Instead of saying something like 'You find a potion that will restore 6 stamina points when you drink it', you could say 'You find a potion.  If you wish to drink it, turn to 199.'  

This can add an extra paragraph for every mystery item you have as well as introducing some tension to the game and maybe some realism (after all, should rough warriors be able to identify every vial of coloured liquid they come across.)  Also, you can mix some bad items in to really make the player nervous.

Battleblade warrior does this if you choose the bottle of liquid at the beginning.  The Crimson Tide also does this if your ferocity level reaches 0.  You may be surprised as to what happens then.

Write the character creation process into the first few paragraphs

Instead of doing it in the rules, you could talk the player through a character creation process in the paragraphs.  The Grailquest books do this.

Write fake paragraphs into the book

Warlock of Firetopm Mountain and Citadel of Chaos have both done this.  WOFM has a paragraph saying that your keys do not work.  Citadel of Chaos has a paragraph describing the effects of a spell.  

Have paragraphs to call out cheaters

Tower of Destruction does this.  When it asks you how many honour points you have, it offers a paragraph choice if you have 12 or more.  If you turn there, it calls you a cheat.  

How will your story be resolved?

You endings to your story.  You may choose what these endings are.  Most Fighting Fantasy books have one victory ending and if you do not get there, you will probably fail in your mission and die.  Choose Your Own Adventure books can have several good endings with varying degrees of success or maybe even endings where it is not clear which one is supposed to be the best and it is up to the reader to decide which one they like best.  

Once you have decided how your gamebook could end, you need to decide how the player will get there.  If there is one good ending, can they only get there via one direction or could they do it through several routes?
Also, could the player get diverted into sub plots and then come back to the main plot?

Do you want to impose a moral system in your book where you reward or punish certain behaviours or do you want an uncaring world?  Do you want the hero to succeed through aquiring items, brains, a sense of morality or do you just want them to wander an uncaring world where you do not reward or punish them for anything?

Write your gamebook in numerical order or write along timelines?

When you have planned all of your paragraphs, randomised them and need to write them properly, do you write them in numerical order or do you want to write along timelines?  I prefer to write along timelines, so I am more aware of the context of the paragraph.

Site adventures vs event adventures

The easiest gamebooks to write are site based games where you are given a reason to walk around a place and each place you find is a scene.  The events in each place are quite disparate and do not have to be linked together very much.  This means that you do not have to think about the player's choices creating a whole new event that you have to take into account in your writing.  In a site based adventure, the player's choices have little consequence on the whole gamebook.  Good examples of Site based adventures are Scorpion Swamp, Demons of the Deep and Robot Commando.

Event based adventures involve the character making decisions usually involving other people that will ahve effects later on in the book.  As opposed to choosing what direction to take in space, they are choosing 'directions' in time and making things happen.  Lone Wolf is the ultimate event based adventure.  For example,  getting the Sommerswerd in book 2 can make adventures in future books very different.  A smaller scale event based game is the Tyrant's Tomb by Dave Morris where you make a lot of decisions and towards the end, the book asks you a lot of questions about what you have done or what items you have.

Things to avoid

Instant deaths = bad.  Do not let the character choose an instant death unless it is because of something they did or didn't do earlier or if the consequences are obvious.  It is very frustrating to die because you opened a non descript door.

Infinite loops.  This is more of a mechanical thing and requires playtesting to avoid.  You can deal with infinite loops by either removing them or making them unprofitable so that people won't want to do them (in Fabled Lands 1, you can kill an infinite number of thugs to get 15 shards each time.  The sum of money is so small that it just gets tedious.)

Inaccessible places - It is a waste of your effort to write a great scenario, only to forget to make the player able to access it.  Return of the Vampire has an example where at the beginning you have to spend all of your gold pieces to buy a horse to chase someone but then you can't capitalise on it because you have to play some gold pieces to stay at the inn that you track them to.  Except you don't have any.  And if you don't buy the horse, you don't get this option.  Dammit.

Lack of logical consistency - it doesn't matter that warriors cast magic missile in your world as long as they always do.   Changing things halfway through just breaks the suspension of desbelief.

So there we go.

To improve on the map method, turn to 2a.

To improve on the flow diagram method, turn to 2b.

To improve on the just write it! method, turn to 2c.

If you have now improved all of your gamebooks using the three methods, it's time to move on.  Turn to part 2d - working with paragraphs.

To read the gamebook, turn to 2e.

To return to the main page, turn to part 2.

To see the video on how I made my gamebook in part 2d, go here.


  1. Hi, I'm really enjoying your 'how to' posts. Do you know if there's a version of ADVELH in English that works for Macs?

  2. Hi Egcosh - sorry I've been on holiday for a while. I have emailed ADVELH's creator with your question. I could not find one on the website.


  3. Hi Egcosh - I just had an email from ADVELH's creator. He does not have a mac version, but uses parallels to run it for his mac.

    I've found the site here -

  4. Lloyd, any chance you can upload Advelh to some server? the main site is down :(

    1. I have found it on this website:

    2. thanks! i already managed to find it on my older pc :)