Sunday, September 25, 2011

How to write a gamebook part 8 - weird and wonderful stuff

So we've started on a basic gamebook where we just have to make choices and moved on to game systems, some with random elements, but gamebooks can go even further than that.  We have multiplayer gamebooks, mazes in gamebooks, gamebook serials and gamebooks to demonstrate how RPG systems work.  Here are some extra things that we could put in a gamebook:

Not having the winning ending on the final paragraph

In a lot of gamebooks, the final paragraph is the winning paragraph.  However, people like me, who like to read the ending first, know exactly where to go to read the end and possibly get some clues on how to win.  However, the winning paragraph could be any paragraph.  If you are a complete sadist, you could have the final paragraph as a paragraph near the end which looks like a winning paragraph but you end up in the bottom of a pit, for example (There's a Fighting Fantasy book I'm talking about).

Don't have paragraphs that go in numerical order

The paragraphs in Outsider! are not numbered 1,2,3 etc.  to prevent cheating.  Also, some Tunnels and Trolls solos are numbered 1, 1a, 1b, 2, 2a, 2b etc.  Each number is a different location in the book.

Maps with numbers

Stonemarten Village from Grailquest 2:  Den of Dragons.

You don't have to give people options in paragraphs.  You could give them options in other ways such as with a map.  This could be useful if you have a hub in a gamebook (a section where you have the option to go to many places and you return to it after your visit).  Instead of having a list, you could have a map.  

Maps can also give other information such as distance a place is from where you are, where the places are in relation to each other (which may be important for example, if you know that an army is invading from the west then you know that you will probably encounter it if you go west) and what the location will be like given its picture (for example, you know from the above image that you could go to a church).  

Other gamebooks that use this method are The Scarlet Sorcerer by Joe Dever and Destiny Quest:  The Legion of Shadow by Michael J. Ward.

Orphan paragraphs

There are some paragraphs in gamebooks that no other paragraph leads to.  This is what ADVELH refers to as an orphan paragraph.  They may be present for several reasons.  Some may be fake paragraphs that are only there to flesh out the book (Warlock of Firetop Mountain has one of these as does Citadel of Chaos).

There are other reasons to have orphan paragraphs.  You may have to turn to one when something happens (such as your honour reaching 0 in Sword of the Samurai) or if you decide to use an item and want to find out what it does (such as the healing potion in Battleblade warrior) or if you come across a wandering monster (such is in Warlock of Firetop Mountain).

These paragraphs are useful if there is something that could happen at any time in the book or an item that the hero cold use at any time in the book, but you do not want to tell the reader what the effects are straight away.  The mysterious potion you find could be good or bad. It adds extra intrigue to the gamebook.

Secret paragraphs

Zharradon Marr
is so evil he even
makes his gamebooks
There are some orphan paragraphs that you can get to, but you have to found out how.  For this, you need to know two things.  The first is when you can turn to the secret paragraph.  The second is which paragraph you need to turn to.  The simplest way to do this is to tell the player to turn to a paragraph when something happens or give them a numbered item.

Creature of Havoc has quite a few of these and for different reasons.  In Creature of Havoc, you can turn to a secret paragraph if you find a pendant that detects secret doors.  You know that you should turn to a new paragraph when you read the phrase 'You cannot see a thing'.  You then subtract a number from the paragraph you are on to turn to the new number (the instructions then change later on and  then something weird happens which may or may not be intentional).

Another occasion where you turn to secret paragraphs is if you pick up a companion.  You are told that whenever you come across a paragraph number ending in 7, that you should subtract a number from the paragraph and turn to a new number.

There are more examples of secret paragraphs.  In Demons of the Deep, the magic spell to make skeletons from black pearls is a number spelt backwards.  In many books, there is the trick of converting a word into numbers using the formula A=1, B=2 C=3, etc.  Some books have number puzzles where you have to turn to the answer.
I'm going to tell
you exactly what
you need to win.

Rebel Planet has an inventive use of the secret paragraph where you have to convert the binary access code to decimal.  Crimson Tide also has a good use of a secret paragraph.

However, why use secret paragraphs?  It is to stop the book from giving away too much.

For example, in Deathtrap Dungeon, towards the end, you are asked if you have an emerald.  If you don't you lose.  You know that you are at the last door, so you are in the right place.  There are also no other options, so the conclusion is that you need an emerald for your success.  This means that in your next playthrough, you know that you need to find an emerald and that you need to take a different route.  You may have even seen an emerald and ignored it so  you just need to make a small change to your route to win.

Now if you found an emerald and also got told that when you meet a small gnome, turn to x, then anyone who doesn't have an emerald will not find out that they needed one at the end.  It makes the book more challenging, gives it more play time and it is more satisfying when you finally win.


Let the cat out of the bag.
You should know which gems you need in Battleblade Warrior.  You should also be able to work out who the werewolf is in Stormslayer.  Why?  Because the art or the text gives you a clue.  Basically, you have a choice in the book that appears arbitrary but if you read the text closely enough or examine a picture closely enough then you should be able to work out the answer.  Clues allow you to draw disparate bits of information together to solve a seemingly insoluble problem.


Wheras with clues where you may or may not have the correct information to solve a problem, a puzzle does present you with the information you need and you need to work out what to do with it.  There are loads of puzzles and riddles in gamebooks.  One is the Space Assassin question - what comes next in this sequence OTTFFSSE?

Another one is in Curse of the Mummy where you are given the rules to a game which you play and you have to work out which piece to move to win.

How do you get your black piece to the other end?
It is difficult to make a puzzle challenging but not obtuse.  I think The game in Curse of the Mummy works well as the rules are laid out clearly and you can use the information to work out the problem eventually.  There are many other puzzles, however, where I think that I'm just trying to work out what the author was thinking and I've got no idea what they're getting at.  When this happens, I just flick through the book, looking for a paragraph that looks like the answer (I'm looking at you, Tower of Destruction). 

Multiplayer gamebooks

There aren't many multiplayer gamebooks, but the ones that are around are quite varied.  You have gamebooks where you cooperate as part of a group (Heroquest:  The Fellowship of Four, Bloodsword) and gamebooks where you compete with another person (the Combat Heroes series and the Duelmaster series).

Gamebook serials

It's always good to have the same character in several gamebooks.  You can watch them grow more powerful and get more achievements.  This includes Lone Wolf (and spin offs), Fabled Lands and the Sorcery series.

Have an RPG system?  Why not use it in a gamebook?

Tunnels and Trolls has several solo adventures.  Maelstrom also has a solo adventure to demonstrate its mechanics to GMs.  Gamebooks can be good to use as demos for RPG systems or you can just use the RPG system in the gamebook just to make a gamebook.  

Have a gamebook system?  Why not turn it into an RPG?

On the other end, if you have a gamebook, you can turn it into an RPG like Fighting Fantasy, Lone Wolf and Fabled Lands.  This gives you a chance to expand the system as most gamebook systems are more simple than RPG systems (or maybe you don't want to make it more complicated and just have a quick and entertaining play through).

Have a moral system in gamebooks

Some gamebooks encourage certain actions and moral points of view.  For example, Tower of Destruction, Knightmare:  The Sorcerer's Isle and Sword of the Samurai.

Break the fourth wall

This generally happens in a death paragraph when the author is telling you what an idiot you've been.  Grailquest does it quite a lot.  It is a different way of addressing the reader.


These mainly pop up in scifi gamebooks - as well as tracking the stats for your character, you also have a spaceship, a cool car or a giant robot to track stats for.  You normally have stats for these because you get into battles with them, which is pretty cool.  You get your own vehicles in Starship Traveller, Robot Commando and Sky Lord.


You don't have to complete gamebooks alone either.  You can write in companions for the hero.  You could make the companions part of the story all of the way and if you lose them, you lose or you could have a companion with stats who may or may not die.  This is harder to do, but a good way to do it is what Jonathan Green  does in Stormslayer.  He puts a star by a paragraph number and if you have a companion, you subtract a number from that paragraph number and turn to the new paragraph.  Creature of Havoc makes it secret by saying that if you have a  companion and you come to a paragraph ending in the number 7, then you turn to the new paragraph.

So there are more ideas for our gamebooks.  That's it for writing them.  Once we have completed a first draft then it's good to read through the book to make sure it makes sense and playtest the system to make sure that it is fair.  Then we can analyse how the gamebook went in order to make out next gamebook even better.  That's what I'll be doing next week, where I will have three vlogs analysing gamebooks I have written.  

Monday, September 19, 2011

Tweet RPG brings gamebooks to Twitter

New technology has breathed new life into the gamebook genre.  It seems that there is no end of creative people who are able to take advantage of even the most unlikely platforms for gamebooks.

Sam Richards has done this for Twitter.  

Tweet RPG is an innovative approach to gamebooks.  You follow the Tweet RPG account to receive choices for the current story.  Each choice has a hashtag to go with it.  You reply to the tweet to say what you want to do by copying the hashtag that is associated with the choice.  If you include an amusing or inspiring tweet with your choice, you may get a retweet.  What then happens is that after the deadline, the most popular decision is played and you then come across the new situation.  It's like getting micro paragraphs.

As well as giving you a live action gamebook feed, Sam also writes the story so far on his blog so that you can catch up and join a story half way through.  That way, as well as taking part in an adventure, you also get to create your own epic.  

At the end of the gamebook, stats are given and awards are handed out based on how you tweeted.  

Tweet RPG is innovative and fun and lets you play a gamebook wherever you can access Twitter.  If you are not already on Twitter, you should join it for Tweet RPG.  To find out the kind of things we get up to have a read of its first adventure, Kingslayer.

The current adventure is Starfall, a sci fi adventure which is going great at the moment.  It is easy to join in half way through - just catch up by reading the summaries of the posts, find the latest vote on Tweet RPG's Twitter feed and vote on it.  

So join us all in making a huge gmaebook playing community on Twitter.  :).

Sunday, September 18, 2011

How to write a gamebook part 7 - what is wrong with this paragraph?

Some significant mistakes have been made in gamebooks.  I'm not talking about typographical errors, I'm talking about things that may make the gamebook unplayable.  Here, I will list some things that could happen in gamebooks so that you could watch out for them.  I love the gamebooks I've listed, they are just spoilt by some mistakes.

Mistakes from a mechanics point of view

Telling people to turn to the wrong paragraph

Example:  Spellbreaker

This can cause the game to grind to a halt.  You tell the reader to turn to paragraph x, but paragraph x makes no sense.  Where do you go now?  I suppose the only solution is to search for a paragraph that makes sense and this involves going through the book which can be a long tedious process.

Solution:  using ADVELH or another gamebook program could sort this out.  If you do not use a program, then you may have to double check by reading through every possible path.

Giving people the wrong stats

Example:  Triad of skulls

In the triad of skulls, I told the player to roll 1 die (d6) and add 9 for their skill, giving the hero a skill of 10-15.  I intended to say roll one die and divide the result by 2, rounding fractions up and add 9, giving a skill of 10-12.  Anyone who played it with a skill of 13-15 probably found  the gamebook far too easy.  This was a schoolboy error.

Solution:  Even if you don't proofread the whole book, at least proofread the important stuff, like stat determination.

Not following your own rules

Example:  Creature of Havoc

I Creature of Havoc, you need to find a magic pendant that can find secret doors.  When you see the phrase, 'You cannot see a thing...', you follow the instructions in the book to turn to a new paragraph.  Later you are told to do this when you read 'You find yourself...'.  However, paragraph 213 does not start with either of these phrases but you still have to follow the instructions for the pendant.  There is a case that this is quite an inspired decision but it must have caused a lot of frustration.  For more information on this mistake and for a walkthrough, click here.

Solution:  Doing a playtest.

Not considering all possibilities

Example:  Creature of Havoc (again, sorry - it really is a good gamebook)

Despite Creature of Havoc being one of the most difficult gamebooks ever, the fights are actually very easy to win.  Damage against you in combat is reduced and you automatically kill your opponent if you roll a double on 2d6 (which means that you have a 1 in 6 chance of killing an opponent each round).

You may get into a combat with Thugruff, a half troll.  If you reduce his stamina to 4 or less, he calls his army which kills you.  However, there is no paragraph to turn to if you kill him automatically.  You may have been able to escape if you did that.

Solution:  When you write combats and situations have all rules in mind.  The above example just needed an extra paragraph saying what happened if you kill Thugruff.  It would have been fine if it was another instant death for you as long as it had been considered.

Having decisions which make future decisions impossible

Example:  Revenge of the Vampire

In revenge of the paper, you can buy a horse to pursue something at the beginning of the book.  You can only buy the horse if you have at least 8 gold pieces and it costs all of your money.  You later come to an inn where you have to pay money to stay there.  Except you can't because you spent all of your money and you can't get to that part if you don't buy the horse.

Solution:  Playtesting.

Having stat changes that are ambiguous

Example:  Talisman of Death (but there are others)

Skill bonuses are ambiguous in early Fighting Fantasy books.  When you get a magical weapon or piece of magical armour, you are told to increase your skill.  However, you are told in the rules that your skill cannot go above its initial value so if your skill is at its maximum, the bonus is lost.

Talisman of Death does this a lot.  You can get some chainmail armour, a spear, a ring and a helmet that increases your skill.  From the description in the text, it sounds like it should take your skill over its initial value.  The helmet bestows quickness of thought on the wearer.  The ring is a ring of skill at arms.  The chainmail and spear is magical.  However, if you follow the rules, then you cannot use them to go over your initial skill.

Also, you might lose your sword in Talisman of Death, reducing your skill by 2 points.  What happens if you drink a potion of skill (restoring it to its initial value) and then get another sword.  Does increase your skill?

Solution:  In the above example, the solution is to modify attack strength rather than skill.  One way to get a round this is to ask someone else to read the rules and see if they can understand them from what we have written as we are sometimes too 'immersed' in our own creations to see their flaws.

Having infinite loops

Example:  Fabled Lands

In the above example, you could fight an infinite number of muggers and get 15 shards each time or go to a part of the hills an infinite number of times where you might just increase a stat.  This means that if readers are prepared to exploit these infinite loops, then they can break the game.

Soution:  Playtesting.  Find someone who likes breaking games and exploiting bugs and get them to playtest it.

Making the gamebook impossible

Example:  Crypt of the Sorcerer

Razaak is a skill 12 stamina 20 opponent who kills you if he scores two consecutive hits.  There are plenty more difficult battles so winning it fairly is almost impossible.  Your gamebook may also be impossible if you have missed out a vital item or told the hero to turn to a different paragraph.

Solution:  Reduce your opponents' stats or increase your stats.  Playtesting.

Mistakes from a story point of view

Having a decision which is not acknowledged by the text

Example:  Talisman of Death (again, sorry.  It was my first gamebook so I love it).

This is by no means a gamebreaker but it could break the suspension of disbelief.  In Talisman of Death, you may end up fighting a cut throat and two other thieves.  If you kill one thief (not the cut throat) and wound another then the fight ends.  The paragraph states that the cut throat yields.  However, you may have killed the cut throat in combat.

Solution: Make sure that the story covers all possibilities.  In the above case, leave out what the cut throat did as you don't know if he was alive or dead or you could say that you have to kill the cut throat.

Lack of consistency with items or characters

Example: Return to Firetop Mountain

In Return to Firetop Mountain, you could find a bronze tooth with a flame on it.  Later on, it is described as a silver tooth with a number on.

Solution:  Proofreading.

So it seems that most of the solutions are proofreading or playtesting (it is also best to get someone else to do it as it is harder to see our own mistakes.  We are too familiar with the work and our brains cover up the mistakes with what we think we wrote).

Since Playtesting is needed, I have copied something about Playtesting from the Official Fighting Fantasy website's How to Write a Gamebook series.


Steve: After the text had been written, the numerical references had to be randomised. Ian and I had two approaches to this. Probably his way was better. He used to have a sheet with the numbers 1-400 written down. As he wrote a reference he would pick a number from the sheet and cross it off. So when all 400 numbers had been allocated, the book was finished! I used an alphanumeric system. Each of the (let’s say) 30 main encounters was given a number from 1-30. When I came to write the encounter up, all the sub-paragraphs were given letters. Perhaps 15A was the start of an encounter with the Ganjees. From this there would be various options and each option was given another letter, perhaps 15B, C or D. There were further sub- paragraphs from these, and sometimes I’d find I was numbering a paragraph as ‘25C (iii) a’. Very confusing to an outsider, I’m sure. But I knew what was going on. I liked this method because whilst the book was being written I could always tell at a glance where a reference came from (“If it’s 15-something it’s from the Ganjees” etc). But the downside was that I’d have to go through and re-number everything at a later stage. Plus I didn’t have any instant total of the references I’d written. In the end this resulted in me abandoning the 400-reference standard. Only Warlock, Citadel and House of Hell had exactly 400.
My re-numbering process was the most tedious part of writing the book. I used two sheets of paper, one with the numbers 1-400 on and the other with a listing of all my alphanumeric references. It was then necessary to go through and replace each alphanumeric reference with a 1-400 reference. All the time this was being done you had to bear in mind that the paragraphs to be illustrated had to be spaced equally apart, otherwise you might have two illustrated paragraphs on the same page of the book. And once the final codes had been allocated, there was maybe a week’s work in checking and re-checking all the numbered references matched up properly. Finally, after months of work, the manuscript would be ready to be delivered to the publishers. But in between delivery and publication there was more work to do. In those days, the author’s typewritten manuscript would be re-typed by a typesetter, resulting in long pages of text known as ‘galleys’ that had to be checked for typos and numbering errors. Finally ‘page proofs’ would arrive – all the text and the illustrations set out ready to paste up into the final pages as they would appear in the book.
Jon: By trying to ensure that there is a balance in the book between opportunities to recover points for the player's various attributes along with the chances to lose them. I know I have been criticised in the past for having too many powerful enemies but in the books there are plenty of opportunities to gain items or abilities which can lend you an advantage. However, I think I have achieved this most successfully in 'Bloodbones'.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

How to write a gamebook part 6 - advanced stuff with numbers

If you introduce a random element to your gamebook, you need to decide on how the random element is determined.  Most gamebooks with a random element require d6 as they are the most common dice.  Lone Wolf uses a random number table with values from 1-10 (a d10 will also suffice if you have one, but I assume that Joe Dever did not expect most readers to have a d10, so he put the table into his books).  Some books that use dice also put illustrations of dice on the page so that you can flick through the book and use that dice roll in case you don't have dice.

Random determination of stats can introduce more tension and variability to the gamebook, but it needs to be playtested to make sure that it is actually fair.  Gamebooks such as Crypt of the Sorcerer and Spellbreaker are almost impossible to win fairly.  You can playtest the book by playing through all of the situations.

If you are using d6, then there are a few probability tables that may be able to help you.

To see the probability in % of getting a particular score on the roll of 3d6, go here or here.

If you are using the Fighting Fantasy system, then this table of the probability of winning an attack round may help:

You can also find out the probability of winning a combat here courtesy of Jamus from the Unofficial Fighting Fantasy Forum.

There are good and bad points to having a random element in gamebooks.  I have highlighted them in my Dice in Gamebooks series.

Manipulating dice rolls

If your system does not give the player much of a chance, there are ways of getting around that rather than creating a whole new system.  In fact, it can add an extra dimension to the gamebook.  You can create items or abilities that manipulate dice rolls to the player's advantage.  For example, if you use a Fighting Fantasy system, you can have an ability that allows them to reroll their attack strength once per combat.  Fabled Lands has a blessing system where if you fail a roll in a particular stat, you can use the blessing to reroll it.  I could list some other ideas, but Michael J. Ward beat me to it when he wrote Destiny Quest.  He has come up with tons of abilities that can manipulate stats.  Look at them here.

Speaking of Michael J. Ward, the author of Destiny Quest I asked him about how he came up with his complicated yet balanced game system.  You can read his answers here:

* How did you decide the names for your stats and what they would do?

The game system was inspired by the Warhammer table top game, published by Games Workshop. In their system, units of warriors roll to hit (using weapon skill) and then roll to wound (using strength vs. opponents’ toughness).Troops suffering damage are then allowed a saving throw, depending on the armour they are wearing. It is a simple and effective system, yet is more involved and interesting than a simple ‘roll to win and then apply damage’ model.

So using that as a starting point, I knew my combat system would need three steps:
1) Rolling to hit
2) Rolling to damage
3) Avoiding damage (i.e. using armour)

I also added in a fourth step to each round known as the ‘passive step’ where any passive effects that are in play and do recurring damage are then applied to affected characters. This was influenced more by my experience of online and computer rpgs. 

So from there, I worked out the stats that I would need in order for that system to work – and also link to the character types that can be played (rogue, warrior and mage). So speed was an obvious choice for the ‘rolling to hit’ stat, and brawn and magic were used for the appropriate ‘strength’ and ‘magic’ types of attack.

* Did your stats work in different ways before you published?

No, they stayed the same. I wrote the entire rules section before I started penning the book and that section really didn’t change. The only thing that changed dramatically, after playing through the game a couple of times, was that ‘hybrid’ classes were not working (i.e. I had hoped some careers would allow players to benefit from both brawn and magic). It made itemisation too hard and really wasn’t satisfying to play. Also, when creating a game as complex as DestinyQuest, you want to try and create as level a playing field as possible, so having careers focus on one damage attribute made more sense.

* Why did you use 2d6 rather than 1d6, 1d10 or any other random system.

I was keen to avoid using any type of die other than a d6. I wanted DestinyQuest to be as accessible to as many people as possible – and that includes people who may not have played an rpg before and therefore not have a box of ‘odd-shaped die’ that they can use. Six-sided dice are common and easy to get hold of, so for that reason, the DQ system focuses on them.

Originally, for combat, you rolled 1d6 for each combatant for speed and then 1d6 (adding brawn and magic) for damage. After some playtesting it quickly became obvious that a 2d6 system for speed was better as it gave a higher probability of winning if there was a significant speed difference between the combatants. Basically, it made it less punishing and a little fairer. When it comes to the dealing damage, 1d6 seemed to work fine (adding brawn and magic) and, of course, with abilities, that can be increased.

How did you know if a battle was balanced?  Did you fight the battle or use a formula?  Did you take account of all the abilities a hero could have?

There was no formula as such to start with, other than making monsters scale from quest to quest in terms of stats and special abilities. Basically, I just played through the game again and again… and again, using different builds. I would then make changes based on each build and then play again. Each time I played, I also had to ask myself how different people would play. Of course, you will have your power gamers who just gobble up all the items that give them max stats etc. but you will also have more casual or younger players who may experiment more with items and therefore not be as powerful at a given stage.

Playtesting was incredibly time consuming. I probably spent over a year (off and on) testing the game and then about three months ‘hardcore’. It was necessary. I don’t think you can create something of this complexity and rely on a formula or rubric. There are just too many ‘human factors’ in terms of the character choices that can be made. It’s essentially like any rpg/computer rpg from that aspect – you really need a whole team of players taking your game and trying to break it in whatever way they can. I didn’t have the benefit of a room full of playtesters, so I really had to do a lot of it myself and trust my own judgement.

Coming to DQ2, which I am writing now, I don’t think it will be as taxing. Players will be more ‘level’ with each other at different stages (in terms of speed and damage attribute) and there will be less variances there. That will make it much easier to balance from my point of view.

Did you always want the no death rule?  Did you introduce it for rules reasons and then write a story about it or introduce it for story reasons first?

Ah yes, that old chestnut. The death rule was there from the start – simply because I couldn’t fathom how my game system could work any other way. Also, coming from an online rpg background (well, any computer rpg), being able to respawn is just something I take for granted.

I have discussed my reasons for the death system here:

Really, when I was developing the map system and I knew I wanted to have the tough legendary monsters (i.e. the equivalent of those mobs that typically, in an online game you would need to spend about an hour in general chat trying to get a group together for…), I accepted that you can’t have a system where players ‘reset’ to the beginning each time they make an unlucky choice or the dice just don’t land in their favour. I really resent death in other gamebooks (sorry, that’s just me) – it doesn’t add anything to the book in my opinion. It promotes cheating in a lot of players because when you are near the end, few people would want to start over again. DestinyQuest was always going to be a massive book, so that type of punishment would just have turned people away in their droves.

People have made suggestions on how this system could have been different (for example resurrection stones/save points). The reason I haven’t gone down this route yet is that it would need to make narrative sense for those things to ‘exist’. If you create a world and suddenly have resurrection devices here, there and everywhere – what does that mean for the views of that society? How do people act in a world where death wouldn’t concern anyone any more?

I was keen that the player feels special in the world that they inhabit – that their immortality is a gift, something special. I really play on that in The Legion of Shadow and I think, in the new quest I have written for the upcoming special edition, I hint at the other side of that power. When the idea of death, pain and recompense is removed, what is really left of your humanity? How do you deal with other people who still have those fears? I think the ‘immortality thing’ gives the player character a really interesting personal trait.

In book two, again I have provided a reason why your character can’t die (permanently). In fact, it’s pretty neat if I say so myself. The point is, I don’t think the death system will change – but each book is individual, with its own character and its own story, so don’t rule out the possibility that a future book may take a more serious line with character actions and deaths. I suppose rules are there to be broken, right? ;)  

Sunday, September 4, 2011

How to write a gamebook part 5 - using a game system

Now that we have the tools to create a simple Choose Your Own Adventure style gamebook.  However, we can go further with the gamebook system.  We can introduce stats for the character give them an inventory list   so that they can collect items and also a notes list so that they can track their progress.

Why have stats?

At the moment, the only measure of success or failure is the ending that you achieve.  Sure, we can have endings with different degrees of success but there can be other ways of measuring success and this is when you can have a value attached to a characteristic that you have.

Why have skills, an inventory list and/or a notes list?

Items and notes are good for marking what the player has done in a past scene.

In Chose Your Own Adventure Gamebooks, it's all about the decision you have now.  The book knows what you did in the past because it knows the decisions you made to get to the paragraph.  This means that if you had two decisions at a certain place, then you have to write two whole new routes from them, even if the routes are almost identical before a certain point.

Items and notes can make gamebook writing easier.  If you come across a situation where you make a decision, you can mark that decision with an item or a note.  This way, you can carry on along the same path no matter what your decision was.  When you come to the vital point, all you have to do is ask the player if they have the particular item or note.

Skills are useful for giving the player more options and making the gamebook more replayable.  In this post, I define skills as different to abilities.  An ability is a numerical value that you apply to a characteristic.  A skill is a characteristic  that you either have or you don't have.  For example, stamina in Fighting Fanasy is an ability whereas agility in Virtual Reality is a skill.  You either choose to have agility or you don't.  Skills are generally things you choose to have before the adventure starts and you are asked about them as the adventure goes on.  Of course, you can also have a choice of items before the adventure starts (such as in Lone Wolf and Space Assasin).

What stats could you use?

You can have stats that measure anything you want.  I call characteristics that you have numerical values attached to abilities (as opposed to skills which you either have or you don't have)  Most gamebooks with stats measure your character's health.  Gamebooks with combat have a stat for combat skill.  Other gamebook stats have included luck, magical power, magical aptitude charisma, sanctity, willpower, fear, presence, honour, thievery, scouting, speed, brawn, chivalry and time.

However, it is not good to just chuck a load of stats into the book.  The rule to follow is that the stats have to reflect the story.  If you want combat in your story, have combat stats.  If your story is about knightly deeds, then you could have chivalry.  You should only have as many stats as you need to serve the story as too many stats will cause unnecessary complexity or the stat will just not be used in the book.

What role will the stats play in the book?

Next, you need to decide what role the stats will play in the book.  What will increase them?  What will decrease them?  What happens when you have high stats?  What happens when you have low stats?  What happens when you stat is 0?  What actions increase your stats?  What actions decrease your stats?

Combat stats will help you survive combat, but why have chivalry?  In the Sorcerer's Isle (Knightmare 4), your aim is to get the Holy Grail. Chivalry may go up and down, but it is only rolled against once but if you fail a roll against it then you don't get the grail.

Scouting in Fabled Lands determines if you get lost in the wilds or if you can find a safe path through  the wilderness which is needed as the book requires a lot of travel.

In House of Hell, which is full of scary stuff, you fear score is a measure of how close you are to being scared to death.  Fear is a stat that you want to have as low as possible.

Willpower in Beneath Nightmare Castle measures how close you are to going mad, but unlike most stats, you go mad when it reaches 6 or lower and fail a roll rather than when it reaches 0.

Random or not?

Next, you need to decide if you are going to determine all of the stats yourself and say when they need to be modified in the gamebook (such as in the Virtual Reality series) or if the stats are determined randomly and if the outcome of a test of your abilities is random (such as in Fighting Fantasy and Fabled Lands).

Non random systems can open up a lot of choice.  Generally, with non random system, you determine your strengths and weaknesses and then you have to make the correct decisions that work on your strengths.  This is what happens in Choice of games.  Another good non random system with stats appears in Red World by Zachary Carango.  In this book, you spend a certain number of points on stats and each task reduces a stat by a certain amount.

Randomness is good as it introduces more tension to the game.  Now, things aren't certain.  It can also introduce more choice as you can give players options to improve their chances with skills, abilities and items. I will discuss randomness in greater detail in part 6.  If you want to read some more about random elements in books, you can read my Dice in Gamebooks series.

What can go wrong with gamebook systems?

Too much stuff to keep track of:  This will arise from having too many stats or a long inventory list, or having too many modifiers to a random system.

How to stop this:  Cut some stats and ask yourself if the items are needed.  Be brutal.

There's a redundant stat:  You think it's cool to have the stat in the book but it actually ends up not being used so much.

How to stop this:  Cut the stat.  Be brutal.

On skill or ability is emphasized over others:  For example, in Moonrunner, you die if you do not have the lock picking or climb skill.  In Green Blood, archery is not used very often.

How to stop this:  You could cut the skills that aren't really used, introduce situations where they can be used or get rid of the situations where overused skills or stats are needed.

It's impossible to win the book:  First of all, well done for noticing this - it means you're playtesting the gamebook.  If this is the case, then the situations are too much for the stats you have assigned.

How to stop this:  Increase the values for your stats, reduce opponents' values.  Give yourself more skills or helpful items or make stat modifications less punishing.  If there is a random element, work out the probability of winning.

So there we go.  On to part 6 which focuses on random systems.  Reading my Dice in Gamebooks series will be a good primer.