Sunday, April 15, 2012

April A to Z - N is for Tunnels N Trolls part 2 - an interview with Scott Malthouse

Scott Malthouse is the writer of the wonderful blog The Trollish Delver.  It is primarily a Tunnels and Trolls blog but it also contains other treats such as Scott's new RPG system, the Unbelievably Simple Role-playing system (FREE!) reviews of comic books and writings on gamebooks.  Scott has also published his own  Tunnels and Trolls solo, the excellent Depths of the Devilmancer (available for only £0.63!).  

It's my pleasure to present an interview with Scott Malthouse...

What was the first gamebook you read (that wasn't your own)?

 The first gamebook I read was actually a Sonic the Hedgehog book called Theme Park Panic by Jonathan Green and Marc Gascoigne. This is where my love for the genre stemmed from and I remember playing the book over and over. Little did I know in my 8 year-old mind that one day I'd be chatting with Mr Green online and, indeed, doing an interview about gamebooks. I think 8 year-old Scott would be pleased.

What is your favourite gamebook?

This is a tough one. I've always loved Talisman of Death because it was the first Fighting Fantasy book I ever completed and I really enjoyed the story, but I think City of Thieves is the one I keep on coming back to. I just love the descriptions of Port Blacksand and its inhabitants and how you have to leave all your usual civil protocols at the door otherwise you'll definitely end up on the business end of a knife. I know it has its faults, but the blend of Ian Livingstone's writing and Iain McCaig's amazing illustrations really brings this book to life for me. Also you get to tattoo your face.

What gamebooks/interactive fiction would you recommend to a newcomer to the genre?

I think most Fighting Fantasy books are very newbie friendly because of their simple mechanics and stand-alone nature. Whenever I lend a book to someone who's never played a gamebook before, it's usually one of the first books in the series like Warlock of Firetop Mountain or Citadel of Chaos. I think these books distil what gamebooks are all about and offer a great introduction to the genre.

Summarise what a gamebook is to a newcomer in 100 characters or fewer.

Gamebooks are books where YOU are the protagonist with the power to guide the story. 

Why are gamebooks great compared to games or books?

I think gamebooks are a fantastic vehicle for the imagination that offer something that regular fiction can't. I don't think that one is better than the other, but they each offer something different. As a regular roleplayer, I think gamebooks like Fighting Fantasy, Fabled Lands or Tunnels and Trolls are excellent for satiating that roleplaying urge when your group can't meet. They give you the dice-rolling, battles, exploration and treasure of a group game but in book form. Plus, you can't rely on anyone else to come up with solutions. 

There are also different types of gamebooks depending on your mood. For instance, if I want a story-driven one-off game I'll pick up a Fighting Fantasy, but if I want an epic adventure involving more roleplay I'll crack out the Fabled Lands series or Destiny Quest. If I want to die a horrible death I go with Tunnels and Trolls.

Where did you come up with your ideas for gamebook stories?

I crib my ideas from a bunch of sources really. Depths of the Devilmancer is your typical fantasy tale where some evil person is kidnapping villagers, but the evil person happens to be a demonic hobb (halfling) with an inferiority complex. I'm mostly influenced by the works of Ken St Andre, Steve Jackson and Edmund Blackadder.

I think we should have
Victor Meldrew on the
Where did you come up with your ideas for gamebook game systems?

So far I've written exclusively for Tunnels and Trolls, so I've just used the 7th edition system. But for the upcoming DemonLord book I'm using USR (Unbelievably Simple Roleplaying), which is a free system I released in late January to be the basis of all my roleplaying work going forward. I wanted to make a system that's robust enough for a tabletop game but could easily be ported to a solo format, like Tunnels and Trolls did, so I created USR with this in mind. Essentially all you need is 3 dice (d10,d8 and d6) and you can create any character you can imagine, such as a samurai chef or a space marine gymnast. 

Why is Tunnels and Trolls a great system?

There are so many reasons why I think T&T is a fantastic RPG. Not only is it really simple mechanically, but it's also very light-hearted and never takes itself too seriously. But I think the main thing that makes T&T so great is the hard-working community its built up. Ken and Rick have been kind enough to allow third party writers to put out their own material, which has led to a lot of great work in recent years that serves to keep the system alive and well. Of course, having an approachable and genuinely lovely creator in Ken just tops off the awesomeness.

When it comes to writing a gamebook, what's the most important thing that you do?

 Planning! Drawing out a branching map and having a spreadsheet of all possible routes is hugely important. I don't think a gamebook is necessarily something one can wing, so I think the most important thing is to plan ahead. Creating a good story with fun encounters is also important, but if it's broken then it becomes unplayable. I guess playtesting is another vital aspect too. Always have multiple playtesters. I'm lucky enough to be in contact with some great writers who have done playtesting for me in the past and have given me some great notes, which has helped a lot. 

What have you got coming up in terms of your gamebook projects?

The biggest project for 2012 is DemonLord, which is a dark Diablo-esque gamebook for the USR system. But I'm also going to be writing my first Tunnels and Trolls mega-solo, which is currently in the planning stages. I haven't thought of a story yet but I know it's going to be a massive world-spanning epic that's going to keep me burning the midnight oil. 

Do you have any other sites besides your blogs/Twitter feeds?

Although it's technically not my site, I do contribute monthly reviews which is a digital videogames magazine.  

What do you think the future of gamebooks is?

Gamebooks are definitely making a resurgence thanks in no small part to mobile platforms like iOS and Android. Companies like Tin Man Games are doing a great job in bringing those nostalgic experiences into the lives of a new generation. With Fighting Fantasy also slowly adding their catalogue to mobile devices I think there's been a renewed interest in the medium, especially now everything is automated, like dice-rolling and inventory-keeping. We also have Blood of theZombies by Ian Livingstone coming out this year along with 2012 being the 30th anniversary of Fighting Fantasy, so I think the future is looking good for the genre.

To check out Scott's great blog, go to or to buy Scott's great solo, Depths of the Devilmancer or download his USR RPG system for FREE!  go to his RPGNow store.


  1. I have met Scott a few times. Not only is he an epic writer but also a really nice person. He's also pretty good looking!

  2. Thanks for the interview, Stuart. Mr Angles is right - I'm quite a catch.