Saturday, January 26, 2013

When to use more paragraphs in gamebooks

Good morrow to you all!  Today, I'm going to write about something that can be used in literature that I will call, for want of a better term*, timing. 

What I mean by timing is the use of splitting up the story into paragraphs and chapters in order to let the reader process what they've read and speculate on what is coming next.  When used well, this can really up the tension.  For exmple, Dostoevsky is very good at using timing in Crime and Punishment.  Here is the end of part 1, chapter 6.

Someone was standing stealthily close to the lock and just as he was doing on the outside was secretly listening within, and seemed to have her ear to the door.... He moved a little on purpose and muttered something aloud that he might not have the appearance of hiding, then rang a third time, but quietly, soberly, and without impatience, Recalling it afterwards, that moment stood out in his mind vividly, distinctly, for ever; he could not make out how he had had such cunning, for his mind was as it were clouded at moments and he was almost unconscious of his body.... An instant later he heard the latch unfastened.

The last bit of this chapter builds up to this - the ringing, happens not once, not twice, but three times, each time, Raskolnikov getting a bit more nervous.  Then the chapter ends with the latch unfastening...who is coming through the door?  What is it going to mean for out anti-hero?  This ending leaves you hanging and makes you want to read more, even though it's midnight, you can barely stay awake and you need a wee.

Dr Who also makes a good use of this with the endings to two parters, such as The Rise of the Cybermen.  How on Earth is he going to get out of this one?


Why on Earth am I talking about this?  I'm talking about this because gamebooks can make great use of this technique to build up tension as every paragraph is like a little chapter.  If you end the paragraph at the right point, it will keep the reader engaged as each paragraph can end in a little cliffhanger with the choice being how you get out of it.

There are also other reasons to have lots of paragraphs in gamebooks.  I have written before that in order to save space in some gamebooks, you can have the consequences of a roll spelled out on one paragraph rather than creating two new paragraphs to detail success and failure. For example, you can test your luck to avoid or be hit by an arrow.  If you are lucky, you dodge it.  If you are unlucky, you are hit by it and lose 2 stamina points.  Ken St. Andre has a reason not to do this:

The benefits of having all saving roll results appear in different paragraphs is that it reduces the temptation to cheat. If your paragraph says, Make a L1 LK saving roll and if you make it take 100 gold pieces; if you fail it then it’s a contact poison trap and you die is that the player knows what he’d better do before even reading the rest of the paragraph. Make them turn the pages. It increases suspense and playability.

If you do not have a maximum limit to the number of paragraphs, not having the results on the paragraph would increase the suspense, although in some cases where the consequences are obvious (if you bet 5gp on the flip of a coin, you know that if you roll a 1-3, you win 5gp and if you roll a 4-6, you lose it), it may still be a waste of paragraphs.

So that is something to think about when writing a gamebook.  How am I going to end this paragraph?  Is it going to create suspense?  Is it going to create a sense of danger and make the player really agonise of the decision? 

There we go.  Have a nice week :)

 *I'm sure that there is a better term, but I have not found one.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Gamebooks that are dangerous vs gamebooks that feel dangerous

He didn't see that one coming.
This isn't Forest of Doom, you know.
Most gamebooks have sudden death paragraphs or another risk of you dying in some way such as through combat.  However, in some gamebooks, your death may come completely out of the blue after you have done something that you thought would have perfectly innocent consequences.  In other gamebooks, there is a constant sense of menace and danger which make you think that death lurks at every corner but you may be pleasantly surprised when some failed luck roll or springing a trap only results in minor damage.  There is a difference between gamebooks that give a sense of danger and gamebooks that are dangerous.

Since feeling dangerous and being dangerous are too separate things, there may be a discrepancy between
how much danger I think I'm in and how much danger I'm actually in.  One example is in Grailquest 2 when you are given a map and offered the choice to enter several nondescript cottages.  If you CHOOSE WRONG, you might get this little message.

At least you will now be able to avoid that paragraph when you're playing Grailquest as an app.

You can also go to the well.  I bet there's nothing
dangerous in the well.  That's why it's called a well.
Because it will all go well.
There was no warning there.  I was in a deserted village, so the worst I was expecting was some monster who had eaten all the villagers to attack me, but instead I got a cottage to collapse on top of me.  I can't even think of any logical reason to do this in the real world at least.  Grailquest is humorous, so it may have been an attempt at a joke but I did not enjoy it.  Now in Grailquest, death is strictly not the end, but it does mean you have to start over with new rolls and buy new stuff, so it might as well be and this will increase the tedium factor*.

This is an example of a situation that does not feel dangerous but it actually is dangerous, and it made me frustrated.  

The other situation with discrepancy, a situation that feels dangerous but actually isn't could be most of Daggers of Darkness or Fangs of Fury.

In both books, you have to brave a huge unstoppable army led by an all powerful sorcerer alone in order to reach victory.  You also have a time limit which results in your death if you go over it.  Most of the decisions you make have completely unexpected consequences and you end up in some pretty precarious positions.  In Daggers of Darkness, if you board a ship, it is attacked by dragons and sunk (as a sidenote, I could probably count on one hand how many sea going vessels that you board in gamebooks aren't sunk).  In Fangs of Fury, you are knocked out and wake up to see a goblin about to chop your head off.  Oh and you also have to go into a volcano, which, thankfully, is the only volcano that is not filled with magma.  However, in all of the above situations, you survive through a series of improbable events and the worst you face is a tough, but not impossible combat.  This is also the only reason I can think of why it is possible to ride two tigers across a river one handed**.

I find both of these books a lot of fun as they remind me of a Rincewind style romp where you constantly find yourself in way over your head yet just about escape by the skin of your teeth.  However, once I found out that actually, despite, appearances, I probably won't die, the books lost their sense of danger.

In the cases where the feeling of danger agrees with the actual danger, there is less of conflict of interest.  In non dangerous situations that aren't dangerous, I will have a predictable yet boring time, such as buying stuff from a shop.  Very few whole gamebooks  are like this, though I can play Fabled Lands this way if I spend all my time buying trade goods and ferrying them from one place to another.

In dangerous books that feel dangerous, I will probably make decisions that get me killed and take several attempts to win the book, but I can't feel annoyed about it because it's clear that the situation is deadly.  Take Deathtrap Dungeon.  It does exactly what it says on the tin.  It's a dungeon.  Full of deathtraps.  And no one has made it through before.  So I can never be surprised if picking up a goblet or prising a gem from an idol (I can never remember which one) is going to get me killed.   Nowadays, anything that says 'By Ian Livingstone' comes under this category.  It doesn't matter if his next gamebook is called 'Cuddles with Fluffy Bunnies', you'll probably still die before you've read your fourth paragraph.
He hopes you get the point.
To summarise this post, I have made a diagram:

Feels dangerous
Does not feel dangerous
Is dangerous
Dying is expected and met with acceptance.
Victory is sweet and a good reward for my hard work.
E.g Deathtrap Dungeon.
Dying is met with frustration as it is usually unexpected.
Victory is met with frustration as I did not expect to take so long.
E.g Chasms of Malice.
Is not dangerous
Dying is expected but won’t usually happen.  Instead, I get the feeling of tension with my decisions without the punishment of sudden deaths.
The excitement may wear off when I realise that most decisions have small consequences.
E.g Fangs of Fury.
I am probably not questing but playing some simulation of life in a fantasy world. 
E.g Fabled Lands if I spend all my time trading.

In summary, the most frustrating situation is one that does not feel dangerous but actually is dangerous.  However, situations that feel dangerous, but actually aren't, whilst being fun for a time, eventually lose their magic.  This can be remedied by having a few instant death or high consequence situations just to keep the players on their toes. 

Situations that feel non dangerous and actually aren't dangerous might result in boredom.  Of course, in these situations, there is probably some tension besides life or death struggle, such as how much money you make, how powerful you become or how high some score you have becomes, so it can still be intersting as long as you are not expecting life or death situations.
Situations that feel and are dangerous, whilst they may result in lots of character death, should not result in frustration as I should be able to see it coming.

So there we are.  I would like to make my books feel dangerous, but the clincher is not making them frustratingly dangerous or boring once the player realises that they can do anything and not die.  I'll need to get the balance right.  

*I am loving the fact that there is now enough material about gamebooks on the internet that I can link to it with examples to highlight my opinion.  You're great gamebook world!

**Is it even possible to write about Daggers of Darkness without mentioning the cover?


Once again, I intend to do the April A to Z challenge in the same format as last year I would like to interview people in the gamebook world.  It creates a lot of exposure as over 1700 bloggers signed up last year and as well as writing blog posts, we also surf the other blogs.  I will be emailing some people in the gamebook world soon for interviews as there is plenty of gamebook goodness to look forward to in 2013.  If you would like to be interviewed, please leave a comment or email me at  I'll interview you and then assign a letter to you so that I can cover all the letters.  I look forward to it!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

David Walters talks about his next big thing

 Hello all!

Today we have a guest post from extremely talented author and very good friend, David Walters as part of him being linked to from Andrew Drage's next big thing blog hop.

So without further ado, here is David...

Who are you?

Existential questions aside, I’m David Walters, author of six novels: young adult historical books Samurai’s Apprentice (1, 2, 3), adult historical fantasy Dragonwarrior (1 & 2), and fantasy novel City of Masks. I’m also part of the design team for the Way of the Tiger role playing game which should be out in the next year or so.
You can check out a couple of my latest online articles in the latest edition of Fighting Fantazine
To truly answer the question, you should know I don’t really exist. I’m a fiction created by myself, springing into existence a couple of years ago, a fictional author writing fiction.
Anyone who has read my novel Dragonwarrior will understand the identity angst caused by the question ‘who are you?’.

What else do you have coming out in 2013?
I’m due to release my novel Samurai Master soon – it continues on the story from Samurai’s Apprentice 3, which was conceived as a trilogy but as it turns out the characters have a lot more story to tell, so will now be part of a series of six books. Kami’s journey continues for all his fans, and he’s got some exciting times ahead after his surprise decision at the end of Shogun’s Apprentice.

Also, I’ve got a gamebook called The Canticle of the Demon in the pipeline for later in 2013. I’ve been a fan of these ‘choose your own path through the story’ books for a long time, and want to write one that draws heavily on characterisation, tension and drama. This one will be set in and around a monastery, and of course contain a demonic influence – the rest is under wraps for now. There is a bit of a resurgence of the gamebook genre at the moment, and it will be fun to contribute to that.

I’m also working as a designer for the Way of the Tiger role playing game, and also have another few side-line projects but I’m not revealing any details on those just yet. I’ve also got to finish the Dragonwarrior trilogy – so much to do, and so little time.

Just how different is it writing a gamebook compared with writing a novel?
A novel is rooted in character and usually has a distinctive emotional arc for the main character. In most gamebooks, you are the hero who chooses which path to take, so there usually isn’t the same emotional arc: a gamebook is more about the world you explore and the choices that you make. There are some third person gamebooks that try to do a bit of both, such as The Arcana Agency by Paul Gresty at Megara Entertainment that does just that to learn a bit more about it.
I am interested in challenging myself as a writer, and this means trying new directions and ways of doing things.

When writing for the Way of the Tiger role playing game, you are part of a design team, how different is it working as part of a team rather than as a solo novelist?
The great thing about being part of a team is you can take more creative risks, as the group act as counterbalance if you go too far, double checking your work, and also they can spark off ideas in a collaborative way which help ideas to grow in unexpected and interesting directions. The only potential drawback to group creativity is you have to be prepared to compromise on your artistic vision, as you are bound by the agreements of the group, but on Way of the Tiger I’ve been given a very free hand to write for it, within the pre-established world. I think that is mostly due to the fact that the team are all so busy with other side projects!

There have been dozens of pieces of artwork created for the Way of the Tiger RPG, as the book will be released more than 200 pages & in full colour throughout. It was fascinating to see how artists on the project create artwork based on what I’ve written, and similarly it was an interesting exercise to be given a piece of artwork as a starting point and have to write some story or background around it. Again it is part of the collaborative process which sparks new ideas, or making old ideas go in different directions.

The original Way of the Tiger gamebooks were written by Mark Smith and Jamie Thomson, so this is my first time writing in a world that someone else has created, so that has been an added challenge, and I’ve tried to be as faithful as possible to the original author’s work. The original Way of the Tiger books were a big influence on my eastern style of writing, and so I am having tremendous fun writing in that world.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

My next big thing

Hello all and happy new year!  I hope you all had a good festive season.

I'll be seeing in 2013 with a few gamebook resolutions and talk about my next big thing.  This is a blog hop which I was linked to by Andrew Drage, writer of Infinite Universe, Windhammer entrant and novel writer.  So here are my next big things...

Pirates and Traders:  This is a fantastic app by Micabyte Games for which I have been writing some stories for.  I can play this game for hours, builiding up my ship, improving my crew and being the scourge of the high seas.

Goblin's Bounty:  This is a gamebook app which involves combat that works like a collectable card game.  As someone who used to play Magic the Gathering and who also hangs off Mark Rosewater's every word, I jumped at the opportunity to write the story part for this and also to help Ashton Saylor develop the cards.  This should be coming out soon on Google Play so keep an eye out for it.

Adventure Games Guild:  Helping Shane Garvey develop this excellent system that can be used simply for any fantasy gamebook story was my summer job and now he has recruited a huge gang of excellent authors, well known gamebook people and myself to write some gamebooks using the system.  My contribution, Bane of the Golemheart will be out this year.

Gamebook Adventures:  As Andrew mentioned in his blog post, I am working on a Gamebook Adventures title but I don't know if I can say any more yet ;).

Fighting Fantazine:  I am now news editor for Fighting Fantazine.  I am very glad to be part of the wonderful fanzine that Alex has put together.  And if you haven't done so already, follow the link and get the latest issue for FREEEE! 

Lone Tiger Gamebook Reviews:  I haven't done much towards this as I had to write several actual gamebooks but I will be paying more attention to the blog particularly since the Tin Man is going to digitalise several great old gamebooks.  I might review a few of them first.

The Gamebook Feed:  I created this little blog so that I could keep up with what's going on in the gamebook blogosphere.  I also have some links to sites that don't have an RSS feed.  I want to make sure that I have all  gamebook sites on there, so if you have one, please tell me!

Talking to my followers:  This is a big thing that I need to keep on top of as I have been remiss in doing this for most of 2012.  So expect more dialogue from me :)

So without further ado, here are the five people that I am passing the torch to...

I was supposed to find 5 people but I ahve only found 3 so far so if you want to join in, please leave a comment and a link below.

Ashton Saylor:  Game designer and writer of excellent gamebooks.

Scott Malthouse:  Guru of all things geek, creator of the Unbelievably Simple Roleplaying system and writer of Tunnels and Trolls solos.

Marsten Eccleston:  Writer of the informative and amusing Fighting For you Fantasy blog describing his playthroughs of various Fighting Fantasy books.