Sunday, September 29, 2013

Some amateur gamebooks and their inspirations

There are loads of great amateur gamebooks out there and some of them have been inspired by a published gamebook or gamebook series.  They have drawn inspirations from their systems, their settings or their themes.

Isle of the Cyclops and The Hills of Phoros both by Andrew Wright - The way the gamebook is structured reminds me of Fabled Lands.  You have a lot of freedom to wander around and you have random encounters.

Hunger of the Wolf by Kieran Coghlan - This is a brilliant Fighting Fantasy gamebook that starts off with an origianl setting but there is a twist half way through which takes you to the site of an early Fighting Fantasy gamebook and you will also get to know more about a character from that gamebook.  The clue is in the name of the book.

Red World by Zachary Carango- This great gamebook has a brilliant and original system and a setting that is reminds me Heart of Ice.  You are living in a post apocalyptic world and are tasked to find a mysterious item where you come across all kinds of adventure.

Word Fell Silent by Kieran Coghlan- This is a well researched historical gamebook set in Jerusalem, 63AD.  It is a well written story with some good twists.  The stats for your character reminds me the Eternal Champions gamebooks .  The random encounter table on paragraph 48 also reminds me of Fabled Lands.

The Triad of Skulls by myself - My book uses the Fighting Fantasy game system and is set on Fire Island, the place where Island of the Lizard King (Fighting Fantasy 7) is set.  I also used some of the encounters from Island of the Lizard King as inspiration for what you may come across in the book - headhunters, the delerious prisoner, the cyclops, the black lions and the shaman.

The Rise of Skarlos by Ramsay Duff - This great gmaebook is a prequel to the Lovecraftian Fighting Fantasy book Beneath Nightmare Castle.

Escape Neuburg Keep by Khaxzan (online name)  - This book is set in the keep from Beneath Nightmare Castle.

The Achaeid Book 1 : The Enriyes by Ramsay Duff - This great gamebook is full of characters from Greek myths.

Beggars of Blacksand by Al Sander - This book has a great twist to it that I will not reveal here.  As well as being set in Blacksand, it also has some references to another early Fighting Fantasy.

Rampage! by Andrew Wright - The premise of this book is brilliant.  You are monster and the aim is to cause as much havoc as possible.  There is a flavourful game system to fit the monster theme.  There are some parody names of Fighting Fantasy characters (Gastromo instead of Yaztromo, The Curer instead of the Healer, Brilligan instead of Gillibran and many more.)

The Black Lobster by Andrew Wright - This book is based in the den of thieves that is Port Blacksand.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Way of the Tiger Kickstarter has begun

Good day to you all gamebookers!  These days, it's rare that I do another post outside of the weekly Sunday one (lots of stuff going on in real life now and also lots of writing/editing), but we have experienced such a momentous occassion, that I must blog.

Yes!  Drum roll...

The Way of the Tiger kickstarter has begun early!

And, after only a few hours, it is already on 36% of its goal!

I think Way of the Tiger is amazing.  I reviewed the first two gamebooks on the Lone Tiger Gamebook blog (which has gone a bit quiet).  You can find the review for Avenger! and Assassin! there.  The other books keep the series fresh by taking a new twist on the gameplay - you go from going on a mission to assassinate some bad guys to the ruler of a city.

There were six books released in total.  Book six ended on a cliffhanger with you trapped in a giant spider's web, which has left fans disgruntled for years.  However, we now have the chance to redress that - with enough money, book 7 will be released!

There is also a prequel book called Ninja!  to be released, written by my good friend, David Walters.  I'm really looking forward to reading that :)

So have a look at the Kickstarter page!  You can get pdfs of the prequel and book 7 for a mere $30 and whilst the print books are ezpensive, Megara produces gorgeous, high quality books with fantastic illustrations.  As someone who owns a copy of Arcana Agency, I can really see the love that they have put into their presentation.  

So go to the Kickstarter page and lets stretch goal this so much, they will have enough money to make another eight books.

Here is the Way of The Tiger Kickstarter page.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Game turned gamebook - Heroquest

The board cover (larger image here)
including all the monsters and heroes.
Heroquest is a board game set in the Warhammer Fantasy world where four heroes would descend into a dangerous dungeon to complete a quest and fight the forces of chaos.  The game was for 2-5 players.  One of the players was the 'evil wizard' who would control the various goblins, orcs, fimir, chaos warriors and undead.

 The other players would take up the mantle of one of the four heroes.  Each hero has their own strengths and weaknesses - The barbarian was tough and powerful in combat but weak against mental attacks.  The wizard could cast spells but was weak in combat.  The elf was half way between the wizard and barbarian - he could fight well and cast some spells.  Finally, the dwarf was a good fighter and could disarm traps.

A special Heroquest die
The system was quite simple.  Each character had body points (hit points) and mind points(indicating how resistant they were to mental attacks.  The barbarian had a body score of 8 and a mind score of 2.  The wizard had a body score of 4 and a mind score of 6.)

Each character had a certain number of attack dice and defence dice.  When you wanted to attack someone, you would roll the number of attack dice you had.  Each skull counted as a hit.  Your target would then roll a die for each defence die they had.  If the target was a hero, then each white shield they rolled on defence would negate one skull on attack.  If the target was a monster, it would need to roll a black shield to negate an attack.  The target lost body points equal to the number of skulls the attacker rolled - the number of appropriate shields the defender rolled.

I'll use my broadsword!
Heroes could buy equipment or use spells to increase the number of attack or defence dice they rolled.

There were various adventures to play with their own special rules.  There were also several expansion packs and also Advanced Heroquest.  If you search on the internet, you will find plenty of custom content, such as this website, this website and this website.

Heroquest has also spawned a lot of computer games such as this one.

 Dave Morris wrote three Heroquest books which had a similar format to the Knightmare books - they all included a novella and a gamebook.  The second and third books also included a scenario for the boardgame.

The first gamebook from the first book, The Fellowship of Four, was actually a multiplayer gamebook, where the reader (or several readers) could play the barbarian, dwarf, elf and wizard.  The game was designed so that the best victory could be achieved most easily with the combined talents of all of the heroes (also, since each hero could only carry either three or two items, one of which being a weapon, a solo hero would find it a massive headache to get the right items to carry.)  Plus, some situations could only be avoided if players had someone else to back them up and most combats were against multiple foes so force of numbers was also a good thing.

The gamebook was actually quite challenging but if you were daring and clever enough then you could be richly rewarded.  There was some good mileage in such a short gamebook.

I also enjoyed the story, split into five chapters.  The first four focused on one of the heroes as they came together and the last one was how they saved the world together.

The second book, the Screaming Spectre, focused solely on the wizard character.  The novella was a mystery  rather than an action packed quest and so it was a little slower, but it was still good to watch it unfold.  The mechanics of the second gamebook were also different as it focused solely on the wizard character.  The trick to success was to choose the most effective spell to overcome the situation.  Since the wizard is weak in combat, fighting is not usually an effective option.  It was also a challenging gamebook but it could be bested with some thought to your spells.

The final book, The Tyrant's Tomb, focused on the Barbarian.  The story was more action packed and involved a barbarian trying to break into a tomb to get lots of treasure.  Naturally, it all goes wrong.  Unlike the other two books, the gamebook's story is similar to the novella.  Strategy revolves more around gathering the correct items and combat as the barbarian cannot use spells.  I think this is the most difficult gamebook due to the tough opponents and the lack of healing in the book.

I don't know if there were ever going to be books based on the dwarf or the elf, but I guess Heroquest stopped being profitabe at some point.  However, typing it into google still shows that it has a cult following.

Like the Knightmare gamebooks, the Heroquest gamebooks could have been a bit longer; however, the Heroquest books are good to provide a few hours entertainment if you see them on Amazon as is the boardgame.

And if you want some free gamebooks to read, how about heading on down to the Chronicles of Arborell where this year's Windhammer Competition gamebooks are out!  There are 14 in all this year, so there will be something for everyone.  We are currently in the voting phase which will end on the 30th October.  To vote, you need to give the names of your 3 favourite books to Wayne Densley at

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sequels to gamebooks

I was thinking about some of the loose ends in gamebooks and I was thinking that if we saw sequels to gmaebooks, what could they be about?  Here are some sequel suggestions.  Please add more of your own.

Warlock of Firetop Mountain - Already done.  Twice.

Citidel of Chaos - Already done (it makes sense when you win the gamebook)

Forest of Doom - Take out the Wild Hill men band that attacked the dwarves - and their sinister leader...

Starship Traveller - Maybe one of the races you came across decided to try to use the black hole you went through to invade your dimension.  Maybe a race came up with the technology themselves after meeting you and arrive into your dimension and you are the only one who can stop them.

City of Thieves - You have probably made a few enemies while you wnadered around Blacksand.  Maybe they want you dead.  Or maybe you have to return to Blacksand despite the fact that you have committed several crimes and that you have a unicorn tattooed on your forehead, making you stand out a bit.

Deathtrap Dungeon - already done.  And that sequel has its own sequel.  Of course, the format seems popular so there is nothing to stop a Deathtrap Dungeon 3.

Island of the Lizard King - So you have freed the slaves, but there is still plenty of gold on Fire Island.  Maybe you will lead an expeditionary force to clear out the island and get the gold for yourself.

Scorpion Swamp - All three stories are ripe for a sequel - if you give Grimslade a load of masters' amulets, what is he going to do with them now?  If you made a map for Poomchukker, what adventures will you have on his caraven?  If you returned Antherica to Selator, how will the forces of chaos react?

Caverns of the Snow Witch - Forest of Doom was a kind of sequel to this as it is implied that Stubb will be part of the Dwarvish group sent to recover the hammer.  Unfortunately for him.

Talisman of Death - Already done.

Space Assasin - You've captured Cyrus but there's all kinds of crazy stuff going on in his ship such as a sentient pilot, an ecosystem and a deadly virus that may or may not have already been developed.

Temple of Terror - Leesha did not get enough screen time.  She rules the city of Vatos and seems to have unlimited wealth and magical power (she gives out rings that make people invulnerable to being hit in combat.)  What would happen if she decided to expand her rule?

Seas of Blood - There is no honour among pirates.  Abdul the Butcher, sick of trying to beat you fairly just tries to hunt you down and kill you.  For all you know, his crew has already ambushed your crew and sunk your ship while you were showing him your massive wealth on the mountain.  How are you going to get out of this one?

Sword of the Samurai - Hachiman is still being assaulted by barbarians.  Now that you have Singing Death, you can lead the army to victory.

Trial of the Champions - Already done.

Robot Commando - You've repelled the invasion fleet, but this may be the beginning of a large scale war.

Masks of Mayhem - The magic of the masks may be released again.

Creature of Havoc - Thugruff is still alive and he still commands a large army of chaotics.  What is he going to do now?

Beneath Nightmare Castle - Xakhaz could be released again or some other nightmarish cosmic horror god of Zagoula may be released into the world.

Crypt of the Sorcerer - Ungoth the skeleton king is still alive.  He is a powerful sorcerer in his own right and although he was just some glorified quiz host for Razaak, I bet that now he has no employer, he can be a good villain in his own right.

Slaves of the Abyss - What are your adventures involving the gods and where do you travel to in time and space?

Portal of Evil - There may be another portal that is letting in dinosaurs or another tribe.

Legend of the Shadow Warriors - How do you reintroduce Voivod to humanity?

The Crimson Tide - Your adventures as the Eyes and Ears of the God King are only just beginning.

The Sorcery! series - there is still a large dangerous army in Mampang.  Who will lead them next?

Down Among Dead Men - There are plenty of sequels here - El Draque, the sorceress on the island, the ship in the iceberg.  There's plenty of material here.

Heart of Ice - Loads of sequel material too.  Maybe you trapped yourself in time and someone has released you.  Maybe, you decided that it was a waste of time and put your talents to improving the world.  Maybe Gaia has finally got a grip or you might be able to cure the virus.

Necklace of Skulls -Whether you find your brother or not, you still have to get home.

There are a few ideas.  Anyone got any more?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Why it's difficult to do magic in gamebooks

When I was younger, I was annoyed that most of the gamebook characters I played were warriors.  They picked up the odd spell here and there but for the most part, they just had to fight their way out of situations.  I loved books such as Citadel of Chaos, Vault of the Vampire Scorpion Swamp and Stealer of Souls where you could get some spells.  I also enjoyed the Lone Wolf books where you could get psychich abilities or the Heroquest gamebooks where you could play a wizard or an elf (I liked the elf best because I had a thing for warrior-wizards at the time).

This is because most of my enemies (and a lot of my allies) in gamebooks were magic users who could produce cool spells that I had to endure, dodge or have an item to protect me from.  I got a bit of magic envy, wishing that I could fireball my way out of a combat once in a while.

Fast forward a few years and I realised that integrating magic into a gamebook is a difficult thing to do.  The main reason being that gamebooks can only offer a limited number of options and having lots of spells at your disposal gives a player more options.  This means that the gamebook author needs to look at each of their encounters and think about how each spell might affect that encounter.  This is a lot of work and might lead to a long series of options saying 'If you wish to cast x spell, turn to...'

What has emerged are several different ways of approaching magic in gamebooks, all with their own advantages and disadvantages. 

A spell is basically an item that is use once in a specific situation in a book

Think of the dragonfire spell in Warlock of Firetop Mountain, the North gate spell in Khare or the insect repellant spell in Crypt of the Sorcerer.  These spells have no rules associated with them - you just learn them and use them as the text demands.  It means that you get to learn spells but for me, I don't get the feeling that I am a proper wizard as these spells could just have easily been replaced by items and they do not give you more options - they are usually there as a victory requirement or to make a difficult combat easier.

The hero has a list of spells that they can use

This is the case for Heroquest, Citadel of Chaos or Scorpion Swamp.  Now we're getting closer to wizardhood as you have a list of spells.  the limit with this system involve not being able to use all spells in a given situation to avoid having huge numbers of paragraphs.  Also, for flavour reasons, would you expect a proper wizard to know about ten spells?  In Scorpion Swamp, you are not a proper wizard, I'll admit, but what about Heroquest and Citadel of Chaos.  I suppose you could say that it's Vancian magic and the book has only selected relevant spells, but it is a bit limiting (and for good reason.  No gamebook author is going to want to write the consequences for using 12 different spells in each situation).

The hero knows a lot of spells but only certain spells could be used at a particular point

I'm thinking the Sorcery! series which also throws in some dud spells along  the way (those of you who know Sorcery! know I've just done a pun).  Here you get a cool long list of spells but you just don't get the option to use all of them when given the option of using magic.  Doing so would be unworkable for the reasons mentioned above, but it is not realistic and I always used to get frustrated when I just wanted to fireball an opponent and couldn't.

The hero has the ability to cast spells but their actual list of spells is not known

I'm thinking the Virtual Reality series (most of the time - see below) where you can get the magic skill but your list of spells is unknown to you.  Basically, you sometimes have the option of using the magic skill and if you do, the spell you use is described.  This is more realistic for your character - they can produce a wide array of effects and you get to read about the cool spells you use, but this option reduces magic to yet another skill and only allows the player to use magic when the text demands it.

The hero has the ability to cast spells and is given a list of spells depending on the situation

This happens in some cases in the Virtual Reality series and also in the Warlock's way.  This method is slightly better than the two methods above.  It is better than just asking if you have the magic skill, because you feel like you have some control over the spell you could cast.  It also lets you weigh up the options and decide which spell is best from the information provided about the spell and the situation.

For example, in The Warlock's Way (bought from the superb Billiam Babble) you have to get across a lake.  You have the option of casting a jump spell (1 magic point), a fly spell (3 magic points), a walk on water spell (2 magic points) or make the good for nothing boatman tell the truth about the lake (1 magic point).  If you have more info, you will know that the lake is inhabited by invisible poisonous fish and so any spell that involves going into the water (jump, which does not go far enough) gets you killed.

This method only works if you can work out the consequences of using a particular spell.  If you have no way of knowing which spell is better then it really defeats the object of this method.

The hero has a list of spells that can be used in certain situations

In this method, some spells may never be mentioned in the text but their descriptions may tell you that you can use them in particular situations.  For example, a lot of the Heroquest spells can be used during combat.  Bloodbones has a list of three spells that you can use, two of which allow you to avoid encounters with certain creatures.  This system works well and can allow a wide range of spells but only if the language in the book makes it clear when the situations arise.  For example Bloodbones is clear that you can use the spells against zombies or insects and it is pretty obvious when you come across a zombie or an insect.  Legend of Zagor does this too and also has a non magic  example - Stubble gets a bonus to attack strength against any opponent with stone in its name.

A fan solution

A while back, someone known as Larni on the official Fighting Fantasy forum (now closed) posted a list of spells that you could use in Fighting Fantasy books.  Many of them were combat spells but there were others such as spells that restored your stats, created a non magical item or let you reroll die rolls.  There were about 20 spells and all of them could be used independantly of the book you were playing.  It inspired me to make my own list for an article in Fighting Fantazine.  I'd like to thank Larni for the inspiration. 

If a little effort is made with being clear with my language in a gamebook, I could come up with a similar system which could incorporate about two dozen spells that don't require a single paragraph in the book and that leaves more room for juicy storylines and wierd monsters and we can all say that's a good thing.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Conversions for Magic the Gathering creatures and Fighting Fantasy creatures

I've been having a bit of a Magic the Gathering obsession at the moment.  It is an extremely deep game with over   ten thousand unique cards, each of which can be used as an idea for gamebook writing.  Need a setting?  Look at the lands.  Need a magic item?  Look at the artefacts.  Want a horrible monster to pit against the hero?  Look at the creatures.

Here, I present a pseudo quantitative conversion process for magic the gathering creature stats and fighting Fantasy stats.  Here is how I calculated it:

I looked for creatures that appeared in both games which had stats that were pretty constant.  I eventually settled for goblins, faerie folk, wolves, bears, minotaurs and giants which are prevalent in both worlds.


In Out of the Pit, a typical goblin has a skill of 5 and a stamina of 5.  In Magic the Gathering, a typical goblin has a power of 1 and a toughness of 1.

Faerie folk

In Out of the Pit, a typical elvin has a skill of 6 and a stamina of 4 while sprites have a skill of 5 and a stamina of 6.  In Magic the Gathering, a typical faerie has a power of 1 and a toughness of 1. 


In Out of the Pit, a typical wolf has a skill of 7 and a stamina of 6.  In Magic  the Gathering, a typical wolf has a power of 2 and a toughness of 2.


In Out of the Pit, a typical bear has a skill of 7 and a stamina of 8.  In Magic the Gathering, a typical bear has a power of 2 and a toughness of 2.


In Out of the Pit, a typical minotaur has a skill of 9 and a stamina of 9.  In Magic the Gathering, a typical minotaur has a power of 3 and a toughness of 3


Magic the Gathering and Fighting Fantasy both have hill giants.  In Out of the Pit, a typical hill giant has a skill of 9 and a stamina of 11.  In Magic the Gathering, a typical hill giant has a power of 3 and a toughness of 3.  Both games have stronger giants.

So what do we have?  A power of 1 is the equivalent to a skill of 5-6.  A power of 2 is the equivalent to a skill of 7.  A power of 3 is a equivalent to a skill of 9.

A toughness of 1 is equivalent to a stamina of 5.  Once creatures get a stamina of 6, they get a toughness of 2.  Creatures with a stamina of 8 still get a toughness of 2 and once they get a stamina of 9, they get a toughness of 3.  Creatures with a stamina of 11 still have a toughness of 3.

From these stats, I've extrapolated this conversion table:

It's not perfect but it always gives close results.  For example an FF sprite (skill 5 stamina 6) would come up as a 1/2 in Magic the Gathering instead of a 1/1.  A zombie (skill 6 stamina 6) would come up as a 1/2 in Magic the Gathering when in reality it is a 2/2.

It does work for a giant octopus (skill 9 stamina 10, 3/3) and seems to give reasonable results even when it is a little off.

Also, this table assumes that the Fighting Fantasy creatures inflict 2 stamina points of damage per hit.  If giants inflict more damage, then maybe they can have a higher power with a lower skill as each hit deals more damage.

As for abilities, we will need to use our imagination to translate them across.  A wizard who knows the firebolt spell could easily be a prodigal pyromancer.  Crossbow infantry's ability is pretty easy to translate - give you adventurer a skill with a crossbow.  Samite healers have an ability to restore stamina.  Covert Operative's unblockable ability may be the result of several skills such as hiding, sneaking and picking locks or the use of magic such as an invisibility spell.  Looking at the flavour of the two games will allow you to translate spells and their effects across.

Until next week...