Sunday, March 30, 2014

My system as far as I can take it or: How to determine success and failure.

Hello gamebookers!  The April A to Z starts on Tuesday, and so far I've had 30 replies for interview.  I may have some more by the end of the month, so there is plenty to look forward to then.  Today's post is about my system (which I first introduced here and then highlighted the changes here), which I have made a few changes to, but I have taken as far as I can without testing it.  Here is the updated version.

The major change that I have made is to get rid of endurance.  I was never happy with it as the major problem was that i did not want an endurance of 0 to necessarily mean death.  However, combat and other activities reduced endurance meaning that for every reduction, the author had to think of an outcome for having endurance reduced to 0.  Did the hero die, or were they injured in some way?  That would be fine, but if endurance is reduced to 0 and the result is non-fatal, endurance would then go back to 1.  The problem I had with this was that it would then trap the player in having their endurance reduced to 0 with every endurance loss, making play no fun, as they would be punished for every endurance loss they had.  I tried to think of ways around it such as combat only lasting until someone had lost x endurance, but I couldn't think of an elegant solution.  So I did away with endurance.  The physical state of the player is now entirely down to the author, including whether they live or die.  Will has been replaced with resolve.

Of course, characters can still get wounded and this could be covered by loss of resolve or penalties to skill tests, or maybe mentioned in story.  And characters cannot die unless the author wills it now.

It did raise the questions about what in a gamebook should be covered by the writing and what should be covered by a system.  In CYOA, all of your abilities and skills are entirely author dependent, and you may not know whether you have the ability to carry out an option until you actually take that option, where it might be too late.  In Fabled Lands, almost every option that requires some level of competence is covered by one of the skills.  In this case, you are given how difficult the test will be, and therefore you can work out your chances at succeeding, which may lead to you being able to make a strategic decision about whether you can succeed or not.  This would reduce frustration, as it takes away from the 'Do you want to jump across the pit?  Oh, actually, you weren't good enough for that and die.' scenario and shows you how likely you are to succeed, but reducing too many things to tests and die rolls takes away from the story and the description.

There is probably no happy medium, as different systems will need to be different for different books, and gamebooks with compelling, immersive stories and choices that don't lead to sudden deaths may not be enhanced by any kind of a system, whereas games with simple yet versatile systems that offer a lot of choices might not need an excellent story, as the intellectual challenge of the game system would be enough to make the gamebook great (which ties into GAMEbooks vs gameBOOKs).

I don't think I can do any more changes now until I try this system out on a gamebook, which is what I will do.  Any more feedback would be appreaciated, as well as thoughts on whether you prefer death to be solely the realm of the author, or whether you can reach it if a certain stat hits 0 (or any other value for that matter).

You can find the very latest version of my system here.

You can find some writings on the magic 'system' here

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Works from a nine year old me

Today, I present a collection of my first tentative steps that I made to create my own gamebook material when I was nine.  This was back in 1992 when I had not read many gamebooks, but I was still getting creative with what I knew.  

This first piece is a collection of monsters that I had drawn along with their skill and stamina
scores.  I also drew a human hero with a skill of 12, a stamina of 25 (because a stamina of 24
just isn't good enough) and a luck of 12.  He also had a sword which inflicted 3 stamina points
of damage, inspired by Cassandra's sword from Talisman of Death.  I remember my favourite
monster amongst this little gallery was the winged triceratops with a spiked tail.  It was basically
the coolest thing I could think of at the time.  

And this is the biggest, baddest monster I could think of.  Notice that I helpfully drew a normal human
to show the scale.  I also gave it a skill of 25 and a stamina of 600.  I think I did this because I was annoyed that big bad monsters in gamebooks were not given stats - you just had an auto kill.  

Here are some heroes whose stats have been based on the system from the
Heroquest books.  I think I was unhappy with the fact that they took a lot
of damage in combat and that there were few ways to heal it so I introduced
a defend score.  I have no idea how it used to work, but I think I made sure
that a high defend score reduced speed because armour drags you down.

This is a load of guys trying to take out what appears to be an ogre.  One of them looks a bit
worse for wear.   Also, one of them is standing on and watching while a wizard looks like
he's about to get splatted.  That's not very helpful.  

This is a character sheet that I had for Talisman of Death.  It looks like I
forgot to rub out the potion of fortune.  I also did not seem to like the fact
that my provisions were not described enough, so each provision is a
different type of food to add flavour (no pun intended).  Notice that one
of the provisions is pork and one is beef.  This is a reference to the two
occasions when you can offer creatures dried meat.  One of them is pork
because if you offer the hogmen dried meat, you accidently offend them
by offering pork.  

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Computer games - Inselkampf

A build screen.  Click
here for a larger image.
Inselkampf (a literal translation from German is island struggle) is a graphics low strategy game where you rule an island.  You have to create buildings, raise an army, research new technology (spears, shields, bows, catapults and sails) and then sail forth to conquer new islands.  It is an extremely simple game to start with.  All you have to do is register then start building some new buildings.  You can find a guide to start yourself off here and look at the wiki to read about what everything does here.  Buildings are built, troops recruited and technologies are researched in a certain amount of time, so you can set the activity off and then log back in when it is complete.

The aim is to build a fleet of ships and to control as many islands as possible.  If you are lucky, you can find an unoccupied island to conquer.  However, when I played it, it seemed that a few people owned huge empires and armies which made it very difficult for newer players to get very far ahead (unless you joined one of their empires.)

A battle calculation.
Click here for a
The game boils down to making calculations for sailing times and for battles to see if you can win.  There are other aspects such as mining and logging, trading resources and making alliances but eventually, you will probably get caught up in some war eventually.  

In terms of inspiration for gamebooks, it is a good guide for simple battles and managing settlements.  I have not played the game for some years so they may have sorted out the balance issues.  It is important in a game to make sure that everyone can advance and that a few people don't control most of the resources as that leaves out most of the players and stops them having much fun.

You can play Inselkampf here.

You can read the wiki for instructions here.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Stuff on the market!

Hello all!  I thought I'd do a post about a few things, as some of them involve Kickstarter deadlines.  First, we've had a very kind offer from Karl, who is willing to do proofreading for gamebooks.  I ahve put this advert on the noticeboard:

Karl D

Karl is a professional proofreader, with a little extra time on his hands, who has offered to waive the standard fees for anyone who is writing a gamebook (in English) and would like it proofread. For more information, or to take him up on the offer while he still has time, email him at

Secondly, there are a couple of kickstarters that you might want to look at - the first is Journey to the Overland:  A solo tabletop RPG - it has 4 days to go, and is already funded, but if you like the sound of it, you should back it now as it will be cheaper than buying the game later.

The second is trying to raise money for Chooseomatic Books for Free RPG day.  It needs $2000.  $25 gets you 4 digital gamebooks.

In other news, I've signed up for the April A to Z again.  I'm sending interview questions out at the moment, but if you're into gamebooks and you would like to be featured in the April A to Z, just email on

Happy gamebooking!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Twelve Magic the Gathering legends I would like on my side when trouble starts brewing

Previosuly, I wrote a post on ten adventurers based on Magic the Gathering cards I would take with me to a dungeon.  However, those adventurers were just starting out.  They showed promise and the ones that made it would rise to greatness, but they were pretty straightforward and low key.  In this post, I present twelve (well, actually fourteen) heroes, heroines and unspecifieds of legend who I would like to see band together to form an unstoppable force in crushing their enemies.

Arcum Dagsson

This master of invention is never short on ideas on a good artefact to build that will get you out of a tight spot. Need a large axe?  He's on it.  What about a crystal ball or a planar portal?  He can do it all as long as you provide the materials.  His versatility makes him a great asset to your band.

Captain Sisay

While Arcum can provide an infinite number of artefacts, Sisay can recruit an infinite number of great legends to fight at your side.  She is a born leader and people flock to her banner.  If you're stuck in some far flung part of the world, she could probably find someone to get you out of it.

Ertai, Wizard Adept

Yes he's arrogant.  Yes he can be a pain, but you'd rather have him on your side being snarky than fighting against you and countering every spell you throw at him.  No wizard can defeat him in a duel and this will cause a lot more frustration and anger than a few sarcastic comments.  Wizards of the Coast has noticed that the counter every spell strategy actually does frustrate players and so they have made counterspells weaker over the years.  There's nothing worse than having a bunch of cool spells that you can't use.

Kahmal, Pit Fighter

Now this is a warrior mage.  He's not shy to provide a strong arm or a blast of flame to deal with any problem you may have.  This guy packs a huge punch, both physically and magically.


Two heads are better than one as they say.  No one will take the Stangg twins by surprise as they will always be there to watch each other's backs.  Togther, they make a fearsome team in the battle against your enemies.


Teferi is an ex-planeswalker so as well as thousands of years of knowledge, he also has his time manipulating powers and phasing to fall back on.  He is basically a time lord and who wouldn't want a time lord in their party?

Tolsimir Wolfblood

This elf is all about the group.  He inspires those who share his philosophy and he can call a wolf to be his companion.  He is the perfect ally to go into battle with.

Edric, Spymaster of Trest

It's always good to have information about where you're going or who you're facing and this guy will probably know about it.  Of course, he is a spy, so he's probably spying on you too, but no legendary saga would be complete without a bit of treachery.

Squee, Goblin Nabob

Every band of heroes needs an annoying mascot for comic relief.  This is a good one as he can't actually die.  Which may prove handy, like it does for Captain Scarlet.

Arcanis the Omnipotent

Mystery is always good for a story.  This fellow(?) does not even have a creature type other than wizard.  Some say that he is the last survivor from the wizard school of Tolaria.  Whatever he is, he can summon many spells into his memory and also vanish into thin air at a pinch.

Mirri, Cat Warrior

When you're stuck in the wilds, Mirri is your best cat warrior to lead you through the forests and protect you from the beasts.  She strikes first and is always vigilant.

Darien, King of Kjeldor

This is the king that united several kingdoms.  When trouble's about he can raise an army to protect you all.

Karn, Silver Golem

Karn was first created as silver was the only material that could travel through the time portal.  He is also a pacifist after he accidentally took a life.  This gentle giant can do all the things that living things cannot.  He can also bring life to other artefacts for a short time.

Toshiro Umezawa

Every band of heroes also needs an anti hero.  In Magic the Gathering, being black does not necessarily make you evil as this guy proved.  He saved the plane of kamigawa from a destructive war between spirits and mortals started by a white aligned human.  Of course, being black meant that he also made a sure a little profit came his way too, but what's the use in saving worlds if you can't have a few perks?  Still, they didn't last long.  He ended up on another plane and blind, but you can't have everything.

So there are the legends I would like in my band.  They would also make interesting gamebook protagonists as there's no reason why you should just be some nameless warrior.  It's always good to inject a bit of personality into your protagonist and writing in the second person should not stop that happening.  There's plenty of scope in these characters (in fact, has there ever been a gamebook where you play a construct or a golem?) and there's plenty of scope remaining with the other Magic legends and stories.

Until next week...

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Monsters of the Way of the Tiger series - A guest post by David Walters

Hello all!  Today, I bring you a real treat - a guest post from David Walters, who, amongst other things, has written and released Ninja, Hachiman themed world for the Avenger! series.  Book 0 is available on Amazon now, or you can buy it directly from the Megara website.

On to the post!

The Monstrous Origins Of Ninja!

The world of Orb has been featured in over a dozen gamebooks, including Fighting Fantasy’s Talisman of Death and the Way of the Tiger series. Its development has been influenced by many real-world mythologies, but it is on the Island of Plenty that the inhabitants and creatures originate from Japanese archetypes. Here David Walters elaborates on a few such creatures from his latest book Ninja!, the prequel to the Way of the Tiger Series.

Available on:
Full colour hardback


Historically, Komainu are a pair of stone lion statues placed outside shrines to guard against evil spirits. One of the pair always has an open mouth and the other a closed one (as if saying 'a' and 'um', the beginning and end of the Sanskrit alphabet). Together they form the sound of 'aum', a sacred sound used in Buddhism and Hinduism, symbolising the beginning and end of all things. Their origins are from India initially, but then spread to China, Korea and Japan.
On Orb, Komainu are ethereal creatures from the Spirit Plane, bound to a stone statue of a lion through powerful priestly rites. They are commonly guardians of shrines and temples on the Island of Plenty, inanimate until the sanctity of the place they are guarding is threatened. They fiercely guard the place or treasure they are charged with defending on behalf of their priestly masters. Once the outer stone shell of the Komainu is broken, its spirit is released back to the Spirit Plane, leaving behind an oozing black residue that some mistake for a kind of blood.

Originating from tales in the Kagoshima Osumi region of Japan, an Ittan-momen is a roll of cloth that has been possessed by an evil spirit. It flies through the air, usually at night, seeking out victims to smother.
On Orb, Ittan-momen are created from the funeral shroud of high ranking priests of Death, Lord of Sorrows. If left undisturbed for a hundred years, Death blesses the shroud with sentience and it will unravel from its host. It can then fly through the air as if carried on the breeze, seeking out fresh victims to honour its dark god.


In Buddhist tales from Japan these were hungry spirits that ate decomposing human corpses, and were said to have a particularly grotesque appearance like some sort of inhuman cadaver. They appear in the fable of Muso Kokushi, a Buddhist priest who encounters a Jikininki when he is a corpse before its burial ceremony.
On Orb, Jikininki are the mutant offspring of the god Nil, the repulsive Mouth of the Void, and are only found on the Island of Plenty. They inhabit only the most isolated of areas where corpses were once bountiful and such places are more commonly found on the west of the Island, where the Great Civil War laid waste to whole cities. The skin of a Jikininki is a blubbery, gangrenous green, and their eyeless faces are dominated by pulsing pustules and sharp teeth.


Jorogumo translates from Japanese as ‘whore spider’. This was a spider that once it reaches 400 years of age can transform itself into a beautiful woman. She will sometimes play her biwa (a Japanese lute) to distract a young man, then bind him in webbing to later devour him at her leisure. She features in an old tale from Shizuoka in Japanese folklore, where she tried to trap men by a waterfall.
On Orb, a Jorogumo is created by priests of Nullaq, The Supreme Queen who Rules in Malicious Envy, whose symbol is the spider. Her priests perform dark rites on a captured female virgin, including the insertion (through the ear) of spiders into her brain and the forced ingestion of spider venom. The girl is then under the control of Nullaq and can transform between an innocent maiden and a monstrous, deadly form with the lower torso of a giant spider. She is sent out into the world to ensnare unwary men, binding them in her webbing before slowly devouring him at her leisure.


In Japanese mythology these are trees that grow near a place where a massacre occurred, and they have acquired a taste for human blood as a consequence of drawing up blood through their roots.
On the Island of Plenty on Orb, Jubokko will sometimes grow near battle sites and look for all purposes like normal trees (typically a cherry or plum tree). Blood ingested from a human can sustain them for years at a time, and so they can easily be dormant for decades before attacking a target with their jagged branches. Human bones can often be found around the roots, since the tree will grab a target with its branches, drain it of blood with thorn-like twigs, and leave the remaining corpse to be eaten by wild animals.


In Japanese, obake means to shapeshift, and so according to Japanese fables Bakemono and Obakemono were beings who could transform from one form into another, including inanimate objects. The terms Bakemono and obake can be used for almost any type of bizarre creature from Japanese folklore.
On Orb, the Bakemono are ugly, squat humanoids with taloned arms whose skin comes in various hues from muddy brown to a sky-like blue. They live in tribes divided amongst racial lines based on their skin colour. Their innate abilities to transform their appearance have diminished over time, however some subgroups retain the ability to shapeshift into the form of another humanoid for a brief period until their battle lust gets the better of them. Samurai raids have cleared the Bakemono from the more civilised parts of the Island of Plenty, driving them west across the mountains into the wild forests where the tribes generally war with each other until united under some greater authority.
Obakemono are the larger, scaly cousins of Bakemono, dim witted and no longer able to shapeshift, but freakishly strong and tough. Often they are associated with a tribe as a champion fighter, although sometimes they are cast out to wander alone when they have misused their tremendous strength against the chieftain of the tribe.


Yukionna translates from Japanese as 'snow woman', an ageless spirit of a beautiful woman with a skin as white as snow. She is said to have been formed from the spirit of someone who perished in the snow and who now preys on those lost in a snowstorm. She glides over the snow, leaving no sign of her passing. She has icy breath that she uses to ruthlessly kill others, although she is occasionally merciful, as unpredictable as the snows in the wild places.

On Orb, a Yukionna is one of the old deities from the Time of Snows, now a shadow of her former power and only found in the uninhabitable wildernesses on the coldest of nights. She is seen more as an apparition of something that once was, insubstantial enough to pass through solid rock if required. She is known to call out to warn of her approach, and uses her icy breath to freeze the hearts of the most steadfast of travellers.