Saturday, August 30, 2014

Spectral Stalkers playthrough

Originally published at by Justin MacCormack - Please be sure to check out the original article, and support the author by purchasing his latest book, "Return to 'Return to Oz', and other tales".

Written by Peter Darvill-Evans, Artwork by Tony Hough

This is a weird one.

You see, I know that I can complete Spectral Stalkers. It's one of the easiest Fighting Fantasy books to complete, because it has a built-in segment that will jump you from near the beginning to near the end. The temptation to use this choice is pretty huge, especially as I'm sure that if I did, this would be one of the first books I'd have won in this blog.

But I'm not going to do that, because I can strongly remember from playing this game as a kid just how much fun playing Spectral Stalkers was. It's fairly unique among the FF books, because it works very much like the old D&D Planescape setting, meaning that the player jumps between some very different worlds. Some very unique and interesting locations. I remember this being a lot of fun, but it's been so long since those days that I can't remember what those worlds were, or why it was so fun.

So let's see if we can remember, eh?

I start off with a skill of 8, luck of 7 and stamina of 21, so not too bad. I also begin with a trail score of 0, which I'm sure will increase as the adventure goes on. The higher this score goes, the greater the chance that the titular Spectral Stalker will come ripping through the walls of reality and feast on your gooey, gooey brain-matter. Speaking of feasting, I only have two meals to start off with. But none of them are brain-matter, they're probably chicken.

I start my adventure in a travelling gypsie's tent having my tarot cards read. Y'know, when I was younger, I used to play the Ultima games on my old PC, which was as old as dirt. These games would use that tarot card sequence as a way to generate your character class, by asking you moral questions to go along with the cards. For instance, you're a knight and your lord has insulted someone, do you uphold your oath and stay silent or do you truthfully speak out against your lord, that sort of thing, all very impressive.

Sadly this has nothing to do with this adventure, because all that happens is that the gypsie tells me that I will go on a long journey that will take me beyond this world. Well, it's better than pointing at the cards and screaming "I see death! DEATH!!!" like they usually do. Still, I leave the tent and notice a storm is brewing. As I rush for shelter beneath some trees, there is a flash and a loud bang from the sky, and a winged creature falls onto the path before me.

My first instinct is to help the creature... okay okay, my first instinct is to stick its charred and broken body in a cage and charge punters £10 a turn to gawk at a real-life angel. But being a hero, I decide to help first. He gives me a package and begs me to take it, mentioning the name Archmage Globus and telling me to "beware the Spectral Stalkers!" I unwrap the package, and discover that it contains a very strange sphere.

And this entire thing can now fit on one amazon kindle...
How depressing.
The sphere swims with weird objects and landscapes, as if it contains an entire universe. Or universes. It seems that the orb is a means of teleporting between these worlds, as the moment I pull my gaze from it, I'm no longer in the same place I was standing a few moments ago, but am instead in a large building. The walls are lined full of shelves of books, so it's pretty clear that I've fallen into E-Space.

I find a sign that reads 'Enquiries', beside which sits a bell. I ring the bell, and from behind a desk emerges a dragon! A great, fearsome, fire-breathing dragon, belching fumes and wearing delicate glasses and... oh wait, the dragon's the librarian. And I'm sure she has a better attitude than the woman in my own local library. I ask her if she knows Archmage Globus, and she directs me towards a large book that contains details on every mage in the known universe. See, even back before they had computers, 'they' were keeping tabs on you!

The book tells me that Globus is a powerful mage who specialises in travel between different worlds, and studies the 'aleph', an artefact that contains all things that exist. I realise that I'm carrying this item around in my backpack, so I decide to walk a bit more carefully so as not to shake the universe while I walk. I eventually come to a doorway that's sitting snug between two bookshelves, which leads to an office of powerful artefact study. I knock, and the door itself asks me to hand over four gold coins!

Still better than David Tennant
I take a deep sigh and fork over the gold, step through the door, and a bucket of water falls from the top of the door right onto my head. The man inside, Wayland by name, seems to have a sense of humour that borders on the about-to-be-kicked. The book even gives me the option of attacking the man, and it takes all of my patience to restrain myself and talk to him normally. My patience is rewarded as he hands me a bottle of a potion that removes all water from me. Very odd.

This cosmic joker tells me a few useful things, such as that the library is a non-space between the walls of reality and other timey-wimey stuff, not to stay on the same world for too long otherwise Spectral Stalkers will come for me, and to keep an eye out for round objects (because they'll be useful, or something), and then he hurries me away through the exit so that he can jump into his tardis and go away before he regenerates into Tom Baker or something. I leave the library (being told my a dwarf as I leave that if I lost my hat, it's probably been eaten by a grue and I'll never see it again), waving it a fond farewell, and try to decide where to go next. Globus lives in the Ziggaurat world, but I don't want to go there yet. I trust in the aleph to take me where I need to go.

It seems that the aleph hates me, because it immediately sends me down a dark tunnel that leads straight into the Temple of Doom. I'm not even exaggerating here, the chamber is full of chanting cultists and the high priest is a giant skelaton warlord by the name of Syzuk the Devestator, who declares that I will be their prisoner. Gosh, thanks for this, aleph. I decide not to resist as they advance, hoping that Indiana Jones will swing in and save the day.

Kali-Mah! Kali-Mah! This is the
One Heart to Rule them all!
Evidently he does not, as I wake up in the middle of a great battle. Bundled on Syzuk's war chariot, he directs a massive army as they crush the last alliance of men and elves. The Devestator's side is definitely winning, but just as victory is assured, Isildur (or some other lucky bugger) shoots an arrow into Syzuk's shoulder, forcing the titan to collapse. I immediately leap up and plan to strike the tyrant's head from his shoulders and claim all the glory. Sadly at the last moment, his horses go wild and flee, breaking a wheel from the chariot as it does so. The wheel seems to have runes marked on it, and it creates great fear in the men and elves who look at it, making me certain that this is the One Wheel to rule them all. I take it, easily slipping an entire chariot wheel into my backpack with no effort at all.

The aleph takes me to a world with a great purple sky, I am standing at a stone table in an overgrown garden. A large number of little green monks shuffle up the garden path, muttering prayers. Their leader finally looks up, gapes as he sees me, and proclaims that I am his messiah. He tells me that I have returned and that I will take the jewel of sleep to overthrow his evil overlord. Now I think we all know that I'm not the messiah, I'm just a very naughty boy, but I still opt to play along with these chaps.

"I'm not the messiah!"
"I say you are,, and I should know, I've followed a few!"
 The monks create a jewel of sleep (a hollow gem filled with a strange liquid) from a collection of leaves they've gathered from the garden. The book gives me the option of taking the gem and doing a runner to another world, but because the gem isn't round, I assume it's not the item I need to collect from this world. After nightfall, I journey to the tyrant's castle.

I find that the castle itself is empty, the rooms full of dust an disrepair, and without any skelatons or vampires lurking in them. I head to the top of the castle, and find the tyrant - a geriatric old man who has no power and is about as anticlimactic as the end of Stephen King's Dark Tower series. He asks me to grant his dying wish by showing him the aleph. I do, and he tries to grab the thing from me. The book then tells me that I flee from the old man, which is totally ridiculous - given the choice, I'd kick the old man in his elderly old hip for trying to nick the entire universe from me! Still, at least I got the Jewel of Sleep from this silly world. Let's go somewhere else.

I emerge in a desert world. Stumbling through the dunes, I come to a small village. An old lady asks me to buy a candle for a single gold coin, and tells me that selling these candles is the village's only source of income since so many of its people have gone missing. She begs me to help the village find their missing inhabitants, and like a fool, I agree to the idea. Maybe they'll give me some of their secret supply of Spice.

I have nothing to add to this,
so here's a picture of The Thing.
It seems that the root of the problem is the local potter, who has made a golem out of clay. The golem is now running a bit of a riot, having taken over the potter's home, and generally being a bit of a pain. Thankfully I remember what happens when you remove water from clay, and by chucking my anti-water potion over the golem (which I very nearly fail to do, due to my rather low skill rating), I reduce the golem to pieces of dry sand.

There's no sign of the other villagers that went missing following this, so I have to assume that the golem ate them. Either way, the potter offers me a choice of rewards - a box of gold, or a round clay ball. Oh hey, it's round! I'll take that, thank you. The potter tells me that this is a wise choice, because the ball contains pure distilled life-force. I shake the ball, and it rattles. For some reason, I didn't think life-force would rattle. Anyway, I leave this world and head to the next one...

I appear on stage in front of an amazed crowd. Ah, the giddy thrill of the theatre! My first urge is to launch into one of my Shakespeare monologues, but then I notice that I'm not alone on the stage. Beside me is a stage magician, who blags to the audience about having conjured me from thin air. Apparently his previous guest from the audience, the daughter of the baron of this land, has vanished into the backstage areas.

The magician's assistant leads me into the back stage, where I'm all ready to retire and enjoy a leisurely day of relaxation and hot baths. But strangely enough, it seems that the stage magician is less than honest, and plans to kidnap the baron's daughter. I find her locked in a cage in the backstage dressing rooms, she tells me that the magician has the key to her cage. No sooner has she declared this, then the magician enters the room.

For their next trick, Penn and Teller will
make all the blood in your body disappear!
I draw my sword and am prepared to slay the conjurer, when he opens his mouth and reveals his vampiric fangs. Yeesh, why are things never easy? You know, back in the old days, if a vampire wanted to seduce a baron's daughter he'd just use his preternatural charm. Nowadays it's all dressing up as a stage magician, putting on a show, sparkling in daylight.... modern vampires just don't have the style they used to back in the old days.

Modern vampires are also immune to normal weapons, it seems. His wounds knit together as I inflict them, and he quickly feasts on my blood, ending my trip between worlds.

Spectral Stalkers is still a lot of fun to play, if you're happy to put your fate in the dice that determine which world you'll wind up going to next. I wasn't able to piece together what the significance of the round objects was yet. Either way, I quickly noticed that I didn't wind up gaining any trail points, so I guess I didn't over-stay my visit in either world.

As I mentioned at the start, you do get a chance to go right to the Ziggaurat world, which takes you right to the ending.Which I suppose can make this the easiest of the Fighting Fantasy games. So I'd recommend avoiding that option, and enjoying the ride between different realms. I hadn't expected to enjoy this one as much as I did, it's good to see it holds up to memory.

Time is running out...

There is only 1 day left to purchase a Fighting Fantasy Fest ticket and there are very few tickets left, so if you want one, you need to get one now.

All the information you've ever wanted on Fighting Fantasy Fest is here.

So go and grab a ticket!

Happy gamebooking!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Gamebook Geek - Scorpion Swamp playthrough and review

As Stuart would say, hello gamebookers! I'm Torallion (otherwise known as Paul in a strange alternate universe) and Stuart has very generously invited me to include my infrequent posts on this blog in an effort to compile the happenings in the gamebook world in one place. My 'thing' at the moment is Fighting Fantasy playthroughs, so without further ado here is my playthrough and review of Scorpion Swamp. This is just the first attempt but the post in its entirety can be found on my blog here:

Title: Scorpion Swamp

Author: Steve Jackson (USA)

Illustrator: Duncan Smith

Published: 1984

Level of previous knowledge: Ah, Scorpion Swamp. I remember this one quite well. Three wizards, three quests, a bunch of magic spells and an infinite amount of those damned irritating sword trees. If I can't manage this one it's because I did something really, really stupid. Or rolled a SKILL of 7.

Plot summary: A good deed has earned me some kind of magic ring which has an unfailing built-in compass and evil-proximity detection functionality. This is quite powerful, so the obvious thing to do is go off and die in a swamp somewhere so that the ring cannot possibly fall into the wrong hands. Also something about mapping.

Rules: This book has a magic system with three types of spell - good, evil and neutral. The spells you get to choose from depend on which wizard you decide to deal with. Despite the section in the rules called 'Stamina and Provisions' there are no provisions in this book - for some reason being able to cast spells removes the requirement to eat.

Adventure Log

Attempt #1
Stats rolled: SKILL 7, STAMINA 24, LUCK 9
I asked for that didn't I? At least with stamina like this my death will be protracted and painful.

Arriving at the small town of Fenmarge, I did what every good adventurer does and headed for the tavern. There I announced to the local population of slack-jawed yokels that I intended to explore Scorpion Swamp. At this news their jaws became slacker (four generations of inbreeding shows) and they tried to discourage me from this plan. As I turned away an Amish farmer appeared from nowhere and persuaded me that I should have some kind of quest to make entering the swamp worthwhile. I agreed to this, and started glancing around the tavern for floating yellow exclamation marks above the heads of the locals. The farmer explained that there were three wizards nearby - one good, one evil and one er, strange. I opted for the latter, in the hopes that such a wizard might not notice that I have all the combat skill of a ham sandwich.

So I sought out Poomchukker, eventually finding his house in the village market. The door was opened by a goblin serving girl. All my instincts screamed at me to turn and run from this fearsome foe, but I bravely stood my ground and was invited inside. After an attempt ro buy the ring from me which I immediately regretted refusing, the wizard explained that he wanted someone to map the route through the swamp to a town called Willowbend so that he could send caravans through. He then gave me a few spell gems to help me out, none of which looked particularly helpful against deadly sword trees.

I merrily departed the wizard's home and made my way to the swamp, where I committed another huge mistake by striding past the sign which warned me to turn back. Reaching the first clearing, I immediately tripped over a root and hurt my leg - I really wasn't cut out for this swamp stuff. Heading eastwards, I made my way to more solid ground where I was offered the opportunity to rest after my long, arduous journey so far. Tempting as it was, I decided to move on and also ignore the hollow tree in the clearing which looked certain to contain something deadly - a small badger perhaps.

From here I headed northwards, soon finding myself in a clearing covered in spider webs. Lacking any option to immediately turn and run for it, I walked into the clearing and found myself face to face with the Master of Spiders, a nasty-looking fellow with pointy ears and no access to a razor. I decided that the best course of action would be to set him on fire, and did so. He took exception to this, dying angrily before the entire clearing went up in flames while I escaped with singed eyebrows.

Running north, I arrived at a grassy clearing with no sign of spiders or evil-looking roots to cause me harm. As I paused to catch my breath I was assaulted by the grass itself. Hacking my way out with some difficulty and significant stamina loss, I limped eastwards where i encountered three odd-looking creatures which were apparently swamp orcs. "I say--" I began, before a pair of arrows were released, one of which caught my arm on the way past, making me even less skilful than I was previously. At this point I didn't like my chances of surviving any combat, so I ran for it, barging past them and not stopping until I found myself at another junction. I didn't know whether or not to be relieved that they hadn't pursued.

Heading westwards this time (this was going to be a hell of a caravan route) my brass ring started flashing and a calm voice said 'WARNING - EVIL PROXIMATE'. OK it didn't, but that would have been cool. Instead it tingled a bit, and I looked around to see a whole load of scorpions scuttling towards me. Transfixed in horror, I stood there like an idiot while the evil things crawled all over me, stinging all the way. Running off again (I should have adopted the position earlier) I headed north, arriving at a stone bridge crossing a river. Casting a stamina spell in case the bridge decided to attack me, I stepped gingerly on to it and started the crossing. Fortunately there were no nasty surprises.

On the other side of the bridge was a huge tree standing alone in the middle of a clearing. Suspiciously eyeing its branches for any signs of swords, I stopped to look upwards, spying a large nest at the top. Its owner then arrived and glared at me. I had no idea what the eagle was trying to tell me and pondered asking it for directions, but eventually thought better of it and backed westwards out of the clearing.

I stepped around a tree to meet a dwarf. Irritatingly, however, he wouldn't be much use in providing me with directions due to the giant scorpion pincers around his neck. Offered the chance to perform a heroic rescue or a cowardly retreat, I of course chose the latter, only mildly annoyed that I wasn't offered the more despicable option of waiting for the scorpion to lose interest in the dwarf's corpse and then having a good old fashioned loot.

With a cheery wave I continued northwards, turning west at a crossroads. The path turned southward, away from the direction in which I was generally trying to head, but at the junction a ball of dancing light was trying to beckon me westwards, off the main path. As tempting as this was, my innate fear of bumping into an evil television set asserted itself and I decided against entering the murky undergrowth.

Following the path southward, I found myself in a marshy clearing containing a large, fetid pool. Sighing and preparing for the worst, I approached, watching the pool and awaited the inevitable... lump of slime which heaved itself out of the pool and into my intended path. Dismissing the idea of trying to leap over it (such heroics are reserved for those with less ranks in Clumsy Foolishness) I froze it with an Ice spell, which worked remarkably well, and proceeded westwards once more, aiming a smug kick at the frozen remains on the way past.

Distracted by my own sense of not-quite-as-much-inferiority, I almost blundered into the gang of brigands up ahead. Hiding behind a benevolent-looking tree, I considered my options. Informed by the text that 'there is no need to be foolish', I figured that 'Charge out at them, shouting and waving your sword' could result in a sub-optimal outcome. I didn't want to turn back so I was left with a choice between magic or diplomacy. A glance at my character sheet and... diplomacy it is! (This assumes that evoking pity is a form of diplomacy.) Walking out to greet them, I was soon challenged by their leader. My plan had worked and they didn't feel that attacking me five-on-one was very sporting. However they seemed to believe that a fair fight with their leader was sporting - an assertion I disagreed with heartily, but went along with because it was better than the alternative. Fortunately, the fight was only to first blood and if I lost I would have to hand over something of value. Presumably my preferred solution of just handing something over without all the violence wouldn't have been sporting. Duly losing the fight, I handed over one of my spell gems and was allowed to continue on my way, after a nice cup of tea and a sit down. Spiffing chaps, these brigands.

Now heading north once more, I found myself on a progessively wider path which eventually led me to the town of Willowbend! Choosing a tavern at random, I found myself in a bedroom above the Black Bear, which was apparently an extremely popular night spot with the locals. I was offered the chance to go downstairs (presumably in my pyjamas, teddy bear in hand) and threaten an entire barful of drunken louts into jolly well keeping the noise down. Or I could just dream of being that stupid. Eventually I woke up to the sounds of the morning market, arose and left town again without so much as a spot of breakfast. Of course, now that I had the route to Willowbend mapped out I could do the sensible thing and go back around the swamp the long way, to avoid the perils within.

Or I could march straight back through like a sucker.

Fortunately the brigands remembered how pathetic I was and didn't feel like bothering me again and I continued my journey unmolested as far as the eagle's nest. Here I was told that I was really honestly quite curious about the extremely fascinating bundle of twigs in the tree above me and was offered another chance to explore the opportunity to have my eyes pecked out. Somehow resisting the temptation, I headed south until I arrived in a clearing containing hundreds of familiar-looking scorpions. They recognised me too, and swarmed towards me in the hope of seconds. A Fire spell soon taught them a lesson, and rather than hang about to make scorpion kabobs I left the clearing in a hurry.

Remembering that I was forced to run through this area of the swamp in a comical fashion because of all the mild peril, I decided to deviate slightly from the route I took on the way to Willowbend. Turning west, I entered a clearing where a man in a rather fetching hat was sat against a tree, eating cheese. He invited me to join him, but my ring warned me that his alignment did not make this a sensible plan. Choosing to pass him by but not make any attempt whatsoever to keep an eye on him, I shouldn't have been surprised when he sprang to his feet, choked me with his garrotte and robbed me blind. All I had left was a Stamina spell gem, however, and I was glad he left me with my sword, or my combat effectiveness would have descended to that of a tree stump.

The next clearing showed all the signs of a bloody battle. Now in a hurry to get out of the swamp before I encountered something deadly (a small vulture, for example), I declined the chance to wade in the gory remains looking for valuables and moved on. I then bumped into (not literally, thankfully) a wounded unicorn, which seemed up for a fight. I, on the other hand, was not, and was forced to run back the way I came. Back on my original route, I was again thwarted when I found the clearing where I met the Master of Spiders was still very much on fire. Retreating once more, I found myself in the clearing where I bravely defeated several orcs' attempt to kill me by running away from them. This time I was offered no such luxury, and I was forced into combat with all three of them at once. I managed to kill one but after five rounds I succumbed to their lesser incompetence.

Conclusion: Failure. So that's what it feels like to be the pinball...
Number of combats: 5

Go to Gamebook Geek to read further attempts and my review!

Year 4 in review

Hello gamebookers!  Lloyd of Gamebooks turns 4 today (although I am writing this post on the 13th) and Fighting Fantasy turns 32!

So it's time for another year in review!  I'll go through what's been going on.


here are my annual stats.  There is a definite pattern of a peak during the April A to Z followed by a drop for the rest of the year.  The April A to Z hasn't broken my record of page views either, so I think I've hit a ceiling when it comes to my current methods.  I don't believe that I have managed to attract every gamebook fan alive, so I have to conclude that I need a new approach.  Of course, I don't know what that is or whether  I have the time to do it.  I think getting something released will help the most (see below on that).  Other things I have thought about include hiring a web designer to make my blog look nicer and more user friendly, having a good label system so posts are easy to find, getting guest posters (done this) and branching out to different subjects.   I'm on

Here are my most popular posts.  They are mainly reviews or analysing some fundamental things to do with gamebooks (how to write them and how much game vs book should you use).  There's also a couple of April A to Z posts there, which make sense as April is when a whole new audience comes to the blog.  So I will plan to make more of my posts like this - I will revisit some gamebook writing posts with a fresh perspective, as I wrote some of them three years ago.  I won't write too many reviews here as I write most of them for Fighting Fantazine.  as for the April A to Z, I will try to do it next year, but now that I seem to have hit my ceiling with that, I am wondering if there is something else I could be doing that will get this blog to a bigger audience.  If anyone has any ideas, I'd love to hear them.

Here's my referring URLs.  Not much to say about this.  They haven't changed much over the years.  One of the blogs on this list went on hiatus and most of these links refer back to old posts.  So it seems that it takes a while for new links to take effect.

Another theory I have for this is that a lot of gamebookers who have been blogging over the last couple of years, have also slowed down on the blogging because they have actual gamebooks or novels to write.  I know this is the case with Ashton Saylor (who has several projects), Dave Morris (who is re-releasing a lot of books), Justin Parallax (whose book is now out), Scott Malthouse (who is working on USR).  I guess once the projects come rolling in, there's less time for the blog.

There are new blogs that have jumped up, though so there are plenty of individuals out there who want to talk about gamebooks.  I just haven't been able to talk to them much recently.

Post frequency and guest posts

Basically, things are getting busy (see personal stuff), which Is why I had to reduce my posts to 1 a month rather than 1 a week.  I feel that I need to keep them regular and not so frequent that I run out of posts, so I've always maintained a policy of writing more posts than I release.  I decided to go down to 1 post a month when I started eating into my post stockpile.  Although I haven't got to the end of it yet (I still haven't released some posts I wrote back in 2011), if I had carried on with 1 post a week, I would have dried up withing 6 months.  I would rather keep regular posts then frequent posts followed by dry spells where no one knows if and when they will end.

One solution to this problem was to invite people who have written gamebook blog posts, but do so infrequently now because they are busy, so that instead of several blogs with infrequent posts, we have one blog with frequent posts.  To reflect this, I will change the name of the blog at some point (but I will keep the url so that people can still get to the site there).

Personal stuff

More busy times.  Moving house was one busy time, but that's done now.  I have a toddler now, who keeps me busy.  And things might get more busy in the future from this aspect.

What have I learned from this year in gamebooks

This year, I have mainly learned about all the things that most people consider to be the tedious part of writing, such as editing, proofing and being generally uncreative.  Since my projects are going to be turned into apps, I have also had to learn to communicate with the app developer and discuss how to make the gamebook aspect work on screen.  What constraints the app may have (memory size, screen size, limitations of code) and how to still write a gamebook that fits all of those constraints (restrictions breed creativity!).  I have also talked to artists about how their work fits in with my gamebook and how my gamebook fits in with their work.  I have had to think about intellectual property.  I have had to think about each stat and number in the gamebook and decide whether it is appropriate, both in game terms and flavour terms (so how many gold pieces would this creature be carrying?  What weapons and armour would this creature have?  What kind of encounters would you find in a sewer? etc.).  I was not expecting some of these tasks, I was not naturally inclined to all of them and there were some that, in other circumstances, I would never do.  However, since it was in the name of gamebooks, I gritted my teeth, ploughed through them, and learnt that I could get some joy from some tasks, or at least see the reason for them.  Right now, I am just anxious to see one of my big creations released, but there is going to be more to do before that - other people will read them, proof them, playtest them and then code them.  So writing is never the only thing you have to do when writing.

At the time of writing this post, I haven't even finished my Windhammer entry yet, so I don't know if that will be complete this year (shock horror!).  I hope it is.

Things to do now!

If you haven't already, you still have time to enter the Windhammer competition!  Closing date is 7th September.

Tickets for Fighting Fantasy Fest are still on sale!  The closing date for buying tickets is August 31st and the fest takes place on September 7th.

Where do I go from here?

For a while now, I have had a feeling that the blog is stalling.  Partly because I have less time and want to devote more of it to writing actual gamebooks but partly for reasons I don't understand.  Have I covered everything?  Do I need a new layout?  Do I need to focus more on my content?  It is for this reason that I am trying to make changes and seeing what sticks.

On thing I will do is revisit old posts, such as gameBOOKs vs GAMEbooks, dice and probability in gamebooks, writing the posts that I said I would in January 2011, maybe more reviews,

Also, I know lots of people like gamebooks, but I would love it if more people are vocal about them on the internet, or in real life (maybe I'm just going to the wrong places.  Maybe there are four bookgroups within a mile of me that discuss nothing but gamebooks), how to write a gamebook (and by extension, what is optional and what is not optional when writing a gamebook), gamebook creation software, some short original gamebooks, more videos and looking at specific examples of things in gamebooks to see what we can learn from them.

That's a long list and writing it got me excited. I am looking forward to it now.

In conclusion, I have less time to dedicate to this blog, but it can still keep going.  Gamebooks in the blogosphere have come a long way since 2008, when I could find only one blog dedicated to gamebooks.  We could have a really good online community of gamebook lovers, which would lead to greater things.  I think we're on the cusp of that (unless of course, there's a massive hub out there already and I'm just oblivious).

So if you want to contribute to this blog, give me an email on

I also think it's the time that more of us can become gamebook writers.  I've had people ask me to write gamebooks for their apps or give me ideas for them, or to critique their gamebooks, probably because they read this blog.  However, with my real life stuff, I can't accommodate them all and i might not be the person to realise their vision.  However, with programs like GBAT and a community of gamebook lovers, it's now as easy as ever to write your own gamebook and avoid  the pitfalls that ruin a gamebook for people.

So my advice is, if you have been thinking of doing something gamebook related for a while, it's time to put it into action and then see where it leads you.  After all, that's all I did four years ago today.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Seige of Sardath playthrough

Originally published at by Justin MacCormack - Please be sure to check out the original article, and support the author by purchasing his latest book, "Return to 'Return to Oz', and other tales".

Written by Keith P. Phillips, artwork by Pete Knifton.

I wish that I could tell you a little more about my experiences with this book, but I'd never even seen a copy until it arrived in the post. For some reason, it always eluded me when I was looking through the Fighting Fantasy sections in book shops. Maybe it was there, and just didn't jump out at me. I can't say. Truth is, there's not a lot about this book that jumps out to the audience. The title is relatively uninspiring, and the blurb really doesn't do much to spin the imagination. Maybe I simply passed it up in favour of better sounding books. Did I miss out? Let's see.

Either way, even the cover was new to me, sporting a well-dressed elf type man, possibly a vampire, striking a dramatic pose. It doesn't look much like a siege, I must be honest. The book takes place in somewhere called the Forest of the Night, which sounds like the Forest of Doom's emo younger brother. I'm not going to complain though, I wore enough black in my teenage years.

On a quick glance through the rules section (which is all I do these days. I'm sure I've missed loads of important things in previous books due to this, but eh, re-reading all that stuff is just not interesting to me), this book has a time system which is based around the day of the week. You have bundles of herbs to use to heal yourself instead of food. It also starts you off with a bow, which allows you to fire arrows at an enemy. You roll to see if you hit or not, and seems that you're able to roll a set number of times before regular combat begins, so this acts as a way to take a few shots at the enemy before they can hit you. Got to admit, I like that idea a lot!

It seems that the elf city of Sardath is surrounded by a forest. Not just any forest though - an evil forest. Thing is, it didn't used to be surrounded by it. The forest has moved, possibly growing legs and strolling down the riverbank until it's got to the city, only then to start releasing poisonous spiders and ettins in the faces of the poor elves. My noble hero isn't from Sardath though, we're from another nearby city and I've been asked to go and help the elves out.

Beware his wizardly powers to resist bathing!
In case it wasn't clear enough, a council is called in which we discuss just who to send. A messenger who has just arrived asks to speak with me, whereupon he tells me that he's really an evil duplicate of the messenger. After a rather hectic fight sequence in which he tries to flee and I pin him down, only for him to then cut his own throat rather than be taken prisoner, the council decides that yes, there is probably something a bit evil about this whole affair. Smart council, that.

I dread going into the forest, probably because I'm no doubt going to meet Radagast inside. I fear Radagast, as I tend to fear anyone whose headgear consists of bird dung. I'd suggest he have a bath, but I'd be worried that he'd trip on the soap while getting out of the bath, break his neck, and regenerate into Paul McGann the White. Speaking of wizards, I'm vaguely annoyed at the council's lack of wisdom in this matter, so I go to see the local astrologer, a powerful mage called Liam. Obviously Tim was busy.

Liam summons a Suma, a messenger being of the gods that I only recognise because it had an entry in Out of the Pit last week. The Suma tells me that I'll need to keep ahold of an amulet if I want to suceed in my quest, and that I should seek out a Khornu Wych. I'm not sure quite how much use a corny witch will be, so I just nod and play along. Deciding that it's best to get a move on, I head out of the city and come to the edge of the forest, where I see a travelling trader... and I'm reminded that the forest was meant to have cut off all trade routes. Suspecting another doppleganger, I have a pre-emptive attack, only to discover that the trader was not only an honest merchant, but a ninja as well. He pelts me with a glass jar of poison gas and vanishes into the distance.

There is a Slenderman somewhere in this
picture, maybe. Can you see him?
I'm feeling vaguely adventurous today, so I opt to head to Sardath via river. It seems that I'm a particularly awesome person, because I have my own boat all ready and waiting for me. So I hop on board and start the journey into the heart of darkness. I'll tell you right now that if I find Marlon Brando at the end of this quest, I'm going straight home. I sail around an old broken rope bridge and eventually make camp for the night. I am watched from the forest by evil glowing eyes (they're never evil eyes until they're glowing, y'see) and I'm told to note down paragraph number 178 in a circle on my adventure's sheet if I just want to ignore the eyes and go to bed. It's an oddly specific instruction that I should circle the number, so I choose that option. But I'm careful to set a camp fire first, just in case.

The book scolds me for setting a camp fire and deducts a luck point from me for doing so, and during the night I am attacked by a giant spider that spits its webbing at me. That's not quite how webbing works, but because this is a children's book, we'll file that under suspension of disbelief and press onwards. I turn to the paragraph I was told to circle earlier on, and continue to sail down the river. While clearing some weeds off the boat, some of the weeds bite me and drain my blood. Apparantly it's a plant called bloodweed, and the book then asks if I want to chop it out of my way with my sword, or clear it away by hand. For a moment I suspect that this is a bit of an idiot test, but when I choose to chop it up with my sword, I am told that the bloodweed had already had enough to eat and it wasn't necessary to kill it. As a result, I'm told that the natural force of luck that I carry with me throughout my quest is diminished, and I lose another point of luck... Now wait just a damn minute here! Why am I being deducted luck points for making the careful choices here?

"Death From Above!!"
I think that I've figured out that this book isn't going to be one that rewards being played cautiously, so the moment I catch sight of one of the creeping forest-dwelling critters that's been following me, I fire a hail of arrows at it, while screaming "Death from above!" Naturally, the thing runs off, and I'm told that a little bit of the sick darkness of the forest comes to rest inside me, which costs me yet another luck point and JUST WAIT A MINUTE HERE! AGAIN? So, I'm hemoraging luck points something terrible, and the next paragraph tells me that a party of little frog-people armed with spears has now surrounded me and asks me to test my luck. Guess what I'll roll here.

Yep, I was unlucky. The frog-people are the next to scream 'Death from Above' as they hurtle all their spears at me, impaling me terribly. I do manage to survive though, with only five stamina points remaining. I hurry the boat along, while they give chase for a while, but they eventually get bored and let me go. Soon I reach another rope bridge. Checking my map, I think that hey, this is pretty good. I'm not far from Sardath at all now. Another day's travel and I'd probably make it. But I'm not in the best of shape, and there's a little town called Colhryn to the north-east that I can get to if I abandon the boat and travel by foot. I choose to go there, hoping to rest and heal up before I head to Siege-ville.

Ooze zombies are the best zombies
En route, I am attacked by a giant spider, but I kill it without too much trouble. On my way to Colhryn, I learn that it is not a town, but a person I know who lives near the edge of the forest. Maps are funny like that. Anyway, I'm on my way to reach his... weird forest-dwelling hut, I guess... when I stumble across a zombie. I attempt to kill it, but it is aided by a horrible necrotic ooze type of thing which wraps around my leg and tries to... I dunno, do whatever oozes do. Bubble at me, I guess. Still, I manage to turn and run away before the things kill me.

Without having the chance to meet Colhryn, and realising that I've never met the corny witch that the Suma mentioned earlier, I decide to write off the day by curling up and getting some sleep. I'm awoke the next morning by a dwarf merchant riding a carriage along the road. Despite the option to flee into the street screaming at him about the horrible doom that has befallen Sardath, I instead choose to hitch a ride with him. Shortly down the road, though, he's eaten by a monster. Really, he should have known better. Anyone who joins you for an adventure in a Fighting Fantasy book is doomed to die terribly. I have the option to try to fight this giant monster, but given that I have single-digit stamina points and that the monster in question is described as 'Cthuloid', I decide that course of action would be suicide. The book suitably punishes me for my act of self-preservation by deducting yet another luck point.

Sardath, the city under siege
And finally, I arrive at Sardath. The place is definitely under siege, not by an army of course, but by the force of darkness that permeates the forest. Out on one of the many rivers leading to Sardath, I catch sight of a small boat that's in ruins and struggling to stay afloat. I help the sailor to shore, and he thanks me but doesn't give me any gold because he's a cheap git. He promptly realises that he'll probably get eaten by a grue if he accompanies me on my journey, so he scurries off in the other direction.

The northern region of Sardath is surrounded by a rocky outcrop, and I find a dead dark elf on the outlying area. I'm asked to roll my skill, with a modifier dependant on the day of the week that it is. It seems that the later in the week it is, the more awful the result. I don't find anything on the elf, which is the best response. I'm assuming that the worst response is that it turns into a zombie and eats me. Either way, it is soon getting dark, and I've almost reached the entrance to Sardath proper. Yay.

The book asks if I want to make camp for the night. Because I'm so close to the city, I opt to push on. As a result, a horde of giant winged monsters swing down from the sky and kill me. I don't even get the chance to fight them off, they just kill me through sheet instant-death.

Strangely, death by flying monsters this time.

This is a tricky book to review. On one hand, the atmosphere is fantastic. It's very well-written, feeling both exciting and dramatic at times, with a real sense of freshness to the prose. The storyline itself is simple, but it pulls it off brilliantly. As you'll have noticed, I took the route through the river, but there are others as well, so it feels nice and varied and you're rewarded by rich descriptions throughout. On the other hand, it's pretty brutal in terms of punishing the choices you make, and doesn't skimp on deducting luck points if it feels your choices weren't in keeping with what it wanted you to do. As a result, you can sometimes get into those horrible 'try to guess what the author is thinking' type of puzzles. Your character is meant to be a skilled ranger that is wise and skilled in the ways of woodland survival, but that doesn't mean that the player himself is!

These are flaws that can all pretty much be forgiven, though. And the book does invite repeated playthroughs, I really can't deny that. I'd like to play this again. Problems aside, it's very rich and definitely a lot of fun. I'd consider this one of the under-rated FF adventures, and if you can look past the flaws mentioned above then you're going to find this quite a noteworthy title!

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain playthrough

Originally published at by Justin MacCormack - Please be sure to check out the original article, and support the author by purchasing his latest book, "Return to 'Return to Oz', and other tales".

Written by  Steve Jackson & Ian Livingstone, Artwork by Russ Nicholson

This cover was from the board game.
Maybe I'll tell you about that game one day....
Yes, another classic of Fighting Fantasy. In fact, it's THE classic Fighting Fantasy book.

Published the same year I was born, Warlock of Firetop Mountain was the first FF book, and has had an incarnation in every version of the books. The original cover of this book showed the titular warlock as a gnarled old mage, whilst the later ones showed him as a younger man wielding the forces of chaos and destruction. This is Zagor, the warlock who would return twice more throughout the Fighting Fantasy series - in 'Return to Firetop Mountain' and 'Legacy of Zagor', as well as starring in the spin-off novels 'The Zagor Chronicles', appearing in two board games (based on Warlock and Legacy, respectively) and several video game versions.

In short, Zagor is the face of the Fighting Fantasy franchise. And was also my first online internet username. But the question here is "Can I kill him and steal his treasure?" That's the only real storyline we have to go on. Zagor isn't raising an army, he's not cursed a village with moon dogs, he's just happily sitting in his mountain, chilling, drinking a cup of hot tea and watching 'Twilight Zone' reruns on the telly. And we, like traditional dungeon-crawling adventurers, are going to break into his home, beat up the old man, and nick everything.

We did that a lot in classic Dungeons and Dragons, you see. I miss those days... Anyway, on with the show!

Because the book has such a classic reason for going into the mountain (ie, there is a mountain, it has treasure in it, go get it), I have decided to come up with my own backstory for the adventure. As we all know, Zagor studied the dark arts alongside his fellow students Balthus Dire and Zharradan Marr, in a school on the edge of the Flatlands, under the tutelage of the sinister Volgera Darkstorm. This is true. But what the history records did not mention is that there was a fourth student; Torgo the Stupid.

A wizard of unfathomable power?
Torgo wanted very much to learn the dark arts, but he simply couldn't master even the most simple of fireball spells. The other three laughed at him, and soon that laughter turned bitter. Zagor would play evil pranks on the dimwitted Torgo, swapping his maths homework for bags full of dog poo. Zharradan Marr would mock poor Torgo mercilessly in the showers after gym class. And the brutal Balthus Dire would hold Torgo's head down on the playground and force him to eat worms.

When the Demonic Three graduated from their studies (by slaying Volgera Darkstorm with a cunning Rain of Knives spell), they went their separate ways, ready to establish their kingdoms. Sadly, none of them bothered to invite Torgo to the after-graduation party, and when Torgo awoke the next morning, he found himself in the charred ruins of the school, with no way to continue his studies. He had been left behind with only the mocking laughter echoing in his ears.

And when Torgo discovered, among the ruins of Darkstorm's possessions, a book on how to construct artificial golems, he studied it relentlessly. For years he practiced, grafting animals together to form hideous humunculi, which would later plague the land. He made dog-headed gorillas, man-faced lions and pigeons with the reproductive systems of elephants (which sadly could no longer fly). Soon he created his ultimate lifeform, mute dim-witted mass of human body parts. It could not think, it could only smash. It would be controlled directly by Torgo, who would command it from afar. YOU are Torgo, and the book allows you to guide your construct on its rampage of destruction against those who have wronged you...

Starting with Zagor.

Well, that's my attempt to make up a backstory to this whole event. Either way, my construct started off on its adventure.

Firetop mountain is so named because of the red rock deposit at the top, not because it's a volcano. Which is a shame, because being set inside a volcano would have added a whole new level of adventure in it. Probably not a good idea, because my stamina roll was quite low at only 16 - but my luck score was very lucky at 12, with my skill an even 10. I slipped into the cavern entrance of the mountain, and took a turn which lead me to a guard post. The guard, a goblin, was sleeping quite happily. Wish I could get away with that when I was at work!

Slipping past the guard, I entered a room which contained another sleeping goblin. I managed to grab a small box from the room, which contained a couple gold coins - not bad, given that the book's instructions didn't mention that I had any to start with! The box also contained a mouse, which I didn't keep. How odd. But in the second room I entered, which was otherwise empty, the box contained a snake. Not a giant snake, just a regular snake, which I killed with only one hit. I wonder what kind of person keeps a snake in a box. Does the box have air holes? Do they open it to feed the snake every day? It seems like such a difficult way to keep a pet.

Either way, the snake was 'guarding' a key, which I took. I remembered that you need to collect a good number of keys in order to get to the good ending of this book. Hoping that this key was one of them, I pocketed it and left the room. I investigated another room, in which two orcs were singing badly. Seems they were drunk. The book didn't offer me the choice of joining them, sadly, so I just killed them. Under the table in this room, there was another box which contained instructions on how to cast the Dragonfire spell, which could easily slay a dragon. Given that there's a dragon on the cover for this book, I figured this was a good discovery!

My next room contained a raving lunatic. Kinda like when I was living in university student dorms, I suppose. Anyway, I figured that he was a prisoner, because he wasn't an orc. So I tried to calm him down, which was very useful. Once he was calm, he told me that I had there was a trap further down the tunnel which I could solve by pulling the right-most lever. Which is quite useful, and may even save me from what might otherwise be an instant-death choice, possibly.

A tunnel. Expect to see a lot of these in this book.
I venture on, and in the next room I enter, I find an armoury. You have to remember though that this is an orc armoury, so it's full of pointy sticks and so on. But I do find a rather nice shield, which will let me take less damage if I roll a 6 after being injured in combat. Rather unlikely it'll be of much use, but it's better than nothing - however, in order to take it with me, I need to leave behind one of my other pieces of equipment. Okay then, I'll leave behind... my previous, crappier shield! Wow, difficult choice, that.

Leave room, walk down tunnel, enter new room. This room contains two goblins who are busy torturing a dwarf. The book then gives me the option to run in and take part in torturing the dwarf!! I am so, so tempted to choose this option. I really want to. If it had been a Gnome, I'd definitely have taken the choice. One thing that World of Warcraft has taught me is that Gnomes are only good for torturing, throwing long distances, and the occasional barbeque. But anyway, I decide not to torture the poor dwarf, and kill the two goblins, like a good hero. And in reward, I am given CHEESE! I have the cheese!!

Leaving the room, I eventually come across the trap that the crazy man warned me about. I pull the right-most lever, and a portcullis raises, allowing me to continue. I then make a number of choices between turning west, north and other directions, which I didn't bother to note down, because that makes for the most boring playthroughs ever, "First I went north, then I went east, then I went east again", sod that! So I ran around blindly for a bit. Until I ran into a crazy barbarian.

I don't know what the barbarian was doing in the dungeon, but once I killed him, I discovered he was carrying a mallet and several sticks of wood with pointy ends. My working theory is that he's a vampire hunter. It's a shame I had to kill him, because I'd have been quite interested to find out how a barbarian had got into the line of vampire hunting. Maybe he was the latest in a long line of vampire hunters. Maybe he had trained under Buffy Summers or the Frog Brothers or something. This would be a very interesting story, but sadly it will never be revealed, because I killed the barbarian. See, violence is never the best answer.

I found it! I found it!
I found the cheese!!!

The next room is a lavish portrait room, with paintings on the wall. I look at them, and recognize one of them as the legendary Zagor himself. This is a bad idea, because the portrait immediately starts to cast a spell on me. Hmph, wish they'd stop doing that kind of thing. The book asks if I have anything that could stop Zagor's spells.

Sadly, I don't (unless the cheese can be used for this - maybe wizards are lactose-intolerant?) so I flee the room, and quickly come to another room which I'll call 'the garbage room'. It contains some driftwood, which I have the choice of taking. Oh yeah, a hunk of wood will be so useful, I'm sure - I leave it behind, and try to find some rope instead. Rope is always useful. Except when it comes to life and tries to kill you. This rope does. So I chop it up.

Finally, we come to the river. I'm a wee bit worried, because I've only found one key so far, and the river kinda marks the mid-point of the adventure. Also I remember that on the other side of the river lurks the dreaded labyrinth. Anyway, I play nice and ring the bell for the ferryman. I have two gold coins from the earlier rooms all ready to pay, but it seems that the ferryman decides he's going to charge me extra.

I assume he thinks I've got the word 'sucker' printed on my head. I'm all ready to teach him a lesson with my sword, when he changes into a giant salivating wererat. Yeah, I didn't see that coming, either. And to make matters worse, the book won't give me the option to tempt the wererat with any of the cheese I found earlier! Pah, useless cheese.

So if I can stake a vampire by accident,
why do we need YOU anyway?
Anyway, I kill the wererat and decide to commandeer the boat for myself! On the opposite side of the river, I approach a door, when I am suddenly knocked unconscious. I never do find out what struck me, but when I wake up, I am in a room with four zombies. It's a bit of a gamble, and I realise my chance of killing all four of them are slim, but I don't hesitate and leap to attack. Sure enough, I am able to barely scrape through, having killed all four zombies. My stamina is running low, so a quick glug of my magic stamina potion quickly gets me back up to shape.

I search the nearby corpses and find some gold, and a silver crucifix. Hmm, a lot of vampire-related items. They come in very useful though, as the very next room contains a vampire. Yep, the next chamber is a crypt, and from a nearby coffin stalks a vampire. Boy, it's lucky I found those stakes earlier! Even more lucky, because, well...

According to this book, I am the most inept and yet the luckiest vampire hunter ever. You see, as the book narrates it, I approach the vampire with the stake. The vampire backs away. I trip and fall. The stake goes flying out of my hands. By sheer luck, the stake hurtles through the air, right into the vampire's chest, piercing its heart. I'm not even joking here. This actually happened. Feeling utterly amazed at my luck, I find the vampire's coffin contains a book (I'm not told what it is) and some y-shaped sticks. Maybe the vampire had an interest in dowsing.

The following area of the dungeon was half-completed, and I managed to see some enchanted digging tools constructing new tunnels, all the while singing happily. I think I'll have to make sure not to pack mushrooms in my provisions in future. Anyway, I stumble onwards, almost tripping over a ghoul on the way. The ghoul can be quite tricky as he can paralyse you with its touch, but I'm able to handle it without too much difficulty.

And so I journey into the LABYRINTH OF ZAGOR!!

This part of the adventure is amazingly frustrating to try to explain. It's just as it sounds, a maze. Anyway, I won't bother to document the actual tunnels of the maze, it's really the sort of thing that's best to solve by making a map as you go along. It's pretty impressive that something like this could be included in a text-based format like a book, but still, it's very time-consuming and is definitely the low point of the adventure. I'll just describe the more interesting rooms I come across.

I manage to find a room full of dwarves who are playing cards, and through the graces of my high luck score I am able to earn some extra gold without needing to cheat. The next room I find is very appropriate for a labyrinth, as it contains the ominous minotaur. I kill him, but he does manage to deal quite a bit of damage. And I manage to acquire my second key! I'm sure I've lost any chance of getting enough of the correct keys by this stage in the game, but its still nice to have this.

I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, oh wait I've found a dragon.

Quite simply the best way to deal with dragons.
Excellent. The book asks me if I remember the magic spell from earlier. That's quite interesting as you can see that this 'do you remember' question will later develop into the codeword system. Without further ado, I hurtle the spell at the dragon with all the efficiency of Lina Inverse's Dragonslave spell!

The tunnel leads at long last into the warlock's study. I try to sneak in, yet the warlock notices me and prepares to attack. With my amazing memory, I remember that the wizard's power lies in his desk of magic cards (and y'know, I may have even forgot about that if he hadn't been playing with them when I walked in!), so I grab the cards and set them alight.

The warlock is now relatively easy prey, and I cut him down without too much trouble.And, like many thousands of adventurers before me, I fall at the final hurdle. I have only two of the keys needed to unlock the warlock's treasure, and so I fall to the floor in tears. This, my friends, is how the vast majority of Warlock of Firetop Mountain playthroughs end.

Warlock is definitely a classic, for all the good and bad that entails. It feels very much like a classic dungeon hack, and doesn't have the stronger flavour of later FF books. The combat is relatively easy, the maze is more tedious than challenging, and the difficulty in finding the right keys to unlock the warlock's treasure is the stuff of urban horror stories. Your tastes may vary on the artwork, for me it's very nostalgic and I'm quite fond of a lot of the illustrations. The trick to the game is to play through it many times, note down where you discover the keys each time, and that will ensure you can get through the game with the best ending.

My copy of the book contains an advert for the Fighting Fantasy fan club, which as best I can tell is no longer in operation, and adverts for two rather interesting books - a biography on JRR Tolkien, and a study on Philip Pullman's 'His Dark Materials' books. Definitely fantasy-theme, but non-fiction books are a curious choice for adverts in this book. Oh well.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Cymerian - my new gamebook system

EDIT - I've changed it again.  This is the last time.  There are now 6 livings instead of 12 and you have less starting equipment.

Hello gamebookers!  A while ago, I wrote about a gamebook system that I was working on.  Well, I've finally settled on a system and here it is.  I've called it Cymerian, after the world it will take place in.  I have ideas about the world, but I am going to save them for another post.

I have decided that I am going to build up the system and the world piece by piece as what I have been doing over the past few months is changing the system over an over again.  I will never settle on the system until I have tested it.

This is the advantage with electronic writing now.  If I come across something in a Cymerian gamebook that invovles a rules change, I can change the rules.  If I write one gamebook and then another where people and places should be referenced in the first one, I can go back to the first gamebook and change it.  If and when I feel that the rules, the world and all the gamebooks for Cymerian are complete, then I will release it.

Tell me what you think of the rules.

I will release a gamebook based on them at some point.  The first one will be set in a relatively safe town so your character will be able to base their operations from there - they can rest and buy most items as well as do a few small quests to gain their first experience points.  Then I might write gamebooks for other places.  Then I might link them together with travelly bits.  I might do this after Windhammer though.

Also, have you booked your tickets for Fighting Fantasy Fest and Dragonmeet?

Happy gamebooking!

Saturday, August 9, 2014

City of Thieves playthrough

Originally published at by Justin MacCormack - Please be sure to check out the original article, and support the author by purchasing his latest book, "Return to 'Return to Oz', and other tales".

Written by Ian Livingstone, Artwork by Iain McCaig

I was pretty lucky with City of Thieves today, because I rolled a 12 on my skill score. This luck seemed to filter through to most of the actual gameplay as well. Still not enough to actually win the game, though!

In City of Thieves, you are a hearty adventurer who wanders into the town of Silverton, which is beset by attacks from the villanous Zanzar Bone. The foul monster wants to claim a young maiden for his own (I'll resist the 'bone' comments), and when the village decided to resist, he has set his moon dogs to lay siege to the poor villagers. I don't know what a moon dog is, but I imagine that their theme tune would be sung by a 1960s David Bowie.

Before you know it, you've agreed to help out. It seems that the wize old sage Nicodemus knows exactly how to slay Zanzar Bone, so I'll need to talk with him. Unfortunately for all, Nicodemus lives in a wretched hive of scum and villainy, Port Blacksand - also known as the CITY OF THIEVES!!

My trouble began at the city gates, where one of the city's guards refused to let me into the city until I'd bribed him. Oh lovely, a corrupt law enforcement agency, I'm sure that won't come back and make trouble for me later in the adventure. Y'know, being a corrupt guardsman must be a very profitable job. I wonder how this conversation would have gone. "Listen, mister city guard, I'm not trying to get philosophical here, but if the city of thieves' own law enforcers are thieves, then who are the thieves? Think about it. Whoa, zen!"

Deciding that it'd be a good idea to head to the market district, I took a path leading through some narrow alleys, and was attacked by two thieves. Killing them gave me some more gold. Strangely enough, I found that it was my gold that went up and down most in this adventure. Killing thieves is a good source of income, it seems. I was able to get to the market square without too much trouble, where I seen a group of people pelting rotten fruit at some poor sod who was locked in some stocks. Oh how lovely. I wonder what the poor chap had really done - probably refused to take part in Monty Python's Life of Brian stoning scene.

Nobody is allowed to make any Monty Python
jokes until I blow this whistle.
An especially large, heavily muscled gentleman asked me to play ball with him. I'm fairly sure that the ball was a leaded weight, and it was actually an impressive feat of gladiatorial skill which set the body to its limits... but as far as I'm concerned, we were just playing volleyball, because I won with great ease and made some nice gold. Bidding my semi-naked friend a fond farewell, I went to a nearby stall and bought up everything they had for sale. I think I must have bought a larger backpack too, because I would soon be carrying a great number of items.

Stopping in at a local clairvoyant (who, in FF books, are legitimately able to see the future, and not simply hucksters skilled in cold reading like they are in real-life), I was told that it'd be useful to look under the nearby bridge for Nicodemus. Sure enough, when I got to the bridge, there he was - a gruff old wizard who told me to bugger off because he didn't want to help me.

After some arm-twisting, I convinced him to tell me what I needed to do in order to get the job done by myself. Namely, I needed to find a silver arrow in order to paralyze Zanzar Bone, then I needed to rub him with a lotion (I'll avoid any 'rubbing lotion on bone' comments) made from lotus flower, black pearls and hag's hair. Also, I needed to get a tattoo of a unicorn on my face. A tattoo... of a unicorn... on my face... Yeah, I strongly suspect that Nicodemus was just wanting to make sure I made a total fool of myself.

Taking my leave of the useless old fool, I went for a jaunt down Candle Street. Entering the first house I came to, I met a man who made a deal with me - swallow one of his pills of unlabeled medication. If it doesn't kill me, I win some gold. Did I mention that this book was made for kids? And this was years before Morpheus had offered people a choice between red and blue pills. No, this was just a madman who wanted me to swallow what could be poison - and I had no guarantee that they weren't ALL poison. Either way, I got lucky and didn't die. I pocketed 20 gold pieces and continued down the street, still utterly bewildered.

Along the way, I was almost hit by a falling plant pot that had tumbled from a nearby window. Curious, I went into the building. In there, I seen two old ladies who were dressed up like babies, who were fighting over toys. Why does this kind of weird stuff always happen in these books to me? And why do I have a creepy feeling that there's several websites online that're probably dedicated entirely to this sort of thing.... Anyway, they wanted a toy from me. Not feeling especially in the mood to cater to this kind of insanity, I gave them the iron spike that I'd bought from the market to play with.

Further along Candle Street, I found a group of little gnome-like creatures playing a game much like baseball. Given my high skill score, I decided to join in, hoping I'd get something useful. Sure enough, I hit a home run and was rewarded with; some gold coins, a potion, a little flute, some bananas, a stick of chalk and an eye patch. So in general, the contents of the city's gutters. Pah. What, was an empty tin can too good a prize to give away? I left the playing field in disgust. It was now my firm opinion that Candle Street is the Arkham Asylum of Port Blacksand, so I promised never to go back there again, and instead walked in the opposite direction as fast as I could.

The usual type of citizen in Port Blacksand
Eventually I stumbled across the harbour of this port town, in which was moored a pirate ship. I figured that this would be a good place to look for items, and so I carefully slipped on board. Several of the pirates were asleep, and so I carefully pickpocketed them. Sadly, my luck wasn't up to the challenge, and three of the pirates attacked me. I killed the lot, and found my first important item in the pirate's pockets - six black pearls.

Curious as to what might happen if I went into the other room of the ship, I found that someone had poured themselves a nice hot bath. The book gave me the option to hide around in here, for some reason. I did so, and soon enough a large naked man entered the room and got into the bath. I was then given the option to say 'ahem' to him loudly... I have no idea why I'd want to, but given that I'd already played volleyball with one semi-naked man and the only women I'd seen in this city so far had been mad old crones, I decided to take the gamble and do so. It seems this was the option to interrogate the man - he told me where I could get a silver arrow, from a local silversmith. Y'know, I may have been able to work that out on my own, it's one of those obvious kind of things.

On the way to the silversmith, though, I tried to help an injured boy who was lying sobbing in the road. Because I'm a good person. And of course, the injured boy was in fact a goblin thief who attacked me. I chopped him in two, and took his gold, some garlic, and some knuckle bones he happened to be carrying for some reason. The gold was immediately useful, as I came across a candlemaker's shop. I bought two scented candles, just in case they may be useful.

"Would you like to see a magic candle?" said the shopkeeper. I agreed. The shopkeeper then used a magic candle to hypnotize me, and proceeded to steal two items from my backpack. I decided that he could steal my bananas and eye patch. I'm sure they will serve him far better than they did me. I still had enough gold left over to buy a silver arrow in the silversmith's shop though - my second item! And it was so easy to obtain, I didn't need to kill any trolls or solve any puzzles, I just had to ask for it. Well, I suppose I had to encounter the naked pirate earlier... some mental images you just don't want to live with.

As I continued searching the streets, I was confronted by an escaped convict, who begged me to help him flee the city guards. He claimed that he had been robbed, and as such he was unable to pay his taxes. I would have probably helped him, but if the guards were to catch me,

I didn't have any papers to show that I had a right to be in this city. So I handed him over to the guards instead. Curiously, the guard told me the truth - that the man was an escaped MURDERER. For once, betraying a man in need of help was the right thing to do.

Is it surprising that Port Blacksand has a city garden? It surprised me. From everything that I'd seen before, I imagined that the city garden would consist entirely of different kinds of mud, possibly with thieves hiding under it. But no, it actually did have flowers. Real flowers. Including a lotus - my third item! I grabbed it, quite aware that the topiary animals would then immediately attack me. They actually did a bit of damage, so much so that I had to use one of my meals in order to recover some stamina.

I have a tattoo, and even I think he's an idiot.
I had only two things left to do - get into the sewers so that I could kill a hag and take some of its hair, and get a stupid tattoo on my face. Before I could do so, though, two of the city guards bumped into me in the middle of the street. They were orcs if I remember right, called Sourbelly and Fatnose (I wonder if that's Corporal Sourbelly, or Lieutenant, or maybe even Captain?) and were cruel and malicious bullies who terrorised the citizens of Port Blacksand. They tried to threaten me, but when they asked to see my ID, I had to tell them I didn't have any. I explained it to them very carefully and politely. With my sword.

Unfortunately, killing two of the guards wound up attracting all sorts of attention. Thankfully, one of the townspeople lead me to his cart, where he smuggled me out of the city beneath a bale of hey. By now, the city was in an uproar, and probably under martial law to boot. There was no way I could get back inside in order to get the hag's hair, or to get that stupid tattoo.

I actually breathed a sigh of relief here, because this would mean that my character wouldn't be stuck looking like some kind of social loser from the dregs of the Jeremy Kyle Show for the rest of his life. The book didn't give me the option of just drawing it on my face with the chalk I'd found, though (which is probably the least stupid option), and instead told me that I went back to Silverton in failure. The saddest part of this story is that I will never get to see a moon dog with my own eyes. I bet they're awesome. They probably poop stardust.

Now that I think about it, I think I see some disturbing undercurrents to Port Blacksand. As we've seen, the police are corrupt, violent crime lurks in the back streets, the masses are ready to turn to vigilantism, prisoners routinely escape from the prisons, many people are clearly criminally insane... At this moment, I thought of forgetting my  mission, leaving the salvation of Silverton to another wandering hero.

The city of Port Blacksand needed me. They needed a hero. They needed someone to strike fear into the superstitious hearts of the criminals. I would prowl the night. Blacksand would be my city now. I would be a hero - not the hero that Port Blacksand deserved, but the hero it needs. I would be that hero. So no, my adventure has not been a total waste. Not at all.

I still very much enjoy City of Thieves. This was the first FF gamebook set inside an urban environment, and it came off very well. In terms of writing, all they really had to do was change the tunnels to streets and rooms to shops, but in doing so the city comes off as feeling very vibrant and alive. There feels like there's a lot going on at all times, and it's still one of my favorite of the series.