Friday, December 30, 2016

2016 in review

So 2016 is almost over, thankfully. This year, we saw the sad passing away of Joe Dever, the man behind Lone Wolf. Paul Gresty made a very touching and eloquent post about him. Joe has contributed a huge amount to gamebooks, games and many other areas. I world is a poorer place without him.

There were plenty of releases, as always. One of the most pleasant surprises and "problems" I've had since starting this blog is that the number of gameboook related products is so large that I have had trouble keeping up. Back in 2010, I envisaged this blog to be mainly a retrospective look at gamebooks with the odd Windhammer review, but I couldn't have been more wrong, which is great.

However, a great website called Gamebook News has started up to keep up with new developments, so keep an eye on that one.

If analysis is your thing, then head on over to the Interactive Visual Gamebook Adventures blog by Peter Agapov who has written many excellent and thought provoking posts this year.

Kickstarter has been the home for many gamebook projects this year. The last one I backed was Sword of the Bastard Elf, by Hermit Skull (not his real name, I presume). The book is a parody/homage to Fighting Fantasy books where the titular bastard elf goes on a quest across the land of Nonce to find the Wandering Milkman, who is supposed to be his real father. Hopefully that sentence will tell you what kind of story this is supposed to be. The art is awesome and manages to homage past Fighting Fantasy books. You can find more awesome works at Hermit Skull also managed to fund Star Bastards (I see a theme here) earlier this year and I have the awesome book in my possession now.

Megara is continuing to release collectors' editions of the Golden Dragon books and having guest authors add to them. Golden Dragon book 2 has been funded and an extra 100 sections will be written by Mark Lain. Book 1 was funded earlier this year and I received it in the summer with an awesome extra 100 sections written by David Walters.

After the success of Alice's Nightmare in Wonderland, Jonathon Green got the Wicked Wizard of Oz funded and that will be out next year. He's also asked fans that if there was a YOU ARE THE HERO 2, what they would like to see in it. There's nothing promised, but Fighting Fantasy Fest 2 will be taking place on September 2nd 2017 in the University of West London and that would be an excellent time to sell it.

Arion Games ran a campaign for Stellar Adventures, rules for science fiction  Advanced Fighting Fantasy. This is something I am looking forward to as I have access to the playtest files and they look great. I have also written two adventures for it, which will be released shortly after the rules. I ran the shorter one at Dragonmeet and it went well.

I also back the Qanharren series which is a gorgeously produced gamebook series which Ihaven't played yet, but I look forward to doing so. You can find the website here.

There were two big gamebook related programs this year. Tin Man Games released the Warlock of Firetop Mountain (I paid to design a room in the maze and write a death section - anyone want to guess at which ones?). Tin Man Games have really upped their game with making a 3D map, a new combat system and wonderful new rooms, characters and quests to go with the game which you can get on Steam.

Finally, Inkle released Sorcery! part 4 which is the conclusion to the Sorcery! series. Inkle have built on the series again and introduced new features to conclude this epic story. You can get Sorcery! from the app store, Google Play and Steam.

So what have I been up to this year?

Secret project

 I finished off rewriting an existing gamebook. It's all done and I'm talking with the original author to get it released.

Tunnels and Trolls solo rules

I love Tunnels and Trolls for its tradition of solos, so when I got my awesome copy of Deluxe Tunnels and Trolls, I wrote some rules for solos using them. Then the awesome Troll God Father, Ken St. Andre himself asked me if I could let him add art to it and release it. I said yes, of course. You can get them from RPG Now. Many thanks, Ken. You are absolutely awesome!!

Tunnels and Trolls magic weapon solo

 I started writing another Tunnels and Trolls solo. The premise of this is that you discover a magic item that allows you to spend your Adventure Points to add abilities to a personalised magic weapon for you. I came up with this idea ages ago with the aim of giving someone a magic weapon that can grow with its owner so that it won't get abandoned as the hero gains experience. I have done 100 sections of the gamebook and the rules for making the weapon. The hard part was making the rules for creating the weapon and that is complete, so now I just need to finish off the scenarios. I started it in the summer holidays with the hope of finishing it by September, but I didn't. Realistically, I won't have it finished by this time next year due to...

The Glass fortress, with Jeffrey Dean

This is something that I am working on at the moment and I am really excited about it, especially as it lets me revisit some of my favourite past ideas. I have done 80 sections so far. I am only writing half of this gamebook, however, so I'll let you know when I can say more...

Works of art are not finished, only abandoned

One of the main sinks of time is constantly tweaking my Legend of the Wayfarer system. I released 8 books with the system I used ages ago,  but I was constantly trying to improve it. Well, after combing through literally every word, I think I've got to the stage where it is ready. Or at least, I've got to the stage where I sick of yet another tweak invading my brain, compelling me to write it down so that I have to then look at the document again to see if I want to make that change. Either is fine with me. The kicker, however, is that I haven't yet written a gamebook using the new system and so I'm imagining the first time I do, I might have to change the rules again to avoid some big mistake that I couldn't see unless I was actually playing with them.

The new rules, called Wayfarer take place on a world that I have worked very hard to create a sense of logic to it. The magic level is very low and I have thought more about the world building than the rules. The rules have then been changed based on the world building, which is why they have changed so much. As I have got a better idea of the world, I have had to change the rules to fit it. Now that I have thought about pretty much every aspect of the world, I'm confident I won't be changing the rules much either now, so I will release them in the next few days.

As an antidote to my careful planning, tweaking and world building, I created a similar game system called SCRAWL with a completely different aim. SCRAWL stands for Solo CRAWL and its aim is for pure murder hobo wander round the wilderness/dungeon/city/ruins and steal treasure from monsters. There's no logic, just a big country with dungons brimming with gold, monsters and traps nad plenty of villages that sell all kinds of stuff to help you steal some more stuff. In a way, SCRAWL is my antidote to Wayfarer, where I can just kick back and stick in any idea I want without having to think about the ramifications that much.

I have created a Patreon page where for the mere cost of $1 per product I make, you can get the SCRAWL and Wayfarer gamebooks in advance and also read posts from me about how I make them and my sources of inspiration. Eventually, they will be available on my RPG Now page for the cost of Pay What You Want.

I'm looking forward to 2017 with another Fighting Fantasy Fest, Dragonmeet and wonderful new releases. I hope to meet you at some point at a convention, or maybe at another You are the Beer-o or just around.

Happy 2017 and happy gamebooking, people!

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Eclipse of the Kai

This week, we received the news that Joe Dever, a prolific gamebook author most notably known for his Lone Wolf books, had died. Having grown up reading Joe's books, and continuing to read and enjoy them to this day, I'm going to presume to speak for the community of Lone Wolf fans in saying that this is a death that strikes a personal chord. The world has lost a number of great artists this year, but we're going to miss Joe Dever in particular. He was our guy

And maybe that's because fantasy gamebooks are a pretty niche area, and the superstars stand out. Or because Joe was extremely active on social media in recent years, personally interacting with fans and adding a huge amount of background information on the books and world he'd created. Maybe it's because he toured extensively to promote the books, allowing him to meet a broad section of his readers in person. Maybe it's thanks to his phenomenally generous gesture of essentially giving away all his work, granting Project Aon a licence to make online versions of his books available for free. Whatever the reason, he was a huge part of the gamebook community, and a familiar face to many of his readers. I think I'm not alone in feeling great sadness at his death.

I didn't know Joe well. I met him on two occasions, when I was interpreting for him at gaming trade shows in France. He struck me as extremely professional, and knowledgeable about every aspect of writing and publishing. He'd give us pointers on where we should display our signs for our stand, how to be more conscious of the direction of movement of visitors, things like that. He spent a great deal of time with visitors to the stand, and visibly enjoyed talking about his books, and the process of creating the world of Magnamund. For me personally, he was an inspiring example of the work ethic, and the level of focus, necessary to be a successful fantasy author. In quieter moments, he patiently answered my questions as well – he mentioned, for instance, how he developed the Giak language by placing toothpicks in his mouth, to see what sounds he could articulate if he had long, sharp teeth. He also told me a story about how, after his work on the multi-million selling Playstation game Killzone, Sony sent him an angry letter, accusing him of stealing the 'Helghast' in the game, 'from some fantasy series that some guy wrote in the 80s...'. 

My own experience with Lone Wolf began when I was ten or eleven years old. I received 'Flight from the Dark' and 'The Jungle of Horrors' as Christmas presents one year. I'd never heard of the series before, and yet the level of detail in the books grabbed my attention at once. Magnamund was not a patchwork, generic fantasy world; it was a unique creation, with thousands of years of backstory to take into consideration. There were no Tolkienesque orcs or elves here; rather, it was home to Shianti, and Gourgaz, and Nadziranim. Lone Wolf himself, the psychic warrior monk on a personal mission to restore the glory of his slaughtered order, was a fascinating protagonist. The books were unlike any gamebooks, or for that matter any fantasy, I'd come across before.

Throughout my teen years I searched out the rest of the books – to the extent that, when I did my slightly cliché 'backpacker year abroad', I soon began carrying a satchel of Lone Wolf Grand Master books all over Australia, which I'd been unable to find in Britain. And this was because adding books to the collection, and so expanding the adventures of Lone Wolf, carried a special thrill. Not least in gameplay terms; each book developed Lone Wolf's abilities, making him more knowledgeable, more skilful, more powerful. Yet more important than this was the keen sense of continuity that pervaded the twenty-book arc. A supporting cast of recurring friends and villains surrounded Lone Wolf – enemies such as Vonotar the Traitor, and Darklord Gnaag; pals such as Banedon the magician, and poor, ill-fated Paido the Vakeros. A gamebook is rarely a lengthy medium, and yet staying with Lone Wolf over the course of twenty-plus books (a good arm's length on a bookshelf) gave these characters the opportunity to breathe, and grow. It gave the reader a chance to really settle into the world of Magnamund. Simply put, it was easy to become deeply invested in Lone Wolf's world, and in his friends and foes that peopled it. 

I can only speak with any authority about my own experience with Lone Wolf. For my part, that initial sense of astonishment has never completely disappeared, even as I approach the tail end of my thirties. The extended republication of Flight from the Dark evoked it again a few years back; so did the release of the newest (and twenty-ninth) Lone Wolf book, The Storms of Chai, just a few months ago. These days, I store my character sheets on my hard drive, and I use a random number generator rather than cheatily hitting zero after zero on the Random Number Table. But holding a new Lone Wolf book in my hands still has the power to turn me into an over-excited teenager once more.

Joe Dever made a colossal contribution to the realm of fantasy gamebooks and interactive fiction, and his absence from here on in will be keenly felt. I mentioned above that Joe was 'our guy'; in truth, it's more accurate to say that, in sharing the books and the world of Magnamund with us – in showing us Lone Wolf's heroic vision of right and wrong – he added a little wonder and nobility to all our lives.

And that made us his guys, his people.

(Post by Paul Gresty)

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

RIP Joe Dever

It is with great sadness that I heard of Joe Dever's death today. Joe was the man behind the Lone Wolf series and the world of Magnamund, something that Joe treated with the utmost love and care to create a magnificent saga of the lowly Kai Lord who saves the world.

He also produced many other gamebooks and also generously gave his permission for all of them to be made free on Project Aon in pretty much any digital format you can get.

I had the pleasure of meeting Joe at the last two Dragonmeets. He complimented my beaten up copy of Lone Wolf book 5 and gave me and the other fans a lot of his time. I also listened to him talk about Lone Wolf and it was great to hear the love he had put into the series over the years, which never waned.

He will be sorely missed by many :(

Here is the Facebook announcement

RPG - Sword Noir

I like Sword Noir - it is a combination of sword and sorcery and film noir (hence the name).  It is a system
where characters are good at what they do, but they cannot do everything and they do not become super human like high level DnD characters.  Characters have attributes and the game makes tests against them.  A character's background, faculties and flaws gives bonuses and penalties to those tests.  All characters must have a background, some faculties and a flaw.  They can choose what these are and call them what they like, allowing some extra individuality to to characters.

Magic is present, but it carries a huge cost and will almost lead to madness and demonic possession (PCs might end up being NPCs).  This all fits in with the setting creed, which is broken down and explained in detail to show how Sword Noir adventures should work.  It shows that the system and setting of an adventure can be entwined to enhance the whole experience.  Magic is not just a set of tools, but something dangerous and corrupting, in keeping with the nihilistic nature of this world.  Characters are not ultra competent at everything, increasing the sense of danger.

  • Characters can be made up of more than just attributes 
  • It is better when the system and the setting are entwined.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Tunnels and Trolls RPG

What's not to love about Tunnels and Trolls?

The game does not ignore this thing called balance.  Instead, it cheerfully pushes balance to the floor then kicks it in the nuts while it is down.  There is the DARO and TARO rules - if you roll a double with 2d6 or a triple with 3d6, you roll again and add them to the original roll.  Unless you roll a double or triple again, in which case you roll again and add both values to them and so on, leading to obscene values for stats.  On top of that non-human races can double certain stats.  And what's more, it's all dandy with Trollgod (Ken St Andre, the creator of Tunnels and Trolls).

Yes, it's the game that spits in the face of logic in the name of enjoyment.  Who cares why there are dungeons full of gold and monsters scattered all over the place and that some people are mighty warrior, powerful wizard or all rounders who are quite good at both, or, if your stats are high enough, get to be the paragon class where you enjoy about 3/4 the benefits of warriors and 3/4 the benefits of wizards?  It's fun!

And what adds to the fun is that the rules are not overly complex.  D6s only are needed (although you might need a few of them!), monsters generally do not need a ton of stats, but a single value called a monster rating which determines how much damage they deal and their hit points.  Stalls in combat are broken by a rule called spite damage.

In combat, you roll a certain number of d6s depending on your weapon, and add a number to that value.  The monster does the same.  The one who rolls the highest deals the difference in damage - any armour that the defender is wearing.  However, for every 6 anyone rolls, they also deal 1 point of damage 'in spite of' (hence the name spite damage) armour or who won, and this can really add up when you are rolling 10d6 for a weapon (which you might - I told you about lots of d6s).

Magic is pretty useful, using a points system to cast spells (in 7.5, you use WIZ points to cast spells) and the
spells are useful, despite having 'comedy' names.

And then there are the solos.  Tunnels and Trolls has tons of solos as it's been doing them pretty much since it started.  I've written a few myself , so has Scott Malthouse and you can try some quick ones out here.  A lot of the older ones are quite deadly (Ed Jolley has put a lot of TnT posts in his blog and you can find them in the index here. Only one is highlighted yellow, meaning he beat it), but they are quite fun to read.    

And finally, another thing I love about Tunnels and Trolls is the aesthetic.  It hasn't lost its old school charm.  I don't know what it is, but I find the whole old school feel comforting.

Want to delve deeper into Tunnels and Trolls?

You can visit Trollhalla.

You can read the Zine for free.

There will be a new edition of Tunnels and Trolls out soon (it is probably out when you rad this).  Take a look!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Conan RPG

I don't remember where I first came across the Conan RPG, but it was the RPG that really opened up my
mind to the idea of a world where magic is not just a tool for flinging fireballs, there does not have to be a clear definition between good and evil and heroes do not have to be world saving noble warriors and wizards who all work together well.

I did not know anything about Conan or Lovecraft at the time, so it really opened up my eyes to a new world.

The game uses the D20 system, but most classes are combat oriented with the scholar being the only magic using class (though not all scholars have to become magic users) and magic being quite limited - there are few spells and most of them come with a heavy cost, such as human sacrifice, demonic pacts, allowing yourself to be brainwashed by a cult or corruption of the caster until they become possessed by a demon.  Magic is not the flash bang type either - there are offensive spells but they do things like draw the heart out of someone's body.

While I think sticking the D20 system onto it wasn't perfect (it seems more apparent to me that the mechanics of a game should fit the flavour and sticking a generic system onto it loses some of the flavour.  Engel is another example, where the German version used something that sounds way cooler than D20),
the Conan RPG really opened me up to other genres of writing and other ways to play an RPG.

It seems that the Conan RPG is not for sale any more, but you could probably find it second hand from somewhere.

Happy gamebooking!

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Black Vein Prophecy playthrough

(You can follow Justin McCormack on Facebook and Twitter. You can also support Justin on Patreon and receive exclusive content. Justin is the author of two bestselling novels, a collection of horror stories - "Hush!: A Horror Anthology", and the young adult coming-of-age comedy "Diary of a gay teenage zombie".)

Written by Paul Mason & Steven Williams, Artwork by Terry Oakes

Hey guys. First up, a quick word. I am now on Patreon. Now, this is a great opportunity for people to support not just this blog, but my writing career as well. As a special 'thank you' to my Patreon supporters, you can access next Sunday's blog post... right now! Go check it out. But now, let's discuss Black Vein Prophecy!

I never played this book when I was a kid.

Look at the cover and tell me you don't understand why. If not, I'll explain. When I was a kid, I was visiting my local library to borrow a copy of Frankenstein. Yeah, I was a weird kid. Anyway, I found two books. One had a simple off-yellow cover with the book's title in gothic font. The other was a more gaudy paperback version with a lurid painting of Frankenstein's monster, its body a mass of scars, its face twisted in rage, its ragged stitches open to reveal red gore beneath.

Obviously I took the book with the monster on the cover. People do judge books by their covers, and sadly the cover for this book is terribly underwhelming. And also rather misleading to the adventure within, which immediately sounds interesting from the very minute you read over the blurb on the back.

Y'see, as you start this adventure you know nothing. Nothing at all. You don't even roll up stats, like you do in Creature of Havoc (which we'll be re-playing soon, too). You're thrown right into things, and have to learn on your own. It's the first FF adventure where you start out with a blank sheet. Mysterious, indeed!

You awake locked inside your own tomb. Just like I do most Sunday mornings. You break through the tomb sarcophagus with significantly less trouble than Uma Thurman would have, and stagger around inside what appears to be a huge sepulchur for a while, surrounded by other sarcophagus... sarcophagi... sarcophaguses... whatever.

It's at this point that I start to experience crippling headaches, which means that this is very much like a usual Sunday morning. I try to inspect as much of the chamber as possible, but with my head spinning, it's difficult to gather anything cohesive other than fleeting visions of a figure. I leave the chamber, only to find that that the building is far larger than I'd expected, with a new chamber filled with statues.

When one of the statues seems to move, and I experience memories associated with the statue's figure, I begin to surmise that I've been brought back from the dead somehow. Seems that my earlier comments about Frankenstein may not have been entirely unconnected to this book. Creepy. Anyway, the main theme of this part of the book is spinning headaches and haunting images flashing before my eyes, much like you experience when watching an Uwe Boll film.

The chambers seem to gradually collapse as I move through them. I wonder if it is my awakening that has caused them to collapse (much like when you kill a boss in a video game, which causes a temple to collapse due to it being a load-baring boss), or if it is simply my presence passing by that is spreading some kind of corruption to the building. I glance back at the statues, to see that they have collapsed - and seem to be constructed with human bones. Maybe they're not statues after all. Ewww.

The doors in the catacomb all possess seals. As I pass through them, the pressure in my head seems to ease. As I move along, I gradually roll up my stats, starting with luck (required as I run through a chamber that drips a curious liquid), stamina (as I flee up some stairs to escape their collapse) and skill (which I note is set lower than most FF books, as you only add 4 to your roll rather than the usual 6). I procure a sword a backpack with five provisions, and a haunting voice tells me to remember all that I have forgotten. And then I pass through the final sealed door, and emerge into the sunlight.

It quickly becomes apparent that the catacombs I was entombed within lie beneath a large city, one which seems to have been under siege at some point. The streets are empty and the inhabitants seem long dead. As I stumble through the wreckage, I find a curious object lying against a building - I look closer, only to be encountered by a mirror image of myself, which attacks.

It's a long fight due to the high stamina, but I manage to kill the mirror image and am blinded by a flash of light as it perishes. In the wake of the light, I find a small wicker box. When I open the box, a cloud of fiery wings and madness flies out, knocking me to the ground and flying off. I... have no idea what's going on. At all. This is just weird.

The entire adventure gets weirder. Before long, I have encountered a strange mutant horse creature, who speaks about rats being stuck in mazes. When I approach this being, I start to remember the ability to control mutations, and am told that this will be useful for me later. Staggering my way away from this strange creature, I eventually work my way into one of the city's siege catapults and fire myself into the sea. I don't know why I do this, I just do.

I'm dragged from the sea by the crew of a ship, who ask me about a dead man I encountered in the catacombs way back when, and then tell me to man the sails. This isn't what I'd have said to the character if I were the captain of this ship. More likely I'd say "Oh my god, man! Did you just fire yourself into the sea from a catapult? What the hell is wrong with you? And why do you look as if you've been stuck in a sarcophagus for so long? What is going on?"

We sail along the sea for a while, until a large sphere emerges from the mist and attacks the ship. I shrug my shouders and say 'Oh, sure' and fight the giant ball. My sword manages to pierce it, and an insane maddened criminal emerges from inside the sphere and I need to chop his head off. The ship's captain then comes along and tells me that, as punishment for their crimes, criminals in this part of the world are sent into the sea encased in large bubbles, which is... about the standard level of sanity I've come to expect in this book so far.

That night, one of the crewmen called Velkos awakes me to tell me that there is a strange brooch on my clothes, which I had not noticed before. I open the brooch, and an evil baby falls out. I can tell it's evil, because its face is twisted with wickedness. And I can tell that it's a baby because oh fuck it whatever. This makes about as much sense as the film 'The Happiness of the Katakuris'.

  It occurs to me at this stage of the playthrough that nobody who is reading this who has not also read the book itself will have any idea what I'm rambling about. I'm sorry. This playthrough must sound like the product of a demented mind, full of mutant horses and strange lights and men in bubbles and evil babies. I'm sorry. I'm trying my best to make this all into something that can be understood, but I'm not really sure this is possible. It kinda defies the minds of mortal man.

Remember the Sorcery! book "Khare: Cityport of Traps"? It was crazy in that it was a wild adventure filled with utterly bewildering events. This is different. This is crazy in a David Lynch kind of a way, where things kinda make sense in their own respective ways, but it's all so utterly 'stream of consciousness' that it's difficult for you to effectively describe it to another person. And that is NOT to say that I am not enjoying this book. On the contrary, I'm enjoying it immensely.

The ship comes to ground, leaving me and Velkos opting to venture inland for a while. Soon we see a large monkey-type creature being chased by a group of angry people. I follow the monkey as it hides in a cave, but I lose track of it when I discover a buried trove of gemstones worth around 3000 gold pieces. As I gather them up, a strange and obviously sinister mist starts to descend around me. Not wanting to be trapped in a cave with the fog monster, I use the power of evil baby, summoning it like a demented pokemon trainer.

The evil baby leads me out of the cave and away from the fog monster, which is a sentence I never thought I'd say in my entire life. I don't other to tell Velkos of my discovery, but no sooner have I emerged from the cave do I see a group of people who are under attack. I slip closer, despite Velkos' warnings of the contrary, and I notice that they're being attacked by a mass of light and twisting bubbling insanity that would twist the mind of Lovecraft himself. Basically, I'm up against the 5th Angel, and I don't have Eva Unit 01 around to help me out.

What else can I do? Evil baby, I choose you! I hurtle the evil baby at the Lovecraftian horror (do you ever feel that you need a less insane hobby to spend your Saturdays doing?) and they are both destroyed in a giant explosion that destroys time itself, ushering in a Singularity. As my body melts into a liquid mass and my mind becomes part of every other mind in the cosmos, the entirety of Titan is reborn into a single being... actually no, that doesn't happen. But it wouldn't surprise me if it did. Instead, the monster is destroyed, but so is my evil baby thing.

Oh well, I still have that mutation power that I got from the horse-thing earlier, in case I need some bizarre power to perplex the minds of humanity with. I decide that I actually want to find where Valkos has run off to, and eventually stumble across her fending off some bandits. We fend the bandits off and head into a nearby forest. In the depths of the trees, we can hear some people approaching and promptly we climb up some trees in order to hide. The men find me, but do not catch Valkos. I don't bother to tell them about her, because I don't really like her all that much.

I tell the men that I'm a powerful sorcerer and will cast a spell on them if they don't let me go, and they believe me without question. I decide to leave Valkos stuck up the tree and head off on my own. Before long I find a pair of villagers who seem to be trapped in some mud. I try to offer to help them, but as I do, a giant cloaked monster sneaks up behind me and hits me. It flies off with me to its lair, and we fight there for a while. I kill it, and don't find anything of any use.

On the way back to the road, I find some discarded clothes. Eager to find this nudist, I instead encounter a helmeted man who has been tied up and had a scroll of paper shoved in his mouth. I take the scroll, hoping it will contain a clue of some sort. Instead it contains nothing, and the helmeted man walks off into the sunset. I don't know what the point of this was, except to confuse me more. It's working, in that case.

I find a small village, where I spend the night with a few other travelers. I wake the next morning to find a large horse-drawn carriage parked in the middle of the village. I have a closer look, when a man emerges and confuses me for a captain in his army. As you do. I play along, and before long he is asking me for strategic advice on the battlefield. When it becomes clear that I don't know what I'm talking about, he attacks me and I need to beat him down.

I continue my adventure alone, and it occurs to me at this point that I don't really have any set goal or destination in mind, and that I've been simply walking in random directions for a while. I stop my a cliff-side and watch the birds for a while, somehow learning a mystical art of harmony by doing so. I'm not quite sure what this will do, but at that point I'm drawn by a disembodied voice into a tunnel. In a large chamber, I meet a man called Credas. He tells me that my name is Maoir. Ah-ah!

This is pretty big. I've met someone who knows me. He tells me that he knows a lot more, including how to use my powers to their fullest extent. He may even be able to make this entire adventure make some kind of logical sense. After all, he can give me the context to what is going on, and context is important. I help the man clear some bandits from his caves by combining our magical ability to control their minds, and then he tells me the catch - he wants me to do something for him first before he'll tell me anything.

He asks me to find an item from the jungle to the south. I head down there, ready to hunt through the entire place for one arbitrary random item for an old man who is clearly capable enough of finding it on his own, and with very little description as to what item it is that I should look for. Nevertheless, it's not too long before I am able to find a river. And as I'm sure you've noticed, my new hobby in these Fighting Fantasy books is to fall into any river that I come across, usually resulting in my death (see Island of the Lizard King, Sword of the Samurai, and so on).

So I get eaten by killer eels.

And despite that, I'm not too annoyed, because I actually really enjoyed this book. I still have no idea what was going on, but I feel that's more to do with it all being intentionally mysterious. The book does become more easy to grasp as it goes along, which pretty much mirrors your character's disorientation and confusion.

The world itself feels very infused with magic in this particular book, with far more emphasis on the mystical and mind-altering than in a typical Fighting Fantasy book. More than anything else, it left you wanting to replay it, in order to find all the missing pieces of the puzzle and figure out the details that you were unable to grasp on the first playthrough.

It's definitely a good book. If you're in the right frame of mind to enjoy it, it's one I'd recommend strongly. But only if you're in the right frame of mind for it. Otherwise you're likely to reply to it with "What did I just read?"

(You can follow Justin McCormack on Facebook and Twitter. You can also support Justin on Patreon and receive exclusive content. Justin is the author of two bestselling novels, a collection of horror stories - "Hush!: A Horror Anthology", and the young adult coming-of-age comedy "Diary of a gay teenage zombie".)

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Ten Magic the Gathering pieces of equipment I would use if I were an adventurer

If I were an adventurer, however, I would take different items than if I were a wizard.  All of these items are equipment cards from Magic the Gathering.

Everything but the
kitchen sink.
Every adventurer needs adventuring gear.  you know the stuff.  Ten provisions, a waterskin, rope, a mirror (how many times do they come in useful?), a warm cloak and a bag of gold in order to see them through their journey.  

Adventurers also need sturdy and adaptable clothes to see them through their long overland travels.  If they are able to go through the lesser known harder trails, they will be able to avoid hostile encounters.

Bob was prepared for
power cuts.
If you're not trading these with gnomes for dragon artefacts, a good telescope will show you that you are heading in the right direction or give you plenty of warning that something is approaching.

As an adventurer, you will explore many dark places that may be infested with undead.  The bright light of your blazing torch will keep them at bay.  If you get desperate, you can fling it at an opponent in an attempt to kill them.

Adventurers always need to scale things and a grappling hook can help them do that.  They can also use it as an extra weapon in order to ensnare and wound opponents.

Every warrior hopes for a mighty sword and you don't get much mightier than this.  Plus what is cooler than attacking someone with fire and ice at the same time?

You will need a bow for hunting or in order to inflict damage on enemies from a long distance.  

This is a dagger that every adventurer hopes for.  If it is thrown it will never miss.  Chadda Darkmane definitely found a similar dagger useful in his adventures.  

Comes with fairy lights.
Every adventurer appreciates good armour and you don't get much better than darksteel.  

Finally, adventurers always have to sneak around places and a cloak of invisibility is just what they need.  

There we go.  So if we take me as a 0/1 Creature - human, after equipping myself with all those goodies, I am now a 4/4 indestructable, unblockable creature with double strike and shroud.  In addition, I can tap to deal 1 damage to a creature or player, unnattach the heartseeker to kill a creature, or sacrifice my torch to deal 2 damage to a creature or player.

When I attack, I have the chance of finding and new land and I can select a creature that can block me, or, if I decide to not be blocked, I can draw a card and deal 2 damage to target creature or player, putting my opponent on a 2 turn clock (4 first strike damage, 4 regular damage, 2 damage from the Sword of Fire and Ice).  Nice.  I can't be killed by anything other than sacrifice effects or non targeted effects that remove me from the game.

What equipment would you like to use?

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Computer Games - Colossal Cave Adventure

Colossal Cave Adventure (shortened to Adventure on my Atari ST) was the first interactive fiction computer game I played.  According to Wikipedia, it was also the first adventure game to be written.

The premise was simple enough - you had to enter a colossal cave (based on the real life Mammoth Cave in Kentucky) and bring all of the treasure you find back to a small building outside.  You controlled your character by moving the around with the compass points and other commands such as 'kill', 'feed', 'drop', 'get'  and 'look' amongst others.

I always enjoyed wandering around the Colossal cave and enjoying the strange and funny encounters.  It had everything - a pirate, a troll, a dragon, dwarves, a bear and much more.  I never won this game.  My highest score was something rubbish like 76/350.  The decisions were a little arbitrary and required trial and error and I never had the patience to try everything.  There were some good tricks that you needed to learn such as learning how to kill the dragon, transporting the vase back to your house safely and getting that elusive final point.  I didn't find most of these things out until I read a walkththrough but the things I did find out I felt very smug about.

Colossal Cave has been an inspiration to other interactive fiction in various ways, not least the use of the phrase 'Xyzzy'.  There are even Xyzzy awards for interactive fiction.

The good thing about Colossal Cave now is that you can get it and play it for free in various ways and if you get stuck, you could find a walkthrough.  If you have an Android phone, you can get a Colossal Cave app for free.

You can play the Colossal Cave Adventure here

You can download Colossal Cave Adventure here.

You can buy a book about interactive fiction here.  The title, Twisty Little Passages, is another nod to a phrase from Colossal cave.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Master of Chaos playthrough

(You can follow Justin McCormack on Facebook and Twitter. You can also support Justin on Patreon and receive exclusive content. Justin is the author of two bestselling novels, a collection of horror stories - "Hush!: A Horror Anthology", and the young adult coming-of-age comedy "Diary of a gay teenage zombie".)

Written by Keith Martin, artwork by David Gallagher

So, Masters of Chaos. Here we go, this should be interesting!

The storyline is as standard as they come for Fighting Fantasy adventures. An evil wizard is causing some chaos (maybe he's the master of the chaos, you could say?) and I have to go and kick him a bit with my Mighty Boot. There's a handful of variations on the sheet, namely that I have the option to select a few specialist skills for my character. I choose Acute Hearing, Climbing, and Move Silently, assuming that these will be the ones that are most likely to be the ones that will prevent instant unavoidable death sections.

The game also has a notoriety score, which measures how alert the city guards are to the devastation that your character will surely leave in his wake. Evidently the author is quite familiar with my roleplay group, then.

The adventure begins with a mage telling you that you're being sent off to stop the evil wizard, because he has nicked their ancient staff of power. The mage is so keen that you maintain a discrete profile that the only help me can offer is two gold coins, and passage on a rather unpleasant boat. And by 'passage', I mean that he arranges for you to be captured by the captain of a slaving ship and chained to the rowing party. I'm not even kidding here. Honestly, the first section reads less like you're on a covert mission to save the world, and more like you just lost a really unfortunate bet.

In all seriousness though, I like the idea of starting the adventure as an oarsman on a slave galley, it's very Conan. Might have worked better for you to learn of the adventure as you progress, rather than this convoluted idea of the mage's. But nevertheless, it isn't long before the crew of the ship get tired of my attempts to stir up a revolution and take over the ship, so I'm promptly fed to the sharks.

Restart the game? Restart the game.

This time I decide to keep my head down and avoid trouble - but when the ship is attacked by a kraken, I save the captain's life by beating the tentacled monstrocity away with my ball-and-chain. In gratitude, the captain orders that I no longer be fed food that gradually reduces my stamina points each time I eat any. You have no idea how grateful I am that the crew are no longer poisoning my meals - so grateful that I'm almost tempted to resist the urge to steal one of the lifeboats and row away to freedom. Almost. But I steal it anyway.

I row my way to the nearby city, and in traditional fantasy adventure fashion, head right for the grimiest pub I can find, only to find that it has actually been turned into a trendy wine bar. I sit around sipping wine, feeling vaguely less than adventure-ish, until I catch sight of a couple of vagabonds who are sneaking out through the kitchen. I follow them, only to be attacked for no apparent reason. I quickly dispatch one of them, but the second takes a hostage. I manage to rescue the hostage, but the book informs me that I'm feeling too tired to interrogate the hostage, so I instead go to bed. All in all, it's been a confusing day.

The next day turns even stranger. I buy a mongoose from a rather unusual gentleman at the market, only to discover that it's a talking mongoose called Jesper. Fearing that I've tragically acquired a comedy sidekick, I'm desperate to get rid of the demonic spawn of darkness that is the talking mongoose. However he is determined to stick by my side, and eventually leads me into what is euphemistically called 'the entertainment district' of the city. The mongoose insists on doing some backflips for a crowd of onlookers, and then informs me that there is a lady moongoose he wishes to visit before we leave the city.

With my comedy sidekick away getting freaky mongoose sex on, I manage to overhear the two people that I killed the night before as they are conspiring their plans. This is, of course, impossible. I can either put it down to a problem in editing for the book, or time travel. I ignore this, and instead go on to have various adventures across the city.

By the time I am done with my escapades, I am left with very little knowledge about the evil wizard. But I do have a considerable amount of gold, the cutlass of the captain of the ship that I had fled, and a camel. Content with my camel, I ride it off into the golden sands of the desert, my trusty talking mongoose by my side. This is all very weird.

It's roughly about this point in the adventure that the game begins to hate me. As we ride through the desert, I am attacked during the night by a hideously mutated orc, who I beat down. I show mercy on the creature, and he tells me the story of how he was kidnapped from his happy little orc village and turned into a mutant by the evil wizard. I'm so touched by this story that I leave him in the middle of the desert and go on my way.

Over the course of the next few sections, my stamina points go into abject freefall, with my provisions quickly turning rancid in the hot air. Without a magic ring of endurance, I am soon losing more stamina points than my remaining provisions can heal, and it's not before long that I am attacked by something called a chaos manticore. The creature flies up and shoots barbs at me, killing my camel in the process! No! That camel was just like a camel to me!

So there I am, struggling to survive, impaled by manticore barbs, stuck in a life-or-death struggle with the manticore. I manage to kill it, with only two remaining stamina points left. I then promptly die from exhaustion, because I don't have that bloody magic ring.

Masters of Chaos isn't an especially difficult adventure, and it's laid out very nicely. In fact, it reminds me quite a lot of Bloodbones in how the city section of the adventure is laid out. I really can't fault that part. It plays smoothly enough, although at the end of the day it feels very generic and you wind up wishing that the clues that I feel you're meant to acquire in the city are more readily telegraphed. The difficulty spike I came across is no doubt mitigated a lot with more careful item selection whilst shopping, but without any significant indication that the ring of endurance was in any way important, it's all a bit of a gamble.

(You can follow Justin McCormack on Facebook and Twitter. You can also support Justin on Patreon and receive exclusive content. Justin is the author of two bestselling novels, a collection of horror stories - "Hush!: A Horror Anthology", and the young adult coming-of-age comedy "Diary of a gay teenage zombie".)

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Augmented Reality Gamebook Adventures

The phrase "Augmented Reality" became very popular when Pokemon Go was released just a few months ago, but I've liked the word "Augmented", long before that game made it famous, because of another use apart from computer gaming. Being an average traditional male specimen and also very proud of it, I like women as well as cars quite a bit, but I enjoy both of them even more when they are shown topless. That explains why I have always liked the use of "augmented" associated with the word "breasts" in cosmetic surgery terminology. Don't blame me for being honest here! Have you not noticed that almost all women characters in computer games have undergone some excessive breast enlargement procedures? Lara Croft in Tomb Rider is the perfect, but definitely not the only example here. There is a good reason for that, but I will discuss it in another post later on.
Lara Croft in Tomb Rider is a great example of the average gamer preferences.
Actually, augmenting the world didn't start with the first breast implants back in 1962 either. It predates this miracle of the modern medicine by thousands of years. It has been documented that about two millenniums ago, every fall season, the ancient Celts celebrated the Samhian Festival. They believed that the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred and the ghosts of all recently deceased returned to earth. To ward off those roaming spirits, the Celts would make frightful lanterns for their homes and put on dead-like masks and disguises. It is widely believed that these are the very origins of our modern Halloween parties when we decorate our surroundings to look like a graveyard or some other scary scene of evil descent. This is exactly what Augmented Reality is all about: converting the real world into something else by using decorations or electronic devices.
Halloween is the perfect example of Augmented Reality
Come to think about it, Pokemon Go is not at all what it pretends to be. It fits the description of a location based game much better than Augmented Reality (for more info on this subject, see this article by Sunny Dhillon), but even if it was AR, it would still not be the first game of this kind. My first Augmented Reality gaming experience happened back in 2005 while I was visiting "the waterpark capital of the world": Wisconsin Dells. I remember walking through the main entrance of Wizard Quest and instantly leaving the 21 century. All of a sudden, I found myself in the middle of a fantasy world that was beyond my belief and I fell in love with it from first sight. No, I didn't misspell the name. The Wizard Quest facility in Wisconsin Dells is one of a kind experience and it has nothing to do with the MagiQuest franchise. Although, they both represent the genre of Augmented Reality pretty well and they have very similar game mechanics, MagiQuest uses two-dimensional printed walls to change the environment while Wizard Quest is a much more believable non-computerized three-dimensional experience which makes you feel that you just found yourself right in the middle of the planet Pandora from the movie Avatar.
A real photo taken at the Wizard Quest facility in Wisconsin Dells, USA
But enough about history and theory of Augmented Reality. Lets talk games now! Yes, you can create an adventure for your family and friends fairly easy without having any programming skills. However, you would have to be creative or be willing to spend some money for decorations. The process will consist of three parts: creating the environment (decorating the play area), designing the game (coming up with adventures and tasks for the players) and, of course, playtime.
Medieval Castle Scene Setter
1. Create a parallel world (decorate the play area): You can set the game up in your backyard or at your home. To make it more interesting, challenging and time consuming, I recommend using as much room as you have. First, you would have to decide the setting and the theme of your game. Second, you would have to create (buy cardboard and start drawing) or purchase (find and buy online) enough decorations to be able to augment your game area. You could order scene setters, backdrops, playtents and cardboard cutouts that fit your theme from a party store or on the Internet. Here is just an example of how you can set up one of your rooms as a castle using scene setters: Medieval Scene Setter.
Knight Miniatures Scene
Chances are that you may not be willing to spend that much money, so as an alternative, you could use your kids miniatures to create the game scenes on shelves or tables in different rooms. For an example, one of your rooms could be the fairytale castle, while another one could represent the enchanted forest and a third one can be set up as the evil forces stronghold and so on. Just put your imagination to work! As another alternative to scene setters and miniatures, you could use your computer to print some paper castles, knights, evil creatures, wizards, dragons and everything else you can possibly think of, then cut them out and use glue or tape to create the desired scenes for your game. Whatever you do, make sure that you have enough pieces to design a good storyline and challenges for your game.
The Evil Forces Stronghold
2. Design the game and the game tasks
2.1. Storyline: Your scenario could be as simple as "the dark forces have invaded the earth and you must collect specific artifacts and put an army of creatures together to defeat the evil hordes and free your land of darkness", but the more complex and engaging of a story you have, the more interesting game your friends and family would experience.
2.2. Game Mechanics: Create multiple tasks that have to be completed to win the game. Naturally, to keep the players interested for a long time, you should make them as diverse as possible. Example: Have the kids collect (discover) a fishtail, wing of bat and a mistflower, so they can boil a potion of strength to be able to remove the rock blocking the entrance to the cavern dungeon.
2.2.1. Implement Treasure Hunt Mechanics: find the following items (they would be spread out in multiple scenes and rooms): a magic sword, cloak of invisibility and so on.
2.2.2. Include Collecting Resources: find 100 gold, 5 wood and 10 knights (they should also be spread throughout all rooms and scenes)
2.2.3. Integrate Economics: your players should be able to spend the gold on purchasing magic spells, equipment, healing potions, army units or other things.
2.2.4. If you have multiple players, you could include some boardgame techniques and have them race against each other in completing the tasks.
2.2.5. To make the game even more interesting, design it as a gamebook adventure: collecting information (example: tell the players what clues and items the wicked witch gives them when they find her or when they help her by completing a certain task for her) making difficult meaningful decisions (example: would they spend resources on helping the old farmer defend his home, would they side with the honest king or with his sneaky brother) logic puzzles and riddles (players would gain information or items when solving them) dice battles (the outcome would depend on the items collected and skills gained during the adventure).
You can save a lot of money by getting creative :-)
3. Playtime (Test of Performance): the gameplay process in any game (computer or otherwise) is constructed of three very basic core mechanics: input - test of performance - feedback.
3.1. Gamer input: It is obvious that you can't have your players wave magic wands at the items like in the MagiQuest games, so I would suggest two other ways for you to receive their input:
3.1.1. Have your players find codewords printed on the objects they are looking for (example: name the goldfish 'Jewels', print the name on it and you would know that the player discovered the goldfish if they know its name)
3.1.2. Having cellphone cameras at almost anybody's disposal nowdays, you can have the players take a photo of the object and show it to you to prove that they have located it.
3.1.3. Combine input methods and use codewords for some items and taking photos for other encounters.
3.2. Test of performance: It would be the dungeon master's job (yes, that is you) to figure out if the player has collected the necessary items or hired enough units to complete the quest you assigned them to (example: if they give you the codewords or show you the photos of the fishtail, wing of bat and mistflower, you can tell them that they can find the wicked witch and she will cook the potion of strength for them)
Cardboard Cavern Structure
3.3. Storyteller Feedback: Give them feedback through narrative by explaining what else they need to do in order to succeed (negative feedback) or get them excited that they've done well and they are advancing through the storyline (positive feedback example: Once the player has found the wicked witch and collected all the ingredients, you can tell them that they have enough strength to remove the huge rock blocking the entrance to the cavern dungeon and let them explore that area as well)

Game Design Hint: It is obvious that the core mechanic of this kind of game is the Treasure Hunt, so have as many items scattered throughout the play area as possible and don't make it clear right in the beginning when and how some things would be needed. That way, you will not only provoke the explorer instinct in your players, but you will also have implemented a memory game mechanic, because they'll have to remember where they saw a specific item earlier in the adventure and go back to that location to obtain it when needed. It is a good idea to have most of the play areas (different rooms) "sealed off" in the beginning of the game and have your players complete certain quests in order to "open them" for exploration. That represents the "find a key to unlock this door" mechanic which has proven to be very successful and addicting in all kinds of adventure games.
use Baby Gate to close off certain areas of the adventure until the players gain access to them
The bottom line is that you must decorate well, create a compelling story and set interesting and challenging tasks for your players. To successfully do all of that, you don't need any programming skills, although they could be useful if you already have them, but rather learn how to design a good game by reading some Gamebook Theory here:, or my own blog at Visual Gamebook Adventures.

Peter Agapov
Game Designer at
President and Chief Executive Officer of American Limo Naperville
Former Road Captain of Marine One at Operation "Welcome You Home"