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)