Thursday, December 29, 2011

A New Year and a New Plan


This past year has been a good one for Fantasy Gamebook! This blog got started for one thing, taking a detailed look at Dave Morris’ amazing Heart of Ice adventure. Tin Man Games then released my Catacombs of the Undercity gamebook as the fifth entry in their Gamebook Adventures series on iTunes to good reviews. Finally my entry, Sea of Madness, won first prize in Wayne Densley’s 2011 Windhammer competition for short gamebook fiction.

However, it has been exceedingly tricky at times trying to balance fun stuff like gamebooks with real-world concerns like employment and studying, and the number of posts on this blog has suffered as a result. For 2012 there will be some changes, with posts being shorter, but hopefully more regular. In order to do this, I’m going to have to introduce a bit more structure to the proceedings, with posts organized into a cascading series of categories as follows:

Wherein I talk about a bunch of tangentially-related gamebook stuff that caught my eye over the past week or so.

Where I explore some facet of gamebook lore in more detail.

Whether it be boardgames, RPGs, or CRPGs, I briefly review or offer examples of play.

Be they paper or PDF, I offer a few thoughts on whatever texts I’m currently wading through.

Ah nostalgia! Wherein I look at childhood influences that inspired a life-long lurch into the realm of fantastical endeavours.

Music, film, or (rarely) television; I post on what my eyes and ears are currently distracted by.

A close favourite I’ve previously dallied with here.

That’s the plan anyway. Whether it actually happens is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish...

Monday, December 12, 2011

DestinyQuest: The Review

I've been meaning to do this for a while, but it's probably about time to get a review done of DestinyQuest Book 1: The Legion of Shadows by Michael J. Ward. For those not in the know, this is the first in a brand new series of fantasy gamebooks, notable especially for its size (790+ pages), non-linearity, and character advancement.

Rather than drag this out into a lengthy series of posts, I thought I'd try a quicker review process where I summarize all the bits I like; the bits I think could do with more work; and a concluding statement containing my final thoughts.

For the record, I purchased my copy direct from the author via eBay as a special deal including a rare weapon card, a DestinyQuest postcard, and a set of four DQ dice in a little red velvet bag.

Things I like about DestinyQuest
  • The size. There's more adventure here than you could wave your character's main weapon at. Just looking at the maps that accompany the three Acts in the book (Tithebury; Mistwood and Blackmarsh; and The Bone Fields), is an invitation to continue adventuring. "Just one more quest..."
  • The character sheet. It's a nice, simple, easy to understand two page spread. The location-based layout for equipment is intuitive and far more comprehendable than, say, Lone Wolf.
  • Non-linearity. Go where you want, do what you want, when you want. It's the Skyrim of gamebooks in this way...
  • Travel. No endless trekking from A to B, dealing with a host of random encounters along the way. If you want to go to visit the weather wizard, turn to 66. In this way the entire map essentially functions as a hub paragraph, with all encounters and their consequences radiating out from it like a web of choices... 
  • Equipment upgrades. Get better gear, all the time. But wait! What would you prefer? Ebon Boots or the Hood of Night? You can only pick one, so choose wisely...
  • Lack of hoarding. Unlike Fabled Lands where you tend to accumulate huge quantities of items and artefacts scattered across numerous bolt-holes throughout Harkuna, in DestinyQuest equipment upgrades mean losing whatever is being replaced. In other words, what you carry is all you have.
  • Character advancement & careers. You start DestinyQuest as a generic adventurer, but by the end of it you can pick not only a profession but also a career specialisation. Necromancer, anyone?
  • Character uniqueness. Again, unlike Fabled Lands where you characters tend to do the same quests, raise the same abilities and gain the same powerful items, the character specialisation and unique item upgrades means that your character is likely very different from someone else's.
Things I'm not too sure about
  • No pictures. Although I realise the logistics of commissioning and inserting pictures into a gamebook this size are daunting, I do miss the gamebook with pix format.
  • No dying. There is no character death which is a bit of a shock for someone brought up on a steady diet of books by Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson. Instead you simply respawn and begin anew. I can see why it is like this, and I do enjoy it, but it just feels wrong somehow...
  • Grind. Towards the end of the book, when the opponents get tougher, the combats tend to grind a little, and all the various special abilities can be tricky to remember and implement correctly.
  • Bold type for choices. Sometimes choices are in bold font, and sometimes not. Consistency with this would be good.
  • More choices. It would be good to avoid single choice paragraphs, particularly if they lead to more single choice paragraphs. Always offer the reader some kind of choice.
  • No indication for legendary beasts. It would be nice o have some vague idea of how tough these critters are as the paragraph for them is an immediate combat experience. An intro paragraph highlighting some of their more gruesome achievements, followed by a choice ("Do you want to face the Jabberwocky or not?"), would be good.

Summary: Despite these minor flaws, DestinyQuest: The Legion of Shadows is possibly the best and certainly the biggest solo fantasy gamebook I've played and enjoyed! This is the absolute closest you can get to a MMORPG in dead tree format if your internet connection goes down, and even if you are online, BUY IT ANYWAY! Guaranteed hours of entertainment as DestinyQuest puts you in charge of the action! 

If you haven't yet bought it, you can order it here or here.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Five Things I've Learned From The Windhammer Prize (Part 2)

Cover of AEsheba: Greek Africa
(Blake, Mentzer & O'Hare, 1987),
by David Cherry. Nothing to do with
 Sea of Madness, except the same vibe.
Continuing on from where we left off, here are three more things I did differently this time when writing Sea of Madness.

3. Write Big
Describing his work for Fighting Fantasy, Stephen Hand once said:

One thing I myself had learned from the excellent Lone Wolf books was something I call, "writing big". Look at these two paragraphs:

"The Orc scowls menacingly then reaches for his club. You will have to defend yourself:
Orc        Skill: 7        Stamina: 7"

"The bodies of the slain lie strewn across the battlefield, your position is hopeless. Realising you have no choice but to pull back and rally your forces, you turn only to see... Something bars your way. You try to face it but it eludes your stare. Your assailant is an Forgotten Shade and you will need every ounce of courage to overcome it:
Shade    Skill: 7        Stamina: 7"

Paragraph 1 is very typical of your average gamebook. Events feel isolated, low key and a bit flat. Paragraph 2 is written big. It is over the top (some would say too long, verbose and melodramatic), but feels more exciting and satisfying. Structurally both paragraphs are exactly the same - there is a fight with a 7/7 creature - but contextually, they are worlds apart. We decided to write big, so every challenge (even when minor) had character. An event would be: the most evil, the most important, the most tricky, the most melodramatic, the most underhand. Every element would be part of an epic whole. I felt that there was no reason not to rise to this creative challenge, to try and create something dramatic and unique. (Hand, 1999)

So by borrowing Stephen Hand's idea of "writing big", I wanted to make every encounter in Sea of Madness feel epic in scope, as you are playing a powerful hero at large in an extensive game world. Everything that happens to you, even (or perhaps especially) your demise, should be over the top.

One problem with this approach is that it can get a bit tiring to read at times, so for a sandbox adventure like Sea of Madness it is doubly important to try and keep the paragraphs brief but evocative, so as not to bore the reader. Also, a good thesaurus is all but essential for using alternative words. Finally, although Stephen Hand alludes to it without actually mentioning it, this approach is a bit camp, with tongue planted in cheek through varying degrees of force. This is possibly the most difficult aspect to get right. I tend to try and write gamebooks on two levels: the straight, fantasy escapist theme, and the more hidden parody or satire level, where you are essentially affectionately spoofing the whole genre.

RAMPAGE! for example is an extremely obvious parody, riffing on a pseudo-Allansian theme. Sea of Madness was a bit more subtle, though the subtitle "Like the Odyssey but shorter" should be one clue, while other pointers include Star Wars quotes, Fighting Fantasy gamebook titles, and a whole bunch of related stuff crammed in with a crowbar. Feedback from Sea of Madness would suggest the spoof aspect sailed over some heads however, and in fact caused problems because there was an expectation that the adventure would be similar to the Odyssey but, aside from ripping off a few obvious tropes, the gamebook was more a mash-up of faux-Hellenic Bronze Age mayhem and classic pulp fantasy/swords & sorcery/swords & sandals. Basically though, I had a lot of fun writing it!

4. Rules, rules, rules
Given you are writing a gamebook, developing a clear and cohesive set of rules is an absolute must. The two main choices are to borrow an existing rules set, like Fighting Fantasy or Virtual Reality (which is what Per Jorner did with The Bone Dogs), or develop your own. For the former, it makes things easier to write for a familiar system, but opens your work up for comparison against the original material. For the latter, you get more creative control, but you have to ensure your system is balanced, playable, and fun, as well as logically and fully integrated into your gamebook.

For Hills of Phoros I created a 2d6 system that was simply far too complicated for the gamebook, and when I had to strip bits out to fit for length, it started to look rather patchy in other areas. For RAMPAGE! I simplified it to a 1d6 system which worked much better, and I re-skinned this system for Sea of Madness with some additional rules. One common piece of feedback is that rules are still a bit long, though clear. However, I do say in the rules section that you can pick a starting character and begin straight away, referring only to the rules when needed. I think it's also important to add some optional rules at the end, to allow the player to customise the adventure if they so wish.

5. Art of Schmooze
You want lots of people to read your adventure, and you also want lots of people to vote for your adventure as being one of the best. That's not going to happen if you simply let your adventure's PDF file hang off the Windhammer website and expect its natural brilliance to shine through. You need to get people interested in your gamebook, so they will read it, enjoy it, and vote for it!

For my previous entries I just sort of threw them out there, put a few posts on some gamebook groups and hoped it would be enough. As an approach it becomes too poorly focused and too generalistic. For Sea of Madness I tried to get specific groups of like-minded people interested. For example, I messaged all my old gaming buddies on Facebook, passed on links to my Bangkok snooker comrade, and shared details with a shadowy cabal of writers for whom I had done some editing work. This sort of tightly focussed approach to soliciting feedback and votes possibly works better than the more open-ended appeal to interested readers.

In fact, by deliberately targetting non-gamebook fans, not only are you potentially generating votes for your Windhammer Prize competition entry, but you are also stimulating an interest in the other entries and in gamebook fiction in general. If we want to revive gamebook fiction in the future (and there's certainly plenty of evidence we are currently surfing the wave of a mini-revival at present), this sort of approach is going to become more and more important, especiallly as we look at paradigm-changing formats such as tablet devices, online content, and smart phones.


Blake, R. J., Mentzer, F., & O'Hare, J. (1987). AEsheba: Greek Africa. Lake Geneva, WI: New Infinities Productions, Inc.

Hand, S. (3/10/1999). Personal communciation with Mark J. Popp, available here: (Thanks to Andy Spruce) 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Five Things I've Learned From The Windhammer Prize (Part 1)

One of the interesting things about the Windhammer Prize for Short Gamebook Fiction is that Wayne Densley keeps the voting tallies secret. This is understandable for what is essentially a niche competition, as if the winning tally was known, competitors may think "Ah, I only need X votes!" and aim to amass the required number of votes rather than devote themselves to their gamebook entry.

While this hidden tally introduces a degree of mystery to the proceedings, it also makes analysing the results, in the form of a voting spread, virtually impossible. However, given that I won this year after several previous years of failure, I thought I'd share a few things I did differently this year that may have contributed to a much improved final placing. I have no way of knowing how much, if any, these changes affected my winning tally, but taken as a whole there surely must be some sort of cumulative effect.

1. Feedback
If you're lucky, you should get a decent amount of feedback on your adventure, post-competition. While recognizing that each person's feedback represents just one person's opinion (which you may or may not agree with), study it carefully. Considering the feedback as a whole, sift it for general trends, as these will identify what worked and what you need to improve.

Plenty of feedback from my first competition entry, Hills of Phorosindicated that aimless wandering as per Fabled Lands, was tedious in a small adventure, as was excessive grind-time. Also, if you're using a certain style of character generation system, such as points-buying, implement it across the board. Based on this feedback, I added a bit more story to the still sandbox-influenced RAMPAGE! and Sea of Madness, as well as a complete points-buy system for creating characters if you did not wish to use the provided starting characters. 

2. Maximum Performance
The Windhammer Prize has stated limits of 100 sections or 40 pages of A4. You should try and aim for both limits as one hundred sections is not a large amount with which to tell a multiple choice story, while 40 pages allows you around 20,000 words, or 200 words a section on average. That's a decent chunk of text, nearly half a NaNoMo entry, and will require an effective time budget to ensure your typed word count per day is ticking over nicely. While sacrificing the art of story-telling at the cold altar of mathematics may seem harsh, the reality of writing a gamebook is that you are creating a complex puzzle that requires a degree of rigourousness unknown to most short stories or novellas. Break out the calculator!

Hills of Phoros sprawled so badly I had to cut huge chunks of rules and sections to cram it into the competition limits, and this had a big effect on the final product. Conversely, RAMPAGE! was a featherlight affair set at half the competition requirements (50 sections) and probably suffered from brevity compared to the excellence and expansivenes of other entries, such as The Bone Dogs. Sea of Madness was planned exceedingly tightly, though parts still got cut. Still, it was a much more cohesive gamebook than its predecessors.

I'll present the final three things tomorrow. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Adrift on the Sea of Madness...

Wow! When not battling word-heavy assignments or rising Bangkok floodwaters, I received the most welcome news that my Sea of Madness adventure has won Wayne Densley's 2011 Windhammer Prize for short gamebook fiction! Cue celebratory beers here at Fantasy Gamebook HQ where we are ever-increasingly surrounded by a deluge of stench-laden black klong-water.

As I talked about before, this year's Windhammer competition saw a lot of high quality entries and everyone who entered deserves a congratulatory pat on the back. There was also a record number of adventure downloads and votes, so thanks also to all you readers and voters who were able to enjoy a glut of interesting and adventurous gamebook fiction.

In a bid to resurrect this blog now that I've completed my studies for this semester, I plan on following this post with a series of similarly-themed entries:
  • Talking about all the entries in this year's Windhammer Prize, to give you an idea of the quality and variety that was present.
  • Looking at five things that helped Sea of Madness win this year, when previous attempts like Hills of Phoros or RAMPAGE! had failed.
  • Exploring the planning process behind Sea of Madness as a counter-point to the Adventure Game series I write for Fighting Fantazine on DIY gamebook adventures.
  • Finally, DestinyQuest the review is nearly done!
Onwards and upwards, away from the floods...

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Fabled Lands Role-Playing Game (Part 3)

Returning to our heroes Shagar and Jarna, we find them on a mission to slay the ratmen of the sewers of Yellowport. They stand before an abandoned well in West Port, the poor quarter of the city. Apparently, the well is a gateway to the sewers below, but there is no ladder or other means of descent. Shagar ties his rope to a crossbeam and tests it for strength and secureness. It seems sound, so, with him leading the way, they clamber down the rope and into the depths...

[Climbing down into the sewers requires a Thievery roll at Difficulty 9, plus 2 for using rope. Shagar rolls 7 plus 1 for Thievery and 2 for the rope equals 10, which beats the Difficulty of 9. He makes it to the bottom of the well unscathed. Jarna rolls 7, plus 7 for Thievery and 2 for the rope for a total of 16. She clambers down the rope a good deal quicker and more dextrously than her comrade]

'Show off!' says Shagar, on seeing her rapid descent. They find themselves in a square chamber almost knee-deep in indescribable refuse that gives off an appalling stench. There are four exits, though only the northern one looks big enough for them to venture into. Jarna lights her lantern, and also pulls out a parchment and a stick of charcoal. Shagar readies his sword and shield, and they head north, into a maze of passageways, stopping often to map the various corridors that peel off and away into the darkness. There is the steady drip of water from above and the occasional skittering of rats, but little else in the way of noise...

Sometime later they are advancing cautiously down a damp tunnel festooned with cobwebs. Jarna has stashed her map in her belt and carries her wand in her other hand. The cobwebs begin to get thicker and thicker, and they bump into the husk-like corpse of a ratman, shrouded in webs and hanging suspended from the ceiling. 'I don't like this one bit,' mutters Shagar as they both hear the sound of something moving towards them through the webs. 'Get ready!' Suddenly the biggest spider either of them had ever seen skitters towards them, envenomed fans gleaming in the lanternlight!

By Russ Nicholson (from Cities of Gold and Glory)
 [Combat begins! Strike orders are rolled: Shagar 8, Jarna 10, and the Giant Spider 7. Jarna goes first. She has 2 Action Points and uses 1 to Cast Pacify. This has a Difficulty of 11. Jarna rolls 9 plus Magic 7 and 1 for her wand, for a total of 17. The spider immediately stops attacking and remains quiet. Shagar decides to squeeze past it and check its lair. He spends 1 Action Point moving into the spider's lair and another searching through the remains of its victims. The spider does nothing for its turn, and will continue to do nothing for five more turns or unless attacked. The first Combat Round has ended.

Jarna continues watching over the spider while Shagar searches. The Difficulty of the search is set to 10. Shagar rolls 7 plus 4 for his Scouting, and succeeds! He finds a bag with eighty Shards, and a shortsword and shield of excellent manufacture and untarnished by being in the sewers. For the third Combat Round he gathers up the loot, and goes back to Jarna. There is a brief debate about whether they should kill the spider, but in the end they decide to leave this part of the sewers. The Giant Spider, still Pacified, watches them go with glittering eyes...]

From this brief example of play we can see that the Fabled Lands Roleplaying Game is a fast and action-packed experience. Things happen quickly, thanks largely to the simplicity of the core Difficulty test mechanic, as taken from the gamebooks themselves. At the same time, there are plenty of customizable options for character generations, as with Jarna above, who can get immediately involved in the action. I may be biased, but I think it's a great game in its own right, as well as a much-needed addition to the Fabled Lands world!

This finishes this short series of reviews, though I'll likely be returning to talk about the Fabled Lands RPG from time to time, and possibly continuing the further adventures of Shagar and Jarna...

You can purchase the Fabled Lands RPG here, and find out more here.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Why I Hate Studying

I hate studying and the best ever articulation as to why the whole process of studying is a painful waste of both time and brain cells can be found in the first ever Red Dwarf novel:

[Rimmer] found the process of revising so gruellingly unpleasant, so galling, so noxious, that, like most people faced with tasks they find hateful, he devised more and more elaborate ways of not doing it in a 'doing it' kind of way.

In fact, it was now possible for Rimmer to revise solidly for three months and not learn anything at all.

The first week of study, he would always devote to the construction of a revision timetable. At school Rimmer was always at his happiest colouring in geography maps: under his loving hand, the ice-fields of Europa would be shaded a delicate blue, the subterranean silica deposits of Ganymede would be rendered, centimetre by painstaking centimetre, a bright and powerful yellow, and the regions of frozen methane on Pluto slowly became a luscious, inviting green. Up until the age of thirteen, he was constantly head of the class in geography. After this point, it became necessary to know and understand the subject, and Rimmer's marks plunged to the murky depths of 'F' for fail.

He brought his love of cartography to the making of revision timetables. Weeks of patient effort would be spent planning, designing and creating a revision schedule which, when finished, were minor works of art.

Every hour of every day was subdivided into different study periods, each labelled in his lovely, tiny copperplate hand; then painted over in watercolours, a different colour for each subject, the colours gradually becoming bolder and more urgent shades as the exam time approached. The effect was if a myriad tiny rainbows had splintered and sprinkled across the poster-sized sheet of creamwove card.

The only problem was this: because the timetables often took seven or eight weeks, and sometimes more, to complete, by the time Rimmer had finished them the exam was almost on him. He'd then have to cram three months of astronavigation revision into a single week. Gripped by an almost deranging panic, he'd then decide to sacrifice the first two days of that final week to the making of another timetable. This time for someone who had to pack three months of revision into five days.

Because five days now had to accomodate three months' work, the first thing that had to go was sleep. To prepare for an unrelenting twenty-four hours a day sleep-free schedule, Rimmer would spend the whole of the first remaining day in bed - to be extra, ultra fresh, so he would be able to squeeze three whole months of revision into four short days.

Within an hour of getting up the next morning, he would feel explicably exhausted, and start early on his supply of Go-Double-Plus caffeine tablets. By lunchtime he'd overdose, and have to make the journey down to the ship's medical unit for a sedative to help him calm down. The sedative usually sent him off to sleep, and he'd wake up the following morning with only three days left, and an anxiety that was so crippling he could scarcely move. A month of revision to be crammed into each day.

At this point he would start smoking. A lifelong non-smoker, he'd become a forty-a-day man. He'd spend the whole day pacing up and down his room, smoking three or four cigarettes at a time, stopping occasionally to stare at the titles in his bookcase, not knowing which one to read first, and popping twice the recommended dosage of dog-worming tablets, which he erroneously believed to contain amphetamine.

Realizing he was getting nowhere, he'd try to get rid of his soul-bending tension by treating himself to an evening in one of Red Dwarf's quieter bars. There he would sit, in the plastic oak-beamed 'Happy Astro' pub, nursing a small beer, grimly trying to be light-hearted and totally relaxed. Two small beers and three hours of stomach-knotting relaxation later, he would go back to his bunk and spend half the night awake, praying to a God he didn't believe in for a miracle that couldn't happen.

Two days to go, and ravaged by the combination of anxiety, nicotine, caffeine tablets, alcohol he wasn't used to, dog-worming pills, and overall exhaustion, he would sleep in till mid-afternoon.

After a long scream, he would rationalize that the day was a total write-off, and the rest of the afternoon would be spent shopping for the three best alarm clocks money could buy. This would often take five or six hours, and he would arrive back at his sleeping quarters exhausted, but knowing he was fully prepared for the final day's revision before his exam.

Waking at four-thirty in the morning, after exercising, showering and breakfasting, he would sit down to prepare a final, final revision timetable, which would condense three months of revision into twelve short hours. This done, he would give up and go back to bed. Maybe he didn't know a single thing about astronavigation, but at least he'd be fresh for the exam the next day.

Which is why Rimmer failed exams. (Grant & Naylor, 1989, pp. 63-65)

I don't do anything like this for my own studies but it never fails to amuse. Happy revising!


Grant, R., & Naylor, D. (1989). Red Dwarf: Infinity welcomes careful drivers. London: Penguin.


Thursday, September 8, 2011

Lost in Bangkok...

Apologies for the complete lack of updates but I've been totally snowed under flooded (via the Bangkok monsoon), with real-life tedium like work and study, and much more fun stuff like trying to get my entry in for Wayne Densley's 2011 Windhammer Prize for Short Gamebook Fiction. 

There's eight entries this year in Wayne's competition, which is the most in its four year history, and they all look very interesting! I plan on talking a bit more about them later, particularly once the entries are published online, but for now it's good to see some familiar faces among the entrants, such as 2010 Windhammer Prize Winner Stuart Lloyd, two-time Merit Award winner (and author of GA4 Revenant Rising) Kieran Coghlan, Merit Award winner and Fighting Fan-tales writer Zachary Carango, and regular Fighting Fantasy Project guestbook contributor Dark. A strong field indeed!

Two other things I need to get done ASAP and hopefully in the next week or two, are:
Until then!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Fabled Lands Role-Playing Game (Part 2)

Returning to the Fabled Lands Role-playing Game, and a summary of our newly-created character:

Shagar of Sokara (30yo Male 1st Rank Warrior)

Charisma: 4 
Combat: 5
Intelligence: 3
Magic: 1
Muscle: 4
Sanctity: 2
Scouting: 4
Thievery: 1

Stamina: 11

Armour and Weapons: Sword (Combat +2), Shield (Defence +1) and Chain mail armour (Defence +3)

Other Gear: Dagger (Combat +0) in boot, Lantern, Rope, Water flask

Money: 165 Shards

Powers: Blademaster, Lore (Warfare)

Additional Notes: Shagar is a pox-scarred lesser noble of Sokara whose family has fallen upon hard times following the overthrow of King Corin VII by General Grieve Marlock. He has become a hiresword and mercenary as a result, and his large frame and mop of unruly ginger hair are a common sight in dingy taverns and on corpse-strewn battlefields across eastern Harkuna. A helpful companion to his friends in need, Shagar is also prone to keeping secrets and not entirely trustworthy. But then again, who can you trust in these perilous times?

Shagar's updated profile above includes new errata allowing him to start with 1000 Shards to spend, plus his 100 Shards for being a Noble. This manifests as an upgrade from Leather to Chain mail armour, plus an extra Dagger in his boot.

I'm not entirely convinced of Shagar's ability to brave the dangers of the Fabled Lands alone, so I create a partner in crime for him, as below:

Jarna Jewelspider (24yo Female 1st Rank Mage)

Charisma: 5
Combat: 2
Intelligence: 4
Magic: 7
Muscle: 2
Sanctity: 1
Scouting: 3
Thievery: 7

Stamina: 10

Armour and Weapons: Staff (Combat +1), Dagger (Combat +0)

Other Gear: Potion of Healing, Amber Wand (Magic +1), Lantern, Water Flask, Parchment 

Money: 24 Shards, 2 Pares

Powers: Sorcery (Enchantment), Craft (Magic)

Additional Notes: Jarna was discovered as a baby, bobbing up and down in a crib floating on the waters of the Grimm River estuary. Her elfin frame, silver hair and sparkling green eyes have led some to suspect she may be a changeling from the faerie shee of the Curstmoor. However, Jarna prefers cities to rustic sylvan settings, and has arrived in Yellowport intent on seeing if the rumours of ancient Uttakin ruins beneath the city are true. Her second chosen name refers to the intricate inscriptions carved into her amber wand. Jarna is a brave companion, but an impulsive one...

In the final part of this series we'll catch up with our heroes as they explore the Lair of the Ratmen! Stay tuned for mayhem!

"Guildmaster Vernon is surprisingly eager to see you. He is a hugely fat and bejewelled merchant, and he tells you that a group of ratmen have made a base in the sewers beneath the city. They come out at night to raid the warehouses and homes of the merchants of Yellowport..."

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Fabled Lands Role-Playing Game (Part 1)

I've been meaning to post about Greywood Publishing's Fabled Lands Role-Playing Game, by Shane Garvey and Jamie Wallis, for some time. Stuart Lloyd has beaten me to it though, and his excellent review can be found here. Instead then, I thought I'd post an example of character creation and a sample combat to give you some flavour as to how the game actually works.

Character Generation

1. Background. There are 7 choices: Academic, Commoner, Criminal, Fey-Blooded, Military, Noble and Primitive. Each has their own special rules.

Rather than choose, I roll a d8 (with an 8 being a re-roll). I rolled a 6. My character is a Noble. This means my character starts with an additional 100 Shards in currency!

2. Description. While you could presumably develop your character's own description, there are also a series of tables helping you decide things such as Height, Build, Age, Personality (both Good and Bad Traits), Eye Colour, Hair Colour, Distinguishing Features, Birthplace, and Name.

I break out more dice and begin rolling:

Height: I roll a 6. My Noble is very tall (6'7" to 7"), and gets a +1 on jumping tests, and a -1 on hiding tests.

Weight: I roll a 5. My Noble has a Large Frame, and gets +1 Stamina and -1 Thievery.

Age: I roll a 4. My Noble is Mature (30-35 years old), and gains 1 level in a Lore skill.

Good Traits (Personality): My Noble is Helpful.

Bad Traits (Personality): My Noble is a Liar!

Eye Colour: Black

Hair Colour: Red

Distinguishing Features: Disfigured by Pox-marks!

Birthplace: Sokara

Name: Shagar

3. Ability Values. You need to roll 8 dice and distribute the results among the following Abilities: Charisma, Combat, Intelligence, Magic, Muscle, Sanctity, Scouting and Thievery. If the total of all the dice rolled is 20 or less, you may roll again.

I roll the following scores: 1, 1, 2, 3, 4, 4, 4 and 5. Given my character's large size, I figure I'm heading towards a warrior type, so I assign the values as follows:

Charisma: 4
Combat: 5
Intelligence: 3
Magic: 1
Muscle: 4
Sanctity: 2
Scouting: 4
Thievery: 1

(The Large Frame penalty for Thievery cannot reduce it below 1, so I'm okay there as long as I never have to do any thieving!)

4. Stamina Value. Stamina is an indication of how much damage your character can take before dying. To generate it, you roll a d6 and add 6.

I roll 4, and add 6, plus a further 1 for my Noble's Large Frame. My Noble has a Stamina of 11.

5. Profession. There are eight professions in the Fabled Lands RPG: Barbarian, Druid, Mage, Priest, Rogue, Troubadour, Warrior and Wayfarer. To choose one of the professions you need to have a score of 5 or more in the profession's Primary Ability, and 2 or more in their Secondary Abilities. Each profession also has rules on what Weapons, Armour and Skills they can choose as well as a choice of one special Power.

Given their ability scores, my Noble has to be a Warrior. They start with one skill level in Lore (warfare), and for their Power, I choose Blademaster which allows one 'super-strike' per quest.

Here's where it gets tricky. There's no mention of whether my character gets any other starting Skills, or how many Shards they start with, or even what starting equipment they have. Going through the equipment lists, I decide to award my Noble the following:
  • A Sword (Combat +2)
  • Leather armour (Defence +1)
  • A Shield (Defence +1)
  • A Lantern
  • A Rope
  • A Water flask
All this adds up to 735 Shards, which seems a trifle excessive. I decide to reduce my Noble's starting cash to 0.

That was fun! In the next post I'll summarise my character and run them through some combat from the sample quest Lair of the Ratmen and see how they fare!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Return to Titan!

Titan - the Fighting Fantasy world, by Steve Luxton
[click to enlarge!]

Steve Luxton has sent me another amazing map of the Fighting Fantasy world of Titan which you can see above. I think this map is virtually finalised in terms of land alignment, and you can see on the left that there's now a key for all the major settlements of the three continents of Titan.

There's a few corrections to be made, but the next step is to consider whether there needs to be any more information or settlements added to this map. After that, we can probably look at discussing some of the individual continental maps of Allansia, Khul and the Old World.

Comments welcome!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Iron Maiden versus Gamebooks

Could there be a better gateway to Metal than Iron Maiden? Not to mention as a musical accompaniment to gamebook playing and dungeon delving? You've got a blistering twin lead guitar attack from Dave Murray and Adrian Smith, accompanied by the operatic tenor of Bruce Dickinson as he wails about mystical themes that rival anything in Spinal Tap's back catalogue. Add the tight rhythm section of band-founder Steve Harris' self-taught bass power chords and Nicko McBrain's drum assault, and you have the classic template for wholesome heavy metal goodness.

The above band lineup should give you a hint about my bias towards what I consider classic Iron Maiden, and indeed leads to our problem for today: How to compile a decent Iron Maiden mix-tape? Two straight-up rules make the process easier:
  1. No songs from Iron Maiden or Killers. Paul Di Anno is a great singer and early Iron Maiden is fabulously punk-rock, but it just sounds weird alongside their classic epic material which is what we want to focus on here. Perhaps another mix tape, Iron Maiden: The Early Years, should be compiled?
  2. No songs beyond Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. That's the last album I listened to before I traitorously abandoned metal in favour of cooler soundscapes. There may well be excellent material on their more recent albums, and one of these days I may even do some research on this, but not right now.
This gives us a solid sequence of six great albums: The Number of the Beast, Piece of Mind, Powerslave, Live After Death, Somewhere In Time and Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. There are still problems however!
  1. Too many good songs! There's eight songs on Somewhere In Time alone that I'd be happy to listen to on any Iron Maiden mix tape.
  2. The songs are too long! Most of the short songs are on the first two albums, and we've already culled those from the selection.
So we need to start thinking themes. If we're wandering the catacombs beneath Firetop Mountain battling the minions of Zagor the Warlock, we want an appropriate soundtrack of epic fantasy. This means ditching any references to Napoleonic soldiers, fighter plane pilots and futuristic cyborg assassins (which we could of course stick on another mix tape), leaving us with...

The Iron Maiden Mystical Metal Mix (c90, 2011, Bangkok)

Side A
The Number of the Beast
Sea of Madness
Flight of Icarus
Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
Hallowed Be Thy Name

Side B
Still Life
To Tame A Land
Children of the Damned
Rime of the Ancient Mariner (from Live After Death)
Alexander the Great
The Clairvoyant

Ninety minutes of fantasy metal awesomeness!

Finally, mention has to go to Derek Riggs whose amazing artwork of Eddie the Head for their various singles, albums and tour posters is basically synonymous with Iron Maiden. I've attached two of my favourite illustrations of his to this post, and to print out and use as covers for the mix tape.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Fighting Fantazine Issue 6

Cover by Michael Wolmarans

Fighting Fantazine issue 6 came out a while back, when I was unfortunately busy, but if you didn't get it then, get it now! Editor Alex Ballingall has done another amazing job with the Fighting Fantasy fan magazine, and among the 92 pages of the latest issue, you can find:
  • Amazing front and back cover art by debut artist Michael Wolmarans.
  • An interview with Leo Hartas, the artist who illustrated many classic maps and pictures for Fighting Fantasy, Golden Dragon, and Virtual Reality gamebook adventures.
  • An interview with Steve Luxton, who penned some of the definitive maps of Fighting Fantasy in Titan - The Fighting Fantasy World.
  • Escape from the Sorcerer - a 200 paragraph Fighting Fantasy adventure written by Sunil Prasannan and illustrated by Michael Wolmarans. I've had a good look at this one and it's very intriguing!
  • Guillermo Parades gives us the latest rundown on gamebook happenings in Omens and Auguries.
  • The Fact of Fiction: Alex Ballingall enters The Warlock of Firetop Mountain - the book that started it all - in a desperate search for the truth!
  • Part 2 of the Fighting Fantazine survey. Good to see Brett "Jediboyy" Schofield getting ranked #1 for Favourite Fan Art, for his illustrations for Shrine of the Salamander, which itself placed second in the Favourite Feature so far category.
  • Chapter 2 of Ian Brocklehurst's fan fiction: Aelous Raven and the Wrath of the Sea-Witch.
  • Out of the Pit returns! This time it stars four hideous beasts from my Shrine of the Salamander adventure.
  • Ian Brocklehurst begins a new feature entitled The Magic Quest about how Fighting Fantasy became our gateway drug of choice.
  • Part 4 of Ed Jolley's brilliant series: Everything I Really Need To Know I Learnt From Reading Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks.
  • Chronicle of Heroes: Adrian Young takes us through the classic Advanced Fighting Fantasy adventure A Shadow Over Blacksand.
  • The start of a new review column: The Arcane Archive.
  • Jamies Fry looks at foreign print editions of Fighting Fantasy.
  • Last, but certainly not least, Dan Satherly strolls through The Forest of Doom.
Phew! As you can see, it's packed with Fighting Fantasy and gamebook goodness, and you can grab a copy of it here! 

Also, Alex runs the actual Fighting Fantazine blog here!

The Mud Dragon!
(by me (Andrew Wright, 2011))

Friday, July 1, 2011

Beastmen of Bangkok

Minotaurs in red and blue suits

I've said before that this blog is supposedly apolitical. However, we're about to have an election over here in Thailand, site of Fantasy Gamebook HQ, and over the past month or more the residents of Bangkok have been treated to an onslaught of campaign posters, some dull and some, as you can see, completely freaky.

The Yellow Shirts, or Peoples' Alliance for Democracy, realising that they cannot capture the popular mandate, have elected for a 'Vote No' campaign, reasoning that all politicians, presumably themselves excluded, are corrupt carpet-baggers who should be kept away from parliament at all costs.

As a result they've come up with a brilliant series of posters unflatteringly comparing politicians to a range of hideous beasts. (Personally, I'm feeling a bit sorry for the beasts!) Anyway, on a completely unrelated tangent, these posters offer us an unparalleled glimpse of what real fantasy Beastmen, say from the Fighting Fantasy world of Titan, might actually look like. And so, I give you:

The Beastmen of Bangkok

[SKILL 5 STAMINA 5; 1 Attack; Blowgun (as per Dagger plus Poison) or Club]

A primitive tribe of dog-headed humanoids, BLOGS live only in the depths of the Forest of Fiends in central Allansia. Here they are greatly feared for their practice of head-hunting and preying on human travellers, whose flesh they cook in large cauldrons. Blogs are skilled trackers, moving silently though the trees before using poison darts fired from blowguns to bring down their victims with a minimum of fuss (Livingstone, 1988).

[SKILL 10 STAMINA 10; 2 Attacks; Club and Large Bite]

Rare, if not unknown from Titan, CROCODILE MEN have been recorded haphazardly from other locations (Morris, Gallagher & Bambra, 1986; Bennie, 1990). Primitive carnivorous fiends with a tendency to bite first and digest later, these scaly brutes are usually found living in small clan-groups in the deepest parts of the Swamplands of Silur Cha. Some are known to join the legions of the Lizard Men Empire, but they tend to form their own units of shock troops, often in the company of Mutant Lizard Men, owing to their unpredictable nature. 

[SKILL 8 STAMINA 8; 1 Attack; Spear, Sword or Crossbow]

Unlike more primitive examples from other worlds (e.g. Moldvay, 1981; Morris & Johnson, 2008), the LIZARD MEN of Titan are a terrifying race who rule a sprawling empire centred on the Swamplands of Silur Cha. Their military ingenuity is legendary, as is their slavish devotion to a host of foul deities such as the Demon Prince Ishtra and the Lizard God Suthis Cha. When they finally sack the city of Vymorna following a long siege, then the rest of the southern lands will likely fall to their savage legions and living reptilian war machines (Gascoigne, 1988).

[SKILL 9 STAMINA 9; 2 Attacks; Large Fist, Battle-axe or Club]

The large hairy bull-headed humanoids known as MINOTAURS are found on all three continents of Titan, usually at the heart of an underground labyrinth or a maze-like series of tunnels (Gascoigne & Tamlyn, 1989). Recent studies have indicated the presence of a cow-headed variant from Femphrey, known as the Mooncalf (see Green, 2009), and it may be that buffalo-headed versions of Minotaurs might be found in more tropical climes, such as Arantis and the lands of the Glimmering Sea (as seen above).

[SKILL 7 STAMINA 7; 1 Attack; Club or Dagger]

A recent discovery resembling a man-sized monkey (Green, 2006), MONKEY MEN are believed to originate from the palm-fringed islands that dot the Black Ocean of southern Titan. Little is known of their society and beliefs, but it is thought that they may be related to the Scurrellors of the Cloudhigh Forest of western Khul, and the Wood Reavers of Far Analand (Wright, unpublished).

[SKILL 9 STAMINA 5; 1 Attack, Large Teeth]

Not to be confused with their more powerful Weretiger brethren (Gascoigne, 1985), TIGER MEN have a fairly patchy record from Titan. We do know that Shanzikuul, the Master of Chaos, kept a harem of Tiger Women in his lair beneath the ruined city of Kabesh (Martin, 1990). Also, from the far future of Titan City, the entourage of Marcus Buletta (also known as Dr Macabre the mad surgeon and pharmacist robber), numbers a Tiger Man among its members (Jackson, 1985), from which the above stats have been extrapolated.

This wraps up our pre-election coverage from Bangkok, Thailand. We hope you enjoyed the show and remember:



Bennie, S. (1990). Old Empires. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR, Inc.

Gascoigne, M. (1985). Out of the Pit. London: Puffin Books.

Gascoigne, M. (1988). Battleblade Warrior. London: Puffin Books.

Gascoigne, M., & Tamlyn, P. (1989). Dungeoneer: Advanced Fighting Fantasy. London: Puffin Books.

Green, J. (2006). Bloodbones. Cambridge: Wizard Books.

Green, J. (2009). Stormslayer. Cambridge: Wizard Books.

Jackson, S. (1985). Appointment with F.E.A.R. London: Puffin Books.

Livingstone, I. (1988). Armies of Death. London: Puffin Books.

Martin, K. (1990). Master of Chaos. London: Puffin Books.

Moldvay, T. (1981). Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Adventure Game: Basic Rulebook. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR Hobbies, Inc.

Morris, D., & Johnson, O. (2008). Dragon Warriors Bestiary. London: Magnum Opus Press. 

Morris, G., Gallagher, P., & Bambra, J. (1986). Creature Catalogue. Cambridge: TSR UK Ltd.

Wright, A. (2010). The Ascent of Man. Unpublished Fighting Fantazine article.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Metallica versus Gamebooks

"Writing about music is (as they say) like dancing about architecture."
(Beaumont, 2005)

So there I was wandering through Coop's classic blog post on the influences of the British Old School and I stumbled upon his shout-out to Iron Maiden, king of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Maiden fully deserve a future blog post in their own right, but to me, and particularly my adolescent self back in the mid to late 80's, they were part of the the Big Three M's of Metal, the other two being Motorhead (and I'm not even going to attempt to find a bloody umlaut) and Metallica. Whether I was reading gamebooks, planning D&D adventures, or playing boardgames, all these guys formed the background soundtrack.

When I hit University however, I quickly abandoned Metal in favour of cooler if more obscure indie, alternative and hardcore bands such as Dead KennedysBlack Flag, Rollins Band, FugaziBig Black, Butthole Surfers, Killdozer, Godflesh, and local stalwarts The Mark of Cain. The sounds were more ferocious, the t-shirts more subtle and yet more disgusting, and there was no bloody spandex to be seen, praise Satan!

Fast forward half a decade and I'm in Vientiane, capital of the Peoples' Democratic Republic of Laos, and discover one of my buddies has all the early Metallica albums (I only consider the first four decent - the Black Album and anything beyond that are just garbage IMHO). To get me through the tedious hedonism of expatriate life in Indochine I compile a 90 minute mix tape of all my favourite Metallica tracks that I used to listen to, back when I was playing gamebooks.

I've still got the tape (still have all my tapes being such a chronic Luddite), and I present its track listing here for your edification, so that if you too were absorbing the sounds of Metallica while battling your way through countless dungeons it may strike a chord of nostalgia. Otherwise, for those who are too old, too young or perhaps too cool, consider it a snapshot of a time fondly remembered but perhaps best forgotten...

The Metallica versus Gamebooks Mix Tape (c90, 1996, Laos)

Side A
Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
The Thing That Should Not Be
Jump in the Fire
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Orion (instrumental)
Damage Inc.
(Anesthesia) Pulling Teeth (instrumental)

Side B
Fade To Black 
Master of Puppets
Creeping Death
The Call of Ktulu (instrumental)
To Live Is to Die (edit - first minute only)
The Wait

Possibly the only thing I'd change these days would be to ditch For Whom the Bell Tolls and Pulling Teeth in favour of Metallica's epic cover of Diamond Head's Am I Evil?. Generally however, I feel that's a pretty solid selection of Metallica tunes, with the bulk of the material coming from their most excellent second and third albums, Ride the Lightning and Master of Puppets. Rock and roll!


Beaumont, R. (2005, February 27). Fine writing and reasonable force. The Nation, p. 10A.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Return to the Catacombs of the Undercity!

Wow! How long has it been? I'd talk about why it's been a while, but frankly it's just tedious real life nonsense that may be of personal importance but has nothing to do with this blog. It would be good if there was now an improvement in my blogging output, but I start a Masters in August, so there may well be an ongoing struggle between what I want to do, and what I should be doing...

In the meantime, (and how is it my pageview stats have essentially doubled even though I have posted absolutely nothing?) my entry in Tin Man Games "Gamebook Adventures" series, Catacombs of the Undercity, has been accumulating some very promising and awesome reviews (and no, I didn't pay anybody - I'm flat broke!).

Firstly, Tim Harvey gave it 4 out of 5 over at Proxholic, noting:

"In many ways, the gamebook really emphasizes the game aspect, since it's all-in-all a very interactive experience. The book part of the equation is really well-done too, however, with a very well-written story and some interesting and compelling characters."

Tim also notes that the gameplay is:

"An excellent mix of compelling story, branching choices for exploration and replayability, fun RPG elements and lots of random outcomes to keep you on the edge of your seat!"

Secondly, Andy Boxall at iPhoneFreak said that it was the best in the series yet (although Al Sander's The Wizard of Tarnath Tor has since been released to some deservedly fantastic reviews)!

Andy's review went on to say:

"If you’re an experienced role-player, then the thought of battling through dimly lit tunnels will probably appeal, and it certainly did to me!  Thanks to the descriptive writing, it’s easy to lose yourself in the story and even without the help of those excellent illustrations – from the same artist who worked on An Assassin in Orlandes – mentally visualizing your world is easy and very rewarding. 

I’m not going to bury the lead here, Catacombs of the Undercity is the best entry into the Orlandes series I’ve played yet.  It’s exciting, atmospheric and even amusing at times, plus there are plenty more beasties to battle too."

Lastly, Digitally Downloaded gave it 4.5 stars out of 5, saying:

"What makes this gamebook if anything better than Tarnath Tor is the story itself. Within the first passage of the book your character finds himself thrown down a deep, dark well, with no equipment. The goal? To survive and escape. This means the book is a classic dungeon crawl in its truest form, which is incidently a perfect fit for the form.

Given the quality of the story, this is the one of the best gamebooks I’ve ever played."

What can I say, other than I'm really happy that the amount of work I put into planning and writing Catacombs of the Undercity, and all the effort the amazing Tin Man team put into getting it into a publishable format, has been duly recognized!

You can find Catacombs of the Undercity here.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Geography of Allansia

Revised climate map of Titan by Steve Luxton

Althought the title says 'Geography of Allansia'  I wanted to briefly talk about Steve Luxton's revised climate map of the Fighting Fantasy world of Titan, as shown above. Are there any more changes we need to make to this? Off hand, I can think of only three small alterations:
  • The X that marks the sunken ruins of the city of Atlantis needs to be moved down to perhaps just above the Warm Temperate dotted line.
  • Below this, the Bird Islands, Fish Island, Skull Island and the Blood Islands need to resemble their counterparts on the original Titan map.
  • As Simon Osborne mentioned previously in the comments, where is Bone Island from Bloodbones? Does anybody have any idea?

Rough map of Allansia by Steve Luxton

Moving on to the classic Fighting Fantasy continent of Allansia, Steve has created and kindly shared this map based on the original from Titan. How can we improve it and what needs to be added to or changed?

A few of my suggestions:
  • Do we need to include the northern portion of the continent, which is quite large and basically frozen wasteland?
  • Do we include details for Bjorngrim's Sea based on Simon Osborne's revised map for Jonathan Green's unpublished Saga of the Stormchaser?
  • I think the Flatlands label needs to be spread out over the grasslands that stretch to the Sea of Pearls coastline, to better indicate the extent of this vast steppes region.
  • Agra, the top city on the left-hand coast of the Glimmering Sea, needs to be moved downwards in line with the map from The Riddling Reaver, which was published first and has precedence.
  • We could probably add detail from Battleblade Warrior, as that is a relatively blank area of the above map.
  • Likewise, we could add some of the settlements from Night Dragon to the Dragon Reaches region.
There you have it! What does everybody else think?