Sunday, February 27, 2011

Advanced Fighting Fantasy: My Default Blog System

Figure 1. Dungeoneer cover
by John Sibbick
(from Gascoigne & Tamlyn, 1989).

I alluded to a bit of writer’s block recently, and in my case it usually comes about because there’s something niggling me with what I’m trying to write (I’m struggling even as I type this out). Often it’s due to the fact the overall concept isn’t fully realized, or just needs a bit of tweaking, or may even be plain wrong. Having been trying to put together an interesting post for a few weeks now, it finally hit me that I needed to include some sort of generic RPG stats to better elaborate a point and make the post more useful. However, I haven’t really designated a default RPG system for this blog. As much as I enjoy reading Old School Renaissance blogs, I left D&D behind years ago (in favour of the original Warhammer FRP), and don’t feel confident enough posting up OGL stats that represent something I haven’t actively thought about for twenty years.

Conversely, though I’ve done some enjoyable recent work with the re-released Dragon Warriors system (Wallis et al., 2009), I feel it’s too tied up with the world of Legend for me to use on a more generic level. The solution I've come up with therefore is that old gem Advanced Fighting Fantasy (Gascoigne & Tamlyn, 1989, see Figure 1), for the following reasons:

  • It's extremely simple to use and post stat blocks for.
  • Despite the simplicity, both the Special Skills and Magic Spells systems capture a lot of colour and flavour.
  • I've been raving and ranting about Fighting Fantasy and Titan on my Titan_Rebuilding group for years now.
  • Likewise, it's the default system for posting stat blocks on the Titannica wiki.
Figure 2: Advanced Fighting Fantasy reissues from Arion Games (from Bottley, 2010a).

Perhaps the best reason though, is that it is being re-released by Arion Games very soon (Bottley, 2010a, see Figure 2)! While both Out of the Pit and Titan will be straight reprints of Gascoigne's (1985, 1986) earlier work, the entire Advanced Fighting Fantasy system itself will be revised, cleaned up, and repackaged as one book (Bottley, 2010b, see Figure 3).

Figure 3. Modified Advanced Fighting Fantasy Adventure Sheet,
for use with Arion Game reissue (from Bottley, 2010b).

This is because, as anyone who has played AFF will tell you, there were some fundamental problems with the original rules. The two big issues from my point of view were:
  • The random nature of character generation meant that Heroes who rolled high SKILL scores would be more powerful with far more Special Skill choices (and higher Special Skill values) than those who rolled a low number for their Initial SKILL.
  • The method of adding your SKILL score to your Special Skills to determine their value made Heroes even more powerful than the original nameless adventurers of the Fighting Fantasy solo gamebooks, who, for reasons of gameplay, were themselves vastly superior to most of the inhabitants of Titan (Wright, 2006a). 
These problems look to be solved by the new Advanced Fighting Fantasy reissue. However, as publication of these rules lies a few months away, I can't use them immediately as a default system for my blog. Instead, I plan on revisiting a few modifications I made to the AFF rules for an unfinished retro-hack system called Adventurers Limited.

Adventurers Limited was designed to be a gritty, low fantasy version of AFF, showing what the Heroes were like before they were Heroes. I couldn't be bothered to initiate a points system (probably a bad idea in retrospect), so the character generation rules for 'limited' starting Adventurers were still determined via dice, and ran as follows:

SKILL: An adventurer's SKILL score is found by rolling one die, dividing the result by 2, rounding all fractions up, and then adding 5 to the result. This will give an Initial SKILL score of 6, 7, or 8.

Our sample adventurer rolls one die. The result is 3. Dividing this by 2 gives 1.5. We round this up to 2 and add 5 to give our adventurer an Initial SKILL score of 7.

STAMINA: An adventurer's STAMINA score is found by rolling one die, dividing the result by 2, rounding all fractions up, and then adding 5 to the result. This will give an Initial STAMINA score of 6, 7, or 8.

Example: Our sample adventurer rolls one die. The result is 5. Dividing this by 2 gives 2.5. We round this up to 3 and add 5 to give our adventurer an Initial STAMINA score of 8.
(Wright, 2006b)

Bear in mind though, that these were just ideas and not based on rigorous play-testing. The second major modification was to introduce large number of Professions, all modeled on characters and people from previously published Fighting Fantasy books. These Professions would dictate what Special Skills your character could choose, as follows:

Common Skills: These are the Special Skills that a starting character of this Profession must invest at least 1 point in per Special Skill.

Uncommon Skills: These are Special Skills that a starting character may possess (but see also Rare Skills below). Each Profession will tell you how many Uncommon Skills you may choose. You must invest at least 1 point in each Uncommon Skill that you choose.

Rare Skills: These are more obscure Special Skills that a starting character may possess. You may ONLY choose a Rare Skill if you have already chosen the maximum number of Uncommon Skills you are allowed.
(Wright, 2006c)

Note that if you wanted to pick Uncommon or Rare Special Skills, you had to pick your full complement of Common skills first. This was designed so that players could create characters that either had an initial broad base of skills they were reasonable at, or specialists who excelled at only a couple of chosen skills. So, for an example, if you wanted to be a mercenary, you would have the following choices:
Mercenary by Gary Chalk
(from Harris, 1985)


Common Skills: Weapon, Dodge, World Lore (Must have 3).
Uncommon Skills: Weapon, Unarmed Combat, Disarm, Second Weapon, Ride Horse, Heavy Armoured Combat (Choose 2).
Rare Skills: Battle Tactics, Battle Combat, Siege Lore, Siege Combat, Mounted Combat, Languages, Crossbow (Choose 1).
(Wright, 2006b)
This idea is now approaching obsolescence with Arion Games' impending release of the new version of AFF, but I may use it intermittently until then to provide a RPG stat angle on certain posts. Also, once the new AFF is published, I may start seeing if I can retrofit my Adventurers Limited Professions to the new rules framework, because I certainly had a lot of fun developing literally hundreds of them!

Note: You can pre-order the new version of AFF here! 


Bottley, G. (2010a). Arion Games: Advanced Fighting Fantasy. Accessed from

Bottley, G. (2010b). Modified AFF character sheet. Message posted to and taken from

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

Gascoigne, M. (1986). Titan: The Fighting Fantasy World. London: Puffin Books.

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

Harris, R. (1985). Talisman: The Magical Quest Game [2nd Edition]. Nottingham: Games Workshop.

Wallis, J., Hately, S., Kemp, J., Klein, M., Low, R., May, D., Monroe, B., Reed, J., Sturrock, I., Turley, K., & Wright, A. (2009). Dragon Warriors: Friends or Foes. London: Magnum Opus Press.

Wright, A. (2006a). Adventurers Limited (Part Two). Message posted to

Wright, A. (2006b). Adventurers Limited (Part Five). Message posted to

Wright, A. (2006c) Adventurers Limited (Part Six). Message posted to

Thursday, February 24, 2011

DestinyQuest: The Interview!

DestinyQuest: The Legion of Shadow.
Cover art by David Wyatt.
DestinyQuest Book 1: The Legion of Shadow by Michael J. Ward, is an amazing new contender in the slowly rejuvenating gamebook scene. I was first made aware of it by a post on Dave Morris' Fabled Lands blog, and procrastinated about buying it before ordering one of the limited Collector's Editions from eBay. It arrived yesterday, and I must say at 534 pages it is the most impressive gamebook I have seen in a long while, if not ever. After I spent my lunchbreak wandering around the wild lands surrounding the village of Tithebury Cross, slaughtering monsters and accumulating loot, that opinion has not changed and I fired off a bunch of questions to Michael about his new book. Here's what he had to say... 

1. Firstly, it’s the biggest gamebook I’ve ever seen! How many words is it, and how long did it take you to plan, plot, test, and write? What’s your writing routine like?

Yes, the size took me a little by surprise too! The finished manuscript was something like 145,000 words by the end and I could have easily carried on! Originally, it was meant to be a four act story, with Mistwood and Black Marsh existing as separate zones – but it became apparent quite quickly that the format I chose for the book (with the different narrative quests) meant that it would have made the book quite unwieldy. I had to do a fair bit of chopping and editing!

The planning happened quite quickly, maybe a few weeks. I started with the zone ideas first and then rolled that out into a plot that gamers would easily identify with. The writing took about six/seven months (which is actually quite quick for a book), the speed due to the fact that I just loved writing it. The book never felt like a chore, in fact, quite the opposite – and I did have to remind myself at times that a break can do you a world of good!

The testing of the book. Oh boy. That was a mammoth task. Writing it was the easy part… balancing 3 classes, 15 careers and umpteen gazillion items was the real challenge. Basically it involved playing the book… again and again, and then again… and again. I can’t imagine how many hours were spent on the testing. I know that, towards the end, I was doing about 13 hours a day of solid testing. That can drive you a little crazy, to be honest. I was lucky enough to be able to recruit some friends to help out – and their feedback was invaluable in making last minute tweaks. I was very conscious all along that there can be no patch for a book – no quick fix once the words are printed, so I had to do my very best to get it as perfect as I could. Obviously, with a game of this size and complexity, there will be some builds that might inevitably struggle in places – that is just the nature of the beast – but I hope that the play experience will be enjoyable, no matter what crazy hero builds people decide to experiment with!

2. What’s your background with regards to fantasy RPG games and gamebooks? In other words, what possessed you to sit down one day and think “I’m going to write the biggest gamebook ever”?

As people may already know from my website, I was a big Fighting Fantasy fan when I was growing up. In fact, once I had discovered the wonders of Dungeons & Dragons I pretty much lapped up any fantasy game I could get my hands on. I still have very fond memories of playing Talisman (which I understand has now been re-released), as well as the Firetop Mountain board game and a little known game called Dungeon (which had colour coded levels, if I remember correctly – similar to the quests in DestinyQuest). Also, like most teenagers of a fantasy persuasion, I was a regular at my local Games Workshop, playing Warhammer and Warhammer 40k.

However, my hands-on hobby was constantly competing with the lure of computer games, and I’ll confess that ultimately, the computer won. I think I must have played most computer rpgs from Dungeon Master to Diablo…  to the modern day MMORPGs like World of Warcraft, LOTR online and Guild Wars. I got pretty addicted to online gaming; at one stage I was playing Warcraft 50 hours a week (and that was while holding down a full-time job!). That was back in the day of 40-man raids (Molten Core until your eyes bleed…) and I don’t regret a minute of it. In fact, many of the ‘characters’ in DestinyQuest (Nyms, Ravenwing, Sahna, Caeleb) are based on gaming friends from those days. 

So, what possessed me to write a gaming book? Well, I love the aforementioned computer games and I felt that no-one had tried to attempt that in a book before (at the time, I was not aware of The Fabled Lands series, which I believe shares a similar design philosophy). I just tried to imagine the kind of book that I would like to play – away from the computer – when I needed a ‘gaming fix’. I wanted something that delivered the same instant gratification, where I was developing a hero and outfitting them with new equipment; but one that also gave me that freedom to explore a world and ultimately, allow me to take part in more of an epic narrative.

3. How do you go about plotting out a gamebook like this? Do you flowchart it out on paper, or use a spreadsheet program, or something else?

I have what I call ‘scribble pads’, that are filled with ideas, drawings, maps… you name it. I probably have about six or seven of the things for the first book alone. When I come to a quest, I simply work out what the encounters will be, the choices that will be presented to the hero, and the story that needs to be delivered. Then I roughly sketch it out as a flow diagram. However, I rarely stick to that (!) and once I get writing, I get new ideas or swap encounters around – I go with the story flow rather than restricting myself too much.

Logo by Paul Cheshire.
4. Gamebooks are commonly thought to be “over” as a phenomenon. How difficult was it to find a publisher and how did you go about convincing them to publish DestinyQuest: The Legion of Shadows?

Hmm, how long have you got? I could write a book about this! Basically, my agent loved the book and took it around major publishers. I had a couple that were very interested and, in one case, was literally about to sign on the dotted line. However, for whatever reason, they didn’t. The book industry as a whole is having a hard time of it at the moment and publishers are very wary of taking on what they would term ‘risky’ ventures. They liked the idea of DestinyQuest but simply did not want to commit the money to launching a new franchise. The bitter irony is that I know people working in the book industry and apparently commissioning editors are crying out for new and innovative projects to take on… but the struggle is to win over those who hold the purse strings.

After a year of touting the book around and getting frequent disinterest or comments of ‘I just don’t get it’… I remember having that eureka moment at about 3am one morning when I thought ‘I’ll do this myself.’ I firmly believed, for my sins, that DestinyQuest was too good an idea to just shove away in a cupboard to gather dust. I’ve worked in publishing and I’m lucky to know talented designers and illustrators… so I felt I could do this. And not only do it, but do it well.

I’ll hold my hands up and say that I am one of those people who hears the words ‘self-publishing’ and runs a mile, screaming for the hills. There is a stigma about self-published titles - that the standard of writing was ‘not good enough’ to be taken on or the ideas are flawed. The truth is, as I have discovered myself, publishers are taking on fewer and fewer books these days, and those they do take on are restricted to certain genres (if I see one more Twilight/vampire novel argh!). It is tough to get something ‘new’ out there at the moment, you almost need to ‘prove your worth’. When I made the decision to self-publish I knew that, not only did I have to do it well, but I had to make it ‘better’ than a traditional high street bestseller. What you see when you pick up that book is the result of a year of blood, sweat, tears and sheer obsession to produce the best book that I possibly could.

5. Are there any particularly sources of inspiration that have influenced DestinyQuest, such as books, films, or RPG games?

I think it goes without saying that World of Warcraft was a huge influence (and why not, it has 11 million+ subscribers, so it is doing something right!). I also love the ‘point-and-click’ rpgs like Diablo, Titan Quest and Dungeon Siege -  that idea that, at any moment, some great loot can drop for your character. Of course, I am a massive film geek as well, so I think readers will spot those influences in some of the storylines also.

Limitless Possibilities, Endless Adventure!
Illustration by David Wyatt.

6. The Legion of Shadow is set in the Kingdom of Valeron. Does Valeron have a longer history (and if so, what?), or was it developed specifically for the DestinyQuest series?

Valeron is just one part of the world of DestinyQuest. I sat down and wrote a twenty-page history of the kingdom along with details on the magic system. I know gamers are a tough bunch to please (I am one myself) and they like their lore – but they also hate inconsistencies or areas that feel ‘made up’ on the fly. I’ve tried to build a backstory to the world, however, I am trying to avoid feeding too much of that into the books. I don’t want to provide a history lesson or a detailed explanation of why a pyromancer can cast fireballs… I want readers to experience the world through their actions. It always annoys me in computer games when there are books to pick up, that give you about twenty pages of lore to read. I’m just one of those people who doesn’t want to waste time reading those, I want to hit things instead!

7. Although there’s no art in the book, I do like the cover and also the website art. Who are the talented artists helping you and what’s their story?

David Wyatt did the cover art for the Legion of Shadow. We had worked together previously on some education and story materials, back in my days at Scholastic. Since then his art has adorned the covers of some really big names. When I contacted him (with my hastily-scribbled cover idea) I didn’t think I was in with much of a chance – but I was lucky. Like most people I meet and talk to about DQ, he had a strong sense of nostalgia for those old game books. He leapt at the chance – and of course, produced a fantastic cover.

Paul Cheshire produced the maps, logo and web art. He is a good friend of mine and, despite loathing all things fantasy (yes, I know….), pulled out all the stops to create some stunning visuals. He is just one of those guys who can take a rough sketch on a napkin, then literally a day or two later presents you with something that makes your jaw hit the floor. A very talented illustrator, who I hope to be working closely with on future books. 

8. If you buy the Collector’s Edition from eBay, one of the extras you get is a unique treasure card for your Hero. Are there plans to produce more of these so we can acquire ones we don’t have, or are you planning on introducing some sort of DestinyQuest CCG?

The treasure card idea was something I always wanted to do with DQ – just one of about a thousand ideas that I have for developing the gaming experience beyond the book. But sadly, as I am financing this myself (for now!) then I can’t really develop my ideas further. For the moment, they are just available as part of the collectors set and at my book signing events. There are common, rare and epic cards.

9. I notice on your website you’ve mentioned an eBook version. Would this include programs to do all the Hero Sheet book-keeping for you? Have you thought about expanding your digital repertoire to include a DestinyQuest app? (I only ask because I think the different maps you use for each Act are perfect for a touch-screen device!)

No, the ebook version is just a standard version of the book. I did want to do all the stuff that you mention (recordkeeping, interactive maps, page-jumping etc) but that is app territory, which is more involved (from a programming perspective) than a standard ebook. Again, I have so many ideas for an interactive version of DQ it sometimes makes me want to scream; things that people are just not doing at the present time but would just provide those ‘geek’ moments when playing – moving more towards more of a shared experience. The digital side of things, particularly with mobile technology, offers almost limitless avenues to explore when it comes to interactive books. And I think that will help make the game book relevant once again.

But having said all that, I still love to hold a good book and flick through pages, roll dice and feel the ‘physicality’ of the game. So, I have no regrets at all in making DestinyQuest a traditional print title, but I hope I have shown the potential in the game system and concept that perhaps a larger publisher might give me the support I need to develop the franchise further.  

10. What does the future hold for DestinyQuest? When can we expect a second book? How can I access the extra downloads on your website?

At the moment I am just finishing off some of the download materials (extra quests etc.). They will be available for free as PDF downloads from my website in the next week or so. Then I will start writing the next book. I think it will be this time next year (or perhaps a little later) that the next book will be out – but the website will continue to be updated before then, with the new career sneak peeks and more info on the exciting new elements that are coming to the DQ world! I hope gamers will stick by me and continue their support for this game book and for the genre in general.

Thank you!

Thank you, Michael! If you want to grab a copy, the DestinyQuest website has a purchasing page that will direct you to the online emporium of your choice. Personally though, I'd recommend the Collector's Edition while stocks last...

Your Choices, Your Hero! Illustration by David Wyatt

Monday, February 21, 2011

Unseen Sketches from Heart of Ice!

Kyle Boche
By Russ Nicholson

Over on his blog The Gallery, Russ Nicholson has posted up a series of character roughs for Dave Morris' Heart of Ice gamebook. Here we get to see working sketches on some of the memorable personalities of the future Frozen Age, including:
  • Chaim Golgoth, the USI assassin.
  • Kyle Boche, future rogue extraordinaire.
  • Baron Siriasis, Lord of Bezant.
  • One of the Gargan sisters clone-group.
  • Vajra Singh and his mantrumuktas cannon.
  • Plus schematic diagrams for hover droids
  • And the automaton Gilgamesh.
Awesome stuff!

The Future of Gamebooks?

As they do with all their Gamebook Adventure authors, Tin Man Games have just published an interview with me, which you can find here:

An Interview with Andrew Wright

I start off talking about Catacombs of the Undercity, but you could also consider the interview a sort of background on just who is this Fantasy Gamebook character! In particular, with reference to the future of gamebooks, I say: "With the advent of print-on-demand sites like Lulu, we’re also going to get more gamebook content that way, and also as PDF digital releases as well."

Indeed, given more time, this is what I'd love to do, and will certainly post about here in future. Essentially I'd like to create a new series of fantasy gamebooks that I could upload to Lulu as POD products and also distribute as PDFs via RPGnow and Drive Thru RPG. I've already got the bare bones together, but it's going to take time, which is my rarest commodity right now, so progress will be slow. Still, when it happens, you'll here about it here!

Also, getting back to the interview and the future of gamebooks, in terms of digital devices, I note that

with devices like the iPad, the Kindle, and various Android tablets, we’re also going to have a bigger market for gamebook apps, and I think it’s here that we could really see some amazing things happen in the future. Most people enjoy reading and most people enjoy playing games. Gamebooks are an obvious synthesis of the two and the app marketplace has the potential to take interactive fiction in many exciting directions… 

Enter the Undercity of Orlandes!

 Dave Morris (2011) has said, in terms of gamebook apps:

my objection to dice in egamebooks is that it's simply jarring to watch two dice clattering around the screen. What are they supposed to represent? I'm there in the moment, a tense confrontation in a foggy backstreet in Orlandes. And suddenly two big red dice are bouncing around, the result is added to a confusing string of numbers, I'm told "you miss!" and I tap to make the d--ned (little nod to EB there) dice roll again. Every moment I'm doing that is taking me further out of the story. Seems like the dice are only there because the originators of gamebooks in the early '80s happened to own a game store and they liked dice. Fine in a book (well, a necessary evil, I would say!) but kind of dotty on a phone. 

I can see exactly where he’s coming from – one of the things I like about Andy Spruce’s Fighting Fantasy Project website is that combat results are generated instantly which minimizes your timeout from the story. However, I'm not a fan especially of, say, the diceless Choose Your Own Adventure interactive fiction style, and I've come to realise I like dice and combat systems and inventory checks and so on. What I like about egamebooks is that your tablet or device can do all this for you, which, considering an extensive book like one of the Fabled Lands, negates a lot of book-keeping.

What do other people think? Would you prefer dice and game-systems in gamebook apps, or would you prefer the more immersive interactive fiction approach? Let me know?


 Morris, D. (2011, February 19). This Tin Man's got heart. Comment posted to

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Future Dystopia: The Cull

As a child I once read this horrible science-fiction short story involving desperate measures to enforce population control. Although the title and author’s name now elude me, the story revolved around raising a child to a certain age and then subjecting them to an exam of sorts. If they passed, they kept living, if not, well, let’s just say that the child of the couple in the story didn’t pass, and they weren’t very happy about it. Reading a story like this, in a science-fiction anthology for children no less, was a rather disturbing experience for me as a youngster, and probably responsible for my lingering fear and distrust of any form of exam or assessment…

I was reminded of this story today as I finished Robert Twigger’s The Extinction Club. For an extinction-themed work, things predictably get rather dark towards the end of the book. Firstly, we kick off with a vision of the ever-encroaching monoculture of man:

Conservation is an attempt to fix Eden, but in life things keep on developing. That which looks fixed is an optical illusion.

The moment conservation becomes thinkable, Eden slips from our grasp, since wild animals are no longer wild if they can be conserved, corralled, looked after. They are tame animals in danger. Wild plants and animals do exist, but they are hardly exotic – rodents, feral pigeons, certain snakes, undersoil fungi, woodlice, cockroaches. Animals that often accompany man in his dwelling places but are not controlled by man. Survivors.

Eden after the fall is defined by these survivors: its pests and parasites, its weeds and scavengers, its unwanted population and its mountains of garbage.

Just as a petri dish full of multiplying bacteria will eventually poison itself with its own excreta, so the human race races up to the limit of self-poisoning before maintaining an uneasy symbiosis with its waste products. The animals closest to us now are the ones that eat our prodigious filth. Our friends the rats, the roaches, the seagulls on the landfill outside of town. (Twigger, 2001, pp. 174-175)

Twigger then witnesses the culling of several Père David’s Deer (Elaphurus davidianus), specifically “spikers”, or in other words, young males of around eighteen months. At this point, and based on his previous musings, we arrive at the central theme for the dystopian scenario of this post:

I allowed my mind to explore the idea of human culling. After all, we all live in controlled environments now. Overpopulation is imminent everywhere. In some countries there is not enough food, in others not enough land or natural resources. Countries that have imposed strict birth control, like China, have ended up with skewed populations of more boys than girls, because girls are often aborted after a scan. Everywhere people complain about how there isn’t enough land anymore, how the world is being used up too quickly.

The simple answer, I darkly fantasized, would be a human cull. Teams of trained marksmen would go out and search for herds of humans – probably young males and females, the human equivalent of spikers. Once they’d staked out a herd, say a queue for a nightclub or a football match, they could wait for a clear shot against a safe background. Couples leaving late at night might be safest to pick off, especially with infrared night vision.

“Do you ever use night-vision equipment?” I asked Callum.

“We looked into it,” he said. “But too many weirdos walk through the park at night. We might have ended up killing someone we couldn’t properly see. At least in daylight you can judge the background properly.”

Maybe the human cull would have to be a daylight job too. It would be a terrible job to do – very stressful. The cullers would have to be men [or women!] of the highest moral fiber. Imagine if parents bribed them not to cull their offspring? Disaster. Culling would have to be seen to be fair.

The first few culls would have to be very heavy, to make any dent in the population at all. There would have to be a whole subsidiary industry to get rid of the bodies.

My fantasizing ground to a halt when I started to invent reasons why I alone should not be culled…

Dark thoughts for a dark night, but dawn was almost upon us. (Twigger, 2001, pp. 190-191)

Like I said, it’s a good book but it does get rather bleak there towards the end! As a future dystopian yarn though, it may make for a ripping gamebook. The obvious idea would be for you to play the victim, desperately attempting to avoid being gunned down by the marksmen as they fulfill their quotas for the night (or day). The alternative, where you play a marksman, will probably play out like a text version of Quake III, but might skirt the edges of bad taste (always assuming we haven’t fallen screaming off the edge already!). A better option would be the classic dystopian story arc where you start out as a government marksman, but, during the course of your duty, uncover a conspiracy that forces you to renounce your position and re-align yourself with the victims instead. That idea’s got Hollywood written all over it…

Not a happy book in places,
but definitely a
thought-provoking read

Possibly the best idea though, taking full advantage of the gamebook format, would be a two-player gamebook, where you and a friend choose between who will be the culler and who will be the cullee. One of you has to flee across the crowded, polluted dystopian wastes, while being stalked with utter professional disdain by the other, sniper rifle in hand. What a nerve-wracking gamebook read that could be!

At this point, considering the distasteful nature of what we’ve looked at, it’s worth pointing out that all of the above represents a future, not the future. If warped speculative visions of dystopia seem to bring out the worst in us, in terms of what we think may happen, it’s only because our human history successfully fuels our imaginations with the horrors and atrocities we have already committed.

There is still yet time to change. :-)


Twigger, R. (2001). The Extinction Club. London: Hamish Hamilton.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Enter The Catacombs!

Dare you enter the catacombs of Orlandes City?

They're testing the beta version of Catacombs of the Undercity over at Tin Man Games! It's my contribution to their excellent line of Gamebook Adventures for the iPad and iPhone, with wonderfully grotesque cover art by Dan Maxwell and atmospheric internal illustrations by Pirkka Harvala. The screenshots look amazing and I'm seriously thinking about counting up my savings and seeing if I can spend money to buy an iPad, just so I can play this, the Fabled Lands game, and all the other Gamebook Adventure titles. For the record, the previous releases by Tin Man Games are:

  • GA1: An Assassin in Orlandes by S. P. Osborne. "Set within Orlandes City, nobles are being systematically murdered by a ruthless assassin no-one seems able to catch. Finding yourself thrust in the middle of a large conspiracy, you must make decisions that may put yourself and one other most precious to you in great danger. Can you locate the Assassin in Orlandes before it is too late?"
  • GA2: The Siege of the Necromancer by Neil Rennison. "Set in the coastal town of Myr, you have returned home after a long Summer in the mines of Durath Tor to find your hometown besieged by strange creatures. A dark presence has taken over the town and you are the only one who can rid the stronghold of Erid Buul, the mysterious new Lord and his ghastly cohorts."
  • GA3: Slaves of Rema by Gaetano Abbondanza. "Cruelly taken from your homeland of Orlandes, you find yourself in a far off land at the mercy of a gladiatorial arena. Somehow trying to find a way to escape overseas, can you also unravel a potentially dangerous mystery that puts two nations on the brink of war?"
  • GA4: Revenant Rising by Kieran Coghlan. "The mighty city of Falavia, the military backbone of Orlandes, is under attack from an army led by a man claiming to be a God. How did this come to pass you ask yourself? You're sure it all started as some innocent adventure in search of treasure but somehow it turned into a nightmare. Also, why are people staring at you strangely? It’s not as if you look like you've recently been brought back from the dead or something. Oh yes, that's right. You remember now... "

    Gamebook Adventures are also
    available for the iPhone!
It's great to see these gamebooks go digital, in a format where they both look amazing, and take care of all your book-keeping and stat-tracking. No more pencils, erasers, and scraps of paper! Now, I just have to convince my better half that I really need an iPad tablet device...

Below is the promo video for Catacombs of the Undercity, featuring evocative music by Adrian Watkins. I can't wait until it comes out!

Fighting Fantazine Issue 5

Fighting Fantazine Issue 5!
Cover illustration by Natalie Roberts.

The fifth issue of Fighting Fantazine - the Fighting Fantasy fan magazine - has finally hit the web! Editor Alex Ballingall has really been burning the midnight oil putting this incredible package together! Among the many amazing features included inside its bumper 104 pages:
  • An astounding cover by Natalie Roberts.
  • An interview with John Sibbick, illustrator for Fighting Fantasy, Games Workshop, and many excellent dinosaur and extinct prehistoric animal books. Includes never-before-seen pencil roughs of some classic FF book covers.
  • Bones of the Banished - a 274 paragraph Fighting Fantasy adventure written and illustrated by Brett "Jediboyy" Schofield. Brilliant stuff!
  • Results from the previous Fighting Fantazine survey, including extensive essays on the ten best Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. (I've contributed a piece on Steve Jackson's Creature of Havoc).
  • An interview with Graham Bottley, writer of the revised Advanced Fighting Fantasy RPG system, due for publication soon by Arion Games.
  • Guillermo Paredes' Omens and Auguries, featuring all the latest gamebook news.
  • Jamie Fry gatecrashes the lair of notorious Fighting Fantasy author Ian Livingstone.
  • Dan Satherly attempts the infamous Sky Lord by Martin Allen - the final science-fiction adventure in the Fighting Fantasy series.
  • Part 2 of the Adventure Game series, where yours truly talks about how to plan the structure of your own Fighting Fantasy adventure.
So what are you waiting for? You can download it here!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Public Revolution, Procrastination and Writer's Block...

Anti-Mubarak barricade.
Photo by Peter MacDiarmid,
 from Michael (2011).

This is not a political blog. Nor is it a religious one. However, when the spirit to blog becomes weak, the curse that is the internet offers a plethora of esoteric distractions. For the last few years, my adopted hometown of Bangkok has been subjected to several public uprisings of various colours, stripes, and motivations. As a result, I've found myself taking an interest in similar events in other countries, particularly the ease and speed with which the internet delivers news at a pace that completely outstrips that of cable television. Recently therefore, I've been jacked into my laptop mainlining a three-way browser pile-up of the Guardian's instant updates, Al Jazeera's streaming video in English, and a motley collection of Twitter hash-tag threads, all centered on the action at Tahrir Square in Cairo, as a new digital generation of Egyptians shake off Mubarak's three decades of state dictatorship and political brutality.

Thus have I blogged little. I've also been reading an entertaining screed (part non-fiction, part "made-up") by Robert Twigger (2001), entitled The Extinction Club. Ostensibly, it’s about the Western discovery and subsequent conservation of the endangered Milu or Père David’s Deer (Elaphurus davidianus) of China. In reality, and in keeping with the introductory themes of this post, the book is also about writer’s block and the author’s life in Cairo:

…I’m sitting on the seventh-floor rooftop garden of my in-laws in Egypt. The garden is dusty, with a pruned kind of Astroturf underfoot, like the ponds of green furze used to signify grass on a model train set. The view is dusty and distant, as far as the sandstone cliffs at the edge of the city where the rubbish of twenty million people gets picked over and burned. Before the cliffs there are shell-like mini tower blocks, gray concrete apartment blocks, and big villas with rubble on their roofs. All over Cairo, whatever direction you look in, you will see piles of rubble on people’s roofs. Some of the rubble is obviously from the house concerned, but some seems strangely out of place, as if the owner has dumped the rubble there just to fit in. (Twigger, 2001, p. 4-5)

The Extinction Club
(Twigger, 2001).

The Extinction Club is an engaging read. On a whim, I typed Robert Twigger’s name into Google to see if he had a blog going, and not only did I find it, but he is currently in Cairo now, and occasionally posting about the momentous events happening there:

It goes in stages. You start laughing at the people with weapons. Then you pile up the sticks and the knives. I even found an old head-hunting dao from Nagaland – a real one my grandfather told me, and he got it there in the War. So I have my head-hunter’s machete by the door. Then you start carrying a weapon – a stick or a knife – to protect who you are with. And the door – first double locked, then you advise others to put the fridge against it, then the other day – after a lot of shots and sounds of running outside, my mother-in-law and I move the sofa, two armchairs, a suitcase and old sixteen mil camera case, some plywood boards from an old wardrobe to thoroughly barricade ourselves in. It was weird because I didn’t want to offend my mother-in-law by saying she was putting the chairs in the wrong place just as we are supposed to be fighting for our lives except it feels like moving the furniture about. Plus it isn’t science – who cares how the furniture goes – it just needs to be a massive pile of it. My son creeps in and calls it his den then he says for the first time he is scared. No you’re not I say. He looks down shamefaced. Then later I go into his room and he has barricaded his bed with all his toys. All of them. It is quite impressive but weird and a bit unsettling too. There are kids of seven and eight running in the street with bits of pipe and sticks. I saw one guy today with a pipe still with a tap at one end. It still didn’t look as funny as you’d think. (Twigger, 2011)

The accounts of state-sponsored brutality have been especially disturbing. In a harrowing piece for the Guardian, Robert Tait (2011) described the fate of those abducted by security forces and taken into custody:

The sickening, rapid click-click-clicking of the electric shock device sounded like an angry rattlesnake as it passed within inches of my face. Then came a scream of agony, followed by a pitiful whimpering from the handcuffed, blindfolded victim as the force of the shock propelled him across the floor.

A hail of vicious punches and kicks rained down on the prone bodies next to me, creating loud thumps. The torturers screamed abuse all around me. Only later were their chilling words translated to me by an Arabic-speaking colleague: "In this hotel, there are only two items on the menu for those who don't behave – electrocution and rape."

When things like this are happening in the world, and you become suddenly exposed to them because they are deemed newsworthy by the media gatekeepers, it can be difficult to find the motivation to do anything in the face of such adversity. In reality though, things like this are happening all the time and we either do not know about them through lack of exposure, or we do know, but ignore them because otherwise the continuous horror of what we do to each other every day as a species would drive us insane. Instead, we square our shoulders, turn our face to the sun, and attempt to keep on surviving. To quote Detective William R. Somerset (Fincher & Walker, 1995):

“‘The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.’ I agree with the second part.”

Protesters in Tahrir Square.
Photo by 3arabawy (2011).


3arabawy. (2011). Barricades at Tahrir Sq entrance. Photo posted to

Fincher, D. (Director), & Walker, A. K. (Writer). (1995). Seven [Motion Picture].

Michael, M. (2011, February 2). Egypt PM apologizes for attack on protesters. Article accessed from

Tait, R. (2011, February 9). 28 hours in the dark heart of Egypt's torture machine. Article accessed from

Twigger, R. (2001). The Extinction Club. London: Hamish Hamilton.

Twigger, R. (2011, February 3). More from Cairo revolution. Message posted to