Friday, January 28, 2011

Catacombs of the Undercity!

Dare you enter the Undercity of Orlandes?

Just a short promo for now, as although I've got lots more posts to write-up, I've been currently transfixed by what's happening in Egypt, as well as having to take my daughter to a fun fair today...

Anyway, Tin Man Games, publisher of the digital Gamebook Adventures line of apps for the iPhone and iPad, have announced the impending release of my own adventure, Catacombs of the Undercity, which is number five in the series:

Captured by one of Orlandes City’s most infamous brotherhoods, the Red Hand Guild, you are thrown to the mercy of the subterranean world deep beneath the streets of the great capital. Wading through the sewers and other dark menacing places, your goal is to reach Undercity, the City beneath the City! Only there can you find the help you need to escape this underground horror and bring down the dark brotherhood from within. 

Catacombs of the Undercity is an old-school dungeon crawl with fantastic internal art by Pirkka Harvala and a great cover by Dan Maxwell. It will hopefully be available to download in March. I certainly had a blast writing it!

There's a video promo here.

And the original PR is here.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Play by Email: A Summary

Figure 1. Necromunda rulebook cover by
Geoff Taylor (from Priestley, Johnson & Chambers, 1995)

[I've been flailing away at the keyboard typing up my thoughts on a second article from National Geographic, but I'll never get it finished tonight. (Trust me, it's worth the wait!) Instead, here's a brief summary of some play-by-email musings that will no doubt be expanded in future into yet another series of overly-detailed posts...]

One of the major hassles of being a geek abroad in a city like Bangkok for the past fifteen or so years, is that you tend to leave your hobbies behind. Friday night geekery becomes playing pool at the local bar, or band practice, or pub quizzing, or footy training, and before you know it, you can't tell THAC0 from HD, or whether the Fimir made it into Warhammer 4th Edition or not. Something therefore that I have done occasionally to bridge this gap and stay sane, is run or participate in play-by-email campaigns with the "old gang" from back home. What follows is a quick look at two favourites that have burned up the inbox and caused me to waste a lot of time in idle thought and semi-pointless book-keeping:

1. Necromunda. (Priestley, Johnson & Chambers, 1995). Games Workshop's cult miniatures battle-game of gang warfare in a future dystopian Warhammer 40K hive-city!  I'd been living in Bangkok for nearly a year and saw this in the toy section at a local department store. Having spent the entire previous year in the Peoples' Democratic Republic of Laos and parts beyond, I was in severe need of a gaming fix and bought it immediately. After a few battles against myself I forgot about it for a bit (though not long enough to buy Outlanders (Chambers, 1996)!), until, on a visit back home, some mates suggested getting some sort of PBEM action going (email being a newish concept back then as we'd previously corresponded via this archaic means of communication known as 'writing letters'), and Necromunda raised its ugly head...

So for the next year and a bit after that, I ran a Necromunda campaign for a large number of different gangs, five of which were 'owned' by my friends, while the others were all 'NPC' gangs either using official rules or stuff I'd swiped off the 'net that looked cool (Wyrds, Chaos Covens, Ash Nomads, Pit Slaves, and so on...). The actual process was simple and fun, though rather time-consuming:

  1. Determine who was fighting who for that month(s).
  2. Get them to submit some sort of battle tactics.
  3. Set up each battle on a card table, and run through it taking copious notes on who did what to whom and how and where.
  4. Write the whole mess up as a semi-coherent battle report.
  5. Collate all the battle reports and results, and summarise them as a monthly/bimonthly tabloid that read like a fatal pile-up between White Dwarf (the 'bad' post-100 issues) and one of Rupert Murdoch's trashier bin-liners.
  6. Repeat.
I think I only managed to get through seven or eight tabloids and it was already starting to get ridiculous - we had Lords of the Spire mini-leagues, Top Ten Killer/Sniper charts, lists of guns for hire and obituraries for slain gangers, and so forth and so on. Because of this, when I was offered the chance to play bass in not one but two bands as a night job, I jumped at the chance, and the Necromunda campaign unfortunately fell by the wayside. Fun times though, and I may even dig some of it out here if the blood-spattered prose isn't too embarassing.

Figure 2. Cover detail from
 Cities of Gold and Glory
 by Kevin Jenkins
(from Morris & Thomson, 1995).

 2. Fabled Lands. A few years later, the bands had both split up, as is the ephemeral nature of expatriate existence in Bangkok, and I was supposedly enrolled in a Masters course in International Journalism. As is normal for me when contemplating tertiary tedium, I started casting around for any sort of digital distraction. Before this, I'd liberated all six Fabled Lands books from storage at home, carted them back to Thailand, and completely deconstructed them into their basest fragments.

'Hey,' I thought. 'Let's run them as a campaign for some mates!'

So for about a year or maybe two, six of my friends chose six different professions, and started wandering about the lands of Harkuna. Altogether they covered most of The War-Torn Kingdom (Morris & Thomson, 1995), quite a lot of Cities of Gold and Glory (Morris & Thomson, 1995), and bits from Over the Blood-Dark Sea (Morris & Thomson, 1995). Most of them travelled solo, and you'd have these strange awkward encounters between PCs when they found themselves occupying the same patch of road between Caran Baru and Trefoille, which reminded me of facing the Thief from Zork I.

Needless to say, their exploits were varied. The rogue sided with the Marlocks, and the warrior with Nergal Corin, so Sokara got fairly messy very quickly, while the mage helped Oliphard the Wizardly and transformed herself into a warrior-sorceress of some power. Two others joined different colleges in Dweomer, and one of these (via a mistaken visit to the master of their college) then assassinated Amcha One-Eye. Again, good times, although they eventually petered out when the book-keeping became too much...

One of the reasons I'm talking about these here, is that I intend to start up a new PBEM campaign, and this blog serves a useful space to thrash out some ideas on how to run it, and more importantly given my previous misadventures, how to make it last a bit longer. As always unfortunately, more will be revealed at a later date...


Chambers, A. (1996). Outlanders Rulebook. Nottingham: Games Workshop.

Morris, D. & Thomson, J. (1995). Fabled Lands: The War-Torn Kingdom. London: Macmillan.

Morris, D. & Thomson, J. (1995). Fabled Lands: Cities of Gold and Glory. London: Macmillan.

Morris, D. & Thomson, J. (1995). Fabled Lands: Over the Blood-Dark Sea. London: Macmillan.

Priestley, R., Johnson, J. & Chambers, A. (1995) Necromunda Rulebook: Nottingham: Games Workshop. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

Feathered Dinosaurs and the Dinosaur Lag Effect

Figure 1. A feathered Tianyulong
by Xing Lida (from Zimmer, 2011).

One of my money-draining habits these days is to rifle through all the science magazines on the rack at the supermarket, and buy any that feature interesting articles on subjects I find intriguing. Originally, this habit evolved as “research” for several still-born fiction projects, but with the advent of this blog I now have a forum for yabbering on about weird science stuff and somehow attempting to find a connection to the ‘fantasy game book’ of my blog’s title. By happy chance, this month’s edition of National Geographic (2011, February, 219 (2)) features not one but three articles immediately applicable as jumping off points for an ad-hoc conglomeration of disparate musings.

First up we have ‘The long curious extravagant evolution of feathers’ by Carl Zimmer (2011), accompanied by some fantastic illustrations by Xing Lida (see Figure 1). This article summarizes a lot of recent research dealing with the development of feathers in both dinosaurs and birds, included projected colour schemes based on microscopic analysis of fossilized pigment sacs, and the relatively recent discovery of feather-like filaments in herbivorous ornithischian dinosaurs (for a recent blog on the dinosaur-bird connection, see Naish, 2011).

[Interestingly, there are some scientists who believe that birds did not evolve from dinosaurs. This group are known as “Birds Are Not Dinosaurs” or BAND for short. Given the amount of evidence summarized in Zimmer (2011), this would seem an untenable position! For more details on BAND and the potential pitfalls in their views, see Naish (2009, 2010)]

Figure 2. Excerpt of the Family Tree of Archosaurs by Xing Lida (from Zimmer, 2011).

One of the best features of the article (and in fact the reason I handed my cash over in the first place), is the Family Tree of Archosaurs which features an explosive radiation of colourful feathered dinosaurs and their relatives the true birds (see Figure 2). Looking at this amazing chart, it reminds me of what I term the ‘Dinosaur Lag Effect’ whereby the general public’s perception of dinosaurs, particularly as reflected in various media forms, lags significantly behind the current viewpoint of professional research scientists (and interested amateurs such as myself!).

I first became aware of this time-gap in dinosaur awareness when reading Coleman and Huyghe (2003), concerning the reported presence of a creature called the Mokele-mbembe in the wetlands and rainforests of central Africa (see Figure 3), that some considered a possible sauropod dinosaur:

Figure 3. The Mokele-mbembe
by Harry Trumbore
(from Coleman & Huyghe, 2003).

Darren Naish, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Portsmouth and a critic of cryptozoology [and the same person as named previously], has pointed out that Mokele-mbembe “as a swamp-dwelling amphibious sauropod owes itself entirely to outdated restorations of sauropods as hippo-like swamp-dwellers, supposedly adapted for life in marshy environments.” Naish takes cryptozoologists to task for linking Mokele-mbembe to the pre-1950 conceptualization of sauropods, which he notes are incorrect. Today, sauropods are depicted as terrestrial dry-land animals, according the analysts such as Naish and dinosaur theorist Robert T. Bakker. “From the point of view of a contemporary paleontologist,” wrote Naish in Fortean Studies in 2001, “the cryptozoological view of the Mokele-mbembe is a cultural anachronism, not a zoological one and, accordingly, I and other modern paleontologists have great difficulty in imagining that the Mokele-mbembe could be a sauropod. (p. 223)

Not that this Dinosaur Lag is in any way restricted to cryptozoology. Take gamebooks for example, and Fighting Fantasy in particular. Grab a copy of Out of the Pit (Gascoigne, 1985) and consult the entry for Brontosaurus:

…their grey bodies are large and flabby, and supported on
four stumpy legs…They spend most of their time immersed in water or mud which helps them support their vast bulk…
(p. 37)

It sounds identical to the cryptozoological view of the Mokele-mbembe. Subsequent books also depict similar dinosaur anachronisms, including Robot Commando (Jackson, 1986), Battleblade Warrior (Gascoigne, 1988), and Portal of Evil (Darvill-Evans, 1989).

Interestingly though, while Fighting Fantasy may lag behind in terms of overall dinosaur theory, it is highly susceptible to the discovery of big and spectacular species. For example, following the discovery of Baryonyx in 1983 (the first carnivorous/piscivorous dinosaur found with a crocodile-like skull), we had a miniature radiation of such creatures appearing in various adventure gamebooks (see Figure 4), including:
Figure 4. "Spawn of Baryonyx!". Clockwise
 from top right: Swamp Mutant
 by Alan Langford (from Gascoigne, 1988);
Blood Fiend by Russ Nicholson
(from Morris, 1985); Crocosaurus
by Simon Ecob (from Mason & Williams, 1985);
and Crocosaurus by Les Morrill
(from Dille & Gygax, 1985).

-         a purple Crocosaurus (Mason & Williams, 1985, p. 22)
-         a Crocosaurus with the body of a dinosaur (Dille & Gygax, 1985, paragraph 35)
-         a crocodile-headed Blood Fiend (Morris, 1985, paragraph 252)
-         an albino alligator-headed bipedal Swamp Mutant (Gascoigne, 1988, paragraph 372)

The take-home message from this interlude would appear to be that while dinosaur theory may lag; big, ferocious or just plain cool dinosaur discoveries often do not.

Sometimes, there’s not only a lag but a completely erroneous viewpoint as well. Consider the Warhammer World of the Warhammer Fantasy Battle (3rd Edition) rulebook for example. Here we learn of the Cold Ones, a term that encompasses various types of reptiles including sentient races such as Lizardmen and Troglodytes, as well as more dinosaur-like varieties such as the Cold One riding animal. Already, we have a lag effect in operation, as the very name “Cold One” alludes to these creatures as being cold-blooded. This is then compounded by bad science, where we find:

Deep in the subterranean caverns beneath the mountains of the world live the remnants of a mighty reptilian dynasty. At the dawn of time their animal forebearers ruled the planet, and from them evolved the reptilian races of Lizardmen and Troglodytes. With the arrival of the Slann the climate became warmer and the sunlight stronger, conditions which drove the reptilian races into the deepest caverns below ground. (Priestley & Bambra, 1987, p. 241)

Actually, if conditions became warmer, these Cold Ones would instead be happier and certainly not hide away in the bowels of the earth. Evidently in this case, cold-blooded has been confused for cold-loving (or heat-abhoring).

What causes the Dinosaur Lag Effect? Bill Watterson, creator of the Calvin and Hobbes comic, in describing one of his early tyrannosaur strips, cites laziness, saying: “The number of fingers [three instead of two], his alligator belly, the dragging tail, etc., are all wrong. Obviously, I did no research whatsoever” (1995, p. 51, see Figure 5). This was later rectified, with Watterson noting further that:

Figure 5. Bill Watterson's tyrannosaurs: old (left) and new
(from Watterson, 1995).

The dinosaurs I put in Calvin and Hobbes have become one of my favourite additions to the strip. Dinosaurs have appeared in many strips before mine, but I like to think I’ve treated them with a little more respect than they’ve often received at the hands of cartoonists.
        When I was Calvin’s age, I had a nicely illustrated dinosaur book and some dinosaur models, so it was a natural step to have Calvin share that interest. The first dinosaurs I put in the strip were based on my childhood memories of them. Back in the ‘60s, dinosaurs were imagined as lumbering, dim-witted, cold-blooded, oversized lizards. That’s how I drew them in the first strips, and these drawings are now pretty embarrassing to look at. When I realized that dinosaurs offered Calvin interesting story possibilities, I started researching for books to rekindle my interest in them. It was then I discovered what I’d missed in paleontology during the last twenty years.
        Dinosaurs, I quickly learned, were wilder than anything I’d ever imagined. Tails up, with birdlike agility, these were truly the creatures of nightmares. My drawings began to reflect the new information, and with each strip I’ve tried to learn more and to depict dinosaurs more accurately. I do this partly for my own amusement, and partly because, for Calvin, dinosaurs are very, very real.
        Dinosaurs have expanded Calvin’s world and opened up some exciting graphic possibilities. The biggest reward for me, however, has been the fun I’ve had exploring a new interest. I enjoy dinosaurs more now than I did as a kid, and much of the job of being a cartoonist lies in keeping alive a sense of curiosity and wonder. Sometimes the best way to generate new ideas is to go out and learn something. (p. 150)

Finally, in tandem with this, we find that way back in the pages of early Dragon magazines, Schick (1981) was already doing his research with respect to dinosaurs and AD&D:
…debate is currently underway among scientists over whether dinosaurs are ectothermic (cold-blooded) like reptiles, endothermic (warm-blooded like mammals), some of each, or something in between. Regardless of how this question is eventually resolved, it seems certain that dinosaurs are not the slow-moving, slow-reacting sluggards they were once commonly thought to be. (p. 12)

Likewise, a few years later and still in the pages of Dragon magazine, around the time that Fighting Fantasy was continuing to perpetuate older views of dinosaurs, Inniss (1986) noted:

There are other reasons as well for taking a fresh look at Mesozoic animals in the AD&D game. For one thing, the view has grown over the past decade or so that dinosaurs were not just big reptiles. They were biologically comparable to birds or mammals, or at the very least belong in a category by themselves, unlike other “reptiles”. They may indeed have been warm-blooded, as is indicated by several lines of circumstantial evidence. This makes the animals more useful and interesting… (p. 11)

A final point concerning this article by Inniss is that it contains if not the first, then certainly one of the earliests images of a feathered dinosaur I think I may have seen (certainly in a roleplaying context), in the form of a plumed coelurosaur (see Figure 6).

Figure 6. Feathered coelurosaur by Jim Holloway (from Inniss, 1986).

The basic conclusion from this look at the Dinosaur Lag Effect, is that it pays to do your research. In particular, it makes your work look less dated when the rest of the world catches up with current scientific theory. With the speed that information travels these days, this is only going to become more apparent in our accelerated culture. Some may argue that fantasy, as a genre of imagination, should be immune from this automatic updating of realistic theory. I would consider though that fantasy has come a long way from the days of its earliest practitioners already, and in future will be moving into areas we cannot yet define. If you want your work to look good in the meantime, do your research on the parts of your fantasy work you can substantiate as it will make the imaginary sections all the more believable for having been based on a logical and consistent framework.


Coleman, L. & Huyghe, P. (2003). The field guide to lake monsters, sea serpents, and other mystery denizens of the deep. New York: Tarcher/Penguin.

Darvill-Evans, P. (1989). Portal of evil. London: Puffin Books.

Dille, F. & Gygax, G. (1985). Sagard the barbarian: #2 The green hydra. New York: Archway Paperback.

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

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

Inniss, S. (1986). Mesozoic monsters: From the mightiest to the meekest. Dragon, 112, pp. 10-16, 66-77.

Jackson, S. (1986). Robot commando. London: Puffin Books.

Mason , P. & Williams, S. (1985). Deathtrap on legs. Warlock: The Fighting Fantasy Magazine, 7(December/January), pp. 22-24.

Morris, D. (1985). The eye of the dragon. London: Dragon Books.

Naish, D. (2009, July 17). Publishing with a hidden agenda: why birds simply cannot be dinosaurs. Message posted to

Naish, D. (2010, June 28). Gary Kaiser’s The Inner Bird: Anatomy and Evolution. Message posted to

Naish, D. (2011, January 12). Luis Chiappe’s Glorified Dinosaurs: The Origin and Early Evolution of Birds. Message posted to

Schick, L. (1981). Dinosaurs: New theories for old monsters. Dragon, 55, pp. 12-16, 72-73.

Priestley, R. & Bambra, J. (1987). Warhammer fantasy battle (3rd Edition). Nottingham: Games Workshop.

Watterson, B. (1995). The Calvin and Hobbes tenth anniversary book. New York: Scholastic Inc.

Zimmer, C. (2011). The long curious extravagant evolution of feathers. National Geographic. 219(2), pp. 32-57.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Influences: Dragons (1979)

Figure 1. Cover of Dragons
by Stephen Cartwright
(from Rawson, 1979).

One of the themes at the start of this blog was that of critical reflection (Wright, 2011), of stirring up nostalgia for the past to search for patterns that explain the present and allow for better planning in the future. Essentially, it is using reflection as a tool in a quest for influences. In his blog Grognardia for example, James Maliszewski (n.d.) does regular retrospectives on both classic pulp literature and early gaming products to examine the history and traditions of the roleplaying hobby.

In my case, the sorting of historical debris goes back even earlier, though from a personal perspective rather than a chronological one. Basically, one of my interests is children’s literature, and in particular, those strange, fantastic and plain weird books that rendered my brain pliant for an easy takeover when things like roleplaying games, adventure gamebooks, and computer RPGs came a-calling. Not that these musings will be restricted to old children’s books by any means – there are plenty of interesting stories and tales out there for kids these days, and my daughter certainly has more cool books than she knows what to do with. I’m not going to go into it in too much depth (unlike Hunt (2005), which I thoroughly recommend as a good read), at this stage, but rather present it as a window of temporary escapism, a nod to something in my life that may have had some bearing on where I now find myself. For, in considering fantasy, which after all is part of the title of this blog, Hunt (2005), paraphrasing from G. K. Chesterton’s essay ‘The Dragon’s Grandmother’ says:

Fantasy reminds us that the soul is sane but the universe is wild and full of marvels. (p. 172)

Dragons (1979), by Christopher Rawson and illustrated by Stephen Cartwright, was published by Usborne as one of the first in their Traditional Tales series of children’s story books. I’m pretty sure I got this for Christmas in either 1979 or 1980, meaning I was around 6 or 7 years old at the time, and it forms one of my earliest memories of an influential book from my childhood. The wonderfully colourful cover by Stephen Cartwright (1947-2004) depicts a host of classic fantasy images for kids’ consumption (see Figure 1): a dragon, breathing out billowing clouds of poisonous purple smoke, fighting a bunch of armoured warriors in a clearing in a dark forest. In the background we see a mysterious castle, and the airborne arrival of another dragon as a reinforcement, while in the foreground one warrior is struggling to carry off a chest full of golden treasure, while one of Cartwright’s trademark cuddly animals (in this case a rabbit (Roxbee Cox, 2004)), bounds away from the carnage in the lower left corner.

Inside, there are four stories (The Cock and the Dragon, Victor of Lucerne, The Lampton Worm, and Stan Bolovan and the Dragon), three panel compilations (Long Ago, Beware of Dragons, and Famous Dragon Slayers), and a maze game (Who kills the Dragon?). Rather than present everything as an exhaustive survey on the book however, I’ve decided to draw out six key elements that I consider as telltale markers of potential future RPG proclivities. In no particular order:

Figure 2. Anatomy of a Dragon by Stephen Cartwright (from Rawson, 1979).

 1. Monsters. Well, in a book about dragons, it’s got be dragons, right? Figure 2 shows a classic encounter between the soldiers of a local lord defending their keep and hamlet from a rapacious green dragon breathing puffs of poisonous gas. Interestingly, for a book on dragons, there are no fire-breathers here. We do get one lightning shooter, and three gas or smoke snorters, but no flame blowers. This might be because depicting the burned and charred remains of dragonbreath victims may be a little strong for children’s sensibilities. Strange, therefore, that our next element should be…

Figure 3. Young Lampton slays the Lampton Worm
 by Stephen Cartwright (from Rawson, 1979).
 2. Extreme Violence. Figure 3 shows the son of Lord Lampton hacking off the head of the Lampton Worm while standing on a rock in the middle of the River Wear. All I can say is, what an awesome image for a kid’s book! Bonus points for the armour, the purple blood-stained sword, and the emotion apparent in the eyes of both Lampton and the unfortunate worm. When I first started playing D&D back in either 1984 or 1985, one of the first things I did was try and develop rules for young Lampton’s set of armour. From my Australian perspective it was like Ned Kelly, in the form of the helmet, meets the Volkswagen Beetle from The Cars That Ate Paris, in the form of the spikes.

Figure 4. Long ago in a far-away land...
By Stephen Cartwright (from Rawson, 1979).

3. Distant Lands. Speaking of remote places such as Australia, the opening panel of the book (see Figure 4), gives us a nice introduction on dragons as denizens of far-away lands. I particular like the Western-style dragon and travellers contrasted with the very Oriental hall and pagoda in the upper right corner.

Figure 5. Treasure guardian.
By Stephen Cartwright
 (from Rawson, 1979).

4. Treasure. The treasure hoards of dragons are a recurring image in the book. Figure 5 sets the premise up nicely I feel, even if the potential thief in the red shirt looks woefully under-prepared for filching any trinkets from the rather angry guardian dragon in the cave.

Figure 6. Enter the wizard.
By Stephen Cartwright
(from Rawson, 1979).

5. Wizards. Sorcerous spellcasters would actually turn up in far more influential form in future volumes in the Traditional Tales series, such as Witches and Wizards (which I will cover in later posts). For now, we just have this chance meeting depicted in Figure 6, between Stan Bolovan the woodcutter, and a mysterious wizard who appears to be practicing as a wandering dispenser of instantaneous fertility treatments.

Figure 7. The first dungeon-crawl. By Stephen Cartwright (from Rawson, 1979).

6. Dungeons. Well, it’s more like a privet hedge-maze with a cave in its centre, but there’s no denying the fact that Figure 7 is essentially my first ever dungeon-crawl, as evidenced by the black pen scrawl I’ve left upon the pages. At least I didn’t tell you outright which one of our hirsute heroes will succeed in slaying Ug the Dragon and winning the hand in marriage of King Zoz’s comely daughter. Try it out for yourself!

While older versions of Dragons such as mine, can be purchased from eBay, a newer version entitled Stories of Dragons (2007) is currently available from Amazon. I’m unsure however as to whether the beheading of the Lampton Worm made the final cut. :-)


Hunt, P. (2005). Alternative worlds in fantasy fiction – revisited. New Review of Children’s Literature and Librarianship, 11(2), 163-174.

Maliszewski, J. (n.d.). About Me. Accessed from

Rawson, C. (1979). Dragons. London: Usborne Publishing.

Roxbee Cox, P. (2004, February 21). Obituary: Steven Cartwright. Accessed from

Wright, A. (2011, January 1). Why Blog? Message posted to

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Death by Header

Apologies for the scruffy mess at the top of the blog. Ideally, I would have started this blog with a perfectly conceptualized header already in place, but given my high levels of procrastination, particularly involving the creation of my own artwork, this was never going to be the case. As a result we have the pencil rough/nightmare above, as a place-holder, until I find the time to develop something rather more polished. In a bid to hasten the pace of development, I'm turning my progress with the header into a series of occasional blog posts, of which this is the first.

Figure 1. "What were those header dimensions again?"

Figure 1 shows my original sketch that I've cannibalized to create the header through some Photoshop manipulation and the addition of the title using New Land Contour font. The font appears freely available across the net, and though I liked it initially, it's looking a little cramped now, so I may go for something different by the time the header is finalized.

Figure 2. "Ape shall not kill snake..."

The original idea, riffing on the theme of "Fantasy Game Book", was to go for an old grimoire or tome, from which were crawling a hideous host of small but horrific beasts. Figure 2 shows some sketches on the development of this concept. Figure 3 also presents further details on the precise types of creatures:
  • Goblinoid, armoured, with weapon.
  • Ape-beast with claws.
  • Fanged scaly serpent with horns.
  • Fire-breathing bat-bird with tattered wings.
  • Slimey mollusc/frog hybrid.
  • Insect/arachnid combination with pincers and stings.
Definitely trying to cover all the bases there!

Figure 3. "All things foul and furious..."

Unfortunately, it quickly became apparent that the header dimensions were not conducive to displaying a horde of capering beasts, plus an ancient grimoire, plus my blog title. So, I appropriated the ones I liked the best - the  armoured goblin and the flaming bat-bird - and then from nowhere came the image of the 'frog-ranger' complete with bow, arrows, and jaunty feathered cap, squatting amidst out-sized fungi. Figure 4 shows another sketch of this amphibian archer...

Figure 4. I'm sure he'll give Aragorn a run for his money!

Anyway, as and when time allows, the plan now is to sketch these fellows out in more detail, ink them up with black markers, and colour via Photoshop. It remains a work in progress, but at least now you know why. Rest assured, you can read about it in future updates right here (and nowhere else!).

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Heart of Ice versus The Fabled Lands (The Final Chapter)

By Russ Nicholson (from Morris, 1994).
Once more, into the wilderness...
Surveying the landscape, you see only a dazzling expanse of snow under a sky of merciless metallic blue. The few other people you catch sight of are hunched anonymous figures in the distance. In these grim and desperate times, a lone traveller is well advised not to seek out company. (Morris, 1994, paragraph 400)

In the upcoming issue of Fighting Fantazine, I talk about two aspects of gamebook design (Wright, 2011a), namely:

- Structure. The physical aspect – how many paragraphs, how many encounters, and how many choices per encounter on average, among other things.

- Form. The style aspect – linear versus non-linear, one true path versus multiple paths, and so on.

We’ve already considered various aspects of a potential form for the Frozen Lands (Wright, 2011b). Essentially, we’re looking at creating a non-linear gamebook with multiple paths contributing to an overall story arc. What I want to consider here, is how do we apply this form to the physical structure of a Frozen Lands gamebook?

6. Structure versus Form. Similar to the Fabled Lands, the action of Frozen Lands occurs on a series of non-linear grids. For ease of organization, it is probably best if we group these grids in three separate tiers of gameplay, based on physical location and transportation. These tiers are:

a) The Base Tier. This is the standard tier common to any Fabled Lands gamebook, and can be further divided into two distinct areas, namely:

i) Land. The terrestrial regions through which the character treks. In our case, it can be subdivided yet again (!) into:

Wilderness. The icy wastes surrounding what used to be the Mediterranean Sea, organized in a non-linear grid format.

Settlements. Nine cities (Daralbad, Kastilan, Venis, Karthag, Tarabul, Kahira, Bezant, Maka, and Sudan), mainly set up as central hub paragraphs with returning choices, and some linear paths representing quests and adventures.

Specials. Ruins such as Marsay and Du-En, and smaller settlements including the Etruscan and Jib-and-Halter Inns with yet more linear pathways for missions to be completed.

ii) Sea. For ferry passengers, these paragraphs would be straightforward linear portals between ports such as Venis and Kahira. However, if your character is lucky enough to acquire a sea-going vessel, this would then unlock a non-linear grid of adventure choices similar to the Wilderness component of the Land section above.

Rules for ships and boats would remain the same as the Fabled Lands (e.g. Morris & Thomson, 1995a, paragraph 555), in terms of crew quality, but the types of ships and cargo would change. Some suggestions:

Ship Types
(taken from Morris, 1994, paragraphs 78 and 309)
Mud-skimmer (Capacity: 1 Cargo Unit)
Ice schooner (Capacity: 2 Cargo Units)
Hovercraft (Capacity: 3 Cargo Units)


Hazards of the various seas of the Frozen Lands world could include pirates, storms, icebergs, rocky reefs, mutant sea creatures, rogue droids, crew mutinies, engine problems, and mysterious islands, among many others.

b) The Under Tier. This is a small but important tier that connects far-flung regions with a fast and relatively safe transportation system. In the Fabled Lands, this takes the form of the Trau tunnels (Morris & Thomson, 1995b, paragraph 495), and other subterranean nexuses. In the Frozen Lands however, it is instead a continent-spanning subway system with stations in Old Marsay, Karthag, Tarabul, Kahira, Giza, and Maka. Access to the intercontinental subway could be governed by the use of a codeword which is acquired when the character first explores the ruins of Old Marsay for example.

[Amusingly, with reference to this underground system, Jorner (2007) notes: “There’s an intercontinental subway going through one of the world’s most geologically active regions. Yay?”]

Figure 1. Hover-droids
by Russ Nicholson (from Morris, 1994).
Egg-shaped but lethal!

c) The Over Tier. This tier is accessible if you acquire a Manta sky-car (see Wright, 2011c), or some other flying device or vehicle. Essentially, it’s air travel between regions or settlements, and while extremely fast and convenient, there could be dangers such as air pirates, hover-droids (see Figure 1), giant mutant birds such as teratorns (e.g. Naish, 2007), storms, vehicle malfunctions and simply running out of fuel (and then hoping you packed a parachute!).

[I’m still unsure as to whether I’d allow for the refueling of these air vehicles.]

Additionally, and probably through the use of codewords, the Over Tier would also allow access to the orbital space habitat of al-Lat (Morris, 1994, paragraphs 275 and 286 - see Figure 2), which would be a mix of linear paths with a central hub paragraph.

Figure 2. The orbital space habitat of al-Lat,
by Russ Nicholson (from Morris, 1994).

Now that we know the various tiers of gameplay, the next step would be to assign encounter lists and grid locations to each tier to give us a rough estimate of the total number of paragraphs necessary for the Frozen Lands project.

However, I’m not going to go there, yet. It’s a lot of work and a lot of time, and these are things I can’t commit to right now. Instead, I’m going to round out this final post on our Frozen Lands mash-up by tidying up a bunch of loose ends…

7. Miscellaneous Odds and Ends. In the main, the Frozen Lands system would follow that of the Fabled Lands. There are some notable changes however, and these are detailed below:

Gods and Blessings: While there may be faith and religion in the Frozen Lands, there are likely no active gods capable of bestowing blessings upon their followers in exchange for offerings. Thus these two boxes can be deleted from the Adventure Sheet as unnecessary.

One idea I did have, as a substitute for blessings, was to include a sort of ‘luck virus’ that would allow dice rerolls when imbibed. This would likely be sold by somebody such as Malengin (Morris, 1994, paragraph 434). It’s inspired by the luck virus used by Lister in the Red Dwarf episode ‘Quarantine’ (Grant & Naylor, 1992).

Resurrection Arrangements: Although there are no gods or temples in the Frozen Lands, resurrection could possibly be arranged for by including clone vats, similar to the life-vats of Argon the Alchemist (Morris & Thomson, 1995b, paragraphs 192, 244, and 428).

Possessions: Possessions would be limited to a maximum of 12, like the Fabled Lands, and unlike the limit of eight possessions from Heart of Ice.

Codewords: There would be a list of codewords with tick boxes, similar to the Fabled Lands series, but these would not all start with the same letter of the alphabet. Frozen Lands is a projected one volume gamebook adventure, and does not need to distinguish between codewords from different books in the series, unlike the Fabled Lands.

Rank: Because it is only one book, is there any need for Rank, or the Rank titles, or can they be scrapped completely? If this was done, the downside would be that Defence and Stamina wouldn’t increase at all. Perhaps only six ranks should be allowed, as follows:

Rank          Title
1st             Outcast
2nd            Loner
3rd              Wanderer
4th             Adventurer
5th                Hero
6th             Lord

Titles and Honours: These could surely be included and encompass events such as being a member of the Compass Society, joining one of the myriad weird cults and sects (the Seventh Seal Cult, the Church of Gaia, the remains of the Volentine Cult, the Hamadan ascetics, etc. etc.), becoming a Lord of Bezant, and other such professional opportunities.

Money: Money is measured in a currency known as scads, which are recorded on card-like money tokens. Transferring funds is done by touching one money card to another (Morris, 1994, paragraphs 117 and 328).

This is it for our Frozen Lands mash-up of Heart of Ice and the Fabled Lands. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading these notes as much as I’ve enjoyed developing them. This adventure may not be written now, but, one day, who knows? Unless of course someone beats me to it…


Grant, R. (Writer & Director), & Naylor, D (Writer & Director). (1992). Quarantine [Television series episode]. In H. Bevan-Jones (Producer), Red Dwarf. London: BBC Two.

Jorner, P. (2007, May 31). Reviews part 18: The future’s so bright I gotta wear polarized goggles. Message posted to

Morris, D. (1994). Heart of Ice. London: Mammoth.

Morris, D. & Thomson, J. (1995a). Fabled Lands: The War-Torn Kingdom. London: Macmillan.

Morris, D. & Thomson, J. (1995b). Fabled Lands: The Plains of Howling Darkness. London: Macmillan.

Naish, D. (2007, November 1). Life-size two-dimensional condors and teratorns. Message posted to

Wright, A. (2011a). The Adventure Game Part 2. Fighting Fantazine 5(January, 2011). Unpublished (but not for long!).

Wright, A. (2011b, January 10). Heart of Ice versus The Fabled Lands. Message posted to

Wright, A. (2011c, January 15). Heart of Ice versus The Fabled Lands (Beasts, Steeds and Transport). Message posted to

Heart of Ice versus The Fabled Lands (Beasts, Steeds and Transport)

Figure 2. The Manta sky-car
by Mike Posen (from Morris, 1994).
Surely one of the coolest things in Heart of Ice
I keep thinking I’m going to finish this series of posts, but it continues to expand! Hopefully, this is the penultimate post…

5. Pack Animals, Steeds, and Other Forms of Transport. Following on from the previous post on Outdoor Survival (Wright, 2011a), I wanted to talk about three of the main examples of these ‘objects’ that will help you brave the perils of the Frozen Lands.

a) Burrek. This pack animal of sorts is described rather memorably as:

a hulking, thick-shouldered animal with shaggy white fur and a lugubrious snout. ‘The nomads use such creatures when they wish to cross the Ice Wastes,’ the trader tells you. ‘They huddle beside the beasts in blizzards, and when hungry they tap its veins to make a blood pudding.’
        ‘What a sickening thought!’
He nods sagely. ‘Indeed. It is probably only just preferable to dying of starvation. Still, if you intend to cross the Sahara you cannot do without a burrek. This stout animal is for sale at the generous price of thirty scads.’ (Morris, 1994, paragraph 338)

I used to think that the burrek was a kind of weird sheep/goat hybrid, but from this description they sound more like a cold-adapted boar or pig of some sort. This is confirmed by the fact they can’t actually carry anything for you, and just follow you around to be used for warmth and food.

Rules for Burreks: Burreks cost around 10 scads (after haggling). They do not count towards your possessions limit. You cannot own a burrek if you have a Manta sky-car or a camel, as they do not fit in the car, and do not get along with (or can’t keep up with) camels.

Whenever you are told to lose any Stamina points as a result of exposure to the icy weather and environment, you may reduce the loss by 1 point if you have a burrek. In addition, if you run out of food, you can slaughter the burrek which yields 2 food packs worth of rations (and don’t forget to cross it off your Adventure Sheet).

b) Camel. The shaggy camel of the Saharan Ice Wastes appears to be a hybrid of both the old Bactrian and Dromedary species that once existed on Earth. It is used in particular by the nomadic Hamadan ascetics that patrol the slopes of the Atlas Mountains, in the western Sahara (Morris, 1994, paragraph 273). It is also used as a beast of burden in merchant convoys traveling between far-flung cities such as Daralbad and Kastilan, or Bezant and Kahira.

Rules for Camels: Camels cost around 20 scads (after haggling). They do not count towards your possessions limit. You cannot own a camel if you have a Manta sky-car or a burrek, as they do not fit in the car, and do not get along with burreks.

Camels are irascible beasts and you cannot huddle next to one for warmth when out in the wilderness. However, if you run out of food, you can slaughter the camel which yields 4 food packs worth of rations (and don’t forget to cross it off your Adventure Sheet).

The main value of the camel is in carrying extra gear, such as supplies and survival equipment. When you acquire a camel, write ‘Camel (turn to 42)’ on your Adventure Sheet. Whenever you wish to take, use or swap an item carried by your camel, turn to paragraph 42 and follow the instructions there. Make sure you make a note of which paragraph you are on at the time however, as 42 will not direct you back to where you came from. See Figure 1 for an example of paragraph 42.

Figure 1. Your friendly neighbourhood camel...

c) Manta sky-car. This is the best ‘state of the art’ form of personal transport in the world of the Frozen Lands (see Figure 2). Manta sky-cars cannot be bought, only found or stolen:

You arrive at a large circular room. In the centre rests a Manta sky-car, its burnished black chassis reflecting emerald droplets of light. As you step towards it, you notice a caretek unfold its articulated metal body and move slowly around the base of the sky-car, now and then probing with its diagnostic antenna. This is cause for hope. If the sky-care has been regularly serviced by a caretek, it might still be functional. (Morris, 1994, paragraph 435)

Rules for Manta sky-cars: Manta sky-cars require an initial TECH roll at Difficulty 13 to pilot successfully. They do not count towards your possession limit. If you have a Manta sky-car you cannot also have a burrek or a camel as neither would fit inside the car. The Manta sky-car has an expansive storage locker. When initially found or stolen, the locker will usually contain the following items: 10 food packs, medical kit, flashlight, cold-weather clothes, and nylon rope.

When you acquire a Manta sky-car, write ‘Manta sky-car (turn to 99)’ on your Adventure Sheet. Whenever you wish to take, use or swap an item stored in your Manta sky-car, turn to paragraph 99 and follow the instructions there. Make sure you make a note of which paragraph you are on at the time however, as 99 will not direct you back to where you came from. See Figure 3 for an example of paragraph 99.

Figure 3. "I've got a ticket to ride..."

 In addition, owning a Manta sky-car provides a faster and safer way of traveling about the Frozen Lands. This will be the subject of the next post!


Morris, D. (1994). Heart of Ice. London: Mammoth.

Wright, A. (2011). Heart of Ice versus The Fabled Lands (Outdoor Survival). Message posted to

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Gasp! A breather...

I'm taking a break tonight while I attempt to compile the rest of the Heart of Ice/Fabled Lands mash-up into a single bumper post for publishing soon. As is my curse, it began to bloat out beyond the initial idea for a single post, and I'm keen to finish it off, and move on to postings new (blessed as I am with a ridiculously short attention span).

Thanks to everyone so far who has stopped by to read the blog, and also to post comments. As you may well gather, I'm enjoying this lark immensely! :-) 



Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Heart of Ice versus The Fabled Lands (Outdoor Survival)

Returning yet again to our Frozen Lands mash-up…

4. Outdoor Survival. Another aspect of the Fabled Lands that is under-utilized in the interests of speedier gameplay and less book-keeping, is that of supplies and provisions. In fact, one of the few places where rules for this are provided is on the Great Steppes between the Spine of Harkun and the Peaks at the Edge of the World. Here, in the colder northern parts of the steppes, we find the following applicable rules:

The sun is sucked below the horizon, casting its wan rays across the flat and desolate steppes. You camp for the night. If you have a wolf pelt, the fur helps to keep you warm. If you do not, lost 1 Stamina from the cold.
You need to hunt for food. Make a SCOUTING roll at Difficulty 11. If you succeed, you find a wild hare to eat. If you fail, you go hungry and must lose 1 Stamina point. (Morris & Thomson, 1995, paragraph 666)

This is comparatively tame however, compared to the merciless conditions of the Saharan Ice Wastes, and presumably much of the territory that lies between the far-flung cities of Heart of Ice. At this point, we discover the perils of the weather are such that:
If you lack both a fur cloak and cold-weather clothing, lose 4 Life Points. If you possess either of those items, lose only 2 Life Points. (Lose 1 less Life Point if you have Survival, and 1 less if you possess a burrek.) (Morris, 1994, paragraph 426)

In addition, all travellers on the wastes need polarized goggles or they will suffer snow blindness (for effects, see Morris, 1994, paragraph 13). The food situation is such that 2 food packs must be consumed per location, or suffer 1 Life Point loss if you have 1 food pack and 4 Life Points loss for none, reduced to 3 if you have Survival, and reduced by 2 if you have a burrek, which you can slaughter (Morris, 1994, paragraph 444). (More on burreks later!)

Previously, Morris and Johnson (1987, paragraph 422) had provided rules for crossing the frozen expanse of the Mistral Sea, in The Kingdom of Wyrd, which make for an interesting comparison. Here, you lose 5 Endurance points for each day on the ice, with the following modifiers:

        One less point lost each day if you have a fur cloak.
        One less point lost each day if you have rations to eat.
        One less point lost each day if you have a bedroll.
        One less point lost each day if you have a brazier.
Also, if you do not have gloves, you suffer frostbite and lose 1 point of Fighting Prowess for the rest of the adventure.

A consideration of all of these sources has led to the creation of the following summary for outdoor survival in the Frozen Lands. As per the Fabled Lands series, this sequence would be included for every location that would be designated an Ice Waste (i.e. not ruins, an oasis (poisoned or otherwise), or the lands around the Lyonesse Swamps), usually after rolling for and resolving random encounters.

Outdoor Survival in the Frozen Lands
- After you enter the wastes, there’s an item check to see if you have polarized goggles. If not, you waste 1 day dealing with snow blindness.
- Lose 2 Stamina points each day/location. Reduce this by one if you have a burrek/camel or cold-weather clothing.

- Need to eat 1 food pack per day/location or make a SURVIVAL roll at Difficulty 11 to find some food. Lose 2 Stamina points if you have no food. If you are desperate, you can slaughter your burrek/camel to counter this.

I’ve tried to mix and match here, and create something simple but effective. Wilderness travel should be difficult, but not too punishing for the well-equipped, as they head out into the wastes to trade, explore, hunt, and just wander about aimlessly…

In the next post I will explain the wonder that is the oft-mentioned burrek, and look at adding pack-animals, steeds and transport rules to the Frozen Lands milieu!


Morris, D. (1994). Heart of Ice. London: Mammoth.

Morris, D. & Johnson, O. (1987). The Kingdom of Wyrd. London: Knight Books.

Morris, D. & Thomson, J. (1995). Fabled Lands: The Plains of Howling Darkness. London: Macmillan.