Monday, March 7, 2011

A Brief History of the Windhammer Prize

Stuart Lloyd has reminded me via his blog that the 2011 Windhammer Prize is upon us once again! For those who don't know what the Windhammer Prize is (and if you're a gamebook fan that's almost inexcusable!), perhaps a brief explanation is called for...

The Windhammer Prize for Short Gamebook Fiction was first created and run by Wayne Densley in 2008 and is sponsored by his site, The Chronicles of Arborell. This is its fourth year. Wayne envisages the competition as "a means to promote the gamebook genre, and to provide exposure within a competitive environment for aspiring gamebook authors". What it means in reality is that every year we get a bunch of cool and intriguing new amateur gamebooks that otherwise would probably not exist. I entered the first two (I was unable to enter last year as I was too busy writing Catacombs of the Undercity), and didn't win anything (grumble!), but the standards are high! I keep meaning to go back and do a detailed review of some or all of the entries but that's beyond the scope of this post. What I will do is provide a brief history of the winners of the various years of the Windhammer Prize, and some of the more notable entries.

2008 Windhammer Prize

Winner: Raid on Chateau Fekenstein by Al Sander. Tightly paced and plotted steampunk/fantasy milieu that in some way is strangely reminiscent of Blackadder Goes Forth. Recommended!

2009 Windhammer Prize

Winner: The Bone Dogs by Per Jorner. Per makes good on a previous promise to cannibalize the Virtual Reality rules system from Heart of Ice to create an entertaining take on an alternate Western genre.

2010 Windhammer Prize

Winner: Sharkbait's Revenge by Stuart Lloyd. Pirates and nautical mayhem aplenty as Stuart finally bags the big prize in his third year of entering.

Other Notable Entries

An Orc's Day by Travis Casey (2008). Personally I feel this is by far the best of the rest. An intriguing 'play-the-monster' that drags out all the standard fantasy tropes only to turn them into something new. Recommended!

Hills of Phoros was supposed to be the first
 in this series but the rules need fixing!

The Hills of Phoros by Andrew Wright (2008). This is where I find that introducing a non-linear Fabled Lands style gameplay into a short 100 paragraph format, with flawed rules, adds new meaning to the term 'grind-time'. Still, I'm proud of the writing, but the rules set needs a complete overhaul.

Waiting for the Light by Kieran Coghlan (2009). Trippy and bizarre sequence of events that is more book than game, but nevertheless a very worthy read.

RAMPAGE! by Andrew Wright (2009). Another blatant plug! I had a blast writing this - it's a parody of the Fighting Fantasy world of Allansia jacked into the old Rampage arcade game. If you have a desire to stomp on Yaztromo, King Gillibran, Nicodemus or Chadda Darkmane (or their near likeness), this is as close as you will get!

The Word Fell Silent by Kieran Coghlan (2010). Kieran's put a lot of work into this epic tale set in Roman-occupied Judea, and when I get a free moment, it's a must-play for me.

If you'd like to download any of these gamebook adventures, you can find them in the archive here.

If you'd like to enter the 2011 Windhammer Prize competition, the rules and regulations are here.

Have fun!


  1. In my opinion Hills of Phoros is the best. Or maybe its just because I like the Fabled Lands system too much xD Can't wait for more Tales of the Bronze Empire!

  2. I didn't read all the entries yet, but the ones I did are very good.

    "The Bones Dogs" is my favourite. I didn't get all the references (like "the Song of Hiawatha"), but ambiance and humour (the dialogues with the lizard are awesome :D) are spicy.

    The warlike and dark atmosphere of "Raid on Chateau Fekenstein" is very great too (drew on the Castle Falkenstein rpg maybe ?). But it is a very difficult gamebook (something like 10 "sudden death" sections for a 100 sections adventure, 8) ).

    One you didn't mention is "The Achaeid". A very good plot for Cretan Chronicles's fans like me (despite a very disappointing labyrinth)! I am waiting for the sequel !

  3. The death paragraphs in "Raid on Chateau Fekenstein" were a lot of fun to write. Notice how they are all clumped (with one exception I think) in a large block at the beginning of the adventure.

    Unfortunately, the adventure is really balanced with a narrow set of optimal abilities.

    Here is an interesting little story...
    In the last week of writing the adventure I was horribly sick with the flu and, seeing the deadline fast approaching, I kept writing even in the midst of a high fever. When the fever finally broke, the sections I wrote (which were the ones in the middle portion of the adventure) where bloody, atmospheric and in a lot of places, totally incomprehensible.

    After cleaning up the writing I was out of time so I didn't get to check less optimal beginning abilities for difficulty.
    When I revisit the gamebook at some far distant time, I will probably lower 2-3 key difficulty rolls (especially 2 tests near the beginning of the adventure) by a point to make things a little easier.

    Glad people enjoyed it!

  4. Hi Andrew,

    I had a look at your Hills of Phoros adventure (just the one read, so far). The rules are indeed, quite detailed. I like the "attack then defend" system you use (and the possibility of simultaneous strikes as well) and the idea of a weapon/armour adding/deducting to/from your roll makes good logical sense.

    I've never really written a gamebook with random encounters before. I can see the potential, though, of using these random encounters to unlock other "rooms" in the adventure that would otherwise be unreachable. This would give good replay value to the story.

  5. Hey, thanks for all the comments people! I did enjoy putting this post together!

    @Anon: Glad you liked Hills of Phoros - I certainly had a blast writing it. I'd probably need to do an expanded version of it, with better rules, before I do another in the series though. A project for the future...

    @Salla: You're right - The Achaeid is a nifty Grecian adventure too, with FF stats as well, if I'm not wrong?

    @Al: Thanks for the insights! One of the things I really liked about Chateau Fekenstein is the combination of the background with the character generation process. It gave your character an immediate 'presence' which added greatly to the narrative their subsequent (mis)adventures. Lots of fun!

    @Jasan: Thanks for the feedback. The main problem I currently have with the combat rules as is, is that the combat mods have a tendency to cancel each other out, reducing it once again to a 2d6 dice roll. I have been working on some modifications though, and I may do a revised version if and when I ever get any free time! :-(

    The random encounters mechanic was borrowed from The Fabled Lands, which uses them as both general encounters and plot devices. Their main drawback is their random nature, particularly if they're crucial to gameplay advance. If I do this one again, physical locations will no longer be random, letting you visit them more easily, but I'll keep the others as chance encounters...

  6. @ Al Sander : Thanks for the answer ! The most difficult dice rolls are near the end (section 50 and after). Each time I lose, it was here. But it is a detail. At this time we are captived already by the atmosphere and the story.

    @ Andew : Yes, the adventure uses FF system, in Ancient Grece. In some way, it calls to my mind more the Cretan Chronicles than Fighting Fantasy (with an original hero, and Minos and his Minotaur Theseus fails to kill). With an original story.

  7. I quite like the Cretan Chronicles although the last book was a bit of a pain in the backside from memory, especially that blasted Phoenician merchant. I'll have to revisit the Achaeid a little more - sounds like a good double bill with Kieran's Romano-Judeaen 'The Word Fell Silent'.



  8. I liked the Achaeid. It had a mix of systems. It used fighting Fantasy stats but with honour (like the Cretan Chonicles) and skills.

    @Andrew: I like RAMPAGE! It was open, had a difficulty setting and it was a good parody of Fighting Fantasy places and people (Gastromo was my favourite).

    I like the Windhammer competition., The feedback from the first two years really helped me write better gamebooks.

  9. Hi again Andrew,

    Making the locations not random but leaving the encounters as random sounds good.

    To stop your combat mods cancelling each other out (and thus making the roll a standard 2d + 6) you could make the weapon and armour mods affect only the damage inflicted/blocked by having a damage die roll potentially increase/decrease the damage inflicted. (Depending on what armour/weapons are used.) Just a thought.

  10. @Stuart: Glad you liked RAMPAGE! As with many things I do, there's always sequels planned, but whether they ever get done remains a bone of contention! You're right in that the feedback is valuable - certainly the feedback I got from Hills of Phoros inspired me to create a tighter adventure for RAMPAGE! with a more coherent rules system.

    @Jasan: Yes, you're right about the damage roll. I'd like to keep things, such as combat dice rolls, as simple as possible but it seems undoable in this case. If you want a bit of extra rules crunch in the form of weapon or armour mods, you need extra dice rolls for them. Another option I've been looking at is a simple hit location chart, i.e.:

    1. Head: Helmet (2 Armour Points)
    2. Right Leg: Greaves (1AP)
    3. Right Arm: Gauntlet (2AP)
    4. Left Arm: Buckler (1AP)
    5. Left Leg: Greaves (1AP)
    6. Body: Jerkin (2AP)

    Which is kind of cool but does add further complexity.



  11. Andrew,

    Ah, that's a bit different (the hit location chart). Gives you a visual aspect with combat (enables you to play out what is happening in your mind). :-)

  12. The hit location chart does represent an extra dice roll but it also allows you to break up the armour protection a bit. It also allows more rewards into the system as you strive for better armour, and different kinds of armour, in the form of runes or cloaks of warding for spellcasters.

    DestinyQuest doesn't have a hit location chart but I very much like the Hero Sheet which has all your items distributed in a logical fashion. Worth downloading the free Hero Sheet from the DQ website as it's one of the best organised character sheets I've seen.



  13. If I'm not mistaken, I recall hearing some quite positive comments about the DestinyQuest series just recently (possibly from Stuart Lloyd). I'll have to check out its mechanics at some stage. (I'm a bit short of time at the minute, what with promoting my new gamebook and writing the first add-on adventure for it - Good fun though.)

  14. Jasan, interview with Michael Ward about DestinyQuest earlier in my blog, here:

    Amazing brand new gamebook!



  15. Thanks Andy,

    It seems impressive (and very long). I like long gamebooks when they are done well.

    The good thing in all this is that gamebooks, in general, really seem to be on the rise again.

    The Gamebook Adventures series made locally in my home city (Melbourne, Australia) by Tin Man Games is really starting to boost things too. Especially with them scoring Jon Green to write their next book.

  16. I just wrote a blog post about the Windhammer Prize. I was going to call it "A brief history of the Windhammer Prize" then I saw this, so I had to call it "A not so brief history of the Windhammer Prize".