Gamebook store

Monday, 14 June 2021

Move over MCU

This will send a tingle up your spine. It's the dramatic trailer video for the launch of the Blood Sword 5e Kickstarter, which goes live tomorrow. There's going to be a live interview with the team at 17:00 CET and I plan to jump in on that. Those images really convey the sense of doom you should feel as you approach the shores of Wyrd -- and there's even a glimpse of a faltyn. Don't miss out!

Wednesday, 9 June 2021

The acute, persistent, unquenchable craving to know

This might just be my favourite of the H P Lovecraft letters read on the Voluminous podcast. HPL shows how it's possible to hold very different opinions from someone else and still remain friends (we shouldn't need to be reminded of that) while having a robust argument with them (we all ought to be taught that).

Tuesday, 8 June 2021

Everything must go

It's always a wrench having to chuck stuff out. Well, it is for me as I'm a bit of a hoarder. But lately I've had to take an "exterminate all the brutes" attitude to clearing out, so I've given a couple of boxes of gaming treasures to my wife to flog on Ebay. It's that or take them to the tip, and with classics like these that would be a crime. 

There's sets of Imagine, Adventurer, Red Giant (with Brymstone by Robert Dale), and Fantasy Chronicles - including the issue above with Steve Foster's superb Christmas adventure which I still remember us playing in his house on Western Lane.

There are some scenario books, Chaosium games such as Big Rubble, gems like Bushido and Champions, and some figurines. Take a look if you have space for them. I'd like to think they'll go to a good home.

Saturday, 5 June 2021

Hard-as-nails heroes wanted

New news about Blood Sword 5e, the D&D-style RPG version of the Blood Sword gamebook saga. I've just been looking at the Quickstart and it's pretty impressive how this project is shaping up. The team is doing a stunning job, the chosen artists are top-notch and their styles mesh well with Russ' original illustrations. The 5e rules developed for the setting balance perfectly the Old School flavour of the series with a more fresh and modern RPG system, and as for the adventure -- well, I was expecting a simple adaptation or a sort of remake, and it would have been fine, but the authors have gone a lot further. “The Cursed Temple” isn't just a prequel of The Battlepits of Krarth, it rivisits the setting entirely with a brand-new plot and a truly grim, anti-heroic spirit that powerfully emerges from the story and from the characters' backgrounds. If you're into D&D-style roleplaying (90% of the gaming community these days) I think you're going to love it. 

The Quickstart is free with subscription to the project newsletter. You can also try it this weekend on Discord -- the one-shots are free to play (though with limited slots, so it's first-come, first-served) and you can also invite your friends. For once I'm leaving comments on to get your feedback. 

Friday, 4 June 2021

Try harder, Trekkers

Looking back from a quarter century on, it's hard to believe I cared that much. I'd just seen Star Trek Generations and I decided to tell Rick Berman what was wrong with it. Audacious, you might think. Pompous, even. But I stand by what I said then. If they didn't want constructive criticism, they could have written a better script. If any reader of Mirabilis has a bone to pick with me about mistakes in the story, I'll listen.

And I was aiming to help. They wanted to write a story of tragic sacrifice, but all they'd done was describe a high-stakes gamble that didn't pan out. The climax wasn't "a far, far better thing"; it was just "oops!" The letter went on:
"Mr Zimmerman is right. Heroic figures like Kirk and Spock have so often been seen to take extreme life-threatening risks that the only way to have them die in a way that works in narrative terms is when they are faced with certain death. When Spock died in The Wrath of Khan he knew in advance that his action would be fatal. But that wasn't the case with Kirk's death. Scrambling about on the collapsing bridge is the kind of thing he's done hundreds of times before. He knew he was taking a risk, but at no point did we actually get to see him make that crucial decision to sacrifice himself. In real life you could say that this turned out to be the one time his luck ran out, but the rules of real life aren't after all the rules of fiction.

"In this sense I believe Kirk's death was wasted. Obviously it is time to move on with the Trek movies now, but when a character like Kirk has been built up to such a genuinely mythic level the way he leaves life should be on a par with the way he's lived it -- full of sound and fury, and signifying a very great deal.

"This touches on a secondary problem I think you could have with subsequent Trek movies. You have a large cast there, and the awkward subplot with Data showed that it is not so easy to give time to every character and still maintain the narrative momentum demanded by a feature film. People aren't going to come into the theatres every two years to see the latest developments in an outer-space soap, and the more cerebral and complex character-based issues for which the TV series is justly famous are too subtle to carry an action movie. The best Trek films haven't just been TV episodes on a bigger screen, but stories with a big canvas and big ideas to fit.

"Mumon said, 'Do not shoot another's bow, do not ride another's horse, do not criticize another's work.' My suggestions are meant as constructive ones and I hope they don't give the impression that the movie as a whole wasn't good. It's just that I think it could have been great."
I even went so far as to enclose a five-page treatment for a follow-on Trek movie, in which the bad guys were the Yu, a neotic offshoot of humanity in the far future. Earth is now known as Terra, feared throughout the galaxy as the nerve centre of a ruthless empire. I described our time-travelling heroes' first glimpse of what was once their homeworld:
"Terra is not the blue jewel that it was in their own time, but a sinister shadow against the heavens, mustard yellow with pollution and crisscrossed by myriad lights marking out vast continent-spanning metropolises. A grim testament to the Yu's implacable totalitarian society."
A year and a half later, Star Trek First Contact came out. This time I realized the futility of firing off a letter about the flaws in the story. It would have had to be a much longer letter anyway. But there was one bit in the movie that got my seal of approval... No blue jewel, this.

Thursday, 27 May 2021

The Fabled Lands CRPG is now in early access

Do I need to say it twice? Get it on Steam, FL fans.

The early access edition features all character professions, the only limitation being that your adventures are restricted to two regions: the kingdom of Sokara and the the Great Steppes of the North. That's about twelve hours of content for a successful start-to-end playthrough that unlocks all forty game objectives.

All of the game's core features are integrated: exploration, combat, items, sailing, active and passive skills, resurrection deals, blessings, potions, tutorials, everything you might want. And the full version will open out to include Golnir and Uttaku, ie all the regions of the northern continent. And later expansions should extend across the Violet Ocean to Akatsurai, Ankon-Konu, and even those regions yet to be covered by the books.

Victor Atanasov and his team at Prime Games have done an amazing job, and they're just getting warmed up. Still need convincing? There's a playthrough by the utterly compelling master of stories Guy Sclanders here. Beats a box set of Marvel TV shows in my book. Better acting, too.

Friday, 21 May 2021

Cut and thrust

Assuming your roleplaying campaign involves combat, how long should fights go on? In Sagas of the Icelanders, a fight is usually just one dice roll, which is just how quickly it would be resolved in the sagas:
"A great sheet of ice had been thrown up by the flood on the other side of the river as smooth and slippery as glass, and there Thrain and his men stood in the midst of the sheet. Skarphedinn took a spring into the air, and leapt over the stream between the ice banks, and did not check his course, but rushed onwards with a slide. The sheet of ice was very slippery, and so he went as fast as a bird flies. Thrain was just about to put his helm on his head. Skarphedinn bore down on him and hewed at Thrain with his axe Rimmugýgur, the 'battle-witch', and smote him on the head, and clove him down to the teeth, so that his jaw-teeth fell out on the ice. This feat was done with such a quick sleight that no one could get a blow at him; he glided away from them at once at full speed. Tjorvi, indeed, threw his shield before him on the ice, but he leapt over it, and still kept his feet, and slid quite to the end of the sheet of ice."
Contrast that with games of Runequest (I'm talking about v2 here; more recent editions may have fixed it) where battles between two reasonably skilled fighters became a case of slash, parry, slash, parry, and rinse and repeat until eventually somebody fumbled. And in GURPS a combat is like a slow game of county cricket. (Imagine replicating Skarpedinn's feat at the frozen river using GURPS 4e -- we'd still be here next Christmas.)

How long should fights go on? As long as suits the setting and the players. Sagas of the Icelanders is true to the literary reality of the original stories. For all I know, the presumably saga-length combats in RQ Vikings are nearer to how they played out in reality. If you're playing a game that's trying to recreate the feel of a kung fu movie, you'd feel cheated if every fight was over in a single strike. And even when it is, the manoeuvring beforehand tells a story in its own right:

A combat should be a little story, with a beginning, middle and end. But it's only worth playing out the beats of those mini-stories if they're going to be interestingly different each time. We'll tolerate combat mechanics that take longer to resolve if they generate dramatic outcomes. I've found Tirikelu hits the sweet spot, being both quick and cinematic, but after all it would be pretty surprising if I wasn't satisfied by a system I devised. You'll have to judge it for yourself.

Tekumel is a good place to look for the emergent story possibilities of combat. One-on-one fights are often formal duels held under the terms of the Manifesto of Nobel Deliverance. The beginning of the story is the quarrel or insult that instigates the duel. The middle is the negotiation between the seconds as to the form of the duel. And, as in any good story, the decisions made at that stage almost always set up the denouement which is the fight itself.

Duels make for interesting fights because the stakes are clear (honour, sometimes life too) and there are all kinds of ways it can turn out. Somebody might win by resorting to inelegant or even dirty tactics (use of Warrior skill rather than just Weapon skill, in Tirikelu). In pistol duels, one of the combatants might choose to fire in the air, or otherwise pull something unexpected; look at the duels in Scaramouche or The Duellists for inspiration.

If combat is frequent in your games and simply functions as an obstacle you throw in front of the players to prevent them from smoothly achieving their goals -- hordes of orcs in a dungeon, say -- then a single roll to decide the fight is probably enough. If the characters are samurai, Spartans, musketeers, or kuruthūniyal, then it's quite likely that the minutiae of each battle comprise a significant part of their story. Gun battles in a noir setting will be decisively shorter than in special ops adventure. The rules should put the focus on whatever matters in the campaign, and generate just enough blow-by-blow detail to fuel the kind of stories you want to emerge.