The proposal that the Puffin editors picked is here exactly as we originally submitted it:
You have journeyed to the Arrowhead Islands east of Khul, where you signed on for a short time as a mercenary in the famous White Tiger Regiment. Now your term of service is up, but just as you are packing your belongings to leave Port Vernale, word reaches you that you have been summoned by the Triumvirs - the Council of Three who rule the Varadian Alliance. You arrive at the Council Chamber to find old General Dolon waiting for you. He explains the situation as you wait together for your audience with the Triumvirs.
"Even though you're a foreigner, you've learned a bit about our country while you've been here," he says. "You know that the various city-states of the Varadian Alliance are the outer bulwark of civilization against the reavers of Blood Island. Our fleets hold those chaos-pirates in check, and have done for centuries. Now that could be changing. Our main eastern fortification is Bloodrise Keep, on Stayng Island. We've lost contact with the Keep and the outlying villages."
Before General Dolon can tell you any more, you are called into the Council Chamber. The Triumvirs are studying a glimmering image that hangs in the centre of the chamber - a V-shaped line of verdant islands set in an azure sea. You realise it is a strategic map of the Arrowhead archipelago fashioned by means of mirage-spells.
One of the Triumvirs points to a bright red dot on the shore of the easternmost island. "This shows the location of Bloodrise Keep," he says. "The General will have filled you in on the background details. We have here the last report filed by Castellan Braxis, and it sheds a rather sinister light on recent developments there."
You take the report and quickly scan it. Bloodrise Keep will shortly fall, it reads. The troops I sent to investigate the strange lights in the sky above the village of Menela have now returned. They have marched back to within sight of the walls but refuse to answer signals. A runner sent out came back shivering with dread. He got close enough to see that the men have grey mask-like faces and their eyes are the staring eyes of zombies! In place of their old battle standards they now carry ragged black pennants - the symbol of plague. Even as I write it is close to dusk and the camp is active. Troops are massing, and people from the villages are also milling about the camp as though hypnotised. I can see a man in tarnished silver armour who appears to be in command. Now he has given the order for his troops to advance. There are too many, and the small garrison I have left cannot hope to hold them off for more than a few hours. I will send this report by messenger pigeon and hope it is not shot down by the enemy's archers. Now it only remains for me to take up my weapons and go out onto the battlements for the last stand. I regret having failed in your service, my lords. I am your dutiful vassal, Braxis, Castellan of Bloodrise Keep.
"A brave man..." you say grimly as you hand the report back. "Do you have any information on who the silver-armoured warlord might be? And how he took control of Braxis's troops?"
"It is all too clear," says one of the Triumvirs. "The black plague-standards and tarnished silver armour are the trademarks of Lord Mortis of Balthor, who was formerly Tyrant of Stayng Island and who tried to conquer the eastern provinces of our nation. It took the combined strength of all the Varadian armies to defeat him, for he was a mighty necromancer as well as a warlord, and it is said that he recruited his own army from the bodies of fallen foes."
Baffled, you turn to General Dolon. "How is it I've never heard of this Mortis?" you ask. "I didn't know there'd been any wars within the archipelago for centuries."
"There haven't," he says. "This all happened two hundred years ago. Mortis died in battle and was buried in a black granite tomb near the village of Menela. Now it seems that he has returned from the grave to take his revenge."
The Triumvirs nod in agreement. "He is even now turning the people of Stayng into undead," says one. "His evil will eat at our good empire like a cancerous wound until excised. For this we have need of a sharp knife. You."
General Dolon takes you straight to the harbour, where a ship has already been prepared for you. Although he is hardly a young man, even you have difficulty keeping up with his brisk strides. On the way he explains that most of the military strength of the Varadian Alliance is currently tied up fighting the reavers of Blood Island. "That means you're on your own," he says. "In any case, because assassinating Mortis would immediately neutralise his entire army of zombies, the Triumvirs feel it makes more sense to send one capable individual than a body of troops."
On arriving at the ship, Dolon introduces you to the captain and then accompanies you to your cabin for a final briefing. He gives you a map of Stayng Island and a Ring of Communing. "The ring will allow you to telepathically communicate with us for information or advice - but over such a large distance it will only function a limited number of times, so use it sparingly."
A whistle from on deck signals that the ship is ready to cast off. Dolon turns in the doorway of the cabin for a last word. "Don't forget," he says grimly, "it's vital that you stop Mortis before his undead army can join forces with the reavers. All our lives are in your hands."
"Rest assured, General," you reply as you slip the Ring of Communing onto your finger, "I'll return Lord Mortis to his grave."
It is only after he has saluted you and left that you find an inner voice adding: "...or die trying." Now turn to 1...
Since most of the military strength of the Varadian Alliance is currently tied up fighting the reavers of Blood Island, the protagonist is on his own. The Triumvirs feel in any case that, because assassinating Mortis would immediately neutralise his entire army of zombies, it makes more sense to send one capable individual than a body of troops. It is vital that he stops Mortis before the undead army can join forces with the reavers.
The protagonist is given a map of Stayng Island and a Ring of Communing. The latter item allows him to telepathically communicate with the Council for information or advice - but only a limited number of times during the adventure. Once having reached Stayng, he can travel to one of the three villages mentioned. It is most sensible to go to Menela, where Mortis was buried - in the tomb he will find an ivory spear which was thrust into Mortis's chest by a hero of old, and which still has the power to destroy him. The other two villages contain some useful clues, though it is important that the protagonist does not waste so much time looking for these that Mortis leaves with his undead fleet. In Menoa there is an old wizard hiding in the sewers who may give the protagonist a useful potion to bolster his resolve against necromantic hypnosis. In the third village, Keladon, the protagonist may encounter a centaur who will act as a steed, allowing much faster movement around the island. It is also possible for the protagonist to meet up with some villagers in a "refugee camp" in the woods. Among them is a minstrel whose songs of ancient heroes contain several clues as to how to overcome Mortis.
The book features two special rules systems. First is the Resolve characteristic, which is rated from 6 to 12. It is a measure of the protagonist's ability not to panic when confronted with undead, and his resistance to hypnosis. Resolve is used in a similar way to Luck, except that it increases each time it is used - because the protagonist gradually gets inured to the horrors he will encounter on Stayng. A clever player will exploit this fact, allowing himself to get used to minor encounters first rather than charging straight in to tackle Mortis with all his undead legions.
The second rule feature is completely unique and unlike anything tried in other gamebooks. When in the Keep, the protagonist will have to avoid undead patrols. Patrols which he does fight will fail to report in after their tour of inspection, and the central security of the Keep will tend to note this and despatch more patrols to the area to investigate. This is represented by a cunning rule technique. Each encounter the protagonist has gives him an Alarm Value to add to a running score. The Alarm Value is reduced by 1 each time he turns to a new entry without encountering something. If he turns to an entry that does involve an encounter, however, then the current Alarm Value is doubled and the new Alarm Value is added to that. The total Alarm Value determines the strength of the encounter: the higher it is, the more zombies he must fight. The impression given is of an intelligent security network operating inside the Keep. The protagonist must try to avoid patrols - and, even more importantly, he must get out of areas of the Keep where he has seen several patrols in a short time, otherwise the security system will begin to home in on his location and will send ever-tougher patrols to capture him.
Aficionados may like to compare that to the proposals for The Mists of Horror, Knights of Renown (the precursor to Fabled Lands), The Curse of the God Kings and Dinosaurs of Death. (There's actually one more, but I think we'll save that for a special occasion. Tantalizing or what?)
Jamie and I split the work right down the middle, with him doing the 200 paragraphs up until you enter the keep, and me taking over from there. But editor Marc Gascoigne, now at SF publisher Angry Robot, took exception to about fifty sections that were devoted to wandering around a cemetery on the cliff tops, a classic gamebook maze set-up where you had to know the sequence of directions to get out. I added an extra series of encounters in the keep to replace the cemetery sequence outside, so in the end you got about 60% me and 40% Jamie - though he jumped in and contributed part of Blood Sword book 5 when Oliver got too busy on other things, so in the grand scheme of things it probably all evens out. And if there is anything more you could possibly wish to know about this Fighting Fantasy book, you'll certainly find it in this very comprehensive write-up!
We have a real gamebook scoop coming up in about two weeks. But plenty of other cool stuff before then, never fear.