Gamebook store

Monday, 15 October 2012

We need to talk about Blood Sword

I'm in a bit of a quandary. Maybe you can help.

As part of the worldwide re-release of our old gamebooks starting next spring, Jamie and I have been busy piecing the manuscripts together. Computer memory was at such a premium in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, when everyone wore top hats and smoking jackets, that we didn’t keep digital copies of most of the books. Worse than that, most of them never existed in digital form in the first place, having been hammered out on typewriters or, in the case of Coils of Hate, written in green felt-tip on scraps of paper. (Oh yeah, you think I’m joking…)

So, we’ve been busy with scanners and OCR software, a laborious enough process but almost fun compared to the ensuing stage, when we have to reconstruct the entire flowchart, check it for errors, and then add logic markup for creating ebook versions.

And that’s where the quandary arises. Because the first few books we’re releasing will be Virtual Reality titles, including the new one that Jamie is writing now set in a Wild West of tumbleweed-haunted ghost towns, hard-bitten outlaws, immortal Conquistadores and heart-stealing Mexican vampires. The Virtual Reality system, as gamebook aficionados will know, is based on the skills the player chooses. Dice don’t feature, which makes it perfect for e-gamebooks.

And then we come to Blood Sword.

No wait, first of all you’re going to say, “What about Way of the Tiger?” Well, the fly in the ointment there is that we have the app rights to WotT (iOS, Android, etc) but not the ebook or print rights. And we’d like to get hold of them so as to include Avenger! and the other books in our new venture, but that’s not up to us. We’re trying.

So, Blood Sword. I’m looking at the old copies of those books and I’m thinking who, in this day and age, is going to want to wade through twenty-eight pages of rules before the adventure actually starts? And then there are the tactical maps –

Yes. About those tactical maps. How that happened was that Oliver Johnson and I had been talking to Elizabeth Roy, the editor in charge of Knight Books. (Coincidentally, a decade or two later she became an agent and repped Fabled Lands LLP for a while, but let’s not get distracted.) Liz was looking around for a follow-up series to Way of the Tiger. “It’ll need a USP,” she told us. I thought I had a doozy (or a duesy, if you’re a pedant) in that up to four readers could play together in a team.

Then we got to the big meeting and suddenly it wasn’t that simple. This was the latter part of the 1980s, and the marketing people were starting to take over the asylum. “Where’s the USP?” they said.

“You can play solo or as a party of adventurers,” I said.

I thought that was the clincher, but they continued to stroke their chins and play with their designer glasses.

“Mmm. No, we need a USP. Other gamebooks already do that.”

“No they don’t. Name one gamebook that does that.”

“USP, USP. Not listening. USP.”

Desperation is the mother of invention, as Plato probably said, so I found my mouth opening and waited to hear the fateful words my muse had come up with: “We’ll have tactical maps, a bit like a boardgame.”

Well, there was a rod to beat my own back. I grew to hate writing fight scenes into Blood Sword books because it always meant stopping and drawing a stupid little tactical map. And then, when the books came out, it turned out the maps had been printed at the size of a postage stamp, so good luck actually making any counters to push around that. It frustrated me to think of the thousands of readers who would give up because of those fiddly maps and never get to see all the wonderful adventures I was dreaming up for them. In Book 3 I even resorted to telling them, as near as dammit, to ignore the tactical rules altogether:
“If rules and numbers are not to your taste then you are at perfect liberty to ignore them.”
Twenty-five years on, am I really going to bring the maps back? Today’s gamers prefer simpler rules, and it’s hard to imagine anyone having the patience to move their counters around and wade through all those rules figuring out combat options. Life’s too short. Also, the story ought to be so compelling that you don't want to waste time on dice-rolling.

At least, that’s how I see it. But who am I to tell people how they should find their enjoyment? “Everybody makes their own fun,” as Rebecca Pidgeon’s character says in State and Main. “If you don't make it yourself, it ain't fun, it's entertainment.” Gamebooks are all about the empowerment of the reader, and if that includes the option to spend an evening geeking out with the dice and the pencils and the little tactical grids, well…

And then there’s the digital versions. I hate seeing dice roll around in a videogame or an app. That’s just the legacy of another medium creeping in. And the dice were only ever a way to represent statistical chances and skill-use anyway. Physically rolling them is one thing. Watching virtual dice clatter around puts me in mind of what Byron had to say about Keats’s poetry. (Best draw a veil over that; it’s not for repetition in polite company.)

So I’d rather convert all the Blood Sword books to something like the VR system. It’d be a lot of work, but they already have the character archetypes – trickster, sage, etc – so they’re halfway there. Well, a quarter of the way, at least. And then putting them into ebook format wouldn’t be nearly such a headache.

But hang on now. This is the twenty-first century. Publishing has evolved into something new and polymorphously liberating. I can release a new version of the Blood Sword books for the casual reader, and I can also put out a special “classic edition” with all the baroque rules for the hardcore gamers. And then everyone’s happy. We could even see about getting Russ’s permission to use his original illustrations in the classic edition – like the scary undead thing (above) that came from the meteor in Book 2.

Okay then. Sorted. Thanks for the chat, it really helped.

89 comments:

  1. Glad to have helped, although I'm not exactly sure as to how I've helped; but I suppose it has something to do with being a potential reader of your essay, giving you the possibility of venting your thoughts. Which I liked to read, by the way. So thank you for the chat too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And thank you, etc... This could get to be like a Japanese bowing contest :)

      Delete
  2. I still want to see the BloodSword books converted into a massive campaign for DW...........

    But I'll buy Android apps and new books as a stopgap. :D

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'd like to see that too, Damian. Maybe once Serpent King Games have got the Players Book out.

      Delete
  3. 'Gamebooks are all about the empowerment of the reader...'

    That is going to be my new mantra from now on.

    Sounds like the multiplayer USP you came up with wasn't the one that the marketing people were thinking of (which wouldn't make it unique).

    As someone who rarely has time (due to work and family) to sit at a desk (which is covered with stuff) to play gamebooks,I would prefer a simpler system. PArt of me is saying to give the player an option to play the orignal system just for the hardcore nostalgia fans. However that is a lot of work for you, so, in conclusion my answer is:

    1) Just simple system to reach out to most people.
    2) Option of simple and 'classic' systems to appeal to nostalgia.

    ReplyDelete
  4. BTW option 2 is if you have tons of time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tones of time? I wish :-) Still, maybe Damian's solution is best: the people who want the detailed tactical stuff can play it out as a Dragon Warriors mega-campaign, and for the new gamebooks I'll go with option 1. I'd like it to appeal to the maximum number of people because (as with Way of the Tiger) it's the story that makes it special, not the rules system.

      Delete
    2. Option 2 works for me, in spades. Where do I pre-order (for both versions)?

      Oh wait, I've got an idea! Bloodsword using the same ruleset as VR... with a minor re-theme of the fantasy-inclined VR books... and maybe Down Among The Dead Men takes place in the Lands of Legend after all. 8^)

      Delete
    3. Actually I was thinking of revising Dead Men to place it in the 17th century Caribbean rather than a thinly disguised version of same. Since the success of the PotC movies it seems to make more sense; there's no need to frame the fantasy now. I'm not sure if that would offend the purists, though, who might want to collect the book as originally written.

      Delete
  5. I love Blood Sword! I GMed the first three books over on the Something Awful forums a couple of years ago (my username should link to the thread), where they loved it. About 80, 000 threadviews over a year, IIRC. The news that the books'll be apps made my week. I'm looking forward to buying the whole set.

    Regarding the streamlined rules, I wonder if having a graphical tactical map would take better advantage of the app format. The rules, I think, would be optional reading in an app, since programming a GUI would make them automatically work behind the scenes: think how Baldur's Gate made the AD&D system into a pick-up-and-play adventure. And Baldur's Gate was real-time with-pause.

    Secondly, in a world where even Facebook games can have relatively complex rules, perhaps Blood Sword, where each turn boils down to Attack./ Cast Spell/ Move/ Use Item, would benefit from retaining its original ruleset, perhaps, though, with tweaking of the Warrior's vanilla abilities.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A tactical RPG app version of Blood Sword would be great, Wilson, but in the first instance we're releasing them as ebooks (and print editions) so that limits what we can achieve somewhat. If they do get as far as being apps, though, you can bet we'll push for making them as graphically rich as possible.

      Delete
  6. Can't wait for this Dave. I read dozens of gamebooks back in the day (FF, Sorcery, Avenger, Lone Wolf, etc.) but Blood Sword was my favorite series by far.
    Although I must admit I skipped the tactical map thing. Perhaps many people did - I notice Ian Livingstone has been repeatedly saying in interviews for 'Blood of the Zombies' that he now knows that most readers 'cheated' with gamebook combat and this 'feature' should be included in gamebook apps.
    BTW I bought the three YA non-gamebook Blood Sword novels a few years ago. Did you ever write the final two in the series?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah, the Chronicles of the Magi. I never got to finish those, Adam, as I had just started working in the games industry, at Eidos in Putney, and Ian Livingstone was such a slave driver that Jamie and I had no time for writing :-)

      Delete
  7. Tactical Battle Map - it's a new USP! I'd really like to see it embraced. Perhaps something along the lines of a hybrid gamebook / tabletop game, using 10mm Miniatures and
    Modular scenery, alongside a core 'bloodsword' rules-lite RPG. Each book could be made into a scenario pack.

    Hmm... Kickstarter!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think I'd rather just get on and write the scenario packs than spend the time prepping a bunch of t-shirts and videos on Kickstarter :-)

      Currently, first refusal on something like that would go to the guys at Serpent King Games. I know they're all hellishly busy on various projects, but if there was a way (Kickstarter-funded or otherwise) to make a Blood Sword scenario book worth their while, then I'd be very happy.

      Delete
  8. Awesome news! The VR system strikes a great balance between game and book. It enhances the story rather than getting in the way. I can't wait to see Jamie's new book and hopefully some new rules to go along with Blood Sword.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Blood Sword! *excited squeaking noises* I love that series. :)

    I liked the tactical map stuff. I had a little magnetic travel chess set and I would use that for the combat. That being said, I'm not hugely attached to it and would really be happy with any system; the main draw for me was the epic story and richly detailed world.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Indeed, it is the story that makes it special. I have fond memories of playing The Battlepits of Krarth with a friend and his brother. We could only ever lay our hand on this tome --not the others. I think that after 25-odd years, I need closure.

    My tastes definitely run towards the 'classic edition'.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Personally I liked the tactical maps in "L'Epée de Légende". Indeed, I think the optimum for a gamebook is being able to use different rules, like the "Tolkien Quest" ones which gave the choice between a simple system, a medium one and the full rules of Middle-Earth Role Playing (and, not metionned, sadists can try to adapt Rolemaster...)

    ReplyDelete
  12. Great article... Blood Sword blew my mind when I first discovered it (and somewhat shamefully that was only 3-4 years ago). Two of the things i loved about it were the multiplayer aspect and the other was the inclusion of tactical maps. A book combining "gamebook elements" and "table-top elements" = awesome! (for me). -The story was awesome too (of course) but it was these design elements that really set this series apart from others for me, and made me think how cool a digital adaption (that went further with the turn-based battle maps and tactical options if anything) could be... Just thought I should share this to offer an alternative view :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hear you, and if we were talking about apps Jamie and I would be happy to go as far down the tactical CRPG path as our development budget would take us. To begin with, though, the digital versions of these books will be Epub3 so we're a bit more limited to just "the book on a screen".

      Delete
  13. My vote is for the classic version! Of all gamebooks in history, blood sword had the richest and most fascinating ruleset in terms of character development, party composition, items, non-linearity and of course combat. My only criticism is that various party combinations were much easier than others (e.g. a solo sage was perhaps too easy). Some of the combat was slighty cheesy (am I the only one who would have a wizard enter the skull chamber in book 1 and take 8 scrolls of stat modification to boost my spell casting?) but some of the combat was quite tactical and challenging. The battle against the 7 in 1, the barbarians in krath and having to flee the ancient gods are memorable combats that come to mind. With a virtual reality system I'm not sure how you would replace such a combat heavy system unless you removed the various encounters entirely or swapped them for a way of the tiger narrative combat system.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's a good point. I said that the story is what matters in Blood Sword, but the dramatic beats of the story are more often than not provided by the fights. So those set-piece battles would certainly need to be recast in a narrative combat system, as I used for some of the major fights in the VR books. (I'm thinking eg of the fight with the hydra in Necklace of Skulls.)

      In the case of the print books, I don't mind keeping a dice-based system. Dice make it harder to play the book just anywhere, on bus or train for example, but I suspect these days that the embarrassment factor does that too.

      We do of course hope to win some new readers, so the system will need streamlining. Ian Livingstone is right when he says lots of readers used to cheat rather than bother with rules - and that's just the FF rules! It will be a question of striking the baby/bathwater balance.

      Delete
  14. However that could also be because the rules weren't so much a game as a test of luck- there was no real strategy to the FF system, beyond rerolling init stats... also the finickety structure of deathtrap like games rewarded cheating more.. the readers were often young too. but I'm sure a lot of us still cheat to a grtr or lssr extent now !

    ReplyDelete
  15. I enjoyed the tactical battle maps of the Blood Sword series, as the rule system was differentiated from other titles, such as FF. I suggest including an option to play with the original rules and maps if you are planning to streamline the systems in the print books. that way, you can appease the old-school purists like myself, as well as newcomers who may or may not lack the patience for in-depth strategies.

    As for cheating, I always took the dice roll(s) seriously and whether or not I succeeded, I got back up and started over. It was not as if I was never going to read them again, anyhow.But maybe that's just me :-)

    - Mike -

    ReplyDelete
  16. If there were the possibility to have a double rule sistem, a "basic" one for newcomers and an "advanced" one for skilled readers, I would appreciate it. If it isn't possibile, let's cut off all those baroque maps! :) Obviously I know it will be a huge work to do, so I'll gladly accept any decision you'll take about Blood Sword.

    The only other thing I have in mind is that it could be useful to correct a bit the rules through the books to make them work better from the beginning of the series to the end: for example, arrows are too weak in "The Walls of Spyte", and that happens to other specific features of the adventurers, too. I have not checked it exactly but that's what I remember from my last readings, some months ago.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. According to one review I saw, you can only complete Book 3 if there's a Trickster in the party. Oops! You can bet I'll fix any major bugs like that and take a look at balance too (eg whether the Sage is too powerful). I'm still hoping that we'll get the Way of the Tiger ebook licence in time for the first slate of titles in the spring, as that would be quite a boost to the series and anyhow I could do with a bit longer to work on Blood Sword.

      Delete
    2. I don't think you have to have a Trickster in the party to complete Book 3. I played the whole series as a single Enchanter and as a single Warrior, and if I remember correctly I didn't find major bugs like that. However there are some balance issues, as already mentioned. By the way, for the new edition, I also vote for the dual rule system, if it's possible. (sorry if I made some mistakes, english isn't my primary language)

      Delete
    3. Your English is faultless, Manuel. I'm relieved to hear there isn't a bug, although I'm still going to check thoroughly as it's not like Mrs Giggles to get a thing like that wrong:
      http://www.mrsgiggles.com/gamebooks/morris_claw.html

      Delete
    4. I'm pretty sure, and if it may be helpful for your checks, I have written down the sequence of sections that allows you to reach the end of the book without a Trickster.

      Delete
    5. Thanks, Manuel. I'm going to completely rebuild the flowcharts of these books, so I should be able to see if and where any critical gates occurs, but if I hit any problems then I may take you up on that.

      Delete
    6. I'd be interested to know how to get to the Prince without having to create a replica of the doll-thingy, give Sussurien the replica, and keep the original for yourself. Only a Trickster is capable of creating the replica.

      I've played The Demon's Claw so many times I've lost count, and every single time I hit a dead end. Can you email me the sequence? I'm at mrsgiggles@gmail.com

      Delete
    7. It's been a while since I wrote it, to say the least, but when I saw your review I had a sinking feeling that might be the problem. If so, I'm kicking myself that I let it go out with such a major bug. Needless to say, the new edition will get a thorough overhaul.

      Delete
    8. Mrs Giggles it is not necessary to create the replica, and in any case there is another way to know what is the best path in the final part of the book (once descended into the well following the Prince). I'll send you a sequence that allows you to obtain this information without a Trickster.

      Delete
    9. I believe that's right. If you run from the three mythagines (I assume mythago forms plural like imago) there's a chance of finding Fatima's garden, which is a bit like stumbling across the Tardis as it's outside time and nothing can break in. Of course, you must earlier have met Fatima and been given a key, which is a bit of a longshot. I do probably need to fix this.

      Delete
    10. Dave, Manuel kindly passed me the walkthrough. I'd give a spin on my much-tattered copy this weekend, and if I'm wrong, I'd make the necessary correction in the review.

      TDC is *very* stringent, and honestly, were not for the fascinating story, I'd have given you an evil glare. Much of the "correct" option is counter-intuitive in the sense that who doesn't want to ride a magic carpet, flying horse, or hitch a ride on the Roc? Oh, but they PAY for their decision, LOL.

      Delete
    11. Mrs. Giggles, I think that none of those choices by themselves prevent you from complete the book. Moreover Fatima is an obligatory encounter, and you will not get the key only if you refuse to assist her while she is threatened. I think that if you make such a un-heroic choice, you do not deserve to be able to get into his garden! ;-)

      Delete
    12. My point is that TDC, more so than other gamebooks in this series, requires the heroes do a set of pre-determined actions exactly right to get to the triumphant ending.

      The choices do prevent you from completing the book if you do not perform the specific set of actions that allow you to complete the mission without needing the doll-thingy.

      This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's nowhere as free-flow or flexible as you seem to be saying.

      Delete
    13. The Hatuli just help you finding the optimal path in the final part of the book, once descended into the well. The same information (that in any case is not necessary) can be obtained in another way (hint: helping an abbot prisoner). You are right, I dont't think this book is stringent: I finished the book as a single Warrior, as a single Enchanter and as a single Trckster; sometimes I used the flying horse and sometimes simply the boat; sometimes I used the wishes for myself and sometimes to help another etc. If I got stuck, it was only because of bad luck with the dice. But what is exactly the section where you get stuck?

      Delete
    14. It bothers me that TDC requires precise (& counter-intuitive) actions from the player, because my usual design ethic is that it should be possible to play a gamebook right through on the first try if you make logical decisions. Also, as far as I can see, if you stand and fight the demon-gods, rather than fleeing from them, then even if you survive you will then be stuck unless you already substituted the fake Hatuli. Which is rather a sour reward for such an epic battle. I obviously need to thoroughly recheck the flowchart on this one.

      Delete
    15. The demon-gods are so much more powerful than the player that I always thought it was a "fake" fight, that is a fight where it is obvious and logical to flee. I do not think that you can win that battle without cheating heavily. In fact, if the player make the logical choice of fleeing, he is rewarded with the chance to take refuge in Fatima's garden and continue the adventure.

      Delete
    16. Good point, Manuel, and you've got me thinking maybe I didn't klutz it after all. Discretion is definitely the better part of valour when facing those demon-gods, and Fatima previously said that an ape might show you the way. So as long as you are right that Fatima is an obligatory encounter, that must be the primary winning sequence for the book and the Trickster's sleight-of-hand involving the wooden doll is just a back-up.

      It still bothers me if riding on the flying carpet turns out to be a bad idea. On the other hand, flying carpets are often trouble in Blood Sword.

      Delete
    17. Btw, Mrs Giggles, I saw you updated your review. I still take your point that this book may be a little too much of a One True Way, something I intend to address when I revise it next year.

      Delete
  17. I'm so happy to see that the Blood Sword series will be re-released. Those weighty doorstops rarely come with me when I move to a new home (or home country). Though I'll confess I rather liked the little combat maps too.

    Hmm... how to implement the rules for a new 'concentration-lite' generation of readers? Well, Dave, are you talking about removing any random element completely, or just cutting out physically rolling dice (while still generating random numbers)?

    If you want to cut out the randomness completely... go the Virtual Reality route. 'If you're a Sage, you lose 12 Endurance points in this fight. If you're a Warrior, you only lose 5'. Et cetera. Personally, I think that'd be a shame, though. It's a good combat system, allowing far, far more flexibility than, say, Fighting Fantasy. Comparing your skills against Icon the Ungodly – and running away across the battlefield when he starts to hammer you... well, that's half the fun right there.

    Okay, how many rules does the player really NEED to read before starting play? There's no character generation to think about. 'If you're a Warrior, you're good at fighting. A Trickster is tricky. A sage is knowledgeable, and has psychic powers. An Enchanter can cast spells. Pick one to four characters; the more you have, the less powerful each one will be, individually. That's it. Turn to paragraph 1.'

    In app format, combat is a doddle. 'Pick which opponent you want to attack.' (Sub-menu appears) 'Attack, Quarterstaff Technique, Defend'. Done. Let the app handle all the random numbers. Okay, if you're an Enchanter, it's a little more complicated. 'Attack, Defend, Prepare Spell.' If you prepare a spell, a sub-sub-menu of spells appears. The player can scroll through them, and click to get a description of each spell, if they want. Complexity Levels can be described as Very Easy – Easy – Moderate – Difficult – Very Difficult. They don't need to know the precise mechanics behind casting a spell. They'll soon figure out it's easier to cast White Fire than Ghastly Touch.

    I'm not sure how archery would fit in with all that though, unless you start messing around throwing in elements of being 'up close' or 'ranged'.

    In ebook or dead-tree form... trickier. One possible way: don't put any combat rules in the book's front matter, then rewrite the beginning of the story so that the first opponent the player faces is 'Evil Guard' (let's say)... and in that case, you may turn to Appendix A for a step-by-step walkthrough of the combat. Hopefully the player will be so engrossed in the story by then that he'll be willing to spend a little time getting his head round the rules (and hopefully, people picking the book up off a bookshelf won't notice all those pages of rules stuffed away at the back of the book...).

    I guess you could think about editing out any non-combat ability rolls too – if you have to roll Awareness to see if the Trickster somersaults over somebody's head, for example – to make it more like the Virtual Reality system. But then again... I've always found that boosting my stats as much as possible is very much an end in itself. While helping to bring about Paradise is all well and good, doing so while knowing that my Warrior has an almighty Fighting Prowess of 13 (16 with the Blood Sword!) is nothing short of awesome.

    Should you also release the 'classic' version of the books, perhaps as an added extra to the updated version? Not only yes, but HELL yes. When I finished reading your interactive version of Frankenstein, I was delighted to find Mary Shelley's original book hidden away in the extras menu (you gotta love those public domain classics). I'd be doubly delighted to find the original Blood Sword books in the same way. With Russ's illustrations included, if at all humanly possible.

    Just my initial thoughts on the subject.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Blood Sword certainly would lose a lot if turned into a pure VR book, that's true, Paul, as it was written with the combats integral to the dramatic flow. So it would work brilliantly as an app with all those combat options, less so an ebook where even the question of how many characters are in the party throws up a major development headache. Probably in the ebook format you'll just have to play a single character, then at least it becomes manageable to present a range of manoeuvres each round.

      If the series wasn't quite so obscure these days, I'd consider a Kickstarter to launch with the original books in deluxe hardcover format, tactical maps and all, and then work on the rules-lite versions later.

      Delete
    2. If you do go the kickstarter route Dave, I am all for supporting it. As a deluxe hardcover gamebook though, I must say that I am not really a fan of that option. I've tried reading the re-release of Joe Dever's gamebook-sized hardcovers of Lone Wolf by Mongoose. Flicking back and forth between two solid boards is an absolute chore.

      Delete
    3. That's good to know! Okay, maybe a deluxe paperback then :-)

      Delete
  18. Oh, and I concur that a Trickster isn't necessary to win Book 3. True, the Trickster arguably shines more in that book than in any other in the series. But I've completed it a bunch of times without one.

    ReplyDelete
  19. No but wait, have you ever had a look at the German board game / beginner level RPG Quest, by Pegasus Spiele? Not only does it feature a flag mechanism of sorts to help budding GMs to keep track of the story - in a way that I found reminiscent of FL, no less - but also... tactical maps. For every single combat. (Very useful, giving something to newbie gamers that feels a bit more familiar, like a boardgame.) Knowing one of the designers (from the Cthulhu crowd), I found out tho that neither of them had any active memory of FL or BS.
    But, point of this comment... I'd think this is not only a question of what got into Blood Sword back then vs what appears to go reasonably into a gamebook from today's view, but rather one of... would it really be better to move these contents _towards_ the gamebook genre, or might some be gained by actually moving them _away_ from it?

    Robert

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. A good question. One of the things a game designer has to keep in mind is that most people don't think in terms of logic, rules, probabilities and graphs. So that's an argument in favour of being less "game", more "book". But even if there are a hundred readers for every one hardcore gamer, that doesn't mean that stripping all the rules out of a gamebook will make it more popular. You get to a point where you lose the gamers but you don't go far enough to pick up the mass market: the Anti-Goldilocks zone.

      Personally I'd rather read a novel than a Choose Your Own Adventure or a Fighting Fantasy book - there's not enough gameplay in them to satisfy my gamer side, and their storytelling is not going to give George R R Martin any sleepless nights. Or E L James, come to that. Yet my favourite leisure pastime is role-playing, and my group use GURPS 4e, which is pretty hardcore. So I like games and I like fiction, and I even like the two combined (eg Way of the Tiger, Max Payne, my fortnightly RPG fix). But the blend has to be just right.

      Hence my thinking that the print editions of Blood Sword should offer the full rules. However, I'm concerned about the tactical maps because I can't imagine bothering to put the book down and fiddle around with counters and suchlike. I'd rather play a boardgame.

      So in print we should ideally offer the classic and the revised versions. Classic will have everything, even the tactical maps. (Whatever I may think of those maps, these editions are for the purists.) The only question then is how far the revised versions should go in stripping out the rules. My original thinking was that they needed to be highly simplified, as that version of the text is also what I'd use for the ebooks. But now I'm wondering if they should be apps anyway instead of ebooks, in which case we don't have to struggle against the limitations of the medium. The VR books will work well using epub3, but BS is a different beastie.

      As for whether there should be a *more* rules-heavy version - well, that's why I'd like to see a Dragon Warriors campaign book based on the Blood Sword books. It's going to take a lottery win, though. There's no way all that work would be commercially viable for the Serpent King Games team - unless they did it via Kickstarter, I guess.

      Delete
  20. What an excellent coincience - I just found Blood Sword in a secondhand bookstore (in New Zealand) today and bought it, not even realising you were one of the authors. Then I check this blog (which I only found the other day) and there you are writing about it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The world does seem to behave like that sometimes. Jung had a lot to say about it.

      Delete
  21. If the original books gets re-printed, please sign me up for a copy of all 5 books.
    This was by far one of the best gamebooks ever. I soloed all 4 characters and played with the tactical maps. It was difficult and I think my party died more often than in any other gamebooks. But still I played through all 5 books. Best!

    ReplyDelete
  22. one more note on the tactical maps, people love those things else all the tactics games on gameboy, playstation, NDS won't be so popular. Its the same concept of having the ability to place your warriors/tank in front, wizards/long range at the back or in the middle depending on strategy,sage to be nearby party to heal or channel large amount of damage to bosses. Damn, wish I could play it now.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Wow, very late to the party, but I have to say that here in Bulgaria we had a great gamebook boom in the nineties, including a f***ton of gamebooks written by native authors. (Gamebooks here are a very fond memory for many people still, there's even a sort of revival going on of sorts.)

    And I have to say that BloodSword was one of the most beloved and popular series of that time, if not THE most popular, so really not as obscure, at least in these here parts of town.

    And speaking of combat systems, I've been thinking recently about something similar to the mechanics of Magic: The Gathering or Spectromancer or, most recently, Solforge. I mean, instead of a bulky and awkward tactical map, a couple of rows simulating battle lines and some mechanics as to placement, contingency and so forth could substitute for pushing tokens around (and yes, it was impossible to do that in the original editions...)

    In terms of apps, it could even snag a part of the electronic TCG-crowd.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I just noticed the other day that a lot of traffic comes to this blog from Bulgaria, E.T., so that explains it.

      Apps are going to move on quickly from just simulating the old print gamebooks. There are so many interesting ways to handle combat, as you say. Jamie and I used to play a lot of Magic: The Gathering so I'd be interested to see your system working.

      And as for Blood Sword... Progress is being made. By next year, I hope, we'll get those books back in print - maybe with a full-colour "classic" edition and a paperback version with simpler rules.

      Delete
    2. I'd love to hear about the simplified system :)

      As to revamping the combat system, I can't say I've come up with something in particular, I was just speculating on whether card-based mechanics won't be able to ride on the splash that all the digitalizations of various deck-builders/TCGs are making, not to mention Solforge and the momentum it's been building up.

      I also find them more elegant than moving around a board (I'm talking battle here, nothing against board games in general), as there are a number of simple, naturally-occurring mechanics that can be leveraged in increasing the tactical space - sequentiality, drawing, discarding, contingency, etc.

      The downside I guess would be that it makes the game a lot more game-y and it might interfere with the storytelling, though card-based battles should in theory take a lot less time than board-based ones.

      Delete
  24. I would love to have reprints of the original series. Still playing them 25+ years on. Btw, a point to ponder. Does the use of the vampire spell allow the enchanter to "heal" other players? Thanks!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 'Fraid not, T. You need the Sage for that.

      Delete
  25. To me, a reprint of the Blood Sword series, as they were in the original, sounds the most amazing. Just being recently introduced, the idea of playing out a rich adventure, with an involved level of character ability, tactical combat, the luck of the dice, and having the ability to play through with friends, sparks my imagination, my enthusiasm for wonder. To have this series of books in my hands, I would say, it would be most worthwhile.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'd really like to do an RPG campaign book based on the Blood Sword series, Alex. But at the the current release rate of new Dragon Warriors material, that's a good few years off. Hopefully the original gamebooks will be re-released in 2015 - that's the current plan, anyway.

      Delete
    2. Something to look forward to then!

      Delete
  26. Hello Dave,

    I'm definitely looking forward to see a new "simplified" version of Blood Sword coming out. I played the french version of the original ones 25 years ago (see link below) but indeed, as you mentioned, RPG veterans have in 2014 much less time to dedicate for gaming and many more (easy) temptations : Pillars of Eternity, Might & Magic Legacy, ...

    Hence, if I can *quickly* immerse myself again into that epic story, I'll for sure buy and support the revised books. What release timeframe do you hope for ?

    Thanks for entertaining us since so many years, Best,
    Steve

    Book 1 : http://www.bibliotheque-des-aventuriers.com/images/1_couvertures/epee_legende/01_treize_mages.JPG

    ReplyDelete
  27. Hi Dave,
    are you aware of the fact that there is a fan conversion of Bloodsword into a RPG?
    There is also an ongoing game in PbP here: http://www.librogame.net/index.php/forum/forum?id=10

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You can find the fan rulebook here: http://maurolongo.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/blood-sword-il-libro-dellavventuriero1.pdf

      Delete
  28. Hi Dave, I can't wait for whatever you come up with! I would really love the two- tiered system though, as it is impossible for normal mortals to afford the prices on the secondary market that the originals go for. I found the first 4 books in a charity shop the other week and got very excited until I got to the till and found that the total price was £125.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. They're now available for a very reasonable £27.50, John.

      Delete
  29. Book 3 is winnable sans Trickster.
    I think Dave and Oliver were downright shrewd in their assessment of human personality. You can only win it if you flee from the simulcra demigods. Wouldn't that be the logical choice in view of the fact that they'd pummel you 10 out of 10 times if you played fair and straight?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That was certainly our thinking. And if you cheat in that fight, you're probably playing a Trickster anyway.

      Right now I'm struggling with book 5. I knew it needed work, but I hadn't appreciated quite what a mess it was. Do I release it in its original form (not fit for publication imo) or rip out half the book and rewrite it (which may take months as it would have to be done in spare time)?

      Delete
  30. Dave,
    I can wait for you to rewrite Book 5. I loved the first 4 books, Book 5 was very disappointing and didn't do justice to the series. Random fights with no reason punctuated the whole book. I did like the end with Karunaz though, but if you didn't have the Horn of Heroes you'd most likely get pulverised by the Magi...
    I'm in the process of buying the first 4 books on Amazon.. Did you alter them significantly?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The first four aren't changed much. I changed a couple of rules (Sage healing isn't quite as useful and there's a new Enchanter spell) and I added a few codewords and sections, but they're basically the original books. I agree with you about book 5 - and the part with Karunaz was the only bit I wrote.

      Delete
  31. Like the new Pillar of Salt spell. The new books are a great read as usual.
    A question, in Book 4, there is an option to sell plate armour to fund your ship journey. Been playing for 25 years, and could never find it.
    Also, the Trickster's Quick Thinking option has been removed. It was a special skill only listed in Book 1.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're right about Quick Thinking. I probably figured that since we dropped it from Book 2 onwards, we must've felt it buffed the Trickster too much.

      If you don't have enough money for the sea voyage, don't choose the Trickster or Enchanter options and then you'll get to visit a chandler's shop where you can sell equipment to raise money. One suit of ordinary plate isn't going to do it, though.

      Delete
  32. Where do you get the plate armour though? From the lady in grey in Book 2?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ah, yes... Good point. You can pick up a suit of plate at Entasius's, but IIRC that's not on the same path as the chandler's shop. Oops.

      Delete
  33. I'm aware this is a very old post now but... for those of us with old copies who wish to ignore the maps - how do you suggest doing this?

    For example, how to bows work without maps? Are they of much use?

    Thanks

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We keep an eye even on the oldest posts, Clive ;-) If the maps went then the whole system would require a ground-up rethink, probably losing the tactical combat altogether. The scale of the problem, once I came to look at it, convinced me that I might just as well write a new gamebook from scratch as start fiddling with old ones - especially as most Blood Sword players probably just want the same book as they played back in the '80s and '90s.

      Delete
  34. There are 2 things that puzzle me.

    Disengaging from melee - its safe if your awareness is greater, but if its lower do you get autohit or does the enemy still have to roll a successful attack?

    and second - the sage quarterstaf tech - it says if struck, the enemy will act at the end of the next round, but does that mean that he is unable to act in the current one?

    Meaning - if a sage with superior awareness has struck an enemy who has not yet acted, will the foe be unable to act on the same turn?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Under the new edition Blood Sword rules, you can move away from an opponent as long as you chose the defend option in the previous round. If your Awareness is lower than the opponent's they still have to a successful attack to hit you.

      If the Sage succeeds with a quarterstaff strike against a foe who has not yet acted, the foe loses their action for the round. In other words they cannot act again until the end of the following round.

      Delete
  35. Thanks for the swift reply.

    Is there a limitation to the q-staff stun rule? Its fairly easy to get absurd amounts of FP, using the ADJUST scrolls in book 1 to remove, say 7 endurance and gain 7FP, theoretically allowing the sage to keep 1 oponent permanently stunned.

    Speaking strictly of the original books, is there a limit to combat movement? Im trying to solo the original edition books with all the character types(completed warrior and sage) and currently it seems to be undoable with enchanter, without some sort of kiting.

    I couldnt make it past 7-in-1, because every time he changes form he starts out next to you, no spells left, so each of his forms gets at least one free shot while enchanter cycles remember-attempt cast-repeat.

    I vaguely recall someone telling me that awareness also shows the amount of squares you are permitted to move per round(ignoring diagonals, ofc), but nothing like that is in the books. Yet it doesnt make sense to have zombies on the other side of the tactical map being able to surround you in 1 round.

    P.S. a very sore point for soloing is that at start of book2, trickster and enchanter have *no* way of avoiding being surprised by weapon-resistant werewloves and unable to act for 3 rounds, which pretty much guarantess death.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There are three variant rules that I was going to put in the new edition of book 5:

      1. Movement = ½ Awareness
      2. Multi-classing (take lower stats but get both sets of abilities and options)
      3. If killed in a fight, you can instead take the flee option (if there is one) and recover 1d6 Endurance.

      Wrt the werewolves, you do get surprised if you go off to sleep but IIRC there are plenty of options for being on your guard, so you shouldn't have to start that fight at a disadvantage.

      The Seven-in-One ought to be beatable without necessarily having the right item, though the fight should be hellishly tough. I need to take another look at that.


      Delete
    2. The movement thing needs to be adressed for sure and thats one way to go, although i can guarantee the very first response to 1/2 awarenes movement will be "rounded up or down"

      Back to the original editions, though: so there are no limitations of movement then?

      Regarding the wereloves: no, there is no way to avoid the the full surprise scenario with trickster and enchanter. Even a party consisted of these 2 characters will suffer the 3 round inability to act.

      To break it down: sage, being the ridiculous powerhouse that he is, is the ONLY ONE that can actually discover the plot before it unfolds.

      The warrior gets a "hunch" that something is iffy and still has to fight the 1/2 dmg reduction werewolves, albeit with no surprise penalty.

      All enchanter and trickster can do is play the harp, watch the chess game and go to bed.

      The 7-in-1 fight is not nearly that hard without the right item. In fact - planning long term, its always more beneficial to get the powerful character upgrades from the djinn, and then request the magical +2armor and +3weapon, as opposed to doing the wand of fire quest. (+bonus: you can sell either the armor or the weapon to quickly get the ship fee required in book4).

      Both the warrior and the sage got through it with moderate amount of damage.
      The difference with enchanter, however, is that any other class will have FP that gaurantees 5d6+5 autohits at this point, which means after enduring the tougher first forms of 7-in-1, they have a good chance of 1-shot-kiliing weaker ones before they have a chance to act.

      However since the byzantine nature of spellcasting and spell recaling ad infinitum, discourages holding more than 1 spell at a time, has you picking betwen only 2 viable options: 3d6+3 lvl2 spell and 7d6+7 lvl5 spell.

      Even if we assume that every nemesis bolt is a success(a feat that requires 18 PA) he can still cast it every other round, and since you cant end combat without casting a spell first, the next idol can spend his first round attacking, while you recall and since you cant kill the first 3-4 idols immediately, it translates into them getting 3 attacks on you for a single spell on your part.

      However I simply cant see a solo enchanter making it past that point, as monster grow so strong that even assuming autosuccess (every other round, no less) on the 7d6 spell, all other classes cause 7d6 as a baseline from book4 and on.

      I fully realise im droning on the same issue for a long time, but it really irks me how the enchanter is so bogged down from his spellcasting system.

      The best non-scroll abuse case scenario for an enchanter's PA upon reaching 7-in-1 would be a 12.

      That would leave him with 2 options for 1 on 1 fights: he needs to roll 6/9 or less to cast the 3d6+3/7d6+7 spell *every other round*, while the other classes would be scoring 5d6+5 autohits every round.

      Going back to the werewolves, a level 12 mage's best bet against the 5 enemies would be sheet lightning. Meaning that (after giving them 3 rounds of free hits, probably dying)he would need to roll a 4 on 2d6 for 3 consecutive casts to kill all werewolves, which is another 5 rounds of enduring attacks.

      I would much rather the adjust scrols be removed altogether and the enchanter be allowed to attempt cast whatever spell he wishes at any time:

      rank 4 warrior does 2d6 damage rolling 8 or less
      rank 4 enchanter can deal 2d6+2 rolling 7 or less
      r8 warrior: 3d6+1 on 9 or less
      r8 enchanter 3d6+3 on 7 or less

      seems perfectly reasonable.

      It would also have allowed for casting of those tactical spells that decrease enemy chance to hit or the one that buffs the entire party damage and FP, because lets be honest - no one will ever keep one of these recalled.

      Delete
    3. "I fully realise im droning on the same issue for a long time."

      Don't apologize. I really appreciate the analysis you've put into this.

      Wrt the werewolf fight, a lone Enchanter does have the option to defend for those three rounds. That'll reduce the servants to a 9.3% chance of hitting. The werewolves are still on 50/50, admittedly...

      Yeah, I see; you could have a point there. If I ever get round to the all-new editions discussed, I'll take another look at all the fights.

      Delete
    4. I never realised defending was an option. The wording was "you must wait 3 rounds before taking action". That certainly decreases the lethality of that encounter.

      At the risk of overstaying my welcome, I'd like harp about the way a warrior's rank progression is handled.

      The warrior has the least character specific options, but that is not something i have a problem with, as it plays to the warrior's background, upbringing and devotion to his martial prowess at the expense non-combat utility.

      What *does* vex me is how that is in no way reflected in his forte - combat. Warriors, tricksters and sages deal identical damage. I find it amazing that the quintessential rogue and monk-type charaters have the same power behind their blows as a dedicated master-at-arms.

      Furthermore, the trickster has the same endurance progression. That is almost insulting: the swashbuckler archetype can absorb the same amount of punishment as the guy whose entire upbringing and education lies in the art of combat.
      Whats more - because the trickster is more difficult to hit, combined with his high endurance, the thief-like character is actually a much superior choice for a frontline than a warrior!

      The warrior only shines in b5, due to his special double-strike ability (tricksters call it "quick thinking"), but books 1-through-4 a warrior is a squishier trickster with no special options and potentially less damage than a qstaff-tech sage.

      As i said earlier, I have no problem with the lack of warrior-specific interactions, owing to his single-minded dedication to his pursuit of physical and martial superiority, but I dont see any of those reflected in his statistics.

      I thought moving his damage scaling 1 rank up (meaning r8 warrior would be doing 3+2, up from 3+1
      r9 would be 4d, up from 3+2
      r20 7+2, up from 7+1) and gain 7 endurance per rank, up from 6 would go some ways towards cementing a warrior as the go-to frontline fighter he should be.

      /rant

      Delete
    5. I'm looking at the new edition, where it says "you must wait three rounds before taking any other action than defend" -- though, even with that amendment, the ecounter with surprise is pretty deadly.

      If I'm nit-picking, Warriors do get to deal very slightly more damage than Sages and Tricksters at the same rank. But only by 1 point, so you're substantially right. And the Trickster's endurance does seem a little high given his/her other special options.

      Certainly you haven't overstayed your welcome. I'm going to bookmark this discussion for reference if/when I get around to a completely revised edition.

      Delete
    6. If you are bookmarking this for potential notes, I'll leave some of my thoughts here:

      -Every entry in the series except the 5th (at least in the routes I've explored) has a point where the characters may fully restore their endurance. Dont know if oversight or that wasnt an ongoing theme to begin with.

      - The *severe* railroading during the final act of book2. You are forced to follow a strict order of actions and any deviation results in a gameover: after passing one of the 3 gates, the player/s notice a procession near them.

      From that point its:
      1a)choose not to follow -> game over(no banner of first legion) 1b)choose to follow...
      2a) attack them->gameover 2b)use item->gameover 2c) go the other way->gameover 2d) follow them further...
      3a)leave->gameover 3b)attack/use item then leave->gameover 3c) enter cathedral...
      4a)b)c)d)e) are the cathedral chambers. If at any point the characters pick anything other than "go further", gameover.

      The not-at-all subtle "follow the railroad tracks or die" going on there is the only black spot that blemishes an otherwise marvelous series, where the end destination can be reached in a multitude of ways.

      - Book5, gathering the 5 rods, red death. After the 3 harbingers are down, you are forced to fight 4 fire snakes.
      The problem there is that each of the snakes can kill you instantaniously(except sage) if they roll a 12 on 3d6.

      That seems too harsh. No item, no tactical decision, no way to escape, nothing can be done to avoid this - just keep fingers crossed and hope no snake rolls over 11. If any of the 4 snakes roll 12+ on a 3d6, its back to book1 with you.
      That is actually how I failed my solo Trickster run through the books.

      -Again, a revision of enchanter spellslinging, prefferably one that would see the spell recall system nixed.

      Disregarding ADJUST scroll abuse, the enchanter has by far the hardest time succesfully damaging an enemy, owing to the PA loss of recalling, combined with the additional PA penalty for spell difficulty.
      Case in point: at rank8(a comparison that favors the enchanter, since he receives a PA upgrade from rank7)enchanters need to roll 6 on a 2d6 to deal 3d6+3 damage, whereas a sage can twack enemies for 3d6 damage with a roll of 8.
      Not only does the enchanter's increased difficulty of success yield(in my opinion)a proportionately insufficient damage increase, but he can only attempt the attack half as often.

      The gap grows tremendously at higher ranks, due to FP being so much easier to increase and higher level spells demanding ever harsher die rolls. Allowing the enchanter to cast every round, without recalling penalty would serve a few purposes: it removes the awkward downtime where he does nothing during 50% of the battle; It brings his potential damage output closer to the other characters; Allows for tactical use of every spell, depending on what the situation demands;
      It turns the example above from "roll 6 for 3d6+3 every other round versus roll 8 for 3d6 every round" into "roll 7 (norecall penalty) for 3d6+3 every round versus roll 8 for 3d6 every round"

      It just looks fair. Keeping in mind that even with such a favorable change, an enchanter still has to roll a 6 at rank20 for 7d6+7 as opposed to the sage thwacking enemies for 7d6 on a roll of 10(generously assuming he has not picked up *any* magical weapons or permanent bonuses as of r20 )


      Those are all the mental notes I can think of now. I'll leave with a question I dont know how to rule on: At the 5 doors containing the rods - door of gifting, players can go left and drink from a fountain that increase all combat rolls by 1 for the next 2 battles.
      The red door's harbingers of death paralyze the players if they roll 1 or 2 at the start of their turn. Using the homunculus, the paralyze only happens if you roll a 1. So does drinking from the fountain and having the homunculus knowledge mean players fully neautralize the fear effects?

      Cheers.

      Delete
    7. The list of things I need to fix in book 5 stretches to several pages. The problem with that one is it was supposed to be written by Oliver Johnson, as we'd signed for the books as writing partners but I'd ended up doing 90% of the work to that point. So Oliver was scheduled to write all of book 5, but then other stuff came along and he had to farm half of it out to Jamie Thomson -- who did great work at short notice, but you can see a lot of wonky joints and ill-defined special case rules in there.

      I may have fixed (or at least alleviated) that railroading in book 2 when I edited it for the new edition. But your points are well made, especially wrt spell recall and the weakness of the enchanter, especially as a solo character. Thanks again for your thoughtful analysis.

      Delete
    8. Oh, and although Oliver or Jamie must have written that section with the doors, my judgment would be that, yes, the fountain plus the homunculus mean you're immune to the paralysis effect.

      Delete