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Monday, 3 December 2012

Karate kick in the chest

Earlier this year, Jamie and I gave an interview to a Russian blog and it occurred to me that, as several of the questions touch on Fabled Lands, and as most of our readers may not speak Russian, it's worth posting up the answers here. (And with thanks and sincere apologies to the interviewer, who I would credit by name except that I now can't find the original email.)

When and where did you first meet? 

JT: Way back in about 1980 at a mutual friend’s house. I think I said hello to Dave by karate kicking him in the chest.

DM: That’s right. Jamie did a flying kick off a moving skateboard. It was impressive until he came back down to earth. The mutual friend was one of my gaming group at college, and he and Jamie had been at school together.

Why did you decide to make gamebooks?

JT: I ended up getting a job on White Dwarf magazine, at Games Workshop back in the early ‘80s. So I was working for Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson who launched the Fighting Fantasy series, so when they wanted more titles, I was there to do it for them. And that's when it all started.

DM: There was quite a craze for gamebooks in the 1980s and every publisher wanted their own series. Jamie and I and a lot of other people we knew were all writing them. We’d go round to each other’s houses and there’d be flowcharts all over the floor.

Where did the inspiration come from for Fabled Lands?

JT: Dave and I used to play role playing computer games together, and that gave us the idea of doing a series of sandbox type books that were like computer games without computers, so we could have a huge world you can explore and also affect, but also with lots and lots of little stories that were nicely realized, which computer games aren't so good at – or weren't in those days. Writing the books was much harder than a standard game book, of course. Complex flowcharts and managing the codeword system was difficult.

DM: We used a lot of ideas and characters from our role-playing sessions in the Fabled Lands books. They probably were the hardest series to plan, but also the most fun to write.

How long did the six Fabled Lands books take to write?

JT: It took me about 3 to 4, sometimes 5 months to write an FL gamebook. Dave is much faster than me though.

DM: That is true, I will get everything done on time, but rarely with as much flair as Jamie will put into it. Part of me thinks, “Well, it’s just fantasy,” but Jamie gives it 100%. He has more difficulty with the real world than I do, though.

Have you other plans concerning gamebooks?

JT: We may see the rest of the series, but our current plans are to get them out on various digital publishing platforms like Android, iOS, epub and Kindle. If they sell well on these platforms, then we can write the rest of the series. We would like to do them, but it's time and money, and we have mortgages, and bills, etc etc.

DM: Yes, we have to make a business case for doing more. Sales in digital form could possibly justify completing the series, and even if Jamie and I are busy on other projects we have some great writers who we can get to work on Fabled Lands for us.

How many copies of revived Fabled Lands books were sold?

JT: I have no idea! But it's definitely a lot less than our other more successful series like Way of the Tiger and Golden Dragon. While we think the Fabled Lands are the best game books we've ever done, they came out when the game book craze was just dying out and computer games taking over, so the Fabled Lands series never sold as much as we would have liked. It has the most dedicated fan base now though, with a bit of a cult following. The other series we have, that sold much more all over the world simply don't have that kind of dedicated fan base. Well, with the exception of Dave's Dragon Warriors books, but they're not gamebooks as such.

DM: Yes, we often think about how great it would have been if we had written the Fabled Lands books five years earlier. We had the idea for them in the late ‘80s but no publishers were interested then because they were too innovative – they just wanted more traditional single-storyline gamebooks. But that could be exactly why they still feel quite modern. Certainly we don’t want the Fabled Lands apps and ebooks to be a backwards-looking nostalgia thing.

Would you agree if a Russian publisher proposed a translation of Fabled Lands?

JT: That is certainly a possibility. Fabled Lands is being re-published in Germany, there is a role playing game of the FL world published in English and French (though no actual gamebooks yet), and other possibilities on the horizon, so we are certainly open to it.

DM: We both enjoyed the movie Wolfhound (Волкодав из рода Серых Псов), which I understand was based on a novel by Russian author Maria Semyonova, so maybe her publishers would be interested. We’re very much in that same vein of fantasy adventure meets pragmatism and politics.

Which are your favorite gamebooks? Why do you think that they’re the best?

JT: My favourite of my own stuff is the Court of Hidden Faces in the Fabled Lands series, simply because I think it's the best I've ever done and I'm proud of it. Other gamebooks... Well, I don't know Having written so many, I really don't like to actually read gamebooksfor pleasure! I always end up automatically constructing a flow chart in my mind or thinking about what options there should be and so on.

DM: Not to swell Jamie’s head, but I also think Court of Hidden Faces is the best in the FL series. My other favourites are the Duelmaster books that Jamie wrote with Mark Smith. Those are amazing because you can play against a friend, each of you reading from one of a pair of books. I still don’t know how Jamie and Mark figured those out.

Do you think that game books have a future in 21st century?

JT: Yes, definitely, but not in old style print so much. On new platforms like smartphones, tablets and e-readers in general, then yes. Well, certainly in the next few years. Though how long it will last is another matter.

DM: I think they have a bright future if they evolve. I recently wrote an interactive reboot of Frankenstein for iPad, which was partly funded by our Fabled Lands company, and that’s structured like a gamebook but it does some very different things in terms of establishing an emotional bond between the reader and characters. That’s just dipping a toe in the ocean of possibilities.


  1. They were all fantastic, but for my money Cities of Gold and Glory squeaks in ahead of the pack.
    Is there any news on the Android versions of the FL books?
    Also is there any chance of another DW adventure being posted on the blog in time for Christmas?

  2. Cities of Gold & Glory? You're in the minority favouring that, but thank you ss it's one of mine.

    The Android version of FL 1 is all but complete and should be out in January.

    I was hoping the Legend scenario I ran last Christmas would be out this year, but the Serpent Kings team have been very busy getting the DW Players' Book ready. So we will be running a DW scenario, but it won't be a new one. Next year, I promise, if the Silent Night scenario still isn't out, I'll run it here.

  3. I love all the FL books for different reasons, but I think the Plains of Howling Darkness takes first place. The feeling of striking out into the wilderness on an exciting quest, and having to deal with the very real natural dangers, as well as the more unusual ones really worked for me.

    Thanks for posting the interview, some rare insights into the differences in thinking between the two of you there!

  4. It was printed magazine (not blog) "Land of Games" (Страна Игр), issue 7/2012