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Sunday, 7 July 2013

Lost souls found

The Castle of Lost Souls is one of my least favourite of my own gamebooks. I guess that's what's called a soft sell, seeing as what I really wanted to tell you is that it's back in print again for the first time in over twenty years. Still, you don't have to take any notice of what I think. There are plenty of people who do like it, and the author is dead, after all. Well, not really dead in this case, thank goodness, but irrelevant.

I don't think very fondly of Lost Souls for probably just the same reason that its devotees would give for enjoying it. The style is quite tongue in cheek, almost to the point of being a send-up, and that's not the kind of fantasy gaming I go in for. No Scottish dwarves and Monty Python clerics in my role-playing sessions, no sirree.

It began life as a serial in White Dwarf magazine, and you can read that version by starting here and following the tags. The subsequent Golden Dragon Gamebook edition was softer-edged, the hero less cynical, less opportunistic and not so arbitrarily cruel to children. You can read that version as a free PDF here. And that's the version that Fabled Lands Publishing have released in paperback this week. The blurb should give you a sense of whether it's your thing:
Beyond the hills and haunted swamps towards the sunset lies the grim castle of the arch-fiend Slank. For centuries this demon has plundered the souls of mortal men, gathering them to his terrible abode to dwell in eternal torment. Now the secret magic that can destroy Slank is known at last. You agree to undertake this perilous adventure. But can you rid the world of the demon’s dark shadow, or are you merely destined to become his latest victim?
Blimey. Well, that was the tone of gamebooks in the early eighties. The flavour of the adventure is quite folklorish. If it were a Fabled Lands adventure it would be set in Golnir, probably somewhere west of Delpton. Spriggans in thorn hedges, meadows full of fairy rings, that kind of vibe.

You know, put like that, it's starting to grow on me. Not one of my best, perhaps, but maybe it deserves another look.

15 comments:

  1. A soft sell indeed. Does the book still have the artwork from the Golden Dragon version - which, unless I'm remembering incorrectly, was by Russ Nicholson?

    Also, can we expect to see the rest of the Golden Dragon books? I'm stretching back a ways in my memory, but my favourite was The Eye of the Dragon. Which, confusingly, had a big tiger on the front, a picture that has resulted in me misremembering the title as The Eye of the Tiger for most of my life. Ah yes, that famous gamebook where Sylvester Stallone becomes too complacent with his boxing title, and he gets beaten up by Mr T.

    Also, didn't Fighting Fantasy release a book called Eye of the Dragon not so long ago? Shucks, more confusion...

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    1. On reflection, I'm not so sure if it is a soft sell. CoLS is one of my least favourite of my own books, but I do rate my own gamebooks quite highly, so actually it's rather arrogant boastfulness in a way :)

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  2. Efrem Orizzonte9 July 2013 at 14:05

    The art in Castle of Lost Souls was by Leo Hartas. The only GD book illustrated by Russ Nicholson was... The Eye of the Dragon! :)

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    1. That's right, Efrem. Russ was working out in Papua New Guinea, and in those pre-internet days that meant sending artwork in a parcel on a tramp steamer.

      Paul, we will be releasing all the Golden Dragons eventually (my own favourites being Eye of the Dragon and Temple of Flame) as well as Virtual Reality (my very faves, coming in the autumn), Falcon (hopefully next year), Blood Sword (definitely next year), and later this year, something else that gamebook fans have been waiting a very long time for ;-)

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    2. I'm not allowed to say. But I'm not saying no.

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  3. It was good to read it to see an example of your signature style and 'logic'. As with most of your books, violence is rarely the best answer to a problem. Also, the options surprise you in a good way in a sense that you take an option, not going exactly where it is going and then you come up with a great description of what happens with a clever twist that leads to a realisation. For example, if you ask the fortune teller to look into her future, she realises that you are going to rob her. Also, the best option made me think 'How is that going to help?' at first, but when I read what happened, I then understood. I think that comes across a lot in the Virtual Reality books when I don't know how having a certain skill will help, but then it is interesting to read how they do. It's far better than most gamebooks where it is pretty obvious what having a skill does ('Ooh, a locked door! I wonder what skill I need for this?').

    If I ever have the time, I would love to construct a timeline of your gamebooks along with your ideas to see how they evolved.

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    1. I'd be very interested to read that, Stuart. The "GMing style" of a gamebook author is something that is probably clearer to the readers than it is to the writer themselves. For example, I mentioned to Mark Smith once that he puts in a lot of kill sections, but he wasn't aware that he did that any more than any other gamebook author. These quirks are what makes each author's style unique.

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  4. Good to see Golden Dragon back again, and Castle of Lost Souls definitely has very high "spirits". LOL.

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  5. What happened to the artwork?
    There was only one full illustration in the new edition, except for the small pieces between paragraphs.
    Cost-cutting measure, perhaps?

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    1. I did want to keep the cover price of this one down, as it's already available as a free PDF so I figure people wouldn't want to pay too much for the print edition. Fewer illustrations = fewer pages = less expensive to print.

      The forthcoming re-released Virtual Reality books will have illustrations throughout, and all-new covers by Jon Hodgson. So those will be a bit more expensive ($9.99 rather than $6.99) but they are also nearly twice as long as the Golden Dragon books, so I think will be good value for money.

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    2. I see.
      Well, as long as the books get republished, and hopefully bought, it's alright, I suppose.
      Good to hear that the VR books will have the art intact, as there are some really stunning pieces by Russ in those books.

      What about the Falcon, WotT and Blood Sword series?
      Will they have the original art, or are they being put on ice for the time being?
      I was a bit confused from the post about Curse of the Pharaoh concerning those series.

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    3. It's not always easy to get a good scan from those old books, Magnus, the original artwork having been lost long ago in most cases. I have got some very crisp scans of Leo's art for Down Among the Dead Men, and I'm working on clean-ups of the other books.

      For Bloodsword, I'm hopeful that Russ will be working on updated versions of many of his illustrations. I may even go so far as to say full color - and I'll explain the hows and whys of that nearer the time.

      As for WOTT and Falcon - more news to come on at least one of those in just a couple of weeks.

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  6. Efrem Orizzonte21 July 2013 at 16:07

    I've just re-read my original 1985 edition, and it's even better than I remembered.

    I've left my review on Amazon UK. It should be online in the next couple of days.

    I'm glad these books are in print again. Golden Dragon was simple, but that was actually its strength. Excessive length and complexity ruined so many other gamebooks.

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    1. Thanks for the review, Efrem.

      I've recently been proofing The Lord of Shadow Keep, and I agree that the simplicity of the system is an asset. There's a good Gothic flavour in the tradition of E R Eddison and Clark Ashton Smith, and over-complex rules would have detracted from that.

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