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Sunday, 20 October 2013

A neck romancer

I think of Crypt of the Vampire as my first gamebook, but it’s moot. I’d already written the magazine version of Castle of Lost Souls. That was serialized in White Dwarf in the summer of 1984, several months before the Golden Dragon series launched, and later got reworked as the sixth GD title. But Crypt was the first time I’d taken on a whole book.

Those were busy times. I had to turn down designing the PC game “Eureka by Ian Livingstone” because of all my magazine and book commitments. Maybe that was a mistake, as my friend Steve Foster, who wrote it in my place, told me he bought his first house on the proceeds. (The picture below, that's us back then in our slimmer days. I'm the one reading Captain America.) But at least with Golden Dragon I got my name on the title page. The road that’s grassy and wants for wear, you see.

Crypt and the later books nearly didn’t happen. In spring of 1984, while I was writing the first instalments of Castle of Lost Souls, Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson offered me a contract to do a series of gamebooks for Games Workshop. I’d done bags of work for GW before – an entire role-playing game in 1980 called Adventure (never published; GW acquired the RuneQuest rights) and then in 1983 an entire Questworld campaign pack with Oliver Johnson (never published; GW lost the RQ rights). In the case of the gamebooks, though, they seemed to be serious. They were willing to pay an advance, and that was a first.

Except… it was £350 per book, which was a pittance even in the ‘80s. And it would have been an exclusive contract, meaning I couldn’t work with any other publisher. “Why would Ian and Steve want to compete with Fighting Fantasy?” I wondered. For whatever reason, I dragged my heels about signing and was mighty glad I did, as a matter of weeks later I went to see Angela Sheehan at Dragon Books, had a nice long chat, and walked out with a two-book deal.

Originally Temple of Flame was down as the first book in the series, and the contract describes the other as “Dungeon of the Undead”. I think it was probably my dad who said, “Put ‘vampire’ in the title, it’ll grab people more than ‘undead’.” The publishers wanted to call it Crypt of Dracula, but I wasn’t having that. These books would be read by kids, and I didn’t want their first experience of Bram Stoker’s creation to be in a gamebook. Dracula was already in public domain, Stoker having died seventy-two years earlier, but I believe writers owe a creative courtesy to each other that lasts a lot longer than the term of copyright – though, regrettably, not everyone shares that view.

For the new edition, I’ve revised the text slightly to excise the trad fantasy elements (a hobgoblin, an elf) that seemed most intrusive. Now the atmosphere is very slightly more Gothic, the setting less definitely medieval. “Ah!” the DW players will say, “but isn’t Wistren Wood in Ellesland?” And so it is, but my Legend games have moved on – past the Last Trump at the end of The Walls of Spyte, even – to a time of matchlocks and sabres.

But that’s getting close to a foolish consistency. Whether or not Crypt of the Vampire is set in Legend, at heart it belongs to the lurid fairytale world of Hammer horror, where Cushing’s alert, flashing gaze locked with the fiery brooding in the eyes of Lee, and dark ivy-choked halls waited in the depths of darker woods. I like what Johnny S Geddes said about Crypt on Demian Katz’s gamebook page:
“Every now and then around midnight, and especially when there's thunder outside, I go back and take another tread through the enchanted forest leading to a dark mansion.”
That’s how I like to think of it being enjoyed. And, with Halloween almost upon us, here’s the chance to curl up with something creepy. The new edition also has Leo Hartas’s illustrations, incidentally – it was Leo’s first book as well as mine. Start as you mean to go on, that's our motto.

18 comments:

  1. I'm really looking forward to this, especially with the Russtastic art included. Not a great loss to lose the poor doomed Elf - as written he always seemed more appropriate for LOTR than Legend!

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  2. I of course meant Hartastic art. Whoops! Easy to confuse two awesome artists (that's my excuse, anyway).

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  3. You didn't want young readers to be introduced to Dracula in a gamebook? Surely that depends on the gamebook - I came across an interactive app version of Frankenstein recently that did a fine job of updating Mary Shelley's work...

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    1. True, but that was an adaptation of the original work, & intended to be read by an audience old enough to already be very familiar with the characters. I wouldn't object to a gamebook, movie, etc, that honoured Stoker's original story in the same way. I just don't feel we should use Dracula as a free character to stick into kids' books. Although that attitude is out of date now that he's been done to death (ha ha) in any number of cartoons, comics & commercials.

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    2. Surely you're not taking a pop at Count Duckula, the vegetarian vampire duck?

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    3. Oh god, I hope you're joking, Paul. But I suspect you're not.

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    4. Actually, thinking about it, I'm wondering who has less in common with Stoker's Dracula - Count Duckula, or the vampires from Twilight / The Vampire Diaries.

      Okay, Duckula (voiced by Sir David Jason OBE, no less) doesn't drink blood. But those Twilight / Vampire Diaries folks can walk around in daylight without any problems. These days, vampirism just makes you good-looking and broody for all eternity, apparently. There isn't much of a downside. If Duckula tries walking around in daylight, he's dust. That's a fairly compelling argument for saying that Count Duckula is truer to Stoker's vision than... is it Edward? The guy from Twilight, whatever his name is.

      Of course, Count Duckula is a duck. So there's that.

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    5. David Jason as a blood-sucking duck, FFS. And this is a real thing?

      Mind you, good point about Twilight. Those vampires are basically sort of broody elves. They don't need to kill anyone or drain their life force (it's just a haemoglobin thing, apparently - oh, I hate literal takes on fantasy/horror) and it's basically just a gig where you have to feel a bit sorry for yourself for living forever. And you've got to avoid the same levels of bright sunlight that are actually dangerous to all of us.

      Yep, OK, David Jason wins. Just as long as he doesn't say "perfick".

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    6. Blood? Actually, he was a vegetarian.

      The Quote-o-tron 9000 says:

      "No Nanny! No Nanny! No! No! No!"

      And remember:

      "Goodnight out there...WHATever you are! Mu-ha-ha-ha!"

      Them were the days.

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    7. I don't actually have the slightest idea what you're talking about, but it sounds like it was fun.

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  4. The Count Duckula intro: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g9ZVWMPuZ2c

    That's still a little sinister actually. Before the whole tomato ketchup bit.

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    1. A lot of kids' shows seem to start from a pun. Quatermouse. Count Duckula. Bounty Hamster. Van-pires. Three Delivery. And then there are the Japanese shows, whose titles seem to be communications from far distant planets. Neo Angelique Abyss: Second Age for instance!

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    2. I don't have anything in particular to add about Count Duckula. I just wanted to note how amused I am by Dave's reactions.

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  5. Hi Dave, I just found this blog through the WoTT KS and am enjoying reading through it and learning about the revival of my favourite genre that I seem to have totally missed out on if not for KS!

    2 curious questions:

    1) I noticed that the Critical IF gamebooks that were released fairly recently are available on Kindle but not the most recent CotV much less the books that were released. Are there plans to eventually release Kindle versions for all the books?

    2) Any plans to ever give Fabled Lands the Hardcover treatment like WoTT? Those suffer a great deal more beating than other regular gamebooks! :p

    Thanks!

    -Vincent

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    1. (edit) ... much less the books that were released earlier. Are... (edit end)

      -Vincent

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    2. I'm not sure that a Kindle version of CotV would really work as you'd have to roll dice. But maybe that's no less manageable than rolling dice while reading a book...

      I was just talking to Jamie about whether we should do full-colour hardcover editions of FL. We'd need to find an affordable printer, though, as I'm not sure anyone would want to spend hundreds of dollars to buy the set.

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  6. £350 quid!!!!!! I know who the blood sucking vampires were and it ain't Count ******g Duckula!

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