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Sunday, 2 August 2015

An open world RPG in gamebook form

video

The Kickstarter to fund The Serpent King's Domain, looooong-awaited seventh book in the Fabled Lands series, ends on Monday, August 3, at 22:30 BST, which is 5:30 pm EDT and 2:30 pm PDT, and -- oh well, you've got the internet; here's the world clock for your location. I don't want anyone to miss it, you see.

The campaign hit its basecamp target within a few hours of launch. So is it still worth pledging? Yes indeed, because the artwork costs are included as built-in stretch goals, as explained by Megara's nifty art meter, meaning that as the total amount raised increases there will be more to pay for a widescreen cover by Guardians of the Galaxy concept artist Kevin Jenkins and maps and interior pics by Russ Nicholson.

The video above (if it works - that's the first video I ever uploaded to the blog) is Jamie talking about the things that he associates with the Fabled Lands books. I don't think I need to explain the idea behind Fabled Lands to any regular visitor to this blog, but recently Jamie and I set down our reminiscences about how it came to be. I'll go first:
The players gather around the table. Even as the Coke cans fizz and the bag of tortilla chips is being popped open, somebody looks at the map and says, ‘I hear there’s an abandoned fortress out on the tidal flats.’

The referee consults the rulebooks. ‘Many claim it’s the stronghold of the legendary hero Hrugga – though that’s surely just a myth.’

Plans are made. Ships bought and outfitted. One of the players has the sea captain skill, and he plots a course. Another considers the supplies the party will need. Soon they’re ready to set out on a new expedition. And all because one of the players happened to spot the symbol for ruins in a corner of the map.

So go our Tekumel or Legend role-playing sessions. But most gamebooks spring from a different tradition of gaming in which an old man runs into a tavern and the players are spoon-fed the evening’s adventure. That was never for us. Jamie and I wanted to create a gamebook series that reflected our own role-playing games, where a player could arrive in a town and choose from dozens of adventures, or sometimes be flung into one by accident. Where the player could pick their own goals, go wherever they wanted, and be whatever type of adventurer they chose. Fabled Lands is the nearest thing to Jamie’s and my style of role-playing short of us coming to your house and running a game for you.

When you create a character in the Fabled Lands, you’re setting out on a saga that will be unique to you. Maybe you’ll face brutal foes on distant savage shores. Maybe you’ll become an initiate of a temple. You could become a student of magic and travel the world in search of secrets and power. You could be caught at sea by slavers and escape to lead a rebellion. You might become embroiled in civil war – on either side – or merely turn a profit by trading goods while the war rages on. It’s a whole life story that you’re creating there. And by the way, this was ten years before Fable!
Jamie adds:
And I worked on Fable 3, writing storylines and dialogue etc. But even then, just a few years ago, you could see that Fable wasn't really a sandbox game. Sure, there were loads of sidequests and stuff, but the main storyline was the thing. And there weren't places to go that didn't take you on the main plot.

Not like the Fabled Lands books. I like to call them 'a computer role-playing game without a computer'. Except they're more sandboxy than most CRPGs. The Fabled Lands books are much more Fallout 3 or Skyrim than they are Dragon Age or Baldur's Gate for instance - in fact, even more so. There is no over-arching mega plot for the Fabled Lands. Sure, some big quests involving the overthrow of kingdoms and so on, but all these are entirely optional.

You just 'live' in the world.

You can do that in Skyrim or Elite Dangerous or Fallout 3, but it's pretty hard to avoid the main storyline in those games. (Well, except Elite; that's the nearest to a true sandbox but it suffers from having to do the same old stuff over and over.)

The Fabled Lands though - they're the only place you can 'live' in that's a book and not a multi-million pound computer game. What you see and feel, how you visualize the people and places - it's your imagination that puts that together, not someone else's.

27 comments:

  1. I'm glad that you finally agreed to go the kickstarter route, and that it has worked out well. I contributed, and I'll buy the next book when it comes out. Hopefully you will be inspired by this to at least lend a design eye to the future books, if and when they come out. A toast to Fabled Lands, the Clipper Ships of gamebooks!

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  2. Hi, the video does work. :)

    Another thing I do like about the Fabled Lands is that there is no actual ending. Of course, there are few like my favourite which you sit in Nagil's hall as his servant, the Chosen One of Nagil or getting taken to the Underworld in a Trau's bag, never to be seen again. ;)

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    1. PS: The point I was making was that most video games got a proper ending and that's it since they tend to have the main story.

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    2. I hear ya, Joe. That's the main thing about FL for me and Jamie too. We like our role-playing games to be player-driven, in which case there is no single story - it's the character's entire life.

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  3. Now I want to do a roleplaying game in that open style...

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    1. I can never understand why anybody would roleplay any other way, Ashton. There's a post about that coming up later in the month.

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  4. I enjoy the open world nature of Fabled Lands, but I also enjoyed the revised "Keep of the Lich Lord." I'd really like to see more stuff like that. I'd like some longer stories ala KotLL to mix into the shorter quests that comprise the majority of Fabled Lands adventurers.

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    1. KotLL was kind of a one-off, although I had thought of setting Castle of Lost Souls in Golnir and we could repurpose Eye of the Dragon in the FL world somewhere. The snag is that the Golden Dragon books were for younger kids, but nothing a rewrite couldn't fix. Maybe that's our next Kickstarter!

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    2. I feel kinda humbled that Golden Dragon were intended for younger kids, as I've never been able to complete Eye of the Dragon. That one's crazy difficult.

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    3. It is? IIRC the solution is a bit meta (ie you have to spot which option number is the odd one out or something) which I wouldn't do these days.

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    4. I think we talked about this a little via e-mail a while ago. Eye of the Dragon has two things that make it really difficult. First, there's a specific, easily missed location towards the front of the book that your character must visit and "solve" to get item(s) needed to finish the game. If character doesn't go there or leaves/flees or simply doesn't do things in the "correct" order, he can't win the book. Secondly, the ending is essentially reduced to a random pick from three choices with no real clue (that I saw) as to which one is correct.

      Whether it's released as a Fabled Lands quest or as one of the revised Golden Dragon books, Eye of the Dragon will need a little extra work.

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    5. I think it was just an odd-one-out puzzle, John. Not at all fair if so, as the entry numbers shouldn't make any difference. Anyway, if we get around to EotD after FL7 (and maybe FL8) then I can take another look at that.

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    6. Maybe it's that item at the beginning that I'm missing John, although I spent ages mapping the book a couple of years ago and could swear that not only had I not missed anywhere but that I could recite the story from memory. You don't have a walkthrough as an, er, aid to completion by any chance?

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  5. Rewrite the Golden Dragon books, Dave, set in the FL world and add the zombie apocalypse theme.....you know it would be an instant success on Kickstarter :)

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    1. If we'd called it the Zombied Lands that Kickstarter would be at $300,000 by now. Grr argh.

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  6. Crypt of the Vampire seems like something that could also work in Golnir. The Temple of Flame seems like something that would fit into Ankon-Konu. Eye of the Dragon would fit into Atticala, but likely start in Dweomer. To my mind The Castle of Lost Souls seems a better fit for Uttaku. Perhaps instead of being a demon, Slank is a mystically (and politically) powerful Masked Lord who enslaves souls as well as bodies. Or he's a demon who's also a Masked Lord or something.

    If we're talking about repurposing other works for Fabled Lands, Down Among the Dead Men would be perfect for something on the Violet Ocean again.

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    1. Funny you should say that, John. When we released DATDM as an app, Inkle suggested relocating it to the 16th century Caribbean, on the grounds that readers had been conditioned by PotC not to need a full-on fantasy world setting. I liked the idea, but for some reason (deadlines, probably) we never got around to doing it.

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    2. The Critical IF books work well with "Magicish Earth" as a setting, especially Necklace of Skulls which explores Mayan culture and legends instead of drawing on Elves, Dwarves, etc. Since Critical IF is mostly taken from the earlier "Virtual Reality" series, I tend to think that Green Blood and The Coils of Hate would work better for being repurposed as Fabled Lands books. You'd need to acquire the rights to the books or the author's permission but they'd work.

      As far as the Golden Dragon books go, the best candidate for Fabled Lands would be Eye of the Dragon. The other books were republished only two years ago in 2013. I remember the Kickstarter for Crypt of the Vampire. One reason I chose not to back it was that I'd only recently bought the new version of the book and didn't see the need to buy the next new version just for better art.

      The FL7 Kickstarter makes it clear to me that there is a deep and abiding hunger for new stories in older settings, especially Fabled Lands. I predict that the next KS for FL8 will be at least as successful as the one for FL7.

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    3. I think Mark's VR books were actually set in his world of Orb, a Japanized version of which formed the setting for the Way of the Tiger gamebooks.

      I agree there was no need for a Kickstarter for Crypt of the Vampire. It would have made a lot more sense to do it for Heart of Ice, if any campaign at all were needed. But luckily the CotV campaign was summarily cancelled as fast as it appeared, so nobody lost any money. Except for Leo, of course, who coloured some of his original pics for nothing. And me, because I wrote blog posts expecting the campaign to go the distance. Ah well, we live and learn.

      I can at least promise that the KS for The Lone & Level Sands (FL8) will go the full distance and will exclusively have art by Russ and Kevin. Accept no substitutes.

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  7. When did the Heart of Ice hardback appear on Mergara's website? I haven't noticed it until today. And now I want it but all my gamebook money has gone on cross promotion maps.

    Also how long do you think it might be until another Fabled Lands book is Kickstarted or produced in another way given the success of this one?

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    1. It took me by surprise too, as we never had a contract for it! Anyway, it's the same content as the paperback, so if you're strapped for cash I'd suggest saving for The Good, The Bad & The Undead.

      We will certainly run a KS for Fabled Lands 8, probably quite soon after the paperback edition of FL7 comes out. This time it will be a Fabled Lands LLP project, though with the same team behind it.

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    2. For the avoidance of doubt, that was a joke btw. We've been doing business with Megara long enough that we don't need formal contracts, just what is known as a "deal memo" - which in many cases is just an email and a virtual handshake!

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    3. Is the FL7 paperback going to be after the kickstarter delivery date of June 2016?

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    4. Hard to say... whenever I can find the time to typeset it, is the honest answer. That will hopefully be before next summer!

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  8. Hi..im making an old style 2d mmorpg video game and want to use the fabled lands as one of the worlds in my game...but I was wondering what is the name of the planet/world the fabled lands is set in?

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    1. Eg the fighting fantasy series are set in the world of Titan..

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    2. The northern continent is called Harkuna. If you ask a typical resident of the Fabled Lands what the world itself is called, they'll tell you "the world" :-)

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