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Thursday, 10 November 2016

Checking in on Fabled Lands book 7

A guest post today from Paul Gresty, who is currently chained to his desk completing The Serpent King's Domain, the long-awaited seventh book in the Fabled Lands series.

Dave has kindly invited me to write a few words on the Fabled Lands blog to talk about progress on The Serpent King's Domain. If you've been following the Kickstarter backer updates, some of the information here will be familiar – and some will be brand new.

It's been a busy year in Ankon-Konu. The Serpent King's Domain will be longer than any of the Fabled Lands books so far. Currently, the draft of the book is sitting at one-thousand-and-something paragraphs. And we're really into the home stretch now – the random encounters are finished, all the main quests are done; we're at the point where we're fleshing out the cities a little, and adding some of those touches that every Fabled Lands book needs (“How much does it cost to book passage to Smogmaw?”).

It's hard to talk about my progress on Fabled Lands without also mentioning The Frankenstein Wars, another Kickstarter project that took place around the same time, and my other big project of 2016. Both projects are moving steadily towards their conclusion; the deadline for a full draft of both texts is imminent (for more information on TFW, feel free to go check out this project update that recently went online.

Regarding The Serpent King's Domain, one of the jobs that remains is to go back and fill in some of the treasures that the player can discover, and include some new and interesting magic items – things that fit neatly alongside the artefacts that you can discover in the first six books, but that also have a healthy dose of originality as well.

I'll confess that item creation is an area I've found surprisingly challenging. I don't want to make SKD into some sort of arms race – the player's focus shouldn't solely be on picking up super-powered items; nor do I want every player to have the same list of possessions once they've thoroughly explored the book. One tentative idea is to include items that have both advantages and disadvantages, such as:
If you possess (XXXXXXX ITEMS TO CONSTRUCT CLOAK) Bellentacq can, quite reluctantly, create a darkling cloak. Such a cloak will grant a +7 bonus to your THIEVERY score while you possess it, but it will also temporarily reduce your SANCTITY score to 1, and prevent your SANCTITY score from rising by any means (including bonuses from other items). Note that you need not actually wear the cloak to receive this effect; so long as it is in your possession these changes to your Ability scores will apply (also note that, of course, leaving this cloak in storage will remove its effect from you). If you ask Bellentacq to carry out this work, remove the requisite items from your Adventure Sheet. In their place note darkling cloak (+7 THIEVERY, SANCTITY temporarily reduced to 1). Should you discard the cloak, or store it somewhere, you lose the bonus to THIEVERY, but your SANCTITY score will return to its normal value. Turn back to 167.
So, you have an item that grants a great big bonus to THIEVERY – but your SANCTITY will take a hit. Is the gain worth the loss? I'm guessing that some players will think it is, and some won't.

Another way to differentiate equipment lists for different playthroughs might be to include items that have various powers for different professions – which has a handy knock-on effect of helping to distinguish the various professions at higher ranks. For example:
The sacrosanct sabre will grant a COMBAT bonus equal to half the wielder's SANCTITY, rounding down, and not including bonuses from items. So, a wielder with a SANCTITY of 11 would use the sabre as a COMBAT +5 weapon. In addition, if a Priest possesses this item, this will allow him or her to have a maximum of two SANCTITY blessings at any one time (rather than the normal maximum of one).
If you keep this item, note the sacrosanct sabre (COMBAT bonus = half SANCTITY) on your Adventure Sheet.
Turn to 488.
The specific advantage for a Priest character is not enormous here; it's more a distinction that adds flavour rather than one that grants world-shattering power. Certainly, the item should be cheaper, or easier to acquire, than some of the COMBAT +6 weapons that appear in the first books (since that's the maximum bonus it'll have anyway).

For a while I've been thinking about opening a discussion on magic items on the Fabled Lands Facebook group – but then I got angry at the internet and deleted my Facebook account. Regardless, I'll open up that conversation here, instead – what sort of items do people want to see in The Serpent King's Domain? Feel free to chime in in the comments section below, or even to contact me directly by hitting the link.

Really, if people have any ideas for magic items – maybe something that isn't too powerful, that fits in with the jungle-themed setting – I would love, love, love to hear them.

So, to round up: the text is nearing completion. Expect a full first draft around Christmastime – which will then have to go through editing and page layout and whatnot. Regarding artwork, we've been talking to both Kevin Jenkins (cover) and Russ Nicholson (interiors) recently. It's a little soon to make big pronouncements, but that's moving forward as well. I'll tentatively say that project backers will have a book in their hands in the early part of 2017.


  1. How about the classic "set of items that give an additional bonus if the full set is in your possession"? To keep things interesting/obscure, the text could read "if you have three unique turtleshell items in your possession, gain an additional +2 DEFENCE" so its not clear what those three items might be.

    Is this already a thing in Fabled Lands?

    1. I'm not sure. It sounds like the sort of thing Jamie might have used in one of the books he wrote, certainly.

    2. It doesn't crop up in books 1 - 6... This idea of 'group' items is something that's passed through my mind as well (too much time playing Diablo...). It's doable, certainly - and maybe it'd be interesting if you couldn't necessarily pick up all the necessary items in Book 7.

      'Interesting'? Or frustrating, maybe.

      Good example with the 'turtleshell', by the way, about how such things could be grouped (turtleshell helmet, turtleshell breastplate...).

  2. I've explored the previous books pretty thoroughly and haven't found anything like that.

    As for Magic items, how about...

    The Jaguar Cape

    This item allows you to turn into a Jaguar. In this form you add (Mag+San)/4 or a minimum +1 to your Combat, Scouting and Thievery abilities. You fail any Charisma checks with humans unless otherwise noted. You also may not transact business with merchants or others in this form. While you can (awkwardly) use your pack and money pouch to carry items and money, you cannot benefit from those items unless otherwise noted. You could benefit from the Sword of Metal +2 from Book 5 because it need only be carried, but not the Hyperium Wand, because you'd need hands to wield it. If you die wearing the Cape it will come with you through resurrection but must be donned again to reactivate its powers. While being worn the Cape cannot be stolen from you, but other items and money may be lost/stolen normally.

    1. Nice idea, some sort of shapeshifting power... but - Gah! - it throws up all sorts of continuity problems, looking back over books 1 to 6. What happens if the player starts in book 7, acquires the cloak, then wanders back for some adventures in Sokara, or Golnir? Will the rightful king of Sokara confide in a talking jaguar? Would the colleges at Dweomer accept a jaguar student?

      Too many headaches, trying to think about every individual situation...

    2. Just add "Because the Cape is a magical relic from the domain of the Serpent King, it will only function there." Basically, you can only use it in Book 7. Or maybe only in the Spirit Realm of Book 7 or what have you.

  3. The limitations of gamebook mechanics (and FL is fairly robust, actually) work against you a bit here.

    I'll say as a medium level player - I've not thoroughly explored the books, though I think I've gone through the majority books one and two - that multiple blessings would be a godsend.

    I really like the idea of items with ups and downs, which leads to some more interesting decision making.

    Are there charged items in Fabled Lands? I can't think of any, but it would be a nice way to provide something blessing-like - also things which destroy themselves nicely keep my inventory clean. Something I could use in combat three times would add a level of judicious decision making that the books don't always have.

    Similarly if there are effects that could lean on the presence of dice - the simplest I can think of is an effect that changes when ability rolls are doubles. The Snake in the Grass is a small totem in the shape of a snake that awakens and locates resources for you, but can't always be trusted. +3 to SCOUTING but on a roll of doubles the snake slithers away and never returns, and the bonus doesn't apply to that roll. (Or the bonus drops. Or the bonus doubles! Clever snake!)

    1. There are a few single-use items - potions, of course, and things like the moonstone of teleportation that you can pick up. I like the idea of an item whose power is fairly random, and dependent on a dice roll - the same sort of thing comes up in the Blood Sword books, in fact, with the various orbs you can pick up, or with the Ring of Faltyns you can get in BS5.

      Ideally, it's nice to give items powers that you can list on the Adventure Sheet without any problem - but I guess, where powers are fairly complex, it would be fine to say 'see The Serpent King's Domain 437 for powers'...

      There's only one charged item I can think of offhand - the rod of teleportation you can pick up in Book 4. That can be used three times, no more.

      By the way, that moonstone of teleportation I mentioned? Man, it's a pain taking that into consideration when you're writing a scene and you don't want to give the player an easy escape route (or a way of breaking continuity if he returns to that spot)...

    2. In the fan-written version of Book 9, the author includes items that are charged. There's a Scimitar Com+6 which includes 3 Scouting blessing and a Magic Carpet of Safe Travel in which you can simply ignore random encounters in any given area.

      As for the Moonstone, the simplest way to deal with it is through Page ticks. Fine, the thing teleports you our of a situation, but it also means you can't ever get whatever reward you would have gotten for successfully completing the encounter.

      Oh, I modified one item from Book 2, The Magic Shield (Def+10) is now a Magic Shield (Immunity to Injury with 3 charges).

    3. I thought by the Moonstone of Teleportation you meant the Sacred Rod of Teleportation from Book 4, with 3 charges that teleport you back to Yarimura if you're in a temple. Also, traveling the seas in Book 1, an encounter with sea centaurs can net you a Conch of Safety From Storms, with three charges that act as that blessing.

  4. I love the idea of magic items that grow with their owners' stats. Also, it's great that their bonuses are not based on combat stats, meaning that even humble wizards can cope with combat if they have a staff that gives them a bonus equal to half their magic score, for example. Or maybe having a test against a stat to get a bonus to combat and having a penalty if you fail.

    1. I'm trying to be quite diverse in what the items can do, for sure. And so I'm looking at the whole adventure sheet - Blessings, Curses, Diseases (still no box for that), Rank, Titles, everything... Possible to have an item that affects the Ship's Manifest? Maybe...

  5. If we were starting something like FL from scratch (and had the time that tight deadlines never allowed us back in the day) I'd design an object-oriented system that would make it much easier to keep track of the effects of items and state changes. You have your face stolen, then you're cursed with a donkey's face, then the curse is lifted -- do you now have a face or not? Or take John's example of becoming a jaguar. What interactions and actions does that prevent? The design should answer these questions, but with all the special-casing (the bane of GURPS also btw) it can't.

  6. I used to have simple and logical home rules such as certain character types being unable to use certain items and items couldn't grant a bonus higher than the character's base stat. Fighting 4, Sword +5 resulted in Combat 8 for instance. Personally I think a Level 1 Warrior with a +5 Wand shouldn't have a higher Magic score than a Level 1 Mage for instance.

  7. I think items that draw from the lore of the region in which they are found are quite interesting, though it is nice to stumble upon a dead adventurer's items from some foreign land as well. So I would like to see items themed around Mesoamerican mythology, for example, obsidian maces and suchlike.

    1. I think (most of) the items need to embody the flavour of that region, certainly. And so in Book 7 you can pick up a macuahuitl, for example, as well as more typical swords and spears.

      Of course, you also have to keep in mind that this is Harkuna, not Earth. You can't create a world that's TOO familiar...

  8. Hey Paul,

    How about: a string of yarn.
    In the various encounter passages in the books, where you have to roll two dice to see whether you'll be caught in a storm, or meet pirates, the more fabulous and profitable encounters seem to happen, when you score higher. So spinning some yarn, or having some with you, could make your score one point higher in these encounter sections, because you'd be adding some extra drama to the adventure.


    1. Only snag there, Andreas, is that none of the languages spoken in the Fabled Lands is English -- so would the pun work?

    2. Also demands a bit of meta-gaming - knowing, as a reader, which encounters are more incredible. And that's not necessarily a bad thing - Herbie Brennan does that really well in his gamebooks ("You find a magic sword that glows and hums exactly like a lightsabre!") - but it doesn't really come up in Fabled Lands, or at least not in books 1 to 6.

      Though I like the idea of items that influence encounters - a little like the Blessing of Safe Travel from Book 6.

    3. Yeah, your arguments sound reasonable.
      So how about introducing a bit of alchemy?

      Say, the player needs to apply some sort of venom. Now there are at least two venoms around already (correct me, if I'm wrong), the scorpion venom, and the blue venom, and it could be irrelevant which venom is used, but the total of venoms around would limit how often the player can exploit the passage.

      There could also be new stats for alchemy (similarly to status and mastery of Bokh in book 5), and it would be logical that a number of rare items needs to be collected to brew a specific potion.

  9. I'll second the motion of items being related to the lore of the region. In this instance, the cult of death could offer some quite dark inspiration.

    How about items that allow the user to affect low-level changes to their environment? For example, summoning a cloud of fireflys to act as a living torch, reversing the flow of water, making stone transparent etc. These would need to be quite low-level such that they don't impart benefits that skew the balance of the game.

    1. Good ideas all - though they strike me as items that are needed at a specific point in the text (If you have a torch of fireflies, turn to...) rather than items that have a 'passive' effect, that are 'always on'.

      Nice idea too, making stone transparent... "They call this blade... The Windowmaker!"

  10. Items that unlock profession-specific powers:

    Mage - Spellbook: Aquire a spell (randomly?) for each increase in the magic skill. Spells could be cast anytime as a skill check, and maybe cost stamina for each use. Some spells could be 1) Light (no more lanterns!), 2) Fireball (deal 2d6 damage the first round of the fight), 3) Make friends (add two to your next charisma check), 4) Flying (escape the underworld when you accidentally get sucked into it).

    Priest - Holy Staff - able to get 2 blessings from your chosen god(s), healing, pacify (avoid a combat), damage undead, cure diseases, etc.

    So on and so forth..

    Another point - customization is always good. You could craft your own item/weapon and choose what effect/bonuses get applied to it (maybe with a random negative effect attached to it)

    Last point - a weapon that inflicts venom/poison over time (each round opponent loses 2 stamina).

    1. I've always found that as your character grows, and all of your ability stats increase, the significance of having a certain profession disappears. Sure, there are a couple of profession-specific quests (which is great!), but on the whole, a mage with a Combat score of 10 can fight regular battles just as well as a warrior.

      What if your profession limited the maximum score you could have for certain abilities? Let's say, only a warrior could reach Combat 12, while the others' maximum Combat scores varied between 10 (Wayfarer) and 7 (Priest). The same goes for the other abilities.
      This would make changing your profession to priest (in Book 6) more interesting. Although we would need to change instructions like 'Increase your Sanctity to 12' (also in Book 6) into 'Increase your Sanctity to the maximum allowed value'.

  11. Re. the spellbook... I'm wary of giving Mages specific spells to cast. There are one or two times in the first six books that a Mage can do something magical, that nobody else can (creating a magical light when he descends into the sewers beneath Yellowport, for example), but in general pretty much anybody can cast magic when necessary - it's just that a Mage has a higher MAGIC score.

    It'd require a big change of tone in the way magic is handled in general, in Fabled Lands, as well - in books 1 to 6, the player is really creating a magical effect as needed - create a cloud of gas, say - rather than casting a specific, named spell.

    Customisation? 'Choose which of these magical effects you want to imbue the item with'? I like it.

    Poison weapons - or, say, something that causes an opponent to bleed over time? I'm always looking for ways to make combat a bit more customised / balanced / difficult.

  12. I like the idea of ore inventory space, or class specific inventory space (like something that makes the +STAT item of your class weightless for you)

    Also, stuff that triggers on previous codewords

  13. Personally, I'd like something like a basic Bag of Holding that increases the amount of stuff you can carry, sort of like a "portable horse" or something. Maybe it could be something carried in the Backpack as its own item, like

    1 Sword Com+3
    2 Plate Armor Def+5
    3 Bag of Holding

    Bag of Holding Roll 2d6 whenever an item is added or removed on an 11-12 the extradimensional space convulses and "swallows" one item. Roll 1d6 to determine the item. If that space is empty nothing is lost.

    1. I'd been thinking of - and, I guess, am still thinking of - a bag of holding as well. My default position is to steer away from anything that's too Dungeons & Dragons-y. But some way to play around with inventory space is a good idea, for sure.

      I was reading through the high-number Lone Wolf Grand Master adventures recently, in preparation for reading the new Lone Wolf 29, and it was interesting to see a bag of holding appears there, too. In that case, it gives you an extra five (?) spaces to carry Backpack Items - but if you lose the bag, you lose everything that's in it, as well.

      Oh, and - little spoiler - watch out for curses that can reduce the maximum number of items you can carry, as you're wandering around Ankon-Konu.

    2. One thing I'd like to see is a Rite or Blessing of "Dedication." Basically, the way this would work is that you get the Blessing and then "dedicate" one possession (or your money) and that item will survive one attempt to separate it from you. So if you die, the item comes back with you from Resurrection. If "you lose all your items and money" you keep that one item. However, it only works once and then you have to "Rededicate" that item. I'd like to "retcon" that it's a blessing that's available at any temple where you can buy a Thievery blessing where it will cost ten times the normal cost of the Thievery Blessing, which is about 100s for initiates and 600s for non-initiates(the high cost is because Sig (or whoever) is basically stealing the item/money back for you).

      The Dedication is still considered a Blessing. If you "lose all Blessings" you lose that one too and your item is unprotected. Also, like other Blessings you can only have one Dedication at a time, so you can only protect one item at a time.

      Also, it will not allow you to carry items into "disallowed" areas. So you can't use it to carry that +6 Sword into the Spirit Realm or somesuch.

    3. Shame we can't just use the Pouch of Unlimited Contents from FF# #7, since it was never actually used on Fire Island as far as I recall.

      I'm not sure about creating such an item in FL though. I always thought part of the spirit of the game was that you can only carry so much, and if you wanted to acquire more then you needed to find somewhere to store it (with all the attendant risks that may incur). There are plenty of places to do this through the books.

      Incidentally, is Lone Wolf #29 any good? I'm moderately interested in reading it, but not buying it for the price it's going for.

    4. I'm really stretching back in my memory, but I think you had the chance to trap a Water Elemental in that Pouch of Unlimited Contents...

      I liked Lone Wolf 29. Fits in pretty neatly alongside the existing Grand Master gamebooks. Maybe too neatly - after 20 years away, both in-universe and IRL, I was expecting something grander. But again, you're strapping on your Kai Weapon and heading out on a mission to fight evil, like always.

      But it's a solid book, for all that. I haven't yet read the bonus adventure co-written by Vincent Lazzari, but I'm looking forward to it. Some years back Vincent and I used to pester Mongoose Publishing about writing bonus adventures for their LW reprints. Very happy to see that one of us finally got that job.

    5. Yes, I read a similar comment regarding LW29 elsewhere as well. Hopefully, based on comments Joe Dever has made about the final 4 book 'arc', this is just the low-key prologue to an epic finale. The Phantom Menace, if you will.

      I'd be interested in your take on LW Paul, but in honesty I'd much prefer to see you take on another MetaHuman Inc tale.

    6. My first publishing credit for an RPG was for 'additional material' for the French edition of the Lone Wolf RPG, by Le Grimoire. That's a polite way for them to say I suggested a lot of ideas, none of which were ultimately accepted.

      Russ Nicholson did some artwork for that too, in fact. He got a much bigger font than I did on the credits page for that book (deservedly so).

      Ooh, you liked MetaHuman? I'm in the very early stages of talks with CoG about doing another app for them in the same setting. I'll have more info about that in the New Year, once The Frankenstein Wars and The Serpent King's Domain are finished.

  14. I loved MetaHuman and Orpheus Ruse (5 star reviews for both in the app store). In my review of the latter I may even have used the phrase "the shining light of modern interactive fiction" to refer to you. Sycophancy aside, I'd love to play another game set in that universe; it feels a very rich area for stories.

    On a related note, are there any CoG apps written by anyone else that you'd recommend?

    1. Ah, I like 5-star reviews. Thanks for those. Sycophancy doesn't hurt, either.

      I'll confess I'm a little behind with the latest CoG games (just because I'm spending less time on my smartphone, lately). I really loved Life of a Wizard; I reckon I've played through that one about 40 times (a lot of replay value in there). Choice of the Vampire is good; again, there's a lot of flexibility in the sort of character you can create for each playthrough. Heroes Rise is well-written, and is the CoG title that originally hooked me in - but, on replays, it shows that it's pretty linear; I was done with it after the second or third playthrough.

      It's worth checking out the website to see what takes your fancy, though. The model these days is that each game is free-to-play for the first quarter or so, and then you can go ahead and buy the full game if you like it.

      I mean to rummage through the newer CoG titles myself sometime soon - once The Serpent King's Domain is finished, and Dave and Jamie release the shackles fastening my ankles to the writing desk...

  15. Anyone into Lone Wolf should check out Megara's Autumn Snow: The Pit of Darkness. It's a cool step back to the time when the Kai Lords were people with a few extras instead of Jedi Viking Demigods. One of the cool bits is that you start in the company of a full Kai Master on the Magnakai path. The book "rewards" you for recognizing that he can do stuff that your character just can't match yet. Since you're the student. The newbie Jedi padawan trying to block blaster bolts with the lightsabre is likely to get his face burned off by one of those bolts. Best to just take cover.

  16. Good tips thanks, I'll check those out. I'd also earmarked Wise Use of Time and City of the Clouds, plus the one set in Alexandria, so maybe I'll just stock up on a few for Christmas reading.

    Surely once the current shackles are loosened you'll just have a shiny new set attached for FL8? :)

    Keep us posted with what you turn your hand to next in the new year.

  17. Will the Fabled Lands book 7 be on general sale? If not, is it too late to contribute to the project and receive the book once it is done?

    1. Dave knows all the answers to this, but I'm fairly certain it will be on general sale once the Kickstarter version has shipped, albeit it won't be at the same format or print quality as the KS one.

    2. We'll certainly aim to get it out in paperback not too long after the quality KS hardcover, which means hopefully by next summer (depending on when Russ and Kevin finish the artwork).

  18. I am perhaps a bit late to the item creation process but here are some ideas:

    - Captain's charter / horn / flute whatever that allows you to command more than 1 ship. Although there is no specific rule that prohibits moving multiple ships, perhaps having a specific item would be nice? As drawback you could state that if you command more than 1 ship you will not encounter any pirates as they will flee upon seeing you.
    - Wishing ring / lamp; obviously an item with a limited number of charges that helps you succeed a single roll
    - Rechargable dagger of blood sacrifice or some such; every time you kill someone, the dagger absorbs its victim's essence which, when used, allows you to reduce a roll's difficulty by one. Obviously, having such a vile item sets your sanctity at zero
    - Another way of inventory compression is off course combination items (e.g. holy lantern) but I do not know if this would make the characters too strong?

  19. Hello. First-time-commenter-fan here. I was curious as to whether among the items you & your creative team had brainstormed, had you considered creating an item similar to the King of Fruits: Durian, yet? Since FL#7 is based on a jungle region, I believe this item could create a CHA+1 for CHA rolls within FL#7, but CHA-1 to CHA rolls outside the book, due to the pungent fragrance/stench which would enamor/digust the individuals who the Adventurer is interacting with.

    Another item suggestion is the largest flower (but stinky) in the world: the Rafflesia. Perhaps, if introduced as a carnivorous plant, upon defeating/subduing the plant-creature, its secreted juice can be used for a special quest for ROGUEs or MAGEs.

    I do hope that the book would also be on sale in Malaysian bookstores too!

    1. Great ideas, George. I'll pass those on to Paul Gresty. I think I may have come across that flower on my travels (in the real world, I mean). Btw did you see this old post that refers to Malaysian folklore?

  20. Mr. Morris, reading your blog has provided me with great pleasure and satisfaction for my "geekiness". I love the way you write.
    When I was in 2 or 3rd grade my mom bought me the Battlepits of Krarth, and I LOVED IT.
    In Bulgaria, during the 90s, the gamebooks were very popular, as we had many authors, but I can surely say, the Blood Sword series were one of my favourite, and are to this day.
    Thank you so much, for the awesome books!

    1. Thank you, Yav! It really means a lot to me that my books have reached out and brought pleasure to so many people around the world. And I've even got some copies of the Bulgarian editions on my bookshelf.