Gamebook store

Monday 28 June 2010

Skein of Destiny RPG - part 3

The third and final part of my quickplay RPG rules...


Combatants act each round in descending order of Mind score. You can take one action, either an attack or a parry.

The attacker's degree of success minus the defender's degree of success is the amount of damage that gets through to the defender's armor. The defender can then make an armor roll, and the degree of success of this roll is how much of the damage the armor absorbs.

armor values
leather 5
light 7
medium 8
heavy 9
shield +2

Use the higher of the dice scores for the degree of success of an armor roll. Unlike an ability roll, the armor roll cannot be optionally modified.


Spells can be based on any RPG system you like. To attempt a spell you first make a Magic roll to see how much you remember of it at that moment. Time is a factor, so if you attempt the roll after only one round you must take an optional modifier of -5, after two rounds an optional modifier of -4 and so on. (If you have a book or scroll containing the spell then the roll is a little easier, beginning at -3, etc.) The degree of success of the Magic roll is the maximum level of the spell that you can then attempt to cast.

You then attempt a Spellcasting roll, subject to normal optional modifiers if you wish. The attempt costs 1 point of Emotion. The degree of success of the roll is the strength of the spell. The target can attempt a Imagination roll, and must get a higher degree of success to avoid the effects of the spell.

If you then want to cast the same spell again there is no need to repeat the Magic roll. You already have that spell in mind and can cast it in just one round. Only make a new Magic roll if you want to attempt a different spell.


It is possible to learn Magic and not Spellcasting. The Magic skill on its own is used for preparing horoscopes, making talismans, brewing love philters, and so on.


Public insults and disgrace can cause the loss of Honor. The severity of the insult ranges from 2 to 20. If in doubt roll 3d6 for this. A 2d10 roll of equal to or less than the severity of the insults causes the insulted party to lose 1 Honor point.

Normally it is possible to prevent the loss of Honor by issuing a challenge to duel. However, if the character making the insult gets a degree of success with Etiquette at least equal to the insult's severity then you cannot pin him down enough to make a challenge.

Example: Cassius insults his former comrade Marcus, calling him an incompetent oaf in the middle of the Roman Forum. The referee rules this is severity 9. Cassius gets an 11 on his Etiquette roll so Marcus cannot demand satisfaction or counter with a lawsuit. On a roll of 9 or less on 2d10 Marcus must lose a point of Honor.


Optionally, to save the bother of keeping a bank balance on the character sheet, which slows up play, characters can simply be assigned a Wealth score ranging from 1 (pauper) to 20 (very rich). Wealth is used like a talent.

Example: Ferdinand wants to buy a fine dueling sword, for which a degree of success of 12 on his Wealth roll is required. His Wealth is 14. Rolling a 6 and a 3 gives success, but only with a degree of success of 6. The Referee announces that he was outbid by a rival.

Saturday 26 June 2010

Skein of Destiny RPG - part 2

Our simple quickplay RPG system continues. Third and final part on Monday. (You see, told you it was simple.)


Sometimes you will need to roll against an attribute directly. This works exactly like using a talent, ie optional modifiers cannot be applied. Some common uses of attributes are:

Match Mind against another person's Charm to see if you have the good sense to resist them (assuming you want to). The higher degree of success wins out.

Match Emotion against another person's Authority roll if you want to resist giving in to them.

Match Honor against a criminal suggestion to see if you have the nobility to refuse to go along with it. (The referee will assign an arbitrary value measuring how dishonorable the suggestion is.)

Some examples of competitive use of attributes are:

Body vs Body in a contest of strength.
Mind vs Mind to outwit someone in a game of skill.
Emotion vs Emotion to intimidate a foe.
Imagination vs Imagination to win a game of chance.
Honor vs Honor when vying for respect or promotion.


Attribute losses can be brought about by various means. In most cases losses will only be temporary.

Body is reduced by wounds, poison and disease.
Mind can be reduced by stress or terror.
Emotion is reduced by harrowing experiences and by casting spells.
Imagination is reduced by supernatural encounters or sleeplessness.
Honor is reduced by disgrace or failure.

Reduction of an attribute to 0 has the following effect:

Body: death
Mind: insanity
Emotion: apathy
Imagination: loss of all magical aptitude
Honor: exile or suicide

Ability scores are affected by the loss or gain of points in the primary attribute, but not the second (modifying) attribute. If you lose Body during a fight, for instance, you also lose the same number off your Weapon Parry score but not your Weapon Attack.


Attributes recover at different rates:

Body: roll Mind or less each day to recover a point; a Medicine roll at least equal to your current lost points adds 1 extra point a day.
Mind: roll Honor or less each week to recover a point.
Emotion: recover all lost points in one night on a successful Imagination roll.
Imagination: roll Imagination or less each week to recover a point.
Honor: noble action will restore lost points at the referee's discretion.


Both skills and talents can be increased by experience. You are eligible for an ability increase in any month in which you got a degree of success of 10 or more with the ability. Keep track of how often you achieve that each month with a tick next to the ability. At the end of the month, make an Imagination roll to increase the ability. To the degree of success of this roll, add the number of uses of the ability for which you are eligible. You need a final total higher than half your current score to increase the ability by 1.

Example: Murillo got a degree of success of 10+ twice when using his Priest skill this month. At the end of the month he makes an Imagination roll and gets a degree of success of 7. Adding 2 to this gives a result of 9. This is higher than half his current Priest score, so it goes up by 1.

Training can also be used to increase skills. Typically the referee will first require an Honor roll to see if the teacher is impressed enough to take you on as a pupil. (Money can't buy everything.) At the end of each month, the teacher makes a skill roll and you make a Mind roll. Assuming both are successful, add the degrees of success. If the total exceeds half your current score in the skill, increase it by 1. You can only train in two skills at a time.

Thursday 24 June 2010

A quickplay RPG

This is a simple RPG system that I designed to encourage a fast, interpretive, narrative-driven style of play. I call it Skein of Destiny, despite or perhaps because of the unfortunate acronym. I've divided it into three parts. Today, we begin with character creation.

Characters in the Skein system are defined by five attributes:


Assign a total of 55 points between these attributes.

Body is your presence in the physical world. Honor is your presence in the world of men. Similarly, you can see Mind as a measure of how the physical reflects in you, and Emotion as a measure of how society reflects in you. Imagination is where those things all come together: the inner and outer life, the world of physical reality and the world of human society.

When you consider that the types of conflict that generate stories essentially reduce to man versus nature, man versus society and man versus himself, these five attributes comprise all the foundation you should need for a rich variety of adventures.

It is up to the player how he or she chooses to interpret high or low scores in the five attributes. For instance, high Body could mean you're strong, or wiry, or big, or dexterous, etc.


Abilities are divided into skills (which can be trained) and talents (which can only be improved by experience). Abilities of either type are based on two attributes. The sum of these attributes determines your maximum possible score in that ability. The first attribute listed in each pair determines your highest possible starting score in that ability.


Agility = Body + Honor
Brawling = Body + Body
Etiquette = Honor + Mind
Magic = Imagination + Mind
Medicine = Mind + Honor
Missile Use = Mind + Body
Priest = Honor + Imagination
Scholarship = Mind + Mind
Seamanship = Body + Mind
Singing = Imagination + Honor
Spellcasting = Emotion + Mind
Thievery = Imagination + Mind
Tracking = Mind + Body
Weapon Attack = Emotion + Body
Weapon Parry = Body + Imagination


Authority = Emotion + Mind
Charm = Emotion + Honor
Perception = Imagination + Mind
Sex Appeal = Body + Emotion
Stealth = 20 + Imagination - Honor
Streetwise = Mind + Imagination
Survival = Body + Mind

You begin with two abilities at full starting (not maximum) value, three at half starting value, and four at one-third starting value. Round fractions up in your favor.


To use an ability, roll 2d10. Success is indicated by a roll equal to or less than your score in the ability. The degree of success is equal to the higher of the two dice in the case of skills and the lower of the dice in the case of talents. If you roll a double then add another 1d10 to either number to get the final degree of success.

Example: Fafnir has a Perception score of 9. He rolls, getting a 3 and a 5 on the dice. The total of the dice is 8, which is less than his Perception score so he has succeeded. Perception is a talent, so the degree of success is the lower number rolled: a 3.


Instead of making a straight skill roll, you can choose to apply a modifier ranging from -5 to +5 to the total roll (announced, of course, before you throw the dice). If successful, you apply the same modifier to the degree of success, to a minimum of 1 and a maximum of 15. (Note that optional modifiers cannot be applied to talents, only to skills.)

Example: Pierre is asked to entertain Prince Andrei. He decides to try and impress the prince by attempting a particularly difficult song. He opts for a modifier of +5 to the dice roll. His Singing score is 13 and he rolls 6 and 2, giving an 8. With the +5 modifier he just succeeds, and he also gets to add 5 for a total degree of success of 11.

Sunday 20 June 2010

In days of old

I already posted about the various proposals Jamie and I made to Puffin for a late entry in the Fighting Fantasy series. The one they picked was Keep of the Lich-Lord, but we really liked some of the others. Here’s one with an Arthurian slant, something we had been interested in exploring in gamebook form for some time. And therein lies a tale – but first, take a look at the proposal we submitted to Puffin in 1989:

Knights of Renown

This is presented either as a Fighting Fantasy gamebook or as the basis for a separate series like the Robin of Sherwood gamebooks.

The story is set in Arthurian times with the reader taking the part of a young knight. His or her quest is to perform some great deed to win a place at the Round Table. Throughout the adventure the young knight will encounter other famous knights and characters from Arthurian myth like Lancelot, Gawain, Guinevere and Mordred.

The tale begins with the reader making a declaration of intent to King Arthur and the knights of the Round Table. In response, Arthur tells him of a strange Grey Knight, a giant, who has slain many a worthy knight. His tower is on a bleak moor in a remote corner of the kingdom of Logres. If the young knight can rid the land of the evil Grey Knight he will win himself a seat at the Round Table. The young knight sets out, but is not the only one undertaking the quest. Others also seek glory and fame, including one or two established knights of Arthur's court. Everyone hopes to be the first to encounter and best the Grey Knight, so speed is of the essence.

On the journey, the knight comes across an enchanted marquee in a lonely glade. This is the Pavilion of Dreams. If the knight successfully survives an attempt by evil forces to bewitch him, Merlin will appear and tell him about the Lance of Longinus. This sacred artifact would be of great help in defeating the evil Grey Knight. It is said to lie in the crypt of the ruined Abbey de l'Ombre which the knight must find somewhere in the Forest of Caerleon.

After a series of adventures the young knight will at last confront the Grey Knight of the Wastes – only to discover he was once a human knight who has been ensorcelled by Morgan Le Fay. If the hero has earlier obtained some oil taken from the Holy Sepulchre it will be possible to anoint the Grey Knight and alter him back to human size and disposition. Before this can be done, of course, the Grey Knight must somehow be subdued. The reader will certainly need the Holy Lance and to recall Merlin's advice in order to achieve this.

Returning to Camelot, the young knight can claim his reward, a seat at the Round Table. The fact that he also denounces Morgan will vex her, and allows her to become a recurring figure if there is a sequel.

Special Rules for Fighting Fantasy

The knight will have some extra abilities as well as the standard FF ones:

Starts at 2. Renown is a numerical rating of the knight's fame and can increase or decrease as the adventure unfolds. It will govern things like whether a knight would be willing to joust with you or how likely you are to be recognised from your coat-of-arms. For instance, during the game you may be lost and wounded in a remote forest. Finding a castle, you approach the gate. If your Renown is above a certain score the lord of the castle will let you in and aid you, pleased to have so famous a knight as a guest. If it is too low, he might decide you’re just a wanderer of dubious intent and turn you away.

A representation of how honourable and knightly the player is. Chivalry will decrease or increase as the adventure continues. In certain situations your Chivalry score might influence or even dictate your actions. For instance, you come across a princess imprisoned in a tower and guarded by a very powerful knight. If your Chivalry score is very high, you are obliged to attempt a rescue. If it is low you would have free choice in the matter, but failing to try and help her would cause your Chivalry to drop even further. Thus a Knight with high Renown and low Chivalry would be seen as a mighty fighter but not a man of honour – perhaps an evil knight. In Arthurian myth, characters like Sir Agravaine, Breunis Sans Pite and Tarquin would be of this sort.

An ability that functions just as Skill in combat, except that it would apply only in jousts. The techniques of the joust make it a way for knights to settle disputes with the maximum use of expertise and the minimum chance of fatality. Some evil knights refuse jousts, preferring to go straight to the business of melee and slaughter. Whether it is possible to ignore a challenge to joust depends on the result of a Chivalry roll.

A characteristic generated at the start in the same way as Luck. Piety reflects the knight's ability to perform acts of devotion such as an all-night vigils in a chapel. A high Piety score also allows the knight to drive back evil spirits and break enchantments. When required, the player would throw dice exactly as if making a Luck roll but using his Piety score. (Piety does not decrease with use, but may decrease or increase as a result of special events during the course of the adventure.)

Knights of Renown as non-Fighting Fantasy

Generated at the start by rolling one dice and adding 3. This is used in combats when the knight wields a sword, mace, morning star or other melee weapon. In combat, roll 2 dice and if the score is equal to or less than your Melee rating you have scored a hit. You then roll another dice. This is the number of points your opponent loses from his Endurance score. Your opponent then does the same. Combat continues in this manner until someone yields or is slain. Opponents will vary widely in their Melee ratings. Different weapons have different damage ratings. The knight may also find items that increase the damage he inflicts or that enhance his Melee score – for example, if Excalibur is lent to the knight it increases his Melee by 2 and allows him to add +2 to the dice score when rolling for damage.

The knight begins with 30 Endurance points. When these fall to zero he is dead. Lesser degrees of wounding will slow him up and affect his Melee score.

The knight begins with chainmail armour, a helmet and a shield. This deducts 2 from all damage rolls made against him (or 1 if the shield is lost). Better armour may be found during the course of the adventure.

The knight may be required to joust against other knights. This involves the use of the lance on horseback, and is a very different skill from Melee. The character’s Joust score is generated by rolling one dice and subtracting 1. A joust is conducted in 'runs'. Before each run, you must decide whether you are aiming for your opponent's head or his shield. The reader rolls 2 dice, and adds his Joust skill (which could begin at zero). He then does the same for his opponent. A total of 12 or more means your opponent has been unseated. (Thus it is possible for both contestants to be unseated simultanouesly.) A roll of 2 on the dice means your lance has shattered whether or not the final result unhorses your opponent.An unseated knight may take damage from falling to the ground. Someone whose opponent aimed at his shield takes 1 dice damage. A hit on the head inflicts 2 dice, and a roll of 12 when aiming at the head kills the knight outright! For this reason most decent knights go for a foe's shield rather than his head. Success in a joust allows a knight to improve his Renown and Joust scores.

This works as described for the Fighting Fantasy variant, except that the knight may be required to make a Chivalry roll. A roll of on or below the Chivalry score on two dice forces the reader to behave according to the strict rules of honourable conduct, while a roll above the Chivalry score permits him to try a more devious approach. High Chivalry is much admired and may help in gaining boons from the King, but it often forces the knight to take a straightforward and careless approach to danger.

This is the same as in the Fighting Fantasy variant except that a Renown roll may have to be made, as detailed for Chivalry above.

As the Fighting Fantasy variant, except a roll may be made as for Renown and Chivalry.

Further books in the series would involve the Knight, now fully fledged, undertaking adventures based on Arthurian myth such as the search for the Holy Grail, the hunting of Questing Beast, the encounter between Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and so on.
Okay, so that was the pitch to Puffin. The book sounds like it would have been a fairly typical gamebook, probably influenced by the Pendragon campaign run by Ian Marsh that we were occasionally playing in back then. (And the Grey Knight..? I know, I know - but remember that when you're making a pitch that may end up getting hammered into a slot somewhere in the world of Puffin's FF books, you're not going to pull out all the creative stops.)

But now look at this earlier proposal, dating from 1987, that Jamie and I sent to several book publishers. See if it reminds you of anything:

A quantum leap in the evolution of gamebooks... and a new way of presenting the old favourites of folktale and myth

This proposal combines elements of gamebooks, role-playing and board games. Hero Quest is set in a mythic landscape (perhaps the worlds of the Norse legends, Arthurian myths or the Arabian Nights) and allows the reader to participate in the stories.

To give some idea of what is involved, consider what the book looks like. It consists of a number of large colour maps which might depict, say, Britain in Arthurian times. The reader begins by deciding whose eyes he or she wants to experience the story through; in this case, it might be Lancelot, Gawain, Morgan, Mordred or Balin. Areas on the map are marked with numbers, and after travelling to an area (moving a counter across the map) the reader gets to turn to the corresponding numbered paragraph. This then guides him or her on through other paragraphs, in the manner of a solo gamebook, until it is time to move on to a new location. The reader discovers missions and goals while playing. For instance, a reader playing Lancelot might disgrace himself at Camelot and be told by King Arthur that he must atone by finding one of the Thirteen Treasures of Britain and returning with it to the court before New Year's Day.

How does it differ from traditional gamebooks? First and foremost, since the reader is creating the overall narrative for himself, there is no need for the long linking passages and purple prose found in a conventional gamebook. Paragraphs would be quite short, as the emphasis is on exploring the episodic form of the story (why a knight behaves honourably, what it means to refuse a challenge, why one must be wary of elves, etc). Each possible character will have different skills and shortcomings, and the reader must be aware of these when deciding how best to act. Gawain will find it easy to behave honourably, for example, but almost impossible to tell a lie. En route from place to place, a matrix and dice roll would give the reader random encounters that might range from a disputing knight at a crossroads to a haunted priory by the roadside.

All episodes would be drawn from the original sources, so in a sense this is just a new way to tell the old stories. This way of discovering legends by "living" them, though, has a number of advantages over traditional narrative form. It clarifies the reasons why a protagonist makes the particular decisions and choices that he does. It shows the consequences of alternative courses of action. And for a modern reader accustomed to the lure of television and computer games, it makes the stories infinitely more vivid and exciting than in a traditional third-person narrative.

Leaving aside the need to couch our proposal in respectable literary terms (ie the emphasis on being true to existing legends, which was necessary to sell to editors who were even then quite hostile to what they regarded as “trash” fantasy) what’s interesting is that this was essentially a proposal to create a series like Fabled Lands – a full eight years before we actually got to do “The War-Torn Kingdom”. Had we got FL started in 1987, when gamebooks were at the height of their success in Britain and Europe, I am quite sure we would have been able to complete the twelve-book series and probably carry on and do more. That Tardis is going to be busy if I ever get the fluid link fixed.

Friday 18 June 2010

Conquerors rules

That was the last page of the book, the idea being that if you reached that page it meant that you'd won. But you don't need to know about that, because you're not going to be playing the book version. The card rules are as follows:

1. Each player shuffles their deck of 15 cards, placing the cards face down beside them.

2. The players each take their top card and reveal it to the opponent.

3. Each can study the other's card, but when either player is satisfied he knocks on the table and says, "Ready." The players then take up their cards again.

4. Each player now decides which of the characters on the card to send into battle. He turns the card (face down) so that character is nearest to his opponent.

5. The cards are now turned over and compared. The winner discards his current card and draws the next card from his deck. The loser retains the card he has just played to use again next round. If there is a draw, the player who is behind (ie, has discarded fewer cards so far) gets to discard - a levelling factor. If there is a draw when the players are neck and neck, both discard.

6. Play now continues to the next round as before. The loser from last round uses the same card as before, but he may choose a different character on the card to go into battle.

7. The winner is the first player to discard all his cards.

The game is, as I hardly need to tell you, Rock Paper Scissors only in a five-way matrix:
Hope you enjoy it. And if you do, or if you can suggest improvements, that's the comments button right below. The illustrations are by the ever-brilliant Russ Nicholson, of course.

Thursday 17 June 2010

Conquerors cards 3

The last five cards today. If you're planning to try it out, you'll need to cut these out and stick them onto square pieces of white card. (Oh well, it could be black card if you must - all the same color, that's what I'm getting at.)

Wednesday 16 June 2010

Tuesday 15 June 2010

Conquerors cards 1

The first five Conquerors cards today. Rules to come at the end of the week.

Monday 14 June 2010


The enemy is close at hand. The time of the final battle draws near.

Your own forces and those of your foe face each other across the dusty plain. Sunlight glints like droplets of fresh blood on bronze shields and polished armour. Swords and spear-tips bristle above the ranks.

Horns and war-drums sound. The troops advance grimly. Each warrior has sworn to fight and even die on your behalf. As their general, you must make sure their sacrifices are not in vain.

To beat your opponent you must strike through to his fortress. Your armies are equally matched in strength, but that is not the only factor that will count in this battle. Luck and skill are even more important.
So, floridly, ran the intro for a series of little books I devised in the late '90s with my schoolfriend Nick Henfrey. (I don't mean we were at school in the late '90s, that was much earlier; I just want you to know that the RGS Guildford is to blame.)

They were square-format books, quite short, and each page looked a bit like the image above. Here's how they were played:

Find someone else with a Conquerors book and challenge them to a duel.

You both start at the first spread in the book, where you will see there are four characters to choose from. Holding the book up in front of you, decide secretly which of the four you are sending into battle. When you and your opponent have both chosen, you hold out your books to each other with the character you have chosen facing towards the other person. Reciting your character's catchphrase is optional.

Now compare the characters to see who wins. For example, say you chose Greebo the Hog and your opponent chose Sir Grim of Grinn. Sir Grim is CAVALRY and Greebo's results table shows that he beats CAVALRY opponents, so you have won that round. The winner moves on to the next spread while the loser remains on the same spread.

Both of you then decide which character to send into the next round of battle as before. Last round's loser can choose the same character as before if he wishes, or one of the others on that spread.

If you draw with your opponent, both of you move on to the next spread. The winner is the first to win through to the end of their book.

As you see there, we called the series Conquerors (like conkers, geddit?) and although the prototype was done using fantasy characters, we intended you could have all sorts of themes: Wild West, superheroes, horror, gladiators, aliens, and so on.

The reason you never saw a Conquerors book is that publishers, almost without exception, hated the idea. One said to me, "I cannot conceive of any reason why we would ever publish such a thing." The exception was Richard Scrivener at Puffin - the only male editor who we pitched it to, indeed possibly the only man in a senior position in children's publishing back then. Richard saw that boys of 6-10 years would have a lot of fun with something like this in the playground. No, it wasn't getting them to read Sir Walter Scott, nor to abandon their doubtless woeful and (so it was thought then) culturally programmed interest in violence, gusto and gore. It was Top Gear for small boys.

Unfortunately, though Richard and I worked at it, we couldn't get the costings right and the series never got started. By that time Jamie and I had started working at Eidos on our RTS game Plague (later Warrior Kings) and so I didn't have the time to chase up Conquerors further.

Anyway, although designed as books, Conquerors can equally well be played as a card game. And, as many readers of Fabled Lands and Dragon Warriors now have sons or nephews of the right age, I'm going to post up some cards over the next few days and you can give it a whirl.

Thursday 10 June 2010

More Selentine magic

Some more Tamorian magic today. This is typical of many such spells in that you don’t need to whip up a storm of magic points to use it, you just need to know what freaky procedure to follow. Bear in mind that if a Tamorian scholar today found a book containing a spell like this one, he would be highly unlikely to tell anyone else about it. We’re presenting it here for the GM to use in creating a uniquely horrible NPC villain rather than as a resource that should be allowed to get out among the gen-pop of player characters:

Process by which one may obtain a familiar servant, or fetch
being notes from the journal of Septimus Delectus Lambo, master arcanalist of Selentium

“First obtain a mole or other small burrowing creature that has died of natural causes. Place it within a lead box, filled with the caster's own blood and spittle. Seal the box with corpse wax and wind about with the hair of a condemned criminal cut while yet hanging upon the gallows. Next take the box to a sepulchral place and bury it in the rib-cage of a man dead at least forty years. Do this at the dark of the moon. Sleep upon this spot until the time when the moon is full, when the fetch will visit you in a dream. Then the box may be disinterred and the fetch released. Each day the fetch must be allowed to suck blood from its master, whereupon it renders him service. Retain the box as its abode.”
Evidently a loathsome procedure which would most certainly get you burned at the stake in any civilized country in the 10th century A.S.. Squeamish player-characters can console themselves with the thought of Lambo’s historical fate (torn in four parts by a quartet of devils to whom he had each promised his soul) while those who have no scruple at all will merely demand to know the fetch’s specifics, as follows.

The fetch appears as a sort of large maggot with its creator’s face. It is part of him, having 1 of his Health Points. It cannot fight, but is difficult to hit (DEFENCE and EVADE both 17). It resists spells with the MAGICAL DEFENCE of its creator and, if he is a sorcerer, warlock or elementalist, it also has Magic Points equal to his rank (taken from his own total) with which it can cast the spells known to him. It sees in darkness and can travel through wood or earth (but not stone or metal) at 10m a round, leaving almost no visible trace. When it returns to its box and the lid is closed, the caster knows all that it has seen while absent from him. If the fetch is slain, the caster immediately takes a wound of 1-10 HP, and the fetch’s 1 HP (but not its Magic Points) is forever lost to him.

Sunday 6 June 2010

A lost Fighting Fantasy gamebook

I keep saying, "Here's a curious little fragment" so by now you know that's par for the course around here, right? Today we've got one of several proposals that Jamie and I submitted to Puffin as ideas for Fighting Fantasy books.

The book the Puffin editors went for in the end, The Keep of the Lich Lord, was actually our least favorite of the bunch. The one reproduced here, The Mists of Horror, might have been fun to do but we were keener on four others: Curse of the God Kings (based on one of our epic role-playing campaigns with Oliver Johnson, Mark Smith and others), The Best Thief in Arantis (which I was very very glad to eventually write, located instead in its correct Arabian Nights setting, as Twist of Fate), The Keeper of the Seven Keys (very ambitious that one; you played the bad guy in what would have been a gamebook precursor of Dungeon Keeper) and Jamie's favorite, Dinosaurs of Death, which did exactly what it said on the tin and surely would have pleased boys everywhere. Including us two boys who wanted to write it.

Maybe we'll run some of the others later, but for now here's the pitch we made to Puffin Books for...

The Mists of Horror

You are a journeyman-sorcerer travelling to a new College of Magic where you intend to continue your studies. Your journey takes you from the city of Harabnab across the wild moors of Ruddlestone's hinterland. Full of high spirits, you decide to ride on ahead of your retinue to arrange lodging at an inn along the road. As you return to join them, you find yourself riding into gathering fog banks. You can find no sign of your servants, nor of the books and travelling-chest that were on the mules with them. You go on to the inn, expecting your servants to turn up there, but night falls and still they have not arrived.

Outside, the fog has closed its grip on the countryside. You can see it sitting along the ridges of the moor like the ranks of a phantom army. You realise you would have no chance of finding your servants now, so you return to brood by the fire. It is nearly midnight when a man staggers in, his clothes torn as if by brambles and his face white with shock. The landlord recognises him as the miller from the next village down the road. He mutters a few cryptic remarks about "the Faerie King" and "the Unseelie Court" before collapsing in delirium.

The next day, you look out of your window to see the village encircled by fog. Stray wisps creep across the ground outside, and it seems the fog is closing in.

You go downstairs to find the villagers gathered in the common room of the inn. There are mutterings about an old stone circle out on the moors, and the village priest fearfully relates the ancient story that this was a portal leading to the Otherworld, where the spiteful fays of the Unseelie Court reign supreme. The ancient tradition was that a blood sacrifice should be made once in every hundred years to keep the portal closed, but since the locals turned to the worship of the benevolent Hamaskis, God of Wisdom, they have not kept up the rituals of their forefathers.

Now the mutterings in the inn begin to grow, and soon panic at the thought of Otherworld magic turns the villagers into a crazed mob. Fearful for their lives, they seize the innkeeper's daughter - a friendly girl who served you food and drink the night before. They mean to sacrifice her to the callous Old Gods in the hope that the magical portal to the Otherworld can be closed again. You are horrified at such a suggestion, though you realise that their terror is such that you cannot hope to reason with them. Along with the priest, you manage to persuade them to at least let you have one day in which to find the stone circle and try closing it with your own magic. What you do not tell them is that you are only a journeyman-sorcerer, and you have scant hope that your own power will be enough. Still, you must try - or else an innocent girl will go to her doom, and her blood will be on the hands of these honest but frightened villagers.
Having crossed the circle of mist around the village, the protagonist finds himself in the Otherworld - a magical envoironment where events follow a strange dreamlike logic. His success will be decided in part by his ability to adjust to the different ways of thinking that this environment demands.

The protagonist's task is to find the Unseelie Court, which corresponds in the Otherworld to the stone circle's position in the real world. His missing servants are being held captive oat the Court. There he must battle the Faerie KIng to drive the Otherworld back and close off its contact with the real world. Throughout the adventure, a major worry for the protagonist (as expressed in the narrative) will be the need to conserve his magical power for the initiation tests he expects to face at the College of Magic.

In fact, victory will only be won by attacking the Faerie King with no holds barred - seemingly giving up on the hope of entering the College later. However, this in itself merely constitutes a moral choice for the protagonist: in order to win he has to forget his own selfishness. Making the correct choice in this situation means the reward of a second victory on returning to the village: not only are the villagers (including the girl) safe from the threat of the Otherworld, but the fellows of the College of Magic have learned of the trouble and now deem the protagonist worthy to enter their ranks.

Thursday 3 June 2010

Dem bones

It is quite likely that the first volume of the Fabled Lands RPG, if it ever appears, will come packaged with a sourcebook of Akatsurai, the eastern island inspired by Jamie's and my love of Oriental cultures.

The very good reason for this is that we have 80% of the book already written. Firstly because we wrote the entirety of a medieval-period Japanese sourcebook called Tetsubo that we originally intended for publication as a Warhammer supplement. And second because our gaming group ran a Heian Japan role-playing campaign using Paul Mason's Outlaws of the Water Margin rules, and the events of that campaign formed a large part of FL Book Six.

Although Tetsubo was not destined to see the light of day in its WFRP incarnation, putting it together was about the most fun project we've ever worked on together. Not least because it gave us an excuse to watch dozens of great Chinese and Japanese movies. At any rate, between the 200+ pages of manuscript we have for that and the half-dozen scenarios from the Kwaidan campaign, there's enough there for a pretty thick book. And that's even before we add the FL RPG rules. And you can grab a free copy of the Tetsubo part of it by clicking on the cover there in the sidebar. 

In this famous Kuniyoshi triptych, Princess Takiyasha, the daughter of Taira no Masakado, uses a scroll to call up a skeleton spectre to menace Mitsukuni, Lord of Shimoda. According to legend, Takiyasha's powers of witchcraft derived from her father, who foiled attempts on his life by surrounding himself with magically created duplicates. In the center panel, we see that the Lord of Shimoda has just defended himself against an assassin, so perhaps the purpose of the spectre is not to bite off his head, as videogamers and anime enthusiasts may suppose, but simply to give him some sleepless nights in which to reflect on this disturbing intimation of mortality.

Ad Blankestijn explores a possible inspiration for Kuniyoshi's flesh-tingling apparition here on his fascinating blog. Ad writes:
"...I could not only admire ukiyo-e by Kuniyoshi such as “Mitsukuni defying the skeleton specter,” but also saw mummies of yokai. These were apparently preserved in temples, where in the past they must have been taken out of their boxes and shown to the gullible country folk whenever the priest wanted to scare them into belief in higher powers. They were made by stitching together the bones and skulls of small animals as monkeys and birds and adding feathers or skin (or doing intricate things with washi paper). These yokai mummies looked so creepy that they really scared me more than the prints!"