Gamebook store

Wednesday 30 March 2011

Cover version

And here's the back cover and track listing for the Fabled Lands OST, which you can download from Megara Entertainment for free right here. If you missed the whys and wherefores, go here.

Monday 28 March 2011

Free Fabled Lands OST from Megara Entertainment

Fighting FantasyMore staggering generosity from munificent Mikael Louys, madcap maestro of triple-A app developers Megara Entertainment. Hmm... sorry if that came out sounding a bit too Stan Lee; my only excuse is that I've been following his tweets. Anyway, Megara are making the original soundtrack to the Fabled Lands app (iPad here, iPhone here) available as a free giveaway. So you don't even need to buy the app now: you can just download the free soundtrack and listen to it while playing the print books, and all you'll be missing then is the additional flavour text, the scintillating colour artwork, the extra content and minigames, and the automated maps, ability roll resolution, character sheet and quest log. Or you could just get the app - which incidentally reached #3 in the Australian app store last week. What can I say? Them Aussies got good taste.

Friday 25 March 2011

Kwaidan part 3

The Village of Asamimura
Consists of a small ji-zamurai mansion and a dozen or so peasant huts. By night Asamimura is stalked by such grisly nightmares as the undead Jikininki and the faceless Mujina.

The village of Asamimura is in fact quite desolate – though it appears to be inhabited by a few hardy peasants these are actually Rokuro-kubi. By night they hunt, with a 15% chance every two hours of returning to the village.

The Rokuro-kubi
Spirit Rank: 2
Armour Class: 6
Zanshin: 2
BAP: 12
MNA: 2
BMA: 5
Attack: Bite, BCS: 12, Damage 1d3 lethal.
Hit Points: Headman 15, Strongman: 18, Others 10, 11, 6, 8, 9, 10, 6, 4.
Treasure: 2 silver, 40 copper on their persons and hidden in their huts.

The Rokuro-kubi all act as classic 'Average Men' by day. The Headman is crafty and Strongman is slow-witted; all the others (three women and two children plus men) are of average intelligence.

They appear by day as humble fishermen/farmers of the village. They will be hospitable and put up the party in the dilapidated manor where the squire Tetsu lived. At night they revert to type and will attempt to devour numbers of the party. If the party approaches Asamimura at night they will find the village apparently deserted with several headless bodies, in a state of perfect preservation, lying in some of the houses. Moreover the necks of the bodies will not appear severed, but look as a stalk does when a leaf has been plucked from it. The Rokuro-kubi dislike Hobei the Jikininki. He devours corpses they would like for themselves. They will tell the players that a gaki stalks the monastery grounds and it is probably this that has been terrorising travellers on the moors.

6. The Village Offering Table
Closer obser¬vation will reveal that the stone shrine at the centre of the village dedicated to the local kami, Ugetsu, has had some of its stones dislodged, perhaps in a gale. This damage has not been repaired, and further disrespect has been shown to the kami in that the fallen stones now serve as mooring stones for the fishing boats drawn up on the beach. The fishing nets laid out as if to dry next to the boats will also be seen to be in some state of disrepair if looked at closely.

7. Beach of Skulls
On the northern edge of the beach, underneath the cliffs, players may spot what appear to be small boulders and bits of white driftwood strewn about. On closer inspection they will be seen to be skulls and bones of Akiyama's men eroded from the cliff above and washed up on the beach by the tide. These relics will be brown in colour; scattered amongst them are the far whiter bones of the Rokuro-kubi's latest victims.

8. The Ji-zamurai's Mansion
There is a 15 chance of an encounter for every two hours spent in Tetsu's dilapidated house. Roll d6:

1-3: The Mujina (dusk or night only)
4-6: The Rokuro-kubi (appearing as normal peasants if during the day)

On close inspection, a few things will appear to be amiss:
(i) The floorboards of many of the rooms and also that of the teahouse appear to have been prised up and then roughly hammered down again. The garden appears to have been dug over thoroughly in a number of places and the earth thrown back loosely to cover the holes. This damage was caused by the Rokuro-kubi looking for Tetsu's hidden gold.
(ii) One of the bedrooms (the third) appears to be not as dusty as the others. A few spots of brown, dried blood may be found on the underside of one of the tatami mats; the Rokuro-kubi's last victim was devoured here. A pilgrim staff will be found to have been thrown into the undergrowth of the garden.
(iii) A bow with a rotted string and a mildewed quiver of arrows will be found amongst the weeds on the southern porch (B). A target butt, partially obscured by climbing plants, stands against the southern garden wall (C); one or two arrow-heads are still stuck into it. Two burnt-out torch stubs stand to either side of it, set into the ground. Anyone with any knowledge of archery may make their BCS role to discover that the bow shows signs of fine workmanship (a 3 Man-Rating dai-kyu, worth 50 silver when refurbished).

Tetsu was practising archery one night by the light of the torches when he heard the sound of sobbing coming from the bushes near the butt. Fearing he had accidentally wounded someone hiding in the undergrowth, he left his bow on the terrace and approached the bushes. In the light of the torches he saw a young woman kneeling on the grass with averted face. As he neared her she turned to reveal the terrible featureless face of the Mujina. Tetsu has been mad ever since and has never returned to the mansion.

A suit of armour stands in the living room (A), antique-looking with fine embossing. A now extinct clan crest is set into the helmet (the crest is of a wisteria blossom and is made of enamel). A character must make his heraldry BCS to identify as the Tadafune clan emblem. The armour belonged to Lord Tadafune. Its value is 90 gold pieces. It is reputedly haunted, and this has deterred the Rokuro-kubi from pilfering it. This rumour has basis in fact; on moonlit night a low ghostly moaning may be heard coming from it. A player approaching closer will hear Lord Akiyama's hollow voice commanding him to find a Buddhist priest so that his body may be reburied with proper rites.

A chest (lock complexity 6) stands in the storage room of Tetsu's manor. The chamber is carefully concealed behind sliding panels which resemble the woodwork of the outer walls. (Wit Saving Throw to see a Hidden Thing). Inside the chest are scrolls representing the deeds of the estate. There is also one with Tetsu's family name (Watanabe) set as a seal into wax. Anyone opening it will discover the following poem:

In the place of sweet refreshment
Look westward to the setting sun,
Bright beneath the water
Brighter fish than goldfish swim.

(This refers to an urn sunk by Tetsu in the middle of the pond, in it will be found 9 gold pieces).
Such accessories as torches, ropes, linen, will be found in the kitchen.

Wednesday 23 March 2011

Kwaidan part 2

The Monastery

1. The Tori Gate
Beyond the gate stands a leafy grove. Just inside it there is a small offering table upon which various votive candles burn. A pallet with a shrouded figure lies before the table surrounded by bowls with offerings of rice and fish. This is the corpse of an old man left there sometime during the day. If the party approach at night, they may see the Jikininki appear and devour the corpse and the offerings, but this will only occur when all the candles on the shrine have either burnt or blown out. As the players inspect the pallet they may hear a rustling in the undergrowth and then the sounds of someone or something making their way, rather clumsily, through the bushes. This will be Hoichi who, having picked up his meagre portion of food from the funeral party, is hurriedly making his way back to the ruined monastery before the Jikininki arrives for his dinner. Scattered around the grounds of the monastery where they are not obscured by the entangling undergrowth will be seen numerous go-rin-ishi (the five-circle funerary stone of Nippon).

2. Amidaji Temple
Deserted for a hundred years and in some disrepair, mosses grow upon the door posts, holes are visible in the once-elegant sloping roof, ivy hangs down from the eves. Across what once must have been an ornamental pond, the monk's quarters have all but collapsed into piles of mildewed boards.

Approaching the temple, a strong smell of incense pervades the air, and (if Hoichi has not been accidentally slain or is entertaining Lord Akiyama's ghost in the graveyard) the strains of an unearthly singing with accompaniment of the highest quality from the biwa will be heard. At night, no light will appear in the inner sanctuary where the music is coming from. Unseen things will scuttle away at their approach to hide behind statues and in crevices in the cracked floor stones. The players may be alarmed when Hoichi, presenting a spectral sight, rises up before them in the darkness; he is naked except for a loincloth, his body is covered with tattoos of the holy sutras as a ward against evil spirits, his unseeing eyes have a glazed and faintly luminous quality. Sonjo will recognise the holiness of the tattoos immediately, but he may be too late to prevent a nervous player from striking.

Hoichi, the blind and rather timid, biwa (Nipponese lute) player who lives in the ruined monastery, will tell of certain nights when a samurai comes to fetch him and takes him to play before a great lord. Hoichi is unaware that on these nights he is playing for the ghost of Akiyama, who finds in the beautiful music a momentary surcease from his torment. Hoichi remains in the monastery precincts at all other times and is safe from the Rokurokubi who dare not enter. He should be treated as an 'extra' (one hit kills him) with a Biwa BCS-Qf 19

3. The Island of the Kami
A small dilapidated shrine made of stone and wood stands on top of the pinnacle island. The shrine was once connected to the mainland by a rope bridge which hangs severed from the side of the island. The bridge appears to have been cut from the mainland side, where the cut-through ends of the supporting ropes can still be seen attached to stanchions. At night oni-bi (demon fires) can be seen to flit around the island, although they are not seen in the shrine. The good kami Ugetsu dwells in the shrine. The bridge was cut by the Rokuro-kubi who wished to dispel his benign magical influence from their stalking grounds. Ugetsu will reward anyone who repairs the bridge by Instruction. The only way to reach the island is to scale its vertical slopes from a boat; this will be fatal in nearly all cases (a sheer climb at -3 from Climbing capability) unless the player makes use of the rope bridge for the last fifty feet of the ascent. Despite its rotted appearance, the bridge is still magically imbued, and anyone making use of it will be protected by Ugetsu.

Ugetsu, the local kami, is a Jigami whose shrine is set on a pinnacle of rock which could be reached via a rope bridge from the cliffs. The Rokuro-kubi cut the bridge to prevent neighbouring villagers from making offerings to him.

Spirit Rank: 4
Hit Points: 20
Armour Class: 5
Zanshin: 2
Magic BCS: 8
BAP: 10
MNA: 2
BMA: 7
Powers: Instruct, Fertility (fields), Fertility (births), Control Phenomena within 1.2 Ri (about 5 miles) of shrine.
Spells: (four times a day each) dark circle, master of the green, confusing gaze, burning touch.
Skills: Tonfa-te 14, Nunchaku-te 14, Popular Dance 16, Fishing 16.

Ugetsu appears as an impressive man in silk robes of green dyed with subtle patterns of brown reminiscent of the paddy fields.

4: The Graveyard
Here there is a 20% chance of an encounter every two hours.
1. The ghost of Tadafune Akiyama (nights of the new moon only).
2. The Mujina (dusk or night only).

Two Torii gates (NW and E) lead into the enclosed areas which is now extremely overgrown with ferns and bramble. Around the walls stand the moss-covered go-rin-ishi (five-stone tombs) commemorating Lord Akiyama's men. In the graveyard, teetering upon the edge of the eroded cliff-face, stands a larger go-rin-ishi which covers Akiyama's grave. An inscription on one of the stones bears the lord's name although this is totally obscured by moss and lichen. Underneath are lines commemorating the sea battle that took place off Asamimura in which Akiyama perished. Players with a good memory for music may recognise in them parts of the songs recited by Hoichi in the temple (that is, if they have heard them). In front of the larger tomb and right at the edge of the cliff, there is an area of flattened grass and bracken where it appears someone has been sitting. Hoichi will be seen to sit here as he recites in front of the tomb at night; Akiyama who leads him down to the cliff's edge from the temple, fades into the five stone tomb at the begin¬ning of the recital. The tomb could be said to resemble a seated man. Akiyama's treasure will be found buried underneath his tomb next to his funerary urn. [see stats.]

The oni-bi frequent the graveyard at all times of the night, and many can be seen whirling around Hoichi's head during his performance. Oni-bi are harmless supernatural manifestations.

At the edge of the eroded cliff parts of the graveyard's wall and the lesser tombs hang over empty space. Looking down one can see human bones protruding from the cliff-face where Akiyama's men are about to return to the watery grave a hundred feet below from whence they were pulled.

On rough stormy nights a dreadful wailing can be heard to come from out at sea. The waters are said to be haunted by the ghost of a noble warrior, Tadafune Akiyama, who 200 years ago, died with several of his men in a sea-battle against a band of pirates. Their bodies were brought in and buried up on the cliffs and Amidaji Temple, a small Buddhist foundation, was then set up to commemorate their deaths. The sea has since eroded the cliff so that half the original graveyard has collapsed away, spilling the mortal remains into the waters below – or sometimes onto the beach, where the Rokuro-kubi come to feast on the rotted corpses. The spirit of Akiyama grows increasingly restless as his own grave will soon be breached by the erosion. His ghost roams on nights of the new moon – for on such a night was he slain – seeking a priest who will rebury him and perform the Segaki service to quieten his spirit.

The Ghost of Lord Akiyama
Spirit Rank: 5
Hit Points: 45
Armour Class: 10
Zanshin: 2
BAP: 10
MNA: 2
BMA: 5
Attack: Katana, BCS 19, Damage 1d6+3 lethal.
Treasure: In the grave, a netsuke of a ki-rin (The Steed of Heaven from the Bushido rules, 3 charges).

The ghost is a Shura, gaunt and wild-eyed but much as Akiyama looked when alive. He speaks in a hollow tormented voice, commanding those before him to retrieve his body from its grave on the cliffs and to give it proper burial elsewhere.

5. The Anjitsu
Here stands a simple stone tomb covered by moss and lichen. Below it lie the mortal remains of the bad Buddhist priest Hobei, now a Jikininki. Players passing near the grove while Hobei is still in human form may hear a faint moaning sound, and, approaching nearer, even the sound of grating teeth. Instead of the tomb, the players will see an anjitsu or hermitage, in the form of a small cottage constructed of stone, with a sloping, gabled roof made of wood. This will disappear once Hobei has made his confession and segaki rites are performed over his body, or when in gaki form.

The Jikininki (corpse eating Gaki)
Str: 30
Dft: 20
Spd: 20
Hlh: 3
Wit: 5
Will: 33
Magic BCS:8
Spirit Rank: 3
Hit Points: 25
Attack: 2 talons,BCS 12, Damage 1d6 lethal
Armour Class: 5
Damage: +3
BAP: 10
MNA: 2
BMA: 7
Jo, BCS 14, Damage 1d6+3 subdual.
Spells: Three uses per day of shadow cloak, as cast by level 2 Shugenja.
Powers: Bewilder (treat as Awe but victims never pass out and the effect vanishes whey Jikininki departs). Minor Invulnerability (takes half damage from non-magical weapons).

The Jikininki is a kind of Gaki. This one was called Hobei, an ex-Buddhist monk. He usually appears as a normal man, dwelling in his anjitsu (priest's hermitage). He feeds on corpses left at the temple gate. This takes five rounds, and if Hobei is wounded he recovers 5 hit points by eating a corpse. Hobei will fight if thwarted from reaching a corpse but once he is glutted he will depart. In his human form, Hobei is surly and irascible but basically contrite about his condition. He was an avaricious priest who thought only of the payment when he performed burial rites, and this dishonour has caused him to become a Jikininki. If the party somehow find out the truth about him and confront him with it he will break down in shame and ask to be given Segaki rites. After the rites have been performed he and his hut will vanish, leaving the players beside Hobei's moss-covered tomb. Burning the body is not necessary.

(Scenario concludes on Friday.)

Monday 21 March 2011

Kwaidan part 1

"A rack of cloud across the light of evening As if they too, those distant hills, wore mourning weeds."
–The Tale of Genji
Players' introduction
Your lord is worried by reports from an outlying demesne, in Kii province. Peasants have been terrorised by a spectral figure on the moors north of Asamimura village. This ghost appears to be a preta, or unquiet spirit, who will only be laid to rest by the proper segaki (exorcism) services performed over his bones. The lord intends to test the mettle of you, his young samurai, by sending you to the village as bodyguards with Sonjo, a Buddhist monk who will perform the necessary rites.

Sonjo the monk (level 3 Buddhist Gakusho)
Str: 5
Dft: 10
Spd: 12
Hlh: 12
Wit: 20
Will: 25
Damage: -1
BAP: 5
MNA: 1
BMA: 4
Power: 40
Hit Points: 16
Skills: Jujutsu(13), Sacred Dance(16), Rhetoric(16), Butsu-do(17), Raja-Yoga (10), Gnana-yoga(11), Tea Ceremony(14), Meditation(12).

Sonjo is likely to take most of the credit or blame resulting from the mission. The players are being sent along merely as bodyguards. Sonjo is an enlightened fellow and will see the value of enlisting Ugetsu's [see below] aid.

Referee’s introduction
This scenario is loosely based around a set of classical Japanese kwaidan (or ghost stories). The referee should use his own judgement and bring in suitable encounters when appropriate rather than slavishly following the order in which they are listed here. Read through the whole scenario carefully as this will provide ideas on how to present each encounter.

Description of Asamimura Monastery & Village

The moors
As the party approach Asamimura village they will cross a stretch of barren moors, taking four hours. There is a 10% chance of an encounter every two hours. Roll 1-6:

1. 1-3 peasants (day only)
2. The Mujina (dusk or night only)
3. The Rokuro-kubi (night only)
4. 1 viper
5. 2-12 wolves
6. Watanabe Tetsu

The Mujina
Spirit Rank: 2
Hit Points: 18
Armour Class: 1
Zanshin: 1
Magic BCS: 11
BAP: 12
MNA: 2
Attack: Tanto, BCS 11, Damage 1d6 lethal.
Spell: Traitor ground (once a day).

She will lure people to her by sobbing and moaning as if in distress. She appears to be a normal woman, wearing a kimono made of rich material. Her face, however, is a terrify¬ing blank, without eyes, ears or nose. When the party is ranged around her she will turn and reveal the true horror of her identity.

Out to sea and over the ruined graveyard at the monastery the dreaded demon fires, or oni-bi, can be seen to flit among the night's shadows. The manor house of the squire (ji-zamurai Watanabe Tetsu) is now deserted and open to the elements. Tetsu himself had his sanity destroyed in an encounter with the Mujina.

If encountered, Watanabe Tetsu will demand money from the party, swinging his katana wildly while doing so. At other times he will shout insanely about a 'faceless woman'.

Watanabe Tetsu (level 3 Bushi, former ji-zamurai of Asamimura)
Str: 25
Dft: 18
Spd: 16
HIh: 18
Wit: 18
Armour Class: 1
Will: 25
Zanshin: 2
Damage: +2
BAP: 9
MNA: 2
BMA: 5
Hit Points: 40
Skills: Kenjutsu(17) with Precision Strike(10), Atemi-Waza(14), Bajutsu(15), laijutsu(12), Kyujutsu(14),Armory(10), Hawking(13), Fish¬ng(9), Tracking(10).
Equipment: Dai-sho, a few pieces of armour.

Since being driven insane by the Mujina, Tetsu has wandered the moors terrorising travellers. He is clad scantily and is extremely dirty. If taken to the shrine of Ugetsu the kami, Tetsu will recover his wits. He is a diligent martial artist but somewhat greedy and hardly of sterling character.

Because of him, the local peasants give the area a wide berth. Occasionally one may be found, but it is more likely that he or she will flee than stop and be questioned. If a peasant is questioned he or she will report that 'new people' have moved into the village, that it is indeed the local ji-zamurai who wanders about the moors and paddy fields half-naked and mad (this with some embarrassment as Tetsu was once a much respected and feared man), that a holy innocent lives in the temple of the monastery and is fed by pious villagers from outlying areas, and, that despite the ruination of the monastery, some kind spirit or person still sees to it that the dead are buried when they are left inside the temple gate. They will also report that travellers have been terrorised by a ghost on the moors particularly religious pilgrims and men of a pious mien. They, themselves however never venture out onto the moors at night, so therefore cannot verify this.

(Continued on Wednesday.)

Friday 18 March 2011

A rack of cloud across the light of evening

All next week we'll be running a scenario from way back in the days of White Dwarf. I mean the days when it used to feature material for D&D, RuneQuest, Traveler and other systems - in this case Bushido, a medieval Japanese RPG that had a burst of cult popularity in the early 1980s.

My own preference is for Heian Japan, a good five or six hundred years earlier than games like Bushido are set. No samurai to speak of then. No seppuku or dai-sho. And certainly no sneaky fellers in black pyjamas spending their days practicing on tiptoe over squeaky floors. I ran a campaign set around the events of The Tales of the Heike using Paul Mason's Water Margin rules, but when it came to Bushido we probably played one or two sessions at most.

"Kwaidan" got written because Oliver Johnson and I were asked to come up with a scenario to help sell Bushido, copies of which must have been lying too long in the Games Workshop window, curling and sun bleached. We had recently seen the movie of the same name at the National Film Theatre and Oliver had bought me Royall Tyler's excellent book of Japanese folktales, so we settled down at our two typewriters with a supply of green tea on hand and bashed out the scenario in an afternoon. Essentially it's an exercise in how to cram as many classic Japanese horror-fantasy elements as possible into one adventure. Not likely to make it into "The Best of Morris & Johnson" then, and most definitely not the kind of roleplaying we were doing in those days or now, but of interest to collectors, perhaps.

I'm going to leave the Bushido stats in. I can't remember now what all those MNAs ("maximum number of actions"?) and BAPs (a type of bread roll?) were all about, but it should be pretty easy to convert to your system of choice. Or you could use Tetsubo - rather apt, that, since it too was written primarily to help sell GW/Citadel products.

Now a footnote. I queued this series of posts up a month ago, but in light of the recent appalling events in Japan I can't let the coincidence of timing pass unnoticed. So I'm going to ask everyone who plans on using the Bushido scenario, or indeed who regularly drops in and enjoys this blog, to please pay for that enjoyment. Normally we believe in giving stuff away for free. But have you played the Heart of Ice gamebook? Or read Jamie's Fabled Lands comic book? Or downloaded Tetsubo? Then I'm asking you now to reach into your pocket on behalf of the people in Japan who need our help. Here's where: the Japanese Red Cross c/o Google Crisis Response. Doing it that way gets aid directly to where it is needed. And please contribute something now, this minute, before you do anything else today.

Thursday 17 March 2011

Because prayers won't do the trick

Any excuse for a picture by Russ, you know that. This is the ghost of Akugenda from FL6: Lords of the Rising Sun:

It is a long steep climb. The sun is sinking towards the horizon as you emerge from the trees and look along the clifftop. The late afternoon light is the colour of blood.

Lord Kiyomori and his guards stand in a circle around a man who is kneeling with his hands tied behind him. The breeze whips his long loose hair around his face as he looks up at them with a scowl of almost demonic ferocity.

‘So, Akugenda,’ says Kiyomori, ‘you are unrepentant even now.’

The man called Akugenda spits on the ground. ‘Repentance, you pious hypocrite? I call upon the Thunder Spirit to hear this vow: I’ll be revenged on the pack of you!’

Kiyomori looks away in distaste. ‘Enough of this. Jiro, kill him.’

Akugenda gives a defiant shout as Jiro lifts the two-handed sword and swings it towards his neck. Slish, the blade cleaves through; thunk, the head drops to the ground. Jiro lowers his blade and reaches for a pitcher of water to clean it.

Kiyomori and his retainers turn to depart, but then a sound makes itself heard. It begins as a low groan, building rapidly to a drawn-out scream of hatred that suddenly becomes an ugly laugh. The hairs on your neck stand on end.

All eyes turn to the body. Coalescing in the air above it is a shadowy image, tinged with the dark red of clotted blood, eyes burning like the heart of a storm. Akugenda’s ghost.

The ghost leaps high into the air with a boom like lightning rebounding off a tree. Jiro steps forward to interpose himself in front of the Lord Chancellor, but the ghost dispatches him with a hellfire bolt.

You watch in horror as the smoking carcass falls to the ground at Kiyomori’s feet.

‘Time to die, chancellor,’ cackles Akugenda’s voice.

Kiyomori stares at the ghost. ‘Do your worst.’

What will you do? Run for it? Leap in front of Kiyomori? Or drive the ghost off with prayer?

This is in preparation for a special series of posts for next week, starting with an important and very serious message tomorrow. See you then.

Tuesday 15 March 2011

Immanence and transcendence

Another quick plug for Simon Cornish's Tefr blog, where today he's got an interesting debate going on about the freedom to bend the rules in roleplaying games. Or possibly about freewill vs fate? Pile in and leave your mark!

Where goblins screech across the moors

That post last month about the realities of medieval warfare (nasty, brutish and not nearly short enough) set me to thinking about Jon Hodgson's excellent piece about the grim, fey world of Dragon Warriors. Jon's article was referenced a while back among some comments on this blog but could easily have been missed, so I'm linking to it here on the Serpent King Games site. And if that strikes a chord, take a look at SKG chief Ian Sturrock's companion piece here.

Fabled Lands players sometimes ask me what makes Legend different from Harkuna. Read what Jon and Ian have to say and you'll know. And you'll also see why I believe that Dragon Warriors has found its dream team, a group of guys with the passion, talent and sensibility to run with the torch, and can now look forward to its brightest (or should that be darkest?) days of all.

Friday 11 March 2011

Sharing some secrets

A couple of snippets today. First, Stuart Lloyd has posted up the first of four in-depth reviews of Fabled Lands on his Virtual Fantasies blog. Some interesting insights there even for those who are familiar with the FL series.

And here's something to trumpet about: the Fabled Lands app from Megara Entertainment is proving a very big hit with iPhone and iPod Touch owners. The game is holding up there in around the #45 mark in RPG ratings on iTunes, and has been bobbing up close to the Top 100 in all adventure games.

This amazing success story means that Mikael Louys, Megara's Grand Fromage and all-around creative powerhouse, is able to pretty much guarantee release of the forthcoming apps for Cities of Gold & Glory and Over the Blood-Dark Sea. And if those do anything like as well as the first game, I think you'll be seeing the rest of the series before too long.

Incidentally, if you haven't yet got a copy of one of the Fabled Lands apps, iFanzine are giving away 20 copies (your choice as to iPad or iPhone version) so head over there posthaste and stake your claim.

Thursday 10 March 2011

The unforgiving muse

Simon Cornish is an artist, animator, RPG designer and writer who was part of the heady company who originally contributed to the launch of UK comic The DFC, soon to be reborn as The Phoenix.* Which was why we happened to meet up at the official unveiling party at David Fickling Books in Oxford last week.

I haven't played in Simon's role-playing world of Tefr yet, but Leo Hartas is a regular and he tells me great things about it, so next time I head over to the West Country to work with Leo on our Mirabilis comic, I'm hoping to join in a session. Tefr by all accounts is a richly detailed setting with (unusually for RPGs) a real theme and story point to it. Luckily I won't have to just plunge in unawares, as Simon has laid out a wealth of great gaming material on his Tefr website. There you can read about the world, get free ebooks of the rule system, or just marvel at Simon's frickin' awesome maps and artwork.

It makes a big difference that Tefr has been created by a skilled writer and artist. The setting isn't just a backcloth for random escapades, it's a classic story-set up with conflict and a problem for the protagonists to deal with. The hook could be the pitch for a movie or ongoing TV show:

You were born into a strange land, a world steeped in history and shaped by ancient strife, a place where rumours of magic and mythical creatures have the ring of truth to them. You'd rather not get involved in such matters; you want to stay home with your family and friends. But you have a problem; they say there is something wrong with you. You have a god's curse upon you, which makes you different: stronger, harder, scarier. Your family and friends no longer want you near them. Some would even want to harm you. If you don't want to become an outcast, your only choice is to join the Kerowan Guild and follow the only profession allowed to those cursed by the gods: become a sword for hire; expendable and despised, but better the jackal than the hare.
Now, I'd like to say that none of the above has anything to do with the fact that Simon is an old friend and Mirabilis fan and he just gave our comic a nice plug on the Fantasy Faction forum. But if you doubt me, hop over to the Tefr site, grab all those freebies and give it a go. It could be just the jolt your role-playing sessions have been looking for.

(* Well, sort of - the new comic is edited by DFC helmsman Ben Sharpe and published by the irrepressible David Fickling, but in fact it's a whole new fabulous beast and nothing to do with Random House's original venture. Just wanted to be clear about that.)

Monday 7 March 2011

Blown away

I recently came across a sheaf of character concept drawings that Russ Nicholson did for my gamebook Heart of Ice. I thought these were as lost as one of those Patrick Troughton episodes of Doctor Who that the BBC wiped to make room for Some Mothers Do 'Ave Em, but then they turn up in a video library in Hong Kong. (Metaphorically, I mean. In this case, they were actually under a pile of dusty old Dragon Warriors posters in my attic.)

This concept stage is typical of the meticulous level of work that Russ puts into a project. Many artists would just send you the illustrations they were paid to do, but Russ takes the trouble to nail the costumes, architecture, etc. And the finished work stands as testimony to that care and attention he puts in, making him surely the pre-eminent illustrator of fantasy and science fiction gamebooks. Anybody who wants to argue with that is going to have to take it up with the redoubtable Sikh warrior Vajra Singh and his mantramukta cannon. Rather you than me.

Friday 4 March 2011

Coming attractions

SF author John Whitbourn's first novel, A Dangerous Energy, won the coveted BBC/Gollancz prize for its virtuoso depiction of how a young hedge wizard's progress towards his goal of becoming a master sorcerer is a long, slippery slope over a precipice of damnation. Harry Potter it ain't. The follow up, To Build Jerusalem, won these accolades from one-time White Dwarf book reviewer Dave Langford:

An alternative England where magic works, science is retarded, and everyone grovels to the Vatican. It's a dark world, with witty touches – like Winston Churchill's eulogy to the martyred hero whose successful action shaped this history, Saint Guy Fawkes.

Something is rotten, though, in the alternative 1995. A major new demon is loose, and besides alarming sexual tastes she has a nasty sense of humour. King Charles IV himself is diabolically abducted. So is an entire castle. The workers – the Levellers – are revolting.

Enter papal investigator Adam, a one-man Inquisition who demonstrates painful martial arts on anyone slow to answer questions. After a spectacularly disastrous conjuration in Westminster and gory mayhem in Guildford, Adam locates the she-demon's lethal private universe and leads in the troops...

There are worse things than the demon, whose excesses are limited by an unnamed but guessable Power. England's real rottenness is the dispossession of farm workers, echoing the Thatcherite feeding frenzy of our own world. The fate of the rescued King is an ultra-black joke; Adam's fate is best not thought about.

A worthy successor to A Dangerous Energy: clever, uncompromising and uncosy.

I was lucky enough to play briefly in John Whitbourn's now-legendary Continuum role-playing game, set in the same world as his early novels - as I reminisced in a recent comment on this blog:

Player-characters could summon up magical powers; they just couldn't control them. I remember the first time I called on the Wild Hunt. I was being pursued cross-country by foes and fondly imagined I could sic Herne and his horde on them. Instead, I heard the thudding of hooves, the blaring of horns, I was seized by the scruff of my neck and carried pellmell over miles of fields at terrifying speed, finally to be dumped in a ditch as slavering red-eyed hounds barked around me. The Wild Hunt departed, leaving me bruised and muddy, but far from my enemies. That was real magic - it raises hairs on my neck just remembering it now.

Why mention all this now? Because Fabled Lands Publishing has just snapped up the rights to John Whitbourn's latest novel and we'll be setting it loose on the world in less than a month. If you like your science fiction to be uncompromising, unsettling, amazing and laced with dry-as-a-bone black humour, you're going to love this.

Thursday 3 March 2011

Mirabilis launches on iPhone, Android, Windows Phone 7 and desktop apps

A cross-post today from my Mirabilis comic blog. Mirabilis season one, all 200 full-color pages of it, launches this week on's multi-platformed storefront. If you've had your nose pressed to the Apple Store window wondering about that iPad, save your money - the new version is out in a month or two anyway, and in the meantime you can not only get Fabled Lands on iPhone, you can now collect all eight issues of Mirabilis on a whole bunch of smartphones and other devices.

Which devices? Well, desktop or laptop for starters. You can get the free Adobe AIR application which really is a nice presentation frame for your comics. Then there are the iPad, iPhone and Android versions - also absolutely free, naturally. And if you prefer to go old school, there's's web reader that lets you have a look inside all their latest titles and to view the ones you collect on stunning fullscreen view. Setting up your ID takes a couple of clicks and then you can read your comics on any or all of the supported platforms.

Still not convinced? Okay, well try this: as an introductory offer you can get both Mirabilis #1 and #2 for free. And offer a whole bunch of other great titles in their online store, many of them free, and all backed up by the kind of extras we're coming to expect in digital comics: creator info, interviews, trailers, character tags and so on. Having just raised a further $3 million investment, are ramping up to be one of the major forces in the new comics media, and we're very proud to have Mirabilis as part of their 2011 flagship line.

This digital lark, there might actually be something in it, eh? But if you don't think so, hold on a few weeks and, if you live in the UK or Ireland, you'll be able to buy Mirabilis as two deluxe hardcovers.

Now, any choices I've left out..?

Wednesday 2 March 2011

Fabled Lands e-gamebook now on iPhone

That's not a picture of Jamie wondering who farted, it's just visual proof that, despite fears to the contrary, Megara Entertainment's Fabled Lands iPhone game is far from being totally JPRG in style. In fact the app has hundreds of pictures with a range of styles reflecting the various locations, all aimed at giving a respectful facelift to the old '90s incarnation of the books.

Wait - back up a sec. Did I say "iPhone"? I did indeed, because Mikael Louys's team have done the conversion work so that you can play the game without needing to buy an iPad. You ask me, I'm still going to tell you to buy an iPad, but Mikael wanted to make it easy for you. The game will run on an iPod Touch too, so you don't even need a fancy phone.

Mikael reports that the FL app has shot up to #63 in the main USA roleplaying rankings on iTunes. This is no mean feat, given that it has been on sale for barely 36 hours. I know I will be asked two questions. First, "How can one or two sales make any difference to FL's future fortunes?" Well, as I've explained before, getting a high ranking on iTunes makes a game more visible, which leads to more people being aware of it and hence more copies sold. This is why early sales are so important, to boost that ranking quickly up and reach escape velocity.

Which leads to the other question: "How will buying an iPhone app lead to new Fabled Lands books?" Because no entertainment business these days can survive by selling one product. Marvel don't make money by just selling comic books, they create properties that are multi-stranded and you support those properties whether you buy the comic, the DVD or just the Iron Man lunchbox. Fabled Lands LLP makes just as much revenue from sales of the FL app as from sales of the new edition print books, meaning that a sale of either of those is another tick in the column that may convince the FL board to fund new gamebooks.

But who cares about all that business stuff? The fact is that Megara have produced a brilliant reinvention of the first FL book as a 2D roleplaying game, in living color with atmospheric music, and you get at least 20 hours of gameplay for about $5. It's a no brainer, even for old Jamie the Orc there.