Gamebook store

Monday 26 November 2012


Any time I put up a picture by Russ Nicholson, it's yet more evidence of the imagination and versatility that makes him Britain's premier fantasy illustrator. This one has a special place in our hearts, for it was one of the first Russ drew for me (in my 1985 gamebook The Eye of the Dragon) and the original is framed on the wall of Jamie's study and watches him as he creates modern masterworks like the Dirk Lloyd books - or skives off to play a couple of hours of Skyrim, more like.

I got to thinking about it a while back when I was preparing a seasonal RPG special. Our gaming group meets every fortnight (on a Thursday, since you asked) but we also try to have four all-day Sunday specials to mark the solstices and equinoxes. This autumn I drew the referee's straw and needed to come up with a storyline in a hurry. The snag was, I was also in the middle of prepping Frankenstein for epub3. Spare time had become a highly theoretical concept. So I did what any of us might do in the circumstances, and reached for a classic adventure novel to plunder for ideas.

I'd never read She before. It's certainly packed with great scenes and ideas. As a novel it feels a little flat because it is just a "this happened, and then this, and then this" kind of story. Nothing is made of the potential emotional and moral challenges that would make us sit up and take notice today. Not that I'm complaining. If it had been a really thrilling read, I'd have worried about spoiling it for those of my gamers (all of them, I'm betting) who haven't yet read it. But, bereft as it is of the character stuff that makes a story really grip, you're free to rip it off as an epic adventure scenario - and by those terms it certainly does the business.

There's no point in me posting the adventure here. It relates to the characters in my own campaign, who were coming to Ayesha's (that's pronounced "Asha", by the way) kingdom from 9th century Baghdad, not 19th century Cambridge. And they had specific campaign reasons for going. And the system we use is GURPS 4e. And my Ayesha was more of a sci-fantasy boffin than H Rider Haggard's psychic beauty. But you don't need my notes anyway. Haggard's book is one big RPG scenario pack, complete with suggested episodes to keep the action going. Thanks to the wonderful Project Gutenberg, it's right there for everyone to read, so why not try it out on your players?

Monday 19 November 2012

Salvaging treasures from the sunken continent

I've been looking through our material for the world of Abraxas recently. This, if you've just joined us, is the science fantasy setting that Jamie and I created for a massively-multiplayer online game we were developing at Eidos about a decade ago. No orcs, no goblins, no elves... Instead we had psionics, flyers, prehistoric civilizations, alien foes and vril-powered rifles. It would have been different from the usual crop of CRPGs, you have to give us that.

Fortunately, when Jamie and I left Eidos, we had the foresight to get them to cede rights in the aborted design for the game, including ownership of the wonderful concept sketches and maps that Russ Nicholson and Darren Horley had done for the game. So now I'm looking for a way to get that material out into the world. But it needs to be in a form that will encourage people to use it, sticking something up for free on the internet being a quick way to consign it to the contempt of over-familiarity.

Abraxas is available as a Kindle book but you don't have to splash out $1.99 because it's also available right here on the FL blog. I've been thinking of publishing it as a paper-and-pencil role-playing game, adapting the Tirikelu rules that I originally designed for the paragon of science fantasy - and indeed of fantasy world-building in general - namely Professor M.A.R. Barker's magnificent creation Tekumel. But would today's gamers be interested in a setting that lacked all those cherished tropes (see orcs, above) that have been enshrined in fantasy by descent from Tolkien via Tad Williams and then Dungeons and Dragons and finally gamebooks? I guess there's only one way to find out.

Monday 12 November 2012

Cover versions

I'm right in the throes of getting these four gamebooks ready for release next spring, so I'm afraid you'll have to excuse me for keeping this one short.

The first thing I ought to say is that these aren't actually the covers they're going to have when they go on sale. I just knocked these up to have handy copies to write in. It beats feeding reams of paper into the laser printer. Instead, I just have to fiddle around on Lulu for a half hour and lo, it's all sorted and some spanking new paperbacks arrive a few days later. The cover design process is quite therapeutic, too, after hours of flowcharting and proofreading.

The eagle-eyed will notice Twist of Fate has a new title. I never liked the original and this one explains what it's about. Mind you, I have yet to find out what our new publishers think. It could be The Thief of Bagshot by the time it comes out.

Ah yes. Our new publishers... Because this is not a Spark Furnace venture, but rather a partnership with a leading international publisher. If you're any sort of a gaming or fantasy nerd, you'll have heard of them - and, if you're like me, you'll have been collecting their books since you were a kid. I'll let you know who it is (assuming you haven't guessed) as soon as the ink is dry on the deal.

As well as these four books, we'll have an all-new gamebook by Jamie that I'm still going to refer to by the irritatingly tantalizing title of Undeadwood just so I'll have something to post about when we're ready to announce what it's really called. And for the sixth book - well, I'm still hoping it'll be the first in the Way of the Tiger series, and the news as of today is that it probably will be. Maybe even two Way of the Tiger books to kick off and we hold back Undeadwood till the autumn. What would your vote be on that?

Monday 5 November 2012

A tale told by a troubadour

Now, don't fret that I'm going to start trying to flog you something every week. I know that last time it was Megara's Kickstarter project, following on from my Frankenstein gamebook app and before that the Binscombe Tales, but it was Halloween(ish) - and I only mentioned the last of those because I sincerely believe it's a work of genius and I want everybody who likes weird fiction to get to hear about it.

Today's book isn't spooky at all. It's a rollicking adventure story by Jamie, packed with his trademark humour and (of course) all told in a deftly engaging and understated authorial voice that makes the brothers Grimm come across like strident fairground barkers.

This one has been out on Kindle for a while, but I've gradually come to accept that Fabled Lands fans may not have embraced the digital age with quite the same enthusiasm as the mass of the reading populace. An outrageous generalization, I know, but in case it applies to you, take heart; for here is the paperback version of Jamie's Harkuna-set novella The Lost Prince.

The review on Amazon expresses exactly what I like about this book:
"As you read you can almost see an accomplished troubadour stalking around a hushed tavern as he spins and embroiders his tale... The type of book that would grab and carry any reader, involve him or her, and wrap up with a flourish."
If you know somebody of around 8-12 years who's into fantasy, this would be a perfect gift. Just saying. (I'm English, so hard sell just isn't in my blood.)

Okay, next time I'm not even going to mention any of our current projects, I promise.

 I just got back from a week in Cornwall to hear the news. Jamie's book Dark Lord: The Teenage Years won the Roald Dahl Prize. (I would have known a bit sooner if I'd thought to take my phone along.) It's the culmination of a lot of hard work by Jamie, and as the first of our new cross-media properties from the Spark Furnace, a great vindication of the business plan and creative direction we took a few years back. The judges' decision was unanimous, and they ought to know what they're talking about, so while you're picking up a copy of The Lost Prince, I advise taking a look at Dark Lord too.

Friday 2 November 2012

The Thief of Memories

What is it about Depression-era Manhattan that makes it such a compelling place to set a story?

I guess it all began with those archetypal pulp heroes like the Shadow. The passage of time, far from attenuating the lure of those rain-wreathed skyscrapers, Deco-styled apartments, spats, and Duesenbergs, has added the heft of hindsight. Now we can populate the darkened alleyways with Cthulhoid monsters, and envisage the smart uptown set watching the unwrapping of mummies while sipping highballs. And over this nervy world of light and dark, innocence and corruption, hangs the darkest shadow of all: impending war against the Axis.

I'm a sucker for this world. From Wesley Dodds doling out bad dreams for the wicked to Lobster Johnson facing Nazis and nastier, from Edward Carnby finding himself alone in the dark to Jeff Daniels scouring Hoboken for the purple rose of Cairo, I'm always first in line. I can even take Alec Baldwin as the Shadow, if that's the price tag for Russell Mulcahy's luminous vision of 1930s Manhattan and Jon Lone's perfect take on Shiwan Khan.

In light of all this, it's amazing that up till now there hasn't been a thirties 'tec gamebook. (If I'm wrong about that, somebody will correct me.) But it was worth the wait. Paul Gresty has penned a trilogy of interactive adventures titled Arcana Agency: The Thief of Memories. It's a 200-page hardback, gorgeously illustrated by the team at Megara Entertainment, the talented group behind the Fabled Lands iOS apps and the forthcoming Way of the Tiger RPG.

So where do you sign up? On Kickstarter, actually. Megara need your backing to bring this ambitious project to completion, and they've found a printer who can deliver a high-quality, full-colour hardcover for the price of a paperback.

What makes Arcana Agency really innovative is that Paul Gresty has avoided the traditional second-person hero, choosing instead to write it in third person with a cast of characters. This makes a lot of sense. Teamwork is an essential element of pulp mythology - Doc Savage, the Shadow, Lobster Johnson, etc, all have their band of trusty sidekicks. But this is not simply a nod to the conventions of the genre, it's a new gamebook technique that allows a much broader and more complex story to be told. Don't you love it when a plan comes together?

Arcana Agency: Thief of Memories is on Kickstarter till early December. Go take a look. If gamebooks are your thing, I think you'll find this one's a doozy.