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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.


  1. Depression-era gamebooks are indeed thin on the ground.

    As far as the specific era of the American Depression in the thirties, I can think of only two titles that spring to mind; the excellent hardboiled cthulhu-esque adventures "Dice Man" by Pat Mills and Graham Manley, and "Bitter Streets" by Pat Mills and Steve Dillon. Both were a "fantasy gaming comic strip" published back in the eighties within the pages of Diceman #2 and #4, respectively (2000AD publications). Don't let the word "comic" fool you; Bitter Streets is particularly mean, moody and brilliant.

    As far as I recall, one amateur hardboiled gamebook adventure does exist but it is set set in the twenties prior to the Depression; "The Strange Case of the Bodies in the Docks" by Simon Osbourne.

    There are two others set in the thirties and twenties respectively that play on more overt and horror themes rather than hardboiled; "Dice of Destiny" by Pat Mills (again) within Diceman #3, and a solitaire Call of Cthulhu scenario called "Alone on Halloween" by Scott Aniolowski, John Tynes and C.L.Werner.

    However, for my money the best hardboiled paragraph-based adventure game to-date is the frankly awesome "Gumshoe" - also published in the eighties. Gumshoe is a sequel-of-sorts to Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective, but set this time in a straight Chinatown-esque twenties San Francisco. Sadly, Gumshoe is long-since out of print...

    1. I did have Gumshoe, but I either lost it or gave it to my wife to sell on eBay. Doh. Pretty sure I once had some issues of Diceman, too - though I wasn't aware that Pat Mills wrote for it. Those are other long-lost works that I wish I still had :-(

  2. Many thanks for your post, Dave! We've put a lot of effort into making a good presentation--and by that, I mean both the gamebook itself and the Kickstarter where we're (hopefully) launching it. It's a great feeling for us, having played for so long in the worlds of others (hooray, Fabled Lands!), to now carry those lessons back into a world of our own.

  3. Thanks for the news Dave!
    BTW, have you (and Jamie) consider a hardcover color edition for FL? perhaps when the saga is over, you could launch a Kickstarter


  4. Hi! Sorry to arrive late to the party. Thanks for the shout out, Dave. A little news on The Thief of Memories - we'll very shortly be putting out a bonus mini-adventure to give people a real taste of 1930s spookiness. More news to come!

    Pass on congratulations to the Dark Lord, Dirk Lloyd, by the way.

    1. Thanks, Paul. I'll see if Jamie has recovered from the celebrations yet.

  5. I'm not seeing how to get the hardcover book for the cost of a paperback, like you said. It looks like you need to invest $40 to get the hardcover. Or is the paperback coming later?

    1. Oh, sorry for not noticing your question, and I hope you're checking back to get the answer. It's a turn of phrase. There is no paperback: the hardback costs AS MUCH AS a paperback would. Which is to say, a full-color hardback would ordinarily cost a lot more then $40, but thanks to a good printing deal it is this inexpensive. Make sense?