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Friday 31 January 2014

Who is making the choice?

OK, this isn't a dig at either Heavy Rain (above) or The Birthday Party (below). These interactive videos on YouTube are just a bit of fun. But they do serve to illustrate a problem with interactive movies - to wit, that they are completely and calamitously unengaging.

Look at the Heavy Rain example. It's set up exactly like a scene in a movie. Our mental gears shift to prepare us for being told a story. And then suddenly it all freezes. The engrossing but fragile confection that is story evaporates, to be replaced by the uncomfortable angles of a puzzle. Snap out of it, you have to make a decision!

But as whom? We're not the protagonist. We're not the protagonist's confidant or conscience. We are, in fact, the viewer - or we were a moment ago. But now we're the author - quite a old-fashioned author, too, hopping between viewpoints - making the next plot decision. And in a moment we'll go back to being the viewer. How discombobulating - and exhausting.

Viewers and readers do not want to make up a story. They want to be told a story. The motivation that most compels our interest in fiction is wondering what happens next. Interactivity can play powerfully into this need. You can make the reader the hero, as in a traditional gamebook, in which case their decisions fit logically within the story. Another way is to make the interactivity about the reader's or viewer's relationship with characters.

What doesn't work is disconnecting us from events so that we float around in an oneiric state of immersion one moment, then have to wake up into a different persona - the rational, active self in which we analyse, ponder, sit forward and make a choice. That's interactivity for Vulcans. Let's have no more of it.

Thursday 30 January 2014

Another sneaky peek

More Way of the Tiger news, with a hot-off-the-presses view of Ninja, the prequel book written by David Walters. You get to play out Avenger's early life and find out how he/she came to be orphaned on the steps of a monastery dedicated to forgiveness, gnomic epigrams, and garotting.

This one is not going to appear in paperback (Fabled Lands Publishing only owns the rights to the original six books) so if you want a copy you'll need to hie your way over to Megara Entertainment and see if they have any spare after supplying the Kickstarter backers. In fact, I just this minute got an email from Mikaël Louys, who runs Megara, to say that he has a few copies of Ninja for sale. Better be quick!

Sunday 26 January 2014

Things to come

A couple of works-in-progress from the production juggernaut that is The Way of the Tiger. Above, a detail from Leo Hartas's map of Irsmuncast-Nigh-Edge (the finished piece will be in colour) and below an illustration by Mylène Villeneuve for the third book, Usurper, of a priestess of Time and the ranger, Glaivas.

There are more pictures on Mylène's site and you can follow the schedule of the full-colour hardbacks on Megara's site. The first two paperbacks should be released by Fabled Lands Publishing in early March. There's also an Orb roleplaying game in development.

Over in this other corner, I'm working on the entirely ninja-free Blood Sword - but more of that in due course.

Friday 17 January 2014

The uncertainty principle

There’s a German film called The Way Things Go ("Der Lauf der Dinge"). If you haven’t seen it, you probably remember the Honda commercial that ripped it off. I mean, that was “creatively inspired” by it.

Objects have personality. A rolling disc moves with a cheeky wobble. A rod swings arrogantly. A ball bearing blithely ignores the chaos all around. Artists have known this since the first time a pebble was shaped to have sensuous curves. Thousands of years before the Virgin Mary, pareidolia detected other faces in a full moon, a cut pear, or a deer’s entrails. And Heider and Simmel showed that even triangles and circles can exhibit attachment, jealousy and unrequited love.

We all know that inanimate objects can be vindictive, especially when we’re hurrying to get ready and a chair or table decides to trip us up or inflict a treacherous blow to the shins. I encounter it every day on my computer. Firefox is often obstructive, especially when it gets together with McAfee. It drags its heels, refuses to shut down and restart. I’m accustomed to every hanging pause and greyed-out window as to the foibles of an obstreperous flatmate.

In an application with a practical function, the last thing we want is personality. Hands up who misses Clippy. Thought so. Just like reaching out a hand to pluck a grape, we desire thought and action to be as one. Good interactive design is all about immediate response and no surprises.

Except when it comes to stories. Because there, personality is exactly what we’re looking for. A choice in a gamebook should never play out entirely predictably. That’s what dice rolls used to clumsily try to provide. But a much better example comes from storytelling – the ordinary, non-interactive kind.

A story, if it’s well told, makes you wonder what’s going to happen next. (In fact, before that, it has to make you care what happens next, but what we’re talking about now assumes you’re already signed up for the ride.) Faced with a problem, the hero tries something – maybe it works a little, maybe it makes things worse, but it’s never exactly what he planned. Now he has to think on his feet. Reaching the satisfying conclusion is a process of continual tweaks of a complex system involving circumstances, unforeseen complications, the hero’s own shortcomings, and the emotions of others. “Stay in the house.” Of course she doesn’t. “Don’t forget your phone.” They always do. “Wait for back-up…” Oh, aren't we're just itching for the plans to gang agley?

In a gamebook, having to roll dice when you try to leap the chasm is one way to inject some unpredictability. Better is when you leap and fall onto another ledge. A new route – but is it more dangerous than the one before? Or you tell a character to do something and they argue. Maybe they do a little of what you asked, but don’t stick to the whole plan. How frustrating. And entertaining.

What would be terrible design in an interface is good policy if you’re writing interactive stories. Each time I curse Firefox, a part of me thinks of trying to persuade Victor Frankenstein to be more careful, or of arguing in the snow with Kyle Boche. Lack of complete control is what allows stories, improvisation and interactive fiction to exert such a hold over us. Where will it lead? We don’t know yet. The only certainty is that it’ll be fascinating.

Wednesday 15 January 2014

All there in black and white

I'm sure you don't need me to tell you what this is. Coming very soon, too. But if you want a really nice color one, you'll have to talk to Megara Entertainment .

Wednesday 8 January 2014

Who goes there? Helix, Daleks and Things in the ice

News of a new show, Helix, that is starting on Syfy tomorrow, set me thinking about a concept that I pitched to them ten years ago. The original concept was for a Doctor Who story, cooked up immediately after watching the disappointing Paul McGann TV movie (not that it was his fault).

In my version, the reboot picked up after an unspecified regeneration which in my ur-text was probably from third to fourth Doctor. The action was set in a biotech research base in the Antarctic, where scientists had recovered fragments of alien DNA and were trying to reconstruct the original organisms. One was a microbe that metabolized metals (it had to be kept suspended in a magnetic bubble) but there was also another, more complex, alien lifeform that appeared to have no external sensory organs, all of its nerve connections coming to a single neural router.

This was a way of bringing the Daleks back, in fact. The complex organism was the Dalek itself. The microbe was something they had engineered to build their casings, much as coral grows a reef or how human DNA grows a skeleton, come to that. Such story sleight-of-hand would also justify a redesign of the Daleks so that we could have them hover a foot off the ground (to be accomplished with a green screen skirt at the bottom) and never again have to listen to that, "What about stairs?" crap. Considering that I came up with the entire plot in thirty minutes over a glass of wine while post-morteming the TV movie, I was particularly pleased with the double-bluff climax too, where the thing you think will stop the Daleks gives them no trouble whatsoever.

I worked the outline up with my wife, who is also a writer, and we talked to Terry Nation's agent, but the wheels were already turning for the BBC to reboot Doctor Who by then. And even so, pitching a TV show is an uphill struggle as it is. Adding another man's IP to your load is like yomping across the Brecon Beacons with a sackful of bricks.

That explains why, when we came to pitch it around the networks a couple of years ago, Jamie and I substituted our own aliens for the Daleks. That version is called Starborn and you can read it here. That's much the most polished outline we did. Jamie and I moved the action to the Arctic Circle, linked it all to the Tunguska event, and wrapped it up as a full movie. I would love to have made it, although now it would just look like we'd copied Helix.

But in case you're interested in the original Dr Who version, read on. It's not every day you get fanfic on the Fabled Lands blog. And kudos to John W Campbell, of course.

Doctor Who reboot pilot: “Who Goes There?”

By Roz and Dave Morris (1996)

An American military helicopter, flying near the South Pole. On board are several special forces soldiers, plus two civilians. The civilians, two men, are wearing survival blankets, and have obviously been picked up nearby. Two soldiers, Murphy and Powell, are guarding them with guns, and a third, Captain Evans, is watching their every move. The two civilians seem relatively unperturbed by this scrutiny. The one with Murphy looks around at the helicopter interior with mild curiosity; the one with Powell seems to be directing his attention inward as though meditating. They don’t talk to each other.
They travel for a while in silence. The civilian being guarded by Murphy eventually says to Captain Evans: ‘You can contact UNIT. They will tell you who we are.’
Captain Evans replies crisply: ‘We have been advised that you can alter your appearance. We have protocols for that too.’
The civilian raises an eyebrow and returns to his idle survey of the helicopter interior. His accent was not American, unlike that of those around him. The other civilian surfaces from his meditation and fixes his eyes on Captain Evans for a while, looking at him with curiosity. His stare is intense and Captain Evans snaps at Powell: ‘Make sure you watch his every move.’

Captain Evans takes a call on his earpiece. It is the pilot. After a few moments Captain Evans tells Murphy and Powell that the craft is diverting. ‘Diverting where?’ says the civilian being guarded by Powell.
‘You don’t need to know where,’ says Captain Evans.
The pilot contacts Evans again. They are attempting to divert to a base but the base is a restricted area and will not allow them to land. Evans attempts to reason with them. Clearly the helicopter  is in difficulties.
The civilian with Murphy raises his voice above the hubbub and says calmly but authoritatively:  ‘If this helicopter fails mid-air we will die. We’ll simply have to land there and take the consequences.’ Reluctantly Captain Evans gives the order to land.

With difficulty, the pilots coax the ailing craft to a safe landing, They are on a windswept plain outside a long, low building. It could have been designed to blend in with the arid, snowless landscape around it. Immediately they are surrounded by guards in environment suits and escorted inside. Meanwhile the helicopter is towed into a hangar and in moments there is barely a sign that they have been there, as the fierce wind scours away any trace of their landing.

The Americans and their two prisoners are shown to a room and told to wait. It is a lounge area, with sofas and low tables, and CCTV surveillance. Captain Evans tells them that they are in a Gensec facility.
‘What’s a Gensec?’ asks Murphy. Despite the hiatus, he and Powell are still guarding the two strangers carefully.
The stranger with Powell speaks. ‘Genetically Secure. We’re in the heart of Antarctica. It’s cold, dry and sterile. This is a base for genetic engineering research. If any bacteria escape, they can’t spread because it’s like releasing them on the moon.’
Now we can get a closer look at the two prisoners. The one with Murphy is tall and athletic, with a quiet intelligent look about him. The one with Powell is a little smaller, but extremely forceful and intense.
Captain Evans snaps at them: ‘Our protocols will still be enforced, even in this temporary setback.’

The base is staffed partly by military, partly by scientists.  The base commander comes in, along with a scientist and two other soldiers. Captain Evans explains that they are American special forces and the base personnel systematically check the credentials of all the newcomers. When they ask about the two prisoners Captain Evans reports that the squad were sent to pick them up after an incident on one of the ice shelves. He will not divulge what the incident is, but gives a reference code.
The two prisoners speak to each other for the first time. ‘The Earth military are always so regimented,’ says the one with Powell. 
‘But that regimentation has its uses,’ says the other.

The pilot and co-pilot are working with the base’s engineers to repair the helicopter, but they estimate it will take a few hours. The base commander has checked out the visitors and briefed Captain Evans, and now they are allowed a little more freedom. The stranger with Murphy immediately makes for the main lab, still with his soldier guard, who will not let him out of his sight. In the lab are the chief scientist, Professor Dent, and her assistant, Dr Allen. Professor Dent is very prickly with the civilian, and looks particularly annoyed when he and his guard stroll off to explore the lab. The civilian with Powell joins them some minutes later.
The civilian with Murphy remarks on a molecular model on a computer screen. Startled at the depth of the man’s knowledge, Professor Dent replies: ‘I didn’t realise you were a scientist.’
‘The term scientist is too restrictive,’ replies the man. ‘What one does doesn’t define who one is.’ He goes back to inspecting the model on the screen. Professor Dent watches as the man with Powell leafs through a sheaf of test result sheets rapidly and with great concentration. She says a quiet word to Dr Allen and leaves the room.
When she comes back her manner has changed and she is more forthcoming. She says: ‘I found it very hard to get any information on the two of you. I had to hack in via the internet and even so there isn’t much. Eventually I got to UNIT. You should have said. Which one of you is the Doctor?’
The man with Powell replies: ‘We’re both scientifically trained.’
Professor Dent says: ‘I want to talk to you about what we’re doing here,’ and begins to ask if they have any experience of building life-forms.
Dr Allen, her assistant, interrupts. ‘They don’t have military clearance,’ he says severely, and argues with Professor Dent. The civilian with Murphy eventually coaxes Professor Dent to tell all.
Signals have been picked up from space from the CETI programme. They were immediately classified. No-one could make sense of them at first, then someone realised it was a genome. So the data was sent to Gensec to be synthesised. There are two genomes. One is very simple - a complex microbe that metabolises metal, quite rapidly. They have to keep it in a magnetic bottle as it eats glass too, only more slowly. They studied what it was doing with the metal and found it was weaving it into some sort of structure.
‘It was only a microbe,’ says Professor Dent. ‘It seemed to have a few simple behaviours for how it would weave, perhaps like a spider.’
The man with Powell interjected: ‘or like a termite?’
‘A termite?’ says Dent.
‘Because they know how each other think,’ says the man with Powell. ‘A few simple rules allow the termite to build complex structures including nests with cooling veins that maintain an absolute temperature.’
‘It’s emergence,’ says the man with Murphy. ‘The creation of complexity out of simple rules. Don’t worry, old girl, not your field.’
‘You said there were two genomes,’ says the man with Powell.
‘We’ve just finished the second one,’ says Dent. ‘This is the problem. We’re not sure if we’ve got something wrong. The organism is about the size of and not dissimilar to a trilobite. It has very complex neural tissue, but all the neural clusters come together in an organ which has no other contact.’
The man with Murphy says: ‘You mean it has all the nerves to operate limbs but no limbs.’
‘Only vestigial limbs,’ says Dent. ‘It’s hard to see how it could be a viable life form. Actually I wasn’t sure that there wasn’t an error in the process. So we grew twenty separate ones. And they’re all the same.’
‘What have you done with it?’ asks the man with Murphy.

At that moment, there is an alert. Base security rush into the lab and escort the two strangers out, with their guards, and Dent and her assistant are called away. The two strangers are escorted back to the lounge area where they were first held with the American soldiers, and on their way they overhear the reason for the alert: several of the complex organisms have escaped from the tanks where they were grown.
The man with Powell turns to the other man. ‘They seem to be very resourceful,’ he says.

The creatures have got into the ventilation shaft. One drops out and attacks one of the base’s soldiers. It seems to be trying to bite him. The soldier reacts in fright, throws the creature to the ground and kills it.

The creatures are rounded up and caught. One is missing, but Professor Dent assures everyone it can’t do any harm, and generally no one seems worried about it. The base commander orders them to be moved from their open tanks to the secure part of the lab where the magnetic bottles are, and for them to be secured under lids. ‘We don’t want any more to get out,’ he says.

The body of the squashed creature is returned to the lab, and Dent invites the two strangers to inspect it, explaining that it tried to attack a soldier. The two pore over it, interested, and the one with Murphy says: 'So they seem to be unreasoningly aggressive as well as resourceful.’ Dent types up some notes on a laptop, while Dr Allen ribs his colleague about not trusting her vital work to the network. ‘I don’t like the network,’ retorts Dent crossly.

The two strangers and Dent rejoin the others in the lounge area. Captain Evans reports that the helicopter is nearly ready, and soon they will be on their way. The armed guards continue to shadow the two civilians, who now seem to take no notice of them whatsoever and are having a philosophical discussion with Dent and her assistant Allen about why someone would broadcast a genome through space for someone to build. Dent speculates it could be a dying planet wanting to communicate. The stranger with Murphy remarks that this seems to be a very trusting thing to do: ‘People might synthesise your race merely to enslave them.’
Allen agrees: ‘Yes, it seems too private to send your genetic code out in that way.’
‘But how do you enslave a microbe or a virus?’ says Dent.
‘A virus..?’ repeats the man with Murphy. ‘If you had a virus that could spread unchecked through the universe, would you make it?’

Suddenly, the lights flicker and dim. Something is draining the power from the generator. The computers show that the drain is from the secure lab, otherwise known as the vault. Dent, Allen, Captain Evans, the two strangers and their guards and the base commander rush down. They find the doors are sealed.

The vault is built to survive a nuclear blast and proves impregnable.

With the power off, the base is much colder after a couple of hours. Everybody has been trying to work in emergency lighting, which casts an eerie dim glow. People are using torches but the batteries are rapidly becoming drained. Tempers are becoming frayed as all efforts to enter the vault prove futile. Captain Evans and hi men, who never quite trusted the two strangers, notices the two strangers do not seem to feel the cold as much as the others do, and everyone is looking at them with more suspicion. The base commander accuses them of having instigated this crisis, and they become more like prisoners again as Murphy and Powell redouble their guarding effort.
The base commander has the two strangers escorted away from the vault, but soon decides they are the only chance to solve the problem.
The one with Powell asks Dent: ‘Is the vault sealed off? How about the ventilation system?’
‘That isn’t big enough,’ says Dent. ‘It’s only a narrow duct. We couldn’t use that to enter the vault.’
‘No,’ the man with Murphy replies. ‘WE couldn’t.’ He meets his companion’s eyes and understanding passes between them. 
Dr Allen is down there too. He mentions that when the power went off a few hours ago, it would have deactivated the magnetic bottles.
The man with Powell lets out a long, thoughtful sigh. ‘So, was it mindless aggression or cunning? Perhaps the one who died did it to create a diversion.’
The man with Murphy has been working out what happened. ‘The creature that went missing got into the vault and used its vestigial limbs to turn off the bottle, freeing the microbes which are now metabolising everything. It also freed the other creatures. My guess is that those microbes are weaving something, possibly a complex piece of machinery.’

The commander peers into the vault. It is steamed up in there because the power is still on and it is warm. He says: ‘I can see something in there. It’s like domes or termite mounds. They’re moving. They’re coming  towards the door.’ He suddenly shouts. ‘Stand back!’
Captain Evans reacts immediately and tells his two men: ‘Prepare your weapons. The moment the doors open, fire!’
Dent tries to stop them ‘But wait,’ she says. ‘These creatures could be extra-terrestrials, they may not mean us any harm.’ She turns to one of the strangers for support. ‘We should try to communicate and reason with them.’
The stranger with Murphy says: ‘It’s unlikely we’ll be able to reason with them, but I don’t think the guns will do anything. Stand back!’
The doors open. The soldiers open fire into the vault with their sub machine guns. Massive fire power is unleashed into the room as they try to eradicate the unknown threat within. It goes on for what seems like ages, a barrage of bullets, sparks, ricochets and metallic sounds.

Finally Captain Evans shouts: ‘cease fire.’

Something is moving. It comes towards them, backlit by the remaining light from within the vault. A domed thing, moving smoothly across the bullet-littered floor.

It says: ‘Put down your weapons or you will be exterminated.’

A Dalek.

The Daleks immediately recognise the stranger with Murphy as the Doctor, and order the others to secure him under close confinement. As three Daleks escort them triumphantly away they can’t resist divulging their plan: to broadcast themselves through the universe so that advanced civilisations will pick them up and synthesise them.

The stranger with Powell, who is the Master, says ‘So they are perfectly placed to wipe out all the civilisations who would be a threat to them. You must admire their ingenuity.’

The Doctor replies: ‘I find nothing in them to admire.’

They exchange a conspiratorial look, and then the Master creates a diversion and the Doctor manages to run outside and escape. The Daleks decide not to pursue him, saying he will either die in the cold or come back in of his own accord.

The Daleks put the humans to work. They instruct the humans to reconfigure the satellite array so that they can receive more signals from outer space. They begin to wait for their messages, but a cosmic storm means they are interrupted. Meanwhile, the scientists are forced to give DNA samples.

The Master seems keen to engage the Daleks in conversation. He tells them: ‘I was studying the genome used to create you. It’s too great a task to build an entire structure from scratch. So the humans have used Earth animals for the redundant DNA – mice, worms, even humans. You’re not pure.’
The Dalek replies: ‘It does not matter. When the Daleks from Skaro get here our fate is immaterial.’

The Daleks’ message gets through and they have their orders from Skaro, plus another microbe to grow. Professor Dent and Dr Allen have ominous feelings about this. Then they overhear some Daleks discussing it; it is a microbe that will destroy all human life on the planet when mixed with human DNA – the samples that the Daleks took.

These Daleks have been restyled; the weaving process has allowed them to be adapted for their environment, so they float over rough terrain on a cushion of light-charged air.

After a little while outside, the Doctor comes back to the area where the soldiers and base staff are being held and gives himself up. Everyone is astonished that he managed to survive outside.
The Daleks are jubilant to have the Doctor in their clutches but also suspicious. They quickly arrive in force to question him. When he refuses to tell them what he has been doing they decide to try out their new microbe on him. Two Daleks pinion him against a wall and another approaches with a test tube in a glass box with a timer. The timer is set. The other humans in the room scream. The Master tries to reason with the Daleks, saying they’ll kill everyone and then they will have no servants to help them colonise the planet. The Daleks say ‘This does not matter; Daleks will find a way.’

The timer detonates and smashes the test tube.

Liquid spreads across the floor. The puddle from the test tube seems to grow even as you look at it, and vapour pours off it. The humans try to escape but their way is barred by Daleks. The humans start to collapse, coughing and panicking. The Doctor and the Master remain unharmed. The Daleks are worried – and ask each other why the humans have not begun to disintegrate – and why the Master and the Doctor are still standing. The doctor replies that the humans are merely sleeping – from a dose of opioid found in the medical unit. Then the Daleks start to bubble and distort – and the Doctor reveals that he swapped their deadly microbe for their metal-weaving microbe, which he has modified . The Daleks start to melt before their eyes, screaming in panic.

The Daleks die horribly as their casings melt and the power is shorted through the organic creature inside.

The humans start to wake up, one by one. The Doctor explains that he liberated something from the lab – Professor Dent’s laptop. ‘Very useful things, he said. I made a few modifications to the metal-weaving microbe. It just used very simple chemicals and didn’t really take any power.’ The Doctor takes something from his inside pocket. The lab staff and soldiers all gasp – it is the deadly microbe. The Doctor gives it to Professor Dent telling her to destroy it immediately.

The helicopter has been repaired and the party are ready to leave. The Americans immediately clap the Master into handcuffs before they all get into the helicopter and take off.

Meanwhile, back in the lab, Professor Dent notices one of her test tubes is missing – the one with the metal-eating microbe.

Wednesday 1 January 2014

The first tree in the greenwood

Mark Smith and I co-created the Virtual Reality gamebook series, but we wrote our books separately and took a very different approach. The original pitch to publishers was that VR would be like interactive novels. What we meant by that was that if you took all the sections in a given read-through and pasted them together, you could give that to a friend and they could read it the same way they would a novel. (Not that you would, of course. It was a thought experiment kind of thing.)

In Green Blood, Mark frequently used a second-person variant of free indirect style: the text describes the world exactly as the character is intended to feel about it. At least one reviewer took Mark to task for use of "weasel words" because of this. In fiction there is no claim of objectivity, but gamebooks are an interesting grey area. The author, like the referee of a role-playing game, is the reader's only source of information. If that information becomes suspect, or seems to be chosen and slanted to nudge us into feeling a certain way, then we react much as we do if a politician or salesman starts trying to bamboozle us.

As I began to write my first VR book, Down Among the Dead Men, I saw that if I stuck to my role-playing principles of giving the player control of their own persona, the text resulting from stitching all your choices together as you went would be more like a great game write-up than a novel. I could describe events that happened to you, fine, but unlike a novel writer I couldn't prescribe all your moral, emotional and life choices or it wouldn't be a gamebook.

Mark went the other way. Whichever character you pick at the start of Green Blood, you soon learn that after a promising start at a good school for orphans you have been raised in the city slums and are disgusted with "the cesspools and plague pits" of your fellow man. The ways of city folk, you are told, revolt you. Throwing your bag over your shoulder, you set off for the Forest of Arden to seek out the elves. The story is extremely slanted against humans and in favour of self-righteous, tree-hugging elvenkind. This is the sort of thing that makes me prefer Tekumel and the Dying Earth to the heavily moralistic settings typical in high fantasy - but that's just personal taste. I do think that Green Blood has been unfairly maligned because of the lack of freedom of choice. As Dostoyevsky and others found, the theme of a young hero driven by poverty and squalour beyond bitterness into insanity is ripe for literary exploration. If Green Blood had been a novel, it would have worked just fine. It's just the game aspect that lets it down.

A big for instance: in the first draft, it was impossible to get through the adventure unless you picked both WILDERNESS LORE and SWORDPLAY among your four skills. Any other character was doomed from the start. With eleven skills (it should have been twelve, in three groups of four, but that's a detail) that leaves a less than twenty-five percent chance that a randomly selected character has any hope of surviving.

I didn't agree with Mark about that, but I had my own books to worry about, and it's not up to me to ride another man's horse or shoot his bow. There it would have remained, except series editor Ian Marsh found some crash-bug type errors that needed to be dealt with before the book could be sent for typesetting. Mark was by then deep into writing Coils of Hate, so it fell to me to fix the Green Blood flowchart.

While I was doing that, I noticed Mark had included a short sequence where you meet the elves on midsummer's eve and have to convince their king to help you in your quest. Without the Elf King's help, there is no chance of a successful conclusion. In the original, you had to have SWORDPLAY to do that, but I saw an opportunity to let other skills have a look-in. By adding a whole range of different challenges to the sequence, I made it possible for any character to get through to the end of the adventure. And, as the New Year's freebie has become a tradition on the FL blog, here is that sequence. Feel free to cheat.