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When I read the Way of the Tiger series back in the ‘90s, I started with book four, Overlord. I do not recall why I chose that particular one, maybe it was the Kraken on the cover, or maybe the other books were in short supply that week in the bookstore, but the book remains my favourite of the series to this day.
The opening was simply electrifying for me. For a start, I was the ruler of a city, which I had never experienced in a gamebook before. I was used to being a lone warrior on quests in gamebooks, and sometimes even winning a position of power at the end of such a book, but I had never been in a position of wielding that power from the start of a gamebook. In Overlord, the crown did not rest easy on my brow, for I had to get on with the difficult decisions of ruling a city split by competing interest groups on whom I had to rely for support, and a people divided by racial and religious schisms.
Then I got to pick my advisers from a choice of varied and interesting characters, including those who had once allied with my (tyrant) predecessor, yet who represented a large part of the city. Dangers were everywhere. It would be just as threatening to my rule to rely to much on new allies as it would be to trust potential enemies.
(Incidentally, if anyone has calculated all of the possible safe routes via the councillors you can select, please do comment below. The editor in chief of the series is very interested to confirm all the permutations!)
As well as political intrigue, I had to survive an assassination attempt, endure a siege and undertake a perilous quest that would lead me to the very den of the evil ninja of the Way of the Scorpion and beyond. Interestingly, I was not only powerful in my position as a ruler, but also as a deadly ninja. In this game book the reader was allowed to feel personally and politically powerful, yet still experience threatening situations and enemies.
It was only after this book that I went back to the beginning of the series and played through them all, enjoying the journey from a young unproven ninja setting out on an epic quest. For me, Overlord set a benchmark in innovation, in characterisation and sophistication that I had never seen before in a gamebook. I'd recommend you to give it a try, and hope you enjoy it as much as I did. But watch out – it may inspire you to become a writer as it did with me!
Questions about Overlord answered by Mark Smith, creator of the world of Orb and co-author of the Way of the Tiger series:
DW: Were you concerned about introducing rulership into an action series? Is that why the whole book was not about ruling the city and involved a quest element?
MS: We did worry that if there was no standard gamebook adventuring it would disappoint and yes that's why it's not all about governing.
DW: What were your inspirations for the characters who seek to become your advisers in Star Chamber?
MS: Some of the characters had been pre-developed while role-playing. The Demagogue was inspired by Athenian history.
DW: What possible game mechanics did you consider or reject regarding the city management element of the book?
MS: I gave little consideration to game mechanics beyond striving for simplicity.
DW: Apart from Avenger, which character in Overlord did you most enjoy writing about?
MS: I enjoyed all of the characters but especially Golspiel, Foxglove, Force Lady Gwyneth, Solstice and the Demagogue.
DW: Looking back at the book, is there anything you would do differently now about it?
MS: I would do more checking for game balance.
DW: Were you concerned about ending this book on something of a cliffhanger?
MS: The cliffhanger was deliberate. I was happy with all the books except that in Inferno you need to take Foxglove with you for it to be good.