Gamebook store

Friday 28 August 2015

Wrap up warm

You've heard quite enough about Kickstarter of late, and probably more than enough about my old gamebook Heart of Ice. A lot of people have said it's a good adventure. Many have even said "best gamebook ever" - but the competition for that accolade gets fiercer every year, so I couldn't possibly comment.

Megara Entertainment, who ran the recent campaign for The Serpent King's Domain, are now doing a pop-up 15-day Kickstarter campaign for hardback versions of Heart of Ice in French and English. Look at that positively arctic Sébastien Brunet cover. Brrr.

Anyway, if you're not thoroughly fatigued by the long hot summer of Kickstarter gamebook offerings, this looks good and, modesty aside, it is just about my own favourite of all my gamebooks. I'm also probably not going to authorize any more Kickstarters based on my old books after this, so you really will be getting a collector's edition.

Alternatively, if money's tight, there's always the paperback and Kindle versions:

Monday 24 August 2015

Department of errata: Blood Sword book three

It's said that no work of art is ever completed, only abandoned. That used to be quite a problem for gamebooks, because a typo in the middle of a novel doesn't cause the whole thing to crash, but a wrong number in a gamebook can stop you dead in your tracks.

In the old days we couldn't recall a print run. If you spotted an erratum after the book shipped, too bad. Now we use print on demand, and just as well too because an anonymous commenter pointed out a glitch in the new (2014) edition of Blood Sword book 3: The Demon's Claw. Instead of an option to turn to 666 (which of course doesn't exist) if there's no Sage in the party, section 559 of that book should read as follows:
You are spoiling for a fight as you leap out at the bully-boys, but they lose all stomach for their job when they have to face alert and well-armed foes. They throw down their cudgels and race off into the night. You spit through the doorway and curse them for their cowardice, but you cannot summon any enthusiasm for chasing them down the unlit alleys of Crescentium.
   There is a moan from one of the Badawin. Nursing bruises and aching joints, they slowly sit up. ‘Those robbers would have slain us and taken all our money,’ says the leader of the group. You notice him wince as he is speaking, and you wonder whether it is because of the beating he has just received or the alcohol you tricked him into drinking.
   ‘My wrist is broken,’ puts in another. ‘I am in some discomfort, and urge that we visit a physician at once.’
   ‘There is one thing we must do first,’ chides the Badawin leader. He turns to you. ‘We owe you our lives. Accept this small token of our gratitude.’ He gives you a pouch containing twenty-five gold pieces. (If there is a Warrior in the party, he or she is handed the pouch. Otherwise it goes to the first player in the battle order.)
   If the Sage is in the party, turn to 514. If not, turn to 191.
Sorry about that. Please write the corrected option into your copy. Anyone who still hadn't ordered the book (and hey, why not?) can rest assured that all copies from this point on have the error fixed.

Friday 21 August 2015

Howdy pardner

The Good, The Bad and The Undead campaign runs on Kickstarter until the end of this month. I could tell you more about it, but why listen to me when you can get it straight from the horse's mouth in this video by Jamie Thomson, co-author of the book?

There's a free demo of the first part of the book by Ashton Saylor, and YouTube games critic Patrick C Worth has put up a playthrough video of that. And here's a profile of Callie MacDonell, the sharpshooting talent behind the GBU artwork.

Friday 14 August 2015

Gunsmoke and grave-mist

The Kickstarter campaign for all-new gamebook The Good, the Bad and the Undead is painting the town red at the moment. If you don't know anything about it, take a look at Ashton Saylor in the video. I asked him and Jamie Thomson, who was originally slated to write GBU, where they got their ideas from:

Dave Morris: There are so many Wild Wests to choose from. The character dramas of Budd Boetticher’s Ranown Cycle, psychological epics from directors like Mann, Ford and Hawks, and then there’s the whole down-n-dirty, morally complex European tradition of the spaghetti western. I’m just wondering which are your personal favourite western movies?

Jamie Thomson: Pretty much anything with Clint involved. Unforgiven is probably my favourite western of all time. Followed by all the spaghetti stuff. Oh, and also Ulzana’s Raid - a real classic.

DM: Talking of different aspects of the Old West as a story environment, what is it about the setting that appeals to you?

JT: Its semi-feral frontier lawlessness (relatively speaking compared to the east coast cities) allows for greater opportunities in story telling and characterization. Historically, you get a lot of larger than life characters knocking around as well. Plus six guns. They look so cool. And Apaches. And those hats.

DM: What are the themes you were interested in exploring?

JT: Not sure about that... it’s cowboys versus vampires after all. I suppose it touches on fear and the psychology of fear, mortality, death, moral questions about the price of survival, the breakdown of civilization and whether you can remain true to yourself in the face of it and so on. But mostly for me it’s six guns vs fangs in the night

DM: It’s often said that fantasy works when it brings out something in the story that couldn’t be told in a conventional setting. Does that apply to The Good, The Bad, and The Undead?

JT: There are interesting questions about the price you are prepared to pay to keep your own sense of what is right and wrong intact and other issues to explore. But I’m not sure there’s anything you couldn’t do in another setting. I think you can pretty much explore any theme in any setting, just in different ways. With the western horror setting you can push things to the max but at the end of the day I think it’s exploring old themes in new ways, which can sometimes give you an unusual perspective on it.

DM: It’s not a traditional good guys versus bad guys story. I’d be interested to hear what inspired you to take the narrative off in those unexpected moral and emotional directions. Is that coming from the movie idea of the western, or does it owe more to the fact that this is a literary work?

JT: It’s the thing that puts an interesting twist on the tale – the relationship between Walter and the Marshal. What do you do when the good and the bad are faced with an even greater evil? What is it like when you are forced to work with something or someone that you know to be morally unsound (to put it mildly.

DM: Whenever vampires are in a story, there’s the question of whether they should conform to the usual tropes (crosses, holy water, garlic, etc) or whether you’re free to reboot them in a new image. What did you decide?

JT: We’ve got our own take on it from Aztec mythology. They’re not your run of the mill Transylvanian vampires by any means. But I won’t say more in case it spoils the fun.

DM: I see that you’re talking about this as an interactive novel rather than a 'gamebook'. That’s how I describe my retelling of Frankenstein. In GBU’s case, is it simply to alert readers that the story isn’t a game to be won or a puzzle to be solved, or are you getting at something deeper?

JT: There are no dice or skills or any ‘game’ stuff really, so I think it’s just so people don’t get confused, expecting some kind of rule system etc. But Ashton might have a different take on where the story goes!

Wednesday 5 August 2015

After sundown

Suffering from Kickstarter fatigue yet? I hope not, as we have one more delectable item for your consideration: The Good, The Bad and The Undead, the gamebook that Jamie was scheduled to write under the working title of Undeadwood as part of our abortive deal to co-publish gamebooks with Osprey.

Ashton Saylor went and pulled the stake out of the project's corpse, and working with Jamie he's cooked up a terrifying, action-filled, interactive novel to fill the hot summer nights as insects buzz and burn in the oil lamp and an eerie howl echoes across the prairie.

The project has its own Facebook page and you can jump right in now and play the demo. This is a print gamebook, not an app (though who's to say that won't come later?) and it has some superbly creepy art by the eldritchly talented Callie MacDonell.

Just to whet your appetite, here's a snippet of my early discussion with Jamie about the concept:
Dave: This is quite interesting (probably an Inca myth originally) and avoids the old "vampires as bats" thing. Another way to get around that is to have the vamps take the form of birds. That's quite common in Romanian myth - usually owls (striges) as they're harbingers of doom. But in the Wild West they could be vultures, or maybe sort of vulture-harpy hybrids, all rank with disease. Harpies were notorious fo being disease-ridden.

Jamie: Chonchons are flying heads, though... But I like the vampire/bird thing. More Aztec. The Vampire Queen can do that anyway, maybe (turning into a vulture is good), but I think the rest of the vampires are pretty much standard vamps. Maybe they don’t get turned back by crosses and can enter the church, because they’re Native American vamps. Though maybe the usual tools should still work. When the Marshal arrives, perhaps the church has already been set alight, or for a while they get into it, safe for a bit but, it being a wooden church, the vamps set it alight. Or the Professor character does, or a captive human in return for freedom. Anyway, I think it’s important that they appear to be ordinary vamps at first. You know, that’s the trope. Then it gets progressively weirder, which will be cool.

Dave: I guess most of the vampires should just be the standard vampire type, ie essentially fast-moving, more-or-less intelligent zombies that drink blood. And only the "bosses" get to transform into things like vultures. The vulture was a symbol of the Aztec state, wasn't it - a vulture eating a snake, I think. That was their Romulus and Remus symbol. Of course, ripping out victims' hearts rather than sucking blood - that'll be a nicely original touch. The chonchons are odd because in some versions they're flying heads, but other folktales have them more like harpies, ie the head becomes a bird. Freaky stuff. Anyway, we don't have to be straitjacketed by what it says in the myths. We can make up our own weird shit.

Jamie: Should the ordinary vamps rip out people's hearts? At the moment, it’s only the Aztec Vampire Queen. That could work, though. She makes vamps, and because her victims are westerners they become traditional western vamps. Well, eastern relative to the Aztecs, I guess, but you get my meaning. So it should only be the Queen who rips out hearts. We save that for the final showdown; it’ll make her more boss-like and fearsome. Maybe the conquistador does the same. Also, she could have a few vampire Jaguar Knights who are her personal bodyguard, and maybe only they eat hearts.

Dave: Just the Queen, I agree. That's her gimmick for creating vamps. The others aren't - what do they call them? The master mold vamps who can create other "sires"? The other vampires would just be your standard blood-suckery types. Still nasty, though. Her guards could actually be were-types: Eagle or Jaguar Knights who become their totem animal. Maybe she has one of each, those are her Oddjob types, ie secondary bosses before you actually have to face her. Also did we talk about doing something with the idea of flayed skin? There was that Aztec deity, the God of Flayed Skin. So some of the vampires could peel a person, put on their skin, and they would appear like them for a while. Sort of Illusion Master style. There could be some tricks for seeing through it... the skin doesn't sweat or something. 
So there you go; that's how we work. A glimpse into the Morris-Thomson creative dynamic. Coming up over the next few weeks, we'll look at how Ashton Saylor took that raw material and crafted it into a new breed of gamebook.

STOP PRESS: Jamie has just (August 6) told me that The Good, The Bad and The Undead is now a Kickstarter Staff Pick.As he put it: "Multiple yee-hahs and an 'I mussst feeeed...'! It's great to have both The Serpent King's Domain and GBU as Staff Picks, so I'm a little excited."

Monday 3 August 2015

We'd like to thank...

The Kickstarter to fund The Serpent King's Domain has closed to the accompaniment of tickertape, fanfare and the popping of champagne corks. Although the campaign was run by Megara Entertainment, not by me and Jamie, naturally we're delighted to see that there's still life in that series we created two decades ago. And there are some people we need to thank for that.

First Mikael Louys, founder of Megara Entertainment, who has been a champion for the Fabled Lands series for many years. Mikael isn't just the prime mover of Megara and the guy who nagged us until we agreed to do it, though. He also now has the hard work of typesetting, printing and shipping out all those books. If you've seen any of Megara's collector's edition hardbacks you'll appreciate that they take quite a bit of set-up, and that's all down to Mikael. It's no exaggeration to say that without his energy and enthusiasm, this Kickstarter would never have happened. So a big thank you, Mikael!

Thanks also to Richard S Hetley, who has planned and run the Kickstarter campaign as well as catching typos and keeping everybody calm and civil to each other through the fraught times of bitten nails, torn hair and clacking worry-beads. I have always admired Richard, but never more so than in the last month. His ability to remain courteous, good-tempered, professional and insightful, often in extremely trying circumstances, has won the respect of the whole creative team. If you want to hire Richard to run your own Kickstarter, or for his skills as an editor of books and games, go right ahead - you'll never regret it. Just leave him some time free to work with us, won't you?

Then there are our artists, Kevin Jenkins and Russ Nicholson. When we relaunched the Fabled Lands series a few years ago, we asked Kevin about reproducing his magnificent cover paintings. He was right in the middle of work on a motion picture (possibly Thor: The Dark World - see picture above) but he spent a precious weekend getting the paintings out of the loft, remounting them, and photographing them for us. When we offered payment, Kev wouldn't hear of it. A world-class talent and a thorough gentleman into the bargain.

And Russ, of course, is really the third member of the Fabled Lands creative core team. It's inconceivable that there could be a new FL book without Russ to bring the scenes to life visually in his fluid, characterful and imaginative style. Bear in mind that any Kickstarter for a print book has only a very narrow "profit margin", so Megara can't afford to have as many illustrations as in the original Pan Macmillan books of the 1990s, but thanks to Russ for clearing his schedule in order to produce a new batch of dazzling pictures and maps.

At the head of all of those guys, Paul Gresty is the one who actually has to write the book. He's doing that for next to nothing (that imaginary profit margin again) and he already wrote the demo for free. Writers often have to labour for nothing but a thank you, and sometimes not even that. So huge thanks, Paul - we know that the Fabled Lands is in safe hands with you.

And naturally we also want to thank everybody who actually pledged to make the campaign a success. But out of all those wonderful folks I particularly want to tip my hat to Gavin Orpin (who backed The Frankenstein Wars KS that we did with Cubus Games recently) and Ella Jennings, who gave freely of her time to advise the Megara team on how to turn their publicity machine up to eleven.

No time to rest now, though. As one door closes, another swings open - and already the Kickstarter for The Good, the Bad and the Undead by Ashton Saylor and Jamie Thomson is shooting towards its target. Check out the demo here. And in case you're wondering: yes, of course there will be a Kickstarter for the eighth FL book, The Lone and Level Sands. That campaign won't be run by Megara Entertainment, though, because they're going to have their hands full with a series of Kickstarters involving one of the top names in '80s gamebooks. (I don't think I can say who it is yet, but you'll be amazed.) We wish them well, and Fabled Lands LLP will be retaining the team of Paul, Russ, Kevin and Richard to launch our own Kickstarter for FL8 as soon as FL7 is out in paperback.

Illustrations by Fabled Lands cover artist Kevin Jenkins

Sunday 2 August 2015

An open world RPG in gamebook form

The Kickstarter to fund The Serpent King's Domain, looooong-awaited seventh book in the Fabled Lands series, ends on Monday, August 3, at 22:30 BST, which is 5:30 pm EDT and 2:30 pm PDT, and -- oh well, you've got the internet; here's the world clock for your location. I don't want anyone to miss it, you see.

The campaign hit its basecamp target within a few hours of launch. So is it still worth pledging? Yes indeed, because the artwork costs are included as built-in stretch goals, as explained by Megara's nifty art meter, meaning that as the total amount raised increases there will be more to pay for a widescreen cover by Guardians of the Galaxy concept artist Kevin Jenkins and maps and interior pics by Russ Nicholson.

The video above (if it works - that's the first video I ever uploaded to the blog) is Jamie talking about the things that he associates with the Fabled Lands books. I don't think I need to explain the idea behind Fabled Lands to any regular visitor to this blog, but recently Jamie and I set down our reminiscences about how it came to be. I'll go first:
The players gather around the table. Even as the Coke cans fizz and the bag of tortilla chips is being popped open, somebody looks at the map and says, ‘I hear there’s an abandoned fortress out on the tidal flats.’

The referee consults the rulebooks. ‘Many claim it’s the stronghold of the legendary hero Hrugga – though that’s surely just a myth.’

Plans are made. Ships bought and outfitted. One of the players has the sea captain skill, and he plots a course. Another considers the supplies the party will need. Soon they’re ready to set out on a new expedition. And all because one of the players happened to spot the symbol for ruins in a corner of the map.

So go our Tekumel or Legend role-playing sessions. But most gamebooks spring from a different tradition of gaming in which an old man runs into a tavern and the players are spoon-fed the evening’s adventure. That was never for us. Jamie and I wanted to create a gamebook series that reflected our own role-playing games, where a player could arrive in a town and choose from dozens of adventures, or sometimes be flung into one by accident. Where the player could pick their own goals, go wherever they wanted, and be whatever type of adventurer they chose. Fabled Lands is the nearest thing to Jamie’s and my style of role-playing short of us coming to your house and running a game for you.

When you create a character in the Fabled Lands, you’re setting out on a saga that will be unique to you. Maybe you’ll face brutal foes on distant savage shores. Maybe you’ll become an initiate of a temple. You could become a student of magic and travel the world in search of secrets and power. You could be caught at sea by slavers and escape to lead a rebellion. You might become embroiled in civil war – on either side – or merely turn a profit by trading goods while the war rages on. It’s a whole life story that you’re creating there. And by the way, this was ten years before Fable!
Jamie adds:
And I worked on Fable 3, writing storylines and dialogue etc. But even then, just a few years ago, you could see that Fable wasn't really a sandbox game. Sure, there were loads of sidequests and stuff, but the main storyline was the thing. And there weren't places to go that didn't take you on the main plot.

Not like the Fabled Lands books. I like to call them 'a computer role-playing game without a computer'. Except they're more sandboxy than most CRPGs. The Fabled Lands books are much more Fallout 3 or Skyrim than they are Dragon Age or Baldur's Gate for instance - in fact, even more so. There is no over-arching mega plot for the Fabled Lands. Sure, some big quests involving the overthrow of kingdoms and so on, but all these are entirely optional.

You just 'live' in the world.

You can do that in Skyrim or Elite Dangerous or Fallout 3, but it's pretty hard to avoid the main storyline in those games. (Well, except Elite; that's the nearest to a true sandbox but it suffers from having to do the same old stuff over and over.)

The Fabled Lands though - they're the only place you can 'live' in that's a book and not a multi-million pound computer game. What you see and feel, how you visualize the people and places - it's your imagination that puts that together, not someone else's.