Gamebook store

Thursday 28 January 2016

A gamebook giveaway

As a follow-up to the launch of the large-format Fabled Lands books, Jamie and I have two copies of The War-Torn Kingdom to give away.

All you have to do to win one of these large format books is go here and watch Marco Arnaudo's review of the Critical IF books - which is no hardship because his reviews are brilliantly entertaining and it's worth watching them all.

Every entrant has a chance of winning one of the new books; a 3 on 3d6 should about do it. So a critical, to you GURPS players out there.

But wait - that's not all. The Kindle edition of War-Torn Kingdom is coming out next Friday (Feb 5) and you can pre-order that right here.

And you thought Christmas was over...

Sunday 24 January 2016

Big issue

Here's something I didn't anticipate when I outlined Fabled Lands Publishing's plans for 2016: a new large format (8" x 10") edition of the existing FL books.

How it came about is that later in the year we're hoping to publish a paperback version of the new book, The Serpent King's Domain. And then Jamie and I realized we couldn't only do a 6" by 8" edition. What about all the FL readers who bought the original large format books back in the '90s - you're going to want book 7 to match those, am I right?

So as a kind of experiment, seeing as we have the text files already edited, we're releasing new 8" by 10" versions of the original books, starting with The War-Torn Kingdom and Cities of Gold and Glory. Now hang on, though. Don't rush out and buy these if you're already happy with the editions you've got. There's no new content here. And we haven't been able to duplicate the fold-out covers of the original Pan Macmillan editions; even though print on demand has come a long way, it isn't there yet. But if you had an incomplete collection of 8" x 10" books and prefer that format, now's your chance. Oh, and these new editions feature Russ's regional maps in full glorious colour, so there is that.

Take your pick. The new large format edition...

...or the 2010 standard paperback:

Friday 15 January 2016

Duty calls

GURPS 4e is the rule set of choice in my gaming group. I don’t like everything about it (fights take up way too much time without actually feeling terribly exciting) but there’s lots of interesting debate to be had when you shine a light into the obscure nooks and crannies of the system.

Just one example. Characters can take a Duty. This is a disadvantage of variable points value; by taking it you get points to spend on attributes or skills. The more likely a Duty is to apply during a game, the more it’s worth. You get extra points if it’s extremely hazardous (ie you are at constant risk of death) and also if it’s involuntary. An involuntary Duty is one where the character has no choice in the matter. Their actions are coerced by threats to loved ones, mind control, or a curse.

One of the players in our Victorian campaign took a character who was a lieutenant in the Royal Navy. He argued that the Duty should count as involuntary and extremely hazardous:
"Since the penalty for abrogation of this duty is court-martial, punishable possibly by death (and the utter shame and ruin of his entire family and tarnishing of the reputation by association of his circle of friends) I think his duty is pretty much involuntary. 'Enforced by threats to you or your loved ones...' – GURPS 4e page134."
My counter to that was that the whole point about involuntary Duty is it's enforced – the cartel have a gun to your wife's head, the terrorists have strapped a bomb to you, that kind of deal. If you ask a British RN officer in the 1890s why he is carrying out his duties, he's not going to say, "I don't want to, but the British government are holding my life and family honour to ransom." So it's voluntary. The GURPS Compendium explains it pretty well:
Duty (Involuntary; an extra -5 points) Some duties are enforced by threats, threats to loved ones, or by exotic methods of mind control. Such a forced duty can result in difficult decisions or surprising insights for the affected character. An involuntary Duty would not include military service by draft (although service by impressment, as practiced by the British navy of the 18th century, would qualify), nor any other "normal" service. Only cases where life or sanity are directly at stake qualify.
The player disagreed. (When do they not, when character points are at stake?)
"It is involuntary! What you're talking about is Sense of Duty, which makes him feel he wants to do it. But he has no choice, and if he should be given an order with which he disagrees, or is too afraid to carry out, the true nature of the duty is clear. It's not just imprisonment or a broken relationship with his patron he has to deal with afterwards. Plenty of the fellows who sign up for the armed forces will attest to the level of choice they have. If it were WW1 and he were in the army, I don't think you'd try and sustain your case. The overwhelming horror of enforced duty tearing against the survival instinct is pretty well documented."
Sense of Duty is indeed another, quite different character trait in the GURPS rules. It’s mental, not social, and bears on whether you feel you ought to carry out the duty. This is where it gets interesting. Because all duties must have some degree of either voluntary or involuntary internal compulsion. That’s what the extra -5 points for an involuntary Duty is all about. But does the GURPS rulebook insist that all voluntary Duties are accompanied by a Sense of Duty? No. It is perfectly possible to take a voluntary Duty without having a Sense of Duty.

And quite right too. I know people who were in the British armed forces, ordinary squaddies who joined straight from school. If they had failed to do their duty they could in theory have been court-martialled and imprisoned, but I don’t think that was any kind of motivating factor. They did their duty voluntarily and effectively without any overwhelming sense of duty (a typically British mentality!). They were conscientious, but when they got a better offer they quit the services and did that instead.

The acid test for an involuntary Duty would be "can you resign?" In almost all modern armed forces you can. Being press-ganged on a pirate ship or British navy vessel of the mid-18th century are notable exceptions. A Royal Navy lieutenant of the 1890s is not, if you’ll pardon the pun, in the same boat.

It begs another question: why are involuntary Duties worth -5 pts more anyhow? A person who is coerced into doing his duty is less effective than somebody who does it voluntarily. Also, involuntary Duty could be lifted by removing the coercion. "We have your wife and kids safe, sir. You can put down that gun." So you'd think involuntary Duty would be less of a disadvantage, points-wise.

The player had also claimed his Duty as a naval officer to be “extremely hazardous”, which the GURPS 4e rules define thus:
Extremely Hazardous: You are always at risk of death or serious injury when your Duty comes up. There are significant penalties if you refuse to take these risks: dismissal in disgrace, imprisonment, perhaps even death. The GM has the final say as to whether a given Duty is “extremely hazardous” in his campaign.
You can see why that would be worth extra points, at least. And certainly if the lieutenant failed to do his duty he would face the possibility of disgrace, imprisonment or death. (In point of fact, the standard penalty for failure to do one’s duty in the Royal Navy is up to two years’ imprisonment, but that only if the court finds you deliberately at fault.)

But that’s mere plot detail. What interests me about this is the whole question of volition when carrying out a duty. Reading Sassoon on his moral objections to the Great War, or Max Hastings on his various relatives' reactions to fighting at the front shows there's a stew of motivations and conflicts going on there. Did the Twin Towers attackers act voluntarily? If you asked them, they'd probably have said yes, this way lies paradise. But the truth was, how could they back out? To do so would mean not just facing retribution from their al-Qaeda commanders - that's nothing, it probably never crossed their minds - but the much scarier prospect of sweeping away a whole bunch of simplistic beliefs on which their entire identities were built. So I'd say they probably had both involuntary (sic) Duty and Sense of Duty. Humans are wonderfully screwed up pieces of work, aren’t they?

There are a lot of interesting and complex aspects to dutiful behaviour, and we can hardly expect a set of game rules to get to grips with them. But it’s fascinating to come across these questions, discovering all kinds of philosophical and moral matters lurking amid the numbers and mechanics, and the fact that I am continually able to do so is one of the things I love most about role-playing.

Friday 8 January 2016

Harry Potter vs Huckleberry Finn

There's an article by Colleen Gillard over on The Atlantic that raises some interesting points. Ms Gillard's contention is that British kids' literature is more fantastical than American, and that the innate pragmatism and Puritanism in the American soul means that fantasy fiction produced there is less magical, more practical. It's the difference, I suppose, between a wizard and a "magic-user".
'...the difference between the countries may be that Americans “lack the kind of ironic humor needed for questioning the reliability of reality”...
Well, maybe. Although if you read Steinbeck's story "The Affair at 7 Rue de M — "or "Miriam" by Truman Capote, or anything at all by Ray Bradbury, you may feel that there's no one-size-fits-all here. And after all, wasn't the colonization of fantasy by logic and taxonomy begun by Tolkien, as British a writer as they come?
“American stories are rooted in realism; even our fantasies are rooted in realism." 
The debate will rage on, but Colleen Gillard has hit on a kernel of truth here, I suspect. At any rate, it's well worth taking a look at the piece and, if you have any thoughts on the subject, jump in and join the discussion below.

Friday 1 January 2016

The year in view

From time to time we get queries about various projects of Fabled Lands Publishing, so it struck me that a good way to kick off 2016 would be with an overview of all those projects and if/when they're going to see the light of day. Happy New Year, by the way.

The big triumph of 2015 was the Kickstarter for Fabled Lands book 7: The Serpent King's Domain. Currently this is being written by Paul Gresty and illustrated by Russ Nicholson. When it's ready (spring or early summer, if I have to guess) Megara Entertainment will release a hardcover edition, and Fabled Lands Publishing will follow up with the paperback.

A lot of people ask me about Blood Sword 5: The Walls of Spyte. I'm on record as saying that tonally and plot-wise it doesn't fit with the rest of the series, but that isn't the reason for the delay in re-releasing it. I found while flowcharting the book that there are a lot of sections with pretty garbled logic, so all that needs to be fixed. Not least of the errata is in section 62, where a placeholder "XX" was left in the text (it should read "100") but there are other sections that only make sense when re-flowcharted. Even so, if it were only that then the book would be out in a few weeks but there's also an Augean stable of typesetting and picture-scanning to be handled. It's not a spare time job and Fabled Lands Publishing doesn't have the resources to pay for the work right now. So put that one in the category of "to be released - no date set" and if you can find a pirated PDF, grab it with my blessing. In fact, what do you know - here's one.

Then there's Falcon. The first book, Renegade Lord, didn't sell like hot cakes, or even lukewarm cakes, so the rest of the series is definitely on the back burner. Don't expect those in 2016.

Some people have noticed that when we republished the Golden Dragon series, The Eye of the Dragon was missing. One possible plan for that is to rejig it as a Fabled Lands Quest, as we did with Keep of the Lich Lord. But it's a big pile of work doing that - not just editing, flowcharting, artwork, proofing, but converting the whole thing to the FL game system. Also on the back burner, therefore.

Dragon Warriors reverts to me and Oliver Johnson in November, at which point I'd like to get it available on Amazon. If I can get the rights to the new books, I can upload the PDFs to Createspace right away - hell, I could do it in the next half hour and still have time to make a cup of tea - and the books would be on sale on Amazon a week later. As it is, we don't know who will end up owning all the new material such as Frazer Payne's "Darkness Before Dawn" scenario, so you might just see a re-release of the original six paperbacks.

Those are all the plans for now - such as they are - but we also have a new Dirk Lloyd book coming out, along with more DL adventures in The Phoenix comic, and an entirely new book series by Jamie with the working title A Shadow on the Heart. Plenty to look forward to, then - and if plans change (as they always do) you'll read it here first.