Gamebook store

Friday, 18 December 2020

Our next gamebook (part two)

So here's the other half of the Greek-influenced world Jamie has been creating for his Vulcanverse computer game. In these two regions (the world is divided into four rectangular quadrants) he takes us up into the mountains and out across the deserts. When Jamie sent me this material he mentioned gamebooks, and my first thought on reading it was that it would make a great setting for a gamebook -- or even for a series of four linked books, Fabled Lands style. 

And then the Vulcanverse raised $1 million in virtual land sales in one morning (yes, really) which makes it all possible. So Jamie and I are now hard at work at a couple of new gamebooks to tie in with the virtual world and we expect those to be on sale by spring 2021. Fabled Lands players, don't think we've forgotten you. These Vulcanverse gamebooks are going to use a variant of the FL rules and, if we can figure out the legal issues, there will be a way to enter them from FL book 10. More on that as we progress.

Anyway, here's Jamie's description of the oroi and eremoi of the -- I suppose it would be the Klytotechneschora (Κλυτοτέχνηςχώρᾱ)? Greek scholars, feel free to correct me!

Boreas is the god of the north wind and the borders of Boreas are mountain ranges: tall, white-maned, slate grey mountains that reach up to the heavens. Crossing them directly can be hard but many mountain passes have been carved through their towering walls. Tunnels have been dug into the mountain sides that lead into subterranean city complexes where minotaurs and other fell creatures dwell. If the outer edges were transparent, like a cutaway ant’s nest, you would see that the mountains are riddled with such passages. Many lead up and in to the high sierra of the interior, through underground cities, mines, burrows, pits and shafts. It is easy to get lost in these labyrinthine passages – safer to take one of the high passes.

If you go up through a pass and down the other side, you will descend into the table-top plateau beyond, a great alpine steppe, bounded on all sides by silver-capped, cloud-bound mountain peaks. The plateau is where Boreas, the winter wind, dwells.

Unlike the other gods, Boreas does not sleep. He cannot sleep for he is bound to blow for all time. Once, as a god, he could choose when winter came, whether it be early or late, whether to bring rains for crops or to drown them with floods, or to unleash storms upon ships at sea or relent and let sea-soaked sailors live or die. Boreas delighted in the sacrifices made to him by those who sought to appease his terrible power. But now he is bound by mankind’s science. Science that has decided how the world works, how he shall work. As the divine power of the gods declined so did the inevitable, inescapable power of reason rise to eclipse everything that had gone before. Now he must follow the rules and strictures of man’s ineluctable logic. He must blow when unknown forces he will never understand impel him to do so, rest when he must rest according to a system he is incapable of comprehending. Gales, hurricanes, tornadoes, gusts, breezes or soft zephyrs are not his to decide. He is no longer the master of his own destiny, and so he rages across the high steppes, screaming his incoherent anger at the empty skies.

In the middle of the plateau is a tall column of granite that spears upward into the clouds. Upon it rests the Fortress of Winds where Boreas himself lives. But he rarely resides there now for he spends most of his time shrieking in rage, rushing across the frozen flatlands or ‘working’. Boreas hates ‘working’.

Elsewhere, there are four mountains that rise up out of the plateau, separate from those at the edges. Mt Helikon, Mt Atos, Mt Othri and Mt Nysa. These were once home to the Oreads, members of the Ourea, young minor goddesses of the mountains, the children of the earth goddess Gaia. These mountain nymphs, the rulers of Boreas, have not been seen in aeons. It is said they sleep inside their mountain fastnesses awaiting a time when mankind may turn to them once more. They once ruled this land but now all that is left is Boreas, mindless, raging, howling, not much more than the rush of the wind unlike the old days when he and the Oreads would banquet in the Fortress of Winds or soar across the sky, shrieking in delight as Boreas, laughing, wafted them gently over the clouds.

Much of the plateau itself was once rich, terraced mountain farmland, now it is little more than wind-scoured tundra.

Cyclopes living in their mountain-side cave lairs, would climb up to the peaks and hurl boulders at each other for sport, or drop enormous rocks on unwary travellers below to crush them for their great cauldrons. Tenderized human flesh and crunchy bone stew was the height of cuisine as far as a cyclops was concerned. Now only a few cyclopes are left, scattered across the peaks, eking out a tired, lonely existence.

Many mountain peaks were used as eyries or nests inhabited by harpies and hippogriffs. They struggled against each other for control of the mountain peaks for thousands of years, a bitter war of hatred and blood. But now, as only a few harpies and hippogriffs remain, there is plenty of space to share, their glorious kingdoms of the sky reduced to abandoned nests, shattered rocks and broken, cliff-top pillars.

In ages past, minotaurs ruled in their subterranean cities dug into the mountains, emerging only to raid the lands of the Amazons who ruled most of the steppes that made up the high sierra of Boreas. These warrior women bred magnificent horses, riding across the steppe tundra, warring with the minotaurs, and tending to their nomadic herds, moving around from tent city to tent city. They would meet for great conclaves at their temples on holy days.

Harpies and hippogriffs, giants and cyclopes were always trying to steal away their cattle, the Amazons always trying to prevent it. It was a vibrant land of warring tribes and creatures. But now the Amazonian temples lie in ruins, their great yurts are no longer pitched ‘neath starry skies, their horses wander in small herds, searching for what little roots and grasses are to be found in the frozen earth, the cattle have long since been hunted to extinction. A handful of Amazon women linger on, trying to preserve their old ways. The tunnels and subterranean cities collapse untended, as the number of minotaurs that dwell below can be counted on the fingers of a single hand.

How can Vulcan restore this magnificent land to its former glory? He cannot do it alone, he needs the help of the mortals, those once feeble humans who have mastered reason and logic, created technologies inconceivable to the minds of the gods, save Vulcan himself. To the ancient gods,, mankind's craft is like a new kind of magic that has empowered them in ways the old gods never imagined possible. Only the mortals can rejuvenate the white capped mountains, the crumbling hill top forts, the Fortress of Winds and the underground cities. Only they can awake the Oreads to rule again, only they can restore the creatures of Boreas to greatness once more.

Landmarks and places of interest

The High Steppes
Most of the interior of the Boreas is a steppe plateau. Here and there hills rise up out of the flatlands. Where once the land was tilled and farmed, now it is mostly frozen tundra. The Amazons once roamed these lands, leading their herds of cattle and horses in search of pasture, growing crops and tending the land. They built temples and a few hilltop forts, but mostly they moved around living in great tented cities.

Hilltop Forts and Temples
Where a hill rises up out of the steppes, the Amazons built a fort upon it, the better to store their goods and defend against raids by the minotaurs, harpies, hippogriffs, cyclopes and other fell creatures of the mountains. Mostly they lie in ruin but one or two are still inhabited by Amazon warrior women, eking out a sparse life amidst the ruined glories of their past.

Mts Atos, Helikon, Nysa and Othri
These four mountains are the abodes of the four Oreads, the Mountain Nymphs that once ruled over the land with the North wind, Boreas. They rise up from the plateau near the four corners. They sleep in their mountain top palaces (like Parthenons), waiting to be woken once more. From each mountain, a river of the same name, runs to a large abyssal sink-hole near the centre of the High Steppe. The waters cascade down great waterfalls to disappear into unknown lands far, far below. Some say the rivers flow to Neptune’s realm of endless seas, like a celestial drain, others that they flow to another plane entirely.

The Great Sinkhole
Here the four rivers that run from the mountains of the Oreads spill down into the endless depths of an enormous sinkhole near the centre of the high steppes. Some say that if you fall into the Great Sinkhole, you will fall and fall, and die of thirst and starvation before you reach the bottom.

The Fortress of Winds
This is a pillared hypostyle fortress of porticoes and pillars. It rests atop a solid column of stone that rises up from the High Steppes to scratch at the clouds. It is the home of Boreas, the Winter Wind, but he has long abandoned it, in favour of hurtling about his realm shrieking like… well, like the wind, creating havoc, trying to throw off the bonds that bind him.

Lair of the Cyclopes
In the mountainsides that border the interior of Boreas are many caves, dug out by the one-eyed giant cyclopes. Here they would hurl boulders down at unwary Amazons below or play catch with their friends and enemies on nearby mountains using great boulders as balls.

Hippogriffs’ Eyrie
Here hippogriffs (half eagle, half horse) made their homes, high up in the mountains. They would war against the harpies whilst also trying to raid the herds and settlements of the Amazons below.

Harpies’ Nest
Harpies (half woman, half bird) made their nests from bones and skins high in the mountains. They would war against the hippogriffs for control of the skies, while also raiding the Amazons below. A risky business as the Amazons became adept in making sky-ballistae that could take down a harpy or a hippogriff with a single shot.

Minotaur Labyrinths
Below the ground, minotaurs have dug complex tunnel systems, creating living spaces, mines, passages, underground temples and stores. Much has fallen into rack and ruin but their great pillared portals and gargantuan gates still dot the landscape though most are sealed through rockfall or massive locks the keys for which have long been forgotten or lost. You might still catch sight of a lone minotaur lurking at one of these gates from time to time but sightings are rare.

Somewhere in the sands of the desert, three sphinxes slumber in eternal repose, awaiting the next age of the gods, should it ever come. They are the Androsphinx, (human head, lion body), the Criosphinx (ram’s head, lion body) and the Heiracosphinx (hawk’s head, lion body). In that bygone age, mortals would seek out sphinxes in search of wealth or knowledge. If they could answer the riddle that the sphinx would set them, then the sphinx would allow them a single question that had to be answered truthfully. If they failed the riddle, well then, the mortal’s life was forfeit and they were devoured on the spot. Now the three sphinxes rest in small pyramid mausoleums, dreaming of riddles and tasty morsels of mortal flesh. Perhaps there dreams will soon be over, and they will once again stalk the hot sands of the desert.

Once, the Great River rushed from the first Cataract of Oceanus, the father of rivers, in the far north, through the second Cataract of Tethys, down to the Shores of Psamathe at the southern edge of the desert, and into the sea. In that delta stood the mighty city of Iskandria. Here the Myrmidons lived, a warrior race armoured like ants, who fought for Achilles in the Trojan wars. Iskandria teemed with life, commerce, arts, and crafts. Ships plied the Great River, its banks were home to farms and fisheries, vineyards and breweries for the making of fine wines and barley beer. Irrigation canals ran from the Great River into the deserts, creating farmlands and oases to feed the Myrmidons. The land was blessed by the gods, and filled with abundant life, fed by the Great River.

But now the gods have departed to their divine divans, to sleep the ages away. Where the waters cascaded down in raging torrents at the Cataract of Oceanus, now there is only a trickle that evaporates into empty air before it can reach the parched and dry riverbeds of the once Great River. Where once a river flowed, there is nothing but a long, winding ditch that cuts through the desert, slowly filling up with wind-blown sand. The canals that branched out to either side, once swollen with waters of life, are choked with dust and rocks, and dry, white bones.

The second Cataract of Tethys halfway through the Great River’s journey to the sea, was used to divert waters into the irrigation canals. Huge water wheels were set up to capture the power of the raging torrents. Tethys, a goddess, was mother of rivers, springs and streams, but she has long gone to her rest. Now the waterwheels lie baking in the hot sun, grime and dirt clogging their cogs, rust eating away at their metal brackets, their wooden spokes as dry and brittle as bleached bone.

Iskandria, the city at the Shores of Psamathe (goddess of the beach), once a thriving metropolis crumbles ‘neath the sun’s hammer. A handful of Mymirdons scratch out a living from the dusty fields, living amidst the cracked houses and shattered streets like the ghosts of once mighty warriors of legend.

Elsewhere, the desert has spread like a tsunami of sand. Lost cities and sunken forts are buried beneath tons of desert dust, waiting to be rediscovered, filled with ancient wonders and long lost treasures.

Dragons have crept back into the wilds, untamed, unchallenged, to take up residence amidst the pillared temples and cities of old, even in the Great Pyramids of the long forgotten kings of ages past. Even the Valley of the Kings where the ancient Myrmidon lords were buried is lost to time, the desert and dragons.

And where dragons roam so do the Spartoi. When a dragon’s tooth falls to earth, up springs a skeletal hoplite with spear and shield. Over the years, many dragon’s teeth have fallen. These Spartoi have formed themselves into regiments of undead hoplites, appointing their own lieutenants and commanders, taking over the forts that the Myrmidons once built to control these lands. Now the Spartoi range up and down the desert in search of blood or battling amongst themselves for supremacy.

And as if that were not enough, out in the western edges of the desert, in an empty quarter now called the Land from which None Returns, there dwell cockatrices whose touch is poison and whose breath is death. Yet their blood is said to cure all ills, so it is that desperate men and women will sometimes seek them out.*

Landmarks and places of interest

Pyramid Mausoleum
Three of these are hidden in the sands of the desert awaiting discovery. Much smaller than the great pyramids of Egypt these mausoleums each house one of the sphinxes of ancient times. They slumber, awaiting a new birth. Will it be mortal men who free them from their sleepy shackles?

Cataract of Oceanus
This is the origin of the Great River that runs through the Desert of Sphinxes. Oceanus was the god of rivers, the well of all the fresh waters in the world. But now he sleeps, no longer needed, discarded, set aside. So the wellspring of the Great River has dried up, and the once fertile lands, fed by the river, have been reclaimed by desert sands.

Cataract of Tethys
This second cataract, half way on the Great Rivers journey to the sea, was used to divert waters into the irrigation canals. A shrine to the goddess Tethys was regularly tended, to ensure the free flow of waters but that too has fallen into rack and ruin. Tethys herself has long since departed.

The Great River
A river that meanders through the two cataracts from the north to the delta and the sea to the south. It is now dried out and is slowly filling up with sand. It fed a fertile land, but now it is a barren wasteland of dust and sand.

A once great port at the mouth of the Great River where it spilled into the sea. Now the delta is silting up, and the great city is a shadow of its former self, slowly falling apart as the sun beats down upon it.

* ‘Where are you off to, dear?’
‘Just popping out to the Land from which None Returns.’
‘I suppose you won’t be home for supper, then?’
‘Umm… probably not.’


  1. Wow - $1 million. Hopefully that will fund the fabled lands llp for some years to come.

    1. I wish, but Vulcanverse is nothing to do with Fabled Lands LLP. It's a red letter day when we raise even $100.

  2. The idea of a loose FL / VulcanVerse link (easter egg?) sounds promising. If you like VV, you'll likely be into FL and vice versa.

    1. Actually I might put in a link to Can You Brexit.

    2. I bought that, but even 4 years on its still too raw a subject for me to actually read it. The fact that it is still(!) stumbling towards its shambolic conclusion looking strangely nothing like any of the promises that were made pre vote (i wonder why?) is probably something to do with it.

    3. Stumbling towards? The UK has left the Eu. The only question now is whether to have no trade deal going forward (ie to trade on WTO rules) or to have a very limited trade deal over goods. It's true that none of it resembles the promises made by Johnson and Gove prior to the referendum. They said that we would not invoke Article 50 until a trade deal was already agreed, and that any deal would include staying in the single market. But if you play the book you'll soon see that the game is not simply an abstract question of "how do I negotiate a sensible Brexit that most closely reflects the wishes of the country as a whole?", and actually playing that through may give some clues as to why we ended up with the current outcome.

    4. I suspect in time school students will have “Can you Brexit” as prescribed reading to try to help them understand the whole debacle...

    5. I'd agree with that, Nigel. I can't remember, Dave, do Cod feature prominently in it?!

    6. I'd have happily sent Boris Johnson a free copy if I thought he'd have bothered looking at it.

  3. This is great news. I wouldn’t worry about trying to tie these in to FL. I’d be happy with new FL lands type adventures. Hope one book in each of the four areas. You can take all of the feedback you’ve received from FL and make these titles even better.

    I want these books NOW. Take my money.

    1. The more I think about it, Gaetano, the more it looks like an actual link to FL would be hard to arrange in any case. But we will use a very similar structure and rules system to the FL books, so FL players should be pleased with VV too.

    2. I would like a link in FL Book 10 because it means that FL has gotten to Book 10. That said, I can see how it'd be hard to consider all the various stuff from FL within the VV and vice-versa.

    3. I do have a tendency to be a bit over-ambitious. When I started writing my interactive version of Frankenstein I told Jamie I intended to do two versions in parallel, one Victor's and one Elizabeth's. He reckoned that wouldn't be possible in the time. He was right.

    4. I prefer authors who are over-ambitious to those who lack ambition.

    5. That's heartening to hear, John. I guess I'm too old to change my ways now.

  4. A connection to FL book 10? Does that mean we'll be getting book 8 and 9 sooner rather than later?

    1. No, Armaan, it's just that Jamie's Vulcanverse is based on Greek/Roman myth and FL book 10 was always planned as having a Greek flavour, so it occurred to me that book 10 was a logical point of contact to connect the two universes. But VV is using a simplified version of the FL rules, and it's hard to see how we could link the quests, so that could be another of my notions that turns out not to be entirely practical.

      Jamie and Paul do often mention book 8, and have a lot of ideas about what they want to put in it, so I think the only sticking point is that nobody has the time to run the Kickstarter to fund it. As I've said before, a Kickstarter campaign is such a full-time job that you really need a Kickstarter to fund the Kickstarter!