People have been asking about the Vulcanverse gamebooks (in a few cases even with a slight whiff of dudgeon) so I thought now would be a good time to answer a few FAQs.
Why are you writing these instead of getting on with more Fabled Lands?
The short answer is that the funds are simply not there to pay for everything required to do a Fabled Lands book. Even if we found a few spare months and wrote one, there’s also all the checking (oh, those flowcharts!), editing, and typesetting. And then we have to drum up cash to pay for artwork, a map and a cover.
The difference with Vulcanverse is that it’s funded by a multimillion-dollar company with blockchain transactions constantly pumping cash up its arm. The gamebooks are barely even small change to them, the equivalent of handing out bags with your brand logo on. They can afford to knock out five books – or rather, to finance Fabled Lands Publishing to do the books.
I get why people are disappointed. Obviously I’d rather work on my own thing than on somebody else’s IP, and you usually get a better book when the writer is free to let their imagination fly. But it doesn’t have to be one or the other. Paul Gresty is already working on Fabled Lands book 8. If I don’t find any paid work after finishing my stint on the Vulcanverse books, my first priority is the Jewelspider RPG, but right after that I figure I may as well start writing a new gamebook. That could be the long-planned Shadow King or it could be something else.
I’d need to run a Kickstarter to finance the art and production, and believe me the very thought makes my heart sink. Marketing and all that businessy stuff appeals to me about as much as drain-cleaning. But there’s no other way to raise the funds, so I’m just going to have to bite the bullet. Or do I mean plunger?
There's another lifeline for future Fabled Lands books, which is the CRPG from Prime Games. If that rekindles interest in the books and wins over new fans, completing the series could become a commercially viable proposition. We're hoping...
Still, aren’t you doing a George R. R. Martin on us?
GRRM is certainly rich enough to just plough on and write all the Song of Ice & Fire books. I assume he takes time out to work on other things because he wants to stay creatively fresh. If he just tore through to the end it wouldn’t be very good. (You’ve seen the TV show? Like that.)
I hate abandoning a project. Backers on Patreon of my Jewelspider RPG have been patiently waiting a whole year for that. Jewelspider is emphatically not abandoned, but it has had to take a back seat to paying gigs. Still, the Patreon is financing artwork and at least when Jewelspider appears it will look all the better for the delay.
More heart-wrenchingly, I was unable to go on with my Mirabilis comic. Art is the killer cost there, and the publishers who were willing to take it on wanted indentured servitude and ownership of the IP forever. Other projects that are patiently waiting for my time: Abraxas and Tetsubo. They sit there half-completed but don't even enjoy the small but dedicated fanbase of Fabled Lands. Like my Brexit gamebook they are things that I'd be devoting my energy to if I could pick and choose my projects, but like Leonardo I have to work on what patrons demand, not on what pleases me.
If you are miffed about Vulcanverse gamebooks coming out when Fabled Lands is still unfinished, let me offer two arguments in consolation. First, FL is not unfinished in the way A Song of Ice & Fire is. There is no single storyline in FL, so it’s not like you can’t complete it. There are a very few quests from future books that tie back into books 1-7, and those aside the effect of having more books is simply to extend the borders of the explorable world. It’s like expansions on a videogame.
Also, unlike poor Mirabilis, FL is dormant rather than extinct. The last open-world gamebook I wrote was back in the ‘90s. Since then the only gamebooks I’ve done are Frankenstein and Can You Brexit? So you could see the work on Vulcanverse as me getting back into training. And by the way I needed it – my first Vulcanverse book overran by 900 sections and those sections are far wordier than FL. I’m learning again the brevity needed to pack a lot of quests into a 750-section open-world gamebook. So when I come off The Pillars of the Sky in theory I'd be fighting fit to tackle The Isle of a Thousand Spires. GRRM uses the same defence; the only difference between us is talent, wealth and looks.
How similar are the Vulcanverse books to Fabled Lands?
The rules are like a stripped-down FL system. You have four attributes: Charm, Grace, Ingenuity and Strength. Your scores in those typically range from -1 to +3, and you may have an item that gives a +1 or +2 bonus. Faced with a task like rolling a heavy stone (Strength) or sweet-talking a sentry (Charm) you roll two dice, add modifiers for your attribute score and any attribute-boosting item, and you need to equal or beat the difficulty.
Yep, you spotted it. Success is equalling or beating the difficulty. A slight difference from FL there. Also, a double 1 is always a fail and a double 6 is always a success.
What about Stamina? It doesn’t exist. In Vulcanverse you are either wounded or unwounded. When wounded you deduct 1 from attribute rolls. Told you it was FL-lite.
Another difference is how blessings work. You can have up to three blessings at once, and they are good for a single reroll on any failed attribute check.
How easy is it to die in the books?
Very hard. Hey, we know it’s not the ‘90s anymore. If you do get killed, resurrection is automatic except on a very few heroic quests, and you always get fair warning if you’re on a mission that you might not come back from.
What about the Vulcanverse world?
It’s not like Fabled Lands. Well, it’s probably quite a bit like FL book 10, in that the Vulcanverse is based on Greek and Roman mythology; you can read about that in earlier posts. It’s definitely FL-adjacent because the myths have been filtered through the brain of Jamie Thomson. (On the other hand, did Paul McCartney’s work with Wings feel like it was 50% Beatles, or was it something altogether different? The debate could go on for years.)
Jamie and I have worked separately on these books, as we did on Fabled Lands too; I wrote FL books 2, 3 and 6, he did the others. In the case of FL the end result was relatively seamless, but my and Jamie's Vulcanverse books are entirely different in tone, content, gameplay, writing style, structure and flavour. That's partly because we didn’t develop the groundwork together, but mainly because we’ve worked on our own distinct projects over the years. If you’re familiar with the Dirk Lloyd and Wrong Side of the Galaxy books, you’ll find Jamie’s trademark comedy genius running through The Houses of the Dead and The Wild Woods. Those also feature the D&D-ish high fantasy action-adventure momentum that made the Way of the Tiger books so memorable. (By the way, did I mention there's a Dirk Lloyd TV show on the way? It'll be the smash hit of 2022 and you heard it here first.)
It’s harder for me to identify my own style; Robbie Burns talked about that. I tend to go in for low fantasy, character relationships, dreamlike weirdness, surreal encounters, dry humour, horror and tragedy. Possibly you’ll notice those on display in The Hammer of the Sun and The Pillars of the Sky, my own contributions to the VV series, though less so in the latter because I’ve been asked to include more tie-ins from the Vulcanverse collectible card game. Still, you’ll be able to get a sense from these books, and particularly from The Hammer of the Sun, how any new FL gamebooks by me might play out.
Some people have grumbled that Fabled Lands doesn’t give you an objective to aim at. There, the whole point was that you’re living a life in a fantasy world and defining your own goals. What was I saying about it not being the ‘90s now? These days, the trend is to have a defined task like in a computer game.
With Vulcanverse, we’ve tried for a Witcher-like happy medium. There are lots of quests set in an open world like in Fabled Lands, and you can usually pick a side in any conflict. For example, in The Hammer of the Sun it’s possible to join the nomadic Amazons, and you can become their champion, and even take the throne the way Conan would (if he identified as female). But you can also get banished from the tribe, and if you reach a position of authority there are decisions you’ll make that will have a lasting effect on the world and the people in it.
Alongside all of those side-quests there’s a main storyline that connects across all the books and culminates in Vulcan City in book 5: Workshop of the Gods.