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Thursday, 5 August 2021

A close look at the Vulcanverse books


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.

Is there actually any purpose to your adventures?


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.


When are they out?

Hopefully very soon. The first two should be on sale a month from now (early September) and the next two before Christmas. And for once I'm leaving comments on, so if you have any other things you want to know about the Vulcanverse books, now's your chance.

29 comments:

  1. Looking good. I've decided that I'll buy at least Books 1 and 2, but before I decide when I buy them can you give me more info, and bare in mind that the more I like what you tell me the sooner I'll buy them

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    1. I only know about the gamebooks, but if you're after more on the lore, the cryptocurrency and the online world, it's all here: https://vv.vulcanforged.com/

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  2. I'm sure with Vulcanverse we're in for a treat, Dave.

    I'm not going to tell my young son about Dirk Lloyd on TV, to avoid any disappointment should it not get made for whatever reason!

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    1. Very wise, Andy. I was listening to an interview with Frank Cottrell-Boyce and he was talking about all the TV and movie projects of his that have been "about to happen" for years on end.

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  3. Definitely going to give these a look and I love the dig at the downfall of GOT.

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    1. I wouldn't want to be in GRRM's shoes as he's now got to put the TV show finale out of his mind and write the ending he originally intended. But I expect he'll get over it.

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    2. The TV show ending apparently stank on ice to even hardcore GoT fans, so the ending he writes will almost certainly be better received.

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    3. I'd given up a couple of seasons before that, but I have yet to hear a good word for the ending.

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    4. I didn't know we were allowed to say, Dave, but now Nigel's spilled the beans, I'll rephrase to say I know we're in for a treat with Vulcanverse! I only read about a quarter of it, wanting to wait for the hard print version to come out to finish it.

      I binge watched GoT just before the final season and must be the only person to think the final series and ending wasn't too bad. Just a bit clumsily handled and scripted. That said, I'm about the only person in England who thinks Gareth Southgate isn't a very good football manager, so what do I know!

      I purchased and read Popes and Phantoms Redux, Dave. I've never read any GRRM, but he'll be going some to better that. Brilliant book and author. At least I know I'm not an army of one with that opinion! It's as well you did a post on it, as only the old version comes up in the Amazon search engine, so I wouldn't have otherwise known.

      John, on the subject of John Whitbourn, did you ever get around to reading The Age of the Triffids? Just interested given you must have been the first person in the world to buy it! If you don't rate it, I'm sure you'll easily be able to sell it. I've lost count of the amount of people that have asked me if I know how to get hold of a copy!

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    5. JW mentioned that problem with the Amazon search engine, Andy. I think it's been fixed now, though the old (and shorter) edition still comes up first.

      I used to read some of GRRM's science fiction in the days when Game of Thrones wasn't even a twinkle in his eye. I didn't get very far with the GoT books -- life is just too short for multimillion-word fantasy epics. And anyway, If I want decadent dragon-controlling dynasties I could just reread Elric.

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    6. It now comes up when I'm on my laptop, but not on my phone. Very odd.

      Elric is another notable omission from my reading list. I must remedy that at some point. Judging from a photo on Roz's newsletter, it appears you're heading for the GRRM look yourself, Dave! :)

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    7. Hmm... so I either need a shave or a diet. Or both?

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    8. I was referring to the former, Dave. I'm rude, not offensive!

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  4. Which two books come out first? Will all four books have a special hardcover, and will those be released on the same schedule?

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    1. The Hammer of the Sun and The Houses of the Dead will be released first, in just a few weeks, and then The Pillars of the Sky and The Wild Woods in early December. Those books can be played in any order, but you cannot start a character in the fifth book, Workshop of the Gods, which I expect to be published in February or March.

      All the books will be available as both full-colour hardbacks and black-&-white paperbacks, and you will be able to order them in physical bookstores as well as from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc.

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  5. Woot! Exciting stuff. And for those who aren’t Patrons of the Jewelspider rpg then firstly “shame on you!” and secondly Dave kindly released an advance copy of Hammer of the Sun. It’s a cracker! So if you want to get an early look jump onto the Patreon ASAP! That’s only one of the veritable cornucopia of freebies Dave has made available already for Patrons…

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    1. Psst, Nigel, your cut is in an envelope behind the pipes at Paddington station :-)

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    2. Damn! I was looking for it at Kings Cross near platform 9 3/4 … I expect some scruffy looking bear in a duffle coat has gotten his marmalade covered paws on it by now :-)

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    3. And Paddington in my headcanon is like that bastard bear in The Revenant.

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  6. Hey Dave, I'm still going through the VV book. I've had to delay because I'm getting a new computer as this one is crapping out. Still, haven't found any real problems so far.

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    1. Good to hear, John, thanks. I'm resigned to spotting the one critical but cunningly elusive bug the moment the books are on sale -- but at least in an era of print on demand that can be patched.

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    2. There's always going to be something. I'd probably have a better shot spotting stuff with physical, printed. Good news though, I have a new computer with an actual, working "Down-Arrow" key AND a vacation coming up next week. I hope to give you a full error/etc list by Sat. the 28th (my birthday, as it happens).

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    3. I find it's a lot easier to spot mistakes once I order up a physical proof copy. And strangely enough that applies to logic errors as well as typos. I'm crossing my fingers that you don't spot anything too serious -- and happy birthday in advance.

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  7. Can't wait for these to come out so I can add them to my collection. Slightly off topic but i've also seen that Serpent King Games are anticipating releasing Cursed Kings and Brymstone in the next few months - can't wait to add those either!

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    1. As soon as that, eh? I'm looking forward to those. If you thought Vulcanverse was getting some fanfare, wait till new DW books are on the horizon.

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  8. I have 3 opinions on The Vulcanverse Books. Here they are. What does Mister Morris think of my 3 opinions on The Vulcanverse Books?

    The 1st is that because of how great The Fabled Lands Books are The Vulcanverse Books definitely won't be better then The Fabled Lands Books

    The 2nd is that even though The Fabled Lands Books will definitely be a better series it's possible that some The Vulcanverse Books will be better then some of The Fabled Lands Books

    My 3rd opinion is that despite the fact that theirs no way they'll be better then The Fabled Lands Books with A Author as good as Mister Morris is they are still going to be worth reading

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    1. Kind words, thank you. I'd like to think these new books are better than those of 25 years ago, but authors are not the best judge of their own work. I can say for certain the VV books are pretty close to being what a continuation of the FL series by me and Jamie would be like these days, so I'll be interested to hear what FL players make of them.

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  9. I didn't even *know* about the Fabled Lands game on Steam, and only learnt of the Vulcanverse books today. Do you guys have a newsletter we can subscribe to so we can get notified of any big announcements like this? With everything competing for our attention these days it's easy to miss.

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    1. I did set up a newsletter for my own projects like Mirabilis, Jewelspider, Abraxas, etc, but there was little or no crossover in interest between the various projects so it petered out. (I might just be finding an excuse for laziness there.)

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