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Thursday, 25 November 2021

Confounding expectations


This is my favourite Vulcanverse gamebook cover and the book doesn’t even exist yet. This is just a mock-up made using a thumbnail sketch by our artist, Mattia Simone.

Why do I like it? Partly because anyone who thinks the Vulcanverse is just a retread of Greek myth (yeah, I’d be yawning too) is going to do a double take when they see this. It doesn’t look like a classical Greek city? No, it looks a million times more exciting than that. Marble colonnades and hypostyle halls evoke the slap of sandals on a sound stage, the unconvincing clash of prop swords wielded by bad actors. Whereas Mattia's cover looks like the set of an MCU blockbuster. That could be Ronan the Accuser in front of the core of the Supreme Intelligence. It’s an image that promises nonstop excitement.

And it’s absolutely right that the fifth book should upend expectations. The Vulcanverse isn’t the world of Greek myth. It’s a Matrix-style virtual universe created by the god Vulcan (well, Hephaistos) using his hyper-accelerated development of today’s information technology. Go behind the curtain and you won’t find oxen turning wheels and steam-powered colossi from the old legends – you will find something startling and amazing and all-new. Something that coruscates with Kirby krackle, that whips the rug out from under you, that takes your breath away and blows your mind for good measure. This is not some lame old 1950s stop-motion movie with a bleeping owl. It’s the American Gods or Anansi Boys of Greek myth, the reboot that brings it up to date at warp speed. And that’s why Mattia’s cover is so perfect. It says: this is not your father's Greek mythology.

While we’re talking about the Vulcanverse books, eagle-eyed gamer Teófilo Hurtardo has pointed out some sloppy syntax in the second one, The Hammer of the Sun. If you get yourself killed, your god arranges to resurrect you and the text says:
‘If you were wounded, untick that box on your Adventure Sheet, but add 1 to your total scars because none returns from the land of death without being marked.’
What I meant there was that everybody coming back to life gets a scar, regardless of whether or not you were wounded when you died. But Teófilo rightly pointed out that’s not what I said. It might just about pass in everyday conversation, but not in a book where the precise logical syntax matters.

So what it should say is:
‘Add 1 to your total scars and, if you were wounded, untick that box on your Adventure Sheet.’
I’ll correct it in future editions. And this is a good moment to thank John Jones, who generously cast his diligent eye over the Vulcanverse books and caught a number of critical errors in The Wild Woods, some of which spread back in time to book one, The Houses of the Dead. For example, there's the ubiquitous demon Wolfshadow, who was supposed to be killed (in book one) based on advice given to you in book three by King Lykaon -- except that advice and the associated codeword had been missed out. Eek. John suggested a good way to fit the advice into the long spiel that King Lykaon actually delivers in book three:
'Despite my title, there is one wolf I do not rule...' leading into telling you about Wolfshadow and, 'Hey, take one of these arrows of Artemis to King Midas's tomb in Hades to maybe get gold-plated so you can kill that nasty thing why don't you? Oh, and don't forget to fetch along an actual bow, either.'
Unfortunately I'd already done the page layout, so I couldn't make use of John's elegant suggestion and we have to make do with Lykaon just mentioning Wolfshadow in passing. But at least you get the codeword so the book isn't actually broken.

John also took us to task, and rightly so, over the random permadeath the player suffers if they stray into the Slimeswamp without any vinegar. The only possible way to find out that you need vinegar there is to lose a character and have to start all over again. Not a lot of fun if you've just spent hours questing around the other books. John proposes this fix, which we fully endorse. Paste it into your copy of book one if you wish:


I'm barely scratching the surface of all the help John has given us with these books. He's the true hero of the Vulcanverse, and you can bet that after the final book is out I'll resign the position of gamebook editor permanently -- and thankfully!

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