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Tuesday, 5 April 2022

The expanding Vulcanverse

What was I saying recently about the Vulcanverse gamebooks? You'll either like 'em or you'll hate 'em. The reviewer above is in the former camp, and French gamers will be pleased to hear that Jamie and I are currently picking several dozen scenes from the books to be illustrated for the forthcoming Alkonost edition.

Or, if you can't wait, the English editions are still on sale -- and we are currently writing book 5, Workshop of the Gods, which should be out by the autumn.


Also at Blackwell's UK:
And at Barnes & Noble in the US:


  1. Hello,

    according to a few posts at your blog:

    there were identified a few issues & typos in some books. Do you know if there is any current/planned edition print that fixes those?

    Thanks a lot

    1. Yes, those errors should be corrected in any copy of the books that you order now.

    2. Ordered all of them from Amazon, The houses of the dead just arrived. The physical format is fantastic, looking very much forward to playing it.

      I am however a bit disappointed with the quality of the font and pictures. When I look closer the font printing is not very crisp, the edges are a bit shaky / blurry. At some pictures you can see pixelization or compression / low resolution effect. It almost feels as if it was printed by home laser printer. Is this related to on-demand print quality or something else? Thank you

    3. Did you order the hardcover edition or the paperback? Both are print on demand, but the hardcovers should be of higher quality because they are printed by Ingram Spark. (The paperbacks are printed by Amazon.) Even in the paperbacks the font and images should not be pixelating -- that can only be a fault in the local POD company, as the PDFs look fine.

    4. I ordered hardcover editions. Now looking at it closely for a second time it actually seems to be printed with inkjet tech (confirmed by E.g. the very dark picture above paragraph 431 (three skeletons) has several very thin white vertical lines segregating the segments typical for mid quality inkjet printing. Pixelation could be seen at the green-black picture next to p. 273 - The staff held by the skeleton is probably the most outstanding one.
      Also the colors are not that vivid and compact as with laser color printing. I suspect the lack of crispness/sharpness of the text itself is due to the combination of used ink/paper.

      To be honest, it is a real bummer for such a price tag and the book could be most likely printed from PDF in higher quality and with sharper text by using standard office color laser printer. In the end it is not a disaster neither printer fault just that the quality of the inkjet tech barely exceeds home inkjet printing. Hope that future editions could use some other POD company with laser tech.

      Nevertheless after reading a few paragraphs and comparing it with Fabled Lands books the VulcanVerse writing really shines out and is deeply immersive. Indeed there seems to be a big step up in maturity given how many years passed between the two series. Thank you for resurrection of the genre at such level!

    5. I'm sorry about the print quality, Petr. It's very hard to judge with print on demand because the companies use local printers and binders, which means that the proof copies that Jamie and I get to look at might be very different quality from what a reader in, say, Idaho will get. And on top of that there's the innate limitation of inkjet printing, which is a surprising choice for Ingram Spark as their one USP over a print-on-demand company like KDP (Amazon's own company, which we use for the paperbacks) is supposed to be quality.

      Still, I'm relieved that the prose is good. That's the bit that Jamie and I have total control over, so if it falls short we're to blame. What did you think about the contrast in prose style between Jamie's books and mine? When we wrote Fabled Lands we had very similar writing styles, but over the decades we've diverged.

    6. Ok, let me focus on what really matters here and dive into the prose style of both of you properly - I will revert back to you here.

    7. Thanks. It probably doesn't matter too much in the first four books, as each has its own tone, but for the fifth book we're teaming up. It would be odd if half of the book is in one style and half in another!

    8. As promised after a bit of time diving through the books here goes my initial feedback. Although I just barerly scratched the surface regarding to how vast the whole series is a few impressions has already crystalized.

      To start with your prose style and structure presented in the books is very different from Jamie's. Your passages seems to be much shorter and much less descriptive. You present a reader the world almost in some sort of flashes of perceived reality often written in a cinematic way of cut-scenes interlaced with the expressions of feelings from the place and events. It reminds me eastern manga with the panels of falling leaves, waterfalls and birds on the sky. Jamie's style more often introduces the passage with an action such as "You came to..." and more detailed description of the place along with the objects/beings to interact with and offered later in the form of options. The passages somehow seems to be more "involved/engaged" with the character. Though a dry humour leaks through your books from time to time I did not feel it is that strong as Jamie's especially in the book 1.

      The maturity of text in the whole series is high in overall and sometimes forces reader to take a step aside and think a bit deeper (from time to time like a dream-walker).

      However I have to admit I have problems in following the path and being immersed in your books (2 & 4) in the same way as in the books 1 & 3. At first, since you often describe places straight away without the character's initial action, it somehow disconnects me from the flow. Another reason is systematic lack of description of the options within the main text.
      For example Book 2 - p. 1687: Very short paragraph with almost anedcdotal event (lizard) with many options that have not been introduced/decribed beforehand. In the text the place is not distinguished enough from the others and questions arise such as "Why camp of Amazons here and not somewhere else?", "What Amazons do here?", "Why the obelisk here?" etc. The same goes for p. 436: "Wedding party - where, why, how?". As well the directional options usually offer just South, North etc. without dragging attention to places that could be seen (i.e. South to the close forrest, West to lone desert...).

      Since the world is so huge the short descriptions with very brief sentences somehow disjoints the experience. I do not mind high demands on reader's imagination to fill in the gaps however in this case I miss enough raw material to work with which I believe is essential for any open-world gamebook. In overall to sum up my experience in your books I felt like having a semi-transparent belt over my eyes while being dragged from one place to another almost like in a dream :).
      Despites this fact I still very much enjoy your writing - it was just surprising change for me since I read many of Fabled Lands and Bloodsword books and I have not experienced the same.

      At last I noticed a few issues worth mentioning:
      - Book 2, p. 212 - Wedding party should have tick box since it probably does not run forerever. As well it represents at the moment an infinite loop to gain 20 pyr in case a player succeed in guarding the wedding dress.

      - Book 1: After you die you are sent to the Vulcan's vault at p. 444. The passage that starts "When you come back to life..." allows you to store possessions/money similar to what you offer in i.e. Book 2. Now the option "If you are dead" either does not make sense since you just came to live or you are really dead and then how do you become alive again (+ the "When you come back to life..." is broken)? As well there is no mention that Wound box should be unticked (as it is declared in Book 2 in case you die).

      Anyway thank you for this tremendous and excellent work, looking forward to explore more piece by piece and finally complete it by Book 5 once is out.

    9. Thanks for your analysis, Petr. I really appreciate it.

      It's interesting you mention Jamie's tendency to set up each scene ("You come to..." etc) vs my cinematic cuts. I've just been trying to dovetail some teleportation sequences in book 5 with earlier books, and Jamie's approach makes it harder as he's assumed the player walks to each location. But I take your point that his narration holds the player's hand while my manga-style approach throws them in at the deep end and leaves them to fill in the gaps themselves.

      Good point about the wedding party. I wanted the player to be able to pick up more weasel blood if necessary, but in that case I shouldn't have made it something you can sell for 20 pyr.

      I don't know why Jamie did Vulcan's vault that way in book 1, as I wrote the resurrection sequence for all the books right at the start, and gave it to him as an example of how the Current Location feature worked. I meant him to just cut-&-paste it into book 1 but I suppose he forgot about it (easy to do when you're writing 1000+ section gamebooks!) and then rewrote it his own way.

      Thanks again for your feedback. It's so much more helpful than just getting a rating of 1 or 5 stars.

    10. I just fanwank that that area is a really good wedding venue, the Vulcanverse version of Asylum Chapel or Dartmouth House (yes, I Googled wedding venues in London just to make that point. I am a broken person). As for selling infinite Weasel Blood... so what?

      First, in the same book you can get Phoenix Tears for free with the Orphean Nail and Isk. Lament or the right Title. With them and an 8 Difficulty Grace test you can score 6 Lava Gems over and over and over. Lava gem sell for about 50 pyr at the least most places.

      Second, money is probably less important in the Vulcanverse than in Fabled Lands. In FL a smart, lucky Rank 1 character can run a bunch of safe merchant ship trips, accumulate several thousand Shards, and head to Aku to get Armor Defense +6, a Weapon Com+6, a Celestium Wand Magic +5 and four other Attribute-boosting Items at +3.

      In VV money is mostly a mild convenience. Most of the stuff you actually need can be found by looking around. IIRC, the highest boosting item you can buy is a +1 - and those items are generally really easy to find anyway. +2 items need to be found or earned as a reward and the two +3 items currently available requires some in-depth questing to get.

    11. Good point, John. My original idea was that money didn't really matter much. A mild convenience, as you say. The point of the VV series was to be much more focused on the storyline(s) whereas in FL you might decide to make a mercantile career your main goal. But then Jamie put in a lot of quests in book 3 that he was worried players would only bother with to raise money. I reckon they'll do them anyway -- when have FL players ever dodged a quest because it didn't have a big enough payday at the end?

  2. Got to say I was quite put off by the price - but having picked up the Hardbacks of The Houses of the Dead and the Hammer of the Sun, I must say I'm very impressed. I was expecting something like the paperback Fabled Lands re-release, but these are physically huge!

    Just opening them up and seeing the pages and codewords reminded me of the thrill of getting a new Fabled Lands book back in the 90s. Really looking forward to getting stuck into these!

    1. Originally we were only going to do paperback editions, Ray, but Mattia's art looked so good in colour that a hardback version made sense. I was a little worried that they would be too expensive (it's the colour printing that adds to the price as well as the hard covers and thicker paper) but I think they're still good value for money. Let us know what you think once you've played them for a while?

    2. It's taken me a few months to really get to grips with the Vulcanverse books, but I thought I would reply here! I've been playing through The Houses of the Dead and The Hammer of the Sun, and as a whole greatly enjoying them, though I do feel like I'm missing out by not having The Wild Woods and The Pillars of the Sky!

      It definitely recaptures the excitement of open world adventuring from Fabled Lands, and I do like the streamlined system, reducing fights, effectively to a single roll. I do like the "Fine/Wounded/Dead (or Scarred)" health system, too. And having companions - I forget whether this was a thing in Fabled Lands, but I don't think it was?

      I assume The Houses of the Dead captures something of what FL book 12 would have been like? And I note a sly reference to The Plains of Howling Darkness...

      It certainly recaptures the feeling if a dynamic world from Fabled Lands, though, with timed events and the world changing in response to your actions. All good stuff.

      That said, I definitely get the complaint about navigation in The Hammer of the Sun. There was a lot of wandering around aimlessly, sometimes with interesting results (stumbling across the Kingdom of Saewon was very satisfying), but often it was just hard to work out where I was on the map. I guess that kind of captures the feel of wandering in a wasteland, but I did feel like in Fabled Lands the maps highlighted interesting places to visit and let you set your own goals. In the two Vulcanverse books I've tried to date, the maps didn't really do that. Or getting to places of interest (The Cataract of Oceanus) and not really being able to do anything, because I haven't finished another quest.

      Still, I've had a great time chasing disembodied hands, out-riddling Sphinxes (or being batted halfway across the map by one). I'm look forward to playing the others.

    3. It's a pity there weren't more landmarks on the Notus map to help you navigate your way around. Unfortunately I didn't have any input into the map -- it was already drawn before I started writing. Hopefully you'll eventually be able to complete all the quests (you will need The Pillars of the Sky for the full Iskandria storyline) but certainly if I ever write more gamebooks after this I'll insist on having some involvement in the geography.

  3. I have only just started Houses of the Dead, but I fully intend on getting the rest of the VulcanVerse books.

    I am probably younger than most people who play gamebooks. When I was a kid I had a single CYOA style book, and while I found it cool, I also found it frustrating because of the "deaths". I didn't like rereading the same opening pages and passages and making the same choices over and over again just to see if I could get the "good" ending.

    As a video game RPG fan, I had heard about tabletop games like DnD, and I was intrigued yet had no friends who played, so when I found out about gamebooks I was really intrigued, especially as I was a big reader, too. A book with RPG mechanics that you can play solo? Sounds great. Yet when I read about these books I was turned off by how their gameplay was described. Dying, but with dice. I just believe that dying and needing to reread the same opening passages and make many of the same choices is a terrible mechanic. And dying due to a bad roll, not even a choice you made, sounds even more tedious. Yet I got two Critical IF books, Heart of Ice and Down Among the Dead Men, because the gameplay mechanic made a lot more sense to me. And while they had good ideas, I was still frustrated with all the dying and restarting.

    But the one gamebook series always on my mind was Fabled Lands. Elder Scrolls is one of my favorite video game series, so the Skyrim comparisons I had seen piqued my curiosity. Recently I have gotten into Daggerfall which is more sandboxy and has more freedom than Skyrim, and now I wonder if Fabled Lands is more Daggerfall than Skyrim. Regardless, hearing about the instant deaths and the combat of Fabled Lands always kept me away. What I like about Elder Scrolls is the freedom to live and make my way in a fantasy world. Imagine starting Skyrim over every time you died... Terrible.

    So when I found out about VulcanVerse a week ago, I got really excited. People called it "Fabled Lands lite" and that it was "easier", and essentially what I understood is that death wasn't game over. And that's pretty much all I wanted this whole time. Being able to move freely and tackle quests and make my way at my own pace without having to restart all the way from the beginning just because of a dumb mistake or bad dice roll is pretty much the ideal gamebook for me. VulcanVerse is the closest thing to the ideal gamebook to me that exists. Unless I just haven't experienced a game over passage yet... I still have yet to die at all, but from what I can tell, you simply resurrect.

    I understand that VulcanVerse is less open ended and more quest focused than Fabled Lands, but so far I am having a blast with Houses of the Dead. Finally I feel I can enjoy the moment to moment experience of playing a gamebooks. And from what I understand, book 2 Hammer of the Sun lets you figure things out for yourself to a better degree than Houses of the Dead, so I have that to look forward to.

    Design-wise I don't even know if dice rolling is necessary. Is leaving it up to chance really that compelling? Maybe a sandbox gamebook but with the Panurgic system of Critical IF is possible in the future. Regardless, VulcanVerse is the only gamebook series on the market that even closely resembles my sensibilities and I am glad that you and Jamie decided to write them.

    1. Thanks! I'll be interested to hear what you make of Hammer of the Sun after Houses of the Dead, as you're right that it's much more of a sandbox (no pun intended) which some players like and some don't.

      I wish we had made resurrection deals easier to get in Fabled Lands, and also stackable so that once you got to high ranks you could have several in reserve. And I agree with you about dice. The only excuse for any attribute/skill roll in a gamebook is if a failed result has as interesting an outcome as a success. If I ever get a chance to do the Shadow King gamebook I'm going to forget about dice-rolling altogether.