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Friday 24 February 2023

The really real

I’m not coming with any answers this time, just a question.

“To understand the Athenians properly, we must recognise that it isn’t just that they perceived the world differently, but that the world itself was different. […] That we tend to see [objective reality] as a ‘natural’ feature of the world and not as our own construct is inherently bound up with the development of colonial modernity in the West. On these grounds, histories of pre-modern cultures that make use of modern Western ontologies fail to capture something essential about the world as it was. Shackled to our own ways of understanding, we can only ever write what amounts to a shadowy prehistory of ourselves.”

* * *

That's from Claire Hall's article "The Day A God Rode In" in The London Review of Books. If you want to read the whole thing, I'll wait.

So should a historical Spartan RPG include divine favour? I'm not talking about a fantasy setting here, but one where you’re trying to recreate Classical Greece as it really was. Clearly that was a world governed by the same physical laws as ours. The Greek gods don’t exist now and they didn’t then. The cosmos didn’t care whether this or that Greek hero lived or died.

Yet if the rules reflect that, the players will think like 21st century characters, not like Greeks of the 5th century BC. So maybe you need to include things like POW (in RuneQuest terms) to fix that. I'm thinking about it because at some point I mean to finish my Sparta roleplaying sourcebook Λ and Basic Roleplaying seems like a good set of rules to use for that.

But what do you think? Can we ever achieve objective reality in a historical setting? Or must we make game rules that fit the worldview of the people who lived there? 

Wednesday 22 February 2023

Peaks that stretch to the floor of heaven

If you've yet to start exploring the Vulcanverse, a good place to get prepped is over at the Vulcan Forged site where a fascinating new series of posts is providing an in-depth look at the lore of each region of this immersive world. This month it's the turn of Boreas, the icy mountain realm. (Part 1 here and part 2 here.)

A quick recap: Vulcanverse is an open world gamebook series. You can start in any book and travel back and forth between them. So far, so Fabled Lands. The differences with Vulcanverse are that you can explore the world with NPC companions, you get free resurrections (most of the time), and there are many more opportunities than in other gamebooks to permanently change the world by your actions.

Also in contrast to Fabled Lands, the whole Vulcanverse story builds to an epic finale in the fifth book, Workshop of the Gods, which will be released in a few months' time. I've been labouring away at the manuscript for almost a year (you'll never hear me criticize George RR Martin's work rate; I know just what it's like) and I now have over 20,000 words of notes covering the endgame sequence alone. The finished book will be around 1200 sections long, making the whole Vulcanverse series nearly 5000 sections and more than 600,000 words. After this one I might need a lie down.

Friday 17 February 2023

Lords of the Rising Sun arrives as DLC

Players of the Fabled Lands CRPG by Prime Games can now head to fresh adventures in the distant east with the new downloadable content comprising Akatsurai, a feudal country on the brink of civil war. New lands to explore, new quests to find, new enemies to fight, and new loot to plunder. Banzai!

To help you rig your vessel for the trip, the base game currently has its biggest discount ever and Steam are providing a daily deal for the DLC. Grab your dai-sho and get over there.

Thursday 9 February 2023

Seen in the smoke

Why put the Oracle into a gamebook? Simple. I was hired to write for the Vulcanverse series, and the background they'd chosen was Greek myth. My personal preference in fantasy is for original settings like Tekumel, but the Greek angle made it easy. I just had to arm myself with a copy of Graves and figure out which stories to use in the books.

In fact there was another reason I wanted to do something with the Oracle. I'll come to that later.

The sixty-four thousand drachma question: how to use oracles in a gamebook? Prophecies are tricky enough in roleplaying games, where you have a bit of latitude in interpretation and you can if need be nudge events in line with what's supposed to happen.

Here's the way I planned to do it. You can request a prophecy on one of several tasks. First you must pay a lava gem to be admitted to see the Pythia, then:

Each answer sets a definite outcome to a challenge – two good, one bad. Once that’s set it cannot be changed. For example, take the bad prophecy. The Pythia says you will fall to Antaios, and if you've been given that prophecy then when you meet him he will certainly overcome you without the usual combat choices. (Though maybe there’d be a last chance to reverse the defeat, ie you are overcome but might still escape.)

If you meet Antaios after you've already seen the Pythia, and so  have the codeword DoneAntaios, then the prophecy will come true with your inevitable defeat. But if you meet Antaios before you've visited the Pythia and been given the codeword by her then you get the usual “unfated” encounter, meaning that you have a chance to defeat him. Without the prophecy, your fate is in your own hands. Then at the end of that encounter you'll get the codeword DoneAntaios which ensures the Pythia can’t give you a prophecy about something that's already happened.

That's the bad outcome. The other two questions, about the crown of snakes and the city of glass, would be answered with prophecies that guaranteed success -- assuming you visit the Pythia before undertaking those quests. (The player shouldn't know in advance which question will get a bad prophecy and which will get good outcomes, of course.)

The other reason for putting an Oracle into the Vulcanverse books is that they are open world adventures. My original idea for those (see Cities of Gold & Glory, for example) was that players could define their own goals. That's what my role-playing campaigns tend to be like. If a PC decides they want to climb the highest mountain in each of the kingdoms, for example, they can just go and do it. If there are pre-planned quests you have to come across them, not be handed them. But many gamebook fans and players of traditional D&D are accustomed to being given an objective at the start. "Your mission, should you choose to accept..." 

The Oracle is a way of giving players a choice. Want an assigned quest? Go to the Oracle -- but she might doom you to failure before you've even begun. Or you can go looking for your own adventures, disdaining any sense that destiny controls you; be the captain of your own fate. In the Vulcanverse, the choice is yours.

Wednesday 8 February 2023

Plug in to comedy and adventure

Looking for a story you can really immerse yourself in? How about Meta: Game On, an hilarious new novel by Xander Black? This audio drama treat is expertly recounted by the mithril-tongued Rob Rackstraw, master of a thousand voices, who may well be channelling the likes of Brian Blessed, Eartha Kitt, Stephen Fry and the Emperor Palpatine. 

Really, you don't want to miss the comedy-adventure of the next Swinging Sixties - 2060s, that is. Grab it right now, before they demolish Earth to make way for a hyperspace freeway.

The year 2065: The streets are abandoned, shops are empty, parks are silent. But is that really much of a surprise when you can connect to the Cybernet?

Everyone can turn on, log in, and drop out.

Cyrus, a failed physicist, and dropout game designer Everett are on the cusp of their big breakthrough into the meta ranks of Neverborn, the world’s most popular game.

But when several high-profile avatars disappear and their human counterparts are found dead, Cyrus and Everett find themselves under suspicion. They must clear their names and unravel the deeper mysteries of Brith and the Neverborn. In doing so, they will uncover a dark secret that threatens not only the game-world, but the safety of their physical realm.

Monday 6 February 2023


If you can stand another interview with me about gamebooks, roleplaying games, comics, and so forth -- and if you haven't heard it all already -- then here I am talking to the good folks at Refugio Seguro, aka Safe Haven. (Non-Spanish speakers could use Google Translate, but if you scroll down you'll find they have given the full interview in English too.)

Thursday 2 February 2023

Keeping those wounds green

It wasn't long ago we were talking about the Interregnum, the period between the establishment of the Commonwealth after the execution of Charles I and the collapse of the British republic and the coronation of Charles II. I'd like to know more, but it's usually glossed over in the textbooks.

Serendipity has lent a hand in the form of Act of Oblivion, the latest novel by author Robert Harris, who is my guilty pleasure in between reading proper writers like Vladimir Nabokov and Hilary Mantel. The novel begins with the hunt for the men who signed Charles I's death warrant, but there are plenty of flashbacks to the Civil War and the period under Cromwell.

I usually say that in good fiction there are no heroes or villains, but in this book Harris takes it a step further. Everyone in Act of Oblivion is both hero and villain, in a sense -- or we could just say that they are human and therefore flawed, complicated, and fascinating. He also does a good job of taking us into the mindset of 17th century characters without sacrificing relatability. Always a strong storyteller, here he's on top form with a compelling subject.