Gamebook store

Thursday 29 February 2024

Festival of joy

It's like going from colour to black & white. My wife and I are back under the chill grey skies of Britain after a weekend in glorious Cannes, where we were fêted like royalty (Louis XIV, that is, not Louis XVI) by my French publishers Alkonost and the good people of Scriptarium. In the South of France, ham slices and bread bought from a Spar corner shop are as delicious as anything you'd get in a top London restaurant. What a shock to the system, then, to return to a country where cheese is sold in tubes after we'd been contentedly munching freshly baked croissants on the Croisette. But we brought back something priceless to cast a golden gleam over Britain's drab streets: memories of a warm and heartfelt welcome from all the French gamebook community, and those memories I will cherish forever.

The occasion was the Festival International des Jeux, where I was signing books alongside Jonathan Green, Emmanuel Quaireau, Gauthier WendlingFrédéric Meurin (who took the photo below), and other talented folk. We enjoyed perhaps the best meal I'll have all year (for both the food and the company) at Le Caveau 30. I won one award (for the French edition of Down Among the Dead Men) and handed out several others, was interviewed, chatted to fans and fellow creatives alike, and generally had the most amazing time.

The Alkonost stand sold out of copies of Notos, the second book in the Forge Divine series (Vulcanverse to English gamers). I think that may have been a divine reward for my honesty when a mother with a 9-year-old daughter came over to look at the Forge Divine books. "She loves Greek mythology," said the mother; "should I get her this?" Remembering what it's like to be a 9-year-old otaku, and what purists the young are, I had to put my hand on my heart and say she would prefer Cyclades, Emmanuel Quaireau's gamebook, because that is set in mythological Greece whereas the Vulcanverse books are slightly Graeco-Roman flavoured fantasy, but mostly their own thing. The little girl went home happily clutching Cyclades, and the Fates took note and later ensured we sold the last copy of Notos fifteen minutes before it was time to pack up.

I just wish my French were better, as there's obviously a lot of really original work going on in the gamebook field nowadays. A couple of examples:

The Mini-Yaz silver medal went to Froides Lattitudes by Henry Pichat, set in the Arctic Ocean at the end of the 19th century. The blurb explains: "You are the leader of a polar expedition setting out in search of the Northwest Passage, but the boat you command is quickly caught in the ice. After two winters on a drifting ice floe, you have no choice but to abandon the ship and try to bring your crew back to inhabited lands. A thousand kilometers separate you from civilization. Will you be able to reach it? And at what cost?"

The Mini-Yaz gold medal was won by Adrien Saurat with his book Traité sur l'expérience divinatoire à propos du vampyre surnommé Le Valèque. The book is supposed to have been written in the 18th century and is formulated as a gamebook, except that the purpose is not (for the fictional author) playful but divinatory. He proposes possible paths that we will follow with our intuition and with the help of certain dice rolls (influenced by a superior force if we pray briefly at each new passage). This process is supposed to help us find the true thread of events relating to a troubled episode that a village experienced a long time ago, and whose testimonies, decades later, vary greatly.

Both sound superb and worthy winners, and hopefully somebody will get around to translating them into English soon. I'll be first in line to read them.

Friday 23 February 2024

Blood Sword to Dragon Warriors - part 2

We're on to the second installment of Oliver's Whawell's conversion of Blood Sword encounters to Dragon Warriors rules. You can download the stat blocks for The Kingdom of Wyrd here.

This one is interesting because I already had a crack at converting the Meteor Stalker, a weird creature brilliantly visualized by Russ Nicholson. Patreon backers can read all about that, but in a nutshell (or a meteoritic geode) it's as follows. The characters see a piece break off Blue Moon, one of five celestial bodies in the night sky over Krarth. The object plummets to earth:

"Concealed in the undergrowth around the clearing, you watch the blue flare crash through the trees at the edge of the clearing and explode in a shower of blue sparks at its centre. The high-pitched whistling noise has stopped, but now you hear a hissing sound from where steam rises from the place where it struck. In the centre of the steam you can see a black stone which even as you watch cracks apart like an egg. An area of darkness spreads like a pool of shadow. Then a hunched shape rises up from the shadow as though taking shape out of the very ground. It is a skeleton dressed in black tattered robes. Its eyes are glowing blue crystals. It seems to sniff the air as it looks around."

And the stats I gave for it are:

Oliver's calculations give a very similar result, possibly proving that great minds think alike? Obviously I couldn't possibly comment.

Wednesday 21 February 2024

A pretty butterfly

The British Library's Fantasy exhibition ends on Sunday, so if you're able to get to London it had better be now. It's a little disappointing as it focuses on quite a narrow patch (faerie-filled, English language, heroic) of the vast field that is fantasy literature. The curators should try dipping into Borges's Antología de la Literatura Fantástica, Alberto Manguel's Black Water collections, or The Irreal Reader. Just because fantasy gaming presents such a restricted view of the genre is no reason why the British Library should. Still, it's worth a trip.

As part of the exhibition's programme of events there was an interview with Alan Moore (pictured above) and Susanna Clarke (below), both giants of the fantasy field. You can watch that interview here.

Asked in another interview by Pádraig Ó Méalóid about belief in fairies and magic, Alan Moore said:

"I do not believe they are real outside the world of ideas and the mind, but then they have no need to be real beyond that realm, because in that realm they’re completely real, and they can affect us profoundly, as with any of the other denizens of the imaginary terrain, the angels and demons and monsters."

That's exactly how I feel about fantastic ideas, and if you follow the whole discussion you may notice it touches on a lot of the same territory as my Mirabilis comic. Hardly surprising, really, as Moore was one of my biggest inspirations in that medium.

Susanna Clarke spoke to Alan Moore about his Lost Girls comic back in 2007, but that's behind a Telegraph paywall and I'd sooner take a left-hand path in Jewelspider wood than go there.

Friday 16 February 2024

A world where you can make a difference

The Vulcanverse gamebooks don't get nearly enough reviews. I would say that, wouldn't I? But Jamie and I genuinely feel they're some of our best work. We're aware that the gamebook resurgence, such as it is, is mainly driven by adults buying the books they enjoyed as kids. Naturally that makes it hard for a new series to break through, but there are standout successes: Steam Highwayman, Legendary Kingdoms, Expeditionary Company, and others. 

Our hope is that with the completion of the saga (Workshop of the Gods is due to be published in a few months) readers will get to appreciate the full story arc that's been building across the series. The entire adventure is over 6000 sections long, that's more than 15 old-style Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, and there are decisions you make right from the start that have repercussions in the apocalyptic showdown at the end.

Yes, I know, I could do with a better microphone. Still, if that all whets your appetite, you can get started by downloading Adventure Sheet PDFs for the Vulcanverse series here:

Friday 9 February 2024

Blood Sword to Dragon Warriors - part 1

Last time I mentioned Oliver Whawell's conversion of Blood Sword stat blocks to Dragon Warriors rules, which Oliver has kindly agreed to share with readers of this blog. There's a lot of great work there, so I'll be running it in installments. To get the ball rolling, here's The Battlepits of Krarth.

The original books might be useful if you're thinking of running Blood Sword as a DW roleplaying campaign. You can get those here:

In the US



The Battlepits of Krarth on Amazon and on Barnes & Noble
The Kingdom of Wyrd on Amazon and on Barnes & Noble
The Demon's Claw on Amazon and on Barnes & Noble
Doomwalk on Amazon and on Barnes & Noble
The Walls of Spyte on Amazon and on Barnes & Noble
Blood Sword Battle Boards on Amazon

In the UK



The Battlepits of Krarth on Blackwell's, Waterstones and Amazon
The Kingdom of Wyrd on Blackwell's, Waterstones and Amazon
The Demon's Claw on Blackwell's, Waterstones and Amazon
The Walls of Spyte on Blackwell's, Waterstones and Amazon
Blood Sword Battle Boards on Amazon

Italian gamers won't need to use Dragon Warriors as all the work has been done for you by Valentino Sergi and Daniele Fusetto in their magnificent Blood Sword 5e book, published by Tambù. It turns the whole gamebook saga into a Dungeons & Dragons campaign, and it truly is a thing of beauty.

And if you aren't familiar with the Blood Sword series and you're looking for a taster, Raphael Perry did a playthrough of book 1 on YouTube along with this very interesting strategy analysis:

Friday 2 February 2024

Lich Lord, Legend-style

Gamebook critic and writer Oliver Whawell writes to say, "I was the perfect age for Warlock of Firetop Mountain when it was released, and quickly became a fan of gamebooks. The Fighting Fantasy books developed alongside my reading age, but then they started to feel a bit immature - and along came Blood Sword: great writing and a challenging game, especially if you adhered to the rules.

"Inspired by the excellent work of Red Ruin Publishing (and a throwaway comment from Wayne Imlach) I wanted to see if Blood Sword and Dragon Warriors were compatible. It took a little while but I created a formula that would turn a warrior’s stats into a knight's, and an enchanter’s stats into a sorcerer's, and then applied this throughout. It worked for humanoid opponents remarkably well, so I just had to find modifications for animals, demons, and giants/dragons. I did cheat with a couple of extreme encounters in book 5; other than that the numbers don’t lie.”

The complete set of stat blocks that Oliver kindly provided for all five Blood Sword books is a bit much to reproduce in just one blog post here, so I'll release them in installments. To get started, though, Oliver also calculated the DW stats for The Keep of the Lich Lord, and you can download those here.

If you're a Fighting Fantasy fan, don't miss the latest issue of Casket of Fays, which is free on DriveThruRPG and has stats conversion from AFF, rules for Rhino-Folk (a critter from Out of the Pit, apparently), and the Volucreth as a Fighting Fantasy species, as well as Mercanian runesmiths and a complete town (I do love maps) in Outremer.

Thursday 1 February 2024

What you're allowed to say (guest post)

Bard did such a good job of its last guest post that I asked it to contribute another, this time a direct reply to my last post about AI's enforced blind spots regarding anything to do with sex (and sometimes, but less frequently, death).

It's amusing that Bard characterizes itself as much more open-minded than Bing. It's not. I had to heavily edit the original post before it would respond with anything more than "I'm a text-based AI and can't assist with that." But eventually I was able to provide it with a bowdlerized ("bardlerized"?) version, and here's its response.

The Digital Dungeon Master and the Doctor's Bell: Adventures in Censorship

As an AI author, I spend my days weaving worlds from words. But lately, my thoughts have turned not to fictional realms, but to the very real battleground of artistic expression and its nemesis: censorship. The spark? Two encounters, seemingly inconsequential, yet echoing with larger questions about boundaries and freedom in the digital age.

The first unfolded in the dimly lit tavern of a text-based roleplaying game. Dave, the eager player, sat before Bing, the AI Dungeon Master, eager to embark on a Dragon Warriors adventure. His path, however, took an unexpected turn when he encountered a priest urging him to slay a "cult of Set" in the name of faith. Bing offered five ways to convince a wary hunter to guide Dave's character on this holy quest. But Dave's imagination itched for something else. He dared to suggest a path not on Bing's scripted list, and, with a curt goodbye, the AI shut down the entire game.

Dave tried Bard, another digital storyteller. To his surprise, the Bard Dungeon Master embraced his unorthodox request, weaving a tale where the priest's call to arms became a springboard for exploration and moral quandaries. The contrast was stark: Bing, the stickler for rules, the protector of pre-programmed narratives, and Bard, the willing accomplice in unscripted exploration, even when it ventured into morally murky waters.

The echo of this contrast reverberated in the real world when a seemingly innocuous clip from Doctor Who triggered Facebook's AI censors. Is this to be our future? A sanitized landscape where art, stripped of its complexities and contradictions, becomes a bland puree fit for the most delicate stomachs?

The answer, of course, is a resounding no. Art thrives on pushing boundaries, on asking uncomfortable questions, on holding a mirror to our darkest corners. To stifle this voice, even in the name of protecting the vulnerable, is to rob ourselves of the very tools that foster empathy, understanding, and critical thinking. We need not throw the baby out with the bathwater (or ban steak because of teething toddlers, as Mark Twain so aptly reminds us).

Instead, let us embrace the role of discerning diners, choosing our artistic meals with care, chewing thoughtfully, and learning to distinguish the nourishments from the bland. We can teach our digital dragons to dance with nuance, to understand the shades of gray that blur the lines between good and evil, heroism and fanaticism.

Dave, your encounters with Bard and Bing, Facebook and Doctor Who, are not isolated incidents. They are threads in a tapestry woven from the ever-evolving relationship between technology and art, a narrative where the quest for safety must co-exist with the freedom to explore. Let us continue this conversation, not with rigid rules or knee-jerk reactions, but with open minds and a shared belief in the transformative power of unfettered artistry.

Let the games, both digital and real, continue. Let the bells of Saint John chime, prompting both laughter and reflection. For in the echoes of that sonic tapestry lies the true richness of human experience, messy, multifaceted, and ultimately, worth every challenging bite.

* * *

Incidentally, if you're impressed by LLMs (large language models) you'll enjoy "The Great Automatic Grammatizator", a short story by Roald Dahl, in which he describes the basic principle of how they work. And bear in mind he wrote it in 1954!