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Wednesday 24 April 2024

You want fries with that?

In a very short time (I say that with fingers crossed) I'll be ready to put my Jewelspider RPG on DriveThruRPG. Urged by regular correspondent Stanley Barnes, and with the help of Simon Barns of Red Ruin Publishing, I thought I'd better learn the DriveThru ropes by uploading some books I did earlier.

So, if you're looking for digital gamebooks, you can now get the Critical IF series from DriveThruRPG:

As well as the grand finale of the Blood Sword series:

And a former Fighting Fantasy title that has been reworked as a standalone adventure in the Fabled Lands series:

And the first Fabled Lands book:

You get a watermarked PDF with all the sections hyperlinked and the original illustrations by Russ Nicholson and Leo Hartas. In the case of Once Upon a Time in Arabia that makes this quite a collector's item, incidentally, as the print version currently lacks Russ's pictures.

Monday 15 April 2024

Great men can work miracles

A trope I enjoy in folktales is the one that recounts the deeds of great heroes as achieved by wizardry, because of course there's no other way they could have done half of what they did. In one of the Knightmare novellas I had the protagonist thaw out a dwarf who'd spent the last fourteen centuries inside a block of ice in an Alpine cave. He'd eaten one of Hannibal's elephants, so Hannibal froze him solid.

The following tales of Drake, taken from Anna Bray's book The Borders of the Tamar and the Tavy, were an influence on Dragon Warriors and even more so on Jewelspider:

* * *

Tradition, in this part of the West Country, is still busied with the fame of Drake; and all the stories told of him are of a wild and extravagant nature. No doubt this originated from the terror of his name and the wonder of his exploits—exploits so extraordinary that they were here considered to owe their success to something supernatural in himself, and that he often performed them by the power of enchantment. Nor can we feel surprised at this credulity when we recollect that even in these days, with the peasantry of Devon, witchcraft is still believed to be practised in the county, and extraordinary circumstances or sufferings to be brought about by the active agency and co-operation of the devil.

Thus was our hero converted, by popular opinion, into a wizard; and as such the ‘old warrior’ (for so the lower classes here call Drake) is to the present time considered amongst them. The following traditionary tales will serve to show the sort of necromantic adventures which credulity has fastened on the memory of the great naval admiral of the reign of good Queen Bess.

One day whilst Sir Francis Drake was playing at the game of kales [ninepins] on the Hoe at Plymouth, it was announced to him that a foreign fleet (the Armada, I suppose) was sailing into the harbour close by. He showed no alarm at the intelligence, but persisted in playing out his game. When this was concluded, he ordered a large block of timber and a hatchet to be brought to him. He bared his arms, took the axe in hand, and manfully chopped up the wood into sundry smaller blocks. These he hurled into the sea, while at his command every block arose a fire-ship; and within a short space of time a general destruction of the enemy’s fleet took place, in consequence of the irresistible strength of those vessels he had called up to ‘flame amazement’ on the foes of Elizabeth and of England. Wild as this story is, there is something of grandeur in the idea of Drake standing on such a commanding elevation as the Hoe, with the sea, which spreads itself at its foot, before him, and that element together with the fire-ships obedient to the power of his genius, whose energies were thus mar­vellously exerted for the safety of his country.

The next tradition respecting Sir Francis was communicated to me by our esteemed friend, Mr. Davies Gilbert, who has shown the interest he takes in such fragments of the ‘olden time’ by the very curious collection he some years ago published of the Cornish ballads.

In the days of Drake the vulgar considered the world to be composed of two parallel planes, the one at a certain distance from the other. In reference to this space it was commonly said that Sir Francis hadshot the gulf,’ meaning that his ship had turned over the edge of the upper plane so as to pass on to the waters of the under. “There is,” said Mr. Davies Gilbert, “an old picture of Drake at Oxford, repre­senting him holding a pistol in one hand, which, in former years, the man who acted as showman to strangers was wont to say (still further improving upon the story) was the very pistol with which Sir Francis shot the gulf!”

Another story told of this hero is, that the people of Plymouth were so destitute of water in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, that they were obliged to send their clothes to Plympton to be washed in fresh water. Sir Francis Drake resolved to rid them of this inconvenience. So he called for his horse, mounted, rode to Dartmoor, and hunted about till he found a very fine spring. Having fixed on one that would suit his purpose, he gave a smart lash to his horse’s side, pronouncing as he did so some magical words, when off went the animal as fast as he could gallop, and the stream followed his heels all the way into the town. This assuredly was not only the most wonderful, but the most cheap and expeditious, mode of forming a canal ever known or recorded by tradition.

The next story of Sir Francis is a very singular one, nor can I in the least trace its origin to any real circumstance which might have been exaggerated in the relation, till it became, like the other tales about our hero, necromantic. It seems in every way a fiction. The good people here say that whilst the ‘old warrior’ was abroad, his lady, not hearing from him for seven years, considered he must be dead and that she was free to marry again. Her choice was made, the nuptial day was fixed, and the parties had assembled in the church. Now it so happened that at this very hour Sir Francis Drake was at the anti­podes of Devonshire, and one of his spirits, who let him know from time to time how things went on in England, whispered in his ear in what manner he was about to lose his wife. Sir Francis rose up in haste, charged one of his great guns, and sent off a cannon ball so truly aimed that it shot right through the globe, forced its way into the church, and fell with a loud explosion between the lady and her intended bridegroom. “It is the signal of Drake!” she ex­claimed, “He is alive, and I am still a wife. There must be neither troth nor ring between thee and me.”

Another legend of Sir Francis represents him as acting from motives of jealousy and cruelty, in a way he was very little likely to do. The story says that whilst he was once sailing in foreign seas he had on board the vessel a boy of uncommonly quick parts. In order to put them to the proof Sir Francis ques­tioned the youth, and bade him tell what might be their antipodes at that moment. The boy without hesitation told him Barton Place, (for so Buckland Abbey was then called) the Admiral’s own mansion in his native county. After the ship had made some further progress Sir Francis repeated his question, and the answer he received was, that they were then at the antipodes of London Bridge. Drake, surprised at the accuracy of the boy’s knowledge, exclaimed, “Hast thou, too, a devil ? If I let thee live, there will be one a greater man than I am in the world.” And so saying he threw the lad overboard into the sea, where he perished.


British Folk Tales & Legends by Katherine Briggs, on Amazon US and Amazon UK.

Wednesday 10 April 2024

The Vulcanverse is almost complete

OK, that took a little longer than I thought. Finishing the Vulcanverse gamebook series, I mean. I expected to tie up the saga last summer, but I didn't reckon on how complex it would be to pull together the threads of hundreds of quests spanning almost three-quarters of a million words and over 6000 sections.

But the finish line is in sight at last. You see me there with the typeset proof copy of Workshop of the Gods. I have checked all the logic (with the help of John Jones, without whom this Gordian knot would never have been cut) and now I just have to sort out any typos and the book will be ready to go on sale.

I think this might be the first open world gamebook series ever to be completed. (Eagle-eyed readers will correct me if I'm wrong.) Now if anyone has $100 million spare, I'll make the movie.

Friday 5 April 2024

Blood Sword to Dragon Warriors - part 4

We've got another set of stat blocks from the Blood Sword gamebooks, as converted to Dragon Warriors rules by Oliver Whawell. This time it's the turn of Doomwalk (the one where they go to the land of the dead) and you can get the PDF here.

The original 1980s covers were always an oddity, as they were completely different in tone from the books themselves. Blood Sword was verging on grimdark (well, the nearest you could get in a book sold to 10-12 year-olds) before the term was even invented. The covers on the other hand were cute and funny. I'm not sure what the art director at a publishing house actually did in those days. Took long lunches, I suppose.

Thanks to Wombo I've been having a ball rejigging the cover art to suit the interiors. Use of AI art infuriates some people to the point of hysteria, but you can see that (a) it's not going to replace human artists just yet and (b) these aren't for commercial use, so it's not taking away a job that I'd have otherwise hired anyone to do. However, let me just assure General Ludd's followers that I'm doing my bit as the forlorn hope against the forces of AI art by engaging real-life illustrator Inigo Hartas for the Jewelspider project.

In the video below, Grim expresses pretty much how I feel regarding the use of AI art. But I'm open to debate on this, so let me know what you think.