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Friday 7 June 2024

Actions and consequences in an open world

When I mentioned on social media that Vulcanverse would be the first open-world gamebook series to be finished, somebody rightly pointed out that "finished" is a moot term when we're talking about open-world adventures. Fabled Lands, for example, is famously incomplete -- but all that actually means is that you can only explore about two-thirds of the areas shown on the map. If and when we ever type "The End" on Fabled Lands book 12, that wouldn't constitute an ending in the way a linear story ends. You can go round and round forever. That's what open worlds are all about.

Vulcanverse is different. Superficially it is like Fabled Lands, a sandbox for adventuring in, but that's deceptive. It's actually more like an open-world CRPG where you can take up quests in any order, but they feed into a central story thread that will lead you to a grand finale. Minor quests allow you to qualify for major quests, and some of those have payoffs that change the landscape of the game (literally) or win you allies who may rally to your side at the showdown with the Big Bad.

The last half of Workshop of the Gods (around 880 sections out of 1667 in total) is devoted to that endgame track, and once you complete it the game is over. You can bide your time entering the endgame, gathering everything and everyone you think you'll need, but once you're on it the structure is pretty linear. It's like a traditional gamebook from that point, sacrificing complete freedom of choice in favour of a dramatic conclusion.

I got to wondering how many quests are up for grabs in the whole five books. One clue might be in the codewords that we use to keep track of earlier decisions. For instance, if you begin your adventures in Book Five you start with the codeword Reverie. That remembers that you have a home and family in the city, and that you are familiar with the main landmarks. Titles such as Amazonian Queen or Tricked by a Water Nymph serve a similar function, the main difference being that you can see what the title records whereas the function of a codeword is usually not obvious immediately.

There are about two hundred codewords and seventy-odd titles across the five Vulcanverse books. As a quick yardstick, that might suggest around 250 quests (given that you might pick up more than one codeword on the bigger quests) but actually it's the tip of the iceberg. We only use codewords and titles when a player choice can have consequences anywhere in the Vulcanverse. All sorts of people you meet will react differently if you're the Amazonian Queen, for example.

But there are plenty of quests that don't have global repercussions, so to avoid having to check codeword lists too often we use a non-global logic filter: the tickbox. A tickbox is located "in the code". At the point that you arrive at a location, say, a tickbox could record whether this is your first visit (in which case you get the longer description) or a follow-up. Multiple codewords can be used to trigger different events each time you visit the location, as in the case of the tengu king's court in FL Book Six:

With a little extra tweaking, a tickbox can serve to filter a quest that is not yet complete, or that has just been completed, or that you completed a while ago. Here's an instance of that from Vulcanverse Book Four:

In this case, section 912 gives you the set-up conditions before the quest is dealt with and asks if you have what's needed to fulfil it. Usually you'll go away and come back later with what you need, though you might be lucky enough to have it already -- an item, a codeword, a companion, etc. If and when you do, 912 steers you to a section (or a whole subquest loop consisting of many sections) that if successful routes you back to 408 with the instruction to tick the box. At that point, you'll then go to section 1043 and be told the outcome and what reward you get. If you return to the Atlas tree later on, you'll see that the box is already ticked and so you'll go to section 1007, which tells you the new status quo that applies since you resolved the quest.

There are a lot more localized quests than globally significant ones, just like in a CRPG, so at a rough guess that means the whole Vulcanverse series comprises about six or seven hundred distinct quests. Some just earn you an item or a stat boost. Others unlock bigger quests. Each of the first four books features three major quests called labours, and when you've completed all twelve of those it unlocks the possibility to jump into the endgame in Book Five whenever you're ready.

I haven't seen a breakdown of the quest structure for something like The Witcher or Baldur's Gate, but I'm curious to know how the scope of those games measures up beside Vulcanverse. If you know the numbers, share them in the comments. And if you have a loved or loathed gamebook design feature -- maybe you can't stand writing in books, or you don't like logic gates -- let us know about that too.

Tickbox and codeword spreadsheet for all 5 Vulcanverse books
Buy the Vulcanverse series on Amazon


  1. I'm using the rules you gave years ago for converting A Fabled Lands Character into A Vulcanverse Character, Book 5 arrived today and I want to know what paragraph of Book 5 would you suggest I would start at when using A Vulcanverse Character that's A Converted Fabled Lands Character

    1. Good question, JM. You could start at any of the gates; 333 for example. Though do bear in mind the caveat I mentioned in that rules conversion post:

      "The Vulcanverse books start out with your character's childhood in that world and there are callbacks later to your family, even encounters with family members. None of that will make sense if you're playing somebody who has dropped through from a different universe, so transporting a character across is entirely unsupported."

    2. I do bear in mind what you said but I'm interpreting it in a unusual way

      You never actually said at 1 age he came to The World of Vulcanverse

      Meaning he could have come as a very young child and his family could be his adopted family

      The home in Book 5 the home of his adopted family

      He was given the job of looking after the family because he was the most capable not because he was the oldest

      Such interpretations are the reason why in my opinion The Vulcanverse Books are better then The Fabled Lands books

  2. According to, BG3 contains 147 quests.
    According to, BG1 contains 131 quests and BG2 87.

    1. The sweeping scale of the Vulcanverse series might backfire on us. Maybe the reason we don't get many Amazon reviews is because most players haven't finished it yet.

    2. I think your reviews observation is about right, Dave. I want to review Vulcanverse with a view to how the series gels as a whole as much as how good are the individual books, especially with your previous mention about yours and Jamie's narrative style and game design detail being so different in VV. I would hope that would be weeks rather than months, but then a lot of people may not have the free time that I have. It might be years before you reap the review benefit, albeit given the length of time Fabled Lands span, you seem to have more patience than most!

      Having told mates not to leave a review for my own book unless they've actually read it properly, to then see it plummet down the Amazon charts as it doesn't have the credibility to sell many copies, does rather feel like having shot myself in the foot. So I sympathise with your plight!

    3. It's a quandary, Andy. One guy got in touch to say that if I sent him a PDF of Workshop of the Gods then he'd do a review. So now I see how lots of new gamebooks end up with literally thousands of 4- and 5-star reviews. Like you, I only want honest reviews, but these days those are hard to come by. It does mean that I really appreciate a review by somebody who has played all the books -- like this one by Joonseok Oh.