Gamebook store

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

The Apocalypse is going to take a little longer

If you follow the comments on this blog, you'll already know the problem I have with Blood Sword book 5. It was supposed to be the end of the world, this book, but it looks like we packed up early.

The process for the new edition of Blood Sword involved Stanley-knifing my old copies apart, scanning each page by hand, cleaning up the inevitable OCR errors, remapping the flowchart to check it all worked, adding any new codewords and sections needed, then typesetting the definitive text file for printing.

It was meant to be a spare-time hobby. Instead it took a good chunk of the summer. As I started on The Walls of Spyte, I had an inkling it was going to take a bit more work. That’s why Fabled Lands Publishing got books 1-4 out first. “I’ll tidy up the problems with the fifth book over the next few weekends.” That's what I said. Famous last words.

What went wrong with book 5? I’ve been trying to figure it out. The whole Blood Sword saga builds to this huge climax on midwinter’s eve of the year 1000, when most people believe the world will end. The player-characters don’t just believe that, they know it for a fact. Their celestial foes the True Magi are going to reincarnate at midnight and then their plan is to get all Isil on humanity’s collective ass. “You have five hours to save the world…” This adventure should have been filled with terror, urgency, darkness, even (to use terms I never would in real life) good versus evil.

Instead it was an old skool dungeon. Well, you may say, The Battlepits of Krarth is a dungeon. True, but it’s not only that. The dungeon there is just the arena in which the real story of political machinations among the callous Magi plays out. More to the point, it’s full of traps and puzzles and whimsy because the Magi designed it that way. What’s Spyte’s excuse?

I can’t remember the exact circumstances of how the book got written – and, since I have a pretty good memory, that alone suggests that I was probably deep into writing other books like Knightmare and Heroquest. Most likely Hodder had been talking about when to schedule the last Blood Sword book for some time, and suddenly they needed it yesterday. That’s how publishers usually operate.

Oliver had been planning to take a holiday from his day job at Transworld to allow him to write the majority of this final book, so as to catch up on the fact that I’d written 90% of a series we originally planned to work on 50/50. But something messed up those plans. Oliver didn’t have as much time as he thought, and I was booked solid on other projects. At a rough guess, he did the first half, I did the last 50 sections or so. And to fill the gap, luckily Jamie was free and was able to jump in at very short notice, writing the remaining sections in about a week. Which, considering he didn’t even know the rules (and they do stretch to twenty pages, remember) was pretty impressive.

So to answer that question, what went wrong, I have a theory. I don’t think I told Oliver and Jamie what the story was. I probably said, “The PCs have to go through a ruined city fighting cultists and demonic guardians. They’re trying to stop a ceremony at the centre of the city, so get them to the top of the inner keep and I’ll take over.”

What I should have added: “It’s Doomsday. Make it about metaphysics, betrayal, and paranoia.”

Not knowing that, Oliver and Jamie created a dungeon full of weird experiences, dimensional gateways, riddling dragons, all that. Effectively, it was a second run at the Battlepits. The tone? All over the place. Instant and arbitrary deaths mix in with whimsical conversations with demons. At times the book verges on Comedy Hour of the Apocalypse. Other times it’s Grimtooth’s Traps. Then right at the end you get to my bit and we’re talking about Man judging God and whether self-sacrifice is the only way to beat the True Magi. It’s like three different gamebooks crashed into each other at high speed. The Walls of Spyte doesn’t really survive the collision.

Either Oliver or I should have been creatively directing this book. When he had to bow out early, I should have somehow rearranged my other deadlines in order to take over for the finish. The fact that one of the numbered rods you collect was left in the published book as having the label XX (it was supposed to read 100) suggests that each of us thought the other was responsible for checking the proofs. It wasn’t up to Jamie to fix it – he was just pinch hitting as a favour.

Some things are never going to get a shine however much you polish them. The Walls of Spyte doesn’t need a few corrective touches, it needs ruthlessly aggressive surgery. To make the book fit for publication, I ought to cut at least the central 300 sections and completely rewrite them.

But I’m very aware that people are waiting for this book. A rewriting job on that scale isn’t something to dash out over a weekend. I already have an outline for what I'd like to do with the book, but I’d have to clear a month at least to do it properly. If I was retired and only had matchstick models of the Palace of Westminster to fill my time it’d be easy, but when you’re a working writer there are few idle moments. Fabled Lands Publishing can afford to pay for the editing work to reissue old gamebooks like Blood Sword, Falcon and The Keep of the Lich Lord, but creating all-new gamebook material is a lot more work for, sadly, not much of a return.

If you’re desperate for book 5 in its original version then you’ll find plenty of people flinging free PDFs of it around on the internet. Personally I’d recommend waiting till I can fix it, though at the moment I’m not sure how to find (or fund) the time. I'd be tempted to say it's a job for Kickstarter, but I've already comprehensively debunked that as a viable way to fund print gamebooks.

Alternatively, since all the above is just my own personal taste and some people say they like old skool dungeons, I could just release the book without my name on it. If in a couple of months I still haven't figured out a way to clear enough time to rewrite it, that's what I intend to do, so either way it ought to be back in print by the spring. Who knows, it might turn out to be the most popular in the series, and all this agonizing is just me.

In the meantime, so as to have something to mark the season, here's a link to some of my Knightmare books. And I'll leave you with W B Yeats, whose poem "The Magi" did not in fact inspire Blood Sword, but fits it rather splendidly all the same. Happy New Year!
Now as at all times I can see in the mind's eye,
In their stiff, painted clothes, the pale unsatisfied ones
Appear and disappear in the blue depth of the sky
With all their ancient faces like rain-beaten stones,
And all their helms of silver hovering side by side,
And all their eyes still fixed, hoping to find once more,
Being by Calvary's turbulence unsatisfied,
The uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.

Friday, 26 December 2014

For whom the bell tolls

I was sorry to hear the news about Destiny Quest. After putting out books two and three with quite a bit of fanfare and nice production standards, publishers Gollancz found the series wasn’t selling as they’d hoped. There will be – from Gollancz, anyway – no book four.

I’m sorry because Destiny Quest was meticulously designed, brilliantly plotted, vividly written, and imbued with genuine passion. If it had come out back in the ‘80s it would have been one of the classic gamebook series that everybody talked about today.

But I’m not surprised. Even by 1995, the gamebooks tide was ebbing so fast that we couldn’t convince Pan Macmillan to let us finish Fabled Lands. What happened? Videogames happened. They can do just exactly what old-style gamebooks did and, let’s be honest, they do it better. If I have an evening to kill and it’s between The Witcher and Deathtrap Dungeon – no contest.

Wait a moment, though, because what I’m talking about here is ‘80s-style adventure gamebooks. That is, a multiple-choice format Dungeons and Dragons game – or, these days, World of Warcraft. And in print. All that Gollancz’s announcement has confirmed is that in 2014 you can’t put a gamebook series like that into bookstores, with all the pressure of finding a wide, deep market that implies, and make a go of it.

That doesn’t mean there’s no room for gamebooks any more. Gollancz's experiment possibly shows that dungeon-delving gamebooks with highly detailed rules don't sell well in bookstores. But they should have tested the water with several different types of gamebook - some rules-lite, some non-fantasy. That's the only way to find out if there's a broad market for interactive fiction out there. The success of Inkle's Sorcery and 80 Days suggests there is, and don't tell me a publisher couldn't figure out any way to get similar success in print or ebooks. They just didn't try a wide enough range to get any kind of statistically significant result.

And in any case, Destiny Quest was a success long before a publisher tried to take it out to the mass market. (There are various magnitudes of mass market, but that’s a detail.) The series’ creator, Michael J Ward, built it all up on his own and established a solid fanbase. That’s still there. I expect we’ll see more books in the series before too long. Think of Marillion albums. And regardless of the fate of gamebooks in print form, Destiny Quest itself will be back as a browser gamebook-meets-CRPG called Destiny Quest Infinite from Adventure Cow.

And then there are apps. I think this will be a narrow window, and one that’s already closing as far as those traditional DnD-type gamebooks are concerned. It helps to have the phone or tablet handle the stats for you, but in the long run people want their eye candy. A big chunk of text and three choices isn’t going to hold its ground against animated combats. So let’s not see the future there as book apps but as mobile entertainment in general.

Fabled Lands Publishing is reissuing series like Way of the Tiger and Blood Sword in print, not because we expect them to usher in a new Golden Age of gamebooks, but because we want them to always be there for the fans who’d like to collect them. Those fans may be small in number but they are devoted and this is something we owe them. But we’re a business, and we couldn’t reissue all those books if the only revenue was from print sales. We also want to see what we can do with those adventures in new formats. I don’t mean book apps (possibly a closing window, as I said) but something more. Blood Sword would make a great tactical adventure game along the lines of Warhammer Quest. We tried Fabled Lands as book apps and they didn’t work, so now we want to turn them into full-on CRPGs. Inkle have begun this process with their brilliant Sorcery adaptations – the book part of those, let’s face it, is like a placeholder waiting for the graphics and audio. It’s poetic justice, right? Videogames killed off gamebooks, so now we’re aiming to move on over and elbow us some room there.

Every crisis is an opportunity, anyway. There may not be much demand for dungeon-bashing and +3 swords in text gamebooks, but there are plenty of interesting avenues for the medium to explore. Look at Versu, or Inkle’s 80 Days, or the interactive Frankenstein I did for Profile Books using Inkle’s engine. Look at how Cubus Games evolved Necklace of Skulls into something new, with its roots in books but its branches stretching to the firmament of a new medium. (And I happen to know that's just the starting point for Cubus, because we're working on some even more exciting things with them.Watch this space.) If gamebooks are going to survive in text form they have to play to the strengths of prose – deep characterization, unreliable narrators, different points of view, relationships between reader and character. You know, literary stuff. Ironically, Jamie and I offered something like that to Gollancz a couple of months before they signed up Destiny Quest. A shame they didn't do it, as there'd have been plenty of room for both.

And if you really absolutely gotta have print, that can survive too. Not thirty thousand copies sold in Waterstones at a tenner each, but lovingly produced, full-colour hardbacks like the editions that Megara are producing for hardcore collectors. In an ebook era, hardbacks are the new vinyl. As Marillion probably could have told us all along.

Friday, 19 December 2014

Why I write

Back in 1992 I got a letter from an English lad living in France. Let’s call him Jay. He was a fan of the Blood Sword series but he couldn’t get hold of the last book. It was four years after publication and there was no print-on-demand in those days, so I figured there was no chance of getting a copy from Hodder. Luckily I had a spare, which I posted off to him.

Jay wrote back, a detailed letter of the sort I used to write to Donald Wollheim and Arthur C Clarke when I was his age. He discussed his plans to go to GenCon 92 and to find players for a Dragon Warriors campaign. He also recommended Lord of the Rings, which I still haven’t read, and The Hobbit, which I have.

Jay’s letter was accompanied by a very nice note from his father which I have kept and reproduce here, not to congratulate myself on an act of mild generosity, but because every time I come across it, it reminds me of my own relationship with my dad. And “the joy in his eyes”, more than anything, is why I’m proud of the books I’ve written.

I know how something you love as an eleven-year-old (in my case: Marvel comics, Doctor Who, Star Trek, Thunderbirds) ignites a flame of imagination and enthusiasm that can last a lifetime and carry you on beyond that original kindling spark. Jay will be thirty-three now. Maybe he has children of his own. Possibly he kept on role-playing, possibly not. I like to think he cherishes his memories of the gamebooks he loved back then, but even more I hope he cherishes the father whose love for him shines from these few simple words.

Friday, 12 December 2014

An open world built of words

The Fabled Lands were created over whiskies, like a lot of the things Jamie and I worked on back in the mists of the late twentieth century. (Less whisky, maybe less misty – who knows.)

It wasn’t done with the books in mind, not to start with. Jamie had a fantasy radio serial that he needed to write for the BBC, and the first step was designing a world. Tolkien had years to noodle around with Middle-earth, of course, but the BBC operate on less leisurely principles. Hence the whisky bottle and the midnight oil.

‘What’s a good name for the unknown lands across the sea?’ said Jamie. ‘Inconnu,’ I said, and so we got the continent of Ankon-Konu. There might have even been a circumflex accent on it in those days. You know, the exotic touch. Akatsurai was named after a bottle of saki I had sitting on a shelf. And the Violet Ocean because they can’t all be “wine dark”, and honestly, would you drink that plonk anyway?

That was months before we went in to see Mary Tapissier at Pan Macmillan. We pitched the idea of a big, open-ended gamebook series, something that reflected our own role-playing tastes where the players’ goals drive the story. Mary ran the show at Macmillan Children’s and she loved it. Having the land of Harkuna (it was probably Hârku’una in the radio play) to pull off the shelf meant we could get cracking straight away.

Eric Goldberg’s boardgame Tales of the Arabian Nights (reviewed here on Stargazer's World, whence comes the accompanying pic) was probably the biggest influence on the writing style. We couldn’t afford to be decompressed, wasting hundreds of words on long conversations or scene-setting. So our first pass on the books was to tear through the world giving just one or two sentences to each location. “The rolling fields of the west stretch off to the sun, and by night the only sound is of the crickets in the long grass.” That sort of thing.

And we’d lay out the random encounters without any thought yet as to what they’d be: “A cantankerous merchant. A trio of lost maidens. A piercing sound in the darkness.” I’d get Jamie’s and he’d get mine – challenges to each other to get creative. As I refereed a largely improvised role-playing game once or twice a week in those days, the Muse was always nearby ready to lend a hand.

They were a success, those six gamebooks, even though the craze was dying out. We caught the readers who had started out on the dungeon-bashing gamebooks of the 1980s and were now ready to move on. The trouble was the production costs. For not much more than the price of a regular paperback, we had these large-format books with fold-out map covers and lots of artwork. Strong sales didn’t save us. Halfway through, the series was cancelled.

It wasn’t a guillotine blow, more a wasting illness. Marion Lloyd, the editor at Macmillan, came up with a plan to repackage Fabled Lands in smaller format. Bigger margins, with those sales figures, would have let us continue. But publishing by then was all politics, and not enough support could be drummed up at the courts of Uttaku – in other words, the publisher’s Fulham offices. And I can’t blame them. Adventure games and CRPGs were stealing the gamebook thunder. After Lords of the Rising Sun, darkness fell.

Still, Fabled Lands is not unfinished in the way that a TV series like Cupid or Awake or Deadwood is unfinished, canned before its story could be told. In Fabled Lands there is no story – or rather, a hundred story threads from which the player gets to weave the narrative they choose. You bring the motivation, we’ll give you the plot seeds. If we had gone on to twelve books, readers would have got twice as many adventures. But as it is there are almost 4400 sections. That’s equivalent to eleven ordinary gamebooks. Plenty to get on with.

Videogames did sweep away the demand for gamebooks, but twenty years is long enough for an industry to turn right around. The resurgence of vinyl shows that music buyers value a physical artefact considerably more than they do the content itself. And gamebook collectors are rushing to invest in deluxe print editions offered on Kickstarter. So maybe, just maybe, crowdfunding of print books will be the key to resurrecting the Fabled Lands. However, as I've argued before, the only way to make that work is if it goes hand in hand with a digital version.

In the meantime, text-based open worlds are enjoying a resurgence - and why not? It's the only medium that at reasonable cost allows the polymorphously rich and diverse variety of storylines that interactive fiction needs. So if you've been hankering for more Fabled Lands all these years, why not dip into Meg Jayanath's marvellous Indian dream-tapestry Samsara, Gordon Levine's wild western Zero Summer, Yoon Ha Lee's icy apocalyptic SF saga Winterstrike, Alex Livingston's cyberfaerie science fantasy The Annwn Simulation 1985, or the source from which those all flow, Failbetter's massive and brilliant Fallen London? Or, if none of those tickle your fancy, how about Meg Jayanth's project with the fellows at Inkle: the steampunk reworking of Jules Verne's 80 Days. With over 4000 sections and nearly 500,000 words, 80 Days is as big as the existing Fabled Lands series with the evolutionary adventage that, being an app, it can adapt the pace and the quests to fit what you're doing. That's real interactivity, that is.

comic book

Friday, 5 December 2014

Little touches, big effects

I’m not the kind of person who googles themselves. I just wanted to get that clear at the start. No nude selfies in the cloud either, come to that. How it happened, I was looking up Destiny Quest Infinite for a future post and, wham, out of the blue, here’s this reference by Yuliya Geikhman of Adventure Cow about one of my old gamebooks:
Heart of Ice made it clearer for me what I expect from a gamebook: the knowledge that my past actions influenced my current situation.”
That happened to dovetail nicely with a review, equally serendipitous, by Paul Gresty of another Critical IF gamebook (or Virtual Reality, if you must) Down Among the Dead Men.
“…Nuances crop up throughout. When I played as a changeling sorcerer, who knew nothing about my origins, I passed mysterious buildings that seemed oddly familiar, and I wondered whether I might once have lived there, once. When I played as a pirate queen, disguised as a man, I struggled with the difficulty of hiding my sex during my travels with my fellow pirate escapees.”
Those customizing touches are all the way through my interactive reboot of Frankenstein. The things Victor says about the monster, whether he refers to him by name, whether he’s a “he” or an “it”. Of course, Victor’s attitudes (attitudes that the reader has shaped and influenced, by the way) show not just in his language, they inform his every choice too. But we’re talking here about just those small cosmetic tweaks of phrasing. They are every bit as important as the real decisions and points of logic, in the same way that character and theme are no less the lifeblood of a novel than its plot.

Inkle’s engine made designing and writing Frankenstein so easy. I just had to preface a line of text with a tag and Victor might address his fiancée as “my love”, “my dear”, “dear cousin”, or just “Elizabeth”. I made full use of it, I can tell you. When you consider there are over 1200 sections in Frankenstein and pretty much every single one is made up of multiple strands of text that are displayed or hidden according to variables like trust, ambition, and empathy, that’s getting on for a Borges-level order of textual infinity.

But here’s the thing. You don’t need to use a trick like that a thousand times to evoke the sense of a world that adapts to and is reflected by your choices. Tiny flourishes serve just as well. Take the backstory hints that Paul Gresty liked in Dead Men. There might only have been two or three of those in the whole book, but once you plant little seeds like that in the fertile soil of a reader’s imagination, you can grow a whole jungle of implied possibility.

The novelist J L Carr wrote A Month in the Country, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. When he’d first submitted the manuscript, his editor sent it back complaining that, although it was supposed to be set during a sweltering July in Yorkshire, the author hadn’t conveyed the sense of oppressive heat. Carr added three sentences, waited a few weeks, and then sent it back saying he’d rewritten it with the editor’s notes in mind. “That’s much better,” came the reply. “Now you can really taste the sweat.”

With no conditional text, an interactive story doesn’t feel like a reactive environment at all, but only a sterile maze the reader is wandering around inside. But if you’re working in print, put in too many conditional clauses and the book-keeping required by the reader destroys any sense of immersion that the adaptive text is trying to create. Just an occasional callback to the character’s past, or to the actions he or she took already, is enough to create a story where choices feel like they really matter. A pinch now and again, that’s all you need to wake the world up.

Monday, 1 December 2014

I'm dreaming of a dark Christmas...

The first Dirk Lloyd book has finally (YES!) been released in a French edition. Now our friends over la Manche can read Un Démon au Collège and tell us how well the humour translates from Anglo-Saxon into Gallic.

I was interested to read the first review on, which signed off as follows:
"Seul regret: j'aurais préféré un récit à la 1ère personne"
Why that's interesting is that, after having hatched the idea for the Dark Lord series, Jamie and I spent quite a while trying to decide on the best way to tell it.

The first thing we'd written was that catchphrase, "I will tell you all my secrets. But then I'll have to kill you." And that wasn't even necessarily intended to go into the book; it was just a mnemonic for us to remember this one among the many ideas we were coming up with that day.

Having begun with a first person viewpoint, we began feeling around for a voice. I tried two versions of the opening. First narrated by Dirk:

I have found this device and will use it to record what the mortals of this world call my blog.

Blog. I like the word. It has a brutal sound. When I return to my realm, I will have a thousand slaves flayed and on their skins, in the violet blood of the last of the ice dragons, I shall inscribe my Great Blog. My Blog of Final Conquest.

When I get home.

I have been trying to remember what happened. I was falling, falling. But before that. This brain – like the warm, pink, pudgy fingers I must write with – is unequal to the task of containing my dark soul. I must struggle with it and subjugate it. If I am ever to find my way back, I must rise above the petty limitations that have been set upon me. I must make myself remember.

Gargon had unleashed the catapults. Their taut cords made the ground shake as the skies darkened with roiling, smoke-trailing, spark-splashing balls of blue fire. I watched the faces of the White Riders, too close-packed to turn their horses before the barrage rained upon them. Under the steel visors, those grim-set mouths went slack. They knew that death was flying to consume them.

Ah, such a glorious day.

It was all going so well. I see the battlefield as in a mist, a blood-red mist. We were beating them back. Those impudent fools who had marched to the very heart of my kingdom, there in the shadow of Mount Dread, in the wan light cast by the dark moon of sorrows, they saw the powers at my command and their hearts were icy with fear.

But then I caught sight of that meddling wizard, Hasdraban the Pure. Across a sea of battling troops our eyes locked. I began the incantation of the ninth demise. He held something – a crystal. It shone with power. I had spoken the sixth of the nine syllables that would crack his old veins and spill his blood like dust upon the wind.

Hasdraban said one word. The crystal blazed with light. And I was falling… 

This sequence actually did make it in modified form into the finished work, but it wasn't right. In a way, telling the story from Dirk's point of view was over-egging the pudding. Also, it made it very hard to get the distance required for comedy. A technique that works brilliantly in The Diary of a Nobody is less effective when the reader doesn't have any way of knowing if the narrator is unreliable, crazy, or a genuine dark lord.

So then I had another stab at it, this time using Dirk's foster brother Christopher as the narrator. I think the idea now was probably to have several different first-person narrators giving us their take on Dirk's story:

"I will tell you all my secrets. But then of course I'm going to have to kill you...”

Those were the first words that Dirk had said to me personally in the whole time he’d been under our roof. It’s not like I hadn’t wanted to make friends, but after being ignored all day I think he could’ve opened with something more chatty, like, “Do you know the cheat codes for Halo 3?” or “What’s with that dork who’s lead singer in Travis?” Threatening to kill someone, even in fun, is a bit weird when you’ve never even spoken to them before.

I stared at the bar of street-light on the ceiling. Dirk was a black silhouette in the spare bed on the other side of the room. I decided it’d only make me look soft if I asked him what secrets he was talking about. Looking soft is a bit of a specialty of mine, to be honest. But I’m working on it.

“Whatever,” I said.

The alarm clock beside the bed ticked out a minute in the darkness. I couldn’t even hear Dirk breathing. There, I thought, that’s told you.

“I am trying to decide,” he said at last, “whether you have passed out, overwhelmed by mind-numbing terror of what I might tell you, or whether mere subservience has struck you dumb.”


“I am waiting.”

“You what?”

I saw him rise on his elbow, eyes boring through the darkness of the bedroom at me. Outlined by his shadow, he looked bigger, although I knew that if anything he was shorter than me and kind of on the skinny side. No reason for me to feel intimidated, especially not in my own home, in my own bedroom. But there you go. It’s like I said. Soft.

“You were about to say something,” Dirk went on. “You got as far as the first word and then you stopped.”

“I said whatever. As in: whatever. Now why don’t we get some sleep. It’s all right for you, but I’ve got school tomorrow.”

“Whatever what?” I caught just a flash of a smile in the darkness. It was a trick of the light, of course, but his teeth looked sharp as needles.

“Whatever. That’s all. Nothing else. Just – whatever.”

Dirk lay back with a chuckle. He seemed to be talking to himself. “Just whatever. No more than that. Whatever! I like it.” He turned to me again. “I thought you only had the makings of a lickspittle – “

“Now steady on!” I didn’t know what a lickspittle was, but it certainly didn’t sound like a compliment. In fact it sounded like you might have to lick spit, which was verging on an outright insult. I would have got up and thumped him right then, if I hadn’t been a little bit afraid of him.

Now, don’t think that’s me being soft again. I may be easy for other people to push around, but I don’t flinch from getting into a scrap, even if the other bloke is bigger. I’m not a coward. The thing is, small as he was, almost everybody was a little bit afraid of Dirk.

You’ll see. Later, you’ll see.

“I thought you had the makings of a lickspittle,” he repeated, “but now I see you have spirit. Stripped of the stultifying blanket of civilization – “ and here he kicked back his duvet for emphasis – “I think you could be rude, opinionated and badly behaved. I like that.”

“Er, thank you. I think.”

“You will be my henchman in this benighted world, Christopher.”

“Call me Chris, mate, everybody d- “

“I shall call you Christopher,” he announced, turning over to go to sleep. “And you shall call me – “



If you've read the Dark Lord books, you'll know we didn't  go with either of these styles. And you probably don't need to have read the books to see that neither approach above was bringing out the comedy inherent in the concept. Well, that's okay. When you're developing an idea you try things on for size. Different viewpoints, different voices, past or present tense.

Luckily Jamie then took the plunge (that's a pun if you've read the first line) and wrote the opening chapter, dropping us in medias res and using the close third person viewpoint often described as free indirect. After that there was no debate. It was obviously the best and funniest way to handle the series, and Jamie got the writing gig - which incidentally skewed the book younger than I was envisaging, and just as well too. It wouldn't have won the Roald Dahl Funny Prize (yeah, sorry, but that is what they call it) as a darkly dry-humoured novel for teenagers - although, ironically, a little of the early-stage concept of it as a book for older middle-graders survived in the series's UK title, Dark Lord: The Teenage Years.

By jumping right out of the YA bracket, Jamie found a simple, fun style that appeals to kids and adults, and thus a series that can be read by mums and dads to their children. Which makes the Dark Lord books - and all of Jamie's fiction, come to that - pretty handy if you're stuck for a Christmas present. Mwo ho ho.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

You wait years for a Lone Wolf crowdfunding campaign...

No, not that Lone Wolf project, this one. This one has Gary Chalk art. Oh, but so did the other one. I'll tell you the first thing that sprang to mind:

"Nigel gave me a drawing that said eighteen inches. Now, whether or not he knows the difference between feet and inches is not my problem. I do what I'm told."

"But you're not as confused as him, are you. I mean, it's not your job to be as confused as Nigel."

Actually it's really simple. The other crowdfunder was for a new series of gamebooks set in Magnamund but not starring Lone Wolf. This, on the other hand, is a boardgame and it does star Lone Wolf, along with other famous characters from the books such as Giak Kootak and Rotzon the Cener. (I think that's him below with the big old book and the curtain rod.)

Confused? Maybe you should read Richard S Hetley's guest post about the Lone Wolf Boardgame on Lloyd of Gamebooks. That will explain everything. Go ahead, I'll wait.

What makes this special enough to be worth your hard-earned shards? Well, even if you're not a fan of the Lone Wolf gamebooks, any boardgame designed and illustrated by Gary Chalk is a must. Here's the guy who created the look and feel of Magnamund, who shaped the imagination of a generation of tabeletop gamers with his Games Workshop artwork & game design, and who has illustrated scores of beautiful books. On top of that he's a genuine gaming enthusiast himself with that rare combination: passion and talent, both turned up to 11.

For this Kickstarter campaign, Gary has teamed up with Megara Entertainment, who we might have mentioned before, and Greywood Publishing, the publishers of the very short-lived Fabled Lands RPG. The campaign has just one week left to run, and with your help it can still reach its target. Find out all the details here.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Just my cup of tea

Still on the theme of Necklace of Skulls, what do you reckon to this far-from-ugly mug? It's one of a set of sixteen created by Cubus Games from the beautiful Mayan-themed artwork of Xavier Mula.

Click here to see them all. Which is your favorite?

Monday, 24 November 2014

A talk with Jaume Carballo

Still (sort of) on the Necklace of Skulls theme this month, I had a long chat with Jaume Carballo, creative director at Cubus Games. You can read the first part here. Jaume is an interesting guy - the first time we got talking by email he was quoting Hobbes, which is not something you often find in the games industry following straight on from a discussion of logic markup. He's a big Hitchcock fan too, so it didn't take us long to bond.

In our latest chat, we surprisingly don't get onto cinema or philosophy, though we do cover all kinds of topics involving games and stories, and the combination of both. Also quantum physics, Game of Thrones, comics, and what to do if we had a time-travelling DeLorean. (And we got into a very long digression about the Catalan question, but I suspect that the other fellows at Cubus will censor that bit.)

The picture? I didn't have one of Jaume, so that's me in a very cold, squelchy and un-Barcelona-like part of south-west England.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Hero twins of the One World

Mayan history – the part of it we still have that wasn’t burnt by Christian missionaries – is not like modern history. Since Herodotus, the First World has had the tradition of objectively establishing facts from multiple sources, reporting events in a dispassionate register that opens a window upon the past. But reading the history of the Maya is like reading one of those Ancient Egyptian historical accounts in which untrustworthy foreign diplomats become snakes and a severed tongue can still tell a tale. It’s as much a magic realist novel as an account of what really (Calvino or Borges would insist on inverted commas there) happened.

Take the story of the hero twins from the Popol Vuh. Is this a holy book, a work of fiction, an allegory, or a chronicle? All of the above. The Mayan scholar-priesthood drew no distinction. They’d had no Plato to say that poetry tells lies. They used drugs and blood-letting to reach a point where hallucinations revealed the deeper truth beneath the veneer of ordinary events.

The hero twins’ father has annoyed the lords of the underworld by making too much noise while playing in his ball court. They invite him to play a match against them, misleading him into taking the black road into Xibalba, the Place of Fear. That’s where it all goes south, or rather west, as the twins’ father is subjected to various ordeals and finally sacrificed and his head hung in a calabash tree.

At this point in the story, the twins’ father is dead but (bit of a snag) they haven’t been born yet. A maiden goes to pick calabash gourds. She might in fact be the moon, but that’s a detail. The father's skull spits into her hand, or maybe she eats it thinking it’s a fruit, and she's sent away to live in the upper world when her mother notices she’s pregnant.

The twins, Hunahpu and Xbalanque, grow up to be star ballgame players like their dad, annoy the lords of the underworld in just the same way, and get invited to Xibalba. But these hero twins, they’re clever. They send a mosquito to bite the underworld gods, who call out each others’ names, allowing the twins to greet them correctly. They foil the ordeals, using red macaw feathers to make it seem that their cigars have stayed lit all night. When one of the twins is decapitated (even the Popol Vuh must have an “all is lost” moment), the other temporarily reanimates his body with a squash for a head and, forced to play a match using the brother’s head, substitutes it and brings him back to life. The twins then trick one of the lords of the underworld into allowing himself to be killed. They subjugate the Place of Fear, at which point we discover it isn’t just the mythical land of the dead, it’s also a hostile nation whose power over the Mayan city-states has now been broken.

So that’s the flavour I wanted to capture when I started writing Necklace of Skulls. I’d just got back from honeymoon in Central America, and having gone to the top of every Mayan pyramid I could find, and into the tunnels inside them too, I felt exactly ready to do it. What I wanted to avoid was that kind of wasted cultural appropriation you get in so many roleplaying games, where a minor deity like Xiuhcoatl would get a Monster Manual write-up as “a” xuih dragon, with 8 dice hit points and a fiery breath attack, located in a Pre-Columbian themed corner of the game world like one of the zones in Disneyland. You know what I mean. When I roleplay, I want to go the fount of ideas, not have it brought to me in a plastic bottle.

In Necklace of Skulls you play a Maya called Evening Star whose twin has gone missing in the far western desert. As in all the Critical IF books, you get to customize your character by picking your skills, and you can choose to be either sex, as it is never stated whether you’re Morning Star’s twin brother or twin sister. Sneaky, huh? (There’s actually a precedent for that in the Popol Vuh, Xbalque’s name translating as either “Little Sun Jaguar” or “Lady Sun Jaguar”.)

While you’re trying to find out what happened to your brother, the big event happening in the background is the collapse of the Great City, which is sending out ripples of chaos and fear even as far as your own Yucatan home. History buffs may think that this ties the book to 540 AD and the fall of Teotihuacan, but I couldn’t possibly comment. My version of the One World of the Maya is not an archaeologist’s version, in any case. This is a setting the ancient Maya themselves would hopefully recognize, in which heads grow on trees, a sinkhole can be a shortcut into the land of death, and playing a game in the ball court is a ritual as potent as any spell.

That’s why I’m so delighted with the app version of Necklace of Skulls, published today by Cubus Games to (belatedly) mark the Mexican Day of the Dead. This is much more than just a gamebook ported over to mobile devices. The Cubus team, headed up by Jaume Carballo, have taken the original book as a foundation and built a fabulous, beautiful interactive story game on top of that. Combat, for example, uses a mini-game of brinkmanship and tactics instead of digital dice. You select one of several Mayan icons to create a persona for your hero-twin. And the text itself has been rewritten and sharpened to make it more immediate, better suited to reading on a phone or tablet rather than a printed page.

And the art… Everything I said above about wanting to evoke a setting that has the feel of both reality and dream, history and myth – you only have to look at any one of the images to see how brilliantly Xavier Mula has achieved that. I want to see gamebooks pull up their old gnarly roots, shed the ‘90s scales, and become something fresh and exciting. This app shows that Cubus are right at the forefront of that revolutionary movement, and I’m proud to have the book that was born out of my honeymoon emerging in a new glittering incarnation, its old bones suddenly sprouting new foliage and bright flowers – just like, in fact, one of the Mayan hero-twins.

You can get the Necklace of Skulls app on iTunes USA or iTunes UK. Or anywhere else in the world come to that. And for Android users, the Google Play link is here. Or there are the print books, of course:

[Photo of Xiuhcoatl by Tony Roberts; Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license.]

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Laugh? My head fell off

I was talking last time about Paranoia, "the role-playing game of a darkly humorous future", currently returning in a new edition thanks to Kickstarter. I've never played Paranoia and it has about as much appeal for me as a game of soccer (a bit below root canal work, in other words) but it has got me thinking about how to set a role-playing campaign in a dehumanizing world "designed by Kafka, Stalin, Orwell, Huxley, Sartre and the Marx Brothers", to quote the KS page.

Actually, let's leave the Marx Brothers out of it. For me their movies go straight into Room 101. And also forget about Kafka and Sartre, who after all didn't write about the kind of purposefully malevolent state ruled over by a guy like Stalin, for whom death quotas and torture were part of the apparatus of effective government. The torture of existence in a Kafkaesque society comes from running up against people like this.

Okay, so we're talking about truly unrelenting totalitarian regimes. Is there humour to be found there? Any unchallenged political ideology will soon make paranoia the default mental state of the entire populace. To drive home its beliefs against the flow of common sense, the regime is willing and able to twist logic into unrecognizable Escher-shapes. Law becomes corrupt, identity disintegrates, truth is raped and ruined. Living in such a warped society can eventually push anyone to the kind of hysteric laughter where you want to claw your own face off. Satire may thrive, but this article suggests that it's fuelled by an uncomfortable sense of humour with a distinct smack of sweaty fear.

In North Korea, high-ranking officials would dive into the shrubbery when they saw Kim Jong-il coming. Better to risk a grass-stain than to run into the Supreme Leader in a bad mood.. It was a riot as long as he didn’t spot you. Under the bloody rule of the Khmer Rouge, men and women were beaten to death by screaming guards because they were spotted reading the labels on an orange crate, an act of subversion that showed them up to be dangerous intellectuals. See how easily that could become a gag on Mrs Brown's Boys? I don't even want to get on to the excesses of ISIS, wagging a finger in the air on YouTube as they mansplain why sawing people's heads off is a righteous act. The ghastly comedy there is that apparently one under-35 Briton in seven sympathizes with them. Hydra should be out in London recruiting right now.

And there’s an arsenical lacing of humour in novels like Koestler’s Darkness at Noon and Nabokov’s Bend Sinister – even humour of a Milliganesque sort – but that taut grin curdles into a rictus of horror when the characters rebel and the regime exercises its penchant for casual, heart-stopping brutality. It’s Brazil without the comforting zaniness.

So, how to use all this in role-playing? For starters I wouldn't even attempt a sustained campaign, because the players would either have to side with the regime, which will pall pretty quickly, or they oppose it, in which case they will be crushed. (You could allow them to lead a successful revolution, but that would be fake. We all know people like Stalin live to see the good guys buried and then go off to die in their beds.) James Wallis's Alas Vegas provides a good template. There the campaign is planned to run over a set period and to reach a definite conclusion, the way a cable TV drama (say The Shield) aims to tell a given story rather than extend off into infinity like network serials of old (Columbo, etc). The end is going to be bloody, but there are all sorts of ways to die. It's up to the players to find whatever scrap of triumph they can in this scenario.

As for humour, I don't see it as my role to build that into the tone of the game. In fact playing for laughs is the surest way to make the whole experience deeply unfunny. (See reference to Mrs Brown's Boys above.) No, I'd be inclined to run it pared-down and very bleak, like having dinner with Pol Pot when he has a migraine coming on. I'm confident that my players would find humour in the gaps between tragedy and horror - and, arising out of character, that comedy would have the ring of truth. Which is really the whole point of role-playing.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Unplug the jackboots

Back in the eighties I used to write a lot of White Dwarf under various pen-names. Scenarios, articles, reviews, columns, you name it. Occasionally there'd be pieces about a role-playing game of the time called Paranoia - "the role-playing game of a darkly humorous future". I didn’t see anything that made me want to play it, but after all if you only glance at the ads you’re going to end up with a vague and probably unreliable sense of what a game is about. (That won’t stop me talking about it, of course.)

I am interested in both dystopian and paranoiac literature. I’m having a stab in the dark there, assuming that Paranoia is set in a future totalitarian state, but it seems a fair bet. On surer ground: I know the tone of the game is meant to be humorous because all the ads for it in White Dwarf were written with a big rhetorical wink, like an invitation to a frat party. It says it's humourous in the logline too - always a giveaway, that.

I suspect that Paranoia has less to do with the likes of Stalin, Big Brother and Pol Pot and more of the flavour of an author like Kafka or Gogol. The bureaucratic rat-maze depicted there can be just as crushing to the individual, but it’s madness without personal malice. The mere idiocy of the system. That can be funny, too, though probably to do it justice you need a Sam Beckett rather than an Adam Herz.

You know what they say about Marmite and oysters. I’m never likely to play Paranoia myself, but if you’re a fan then it’s probably the main thing in your gaming life. So why am I holding forth about it from this position of wilful ignorance? Because there is a Kickstarter campaign to bring Paranoia back in an all-new version written by James Wallis.

Full disclosure: James is a very old and dear friend of mine. But that’s not why I would recommend one of his projects. I don’t plug every project that a close friend works on, do I? What’s germane here is that James is an immensely talented writer and game designer. More than talented, in fact: a genius. (A genius and I don’t hate him? That shows you what a nice guy he is.)

Here’s just some of the proof. James co-created the first storytelling card game, Once Upon A Time. He wrote The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen, which is both a completely original mash-up of role-playing and parlour games and a very funny read. He masterminded publication of the one-of-a-kind game setting Nobilis and a beautiful new edition of Dragon Warriors. He created Alas Vegas, a reinvention of the RPG within the sort of tight story arc structure we’re now familiar with from cable TV drama. He’s an entrepreneur with more ideas than he has time to develop. He’s a teacher and mentor. He’s at the forefront of creative talent working in that interesting space where narrative meets games. Oh, and he has a killer time-travel love story that, when he can clear the time to turn it into a novel or a script, will be the thing everyone you know is talking about. Yeah, remember that tip.

How I'd like Kickstarter to work is that you'd back the creator, not the concept. As long as it's the latter, there'll be a preponderance of mix-n-match X-meets-Y pitches involving any combination of: Sherlock Holmes, steampunk, zombies, Cthulhu, Dracula. Ho hum. There's only so long that can go on before the greatest hits of the past are completely shagged out. But if the funding went to James Wallis himself to create whatever he was most inspired to work on, we'd get something much more interesting than a rebooted '80s RPG. We might even get that time-travel love story. For that, I'd pledge.

Still, the world is as it is. So if you like the sound of Paranoia rebooted by James Wallis, which is the only sort of Paranoia I'd be likely to play, skip over to Kickstarter and get on board. The campaign is 400% funded already and it’s still got several weeks to run. And thinking about it for this post has got me preparing a scenario for my own players involving Benito Mussolini – there'll be paranoia for sure, but that's the least of their worries. Maybe I'll muse more on that tomorrow.

Friday, 7 November 2014

On the grapevine

So it's very nearly official, needing only inked signatures and a successful Kickstarter campaign to make it so. Fabled Lands book 7, The Serpent King's Domain, is slithering its way out of the limbo in which it has lain coiled and pulsing these last twenty years.

Kickstarter, you say?
Not run by Fabled Lands Publishing but by our friends at Megara Entertainment. The current plan there is to schedule the campaign for next autumn. So if that works out you could be holding a hardback of FL7 by early 2016.

A hardback?
Fabled Lands Publishing will follow up with a black-and-white paperback edition, but what Kickstarter backers will get is Megara's deluxe full-colour hardcover version. If you've seen the Way of the Tiger books or The Thief of Memories, you'll know that's going to be a really nice collector's item.

Who's writing it?
The lead writer will be Paul Gresty, but there's a possibility that Jamie and I will contribute fifty sections or so. You're in safe hands with Paul. The quality of his writing speaks for itself, and he knows more about the Fabled Lands universe than I do.

Will Russ Nicholson be doing the artwork?
You bet. Jamie and I are are making that a condition of the contract, and Mikael Louys at Megara was very happy to agree. Everyone knows that the Fabled Lands can't exist without Russ's vision. He's the Ditko to my and Jamie's Lee. The more the Kickstarter campaign raises, the more illustrations Megara will be able to pay for.

What about the cover?
I'd like to say we'll get Kevin Jenkins, but he's insanely busy at Framestore working on multi-million-dollar movies so it's unlikely he's going to have the time. But I'm sure Megara will find an artist very nearly as good.

But didn't you say Kickstarter wouldn't work for print books?
Not for the FL paperbacks. The money raised has to cover writing, editing, typesetting, and artwork. Luckily the margin on collector's edition hardbacks can be set a little higher, making those viable - although how much artwork there can be will depend on hitting stretch goals.

And will it have -- ?
Don't ask me. Paul Gresty is in charge of this thing. Megara will reveal all when the time is ripe.

But I was going to ask about Lauria.
Oh, okay. Even if she doesn't show up in book 7, you probably haven't seen the last of her.

Main picture by TyphonArt and reproduced here under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-No-Derivative-Works Licence 3.0 (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Unearthing the Lich Lord

Oliver Johnson’s Lord of Shadow Keep was supposed to appear as a Fighting Fantasy book, but it got switched to the Golden Dragon series at the thirteenth hour. I wonder if that was why, when I finally got around to co-writing a Fighting Fantasy book, I called it The Keep of the Lich Lord...?

Probably not. Jamie and I submitted a whole bunch of concepts to the editors at Puffin, and Keep was a long way from being our favourite. It was rather odd that they picked it, come to think, as a quick glance on Wiki suggests that, Black Vein Prophecy excepted, the surrounding books in the series were all horror-inflected fantasy built on the very similar premise of raiding a monstrous super-villain's secret base. I guess Jamie and I aren’t the only ones who spent our formative years steeped in 007 and Hammer movies.

The deal with those FF books was that the authors got 60% of the royalty and Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson got 40%. Or possibly it was the other way round. You can’t really copyright a concept, but they established the brand and the split struck us as more than fair. When Icon Books picked up the series from Puffin (which, incidentally, is a bit like the BBC throwing Doctor Who to Canal+ in the early ‘90s) authors were offered a deal to sell their rights. Jamie and Mark Smith gave up Talisman of Death and Sword of the Samurai, but I make a point of never parting with copyright unless I’m paid crazy money. So Jamie and I kept Keep.

When I was prepping The Castle of Lost Souls for re-release, I briefly entertained the notion of relocating it to Golnir. The tone of the book just felt too whimsical for Fabled Lands, so that plan got dropped, but Jamie and I continued tossing around some other ideas. And we kept coming back to The Keep of the Lich Lord.

Obviously Fighting Fantasy fans would rather see Keep re-released using the FF world and system. I appreciate that. We can’t because we don’t have the rights, and anyway we have a gentlemen’s agreement not to make a big deal about it having been an FF book when publicizing the new edition. Not that we ever do any publicity per se, but you get the picture.

All of which is why Lord Mortis is now rising from the dead on an obscure but strategically important archipelago close to the Unnumbered Isles. You can start the book with a new character, or you can get an existing FL character to Dweomer and pick up the story there. We’re calling these single-story specials Fabled Lands Quests – though I admit to being slightly at a loss as to which other books could be adapted in the same way. Maybe a new version of Castle of Lost Souls, or the long-awaited reworking of Eye of the Dragon? Suggestions welcome!

To fit the adventure into the Fabled Lands, I wrote a new introduction set in Dweomer. But what to do with the old intro..? Recently on the blog, MikeH was asking about extras in our books. Well, Mike, you’ll be pleased to know that we have shamelessly swiped your idea and stuck our own names on it. This new edition of Keep has a wealth of cool stuff including the original introduction as an appendix, a section describing all the other concepts that could have become Fighting Fantasy #43, and a foreword in which I talk about the process of adapting the book from Titan to the Fabled Lands.

Anything else you want to know? Oh, artwork, of course. We don’t have the rights to the original FF illustrations so we couldn’t use those. Obviously, this being a sort-of Fabled Lands book, some new pictures by Russ Nicholson would have been great, but all-new art is expensive. We have the next best thing: thanks to the generosity of our friends at Megara Entertainment, the new edition features artwork from their Keep of the Lich Lord app of a few years back. Leo Hartas kindly let us use his gorgeous map, which appears in its full-colour glory on the back cover. And the front cover painting is courtesy of Kevin Jenkins, being the inside flap detail (as if you didn’t know) from the triptych of Over the Blood-Dark Sea.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Mean streets of Manhattan

At the end of last week I heard that Paul Gresty's gamebook The Thief of Memories was being converted into an app, and today we have a guest post by Mr Gresty himself. If this was ink it'd still be wet...

*  *  *

It's interesting to see how things come around full circle. Arcana Agency: The Thief of Memories was originally planned as a smartphone/tablet application, a reboot of the first Arcana Agency app that Megara Entertainment released some five years ago, now. Scrutinising Act I and Act II of the story, I can still spot a few holdovers from my initial draft of that app. Most visibly, for instance, each game paragraph is around sixty words long, so that it can neatly fit onto a smartphone screen.

Then, as I was midway through writing that app, Zach Weiner came up with the gamebook Trial of the Clone, and ran a Kickstarter that raised $130,000. Suddenly it seemed a really, really good idea for Megara to run a gamebook Kickstarter of its own.

So, Arcana Agency became a print gamebook, in glorious full colour. The setting is New York, 1932, at the height of the Great Depression. The story follows a trio of private detectives - Humphrey Brown, Joe Strelli and Tom Shanigan; respectively studious, streetwise and superstitious - as they investigate the mystery of a man who apparently cannot die, and a wicked cultist long thought dead. The atmosphere is on the dark side, as gamebooks go. The detectives are never quite sure if their murderous antagonist truly possesses supernatural powers, or is merely a gifted charlatan. (And which is it, in the end? No spoilers here, I'm afraid.)

The book was, in some ways, a tricky one to write. Not least because of the level of research involved in order to be historically accurate (what type of car would somebody on Humphrey Brown's pay scale be likely to drive in 1932? Hmm...). And yet I'm really happy with how it turned out. I've read a few reviews that mention a Cthulhu-esque tone to the story. In truth, I've only ever read a handful of Lovecraft's stories in my life and, while I've glanced through the Call of Cthulhu RPG, I've never played it.

No, I feel detective literature was a far greater influence than the horror genre. Certainly, I tried to imbue the setting with a touch of Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe stories. Of course, The Big Sleep, the first full Marlowe novel, was published in 1939, so that added to the time spent checking historical accuracy. Sherlock Holmes is my own personal detective of predilection, and there's an air of Holmes about Humphrey Brown. Well, an awkward, unsure version of Holmes, maybe.

The gamebook roots of the book - once we'd decided it would be a gamebook - are likely quite visible. The codeword system and mechanics owe more than a nod to Fabled Lands. Some of the numerical manipulation ('deduct 40 from the current paragraph number if you think you've found the clue...') is reminiscent of a couple of Steve Jackson's books. And the app adaptation will remain faithful to much of this, dice-rolling and all.

But I think there are a lot of fresh elements in there too. The narrative is in the third person, and the past tense. Perspective switches between various characters throughout. There's more interplay, more of a relationship, between the three detectives than you might often see in gamebooks. Occasional interludes take the narrative focus away from the three principal protagonists entirely. A big point: I think the book's villain is credible, and human. Nobody wants a nice villain. But it's important to sympathise with the villain's motives. Gamebooks have a nasty tendency of featuring evil sorcerers who want to destroy the world because... well, you know, because being evil is really cool. Here - yes, the villain is a nasty, murdering scumbag. But, should you manage to reach the end of the story, you kind of get why.

So, here we are two years later. The app that became a book has become an app once more, and I'm lucky enough to get to talk about it on the Fabled Lands blog. Have I mentioned that I originally started working with Megara because they wanted to translate and publish a scenario that I wrote for the Fabled Lands Role-Playing Game? As I said, it's interesting to see how things come around full circle.

The road to heaven

I thought I'd posted up this puzzle ages ago, but a Google search shows no sign of it. As I've recently been discussing it online with Chris Garratty, I thought I'd throw it open to the vast Kree Intelligence that is gamebook fandom. You've played Sorcery, right? You must all have IQs as big as the Death Star. So here goes:
While walking upon a path through unmapped territories, you come across a group of three cowled figures standing where two roads meet. You are informed by one whose counsel you have no reason to doubt that these three are Mung, who keeps the secrets of the grave (for he is the god of death) by invariably lying, Sish, the Destroyer of Hours, who speeds the flight of time's arrow by always telling the truth, and Kib, the god of life, who created Man and consequently lies and tells the truth equally without conscience. Further, you are told that one of the two roads leads to Paradise while the other takes travellers to the lowest circle of Hell. Presupposing that you wish to take the road to Paradise, how can you, by asking one yes-or-no question of one of the three gods (who are, incidentally, indistinguishable), find whether to go left or right?
So, with two questions you might start with the old, "If I asked if the way to Paradise is left, would you say yes?" If you only have a liar and a truth-teller, if the answer is yes you should go left, and if it's no you go right. The snag is, that question sets up a logical impossibility for the god who randomly chooses to lie or tell the truth. Figure that he works out the lying or truthful response to the current question and then flips a mental coin to choose which to say. Your hypothetical question nested within the first is a separate question for which he hasn't yet flipped that coin.

However, if you did have two questions, there is a way to use the first question to weed out Kib. (This is from Ivan Morris, by the way, who originally devised the puzzle.) Say you pick one god (call him A) and you ask, "Is B more likely to tell the truth than C?" If you get a yes, C cannot be Kib. If you get a no, B cannot be Kib. You can then proceed to the question above.

But here's the snag. You don't have two questions, you just have one...