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Interlude – Ask Me Anything

As requested, there were a great number of queries from several readers left as comments to my most recent post, and here, as promised, are the answers!

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Maybe you’ve discussed this and I forgot, or didn’t read those Way of the Tiger blogs, but have you played the Fabled Lands gamebook series (and if so, are you getting an autographed copy of the long-awaited Book 7 like I am)?

  • I was not following gamebooks closely when the Fabled Lands series came out in the 90s, and only heard about them through greatly admired whispers in recent years when the gamebook community started to surface online.  In present times, I’m a constant reader of Dave Morris blog at www.fabledlands.blogspot.com, but have only ever tried the Iphone apps of the first two books.  To be honest, while I respect the ‘sandbox’ approach of the Fabled Lands books, I would still rather a more defined goal which could be achieved once you have ‘powered up’ your character through the various quests.

What is [the] best gamebook you’ve ever read?

  • I could talk about ‘most fun’ or ‘hardest’ or ‘best written’, but when you’re talking about the complete package, I really can’t go past ‘The Demon’s Claw’, book 3 of the Blood Sword series as created by the above-mentioned Dave Morris and Oliver Johnson.  At over 600 paragraphs, it really has room to breathe, with numerous different yet connected quests, adventures and challenges.  In addition to the awesome ability (in the Blood Sword series) of allowing up to four players to co-operate collectively as different characters with different abilities, the challenge level of the book is just about right, the NPCs are vividly drawn, there are ways to triumph through skill, magic or cunning, and there is a final twist and cliffhanger which makes you demand the next book RIGHT NOW.  Awesome.

What’s the worst gamebook you’ve ever read?

  • Worst is a relative term, in a world where the amount of gamebooks created by me totals, you know, zero.  If I had to choose, I would have to say that Fighting Fantasy book #12, Space Assassin, was very disappointing.  Showing all the seams of a hasty conversion from a dungeon crawl to a purported spaceship infiltration, the prose is barely functional, there is a lack of any memorable encounters, there is an incredibly boring quasi-duel in the middle and the finale is abrupt to the point of brutality.

What’s your favorite Lone Wolf book?

  • Speaking from my current point of view, having only played the first 14 books, I would have to say that Shadow on the Sand (barely) outranks Fire on the Water.  Although Fire on the Water has a more gripping story on the first read, its linearity detracts from subsequent playthroughs.  By contrast, Shadow on the Sand has atmosphere, world-building and numerous paths to success.

What’s your least favorite Lone Wolf book?

  • I hesitate to say anything too definitive until I reach it in the playthrough, but the fact that I didn’t get any more books after ‘The Captives of Kaag’ may be indicative.

Why is Australia considered part of Asia instead of Oceania when it comes to World Cup soccer qualifying?

  • Australia WAS part of Oceania until the 2006 World Cup.  After getting sick of playing sudden death home-and-away matches versus South American powerhouses, FFA (the Australian football body) successfully lobbied those delightful fellows at FIFA to allow us to qualify through the Asian group.
  • Side note – the single greatest sporting event I have ever attended was the 2005 qualifier, Australia vs. Uruguay.  After 30 years, Australia made it to the World Cup.  Watch this (particularly from 7:00 onwards) and imagine being part of this crowd (remembering that 90,000+ tickets sold out in around 45 minutes)

What’s the best (and worst) computer game you’ve ever played?

  • That’s a tricky one, because I’m the first to admit that I have a weird soft spot for a number of games which are objectively ‘not as good’ as others.  If I had to nominate the perfect mix of personal addiction and historical significance, I would give the answer of the first instalment of Civilization (Sid Meier), which required deletion from my hard drive so that I could complete studying for my final school exams in 1992.  Other contenders would be Privateer 2 (with the greatest ever cast, comprising Clive Owen, Christopher Walken, Jurgen Prochnow, David Warner, Brian Blessed, Mathilda May and others), Baldur’s Gate, the Pandora Directive, M.U.L.E. and Lego Star Wars.
  • In terms of worst, I’m sure there are ‘worse’ games, but the most disappointing would have to be Gabriel Knight 3.  After the perfect mix of story, playability and difficulty in the first two games (particularly the first) the third was a muddle of practically impossible puzzles and mystifying gameplay. Have a read of this for a description of the kind of thing I’m talking about.

What’s the best (and worst) RPG you’ve ever played?

  • Again, ‘best’ is subjective, but the Dragonlance series of modules for AD & D were pretty awesome.  I have also enjoyed Dragon Warriors, Advanced Fighting Fantasy and Call of Cthulhu.
  • For ‘worst’, the game known as Maelstrom made a valiant effort to realistically recreate Middle-Ages England, but daring missions such as……taking a barrel of wine between cities….didn’t exactly get the blood racing.

Why haven’t the United States (or other major democracies) adopted Instant Runoff Voting like Australia has?

  • The inflexibility of the US Constitution is both a strength and weakness.  Preferential voting (as it is known) is certainly preferable (heh) but has a tendency to drive major parties to the ‘middle’, as they take the preferences of their base for granted.

When you first started your trawl though award winning gamebooks did you imagine that commentators would spend so much time criticizing and correcting you?

  • Imagine, hope, take your pick.  I started writing at a time when I was keen to adopt a more positive project as a distraction from other personal matters.  The input of not just intelligent readers, but also gamebook creators, has been both humbling and gratifying.

The comments threads have gone into some pretty weird subjects but everyone has always been allowed to have their say while others might say why they disagree with them. Do you have subjects you dread coming up, and are you stu ..I mean open enough to tell us what they are?

  • Pretty much any topic is fine, except for gamebook-specific spoilers, which clearly can detract from the experience of readers who are following along with the books for the first time.  The only other things which annoy me are (1) Ad hominem attacks, rather than focussing on the issue at hand, and (2) Derailing, where unrelated issues are dragged in, sidelining the topic being discussed.
  •  And also, for the moment, the less said about Hawthorn, the better.

What is your favourite food and drink? (Not necessarily in the same meal).

  • In terms of meals at home, I have a particular fondness for my wife’s risotto, containing prawns, chicken, chorizo sausage, peas, spring onion, garlic etc etc.
  • Drinks – Single malt scotch, with my particular favourite being Glenmorangie.  I also enjoy straight Pimm’s on ice.

Why were you unconscious in an ambulance?

  • The short answer is that, in September 1991, I was crossing the road while listening to a Walkman (like an idiot) when I came off second best in a meeting with a car travelling at over 70 km/h.  I suffered two broken legs, cruciate ligament damage (right knee), fractured skull, fractured pelvis, gashes to the leg and body and was unconscious for two days.  Without being melodramatic, I was told that if my head had struck the road at a slightly (as in 2 cm) different angle, I would have been dead in minutes.
  • On a lighter note, my friend signed my cast with a note stating that…..”Really sorry a car hit you, but we couldn’t afford a truck….”

Your father is an economist, what interested you in Law?

  • Arguing with people and getting paid for it?  What’s not to like?

Is there a set time you tend to write your playthroughs?

  • It varies, but I tend to craft them between 9.00 pm and 11.00 pm, while my wife has a rest on the couch.  I’ll do a rough draft, literally inserting pictures and clips as they come to mind while also playing the book on Project Aon.  I’ll then do a second pass, refining jokes and checking for gameplaying errors.  I’ll then do a final read-through correcting typographical errors.  Each entry takes around 45-60 minutes to craft.

Part of me wants to ask how you manage to read 5 books in a week when on holiday with two children and a wife but my dad got to be that fast as otherwise he’d never get to finish his books. Thats not really a question.

  • When I’m reading for pleasure, I tend to steam through books pretty quickly.  This is in contrast to reading such things for work as affidavits and psychological reports, where I’ll often take an hour to carefully review a 20-30 page document.

What was your first gamebook? And can you remember how you came to get it? (For the record my first was The Citadel of Chaos, we’d been on a holiday in the country and stopped off in a bookstore (entire family are readers). I saw this strange type of book and decided to try it, hooked ever since).

  • Easy answer.  I saw the Warlock of Firetop Mountain and Citadel of Chaos on the shelf of the East Doncaster Primary School library, snaffled them, and never looked back.  I still remember my first death – paralyzed by the Ghoul, as it danced around me and sank its teeth ‘into my rump’ (!)

Paul Hogan made”G’Day” famous over here, at least among his viewers, does anyone actually talk that way nowadays?

  • G’Day certainly gets used occasionally, but it is hardly a universal greeting.  Australia is a country that constantly battles stereotypes.  The vast majority of Australians live in large cities near to the coast.  For example, Melbourne, my home, has a population of over 4 million, hardly an outback outpost.

And we’ll be back to Lone Wolf next entry – promise!

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17 thoughts on “Interlude – Ask Me Anything

  1. Thanks for taking my questions. I appreciated your lawyerly response to my question about IRV. I gave you the perfect opportunity to tout your country’s superiority to my own and you didn’t take the bait. 🙂 Which managed to both impress and disappoint me at the same time.

    Besides voting systems, another area of life where I think Australia has it all figured out and the USA has a massive blind spot is guns.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Ah yes, I found out about your blog on Dave Morris’ Fabled Lands blog, so of course you’d be familiar with Fabled Lands. I have the first two books of Blood Sword, the second I just ordered to qualify for free shipping. I read some of the first book (playing all four characters myself), but it didn’t quite hook me. I’ll try it again at some point, and then see how good Book 3 is.

    My favorite gamebook is probably Morris’ Heart of Ice, and if you haven’t tried it, I highly recommend it. A number of different endings for success as well as failure, and possibly the greatest villain in gamebook history. You do not want this guy to beat you.

    A̶u̶s̶t̶r̶a̶l̶i̶a̶n̶ ̶s̶o̶c̶c̶e̶r̶ ̶h̶a̶s̶ ̶a̶l̶w̶a̶y̶s̶ ̶b̶e̶e̶n̶ ̶p̶a̶r̶t̶ ̶o̶f̶ ̶O̶c̶e̶a̶n̶i̶a̶ . Australian soccer has always been part of Asia.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Without spoilers, the first book (of Blood Sword) is (to a degree) separate from the ‘main’ storyline of books 2-5. It basically uses the Deathtrap Dungeon template, although with a better backstory.

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  3. And thanks for the info about Blood Sword. It’s high on my list of gamebooks to read. It seems like it’s best experienced with three friends as opposed to a solitary experiemce, however. Is that accurate?

    Liked by 1 person

      1. As for myself, I think I have to agree about Shadow on the Sand being the best Lone Wolf book. I am also particularly fond of the Caverns of Kalte, the Chasm of Doom, the Jungle of Horrors, the Cauldron of Fear, the Dungeons of Torgar, the Darke Crusade, and Dawn of the Dragons. But really, almost every Lone Wolf book is quite good in its own way; I wouldn’t call any of them bad. The New Order series and a few of the Grand Master series books are less interesting, but still better than most gamebooks. Castle Death is probably my least favorite of the Kai and Magnakai books simply since it’s so disconnected from the rest of the series, and Flight from the Dark is spare in its prose (though I have yet to read the new edition of it which is greatly expanded). The Captives of Kaag doesn’t really add a lot of new intrigue to the series either (it’s another one that like Castle Death feels more like a Fighting Fantasy book than a Lone Wolf book, though again much better than most Fighting Fantasy books in terms of fairness and game balance).

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      2. I have for the most part not been impressed by the edits made to the Lone Wolf reissues. There’s been the occasional improvement, but a lot of the changes just spell things out in tiresome, borderline patronising detail. And then there’s the attempted bug fix in The Chasm of Doom that just makes things worse…

        Liked by 1 person

    1. The original text of The Chasm of Doom had one route through it on which the last three of the Rangers accompanying you inexplicably vanish when you reach the mines. The reissue fixed this by adding a scene with a collapsing bridge that cuts you off from the Rangers.

      The problem is, the edit wasn’t made to the most suitable section, so the updated Chasm has at least two routes through it on which all of the Rangers die, and then three of them mysteriously come back to life and get cut off from you by a collapsing bridge.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Many thanks for your answers. I would love the recipe to your wife’s risotto dish.
    I understand what you mean about Maelstrom – the combat system is pretty lethal and almost every class involves having a trade rather than doing something like a traditional adventurer. It is, however a great simulationist system and I appreciated how the magic system was so versatile yet maintained a low magic feel.
    Arion Games has made new Maelstrom stuff including Maelstrom Domesday set in 12th Century England and your group are supernatural investigators. There is also a DnD version of Maelstrom. I have a soft spot for it and on the right roleplaying group (for example one that enjoys talking through a problem and could take a whole 2 hour session to do one negotiation or one short journey), it could be a boon. Our DM for that game was not planning for that.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I also enjpyed reading the Maelstrom and the gamebook adventure was interesting too (“You will be doomed forever”? I have to see where that entry goes). I’m more of a loner though so tended to stay with Gamebooks and then computer games, I admit the ability to cheat being considered an advantage.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. /In a dark dingy den littered with torn breastplates, chewed helmets, broken swords and empty pizza boxes a mangy wolf cackles over the flickering light of an out of date pc/

    Ha! He has revealed what he fears in the comments sections. Now I too can use an … Ad hominunamum em huh?

    Whats a hominem and how do you add it to an attack?

    Quick! To the Bat-Google!

    Ad hominem attack, “against a person rather than the position they are defending”. Hmph, well I feel that once you tear out someones throat the position they were defending is irrelevant (unless its somewhere you want to live in which case its yours). But with my goldfish brain I can’t stay on point anyway. 😡 Quick! Whats the other thing?

    Unrelated issues being dragged in??? But everythings related one way or another.

    CURSES!!! He’s told me everything while giving nothing to attack with. Well played Aussiesmurf, very well played.😉

    ————————————————————————————————————————————–

    On a more serious note I echo Nym90 in saying thanks for answering the questions. I hope you continue to get as much out of this blog as we do.

    P.s. I know question time is over but having been there for a Caesarean birth do you now see red when you hear one’s decrying the increase in such procedures as an just being “too posh to push” (family background, my wife and both her older sisters all needed Caesarean’s, when my, well her’s but mine now, niece was pregnant her parents figured she’d also need an emergency Caesarean and they were right, noone was too posh to push).

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Also if I may offer a recommendation for your next play-through or a future play-through: the World of Lone Wolf Series starring Grey Star the Wizard. That series was my first introduction to Magnamund and while nostalgia may be biasing my opinion, I consider the whole series excellent.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. You’ve got off very lightly if Space Assassin is the worst gamebook you’ve ever played. I doubt that that one would even make it into the bottom 20, were I to try ranking all the gamebooks I’ve played.

    Liked by 1 person

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