Friday, 21 February 2014

Gamebook Friday: Knights and Necromancers

I've recently discovered a new review of Night of the Necromancer on Amazon. It's always pleasing when people discover your work for the first time, and even more so when it's some years since the book first came out. And then to get a 4-star review too! (Of course, a 5 would've been nice, to go with the other six the book has on Amazon.) Here are some of the highlights:

Starting with 1982's The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, I grew up on the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. Most of the first eleven were excellent... After that it all got a bit samey, with the odd honourable attempt at innovation such as Steve Jackson's own Creature of Havoc (#24 in the original series), until #40 ("Dead of Night") and the arrival of one Stephen Hand, an unsung hero who partly revitalized the series with two more complex, better-written and just plain more interesting gamebooks (Legend of the Shadow Warriors and Moonrunner). Fast-forward many years and suddenly, after three nights of adventure, I just died while trying to complete "Night of the Necromancer", part of the recent Fighting Fantasy revival, and a book by one Jonathan Green, whose writing style and game design remind me strongly of that of the aforementioned Stephen Hand. My death, in a way, is appropriate, because the premise of this highly original gamebook is that you are already dead -- you play a crusader murdered on his way home to his domain in the kingdom of Ruddlestone... 

Suffice to say that "Night of the Necromancer" is about as original a take on the Fighting Fantasy template as I can imagine, chock-full of undead, and epic beyond belief, cramming more into its 450 (sic) paragraphs than you will find in a whole slew of other gamebooks (and knocking a 939-reference monstrosity like DestinyQuest into a cocked hat). Without revealing anything more about its plot, what I will say is that "Night of the Necromancer" will give you about as much non-linear adventuring and freedom of choice as anyone has a right to expect from the limited format of a gamebook, and storms along at a breakneck pace as you only just meet that challenge, only just defeat that monster, only just make it to the next paragraph -- exactly what I want from a gamebook...

This is the best gamebook published in many years, and I fully intend to check out Jonathan Green's other books in the future.

It is fitting that the author of the review notices the similarities between my writing style and Stephen Hand's, as Stephen's books were a huge influence on me when I was forging my path as a gamebook designer.

You can pick up Night of the Necromancer here.

Another book you probably won't be able to pick up (so one that would make an ideal candidate for app conversion by Tin Man Games) is my second FF adventure, Knights of Doom. A fan recently wrote to me about the book and the contents of his email left me with a warm glow in my heart. Here's what he had to say:

Dear Jonathan, 

On a whim I played through Knights of Doom this week. Like many people I was obsessed with these books with a child, and now only read one once in a blue moon, though I wish I had the time to indulge in that sort of nostalgia more often. 

Rereading FF from an adult perspective is a bit odd; I think I keep expecting to be whisked immediately back to being 12 or so and have precisely the same feelings about what I'm reading as I did then. But in my experience it's often a little disappointing. Some of the books feel rather flimsy, and the mechanics a bit straightforward and not particularly imaginative. 

Not so here! This really was an experience like the best of those I had way back when, and I was once again amazed by how a slim volume could hold a story that felt so big (some of the later FFs did manage this, but not at all many), as well as being consistently involving, and imaginative not just in terms of plot (and in terms of having properly developed sub-plots as well, which do wonders for the sense of scale) but in terms of the intricate game mechanics too. It makes for one of the most engaging FF experiences of all I think. Tony Hough's wonderful illustrations can take some of the credit too, of course. 

I can't disagree with the commonly held view that the book is hideously difficult (naturally I played it without dice etc, and even then had to cheat as I'd not encountered all the relevant items or bits of information). But overall I was left with the impression that it's a great achievement on your part, and a great experience for the reader (even an adult reader), and it gave me the chance to have a really rewarding nostalgia trip for once.

So, thank you for this book, and indeed for your others. And, naturally, I'm looking forward hugely to You Are The Hero.

Talking of which, I'd better get back to work...

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