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The Ages of Gamebooks

This post is inspired by James Maliszewski's Ages of D&D (2009). It's not intended to be comprehensive, and it's really only a surface reading of the publication of some of the more popular adventure gamebook series. Katz (n.d.) for example provides a comprehensive database of an absolute plethora gamebook publishing information. It's also just my opinion, and I'm completely open to comments and discussions on dates and ages that people may disagree with. Like Maliszewski, though, I'm attempting to establish a gamebook shorthand that will help when contextualising future reviews. Anyway, here we go...

Prehistory (1976-1981): The adventure gamebook as a solitaire role-playing experience begins with Buffalo Castle in 1976, which kicks off a long line of Tunnels & Trolls solo scenarios. This followed by The Cave of Time in 1979, which is the first Choose Your Adventure book.

The Golden Age (1982-1987): 1982 sees the publication of the first Fighting Fantasy gamebook The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, as well as Ian Livingstone's far lesser known Eye of the Dragon from his Dicing With Dragons guide to role-playing games. The latter is forgotten, the former provokes an avalanche. Over the course of the next five years it would seem that every paperback children's book publisher would attempt to emulate the success of Fighting Fantasy. Joe Dever starts the Lone Wolf series in 1984 with Flight From The Dark. Other notable series at this time include Sagas of the Demonspawn, Skyfall, Falcon, Golden Dragon, Cretan Chronicles, Sagard the Barbarian, and Sword Quest, though few of these series last beyond four books. Dave Morris and Oliver Johnson use the gamebook format to smuggle their Dragon Warriors role-playing system into bookstores in 1985 (Morris & Johnson, 2008, p. 11). This is set in the world of Legend which features in a subsequent series Blood Sword that begins in 1987 with The Battlepits of Krarth. 1987 also marks the end of two of the longer gamebook series, Way of the Tiger and Grailquest, though Fighting Fantasy and Lone Wolf are still going strong.

The Silver Age (1988-1995): Several innovative new gamebook series are published during this time, including Virtual Reality Adventures, Fabled Lands, and the continuation of the Blood Sword saga. Lone Wolf and Fighting Fantasy both keep churning out the titles, but the latter series - the grandaddy of them all - finally succumbs and perishes after Curse of the Mummy (the 59th title!) and Ian Livingstone's Adventures of Goldhawk spinoff series are published in 1995.

The Bronze Age (1996-1998): The slow death of gamebooks. Fabled Lands stops in 1996 with Lords of the Rising Sun, which unfortunately is only the sixth book in a proposed 12 book sequence, leaving the non-linear series woefully incomplete. Dave Morris publishes the Chronicles of the Magi, a trilogy of children's fantasy books based on the Blood Sword series in 1997, and Lone Wolf continues with a handful of titles, finishing with its 28th and last book The Hunger of Sejanoz, in 1998.

The Dark Age (1999-2004): There is little published material for gamebook fans, but the rise of the internet sees a flourishing community of gamebook fans and amateur fan-written adventures develop. Some high points include Kim Newman's Life's Lottery interactive novel in 1999, and in 2000 former Fighting Fantasy author Paul Mason republishes Heart of Ice under his Panurgic Publishing label. Also in 1999 Project Aon was formed to keep the Lone Wolf flame alive by republishing that series in a free downloadable electronic format. In 2002 Wizard Books begin reissuing Fighting Fantasy books, but for the first two years were content to merely republish existing titles.

The New Age (2005-?): Ian Livingstone's Eye of the Dragon is published in 2005 and marks the first real new Fighting Fantasy title in ten years (although it is based on his original adventure from 1982), leading to more new books in this series, including Bloodbones, Howl of the Werewolf, Stormslayer, and Night of the Necromancer; all of which are by Jonathan Green. Lone Wolf begins republishing expanded editions in 2007, and Fabled Lands is reissued in 2010, with a promise of completing the series if sales go well. Importantly, Fighting Fantasy and Fabled Lands are ported to digital formats on mobile devices, which also encompasses digital-only gamebooks such as Tin Man Games' Gamebook Adventure series. What does the future hold for gamebooks? 

Any thoughts? Do YOU agree or disagree with this assessment?


Katz, D. (n.d.). Gamebook Database: Item List (sorted by date of publication). Accessed from

Maliszewski, J. (2009, January 11). The Ages of D&D. Message posted to

Morris, D. & Johnson, O. (2008). Dragon Warriors: The Classic British Role-Playing Game. London: Magnum Opus Press

Heart of Ice (Part 4)

In this final installment of our Heart of Ice review, we’ll look at the setting of the gamebook. Returning to our original plan (Wright, 2011); we’ll consider the physical setting, the writing that describes it, and the characters that inhabit this distant frozen world.


3. Setting. Firstly, it’s post-apocalyptic in tone, but not of the Mad Max or zombie-apocalypse genres (though zombies do feature marginally towards the end!). Instead, this icy, glacial future earth evokes an atmosphere similar to science-fiction author J. G. Ballard’s loose ‘trilogy’ of disaster novels: The Drowned World, The Burning World, and The Crystal World (one could argue that Heart of Ice forms a logical addendum to this sequence as “The Frozen World”).


There is also an element of future dystopia in the milieu when we consider the stinking, decaying cities of Venis and Kahira that we encounter during the adventure. Here we find the bizarre mix of both high and low technology that characterize such bleak visions as Terry Gilliam’s Brazil, while Paul Mason (2004) has stated that there is at least one reference to Blade Runner in the book.


Additionally, Per Jorner (2007) notes that “there is a palpable ‘dying Earth’ feel pervading the book, with evident homages to [Jack] Vance and the genre in general”. This is best documented in the background section:


It is now 2300. The rich stand aloof, disporting themselves with forced gaiety, waiting for the end. The poor inhabit lawless slums where disease is rife. Between the cities, the land lies under a blanket of snow and ice. No one expects humanity to last another century. This is truly ‘the end of history’. (Morris, 1994, p. 11)


This compares favorably to an oft-quoted section from Vance’s inaugural eponymous collection The Dying Earth: “The vapid mannerisms of pale people, using up their lives. Mincing murder, extravagant debauchery, while the Earth passes its last hours,” (1950, p. 72).


As we can see, if we’re comparing the writing to Vance, then it must be good! Dave Morris says that gamebooks can be considered thought-provoking literature that explore interesting ideas in real depth (FalcoDellaRuna, 2008), and that is certainly the case with Heart of Ice. To quote liberally from Per’s review:


The success of this setting can be attributed to superb use of exposition, tone, and detail. You can come across historical records, encounter mutants of the frozen wilds, explore forgotten facilities and learn additional information about the world around you. Technology whose deeper secrets are lost to the centuries meshes wonderfully with a kind of freakish neo-Renaissance civilization of explorers, opportunists, merchants and nobles. At all times does this world feel as if it exists outside of your immediate experiences, outside of the page… (2007).


In addition,


The style and narration are virtually faultless. I’ve spoken on the lack of evocation in gamebook prose in the past (which is not necessarily the same as dryness or briefness), but I’d have to turn over all the stones to find something to complain about in this one: it is inspired but not florid, ambitious but not conceited. Dialogues and descriptions frequently contain interesting observations, curious particulars or amusing exchanges. (Jorner, 2007)


Of course, if the writing is this good, it would be remiss of me to avoid providing examples. The following are simply some of the passages that you will encounter while traversing the pages of Heart of Ice.


For instance, a chance encounter in the frozen heights of the Atlas Mountains:


The only other people you spy are a group of Hamadan ascetics on their shaggy camels. They pay no attention to you, as their creed insists that they disdain all outsiders. Adjusting their white-and-tan turbans with cold contempt, they go bounding off across the lone and level snows. (Morris, 1994, paragraph 273)


 Or this, from the catacombs beneath the Lost City of Du-En:


As you step out from among the stalagmites, you fail to notice at first that a thick glowing vapour is roiling around your feet. …  You take another step, then you realize that the mist is draining your strength. It rises across your vision, a luminous fog that seeps into your skin like ice water. … Then you see a sight that sends a tingle of dread through you. Taking shape within the mist, reaching towards you with ghastly imploring fingers, is a horrible twisted figure that looks like a squashed effigy of white clay… (Morris, 1994, paragraph 39)


The final element of the book’s setting to consider are the characters that share your journey, and intersect, however marginally, with your given choices. These characters actually form a major part of the adventure. To quote Aaron Tubb:


Along your way, and especially near the end, you will encounter other people who heard GAIA’s message about the Heart of Volent; you will have to work cooperatively with some of them to find what you’re looking for, but these are very shaky alliances because no one will want to share the Heart when/if you finally find it. These other characters and their interactions really add some great storytelling to the book. (2010)


Per Jorner agrees whole-heartedly:


The characterization of your competitors surpasses that of many a novel. Suffice to say that I’ve found few gamebook moments as gratifying as telling Boche off on the quay in Venis, or as portentous as stargazing with Janus Gaunt, or as disturbing as coming eye to eye with Baron Siriasis for the final time. This is no gang of Mungos! Your antagonists are smart and resourceful and your only consolation is that hopefully so are you. (2007).


My personal favourite involves an encounter with Chaim Golgoth, the USI assassin:


You find Golgoth squatting by torchlight at the end of the colonnade, where he has laid out all of his weapons on the flagstones. As he checks each, he slips it into its concealed sheath: a garotte wire under his belt, along with a flexible steel blade; poison darts in a bandolier inside his jacket; guns at hip, ankle, and wrist; small flat grenades clipped along his sabretache. You watch him aghast for a few minutes.

                ‘Quite the professional killer, aren’t you Golgoth?’

                ‘Don’t get far if you only make it a hobby,’ he says. 


(Morris, 1994, paragraph 126)      


It was not my intention for this post to degenerate into a series of excerpts from Heart of Ice and its reviewers. However, given its reputation, it seems only proper to allow the book to speak for itself, along with those who have enjoyed it and published their thoughts and reckonings about it online. It’s that good.


The penultimate say on Heart of Ice, the summary of all that has been made evident by this series of posts, goes once again to Per Jorner and his epic review:


I can’t say with absolute certainty that this is the best gamebook I’ve read, but if not it’s certainly one of the very best, with the best character design, the best one-shot world design and the best writing. Almost every point of criticism has to be aimed at something which is clearly the exception and not the norm. Rather than a hackneyed outing that you struggle through and put behind you, Heart of Ice is an experience to remember and reflect on. It shows every sign of having been written by someone who loves the gamebook medium, and with great narrative skill and vision to back that energy up… (2007)


The ultimate word goes of course to the adventure gamebook itself:


As the daylight fades, a gap in the louring cloud reveals a handful of diamond-bright stars. The bar is opened and the atmosphere aboard gradually acquires a current of bonhomie, but you remain aloof and troubled. Most of these people have no further destination in mind than Kahira, no ambition beyond a small profit and a frisson of petty adventure. But your own goal is direly remote: the lost ruins of Du-En, in the far hinterland of the Saharan Ice Wastes. It seems impossible to believe but there in Du-En you will either grasp the ultimate power – or perish… (Morris, 1994, paragraph 246)





FalcoDellaRuna. (2008). Dave Morris interview 2008. Accessed from


Jorner, P. (2007, May 31). Reviews part 18: The future’s so bright I

gotta wear polarized goggles. Message posted to


Mason, P. (2004, April 5). bring a friend and share a miracle. Message posted to


Morris, D. (1994). Heart of Ice. London: Mammoth.


Tubb, A. (2010, September 28). Heart of Ice – A solo gamebook adventure in post-apocalyptic Europe and Africa. Review posted to


Vance, J. (1950). The Dying Earth. New York: Hillman Periodicals Inc.


Wright, A. (2011). Heart of Ice (Part 2). Message posted to


Heart of Ice (Part 3)

Last time out we looked at the rules for Heart of Ice and how they contributed to making it an enjoyable gamebook experience. This time around we’ll consider the gameplay aspect and how this has played a part in building Heart of Ice’s reputation as one of the best gamebooks ever.


2. Gameplay. Unlike say the Fabled Land series, which perhaps mark the zenith of non-linearity in gamebook fiction, Virtual Reality Adventure titles such as Heart of Ice were essentially linear stories, following a prescribed arc towards a given set of endings. To throw in a bit more terminology though, would we consider them ‘one true path’ or ‘multiple paths’ (Wright, 2011a)? Interestingly, it’s here that opinions differ.


Personally, I consider Heart of Ice a multi-path adventure because mechanically there at least four main ways (and a few other minor variations) to reach your goal: The Lost City of Du-En. Without giving away spoilers, even a glance at the map (given you start at the Etruscan Inn in Italy), suggests a variety of different ways to approach the Saharan Ice Wastes. For others however, it’s not so clear-cut. For instance, Per Jorner (2007) says:


…you have the classic choice of going east or west. One of the paths is potentially very long and the other is potentially very short, measured in references, and this can be seen as an imbalance. It’s well known that in gamebooks, managing to get somewhere with as little fuss as possible often means you’re sorely underprepared for what awaits you there. It is true here for some paths though not for all. Also, depending on your choice of path, certain skills may take on great importance while others become worthless.


At first glance this would appear to support our multiple path hypothesis. However, he then goes on to state that:


Anyway, the task of planning out differing “true paths” for various skills or skill sets is simply so complex as to be impossible, and what’s been done here – focus on a broad major path with a couple of key points, add a few side tracks and hope that everything balances out in between – is certainly one valid design. (Jorner, 2007)


The design process he advocates here instead postulates a ‘broad major path’ which tends more towards the one true path approach. This is validated in an interview with the author Dave Morris, where he says:


Better to have one path and make it really gripping than to have a bunch of mediocre threads. So even if you look at a much later book like Heart of Ice – well, there you’ve got two main routes to get to Du-En, but once you’re in the city there’s a single main path. You can play it all kinds of ways with different alliances (thank heavens for codewords) so your choices make a difference, but the actual flowchart still follows a single main thread. (FalcoDellaRuna, 2008).       


The answer therefore is that while Heart of Ice has the appearance of a multi-path gamebook, it actually follows one true path. The difference however, between a strict adherence to a one true path strategy such as Creature of Havoc (Jackson, 1986), and Heart of Ice, is that in the latter, your choices (in the form of your Skills, equipment and codewords) do make a difference to what actually happens along that path. 


Ah yes, codewords. We looked briefly in the previous post at how Skills and equipment affect the rules of how you play a Virtual Reality Adventure (Wright, 2011b), but it is the codewords that decide how the story ultimately unfolds for your character. Codewords were actually introduced as far back as The Demon’s Claw (Morris & Johnson,  1987), which was the third book in the Blood Sword saga, and probably reached their pinnacle in the Fabled Lands series, where they were ordered alphabetically for each book (all the ones in the first book started with ‘A’ for example). Concerning the origins and implementation of codewords, Dave Morris notes that they were:


…lifted from the flags used in computer text adventures at the time. It was very powerful for remembering whole chunks of prior actions. I got to the point where I had a subliminal bug-checker running in the back of my mind. I’d plot out twenty or thirty paragraphs, then I’d go to the gym and I’d be in the middle of a workout and I’d suddenly think, “Oh, there’s a broken link between 27 and 30” or “I need a new codeword in 45” or whatever. I bet Plato did a lot of his best thinking the same way. (FalcoDellaRuna, 2008)


The end result is like reading a ‘proper’ novel, with the difference that your previous actions (remembered as codewords) can have a profound effect on the plot, and provoke consequences that you may not have been anticipating.


This brings us around to the final element of gameplay, that of replay-ability. Is Heart of Ice a book we can continually pick up and play just to see what happens if we do this or that, or is it instead a challenge that we complete successfully, cross it off the list of things to do, and place it back on the shelf? Most fans opt for the former. Tubb (2010) for instance states: “I even read through the book multiple times after I beat it, so I could see some of the other interesting places and events that I missed because I went different ways or had different skills”. This level of replay value is interesting, given that it is perfectly possible to complete this book first time out, unlike many other gamebooks. Indeed, Per Jorner (2007) says:


Also I suppose some will enjoy the fact that even your first character is not the berated doomed adventurer just dropped off outside the Trial of Champions for his first foray into Deathtrap Dungeon, but rather a true pulp hero with a very real chance of success.


This is reinforced by Dave Morris when he opines:


Ideally a gamebook should be completed at the first attempt. Any time you kill a character, as the writer you’ve failed. I prefer to let players make mistakes that sidetrack them, and chip away at their hit points, rather than taking them straight to a death paragraph. It’s the same in a computer game – if I get killed and have to start again, it just annoys me. (FalcoDellaRuna, 2008).


Dave Morris also notes that he would ensure that it was possible to complete one of his books with any random combination of skills, but also says “A lot of people talk about the need for a gamebook to have replay value, but why? The real point is that it needs to be enjoyable.” (FalcoDellaRuna, 2008).


On that note, we’ll end here, and in our next post, consider the last aspects of Heart of Ice, namely, the setting, the writing, the characters, and the overall ambience.




FalcoDellaRuna. (2008). Dave Morris interview 2008. Accessed from


Jackson, S. (1986). Creature of Havoc. London: Puffin.


Jorner, P. (2007, May 31). Reviews part 18: The future’s so bright I

gotta wear polarized goggles. Message posted to


Morris, D. (1994). Heart of Ice. London: Mammoth.


Morris, D. & Johnson, O. (1987). The Demon’s Claw. London: Knight Books.


Tubb, A. (2010, September 28). Heart of Ice – A solo gamebook adventure in post-apocalyptic Europe and Africa. Review posted to


Wright, A. (2011a). The Adventure Game Part 2. Fighting Fantazine 5(January, 2011). Unpublished (but not for long!).


Wright, A. (2011b). Heart of Ice (Part 2). Message posted to


Heart of Ice (Part 2)

Returning to part 2 of our overview of Heart of Ice, it’s time to look at just what is it that makes this epic tale of adventure so well regarded among gamebook fans. Aside from Russ Nicholson’s consistently good artwork (and unusual this time for Russ, in being science-fiction in theme rather than that of fantasy), I’ve stated previously there are three main components for such acclaim (Wright, 2007). Expanded and reinterpreted, these elements are:


1. Rules. What are the rules like? What’s it like to create a character? How do the rules play out over the course of the book?


2. Gameplay. Are there multiple paths to victory, or just one true path? What methods are used to track your progress within the book? Does it have replay value?


3. Setting. What differentiates the setting from others? How effective is the writing? What are the other characters in the story like?


The first of these will be considered in further detail below:


1. Rules. The Virtual Reality Adventure series of which Heart of Ice is a part, advertises itself as having a “unique non-random game system” with no dice to roll and thus depending on “Not luck but judgement!” (Morris, 1994, back cover). Apparently, this return to simplicity in the form of a totally diceless approach to solo-gaming was because:


[Mark Smith] and I were thinking of people playing the books on a train or a bus, where it’s not convenient to throw dice. And we’re both very interested in the narrative more than the strict mechanics of the game – probably because of our background in role-playing. So we though we’d try something that you could read like a novel, only with choices. (FalcoDellaRuna, 2008)


This ease of play aspect to the book has certainly been noticed by gamebook fans. In his review of Heart of Ice, Per Jorner (2007) notes that:


An obvious advantage with the luckless system is that less bookkeeping and no dice means it can be read pretty much in any situation where you might read a normal book, like on a train, where (in the absence of champagne-drinkers to beset) people could be expected to stare at dice-rollers, prod them with umbrellas or otherwise behave menacingly.


In addition to the lack of randomness, and the brevity of the rules (only four pages of rules, and five if you count the Adventure Sheet), the other interesting aspect to the system is that of character design. Each character starts with a certain amount of Life Points, Money (the currency is ‘scads’), and possibly some Possessions (of which you are limited to eight in total), as well as a choice of four Skills drawn from the following list of twelve (Morris, 1994, p. 9):



        Close Combat












Also, if you are too lazy to try and choose your Skills, you can just pick one of the seven sample characters that come with the book (Explorer, Bounty Hunter, Spy, Trader, Visionary, Scientist, and Mutant), each with their own pre-chosen Skills and equipment. The end result is plenty of flexibility and creativity even before you start the adventure. For instance, Per Jorner (2007) states:


This system is not only simple and elegant, but it makes an absolute joy out of character creation; you can pick your own archetypes out of 495 possible – and viable – character builds. This is in fact the only gamebook so far where I’ve felt I could actually design and play – even role-play – my very own character.


As an example of this process, my own favourite character is a nod to Mad Max:


        The Road Warrior (a.k.a. “Angry Andy”)

        Skills: Cunning, Piloting, Shooting, Survival

Profile: For too long you have prowled the icy roads between Kastilan and Bezant on a bombed-out snow-mobile, protecting the weak and innocent from bandits, mutants, and worse…

        Life Points: 11

Possessions: Barysal gun (6 charges)

Money: 30 scads


In practice the system runs very smoothly – if you have a Skill you can use it, if you don’t, you can’t – while your Life Points measure how long your character can stay alive before expiring (when your Life Points are reduced to zero!). Tubb (2010) notes that the combat system is sort of like:


After walking down the dark alley for about a minute, you are attacked by two thugs armed with knives. If you have Close Combat, turn to #. If you have Agility, turn to #. If you have Shooting and a barysal gun with at least one charge remaining, turn to #. If you have none of these, turn to #.


All or some of these options would then lead to some loss of Life Points depending on how effective your Skill choice would be for that given combat. In addition, and in general, the use of Skills is a positive and proactive experience. Per Jorner (2007) says “Commendably, you can almost always choose a likely option and assume your character isn’t going to act dumb and attempt something that has a low chance of success. This lack of “gotcha” mentality is refreshing”. It’s also very different from what many of us may have experienced when playing other gamebook adventures.


In the next part of this series, we’ll look at the actual gameplay element to Heart of Ice. In the meantime, if you haven’t already, why not download the free ebook version here!




FalcoDellaRuna. (2008). Dave Morris interview 2008. Accessed from


Jorner, P. (2007, May 31). Reviews part 18: The future’s so bright I

gotta wear polarized goggles. Message posted to


Mad Max Rockatansky. (2001, November 19). Accessed from


Morris, D. (1994). Heart of Ice. London: Mammoth.


Morris, D. (2000). Heart of Ice ebook. Panurgic Publishing. Accessed from


Tubb, A. (2010, September 28). Heart of Ice – A solo gamebook adventure in post-apocalyptic Europe and Africa. Review posted to


Wright, A. (2007, October 3). Top ten gamebooks (part ][): My top ten – Off [the top of] my head. Message posted to

Heart of Ice (Part 1)
Figure 1. Heart of Ice cover
by Mike Posen (from Morris, 1994).

If gamebooks are dinosaurs, and Deathtrap Dungeon (Livingstone, 1984) is Tyrannosaurus rex (ugly, lethal, and the layman’s favourite),  then Heart of Ice (Morris, 1994) is surely the Triceratops of this primordial world – big, spectacular, majestic, and one of the last of a dying line that previously embraced an expansive radiation. Three different versions of this gamebook have been published over the years. The original 1994 version, which was the fifth and penultimate book in the Virtual Reality Adventure series by Mammoth; a reissue in 2000 by Paul Mason’s Panurgic Publishing (Katz, n.d.a); and a PDF ebook version of the reissue, which is currently available for free (Morris, 2010a)! (My advice? Grab a copy of the free ebook NOW!)


I can’t speak for the reissue, but the original is a hefty paperback tome with 453 paragraphs, excellent black and white internal illustrations by Russ Nicholson, and a full colour inside front cover map by Leo Hartas. The ebook version contains one picture not present in the original, that of the adventuress Thadra Bey, from paragraph 286. In addition, Russ Nicholson had to re-draw the Gargan Sisters prior to original book’s publication as:


He had them in army-style muscle t-shirts and [the art director] wanted them wearing something big and baggy. Which made no sense at all; they were hardbody soldiers and proud of it, not the sort to favor dungarees that gave them the outline of an old floor cushion. (Morris, 2010b).


The cover of the original version is by Mike Posen, and shows, well, no, that would be telling, wouldn’t it…

Figure 2. Map from Heart of Ice by Leo Hartas (from Morris, 1994). 

Heart of Ice
is a post-apocalyptic adventure, though very different from the usual Mad Max-inspired settings. Instead, the premise of this book can be succinctly summarized as follows:


A few hundred years into our future, the world is becoming a glacial wasteland. One day the mad supercomputer responsible for this mess sends out a message about a cosmic artefact of great power hidden in a dead city. A number of daring and resourceful characters take up the challenge; one of them is YOU! But who’ll be the one to get their hands on the power, and what is to come of it? (Jorner, 2007).


Interestingly though, as an adventure it has a far older history and setting than its publication record would suggest. In an interview with the Italian website Il Mondo dei Librogames, Dave Morris said that Heart of Ice “got started as a role-playing session – I can pinpoint it exactly to Christmas 1976, I was back home after my first term at college and I needed a scenario for a large number of players” (FalcoDellaRuna, 2008). The ‘frozen world’ setting and the Lost City of Du-En was inspired by “marveling at the buildings of Christ Church, absolutely deserted late on a frosty night after the end of term, with the buildings lit up pale against this immense field of stars” (FalcoDellaRuna, 2008). Even at that stage there seemed to be something intriguing about the scenario, for:


After the first game session, I was walking home with one of the players and he said how he was imagining Du-En as a movie, and what he liked was that the focus of the session had been in the tension among the characters camped out in this ruined, snow-filled city. (FalcoDellaRuna, 2008).


Figure 4. The Lost City of Du-en
by Russ Nicholson (from Morris, 1994).

I’m not sure if the session was run several times with different participants, but Paul Mason (2004) has confirmed that the scenario he participated in was set in Professor M.A.R. Barker’s science-fantasy world of Tekumel, where “a bunch of likely characters competed to wrest the Heart of Durritlamish from the Mad City of Du’un”. Interestingly for gamebook fans, Mason’s character in the session was Karunaz (Mason, 2004), who is not in the Heart of Ice book, but does turn up earlier in the fifth book of the Blood Sword saga The Walls of Spyte (Morris, Johnson & Thomson, 1988), set in the Dragon Warriors game world of Legend.


Heart of Ice consistently gets rated up there as one of the best gamebooks ever, if not the best of all time (e.g. Jorner, 2007; Wright, 2007; Falcon, 2008; FalcoDellaRuna, 2008; Zman, 2009; Tubb, 2010). Even Dave Morris considers it, of all the gamebooks he has written (59 at last count, including reissues (Katz, n.d.b)), the one he likes the best


by a very long margin. It was almost exactly what I wanted it to be. If only it could have been a bit longer, though. I ran out of time and space there at the end. No work of art is ever finished, only abandoned. (FalcoDellaRuna, 2008).

Figure 3. Thadra Bey
by Russ Nicholson (from Morris, 2000).

Why so much affection for this book? We’ll find the answer to that in part 2 of this post. Until then!




FalcoDellaRuna. (2008). Dave Morris interview 2008. Accessed from


Falcon. (2008, March 23). Falcon’s thoughts on Heart of Ice. Review posted to


Jorner, P. (2007, May 31). Reviews part 18: The future’s so bright I gotta wear polarized goggles. Message posted to


Katz, D. (n.d.a). Heart of Ice. Accessed from


Katz, D. (n.d.b). Dave Morris. Accessed from


Livingstone, I. (1984). Deathtrap Dungeon. London: Puffin.


Mason, P. (2004, April 5). bring a friend and share a miracle. Message posted to


Morris, D., Johnson, O., & Thomson, J. (1988). The Walls of Spyte. London: Knight Books.


Morris, D. (1994). Heart of Ice. London: Mammoth.


Morris, D. (2000). Heart of Ice ebook. Panurgic Publishing. Accessed from


Morris, D. (2010a, February 7). Free e-gamebook. Message posted to


Morris, D. (2010b, March 14). Art of ice. Message posted to


Tubb, A. (2010, September 28). Heart of Ice – A solo gamebook adventure in post-apocalyptic Europe and Africa. Review posted to


Wright, A. (2007, October 3). Top ten gamebooks (part ][): My top ten – Off [the top of] my head. Message posted to


Zman. (2009, October 19) Zman’s thoughts on Heart of Ice. Review posted to


Keep On Bloggin'

Figure 1. An example of gristle by Russ Nicholson (from Morris & Thomson, 1996).

As an addendum to the previous post, I want to add a list of other blogs I enjoy reading. These blogs are probably not as regular in delivering content, and some of them are decidedly irregular at that, but they’re all entertaining and well worth reading in their own right. In no particular order:


1. Russ Nicholson. For any fan of adventure gamebooks, Russ Nicholson needs no introduction, but I’ll provide one anyway:


[His] style of black and white line art is at once ridiculously simple in terms of shading and lighting, but utterly over-elaborate in detail and design. He also has a fine sense of over-the-top macabre gore – you only have to look at one of the probably hundreds of dismembered corpses, shattered skulls, or risen dead, from any of the gamebooks he has illustrated, to appreciate his ideal of warped anatomy. As well as all this Russ can also draw the most baroque costumes, accoutrements, weaponry, and tattoos this side of a Terry Gilliam movie. He may not be to everyone’s taste, but there is no denying his impact on gamebooks and fantasy RPG’s during those bright-eyed days of the early-mid 80’s when barbarians were barbarians, amazons were amazons, and dead bodies were so freshly-hewn their gristle still had texture… (Wright, 2009 – and see Figure 1.)


He has recently started an occasional blog where he talks about the methods he uses in creating his unique artwork. As well as including previously published examples, Russ also posts up new and previously unseen work, including odd random doodles that show more talent than most of us could achieve in a lifetime.


2. The CRPG Addict. I stumbled upon this blog when looking for a free downloadable version of the old classic Bard’s Tale computer game. In his own words, the CRPG Addict is one man blogging about his adventure through every PC role-playing game ever released. As of this blog post, he’s currently playing through games from 1987. If you were of a certain generation during the 80’s that spent a ridiculous amount of time playing early computer role-playing games such as Ultima, Wizardry, Bard’s Tale or Phantasie, among many, many others, then this blog is for you. Best of all, the CRPG Addict writes in an amusing and engaging style that is very entertaining to read. You probably haven’t heard of many of the games he plays, and you’ll likely never play them, but you don’t have to – the CRPG Addict is playing through them for you! The least you could is stop by his blog and revel in the sense of purpose of a man on a holy mission…


3. Fighting Fantasist. I’m not sure how I found this blog by Coopdevil, but I’m glad I did. Part of the focus is on Old School gaming and also Games Workshop products from the 80’s – two things I enjoy. Also, Coopdevil has tweaked the Fighting Fantasy rules-system to produce one of the freakiest things I’ve seen it used for – an RPG based on Formula 1 Grand Prix motor-racing from the 1950’s, when it was brutal and dangerous – entitled The Power And The Glory (Coopdevil, 2010). Fascinating stuff!


4. Realm of Zhu. I found this one through the Fighting Fantasist blog above. It’s a “roleplaying miniature collecting combat world building art blog” by Zhu Bajiee (n.d.), and very entertaining. My favourite post is entitled ‘Eye of the Dragon vs. Hobgoblin Ale’ (Bajiee, 2010).


5. Fighting Dantasy. Similar to the CRPG Addict above, Fighting Dantasy is a blog where Dan Satherley revisits the Fighting Fantasy series one gamebook at a time. It’s definitely an amusing read, and although currently out of new gamebooks (the last one he reviewed was Moonrunner (Hand, 1992)), Dan has reprised his blog as a column in the Fighting Fantazine e-magazine (e.g. Satherley, 2009). If you have some spare gamebooks, send them to Dan because we need him to provide some new updates!


6. Turn to 400. This is a very, very occasional blog by ‘Murray’ that features one of the best reviews I have ever seen, namely Starship Traveller (Jackson, 1983) presented as a Star Trek episode guide (‘Murray’, 2010). Priceless!


7. Lloyd of Gamebooks. This blog is by Stuart Lloyd, winner of the 2010 Windhammer Prize for Short Gamebook Fiction, for his adventure Sharkbait’s Revenge (Densley, 2010). It hasn’t been updated in a while, but it’s a good blog to read if you’re thinking about planning and writing a gamebook adventure.


8. Jonathan Green. Jonathan Green is the only currently active writer of brand-new Fighting Fantasy adventures, such as Howl of the Werewolf, Stormslayer, and Night of the Necromancer, which are all rapidly becoming firm fan favorites. He maintains several blogs, all of which are worth reading, particularly when he talks about, and links to other writers talking about, the process and method of being a full-time professional writer. Recommended!


I hope you’ve enjoyed reading some of these blogs! In the next post (I promise!) I’ll start actually looking at some specific gamebooks.




Bajiee, Z. (n.d.). Realm of Zhu. Accessed from


Bajiee, Z. (2010, June 23). Eye of the Dragon vs. Hobgoblin Ale. Message posted to


Coopdevil. (2010, October 25). The Power And The Glory RPG Bulletpoint version. Message posted to


Densley, W. (2010). 2010 Prize Winners. Accessed from


Hand, S. (1992). Moonrunner. London: Puffin.


Jackson, S. (1983). Starship Traveller. London: Puffin.


Morris, D., and Thomson, J. (1996). Fabled Lands: Lords of the Rising Sun. London: Pan-Macmillan.


Murray’. (2010, October 17). #4 “Starship Traveller” by Steve Jackson (1983). Message posted to


Satherley, D. (2009). Fighting Dantasy. Fighting Fantazine 1(September 2009), 66. Accessed from


Wright, A. (2009, March 24). Out of the Pit: The artists (Part nine: The creature artists: Russ Nicholson). Message posted to


RSS Feed? What's that?

This second post was nearly stillborn after I spent most of today wading through Mystic Mongol’s (2010) Let’s Play archive of King of Dragon Pass. However, I’ve managed to drag myself away from reading about the exploits of a bronze-age tribe in Glorantha, and put something together for this next post.


Getting back to Laws’ (2004) Thirteen Laws of Blogging, the seventh law states “No linkage”, and I’m about to break it by posting up a strange mix of blogs that have all inspired me in varying ways. To be fair, Laws does quantify the seventh law by stating “I shall not commit the sin of linkage! No posts consisting of a one-line comment and then the exact same URL half the blogs on the net are also pointing at today”, (2004), and that’s not what I’m going to do. Instead, here, in no particular order, is a list of five blogs that have me clicking daily on my browser bookmarks, because I’m too lazy to sort my RSS Feed out properly.


1. Robin D. Laws. I looked up Robin Laws’ blog when I found out he was principal designer and writer for The Dying Earth Roleplaying Game, based on the amazing four book fantasy sequence of the same name by the legendary author Jack Vance. Laws covers a lot of ground in his blog, and in keeping with this, I especially like his posts on the Toronto International Film Festival, his ongoing comic series The Birds, and his current play-by-blog concerning a design by committee approach to the fantasy world of Khorad.


2. Cryptomundo. I found this blog while researching online for a still unfinished novel concerning cryptozoology – the study of “hidden animals”. The principal writer is Loren Coleman, who has published widely in this field and is responsible for extremely readable books such as Mysterious America and The Field Guide to Lake Monsters, Sea Serpents, and Other Mystery Denizens of the Deep (with Patrick Huyghe). This blog covers Bigfoot, the Yeti, the Loch Ness Monster, and a bestiary of other real or imagined monsters, through eyewitness accounts, murky photographs, and rotting carcasses washed up on the shore. It’s always an entertaining read!


3. Tetrapod Zoology. This blog is by Darren Naish, a science writer and palaeozoologist, who covers everything from amphibians through to mammals (the tetrapods of the title), extinct or alive. The writing is technical but interesting, and some of Naish’s more amusing blog entries often strangely occur around the beginning of April. Unlike other scientists, Naish is also happy tackling more outré subjects such as cryptozoology and speculative zoology. If you’re at all interested in animals of any kind, particularly strange or spectacular ones you could adapt to a gamebook or RPG setting, then this is a good blog to read. A compilation of early articles from this blog is also now available as a book – Tetrapod Zoology Volume One – from Amazon, and well worth purchasing.


4. Fabled Lands. This recent blog is by two brilliant gamebook authors who need little introduction – Dave Morris and Jamie Thomson, although I don’t think Jamie has actually posted anything yet! The breadth and depth of material on here is absolutely amazing, spanning classic fantasy worlds such as Tekumel, Legend, and the Fabled Lands of the title, as well as some stunning new vistas, such as Abraxas, and obscure gems ranging from lost gamebooks to card-game prototypes. If you ever find yourself a little short on imagination, this is a blog that will reawaken your sense of wonder.


5. Grognardia. This blog is by James Maliszewski and concerns role-playing games and their history, classi pulp fantasy stories from days of your, reviews of new products from the Old School Renaissance movement, and accounts from sessions in Maliszewski’s megadungeon campaign, entitled Dwimmermount. It’s a very popular blog, and one reason why is the enormous amount of quality content it generates. When I first discovered Grognardia, I enjoyed it so much I went back all the way to 2008 and read through all the first 1000 blog entries. It’s that enthralling!


If you haven’t discovered any of these great blogs yet, then I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I do!




Laws, R. D. (2004, March 5). These things I pledge to you. Message posted to


Mongol, M. (2010, April 21). King of DragonPass: Epic fantasy means fantasy about cows. Accessed from


Why Blog?

Figure 1. The First Blog (picture by Nik Williams and taken from Livingstone (1988))

I washed my hands till they hurt then went to my room and smoked several cones. While the water was bubbling I caught sight of the picture of the Empire State Building by the window. I thought about Andy Warhol, and this led me to think about Velvet Underground, and then I remembered the Lou Reed/John Cale tape someone gave me for my birthday. Next thing I knew I had the tapes out and I was mixing Lou singing “Andy was a Catholic” with a sample from ‘Long Live Love’ over a fast dance beat. I decided to top it off with the sound of the bong, and it took me a hell of a lot of cones to get the water bubbling in the right rhythm. By the time I’d finished, I’d made eighty-five seconds and I was stoned off my head, totally unable to do what I was supposed to do – work on Big George’s barbie. Ah, but I had worked. That’s what George and Mum and people like them didn’t realize. I had worked. I’d made eighty-five seconds of something (Stevens, 1996, pp. 32-33).

While the above quote seems like a weird way to kick off a new blog (and do we really need another one of these beasts?), I think it perfectly captures the imaginative process we call creativity. Let’s face it – blogging is being creative. You’re typing out a bunch of text for the edification of yourself or for consumption by others. Gibson (2010, p. 9) notes that “Technocrati currently track[s] over 112 million blogs and over 175,000 new blogs being created worldwide every day”. That’s a lot of people being creative. What harm can one more do?

Waxing mystical about the creative process contravenes Laws’ (2004) Eleventh Law of his manifesto of blogging limitations. Nevertheless, creativity, or as Tolkien would describe it – Subcreation (for only the Creator God of whatever religion you choose to practice can Create!) – is “the building of sound and solid Secondary Worlds, and the goal of all art” (Carter, 1969, p. 90). Blogging as art? Hmmm… While that may prove a profitable future avenue of discussion (although I’m sure it’s been done), perhaps it’s time to ratchet this post back to an immediate and localized past – i.e. mine.

Why am I doing this? Strauss (2005) talks of a moment in his life when:
I was in a whirlwind of learning. I didn’t call my friends. I barely talked to my family. I turned down every writing assignment that came my way. I was living in an alternate reality (p. 144).
While my object of study was far, far more mundane than that of Strauss, I found myself in the similar and common predicament when an adult realizes that in order for them to get ahead or find a better job, they’re going to have to return to university and study part-time while working full-time. When both study and work revolve around acquiring and practicing the same knowledge, life becomes an 18 hour tutorial, interrupted only by sleep.

In my case, it was teaching, and one of the first tenets I learned was the art of reflection, a tool to “examine the present moment, to step back and consider the complementary and competing forces in a past situation, and to forge a path forward” (Snowman et al., 2009, p. 587). Educational reflection is not an easy process however, for it involves revisiting past experiences. Miller (2009) for instance says:
I found the suggestion insulting and disturbing. The idea of returning to a site of agony, shame, and ridicule was impossible. I was trying to forget school, not remember it (p. 909).
One of the ways to deal (or not deal!) with such a process is avoidance, and in the internet age, avoidance is easy! Allsopp (2010) notes most people online are looking for something to fill a need and avoid the school or office work they could or should be doing. In my case, this manifested as trawling through the plethora of blogs and their archives that were springing up on subjects I was interested in (I plan on talking about some of these in a future post). Naturally, this had a kick-on effect, and I starting thinking about things I’d like to see blogged but weren’t. Was there a niche to fill there, no matter how small? Perhaps, and hence this blog…

However, before looking at some of the things I will be blogging about, it’s worth looking at what I won’t do, and that’s nicely summed up by Laws’ (2004) Thirteen Laws in his manifesto of blogging, and partially summarized here:

  • No sickness
  • No mucus
  • No boredom
  • No awakenings
  • No venting
  • No weather
  • No linkage
  • No cats
  • No tech snafus
  • No mystical waxing on the creative process
  • No quizzes
  • No languages I cannot speak

In fact the only deviation, as we’ve seen, will be an occasional tendency to ponder the deeper mysteries of creativity, purely because it’s fun and I get a kick out of it! In addition, I can promise I will be blogging about a long list of hideously geekish ecletica:

  • Gamebooks
  • Role-Playing Games
  • Boardgames
  • My Play by Email projects
  • Books
  • Music
  • Films
  • Reviews of all of the above
  • …and an absolute dumpster-load of who knows what other cringe and wince-inducing obsessions…
Lastly, it’s worth noting that cyber-history has it all wrong. The word ‘blog’ was not originally devised by Jorn Barger, Peter Merholz, or Evan Williams (Baker, 2008). It was concocted by the English fantasy author and entrepreneur Ian Livingstone way back in 1988 in his Fighting Fantasy gamebook Armies of Death:
…you run towards the bush ahead. A small brown-skinned creature suddenly jumps out from behind it, pointing a long blowgun straight at you. You recognize it as a Blog because of its dog-like head and the shrunken heads that are tied to its belt. Infamous for cooking human flesh in large cauldrons, Blogs are hated and hunted down by all human races. A split second later, a poison dart is flying towards you… (paragraph 265 - see Figure 1).
And on that note, until next time!

Allsopp, G. (2010). The process that makes me thousands of dollars per month online. Message posted to

Baker, J. (2008, April 20). Origins of “Blog” and “Blogger”. Message posted to

Carter, L. (1969). Tolkien: A look behind The Lord of the Rings. New York: Ballantine.

Gibson, A. (2010). WordPress rules! In Beginner’s guide to WordPress (pp. 8-11). London: Imagine Publishing.

Laws, R. D. (2004, March 5). These things I pledge to you. Message posted to

Livingstone, I. (1988). Armies of Death. London: Puffin.

Miller, A. (2009). Pragmatic radicalism: An autoethnographic perspective on pre-service teaching. Teaching and Teacher Education, 25(2009), 909-916.

Snowman, J., Dobozy, E., Scevak, J., Bryer, F., Bartlett, B., & Biehler, S. (2009). Psychology Applied to Teaching: 1st Australian Edition. Qld: John Wiley & Sons.

Stevens, L. (1996). Big man’s barbie. Sydney: Vintage.

Strauss, N. (2005). The game: Penetrating the secret society of pickup artists. New York: HarperTorch.


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