Deconstruction of Trial of the Battle God
Otherwise known as “Thoughts on the 2012 Windhammer Prize entries - Part 3”
So to wrap up my Windhammer analysis, I’ll talk a little about my own entry: Trial of the Battle God. -Its design, my thoughts on it and those of others (and not in that order).
If you’ve played Trial of the Battle God, then this may make some sense to you ;)
So I’m actually going to start with what others thought, and then work back from there (we’ll see how this pans out - I’m not actually sure myself):
In the order that I received feedback (first to last) and without identifying who said what (I feel I either have to reveal the sources of all these comments: which I’m not sure all those involved are comfortable with, or none of them, so none is what I’ve chosen), here’s what others have said (and yes there’s a lot!):
* Note that some of these came from playtesting, so anything there that not’s relevant to the final version (it went through three iterations before the final version), I’ve removed *
“I've had a couple of run throughs. Overall it plays quite well. Things were even and easy to understand, combat works fine. The only criticism you may have is the amount of randomness involved, with die rolls and things like the magic ring dispenser and the mushrooms, rolling to see what happens. Personally I like it (reminds me of Warhammer Quest) but I know some people won't …
While the idea of the Battle Phase is unique, overall the book reminds me a lot of Duelmaster 4: Arena of Death …
I'll be voting for yours for sure, coz it's a lot of fun :) …
In the end it came down to originality for me, and so Trial of the Battle God and Andrew Wright's Guild of Thieves got the nod.”
“The whole thing's crafted well and the Battle Phrase idea's a unique one. However as you probably discovered, adding more mechanics introduces more issues which have to be solved! The multiplayer aspect is cool too …
It looks like a much better ending now! Well done :D”
“For a preliminary report, I must say it was fantastic; one of the funnest and most entertaining gamebooks I have read in a while …
I personally never had any difficulty with losing track of which paragraph I was on …
Trial of the Battle God reminded me of several other works, such as Deathtrap Dungeon, Arena of Death (Duel Master Gamebooks), and a bit of The Hunger Games. In particular Deathtrap Dungeon; in TotBG you have collect rings, in DD you have to collect gemstones, and in both the best solution has you meeting all your other competitors. However, TotBG does a much better job at creating an interesting dungeon and has much better mechanics. I really enjoyed creating my characters and putting them through the dungeon; being able to customize your character with race, powers and equipment was really entertaining and helped bring depth to the game. In the game itself I found it well planned out, especially the tactic of “herding” the player back to page 70. One of the greatest gamebooks in terms of mechanics out there …
Out of curiosity does the player have to compete again the next year? Do players even compete a second time? …
(On multiplayer mechanics) What about players running past each other? …
It sounded like you intended to maybe do more with this type of gamebook. Here are some things I think are a bit late to add in now (and would probably make you go over the 100 paragraph limit) but that I would love to see in the future:
- More opportunities to earn and spend gold in the dungeon
- Different terrain: how’s about a Trial in a forest? Or in a badlands and fields settings? Or even a combination! Run through the forest, enter the dungeon, etc.
-More long ranged weapons
-Choices in battle.
-A magic and combat abilities system. This would add choice to battle and make it much more strategic.
-Multiplayer team up?
-Flexible game types: can play games like capture the flag, juggernaut, team battle.”
“Reads reasonably easily and was certainly fun (took me about 1 hour using the hyperlinks).
I managed to procure 3 rings and was going for a 4th when I was brutalised by the Human Knight.
I did find the flicking back to sections a little difficult at times (kept forgetting to remember where I was).
I also was never quite sure if I was keeping precise track of the correct Battle Phase …
Otherwise, seemed to work well – I will try and get my mates to have a crack at the multiplayer version.
Oh and the Human Knight is absolutely tough to beat.”
“I found the remembering what section I was on a pain to remember …
So far I've had time to play 3 times. Died twice with my best ring result being 6 rings.
And completed it once with 5 rings (admittedly this time I sort of camped for a while.) Once you get the Broadsword you can pretty much own everything.
Fighting the damn knight when he has it, plus his half plate is nearly impossible ...
I have been playing as an elf & taking Spot, Stealth, Dodge & Prowess. Starting with 8 Prowess & Vit 19. Taking a Backpack, Leather Armour, Javelin & Short sword. Ed: Note that this is actually over the initial spend limit!
Having the ability in most fights to throw a javelin, then get your stealth attack in can be quite nasty...
I've played through from every location now, all with the same character.
Have finished it most times averaging about 4 rings per match.
If you camp after getting the Broadsword, you tend to not get as many chances as you do if you go looking for your opponent …
Unfortunately I haven't been able to try the multi-player version, but I can see that it would work quite well.
A very novel idea indeed …
Anyway I have really enjoyed giving it a good thrashing in my few spare moments …
I'm going to have to have another crack & see if I can up my score.
I think I'm going to have to owe you a beer too, you've given me something to fill my spare time in with at the office.”
“First playthrough, I got 71 with an orc named Derek. Amethyst, diamond, and topaz rings, and completed the trial. Got one hit on the battle god before getting splattered! …
It's very fun. I'm going to have another go later today with a different kind of character. My favourite opponent by far was the goblin acrobat. You could just see him spinning on down the corridor! …
OK, 4 tries later, (killed by the barbarian, then by the knight, then by the boulder) I managed to get Steve the gobbo through with 3 rings, stocked up with two potions and with the chainmail and the broadsword.
I had Dodge, First Aid, Parry, True strike, Fit 8, Vit 20. For eq: Short sword, 2 Potions and a Salve.
Got the zombie first up, beefing the armour. I killed the monk first for sapphire, got the speed potion and stocked up on potions again, then got the ruby and topaz rings in the kafluffle on turn 7. Went a-wandering again, but only managed to find the ophidian monster before mirrors exploded everywhere, and I was forced back into the temple with the battle god.
The speed potion took my FIT up to 11, which was necessary to break the "I need 8, you need 8" deadlock with him doing more damage (12 vs 8). I had two potions (having to drink one each time he hit me) and needed them both.to beat him with me doing a FIT check each round after I used true strike and succeeding, but chickening out at FIT 8.
Long live the gobbo battle god! 92 points!
I really like the way the dungeon collapses. That boulder took me by complete surprise, with FIT having meant so little in my previous games, I'd not taken any more at all. SPLATTO!
Seems as if the best way to play is to keep potions stocked, ensure DEF is high, then play the waiting game in the fights with a sh*t OFF and using potions until you get the broadsword.
I almost felt like I was cheating with the potions. I'd take one in combat if another hit would kill me, otherwise wait for first aid to kick in after I won, and many of the other combatants also had potions to restock from. I think either variable damage or a limit of one potion in a battle would be interesting to try …
I will keep an ear out to give multiplayer a go, as I think this would be interesting. This element reminded me of duel masters from when I was a kid. I had Duelmaster 4: Arena of Death and I spent many hours trying to get people to play it with me, although not that many hours actually playing it due to a weird reluctance from my friends.
The few times I did, I remember the actual encounters between the players being incredibly rare, and that this was a shame given that it was kind of the whole point. Maybe it would be more now that I read faster. The smaller size of your arena and having up to 6 players (!!) would fix all of that. Have you played it with six? I imagine it would be a hoot, and that there would be constant PvP fights.”
“Just had a bit of fun with this. Was cool making a character and playing through. I made a javelin hurling, sword using monk/ninja. Unfortunately I wasn't able to legally get to the end as I ended up wandering around a bit finding awesome gear and being a bit overpowered before skipping a bit …
All over I'd give it a 7/10 for fun vs time.”
“Won! I got three rings, defeating the Undead Assassin, the Acrobat and the Knight …
Fun book. I did wonder what happened to the other contestants as their rings never turned up. Presumably they got done in by the ones I did kill.
Completed the book on my first run without dying, but only defeated the knight through liberal use of healing potions during combat … Otherwise I would have gotten creamed as my DEF was only 2 …
The text seems pretty clean …
Parry and True Strike are quite handy as if you load up on skills rather than stats, as I did, you can only withstand a few hits and need combat to end fast …
The idea hangs together quite nicely I think. The biggest issue is perhaps the "losing place" thing, but you're well aware of that and have done all you can to prevent it.
For what it's worth, I lost my place once, then read the rules again and realised how the book worked. It wasn't a problem after that.”
“The system looks great! A bit heavier than I usually see in a gamebook, but I'm very impressed by the way space and time is handled, and especially by the multiplayer capability. I'm actually going to grab a friend and see if we can go through this together …
I managed to get a handful of four friends together and play through the multiplayer. We had a great time! I think the whole structure, using time and space, is very clever and innovative …
I thought the premise was very cool, and the execution was immaculate. The only thing I would say that didn't come together that well, as far as the whole, overall experience goes, is just that it was so focused on combat. If there was more dynamism in the actual combat system itself, that might have held up better, but the only real choices you make are in character creation, and after that it's mostly just the luck of the dice. And the element of luck felt very strong. There were numerous times when it came down to ‘Whoever gets the next hit will win’ and it could go back and forth even three or four times with both parties missing until someone landed a blow. I mean, that made for tense moments, but it didn't give much of a sense of personal satisfaction. It didn't leave you feeling like you earned it.
I mean, in the space available, I think the combat system is about as well developed as it could be, and the whole thing is very well put-together for what it is. The essential problem is just that it's a short gamebook; you've already pushed the limits of how many rules can be reasonably squeezed into a short gamebook. I don't think much more dynamism and depth could be added without adding more complexity as well, complexity that a gamebook of this scope can't really support.
But like I said, for what it is, which is basically an arena-style deathmatch with some awesome exploration/encounter management mechanics, it's done very well.
Incidentally, in case you're curious, in our game we had an orc specializing in damage, a dwarf geared to the max for combat, a human specializing in survivability, and an elf with stealth, spot, agility and lots of fitness. None of the PC characters ever ran into each other until the last room, when we all got funneled together. The people who got there first got an advantage, because they were able to pick up the broadsword. But it didn't matter, because the dwarf, through a combination of a good build and good luck, killed all three of the rest of us one after another. I was playing the elf, and I was doing very well, until a couple bad rolls against the 10 damage dealing dwarf got me splattered.
A couple individual points we came across while playing. (These are copy-pasted from the playtest notes from several days ago):
-There is one clearly superior weapon, and the differences in prices isn't enough to make it worth taking the hit to both offence and damage from taking any other weapon.
-Corollary to that, the placement of the broadsword is kinda weird. As far as we found, it was the best weapon, * Ed: One could argue that the Shining Scimitar on section 20 is better * but there was absolutely no challenge in getting it except getting to the end first.
-Healing salve is hands down better than the Healing Potion.
-Lucky charm in section 1 is completely irrelevant unless you've played it before. Even then, it only matters if you use meta-game knowledge.
-Section 43, I don't know which way I came from !
-Fitness is *almost* an excellent mechanic in combat. It's the only thing that actually gives you any choice in combat. But it doesn't add enough. The fact that you can end up damaging yourself makes it almost not worth it … It added some dynamism, but ended up being not very popular with my playtest group because of how much it can hurt you.
-Most decisions are made in character creation.
-No puzzles in the dungeon. * ED: There’s actually two riddles, but these aren’t particularly easy to find *
-You stumble around blindly … When you do fight another player, combat itself is mostly random, beyond the decisions made in character creation.
-Choices for players in combat (more than fitness, which isn't so much a choice as a statistical directive) would be good.
-Dislike: Lack of player choice in combat and seeming randomness to game action, both in encounters and in combat.
Like: A strategic element arose in movement between rooms, in that you could possibly try to run into someone by staying in a given room, or attempt to withhold, etc. To the extent that that happened, it was good.”
“This fantasy version of The Hunger Games has you and seven NPC heroes thrown into a dungeon to fight to the death for glory and your respective nations' prosperity. I am of two minds on this one. On the one hand, a LOT of effort has gone into the game mechanics, which allow your enemies to wander the dungeon the same as you, gaining strength as they loot fallen foes and such. And these mechanics work marvelously, as does the point-based character creation. The writing is also pretty good, for a dungeon-crawl. And it has multiplayer rules, too! For a second time I am amazed by how much an author has crammed into 100 sections. On the other hand, it's an INCREDIBLY combat-centric game. On occassion, you'll find some new weapon or armor or have to negotiate some obstacle, but for the most part you're wandering the maze, battling. And every battle is hard. The enemy heroes are built using the same rules as your character, which means they all have average to above-average stats. So Trial of the Battle God winds up unintentionally spotlighting the biggest problem with dice-based combat: no matter how powerful you are, you have to get lucky or die. You can search for (or loot) new gear, but the way the combat system is set up that hardly matters; I got stronger, but doing so didn't improve my chances in any given battle. Compare The Enchanted Windmill, which used a similar system for resolving combat, but made sure that a boost to your stats actually had an effect. There's an excellent idea for something here, but that something ain't a gamebook. I'm thinking something more like a gamebook/boardgame hybrid. Something that lets the multiplayer rules really shine. As a single-player gamebook, it's a lot of good, solid craftsmanship put into an idea that just isn't fun.”
“While I love the premise, this game has many problems for me. The player is required to do far too many administrative and memorization tasks. The character sheet, for instance, has 15 places for player data entries with two getting divided into lists of 8 and 10, plus a table. There is also conceptual redundancy. I know each stat has a different purpose, but OFFENCE and DAMAGE sound like they mean the same thing, as do FITNESS and VITALITY. We must also know their abbreviations.
I find this is too elaborate and overwhelming. Some things could have been trimmed, like gold, certain items, and the FIT check battle option. What are the odds that six players will all want to work through 8 pages of rules, especially for a quick 100 section game?
As a side note, would Elves, Orcs, Goblins, and Undead all celebrate with a "lavish festival" as described in section 1? And, would all these diverse cultures manufacture javelins as their preferred missile weapon?
I could be mistaken, but I think the goal is for the game to keep track of enemy locations, while the player strategizes around them. This may be similar to the tank simulator minigame in Fighting Fantasy #12: Space Assassin. However, I didn't feel a need to care about foe location since I was told I must kill everyone to win.
A typical encounter (section 11, for example) forces the player to resolve a massive five IF/THEN statements. While I counted "if" five times in the text, there are actually more when you count the battle itself and player options such as javelin throwing, spot check, etc. Video games are great because the IF/THEN statements are invisible and handled by the computer. In a gamebook, too many of these statements treats the player as a computer. Things get even more out of hand with multiple item checks in section 27.
Some victories lead to sorting through far too many items, referring us back to the rules section for their descriptions. This happens right after going back to consult the combat table several times. It feels like more of a punishment than a reward. Finding less gear would make each piece feel like a precious resource. The items also lack the novelty and intrigue of new treasure because we are already familiar with them. When writing short gamebooks, I think we all sometimes fall into the trap of revealing outcomes on a single section to be economical.
I think the use of multiple enemy AI is a great idea, though it should not rely on the player doing so much work.”
“OH. MY. GOD. This is amazing. Absolutely astounding. Tons of replayability, the ability to play with friends, lots of options... clearly a TON of work went into this. My hat is off to you, sir. Definitely in my top two.”
“Trial of the Battle God certainly stretches the gamebook genre; how you managed to fit all this into 100 references is beyond belief. The setting, of course, is nothing new but the mechanics are ingenious – I can only imagine how much more popular Deathtrap Dungeon would have been if the other Trial contestants were moving independently of you. I didn’t test the multiplayer option but can imagine that this would be a lot of fun to play with friends. If innovation was the sole judging criteria, I think the Windhammer Prize would already have your name on it.
That being said, I didn’t vote for Trial of the Battle God for a number of reasons. The very mechanics that make the adventure so innovative also slow it down badly – I was constantly losing track of the Battle Phase, for instance, and having to flick back through the paragraphs to work it out. I never got properly immersed in the adventure because I was too busy trying to keep track of what reference I should be on. I kept thinking that Trial of the Battle God would work better as a board game than a gamebook.
The setting was very conservative, even for a dungeon, using stock fantasy traps and monsters. There was no problem solving and minimal artefact acquisition, everything boiling down to a straight fight between the contestants. I accept that this was the basic premise but I would have enjoyed the trial more if I could have enhanced my chances of winning it by choices made in the game. Plus point: my Chaotic Evil soul liked the fact that you gave me the option to play as an evil (orc, goblin or undead) character.
For me personally, however, the main drawback is the weak storyline. I think the background to an adventure is not only there to justify the adventure itself (i.e. why the player is about to risk his life) but also serves to add colour to the encounters themselves. How’s this for a multiplayer scenario:
The intergalactic freighter Neptune (the dungeon) is adrift in deep space, its systems failing (cue traps). Rival teams of pirates (PCs) are racing to be the first to salvage the valuable cargo but are unaware that what first caused the Neptune to become derelict is still very much alive (wandering monsters).”
“The use of battle phases as a global clock is really interesting. It allows for a much deeper level of gameplay as the reader tries to position himself and stay out of the enemies’ way.
Though I didn’t have the chance to use the multiplayer, I think it looks like a lot of fun.
The combat rules are very deep, but also very complicated. This is a matter of taste, but I tend to like systems that are simple and hence don’t distract too much from the story …
The way your opponents move through the dungeon added an interesting new dimension to combat. I played hide and seek with the other contestants by guessing their route. This added a lot to my decision making because I had to think about what every other player was up to. I'd really like to see this again, perhaps integrated into a larger story somehow.”
“Pros: Good game system and effective writing. The multiplayer system is interesting and in terms of game system and effects, it is really very impressive.
Cons: The story is essentially just combat encounter upon combat encounter, and while that can be fun for a while, a gamebook really needs more than that to keep the reader engaged. There is also a question about the scaling of the difficulty; I suspect it would require a fairly lucky person to actually fight their way through the story without cheating. * Ed: On this point, fortunately playtesting established otherwise :) *
Summary: Impressive system, but a bit too much of a game, not enough a book”
- introduction is deceptively narrative for such a combat-centric/wandering game
- nice boss battle
- lots to keep track of -- perhaps some rules (like "can't be lower than 1") could be incorporated into the character sheet
- confusing to have different costs for different attributes
- like how the rules of the trial explain gamebook rules but within the context of the world
- multiplayer capability very cool (but untested as of yet)
- having to flip to a new reference and then back is kind of a hassle when done regularly (and having to very carefully pay attention to wording, such as "turn first")
- time-tracking (with battle phases) was pretty smoothly handled
I ended up getting overwhelmed by this one. Despite descriptive writing, encounters were fairly standard (except the god at the end) and numbers were so ubiquitous (even more so than a typical gamebook, at least in my experience) that I had trouble really sinking into this one. I think there's a fair emphasis on the "game" part of gamebook, which sadly is not my preferred inclination. But it's very expertly put together, and I think this would do very well when I'm in a mood for, say, a first-person shooter, but on paper.”
“Innovative and complex. I really like the dynamic nature of the dungeon and its contestants - this must have taken some planning.
Skills purchase fun - like an RPG.
Good reason for a dungeon crawl.
It plays like a computer game, including the clever ways of including multiplayer and the hall of fame.”
“I thought your gamebook was very impressive, and very well written indeed.”
MY OWN REVIEW
So what did I think? Well firstly here again is the scores I gave it (as according to my own rating system, and of course my own preferences and bias):
DESIGN - 10
STORY - 8
WRITING - 9
CLARITY - 8.5
PLAYABILITY - 9.5
MY OVERALL SCORE: 90% (1st place)
As far as the design goes, I gave it 10/10 as you can see. This doesn’t mean however that I think it’s “perfect” (I don’t believe such a thing is possible), but it is the only 10 I’ve scored for any of the Windhammer entries in any category. Why? Well as far as I’m aware, this is the first gamebook to ever feature a design that incorporates not only seven “programmed” opponents that are moving around the dungeon independently of you, but up to six players as well. The Duelmaster books for instance (and I’m actually basing this on the Duelmasters 1 and 2, as I’ve not read the others - including Arena of Death that this has been compared to), and others like them such as the Black Baron/White Warlord books, only allowed for two players and didn’t have other opponents also moving around. Basically (and I know this will sound egotistical, but I also believe it to be true), I consider this design to be a revolutionary one that could spawn a whole new “gamebook genre” on its own.
It’s the nature of this design (that it can be played with differing builds, differing strategies, starts you in a different place each time, has a “high-score table” to strive for and handles multi-player as well) that also gives me cause to score it 9.5 for Playability. I think gamebooks as a whole have a “playability issue” in that once completed, you have little cause to revisit them (however things such as achievements as seen in Gamebook Adventures and Ashton Saylor’s Legacy of the Zendari help to provide incentive). Which is why I’ve not scored another Windhammer entry higher than 8.5 (and only Legacy of the Zendari did I give that score to). I’m sure more can be done to increase Playability in Trial of the Battle God, but I’m not exactly sure what (within the scope of 100 sections and 23,000 words - for which mine was just 20 words under that limit in the end): I’d already crammed as much as I possibly could think of into this design.
I think it’s fair to say (and it certainly seems to me that everyone who’s played it is in consensus on this point) that it’s the design elements of Trial of the Battle God that are its strengths. This entry to me, was always about the design (which I might add, is in some ways the conceptual opposite of Infinite Universe, which was narratively-focused and featured a specific character with a strong sense of identity and history). The design came first, and then I just added in the story, setting etc to justify it. For what it is, I (subjectively) feel that the story; minimal though it is; is adequate for the job (but nothing amazing: aside from Hunger Games, Deathtrap Dungeon, etc that others have mentioned, the idea of a “dungeon deathmatch” occurs in countless stories and games). The writing too is as good as it needs to be for its purpose: to support the “game”. But in both these categories, I’ve scored numerous entries higher (particularly when it comes to story).
Lastly on Clarity I also scored numerous entries higher. I pushed the boundaries of what is possible to do in a gamebook, and most of the work I did iterating this entry through different playtesting versions with 15 odd playtesters was focusing on how to make it clearer and easier to manage in terms of tracking and complexity. I consider this a “proof of concept” that establishes it is possible, but it was always going to be a stretch, and too much for some. Furthermore, as some have noted, this design isn’t suited so much to a paper-based gamebook (where you need to expose all the inner workings to the player as they’re the ones who need to make it work) as it is to a computer game or a board-game. You may not be surprised to know then that I not only went with this design in the hope of it becoming a Tin Man Games app (where many of these mechanics could be handled by code and hidden from the player), but also that this design is in fact based on a board game: a board game of my own design that hasn’t ever been released.
I had considered doing other things for my Windhammer entry (that were all more story-based with less emphasis on game mechanics) but I kept coming back to this idea. Unlike the other ideas, I considered that this was something truly different, and once I figured out that it was possible to do within the constraints of the competition, I wanted to see if it could actually be made to work. (I also wanted to test my 2D6 conversion of the Gamebook Adventures system). Complication aside, I believe I succeeded (but one can always strive to do things better next time) and I’m proud of what I did. No it wasn’t to everyone’s taste but this is the price of doing something completely different I think, and it’s also by taking risks to do something different that I think we advance. I’m sure the first time people looked at Tunnels and Trolls and Dungeons and Dragons in the late seventies for example, they were quite sceptical of whether anyone would ever want to play them too, due to the complex rules etc (and we know where that ended up haha). I’m motivated to create new things not to follow the “status quo” but always to attempt something that hasn’t been done before. Sometimes people appreciate you for that, and other times not so much (yes it does tend to polarise opinion, but that comes with the territory I think)… But rest assured it’s something I’ll keep doing haha.
COMMENTS ON THE DESIGN
I actually don’t want to say too much about the “board game” (/role-playing game /card game) that the design of Trial of the Battle God comes from, as for one I don’t want to give away too much, and for two I actually hope to release it in some form in the near future (that could be as a larger gamebook, a “board game”, a computer game, or any combination of these). In order to do this however, I’ll need to build up some more capital first (I don’t consider crowdsourcing a viable option yet, as for that to work I need a larger “publicity platform” than what I have at the moment: but we’ll see). Suffice to say anyway that this game (well games), is something I’ve spent many many years on (the original version I did in 1985 when I was 10 and it’s evolved through seven or so editions, expansions etc since then). It fills about four drawers in my room, has had roughly a hundred playtesters (and maybe ten contributors) over the years, and it is probably somewhere around half my life’s creative output to this point (in other words, if you add up the total time I’ve spent working on every other creative piece, novel, album and game, it’s roughly equal to the time I’ve spent on this “one” project: I guess that makes it my “life’s work” and like any “masterpiece”, it’s never actually finished haha). This “game” (more of a modular system spanning multiple game paradigms but anyway) already includes all the things others suggested above to expand Trial of the Battle God, and a huge amount more innovations and crazy ideas beyond that :)
Okay so now to stop prattling on about my “grand design” and return to the design of Trial of the Battle God:
So I had the idea (based on elements of this “uber game” of mine) for a deathmatch in a dungeon, with multiple opponents moving around which could also be multi-player. That was the easy part (as was the writing itself incidentally).
I had a bunch of laminated “game tiles” that I’d already created (that each consisted of an 8x8 grid of squares appropriate for typical tabletop miniatures) that could be combined in an almost endless variety of arrangements. One of these sets of game tiles had a dungeon theme, another a cave theme, and I used some of each of these to create my layout.
This layout of course, is the one you saw at the very top of this post. Once I had done that, (and fiddled with it a bit to get the layout I wanted: which included shading in some rooms to make solid wall, adding doors etc), I needed to establish where your opponents would start, and by virtue of that, where you could possibly start.
I used miniatures to do this, which also then enabled me to plot the different paths that your opponents would take, where they would meet each other and what items (and injuries) they might pick up as a result. I also needed to establish when and how the dungeon would collapse into a single room: a mechanic necessary to ensure that the tournament is forced to a conculsion. (Otherwise you could in theory keep wandering around forever!) And I also needed to establish a few extra “tournament rules” (such as not being able to “camp” in one location and not being able to retreat from combat against opponents) in order to fit the design into 100 sections.
I established how many sections I needed for room/corridor locations (and a small number of sub-sections within this, say for example if the player chose to ring a bell within a room), then how many sections I needed to handle opponent encounters (which in turn also depends on when you encountered them: some opponents having multiple such sections as they acquired more items and injuries over time), how many sections I needed to handle the collapsing of the dungeon into a single room, and finally how many sections I needed to handle the complicated logic of the final room.
The breakdown ended up being something like this:
* 49 sections for locations (including starting locations and location-specific events that are not time-based).
* 13 sections for opponent encounters.
* 25 sections to handle the collapsing of the dungeon.
* 13 sections to handle the final room logic.
Initially I had somewhere around 120 required sections, so needed to find ways to optimise the design to use less sections to make it all fit. This was particularly the case with the final room logic (which is why the logic there ended up so complicated to make it fit), which has to handle all the possible combinations of whether each of four different opponents are alive, plus the time in which you arrive there. Basically without “compressing the logic” here, you’d otherwise need 16 sections just to handle all possible opponent combinations, but then even more sections to cover the additional combinations for the time at which you arrive there. Yes it got complicated (and did my head in at the time to figure out how to optimise).
Once I’d figured out how many sections I needed for each of these mechanics, I created a gamebook skeleton with all the logic laid out. I added in the rules and combat stats, plus the game stats of any events or items that were at the differing locations. At this point, the gamebook was technically playable, even though the actual text (i.e. description and story) wasn’t even in yet. That came last (this includes the background for the start and the ending), and was actually the easiest part! (Being a “classic fantasy dungeon” it was pretty easy really to write: especially since I needed to keep things generic enough that it could be for any one of the number of different races that the player might choose for their character).
The pre-Windhammer versions had all section numbers hyperlinked too (which as I discovered, caused problems when being converted): which made things a bit easier for the playtesters. Unfortunately this feature couldn’t be included in the actual version (which compounded the difficulties for players in that they couldn’t click back to automatically return to the section they came from). So I tried to do all I could think of to make things easier for the players to handle these mechanics. I also added in numerous clarifications which pushed my word count over the limit, so I had to do things like instruct the players to refer back to the items list for details on what the item did, in order to bring the word count back under the limit. In short, I tried to squeeze as much design as I possibly could into Trial of the Battle God, and it’s pleasing at least to see that that was noticed! It did however, have its drawbacks ;)
Whilst I could go on about the design, I think I’ve said more than enough (okay far too much) for a single blog post... In fact I wonder if anyone will actually read this whole post haha; it’s a bit of a monster! But like I indicated above, I would like to expand on this design and release it in other formats… It’s all a matter of time and money to put into this really… But hey if you’ve read this and think “gee I’d like to help with that”: be it helping to design, write, or gee, even fund it, then contact me by all means, and it just may be possible in the (nearish) future!
In the meantime *looks at the growing mountain of other obligations* I best get going!
Until next time!
P.s. Have you figured out that I’m a freak yet? ;)
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I very much enjoyed your entry and it claimed one of my two votes. The design was exceptional and I really appreciated the amount of work that would have gone into keeping track of the movements of all the competitors and shutting down the dungeon in stages at the end. To me this work hinted at what the future of gamebooks might be like, and opens up a world of multiplayer possibilities as well. I think you are capable of better writing (I've just finished The Dark Horde which I think proves that) but the love and care you've put into the mechanics of this gamebook is clear to see, and well worthy of a vote from me
Many thanks for your kind words Torallion! I certainly agree that the design demonstrates a whole range of multi-player possibilities: both for competitive (i.e. player versus player) and co-operative (i.e. players are trying to achieve a common goal) play. Whilst I think gamebooks (like reading itself) will tend to remain a primarily solitary activity, I certainly think that there is huge scope for new designs that encourage multi-player modes. Whilst this idea isn't new (Duelmaster etc being examples of competitive multi-player, Blood Sword being an example of co-operative multi-player), there's always new ways in which it can be applied
I am the author of Dating a Witch.What you did really sounds revolutionary. It may be interesting to note that in Bulgaria we had a series of such gamebooks bridging with board games. Each of them came with a complicated character generation system, as well as several cards, maps, dices and so on. Almost all of them had multiplayer features and game dezign was considered more important than the story. There were effors to patent them, however they were unsuccessful.
The experiment was not very successful. One of the rules I discovered for myself is that gamebook fans tend to be traditionalists and if you move a step outside their expectations, the feedback will be negative.
If you need more information about the so called strats, I can provide you with links to scanned copies. You won't be able to read the language, but might be interested to get a glimpse.
Hi Ivailo! Thanks for your comments: this Bulgarian gamebook series sounds very interesting, and I'd be interested to have a look! What's it called? -It does sound like it has many of the same elements as what a board-game conversion of Trial of the Battle God would have. I also agree that it wouldn't be to everyone's liking (and the more you do something different, the more negative criticism you can attract)... But ultimately if I've got the time and the money, it's something I'd love to do cos I think it'd be awesome fun, and think some others would too... Anything beyond that is a bonus
I feel a bit guilty that I didn't try harder with the Bulgarian entries for Windhammer such as your entry, and appreciate how hard it is to do something well in another language, hmm maybe I should learn Bulgarian hey?
This is the 2nd Strateguc Gamebook - Lord and Magician. William and Lauren play it towards the end of Dating a Witch. The pictures...are not original. You can choose between 12 pcs and there are 12 npcs +mobs and monsters.
The sequel of the above - Lord Dragon. Here the choice of heroes is limited to 6, but there are roaming groups of creatures that move every turn.
Don't feel bad about struggling with my entry. My dream is to write a big gamebook (600+ sections). This time I will write it in English directly and I hope it will be better. Then I may ask you to take a look at it. Meanwhile, if you need to test something written by you, you can send it to me.
Well, I believe my writing in Bulgarian is almost as bad as it is in English .
Thanks Ivailo, however I can't access the links you posted (think I need to create an account and login for that?) Anyway you can always send me stuff via email: brewin(at)infinitespiral(dot)com(dot)au -Happy to have a look at your new gamebook too when you have something you want to share (and I have time to look at it!) I think some of the things that make you a "better writer" aren't that hard to master, so happy to pass on some tips. (But there's also plenty of advice to be found on the internet of course!)
...When I actually get to playtesting (which won't be for a long while yet!) I'd love to send something through to you, and others in "your community" as it sounds like it'd be quite well understood there, and also that there would be a lot of experience to draw on for advice since you've played something similar. But hopefully there'll be a few ideas in the mix that you haven't seen