The messenger smiles. “And to you he gives this sign of his bond.” He takes a fine ᚼ carnelian ring ᚼ, the prize of some ancient upriver raid, and fits it upon your hand. “Know that he has a care that your folk prosper. Olaf will call upon his jarls to take spear and fight, soon enough. So strengthen yourself and your folk. Prepare weapons and ships: he means to cross the sea and fight the Bretland Kings, proving his might and his claim there also.” You host the traveller for three days. In that time, you must slaughter for him a cow or two pigs or lose 5 DOMR. Turn to 330.
Olaf was King of Norway around 1000AD, which is (very loosely) when SAGA takes place – although I’m allowing the reader to participate in events from about 780-1200.
My current headteacher is also called Olaf, but I am not about to fight in his invasion of Britain.
My main draft is now 50,240 words, to be more precise. That’s 444 complete passages – and 405 is the most recent. It seems common practice among many gamebook authors to fill up their passages from 1 to 400 (or 800… or 1512 etc) and then re-order. I prefer to fix the numbers early on, as the number of links in an open-world gamebook can make re-numbering a real challenge. There are passages with more than twenty entry points, for example.
I’ve spent a few sessions planning the winter events at the four (yes, four!) settlement sites. There’s Brevik, the main settlement in which you begin as Jarl, and then three more locations you can scout, claim and settle. I mean to include the same mechanic in each other volumes, each of which has a planned starting settlement and three locations to start a new Viking story.
Anyway, early on in the sequence of settling, your folk will want to have the land shared out fairly. Fail this test (which is currently dependent on your DRENGSKAPR, with modifiers) and you will be sorry – particularly if Jorun is in your crew! She makes a great ally in battle, but she does not like wasting her time with arguments about farmland.
Yes, I’m still writing. This is a piece of SAGA I that I really like. I must have written it around five or six months ago, but re-reading my work to get back into the flow of things, this stood out for me as containing the flavour, and the mechanics, that I’m happy with.
The cloud is the death of your thegn Thord: the silver lining is getting his 1d8 axe.
There are around 50,000 words of SAGA I currently – as well as several spreadsheets of notes that feed into volumes II, III and IV. I missed last year’s deadline but the Spidermind gang have graciously allowed me more time to get this right.
What helps sustain a project like this? Good ear-music: Alan Stivell’s Ys, Zimmer’s Gladiator, other things that I can find that balance melody and atmosphere.
And I just read Pratchett’s biography A Life with Footnotes by Rob Wilkins. Now that was pretty galvanising! I held off for a bit (it was published last summer), but had some birthday book tokens and treated myself to a long walk, a burger and a bookshop visit after school one light last week. I enjoyed a lot of the family history – his upbringing – and a bit more information about his work as a journalist and press officer – but was really pleased to glean a little bit about his writing practice. Not that I mean to imitate him in that – but I have had an idea about some critical work examining his use of story structure for a long time. If I can get SAGA I done by the summer, you might get to see some extended essay posts – with infographics? – in the autumn as I explore how his Discworld stories are structured.
Sound dry? Well, I hope it won’t be. Among the best example of in-depth critique and analysis I enjoy for the writing alone – although the subject matter is pretty good too – is David Addey’s Typeset in the Future [book, blog]. Which I’m also waiting for in print, as another birthday voucher result, partly to enjoy re-reading and partly to help me think about how I want to present this stuff.
But in the meantime, 5:30-7:00am, and evenings when I can, it’s more Viking bloodshed and folk-leading. The seas are waiting for you and your wave-goat (knarr)!
What’s going on here? A mock-up of the ‘shipsheet’ that will be part of a reader/player’s record-keeping for SAGA. The background image is a lightly-modified version of the plans of Skuldelev I, which, as every Viking enthusiast knows, is the wreck of the large, ocean-going knarr found at Skuldelev in Denmark. Historical accuracy is pretty key for my project, so why not go straight from archaeology to gameplay?
What sort of features will be included in your shipsheet? Well, the number of your crew is vital: all are assumed to be able to participate in a raid, even if you are sailing a trading knarr, like shown here. Some of these may be wounded in battle or accident, so that’s got to be recorded, although maybe not by name. Total food is a bit of duplicate – as a single vaett of food contains 40 matr, and 1 matr costs 1 penningr and should be enough to sustain a single crew-member for a month – and a vaett occupies a single ‘room’ or cargo space in the vessel. A voyage might last 3-6 months, in the current system. Other cargo spaces might be 1 vaett of beer, or iron ore, or amber, or 2 cattle, and so on.
Your two thegns are vital: their drengskapr, vel, vithirdugr and styrkr can replace or reinforce yours during skill checks; their hylli represents their loyalty and contentment with your leadership. They can also support you in battle, using unique tactics, and have their own story-goals, plot-lines and quests. Think of them as supporting characters, or key members of your party.
The length of your voyage and the time since your most recent raid will also feed into crew contentment, which should be checked fairly regularly. The longer you are away sailing, of course, the more you risk bad weather when you return home, and the more you risk missing your harvest, putting your winter food stores in danger. Pretty key statistics, then.
This all gives the book a real solo role-playing-game flavour, with so many details to track. Yet so far, I’m convinced I’m balancing this out with the depth and colour of the world and the stories that are being told within it. I’ll have to share some more of that soon, and take your input.
In Saga, there are Kings and rulers scattered everywhere. This one, King Wihtred, rules the Island of Vecht, just south of Bretland – at least for the time being…
One of the pleasures of writing from a Viking perspective is trying to create names that sound or feel right – sometimes using combinations of old Norse, or translating toponyms, or making intentionally rough transliterations of the oldest names I can find for places. Some names are recorded, of course: the Suthreyar, the Northreyar, Jorvik and so on, and I find magical. Suthreyar in particular is very funny to me – I’ll have to write about it again.
I could never produce something actually accurate, but place names are always a mish-mash of different languages and cultures anyway, so all I’m aiming for is a map littered with beautiful sounds, which, if you think about or investigate, turn out to make some kind of sense. Any historians or linguists among my readers are more than welcome to stick their oar in!
Interested to hear more about this gamebook project, coming in 2023? Find out here. Haven’t seen the longer sample? Try this.
Tomorrow I will be sharing some free sample pages of a new gamebook, currently called Saga, at Fighting Fantasy Fest 4 in Ealing, West London. I’ll make them available here too in a couple of days, for you to download – and even print if you like.
Saga is a new open-world gamebook series written by me and commissioned, and to be published, by Spidermind Games, who may be known to you as the author and publishers of Legendary Kingdoms. The Spidermind team and I have a lot in common – both our existing series are developments of the Fabled Lands system in the books by Morris and Thomson, and more recently Paul Gresty. We have both crowdfunded our publications and I actually met Jon and Oliver at Fighting Fantasy Fest 3 some years ago.
In Saga you, the reader, will take up the mantle of a Viking Jarl, sailing your craft to raid or trade, caring for your folk in the settlement you leave behind and return to every year, slaughtering monks, exploring the oceans etc etc. It is more of a historically accurate adventure than some more recent retelling of Viking legends, but there is certainly magic – and the supernatural – in it.
I’m very pleased to be able to share this because I’ve been working on the project for over a year and have had to keep my lips sealed clam-tight. I’d rather be posting about my writing progress and sharing ideas – so from now on, expect that!
If you’re an avid reader of Steam Highwayman and you’re anxious to know whether this means that I’ve stopped work on that series (I’m looking at you, Darcy 😉 ), please don’t panic. Steam Highwayman IV-VI are in currently being written, but it is my intention to plan and write the entire three volumes before proceeding with another crowdfunding campaign. The opportunity to work with Jon and Oliver, and to widen my readership, as well as to work on commission rather than for the negligible profit of a Kickstarter, all convinced me to come to terms with them a year or so ago.
Also, if you noticed a recent post a couple of weeks ago teasing a new, completed Sharpsword publication, Saga isn’t isn’t that! That book (which is indeed complete) is simply waiting for the date of a launch party here in London to be set before I can go fully public.
So please watch out for the share here on my site, unless you’re coming to FFF4 tomorrow, in which case you can pick up a sample from my stall. As I mentioned before, I hope to be blogging a little more frequently now as well, since I don’t have to be quite so secretive.