Book of Legends

Online chat has unearthed another open-world gamebook project that launched in 2023, but seems to have hidden beneath the radar for a little while. Book of Legends: The Eternal Empire is the Prologue Volume (that’s book 0 in a projected 10-book series) by Steven W Huggins.

Let’s not deny that a 10-book series is an ambitious undertaking – yet the 200-passage sample has already impressed me. It has a self-contained, explorable region that gives a great introduction to a world of fantastical-extended-Roman-empire that I find pretty original, while also feeling reminiscent of the Sorcery books. A colossal amount of work has gone into preparing the ground for a big series – there are around 50 pages of rules, mechanics and introduction in a 152-page printed copy – and the attention to detail is convincing. Huggins has also used a variety of mechanics – codewords, tickboxes and time-counters – to create an environment that responds and changes as you explores it – which is where the reminiscence to The Seven Serpents particularly comes in.

Online the author talks of being deep into the first volume – and veterans know that when publishing a series, a gamebook author should really be using a formula like (estimated time of writing) x 2 + 2 years. But I think this is one that I will be following…

Speaking of open-world series, Dave Morris is talking of completing the Vulcanverse saga… I’ve been working today on a long series of articles on How to Write an Open-World Gamebook (Series) [link coming when completed!] since they’ve been requested plenty of times, and I haven’t even ventured into the Vulcanverse, let alone mapped them! Book of Legends 0, on the other hand, has been a nice little mapping project.

Decapod distractions

No, I’ve not been obsessed with lobsters for a whole month. But it is a full four weeks since I have been able to put any time into Steam Highwayman IV: Princes of the West, currently in draft. Since Delemand the Bull, I’ve been busy with my other work, ministering at church, raising my family and taking some holiday.

But today I’m back with a vengeance. A rest is good: by the end of March I was getting dry and rather frustrated with the difficulties of structuring a project as large as Steam Highwayman IV. A view weeks without directly thinking about it has allowed some things to rise to the surface – and one of those is lobster-potting.

Steam Highwayman was never meant to be simply a combat-based robbery simulator: the name was the best fit for an adventure within a realist Steampunk world. Originally I planned parallel tracks, a la Fabled Lands, for your main character: you could be a gambler, a rat-catcher, a chimney-sweep, a detective etc… In the end, each of these has become a minor quest within the Steam Highwayman world – and to be honest, I doubt Steam Ratcatcher would have grabbed as committed an audience or proven to be as sustainable a project.

But Cornwall isn’t Cornwall without the coast, and the coast isn’t the coast without fishing. Or lobsters. Taking Steam Highwayman to sea, not just along a river, like in the first three books, will prove to be a big piece of work. Fabled Lands and Legendary Kingdoms have both done it, with varied success – some of which I mean to mimic. But unless the Steam Highwayman can skipper a craft out beyond (or below…?) the Imperial blockade and bring back contraband, I’ll miss the greatest opportunity of a Cornish gamebook: smuggling. And the flipside of smuggling is fishing.

So lobster-potting – which is a little more about patience, rather more static, and certainly as luck-based – is my starting place. And to be honest, isn’t there something very steampunk about lobsters? I just read The Swordfish and the Star here in the library, which was really a sort of third-person collected memoir of Cornish life, and a great deal of it was about the hard lives of western Cornish fishermen.

It’s also been a bit of time to take stock. My self-built website shop, the Highwayman’s Hamper, has begun to make profit, and I’ve been sending off the remaining copies of the Gormley-Watt Touring Guide. I’ve invested some of those takings (each sale makes me double what an Amazon or bookshop sale makes me) into a trader’s spot at the upcoming Fighting Fantasy Fest 5 in Ealing, hosted by Jon Green. At this rate, I might not have too many remaining Touring Guides to sell, but I have a lot of loose maps, and it’s always great to be present in person at this event: it is really the only convention for gamebooks anywhere. Two years ago, I was bringing samples of Saga… Back at Fighting Fantasy Fest 2, my first, I was dropping flyers for the Kickstarter for Steam Highwayman: Smog & Ambuscade and giving free samples to influencers…! I’m very grateful to Jon for all he’s done to keep the flame burning in the recent decades, as he bridged the gap between the first golden age of gamebooks and the current renaissance, as well as running the convention.

In fact, if you fancy supporting him and the subject takes your fancy, he is currently kickstarting the most recent in his series of Ace Gamebooks: Shakespeare Vs Cthulu: What Dreams May Come.

But I’ve got to get back to lobsters before I can get onto Kickstarter again. I love running a crowd-funding project – I’ve discovered that they’re a part of this career of being an independent author that I actually really enjoy – and I’d love to get SH4 up there before the end of the year… So I’d better finish with the lobster-potting, the smuggling, the ambushes, the main quest, the inter-book links, the beer descriptions, the illustration briefs, the cover illustration brief, the marketing preparations, the playtesting, the issuing to playtesters, the editing and correcting…

A New Saga

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.

How the Wheels Turn…

My next update for the Steam Highwayman III: The Reeking Metropolis has gone live on Kickstarter, and it looks like it will be almost the last.  Over the last eighteen months, I’ve been regularly updating my backers on the progress of the project.  Now, I’ll only need to update individuals, as a large proportion of backers already have their rewards in their hands and the vast majority are shipped and on their way.  What a lot has changed in those eighteen months!

There’s also been a great deal of change for gamebooks in that time.  Brian Hazzard’s excellent Instadeath Survivor’s Support Group podcast has appeared, providing the gamebook community with interviews and playthroughs, Alba and Legendary Kingdoms have been the two most successful gamebook Kickstarters ever (I can give them that, even if some of their other statistics are up for debate!) and countless individual titles have been released by independent authors.  There are entirely new gamebook authoring careers blossoming, like Kurosh Shadmand’s – who you can find featured as Lord Hadrian Beaufort in a duel atop the Monument in The Reeking Metropolis, courtesy of Russ Nicholson.

But as for me, I’m keen to get Steam Highwayman III fully fulfilled.  I’ll then spend a little more time working on this website – so watch out for some changes – and do some preparation of marketing materials.  Then I’ll be releasing The Reeking Metropolis for general sale.  I’m currently helping my wife prepare a book of her own for publication – I’ll certainly write more about that here – and I have a couple of stories I would like to write without the pressure of delivering them to an audience.

Oh, and there’s the app coming.

Two Weeks to Launch

It’s only two weeks until the Kickstarter for Steam Highwayman III: The Reeking Metropolis goes live! In 14 day’s I’ll be sitting here at my laptop, excitedly watching as old friends reappear and new backers (I hope!) discover the joy of adventure as a free-spirited Steampunk hero.

Kickstarter is always changing, and one new feature is the ability to watch upcoming projects! With this in mind, I’m very happy to share the link for the campaign. If you choose, you can be notified the moment the project goes live (currently scheduled for 7pm GMT, 23rd January), and you’ll have the best chance of bagging one of the strictly limited reward levels… I’ve had to limit the number of draw-ins (when a backer can be drawn into the illustration) after talking with Russ.

Russ and I have been enjoying our recent preparing for the interior illustration. If you’re interested to see some of the references we’ve been discussing, you could do far worse than to take a look at his Gallery Website – particularly this post which features lots of gamebook art from the 90s and the images I’m reposting below.

These have a real moody Victorian flavour – just what I’m looking for, for The Reeking Metropolis. This won’t be an exact example of what will be inside Steam Highwayman III, but they were some of the images Russ shared with me when expressing interest in the job. Do explore his site some more and enjoy his fabulous world-building which so complements the series he has illustrated.

Next week I’ll be providing some sneak previews of the rewards and backer levels I’ll be offering – so don’t go far! Remember – YOU are the Steam Highwayman!

Fighting Fantasy Fest III

In just under two weeks’ time I’ll be at Fighting Fantasy Fest III, in Ealing, to showcase Steam Highwayman and to meet up with others in the gamebook community. FFF3 is a small convention born out of the international appreciation for the incredible Fighting Fantasy gamebook series – the ones that probably did the most to popularise gamebooks in the UK, and possibly worldwide. People come from all over the world to meet authors and illustrators of the original 54 books, including Jon Green, who organises the event.

But FFF3 isn’t simply backward looking. It’s also the hub for the future of the gamebook renaissance in the UK. Dozens of writers of self-published or amateur gamebooks, of a wide variety of styles, will be attending. Some are members of the Gamebook Authors Guild, a new group for independent writers, and some are simply fans of the original Fighting Fantasy series who are flexing their own muscles. At the previous convention, Fighting Fantasy Fest II in 2016, I met James Schannep, who writes the Click Your Own Poison series of interactive novels, as well as Jon Ingold, narrative director at Inkle. This was also the very first place I publicised Steam Highwayman: Smog and Ambuscade, and the organisers were good enough to let me flyer recklessly as well as hand out some freebies and sample pages.

I’ll have a stall and Smog and Ambuscade and Highways and Holloways will be available for purchase, but I’ll also be publicising the upcoming Steam Highwayman: The Reeking Metropolis Kickstarter campaign. Attendees will be able to see the smoking, shining Ferguson Velosteam by Captain Seekerman in all its 3d-printed glory and even get a glimpse of some limited Kickstarter reward samples…

I’ve also been honoured to be asked to conduct an interview with Chris Achilleos, the legendary fantasy artist who painted the covers for Armies of Death, Temple of Terror and other Fighting Fantasy books, amongst a varied and massive oeuvre. That’ll be at 3pm (15:00) in the Weston Hall.

There are still tickets available online, so if you’re interested in the cutting edge of printed interactive fiction, or in the nostalgic wonder of the Fighting Fantasy Series, why not come along?

Authors Abroad!

Did you ever have a visit from an inspiring writer to your school?  The chances are good that they were booked through Authors Abroad, an agency who place writers, performers, poets and illustrators in schools across the UK and internationally.

I’m really pleased to announce that I am now be available for school visits through the Author’s Agency, running my Write Your Own Adventure workshops and inspiring the next generation of writers.  You can book me on their website or by contacting Trevor on +44 (0) 1535 656015, or email him at [email protected] .

Who knows who’ll catch the gamebook bug next!

Where is the Steam Highwayman now?

Well right now he’s at home. But this time next week…

Hammersmith! Dragonmeet! Convention! Sales and signings! I’m hoping to be there somewhere, along with veteran gamebook authors Jonathan Green and Ian Livingstone. Not been told which stall I’ll hold yet, but here you can download a whole programme to guide you round. Some more info here too:

Anyone else be there?

Write Your Own Adventure Available!

So, you want to teach your class (or small group) of Key Stage Two (or Three) pupils how to write choice-based fiction?  You want to motivate them, allow them to identify as authors and to have ownership of their own stories?  Well of course you do – that’s what all great teachers of English do!

Now a handy teacher’s book including over fifty pages of photocopiable resources, plans and schemes can help you do it.  And I wrote it for you.

I’ll have a few copies at each of my Steam Highwayman events in the next month if you’re meeting me in person, but you can also order a copy through Amazon.  I have had reports of strange delivery times, but don’t be worried by these – this is usual with new print-on-demand publications for the first few sales.  None are actually printed until an order is made, but it usually takes 5 days for my printer and distributor to print and ship, and then they’re in the post on their way towards you.

You can find out more about the project, and the workshops I offer to Primary Schools in the London Area, here.


A Thing in Tring – Gamesfest Report

Tring is one of those little market towns you see on a map – one of hundreds across England – that might never attract a visit in its own right.  A funny name, an old church, a bit of twentieth-century expansion, a victorian satellite railway hamlet with a hotel two miles down the road, a nearby canal.


Steam Highwayman country.

My country.

But Tring also hosts the annual Gamesfest, attracting hobbyists and role-players from London and the Home Counties.  And this year, the Steam Highwayman made an appearance too.

It was a very pleasant day, introducing hardened DnDers to a solo, steampunk roleplaying experience, spending time with some faithful backers, including Colin Oaten, SH2 Backer 12, who lost himself in the proofing version of SH2 for over an hour, preying on the locobuses near Woodcote and failing to smooth-talk his way into Wallingford.  I also met – in the flesh – several members of the gamebook community, including Sam Iacob, author of the Sword of the Bastard Elf and Scott Lloyd of Gamebooks himself.

But perhaps the highlight of the day was when two boys, Sam and his friend Shaun, aged 10 and 13 respectively, wandered in with their step-dad in the misguided hope of finding some X-Box gaming.  Initial disappointment gave way to the enchantment of first-time gamebook experiences.  In they dived, rolling to fight their duels, snatching coins from pleading nobility, upgrading their velosteam.  I guided them in to begin with and them left them playing.  After forty minutes, Sam looked up.  “Can we buy this?” he asked.

It wasn’t the sale that excited me as much as knowing I’d passed something on.  Passing the book over in a bag, I asked them how they’d be spending the rest of the day.  “Reading this,” they both answered.

Where will it lead?  Will they get bored, tired of the mental energy it requires to imagine and read, leaving the book closed in a pile before the week is out?  Or will they press on, pursuing and adventure and gaining an education in choice-based fiction in the process?  Will I hear from you again, Sam and Shaun?

And that wasn’t all.  I also had an unexpected visitor – a distant cousin – another Nou(t)ch who had hunted me down and dropped in to introduce himself, handing me a scroll of part of our family tree just like a quest-giving shady figure in Pirates! Gold.

I’m finalising my other events coming up – it looks like it should be December when I’ll next have the chance to lay out my wares – and busy with Write Your Own Adventure, but I’ll be back in Tring, for sure.