Gamebooks Unleashed #1: The Temple of Shadows
Because Gamebooks Are Cool (And You Know It)
Fighting Fantasy™, Lone Wolf™, Super Endless Quest™ – these were some of the most popular (and my favorite!) gamebooks around when I was growing up in the Eastern United States.
(There are many other badass gamebook series I have since discovered as an adult that we will explore in future newsletters - see picture for clues!)
Interactive Fiction that is part Choose Your Own Adventure™, part Role Playing Game, they were an amazing mashup that allowed you to participate in the world of Fantasy gaming when you didn’t own an RPG, or didn’t have a group of friends who were willing or able to play.
(Or… if your parents thought that those were tools of the devil)
Even if you did have the aforementioned resources, these books were just plain fun to do for an introvert like myself! You didn’t need a Game Master/Dungeon Master because the book did that for you, and you could play any time of day or night - whenever you felt like it.
(Featuring artwork from Clyde Caldwell & Luke Eidenschink!)
Some required dice (usually 6-sided), whereas others had built-in random tables or other clever ways of introducing chance into your adventures. Game mechanics varied, sometimes using simplified versions of the Dungeons & Dragons™ ruleset, whereas many others created their own unique systems of skills, combat, character customization and equipment.
One thing was for certain though in most of these old school game books – you were going to experience many ways to die! Some series seemed to take a perverse pleasure in getting your ghost for reasonable choices on your part.
But this was easily remedied after a quick look over both shoulders to make sure no one was watching, and a casual flip back to the page where you made your last choice (or perhaps another roll of the dice…)
“Ooh, that roll doesn’t count. It slipped out of my hand. Let me just roll it again for REAL this time.”
Game books hold a special place in my heart, and it inspires me when I can connect with others who feel the same way.
Today we are interviewing Christopher Bünte, an author who lives in Berlin, Germany. He maintains woohoomania.com and focuses on children's and youth books, comics, fantasy and . . . gamebooks! Late in 2022 he started a Kickstarter campaign for his gamebook, Shadow over Brinthal, and he currently has a campaign for its sequel, The Temple of Shadows.
Thank you for taking time to talk with me today, Christopher. Tell us a little about yourself.
I am 43 years old and live in Berlin, Germany. I worked in publishing for over ten years. Now I work as a writer and project manager.
Project Manager by day, and Caped Writer by night - I love it. Do you consume any fantasy as an adult? Books, games, etc. What do you enjoy about that?
Mainly series and games. I liked the first two seasons of The Witcher, for example, and recently I played through Wild Hunt and Blood & Wine. I think I like what everyone likes about it: unique characters and storytelling. Fantasy, after all, like any genre, is pretty predictable. It's nice to see when someone has a good idea and dares to play and try something new. Another thing that always interests me is Worldbuilding, the way a world is conveyed and depth is created. But I guess that's an author‘s thing.
Yes, that’s definitely an author thing. By the way, what kind of Fantasy did you like growing up?
I played quite a lot of role-playing games. The Dark Eye, Midgard, Shadowrun ... The Lord of the Rings was kind of required reading. (That was before the movies!) I also liked The Hobbit a lot. But during that time I read more horror and science fiction novels. And at some point, the first books by Neil Gaiman came along.
Ah, interesting. Tell us more - what is your favorite memory about reading Neil Gaiman’s books?
I still remember discovering a paperback of Neil Gaiman's Sandman at the library. Season of Mists™. Lucifer gets fed up and shuts hell down. I read the volume several times in a row and was completely blown away. I had never seen anything like this! To this day, I think it's a particularly strong volume in the series.
What was really fatal at the time was that the second half of the story was not available at the library. (In Germany, the story was published in two volumes.) Nor was it available anywhere else. I didn't read the follow-up volume until ten years later.
Holy mackerel - 10 years! That’s a VERY long time to wait (unless you’re a George R.R. Martin fan). Any other favorite fantasy authors or artists?
I like most of Neil Gaiman's work. Otherwise, I'm more into the old stuff: Lovecraft, Leiber, Howard, Moorcock, Lem ...
I’ll have to research some of those authors I’m not familiar with. I’d like to now turn the conversation to one of my favorite topics - gamebooks. Were there gamebooks you enjoyed as a kid or adult? If so, what were they, and why in particular did you enjoy them?
My father gave me my first gamebook for Christmas. Demons of the Deep™ by Jackson/Livingstone. I don't remember how old I was at the time. Maybe eleven or twelve years. These books were never really popular in Germany, but somehow my father had heard of them.
I still remember that I disappeared for hours with the book. Completely gone. It devoured me. I think I was just fascinated by a book that speaks to you. And by this mixture of game and story.
Today, I see that moment as the beginning of a lot of things. As the beginning of my enthusiasm for role-playing, as the beginning of my activity as an author, as a book lover ... Then many more game books followed: Fighting Fantasy™, Lone Wolf™ ... You could find it in some shops. But it was a special interest and really only read by roleplaying nerds.
That is super-cool. I totally resonate with you about how these types of books can speak to the reader. I do feel horrible you didn’t have much access to them though. If I knew you back then, we could’ve been pen-pals and you could’ve at least read about mine! Kidding, I really only had about 3 myself back then. Why did you decide to make your own gamebooks?
When I was in school, I used to play Das Schwarze Auge (The Dark Eye) pretty intensively with friends. For those who don't know it, it was (and still is) a pretty popular fantasy roleplaying system from Germany.
The rulebooks always had such a nice appeal: Make your own adventure! So I used to be the game master quite often. And because this roleplaying system also had solo adventures, I thought: I will try doing that!
It was a kind of scavenger hunt in a port city, and it was called »Nachtschatten«. 170 paragraphs, printed out at home and put in clear sheets. The story circulated among my friends until everyone who wanted to had played it. (Since then I have revised and reissued the adventure).
I love that story! It shows your creativity, imagination and passion. By the way, my wife occasionally gives me the “Dark Eye” whenever I get in trouble, so that must be a pretty scary RPG. Who is your target audience for your gamebooks?
I write for fantasy roleplayers. I want to create books that I would buy myself because something about them fascinates me.
I’m with you on that. Now, you chose to use Kickstarter as your author platform for your gamebooks. Why is that?
In Germany, there is no market for fantasy game books. They are bought very little, and I often have to explain what I'm actually doing. I've always found that strange, because both books and board games are widely available in Germany ... But that's another story.
I had a hunch that there is an interesting reading audience on Kickstarter that is interested in such material. And so far I've been right with my guess.
Again, very interesting, and yes, your hunch was spot on. Do you sell your books on other platforms (like Amazon) as well?
I tried a few things in German, but that wasn't very successful. At the moment I prefer to work with Kickstarter. Maybe I'll look at other platforms later and see if they fit my projects.
I really enjoyed your first book Shadow over Brinthal. How did you come up with the idea?
I wanted to join ZineQuest 4 [an annual “zine” promotion by Kickstarter] and didn't have much time. So I looked in my virtual drawer and found the completely worked out description of the village Brinthal. Including a map. With that I had my location. Now all I needed was a plot. At the same time I talked with a good friend about his gaming app Troll Patrol. That's how the "bad guy" and the story came up.
Neat! I liked your mechanics about collecting fragments and the partial map illustrations you put in many of the passages. How did you decide on these and other game mechanics?
I now have a large collection of game mechanics that I can use and vary. I always try to make it as simple as possible. Too many mechanisms are annoying to read. And it has to fit the game situation.
For the search in the forest, this kind of map seemed to be the best solution. (With more time and more pages, I would have fleshed out this part of the adventure even more. Maybe I'll do that later ...)
Collecting fragments, on the other hand, is a control mechanism. I came up with this myself, and then was pleasantly surprised to discover that Morris/Thomson had already used a similar mechanism in Fabled Lands.
Another gamebook series I was unaware of! I’ll have to check-out Fabled Lands - it looks like they were even converted into video games and everything. Yes, I often find it funny when I think I created something new just to find it has been done before. That used to discourage me, but now I just take it as a serendipitous synchronicity that I’m doing something cool. Your second and current campaign is for your gamebook sequel, The Temple of Shadows. Tell us more about this project.
The success of Shadows over Brinthal spurred me on. There was so much positive feedback and it was so much fun ... I felt like I was in the right place. So, while I was finishing work on Brinthal, I decided to write an independent sequel.
I inserted some clues to Brinthal that already point to a bigger threat and a cursed temple. You can play both adventures back-to-back with the same character and enjoy them as one big story.
Awesome. I love being able to bring my character (and their sweet sweet loot) forward into other books - I fondly remember the Lone Wolf™ series building this into their series too. Your first book raised ~$1,700 with 94 backers. That is really good for your first Kickstarter campaign. But I’m really impressed with your sequel. As of this writing, you have raised over $5,400 with 213 backers - with some time left! To what do you attribute this amazing improvement?
I was wondering after the first campaign what I could improve. This time I was involved with ZineQuest earlier and had the project page well fleshed out at launch. I had a better sense of what people wanted to know and tried to communicate as clearly and concisely as possible. I knew Kickstarter better as a platform because I had been through the entire process of a project before. Also, I was able to offer Brinthal again and had gained the confidence that there were players out there who liked my stuff.
Inspirational. That’s got to feel great - congratulations. Any plans for future projects?
I have a lot of project ideas that I would like to realize. This summer I'll be launching another fantasy gamebook on Kickstarter. The format and content will be based on Brinthal and the Temple. It will be the same rule system and will also be set in the fantasy world Te Arras, which I created.
In addition, I would like to develop a storytelling boardgame that is intended for 1-4 players and feels like a roleplaying scenario without a gamemaster.
I'm also thinking about writing a guide to my method of how I plan and implement gamebooks. I get requests for this from time to time and think it might be an interesting thing to do.
Wow - you are definitely in the zone, and will be busy for a while! I want to ask: what was your top challenge with making your gamebooks?
I'm very happy to have found an audience through Kickstarter that is excited and supportive. It wasn't easy to figure out where to meet readers of gamebooks today. This has been a really great experience.
The next big challenge will be finding enough time for these projects. I would like to keep the gamebooks available for purchase and keep improving the material. Let's see ... I want to make sure it remains exciting.
I’m happy you’re finding your audience too - it’s amazing how creators are empowered through technology in today’s world to either meet or make their own audience. With your gamebooks, is there one thing you would do differently if you could get a do over?
I would have liked to have participated in Zinequest 1.
I bet. I’ve been in the process of writing my own old school style fantasy gamebooks, but life seems to always interlope, or maybe the reality is that I overthink things and keep catching a nasty case of analysis-paralysis. I’m really impressed with your bias to action Christopher. You made your first book, and within a couple months – boom! – you’ve already got your second one ready to go. What’s one piece of advice you would give to aspiring authors/creators like me?
Finding your own way of working often takes years. I have been working on this for over twenty years. It is a very individual path and often very exhausting. I can only recommend to always try something new and to look at what others are doing in the same field.
Time is always short, that doesn't change. But at some point you get the hang of it, and you know how to make the best use of the time you have.
Christopher, thank you so much for your time today. It was amazing getting to know you better and I look forward to hearing about your ongoing success.
Christopher’s Kickstarter campaign, The Temple of Shadows – A Fantasy Gamebook has just under 39 hours to go at the time of this writing, so make sure to check it out soon!
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