Gamebook Diaries - Success with a Consequence
Publishing Random Tables Gamebooks British Fantasy

Gamebook Diaries - Success with a Consequence

Duncan Thomson

Design diaries for writing first gamebook! Looking at other outcomes than succeed / fail for gamebooks.

Gamebook Thoughts

This is going to be a series of design notes, stemming from writing the first of my own gamebooks.

I'm playing through different gamebooks at the moment, alongside writing the draft of the first gamebook I intent to publish.

Currently lost in the groves of the Wild Wood by Jamie Thomson, from the VulcanVerse open world series. It's a sprawling epic with lots of atmosphere. But it's also frustrating to start as there's lots of wandering around trying to find threads to grasp onto and start. And then needed items with either no indication of where to find them, or that they're in another book entirely.

But it's all research for writing my own gamebooks, which is also influenced by the ongoing playthroughs of solo rpgs.


There's lots to cover with gamebooks, and I'll be possibly writing about...

  • Dice Mechanics
  • Combat
  • Character Creations
  • Companions
  • NPC Story Arcs
  • Random Tables to Simulate a Fantasy World
  • Wandering Encounters
  • Time Limit
  • Storyline Endings
  • British Fantasy Themes
  • Different Ways of Playing
  • Wounds
  • Game vs Book

Success and Failure

Most tests in gamebooks are a Yes / No outcome, with failure having severe outcomes or sometimes even no outcome as you can loop back and try again.

This can lead to very dangerous old school type setups, sometimes losing characters after hours of play with tests that come out of nowhere. Although that's more about the design than the actual rolls.

The roll has to have a consequence, otherwise it can just be attempted again and again until there's a success. But it shouldn't always close off the quest. It can require a resource, block for the moment or give a lesser reward.

There is another type of game with no rolls at all (such as Heart of Ice by Dave Morris), which still have game mechanics, but no random rolls.

My books, however, will use dice!

Success with a Consequence

An interesting part of the Powered by the Apocalypse Games is a success with a consequence.

You roll 2d6 and add a modifier. 6 or less is a failure. 10 or more is a success. The interesting bit is the 7-9 range, which is a partial success, or success with a consequence.

You force the door open, but it's very loud. (instead of loudly failing to open the door)

You convince the guards to let you in, but have to leave weapons behind...

You strike your opponent, but get wounded too.

And this is what I want to add into my gamebooks. It opens up design space where you succeed, and there's a good chance of success to move forward, but it comes at a cost...

Dice in the Dark

Coming from Blades in the Dark RPG (which may have borrowed from elsewhere), the system involves one or more d6, and taking the highest result.

If the highest is a 6, it's a Success or Hit. You climb the cliff!

If the highest is a 4-5, it's a Partial success or Hit with a Consequence. You climb the cliff, but drop a piece of equipment!

If the highest is a 1-3, it's a Failure or Miss. You fall down the cliff and are hurt

So that's what I'll be using!

Basic Combat

This comes down to combat, and the worst thing of Fighting Fantasy or Fabled Lands was combat where nothing happens for a while, or it takes a long time.

So my plan is something like, roll your Melee / Prowess...

  • Success (6)! You injure your foe.
  • Partial (4-5): You injure your foe, but are also injured.
  • Miss (1-3): You are injured.

There will be complications, such as difficulty of the foe, allies, armour, weapons used, firing before combat, amount of damage dealt by a foe and possibly tactical options.

Finishing Up

I don't think I've seen a consistent mechanic for this in gamebooks, but I could be wrong.

Any enlightenment?