Gamebook Diaries - Allies, Mercenaries and Pets
Solo RPGs Gamebooks Open-world Gamebooks

Gamebook Diaries - Allies, Mercenaries and Pets

Duncan Thomson

Continuing with Gamebook Diaries, which has become a monthly thing! This time looking at companions.

Gamebook Companions

Most gamebooks are solo affairs, where you play a lone adventurer, warrior, sorcerer, scoundrel or hero. There are a few gamebooks where it's different, such as a group of four in Legendary Kingdoms or a dueling, but these are the exception.

In some gamebooks you get companions, usually for a short time, with no real mechanical effects. They might be allies such as the elf and dwarf in Caverns of the Snow Witch, or a hindrance such as Jann the minimite in the Shamutanti Hills of Sorcery!

In open-world gamebooks, there is the opportunity to make companions more of a choice with impact on the story. This is shown by a variety of companions in the VulcanVerse by Jamie Thomson and Dave Morris. Companions will give you advice and can open up some quests. They will join and leave during the story and move with you between the books. (Except book 1, where they can't go!)

Friend or Steed, Mercenary or Mace

I love the idea of companions, as I think they can add depth to the open-world games. They can accompany you on quests, help you in battle and provide unique knowledge or abilities.

They might be a friend from your village, a beast companion such as a dog or riding lizard. They might be a guide through a forest, a bounty hunter joining you to take on some outlaws, or a recurring companion for a long-term quest.

Then they might be people you've hired because your character wants their expertise. A mercenary guard you pay to fight alongside you, a torchbearer to carry extra supplies and hold a light in a dungeon. A bard who knows many things and can help with your social interactions.

Lastly there are the edge cases, such as an ancestor spirit, an intelligent mace or a sprite that won't leave you alone and hinders your magic.

Companions in Action

I wanted to keep their mechanics simple, and was heavily influenced by the comrades from the roleplaying game Only War. Here each player characters has a companion squad member who helps with actions but has no stats of their own.

So I'm currently working with a maximum of two companions, which don't have their own statistics, but have traits and skills. So a guard dog might be Guard Dog (Beast, Extra, Skills - Prowess) and an archer you hired might have Mercenary Archer (Extra, Mercenary, Skills - Hunting). Or Marie the mouse might be Marie the Mouse (Beast, Noncombatant, Death - 878, Skills - None)

In the current version companions give a bonus to skill tests. So a soldier companion may give an extra die for Prowess tests and a friendly rogue might help you out in Subterfuge and Charm tests.

It's possible for these companions to take damage in combat, taking a blow which your character would of suffered. But this lead to the injury or death of your companion.

Some companions would be available for hire at a particular inn, marketplace or guild. Most of these would cost money to hire and then require more money to stay with the character at certain points. Possibly random and possibly through a time tracker of some kind.

Then other characters will join for the duration of a particular quest, such as trying to find a missing herbalist. They can't force you to actually advance the quest, but if they die or leave then that could prevent completion of the quest.

Another companion might be a quest reward such as a reformed brigand who offers their fealty, or an apprentice who wants to learn from you. Others could be a character feature, such as an animal familiar or steed you can summon.

Companion Complications

The odd bit about having one or two companions in an open-world gamebook is that they won't be mentioned in the text. It can't reflect the conversations and interactions you'd be having with your companion(s) during your adventures.

The gamebook might ask you if Nadia is with you when you enter the Whispering Cave or if you have any beast companions that are scared of the area a wraith has cured. There might be opportunities to ask specific companions for advice or check for a type of companion to unlock particular options.

For some readers, this will add an element which they can imagine themselves, adding to their immersion as they add their own banter around a campfire or imagine what their companions are doing to aid a successful test.

It adds a bit of complexity when writing, but no more than keeping track of keywords and tickboxes already does.

Finishing Up

Adding companions to an open-world gamebook is one element I'm most excited to put into a published gamebook.

Have you got examples of companions from other gamebooks?

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