Glorantha Part 1

Greetings! I’ve decided to once again revive the ol’ blog to get myself into writing again, and to share some thoughts I have about exciting new trends in tabletop gaming! It’s been about a year since I did the last post on Tekumel, the fascinating setting created by M.A.R. Barker. Since then I’ve continued to immerse myself in various old-school gaming experiences, while trying to stay abreast of the new ones. I am now a proud father, so my time for running and researching  games is much more limited. Still, there is one setting in particular, along with its associated rule-sets, that has truly captured my imagination. This is Glorantha, the setting for the classic RPG Runequest (RQ).

I have actually played in a Runequest game before, but it wasn’t set in the traditional world of Glorantha, and my GM used the oft-maligned third edition rules from Avalon Hill, dating back to the mid-80’s. Through no fault of the GM, I didn’t have a stellar experience with the game, and I developed a bad attitude about the system. I didn’t think about RQ for years after that, except to complain every now and then about the games tendency to produce inept characters that were terrible at everything. What finally convinced me to take another look at the tabletop RPG was the release of a new mobile game, set in the Glorantha. This was called Six Ages: Ride Like the Wind.

Six Ages

Six Ages is an interactive fiction game, with a mix of RPG, strategy, and simulation elements. The artwork in the game was stunning, and I was very intrigued by what appeared to be a non-traditional approach to fantasy and world-building. I also checked out the prequel to Six Ages, King of Dragon Pass, which is a cult classic in its own right. Both are available on mobile platforms, and KoDP can be played in its original form on PC as well.

These are excellent games, and if I can find the time I would love to review them in more detail. But the focus here is on Glorantha itself. If you are looking to explore this fascinating setting, the two games are the perfect gateway into doing so. I would recommend starting with King of Dragon Pass if you are interested in tabletop Glorantha, because it takes place in a time and place that is much closer to the default setting in Runequest.

What is Glorantha? It is the setting that was “discovered” by Greg Stafford in late 60’s, and explored more fully after the founding of Stafford’s company Chaosium in 1978. You might have heard of Chaosium, as they are also the creators of the wildly popular and influential Call of Cthulhu RPG. Glorantha was the setting used in Chaosium’s earliest forays into game publishing, with the wargame White Bear and Red Moon, and the first edition of Runequest.

Glorantha is truly unique as a setting for its depth, breadth, originality, and quirkiness. If I had to summarize it quickly I would describe it as “mythic bronze-age fantasy,” and also probably mention its unusual historical influences, and the way magic and myth influence everything about the world, right down to the laws of physics. I think one of the best things I can say about it as a setting is that it is very non-Western (and non-Tolkien) in tone and flavor, and has very little to do with medieval European history or mythology. So many fantasy settings are, more or less, bastardized versions of our own world and history, and you’ll find very little of that in Glorantha. There are fictional cultures that have clear real-world analogues, such as Ancient China or Sub-Saharan Africa, but most of them are blends of different peoples, places and religions, with innovative twists.

You’ll find a decadent empire that is equal parts Roman and Persian, tied together by a transgressive feminist religion that glorifies life and diversity, but also dark magic and demons. There are tribes of hill folk (the default player characters in most Gloranthan games) that could be described as rugged individualist Greek/Norse/Celtic/American Settler barbarians, that worship the Old Gods. My personal favorites are the strange cultures of the Far West, which have the trappings of Classical Athens, Byzantium, and Ancient India, with a fractured humanistic religion that combines Gnosticism, Neoplatonism, and Hermetic Magic.


It is a living, breathing world of its own, and immersing yourself in it can be overwhelming. Once I had dipped my toes in with the PC games, I decided to check out the book that is currently considered to be the most comprehensive source on the setting: the two-volume Guide to Glorantha. I may have bitten off more than I can chew with this one. This is a massive, 800 page tome that covers everything you could possibly want to know about the world, including mythology, history, cultures, and a detailed look at every geographical region featured on the above map (and then some).


I’m still working my way through it, but I’ve enjoyed every bit of it so far. I will say that it doesn’t make for the best introduction to someone that is “Glorantha-curious.” The sheer amount of information, while interesting, is totally staggering, and not always presented in a way that makes sense the first time through. There are a lot of references and name-drops that are not fully elaborated on, and some information presented is deliberately ambiguous, especially with regard to mythic events (the Yelmalio/Elmal controversy still confounds me).

I think a better way to get into Glorantha is to check out the recent material that has been released for Runequest. There is a new edition of the game called Runequest: Roleplaying in Glorantha (RQG) that is being published by Chaosium. This game is generating a lot of buzz, and has received some stellar reviews. There hasn’t been a new Chaosium edition of the game since 1980, so that alone is exciting to lots of people. I like the new edition because it smoothly integrates the Glorantha setting into the old-school mechanics in a way that hasn’t been done before. There is also a nice, short, focused introduction to the world that would be an easier start for the casual fan.


I will hopefully be running an RQG campaign in the next few months, once I finish our current Unknown Armies game. I have a lot more I could say about Glorantha, Runequest or other associated games, but I will likely have to leave that for another post. I hope that I have piqued the interest of any readers. Exploring Glorantha is rich and rewarding, and I have found much joy into escaping there. I hope you can as well!



At last! I have decided to revive this blog, at least temporarily, to get myself writing again. Much has occurred since my most recent post, nearly a year ago. I have finished a grad program, and I nearly have my license to teach elementary school in Massachusetts. My wife and I are also expecting our first child in a few weeks. Indeed, many great changes are occurring!

But in the midst of all this, I finally have more time to devote to other things I love. Namely, writing, and immersing myself in other worlds. While I was in grad school, I didn’t have much time for escapism (although I did wrap up a long-running D&D campaign). In recent months I’ve gotten back into Jack Vance, and now, the works of M.A.R. Barker, which will be the primary focus of this post.

Professor Muhammad Abd-al-Rahman Barker (born Phillip Barker, and known as “Phil” by friends and family) is the creator of the world of Tekumel. It is an exotic science-fantasy setting that the Professor has been developing for most of his life. He was a friend of the original designers of Dungeons and Dragons, including Dave Arneson, who was an occasional player in his games. The D&D crowd at TSR decided to publish Barker’s setting, along with an original RPG rule set, in the “Empire of the Petal Throne” box set in 1975. This original edition of the game was one of the earliest tabletop RPG’s ever published, and featured the first complete setting paired with rules.


(The original 1975 boxed set)

Barker was a fascinating guy. He passed away in 2012 unfortunately, but he left behind quite a legacy as a writer, linguist, gamer, and builder of worlds. Much like the revered J.R.R. Tolkien, he was a linguist, and created numerous constructed languages to go along with his setting. The most developed of these is Tsolyani, the language spoken within the default starting region for Tekumel games. Unlike Tolkien, Barker studied South Asian and Native American languages rather than European ones, and his setting is an interesting amalgamation of the cultures and histories of those places. Tsolyanu, the Empire of the Petal Throne itself, feels like equal parts Indian, Aztec/Mayan, and Persian/Arabic. Rather than settle for a pseudo-European fantasy world, or a sword-and-sorcery pastiche, Tekumel features rich, ancient cultures steeped in history and hoary tradition.

Barker as a worldbuilder is also strongly influenced by the trends in fiction that came before him. He was an avid fan of science fiction and fantasy, drawing inspiration from Jack Vance and corresponding with writers like Lin Carter. I tend to think of Tolkien as fitting into a category of “mythic fantasy,” given that his world and invented cultures are based on a tradition of mythological storytelling, with gods creating the world and so forth. Tekumel is based on the science fictional premise of a futuristic world populated by humans, and many other alien species, which is then cut off from the rest of the universe by a mysterious cataclysm. Related to that disaster are actual god-like beings, and actual magic which flows from another dimension. Tens of millennia after this event, humans and other species now live at a level of roughly bronze-age technology, with ancient sprawling empires, magic, gods, and a general sense of unchanging tradition and ritual.

I have been aware of Tekumel since my college days, although I don’t remember how I stumbled across it exactly. I used to actually trawl through lists of published RPG’s on Wikipedia, to get a more complete picture of the hobby, so that could be it. I remember thinking the world was interesting, but also somewhat inaccessible. The odd-sounding names and constructed languages seemed off-putting I guess. Also, there wasn’t a lot of easily available material out there, except for the recently published version of the game in 2005 by Guardians of Order, which I wasn’t willing to buy. More recently however, there has been a small Tekumel revival, coinciding with the “Old-School Renaissance” for D&D inspired games. First off, the Tekumel Foundation which manages Barker’s intellectual property has started publishing the old books on DrivethruRPG. A new RPG called Bethorm was also recently published, with an old-school feel meant to evoke the original game.

Choice of Games, which I have written of in earlier posts on this blog, also released a game set in Tekumel a few years ago. It was this that got me interested in Tekumel again more recently. The game didn’t get amazing reviews, but I thought it would be a good way to re-introduce myself into the setting. “Choice of the Petal Throne” does indeed have issues, namely some flat characters and a rushed ending, but got me excited about the world again as I had hoped.

From there, I purchased “Swords and Glory, Vol. 1” from Drivethru, which is considered to this day to be the Professor’s most comprehensive sourcebook on his fictional world. The book is fascinating and immersive, but also challenging in some ways. Written in the early days of the hobby, the text is dense, with very few illustrations, and an odd sense of organization. It covers dozens of cultures across a continent the size of Asia, and details everything from histories and religion, down to the minutiae of silverware etiquette. There are no maps, and until the new PDF’s were released, there was no index. It took me weeks to read through it in small bites, but I feel like it was worth it. Anyone looking to really dive into Tekumel should check out this book.

Swords and Glory

Another good way to get a feel for the setting is to read some of Professor Barker’s own fiction. He published five novels over the course of his life, which were set in Tekumel. I recently finished the first two, “The Man of Gold” in 1984, and “Flamesong” in 1985. I enjoyed them both thoroughly, and was pleasantly surprised at Barker’s ability to tell an intriguing, complex story, and create some sympathetic characters as well. Fair warning though, Barker’s style can be just as dense as his gaming material, and the frequent exposition drops can get a little ridiculous. He wrote the other three novels later in life, and they are apparently not as good as the first two. They are also out of print and difficult to find, but hopefully will be released in PDF by the Tekumel Foundation sometime soon. I plan to read them if I can find them, mainly for the descriptions of other parts of Tekumel.

Man of Gold

You would be hard-pressed to find a setting more deep and fully-realized than Tekumel. I’m looking forward to trying it out as a role-playing game (I got my copy of Bethorm a few weeks ago). Perhaps that will be the subject of a future post, if I can actually get a group together!

Conan, What is Best in Life?

Positive image from a scan of a Powerhouse Museum, Philipps Collection, glass plate negative

Good news everyone! My days of toil and suffering have paid off handsomely, and my first written work as a freelancer has been published! WOOHOO! It is available currently on DrivethruRPG. Now that it’s released, I can talk a little bit about what I was actually working on. Months ago, I responded to an open call for writers that I found while trolling the forums of RPGNet. Soon after I signed a contract to adapt a short story by Menagerie Press’s artistic director, and thus, the Masks of Tzanti was created.

It’s supposed to be a full-on sword-and-sorcery adventure, complete with cultists, murderous barbarians, and skeezy rogues. I haven’t actually read much Robert E. Howard, but I like lots of other writers that are considered imitators, or part of the same family (Jack Vance, Gene Wolfe, Michael Moorcock). It took me about two months of solid writing to complete, although I took occasional breaks from writing due to my intense work schedule. Here is the cover art, by the very talented Steven Catizone (who does all of Menagerie’s illustrations) –

Masks of Tzanti Cover

(This cover would make Frank Frazetta run off for a cold shower)

It’s a happy day indeed, and I hope friends, family, and the very few followers I have will spread the word (among RPG players at least). I will likely be working with Menagerie Press again in the future, as they are a young company looking to expand their list of products. I am also writing a conversion to 5th edition D&D for this adventure, so you can look for that in the next few months or so.

(Here are a few notes on RPG’s and D&D for the uninitiated. I wrote the story for the Pathfinder RPG. This is continuation of the 3rd edition of Dungeons & Dragons, published in 2000. When the 4th edition of the rules was released in 2007, it split the gaming community, and a lot of people rallied behind the company Paizo Publishing, who continued to release products for the game that used a modified version of the old rules (this was called the Pathfinder RPG). The company that owns D&D, Wizards of the Coast, recently published the 5th edition of the rules, in the hopes that they would unite the community again. I prefer Pathfinder to 4th edition, but I prefer 5th ed to Pathfinder. The rules are fun, and a lot more streamlined and easy. Wizards recently opened an online marketplace for PDF products called Dungeon Master’s Guild, and it’s really taking off. People can now write and sell their own 5th ed material under an open-gaming license. It was my idea to write “Masks” in 5th edition rules, since I think it’s just the right time. I may continue to do so if I write more stuff for Menagerie Press.)

So, what’s next for me you might ask? Well, if you’ve read any of my other posts on the blog, you know that I’m a big fan of interactive fiction games. One of the companies that remains consistently popular with that genre is Choice of Games, and I’m thinking that I should try my hand at penning some IF. I’ve dabbled in it before, and I got a good ways into a storynexus game about the Byzantine Empire. But this would be a bigger project, roughly the length of a short novel. To prepare, I’ve been devouring Choicescript games by the bundle, including Choice of Robots and Hollywood Visionary, both excellent stories in their own right. I don’t want to share too many of my ideas just yet, as I have a tendency to spew out thoughts and then not use them, or get bored with them. Once I get a bit more done, I’ll drop some details.

In the snippets of free time I’ve had (and March has provided more than usual) I’ve been enjoying some media that I wanted to gush about briefly. First is an excellent fantasy novel that needs to get more attention –

Baru Cormorant

This is the first novel by Seth Dickinson, and it brought me low with it’s sheer awesomeness. It’s about a girl from an isolated island community, living in a fairly traditional way. Then they get colonized by a powerful empire that controls the world through cunning, ruthless diplomacy and economic superiority (aptly named the Masquerade). She grows up in their schools, learns their twisted philosophy, and becomes a bureaucratic prodigy. She is then sent to the rebellious province of Aurdwynn to bring it under heel as the Imperial Accountant. Most of the story takes place there, and concerns the unraveling of conspiracies among the nobility of a strange and foreign people. The main character Baru Cormorant of course has many divided loyalties, and she has to lie to nearly everyone she encounters (especially herself). You wouldn’t think that a story about an accountant could be so totally riveting, but I couldn’t put this book down. I blasted through it, and I’m normally a pretty slow reader. It had excellent pacing, interesting mysteries and intrigue, and incredibly well-drawn characters. I really felt for Baru, and when she got hurt (and she gets hurt a lot), I cringed as I compulsively turned each page. Read this book if you find any of the following interesting –

  • It’s a “hard fantasy,” without magic or fantastical beings. The focus is on politics,  intrigue, and economics (!?) yet it still features a fascinating world with well-designed fictional cultures and people.
  • It deals with important issues that are usually shied away from in fantasy: colonialism, racism, feminism, queerness, crappy economic practices.
  • It doesn’t pull any punches. It’s an entertaining story, but it’s also brutal. The main character is a closeted lesbian working as a double (or triple?) agent for an evil empire that would imprison or torture her under any number of circumstances. She has a lot to lose, and you’ll worry for her.
  • Wonderfully realized, flawed characters. The story has a pretty big cast, and I feel like I’ll always remember each person clearly for who they are. There’s no glossary, and you won’t really need one.
  • If you like  – Ursula Le Guin (especially Left Hand of Darkness), Patrick Rothfuss, George R.R. Martin, or Frank Herbert, you will go for this in a big way.

Seth Dickinson has a blog, and he wrote some really cool stuff about his design process for the book. It’s clear that he’s an intelligent guy who puts a lot of thought into his work. This post in particular is great, although it may spoil some things about the story. I also feel the need to mention that even though I compared Dickinson to G.R.R. Martin, there is one important difference. Seth doesn’t go for blood, guts, and sexual violence. I found this a relief honestly, as I’m no great fan of gruesome depictions of the latter myself. He explains it a bit more in that post, and my feelings on the subject are basically the same. It’s important, it needs to be acknowledged, but in fiction (especially fantasy) there’s no need to be gratuitous about it.

Anyway, check it out! And check out the thing I wrote! Until the next time when I have time and enough coffee!

Featured image courtesy of the Powerhouse Museum, no known copyright restrictions

November’s Cold Chain


Greetings all,

I have taken sort of a month off, and there are a number of reasons why. First of all, and perhaps most importantly, I was hired for two different freelancing gigs! Hurrah! I would rather not share the details of these projects until they are (hopefully) on their way to being published, but I will tease out a few details. For one of them, I am one of several contributors working on a sort of “monster manual” for a house-made RPG. The deadline for this came up a lot sooner than I expected, so I’ve spent the last few weeks hammering away at it. The other project is an adventure module for the Pathfinder RPG, to be published by a third party company. I’m excited to be working in Pathfinder again, and this will be a less daunting project than last time (in that I don’t have to write a novella-sized adventure).

So I had the rather unrealistic notion that I would work on these two projects, maintain a writers blog, and lots of other things besides –

  1. Familial obligations around the holidays
  2. Assist in the planning of my wedding (I proposed to my partner before I started writing this blog, but still, YAY!)
  3. Apply to Grad School (I am an educator/childcare specialist by trade, I want to join the big leagues as a public school teacher)
  4. Work two jobs (after-school and substitute teaching, sometimes I work 50 hours a week!)

Yeah, no, I can’t do all that stuff at once, and as much as I love working on Castle Mordrigault, it’s kind of low-priority compared to these other things, BUT, I’m not giving up on it. I just recognize that I need to slow down the new posts, probably to once a month. Once we arrive at spring, I imagine I’ll have more free time.

But as long as I’m taking the time to hang out at my favorite coffee shop and write, I thought I’d share some thoughts on what I’m consuming these days. I also realize that I promised some recommendations based on great world-building, so I’ll get to that too.


  • 80 Days – How have I had time to play games this month!? I’ll tell you how! I take the bus everywhere, and I get a lot of reading/gaming done in transit. I decided to check this one out because I heard the lead script writer was amazing, the very talented Meg Jayanth. I was familiar with her work from Sunless Sea (she wrote some of my favorite islands in that game), and her other Storynexus project, Samsara. After playing 80 Days, I now consider myself a full-blown Jayanth fan, and I’ll be following her work closely. This game is so good, SO GOOD! It’s a post-colonial, steampunk alternate-history retelling of Jules Verne’s Around the World in 80 Days. It’s probably the most replayable, addictive text adventure I’ve ever played (although it’s not strictly text). And I love the world-building, of course. As a woman, and person of color, she brings a fresh, interesting, and thought-provoking look on what what the world could have been (or maybe should have been).


  • Flint – I know, I know, Niall needs to shut up about Fallen London. But this is a very special time in the Neath, and I must spread the word. One of the games lead writers, Alexis Kennedy, has written a massive, two-part “Exceptional Story” for those players with a certain subscription. It’s all about exploring one of the settings most mysterious locales, the Elder Continent. The subscription is $7, and if you buy it in the middle of the month, you’ll get to play both parts of Flint (nearly the length of a Choicescript game), AND whatever special story they write next month. And of course, the rest of Fallen London, which is amazing and totally free. I just finished playing Flint and it was really, REALLY good. Like, after playing through it for 20 minutes, I felt kind of drunk on great stories. The ending was slightly anti-climactic (maybe I just made the wrong choices) but I feel like they’re going to continue the story later anyway. So, if I haven’t convinced you to try FL yet, this is the time!

And to close, here is a reading/viewing/playing/listening list that I composed for the last post, with the intention of reviewing each one. I’m just gonna list them here, but you should assume that because they’re here, they are objectively amazing and you should check them out. I tried to include something from a different medium each time.

  • The Scar – Novel by China Mieville
  • Finder – Comics/Graphic Novel series by Carla Speed McNeil
  • Grim Fandango – PC adventure game by Lucasarts and Tim Schafer
  • Eclipse Phase – Role-playing game by Posthuman Studios
  • Welcome to Night Vale – Radio Show Podcast created by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

Image courtesy of Powerhouse Museum, no known copyright restrictions. The phrase “November’s Cold Chain” is borrowed from the Tom Waits song, “November.”

Current Projects, part 1


So, above all else, this is supposed to be a writer’s blog. It’s becoming more and more things (I changed the subtext to “a blog of many things“), and I had the realization that I shouldn’t get bogged down in maintaining the blog if it’s detracting from actual creative projects. Much as I love talking about my hobbies…

Anyway, for this post I want to lay down some persistent ideas that I’ve had for stories, worlds/settings, or just experiments in form and medium. Some of these I’ve actually started working on. So here we go.

Gettin’ Busy with the Byzzies

I’m fascinated with the Byzantine Empire, and I always have been. It’s a unique time, place, culture, collection of characters, etc, very different from what you’d find in the ancient or medieval western civilizations. And many people in the West have either never heard of it, or know next to nothing about it, which boggles the mind! It lasted for over a thousand years, so it’s hard to understand why it’s become such a footnote in history.

Anyway, it’s been a favorite subject of mine for years now, and I’ve probably read enough material on it to write a solid research paper. I recently began work on a Storynexus game set in Constantinople, but it’s on hiatus for the foreseeable future. Way too big and ambitious, and it would end up being a free-to-play game. I’m at a point in my life where I have less free time, and it grows increasingly more valuable. So it would be nice if I could get paid when I give it up, y’know?

SO, the big story that I wanted to tell in the Purple Chamber was of the Fourth Crusade, and the events leading up to it. This is one of the most tragic events of the era, with thousands of innocent people killed, and the greatest city in the world more or less destroyed. Although the Byzantines survived for roughly another two centuries, this was basically the end for them, everything kinda sucked from that point on.

So why does it make a good story? It’s the stuff of Greek tragedy for one thing. Everything leading up to it was caused by hubris, greed, misunderstanding and misplaced faith. It also has a cast of fascinating characters, readily supplied for me to use. For one there’s the corrupt Angelos family, the rulers of the Empire. They include an incompetent Emperor who blinded his brother and stole the throne, his scheming wife who is the true power behind said throne, and his lascivious daughter who is in bed with the man plotting a coup. The only problem is that everyone is named Alexios, but that’s what nicknames are for.

This particular set of events also has a compelling set of mysteries to explore, mainly concerning how much of it was accident, and how much was… CONSPIRACY (gasp)! When you read the story of how the Crusade happened, there’s a lot that doesn’t make sense, but you tend to notice how well everything worked out for the “villains” of the story, meaning the Venetians. The shrewd merchants of Venice are represented by the cunning Doge, Enrico Dandolo. This guy is the perfect antagonist, and I feel like I have to make this project, if just to tell his story.

Okay, so currently, I’m writing a screenplay on-and-off. It’s a total fantasy project, I don’t know how it will ever get made into anything (I envisioned it as an animated web series). But I love this stuff too well to just let it stew in my head. Maybe I can turn it into a play, or a comic, or something, we’ll see. But I’m having fun with it, and hopefully it continues that way. I’m focusing on many of the events and characters I mentioned, and also adding a few of my own. My current protagonist is a young eunuch slave, recently brought to Constantinople. It seemed like an interesting way to explore gender stuff in a new way, and also shake things up with a non-traditional main character. I think it also helps to have an outsider perspective in this setting, which is kind of unfamiliar and weird to contemporary Western audiences.

More? More.

This is but one of many ideas I’m working on, but apparently I need to share every bit of minutia, so I think this is going to be another “serial” set of posts. There’s still plenty of great stories to share about the Byzantines, but that should probably be it’s own thing. Until next time…

Image courtesy of the Cornell University Library, no known copyright restrictions



Greetings Delicious Friends!

Once again, we dive into interactive fiction. For this post I’m going to focus on the works of Failbetter Games, and their unforgettable Fallen London setting. The game Fallen London, formerly known as Echo Bazaar, puts you in the role of an escaped prisoner exploring the dark, surreal, and often hilarious underground city. It’s the actual Victorian London of the 1890’s, but it was stolen by bats and brought to the underworld. It was terribly inconvenient for everyone.

I can’t stop playing this game. I first heard about it when the company released a spin-off game called Sunless Sea on Steam, first launched in early-access beta. Sunless Sea sounded interesting, but I prefer to play finished games. It takes place in the same world as Fallen London, and uses many of the same storytelling mechanics, so I figured I’d give the original a try first. And it was free.

Neathy Delights

Fallen London uses a program called Storynexus. It’s weird, different, and doesn’t feel anything like the other IF programs out there. For one thing, it’s meant to be played on a browser. Some of you might remember Kingdom of Loathing? It’s a bit like that. You have a limited number of actions per session (which prevents junkies like me from playing for too long). Storynexus games use “cards” which can be either random, or repeatable storylines. These cards are called “storylets,” because they’re tiny, delicious little vignettes, rather than longer continuous narratives. A typical session in Fallen London has you reading through dozens of these little stories, creating the impression of an open, nonlinear narrative, not firmly stuck in time or space.

Fallen London has an interesting origin story, explained in this interview with one of the lead writers (it was a Twitter game). It has since grown into one of the biggest (if not the biggest) IF worlds in history. There are thousands of storylets to explore, millions of words to read, and I’m pretty sure you can’t even see everything in just one game. Like I said, it’s different from other kinds of IF I’ve tried because it really feels like a living, breathing world that you can roam around in as you please. If it were a role-playing game (which it kind of is) it would be mostly made of side-quests. There is a main story-line to follow (or rather, there are four of them), but these are meant to progress very slowly, and with a lot of work to move them along.

It also supports more complex, RPG-like sub-systems that other IF programs lack. Your character in Fallen London (and any Storynexus game) is composed of “Qualities,” some of which are story details (like “On the Trail of the Cheesemonger”), statistics that measure how effective you are (Dangerous, Persuasive), or actual items and equipment (the Exceptional Hat, the Salt Weasel). You can use these qualities to unlock stories, or just feel more awesome in your samurai armor and elegant top hat. Part of the fun of the game is hunting down and collecting these items and qualities. I’ll never forget the day I bought my tiger.

Other Storynexus Games

Failbetter released the Storynexus engine to the community, and there are a number of fine games that have been written by fans. These are nearly all labors of love created by community members, so they’re not as polished as Fallen London, but I find that they’re usually more diverse and interesting than other fan games. Notable mention goes to –

  • Zero Summer – A somewhat surreal, post-apocalyptic Western. There’s a good amnesia story, a large world to explore, and a more cohesive narrative than you usually see in Storynexus.
  • The Thirst Frontier – Strange, sad, poetic science fiction. I haven’t played enough of this to even properly tell you what it’s about, but I was impressed enough with the writing that it’s definitely worth a look.
  • Below – A game about dungeon exploration, with original art and graphics. Challenging, fun, and tells a fine story of magic and mystery, in spite of it’s dungeon crawl presentation.

I also spent some time working on my own Storynexus game about the Byzantine Empire, in the year 1198, called the Purple Chamber. It was meant to be an open-world game in a similar vein to Fallen London, and also an exercise to teach myself the workings of the program. It was perhaps a bit too ambitious, and I don’t know if I’ll return to it anytime soon. You can try out the beginning stories here (I’ve currently only worked on the “Intriguing” story-lines).

Before signing off, I should also mention that Failbetter’s Sunless Sea is complete, and is truly a game worthy of your time. It features the same top-notch writing that it’s browser counterpart has, combined with a fun system for trading, exploring, and shooting things with cannons.

I now bid you a fond farewell, or as London’s Rubbery Men would say, THIRILTHITHOROOTH!!!

Image courtesy of the wonderful and talented Abi Nighthill

Interactive Fiction!


Ah! The joys of interactive fiction! Today I would like to share some thoughts and information on interactive fiction games (hereafter referred to as IF). I love this stuff, and it’s one of the mediums I hope to one day break into as a freelancer.

IF has been around for a long time, back in the seventies it was one of the first kinds of computer games available. It has waxed and waned in popularity over the years, but always maintained a strong underground following, especially when the internet became a thing. When I was a kid (in the 90’s, the glorious 90’s), this sort of thing was actually popular. From the time of it’s inception, to when IF exploded on the internet, it was usually very puzzle and exploration oriented. You had to get ye flask, and have a ridiculously large inventory, and sometimes take actual notes. It was a little cumbersome, but offered a fun experience nevertheless.

Nowadays, the medium has changed with the advent of new, user-friendly (and free!) programming platforms. I’m going to talk about a few of them, and maybe give a little mini-review for my favorite games. They are: Inform, Storynexus, Twine, and ChoiceScript. In general, these programs have caused IF to shift towards less puzzle-solving, and more narrative elements, with a little bit of RPG game-play mixed in.


Inform is older than the rest, and the kind of work that Inform authors have done is usually more old-school in it’s approach. I’ve never tried coding in Inform (because I suck at coding), but I’ve heard it’s easy enough to learn and get into. The Inform community is made up of kind, creative, and very intelligent people, and they have produced some excellent games over the years. They are the ones who originally organized the Interactive Fiction Competition, which is still chuggin’ on. Inform uses what is called a “parser,” which is where you type in commands to interact with the world (like “get ye flask”). It’s very traditional, and some Inform games are just like the classics from the 20th century. But there have been hundreds of creations, some are more experimental, some are just damn good stories. Here are some of my favorites –

  • Galatea, by Emily Short – A game that revolves entirely around one conversation with an animated statue, the character from Greek myth. Galatea is a fascinating, complex woman, one of the best-written in any game that I’ve encountered. Galatea has dozens of different endings, and a practically infinite number of combinations with each attempt at conversing. It’s addictive, and has some superb writing. Emily Short is a very accomplished IF writer, and a brilliant critic and thinker. Check out her site! You can play Galatea here.
  • Photopia, by Adam Cadre – This one is very focused on narrative (so is Galatea actually). You don’t do much but follow the clues, and read an amazing story as you go. It’s beautiful, it’s sad, and I’ll never forget the first time I played it. Try it out here.
  • Anchorhead, by Michael S. Gentry – Anchorhead is different from the other two, in that it has some very difficult puzzles, and a huge environment to explore. It’s a chilling tale of Lovecraftian horror, set in an isolated seaside town in New England. I tend to get quickly frustrated with IF games that are built around the old model of explore/collect items/solve ridiculous puzzles, but this one does such a good job of building atmosphere, and creating a rich world to explore. You can play it here. Sooner or later, you might want a walkthrough.

Most (if not all) Inform games are free to play online. There’s also an excellent app for those of you with tablets or smartphones called Frotz. CHECK IT OUT.

Next time, I’ll delve into the strange and wonderful worlds of Storynexus, as well as it’s flagship game (and current obsession of mine), Fallen London.

Images from The British Library – no known copyright restrictions