Interview: Reviving the Blood Sword Saga With Dave Morris

Dave Morris is a narrative designer and prolific gamebook author. He is the co-creator of the wildly popular Fabled Lands series, as well as a writer for the five-book Blood Sword saga, renowned for being the first multiplayer gamebook.

Now, the last book in the series, “Blood Sword 5: The Walls of Spyte” is finally on it’s way in a new, improved edition that fixes many of the bugs that have plagued the book since its original publication in 1988.

According to Morris, the original ‘80s version suffered from having multiple authors working with different themes and tones. Even worse, there had been minimal editorial oversight. The tactical maps were printed too small, character abilities had been forgotten, and there were missing numbers that made the book almost unplayable.

That’s where Kickstarter comes in. Additional funds are needed to create a fully revised, limited edition full-colour hardcover version of “Blood Sword 5: The Walls of Spyte” that corrects all known errors while improving the prose. Additionally, larger, full-colour tactical maps will also now be included along with an all new edition cover.

Funds will also pay for the editing and typesetting of this new edition.

To talk a bit more about his love of gambeooks and the task of raising Blood Sword from the dead, we talked to Dave Morris.

“What I enjoy in roleplaying is the sense of discovering a story together. A shared narrative just emerges from what we say and do around the table…”

— Dave Morris

What was the market like in the 1980s when you were publishing Fabled Lands and Blood Sword?

Dave Morris: The gamebook market back then was huge. Every series would sell out in a few months, and typically every book I wrote got published in half a dozen translations. I have copies of my books from Japan, Bulgaria, France, Italy, Denmark, Spain, you name it. And because the publishers were so keen to get new gamebooks, it was possible to smuggle other projects in alongside. Dragon Warriors, for example.

The publishers hadn’t been looking for a roleplaying game, but I pointed out that since gamebooks had got around 200,000 kids playing SF/fantasy games, if we could offer them an entire RPG in paperback for under a tenner (this at a time that the “D&D Monster Manual” alone cost that much) we’d be opening up the hobby to a much wider readership.

And how did fellow players find each other back then? Such a different time.

Games Workshop was expanding then too, so players could meet up at the stores to buy the odd-shaped dice and play games together – face to face, which is still the best way to roleplay.

In a world where mobile IF games dominate, what makes physical gamebooks still so appealing to you?

It’s not so much the physical books that matter to me. What I enjoy in roleplaying is the sense of discovering a story together. A shared narrative just emerges from what we say and do around the table, and that can go in a very different direction from how anybody planned.

Obviously in a gamebook saga like Blood Sword you don’t get quite that same degree of freedom. The plot events have to be baked in to the flowchart. But the players will still get to make quips to other, discuss what’s coming up, formulate plans, argue about who does what. There’s still leeway for a freeform experience within the frame of the quest.

As much as I love playing massive CRPGs like The Witcher and Kingdom Come, they’re ultimately a solo experience and it’s always more fun sharing your imagination with friends. That said, I think the tactical aspect of Blood Sword – battles are played out on maps, with spells and various combat manoeuvres – would make for a pretty good digital version.

So that’s why it was important for you to re-issue the Blood Sword series, I assume.

Absolutely. I’m revising and reissuing all my old gamebooks when I get the time to work on them. Blood Sword has always been one of my own favourites as it’s set in the same world as my Dragon Warriors RPG, but it took me a while to get around to it just because it’s such a massive saga – around 3000 sections, 350,000 words, and they all link up into one episodic quest. Oh, and it’s multiplayer so I had to check all the options for four different character types!

I reissued the first four Blood Sword books back in 2014, but the final book needed a lot more work, which is why I finally decided to run the Kickstarter to cover it.

Did Blood Sword introduce multiplayer to gamebooks? What inspired that aspect?

I think it probably was the first gamebook that could be played by a party of up to four players.

I conceived of Blood Sword as a gateway drug to real tabletop roleplaying, which was probably why I set it in Legend, the Dragon Warriors world. That way, a group of gamebook friends who’d got together to play Blood Sword could keep going with a full campaign.

A friend of mine was telling me recently that he’s now playing through the Blood Sword books with his kids (aged 10 and 12). It’s hearing things like that that spurs me to reissue these books, so I can corrupt a whole new generation!

How are you able to do this when Knight Books was the original publisher?

Most publishing contracts include a reversion clause, meaning that the author can get their rights back if the book goes out of print.

I wrote to Knight Books – which incidentally is now part of Hechette, of which the co-author of Blood Sword is now Publishing Director – but they declined to bring out a new edition, so I reclaimed my rights and did it myself.

Let me just add a shout-out there for Russ Nicholson, who illustrated the books. He has the rights to his pictures, and they are a big part of the atmosphere of the Blood Sword saga, so I’m grateful that he kindly gave his permission for them to be used in the new edition.

Thanks for your time, Dave!

The Kickstarter campaign for Blood Sword 5: The Walls of Spyte runs until March 16th

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StoryFix Media produces interactive fiction games and novels. Our sci-fi text adventure The Pulse is out now. Our novel New Horizons is available now.

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