KICKSTARTER+INTERVIEW: Arcane Rites, Book One: Cult of the Pajoli

Written by Simon Birks (co-founder of Blue Fox Comics), and with art by Lyndon White (cover) and Willi Roberts (interior), the first gamebook in the Arcane Rites series, Cult of the Pajoli, is now seeking funding via Kickstarter.

You are a hunter and adventurer named Derilion crossing Pregeara, the only land you’ve ever known, making money by fair means or not-so-fair means. Skilled with a sword, and bearing a magic shield, you seek fortune, or even, in the lean times, just enough to get by.

Recently, adventures have been scarce, and the few people you’ve spoken to all say the same thing; it’s as if something is brewing. Of course, you take everything you hear with a pinch of salt, but you can’t deny you’ve felt it, also. A foreboding you can’t pin down. For now, however, you have other things on your mind. In a recent quest, an innocent man was killed, and you promised to honour his dying wish to look after his daughter, Obishaa, as your ward. It’s a partnership which neither you nor Obishaa are happy with.

Obishaa has been taken by the Pajoli, a cult of magic-wielders whose sorcery is siphoned from the gifted children they take. Time is running out, and you have to venture into the caves the Pajoli have carved into the mountain. Armed with your sword and flaming shield, you must face the monsters, traps and more held within the chambers. Will you survive? There’s a slim chance, but even a slim chance is better than some of the odds you’ve faced before.

Arcane Rites – Cult of the Pajoli

Featuring 700 paragraphs and more than 40 full-page interior illustrations from artist Willi Roberts, Cult of the Pajoli offers over 350 pages of fantasy adventure. Available in both paperback and digital editions, the Kickstarter also offers backer rewards such as exclusive dice and a gold foil pencil, bookmark, bingo card, mini-print, notebook, and more. You can also pledge to include your name in the back of the book, and/or add your likeness to an illustration.

Gamebook News wanted to share more information about this exciting new series with our readers, so we asked Simon Birks to further introduce his book, describing the structure and gameplay, and noting some of the interesting aspects about the wider world of Arcane Rites.

Your independent publishing business, Blue Fox Comics, recently celebrated its 5th Anniversary. What are the reasons for branching out and creating interactive fiction at this point?

My love for gamebooks goes back to 1982, when I bought The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. Since then, I’ve always wanted to write one, and have several false starts gathering dust on a cloud somewhere.

Now I’m 49, and with a greater understanding of writing and publishing, and with the fantastic resource that is Kickstarter, creating and printing my own gamebook simply came down to finding enough time and putting in the work.

Plus, Blue Fox has a good customer base from our comic-based endeavours, and I think, like me, a fair number of them will be interested in gamebooks.

What should readers expect when they play Cult of the Pajoli? What experience were you aiming to create, and does the narrative have similarities to any other gamebooks?

As this is my first gamebook, I didn’t want to overly complicate the set-up. On the surface it’s a cave-crawl, but there’s a reason why we have these creatures living in the cave system, which you’ll find out whilst playing the gamebook. I was acutely aware that books I’d played in the past didn’t really provide a lot of explanation as to why enemies were found there in the first place, and I wanted my gamebook to make as much sense as possible.

I’m sure Cult of the Pajoli will have similarities with other gamebooks, but I haven’t deliberately set out to write my adventure with any one of them in mind. I wanted to include an emotional tie to the quest, so the rescuing of your ward, who you’ve sworn to protect, made a perfect choice. You see these sorts of connections more and more in video games, where the protagonist has a person or animal to protect, and I wanted to incorporate the same mechanic.

Is this book part of a larger series that you intend to publish or a stand-alone adventure?

Cult of the Pajoli is part of the larger Arcane Rites series. I haven’t set a total number of books in the series as yet, preferring to let the story run its course. Book two, Ascendance of the Witch, will see the story open out into a trek across the land of Pregeara. The reader will also begin to discover new abilities as their character grows in line with what happens in the story.

The 700 paragraphs of Cult of the Pajoli make this quite a lengthy gamebook. Was the adventure’s size and length ever an important consideration, or is the final amount of sections simply a result of your desired features?

The most important thing about the length of the book, before starting out, was to make it at least 400 paragraphs, like the Fighting Fantasy series. That always felt like a good number! Though I can remember being excited to see much longer books.

The fact that it’s ended up at 700 paragraphs is amazing, and due mainly to the how long story had to be. I’ve now gained a lot of experience in how to write interactive fiction, which I’ll be able to take into the design of the next book.

Do you follow the Fighting Fantasy style and structure, or have you created something different?

Well, my first gamebook love was FF, so Cult of the Pajoli is bound to be influenced by those books. Not too much, though!

I wanted to create my own feel for the Arcane Rites books, and I hope that the style they are written in will stand out. The reader will be involved in a high-pressure situation, and if they don’t act in a timely manner, it does affect the outcome of situations they subsequently encounter. For example, being indecisive in a certain part of the dungeon alters whether you will later find another adventurer alive or dead, and thus have access to the information they can provide.

What mechanics are used for general play and combat?

General play uses a pencil, two D6 and an adventure sheet. There are lots of items to pick up, some of which can be used in this first book, some in future books, and others you’ll be able to trade for coins or other goods. As the story takes place over the course of a couple of hours, there’s no ‘sitting and eating provisions’ mechanic, as there just isn’t the time available to waste.

Not all the creatures you meet are enemies, and some will be able to help you in your quest. There are others you help, which you’ll then meet again in other books, where your previous actions will result in different outcomes.

Combat mechanics come down to using your Speed attribute, and then being able to successfully roll under your Accuracy stat. Your character has an amount of hit points, which, when depleted, means your character has died. The amount of HP you score depends on your weapon plus any additional modifiers.

The reader will also have a Detection attribute which will allow them to find traps and other things should they roll successfully, and a Stealth attribute which allows them to move undetected in the system.

What can you tell us about the Arcane Rites world?

In Arcane Rites, we start off knowing just what the protagonist knows, and our knowledge increases as their knowledge does. The book is set in a land known as Pregeara, but there is no name for the world, as you have no concept of it.

The story of Arcane Rites is focused on Derilion, the main character, who must rescue their ward from the magic-forged cave system of the Pajoli. They’re not involved in larger conflicts – it’s all personal.

Subsequent books will take the readers into the world and start building the lore. It was important to me to keep the book simple to begin with.

Pregeara is a single body of land. Whilst islands exist, Derilion has not stepped foot on a boat to visit one. The land we will see in the second book is lush and green, with rolling hills and valleys, and plenty of villages to visit.

What level of capability and technology exists in your world? Is it similar to a typical fantasy setting or unique in some aspects?

The protagonist lives in a world which is a typical fantasy setting. Of course, there are things they’ve never encountered before, and towards the end of the story, there are clues that other worlds might exist, including portals which will allow travel between them.

That’s all I’m letting on, for now!

Cult of the Pajoli is an illustrated gamebook. Was it important to you to include plenty of interior artwork?

Absolutely. Illustrations were a necessity. I loved FF and other gamebooks, and I instantly recognise a lot of the illustrations as soon as I see them. They are iconic.

We’re lucky enough to have found Willi Roberts, our artist, who’s expertly turning my written descriptions of creatures into something worth fearing! I wanted to move away from conventional monsters, adding original ideas and origins.

Take the Cuddower (shown below). It’s original, obviously with aspects from other beasts, but you won’t have met one before. I didn’t want the book to be a plethora of giant versions of known insects, or vampires, werewolves, etc.

Cult of the Pajoli - Cuddower

For the cover art, we asked Lyndon White, an artist Blue Fox Comics has used many times on the comics we publish. He’s always been able to create striking images that instantly hook passers-by.

What types of situations and encounters have been included? Are players to be regularly tested by difficult circumstances and enemies? Any puzzles or clever tests of logic to solve?

I can definitely say that both the environment and enemies alike will test players regularly. There aren’t a lot of logic tests, but a healthy dose of common sense will come in handy. It depends on how the reader likes to play.

Situations often come down to the reader’s morals. You could play the book with an evil, neutral or good persona, and in return will receive a different experience based on your personal approach.

You’d been planning to create a gamebook for some time. What was it about this particular labyrinth adventure that made it all the way to a finished product?

Simplicity was key for this first book. In the past thirty-plus years I’ve begun to write a great many gamebooks but come unstuck by over-complicating them. For Cult of the Pajoli, the physical restrictions of the environment became restrictions in how I could write it.

Also, I bought some Pathfinder dungeon tiles, so I was able to physically plot out the path the adventurer would take before I’d written a single word. Seeing the cave system laid out on the dining table really helped, even if my wife wasn’t overly pleased!

Is this a ‘one true path’ adventure, or does it contain meaningful alternative pathways for players to explore?

There are alternative ways through the cave system, which will come back to a single paragraph a couple of times. The reader has moral choices to make, which impact what happens later in this book and the ongoing series.

It probably can be described as a ‘one true path’ adventure, since you have a very definite goal; rescue your ward!

Do players record codewords to then trigger events during the adventure or in later books?

Good question – yes, they do! There are several occasions where the player is given words or information which is important later in the book, but how the adventurer uses that information is up to them.

There are also people you meet who will appear in future books, and the future choices and outcomes will depend on how you interacted with them in Cult of the Pajoli.

Blue Fox Comics has already run over 20 Kickstarter campaigns. What are you offering to entice backers as part of the Cult of the Pajoli campaign?

Well, the best thing we’re offering is our wealth of experience! I say this meaning we’ve been able to pick the best parts of our previous campaigns and put them all into this one.

One of the most notable areas for this is our broad range of rewards available. We honed the things that backers like, and added some brand-new items, like our laser engraved custom dice and custom dice-roll mats.

We also have our frequent backer program, which gives backers extra custom postcards for each subsequent campaign they back, for free. This rewards their loyalty in the best way possible.

Special thanks to Simon for taking the time to respond to our numerous queries with such informative responses!

Cult of the Pajoli has already surpassed its funding target, so we’ll hopefully see some extra content make its way into the book. Subscribe to the Arcane Rites Newsletter here, or visit the Blue Fox Comics web store to view their range of independent comics. The Kickstarter campaign concludes on August 5th.

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