Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Familiar Story by Richard Penwarden

Okay, is your name a pen name? Because dude. I mean dude. "Richard Penwarden." Either that's an assumed name or you were born to be an author. Just sayin'.

I really enjoyed A Familiar Story. I like the inversion of the player being the familiar, and your wizard being somewhat bumbling and incompetent. From the get-go it's apparent that you're going to have to solve all the problems for him.

I like the system; it's pleasantly colorful, but I think is just a little more complex than is really necessary for such a short format gamebook. While the special abilities all have a lot of color (and the wings and heritages in particular I found flavorful and awesome) it seems like a lot for the format.

The world as well was very colorful and charming. I particularly liked the descriptions of the town of Stiltwater. I think the characterizations could have used... maybe a bit more subtlety. The wizard is so clearly nice and kind and good and then when he gets corrupted by the other familiar... I was pleased to see conflict in the story, but it's just so obvious. I would have enjoyed it more if I'd seen a bit of complication and subtlety. Perhaps a bit of darkness in the character first that the demonic familiar drew out and played upon to start corrupting him, rather than him being so one-dimensionally good before hand and one dimensionally corrupted afterward.

I do think the game flow could have used some work. There are far too many sections where you turn to another paragraph for no discernable reason, without any player choice or even an item, skill or dice test. It's more like reading a short story than a gamebook. Sadly, once you do get to the choices, that's where it falls a little flat. The choices are often blind--which is to say, there's no real information as to why to pick one over another. For example, I was particularly frustrated by the choice at section 40. I get to visit 6 of 10 location, with no reason to pick any one over any other one other than the name. Might as well roll some dice. Sorry, not for me.

At the end of the day, I think this was a near miss. It has in it either a very good short story, or a very good gamebook, but it tries to be both, and ends up doing neither very well. I would be interested to see what could come of this with more focus and revisions.


  1. Thankyou for your feedback! Very useful and yes, it IS my real name Penwarden is a classic Cornish surname.

  2. Thankyou for your feedback! Very useful and yes, it IS my real name Penwarden is a classic Cornish surname.