Friday, November 16, 2012

Sigil Beasts by Karalynn Lee

I'm going to be honest. I LOVED Sigil-Beasts. Within the first two short paragraphs, Karalynn has already painted a picture of a vivid and interesting world. I'm imagining huge, rune-covered monsters, clashing in battles that resolve the fate of nations. This is a great premise because, not only does it have raw coolness factor, it puts a lot of emphasis on the individuals who are in charge of these beasts, which is great for story purposes.

The only place I think this story falls flat is in the later chapters. I like to try to craft each possible path of a gamebook to read like a story in it's own right--just as satisfying as if it were the only narrative path the author wrote. This is a steep challenge, and I'm not sure it's actually possible, but Sigil-Beasts falls pretty far short of that (admittedly high) mark. There were several story paths that I found very unsatisfying, with strange or unsettling endings that did not leave me feeling satisfied, like the story wasn't complete.

Just a little bit more on the system side: I felt like the rule-set was just the right length, neither too heavy nor too light, with each stat serving a valid purpose. And it was surprisingly clear and concise in it's presentation, especially for someone who (I assume?) is a first timer at this. (Is she a first timer? Has she done anything else I didn't know about?) That said, the balance later in the game got very screwy. I had trouble finding any path in which my dragon could win at the end, which was very frustrating. But I didn't explore exhaustively; I may just have made the wrong choices.

Another commenter suggested that Sigil-Beasts would have been better served as a straight narrative, either a short story or a novel. I don't want to scare the author away from writing gamebooks, because I think as a whole Sigil-Beasts was utterly fantastic, but I just want to throw out there, I would LOVE to see the novel that this story could become. Everything about the story, from the premise of the world to the cool house the main character lives in--built in the bones of his old dragon--to the moral ambiguities of the whole practice of raising and fighting the Sigil Beasts... there's so much richness and depth here.

I feel like the gamebook art could be honed a bit, as far as crafting the narrative paths and making each one satisfying, but the incredibly vivid and evocative setting and world (not to mention the clear, concise, and well-written ruleset) earned my respect. This one caught my eye from the beginning and remained one of my favorites throughout. It was a hard choice, but this came out as one of my top choices: Sigil-Beasts received one of my two votes.


  1. Sigil Beasts was one of my favorites from this batch. It did have some "craftmanship" issues mechanically as you note but this is a problem common to many gamebooks.

    In terms of story, I think it was hurt a bit by the size restriction.

    1. Glad to see we agreed on this one. I too am interested to see the points where we disagreed ;)

      In particular, I'd be interested in hearing more about what you thought was cliche or weak in Legacy of the Zendari. I've been finding something bugging me about it, but having trouble putting my finger on it. But LotZ gets it's own self-review later on. Plenty of time to talk about it there.

      That's interesting to point out how the size restriction may have affected it. You may be right. Not enough time to explore the different paths. Alternately, it might have tried to tackle too many paths in the limited space.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Ashton. This is indeed my first (finished) gamebook, but I hope my entry next year will be stronger, especially in those areas you rightfully pointed out as needing work (*cough* gameplay). I appreciate the feedback as much as the vote!

    And congrats on your Merit Award!

    1. Great to hear from you hear Karalynn :) I don't need to repeat how much I liked your entry, and I definitely hope to see more from you as time goes on.

      I do want to clarify, though there are points where the gameplay could use work, particularly with structure and balance later in the book, I thought the actual game design itself was very good. The rules were not remarkably innovative, but avoided many of the common pitfalls of gamebook rulesets. They were concise, clear, and colorful, inherently balanced (even if I'm not sure every fight was) and not too complex. Very well done.

      Best of luck to you! And thanks :)

  3. Hello Karalynn, I don't know if you'll get this or not, but if you do, ping me! I'd like to approach you about a writing project, potentially paid.

    Contact me for more details! ashton at blackhatwriting dot com