The Tales of Quahnarren project has been deeply influenced and positively inspired by a wide range of fantastic fiction and interactive gamebook series. There are too many favourites to list here, but the following recommended reading list will provide a few inspirational novels and classic series to seek out and discover for yourself:
The Morgaine Cycle – C.J. Cherryh
The Deed of Paksenarrion / The Legacy of Gird – Elizabeth Moon
The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R. Tolkien
The Wolf of Winter / The Gates of Twilight / The White Tribunal – Paula Volsky
The Winter of the World series – Michael Scott Rohan
Chalion series – Lois McMaster Bujold
Fighting Fantasy series – Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone
Lone Wolf series – Joe Dever
Fabled Lands series – Dave Morris and Jamie Thomson
Building the world and the game
Creating interactive fiction isn’t a simple process. Their player-driven, choice-based structure means that there’s a lot of work to do (especially if you desire a substantial roleplaying experience); plenty to overlook or spectacularly get wrong; and there’s also the endless checking of rules, gameplay and other important aspects to ensure that your adventure is both playable and entertaining.
My world of Quahnarren has been designed to provide a detailed setting for your adventures, offering a level of realistic depth and meaning to all that you encounter. Developing the many characters, creatures and settlements, and determining the comprehensive history of this island nation and its peoples, involved untold hours of creative thinking, planning and execution – the following look at just a few of my notes and sketches will give you some idea of what’s required to devise a complete fantasy world for an immersive narrative adventure.
Gameplay and rules
The Tales of Quahnarren gamebooks are quite simple to play, yet contain some mild complexity in order to allow personal input and choice, and for circumstances to advantageously or disruptively escalate. The first volume, which I regard as an ‘introduction’ to my world, isn’t especially difficult (depending of course on your chosen route), with an emphasis more on the essential qualities of the journey being undertaken, rather than producing a complex or frustrating challenge. Beyond the Morning Mountains offers multiple routes and opportunities to shape your character – and therefore your journey’s storyline – customising your experience of the game to match personal preferences.
Inspired by the streamlined nature of the Fighting Fantasy system, my original rules then add the ability to enhance your character with clothing and equipment, or gain beneficial weapons and armour to permanently aid you in combat. Additionally, a player’s PERCEPTION, which can be improved as your journey progresses, is regularly used to reveal hidden secrets, discover valuable information, or warn of imminent danger.
As shown below, my original idea of 5 character attributes was quickly altered to 4, and the unique Battle Process was revised (again and again!) to balance the capability of the Heavy Attack so that although the player was favoured, difficult opponents would still provide a stern, fluctuating test of skill and stamina.
Creating and mapping Quahnarren
I enjoy reading about archaeology, past events and stories of grand adventure on other worlds, so Quahnarren features characteristics of each of these, blended to create what I hope is an interesting place to learn about and explore. Amazing sights, lurking dangers and unexpected curiosities all provide evocative fuel for exciting experiences!
Mapping is an important aspect of most fantasy settings in all forms of literature and gaming, and a very important component of many gamebooks. Once the shape, topography and climate of the island had been created (see the map here), my focus was to determine its key settlements, natural features and several significant landmarks so that an interesting route could be devised for the long, two-part journey undertaken in Beyond the Morning Mountains.
Below is a simple sketch of Ustahm, the first settlement many players will travel to in Volume One. A compact town consisting of only a few streets, this location nevertheless sets the tone for what to expect once among a ‘civil’ community – both the good and the bad can be found here: friends may be made, or enemies quickly discovered. All of my early planning for designing cities, towns and villages is completed by hand; this then forms the base for refined digital artwork featuring alphabetical/numerical labels, shape and colour-coded areas, and overlaid textures.
Quahnarren mixes fantasy with reality, with many denizens of this ancient land showing a strong resemblance to creatures of Earth’s past and present; this is a deliberate decision that builds a diverse bestiary of both known and unknown entities. Those that appear as something known offer gameplay benefits for adventurers proceeding with due caution, while those that do not directly match our understanding of natural life provide interesting challenges – especially the enigmatic spirits that do not conform to any earth-bound experiences or knowledge.
My notes below show early written descriptions of several creatures and spirits. At this point I was planning to include many classic creatures of myth and legend, however, I soon decided that my own inventions were much more interesting and creatively rewarding, so I continued to assemble an assortment of domesticated and non-hostile inhabitants, together with many mystifying or highly aggressive opponents, all spread throughout the land based on their preferred habitats and my need for distinct forms, or threats, in specific regions.
Be wary though, as Quahnarren is also full of innumerable human troublemakers and tricksters – the true monsters are often much closer than you may expect!
Creation of illustrations
The rich stories and superb visual qualities of the Quahnarren landscape are brought to life by a wide range of illustration styles and techniques. Produced mainly in Adobe Photoshop and Corel Painter, these digital images provide an immersive opportunity to fully experience the world of Quahnarren – almost as if you were actually there, participating in the stories themselves.
The exact methodology for creating these illustrations varies from one image to the next, but all feature similar stages of artwork development and progression. Starting from an original idea or sketch, a layout is devised to fit the format desired and the overall design focus of the content. This is then taken through to the initial blocking-in of the painting, where the tones and values of major shapes and elements are decided and refined, paying particular attention to areas of contrast and the general readability of the piece. Once this groundwork has been finalised it becomes appreciably easier to advance the illustration through the stages of rendering and detailing, where tones and colours are mainly settled, and any obvious mistakes are corrected. Often, at this point, a piece will shift dramatically away from the first concept, as new ideas spring out from the work completed – this give and take process becoming a continuous feedback loop between the creator and the art, as areas of concern are responded to and adjusted regularly to achieve better balance and impact. Final alterations, effects, and polishing are then completed, and the image is reviewed once again to ensure that all is completely finished and that the illustration is ready for release.
Completion times will vary significantly for every piece, with some of the more complex and detailed images taking 40 hours or more to complete. This considerable time investment can be frustrating and taxing at times, yet the final result ultimately adds another layer to the visual history of this fantasy world.
For those that have an interest in peeking behind the scenes, and are keen to witness the processes required to construct and produce the Tales of Quahnarren project, presented here are files showing illustration stages, concept sketches, and other pieces of material that offer some insight into the methods and techniques involved.
Short animated clip showing the major stages in development of The Silent Tower. The creation of this image, in Photoshop, was easily a 40 hour process.
From top, left to right, to bottom: Images tracking development on The Dreamer as work is completed on specific areas of importance, before making final balancing adjustments and detail improvements.
Development of Trial of the Alvaiser, from the initial black & white painting phase completed in Corel Painter, through to adding colour, details and effects in Adobe Photoshop.
From top, left to right, to bottom: Stages of production for The Battle of Velkonnen Plains, showing the transformation of the illustration from a simplistic digital sketch through to the final setting and taller format.
From top, left to right, to bottom: Individual steps involved in the creation of Firebird.
Original pencil sketch (drawn with a 2B on paper) and final digital art (completed in Photoshop with a custom inking brush) for Faluum. The finished art is mostly made of different stroke thicknesses, with only Faluum, the upper shadowed section of wall, and a few objects receiving a solid tone or shadow. The end result is remarkably similar to my sketch – not a regular occurrence!
Clockwise from top left: Creation of Mystic Bazaar, starting with a quick digital sketch.
From top, left to right, to bottom: Stages of production for Great Statue of Tahsanook-Lai, showing the development of the illustration from a rough pencil sketch, which was then scanned and placed in Photoshop as the starting point for the digital artwork.
Clockwise from top left: Steps involved in the creation of Stone Column, showing the application of very quick strokes with a custom brush to build texture and suitable detail.
Original pencil sketch (2B on paper) and final digital art (ink brush in Photoshop) for the Black Dice located on The Hollow, Ustahm. The finished artwork shows alterations to the perspective of the tavern and the buildings behind it, and adds greater contrast to the entrance area to draw the eye inside the doorway.
Clockwise from top left: Steps involved in the creation of the Shrine of Rhast, showing the early correction of the point of view angle to accurately portray the height of the structure.