Brain Boil: Mind-Thistle Reloaded


Heads turned to see me, arms raised to the sky and imploring existence to “give me a goddamn notebook!”

School mothers quirked worried smiles at me as my son stopped his bike and said “are you alright daddy?”

No! Not at all, for my brain had caught alight and I had no means by which to write down the idea that had bloomed, fully fledged, into my mind.


Long experience has taught me that if you delay, you shall be lost: there you are, sitting in bed when this idea comes to you and you say “I’ll remember that in the morning,” the reality is that, no, you wont.

And you don’t…..

Balanced on a knife’s edge I had to keep the idea in my head.

I dropped the little one at the school gate and then, mumbling like some mad monk reciting a litany, I strode home without delay to unburden myself with pen and paper.

But what was it that triggered this incendiary brain boiling?


I was wasting time browsing the hot guff that is Facebook when I came across an advert for Spire’s End, a card game based on the old Choose Your Own Adventure books. Intrigued, I did a little digging: it starts with a mysterious spire popping up in town, so you pick an adventurer and an ally and you play through the story by working through the deck of cards, making decisions and fighting monsters.


It recalled those old Choose Your Own Adventure books – I had some hazy memory of one about giant robots with a basic RPG element. A little more digging and I found that many of the old books are being reprinted (a moment later and I’d bought a cheap reprint of Deathtrap Dungeon), and that there are authors who are writing modern takes on it.

In fact, there’s a whole, thriving community of CYOA writers and readers!

And I’m thinking, “maybe I could do that?”

But first I would need a setting and a story……

As if in answer to my half formed thoughts, I got a review posted on the Fantasy Writers Forum for The Mind-Thistle Run:

“This smashes it in my opinion. I loved the character development, and the combination of Dune meets The Odyssey. The Mind-Thistle desert was a brilliant concept, allowing your characters to grapple with their inner demons and the reader to get a beautiful, non-info-dump insight into their back story. I love the way you built the suspense as it unfolded – the deadly Sweep impelling their actions.”

Not only did that make my day, but it solidified the idea that I was going to rework the flawed swashbuckling tale into something totally awesome.


Excited about the prospected, the fuel was on the fire. The ol’ grey matter was beginning to do it’s thing. I could see the end result, but how would I get there?

First I checked the obligatory “how do I……” search engine results for writing a CYOA. The online sources showed me that it was feasible – I would have to write maybe five plot lines, then problem solve where they intersected and be careful of contradictions.

But what was the actual story going to be? I couldn’t use the narrative as it was……

Next morning I went about the morning routine: caffeinated the wife and fueled the boy. Everyone was set to get to their place of labours, and I was looking forward to getting to the office.

But without any warning BOOM!

Like a fermenting bottle of moonshine it just popped as I was walking down the road.

The story would be this:

At the port of Irongate several ‘interested parties’ have learned of the secret temple (from the priest in the original whose secret was never revealed). It lies on the other side of the Mind-Thistle Desert. They set out to reach it, but the cyclical flooding of the desert low lands is about to occur (The Sweep). It’s a race against time, and each other, to cross the desert and reach the Temple to find its mysterious treasure.

Along the way there are all manner of choices, decisions and monsters. What started as a story was now getting game play elements – a race against time meant a system. What about items? Statistics? Adversaries and allies?

An image of game card sprang to mind, and if I could keep it relatively simple I could easily make demo versions for a play test. The game element, after all, would be solo play anyway.

So, a stack of cards that represented the Mind-Thistle, filled with its hallucinatory dangers that drained time and stamina…..

This was going to take planning.

Getting into the office I did some more research. If there were five stories, what would they be, and what kind of choices would there be? Etc. I would have to sketch the structure out, make connections and dead end.

It wasn’t long before I chanced upon a wonderful diagram maker – SimpleMinds Pro.

With a free trial and an hour or two of playing around I had this:

Screenshot (1)

(Sorry the screen grab might be a bit small)

Starting on the left you make your initial choice. This takes you into the adventure via one of several groups attempting to reach the Temple. The completion of this first section determines how much time you have to cross the Mind-Thistle Desert (the big purple square).

Next you take X number from the Mind-Thistle Deck and play through the stack as time starts to tick down, facing the mental horrors to confront, the strange time dilations and the monsters that lurk in there. A bit of RPG thrown in with some basic stats for attack, defence and health.

As you proceed your time counters run down. Run out and you get washed away by the Sweep. Make it out and you enter the Temple for the finale where you play through a variety of endings – a boss perhaps? Some treasure, a surprise and a twist.

It was still early days at this point and it’d all need developing, but since I had other work to finish, it would have to sit on the shelf for a time.


In that interim, and with the waning of the initial rush of enthusiasm I realised that there was one problem: I was making a shit load of work for myself.

And what with all the changes happening around me, I was forced to cool my head and ask “do I have time to work on something like this?”

The answer is, I just don’t know.

That was when I reined it in a little. It was a sobering effect, damping the flame. Executing on an idea like isn’t going to be easy.

Enthusiasm pushes you one way, but practicality pushes the other.


Let me be clear. I’m not giving up on the idea. I’m going to earmark it for a future project, and right now I want to make sure this blog has consistent content.

But as a compromise to both blog and swashbuckling pulp in my head, I had an thought: What if I wrote a Mind Thistle Reloaded as a Nanowrimo project for November?

I’m going to set that as a challenge for myself and develop the story into a serial published monthly over 2020. Once delivered, and if gaining some interest, then I can look to developing it’s sister, the CYOA book and game.

And that, dear readers, is the state of the project at this time. I think it’s a good idea which would be great if I could get the traction required, but I’m going to need some encouragement to make it work.

So let me know what you think – how does it sound? Is it something that you’d be interested in? Would you like to become a supporter?

Leave a comment and let me know.

That’s all from me for this week, but as I’ve outlined elsewhere, I’m looking forward to bringing you fresh content every week. 

All the best.


COMING NEXT WEEK: Review For Wanderers by Chuck Wendig

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2 thoughts on “Brain Boil: Mind-Thistle Reloaded

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