RE: Choose Your Own Adventure Gamebooks
Posted on 23rd Dec 2009 at 09:50 by Joe Martin with 17 comments
For those not in the know, CYOA books are essentially multiple-choice driven singleplayer RPGs. You create a character according to the rules established in the start of the book, turn to the first passage, read it and then decide what you would do next. Each option available to you would point you to another passage in the book, creating a rudimentary branching adventure.
In the early ‘90s I remember them being all the rage and there were some long-lasting brands to come out of the short-lived fad, the most popular of which was the Fighting Fantasy series which included the likes of The Legend of Zagor and The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. My personal favourites however were the long-running Lone Wolf books by Joe Dever, - which had a single adventure running across multiple books - and the Fabled Lands series.
Fabled Lands, which was known as Quest in the US, was definitely the one I spent the most time with. It was years ahead of it’s time in the way it created an utterly open sandbox across multiple books. Written by Dave Morris and Jamie Thomson, the Fabled Lands themselves were a fictional world that mirrored parts of ancient history and each book contained an entire nation – though the series was cancelled before the world could be completed.
Only six of the proposed twelve books were ever published – The Wartorn Kingdom, Cities of Gold and Glory, The Court of Hidden Faces, The Blood Dark Ocean, Lords of the Rising Sun and The Plains of Howling Darkness. Each novel contained a distinct part of the world for players to explore and you could travel between countries/books as much as you wanted just by hopping to the relevant passage in the next book. It was all very clever and likely a pain in the ass to organise.
The Fabled Lands series stood apart from other gamebooks in that there wasn’t a central plot either. You were just a character in a larger world, free to do what you wanted and be whoever you desired – something that encouraged lots of replaying. Fancy enrolling in the wizard schools of Dweomer? Sure. Want to try and find the Monastery of Molhern or assassinate the Faceless King of Aku? Again, fine. In The Blood Dark Sea you could even turn pirate or pirate-hunter, roaming the oceans as you pleased.
One of the great things about Fabled Lands was that although there was an awful lot of well-written content, it was also an incredibly well-balanced and fair game, with very few insta-death scenarios. Inexperienced gamers would often find themselves sold into slavery or stranded on a desert island admittedly, but there was nearly always a way to recover. You might lose all your equipment and money (and maybe a skill point if you were unlucky), but you could always get them back. And if you died, so what? Just start again in a new book, with a new class and ensure a new situation. Brilliant.
Unfortunately though, as I said, the CYOA medium is largely inactive now and there’s little chance that the missing Fabled Lands books will ever be restored. That’s really annoying for me because, due to the way that the books link up, there’s a lot of quests and storylines that are left unfinished in Fabled Lands. You can, for example, find the body of an accomplice in a successful robbery left when you go to collect your share of the loot. You can then chase the murderer from Yamuria in The Plains of Howling Darkness to Old Harkuna in The Court of Hidden Faces before you learn that he’s gone to sea on the Violet Ocean. Pursue him there and he promises you a chance at a once-in-a-lifetime job in the land of Ankon-Konu.
But Ankon-Konu doesn’t exist because The Serpent King’s Domain is one of the books which never got published. The quest cannot be completed as the thread which starts “Turn to Passage 768 in The Serpent King’s Domain” doesn’t actually have another end.
Thankfully though, the authors have released their claim on the old books and allowed fans to create a PC-based version of the existing six books. Dubbed FLApp, you can explore what was published without any page turning or bookmark-losing. The game even keeps track of your stats and lets you save your progress – though real men only play in Hardcore Mode!
It’s a small, free game that’s completely open-source and an utter retro delight. If that doesn’t endear it to anyone reading this then I don’t know what will, so go and check it out. If you loved CYOA games as much as I did then it’ll bring a nostalgic tear to your eye and have you wondering if there aren’t other classic Fighting Fantasy games that could be adapted to a new medium.