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RE: Choose Your Own Adventure Gamebooks

Posted on 23rd Dec 2009 at 09:50 by Joe Martin with 17 comments

Joe Martin
I used to love Choose Your Own Adventure games and I’d regularly either rent them out of the library or pick them up before going on holiday. Lately I’ve been thinking what a shame it is that the medium has pretty much died out and I’ve been fighting back against this by having a go on some of the later interpretations of the idea.

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.

RE: Choose Your Own Adventure Gamebooks RE: Choose Your Own Adventure Books

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.

17 Comments

Discuss in the forums Reply
Skiddywinks 23rd December 2009, 11:48 Quote
I vaguely emember a friend having a some books along those lines. No idea if it was anything you mentioned however.

The most experience I had with anything to do with CYOA was probably a Goosebumps book that was written in much the same way. No stats or anything like that, just a simple story, but getting to choose what happened was excellent. I remember one ending in particular, which had you stuck on a slide or rollercoaster (or something like that) for ever. What an ending!
yakyb 23rd December 2009, 12:24 Quote
i had tons of these from sonic the hedgehog to a sherlock holmes one

they were awesome
CardJoe 23rd December 2009, 12:27 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by yakyb
i had tons of these from sonic the hedgehog to a sherlock holmes one

they were awesome

Yay! I had the Sonic ones. And the Lemmings ones. And the Mario ones. And the Virtual Reality ones. And the Lone Wolf ones. And the Fighting Fantasy ones. And..

You get the idea. But, the Sonic ones were really good.
MaverickWill 23rd December 2009, 12:51 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by CardJoe
Yay! I had the Sonic ones. And the Lemmings ones. And the Mario ones. And the Virtual Reality ones. And the Lone Wolf ones. And the Fighting Fantasy ones. And..

You get the idea. But, the Sonic ones were really good.

What he said.

I thought Jackson and Livingstone were doing a new series of them? Sure I remember hearing about it...
Spiny 23rd December 2009, 12:54 Quote
Heh I played loads of those. I just bought the Munchkins card game by Steve Jackson, looks like it'll be fun.
Omnituens 23rd December 2009, 13:09 Quote
Heh, I might give this a go, sounds fun!
CardJoe 23rd December 2009, 13:21 Quote
I very much recommend the Fabled Lands App foe Linux-based netbooks. It makes a great train-time killer if you bung it on an EEE PC.
TheTinMan 23rd December 2009, 14:18 Quote
Great article Joe. I'm a passionate gamebook fan and have recently started a team of similar minded folks bringing out a new series called "Gamebook Adventures" which we're initially releasing on the iPhone. Check out our blog at www.tinmangames.com.au for more info. We've just released a teaser video of the gamebooks in action.

The genre is far from dead!
CardJoe 23rd December 2009, 14:31 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by TheTinMan
Great article Joe. I'm a passionate gamebook fan and have recently started a team of similar minded folks bringing out a new series called "Gamebook Adventures" which we're initially releasing on the iPhone. Check out our blog at www.tinmangames.com.au for more info. We've just released a teaser video of the gamebooks in action.

The genre is far from dead!

I'm actually following your games already - both look impressive.

Apparently, Megara is bringing the Fabled Lands to the iPhone too - but I've only heard that on other forums and haven't been able to confirm it yet.
Blademrk 23rd December 2009, 14:54 Quote
I followed the Lone Wolf and Grey Star the Wizard series of books for quite a while.
l3v1ck 23rd December 2009, 16:43 Quote
I used to have an Asterix adventure book like that. Though it was very hard to get to the end without running out of magic potion.
JrRRr 23rd December 2009, 22:59 Quote
I think the only time I experienced what you describe her was in a Donald-pocketbook. I think it involved a castle and something like that. There were about 5 different "jumps" in the story if my memory serves me right.. It kinda worked.. Nice blog-post Joe! I think I'll take a look.. ..if I can find the time..
MaverickWill 24th December 2009, 11:53 Quote
I'm sure I had one that said "If you have already found the Magical Sneakers of Kaldorn, turn to page XX..." and when you got there, it said "That's funny, because there's no such thing as the Magical Sneakers of Kaldorn in this book. You suck. I bet you cheat with your finger in the page. You've probably flicked to the end already, haven't you? Minus a million out of ten!"
TheTinMan 29th December 2009, 10:42 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by CardJoe
I'm actually following your games already - both look impressive.

Thanks Joe! I'll keep you guys informed of when it gets accepted by Apple.
AstralWanderer 2nd January 2010, 08:08 Quote
Anyone interested in the Lone Wolf gamebook series may want to check out the Mongoose re-releases (in hardback with an extra mini-adventure at the end of each book) - see their forums for more info. Past books have had publishing errors like missing sections so prospective purchasers may want to avoid buying in advance.

They do intend to finish the series (which originally reached book 28 out of 32) though at the current rate of progress that may be a few years away.

I'm surprised to see Fabled Lands mentioned in the same article as Choose Your Own Adventure though - it's like showing off a Rolls Royce after asking people if they remember the Sinclair C5. :D
uz1_l0v3r 11th January 2010, 10:20 Quote
I had those books - deathtrap dungeon, a couple set in space (can't remember names). I couldn't be bothered rolling dice, though.
TheTinMan 20th February 2010, 06:47 Quote
Sorry I'm a bit late with this info but our first iPhone Gamebook Adventures title called An Assassin in Orlandes was released two weeks ago. More info can be found here: http://www.tinmangames.com.au/?page_id=210

We'd love some feedback if you get a chance to play it!
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