Gamebooks

Why just read.. why not take part in a novel?

Are you a fan of Black Mirror? Did you enjoy Bandersnatch and then read in the media about the case over the term 'Choose your own adventure'?

This term refers to a craze that was started in the 1980s by Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson with their Fighting Fantasy book 'The Warlock of Firetop Mountain', a book where a single reader armed with dice and a pencil could go on an adventure to save a village from an evil warlock. It worked with a premise of numbered paragraphs i.e.

"1. You are in a dark passage that ends in a fork, do you want to go east (turn to 251) or west (turn to 125)".

The reader would then skip through the numbered paragraphs and carry on adventuring. Monsters could be encountered and fought using a simple combat system using Skill and Stamina and traps could be avoided and feats of daring undertaken using Luck.

These were an instant phenomenon selling in their millions, and as time went on they got more complex, and top authors, including Harry Harrison (Stainless Steel Rat / Deathworld), even wrote a book "You can be the Stainless Steel Rat".

Some series stand out above the others as single books turned into multibook continuous adventures such as Sorcery by Steve Jackson. Events in early books could impact events in later books, and the hero got more and more powerful. The fourth book of the sorcery series was notable by having a massive number of paragraphs which at the time typically numbered 350-450, but this book had 800.

As home games consoles grew in popularity, gamebooks eventually started to diminish in sales. It is with some irony that the same digital era which almost killed the gamebook was also responsible partly for its rediscovery with mobile / tablet versions of the books and also new ones. However more relevant, the invention of 'Crowdfunding' led to old series being regenerated and new books adding.

Today solitaire gamebooks are still going strong, featuring very complex systems reminiscent of computer MMORPG games, and procedurally generated dungeons for a computer game experience without the electronics.

Here are some samples, starting with those which are acclaimed for their stunning writing, worthy of a novel but made interesting by the 'choose your own path' mechanics.

Great Writing

These books can be played as a free read, with just a pencil and pad to hand, no dice required. They are famous for the high quality of the writing, acclaimed for clever plots that pull the reader into an exceptional narrative. Heart of Ice is considered (arguably) the pinnacle of gamebook writing.

Modern Gamebooks

These books have been written in the last few years. They take completely new concepts, combined with incredible writing to give an experience not dissimilar to playing a modern-day MMO (World of Warcraft), using a free-roaming series of adventures all tied into an overarching story.

Free Roaming Books

Arguably, one of the last and great series in the gamebook genre was Fabled Lands. Each book in the series was part of a massive world that the reader could move between freely. The player would gain in stature and skill and using an innovative code word system, progress between all the different lands was charted.

Sadly the series came into being 'just too late' to complete, with only 6 of the planned 12 books being released. The large format of this book was so popular after they went out of print in the UK that for the final four books, never released in the USA, a sale of £350 was recorded in the late '90s.

However, due to crowdfunding, this series has been regenerated, with a 7th book now released and the rest planned.

Coming soon, Solitare Dungeon books and Episodic Titles...

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