Saturday, March 29, 2014

Tunnels & Trolls: Choosing My Own Adventure

One of the game's most memorable encounters so far. I like T&T's wraiths a lot better than D&Ds; they just drain my levels.

I was in fourth grade when the Choose Your Own Adventure series, and its competitors, exploded among my peer group. For those uninitiated, the series consisted of nearly two hundred short books, each told from a second-person perspective (e.g., "You walk down the corridor . . ."). Every couple of pages, the reader would have a choice, perhaps as innocuous as trying the left door or right door, or as consequential as which character to accuse of murder. A single book might have a couple dozen "endings," some good, some bad, some just screwed up.

I think my first exposure was Trapped in the Black Box, having to do with time travel, from a CYOA knockoff series called Which Way. Looking through the CYOA titles, the one I remember most was Inside UFO 54-40 (1982), a science fiction story in which characters repeatedly mention a paradise-like planet called "Ultima" but note that you cannot get there by simply following directions. At one point, I stumbled upon some passages in the middle of the book that depict the reader's arrival on Ultima--essentially the "perfect" ending. I scoured the entire book looking for the reference to those pages--for the path that would take me to that ending--before realizing that you can literally only get there by not following directions, by just flipping randomly to those pages. My little mind was blown.

The first book in the series.

For a brief period from maybe 1982-1984, I consumed dozens of the books. As much as I liked them, I never did find an optimal way to read them. I'm not sure there was one. Your options are basically:

  1. Read only a single path, in which case you've just purchased a 100-page book but only read 6 pages of it.
  2. Read a single path and, when it ends, start over at the beginning and try a different one. You end up reading many of the same pages over and over again.
  3. Read a path until it ends, then go back to the previous branch and read to the next ending, always returning to the most recent branch, until at last you've read the whole book.

I dare say that most people did what I did--#3--even though it rendered meaningless the idea of choosing your own adventure. I even made up little paper bookmarks with numbers from 1-10 on them, and I'd insert them between the pages at which each branch occurred, making it easier to find the previous one. You might call it "choice-scumming."

When I wrote about "The Perfect CRPG: Encounters" a couple years ago, I didn't exactly couch it this way, but I guess my idea of a perfect RPG has always been something along the lines of a CYOA book with all the other RPG mechanics surrounding it. (I know these technically exist in paper form--such as in Joe Dever's Lone Wolf series--but the nature of the medium makes the gameplay more limiting than even the most basic CRPG.) I want the game to give me scenarios and let me decide, via role-playing or just instinct, how to navigate them. But now that I'm 42 rather than 12, I don't want to fully explore each branch for the "optimal" set of choices. I want to make my decision and live with it.

So far, Crusaders of Khazan has provided more options for this kind of gameplay than any other game in my chronology. Its encounters are detailed and multi-leveled, with various choices leading to vastly different outcomes. I don't know if it's by design, but very often, trying to always choose the most noble path, or trying to be a "completionist" (a term I really don't like) and do everything, results in an essentially unwinnable encounter. There is a palpable craving to "encounter-scum" by reloading and trying every path to figure out what outcome you like best--a compulsion that I maintain is best ignored if you really want to preserve the challenge and tension of the gameplay.

The beginning of an encounter.

Let's take one example. Exploring the northeast corner of the island, the party comes across a pavilion occupied by the Sheik of Khamad and his guards. The Sheik is sprawled on some pillows and a dancer sways before him. He motions for the party to approach. As they do, the party senses "one of the best dressed men" in the Sheik's retinue trying to pickpocket them. This is the result and decision tree from here:

1. Attack the man. The attack sends him sprawling and he jumps up, drawing his scimitar.

>A. Engage in combat. Combat ensues between a "human leader" and 11 warriors. If you win, "appalled by your bloodthirstiness, the remaining huntsmen cover the Sheik's retreat. In no time, you are left with the empty tents and the corpses." You get some decent experience, gold, and a piece of jewelry from the bodies.

>B. Explain the reason for your attack to the Sheik. The Sheik laughs and notes that the man is his brother and he often plays tricks on strangers. He advises the party to check the money belt, and they find a ring that the brother planted on them. The Sheik, who has grown tired of his brother's tricks, suggests that the lead character duel him to the death.

>>i. Yes. Combat ensues between the first party member and a "human leader" alone. If victorious, the Sheik notes that his brother was planning to kill and usurp him, so he's grateful to the party. After some wine and dinner, the Sheik gives the party some gold and jewels and then leaves.

>>ii. No. The Sheik breaks camp and leaves, but you get to keep the white gold ring the brother planted.

2. Accuse him of thievery. The Sheik is indignant that you've accused his brother of thievery. Guards close in ominiously.

>A. Fight. Combat ensues between a "human leader" and 11 warriors, with the results the same as 1A above.

>B. Talk your way out of it. As you talk, the ring that the Sheik's brother planted falls out of your clothes and to the floor. The Sheik gives you a chance to explain it and the game asks you to select a party member to talk. If you make your charisma roll, the Sheik believes you and lets you leave. You get nothing from the encounter. I don't know what happens if you don't make the roll because all of my characters had high enough charisma. I'm guessing it goes to combat as above.

3. Ignore him and talk to the Sheik. As you start talking, the Sheik's brother accuses you of stealing his ring. The encounter proceeds as in 2B above.

The outcome to 1Bi.

Assuming you can survive the combat, 1A and 2A provide the most tangible benefits to the party, in both experience points and treasure. 1Bi provides the safest path that still gives the party a reward. When I played for real, though, my choices led me to 2B, which did nothing for me. I figure there are three types of players here just as there are three paths in the CYOA books:

  1. Those that would reload and try all the options, eventually settling on the one that provides the best rewards.
  2. Those that would reload and try all the options just for curiosity's sake, but ultimately go with the path consistent with role-playing choices.
  3. Those that would simply make their selections, live with the consequences, and save other choices for a new game.

Where do you fall? I confess that I aspire to #3, but curiosity often leads me to #2, which, in rare cases, can lead me to #1 if the reward disparity is significant enough. For this game, except to fully document the encounters as above, I've been sticking with #3 even if it means I "miss" some of the game.

The next level, of course, is when your choices not only determine the outcomes of those encounters but also what happens later on in the game. For all I know, Khazan does that. Maybe I'll encounter the Sheik somewhere else, and my options with him will be defined by how I treated his brother.

The Sheik's tent is one of maybe a dozen such encounters that I've enjoyed in the opening city and island alone. Others include:

  • A catacomb in the sewers consisting of six sarcophaguses and the mummified corpse, sitting on a throne, of a former Prince of Gull. The game gave me the option to open the coffins and burn the undead, but I declined. It then noted fables that said you can trade items with the undead. I chose to trade gold but accidentally chose a character with no gold and offered 0. I got a message that the trade was accepted and was given a piece of jewelry. Thinking that was a pretty good deal, I tried it again, and the mummy got offended and attacked me. He and his undead guards were easier to beat than I expected, but after the combat, the crypt came crashing down, and I didn't get any more items.

Bartering with the undead.

  • A temple in the city where the acolytes worship a giant beetle. As you explore, they bustle in and strap a man to the altar to sacrifice. You heroically leap to his rescue, but I've been unable to even come close to winning the combat that follows.

Unfortunately, my role-playing tendencies wrote a check that my characters couldn't cash.

  • A compound in the city that had been overtaken by orcs. As I tried to sneak in (one of several options for entering), I encountered a party of warriors preparing to assault the compound. I joined the assault and we defeated the orcs. Before departing, the adventurers thanked me for helping ensure that Gull didn't fall to "monsterkin" the way the Dragon Continent has. He warned me about visiting the mainland for this reason.

  • An urchin begs for gold. If you don't give him enough, he'll pick your pocket for half of what you own. If you do, he says "blessings on you," but I don't know if this does anything.
  • A guy named Leo hangs out in the sewers and offers the party a selection of cheese and rat meat. He turns out to be a fairly dumb were-lion, and if you go with your palate and choose the cheese, he assumes you must be a rat and attacks you. If you choose to eat the rat meat, he assumes you're human and gives you a "Cat Ring."

Although generally cheese sounds more appetizing than rat meat, cheese in the sewers sounds less appetizing than rat meat.

Overall, the game has offered more role-playing options in the first city than the average game does in its entirety. It makes for a unique and compelling experience.

The opening City of Gull consists of five sections and a two-level underground sewer area. The sewer is a bit odd. You enter it literally by falling into it, and you cannot exit the way you came. Woe the adventurer who enters without any torches or lamps because, for some reason, magic doesn't work there. On two expeditions, all my torches burned out and I had to navigate out in the dark. You can exit the sewers from two locations, both of which dump you into Gull's harbor, both of which can damage or kill your characters. It's a tough area for an opening party, and I would recommend that other players avoid what I did and grind to Level 2 before heading down.

When you first enter, a Charon-like demon named Ignxx appears in a boat and says that a wizard named Biorom (perhaps the lamest-named character in the game so far) ensorcelled him to help ferry adventurers around. 

The sewers are filled with random encounters with bats, roaches, giant spiders, and other creatures that you might expect to find there. Occasionally, the boat capsizes and you find yourself fighting sharks, blood worms, and other aquatic creatures, nonsensically, in the water. Every once in a while, something like a giant crocodile would kill one of my characters, which prompted me to reload as I haven't found any mechanism for resurrection yet. There was also a spectacularly unfair set of squares where a carnivorous plant was capable of instantly killing my characters.

Fighting a shark in the water.

I generally like the combat in the game. It's fairly fast-paced and tactical, though not quite to the level of the Gold Box games. You can easily switch between manual combat and auto combat, and very often I find myself manually plotting tactics for three-quarters of the battle, only to switch to automatic and let the game mop up the remainder. One odd dynamic, though, is that enemies hardly ever hit my characters (or they hit, but the character's armor absorbs all of the attack, I guess). When they do hit, the damage might be devastating, sometimes resulting in death in a single blow, but I emerge from 80% of combats utterly unscathed.

Combat begins. Note the water obstacle in front of my characters. I'm not really sure what those odd opening messages mean.

The Tunnels & Trolls system is a bit odd in that there are no hit points or spell points. Attacks damage constitution directly and spells reduce other attributes (depending on the spell) directly. For instance, the primary first-level damage spell, "Take That, You Fiend!" costs 6 points of strength against my wizard's base score of 13. Even accounting for increased statistics upon leveling, it's hard to see how my wizard will ever get to the point that she can cast more than a couple of spells between rest periods. Fortunately, a single 8-hour rest break almost entirely restores lost attributes. "Healing" also occurs when characters automatically eat a meal at midnight.

When your experience points cross the threshold for the next level, you automatically get a "level up" screen, where you have the option to increase a chosen attribute. So far, it's been a tough call. Depending on the character's race and class, he might have the option to increase strength by 8 points but speed by only 1--and yet perhaps he needs speed a lot more. There's always an option at the bottom to increase two attributes by a little bit, but it always seems like a slightly worse deal than choosing a single one.

Gaining a level. Luck seems like the best deal, but I really need speed and charisma. Note that option (8), which increases both strength and constitution, gives me only 2 total points, whereas I can increase either individually by 3 points.

Anyway, back to the sewers. They had one encounter that seemed necessary to the main quest, and I nearly missed it. In the northeast corner of the first level, I found a woman named Jasmine trapped in a cage, with a bunch of giant rats squeezing their way through the bars. The game asked if I wanted to fight the rats, which of course I did. They weren't very hard, but they seemed to have a lot of luck damaging my mage, so I had to manually keep her out of melee range for most of the combats. After the initial battle, the game gave me the option to try to unlock the cage even though Jasmine warned "don't."

One of about a dozen rat battles. I'm not sure what those obstacles in the lower-center are supposed to be.

I tried anyway, the lock was stuck, and more rats boiled out of the sewers. When I defeated them, I had another chance to open the cage. I tried again, got more rats. This went on and on for maybe 15 cycles, and I assumed it was eternal. The only reason I kept fighting was that the experience rewards were decent and I was leveling up. But finally, to my surprise, the cage opened. Jasmine shrieked happily that her "quota of rats" was dead and now she could leave.

Is this a joke about common RPG tropes?

She told me Biorom the wizard wanted to speak to me and messed with a panel on a wall. A black-bearded sorcerer appeared.

"I urge you to oppose Lerotra'hh in the north," he says. "My fellow wizards and I are doing what we can, but there are constraints we cannot break. I can say this: Khazan sleeps in exile. You must discover where. There are items which he must have to restore his concerns in this world. Khara Khang and Lerotra'hh have made these things difficult to find and harder to get; they do not want Khazan roused."

Biorom suggested that Jasmine go adventuring with the party, but since the party was already full, she went to hang out in the Black Dragon Tavern. It was a very odd way to introduce the main quest.

In another plot-related encounter, we came upon a small island in the sewers inhabited by a "black elf" named Aradon. He and Ignxx clearly knew each other, and they chatted for a while about the goings-on on the continent. Empress Lerotra'hh is rumored to be off-continent, raising an army elsewhere. They disagreed as to whether it was more important to eliminate Lerotra'hh (the evil empress) or Khara Khang (her sorcerer, who had betrayed Khazan) to bring the empire down.

The party eavesdrops on some exposition.

The sewers culminated in an encounter with the wraith whose image is at the top of the screen. The wraith demanded that I gamble for my life, though the game offered me the option to fight him or try to flee. The gambling game was a simple hi/lo variant in which he rolled two dice and I had to guess whether the result was higher or lower than 7. He said he'd let me leave if I guessed correctly twice, and I'd also win a gem for each correct guess. Through pure luck, I guessed twice correctly on my first try and won two gems. He gave me the option to keep playing for another one, but I declined.

Discretion seemed the better part of valor.

When I got out of the sewers, I went to the jewelry store and sold my gems, plus a couple of pieces of jewelry I'd collected, for nearly 10,000 gold pieces--about 100 times more than I'd ever had up to that point.

Selling my riches.

With my new riches, I bought the best weapons and armor that I could wield (given my attributes), replenished my lamp and oilskins, stocked up on spells for my rogue and wizard, and learned some new languages.

Jori shuffles through her new inventory. I'll have more on this later.

Other notes:

  • The game is one of many to feature poison at an early level but no spell capable of countering it until later levels. I always hate that.
  • At one point in the sewers, Ignxx said, "I've heard some of those scum-sucking Rangers have found a way into this area. They'd love to see the city come down." The game offered otherwise no explanation of what "rangers" are, nor did I encounter anything involving them in the sewers. Anyone know what that was about?
  • At first, I worried that the game was going to be like Dungeon Master, where you'd find a bunch of items but know nothing about what they actually did. Then, I remembered the wandering mage who offers to identify items for a fee. This is an invaluable service.

The "Cat Ring" apparently lets me jump like a cat. Who would have guessed?

  • I've only found one secret door in the game so far, cued by a note that "Cleverly, you spot something unusual about the wall immediately north of you." I entered just by walking through the wall. I have to resist the urge to now go and walk into every wall. 
  • This is the message upon full party death:

  • The town had guilds for wizards and rogues in which no other characters were allowed to enter. When I approached the doors, the rest of my party disappeared to go stay in the nearest inn, and I had to go pick them up there later. Other NPCs hang around the inns and guilds, and you can swap them in and out for your created party members. I'm not sure if there are any plot-related reasons to do this, but the NPCs are so plentiful that I wonder if there is no resurrection mechanism and you're just expected to replace fallen party members if you don't want to reload.

Getting my characters out of the inn. Note that Jasmine from the sewers is now a joinable NPC.

  • A couple of the encounters have resulted in combats where each character had to fight a foe individually. This is difficult for my weak wizard.
  • There's one square near the docks that resets with monsters every time you enter the area if you want to grind. I've taken to spending time there at night when shops are closed and I'm waiting for them to open.
  • Each step indoors takes 4 minutes. Each step outdoors takes 3 hours and 45 minutes. The screen changes colors between day and night but otherwise doesn't restrict your view. Shops are only open in the towns between 08:00 and 16:00, and bars don't open until 16:00. Every night at midnight, everyone consumes a ration. I don't know yet what happens if you don't have any. You can (R)est for 8 hours at any location.

Exploring the outdoors of the Island of Phoron produces a lot of text but not many encounters.

When I had finished with the city, I took the time to walk every square on the island. There were a lot of odd, unavoidable traps, plus some flavor text, but no combats, and the only encounter was with the Sheik above. My next step is to hire or purchase a boat and make for the mainland. The game is only beginning!


  1. If you had broken the sequence of rat combats, Jasmine would tell you that Biorom put her there as a bait for adventurers to clean the sewers of rats, and that once you kill 50 she'd be free. Though it's not a "very odd way to introduce the main quest" - the main quest has already been introduced in the intro text. It's just one of many pieces of intel you gather throughout the continent to figure out how to win the game.

    1. Thanks. I was afraid it wouldn't let me get back to the rat combats if I left--you can't return to most of the encounters in the game.

      There's a difference between introducing the back story in the manual and introducing the quest in-game. It's not unreasonable to expect that a party arriving in Gull would, somewhere, find some pointer as to what to do next, but this is the only thing we have.

  2. I loved Choose Your Own Adventure. These, and also "The Family Circus" books were the hot item in 3rd-4th grade. My school library had a bunch of them and it was always a race to be the first to check these out as soon as some other kid returned them. I remember reading "Inside UFO 54-40" - wasn't it a white cylindrical UFO - but don't remember much else. I'm pretty sure I read "The Cave of Time" as well. I think this is the one where you can end up with an ending that is like a nuclear war or apocalypse with bombs bursting all around you and you try to run back into the cave "but you have run out of time, because there is no more time". Great stuff. It was kind of like the print version of hypertext links, and instead of using your browser's "back" button, you would keep one finger at the last branch and if you got an ending you didn't like, you just flip back to it.

    1. Choose Your Own Adventure was still popular by 1990, when I was in 4th grade and hit the book fair circuit. I suspect you will ultimately get a lot of nostalgic posts about that series. I myself only enjoyed them for a short time - I don't know if it depends on the author, or whether they were running thin by the late '80s, but I felt like I continually encountered books that felt tired and just full of sudden, arbitrary, illogical deaths. At least that is how it felt at the time. I remember hating - HATING - Rock and Roll Mystery (#69 in the series) and Outlaws of Sherwood Forest (#47). I guess it's a testament to the books that I remember them so vividly, but most of my memories revolve around situations like "Your captors are chasing you down a long hallway. You see what appears to be a utility closet just to your left, or you can continue down the hall and risk being seen." any sane person raised on Scooby Doo, you hide in the closet... "Oh no! You hear the lock snick shut as it locks from the other side. You're trapped! You bang on the door with all your might, but no one hears you. Your captors assume you escaped, and the police never think to search this building. Hungry and huddled in the dark, this is where your adventure ends."

      COME ON!!!

      Unlike the recollections of RobertM, however, the Family Circle series was considered the height of uncool among my friends, along with the Garfield books and those dreaded Heathcliff collections. Instead, the Calvin and Hobbes books and the Far Side collections were read and traded like some kind of currency.

      But all that aside, I have to say that I am tremendously intrigued by the rich, rich storytelling present in these games. Like Chet, I have a huge soft spot for games that provide meaningful story choices with real consequences. What a great post!

    2. Funny because I was going to mention Garfield and Heathcliff as the other two book series that flew off the shelves back in '83-'84!

    3. The first six COYA books were the best. They were sold together, and were written with care. They still had arbitrary moments, but weren't *too* terribly bad.

      After the series took off, they started cranking them out. If the book sucked, who cares? It's for kids anyway, and kids don't know good from bad. Writers have to eat, and spending extra time making a book good is less time you have for yourself. Screw it, ship it!

    4. As coincidence may have it, I'm actually currently reading the CYOA series to my wife (English isn't her native language so we needed something easy). She was very intrigued by the choice system. It's been a great nostalgic trip for me but I must say that most of the books are pretty friggin' terrible (but terribly good; lots of lulz). Loved them as a kid, though, and I can ride the nostalgia train for a heckuva long time. After CYOA, I'm going to see if she wants to do a run on the Fighting Fantasy series (another favourite of mine).


      From the list in the link, I think it's a little incomplete since I distinctly remember gamebooks that lets you ride a dragon or a souped-up Mad-Maxian vehicle.

      Anyway, I was crazy over the Lone Wolf series, the Fighting Fantasy series and (if my gaming buddies and I couldn't decide who to be a DM/GM) the Blood Sword series.

    6. The Mad Max book might be FF #13 - Freeway Fighter. You drive a 'Dodge Interceptor' (which looks suspiciously like a Lamborghini Countach) across post-apocalyptic US searching for fuel for your town. Most of your deaths tend to involve running out of fuel yourself.

    7. Whaddya know? It really does!

      And how did they keep it so shiny in a post-apocalyptic wasteland?

    8. Slightly worrying this ... I still have most of the T&T solo adventures up in the loft and the oldest is probably close to 40 years old. Yikes.

      A lot of this computer game seems to use the T&T solitaire books as source material. Michael Stackpole's 'Sewers of Oblivion' springs to mind. 'City of Terrors' is another from the T&T collection that was probably cannibalised.

      I probably won't ever go back to playing the solo adventures so dusting off the computer game may be the most effective way of revisiting them.

      I had hoped my kids would be interested in playing them but the first T&T tabletop session did not end well when my sons proved incapable of taking a series of heavy hints, and their characters all ended up dead.

      What can I say? I am a tough father...

    9. The Mad Maxian books could also be the Car Wars game book I love those.

    10. Is this turning into a "diced" gamebook thread? Aw yeah. Anyone else play the GrailQuest or Way of the Tiger series of books? I really liked the British-styled humour in GrailQuest and the martial art mechanics in WotT. Since the Fighting Fantasy series is so dominate (in numbers and in popularity) over everything else, it was nice to have other solid entries that switched up the rather simple mechanics of FF.


      Way of the Tiger

    11. GrailQuest, not so much. But Way of the Tiger? Way too much! Teeth of the Tiger Throw! Woot! BTW, very entertaining blog you have there, mate!

    12. I had a Grailquest book. I liked a lot aspects therein, but I found the magic system a bit silly. Thanks to some of the spells you got free autokills on a couple enemies per adventure, which would make the big bad a bit anticlimactic.

    13. @Kenny: Mentioning Teeth of the Tiger Throw just unearthed a buried memory, perhaps. Didn't the books have funky little diagrams of each of the moves, like with direction lines and everything? Was Tiger Teeth the move where your badass ninja would scissor lock his legs around the guy's neck and then twist, all completely in MID-AIR while the guy just stood there like the punk he is.

      @Tristan: I don't recall the magic system at all but, come one, man, all bosses have immunity to insta-kill spells. :)

    14. As Wolf pointed out, the Mad Max book could be one of the Car Wars ones:
      My Dad owned the first two, found them on his bookshelf. I tried the first one after skimming it a bunch of times and got murdered by the laser bearing ...trikes? at the end. Not sure how you are supposed to win that one. Get the laser foam I guess.

    15. @Shen, yes way of the tiger was the one with the diagrams for each move.

      English is not my first language, ans shortly after learning it i gained a lot of very old books from my grandfather, among them was the "usurper" way of the tiger book. Had a lot of fun with it. It was my first contact with a dice using "solo adventure" as w ecalled then (I had played some short ones that were published in a local RPG magazine). but that is the only book in the format I ever read.

      Good memories

  3. Failing the Charisma check in option 2B means that your hand gets chopped off.

    1. I can't tell if you're serious. I suspect not, as the game doesn't have a mechanic for damage to individual body parts.

    2. No, it is serious. I just made a character with charisma 4 and this is what happened:

      My fighter is just "injured" but I have read in an old German game mag that missing body parts can be bought at some point?!

    3. There's a surgeon who can sew it back in one of the later cities IIRC.

    4. Looking into the inventory of my fighter there is a note: RH removed (and I can only equip one hand). So individual body part damage is implemented.

      Oh well, just a flesh wound :).

    5. Wow, no kidding. I can't find where the manual mentions anything like this! Thanks for alerting me.

    6. Played through this game over a year ago and yeah remember you can lose your hands and yeah VK is right can pay someone later on to get your hands back. Also IIRC you can also turn one of your hands into a diamond later on

    7. I do not dare hazard a guess if the crime was trying to score one of the chicks in his harem...

  4. A nice little assessment of the book playstyles Chet. Did Choose Your Own Adventure books have a combat system? I know that the Fighting Fantasy series did.

    I remember that the quality of these books varied wildly - Some had multiple paths and endings (allowing for option 1 and 2)but other had a required linear route, which forced page-scumming and option 3. Likewise some featured winning paths that where based on some kind of logic, whereas others were basically a coin flip.

    I did a mathematical study on the probability of completing some of them (random choice selection unless the book advised otherwise, all combats) at uni as research in gaming psychology and the odds were worthy of a state lottery.

    As part of the bigger crpg playstyle debate; Back in the 80s/90s one of the critisms of crpgs from the pnp community boiled down to 'PCs make bad DMs' - Which was very true. They tended to be inflexible rules lawyers who refused to allow the player much freedom of action in order to advance the (writers) beloved plot. The lack of consequences and risks of 'game over' resulted in people adopting playstyles 1 and 2.

    (Ask for a 'reload-n-see' from your DM and there's a good chance he'll feed you your polyhedrals.)

    What crpgs need is a virtual DM who rolls behind his screen, breaks the rules, and adjusts the quests\encounters\rewards in order to keep the game balanced whilst moving forward. After that we can go back to trusting the game not to go full Paranoia on us and adopt playstyle 3.

    I'm not saying make it so you can't lose, only make sure that the odds\risks aren't too far into the 'reload if you fail X' territory. PnP DMs were human beings that you could trust to play fair (and throw dice at if they didn't), a PC is just a cold logic machine that often relies on the designers assumptions of the player.

    1. No, CYOA didn't have a combat system. As the demand for these sorts of books grew, they became more complex, and you had series like Dever's Lone Wolf books where you tracked an inventory and attributes, and chose random numbers from a table to simulate combat rolls.

      No computer will ever really imitate the flexibility of a human DM, of course. The best that we'll get is so many programmed options that the player will never realistically choose every combination, thus resulting in a unique path for that player.

  5. you can res chars Chet, but you need the lvl 11 spell Born Again, unless there is another way. I haven't played the game, I just have the manual for some reason.


    1. Yes, I saw that. I meant more that I didn't have any realistic way to resurrect someone now. It'll be a long time before I have a level 11 spell.

  6. I'm not a math wizard, so there's a good chance I'm wrong. But it seems to me that the multiple stat choice on level up isn't such a bad deal if those are -both- stats that you actually want to grow.

    Option A - Hybrid Growth
    STR,CON go up by 2 each (STR 30->32 AND CON 26->28).

    Option B - Alternating Growth
    Your alternate choice (again, only if you want to level up these two stats and not something else is that one of these stats goes up by 3 rather than both going up by 2 (STR 30->33 OR CON 26->29)

    This means that after 2 level ups, assuming the rate of growth on each level up, you'd have these results:

    Option A - Hybrid Growth yields STR 34, CON 30 (STR+4, CON+4)
    Option B - Alternating Growth yields STR 33, CON 29 (STR+3, CON+3)

    But who knows, the growth for the hybrid level up might have diminishing returns, and it also prevents you from customizing. It seems to me that focusing on one stat has higher short-term rewards per level up, and it also lets you choose whatever stat you need at the moment (maybe you need CON now, but SPD later.)

    And maybe my mental math is way off, in which case I will go back to enjoying your posts and reading about awesome games :)

    1. This would indeed be the case if it was offering me a 2 point increase in both strength and constitution per level, but it's not. It''s only offering 1 each.

    2. Ah, of course. Thanks for pointing it out - it seemed like something you wouldn't miss. It also helps not to read your posts on a cell phone.

  7. Levelling up in T&T is based on the level gained. So when you go from lvl1 to lvl2 you get to add A: 2 points to STR or CON, or B: 1/2 of 2 points (1 point) on IQ, DEX or CHR, or C: 2x 2points (4 points) on LK, or finally D: 1 point on ST and 1point on CON. As you get to higher levels you'll get more points to spend on attributes. You can download the T&T rules for free from Flying Buffalo's website to get a better idea of what's going on in the game's "black box".

    1. Okay, so I guess I should stop waiting for 5 points to spend on speed, then. If I'm going to increase that, I just have to suck it up and waste a level on it. But it sounds like I'd be better off sticking mostly to strength and constitution, since they directly affect hit points and spell points.

  8. I used to read a CYOA knock-off book series called Twistaplot. Twistaplot #4 was "Golden Sword of Dragonwalk" (by R.L. Stine), and I remember one thing very clearly about this book:

    The best ending - and one of very few endings that didn't result in a horrible death - was literally impossible to reach, if playing by the rules.

    You had to pick one of three companions at the start of the book, and the only "path" to the best ending required having a different companion at different points in the story. So the only way to reach the best ending was to "lie" when the book asked which companion was with you.

    CYOA books were known for being cruel and arbitrary, but Twistaplot took that to a whole new level, and Golden Sword of Dragonwalk was just absurd about it.

    Ah, memories...

    1. Do you suppose it was just carelessness on the part of the author, or did they really set up a mind-screw?

    2. Very probably carelessness. The book was unique in the Twistaplot series in that the outcome of several choices was a straight 1 in 2 chance, or a 1 in 3 chance - I can't remember how it had the reader generate the percentage. In practice, this meant very high odds of a bad ending, if the reader was honest.

      I strongly suspect R.L. Stine dashed it off for a quick buck to pay the rent, and never looked back. This was in the 80's, well before he became famous for writing the Goosebumps YA horror series.

    3. I've come across a few 'bugs' in gamebooks. One involved putting the wrong number in the 'skill' box for a foe, rendering it essentially unkillable (In what is already one of the hardest books in the series) and a Lone Wolf book had a skill check ass backwards such that having the skill at top level actually killed you.

    4. Pulling out the strongest sword against an enemy that is not the strongest in the book ALSO kills you.

  9. I remember playing those "solo adventures" in D&D but those other adventure books were never a big fad in these parts of the world.

  10. > I don't want to fully explore each branch for the "optimal" set of choices. I want to make my decision and live with it.

    Yeah! I like playing games this way nowadays. Even if I choose a non-optimal path, as long as it doesn't destroy my game it's fine. Gives me a real sense of making decisions that matter, and roleplaying my way through a real game instead of optimizing rewards and hitpoints and such.

    These are much better encounters than Gold Box games. Those are more like "A hobgoblin wants to talk. Do you listen?" [Attack / Parlay / Retreat] where Retreat gets you nothing, Attack gets you combat against a single hobgoblin with a reward of a leather armor and a shortsword, and Parlay gets a paragraph from the adventure book. Not much of a choice there, sadly.

    1. There's a definite benefit to playing a game blind and living with the decisions. I agree that the encounters here are a lot better but the vulnerability and temptation to save-scum means they still leave a little to be desired.

      Unless Chets theory about the sultan turns out to be correct, Having some more distance between action and repercussions would be nice.

      To go with the gold box hobgoblin example:- After the hobgoblin encounter and 1 dungeon later the party returns to town to find that the Mayor wants them to attack a hobgoblin keep because

      A. he's offering a reward
      B. They've been seen talking with the enemy and need to redeem themselves in the eyes of the town.
      C. The hobgoblin kidnapped his son\daughter\pig.

      Option A now pays out the items and gold. Options B and C can have different rewards (if any) because the player avoided the items earlier (+1 short sword or chain mail or both).

      All 3 results push the party in the same direction, but because the player is 1 dungeon away from the original decision it makes it hard to go back and because they're 1 dungeon away from any knowledge of the reward, they're more likely to stick with their decision. (or look it up online, but there's ways around that too.). It's the 2 hour rule in full effect.

      (2 hours being roughly the amount of time players are unwilling to sacrifice to try for an alternative branch on the same playthrough.)

    2. That's a good analysis from both of you. I'd only point out that the Gold Box games DO offer a slightly more significant depth of encounter than this--it's something I praised extensively when playing Pool of Radiance--but they're rarely multi-leveled, nor do they often have consequences for later in the game. T&T:CoK improves in the first area, at least.

  11. Oh, and I ran across this and thought others might like it: an obsessive analysis of COYA books with lots of data visualization:

    Playable Zork gamebook:

    1. I've done data visualisations for Final Fantasy books. They look really cool.

      It really illustrates the difference between a well-written book and a poorly written book, because the latter is linear or creates 'walking dead' scenarios

    2. Is any of that visualization online?

  12. On the subject of CYOA you may be interested to know that they reached Spain as well. They were named "Elige tu propia aventura" and I remember having 2 or 3 books, but I can´t tell the year, probably mid eighties. I still may have them somewhere.

    1. They really translated that quite literally, didn't they?

  13. A little off-topic, but I have a Choose Your Own Adventure question. When I was younger, I had a similar book. It was not a Choose Your Own Adventure book nor was it a Which Way book.

    The premise is that you're visiting a museum with your parents and somehow get locked inside for the night. You have to survive.

    The thing I remember the most is that there's a spaceman exhibit and the spaceman comes alive and starts chasing you during one plot thread. That's the illustration at the front of the book too. Does anyone at all remember the title or series of this book? I've been looking without success for some time.

    As for the other series I read, I got into the Time Machine series, Lone Wolf, Choose Your Own Adventure, and Which Way.

    Oh yeah, and another one called Wizards, Warriors, and you. You'd pick to be the Wizard or the Warrior. If you were the Wizard, you'd choose 3 spells. If you were the Warrior, you'd choose three weapons. There were no "mechanics", but some of the choices were "If you chose the ..., turn to page..."

    There was also one series with mechanics that was based on D&D. I remember a book where you were trying to find two halves of some magic sphere and were in a party with a thief and another person. It had some combat mechanics like Lone Wolf. I didn't bother, I just "won" every time to keep reading.

    1. I don't know yours, but while we're posting for help, I have one, too. It was a three-book series, and I think it had combat mechanics like the Dever books. I remember that the first one took place in a large walled city, the map of which was on the inside cover. I remember that the writing was gritty and more "adult" than the average CYOA book. I can vividly remember a section where you go into a bar and get some rumors for some patrons, and one of them, referencing some undead, notes their special powers and says something like, "That ain't moi oidea of a fair foight." Any ideas for me or Cush?

    2. No ideas for Cush, but Addict, yours sounds like it could be the Fighting Fantasy book "Khare - Cityport of Traps". It's number 2 of a series of 4, but it does have a walled city. Coincidentally the Yogscast on Youtube is currently doing a walkthrough of a new iPad version of that book.

    3. You know, I think that's it! Thanks Bunyip. I'm sure at the time I had no idea who Steve Jackson was. I thought I'd buy it if I could find it, but boxed sets of the series are going for pretty serious cash, it appears.

    4. Cush, perhaps you are looking for one of the books I'm this series:

    5. Funnily enough, there are two famous Steve Jacksons in game design, one from the US and one from the UK. What makes it confusing is that they both wrote Fighting Fantasy books, which were co-created by the British Jackson and his pal Ian Livingstone (the founders of Games Workshop).

      The US Jackson is responsible for Ogre, GURPS, Munchkin and Car Wars (and its PC implementation, Autoduel)

    6. Tom, yes, yes, you found it! No wonder I was never able to find it before. I could've sworn "museum" was in the title and I couldn't remember the series. Even the name of the series still doesn't ring any bells. Thanks a bunch, now I should track down a copy just because.

      But this: is absolutely the cover I'm thinking of. I wouldn't even go to bed with that cover facing up. Used to creep me out.

      ...and you thought this blog was only good for CRPGs! :)

    7. @Tristan - Yeah, I was a little flabbergasted when I learnt about it. That's like having 2 Michael Jacksons trying to upstage each other in the same concert.

      Anyway, it seems that both Jacksons (Steve, not Michael) are still going at it strong and wildly popular in America and Europe.

    8. @CRPG Addict: I'm pretty certain it was not Steve Jackson's Sorcery! series, but rather Dever's "Greystar the Wizard". However, those are -really- rare, even over here in Europe, whereas you can get used copies of Sorcery! in the US for pretty reasonable prices.

    9. That series is called "World of Lone Wolf" and has four books, just like Steve Jackson's "Sorcery". It's pretty easy to check, @CRPG_Addict just needs to look at and check out the books to see if that's the series he's looking for.

  14. The Sorcery! books choke the shelves of thrift stores and used bookstores; you should be able to pick up all four for no more than $1.50 each. Maybe less so in the US, but here in Canada and presumably other Commonwealth countries (and Amazon is international, isn't it?), you can hardly get away from them. If you can wait until, say, October, I could likely get a collection of all four together and ship them your way as a token of my appreciation for your blog.

    1. If you happen to come across them for less than, say, $25, I'd appreciate it. I'll reimburse. I need to get the entire Lone Wolf series, too.


    3. And to keep it pen-&-paperless;

      Also, check THIS baby out!

    4. Now I feel a little stupid for buying the hardcover re-release Lone Wolf books. The covers are gorgeous though.

    5. No, you don't. There is nothing stupid about keeping literature alive. CYOA books are an important part of our literary culture; an attempt by an honest-to-goodness physical book, with pages made of actual paper, to provide an interactive experience with its reader.

      It doesn't try to make you imagine what the setting of the book is like, how the protagonist is feeling, why the ending had to turn out this or that way. No, YOU are the bleeding protagonist and YOU choose how the book ends.

      This 1st book in this genre is as important as the 1st video game on computers; providing interactive entertainment in an otherwise serious kind of medium.

    6. The player already keeps track of the action chart (and everything else, including old books items and custom rules). It's a complete solution.

    7. Damn, Chet, I wish I had known that a year ago. I am pretty sure I sold all the CYOA books i had for $5 or somesuch at a garage sale. I'll check in June when I head back to my parents place for vacation if you want.

      That said, I can't remember the last thrift shop I was in that didn't have a stack of them.

    8. Sorry, Chet, due to Blogger's half-implemented threaded reply system... I had no idea you took me up on my offer to provide gamebooks over a year ago. Assuming you haven't been permanently burned by your recent gamebook-conversion experiences, nor have since gotten fed up and sourced your own damned copies of the books, I will see about starting to get a bundle together for you: Sorcery!, Lone Wolf, anything else? (And this time, I will check the "notify me" box.)

    9. PS, as you may have since noticed, "the entire Lone Wolf series" in print is a bit of a joke, as the final few volumes are so rare collector speculation has pumped them up to the hundreds of dollars. But the early dozen or so are around for cheap.

    10. Yeah, no, don't worry about it. I don't even have a permanent place to live right now; the last thing I need is more books. And as you say, having read a few for recent posts, they've kind of lost their luster.

  15. All right, Chet, you really opened the CYOA Pandora's Box here. Really all your readers need to know is: You are not alone in this nostalgia, and that book you've been thinking of for decades is likely accounted for and reviewed there, with cover art scans and a database helpfully pointing you to other works by the same author. I must own over 500 gamebooks and had to start using the site's database just to help prevent myself from buying doubles of books I already had.

    The digital gamebook format has emerged with the rise of mobile computing devices; Australia's Tin Man Games is bolstering their own original line with Fighting Fantasy book conversions and seemingly every other license they can snag for a song... Inkle is doing very interesting work with Sorcery! Related games are being released into the wild by Choice of Games and all kinds of amateurs. The Fabled Lands FLApp! The Lone Wolf materials at Project Aon! There's, uh, a lot out there.

    We're all going to be senior citizens by the time you reach these pseudo-CRPGs of 2014 on this blog, so this comment may be the only inclusion they rate here. So let me here assert that there's currently a lot of great work being done on games focusing on the interesting "choice-and-consequences" story model you describe here, eschewing the old standbys of tactical combat and tabulating every kind of pole arm known to man. Those latter kinds have already been done for years, because that kind of thing is easy for computers. Compelling choices is hard, and requires humans, and it looks like humans have finally risen to the challenge.

    1. Over 500 books? Do I smell a CYOAAddict? isn't taken...:)

      I'd never heard of and never stumbled on it while searching for this or other books. Newest bookmark for sure!

    2. My two interests - retro CRPGs and gamebooks - coming together! Indeed, gamebooks are enjoying something of a digital renaissance these days.


      Seems like there is already one.

    4. Speaking of digital gamebooks, Bantam Software created two Choose Your Own Adventure computer games back in the mid-80's for C64 and Apple II. One's based on The Cave of Time, and the other one is based on Escape. They both offer a combination of action and multiple-choice graphic adventures.

      For whatever reason, they fit in the Empire III mold of being so rare that their existence is barely confirmable. I've seen each of them only once on eBay in five years of vintage game collecting.

    5. There were video game of the fighting fantasy books as well. Here's a short overview:

  16. --For instance, the primary first-level damage spell, "Take That, You Fiend!" costs 6 points of strength against my wizard's base score of 13. Even accounting for increased statistics upon levelling, it's hard to see how my wizard will ever get to the point that she can cast more than a couple of spells between rest periods. --

    FWIW, this info might be useful. Wizards using a staff can subtract their level from the cost of a spell. Also, the cost of casting lower level spells reduces as you go up the levels; you subtract the level of the spell from the level of the caster to get ths discount.

    Thus, a level 3 wizard casting a level one Take That, You Fiend! (TTYF!) when using a staff would reduce the cost by 3 for the staff and 2 because of the difference between his/her level and the level of the spell.

    Yes, folks, it is a staff discount!

    In this way, it costs a level 3 wizard only 1 STR point to cast a TTYF! (unless he chooses to do double damage, i.e. cast it at a second level, in which case it costs 12 - 3 [staff discount] - 1 [level differential] = 8 STR points.

    BTW, the staff discount is not available to rogues (i.e. untrained magic users). Also, anything can be a staff, such as a ring, a wand or anything that acts as a focus.

    1. I have an inkling that you have been itching to use that pun for a very, very long time.

  17. Hi,

    I watched a "Let's Play" of this game and was really impressed with the Role Playing choices. It was one of our inspirations when we made the Tales of Illyria series available for Android. Each game has the content of over 4 Choose Your Own Adventure Books.

    Ok I know this is a plug but only because I think my fellow readers would like to know a modern game exists with similar mechanics. On that note also Check out Banner Saga and Socrey!


    P.S Chet I read the blog everyday as I love the old games and wish I had time to play them. You do a true service!

  18. I actually have a couple of gamebooks still. (a Lone Wolf, a Falcon and a "Way of the Tiger" -- all in Swedish). I could never really figure out a satisfying way to read them either. I usually stopped doing combat and assumed I'd win (the combat stuff was pretty boring imo) and I wasn't structured enough like you to really be able to go through everything (I think the Lone Wolf series has more branches than the CYOA ones making it more difficult -- check out this chart for all the branches in the first Lone Wolf: ).

    When playing CRPGs I almost always follow the strategy to reload to see all branches. More out of the sake of curiosity than min/max-ing, but sometimes because the actual choice doesn't give any hint at all as to what the action I take will actually be. I played Witcher 2 playing all major branches in parallel with a set of different save games (the game has 3 major branch-points making 8 paths in total). :)

    1. I was just about to write in about the quandaries I felt in regards to this in Witcher 2. I didn't really want to replay it. The choices in that world are so seldom a clear cut good or bad choice, more like a bad choice and an equally bad choice. I really liked the idea of a world full of shades of grey and really wanted to just live with my choices but in several cases the conesequences of the choice seemed so dire either for Geralt or the NPCs involved and those consequences seemed like they would play out so far into the story that I just broke down and read what would happen on the Wiki. Open world games often leave me in a state of anxiety of making some decision somewhere early on that will either gate off access to content I want to see or have other dire consequences way down the road.

    2. I'm currently trying to play the first Witcher, although it's Lameness Quotient is verrrry high. The opening cutscene nearly stopped me from playing altogether, and there's a bit too much basement dweller fanservice in all the depictions of women.

      If I were a 13 yr old living in the 80s maybe I'd find it as cool as the developers seem to...

    3. I really liked the opening cut scene, for one unfamiliar with the character it did a good job of introducing the concept of a "witcher". You see him carefully choosing a potion, so he uses potions, and they are tools which need to be chosen ina manner appropriate to the situation, not just buff you drink as much as you can. Then there is the monster, so you know he fights monsters, than he fights, showing his physical prowess, which is super-human, than he outsmarts the monster, showing he isn´t simply a fighter, than he uses magic, showing moreof a witcher´s versatility, and then he examines the ex-monster and the story tells how he saved the girl by breaking her curse, so he doesn´t just hunt monsters.

      I thought it very good.

      Really disliked the combat system though

  19. Another modern game book is Maelorum: It was successfully Kickstartered recently. It's got a unique twist of a choice of three distinct PCs at the beginning and a plot that periodically diverges depending on which character you're playing, plus different combat skills/styles for each character, and the opportunity to pick up one of the other characters as an NPC companion partway through. The Lone Wolf books give you a defined PC, but are there other game books that give you a companion or party?

    1. I remember playing this one:

      You get a few companions, shown on the cover art and even your own brother.

  20. One interesting idea a DS game had was to build in the ability to go back to any point and change a decision. You have a UI as a tree, with each choice on it, and you can go back and play out any other choice, and it auto saves everything so you don't lose anything.

    Now, that isn't an RPG, but a puzzle game tied to a very dark plot. I do think it is a cool idea that you could play the game through, then go back and redo just the plot points without having to do all the puzzles in between, except for the new stuff. So skip the dungeons that are the same each time, and just do the bits you unlocked? Not exactly sure how it would work, but I think it would be interesting. I rarely finish my games, let alone beat them twice.

  21. I think people who like CYOA type books should check "Fallen London' from failbetter games. Seems like there would be some overlap in the target audience.

    Great writing, lacking a bit in memorable characters, but they are always adding new stuff

    1. Dammit, you are making me want to start playing again. I left after the changes in refresh rate made it painfully slow to do anything. Also it got grindy after I got to the court. Also my friend list got downright clogged with people who don't play anymore.

  22. (Almost caught up after finding your blog a week ago.)

    You should check out 'The Boy in the Book' by Nathan Penlington (can't get the link to work on my ipad). Nathan is as much of an obsessive as you are, and it's a funny and poignant account of his fixation with CYOA books.

    Love the blog btw, if reading 4 years of posts in a week didn't clue you in. Though you are wrong about the British not drinking gimlets.

    1. If Brits drink gimlets, I don't know where they are. I've tried to order gimlets at at least 8 pubs and bars in at least 3 different sections of London, and no one has ever known what I was talking about. Only a couple of the bars have even had lime juice.

  23. As the internet blossomed in the mid- and late nineties, I told myself repeatedly that it was the perfect medium for CYOA-style books, because instead of using numbered bookmarks (or doing what I did and trying to hold places with most of my fingers) you could explore all the multiple routes by just hitting the back button and then making a new choice. I never could get it together enough to create one of my own though, and these days it seems like it might be too flat, just reading paragraphs and clicking through.

    I never really felt like choice-scumming was cheating. If you read through once and came to an end, it didn't make sense to start over every time. For the sake of efficiency, you might as well back up and just see what lay down the other path.

    Also, there may be something wrong with me, but coming from the business world the acronym CYA comes up a lot, and seeing CYOA I can't help but seeing "cover your own ..." every time. I can only assume it's late and I'm channeling Kenny right now.

    1. I agree with what you say about "choice-scumming," but it does make the nature of the book an illusion. I mean, the name of the series, the promotional text, and the instructions all seem to suggest that the reader will choose a path, reach an end, and put the book down. Maybe he'll pick it up again later, start over, and choose a different adventure.

      Almost no one read the books this way. The way we read it made it a "Weird Books with Multiple Endings" series rather than a "Choose Your Own Adventure" series.

    2. Quirkz, there's been a very active community around web-based CYOA games over the past few years for whatever reason. In particular, there are now tools like Twine that make it easier to spice up flat text with various effects, such as links that make the current page's text change to more elaborately describe a detail or focus on an alternate aspect of the scene, rather than jumping to a new node entirely.

    3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    4. Twine seems pretty nifty. Shame it wasn't around in '97, or I would have had a lot of fun with it. I always wanted to do one about a guy named Schroedinger who had a cat that kept dying if you did anything wrong, and you had to find your way through the right path(s) to keep it alive.

  24. The choice-adventure game "Life is Strange" tries to merge the best parts of choice-scumming and permanent consequences. You play as a character who can rewind time, but only up to about 5 minutes back. This allows you to try various choices and see their immediate consequences, and then finalize by going down the path that seems best to you (though there are always tradeoffs).

    However, many choices also have unintended long-term consequences, and by the point they arise it's loo late to rewind.

    I suppose the pure CYOA-way to do this would be to allow you to jump back only one or two branches, but force you to start over if you want to reverse farther than that.

  25. I just started playing this game recently and looked at clue book after I finished starting city/island and it mentions an encounter with an ogre leader for the Phoron section. Has anyone actually had this encounter? Tried exploring isle with a few different parties and didn't see it. Just wondering if there's some sort of check I didn't pass or if maybe the encounter is bugged.

    1. In Gull when you get the dangerous tickling of magic or something similar in the Miracles section you need to cast oh there it is and then pass your turn in order to trigger this event. After that choose to follow the ogre and then follow him to the event outdoors at the cave.

  26. the Khazan vs Rangers wars are mentioned in the T&T books and some adventures but that's all


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