Welcome to part two of our look at gamebooks. In part one, we looked at Adventure Gamebooks (AGs) that incorporate Branching Points and RPG aspects into one compact and enjoyable book. Even though Adventures are the most popular of the three, it would be ridiculous to overlook what BP and RPG have to offer. They each have their own fantastic series that are definitely worth your time and are guaranteed to arouse your intrigue.
Branching Point books were the first of the three styles to come into publication with the basic concept of picking one direction or decision now and suffering the consequences later; perhaps even changing the outcome of the story entirely. This differs from Adventures in which you might fail the ending as a result of a decision or action you made early on, as in BP books you’d discover one of the several possible endings; making every single read, or re-read, unique and different. So it’s not surprising that the concept gripped the imaginations of the public and produced one of the largest and longest running series called “Choose Your Own Adventure”, with a breathtakingly impressive 185 books tucked under its belt.
‘The Cave of Time’ (written by Edward Packard) started the series in 1979, but his first BP book, ‘Sugarcane Island’, was the initial prototype. It was originally published as part of The ‘Adventure of You’ series which sadly fell short with only three titles to its name. ‘Sugarcane Island’ was republished later under CYOA and was the first book of the series that I had the pleasure of reading/playing. CYOA books, to put it frankly, are a delight to play. They get you immersed in several different genres from fantasy, sci- fi, western and even martial arts epics to name but a few. Several of them run as a series with coupling books following on from each other and from Packard anchored these with the recurring character, Dr Nera Vivaldi.
This creates an overall sense of unity and you find yourself perking up when recognising her. Through her, Packard explores the limits of the style, going as far as to artfully break the fourth wall. You find yourself leaning further towards the book as she addresses you, the reader, as though somehow you could be completed absorbed into the words, pages and adventure by the contact she makes with you. The gameplay is pretty standard and it doesn’t take long to realise that the books are aimed at a younger audience with no need for loot listing, mapping where you’ve been, or even keeping track of your abilities. That being said, if you wish to discover alternative endings then it’s definitely worth taking note of what decisions you made where. If you’re looking for an easy read and an adventure where you get to sit back and contribute with your enjoyment then Branching Points is definitely the adventure book genre for you.
Roleplaying Gamebooks however, appear at the opposite end of the spectrum. Designed to allow the roleplayer to fight solo through adventures where a DM would be expected, expansions and manuals can be bought, allowing the game to expand for a group and to let your DM feel not so left out. Aw, bless. Admittedly, my experiences in this style are very limited. Apart from a couple of D&D solo adventures, I’ve looked mostly at Flying Buffalo’s epic series, ‘Tunnels & Trolls.’ T&T was the first to set it’s claws into the solo world of RPG books, and as there was an interest in D&D they wanted a similar, catchy, and adventurous name. Dark, stark, nasty areas to explore? Check. Bizarre and fantastical creatures to kill? Check.
Started in 1975, it was D&D’s first real competition. With strong similarities but simplified rules and solo playing, there was a new girl in town and she was capturing the hearts of the public. The shocking part is that there are only 24 books, with some small pocket editions thrown in there. With it being one of the most popular series in the style you would have expected a great amount of titles bundled in its arms. With all the releases around the world, in different languages and editions (9th edition being the newest) T&T hasn’t died out: its releases are painstakingly slow to come out but worth the wait. The world creation and attention taken to detail are several more reasons that T&T is worth your time.
Mechanically, we see the return of our favourite attributes; Strength, Intelligence, Charisma and the like but if you choose a spellcaster class you must replace your Strength with Wizardry. By discarding attributes you don’t need, it allows you to evenly distribute your points among them. Saving throws also have their foot well and truly in the door here, while in D&D they seem to have found themselves in the “awesome stuff I used to do” shelf. It has kept relatively the same saving throw system throughout, and you don’t find yourself cringing from the repetitiveness but relishing in the fact that you know what to do.
To top it all off the combat system is unique and fantastic, You and your enemy roll the designated die of your weapon, add your modifiers, the higher roll does the damage (the difference between the two totals). Still with me? Great! As complicated as that is on paper, it’s really quick, much simpler and mathematical! You’ll find yourself blasting and chopping your way through you enemies quicker than you can read those rules I’ve just written.
On that note, I’m going to leave you here. With sword or staff in one hand and dice set in the other, I’ve set you on the path towards several incredible gamebooks and hope your adventures from here are as amazing and fantastical as mine have been.