Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Top Five: Gamebooks

  • As with every Top Five on the blog, this is a list of my five personal favorites. This is not intended to be objective or exhaustive. If I happened to run across it and I liked it, that's how it gets on the list.

  • Fabled Lands: The War-Torn Kingdom - Probably the last great gamebooks, the Fabled Lands series eschews the mediums Choose Your Own Adventure guided storyline roots in favor of an open world to explore. The ingenious use of check boxes in the text and codewords act as the variable flag that guide you through the various encounters. Removing the strong narrative does leave you without much motivation. But if you have a healthy curiosity, there are a lot adventures to be had and stories to find. And if you run out of things to do, all you have to walk to the edge of the map and you can move on to the next book. The War-Torn Kingdom is the book I've spent the most time in because it was the first released. But it is well balanced with big quests to follow as well as an interesting land to journey through.

  • Fighting Fantasy: Deathtrap Dungeon - The fact that it was the very first gamebook I ever owned may cloud my judgment. However Deathtrap Dungeon is, appropriately, one of the most famous Fighting Fantasy books ever published. Devilishly difficult, with wrong turns aplenty that make it easy to miss something you will need several encounters later. But the atmosphere made this a story that captured my imagination. I never did get all the way through the book, but I enjoyed my many, many deaths just the same.

  • Fighting Fantasy: Space Assassin - On the opposite side of the Fighting Fantasy spectrum is this sci-fi. The additional rules make the book a lot easier to get through, which makes Space Assassin one of the few that I successfully completed. Funny enough, the one part that sticks out most in my mind is the impromptu tank simulation that occurs partway through the book. It's a neat little minigame that does something different with the medium.

  • Lone Wolf: Fire On The Water - The Lone Wolf series was a serious departure in gamebooks for me. A much great storytelling experience, the series felt more epic than the down-in-the-dirt fantasy of the FF books. While the first book was good introduction to the series, Fire On The Water sees your character (the Lone Wolf) traveling to a neighboring kingdom to procure a magic sword with which you can thwart the invasion of your homeland. It took me a couple of attempts to make it through this book, but the massive battle at the end was well worth the effort.

  • Steve Jackson's Sorcery: The Shamutanti Hills - Based on the Fighting Fantasy rules, the Sorcery series was goodbooks for grown-ups. At least that's the impression I got. In actuality, the book was a pretty traditional start to the series. It's also the only one I was able to finish with any sense of accomplishment. I stumbled through the second on accident, I think, and never found more than two of the serpents. Don't even ask about my time in Mampang Fortress. But the mad imagination at work in The Shamutanti Hills drove me to try that book time and again. Someday I'll try the whole series again, but I'll have to find them first.

  • All of this thinking about gamebooks has reminded me that I've been meaning to write a gamebook of my own. Maybe I'll even share if I get something done. What do you think?

© 2010 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.


  1. Holy cow, I can't believe there is another human being into gamebooks. There was a series called "Middle-earth quest," I've only ever found three of them in used book stores. They came with hex maps that you referred to as you went. They also allowed you to use characters from the Iron Crown Enterprises MERP system, which meant it was fairly easy to hack in Rolemaster characters.

    Rolemaster was the most insane and anal PnP rule set I ever encountered. There was literally a different chart for each weapon and offensive spell in the game, where there was a separate column to roll on for every type of armor your foe might be wearing. I never found more than one or two players willing to put up with such an utterly arcane system, so most of my experience with it was playing solo in MEQ gamebooks.

  2. While I know next to nothing about gamebooks, after reading your fantastic Edwin Tamelas encounter, I say if you're thinking about writing a gamebook of your own you should definitely go for it! I can't wait to read more of your stuff, if you decide to share :D

  3. I never read the first three, but I loved the Lone Wolf and Sorcery series. There was a second series by the same publisher as Lone Wold that was more magic based but I can't place it.

    I think computer gaming killed this genre pretty dead, but I used to get hours of entertainment from these. I still have them somewhere in a box.

  4. My first taste of choose your adventure books was Wizards, Warriors & You!

  5. @ Yeebo - I had one of those books. Still have, I'm sure, somewhere in a box. "A Spy In Isengard" if I remember right. It's been a long time. :)

    @ MMOGamerChick - It's a deal. I've got a rough skeleton worked out. Now to lay out the encounters properly.

    @ Blue Kae - I never read those "World of Lone Wolf" books, but I remember the ones you are talking about.

    You're right about computer gaming stomping gamebooks out. They did in a lot of things. Gamebooks are actually seeing a rebirth on the iPhone, though.

    @ Jayedub - I remember those! Ever catch the Be An Interplanetary Spy books? /geekout

  6. I had to dig mine out and flip through them a bit, I thought I'd take some pics too.


  7. Argh! I clipped the link. http://bit.ly/d7M29A

  8. @ Blue Kae - I knew I should have linked Project Aon. That site has put a lot of work into scanning, editing, and formating all of those books. Excellent find, BK.

  9. You knew about it before posting? Shame on you for not sharing. >:|

    I'm still excited though. They have nice HTML version where the book's on the left and your action sheet is on the right. Something like this might make be buy an iPad. /shudder