Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Choose Your Own Miscellany - History, Reading, Maps

A Brief History of  'Choose Your Own Adventure'
Jake Rossen
Mental Floss

"A lawyer named Edward Packard had hit upon an idea. He often told his kids bedtime stories, and whenever he couldn’t figure out how to resolve a story, he asked them to weigh in with options. He soon realized that they enjoyed the stories more when they helped choose the endings."

"This interactivity was a valuable storytelling device - it both harnessed the kids’ attention and took advantage of their innate creativity - and Packard wondered whether there was a clever way to package it in book form."
One Book, Many Readings
Christian Swineheart
Samizdat Drafting Co

"At its atomic level, a CYOA book is a collection of numbered pages of a few different types. Most pages tell a portion of the story, then finish by telling you to jump to another page. A smaller number of pages tell a conclusion to the story and represent an endpoint with no further jumps. We can subdivide these 'narrative' and 'endings' groups further based on the number of choices offered or the goodness of the ending. To visualize this, imagine color-coding every page in the book and then laying the pages out next to each other."

These Maps Reveal the Hidden Structure of 'Choose Your Own Adventure' Books
Sarah Laskow
Atlas Obscura

"For years, fans have been creating visualizations of the forking structures of 'Choose Your Own Adventure' books. Often, they’re interested in the types of outcomes at the end of each path. One map labels each ending as 'new life, return home, or death,' and another separates them into 'cliffhanger, solution, or death.' Christian Swinehart's extensive graphical analysis of the books labels the endings as 'great, favorable, mediocre, disappointing, or catastrophic.' "

"On the official maps, however, the endings aren't coded in any way that reveals their nature. Instead, they operate according to a simple key: each arrow represents a page, each circle a choice, and each square an ending. Dotted lines show where branches link to one another."


  1. The more I think about it, the more parallels I see between those point maps and the Tomb of Horrors. Makes me think you could easily make a CYOA out of that dungeon.

    1. You know, now that you mention it, since all the traps in TOH are fatal with no save, it's not like you use the dice much anyway. So it would convert pretty easily.

      I suppose the challenge would be writing prompts that aren't too obvious. Like if it comes down to something like this, then you probably always know to choose the longer option.

      A potential danger appears before you!
      - To charge stupidly to your death, turn to page 100
      - To take a laundry list of precautions, involving poking things with 10' poles, nailing things shut with iron spikes, and using handfuls of baking flour to create a vision-enhancing fog, turn to page 200

    2. I don't know that this is entirely fair to Tomb of Horrors - a lot of its bad reputation is from folks with poor childhood experiences (antagonistic GMing) and absolute incomprehension of how the puzzle aspect of classic play works (contradictory ethos of play). Very few, and perhaps none of the traps in TOH are instantly lethal to the high level characters it recommends, and certainly not to those that take a modicum of caution. The instant death trap that gets the most complaints (the green devil face) is passive, doesn't need interaction, and is easy to detect.

      Most importantly, and unlike Choose Your Own Adventures, trap dungeons like tomb encourage player creativity in a way that runs counter to a branched decision tree - the player goal in a trap dungeon is to figure out unexpected ways of defeating dangerous obstacles. In the original TOH the most famous method was sending waves of orcish mercenaries into the dungeon to trigger the traps, but most actual play's of TOH have similar work arounds (check out the current one on Henchman Abuse for example).

      I think a 5E dungeon of linear combat moments would be easier to turn into a Fighting Fantasy style choose adventure frankly.

    3. This sounds like a very meta way to play the game, though, doesn't it?

      "the most famous method was sending waves of orcish mercenaries into the dungeon to trigger the traps"

      You're not the adventurer going on an adventure, you're the crew boss sending dozens of the adventurers you employ to go have the adventure on your behalf.

      That feels like ... I dunno, you're not pretending to be Mario, you're pretending to be the teenage videogamer sending Mario after Mario to die in the Mushroom Kingdom.

      Not that there's anything wrong with that degree of distancing oneself from the action of the game, but it's funny to think of it as popular. "Let me tell you about my character. My character is a guy who stays safe outside while the henchmen go into the dungeon to fight the dragon."

      Trial-by-someone-else's-error doesn't really feel like creativity or ingenuity to me though. It feels like a brute force solution, just with the NPCs playing the role of the brutes.

      It's like Zap Branigan "defeating" his enemies by using his own soldiers as cannon fodder until his enemies run out of cannonballs.

      I suppose its a question of what sort of game you want to play. I know "Tomb of Horrors" is popular, but I can't really imagine myself wanting to play it either way, either as the adventurer or as the adventurers' handler.

  2. If you're interested in a very simple game for simulating these books I'd recommend https://heterogenoustasks.wordpress.com/2015/06/29/cheat-your-own-adventure/ (when I play it we hide the dice rolls so there can be a bit of suspense about success or failure)

    1. Very cool! Thanks for the link, Shane! (Can I assume that you're not the "Cheat Your Own" author, despite the same first name?)

      These Heterogenous Tasks is a good source for interactive fiction reviews.

  3. My first exposure to roleplaying was through the Fighting Fantasy choose your own adventure books - definitely a gateway drug for D&D.

    1. Same here! And then we played the advanced fighting fantasy RPG game (the precursor to Troika!) and then we jumped to 2e AD&D

    2. I think one of my gradeschool classmates played Fighting Fantasy?

      I had some official CYA books, a couple from the Interplanetary Spy series, and some random off-brands. The Interplanetary Spy ones were always my favorites.

      I think you're both right though. CYA and Hero Quest were probably my two biggest gateways. (My other two biggest gateways were probably my mom forbidding me to play D&D, and having a few friends I admired who owned the 2e rulebooks.)