Gamebook Diaries - Bonus! Research Materials
Gamebooks Open-world Gamebooks Gamebook Diaries

Gamebook Diaries - Bonus! Research Materials

Duncan Thomson

This is a bonus Gamebook Diaries as its not looking at writing them, but what I'll be drawing from in the past.

A History with Gamebooks

My first real gamebook was the Fighting Fantasy book Caverns of the Snow Witch, with an icy setting where you content with an undead sorceress, her minions and curse, watching bad things happen to two companions you acquire halfway through.

I'd tried one Choose Your Own Adventure before that and didn't like it much. But after Caverns I discovered 39+ more Fighting Fantasy Books (thanks to public libraries of the UK), and dabbled with Cretan Chronicles, Lone Wolf, Sorcery!, and some Tunnels and Trolls

I even wrote my own gamebook (325 ages), but never got much further with that after going heavily into RPGs.

I still had some Fighting Fantasy books in my 20s, and occasionally played one, but they were more a curiosity than anything.

The books that stood out for me

  • Scorpion Swamp and Robot Commando. These two FF books, written by Steve Jackson (the American One) were far more open in how you went about them. You could wander around, visit places in a different order, and revisit them two. In one you could use spells from gems and in the other you controlled massive fighting robots.
  • Dead of Night stood out for a great theme use, solid art, keyword abilities that affected how the book was played and giving your character at bit more identity than the normal nameless adventurer
  • Sorcery! were the first connected books I played, and had a unique magic system and lots of integrations between the books. It took the Fighting Fantasy books, refined them and made them into something more....epic.

I never played the Lone Wolf books much, or got much from the Tunnels and Trolls ones. The Cretan Chronicles were strong on theme and ok as gamebooks. They lacked a certain consistency. Fickle like the ancient Greek gods.

Open Worlders

In 2023 things changed again when I was listening to a solo gaming podcast and discovered someone playing through Legendary Kingdoms, an open-world gamebook. After some research I discovered Fabled Lands and ordered those. They had been mentioned before in solo gaming, but now I actually took note!

This is what changed gamebooks for me, or reintroduced them to my life! The freedom of wandering the land in Fabled Lands or Steam Highwayman, and also discovering traditional gamebooks that were pushing boundaries or old ones I'd simply missed!

It was reading the open-world gamebooks that convinced me I should have a go at writing one myself again.

  • Fabled Lands: These opened up the box for me. Being able to wander from book to book, keeping track of game-state through tickboxes, keywords and titles. Having a commerce system for trading with boats, NPCs across books.
  • Steam Highwayman: Currently my favourite gamebooks, these built on the Fabled Lands framework, but added and stronger theme and setting, Friends and Wanted By to give more relationships in-game, Scars as a way of keeping up a timer of sorts, that your time as an adventurer / protagonist was limited. And the Scoring system which gave you an idea of how your legacy would be viewed or way of tracking progress. Then there were large quest or themes you could choose to ignore, such as the workers unrest or conflict of self.
  • VulcanVerse: From the same authors as Fabled Lands, but with a far stronger theme of Greek gods and mythology. Added companions who came with you and could help, infinite deaths (more or less), made more complex use of tickboxes. It was also possibly to change the state of the setting significantly through your actions, watching it evolve as you completed quests. Combat was streamlined to just be another check, and character creation was dealt with within the story start, using normal book entries.

Legendary Kingdoms, Destiny Quest and other open-world game series will be covered as I play them!

New and Old

Along with open-world gamebooks was the joys of rediscovering Fighting Fantasy and the breadth of design in them, taking a new look at Lone Wolf, and discovering gamebooks that were new to me.

So far these have included...

The Assassin series, which have a strong theme of ninjas (although strangely in western fantasy world sometimes), specific fighting techniques and a growing list of skills

Lone Wolf is available for free, grows over the books, where you play the same character for many (and others in late r books), and experimented with the format. But is simple to play.

Heart of Ice uses no dice or randomness, but gives an immersive experience with a futuristic / post-apocalyptic setting. It makes strong use of Skills, equipment, keywords and companions to reflect your choices. Part of a larger series.

Then there have been others, such as GrailQuest, Riders of the Black Sun, newer Fighting Fantasy such as Night of the Necromancer.

Finishing Up

This might have to go into a longer / deeper series, looking at the gamebooks from a design perspective!

I've covered Warlock of Firetop Mountain in the past!