Here are some situations from gamebooks or complete gamebooks that I find unfair and frustrating.
Crypt of the Sorcerer
I wasn't going to include this on the list as anyone who's played it will think that it goes with out saying that Crypt of the Sorcerer is unfair and frustrating (including the entertaining Galactrix) but I thought I'd say it anyway because it is a good clear cut example of things that make it unfair and frustrating.
Here's a list:
The fight with Razaak - he's a skill 12 stamina 20 opponent who kills you with two consecutive hits and his sword doesn't give you an attack strength bonus against him. Basically, you're stuffed.
However, some of the early combats in Crypt of the Sorcerer aren't that bad. It get's harder once you have to fight three doragor and possibly a skill 12 stamina 24 monster.
The item hunt or die: You neen to collect tons of item. If you don't have one of them, you die horribly. There's one item that isn't essential and that's the rod of paralysis. You don't die, you just have to fight a skill 12 stamina 24 opponent. However, to get the rod, you need to kill an innocent bone ring maker (and there can't be many of them around), lose 3 luck points, take a cursed ring, fight a werewolf (if you had been friendly with the bone ring man he could have given you a werewolf repelling ring and told you how to use it) and then fight a bunch of skeletons. Nice choice, Livingstone.
Die rolls or die: If you roll a 5-6 on one die then you are killed at one point. You have to make three skill tests or almost die and when you get further on into the book, your opponents get a lot harder to beat and none of the items help you. Even Razaak's 'powerfully enchanted' sword gives you no bonus. Razaak obviously thought ahead by making the only weapon that can harm him rubbish.
I find this exercise pointless. Three encounters punctuate a meaningless excercise in getting the correct combination of arbitrarily decided directions. Apart from the directions that the people you envcounter suggest, there is no indication about which ones are better and unless you make a map, it is easy to go around in circles. So I suppose the idea was to get the player to make a map but since the maze has few features, it is quite a tedious experience.
Working out which components kill Zanbar Bone in City of Thieves
1) If you have two out of the three items then you should not be told that you have failed.
2) If you have all three items, what is to stop you from grinding them all up anyway as you will definitely have the two you need in there (this can probably be answered with some magi babble about the third item cancelling the powers of the first two but this is not explicitly stated in the book, so I'm raising it as a problem)?
3) There is no clue as to which two are best.
I can see that the idea was to create an interesting decision but it was executed poorly for the practical reasons mentioned above.
Many of the decisions you make have completely unpredictable consequences that lead to your death. Even the paragraphs on the winning route are not very encouraging as you don't get rewards in the form of gold pieces, stat bonuses or interesting items. Most of the time, it is just you, a magic sword, a cat, some provisions and some fuel. I love cats, but even she can't save Chasms of Malice. Luke Sharp's later books had the same randomness in them, but he had toned down the lethality, turning them into an enjoyable romp around Kazan, the area of Southern Khul his books were set in. If Chasms of Malice was less lethal, it would have been in the same boat.
Your first few actions are decided randomly, you have to play the losing paths for ages before you realise that you've lost making you feel like you've wasted your time, the correct path is extremely narrow, an error means that you do not know that you should use your pandant because the paragraph starts with the wrong phrase and the book makes you read a whole load of background that doesn't really help you in the game.
It is a random scavenger hunt filled with choices between non descript corridors and non descript doors. A lot of the time, you have to choose between death or some difficult combat (such as prising gemstones out of the statue's eyes) and you have no idea what the criteria for victory is.
Eye of the Dragon
It is a random scavenger hunt filled with choices between non descript corridors and non descript doors. A lot of the time, you have to choose between death or some difficult combat with some generic opponent. Very little about it is memorable.
So there we go. The same authors and sometimes the same books have appeared on both lists. As I expected, my feelings on this topic are confusing and sometimes contradictory. This became apparent when some books appeared on both the enjoyable and challenging and also the unfair and frustrating lists. I'm trying to work this out on an absolute basis, but I am finding it hard to disconnect my own feelings and opinions from this. I'll be needing some more input to work out what works universally and what is my opinion. I'll be posting a conclusion next week.