Hello gamebookers. How are you?
So I bought a hard copy version of Dungeon Crawl Classics (I have the pdf, but the lavish illustrations make it slow to load), a game designed to bring alive the world inspired by the works of Appendix N, rather than create another retro clone or D20 game. It certainly is an intriguing read. I love the character creation method of the 'funnel' where you create 2-4 completely randomly generated level 0 characters and play them until only a few survive to become 1st level heroes that you know and love. It actually inspired me to make a similar system for AFF2 (scroll down for an updated version) and it was played on the Platonic Solid blog (here and here).
I also love the fact that spells have incremental success rather than pass/fail, meaning that casting a simple knock spell could blow open every door and chest, locked, unlocked and even invisible in a mile radius (bad things can happen if you fail, however. This is the risk with messing with magic).
It also finally made me realise something - there are several spells in the DnD list (such as magic mouth) here that are of limited help in combat or healing, but they are still there, and they can be infinitely useful, but only as useful as the ingenuity as the player who plays it and the GM who decides what the consequences of such an action are. This could lead to all kinds of interesting twists and successes.
However, a great story could be weaved from the unpredictable ingenuity of a player and the abilities of their character. This makes RPGs more of a game. However, in gamebooks, you only have a limited predetermined
In the past, I wanted to streamline magic and skills to make sure that they didn't interfere with the rules, such as with the Adventurer rules - as many spells as possible would be substitutes for skills or items, so that I could just present a situation such as a locked door and a skill check, but then without presenting any other text, a character could cast a spell or use an item to overcome it. Maybe a fireball spell could have burnt through the door, or an acid splash spell dissolved the lock away, or scry spell could have located the key which would have been hidden under a flagstone, impossible to find by searching. However, I couldn't have accounted for every possible solution, and I wouldn't be there to reward a player who displays a great level of ingenuity.
So maybe there is a way to remedy this - maybe the player of a gamebook could be their own GM. 'But wait!' I hear 'Won't they just pick the most optimal route for them and cheat?'. My answer would be not necessarily. I think the gamebooks with a high likelihood of fatality and with one successful ending or death do encourage cheating and the use of player knowledge over character knowledge. Otherwise, people would never finish them. However, gamebooks with a lower fatality rate and where failure in dice rolls and skill tests does not lead to huge negative consequences, but rather interesting consequences that lead to new routes, then maybe players would be more likely to take any route, even the less optimal ones, because they think that it would be interesting for the story, or maybe they think that the character they have chosen would have made the worse decision (assuming that the game aspect allows a choice of characters). Maybe if the player knew that the game was like this, they would not mind 'losing' occasionally.
It reminds me of when I used to play Populous 2. There was a cheat where if you pressed F9, you could get all the mana you wanted. I could have obliterated the enemy with rains of fire, pillars of fire, storms, tidal waves and high winds. I did it for a few times, but eventually it got boring. Instead, I built an imperfect landscape with a few roads and gave the enemy soldiers the plague so that their god couldn't get mana and so it couldn't attack my people. Then I just let the people get on with it. Occasionally, there was fighting, but it was good to follow a tribe and see what they got up to, or just look at the border between the good and evil tribes and see how the battles are progressing. When total victory was certain, it seemed less sweet.
I'm not saying that gamebooks should end with certain victory - rather that if death and ruin are not certain, then the player might take some bad options to enhance their story, even if they could take the best option. Maybe, you don't even have to be certain about things.
For example, maybe one of the options could be 'If your character can build a fire, turn to x. If no, turn to y.' Maybe, there would be no explicit statements about gaining firewood in the book, but there could be a section before where you walked through a forest. Maybe you could think that your character would have the foresight to collect wood from there. Or maybe they would buy it from a village. Or maybe they wouldn't have any. Either way, it would enhance the story and entertain. And even if your choices would lead to death, even the death would have value, as part of the story or entertainment. This would mean a lot more effort on the part of the player, but it would mean greater rewards.
Dave Morris said in one of his posts (I can't remember which one) that RPG players don't like gamebooks Maybe one of the reasons is that players don't have much chance to show their ingenuity in gamebooks.