Expanding Fighting Fantasy

Thinking about solo adventures.

Far be it from me to point at the everything right now, but you may not realise it, but a lot of normal avenues for me are cut off – I don’t have access to playtest groups right now. Despite this, people are still TTRPG’in it up, tabletop living in online forms like Magic: The Gathering’s camera systems or Tabletop Simulator and the like. Also, Discord is getting a workout as a RPG room for a lot of people, and I know that my booklet games have been selling well on DriveThru.

That got me thinking: What can I do with just a book, for people who don’t have a ton of room or time to play with other people right now?

I loved the Fighting Fantasy books as a kid, because I also didn’t have access to specialised equipment and I didn’t have any friends. These books were an adventure that I could play and share with only the single monopoly dice out of my second hand boardgame we kept in the cupboard. They also could be obtained from the libary and local book exchange and crucially, not paid for with money.

If the main thing of mine people are buying right now is a book, and I want to give people stories and adventures and settings to play around in, then what about a solo RPG gamebook? That seems an interesting idea to at least explore.

There’s going to be a linked question here, which is, “Well, why not do this in twine?” or “Why not make this as an actual video game?” or “Why does this have to use a deck of cards when this other thing could do the job?” and the answer to that, largely, is shut up.

Not to be entirely rude, but the reason to do things with this medium is to do things with this medium. I’m not trying to get into programming languages – I know how to design game, I know how to design a game narrative, and I know how to format a book. What’s more, when you start using a digital model, you introduce more tools that often will handle things you do better – things like tracking inventory and whatnot. If you’re dealing with a gamebook or a pdf reader, you can tell the reader they have to do something, if you’re non-confusing, the player will be able to make it work.

A few ideas for this!

1. Flow

The typical problem of a gamebook is that you can emulate a linear flow from point A to point B, but it’s often hard to make a book construct a space. This is because some elements are time-sensitive – the first time you enter a room, you may encounter a version of the room that’s got things in it, but once you deal with them, the book has no inherent way to track that.

Now, there is an option for this – to treat the narrative as an entirely linear flow. Lots of good tricks here; using it as a narrative story that works as part of a journey is pretty good when you deal with something like the Lone Wolf books by Joe Dever. You could also make the narrative about being pursued – backtracking is inherently a problem.

There’s also the hamfisted way some of these narratives work by teleporting you places, or having you kidnapped or moved on. That’s a thing to bear in mind.

One idea for playing with memory is that your character sheet has a fold-over section, with a lot of out-of-context marks on it; when you do the thing the context mark indicates, you make a mark on the non-folded section, and that means that when you eventually flip that section out, you have a bunch of points that represent things you did, and they then send you to a story point that relates to that.

2. Adding Cards

A way to make the game remember – or forget – things is to use some cards. A deck of playing cards could be used to break up into a number of decks; you could have a final encounter represented by a few cards on a table, as a form of rudimentary AI. You could have treasure decks that mean you don’t find the same items in the same locations all the time.

You can also use cards to represent accomplishments – when successful, you can remove cards from a deck, so that later in the dungeon, they won’t show up. This can also be used to make the combat system more complicated in an interesting way.

I’m particularly interested in this because of how it relates to using a deck of cards to randomise encounters and add resistance without necessarily making the bulk of the book into repeating workhorse enemies and monsters.

3. Legacy Elements

Asking someone to physically write on the book is a bit sketchy, but you could have a legacy character sheet with a fold-out section that lets you draw on specific sections of the sheet to indicate things that have changed. Then you can use that section of the sheet to relate to the next (or all next sheets that follow, depending on how you feel about roguelikes).

This is particularly interesting because if entries are numbered, it’s entirely possible that you can make some entries go away with legacy rules; you have an entry that’s only accessible through the legacy elements, threads of story you can’t reach in the first play, but can in the second. That there’s hypertext.