Before paragraph 1: Choices you might have to make before your adventure.

Bob wanted a more realistic skill
score for Crypt of the Sorcerer.

Your adventure begins on paragraph 1.  That is when you are thrust into the dangerous world to face many trials and tribulations.  However, in some gamebooks, your success or failure may have already been determined.  And that is because you may have been making choices about your character in the rules section of the book.

Most writing on gamebooks focuses on the story itself and how the rules interact with that story.  What you have to do to ‘roll up’ a character is usually relegated to a paragraph near the beginning and it is only there for the purpose of informing the reader of the system rather than looking at it critically.  However, there is a lot to think about when you roll up a character.  What kind of choices might you have to make and what bearing does it have on the gamebook?

Choices about abilities

Sea of Madness by Andrew Wright
has a point build system.

The degree to which you make choices about you ability scores varies.  You may have a point build system which means that the choice is 100% yours.  On the opposite end of the scale, you may have to roll up each ability randomly in turn and have no choice about which score goes to which ability (Fighting Fantasy and Lone Wolf) or even a situation where you are given your stats and cannot change them at all (Tyrants Tomb).  In the middle, we have systems where we roll up scores and then distribute a limited number of points (such as in Night Dragon) or a system where you can roll up scores and distribute them as you wish amongst your attributes (such as in Tunnels and Trolls if you are being kind to yourself).

don’t even bother
trying Return to
Firetop Mountain
with a skill roll
like this.

The dangers of having a completely random system is the risk of rolling really bad scores and having to watch your character get cut down within three paragraphs.  However, if the gamebook is done well, there would be a route picked out for a character with minimum scores (such as Citadel of Chaos).

A point build system will never create amazing characters – in points terms, every character will be equal (of course when we get to the book, some attributes might be stronger than others) – but that also means that you will never get a terrible character and if you do get slaughtered within three paragraphs because of your stats, you now know that that particular build is rubbish and you will try a different one.  It is less of a gut punch than losing because of one bad dice roll.

Your skill choices are important
when playing Lost Labyrinth.

Choices about your skills


I am defining skills are different from abilities in the sense that they have no numerical value.  Lone Wolf either has the healing skill or does not have the healing skill.  If you have a list of skills, you will probably have to select them from a list basing your decisions either on how useful you think they would be (does the introduction give you any clues?) or what kind of character you would want (do you want Lone Wolf to be a  nature type who can hunt and talk to animals or a warrior type who can use weapons and mindblast for example).

Choices about your spells

Don’t forget that
levitation spell.



If you are a magic user, you may need to decide what spells you can cast and, if you are using a Vancian magic system, how many uses of each spell you can get.


Choices about your personality


This is a variation on customising your abilities, but instead of getting to choose which abilities to add to, you may be given a situation and different choices on how you would handle the situation.  Each decision mya raise or lower one or more abilities depending on how your choice fits in with your abilities.

Here is an example from the great Android game, Pirates and Traders:

On the small estates of your parents, you…

  • Put on muscle from helping your father out in the fields.  (Increases strength)
  • Climed trees and rocks, building your agility.  (Increases agility)
  • Earned a reputation as an enfant terrible due to all the pranks you pulled.  (Increases cunning)
  • Often got into scrapes but always got out of them with your charm.  (Increases charm


What to take with me?

Choices about your equipment


In this case, you may be given a list of items and told that you can take a certain number of them or you might be given some money and you could buy the items.

Choices about your companions


In some gamebooks, you are either being accompanied by individuals or an army.  You may need to choose which individuals or which units of soldiers will go with you.



Choices about your characters


In some gamebooks, such as the Duel Master gamebooks The Shattered Realm,
you choose which potential monarch you could be.  You have a choice of three –
a military style commander, a magic user and a queen/princess.

You choose a character in Heroquest.
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