Choose Your Own Adventure books Dain Bramaged me!!!!

edited March 2013 in Story Games
No, really, they did.

I'm sure of it, and the reason I say that is because I watch discussions of older games like early D&D, arguments about Rulings, Not Rules,and long discussions about the horribleness of rulesets that at their core require players of characters to appeal to the sensibilities and biases of the GM to wheedle the enactment of mechanics, and frankly end up wondering what all of the fuss is about.

It becomes clear to me reading those sorts of threads that other, perhaps smarter, people find all of those sorts of things torturous and incomprehensible and I have been left somewhat baffled why I wasn't having this same reaction.

Clearly, some sort of Dain Bramage had occured in my distant past that made that sort of awful design and playstyle seem terribly normal to me, and so I went on a quest down memory lane to figure out the source of this trauma.

Choose Your Own Adventure Books were at the bottom of that pit.

I mostly blame my bramage not so much on those innocent tomes, but on the actions of my 4th grade teacher and my good pal, Marc.

Awful Vikinghat-GM-in-the-making that he was, my 4th grade teacher would read CYOA books aloud in class and let us collectively decide which entry to go to next when a decision was called for in the text. I suspect he may have read a few of those ahead of time, because I recall a couple of occasions when he'd hear are votes and ask us " Do You really want to do that?".


Clearly, I was being dain bramaged even then. I loved those books and read a bunch on my own.

The other villain in this piece is my good pal, Marc, who would introduce me to D&D ( and RPGs more generally) by catching me after one of those reading sessions and telling me that D&D was like a CYOA book only OMGBETTERER!!11! and would I like to play one?

Fool that I was, I tried out RPGs with this mindset, and truly the imprinting was nearly complete, the worm of dain bramage already setting in.

After one short session, I decided Marc was right: These things were an improved CYOA experience! You could play with your pals, and they all were different characters! You didn't all just collectively choose what one character did, each person had a character! How cool was that?! You wren't limited to a choice or two or even dialog based in a book. You could try whatever you came up with to get through the story and could go in all sorts of directions, not just one or two.

And yes, you could try to wheedle a bit and play on the GM's sympathies, not just try to guess what the options an author had come up with meant. And hit points! Lovely, lovely hit points! Maybe you did slide down that hillside, but you didn't necessarily automatically die straight out. You might get to make a roll of the dice and survive the thing!

I was hooked after one session. I immediately went home and made my own rules and tried GMing a week later. It wasn't perfect, designwise or technique wise, but I got the gist of the thing.

You're the GM. Make up a situation and an area. Your pals are the characters, they wander around and interact with it. If you don't already have a mechanic for something, either just decide what happens ( what the author of those CYOA books would do) or make up some kind of die throw mechanic on the spot, however you felt like and hope for the best.

Mostly, it worked. Where it didn't, I blame lack of experience. That stuff is always hard won in any craft.

Later on, I got proper RPGs, made by other people and filled with mechanics. Terribly useful stuff premade mechanics. You have a tool right handy if you happen not to feel like maing up your own. Sometimes they even gave some neat concepts I hadn't thought of myself. Entirely optional though outside of those very core mechanics (and sometimes even those core mechanics were optional).

And the whole thing, player end or GM end, felt pretty natural. Really, I wasn't doing all that much more than what my teacher had been doing when he read those CYOA books aloud to us and we'd made decisions.

Even today, I still approach classic design RPG GMing this way.

I didn't come from a wargaming background. The idea of D&D as a single figure wargame with logistics challenge components is an interesting if somewhat foreign idea. Truly, I have only limited respect for mechanics, treating them as tools to be used or not used as I see fit and taking that stand without regrets.

After all, it wasn't like I'd never played a CYOA book successfully, even without those classic RPG style mechanics.

So what it comes down to is this: Perhaps other people, mystified about how those cobbled together toolkits with their GM decision making (based on their own biases and sympathies) are even vaguely functional in practice, well, perhaps they ought to expose themselves to a bit of dain bramage inducing play of the type I experienced.

I suspect the whole thing might become a bit clearer.

Begorrah!* It might even, with clear insight into the mindset I've been discussing, suggest directions for design and layout.

(* I have no idea what begorrah means, but irishmen in old movies exclaim it in surprise, and being so close to St Patrick's Day, i just felt like sneaking it in there somewhere)


  • I recently re-listened to episode 08 of Theory From the Closet:

    Hey, it's almost six years later!

    Largely I've been agnostic concerning the original claims. Ron Edwards was talking about a particular subset of players of a particular approach to gaming, at a particular age. I'm not sure your experiences fit inside the categories he was originally using.

    What I am starting to see, is that being exposed to what Callan_S called the "classic 'pure simulation of actions will lead to a dramatic event!' ideology" could actually damage people's ability to engage with story in a larger scope. Lately I've been seeing more and more examples of people that have been hemmed in by the idea that fiction has its own internal physics that resolve things to the point where they can't see things like genre expectations, story structure, thematic statements, etc.,.

    Though that is also a separate issue as the fictional world's physics approach isn't what is talked about in that interview either, except in that the players may think it is the approach that's being used when there's actually something else going on behind the screen.
  • Making on the spot rulings to handle unexpected stuff makes sense to me as a design philosophy. Making core mechanics optional really doesn't. Can you give an example of what discarding a core mechanic looks like?
  • edited March 2013
    I did play 90s style traditional RPGs through my teens. I played tons of Rifts, Werewolf, Mage, Shadowrun, GURPS, Fudge, AD&D2E and a variety of others that worked largely the same way.

    I think the way that I escaped having my ability to engage with elements of fiction hampered was that I came from a D&D foundation going back to Moldvay. So I never was trying to force "story" out of the process. The GM's job was to present an interesting situation and it was our job to overcome it. I don't think any of us ever bought into the idea that we would create deep and meaningful stories. Times that I have posted on white wolf related forums and mailing lists, I was told in no uncertain terms that I was doing it wrong when it came to Werewolf. We basically played as supernatural eco-terrorists, fighting against the Wyrm controlled bad guys much in the same way we might play D&D.
  • I disagree with the OP -though not totally since this might work for some people- since I've witnessed how dangerous this philosophy may become in the wrong hands!

    My best pal JL introduced me to tabletop RPGs by telling me stories about the group he was playing Vampire with. They didn't had space for another player so I had to wait until some players left and the next campaign started. Anyway, It turned out same as me, he was a huge fan of CYOA books and he learned his GMing style from them in the same way as you, and GMed a sort of massive paranoia RPG with soldiers while in highschool. Massive as in like, 15 players at once, and Paranoia in the sense that though they were a team, they were at each others troaths and backstabbing left and right.

    Try to picture yourself GMing there, with all the players trying to take advantage of you and destroy your world... but at the same time having at your hand the mass destruction tools of stupid almost automatic death by GM fiat, and the background of CYOA books to support the death rate of the game. He learned all kind of nasty tricks and believe me, he still mixes them in the worst ways to this very day.

    Now comes my part of the story, where having played Vampire in the same party with JL with another friend of us as the coolest GM I've seen, JL invited me to play a game of his own design, this time an space opera with the most complex and astonishing setting ever mixed from Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Babylon 5 and Aliens 2. One third of the cumbersome character creation system was random, one third point-buy and the last was Vampire-like Virtue and Defects hunting through a really really long list. Took a whole session to create a single character and another one to roleplay the introductory scene where your character reached the same lost ship all the other PCs were into.

    And people died so easily in the most ridiculous ways that half of the group started wondering: why isn't he letting us play, and why does he humilliates us so much? I mean, the main reason I came to play was because he asked my help because the players kept dying and the story was totally stalled... and my character died in a stupid senseless fashion. He later admitted it wasn't fair but we couldn't rewind the game up to that scene, nor I actually wanted to.

    I borrowd later from him a couple of the books that inspired him this gameplay and god, then I understood from where such horror came... I can't recall the titles, but there were british CYOA books, transtaled by an spanish publisher. The author certainly included a lot of options in the first pages, as what kind of equipment you character may buy. This later in the book opened different options... but altogether it was almost impossible to continue at some point. I mean, you could either by supplies and a normal weapon, or spend all in a powerful weapon or an apparently useless trinket.

    Without supplies you couldn't reach the last stage of the story. Withouth the best weapon, you couldn't defeat the monster. And the useless trinket was totally useless unless you choosed exactly one of the paths where it meant something. Oh yes, there were battles solved by dice rolls but then again, it only meant you only passed by rolling a 6 or a 5 if you had the powerful weapon... man, that was a terribly designed book. The story was cool, the adventure sense was there, but then came this parts where your choice didn't matter and you were only left to luck to solve everything, since the book didn't gave you clues to choose wisefully.

    And that's the kind of GM my pal JL is. I'd play with him in another group, but I'm definitely not getting even close to a table he's GMing. Yes, there are people who still play with him, his stories are good, but they keep playing to breake his world and kill each other, not to follow his stories, because he doesn't let them to, nor encourages them in any way to do so.

    (BTW, sorry for the writing style, I've been reading "At the Mountains of Madness" lately and it got sticky)
  • komradebob and WarriorMonk,

    I really enjoyed reading your tales of woe! The evil-GM-4th-grade-teacher is a pretty compelling image!

    I've played very little of that kind of game, since my fledling roleplaying group in elementary school was all about reading J.R.R. Tolkien, so that was what we imprinted on and assumed D&D should be like.

    This thread makes me wonder:

    Have you guys seen Murderous Ghosts?
  • @Deliverator -

    Do you mean claims like "I had the best D&D session ever! We never picked up any dice or engaged in any of the mechanics!"
  • I was reminded of Ron Edwards recently. Playing in a very mediocre Vampire: the Maquerade game at a local con. There is some truth there.
  • "Begorra" is what they call a minced oath (like "golly", "darn", or "sugar"), and is derived from the phrase "by God" by slightly trilling the D.
  • edited March 2013
    I think an issue is not being able to see any cons to the practice - it's all pro, or it would be all pro if you'd 'just done it right'. Not even being able to see different practices as having different pro qualities (not even saying it has pro qualities that come with a con - just no other practice has a pro quality). Any undermining of centralised authority (traditionally GM authority) tends to fall under the 'no pro to it' or 'its all con'. Especially rules dominating play being viewed in an especially leery way. Strong game currencies that actually drive player action are looked at leerily for this reason, as players tend to pursue the currencies as part of the players own agenda, rather than pursuing the central authorities agenda (which is particularly noisome to the issue holders when the currencys drive goes against what the authority wants to do (usually 'getting through the story')). Further in the issue is pushing discussions in this way, so new gamers or designers are sure to only see this sort of practice. But all of these are pretty much fall under the umbrella of not being able to see any cons to the practice - only pros. No cons, not even at an aesthetic/relatively superficial level. Generally if there's any con, it's put down to a misspractice on the central authorities/GM's part.
  • @Deliverator -

    Do you mean claims like "I had the best D&D session ever! We never picked up any dice or engaged in any of the mechanics!"
    Thanks for the clarification—I can see how it might have seemed like that is what I'm asking about. But no, I mean specifically ignoring core mechanics in a functional way. And not just in the sense you're talking about, where the mechanics aren't engaged at all, but where some other metric is used to determine, say, whether or not you hit the monster, other than what's printed in the manual.
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