Choose Your Own Adventure – My Gateway Drug

I just read an article on Slate about the beloved Choose Your Own Adventure series of books, and it made me think about those days of school book fairs and curling up in my room with the latest one, Forbidden Castle or Deadwood City.  I was probably 8 when I got my first one, and it was like the first hit of heroin for me.  I suddenly had the power to choose where a narrative went – my decisions suddenly mattered.  What was going to happen to me?  It was intoxicating.

I’d read them over and over, quickly adapting the necessary thumb (and later, multiple fingers) skill to keep track of which branch I wanted to take when I wasn’t all that sure of which direction I wanted to go.  I didn’t have a computer then – it was 1980 for gods’ sake – so this interactivity was my first experience with the notion.  I don’t think interactivity was a notion I’d even considered before then – it was all TV or books, and I never thought about it while playing Army or Indians (I was an early Redskins fan, so the idea of wanting to be a Cowboy was as foreign as wanting to be a Commie or Nazi) or whatever game involved that awesome stick I’d found that day.  I devoured those things like a Great Old One during Parent’s Weekend at Miskatonic.  I loved them.

Then, my world changed.

Ten years old.  Living in Annapolis.  1982.  The closest thing I had to a computer was an Atari 2600, and Adventure and Pitfall were about as close to an interactive RPG as I could get.  My brother came into our room and tossed a blue paperback absently on the floor.  It was big, not like regular book size, and on the cover was a big ole dragon.  I inched closer, curious – I was already a big fan of knights and dragons and whatnot by then (because of Sleeping Beauty?  Maybe, now that I think about it, although Star Wars put the desire for dashing derring-do into my life, probably).  Below the dragon were two figures, a knight in armor and a man in robes, magical sparklies around his hand (King Arthur and Merlin, my kid’s brain helpfully identified).  Across the top were two words and one symbol, in a cool-looking font.

Dungeons & Dragons.

I still have it.

I still have it.

I asked my brother what it was.  He said a friend of his gave it to him, some game you can play.  He didn’t seem that interested and didn’t care if I looked at it.

Christ, I think sometimes – what would have happened if I hadn’t opened that book?  Had never flipped through those pages with the strange terms and descriptions of dice and creatures?  Would my life even remotely resemble the one I’m living now?  Very few of my friends growing up – I mean, all the way through high school and college – played it, so my chances of exposure were pretty low.  If I hadn’t – well, The Curse of Troius would never exist, and nearly all of the friends that I have right now would be total strangers.  I mean, I think about that, and I’m blown away.  If that ten-year-old kid doesn’t pick up that book and instead picks up the Pro Football Digest again – the one with Joe Theismann, his hero, on it – I don’t live where I live, I never meet the woman I love, and my life is completely and utterly different.

That ten-year-old?  Yeah, I think he chose the right adventure.

Anyway, it was because of those Adventure books that I grasped the point of the D&D book.  Soon after, I was running what are undoubtedly the worst adventures of all time with my brother as my only player, which he somehow managed to suffer through.  I was such a great DM that he never really liked the game all that much then or later.  I didn’t have many friends then – we lived in Annapolis a grand total of 6 months, so I didn’t have much of a chance – and the times he didn’t want to play as Hexozar the Barbarian I had my Choose Your Won Adventure books to fall back on.

Later, when I was firmly entrenched deep into the world of tabletop RPGs (actually, mostly I just read and collected the books – I never really had many friends who played, which didn’t stop me from continuing to create elaborate and decidedly awful adventures and characters), I branched out into the TSR knock-offs and the awesome ones from Iron Crown Enterprises, all set in Middle Earth where you got to make your own character and do all kinds of cool and nerdy stuff.

I still have a few of them – mostly the ICE ones, and one lonely remaining original Choose Your Own, Forbidden Castle.  When we moved to Florida, I think an entire box of my books got lost, so the rest disappeared sadly from my life.  I miss them, and the kid with the crappy haircut and godawful clothes and buck teeth who loved them.

  • If you liked this post, go on to Page 74.
  • If you didn’t like this post, go on to Page 89.
  • If you think the post author is a crappy writer with awkward sentence structure and too many asides, then you have been eaten by zombies and die horribly along with your entire family.  The End.

About Alan Edwards

Former cancer caregiver. Husband of the most magical and amazing person who ever lived.

Posted on February 18, 2011, in Self Reflection and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. I was never a fan of the “Choose your own path” stuff, I don’t know why. Maybe its because I entered the RPG world via the direct route, my Friend picked up the game and ran me and his brother.

    A masterful tale though, I have to admit, its interesting as hell to hear how all my friends came to this strange station on the rail road of life.

    • I envy you that, I have to say – from the ages of 12 to 20, I probably got 20 different games and dozens of sourcebooks – 90% of which I’ve never played. I am a nerd failure.

  2. I loved those Choose Your Own Adventure books and actually have my original boxset of them sitting in my closet for my own kids when they are a bit older. I loved how you could choose your own path, and then read the end results. I had a big smile when I orginally read your post, because, nobody I know was into books as a kid like I was. I also come from a semi-small area and did not have a lot of friends growing up. Reading was my escape and became a great friend to me at times. When I thought about your other point, what if I had chosen a different path, I found myself feeling the same way. I know I screwed up when I was young, running away and partyng, and I really wish I could go back and have the 15 year old me choose the right path, BUT, then I would not have my 2 kids, my 3 dogs and my best friend. So I guess I would have had to choose the tough, lonely, and not so fun path as a kid, to get to where I am now. Anyway, this was really an interesting post. Made me think a lot about what could have been. I now understand that in the long run, I did do OK.

    I never was into RPG games as a young kid. I think we had a Commodore64 and an old Atari. Neither was very good at RPGs back in the day.

    •If you liked this post, go to page 74 and let the author know he should post more often
    •If you didn’t like this post, go to 89 and tell the author we hope his cheese turned out well.

    (Did you read the Matthew Looney series by Jerome Beatty Jr as a kid? I have that set as well. Loved it!)

  1. Pingback: Iron Crown Enterprises, Rolemaster, and MERP: A Love Letter | Me and My Shovel

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