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DestinyQuest – Putting The Game Back Into Gamebooks

We are teaming up with our friends over at Gollancz to giveaway 3 sets of the two DestinyQuest books currently available, The Legion of Shadow & The Heart of Fire. All you have to do is leave a comment in the comments section for your chance to win! Preferably something witty… or Gamebook related :)

Michael J. Ward

Michael J. Ward

Dice clatter across the table. Our brave adventurer smiles, his pencil-stub deftly adding numbers to his hallowed parchment, their cryptic meaning known only to the dedicated few. Pages rasp as they are flicked back and forth. An intake of breath. Eyes scan the spidery print, knuckles whitening from the tension. The whole world holds its collective breath….

Then the fated adventurer lowers his mighty tome and speaks.

“Oh crud, I just got my legs ripped off by a giant cockroach!”

Back in the eighties, such scenes were commonplace in schools and homes across the UK as nerds like myself discovered the delights of interactive fiction. At last, here was our chance to leave the real world behind, and set out on an exciting adventure – a chance to become someone else entirely and have our choices make a real difference. The power of life and death was, quite literally, in our own hands.

Gamebooks (like Lone Wolf and Fighting Fantasy) became popular at a time when other forms of interactive entertainment were still in their infancy. As teenagers, we didn’t have the likes of Skyrim or World of Warcraft to immerse ourselves in. If you were lucky, you might have a friend with a BBC Computer who had a copy of Hunchback (imagine Sonic but on a zimmer frame).

ATARI 2600 JOYSTICK 3D MODEL by bluespartan10When the Atari 2600 came out, it was something of a gaming revolution – the first popular and truly dedicated console. It had Pac Man, Donkey Kong, Asteroids… There was no levelling of characters, no assigning of skill points, no questing or story progression – hell, there wasn’t even any achievements to unlock (I feel the entire modern gaming world shudder). You played these games for the sheer obsessive delight of beating your highest score.

So, gamebooks and table-top roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons (which I discovered by watching ET: The Extra Terrestrial – thank you Mr Spielberg) provided what computer games could not. They gave us choice – and at a time when game graphics were ugly planet-sized pixels, they also let us the play with the greatest 3D card ever – our imaginations.

But times change. As consoles and computers became more advanced, gamebooks – while still enjoying a devoted following – were inevitably superseded by the flashy interactive worlds on our television and monitor screens. Today, we don’t really need to imagine anything for ourselves. We have a myriad of stunning 3D worlds to explore, hand-crafted by talented designers and artists. Hit a button or a key and your character will perform the associated action in the blink of an eye – no page turning, no dice-rolling, no cursing as you smudge your much-loved character sheet. It’s all done for you. And I’ll admit, as an obsessive gamer, I’m not sure I would ever want to look back…

But wait. I’m a gamebook writer. Fair cop. Time to raise my hand and come clean. So, what made me change my mind and go all retro? Let’s rewind a little…

World of Warcraft (cover)I became addicted to online gaming – World of Warcraft, to be precise. I wasn’t far off becoming one of those people you read about, who end up losing their job and friends, living on a diet of energy drinks and junk food, and using a mop bucket for ‘bio-breaks’. Fear not, I didn’t quite hit that point, but I was playing 40-50 hours a week. On the few occasions I did venture out into the (un)real world, blinking like a new born, I was always slightly unnerved by the fact that there were no quest givers to gravitate towards. What the hell was I meant to do? I was confused.

During this time, when I wasn’t playing Warcraft, I found it difficult to concentrate on books. They couldn’t hold my attention anymore – and there were genuinely times when I was too exhausted from playing, and didn’t want to stare at a screen a moment longer – and yet I still craved that same type of experience, just not sat in front of my monitor.

I detoxed from Warcraft (the sensible part of my brain finally kicked in and said, enough is enough). But I still couldn’t shake the feeling that there was ‘something’ I could do to recreate that gaming high, but in another medium. At the time, I was working as an editor for a teaching magazine, so had chance to visit a lot of schools and talk with teachers. It was becoming apparent through these interactions, that getting children/teenagers to read (particularly boys) is becoming more of a challenge. Understandable if you consider how much technology we have at our finger tips, vying constantly for our attention. Seeing the teenagers of friends and family spending hours on their consoles rather than picking up a book, made me start to think.

For the record, I’m not on some crusade to get people to turn off their computers and consoles, I love gaming as much as the next guy (or gal). But I think, what I have recognised through my own experiences, is that gamers have moved on – their expectations are different. Show them a traditional gamebook nowadays and they would probably nod their heads, go ‘that’s pretty cool’ then go back to Assassin’s Creed III to eviscerate another bear.

So I came up with DestinyQuest.

The Legion of Shadow (cover)I wanted to make dice-rolling cool again. Yep, I did use the words dice and cool in the same sentence. To make it cool, you need a good solid game system – simple to understand, but also has the complexity to please the most hardened 21st century gamer. In traditional gamebooks combat was a bit of an afterthought – you were simply fighting the same battle over and over again – the only thing that would change is the opponent’s name and a few stats. In DestinyQuest I wanted to change that. I wanted every combat to have its own narrative – off the page. The opponents you face each have their own special abilities, strengths and weaknesses – and you yourself have a veritable armoury of powerful items you can employ to pull off creative combos and attacks, just like you would in any button-mashing action romp.

I also wanted to give the player rewards for defeating each opponent, or by completing an objective. Like Diablo and WoW, players can customise their DQ heroes from the many hundreds of different loot items scattered throughout the pages, allowing you to unlock deadly new abilities and take on greater challenges.

My first DestinyQuest book, The Legion of Shadow, met with a positive reception from both the gamebook fraternity and the wider gaming public. My second title, released this week, The Heart of Fire, pushes the format further, with the introduction of factions, multiple side-quests and even ‘raid-style’ boss encounters. But of course, at the end of the day, you also have to tell a compelling story. With DestinyQuest, each novel offers a stand-alone adventure, but when combined, they tell an epic story – one in which you play the main protagonists and get to decide the fate of a world.

The Heart of Fire (cover)I still believe our imaginations are the best 3D card ever. That means, technically, DestinyQuest could be the coolest, most visceral, hyper-frenetic game you’ve ever played – because you call the shots.

And so, to the big question: can ‘paper and dice’ gamebooks ever become popular again – particularly in an age when there is a plethora of apps competing to do the very same thing? I guess, that’s the special achievement I would love to unlock. Time will tell, but I’m up for the challenge.

So next time you’re taking a screen break from the latest multi-format blockbuster, consider giving DestinyQuest a try.

Like computer games, the gamebook has moved on too, you know.

Happy gaming!

To find out more about the DestinyQuest series, visit the official website.

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Rating: 9.3/10 (14 votes cast)
DestinyQuest - Putting The Game Back Into Gamebooks, 9.3 out of 10 based on 14 ratings
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32 Comments

  1. James.K says:

    I’d like a copy, not played a gamebook since fighting fantasy or whatever they were called

  2. Y2DAZZ says:

    I never really played a gamebook until the first DQ book, The Legion of Shadow, luckily it was around the time I was getting into D&D and found it a lot of fun. I can’t wait to get a hold of a copy of The Heart of Fire

  3. Raymond Rugg says:

    Oh yeah! Classic table-top D&D and the Atari 2600! I used to complete my middle school creative writing assignments by just transcribing our Dungeons and Dragons games…

  4. Romeo Kennedy says:

    Awesome stuff! Loved the fighting fantasy stuff when I was a wee child. Destiny Quest will firmly once again make me the keeper of the dice and character sheet. Brilliant stuff.

  5. Phil the Drill says:

    I used to read the Choose Your Own Adventure books and Wizards, Warriors, and You when I was a kid. I loved those books. Definitely kept me reading through elementary school until I got the money to buy tons of D&D books. I’m really interested in Destiny Quest now.

  6. Sounds awesome! It’s been far too long since I’ve picked up something like this.

  7. Chris Swain says:

    I would love it if my destiny was to win this book!!!!

  8. Larik says:

    I’m ashamed to say I’ve never played D&D, or any other fantasy based board game, nor have I ever read a game book. I’m definitely up for trying a game book or really any kind of book (anything with fantasy is something that will be devoured by me in a matter of 48 hours), so I’m really excited about the prospect of getting the Destiny Quest books.

  9. Sam Gem says:

    I have a big collection of gamebooks, and have been playing them since the early 80′s. Grailquest, Carwars, Lone Wolf, Fighting Fantasy, Endless Quest and Super Endless Quest, Blood Sword, Fabled Lands, are a few of the runs I’ve collected, among others. I would love to add the Destiny Quest sets to my collection!

    And if you are a gamebook fan and use Reddit, subscribe to /r/gamebooks! We have about 27 subscribers but could use more souls to discuss all things gamebooks. Read and Roll!

  10. Dori says:

    Lovely article! I just recently got into PnP games – even though as a former WoW-player and general video game-obsessed person myself, I couldn’t really imagine what it might look like, when we first started “gamebooking”. My more seasoned friends and co-workers thought that Shadow Run would make an interesting starter, so we went with that. We have been meeting up every single week for about 3 months now, and now I know that gamebooks are definitely fun!

  11. Heathweru says:

    I have the original Destiny Quest how does this differ to the later releases?

  12. Dominic Stevens says:

    I loved table top roleplaying as a school. Though I remember our R.E. teacher going nuts at us once, and calling us devil worshipers! Happy memories!

  13. Robert A says:

    This modern rebook of the the original game book concept looks very innovative, I used to have a horde of Fighting Fantasy, Lone Wolf and those Ninja books (what where they called?? Tiger something), damn ninja books where responsible for a life long addiction to martial arts, as well as Monkey Magic of course.

  14. naugem says:

    I like games and I like fantasy, so there’s a good chance I’ll like this.

  15. Tommy Rutledge says:

    I miss choosing my path, my way, my … destiny. Many late nights hoping to fulfill that perfect onus, that geas, that … quest. I could certainly find time to introduce my friends and loved ones to choosing the proper ways and means to fame, fortune and glory.

  16. John Rivers says:

    I loved Fighting Fantasy as a kid and a pivotal moment for me was the release of Dungeoneer. Suddenly we were gaming as friends. Books are such a great gateway to rpg.

  17. “I wanted to make dice-rolling cool again. Yep, I did use the words dice and cool in the same sentence.”

    I wasn’t aware that dice-rolling was ever uncool! :D

  18. kingfede says:

    DQ is both innovative and involving, every gamebook fan should have both volumes in their collection!

  19. Brandon O'Brien says:

    This article has blown me away. I did not even know these were a thing. Sign me up. I’ll be buying a copy if I don’t win and don’t be surprised if my brother(a teenage boy) gets one for Christmas!

  20. Warren Fitzpatrick says:

    I had the old Marvel comics version, actually only 1 of the books – based on Dr. Strange. I may have had a few others, and my 12 year old LOVED them a couple of years ago, but I don’t really remember.

  21. Mike Mielke says:

    I’d love a set of Destiny Quest books to review for Pixel Nation. I absolutely love classic gamebook series such as Fabled Lands http://fabledlands.blogspot.com , Lone Wolf, Blood Sword, Virtual Reality, and countless others, and am glad that Mr. Ward has started a resurgence in the print gamebook medium.

  22. Richard Francis says:

    I just heard about these books as they were passingly mentioned in a video I was watching. I have checked out the website and would love to have a copy of the books. Thanks for doing this giveaway!

  23. Muskatnuss says:

    I find the things you said about using gamebooks to make the kids read really interesting. The great Steve Jackson himself made a little game aimed at introducing Fighting Fantasy into school.

    I think that some gamebooks mechanics could be used in e-learning programs to teach foreign languages.

  24. [...] teamed up with Gollancz to offer you the chance to win copies of the two DestinyQuest game books. Click here and simply leave a comment in the comments section for your chance to win. Easy peasey. Go on say [...]

  25. Paul says:

    Great stuff. I’ve been a big fan of gamebooks for 25 years and have recently rediscovered the obsession (and the desire to blog about it) so I’m a firm believer that gamebooks still have a lot to offer to modern gamers. I thought it was a shame when the hobby almost died off in the 90s when I thought there was still room for evolution, and now with the likes of Destiny Quest appearing the genre seems to be picking up again, and I couldn’t be happier :)

  26. Dom says:

    I like to read on the train, in the bath and in bed – I’m going to have to come up with a novel way of rolling dice…

  27. Drekketh says:

    Having a major blast so far! Ward’s narration is awe inspiring and jaw dropping. More and even more than anyone could expect from both a fantasy novel and a gamebook. Fantastic job done, easily a masterpiece for the fantasy community.

  28. gustave154 says:

    Amazing book why isn’t this a bestseller?

  29. Mike says:

    Did anyone win a set?

  30. shay.s says:

    as a veteran of FF, lone-wolf and D&D, a gamer who went through hundreds of hours in front of large-scale RPG’s, and an author which works at this very moments on a new game-book of my own(also hoping to take it to the next level of paper-&-pencil gaming), i must say i really appreciate mr ward’s efforts. i got my own copy of DQ ordered to me to israel a few weeks ago. it’s quite refreshing and fun to play. it’s not perfect – but the general idea and courage to invest so much into such a project, and the enthusiasm around it – is really something that gives me the strength to sit down and keep creating myself.

    hopefully, this will bring new life to the good old genre of game-books. good work!

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