Lets start this little encounter with a history lesson, eh? As a young man growing up in a small logging town, I am mildly embarrassed to admit that I was hopelessly addicted to Choose Your Own Adventure books. I spent many a day reading my way through victories and defeats, and would end up hopelessly stuck with 4-8 digits desperately holding my place in the past for the particularly tough choices.
Those who share my particular predilection for book-bound option heavy adventure may remember a little novel that debuted in 1983: The Forest of Doom by Ian Livingston. Revered in its day as a nigh-perfect single player adventure game, Forest of Doom collected a number of accolades, including but not limited to receiving a 10/10 score from White Dwarf‘s Marcus L. Rowland.
Debuting as the third title in the Fighting Fantasy book series published by Puffin Books, Forest of Doom was reprinted in 2002 by Wizard books. Why all this book discussion, you might ask? Well, aside from keeping the Luddites at bay by idolizing the lost art of reading, Forest of Doom was updated for Millennials by Tin Man Games, who have recreated the classic in a digital format and distributed it via Steam.
Alright then. History lesson aside, I’ve come to share my experience as a fan of CYOA and PC Games. The following contains 3 playthrough journals, hot and freshly baked. These are interpretations, rather than verbatim re-tellings, as it is the experience that is relevant, rather than the exact semi-repeatable story.
The quest laid before my intrepid adventurers is fairly simple: Enter the Forest of Doom, retrieve a magical warhammer, and survive to return said weapon to its rightful owners, the dwarves. You (or, in this case, I) will roll stats for each adventurer using 2d6’s, and will continue to use these traditional agents of chaos to make skill checks within the adventure itself. Once stats are rolled, each character picks some starting equipment from a fairly generous list, including magical items like Boots of Jumping and the like.
What follows for my first run is essentially a comedy of errors, or perhaps some sort of RNG curse or even software hazing. I proceeded to roll a 1 on every single die roll during character creation for my freshman fighter. No joke. Welp, this should be good. Having loaded up on potions, provisions, boots of leaping, and a climbing rope, I set off into the dark and intimidating undergrowth of the Darkwood Forest. Five minutes in, and I’m dead, eviscerated by orcs after just a few pages. Wow, that escalated quickly.
Lets give that another go, shall we? We’ll just chalk this up to Johnny Sellsword the first being a lackluster adventurer; utterly unsuited for the life, and culled from the herd early. I sling another set of dice, rolling a new character. Snake eyes out the gate again for stamina, fantastic. My die rolls off the screen and my body tenses as I await the result to post. Another….1. Oh my. I stick the landing on luck, however, rolling a 6 for a total luck of 12. So, maybe Johnny’s cousin, Luke the Lucky Bastard, will fair better. Off we go then!
I once again stride into the forest, electing to head the opposite direction from my last misadventure. After paying for some questionable advice, I run into a pair of hobgoblins. One brisk combat later, during which my lucky nature saves me a good scarring and allows me to capitalize my strikes, I emerge victorious. I loot the decidedly broke blaggards, and continue on my way. Moments later, I find myself hung high from a trap, but my lucky nature saves me once again, as the frayed rope drops me unceremoniously to the forest floor, bruising ego and epidermis alike.
It is only pages later that my luck, seemingly, has run out. I am knocked unconscious, and relieved of my gold. A short while after, I am eaten by wolves in the cold of the night. Huh. The outlook of adventurers in Darkwood Forest is not very good thus far, with a 100% mortality rate within 35ish pages.
Ok. Next round. I break the streak by opening with an 8 for stamina (20 total). Good deal, I’ll take it, and frankly, feel I’m owed it. I net a 5 on skill, for a total of 11, much better than previous outings. Ok, this can work. Luck draws me a 4 to close for a 10 total, having me feeling a bit more comfortable about this outing. Lets see if it plays out.
Brad the Aspirant Champion strolls out of character creation feeling foolishly confident. Proudly assuming I can survive my first encounter, I am summarily knocked unconscious. When I awaken, I discover all my food is gone. All is not lost, though, as I come into possession of a few magical items. I slay a boar, and pocket some more loot. I am beginning to worry about my food situation, however. I suspect Brad is getting hangry, and that can’t be good. This leads me into a wager that results in an Over the Top (you know, the Sly Stallone movie?) reference that has me pretty happy.
Brad’s feeling pretty upbeat by this point. And this could be his downfall. He happens upon an obviously tortured man, who he elects to help. Once again, however, I am forced into a fight. Skill carries the day again, and Brad considers dropping the “Aspirant” portion of his title for something more along the lines of “Badass.”
I am hunted by vampire bats that evening, but my well cared for sense of fantasy paranoia had prepared me, as I have picked a couple garlic buds for my starting gear. My head swells as I continue onward. I fall into a trap and hurt myself, but manage to escape it as well. Afterwards, I draw a magical sword from some stones, further increasing my combat prowess.
Onward. I hide from a Giant. I am assaulted by Death Hawks. I fight the blighters off. And then, the tipping point. I knowingly walk into the lair of a large creature, and am then somehow surprised when, you guessed it, a dragon popped out. There is nothing to do but stand and fight, and Brad does just that. Pitching a perfect game, he slays the fire-breather in a number of successive attacks, and collects a number of items (including a cursed one, d’oh!) from its warren before moving onward.
I win a few more fights and exit on the other side of the forest. Having not found the hammer, I swing back around to start my quest over from the beginning.
Five minutes later I’m dead.
Such is the experience of Forest of Doom.