My main inspiration for ‘Prisoner of the Wizard’s Harem’ was not the Choose Your Own Adventures stories that most people are familiar with. As a teenager, I fell in love with the Fighting Fantasy series of books written mainly by Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson. I still collect and read Fighting Fantasy books because their quality can not be beaten.
In Choose Your Own Adventure, you often had 30 endings with a decent percentage of those endings being positive. In a Fighting Fantasy book, there is usually only one happy ending. All the other endings are death and failure. What this creates is a story that is very challenging and encourages replay until you succeed at the damn thing. When you do finally succeed, it is a very gratifying feeling of accomplishment.
For ‘Prisoner of the Wizard’s Harem’, I went with the same model of only one good ending. That does not mean there is only one right way to play through the book. I could have certainly done that but I resisted the idea. I wanted to increase the replay value of the book so that if you solve it once, you can come back to it and replay it without having to slavishly repeat what you did last time.
I also wanted to resist what would happen in some Fighting Fantasy books where you could literally be screwed from succeeding by taking one wrong turn. I call it the left/right dilemma. Go left, and you’ll run into the goblin who has a key you need. Go right and you run into a shark that you beat up. Later you come across a door and if you don’t have that key, you will die. I always thought these sucked because it came down to bad luck on the reader’s part.
What I did in my story was build multiple options into every path. Go left and you run into a goblin with the key. Go right, and you run into a shark that you can use its teeth to break the lock. You don’t get the key or the teeth for free, you still have to solve the puzzles/fights/mysteries around the goblin or the shark. The important thing is you always have a chance to solve the book no matter which direction you go. Solving the book is more about the decisions you make when interacting with characters than it is about blind luck.
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