Choose Your Own Adventure unleashed the imagination before D&D was a thing

Remember Edward Packard? If you grew up in the ’70s and ’80s it’s likely you’ve read some of his work. Packard is the genius behind the Choose Your Own Adventure series of books published by Bantam that spawned a host of copycats and sparked the interactive fiction genre… before Dungeons & Dragons was a thing. Even TSR jumped on this bandwagon with their own Endless Quest books that were essentially CYOA, but with D&D branding and story elements.

Originally a part of his The Adventures of You fiction series, Packard wrote Sugarcane Island in 1969 and it was published in 1976. Packard’s bedtime stories put his children in charge of the narrative and opened up a new path to our imagination even before Gygax had dropped his Chainmail rules on the gaming world. I personally recall titles like Third Planet From Altair and how I would spend hours trying to get through the story and into a positive ending, fighting the urge to hold the pages and go back each time I made a new choice.

Now there’s a boardgame adaptation from Z-Man Games. As a psychic detective you try to solve the mystery of the missing owner of a mansion, dealing with ghosts and mad scientist labs etc… it all sounds exactly like what I fell in love with as a kid when I first encountered the CYOA books.

The latest incarnation of the CYOA brand

While most people give D&D co-creator Gary Gygax the nod for ushering in a new paradigm in gaming, let’s not forget about the contributions of Edward Packard to our beloved pastime and hobby through interactive fiction. Packard can be found online today commenting on everything from politics to, well mostly politics now, but there are links to the Choose Your Own Adventure history and his other works on his personal blog.

By the way, we’re streaming our own D&D game on Twitch and I plan on incorporating CYOA’s interactive fiction elements as part of the campaign. I doubt Greg and Luke (our two trusty players) will read this so I’m not too worried about spoilers. If you’re wondering how I plan to use CYOA, and a host of other settings and systems, in a single D&D campaign, read our session zero campaign primer.

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