Gamebooks and Lack of Choice

I don’t know if this is going to turn out to be more of a long winded question or a statement, but I wanted to get everyone’s opinion on Games where you are forced to make a choice for the sake of the story and how best to go about it, if one should go about it at all.

I’ll just give you my example:

In the gamebook I am working on, tentatively called “The Enisine War”, I am starting with an important moment in the MC’s past. Because background stories are such good opportunities for character development, I wanted to allow the player to make decisions throughout this introduction. The MC, an officer in a military organization, needs to disobey orders and make a decision that ultimately ends in the death of a large number of those under their command. This decision will lead to a court-martial and ultimately exile from that Nation’s territories. My worry is that players might feel that the character they are building would have never made that choice or have disobeyed orders, and the last thing I want to do is make a player build a inconsistent character. Maybe I’m overthinking it.

I have two ideas on how to avoid this situation, but since you are all so brilliant, I thought maybe you could help me either narrow it down or come up with another solution.

  1. My first idea on how to solve this, was to give the player several decisions to make, all of which would have disastrous results. This way the MC’s intent could vary from choice to choice and allow for more consistent decisions. The problem once again, however, is if the player feels like their character wouldn’t have many any of the given choices.

The initial storypoint I made to try and counteract this, is that the MC’s learns that their mother was killed in a enemy raid just moments before the decision is made and that a need for revenge and/or basic rage might cloud the character’s judgement. In this case as well, someone who feels they have been building a disciplined character might feel short-changed.

  1. The second idea was to have the option for the MC to make the decision, but if they can’t than to have someone else make the decision for them, and ultimately get saddled with the blame. In this case, it would most likely be the MC’s second in command letting their anger get the best out of them and either try to convince the MC to act in a certain way or give false orders. The problem here is that I’m not sure if it would be believable enough for the MC to be court-martialed without any real evidence against them. Maybe the higher-ups in this instance are looking for a scapegoat?

The cool thing/difficult thing about this option is that depending on whether or not the MC made this decision themselves or if their second in command made it, it could lead to two different views on the past. While in one situation the MC might feel guilt, in another one might feel anger, etc.

So what do you guys think? Am I overthinking it? Is there an easier way to do this? Have a suggestion? Thanks in advance, I appreciate the help.

I would say #2 as #1 I would hate to think all my choices end badly would feel forced to in only one direction. The #2 I would consider a tool for setting the plot. I much rather be mad at my 2nd then mad at pointless choices

NONE i would like choose my own reasons to Treason.


Ijust play evil shelfish rudeless characters who dont care family a shit, or even worst inocents.

So all your options are too goody for me at least, open the objetives to allow a more neutral evil approach not YOU ARE A HERO LOVE PUPPIES PERIOD.

@MaraJade Oh no, you mistake - there most certainly is going to be that option to not give a crap about anyone or anything. I promise! Power can be a big draw for MCs if the player wishes it.

It’s just in this instance, I don’t think that an evil MC would care if all their soldiers got wiped out on a whim.

This question is more for the players who love having the MCs that are heros in every regard.

I personally think #2 is a good idea. Injustice is a good thing to have in most novels, and it would ensure that the reader didn’t feel forced to make a choice he/she didn’t agree with.

Oh, better ! for a painful moment i imagine my character crying for her poor mom and soldiers.

Maybe if you left clear is a memory and you treason maybe you meditating in your new planet about your own choices and reasons and if you feel sorrow or guilty about past people could create a more personal choice for create a own character.

I strong dislike being forced into disastrous choices. It’s not fun playing someone who constantly messes up, and fails, unless those failures are written in an interesting and fun way.

Okay, reading over what you have planned, I don’t think that actually counts as disastrous. I do think you need to explore motivations though.

  1. Do you actually need to include the scene where they make the decision? Can you instead just choose to refer to it, and have the main character cagey about their reasons.

  2. You make it so that the main character is clearly a person in their own right, as opposed to just the player. That way you lose a bit of customisability, but you gain the ability to dictate how they feel. You have to read carefully doing this.

  3. Perhaps there’s varying degrees of disastrous results.

Now, there is losing your temper and going out for revenge, but if you’ve seen so many deaths, of your friends, your fellow soldiers,

There’s making a mistake. Just filled with exhaustion, standing up only via the power of the stimulants you’re on. Weary from watching your side lose, your friends and colleagues die, utterly defeated. And you just want to win, but you make a mistake caused by the sleep deprivation.

There’s everyone dies, but you successfully manage to wipe out the enemy with your extremely risky strategy, so you win the battle but at what a cost. Or, if not win the battle you take out a key resource of theirs, be that an important general, some weapons, a secret base, some new techonology they were planning to implement with disastrous results, a traitor who was leaking your sides secrets, a location of strategic importance. So you’re not actually a failure, you’ve achieved an important goal, but at what a terrible price. They’re going to have to discipline you for going against procedure.

There’s stealing from one of my favourite Star Trek DS9 Episodes, which seemed in turn inspired by Star Wars and the destruction of the death star. You’re smart, too smart, you manage to notice a weakness in the enemies defences, perhaps it’s through spies, or just your own research. You know that hitting this spot will have devastating results, it will turn the tide of the war. So you hit it, you throw everyone you have at implementing your plan, and it just doesn’t work and they die. Maybe you were tricked, maybe you were just wrong, but you failed and so many deaths are now your fault.

There’s your mother is actually still alive, and so you decide to try and save/rescue her, sacrificing the lives of those under you for personal interest. In that case I’d say let you save your mother, and let the weight of all those deaths lie heavy on her shoulders. You betrayed your colleagues to save your mother. Actually, I’d suggest making it lover instead, or well not neccessarly mother.

There’s then managing to save people from the massacre, perhaps civilians, children, or important personel, but it costs so many lives.

There’s also being a coward, deserting your post to save your own skin and so causing deaths. Or being a traitor and having been bribed to screw up.

And there’s being made a scapegoat for someone elses terrible decisions. You know that they’re wrong, that what they’re ordering is going to massacre your troops. So you have a choice, follow orders and get disciplined when the inevitable happens, or don’t follow orders and get disciplined for not following them, despite managing to save lives.

So there’s plenty of ways to mix it up. To provide varying degrees of badness, various motivations, to spin it so the results aren’t disastrous, they’re successful in the grand scheme of things.

See what works best for your plot.

I think it can work if the disaster is made clear enough before the player gets committed to avoiding it.

For example, you might tell the first part of the story in the past tense, and then switching to the present tense after the disaster. On page one you might say, “It was your decision. All those people died because of you. It was Wednesday, and you had just […]” and ask the player about what happened. “Why did you make this terrible decision?”

Oh no, I’m about to disagree with DFabulich. I’m already hanging my head in shame at the mere thought.

I know it’s done in Choice of games, and the reasons for it, but I’m not that fond of “why did you make that decision?” It can be effective once, I think, but when I’m asked it too often I get a little frustrated. It feels to me as if I’m not actually making the choices in regards to my actions, just how I feel about them, since I’ve already been told what I’ve done.

I found Heroes Rise did it often, and okay, Heroes Rise is one of the best selling games, but it was annoying. It’d ask me “Why don’t you write to your parents?” And I’d immediately go “But I do want to write to my parents.” “And why did you run away from home and be mean to all your friends?” And I’d be WAHHH!!! I didn’t want to, the game forced me.

So I think a delicate touch is needed when asking for motivations. You could, of course, start with the court martial where you’re trying to justify your actions. That would at least provide a reason for asking the “why did you do that” question and allow for an array of answers from “I don’t remember” to “I didn’t, I’m being set up.”

Okay, maybe I think it is a possibility. And yeah setting up the disaster as a premise, making it clear what the results are before your actions, But… I find that tends to lack immediacy, especially if it’s not a decision the player’s made they’ll feel less effected by it.

@FairyGodfeather I think that you gave me some really good things to think about. I’m really big on actions have an impact on the overall story, so I think I’m going to have a nice compromise so I’m not completely burying myself.

Thanks for all the input!

I do think there’s plenty of room for choices, even in a game that has a very set path.

I also think that fake choices aren’t actually that bad. They can change the player’s perceptions, if used well, and that in turn impacts the story even if there is no code keeping track of it.

I think you have a very interesting premise too. I remember people complaining about Heroes Rise, which has a decision in which you’ll generally fail and cause hundreds of people to die. I found that one frustrating since there was very little we could do. The game also forced us to feel guilty. People will react differently, some will be it’s just part of the job, while others will be torn apart by it, and have nightmares about their decisions.

Anyway thinking about things is for the best.

And definitely don’t bury yourself.

What I generally do is I write down what are the desired outcomes. And then I brainstorm every single way to get there. Then I’ll likely lop off the unfeasible and ridiculous ideas. And any variations in the end result.

@FairyGodfeather I agree that those “why did you do it?” questions can take away player agency, and they can definitely be overdone. It’s a subtle balance. (I really like starting with a court martial!)