Sorcery! Ending Thoughts

Posted on October 13, 2014

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I didn’t finish Sorcery!: The Crown of Kings.

It began with little cheats: After dying, I wouldn’t erase the items I’d acquired and I’d quickly “play” up until the point where I was last, flipping through the book to make sure I chose the correct paths to keep my items. That’s not even a cheat, really, just a logical consequence of what death means in this format of paths taken one step at a time.

Then the random deaths started to pile up. Dying in combat—fine. But dying because I chose the “wrong” step in the path, with zero clues that it might lead to death? Worse were the deaths that came as the result of a bait-and-switch: Do you want to peek into the open door? I say yes, and then, out of my control, the character doesn’t just peek into the door but boldly strides in and gets killed. Pff.

Look, I’m cool with difficult games and random death. This kind of thing works in old-school D&D. I die, I roll up a new character and join the rest of the group already in progress. I don’t have to start again at the beginning of the adventure and skim pages I’ve read 10 times to make sure I have the correct items. That’s onerous. Maybe it worked in 1970 for 12-year olds with nothing to do, but it doesn’t work now.

I also experienced increasing frustration at whole avenues wasted. There were times when it wasn’t just one line of page-flipping inquiry ending in death or imprisonment but multiple branches off of a path. The mistake was made so long ago that I’d been walking toward doom for quite some time, with the book artificially limiting my options. I’ve opened this door, and there’s no option to go back through it, even though there’s no fictional reason I couldn’t.

Again, it was onerous, tedious. Basically the punishment for death isn’t the loss of a hard-fought or well-loved character, but work on the part of the player. Work with some small options to take another path or correct a wrong choice.

The gamebook is really about finding the optimal path. Which probably should have been glaringly obvious to me before I even opened it up. It’s a memory and guessing-game with pulp color and nods to immersion. As harsh as I’ve been on it here, you could do much, much worse with that formula.

I have another short post brewing on what I think this gamebook (and likely all others of its ilk) are about, design-wise.

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