COLLECTING: A Portuguese view on gamebooks – Part 1: The past

When aged 13 I was introduced to something different during recess; something that I didn’t know at the time would change my life and my perspective on fiction. Sometime around November I was walking with a few friends, just passing the time and waiting for the next class to start, when we saw some colleagues of ours gathered together around something we couldn’t see. One of us asked what they were doing and the answer was just “It’s a game.” We didn’t believe them at first, so we continued our walking. But that answer intrigued me somehow, and so in the following class break I decided to join them to see exactly what this game was that they were talking about.

“It’s just a book” I thought when I looked at the supposed “game.” The cover was flashy, and a little terrifying: it showed a Dracula-like vampire dramatically covering himself with his cape, while behind him a damsel was sleeping, laid on what seemed to be a stone altar. The name was also intriguing: A Maldição do Vampiro (Vault of the Vampire), and that was another important aspect that made me give the book a second chance.

Originally confused, I quickly became fascinated by what was presented to me: numbered paragraphs; a story written in the second person with the reader having the power to choose what happened next; combat; luck tests; plus frightening but also involving illustrations that helped us to imagine what was happening, and made us feel like we were really there. During those 15 minutes of recess I explored the castle of the vampire count and attempted to find this castellan’s keys. The adventure was so satisfying that I didn’t want my friends to close the book when the bell rang. What can I say? Killing a vampire and saving a damsel in distress was way more important than class. That was how I was introduced to gamebooks.

I asked my friends where they found this engaging book and they just replied that they went to the local library and requested it. I wasn’t satisfied with that answer as it meant that I’d eventually have to return the book, so the next day, when shopping with my mother, I went to the book section and my heart jumped when I saw several other books from the same collection, all of them with appealing covers and titles. After spending some time making my choice, I decided on copies of O Feiticeiro da Montanha de Fogo (The Warlock of Firetop Mountain) and A Mansão Diabólica (House of Hell).

The year was 1999. Yeah, I know, many gamebook lovers had already discovered this type of interactive fiction years earlier, and by that time the Fighting Fantasy series had already been discontinued. However, in Portugal the books were still selling, and had been for many years, so the collection was already quite large, with more than 30 titles already in stores.

House of Hell was the first gamebook I ever played on my own. Well, not exactly ‘played’, because I haven’t yet mentioned the way that my friends and I would read these books. We actually cheated all the way through them! We didn’t use dice, so never had to establish our stats. When fights occurred, we simply beat the bad guys, and when skill and luck tests were demanded, we succeeded every single time. We played these books like CYOA without ever knowing that CYOA existed. And we still had fun; I had plenty of fun reading them that way for the next few years, while my collection was growing. Soon, I was reading all the classics, although not in a specific order (I read Trial of Champions before Deathtrap Dungeon, for example), and in a few months I had almost the entire collection (at least, the Portuguese editions).

I was reading them day and night, and sometimes I couldn’t wait for recess, so continued reading during classes. I had never been a big reader before, but these books made me realise how powerful our imaginations can be. I was battling wizards and monsters, exploring caves and forests, venturing through haunted mansions and frightening castles, and travelling to distant planets. One day I was having a cloak-and-dagger adventure; the next I was fighting aliens with a phaser. The possibilities were endless, and these books helped shape my interest in fantasy and sci-fi, and made me a big time reader. I do believe that the interest was already there, but it was Fighting Fantasy that truly unlocked it. If it hadn’t been for my curiosity that November, I don’t know if I ever would have known of the existence of this kind of fiction. Even as each of my friends lost interest in the series, I remained loyal, and never let go of my collection.

It wasn’t that long until I felt the urge to write my own FF-style adventures. I wasn’t a great writer, but my imagination was overflowing, and I had to commit all of those ideas to paper. Inspired by what I had read, I soon began writing small adventures, my first being just 30 paragraphs set in a haunted house. It was a tiny, very linear adventure, but it served as a starting point to many others I would write during the following years. It was not long until I wanted to create adventures in Allansia, and it was then that I created a 100-paragraph return to Baron Sukumvit’s Deathtrap Dungeon; a 50-paragraph adventure in a horror circus in Port Blacksand; and a 150-paragraph quest through Darkwood Forest, the Icefinger Mountains and Stonebridge. They were simple adventures using the standard FF rules, but it’s not like I really gave that much thought to them. I just wanted to write them and give my (possible) readers the ability to choose what to do, even though my stories were very linear and quick.

Ok, I know I’m talking a lot about Fighting Fantasy as if no other series were released in Portugal. The thing is, when I discovered FF I simply wasn’t aware of the amount of gamebooks that were published in my country, and subsequently discontinued. Although my love for the series was enormous, I was still a layman regarding anything RPG related. I didn’t even know what an RPG was until I went to High School, and even there I had to learn to play them by myself.

By that time, nobody else I knew had any interest in this kind of literature. In 10th grade I moved to a different school while the majority of my friends from Middle School went to other places, so I had to deal with a new set of school friends. And even though I was in a literature and languages group… let’s just say that being the only nerd in class wasn’t always easy to deal with. So, while my social skills were being put to the test through all of my High School life, I continued to pursue my gamebook passion alone.

Until one day when I discovered a gamebook from another series. I was never particularly fond of this series, and I never knew why (perhaps because a bunch of them had already been released, although I can say the same about FF). This ‘new’ series, however, was quite different. The cover featured the name of the series in a sparkling font above an illustration of a menacing crocodile-like creature, and a short phrase noted that I could choose from several different endings, with a warning to be wary because I’d get to choose the scare…

Yes, my discovery was one of the many titles in the Give Yourself Goosebumps series, written by R. L. Stine. I did know something about these books because I’d seen the TV series, and I also knew that there were a lot of books produced. But I had never actually seen any, and when I flipped through the pages I was thrilled by the fact that I had to choose my next move at the end of every page. It wasn’t like FF as these books were thinner, and their language and narration was more basic but no less interesting. So I bought and read books from the series, and although they didn’t have the RPG feeling that FF had, they were also fun and imaginative. Sadly, of this series alone, only six were published in Portugal, and at that time I thought that was everything. It took me more than ten years to discover that there were many more.

At the beginning of the 2000s, gamebooks were still selling, but their numbers were dropping. The last FF book to be printed was The Curse of the Mummy, and as soon as I saw it on the shelves I bought it right away, not only because it was brand new but because I somehow understood this one wouldn’t last as long on the shelf as the others. Don’t ask me how, but I knew that the series was beginning to fade away, as I was already having problems finding the books I lacked. One day, when I went to my usual place to look for the last book to finally complete my collection, Crimson Tide, I simply couldn’t see any FF books available (many years later I found out that Crimson Tide was actually a sequel to Black Vein Prophecy, which was never published locally). During the following weeks I visited other stores and sometimes saw a few, but never the one I was looking for. Months later the entire series had disappeared and wouldn’t return for many years.

As you can see, gamebooks were published in Portugal, and they certainly had their place, but they never received the recognition that they deserved. There still are those who remember them and now try to buy back the books that they read during their childhoods, but it’s not like they were promoted on TV or even really considered as something different. They were just part of the ‘younger readers’ section, along with books featuring groups of youngsters, like Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five, and they never stood out that much, despite their awesome covers. It did take many years for me to figure out there were other gamebook series that were published in Portugal during the mid-80s and 90s, but as with FF, they all quickly died out. The Choose Your Own Adventure series had several books published, as well as Endless Quest, and I believe that the Lone Wolf series was briefly published here, but I never saw any of them for sale.

As for any national contributions for the gamebook community… Well, somewhat surprisingly there are only two (that I know of), with neither receiving any acclaim. The first was published in 2007 and was titled Terror no Porto (Terror in Porto). It was a 26-page gamebook that shamelessly used the FF core rules (yes, Skill, Stamina and Luck; including the combat system and even the Luck tests). The story was weak and it wasn’t even set in Porto, which is even weirder. Anyway, the other book was called Leopoldina e a Ordem das Asas (Leopoldina and the Order of Wings). It was a narrative-driven CYOA-style adventure aimed at younger audiences, with basic choices and a very intriguing plot that ended on a cliffhanger, which sadly was never concluded. And… that’s about it. There were no further published gamebooks, or even any attempt to try and bring the concept back. So after these two small contributions, gamebooks in Portugal were officially ‘dead’. At least for several years…

As for me… Well, while I was watching the interactive fiction genre die in my country, my own interest also waned. All of my friends, who had introduced me to these types of books, were no longer in contact, so I had nobody to talk to about them, and my collection therefore stood incomplete on the same shelf for more than ten years. I’d sometimes look at them, but never touch them, and when I entered a bookstore my eyes would often look for the missing book, but I already knew that I wouldn’t be successful. Soon my quest for The Crimson Tide was forgotten…

Until almost fifteen years later…

Tiago will return soon with further articles about gamebook reading and collecting in Portugal. If you have a similar experience with non-English gamebooks, or simply wish to tell your story about discovering, playing and collecting interactive fiction, please get in contact with us to discuss your ideas.

Images: Sara Sampaio

8 thoughts on “COLLECTING: A Portuguese view on gamebooks – Part 1: The past”

  1. Olá Tiago
    Quem diria, um aficionado FF portuga aqui no GBN!
    Antes de mais, excelente artigo. Muito semelhante à minha experiência, talvez a maior diferença foi ter descoberto os livros já com ao segundo livro, a floresta da morte. De facto, foram estes livros que me abriram as portas para o mundo do imaginário e fantástico. E tb eu escrevi inúmeras aventuras, algumas delas com mais de 1000 parágrafos (infelizmente a maioria em alemão). Existe um site fantástico para quem quer divulgar as suas aventuras on-line com n hipóteses de ajustar as aventuras: . Embora criado por um alemão, foi traduzido para português, inglês etc. Da uma vista de olhos…
    Abraço e saúde
    P.S. Fui um dos poucos sortudos que encontrou numa pequena loja as quatro aventuras do “lone wolf”. Mesmo que soem mais a brasileiro do que a português, estas aventuras eram mais “obscuras” do que a série FF!

    1. Olá GRod!
      Muito obrigado pelo teu comentário. É sempre bom conhecer mais pessoal português que cresceu com esta grade paixão. Gostava imenso de um dia poder ler uma das tuas aventuras (mesmo estando em alemão); isso faz-me sentir como não sendo o único que o fazia (e ainda faço, pois pretendo lançar um gamebook muito em breve). Hei de ver esse site.
      Já agora, também tenho um dos livros de “Lone Wolf”, o “Fogo Sobre a Água”, mas foi-me enviado por um grande amigo do Brasil, por isso não a consideraria uma versão portuguesa de Portugal.

  2. As a Portuguese IF fan who knows very little about IF in/from Portugal, I welcome this series of posts with delight and excitment 🙂

    Unfortunately I grew up in the beginning of the naughties when gamebooks were no longer popular and remember having a hard time finding them (even as a kid, I would always search for FF books in second hand bookshops and yard sales), so although I did play and enjoy some of the books when I was still a kid, my interest in IF only really took off when I was an older teen (which is also when I got more seriously into videogames and discovered RPGs and text adventures) – but by that time it was already impossible to find any gamebooks in Portuguese bookshops. I’m now living in the UK and it’s a dream to see that the genre is still being published far and wide, even if for niche audiences, and initiatives like Fighting Fantasy Fest are not uncommon. As a Portuguese literature avid reader, though, I do wish there were more of these kind of books and games in my native language, so looking forward to the post about the PRESENT in hopes of discovering some good Portuguese IF (or at least gamebooks translated into Portuguese).

    Sorry for the TL;DR with the story of my life. I can summarise it in two words: THANK YOU!

    1. Thank you very much for your comment, Yagi.
      I know how you feel. As I said in my article, I discovered these books in the late 90s but I had luck finding the majority of them. When these books disappeared from shelves, I was still looking for “Crimson Tide”. Unfortunately, gamebooks died down in Portugal, and not even an attempt from a Portuguese publisher to bring them back worked. I’d like to say that the present has brought new hope in bringing gamebooks back to the Portuguese market, but we still haven’t seen any. I can only say that I’m working on my own Portuguese gamebook because I believe in their potential and I want to show that Portugal can also create this kind of interactive fiction.

  3. Tiago, thank you for sharing your early experience with gamebooks! It transported me back in time to when I was entering my teenage years. One evening, my next door neighbor inserted the word “gamebook” in a sentence that had nothing to do with the genre. I don’t even remember the topic of our conversation. “Wait, wait, wait!” I said, “Did I hear you right? Gamebook!?”. He gave me the “Starship Traveler” from your favorite FF series. I read the back cover and got really interested. I was so excited that I decided to start reading it first thing in the morning. I hardly slept that night. I imagined how I was preparing myself for the first voyage of a Space Ship. The one I was a Captain of! I read it in the morning. Unlike you, I always try to succeed in games the fair way. Needless to say, I was very, very, very disappointed. I didn’t really fall in love with gamebooks until I started reading books from Bulgarian authors. A couple of them had really good systems. They were fair to their readers and winning was a matter of solving logic puzzles and applying critical thinking before making choices. Anyway, I love gamebooks and I’ve been working on sorting out the mechanics of a playable gamebook for the last 5 years. So, thank you for bringing me back to great times of excitement. I love reading stories like yours 🙂 The idea of saving a damsel in distress from a vampire’s vault sounds great. I am just afraid to try it, because it is FF and the outcome is based mostly on luck, not on performance.

    1. Thank you very much for your comment, Peter.
      That’s what makes me happy: to know that my article made you and others to travel back in time to when they discovered gamebooks. It is good to know the feeling, the growing a passion that’ll never leave us, the frustrations when we lose and the happiness when we conquer an adventure. Don’t ever lose that passion. And don’t be afraid to try to save the damsel from the vampire lord: FF may be mostly based on luck, but the story, setting, characters and illustrations make the whole experience worthwhile.

  4. Depósito GeeK

    Olá Tiago, parabéns pelo artigo! Interessante conhecer um pouco do cenário dos livros-jogos em Portugal e da sua história com eles. No Brasil, onde moro, saíram 28 volumes da coleção clássica, além daqueles suplementos de RPG como Saqueador de Charadas, Out of the Pit e até mesmo o duplo Fúria de Príncipes, todos nos anos 90. Mais recentemente (desde 2009) outra editora retomou a série, lançando até o momento 22 títulos, alguns inéditos por aqui. Bom, meus parabéns novamente pelo artigo e por ainda manter o interesse nesse material tão precioso e cada vez mais raro de encontrar (e me refiro tanto aos exemplares quanto aos aficcionados de plantão). Aproveito para convidá-lo a conhecer o mais novo canal de livros-jogos da série Fighting Fantasy no YouTube, o canal Depósito GeeK! ( Dá uma vista d’olhos lá e diga-me o que acha. Lá também apresento edições portuguesas. Mesmo na era da tecnologia e dos videogames cada vez mais modernos, que haja resistência e vida longa aos nossos queridos Gamebooks! Saudações daqui do Brasil!

  5. Ricardo Pinheiro

    Mais um tuga doido pelos FF! Viva! Eu publiquei uma aventura espacial ao género FF. Infelizmente só em print on demand. Planeta Alfa, ainda conseguiu código isbn e tudo!

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