The Choose Your Own Adventure series and other books in the same mold were a key part of many childhoods. They’re still entertaining kids to this day, and, if we’re honest, entertaining adults too. The format allows you to read multiple variations of a story and feel like you’re in the place of the protagonist. Whether that adventure ends poorly or in victory, you can go back to choose a new path all over again. Now you can do that in the familiar worlds of the role-playing tabletop game Dungeons & Dragons thanks to the release of four new Endless Quest books.
Considering D&D is all about choice and adventure, it makes perfect sense for new stories in their fantasy worlds to make their way to books in this format. In fact, they’ve done it before. The original Endless Quest books were published by TSR, which was later bought by Wizards of the Coast, in the ‘80s and ‘90s. These latest versions follow the adventures of a cleric, fighter, rogue, and wizard in four different D&D settings, putting you right in the role of the hero.
The books are meant for ages 8 to 12, though adults will probably enjoy them too. Reading the review copy provided by Candlewick Press of Endless Quest: Into the Jungle, we definitely found ourselves both fascinated and sometimes horrified by the outcomes of its various paths. Adventuring in Chult can apparently lead to some fun, interesting, and very gruesome ends!
To find out more, SYFY WIRE spoke with New York Times bestselling author and game designer Matt Forbeck about writing the new Endless Quest series.
Were you familiar with the old Endless Quest books before taking on this project?
I didn’t read all of them, because there were lots that were published and they’re kind of hard to find nowadays. I had read some of them back in the day when they came out. I was a big Dungeons & Dragons fan when I was a kid, and I’d actually written some stuff for TSR and Dungeons & Dragons back in the ‘90s. I wrote a bunch of stuff for them back then and have continued to write for them throughout the years.
How did the chance to write these books come about?
I had written some other books for Wizards of the Coast and TSR before them for Dungeons & Dragons. I created their first chapter book series called Knights of the Silver Dragon back in 2004. Last year, I had a book come out called Dungeonology that came out from Studio Press and Candlewick, which have a co-publishing agreement on certain books, including the Endless Quest books.
When they decided to do the Endless Quest books I was the natural person to pick it up and go with it from there. I’ve got a lot of experience doing Dungeons & Dragons, obviously, and besides doing the YA stuff for Wizards, I also wrote the junior novelization for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and written a lot of other kid stuff over the years.
Did it take a while to get used to this story style, or was it a fairly easy format to write in?
I’ve done a little choose-your-own-adventure stuff in the past. Solo adventures for different things. It’s been a while, but I was a big fan of Choose Your Own Adventure and other pick-a-path style books and game books when I was a kid. It wasn’t that difficult for me to get into it. I also do game design, so doing a book like Endless Quest really sits at the crossroads of my skills. For me, it was a lot of fun. I got the chance to do something that I was excited about and work with a setting I’m enthused about as well.
What was the process like creating all these different paths for each book?
My editors at Studio Press came up with a page plan that showed me exactly how many different choices they wanted to have and how many different endings and all that. I had to come up with an outline that fit the framework they had built for me. The neat thing about the framework we built was that if you do a video game, and probably a lot of people don’t notice this when playing video games, but if you make a choice in a video game like one of the Telltale games for The Walking Dead, the choices seem like they are branching out. Then they come back together. The different paths you do come back together because it’s too expensive for a video game studio to actually do lots of branching paths.
They’re not going to put a million dollars in every ending. They’re going to put a million in one really good ending, but with a book, you can do 26 different endings like we do in these and each one can be just as much fun. Even if you get slaughtered or you triumph, either way, it can still be entertaining to you. Then you can go back and see what the other path is. I wrote these books anticipating that the readers were going to try to explore as many paths as they possibly could, as opposed to just reading through them once.
I did that with Into the Jungle and was quite surprised by some of the gruesome endings.
When you get 26 endings, probably only a quarter of them are really good endings. That means you have a lot of different ways to kill the character off! Which is fun, because if you’re writing a traditional novel, you don’t get to kill a character that often. Generally speaking, you want them to win at the end and have that sense of triumph for yourself and the reader. But with these, half the fun is coming up with new, innovative, exciting, and emotionally resonant ways to kill people that the readers care about.
Why did you choose to start with these four character classes?
We basically chose classic style races and characters. Your fighter, your rogue, your wizard, and your cleric are your four basic D&D type character classes. You see them in everything nowadays. Instead of a fighter, you call them a tank in Overwatch. Whatever you’re playing, you have these different archetypes you’re working with. We did look at, okay, let’s try to get these classic archetypes from Dungeons & Dragons and give a good spread of them. Maybe you’re the kind of person who likes the fighter, or maybe you like the wizard. A lot of people have bought all of them, but if you’re a kid and you only have enough money for one book, you can pick your favorite.
Was there anything about working on the books that was particularly challenging?
This is a little inside baseball, but one of the funny parts was that Studio Press said we’re going to do these books. They’ll be 120 pages long, fully illustrated and color, but there’s a possibility we might want to do a mass-market version of them at some point which would be cheaper and maybe black and white. It would only be 96 pages, so we need you to write these books and be able to have a quarter of them be disposable if they need to be taken out.
Anytime you’re reading the book and there are three choices opposed to two choices, one of those choices goes to something that would not appear in the mass-market version. I came up with plots and made sure a quarter of the pages were stuff that if I took them away you wouldn’t notice. From a writing point, it’s an interesting challenge. From a game design point, it makes a lot of sense. Again, since we have so many different ways to murder characters, it wasn’t that much of a burden to do, but it meant I had to keep that in mind when I was writing them.
Can these books appeal to those who don’t know anything about D&D as much as D&D fans?
You don’t have to know anything about the game or how it works. They always say the sign of a bad tie-in novel is if you hear the dice rolling in the background. I try to avoid that. I try to make these something any person from age 8 up can basically pick up the book and just play through. There’s no dice or math involved. All you have to be able to do is read and make a decision. That makes it simple for people. No matter what you’re doing you don’t have to know what a wizard or a fighter is. Nowadays everybody seems to, so it’s a lot easier to do shorthand to describe things to people, but it’s definitely meant to be enjoyed by just about anybody and should be fun for them hopefully too.
Will there be more Endless Quest books?
It hasn’t been announced yet, but I’ve been told I can tell people there will at least be another two books in the series. I’m working on them currently.