Literature: Choose Your Own Adventure

To confront the viking ghost, go to page 87. To flee the viking ghost, go to page 87.

Note: This is the entry for the actual Choose Your Own Adventure series. For the entire genre, also known as "gamebooks", click here.

An Adventurer Is You!

The Choose Your Own Adventure series is a famous and highly successful example of the gamebook genre with 250 million copies in print. The series, begun in 1979, saw the peak of its fame in The '80s, and after Bantam Books ceased publication of the books, was revived in 2007 under the independent company Chooseco.

The stories are told in Second-Person Narration, which is justified in a meta sort of way: you're the one reading the book and making the decisions about what to do next, so you should play the role of the protagonist. Plots included Time Travel, UFO abduction, cross-continent racing, getting lost at sea, solving murder mysteries and coping with supercomputers. There were many Crossover titles, including ones with Disney movies, Star Wars, Goosebumps, and Indiana Jones. There are typically more ways of failing and/or dying than succeeding. Death sometimes comes in horribly inventive ways, yielding textual Ludicrous Gibs.

As you venture further down, you are confronted with the following tropes:

  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Supercomputer, Your Very Own Robot, The Computer Takeover
  • Abandoned Mine: A recurring location in several of the books. Sometimes, these mines hide a treasure and lead to a "happy ever after" ending ... or set up the main story where the reader and others are being pursued by the bad guys. Other times, it's a place where the reader is trapped — or in at least one case, is taken (along with several others) by gunpoint by the book's bad guys, where the protagonists are transported (by elevator) to the bottom of a shaft several hundred feet beneath ground level and left for dead.
  • Alternate Ending: In Space Patrol, one of the endings has you sentenced to life in a prison colony on the moon. However, a blurb after The End tells you "If you don't like this ending, turn to page 87."
    If you take this alternate ending, go on to the Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence listing.
  • Animorphism: You Are A Shark
    • One of the bad endings of The Mystery of Chimney Rock involves being turned into a mouse, body and mind.
    • One of the endings of Hyperspace has you turning into a bat.
  • Anyone Can Die: Even (perhaps especially) yourself, if the page you chose has an unfortunate ending.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: One of the Space Patrol endings: "You leave your body behind and join your mind with the Xu'ka."
  • Author Avatar: You actually get to meet Edward Packard himself in Hyperspace.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Any book with a clear villain, such as Space Vampire or War With The Evil Power Master, is guaranteed to invoke this multiple times.
  • Batman Can Breathe in Space: Several. The biggest offender is probably Your Very Own Robot, where one of the good endings has you and your robot fly to Venus for the day and come home later. (And Venus itself looks like a mire with goo all over the surface.) Of course, that title was supposed to be for younger readers.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Some of the "good" endings merely consists in you surviving or stopping the Big Bad temporarily, or implying that perhaps you will have success in the future.
  • Build Like an Egyptian: Secret of the Pyramids.
  • Cats Are Mean: You can be shrunken down and eaten by one in The Mystery of Chimney Rock.
  • Characterization Marches On: In Prisoner of the Ant People, your Martian sidekick Flppto is a Deadpan Snarker. In War with the Evil Power Master, he is The Spock. The Purple Days war must have taken a toll on his sense of humor.
  • Creative Differences: Edward Packard, who pioneered the premise with his manuscript The Adventures Of You On Sugarcane Island and was one of CYOA's founders, had a falling out with R.A. Montgomery at one point. As a result, Chooseco doesn't reprint any of Packard's works, and Packard started his own book series titled U-Ventures. (Guess who claimed the rights to the CYOA franchise.)
  • Cruel Twist Ending: A staple of the series. It's not uncommon to turn to a page that looks like it will have a positive ending, until the word "however" shows up.
  • Cool and Unusual Punishment: In UFO 54-40, one of the punishments meted out by the aliens is to send a person to Somo, to "sleep for a billion years", leading to some Fridge Logic - do you still get to live out your life afterwards?
  • Darker and Edgier: Your Code Name is Jonah (reissued as Spy Trap) is a very cynical Cold War era entry into the series. You are in the role of a definitely adult government agent. Your antagonists are KGB (in other words, the Russians). The dialogue is very adult, including a memorable, very politically spiked conversation with the wife of a kidnapped scientist. She basically gives you a "Reason You Suck" Speech if you defend the government's policy concerning the military importance of the whalesong tapes. Your character basically brushes her off as a pompous liberal windbag. Interestingly enough, in one of the endings, you are told by your boss, "If you have to let your conscience be your guide, you'll never make it as a spy!".
  • Deus ex Machina/Diabolus ex Machina: Both tropes tend to happen in many of the books othe series, leading the reader to different kind of good and bad endings that sometimes came out of nowhere. See also Cruel Twist Ending above.
  • Downer Ending: Lots of them per book.
  • Dropped A Bridge On You
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Of course.
  • Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The Race Forever, in a literal sense. If you make the right choices, you don't encounter any of the endings and literally encounter a mobius loop taking you back to the beginning.
  • Excited Story Title!: Quite a few, mostly using just one word: Kidnapped!, Mayday!, Hostage!, Vanished!, Hurricane!, Stampede!, Earthquake! Also The Mona Lisa Is Missing!, Search The Amazon! and Sky Jam! among others.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: There are a few occasions in some of the books in which the two choices which are presented to the reader both lead to a bad ending. This happens because while usually a bad choice will kill you (or otherwise end the story) immediately, in a few cases the consequences don't become apparent until later, when you will find yourself faced with a situation where the only choices remaining to you are basically "How do you want to die?".
  • Fair Play Whodunnit: Who Killed Harlowe Thrombey?
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: For a series aimed at preteens and young adults, there sure are a lot of grisly depictions of your demise.
  • Fission Mailed: One of the books tries to fool you; an illustration shows your character and his companions securely locked in a cell with the familiar words "THE END" clearly written. However, reading the text shows that it actually says, "it looks like it might be THE END", and there's more to read. (This page leads to a good ending, although your dog - not you - becomes the hero.)
  • Generation Xerox: R.A. Montgomery's children Anson and Ramsey have written many books for the series. Edward Packard's daughter Andrea contributed one story, Secret of the Sun God, and collaborated with her father on another, Mayday!.
  • Gainax Ending: One of the endings in Inside UFO 54-40 has you warping through strange dimensions, until you've ended up " at this moment, reading a book!"
  • Gender Flip: In the original release of The Treasure of the Onyx Dragon the POV character was a girl, while in the 2007 series' rerelease the POV character is changed to a boy.
  • Guile Hero: Every protagonist, hopefully, seeing as these gamebooks have no fighting mechanic.
  • Greek Mythology: The Throne of Zeus.
  • Haunted House: The Mystery of Chimney Rock (re-released as The Curse of the Haunted Mansion)
  • Have a Nice Death/It's a Wonderful Failure: See The Many Deaths of You below. Your demise is described in all sorts of gruesome, gory detail.
  • Historical-Domain Character: Spy For George Washington, You Can Make A Difference: The Story Of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • Incredible Shrinking Man: Prisoner Of The Ant People, You Are Microscopic, Help! You're Shrinking
  • Kid Hero: Just about the majority of them. One notable aversion is Your Code Name is Jonah (reissued as Spy Trap) in which you are clearly an adult.
  • Lighter and Softer: A couple of CYOA series were made for younger readers that had fewer Downer Endings than the original series.
  • MacGuffin: The radiation neutralizer in The Brilliant Dr. Wogan.
  • Magical Computer: Supercomputer, The Reality Machine
  • The Many Deaths of You: So many that there are entire blogs devoted to showcasing the worst ones.
  • Million-to-One Chance: Sometimes, the "safe" choice will kill you horribly, and the "unbelievably risky" choice will pay off big. Not always, but a lot more often than statistics would lead you to expect.
  • Mind Screw:
    • Inside UFO 54-40 contains one ending that is inaccessible from any other page, in which you end up at Ultima, the "planet of paradise".
    • This is lampshaded in that particular ending ("No one can choose to visit Ultima... nor can you get here by following directions") and other parts of the book, where some people speak of a world called Ultima that is impossible to get to by conventional means.
    • In fact the book says of Ultima that "no one can get there by making choices or following instructions"—which of course is the whole idea behind Choose Your Own Adventure books. Kids who read Inside UFO 54-40 were helped to find Ultima by a two-page illustration that starts the ending (said illustration being much bigger than any other ending in a CYOA book).
  • Multiple Endings: Obviously. The choices you make over the course of a story could lead you to the standard Happy Ending, a Downer Ending, or several different types of Non-Standard Game Over.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: There are some endings that don't necessarily end with you dying, but you may still royally screw things up for everyone, and end up getting sent to prison... or worse.
  • Ninja Pirate Zombie Robot: Space Vampire and its sequel Vampire Invaders.
  • No Hugging, No Kissing: Not even in the few books where your character is supposedly an adult. The closest your character even comes to the Standard Hero Reward is probably in "The Forbidden Castle". (He and the princess take shelter from the rain in the Cave of Time, resulting in her coming back to the present time with him; the final page consists of him assuring her the "monsters" - as in cars - won't hurt her and wondering what she'd think about a Big Mac and fries.)
  • Non-Indicative Title: In Prisoner of the Ant People, you don't spend much time interacting with the titular Ant People, let alone as their prisoner. The book reads more like a prelude to War with the Evil Power Master.
  • Nonstandard Game Over:
    • One of the endings of The Mystery of Chimney Rock has you leaving the haunted house after encountering a ghostly creature who threatens you with his fate if you ever look back at the house - another equally bad ending implies he was a former inhabitant of the house who died after falling off the roof. If you don't like that ending, you can choose to look back one last time anyway, the resulting page of which simply has a bloodcurdling scream down the page followed by a THUNK.
    • Another ending from the same book has your character accidentally breaking the resident witch's china cat and being cursed to pick up the pieces for all eternity, complete with There Is No End.
  • Oh Crap!: Many of the illustrations, especially if you're about to die.
  • The Many Deaths of You: You die. A LOT.
  • The Plague: Killer Virus
  • The Power of Rock: Rock and Roll Mystery
  • Recurring Character: Dr. Nera Vivaldi has turned up in quite a few of Edward Packard's CYOA volumes.
  • Robot Buddy: The whole plot of Your Very Own Robot. Also, one of the paths in Supercomputer has your computer getting a robotic body, and the two of you fighting crime.
  • Rodents of Unusual Size: The Third Planet from Altair, complete with a good up-close look at one should you decide to sit down and rest after outrunning it.
  • Rubber-Forehead Aliens: The Derns of Planet of the Dragons look like short humans with enormous noses.
  • Save Scumming: Admit it, you've kept your finger on one page to go back to in case of an ending you didn't like.
  • Second-Person Narration
  • Shout-Out: In the original issue of Your Code Name is Jonah (aka Spy Trap), artist Paul Grainger may have based the protagonist's character design on this guy.
  • Speculative Fiction: Some stories, such as Forecast From Stonehenge or Mystery Of The Maya, get real imaginative about real-life ancient artifacts.
  • Take a Third Option: Sometimes you'll get three or more choices as to how to proceed.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Shadow of the Swastika. And Herr Kruptsch from Sabotage, who always seems to be one step ahead of your character.
  • Time Travel: Many titles to choose from... The Cave Of Time, Return To The Cave Of Time, Journey To The Year 3000, etc.
  • Too Dumb to Live: The first title, The Cave Of Time, has two sequels, both because the original protagonist, who survived the first trip, was tempted to enter the eponymous cave again, now knowing he was risking his life. Twice. (On the other hand, most fans of the series think Return of the Cave of Time is much better than the first one.)
  • Vague Age:
    • Nera Vivaldi appears in a few contemporary settings as well as at least two which noticeably take place in the future. Space Vampire at least implies that she is in her fifties but that's not much of a change given that that story (as well as Third Planet From Altair) is probably set a little farther than Next Sunday A.D..
    • Perhaps she invented a time machine, too?
  • War Is Hell: Some of the R.A. Montgomery books are pretty empthatic about this trope.
  • Winged Humanoid: The Hyksos of Planet of the Dragons, although it turns out that their "wings" are artificial ones, strapped to normal humanoid arms. If you choose to join them, you get your own set of wings.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Given that the targeted demographic of this series is 10- to 14-year olds and with its use of second-person pronouns to refer to the main protagonist thus implied to be the reader, there are many graphic, highly disturbing and brutal endings to be read, all committed by people who have no qualms about hurting children. See Cruel and Unusual Death above for examples of these unconscionable acts.
  • You Choose to Stay:
    • One of the endings in Mystery Of The Maya has you becoming the ruler of the ancient Mayan kingdom until you die of old age. You have the option of going back to your old life, but you choose not to.
    • One of the good endings of UFO 54-40 has you choose to take an alien back to his home planet, even though it will take decades. (You get eternal youth out of the deal.)
  • You Will Be Genghis Khan: Wait! You don't want to be Genghis Khan! (from House of Danger)

Suddenly, after warping through various strange wormholes and multiple dimensions, you find yourself in front of a lighted screen, reading a TV Tropes web page.

The End