“What the heck is a gamebook,” you ask?

The KeysA gamebook is any book in which the reader participates in the story by making choices which affect the course of the narrative.

Unlike most novels, there are many ways in which a gamebook’s story can be completed, and many different circumstances that can be experienced along the way.

There are three families of gamebooks. The oldest is the branching-plot novel, typified by the Choose Your Own Adventure series. This type of book requires the reader to make choices but is otherwise like a regular novel.

The next type is the role-playing game solitaire adventure, first introduced in Flying Buffalo’s Tunnels and Trolls line. These books combine the branching-plot novel with the rules of an existing pen-and-paper role-playing game, allowing a role-player to advance his or her character without the help of a game master.

The final type, the role-playing gamebook, is similar to the RPG solitaire adventure except that it has complete rules included with the book so that no separate manuals or role-playing game need to be purchased. This concept was introduced in Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone’s popular Fighting Fantasy series.

In the YOU are the Hero series, we will create branching-plot novels and role-playing gamebooks. The Keys, which is the first book in the series, is a branching-plot novel.

Gamebook structure

The KeysSo how are gamebooks structured?  First, let’s examine how novels are structured so we can better understand how a gamebook, while it is the length of a novel or novella, it is quite different in how it is read.  

With a novel, you start at page 1; you read the paragraphs from the top to the bottom of the page and read the pages in sequence.  

Perhaps the writer gives you the middle or end of the story on page 1 or skips around through time a la Quinton Tarantino, but they intend for you to read the novel in order – pages 1, 2, 3…13, 14, 15…235, 236, 237…and so on.

Gamebooks are different.  You do not read the pages in order and, often, you do not even read the paragraphs in order.  Instead, based on your decisions, you are instructed which page to skip to, or in some gamebooks, the paragraphs are numbered and you are told which paragraph to start from or go to.

The page or paragraph will give you a description of your situation and then you are presented with a choice and a page or a paragraph number to turn to depending on what your choice is.

You then turn to that page or paragraph, read what the consequences of your actions are and then you have to make another choice.  Each choice has a page number or a paragraph number to turn to.  You turn to that page or paragraph, read about the consequences of your actions and so on.

In many gamebooks, you will be given an aim at the beginning of the book – a way to win the game element of the gamebook.  What you have to do is discover the correct sequence of choices that leads you to the winning page or paragraph.

Here’s an example of a 10 paragraph gamebook where the aim is to find the best blog that covers Black Speculative Fiction.  Start at paragraph 1.



It’s 2:00 in the morning and you have grown tired of all the Russian twerk videos and cute baby grizzly bear videos and fighting trolls who attacked your status on Facebook.

You read a few articles on speculative fiction – one of your favorite types of film and fiction – but they are all about European Halfling shires, British colonial airship pilots and racists Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft…crap you’ve grown tired of.

You want to find some quality Black Speculative Fiction on the web.  If you decide to go to http://wagadu.ning.com/, turn to 2.  If you decide to return to Facebook, go to 3.



Wagadu is full of great videos, photos and posts by Black authors of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror and their fans, particularly in the Fantasy subgenre of Sword and Soul, but in order to get the full experience, you need to register as a member and it’s 2:00 a.m.; you heard the Administrator of the site – Milton Davis – goes to bed at 9:00 a.m. (because he goes to work early, because he is old, or a combination of both you aren’t sure), so you doubt you will be able to register yet. If you decide to give up and go back to Facebook, turn to 3. If you click on Wagadu’s ‘Sign Up’ tab, turn to 4.



There is not much new on Facebook.  Most of your friends have gone to bed so there has only been one update from a friend in another time zone.  Desperate for something good, you search the Groups of Facebook to see what they have to offer.  If you click on a group called State of Black Science Fiction 2012, turn to 5.  If you click on a group called Scifi Blerd Society, turn to 6.



You hit the Sign Up tab. You fill out all of the profile information. You hit enter. A page pops up telling you that the Administrator, Milton Davis, is asleep at the moment, but will approve your membership upon awakening and after writing 15000 words of a new book or short story he is creating, which he does daily. You notice a link to Milton’s publishing page, MVmedia, in the corner of the page. If you go to that link, turn to 7.  If you decide to search for another blog, turn to 8.



This group is a collective of authors, artists, comic book creators and filmmakers who create works of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror by, for and / or about people of African descent and for fans and supporters of their work.

The collective, which was formed in February, 2012, has hosted and participated in events worldwide; produced high quality works of fiction and film; and are the founders of Black Speculative Fiction Month, an international holiday that takes place every October.  If you explore this group further, turn to 9.  If you still want to check out the Scifi Blerd Society group, turn to 6.



The Administrator of this page – who is always lurking in the shadows – demands your undying loyalty.  Any who disagree with his edicts is labeled a ‘crab in a barrel’ trying to pull the others down. You try to leave the group, but the Admin doesn’t allow it. You are forever trapped in this creative and intellectual abyss.  Your adventure ends here.



There are plenty of great books on this site – Amber and the Hidden City, the Steamfunk anthology, Woman of the Woods. But one book really stands out to you. The cover is striking and the synopsis really grabs you – Once Upon A time In Afrika by Balogun Ojetade. You must have this book! You must know more about the author too. You decide to search his name. Turn to 10.



You find the amazing – http://twinjabookreviews.blogspot.com – a website founded by twin sisters,  Guinevere and Libertad Tomas that is dedicated to bringing multiculturalism to Young Adult Fantasy and Science Fiction novels. Between this book review site and their Diverse Book Tours site, you are engrossed in Black Speculative Fiction until you drift off to sleep. Your adventure ends here.



You really love this group! The conversations are lively and informative and everyone is passionate about educating the world about Black Speculative Fiction and creating amazing work. One of the Administrators, Balogun Ojetade, welcomes you to the site. The other Administrator, Milton Davis, apparently is asleep. Balogun seems like a cool dude and has some great work on his Roaring Lions Productions website.  You decide to Google the brother. Turn to 10.


You Google ‘Balogun Ojetade’; you find that he is the founder of a popular website in which he frequently blogs about Steamfunk, Dieselfunk, Urban Fantasy and Black Specualtive Fiction. The website is Chronicles of Harriet. You visit the site.

Congratulations!  You have found an entertaining and enlightening blog.  You enjoy reading it for the remainder of the night and your consciousness expands so that you gain an understanding of life and the workings of the universe.

Settings and Genres

The KeysThe settings and genres of gamebooks could cover anything.  There are modern day settings, historic settings and futuristic settings. Genres cover everything from comic book superheroes, to science fiction, to heroic fantasy to Steampunk.

Choose your Own Adventure books tend to go for modern settings with some elements of science fiction and fantasy thrown in.  Almost all other gamebooks cover ancient, Eurocentric settings in a fantasy genre. A few are written in the science fiction and urban fantasy genres.

In my YOU are the Hero series, I write in different genres. The Keys, is a coming of age, action-adventure Urban Fantasy YA book.

The Keys is now available through my website and on Amazon. It is available in paperback only.


About Balogun

Balogun is the author of the bestselling Afrikan Martial Arts: Discovering the Warrior Within and screenwriter / producer / director of the films, A Single Link, Rite of Passage: Initiation and Rite of Passage: The Dentist of Westminster. He is one of the leading authorities on Steamfunk – a philosophy or style of writing that combines the African and / or African American culture and approach to life with that of the steampunk philosophy and / or steampunk fiction – and writes about it, the craft of writing, Sword & Soul and Steampunk in general, at https://chroniclesofharriet.com/. He is author of eight novels – the Steamfunk bestseller, MOSES: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2); the Urban Science Fiction saga, Redeemer; the Sword & Soul epic, Once Upon A Time In Afrika; a Fight Fiction, New Pulp novella, Fist of Afrika; the gritty, Urban Superhero series, A Single Link and Wrath of the Siafu; the two-fisted Dieselfunk tale, The Scythe and the “Choose-Your-Own-Destiny”-style Young Adult novel, The Keys. Balogun is also contributing co-editor of two anthologies: Ki: Khanga: The Anthology and Steamfunk. Finally, Balogun is the Director and Fight Choreographer of the Steamfunk feature film, Rite of Passage, which he wrote based on the short story, Rite of Passage, by author Milton Davis and co-author of the award winning screenplay, Ngolo. You can reach him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/Afrikan.Martial.Arts; on Twitter @Baba_Balogun and on Tumblr at www.tumblr.com/blog/blackspeculativefiction.

11 responses »

  1. Fujimoto says:

    That was a fun example. This looks like a great new addition. Will there be an ebook version or will it always be print?

    • Balogun says:

      Thanks, Fujimoto! I have to do some work with hyperlinks, html code and the like before the format works the way I want it to in e-book, so it will be a while.

      • Fujimoto says:

        That is understandable. No wonder there aren’t more game books available as ebooks.

        I sure am happy that Imaro is an ebook now. I’ve been waiting for that since 2012!

      • Balogun says:

        Yeah, I am very happy, too. And so very happy that Charles (Saunders) – thus Sword and Soul – is reaching an even wider audience!

  2. Keith Owens says:

    I had never heard of this before. This was really cool and something new. Thanks.

  3. […] The Keys by Balogun Ojetade – YOU choose to be one of the two heroes of the story: Jordan Drummond, college basketball phenomenon and math genius; or Theresa “Terry” De Fuego, self-proclaimed “extreme journalist.” YOU battle the forces of evil and maybe even save the world! YOU decide your destiny… for YOU are the Hero! […]

  4. […] you or your child are a reluctant reader, I recommend reading a gamebook, which puts you directly into the story and allows you to choose how the story progresses. […]

  5. […] The most popular books – although their popularity has waned over the years among Black readers because, until recently, none of them featured a Black hero or shero – are gamebooks. […]

  6. […] the top three entries of the Sunday Times bestseller list. These were Fighting Fantasy books – gamebooks similar to The Keys, the first book in my YOU are the Hero series, but different in that to take […]

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