The meaning of The Way of the Tiger

September 18, 2013

The Way of the Tiger Kickstarter banner

I mentioned before how I and my friends are involved in a Kickstarter project starting in October for The Way of the Tiger. I also mentioned that Dave Morris over on the Fabled Lands blog has been running a series of guest posts on the history and legacy of The Way of the Tiger. Below is my post, which is online here:

Sometimes storytelling uses the word “you.” At least that’s what I learned as a small child being introduced to roleplaying games and solo gamebooks. Then, years later, my school teachers tried to educate me on “first person” and “third person” perspective, leaving out this mysterious numerical inevitability in the middle. “Second person” would be stories that use the word “you,” wouldn’t they? There are lots of those, right? So why do you not teach them?

Apparently the children knew about the Choose Your Own Adventure books in the school library but the grown-ups assumed we did not. Granted, the library didn’t have any other gamebooks, nor roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons, so it may have been an oversight by the adults. Not so in my household.

Here was a home where our parents bought us The Way of the Tiger and Lone Wolf before we’d ever heard of them. Then, exhilarated by the worlds found therein, us kids hunted down Fighting Fantasy, Grailquest, and anything else we could find. Why? Because sometimes storytelling uses the word “you,” and then “you” get to tell the most exciting story of all: your own.

So there was The Way of the Tiger. Reading it over and over again was as satisfying as the first time because I was “choosing” my “adventure.” As a small child, I became confused at some point and thought you could earn a + 1 to your Fate Modifier within the walls of Doomover. I would struggle to find the route that permitted this, saying “I want to get the Fate Modifier! I want it!” Think of this: it was a matter of “wanting to do something.” With a book in first or third person, how much is there to “do”? One can say “I want to read The Hobbit” and then stand back as Bilbo slays a dragon. But with The Way of the Tiger, one can say “I want to deflect crossbow bolts with my bare hands” and then deflect crossbow bolts with one’s bare hands.

This personal experience made the story more memorable. To this day, I the American (or “United Statesian” to be more accurate) still prefer the British spelling of “Armour” and “Axe” because that was how I spelled them in my adventures. In fact, such gets at a deeper matter: good books generally leave the reader wiser for the experience, and gamebooks are no exception, but what one learns may be a little different. The Way of the Tiger was extra special for what I learned.

Some context: by the time I started reading gamebooks, I had already killed my first kobold and carrion crawler. Dungeons and Dragons was common at playtime and I had finally figured out how to read a d4. Percentile dice still stymied. The D-and-D rules encouraged the reader to think of combat as more than “I hit, I miss, I hit again” (direct quote), but there was no point to anything past mastering the dice mechanics. So I learned dice.

The Way of the Tiger went beyond my meager (“meagre”?) understanding of gaming. It had neither four-sided dice nor percentile dice, so I was safe there; instead it had a system of interwoven attack rolls, damage rolls, blocking, and “special powers” (Inner Force). A child might ask “So I want to run up to the enemy and hit it. What do I roll?” but this was not how the game worked. “You” had to choose what to do in each fight, and if “you” thought it would be clever to try throwing an Elder God to the ground, then “you” got to enjoy the consequences.

Which isn’t to say that all consequences were deadly: sometimes a special scene or route out of danger could arise from your choice. Not only did I come to look forward to the Cobra Man, the Elder God, the Ninja of the Way of the Scorpion as I played, but I came to understand the intricate details of this thing called “strategy.” Entire plotlines could appear through “strategic failing,” and great swaths of peril could be bypassed by “strategic planning.” I not only learned that this game was fun, but I learned how one weaves the stories and games that allowed me to have fun in the first place.

I was simultaneously a reader, a storyteller, a strategist, and just some kid who wanted to punch Goblins in the face, while flipping pages and scrawling Endurance on a piece of paper. All was possible with the magical word “you.” Thus it is to read The Way of the Tiger.

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