The Big Idea: Zach Weinersmith

Zach Weinersmith has fond memories of a certain sort of book — a kind of book, it seems, that had disappeared from the common consciousness. Rather than lament its passing, Weindersmith took it as a challenge to revive. And thus: Trial of the Clone, an interactive adventure cleverly disguised as a paperback. Here’s Weinersmith to walk us down the Clone’s path to publication.


About a year ago, before this book was published, I was doing a Q&A session with an auditorium of MIT students. I mentioned that I was working on a “choose your own adventure” style book with more interactive elements. I said it was going to be a lot like the old “Lone Wolf” books of Joe Dever.

This was met with blank stares.

“Lone Wolf?” I said. This was Cambridge, after all. If there’s any place a dork can be a dork, it’s at the intersection of Harvard and MIT.

“The game we all played when we were teenagers?”


This was when I started to get really excited about this book. For those of you (apparently the vast majority) who never played a gamebook, it’s sorta like solitary D&D. You’re reading along, making choices about your moves, but you also have health and stats and items to worry about. You have to kill bad guys. You have to use random numbers to determine outcomes. Gamebooks are awesome and not as well known as they deserve to be.

So, the cool thing was that I could introduce this concept to a new generation of dorks. And, I hope, there will be a lot of novelty to it. Those old books were great, but aimed toward very young kids. My book is not; one friend at MIT said it reminded him of Terry Pratchett, but a lot more obscene.

I’m hoping to make that my epitaph some day.

The most exciting thing to me is that it was a chance to modify what I remembered to make the game system really cute. Early on, I talked to some geek friends about the best way to generate random numbers without having to carry dice or a computer around. I got a few ideas, including one suggestion to think of a number, then check a clock, add the numbers, and take the last digit. This seemed a bit cumbersome. So, I came up with a system where each page has a random number (0-3, weighted to hit 1 and 2 more often) in the lower right corner. To throw a random, just flip pages until you get somewhere random!

Another thing I love about this book is that it’s broken into five acts. We set it up so that on the right side of each page there’s a gray bar denoting the current act. The cute part is that this means you can tell where you are in the book (and how long each act is) by looking at its side, where gray bars show up.

My absolute favorite part however, is a part I can’t really tell you about. The book has an ending that actually trades on the fact that you’re existing in a second person narrative, making choices. I really don’t want to say anything more specific, because the book does have a bit of a trick ending. But, as far as I know, we’re the first to make use of the genre in this way.

Getting to do a book like this is the fulfillment of a number of geek fantasies at once. The best part is that, because of the success with this first book, we’ll be able to put out sequels. Halfway through writing this, I told my assistant that if I ever tried to write another such book, he was to kick me. Fortunately, I live a bit distant from him now, because having seen the reaction to this first book, I’d be happy writing a dozen sequels.


Trial of the Clone: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Breadpig

Visit Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, Weinersmith’s Web comic. Visit his blog. Follow him on Twitter.

20 Comments on “The Big Idea: Zach Weinersmith”

  1. Hmmm. I’m been a gamer geek since 1980 (red box D&D for Christmas, yeah!), and I read both Choose Your Own Adventure and Fighting Fantasy books. I’ve also never heard of “Lone Wolf”. Maybe they weren’t sold in many areas?

  2. Oh, I LOVED the Lone Wolf books, and still have a pile of them in a box somewhere. I was always sad that I never managed to get all of them, and thus couldn’t see the adventure to it’s conclusion. I am so tempted to pull them out and complete my collection. I loved them so much.

  3. FYI Mongoose Publishing is reprinting the original Lone Wolf books and is printing the Lone Wolf RPG.

    There’s also Project Aon which has the “Internet Editions” of most of the books (it looks like they have 1-25 done so far) as well as some of Joe Dever’s other gamebooks (Grey Star, Freeway Warrior, Combat Heroes.)

  4. As a kid, I read a ton of Choose your Own Adventure books, but only one Lone Wolf book (for a school book report, of all things). This sounds awesome. I’m in.

  5. Oh, I loved this kind of book! Lone Wolf isn’t ringing a bell, but I did Choose Your Own Adventure, and some series that had green covers and were very D&D-ish. Can’t remember the name of the series, but I think Stan Lee wrote a couple of them? It’s been 15+ years, so I may have that part wrong. All my books are packed away in boxes right now, but this makes me want to go dig out all my paperbacks until I find the series.

  6. Maybe Fighting Fantasy, according to Google. The covers don’t look right, but Steve Jackson & Ian Livingstone as authors ring a big gonging bell.

  7. Does it work as an e-book on a kindle, or is it best experienced as a physical paperback?

  8. @Miles – we’re coming out with a nicer eBook version, but I think the physical is better. You get the random numbers and stuff. We worked hard to make it pocket sized and self contained :)

  9. I got this via the kickstarter. It is a whole lot of fun. I use the ebook and, since I’m a gamer, the d4s I have lying around the house. I do kinda wish I had sprung for the paperback, but if you folks have decent monitors, the ebook isn’t bad.

  10. “Early on, I talked to some geek friends about the best way to generate random numbers without having to carry dice or a computer around.”

    Lone Wolf had that, as I recall. There was a table of numbers (presumably randomly distributed) at the back, and you had to close your eyes and poke it with a pencil to get your random number.

  11. @oball – yeah, basically you stabbed a pencil at a random number, then took your total number and your opponents number and referenced a chart. That felt a little cumbersome to me. So, hopefully the new system’s a little simpler.

  12. I never played D&D when I was in Jr. High and high school, on account of I am a girl, and when you a girl, and you walk into D&D club on the first day of school in 6th grade and they look at you and say ‘we don’t play with girls, you walk out and you cry a little because that boxed set thing looked SO COOL…and then you go back to the secondhand bookstore, return it (I know, its okay) and pick up all the choose your own adventure books you can get for a dollar instead….what, none of you did this?

    I never read Zach’s comic until I saw it in the humble bundle, but I am now extremely excited by him, the comic, and this book. Thanks for bringing it to our attention!

  13. For those of you (apparently the vast majority) who never played a gamebook, it’s sorta like solitary D&D. You’re reading along, making choices about your moves, but you also have health and stats and items to worry about.

    Apparently I missed out on the gamebook concept as well. I’m trying to picture it and compare it to the D&D games I played, and I can’t see it. The number of choices made in a single evening of D&D would result in a massive flowchart, at least the games I played.

  14. I remember an Asterix book that had this mechanism! I loved it. It even came with little dice that had the characters printed on them instead of numbers.

  15. I remember those, and the “Endless Quest” books that TSR branded off of their various games (D&D, Top Secret, Gamma World, etc.). I recall forcing convincing my dad to make the choices for Brion the elf in Return to Brookmere as I read the passages aloud.

    There was also a tie-in book to Star Trek III that had scenes from the movie on the cover, but a completely unrelated plot (something about the lost crown jewels of Vulcan). Even worse, there was a point where on one page Kirk & Co. were in mortal peril, and on the next they’re just fine and dandy. Irritated my 11-year old brain to no end.

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