CYOAs without variables examples?

I’m doing a CYOA project that’s going to be exported as a PDF and on Archive of Our Own so it can only have links and not any sort of conditional variable statements. I have a general idea of the storyline I want to do, but I’m getting really stuck on the mechanics on how to still make it interactive. A branch and bottleneck layout? But then, what would be the point of the branches if the player doesn’t learn or gain something unique from them that I can’t then test for. Another option might be two parallel stories with a beginning choice to pick between them and then maybe 4-8 or so endings for each with a choice?

I dunno… I’m getting lost on ideas. Can anyone here think of another CYOA structured like this I could use for inspiration?

I don’t know how available they are, but the original CYOA-branded books named the genre.

Also, Trapped in Time was a really clever IFComp entry that was distributed as a PDF and was best experienced printed out.
As I recall, this game asked you to remember or write down formulas. “From now on when you first greet Ms. Smith, add 10 to the page number you are on and turn to that page.” You could do something like that with perhaps some symbols or color coding of the choices if that’s possible. “(From now on when you make a choice with a # symbol before it, add 5 to the page number it asks you to turn to.)”

What you need to be aware of is without the branch and bottleneck structure, you’re going to end up with what’s called a “time cave”, where every single choice changes the story completely, and every single choice adds new page(s) you need to write. The story can combinatorially explode very easily unless you plan your choices and limit them.

Essentially without any kind of story codes or variables, you can set it up with branch/bottleneck so the reader experiences different viewpoints of events that may affect their choices later. Which isn’t a bad thing at all. If you choose to participate in the conversation you can ask questions, or if you sneak into the kitchen you hear how the conversation goes without your participation, but you meet another character who gives you insight about who the murderer is later when you make that choice. You can even do things like “If you accept the Butler’s cup of tea, turn to 45. OR…If you accept the cup but you picked up your own spoon in the kitchen turn to 58.”

This relies on player honesty, which is why the “add this many to your page choice” type codes are so clever. “If anyone offers you a beverage you need to stir, you now have your own spoon, so add 13 to any choice that involves receiving a cup of coffee or tea.” Which may divert the player away from a section where they are drugged by the sedative the Butler dipped the proffered spoon into. This may also involve secret pages or “debug” pages. If the Butler offers the grieving widow some tea, adding 13 to the page says “You can only use your spoon on your own tea, go back.” Or even “you quickly step in and offer your spoon to the widow…” so the player sort of has a way to cleverly use their knowledge or a “pseudo inventory”. “Any time you see the word “tea” printed in blue, or the word with a symbol ‘@tea’, you can use your spoon by adding 9 to the page you are on and turning to that page.”

Here is another really good one that is a satire of CYOA by Brian Patrick Hennessy: You Will Select a Decision. It is a classic CYOA that uses no codes so tends to be a bit insta-death-end, but that’s part of the fun.

Gamebooks can have variables too. It looks kinda like this:

It’s not as complex as a hidden jump. You can have an inventory and keep track of the known information with this technique.

One of my favorite of the original Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books was Who Killed Harlowe Thrombey? which sometimes had a branch-and-bottleneck structure where the branches gave you different information that could inform your subsequent choices. For instance, there was one choice where you could interview any of five witnesses/suspects, and then wound up at the same page–but what you learned could help you make better choices later. Which also meant you could luck into the best choices without the information, but that’s fine too. It probably had a fair amount of gauntlet structure too, because it wouldn’t be too entertaining to have a

You might also want to look at Meanwhile by Jason Shiga, which is a hard-copy stateless book that keeps in a lot of agency through, well, various reasons (and time loops). For various reasons it wouldn’t be suitable to a PDF but it might give you some ideas.