You are nine years old, and have a small amount of pocket money to spend. You are standing in a generic branch of WH Smiths in the South east of England. It is the summer holidays, and you have been dragged around the shops on a Saturday afternoon by your Mum. Finally it is your time to shine. Do you:

Buy some kind of worthy children’s book about wartime orphans or brave hamsters ? (Go to p46)

Save the money so you can buy something big and cool in a few weeks, like a Transformer? (Go to p71)

Buy yourself a Fighting Fantasy game book? (Go to the rest of this article…)

Roll the dice, fight the orc. It features in a lot of young, mostly male, lives. Unlike a lot of people I never really ventured into RPG’s. It all seemed like a bit too much effort and concentration. I did however, obsessively buy the Fighting Fantasy books series for a good few years. I absolutely adored those books, and spent many a long afternoon immersed in the worlds conjoured by Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson. Forget the candy-assed world of Choose Your Own Adventures ( a series that were so vanilla that they were deemed acceptable by my school library), FF books were the real deal. You always played some hardcore goblin-slayer or mercenary, and the frequent fights were bloody, brutal skirmishes which could be won or lost at the flick of a wrist. Death lurked around every corner, your fate could change in an instant. They seemed dangerous, complex and more importantly they were chock full of beasts, monsters and supernatural creatures of infinite variety. The alluring and alliterative titles invoked a dark and twisty world, waiting to be traversed by the intrepid gamer: Rebel Planet, Scorpion Swamp, Slaves of the Abyss; in their own sweet way they had the same pull for me that the splatter and exploitation videos would have for me later on.

There were two ways you could play these books. The honest way was to obey the rules, and to take your destiny like a man. If you chose to go to a page that resulted in you falling into a pit of spikes, so be it. Pull up your boot straps and head back to the beginning of the book. Likewise if a battle with a Marsh Wraith went unexpectedly against you, tough shit. That’s the way of the warrior. The other way was of course to hedge your bets and sneak ‘accidental’ glances at some of the other options that you might have chosen. Or if a dice roll resulted in some jumped up little forest sprite besting you, then fuck it, roll again. The first roll was an accident. Initially I practiced the first method, and would make my way through the book in a puritanical fashion, dying and being reborn like a Buddhist cockroach. But as time (and patience) wore on I began to favour the latter approach in my rampant desire to get to the end of my quest. Guilt would occcasionally consume me and I remember a couple of times actually exclaiming out loud “Ooops my hand slipped, better roll again”, as though some Divine presence might conceivably be watching my indiscretions and duly earmark me for a fast train to Hell. For the most part I settled on a happy medium of the both, entirely dependent on my mood.

Before beginning your adventure you had to determine exactly how much mettle you possessed, establishing the holy trinity of SKILL, STAMINA & LUCK through the roll of the dice. Now this was a nerve-wracking moment – bad rolling here and you were in an extremely weak position for the duration of the quest. Naturally enough it was a time for some judicious cheating. There was absolutely no way you were going to spend your adventure with STAMINA 14 when you might end up facing off against a two-headed lizard warrior. (Pop fact – my friend was in a band called SKILL 7, STAMINA 12 which made me very happy). Unless I’m much mistaken a few books also had MAGIC as an option, but generally the core three were enough to get by. Any disruptions to the general system of game play often resulted in imaginative but overly convoluted books like Phantoms Of Fear, or in the baffling combat system of Robot Commando (a somewhat uninspired riff on Transformers). There wasn’t a better feeling than setting out with a full 24 STAMINA, and it often encouraged ludicrous displays of bravado. Any excuse to hack something into tiny pieces was embraced with glee, although early foolhardiness would often lead you to come a cropper if you made it the end of the book and had to face the Big Bad all un-STAMINA’d.

These books could only have existed in a time before computer games had taken hold of the gaming market so thoroughly. Trying to get a kid to play one of these when they could be blowing the shit out of fully rendered 3D bastards on HALO 3 would be a pretty thankless task. Nonetheless they were pretty popular and well loved for a while, and will probably always retain a special corner of the heart of males of a certain age. The best part of FF novels though, for me, was the cover artwork. These wonderfully evocative images, painted by some of the cream of British fantasy artists (including Les Edwards, Ian Miller, Chris Achilleos and Iain McCaig) enthralled me as a kid. I’d stare for hours at them, and they inspired my own endless drawn re-imaginings of Bloodbeasts and Skeleton warriors. Alongside Asterix books and 2000ad, they were probably the strongest cultural influence I had as a pre-teen. As a tribute I’m going to run through a selection of my favourites…

Deathtrap Dungeon was the first FF book I ever bought. My older brother already had The Warlock Of Firetop Mountain, but as this one was mine it was clearly way better. That cover pretty much cemented my addiction to these books in one fell swoop. I mean fucking look at it! That is one horrible, glorious, disgusting beast. Obviously the myriad eyes and slavering, jagged mouth register pretty strongly, but it’s that vile swollen, glistening belly that really sticks in the mind. Imagine ending up trapped in a room with that horrible bastard! It’s painted by Ian McCaig, I think, and is one of the strongest covers in the series. After the slightly trad Tolkien-esque style of Warlock.. and the curious simplistic pop art mis-step of Citadel of Chaos, it’s much more representative of the style and flavour of the early FF book covers. Forest of Doom (at the top of the page) and City of Thieves (another humdinger, featuring one of the best evil skeletons ever) were all by McCaig, and he was my early favourite artist. His classical, highly detailed style, with a real penchant for drawing nasties really struck a chord.

Island of the Lizard King was one of the strongest concepts of the early books, and really worked as an adventure. This was mainly due to the fact that the Lizard King and his Lizard warriors were totally bad-ass. They looked fucking cool, and were really hardcore. With their high SKILL & STAMINA they proved worthy and often deadly opponents. As I recall there was a particularly evil two headed one who was some kind of slave overseer. In a riff on Planet of The Apes, Island of The Lizard King featured humans as the victims, a terrified underclass ruled over by the sadistic reptilian overlords. It was particularly satisfying therefore smiting one of the fuckers in some heady dice rolling combat.

That is a great cover though; strong, dynamic and ever so slightly erotic. Seriously, there’s some definite glee to the way that the artist has delineated that Lizard man’s torso. Add a black panther and POW, instant 70′s porno chic.

I think more than any of the other early FF covers House of Hell had the most impact. Featuring the wonderfully twisted style of Ian Miller, it is alluring and repellent in equal measure. House of Hell was a raucous, lurid romp – it gleefully homaged both the cheese of Hammer horror movies and the splatter of the 1970′s Italian mondo-horror. It was also one of the few books set in a seemingly contemporary world. In it you played a lost traveller, who ends up seeking refuge in the proverbial bad place, and things went from bad to worse as the eponymous House began to reveal it’s terrible labyrinthine depths. It was, quite frankly, nuts not to mention a whole lot of fun.

That cover is amazing though. Ian Miller is a genuinely unique illustrator, and earns instant kudos for providing backgrounds to Ralph Bakshi’s trully bonkers animated film Wizards (a film featuring wizards, Nazi’s and Amon Duul – I think it might be Lord Nuneaton’s favourite movie…) His maddeningly intricate, grotesque line-work has adorned many fantasy and sci-fi novels since the 70′s and his work on the FF books is totally individual. As a kid he wasn’t my favourite but as time has passed I appreciate his stuff more and more. I always loved House of Hell – I particularly dig the way he’s taken the archetype of the mist swathed old house and adds his own demented twist. He totally nails it. That blue/green colour scheme is simply perfect.

Please also note the classic green band at the top of the book making an appearance. this would remain for a number of books to come, and enhanced the collectability of them for me no end. That sense of uniformity appeals to the inner OCD inside us all…

A real curio this one. Firstly because it’s the one and only appearance for Brian Bolland on cover duties – I’m sure the eagle-eyed will have clocked that instantly. Secondly Appointment with F.E.A.R is the one and only FF book that dealt with superheroes. To be honest it’s not one of the best – the superheroics come off as unwieldy and slightly cliched. The FF books occasionally tried deviating from the basic Fantasy/Sci-Fi formula but it rarely worked out. It’s a nice idea though , and the title of the book is absolutely killer, creating precisely the right pulpy melodramatic atmosphere. Bolland’s note-perfect illustration only reinforces this. Colour scheme, dramatic lighting and the look of the evil super-scientist are all spot-on. Love the future retro stylings too.

What the fuck, exactly, is he doing though?

There were a few attempts at seafaring adventures, most notably the Sinbad-esque Seas of Blood, and this one Demons of The Deep. To be honest I can’t remember too much about this one – pirates, giant squids and sharks I guess – but the cover is brilliant. That is just one deeply cool undersea weirdie. It’s got a quasi-Lovecraft vibe, and I love the idea that it’s made up of the bones of mariners lost to the depths. Fucking big axe too. The lighting of the bubbles in the water is lovely. You get a real sense of scale and motion. It always stayed with me this image.

Another Ian Miller job here. there’s something very John Dee about this image, with a real touch of the Bosch about it too (check out the little homunculus on the desk). It’s a relatively restrained image for Miller, but it’s nicely composed and infused with an appropriate air of mystery and menace.

I mainly included it though, because Creature of Havoc (again what an utterly excellent title) was one of my absolute favourite FF books. This was mainly because it had such a strong high concept. In it you played as a beast of some considerable strength and ferocity, who awakens at the start of the book imprisoned and with no idea who or even what you were. It was one of the most utterly original ideas in the series and it made a refreshing change to deviate from the usual stern warrior archetype. You could pretty much shape your own destiny – were you going to be a nice monster or a nasty one. At the heart of the book was an essential quest for identity that made it both thought provoking and genuinely engaging.

Crypt of the Sorcerer has been included mainly because the main bad guy (the eponymous Sorcerer, can’t remember his full name) was a particularly evil fucker. Also one of the most disturbingly designed with his malformed, distorted physiology and sadistic grin. He’s a step up up from that old Warlock from Firetop Mountain that’s for sure. I seem to remember his pervasive corrupting presence was areal blight on the land, so it was a good job I lopped his head off really. It was also one of the few books I remember completing honestly, so I wanted to mention it as a point of pride.

Also note the jazzy new logo surrounding Ian Livingstone’s name. A major design turning point.

One of the sci-fi additions to the series this. There were a number of science fiction FF books, from the classics Starship Traveller and Space Assassin, to the Mad Max rip-off Freeway Fighter. They were often not quite as successful as the fantasy books, but did provide a nice change of scene from all those Black Elves and Snow Witches. I chose Star Strider not because I remember it being an overly good book, but more because that is easily the most ludicrous cover thus seen in the series. It is also massively cool. I mean, seriously, look at that fucking….thing! Let’s just run through the checklist shall we? Horns? Check. Flying surfboard? Big gun? Check. Laser sword? Check. Cape? Check. Dog head? Check. Anything else? No that should do for now. It’s like the artist couldn’t decide which elements to include, so he threw them all in.

Genius.

I’m not actually that enamoured by the cover of this one – the gem is too awkward and prominent, the composition is uninspired and I loathe the chunky lettering. I really wanted to include it because once again it had a really cool core concept. You played a master thief, who belonged to the Thieves Guild, and spent the duration of the book being basically very naughty. Lots of ducking in shadows and stealing from hapless drunkards and wenches. Excellent stuff. The books where you played characters of dubious morality were always way more interesting to play and Midnight Rogue was a nice strong concept, executed with some panache.

The Fighting Fantasy books were fond of the occasional sequel. There was a Return to Firetop Mountain, and I’m pretty sure that Trial of Champions was a follow on to Deathtrap Dungeon, but this was one of the best. Battleblade Warrior followed on from Island of The Lizard King, and was pretty much equally as ace as it’s predecessor. That is also one total killer of a cover. How much cooler can it get than a Lizard warrior riding a Pterodactyl? Really?

Nice dynamic image, with a good use of perspective. Big spear. A+

I think this is possibly my favourite cover in the series. It’s certainly top 3. It’s such a strong, striking image, with a nice use of negative space. I love the beasty as well, with his comically grotesque face and gun wielding tentacles. A highlight is the dandyish scarf billowing in the wind. The sky bike is wonderfully solid and well-rendered – you can almost hear it clanking away. Proper grimy sci-fi. The combination of realism and absurdity, and the technical panache of the artist ( I think it was Les Edwards) makes for a wonderful overall image.

The book itself? Um..pass. It was another sci-fi jobby, with a relatively novel sky-combat system, but it was all about the cover. I’m not sure that I ever really played it. As time progressed I would increasingly buy the books as a habit, finding the actual playing of them somewhat sidelined. The last book I bought was no. 38 – Vault of the Vampire, a curiously traditional volume with a cover that made a nod to the Classical Bela Lugosi version of Dracula. I didn’t much like it, and by that point my interest was turning more and more towards comics. It was a fairly natural progression from FF books to the gonzo sci-fi of 2000ad, but the spirit of gleeful anarchy of the latter appealed more to my bratty pubescent self.

The gamebooks were shelved where they remained for a few years before, in a fit of pique, I took them to a local bookshop and traded them all in* (admittedly I swapped them for some Titan 2000ad reprints, so I was hardly selling out and growing up). At the time I felt they were taking up precious shelf space and that these occasional geek cleansing sessions are a necessary evil. However this little trip down memory lane has really made me grieve for my rash binning of these books that made up such a substantial part of my childhood. Nostalgia’s a bitch for sure, but there’s a part of me now itching to grab some dice and a pencil, and partake in a thrilling fantasy adventure where I am the hero!

(Disclaimer – This was composed from memory, so please forgive any inaccuracies or cock ups. I don’t want to earn the wrath of any RPGer’s – they’re fucking mental.)

*Although I got rid of the books themselves, I hung on to two very important tomes: Titan, which was the sourcebook for the world that the majority of the books were set in, and more importantly Out of the Pit, an absolutlely essential book cataloguing each and every monster that featured in the books along with their stats. It’s one of the most read and re-read books in my entire collection and probably warrants a post all of it’s own…)

82 Responses to “Skill, Stamina and Luck: Fighting Fantasy”

  1. Zom Says:

    You’ve omitted the Sorcery trilogy

    That was badass

  2. amypoodle Says:

    Indeed. John Blanche was a massive influence on me as a kid. First artist to really make me understand god art didn’t have to mean realism.

  3. amypoodle Says:

    And I still love Russ Nicholson’s stuff too. I mean, I’d actually love some of the images from Citadel of Chaos blown up on my wall. Especially that scary ghost woman…. I’m off to find that image actually.

  4. The Beast Must Die Says:

    I was talking about cover artists more than interior artists. I’m pretty sure Russ Nicholson didn’t do the cover for Citadel of Chaos. I’m talking about the horrible original cover which had some simplistic evil monkey faced thing on it.

  5. Zom Says:

    Yup, monkey-cat thing. Just pulled it off the hidden bookshelf that lurks behind my shoe-rack. “Cover illustration by Emmanuel”, apparently.

    Russ Nicholson is ace, that’s for sure. I’d completely forgotten about him

  6. Linkblogging for 24/05/09 « Sci-Ence! Justice Leak! Says:

    [...] at the Mindless Ones, The Beast Must Die has a great post about Fighting Fantasy books (I was amazed how clearly I remembered most of the ones he talks about), and they have [...]

  7. Thrills Says:

    The Sky Lord cover = fucking ace.

    Fighting Fantasy + Lone Wolf books were pretty important to me in the formative years, back when I was mad for any vague swords/sorcery stuff I could find (be it choose your own adventure dice stuff or Sinclair Spectrum games). They represent a very definite period of my life that will forever remain unsullied in me braiiins.

    Also, John Blanche and Ian Miller are completely amazing, they make me think of being a meek child into sc-fi, who one day had his mind blown and his dreams turned to slurky nightmares when his big sister’s boyfriend gave him a bunch of White Dwarf back issues. Excellent artists, so good at taking what was sometimes cliched source material and turning it into something incredibly unsettling. Brrrrr.

    (Games Workshopy stuff seems to be all Mark Gibbons-esque now, which is a bit like if comics were all by Jim Lee – good art with a definite style, but a bit emotionally limited?)

    I have never heard of that Bakshi ‘Wizards’ film, which surprises me as I sort of did a degree in animation. Oops. Bakshi + Ian Miller means I’ll definitely have a look for it, though. so thanks for that!

  8. Prankster Says:

    Wow. That’s kind of surreal. These were a HUGE part of my childhood (which may be even weirder because I’m not British). And I remember and agree with an awful lot of what you’re saying. “Midnight Rogue” was the first FF book for me, and I instantly became obsessed. And yeah, holy shit, that Lizard King cover is bizarrely sexy.

    Just to go into heavy nerd mode: “Battleblade Warrior” wasn’t really a sequel to “Lizard King” except inasmuch as they involved Lizard People (not even the same tribe). Had a great story behind it, though, in which you were trying to save your city which was in the last stages of a seige by the lizards.

    I have to stick up for “Sky Lord”, though: it was quite possibly the most hypnotically surreal (and indeed, 2000 AD-esque) of the FFs. I remember the world in which it was set as being more than a little reminiscent of Metal Hurlant comics, with a crazy jury-rigged artificial planet filled with talking guns and fish-headed people. I also liked the fact that the mad scientist who you’d been sent to dispatch ended up having been imprisoned by his own creations, and you had to work with him to defeat them (for a while, anyway).

    I also enjoyed “Appointment with F.E.A.R.”. Loved the fact that you could play through the book with 4 different superpowers and win each time by following a different route. “House of Hell” didn’t do much for me, though…I wanted swords or ray guns. I was duly impressed at how much blasphemy they were able to work into a book for kids, though.

    Oh, and “Creature of Havoc”? That thing was just devilishly hard, partly because you have to earn the right to make decisions (!) and understand human speech, but also because it was hard to cheat. Instead of being able to flip to the different options and choose the one that suited you, winning often relied on having some information that would require you to add numbers to the reference number you were on, often with no clue that you were supposed to do so, so that you’d seemingly have no route to victory if you didn’t have the “code”. That Steve Jackson, just too smart for us…

  9. Eman Anistow Says:

    waiting for my gran to buy the victuals is boring…

    wait, what’s this? a weird lizardy man in rags, sitting on a log, beckoning…
    inviting me to go where with him?
    to the Forest of Doom??!?
    take! me! now!!
    pleease!!

    but did anyone actually finish creature of havoc?
    i thought it was broken.
    very early on i always got stuck in a dungeon cul-de-sac that never really announced itself as a trap.
    gutted, cos it was bloody awesome, the way it started.

    almost as good as the grail quest series.
    grail quest were written better though, more lively, like the guy ( j h brennan ) was actually a writer or something.
    and a kabbalist n stuff.
    and there was section 14, where death takes you, which actually acknowledged that you can always cheat.
    and there were drawings by john higgins.

    yes, trial of champions was a return to deathtrap dungeon but first you had to prove your mettle in a gladiator arena to get there.
    it was ace.
    well, like all ff books, if you put the work in, cranked up yr imagination to make up for the bland text, fun could be had.

    yep. i want to do one now.
    still got some upstairs…

    thank you very much, granny, i love you and i will be good.

  10. Thoapsl Says:

    I can remember as a kid, borrowing & re-borrowing “Titan” and “Out of the Pit” from my local library over & over – fascinating bonkers worldbuilding and gorgeous, terrifying illustrations. Please do a post on those two books, that would be great!
    As a little kid it was mindblowing to see “Titan” suddenly mash together so many disparate FF books into a single world, creating all that unity & continuity after the fact… I was still pre-superhero comics, so it was the first time I became aware that sort of multistorytelling was even possible.

    I never read actual fantasy fiction – couldn’t stand the stuff, for some reason – but I did love FF gamebooks. In fact I’m pretty sure old copies of “Citadel of Chaos” and “Stealer of Souls” are still hiding on my bookshelves somewhere, probably sheepish & lonely underneath classy pomo lit & shiny graphic novels, or whatever. After this post I’m almost inspired to wrangle dice and let them out again.

  11. Kieron Gillen Says:

    You’re not REALLY playing Final Fantasy until you’ve got all of your digits pushed into the book at various parts you may want to go back to. I, BOOKMARK.

    (I preferred Lone Wolf for the character-progression kind of stuff, but the random nature of the Final Fantasy books had its charm. When randomly googling, I found myself outraged on the internet when I discovered that some of my favourite books were viewed with disdain by the online community of FF reviewers. SCORPION SWAMP was an open-world Elder Scrolls game to most of the rest’s linear half-life-isms, including Fable-esque multiple morality-options. It wasn’t shit! Pah!)

    KG

  12. Zom Says:

    I loved Scorpion Swamp too. Also, I have memories of Creature of Havoc being broken, Eman.

    Wasn’t House of Hell (personal fave) also bedevilled by brokage, and Starship Traveller?

  13. Neon Snake Says:

    Starship Traveller? Was that one of the early ones? Number 4 or 5? I only got into the late teens on them, maybe not even that far, but Starship Travller might have been the first one I read. And yeah, I’m sure there was a path which led to a complete cul-de-sac.

    I did like the ones where you had to use a code – “add up the numbers you were given by X, Y, and Z, and turn to that page.” The second Sorcery book, I think, had that – set in a big city, and you couldn’t get through the last door without the code.

    Ah, happy days. A clicky-pencil, an eraser, a couple of D6 and a stack of graph paper for drawing a map of the dungeon.

    …what, it’s only me who has a stack of home-made elaborately drawn maps for them all somewhere?

  14. Zom Says:

    Never did Lone Wolf really. Had a couple of books, but they mostly got left on the shelf.

    None of you lot read the Sorcery! quadrilogy, then? If I recall correctly Jackson aimed them at teens/grown-ups and they were damn hard, but they also allowed for character progression between the books and felt proper mature to my 9 year-old brain.

    John Blanche on the picture added skilliance

  15. The Beast Must Die Says:

    I think Creature of Havoc may have been broken too. But such a cool concept.

    MMmmmmmmmwrrngh. I want to play one now.

    Will definitely be doing an ‘Out of the Pit’ post. Expect to see ‘The Living Corpse’ soon.

  16. Neon Snake Says:

    The Sorcery books were great. Didn’t they have sigilised spells, too? I don’t remember many books that had spells, as opposed to “just” magic items, so they seemed slightly more advanced as a result.

  17. Zom Says:

    Yeah, Starship Traveller wasone of the early ones

  18. Neon Snake Says:

    Aye. I’ve now brushed up, using Wikifountofallknowledgepedia.

    And yes! Memories, flooding, etc. You could get all the way through, get to the last gate, and find you didn’t have all the lines of the spell to get through. And couldn’t cheat, because the page number was contained in the lines of the spell. Bastards.

    I much preferred the sword’n'sorcery ones to the sci-fi ones, when I was a kid. There was something more grimly determined about imagining you were a leather-skin clad warrior-mage than a spacesuited astronaut, at the time.

  19. Ranald Says:

    “Unless I’m much mistaken a few books also had MAGIC as an option, but generally the core three were enough to get by.”

    As I recall, there was one where you were a samurai, and had an ‘honour’ score. If that got pushed down to zero, you had to ritually disembowel yourself.

    Yes, really.

  20. The Beast Must Die Says:

    Sword of The Samurai – it was fucking excellent. Another one I completed ‘honestly’

  21. amypoodle Says:

    I didn’t complete any of them honestly, I don’t think. Even though some of the deaths in it were totally arbitrary and c***ish, I loved Chasms of Malice. The high concept of a land UNDER THE EARTH really appealed to me. Like a super-dungeon.

  22. Kieron Gillen Says:

    Starship Traveler was broken. I went through the entire book, and there’s no page which sends you to 400. In other words, unless that numbers add up to 400 directly, it’s broken.

    I believe Creature of Havoc was broken too – I didn’t play it properly, but someone told me it was. It also had an infinite loop of combats. If you didn’t run away from the first combat against something (Chaos Warriors, I think), it forms a loop where you fight enemies forever. Which I think is actually pretty agreeably mean.

    KG

  23. amypoodle Says:

    I don’t think House of Hell was broken. My memory maybe faulty, but I’m sure I recall going trough the book backwards trying to establish any fuckage and finding, to my surprise, everything worked okay. How shite was the editorial, though? TWO BOOKS didn’t work!

  24. Prankster Says:

    For the record, I *was* able to finish Creature of Havoc, with a lot of patience. Maybe the Canadian edition corrected a misprint in the earlier edition? But it was easily the hardest one, like I said.

  25. Neon Snake Says:

    Kieron, in order to finish Starship Traveller, didn’t you need to find another “code”? Something to do with getting you back to your own universe via adding up your speed and angle of entry into the black hole?

  26. Kieron Gillen Says:

    Neon: Yeah, you had to add and subtract 3 numbers which result in the page to go to. But there’s no page in the whole book which says “Go to 400″, so no matter what number you get from the process, you can’t win. Unless the numbers add up to 400, of course, which strikes me as unlikely.

    KG

  27. Zom Says:

    I’m wondering if House of Hell was broken and then fixed on the second printing. Or perhaps it was only mildly broken. Or perhaps I made it all up in my head.

    Thanks for the ST clarification, KG. Amazes me that any of you lot can remember this stuff in such detail.

    Prankster, I strongly suspect that CoH was not harder than a number of the Sorcery books. Khare – Cityport of Traps was a complete bastard, and that one where you had to duff up all the serpents was quite preposterously tough

  28. Zom Says:

    Other brilliant thing about ST was the cover. Featured what looked like, to my nine year old eyes, American footballers fighting an alien cyborg in the centre of a futuristic school sports field.

  29. Botswana Beast Says:

    I think I completed Creature of Havoc, cheating like fuck, as I ultimately did with them all (I, BOOKMARK, Skill 12 Stamina 24 Luck 12, there’s a fight, uuop I’ve won) except the very first Warlock of Firetop Mountain, and maybe the sequel which was iirc the 50th, an anniversary edition, and the last I bought – I tried creating very complex flowcharts for WoFtMt and still never managed it. The Sorcery! books were best, Zom; agreement – again there was things like you had a list of spells at the back that you weren’t supposed to refer to, but you did anyway. The Hydra in Sorcery was a total – the book knew you were cheating if you beat that bad boy, it was like a Skill 17 Stamina 35 beast.

    Peripherals? I won my class prize in Primary 7 and bought Out of the Pit and Titan, the world on which much of the FF books were set, with the book tokens, probably much to the ‘rents horror; there was also Dungeoneer and the sequel (City of Traps?) which was played, like much of the FF universe, in a sort of dress rehearsal for the big school shit of Warhammer Fantasy Role Play and miniature gaming… I also read the first three, erm, Marc Gascoigne I think the author was FF novels, which I recall as pretty busting thrillrides – they had like the Warlock and a couple other dudes, that were like his brothers? I’m sure the villain of Citadel of Chaos (FF#2) was in it – he was my fave villain.

  30. Zom Says:

    Balthus Dire, innit!

    I loved Deathtrap Dungeon, and, yeah, Trial of the Champions was the sequel

  31. amypoodle Says:

    I think Citadel of Chaos was my all round fave. Russ Nicholson really made you feel like you were exploring the nooks and crannies of a proper castle – just a big hunk of stone with nobbly old wooden doors crammed into its corners, leading to secret stairways and libraries.

    The pocket myriad was the tits too.

    And then there was the fucking GANGEES….

  32. Botswana Beast Says:

    Balthus Dire – the Demonic Three; I have (re)discovered many things here already, the night is young and I am so, so alone. Thing is – I was pretty terrible for this for years, I can barely remember any detail whatsoever from any of these books, or any I read as a young ‘in, because I suspect the point, to me, then, was to complete and be done. ‘S a shame; I think I did about 3/4 of the 50 FF books proper.

  33. Botswana Beast Says:

    The artists are incredibly important, really, likely much more so than the scant paragraphs that one was to string together; Ian Miller – I used to see his stuff elsewhere, in Cool World, on the cover of Stainless Steel Rat books… it’s such an immediately recognisable look.

    Awesome that Bolland did the cover to the one SH book in the series.

  34. Eman Anistow Says:

    i’ve been digging through my “attic.”
    i’m now dustier than the blokes from fields of the nephillim.

    i have seen old journals, apparently my own, whose content made me shudder with disapproval.
    i have lifted boxes whose undersides did split, spreading undesirable bric-a-brac across my very bed.

    but yay…
    i found CoH.
    and titan. and some other related stuff.

    also, online i found this fix for the flaw i mentioned earlier.
    soon, i will be able to put this all behind me, once and for all.

  35. Eman Anistow Says:

    oh yea, i also found a ff “novel” ie: just one long section, called the trolltooth wars by steve jackson.
    don’t remember reading it, can’t see the point either.

  36. Gil Jaysmith Says:

    “Citadel of Chaos” was the business. It scared the crap out of me at the age of . You got it in one, Amy: “We are the GANGEES”… fuckkkkkk!

    There was also one absolutely terrifying illustration in “House of Hell”, for when you try to go out the front door. You got like +4 on your fright factor or whatever it was for the attempt. And that was just your character. For the reader it was like +2500 on your fright factor and three years off your damn life expectancy.

    ~ Gil

  37. Botswana Beast Says:

    oh yea, i also found a ff “novel” ie: just one long section, called the trolltooth wars by steve jackson.
    don’t remember reading it, can’t see the point either.

    I did honestly enjoy the shit out of this age 12 or 13, but was a serious-minded ‘shared universe’ type, I suppose. Balthus Dire is in it? Balthus Dire!!!

  38. Eman Anistow Says:

    Ah, Balthus Dire, one of the “Demonic Three,” along with Zharradan Marr and Zagor, who callously slew their mentor, Volgera Darkstorm, and raided his magical library.
    very naughty indeed.

  39. Al Ewing Says:

    Yeah, I remember committing suicide in Starship Traveller… similar thing happened in Appointment with F.E.A.R., actually, even though I cheated by giving myself all the superpowers instead of just one. Similarly Seas Of Blood ended in more ignoble defeat after I collected exactly one eigth of the treasure I needed.

    What else… Scorpion Swamp had that thing where you could be good, neutral or evil, but unless you were good you barely escaped with your life. Also you had to map the fucker.

    Best moment regarding ‘codes’ was Rebel Planet. I remember it was a nine-digit binary sequence and it came in chunks of three. I had six digits of it, and this was obviously the bit where the book wanted me to give up in despair and jump out of an airlock, but I made a guess at what the final bit might be based on the first two and ended up the winner. What a rush! So much so that I went and saved up for the BBC Micro adventure game version, and proceeded to not even be able to make it onto the planet in the first place.

  40. The Beast Must Die Says:

    The end of City of Thieves was absolutely bastard-hard. There were four different combinations of ingredients that you collected throughout the adventure. One combo would off the main evil guy (some Skeleton headed fucker), and the others – instant death.

  41. Zom Says:

    That sort of thing just encouraged cheating, if you ask me. Jackson and Livingston should’ve offered up some save points

  42. Eman Anistow Says:

    sadistic pair of megalomaniacs.
    bloody CoH is nothing but dead-ends and endlessly recurring loops of chaos-warriors.
    grrr…

  43. Andy G Says:

    Did anyone make complete maps for any of them? I have hand written ones for the first two and the Sorcery Series (mainly because I kept getting lost in the Firetop Mountain Maze). And did anyone have the Warlock On Firetop Mountain Boardgame?

    I thought the Sorcery Series was the best, loved the way you had to cast spells, remembering the right three letter code, collecting the ingredients. All the puzzles in Khare, City Of Traps, the contrast between the lush greenery of the first one and the bleak sparseness of the third one with the Serpents. And a bastard long final part. Brilliant.

    Lone Wolf was great for the character development as well (and great maps), but I found the first one in a box of old stuff a year ago and tried it again for a laugh. I ran in a straight line and finished it in ten minutes! Not as fun as I remembered, so true of so many things…

  44. Zom Says:

    Andy, I think you’ve captured the appeal of those three Sorcery! books perfectly.

    …the bleak sparseness of the third one…

    Bang on

  45. The Beast Must Die Says:

    Some of you might get a kick out of this guys site, by the way:

    http://fightingdantasy.blogspot.com/

  46. Zom Says:

    Hey, a game book site in the mindless vein. Well found

  47. Bizunth Says:

    Sadly I don’t have any fantastic insights but I wanted to say how much I appreciated this article, it represents my own experiences so well. And I got caught in the Creature of Havoc loop, but it happened a few years ago when I bought the rereleased version in a fit of nostalgia. Being trapped as an adult feels much worse, somehow.
    When I was a ween my favourite was Keep of the Lich Lord, which I’ve just realised wasn’t written by either Jackson or Livingstone, but I still felt was atmospheric and exciting.
    Has anyone here read/played Life’s Lottery by Kim Newman? Adult gamebook, more about parallel life branches than adventuring, but it has some nice genre twists and an overall air of horror pervading the normality.

  48. Zom Says:

    I haven’t – sounds interesting

  49. amypoodle Says:

    I’ve just noticed fucking ‘Amon Duul’ in the tags. LOL.

  50. Eman Anistow Says:

    i’ve just died mere feet away from the end of deathtrap dungeon. didn’t have the right gemstones, apparently.
    now he tells me.

    nice selection of mccaig illos in there, though. (oh yeah, the art, the art, yeah that’s what it was)
    his little goblinoids really dance and wriggle in the light of those wall-mounted dungeon-lights.
    there’s a pair of hobgoblins fighting each other which is almost audible. (section 264)
    the dwarf trialmaster on his chair stares right at you with such an air of interested condescension, it’s right spooky like. (60)
    some of his drawings even remind me of first being keen to try hallucinogens, a connection that now seems a bit quaint really.

    and yes, amy, russ nicholson is brill.
    the drawings in trolltooth wars are superb.
    p craig russell, william stout and glen fabry spring to mind looking at some of them.
    maybe not as animated or characterful as mccaig, especially in the faces, but the sense of space, texture and material is fabbo.

    yesterday i noticed that the sun is being disgorged in the cover art of creature of havoc, not by a green lion but anyway…
    i do hope to finish that bastard thing one day. good to know it’s not broke, just acutely fiendishly demanding and perverted.
    i bet steve jackson is in it somewhere.

    blah blah, proteus magazine, blah blah, warlock, blah.
    blah, the dice man.
    and blah, the other dice man, of course.

    so, yeah, i want a t-shirt that says:
    “your adventure ends here.”

  51. Zom Says:

    your adventure ends here

    Would also make a nice Terminus caption

  52. The Sunday Papers | Rock, Paper, Shotgun Says:

    [...] a smart and funny comics blog, but they went deep down the hole marked gaming nostalgia this week with a post on the glory of Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. Plenty of memories to be prompted, but great for focing on exactly how evocative those covers were. [...]

  53. Kester Says:

    I’m a little late to this, having come from the Rock, Paper, Shotgun link, but also remember these fondly.
    The discussion earlier about certain books being ‘broken’ is interesting. I remember that infinite combat loop in Creature of Havoc, and more embarrassingly that it took me about four goes round to realise. (I also distinctly recall that the second Lone Wolf book was impossible to win if you took the “speak to the animals” power – clearly Joe Dever has something against Dr Doolittle.) It does all make me wonder just how well the books were plotted from a design perspective: did they just throw them together and hope it worked, or actually have something like a giant pinboard to work out all the paths?

  54. Telemikus Says:

    Great Article, I find myself submerged in waves of nostalgia as FF pretty much taught me to read. I remember saving pocket money for weeks on end to buy Titan, and it was well worth the wait.

    Also noteworthy is another great artist from the books who has not been mentioned so far, and will doubtless be known to Kieran.

    Geoff Senior: He did the Space assasin illustrations, and maybe more, but that’s the one that springs to mind. Noteworthy as he amongst other things, did the best artwork (for my money anyway) for the UK runs of Tranformers and Zoids comics from the 80s.

  55. Pseudonym Says:

    A little late too, coming from RPS.

    Anyone remember playing/reading the multiplayer FF book? (Quick googling tells me it’s called Clash of the Princes)

    I remember playing them as single player experiences, but I always wondered how fun they would be in multiplayer.

  56. Telemikus Says:

    Yup, I played them with a mate. Unfortunately, our small, young brains were initially baffled by the statement in the book concerning location references that read something like ‘wait for the location reference to change to 8′.

    We were both a little stumped at that point, as we couldn’t figure out what would change the reference number, until we realise that of course, it was your companion that needed to change it. When both numbers from both players were equal, you were in the same part of the adventure as each other, and as such could adventure ‘together’.

    Quite a sophisticated way of making it work really, but not as much fun as it sounded, probably as we both thought the actual book was a bit weak compared to some of the others.

  57. JimbobC Says:

    Sorcery! I loved that so much. Originally the spell book came seperately, and you were instructed not to look at it again once the adventure started. So you had to memorise it. Despite cheating in every other possible way, this was one rule I tried to stick to. FAF! ZAP! HOT! GOB! YAZ!
    …there is no such spell. Turn back to p121 – the hobgoblin takes advantage of your distraction to hit you for 5 stamina points.

    Someone port these books to iPhone pronto (including some sort of “every finger as a bookmark” cheat)

  58. FF Fan Says:

    Reprints! Huzzah!

    I’ve just ordered Sorcery!

    http://www.iconbooks.co.uk/wizard/wff.cfm

  59. Zom Says:

    Nice that this post’s found a new lease of life. Welcome one and all.

    JimbobC, I’d completely forgotten about the specifics of the Sorcery! magic system. Yet more dark crannies of my life illuminated!

  60. SpielerDrei Says:

    I mapped Firetop Mountain, Deathtrap Dungeon and the Scorpion Swamp. I had and still have the Firetop Mountain Board game. I still own all of the books released here plus Creature of Havoc, and I played them far too much, spending whole summer vacations of sitting in my room, quietly rolling dice, holding giant tournaments, pitting all the monsters of each book against each other (the first Sorcery! book one most of the times, because of all the manticores). I played them so much that I still remember that Starship Traveller actually was one of the few books with less than 400 entries, with the winning one being 340, followed by three entries describing hand-to-hand, ship and laser combat. I despised Creature of Havoc and Masks of Mayhem, though the first one had the aforementioned great concept and the latter had a really nice ending twist, because of their reliance on blind luck to proceed on certain entries (while this may be said about all of the books, if you factor in fights or Try your luck!’s, CoH made you throw dice to decide where to go in the beginning, with only one right way, and MoM had a really mean entry late in the game where you could only find an essential item by rolling less than 4 or more than 10). Regarding the dark stories found in some of them I wanted to mention Caverns of the Snow Witch, which was a really bleak one, giving you likeable companions for quite a time, later killing them off (always hated it when you had to fight a former ally, like Throm in DD), and even if you managed to kill the eponymous witch, you still had to struggle to survive because of a death curse which constantly drained your life force. That was harsh for a ten year old.

  61. Monday Reading Links for 2009-06-01 | MarkSimon.de Says:

    [...] Anyone else read these Choose-your-own-adventure-books as a kid? [Link] [...]

  62. Telemikus Says:

    @ Spielerdrei

    Sounds like you and I had similar levles of obsession with FF and the world of Titan. I’ll second also that the bleakness of Caverns of the Snow Witch was perfectly pitched. CoH was indeed too reliant non rolled luck to gain the right pathway through the story, but I really enjoyed the books novelties such as decoding the speech and the randomness at the beginning. Having the opportunity to battle Zharradan Marr and complete my domination of the three necromancers was also mightily satisfying.

    Why have no better quality computer games ever been made from this franchise?

    There is an abundence of intriguing intellectual property, and surely the market for an MMO based in a sword and sorcery universe isn’t too saturated yet.. *cough* O.k… um, maybe not an MMO, but their is definately potential within the various gaming formats. The lack lustre Tomb Raider wannabees of Deathtrap Dungeon on the PSX was definately not the way to go, but current tech could surely take a decent stab at it.

    Personally I played Oblivion ad nauseum and always tried to convice myself that it was close enough to the FF universe to satiate my desire for such things, but it just doesn’t have the edge that FF did. To play it felt closer to Xena than Zharraden.

  63. Eman Anistow Says:

    “Geoff Senior: He did the Space assasin illustrations…”

    someone by that name did some “future shocks” in 2000add, including one by grant morrison, “hotal harry felix,” and one by pete milligan, “the revenge of yallop cringe.”
    his style does look like it would better suited to transformers, though.

  64. Telemikus Says:

    Geoff Senior had a very distinctive angular and geometric style. As you rightly point out it is very suited to transformers, os you may well be right.

  65. The Beast Must Die Says:

    His Dragons Claws rocked. Hard.

  66. Simon Myall Says:

    Telemikus – you might try Elder Scrolls III – Morrowind.

    A guy called Patrograd has written 3 Mods for the game available from http://www.elricm.com. They cover The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, Deathtrap Dungeon and City of Thieves, although the mod called Allansia combines them all into one.

    I still play Fighting Fantasy and it’s spin-offs, my favourites are the Bloodsword and Dragon Warriors series. I’m also trying to collect all the books and magazines to play all the adventures.

    P.S. Started with Warlock back in ’82, half a lifetime ago.

  67. Telemikus Says:

    Cheers for the links Simon, i’ll check it out.

  68. matthew Says:

    cheat:give your self 12 skill 24 stamina 12 luck.
    really snekey cheat: give yourself 14 skill 30 stamina 18 luck
    (good cheats for these fighting fantasy books huh)

  69. creamyhorror Says:

    Nice writeup. I’m about to order a set of these old FF gamebooks for my little brother, who just tried Seas of Blood and enjoyed it massively. Hopefully they’ll get the little bugger to read more. I wonder what kids of this generation are reading instead? Nothing as imaginative, I’ll bet.

  70. Zom Says:

    Nothing as imaginative?

    Risking sounding like an old fart there, Creamy.

  71. Syfr Says:

    Oh god, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I am so glad that I’m not the only one that remembers these, found a couple in a yard sale about..oh, 12 years ago? I’ve never been able to find any more. Thank you so much.

  72. adamsjacson Says:

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  73. Keith Douglas Says:

    “Creature of Havoc” is broken only if you are as “narrowminded” as the creature you are playing in the book. Namely, it requires “thinking outside the box” to win: you have to reason by analogy. And no, the Chaos Warrior encounter-endless-loop (and the similar one with Bone) is not part of it – it is just if you’ve got there: game over, man, game over.

  74. jimmy Says:

    the best of the books are definetly night dragon

  75. Zom Says:

    Undoubtedly

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