The Fighting Fantasy Series

Fighting Fantasy is a line of books that takes the numbered paragraphs and limited decision making options familiar to people who have heard of the Choose Your Own Adventure books and their clones, and throws in a roleplaying system. The advantage of these books is that you don’t need a group of people to enjoy the fun of goblin-slaughtering. Laugh if you will, but it was 1982 and people couldn’t just hit up a search engine to find other people who were into the same obscure hobbies.

The books came out of Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone (co-founders of Games Workshop) getting the idea that this Dungeons and Dragons business might work especially well in a single player gamebook – after all, a D&D module was basically a list of numbered entries anyway – and they came up with a simplified game system that used dice the average person would either have, or could acquire with ease. The typical role-playing enthusiast considers dice with sides totalling more or less than six to be child’s play, since they move in a world of Platonic solids and their bastard cousin the pentagonal trapezohedron, but back then anyone who picked a book up that said “You need a pencil, eraser, and one each of a four, six, eight, ten, twelve, and twenty-sided die” would stare it it in confusion and then put it back gingerly, wondering if crazy was catching.

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain was published in 1982, and it did quite well. Now they had the hang of writing gamebooks, they worked on the later ones alone, producing the next six volumes, as well as starting Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! series. Supply couldn’t keep up with demand, so in 1984 they started getting other writers in, the first being the other Steve Jackson*, just to confuse everyone. Despite being primarily fantasy themed, the range of books covers various kinds of science fiction, horror, and even superheroes. They’re all good, but the fantasy books are a deep and bountiful mine of fantasy roleplaying clichés, which is always fun.

The line of books died out in the 1990s, because computer games were becoming sophisticated enough to include graphics, gameplay, and plot all at the same time, along with with music and voice acting. This was an amazing time where computers were the future and everyone would be on computers and it would be so amazing and wonderful and… actually that sort of talk has been going on for about thirty-plus years now. But the rise of decent computer games was the death of these books, right? Well, not really. Wizard books picked up the line in 2002, and apparently these are doing well enough to warrant a reissue. There’s something about these books that appeals to people. The target market was always seen as children (despite Jackson and Livingstone wanting The Warlock of Firetop Mountain to be marketed to all ages) and yet there seems to be plenty of people reading them for a nostalgia trip and finding them rather exciting.

So, why am I writing all this? Because I decided it would be fun to play through the books (not in order, I’d need to be madly wealthy for that. Things may stall when I run out of books for a while) and regale readers with the tales of idiotic adventure. Oh yes, idiotic: Some of the options presented to the player are things like, “there’s a well, do you want to climb down it?” – this is the book prompting the reader to choose between two things, thus it’s the thought process of the protagonist. This makes a surprising amount of sense. When you think about the fact that the protagonist is almost always a sword wielding madwoman** who thinks it would be a good idea to go into a place filled with danger and likely death. Adventurers are idiots. It wouldn’t be nearly so fun if they weren’t.

*The founder of Steve Jackson Games, sometimes referred to as “Steve Jackson (2)” in discussion of Fighting Fantasy books.
**The protagonist is – usually, barring slip ups – genderless in the text, the whole point being to make it accessible for anyone. I’ll be vocally angry about failures.

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