The Warlock of Firetop Mountain

“Oh my god I actually won!”

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone

Well, here it is. The first Fighting Fantasy book. If it wasn’t for this book people would still have to read boring Choose Your Own Adventure stories, which have no statistics, no thrilling battles, and most importantly, no killing wizards and taking their stuff.

I talked about the background to this one in the intro to the blog, so now I’m going to tell you all about the cover art, because I love the cover art to the original edition. Check it out:

Bonus content: The dirty secret is it was originally a wraparound cover.

A nice old man who you are going to rob and kill. Possibly not in that order.

See, the title should be up the top and instead is in the centre. This was bookstore blasphemy back then, since step shelves (ask your mother) rely on the title being at the top to promote the book. You know what? I think a big, fuck-off dragon is a better way to entice readers. Based on the end result, it must have worked. In fact I don’t even like reading this book if it isn’t the original cover, with the title in the middle. It feels dirty and wrong. The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is meant to have goofy title placement on the cover. That is part of the book for me. So, a well worn second hand copy it is.

So, it’s roughly the 30th anniversary of this classic – yes, it’s a classic – book being released (27th of august, actually. I’m woefully late). I’ve got a not-quite original copy (original art though). I’ve got two dice. I’ve got a pencil. I’ve got an eraser. It’s time to raid that mountain, find some keys, kill Zagor, and steal all his gold.

Statistics

Skill: 11 (Woo!)
Stamina: 15 (Um.)
Luck: 11 (Woo!)

Equipment: Sword, shield, leather armour, backpack, lantern, 10 provisions, potion of strength.

Provisions can only be eaten when the book tells me (and only one meal at a time, no scoffing five cheese sandwiches to gain back 20 Stamina), so I figure I’ll be taking that potion. In this story you can use it twice, something they downgraded in later books. The shield is on the first page but not on the equipment list. Screw it, I have a shield.

Onward to Adventure!

So, there’s this mountain. There’s a Warlock living under it. He’s got a lot of gold. Everyone knows Warlocks are evil, so no-one will mind if I go in there, kill the fucker, and take all his stuff. Well… he might mind, but I’m not giving him a say in the matter. According to the villagers of Anvil, the Warlock gets his powers from a deck of cards, or maybe a pair of gloves, but there’s certainly an underground river with a ferryman, and also some goblins and some worse monsters. Of course, none of them have been. For all they know, it could be a mountain full of dragons. But hah, there’s surely no dragons there, right? Dragons would be ravaging the countryside and burninating the peasants and their thatched-roof cottages. No, I have nothing to worry about on the dragon front. After a trek that takes a couple of days, I reach the mountain and step into the oppressive, dank gloom. What will I find inside?

The first thing I find is a T-junction. I am overcome with the feeling that this is going to be the start of a long, long relationship. I turn left, which is the correct way to go according to ancient adventuring lore. I immediately find a sentry, asleep at his post. I sneak by. Then I come to a door in the wall. There’s someone snoring inside, so I go in and steal whatever I can find. Unfortunately I wake up the Orc inside, and have to kill him. All I get for my trouble is a single gold coin and a mouse, which I release, since I don’t expect to find any elephants in here. Anyway, I think it’s a myth. Why would an elephant be allergic to mice?

I continue along the corridor, and barge into another room. There’s a box on a table. I lift it up, and crush the head of the snake lurking underneath with my fist. I get a numbered key for my trouble. Onward! Another door. This is getting a bit repetitive. From behind the door I can hear terrible singing. I open the door and shout “Keep it down, would you!” but the Orcs inside don’t think this is very funny, so I kill them too. There’s a box under the this table, so I open it up. Inside I a book, which contains the long and gruelling detail of the life’s work of one Farrigo Di Maggio. It’s a spell for annihilating evil dragons. Well, I’m sure I won’t need it here, but it might come in handy on my next adventure. I wander off and find a junction, and blunder onward into the lair of the Orc Chieftain. He’s cruelly flogging a servant for some mistake. Whatever, they’re both Orcs. I kill them. There’s a large wooden chest full of gold, a potion of invisibility, a black glove, and a poisoned dart which flies out to greet me.

I suppose I asked for that.

I continue onwards, freeing prisoners, looting armouries, and killing Goblins for their cheese. It’s all rather typical for an adventurer. Wind through tunnels, find nice room with statue which has large jewel for eye, take jewel, get attacked by statue… Another day at the dungeon. I carry on with my large, expensive shiny rock and also another numbered key. A further encounter rewards me with… a mallet and some wooden stakes. Oh good, vampires, then. Onward, into the perilous portrait gallery of certain doom. Laugh if you must, but one of the paintings of Zagor tries to kill me. I wave something from my backpack at the painting and the image of the Warlock withers and dies. Okay, that was easy. The next room I come to however has an even more devious trick: Magical rope that tries to strangle me. This is why you’re supposed to bring your own rope on adventures! What’s next, an accursed cruet set that tries to brick me up behind a wall?

As I ponder all the possible kinds of bizarre cured items in the dungeon, I come to the river. I ring the bell for the ferryman, and then he tells me the price has gone up. Lazy sod could have changed the sign. I pay him his three gold, and enjoy the ride over. On the other side I decide to go through the door immediately in front of me, and get knocked out for my trouble. I wake up in a room with four zombies armed with tools, and another long-dead victim of this door trick slumped in the corner opposite. One of them has a scythe, but that’s not very impressive as far as I’m concerned. I re-deaden them quickly and loot the corpse. The only thing of interest is a sword (which is enchanted and therefore makes me ridiculously deadly) and a silver crucifix. I’m starting to get a bit suspicious that there’s a vampire in this dungeon. On hearing a noise from the door to the north, I go through it to investigate and find a crypt, complete with altar and three coffins. So that vampire thing is more than a feeling… But I’ve got a magic sword, a brace of stakes, and a holy symbol. I’m a garlic clove away from being inducted into the vampire killing guild. I should be fine. Which is good, because a vampire just climbed out of a coffin.

“I say, I say, I say, how do you know vampires are vegetarians?” I ask.

“I don’t know, how do you know vampires are vegetarians?” says the vampire, falling prey to the oldest trick in the book.

“They don’t like stake!” I produce a stake and my mallet and proceed to back the vampire into a corner using approved vampire wrangling methods. Unfortunately I trip… But luckily for me the stake flies from my hand and pierces the vampires heart. Then as the corpse withers away a bat forces its way out of the vampire’s chest and flies off. Oh well, I’m sure that won’t be a problem. The vampires riches come to a pile of gold, a y-shaped stick, and a book. I’ve always wanted a y-shaped stick!

I leave the crypt by the west door, and continue west from the crossroads I reach. At the end of the passage I find the secret of dungeon construction: Enchanted tools that work on their own. This is amusing for a minute or two, but quickly becomes boring, so I return to the crossroads and head north, ducking through an opening and down some stairs into a room full of rotting corpses. I search them, kill the ghoul, loot the gold and map and holy water – which I stupidly drink – and then leave. Further on I get trapped by a portcullis and get the fun time of killing a troll after I try to find a way to open the gate again.

Stupid wandering monsters.

I roam through some corridors, eventually realising I’m in the Maze of Zagor mentioned on the map I found earlier. Great. I start making a map of my own, hoping that I can find my way out again afterwards and not get stuck underground forever dying of thirst like some damnfool wizard. Instead I blunder into a room which is currently full of minotaur. After I change reality so the room is full of dead minotaur, I loot the room of all gold coins and numbered keys, and then leave. In short order I find out that every dead end in this maze has a secret hidden button that teleports people to another place in the maze. And so begins my descent into madness, wandering through crossroads, turning left at t-junctions, returning to the same spot, running out of room in the middle of the map and having to start again at another place on the page, playing cards with Dwarves, returning to the same spot, going through secret doors that disappear after I pass through them, chatting with the Mazemaster, returning to the same spot, and finally coming into a big cavern with a dragon. It’s scaly, it’s red, it breathes fire, it’s only fifteen metres long, and I hope like hell that magic spell I found works.

Of course, to test it I have to fling rocks at the dragon and hope it breathes fire at me instead of just squashing me like a bug. It’s a bit stupid, and so it unleashes a gout of flame. I mutter the spell and, to my amazement, it works. The dragon is set on fire! I saunter out of the cavern feeling pretty good about myself. The way forward is a long, narrow corridor which ends at a door. I open it and find an old man fiddling with a deck of cards. Okay, so this is it. I jump into the room and he does some teleporting and then turns out to actually look a lot more dangerous because of course, the most annoying wizards use illusions.

Zagor, dual-weilding lightning bolts and with a funny thing on his robes.

Zagor has his sorcerous powers and ability to teleport. I have a y-shaped stick.

I sift through my backpack and am driven to tears on seeing my y-shaped stick is broken. No! I eat the cheese to help me feel better and try to find the broken part of the stick to fix it, pulling out various bits of dungeon flotsam as I go.

“What the hell are you doing?” shouts Zagor.

“Give me a minute,” I reply in a broken voice, and pull out the eye of the cyclops. Zagor seems a little scared by it. It starts to glow and then a beam of light shoots out of the jewel and Zagor is withered into a pile of slush. I don’t care. My poor y-shaped stick!

I notice there’s a door in the back of the room. I open it using some of the keys I have, and find a chest. It’s got three locks. I happen to have three keys. Are they the right keys? Hmmm… I try one, and it fits. The second fits too. I put the third key in the final lock and…

…the chest opens! Victory! A fortune in gold, and the warlock’s spell book! If only the y-shaped stick was here to see this.

Wrapup

This is only the second time I’ve ever read the book, too! I feel more than a little pleased, though the fact I started with a Skill of 11 and found a magic sword that put it up to 13 means this was a fringe case. In fact, I only ate six provisions, and never had to uncork my potion. So it’s not a hard book (not by a long shot in this series). Of course, the toughest mandatory opponent would be the Iron Cyclops, at Skill 10 Stamina 10, and that could be lethal to someone with low stats.

I should point out that the bit with the tripping and the staking is actually in the text. This book is actually a lot of fun, with silly encounters and odd items and a lot of forgiving situations – when you get Luck points back the book gives multiple points at a time.

Suspension of Disbelief Shattered: The dwarves playing cards in the maze. Why are they there? What do they eat? Where do they go to the bathroom?

Ridiculous Battle: Zagor, who at Skill 11 and Stamina 18 is the toughest opponent in the book. Except you can kill him with the gem, use a potion of invisibility to get a skill boost, or just get lucky and remember to burn his deck of cards, whittling him down to a rather weak Skill 7 Stamina 12. Since the dragon can be wiped out with a spell, the Iron Cyclops is the only mandatory battle I can think of where double-digit skill scores are involved.

Victory: Well, for starters, “At least a thousand gold pieces, jewellery, diamonds, rubies and pearls are in the chest.” Oh and you get the Warlock’s spell book, which contains all the secrets of the mountain, so you can walk right out of there with nary a trouble. The book hints that if this reward isn’t enough, the tome would let you keep the mountain for yourself. Not bad, huh?

What Was I Thinking? Nothing. Not a single mistake. A nearly perfect playthrough (wait until you see the sequel) marred only by getting damaged ten times and losing 12 gold while playing cards with the Dwarves. So for this instalment, I’m going to go with not taking better care of my beloved y-shaped stick.

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8 Responses to The Warlock of Firetop Mountain

  1. Finding the cyclops is the killer with this one. If you don’t know what you’re doing you have a 75% chance of missing it entirely, assuming you don’t have some kind of odd east/west magnetism. A shame that the mandatory fights on the successful path (cyclops, minotaur) are among the hardest – the whole ‘anyone can win regardless of ability scores blah blah’ thing never even started off in the right vein.

    • I got lucky with finding the Cyclops. I think the trick in this one is to use Luck in hard battles, since they give a lot of it back most of the times it goes up. Though there’s that problem of needing double digits to use it in fights. The book is also generous with magic items, which made things seem a little easier.

      I think the lowest scores thing is all dependent on what “fairly easily” means. I suppose it’s meant to be accomplished after many playthroughs, working out the best way and how to get all the good items. I think at some point the hint section started saying “with a little luck” implying that there’s a need to roll high in combat if you get a Skill of 7.

  2. Pingback: Return to Firetop Mountain | Seven Fourteen Seven

  3. exploracube says:

    Haha – a very amusing walkthrough. Thank you. I’m currently working through each book myself in turn. At the moment, I’m massively stuck at the Maze of Zagor – what is going on there!!!! Any tips on how to make a map would be much appreciated.

    • Thanks! Glad you liked it.

      The Maze of Zagor isn’t too bad if you map it carefully and follow the Dwarves’ advice (which is mostly right but you need a map first). I did the old fashioned circle for location and then line leading off in the direction I went. I put the paragraph numbers in the circle. When you teleport, start a new map on another piece of paper (or other part of the paper if it’s big anough) and eventually you’ll have a bunch of maps of dungeon sections with the reference numbers to make one contiguous map. If you’ve got Scorpion Swamp there’s a guide to mapping in there which is pretty much like this.

      The trick with a backtrackable maze in these book is, if a coridoor has a bend and doesn’t tell you then you’ll get to a location that has going back to your previous location as an option but with a direction that isn’t the opposite of how you got there.

      The other thing is to watch for left and right. From memory that means “left according to the way you were facing when you arrived” – so if you came in from the north, you’re facing south, so left is east. Turn the page around if it’s easier.

      Hope that helps!

  4. Rob Lee says:

    I’m guessing now that you own Zagor’s spell book and have control of all the monsters in the dungeon, you could totally command the skeleton workers in the Boat House;

    “Build me a new Y-shape stick!!!!” :P

  5. cityman1984 says:

    You are aware I presume that the potion of strength can be taken during combat? The rules of Warlock of Firetop Mountain are unique in this respect. So the cyclops can be beaten even by the worst possible player character.

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