Published on November 14th, 2012 | by PJ Montgomery8
You Are The Hero – A Fighting Fantasy Flashback
1982 saw the publication of a very important book, one which would eventually spawn a bestselling series, numerous spin-off projects and imitators, and would have a lasting impact on the world of fantasy role-playing adventures. The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, co-written by Games Workshop founders Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, started life as a simple “how to” text for people who hadn’t played an RPG before, but a simple rulebook didn’t interest Jackson and Livingstone. Instead, the two devised a single player adventure, in which the player would make decisions at key points and battle numerous monsters as they went on a quest to steal the legendary treasure of the evil warlock, Zagor. Their initial draft, titled The Magic Quest, was approved by the publisher, so the two went about expanding the adventure into a full book, with Livingstone writing the first half, and Jackson writing the second (the divide occurs at the point where the player crosses the river in the book). Once Jackson later rewrote both halves, in order to give the book one, cohesive narrative voice, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain was ready for release.
The book introduced many of the rules which would come to be mainstays of the Fighting Fantasy series, such as rolling dice to determine your skill, stamina and luck scores, creature combat, testing your luck and, while it wouldn’t be called this for several books, testing your skill as well. Adventure gamebooks weren’t a new thing (the Choose Your Own Adventure series started three years earlier), but Fighting Fantasy added new elements taken from the world of role-playing games, requiring the player to also have at least two dice and a pencil to complete their adventure.
The Warlock of Firetop Mountain sold beyond Jackson and Livingstone’s dreams, and they were soon contracted to write further Fighting Fantasy adventures. Deciding to write solo in order to increase their output, 1983 initially saw the release of two further Fighting Fantasy books. Book two was the Jackson penned Citadel of Chaos, which introduced, for the first time in the series, the ability to cast magic spells, and put the player in the role of a warrior wizard, sent to the titular Citadel to defeat the evil sorcerer, Balthus Dire. Livingstone’s effort, meanwhile, Forest of Doom, saw the player journey through the dangerous Darkwood Forest in order to recover a mythical Dwarven hammer, and featured the first appearance of the good wizard, Gereth Yaztromo. Fighting Fantasy had arrived, and was now a recognised brand worldwide, with each new release selling in huge numbers. Demand was high, and Jackson and Livingstone soon realised that the two of them alone wouldn’t be able to write books fast enough to meet expectations.
Enter the other Steve Jackson. The prolific American game designer, founder of Steve Jackson Games, and the man responsible for, among others, GURPS and Munchkin, was the first writer brought in to produce a Fighting Fantasy book not written by Jackson or Livingstone. Book eight, Scorpion Swamp, was released in 1984, and began the tradition of any book not written by the original two bearing the legend on the cover “Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone Present”, with the book’s actual author then being credited on the title page. Bringing in other writers allowed a more regular release schedule, and throughout the rest of the eighties, six or seven books were being released a year. It also meant Jackson and Livingstone could work on other projects, some of which were very much connected to the Fighting Fantasy series.
1983 saw the release of the first book in Jackson’s Sorcery series, a four book run which told one complete story. The player would roll their stats up at the beginning of book one, The Shamutanti Hills, and, in theory, keep this same character going right up until the conclusion of book four, The Crown of Kings. Items picked up and characters met in one book would have an effect on the story in another. It wasn’t just the fact that the books were one, long adventure which extended the Sorcery! series beyond a traditional Fighting Fantasy adventure either. While most FF books ran to a total of four hundred different entries, Sorcery! went far beyond, with The Crown of Kings containing a mammoth eight hundred different entries.
Having completed his magnum opus, Jackson also wrote a book simply titled Fighting Fantasy: The Introductory Role Playing Game, a book released in 1984 which expanded the usual Fighting Fantasy rules into a more traditional, multi-player role-playing adventure, allowing readers to create Fighting Fantasy adventures for their friends. This was followed up, in 1986, by The Riddling Reaver (written by Paul Mason and Steve Williams, and edited by Jackson), which expanded upon the concept and provided a new adventure and adversary for players to pit their friends against.
The multi-player role playing model using the rules and world Fighting Fantasy was then taken even further and expanded upon with the publication of three Advanced Fighting Fantasy books. Written by Marc Gascoigne (who had already written book thirty-one in the main series, 1988’s Battleblade Warrior) and Pete Tamlyn, the first of these, Dungeoneer, appeared in 1989, and provided the reader with detailed character classes and rules, as well as two adventures which would pit the players against the sorcerer, Xorton Throg. Dungeoneer was followed in 1990 by Blacksand!, which introduced rules for adventuring in cities and towns, as well as introducing further character classes. The series concluded with Allansia in 1994, which further expanded the rules to include battles between large armies, and provided instructions for adventuring in the wild.
It wasn’t long before it became apparent that, through the publication of the main series that Jackson, Livingstone and their other contributors had actually created a fully living fantasy world. The world itself became known as Titan, and was split into three distinct continents. The first of these, Allansia, was the most traditional fantasy setting, with a lot in common with settings such as Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Many of the books were set here, and featured all the traditional fantasy creatures, like dwarves, elves, orcs, goblins, dragons, and even hobbits. The second continent, Khul, was the primary setting for the Sorcery! series, and was meant to be a wilder, more untamed place than Allansia, with fewer civilised areas and more dangerous wild animals. Khul was also the continent where the lands of Khakabad were found. Resembling Feudal Japan, Khakabad allowed Fighting Fantasy books to be published with a more Eastern feel, and reflected this with their use of traditional Japanese monsters and spirits. Books which took advantage of this setting included 1986’s Sword of the Samurai (book 20) and 1992’s The Crimson Tide (book 47). The final of Titan’s three continents was simply known as The Old World, and was a darker, more gothic setting, where horror flavoured adventures such as 1989’s Vault of the Vampire (book 39), 1991’s Legend of the Shadow Warriors (book 44) or 1992’s Moonrunner (book 48, and a real high point for the series) were set. Guide books to the world, which could also be used with the Advanced Fighting Fantasy series, were also released, with Out of the Pit acting as a guide to the Fighting Fantasy monsters in 1985, and Titan being a general guide to the whole world later that same year.
Of course, the Fighting Fantasy series could go anywhere and do anything, and a number of books left the setting of Titan to explore other worlds. Jackson’s own Starship Traveller, book four in the series from 1983, would be the first, but by no means the last, Fighting Fantasy book to explore a science-fiction setting, while other books, including 1984’s House of Hell (book 10) and 2012’s Blood of the Zombies (not numbered) are set on a contemporary Earth. Another departure came with book 17 in 1985, Appointment With FEAR, in which Jackson cast the reader as a superhero on Earth. The book even featured a cover by legendary comic artist, Brian Bolland.
By 1989, the Fighting Fantasy books were well established, and selling well with each release. It was at this point that Jackson released The Trolltooth Wars, the first Fighting Fantasy novel. There were no decisions for the reader to make, no dice or pencils required, just a straight up story set on Titan, and featuring popular characters such as Balthus Dire, Zharradan Marr, Yaztromo and Zagor. The novel proved popular, and two sequels followed, with Marc Gascoigne releasing Demonstealer in 1991, and Gascoigne and Livingstone collaborating on Shadowmaster in 1993. Then, in 1994, Livingstone and Carl Sargent teamed up to release four novels under the banner title of The Zagor Chronicles, which told the story of the former Warlock of Firetop Mountain arriving on another world, and the heroes who attempted to battle him.
1992 saw the tenth anniversary of the series, and to celebrate, Livingstone wrote book 50, Return to Firetop Mountain, which featured the reappearance of Zagor, and another quest through the titular mountain. Originally planned to be the last book in the series, Return to Firetop Mountain sold so well that another nine books were published (including Livingstone’s own Legend of Zagor, book 54, in 1993, the book which provided the basis for the Zagor Chronicles, and even spawned its own boardgame). The series then concluded with book 59, Curse of the Mummy, in 1995. This was a shame, since book 60, Bloodbones, was already being written by Jonathan Green, but the book wouldn’t see publication in Fighting Fantasy’s original lifespan.
However, in 2002, on Fighting Fantasy’s twentieth birthday, Wizard Books began re-releasing the series. Initially just releasing the books written by Jackson and Livingstone, and in a different order, the books featured new cover art (except Appointment With FEAR). The Sorcery! series was also folded into the main series, with Livingstone’s books Caverns of the Snow Witch, Trial of Champions and Armies of Death, being released in between them. Then, in 2005, with book 21 of the new series, came a brand new adventure, Eye of the Dragon, written by Livingstone. This, the first new Fighting Fantasy book in ten years, opened to doors for other new books to be released. The first of these, book 26, was the abandoned Bloodbones, finally released for fans to experience in 2006. This was followed in 2007 by book 29, Howl of the Werewolf, also by Jonathan Green.
After the publication of Howl of the Werewolf (as well as a special, hardcover edition of the Warlock of Firetop Mountain to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the series), the Fighting Fantasy series again went on hiatus, buy only until 2009 when Wizard began releasing new editions again, once more changing the order of the books and giving them new covers. Books 4 and 8 in this series, Stormslayer (released in 2009) and Night of the Necromancer (released in 2010) were completely new adventures, with the rest being further reprints of various Fighting Fantasy books which had already been published. Then, in 2012, came Blood of the Zombies, an all-new adventure written by Livingstone to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the series. A complete change to the usual rules, and a massively increased difficulty curve, have done nothing to stop people purchasing Blood of the Zombies in their droves, either in book form, or as a successful app for various mobile devices developed by Tin Man Games (previous books had also been released as apps by Big Blue Bubble, but these weren’t as successful).
With Tin Man Games set to produce further app versions of the Fighting Fantasy series (House of Hell is rumoured to be next up), and another company producing a game based on the Sorcery! epic for mobile devices, the Fighting Fantasy story is far from over, and long may it continue! To celebrate thirty years of Fighting Fantasy, I plan to play through each and every book in the series over the coming months, and report back on my adventures on this very site. Coming soon: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain.