F is for...

You turn right. Unfortunately, you have disturbed a flesh-eating ghoul.

If you wish to crap your leggings, TURN TO PAGE 261.

If you wish to offer the ghoul some provisions from your backpack (or your body), TURN TO PAGE 32.

If you are thinking, 'Damn, should have turned left', then flick back to the PAGE you no doubt are still are marking with one finger and pretend this never happened.

Fighting Fantasy books. Looking back at these influences, it seems apparent that from even an early age I was a reader who wanted a degree of control over the characters and narrative. Between my love for the Choose Your Own Adventure books and the Fighting Fantasy books of my childhood, it appears obvious that I would want to take complete control of the reading experience as an author in my own right. Fighting Fantasy books were gamebooks set in a fantasy realm in which you controlled a character and could make decisions regarding how the character progressed through the story. Your character had recorded ratings for different skills (like combat) that were used to determine the outcome of certain situations as you progressed. The idea was not only to enjoy the story but also to be part of it and through a certain degree of luck and skill, get through to the end alive.

The significant difference between Fighting Fantasy books and Choose Your Own Adventure books was the introduced element of chance. A reader didn’t simply live or die on the basis of a decision. Dice introduced an element of luck that added an extra dimension to the experience of reading and narrative outcome. With these books you could choose to take items that might or might not have significance later on, choose skill sets that might benefit you and actually get legitimately lost on your journey, if you weren’t careful about the decisions you made. Another great addition were maps and an established background: a realm or range of interrelated realms in which a significant number of adventures took place. They also expanded to include classic science fiction and dystopian settings. I spent many hours with these books and found them to be highly enjoyable. Part game, part story – in which you are the hero.

While the Fighting Fantasy series were incredibly popular – a publishing phenomenon, really – an honourable mention should go out to some of the other series that helped to popularise the format. I especially liked the Golden Dragon series (that had their own punchy style), the humorous and engaging Grailquest (about a young hero called Pip in King Arthur’s kingdom), Lone Wolf (that developed a large, committed following) and The Cretan Chronicles (adventures in Ancient Greece).

I’m glad to say that the phenomenon remains with us today. My publishing company produced a gamebook only last year called Hive of the Dead by my esteemed Black Library colleague CZ Dunn. Jonathan Green, author of the popular Pax Britannia series, is the writer of many popular Fighting Fantasy gamebooks including his latest, the fun and inventive Night of the Necromancer. Jonathan has also moved with the times and made the transition to gamebook adventures as Apps for the iphone and ipad. His first one of these is called Temple of the Spider God and is already proving popular.

I leave you, however, with my top 5 Fighting Fantasy books from the Eighties. Honourable mentions go to Sword of the Samarai, The Citadel of Chaos, House of Hell, Caverns of the Snow Witch, Midnight Rogue, Battleblade Warrior and Freeway Fighter. See if you agree.







Sigil said...

Oh yes, yes, YES!

Fighting Fantasy books are one of the single most greatest inventions the world has ever seen (sliced bread? Pfft).

I must admit that as much as I enjoyed the CYOA books, they were pretty much relegated to second place once I discovered the FF books (for all the 'extras' noted above as much as the settings).

But Rob...no mention of 'Sorcery!' in your top 5? Are you ill?? Mad??


Surely you've experienced the scenery of the Shamutanti Hills, the pleasure of Khare, Cityport of traps, the chance to dance with the Seven Serpents and battled for the Crown of Kings?

A episodic tale over four books, the Sorcery FF books took everything great about the 'normal' books and added an unbelievable magic system, illustrated dice (if you needed them) and *two* different versions of the final book told withing the one story (depending on whether you managed to take out all seven serpents in the third).

All this, and each book was just drenched in beautiful artwork by a certain John Blanche.

Such a nerd am I that not only as a kid did I beg my parents to buy me two copies of these books just so I could cut out his pictures from one and stick them up all over my bedroom walls, but I also spent many cold and rainy afternoons mapping out and writing my own (poor) efforts.

Other highlights? 'Creature of Havoc', which added a new dimension by having you play a monster (as well as a language code you needed to break to 'understand' the common tongue) and the art of Ian Miller that made it's way into some of the titles.

Ah the memories.

I've been meaning to get 'Hive of the Dead' to see how the mechanics are handled (pity they aren't available at GW stores) and have downloaded 'Temple'.

You can also get some of the FF books as iphone apps as well now (check out FF's website for more info)

Yikes, what a long reply. But man, these were just great as a kid - and I noted proudly - are still for sale in my local bookshop 20 odd years later.



Hi Sigil,
I have some Interview answers for you. Just last couple to finish. Why don't you Facebook PM me your email and I can probably send them tomorrow. : )

I did like Creature of Havoc - that was an unusual one. Isn't that the one where you start and you don't even know what you are, let alone where? I really wanted to get into Sorcery but could never get my hands on all four books. Think I did the first two.

Cutting up FF books. Sacrilege! I can hardly blame you. The artwork really made those books. Spectacularly evocative.

Hey, are there any gamebooks or gamebook series particular to your part of the world? Perhaps there are some gems that never reached the chilly shores of Britain.

Sigil said...

Will do. Local versions of FF books? Not that easily come to mind, though I always thought that Freeway Fighter was just a loving tribute to Mad Max...


Pretty sure that there was a series of post-apocalytpic Mad-Max style road warrior gamebooks. Can't remember the name though.

Jonathan Green said...

Hi Rob

Great post (and thanks for the links!) but my Top 5 FF books would be a little different from yours. ;-)

(And I don't mean I'd be including any of mine in the list!)

Joe Pereira said...

Being a huge FF fan in the day, I have to agree with Sigil that Creature of Havoc and certainly the Sorcery Series (my first and still favourite foray into FF - and yes, I own the Spellbook :)) belong in any Top X list. Rob's list is good - and I especially like the inclusion of Scorpion Swamp. To be honest though, I can't really bring myself to go through the motions of reading an FF book these days, even on the iPad, but I think a re-vist to the world of Titan may be in order this decade. My other love, which has continued to grow with me is the the other F - IF (Interactive Fiction), which can be considered a more 'mature' and certainly more 'interactive' reading experience than FF.
Oh, and the Mad-Max style gamebooks might be CarWars (also by Steve Jackson) - which was pretty horrible IMHO.


Interesting that you mention CarWars. Wasn't that the one with maps and counters?

Joe Pereira said...

The original CarWars game was a strategic maps and counters game, but TSR released a series of gamebooks that followed the standard D&D character point system. I remember it being not being good for some reason - probably lack of decent storyline. I didn't really enjoy Freeway Fighter either, so it might be a genre thing for me. I only seemed to like the straight fantasy-themed FF books. The sci-fi ones were also pretty poor IMHO.