A five page special feature looks into a publishing phenomenon.
In August 1982 Puffin launched The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. It shot to the top of the children’s bestsellers list and it and its successors have stayed there or thereabouts ever since. The series, now seven books strong, has sold over a million copies and other publishers are hurrying to catch up.
Where did these do-it-yourself adventures come from?
Why are they so successful? Have they any educational potential?
David Hill investigates…
What is a Fighting Fantasy Adventure?
To answer that question we must go back ten years and cross the Atlantic to Wisconsin USA. There in 1974 a new game, Dungeons and Dragons, first appeared. Today its creator, Gary Cygax, is the head of a thriving games empire and British disciples have been equally successful in creating an enthusiastic following for the game here.
Dungeons and Dragons is not a board game – though it does have dice. It is a role-playing game. Each player ‘creates’ a game character – fighter, thief, wizard. cleric – and then acts out the role of this character in a world designed and controlled by a sort of referee known as a Gamesmaster. The players as a group pit themselves against the god-like Gamesmaster in a quest for treasure• power, survival. The fantasy world – it’s often a series of dungeons – the characters explore is unknown to them at the outset of the game/ adventure. In it they meet dragons, monsters. mythical beasts: some good, some evil• some constant• some changeable. How they deal with these creatures will determine their success or failure. The player can invest his or her character with whatever characteristics imagination suggests: but at the outset of the adventure six attributes of the character are determined by the roll of the dice: strength. charisma, dexterity, intelligence, wisdom and stamina. A seventh throw decides how many gold pieces the character will have with which to buy useful luggage in the form of clothing, armour. weapons. spells, food.
Once the adventure is under way the Gamesmaster narrates the story and the players decide what their characters will do at each point. The outcomes of battle encounters with monsters, the casting of spells• indeed of every decision• are decided on the roll of the dice which can be four, six. eight. ten or twenty-sided.
When a group of’ adventurers leaves a dungeon or a world – if they survive – the
r characters are usually richer in treasure and experience. These gains are reflected in experience points (won for finding treasure or winning combats) which the character takes into the next adventure. A veteran of many games becomes rich in power and ability and the player and his or her character usually stay together till death them do part.
A game knows no time limits. During a session an adventure or part of an adventure can be played: it can be as long or as short as those involved decide. Most adventures continue over several sessions. The success of a Dungeons and Dragons game depends solely upon the imagination of the group involved ed: within broad limits the players are
? free to create the game as they choose. The fascination lies in solving the problems created y the Gamesmaster and watching the development of the characters as they move through each new a venture. The sword and sorcery world of Dungeons and 1 Dragons has its roots in the legends, myths, folktales and literature of Western Europe and owes more than a slight debt of gratitude to J. R. R. Tolkien.
The existence of a large cult following for D&D in this country is due largely to Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone who in the mid seventies started their own company in this country. And it is Jackson and Livingstone who were responsible for the very first fighting fantasy adventure book, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. The books make it possible to play D&D without a Gamesmaster or any other players. A place for novices to start, a chance for isolated addicts to play solo between group sessions.
How Does it Work?
The books have much the same format as the Choose-your-own-Adventure books that have been around for some time. In essence a Fighting Fantasy book provides the reader with a Gamesmaster narrative and scenario. Before embarking on the adventure the reader-character rolls the dice to determine levels of Skill, Stamina and Luck. These are entered on an adventure sheet. Armed only with a pencil for a sword and a rubber for a shield the intrepid adventurer sets out. In the introduction to the adventure the aims of the quest are set out, along with a few hints and clues. After that you are on your own.
The whole of the book is divided into numbered sections each of which ends with multi-choice options. Like this one from Ian Livingstone’s City of Thieves (Puffin).
You open the door and enter a room which is adorned with macabre objects and paintings. A black cat is sitting in front of a table covered in black cloth. Two black candles are burning on either side of a mirror on the far wall. On the table lies an open chest containing a golden skull. Will you:
Walk over to the chest – Turn to 257 Close the door and open the white door (if you have not done so already)
Turn to 319 Close the door and walk back to the staircase to climb up to the next floor – Turn to 197
On turning to the numbered section chosen the adventurer finds out what fate has decreed. Was it a wise decision? Only time will tell. Scattered throughout the sections are encounters with all sorts and conditions of monsters and villains.
Here’s one from The Warlock of Firetop Mountain:
He now stands just under two metres tall. He advances towards you. His body is hairy. His teeth are pointed. His eyes flash. His fingernails are sharp claws. His nose has become a rat-like snout. He is a WERERAT.
WERERAT SKILL 8 STAMINA 5
Resolve your battle with him. If you win turn to 342. If you decide to escape you may run over the rickety bridge.
Turn to 209
It’s now that the adventurer’s Stamina and Skill scores play an important part. By consulting the battle rules at the front of the book the adventurer is ready to throw the dice and pit skill with skill and stamina with stamina in combat. (Discretion is rarely the better part of valour in Fighting Fantasy. It is assumed that only a stupid coward would trust a rickety bridge, and stupid cowards don’t live long in this game!)
400 or so sections, each with a choice to make, means literally hundreds of permutations so there are always new ways to read and tackle the books. Experienced readers tend to keep an ongoing map and make detailed notes on the territory explored for future reference. The chances are that the task will not be successfully completed on the first journey into the unknown (except by determined cheats): but most readers seem to find it good fun to be killed by a giant sandworm, exterminated by a demented troll or eaten alive by a monster spider. It’s the sort of trip you can’t book at the local travel agents: adventure is guaranteed. Shake the dice: fill out the sheet and a new hero or heroine is born, one ready to face unspeakable dangers in a great quest.
Want to find out more?
What is Dungeons and Dragons?
John Butterfield. David Honingmann and Philip Parker, Penguin. 0 1400 646 0 5. £1.50. Puffin Plus. 0 14 031.754 6. £1.50. An excellent little volume written by three young adventurers. It sets out clearly how to play the game and contains a wealth of information relating to the subject.
Dicing with Dragons
Ian Livingstone, Routledge and Kegan Paul. 0 7100 9466 3, £3.95 pbk.
An essential handbook if you want to know the history of the game. Also contains 40 pages on games you can buy, 40 pages on accessories. 30 pages on figures and the painting of them plus a chapter on computer games. An added bonus is a 50 page solo game. Most children won’t have come across this one and it makes an excellent game to adapt for the classroom. Useful addresses. suppliers etc.
is the magazine published by The Games Workshop (owned by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone and source of the British cult.) 27-29, Sunbeam Road. London : NW10.
Good articles and superb artwork. Should keep any fan up-to-date with all the latest news.