The return of Fighting Fantasy (again)

POSTED: April 6, 2018

In the Guardian yesterday, I read an article about the return of the Fighting Fantasy books. Since I will start teaching a course about interactive storytelling in a few weeks time, my eyes opened wide. I always use the original series as the starting point for the second part of the course.

Scholastic have apparently put a lot of money into relaunching the series and have commissioned Charlie Higson to write a new book, The Gates of Death, to kickstart the relaunch.

The Guardian reminds us that

Once hugely popular, the Fighting Fantasy books – billed as “a thrilling fantasy adventure in which YOU are the hero” – launched in 1982 with Livingstone and Jackson’s The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. Typically set in the fantasy world of Allansia, the books dispatch their reader on a quest armed only with a pencil and dice, battling foul creatures, deploying magical potions and making a continuous series of choices in an attempt to make it through the Deathtrap Dungeon, say, or City of Thieves.

The series had an amazing run into the 90s – there were 59 books, with Jackson and Livingstone roping in co-authors to keep up with demand, and 20m copies sold around the world.

The series has been relaunched several times, both in paperback and as a series of iOS games. The games served the admirable purpose of preventing the reader cheating by making a choice, not liking it, and then going back and making a different choice.

One interesting piece of trivia to remember when thinking about how they developed the mechanics of the gamebooks: Steve Jackson went on to write a three-volume series called Sorcery! that came with a separate spell-book that you needed to memorise. He intended this to increase reader involvement. Mostly, however, it simply served to baffle people.

Wikipedia explains how Sorcery! worked:

Sorcery! features several mechanics not present in previous Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. The principal difference is the ability to choose between playing as a warrior or a wizard. As a wizard, the player is weaker in combat, but has access to 48 spells, with each appearing as a three-letter word that has to be memorised by the player. Examples include ZAP (creates a lightning bolt from the finger) to ZED, the effects of which are unknown.

When given the option to cast spells the player is presented with a small selection of these three-letter words to choose from; the player is encouraged to choose from these without consulting the spell listing. It is also possible to fail to cast at all, as false spell words are placed alongside correct choices. Many spells also require a certain item (e.g. GOB requires one or more goblin teeth). If the character does not have the necessary equipment then the spell fails. All spell choices, irrespective of the outcome, incur a Stamina penalty.

I remember the box set looking very impressive; so impressive, in fact, that I bought it.