The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were blockbusters of the era. Have you ever wanted to hunt some mages? Then become a MAGEHUNTER today!
In 1982, Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, founders of Games Workshop, released the book ‘The Warlock of Firetop Mountain’. Intended as an introduction to tabletop role-playing games of the era, the book’s choose-your-own-adventure format mixed with simple dice-based combat proved massively successful, giving rise to a full series of books – Fighting Fantasy. With over 65 books in the series by a legion of authors and illustrators, the series’ legacy continues to this day. Come along with us as Cybe and co play through each one – with no prior knowledge, no hints or walkthroughs and no cheating!
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So to start with, I want to thank Stuart Lloyd for this book. It’s the last of the books that are relatively tricky to find, so now I’m on relatively easy streets in terms of finding the last few remaining Fighting Fantasy gamebooks.
In this book, you are a mage hunter. It is your task to hunt town wizards, using only your skill and guile. You then, upon finding someone suspected of witchcraft, extract a confession from them by means of brutal torture. Upon confession, the victim is then tied to a pyre in the town square and burned alive, screaming in agony. Y’know, I think I might know why this book wasn’t republished. There’s really just no way to make the gruesome torture and murder that hundreds of people suffered under the inquisition sound like a fun adventure for kids.
We start off this particularly jovial adventure at a funeral. No, really. You’ve arrived back in town, with a freshly-captured wizard in tow, to find that the Margrave of the realm has died and everyone is in mourning. The misery is disrupted when there’s a loud crash which shakes the castle.
Rushing to the dungeons, we find that the wizard has fled with the Margrave’s heir. The game tries to portray this as a kidnapping, but even at this stage, it’s clear that the Margrave’s heir has helped the wizard escape for some reason. We may find the reasons behind this later, if we survive that long.
Without any real direction, we head to the wizard’s lair, where we had recently captured him. Recovering and studying his spellbook, we uncover the spell that he used to escape the dungeon. I attempt to cast the spell myself, but it only causes a large heft of green smoke to fill the area, alerting the guards. I’m dragged before the lord of the realm who says “You tried to cast a spell, so you’re a wizard. We’ll burn you at dawn.”
So, let’s retry this adventure from the start, shall we?
This time, upon running into the dungeons to prevent the wizard from making his escape, I jump right after him into the big ol’ portal thing, and wind up standing on a mountainside. We see the Margrave’s heir running off into the distance, and the wizard laying on the ground unconscious. It’s pretty clear that the wizard has done an ol’ mind-swap with the Margrave’s heir, but just to be on the safe side, I lop the head off the wizard’s body and burn the remains. Fun, for kids.
The book then makes it very clear that I’ve got a completely different set of clothes, belongings and so on than before I stepped through the portal, leading me to assume that I’m actually in the Margrave’s heir’s body. Something tells me that it’s going to be one of those days… It then tells me that if my ankle hurts, I should turn to a specific page. That’s always one of those instructions that makes me wonder if my ankle should be hurting or not, and why it might be, and why it’s even asking…
After a while, I manage to arrive in an arabian-styled town. I stumble into the tavern (because there is always a tavern, no matter where you are) and meet a rather friendly chap who agrees to teach me the local language. In gratitude for this and for a few day’s bed and food, I offer him a ruby ring that I found up on the mountainside. Only, it seems that the ring contained a giant evil demon, who offers me a wish. I say an evil demon, because when I wish that it’d take me to the wizard, it takes me back to the mountainside (of course…) and attacks me. And this bugger is a tough fight.
So, once it’s dead and I’ve trudged all the way back to the village again, I pick up a few supplies at the market and then head out of town, using my holy symbol to track down the wizard. As I sleep overnight out in the desert, I am awakened by…
Well, I don’t rightly know what woke me up. I wake up in a tent owned by a strange man who tells me that he wants to help me stop the wizard. For some reason, the Margrave’s heir is there too, and the stranger helps put him back in his body or something, I think, the book is not at all clear on this point. For a few paragraphs, the book reads as if it was spliced together at random from different parts of the story with no cohesive structure or anything, and then all three of the characters pile onto a magic carpet to fly off to another city.
At this point in the story, the adventure really feels as if it’s falling apart, with most of the ‘choices’ asking if I’ve got a ruby ring (we used that earlier) or a scar, or if I have a word written down. In short, instructions, not choices. Upon arriving in the city, I am given a variety of choices on how to track down the wizard, but… eh, I’ll explain.
The first choice I make is to try using my holy symbol to track him down. For some reason, this leads me into the local all-male bath house (“But I was only there in order to get directions on how to get away from there!”), where I get beaten up by two bouncers. The next lead takes me to a bazaar, where I track down someone who is entirely different instead. The book then takes pity on me, and just has the wizard walk up to me, give me my pistol, and walk off. So even the book itself realises that there’s no useful choices here.
By this point in the adventure I’m just getting a bit tired of being lead around by the nadgers, so I follow the wizard back to his tower. Unsurprisingly, he springs a massive trap and releases a horde of skeleton monsters on me the moment I step in the door. They proceed to trample over me and do whatever skeletons do to their prey. That’s a good question actually. I mean they don’t eat their victims, so… what do they do?
Anyway, that’s about enough Magehunter for today. As you may have noticed, this particular Fighting Fantasy book has a lot of attempts to evoke an ‘Arabian Nights’ vibe to it. This carries over to the artwork, and… well, most of the illustrations choose to not depict monsters, but humans. And, eh… most of those humans are drawn in a way that emphasises their racial connotations in a very, uhm… well, let me put it like this – the ones I’ve posted here on this page look the least like Jaffar as possible. There’s a LOT of problematic images here, a product of the cultural attitudes of the time.
Despite its somewhat questionable material, it isn’t an intrinsically poor Fighting Fantasy book, but it is very limited on the choices that you can make, especially as you get further and further into the adventure. Like I said, it’s not poor, but feels limited. Give it a try and maybe it’ll suit you better. Or not. I dunno.
Cause of death: Stomped by skeletons.