The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were blockbusters of the era. It’s time to venture into the sci-fi ruins of the Rebel Planet.
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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Oh hey look! A fighting fantasy sci-fi adventure. Those always end well, don’t they?
The more of these I play, the more I realise why the FF series would develop to specialise more in different types of fantasy. The sci-fi ones tend to be the bane of my life, filled with techno-babble nonsense and ridiculous situations. Let’s get this over with, shall we?
Our book starts off with a history section explaining humanity’s exploration of space, venturing from the planet earth to other colonies blah blah blah. It’s really dull. The Arcadian empire has taken over the galaxy and uses humans as a slave race. As a highly trained ninja space type guy with a laser sword (urgh), I have been asked to go from planet to planet in order to find codes from different people on each planet, and use those codes to blow up the empire’s computer. Be still my beating heart.
It occurs to me that, already this far into this book, I’m starting to sound like one of those annoying and cringe-inducing ‘angry internet review’ type people. I’m sorry for that. In general, I just have no interest in this book. I suspect I’m burned out on underwhelming FF sci-fi books, as both of the last two I played were very underwhelming.
I roll up my character, who we’ll call Duke Skyhopper, because he is the hero of the rebellion. The adventure begins with Duke piloting his ship to the planet Tropos, all the while wishing he could be starring in House of Hell instead. Funny thing about your character – if you’re fighting with this powerful mystical laser sword weapon, you do normal damage. But if you lose your weapon, you’re not penalised for it – instead when you injure an enemy, you roll a dice and if you roll 6, you hit the enemy’s pressure point and kill them outright. Which makes you more dangerous without the weapon….
Touching down on Tropos, I’m promptly dragged from customs into a small office by the imperial secret police who ask me why I avoided their ship while I was travelling to this planet. I tell them that I was worried that they were pirates, which they find hilariously funny, so funny that they beat me up.
I get a taxi to my hotel, which is a dingy flea-bitten place in the dregs of town. The receptionist ignores me, and when I get into my room, I met a extremely depressed man who wants to kill himself. Then the police barge in and proceed to pick a fight with me. I flee into the street with the depressed man, who tells me that he knows somewhere we can hide out. He dives into a nearby house, and calls the police, who come along in a large group, ready to beat me up.
At that moment, a street riot erupts around me, with a bunch of rebels throwing bricks and sticks and so on. They promise to take me to see their leader, who should have the code I require. In fact, they blindfold me, and then beat me until I pass out.
Y’know, at this point, the entire ‘adventure’ is eerily familiar to my last holiday to New York…
I wake up in the rebel’s lair, and speak to Bellatrix, their fanatical leader who tells me about her code of honour. I eventually convince her that I’m on their side, and she asks if I will kill a double-agent for her. I tell her that I would like some proof of his crimes first, and instead she simply tells me that I have displayed a sense of justice and gives me the code instead. Actually the code is disguised in a little poem, but I have it now and I can finally get off this silly planet full of people that punch you as a means of saying hello.
Our next planet is Radix, which sounds like a vegetable-flavoured toilet disinfectant. It’s a bit more cosmopolitan than the previous planet – humans are allowed to walk down the street without being hit by sticks. Almost as if it reflects the planet’s less stringent atmosphere, I am given NO clues on how to locate my contact. None at all. Nothing. Let me repeat this – I am put on a planet and told to meet someone… one person, in an entire PLANET. With no name, description, nothing.
I’ve really no hope of finding this person on my own, so I opt to simply wander through the city checking out anywhere I can until I hopelessly stumble upon something. I book in to the cheapest hotel I can find, and spend a while discussing philosophy with the owner. This planet is far more laid-back, and humans are generally free to do as they wish, under the supervision of their empirical overlords.
As a result, it has a slightly more bohemian feel to it, so I can’t really argue with the idea that the planets in this book have a different feel to them. Whereas the previous one seems to have a feel more similar to New York, this is much more of a San Francisco type of a planet. There’s a museum, which I spend a while checking out. The book gives a bit of history into the planet’s previous inhabitants, which adds some flavour, but doesn’t really advance my mission any. I’m given the chance of bribing the tour guide to gain access to a store room, but I don’t much want to spend 500 credits in order to look at a room full of boxes.
I finish off the day lounging around the university quarter. As you can guess, I achieve very little. In the science building I try to chat with some of the students, but they don’t want to talk to me. I head into the arts section, hoping that maybe I’ll find someone there who is an intellectual anti-establishment type, but without any idea of who to look for, I wind up just whittling away my afternoon. Having made no progress, I decide to head back to the hotel.
On the way, I notice that I’m being followed by a few imperial grunts. I manage to avoid them, but stumble across a robot that seems to want to kill me for no apparent reason. It manages to knock my stamina down to half its score by means of crushing me with bricks and masonry. It’s a very tough fight, for two reasons.
Firstly, it has a stamina of 16. Secondly, each time it hits me, the damage it deals doubles (from 2 points to 4, to 6 and so on). But after I hit its antenna a few times, its skill score drops low enough that I’m able to slowly carve down its health points and eventually kill it. By the end of the fight, I still have no understanding of why it attacked me. Random wandering monster, I guess.
I retire to my bed, and wake the next day to have no further luck finding the rebel leader. The book doesn’t even give me the option of trying on the second day, it simply asks if I have arranged to meet someone, and if I don’t then I’m told that I have failed. My mission fails, because my illustrious leaders of the rebellion couldn’t be arsed to give me the name of my contact on this planet, leaving me no way to get in touch with him. I assume that I spend the rest of my life lurking around the university quarter, asking the student girls if they want to take part in my biology experiments, and offering to show them my laser sword.
Can’t help but feel that I’m being rather harsh on this book. I want to be fair, so I’ll give a few good points about it – the background material is very in-depth. The history given to the setting is quite involving, documenting human exploration of space. The planets are quite well realised, with Radix having a rather interesting roots to its cultural differences, and a few hints we encountered at the museum indicate previous extra-terrestrial life-forms.
But really, I just didn’t care for this book. The adventure itself is illogical (why divide the code among four people on four different planets, and not give me any clue as to who to look for?) and the whole Star Wars parallel is just excessive and banal. You know that sound you make when you’re falling asleep, and then wake up suddenly with a grunt? That sound pretty much sums up Rebel Planet. Robin Watefield’s other FF books (Masks of Mayhem, Phantoms of Fear and Deathmoor) are all significantly better than this one.
I remember Masks of Mayhem. It was challenging, but not because of the lack of information you were given to work with. It had a rich history and background (I think, I’m working from memory here). And I seem to remember genuinely enjoying Phantoms of Fear, too.
Now that I’m writing this, I feel as if I’ve been terribly unfair to this book somehow. I went into it with low expectations, and they were pretty much met, but I feel a pang of guilt about that. I should have, at very least, been hoping for more.
Cause of death: Inept rebel leaders