The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were blockbusters of the era. Join us on the fourth adventure, aboard the intergalactic Starship Traveller!
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!
Space. The not-quite-so-final frontier – technically, I suppose that time would be the final frontier, if it came to traveling through it. Space though, not so final. I mean hell, we regularly send things to Mars, so traveling through space is not as big a deal compared to time travel. But this isn’t Doctor Who – it’s Starship Traveller.
The first Fighting Fantasy venture into sci-fi, it’s certainly very ambitious. It gives you a lot to keep track of – whereas previously all you had to worry about was just one adventurer, now you need to look after your ship (which has its own stats) and the crew. I’ve taken some time to roll up statistics for the crew, so let’s meet them all, shall we?
Lead by the courageous Captain Horatio McLufferty, the intrepid crew strike out into the stars, ready to face marvelous adventure! With the enigmatic Science Officer Flingle at his side, no mystery is too big. And no danger is too fierce, not when the crew has the never-ending expertise of Medical Officer Susanna Shineyourbootsguvna ready with her healing arts. Yes, the Starship Traveller is the most cutting-edge of ships, and needs the best to take care of its engines, so who else can we rely on than Engineering Officer Crow T. Robot? And when they’re facing the dangers of the galaxy, you need the strongest and most skillful to protect you, like Security Officer Woffle, and his heroic pair of red-shirted guards, Security Guard Deadmeat and Security Officer Failure. Stand proud, our fierce crew!
Yeah, we’re screwed.
So after spending almost half an hour rolling dice and noting down numbers in order to create a veritable half-dozen characters, our ship is in danger. Crew members are shouting random numbers and techno-babble all over the place, which is how we know that something exciting must be happening, and before we know it, we’ve been sucked through a timey-wimey black hole thing and thrown into a distant part of deep space – oh god, this is going to be just like Star Trek Voyager, isn’t it? And I really hated Voyager. No, really, I hated it. While Deep Space Nine was dealing with the philosophical issues of war, Voyager was putting a borg woman in a skin-tight catsuit and asking her to pout seductively for the frustrated male audience.
Anyway, the game gives me the option to investigate a planet we can see on the sensors, which I jump at the chance to do until mid-way through the expedition we are confronted by our first alien vessel – captained by Commander M’k Tel of the Imperial Gatzig empire, who I assume are all fiercely loyal to the Grand Emperor Datzig of Gatzig, lord of all dubstep music. Micky Tel, as I’m going to call him, says that he is going to send a soldier over to my ship to make sure we hand over control of our vessel to him.
Now, personally this seems a lot like he’s sending someone over specifically so that we can take them prisoner – right? So as soon as the soldier beams onto my ship, I ask our security guard to jump him. In typical Star Trek fashion, Security Officer Woffle gets his ass handed to him. How embarrassing. Guess that we’re the prisoners now! The ship is dragged kicking and screaming to the Gatzig space base, where we meet an imperial officer who is actually pretty nice, tells us that we can get home if we enter a black hole at the right trajectory (he doesn’t have the codes to do this, though) and is generally pretty helpful! Something very fishy is going on – no space empire in sci-fi is ever helpful! Or anything but utterly evil, in fact! He does put a program into the ship to prevent it shooting any Gatzigs though, but I’m so suspicious of him and his empire that I high-tail it out of there before they start having their daily banquet of roast babies.
Eventually finding a small dull blue planet, Captain McLufferty beams down to an alien city along with Science Officer Flingle and Security Guard Deadmeat. We meet a strange little man in robes, who tells me that this planet is a utopian land of equality where all people are free and equal. Then a group of men in guard uniforms run up and hit us with sticks. Um. I can’t help but think that this is what those on the far-right think that social justice must be like… I ask the man in robes what’s going on, and he explains that they attackers are called guards… because you need to be on your guard when you’re around them! Because they like to hit you with sticks! Get it? They’re called ‘guards’ because you need to be on guard when you’re around them! Get it? I hate this planet already.
A few words on the combat in this book. The instructions for combat are found at in specific segments in the book itself, so you learn how to fight on the fly. This would be a very good point, until you remember that you needed to roll up seven characters, plus your space ship, to simulate a crew. The combat itself is a mess, with whichever side (either your crew of the enemies) being able to gang up on the side with the lower number of combatants. It took me almost half an hour and three sheets of note paper to be able to slog through this one piece of combat, by the end of which I’m ready to nuke the stupid planet from orbit.
Our guide explains that the guards attacked for no reason, because in a free society they are free to do anything they like (which will be my excuse to Starfleet Command as to why I bombed this planet from orbit). I’m genuinely not sure if this is an attempt to critique libertarianism or anarchy and I don’t much care, it’s triggering my ‘bad attempt at political commentary’ senses. I take all the information from the planet’s map room, beam back up to my ship, and decide to go to the only other planet orbiting the same star. Did I mention that I then bomb the stupid blue planet from orbit? Well, the book didn’t mention it either. But I pretend to myself that I did. Captain Janeway would probably have done the same thing.
This time I opt to beam down with Engineering Officer Crow T. Robot and Security Officer Woffle in tow. The place is in ruins, and we soon come across a lone survivor of what appears to be an ancient war. Finally, something that isn’t utterly idiotic. No sooner does he greet me than Security Officer Woffle shoots him, claiming that the old man had a weapon. I ask that the old man be beamed up to the med-bay, but the transporter crew tell me that he didn’t arrive. I suspect he was just a hallucination, because the only other alternative is that the old man arrived inside-out (which we know can happen, thanks to Star Trek: The Motion Picture) and the transporter engineer hid his body in a cupboard.
My suspicions are confirmed when the sound of gunfire erupts and I dive for cover, but my engineer officer doesn’t hear anything and walks on through the gunfire. Now, I admit that anything is possible – hell, Battlestar Galactica had a pilot who was an angel (oh, spoiler), so maybe Crow T. Robot is just immune to bullets. Either way, I find the local library, and find that there is a black hole located in a nearby system. Progress!
Beaming back up to the ship, I’m asked which planet I want to head to next. we opt to head to a small cluster of planets, when the book does something that sends me into a frothing rage. It asks me to turn to section 292, and when I get there, all it says is ‘turn to 233’. Seriously, what’s the point of even having a section 292 then? This is one of my utter pet peeves in gamebooks. Simple rule of thumb – make use of EVERY paragraph, people! Grargh!! The only thing this paragraph tells me is that the war on the previous planet ended with a mass hallucinogenic drug being released… then it asks me which planet I want to head to again. B.. I already told you which… I…. blllaargh!!
The book then decides that it’s sick of playing by the laws of fairness and opts to kill me as viciously as possible. Our course takes us into the path of a meteor storm, I engage evasive manuevers which causes the ship to rock back and forth, which causes Security Officer Woffle to die when his station explodes for no apparent reason (this happens all the time in Star Trek – it’s their own fault for using dynamite sticks instead of fuses for their consoles), as our medical officer cannot save him. Farewell, our noble security officer, your spirit is reunited with Tasha Yar.
Following this, the meteor storm CHANGES PATHS to follow us (uuhhhhm) and the ship’s shields are pounded quite badly, but we survive. We’re then told that it seems that our fridge is broken and we only have enough food for the next few days. So I opt to beam down to a small green planet with Medical Officer Susanna Shineyourbootsguvna and Security Guard Failure in order to see if we can scrape up some tasty mushrooms or something.
When we get to the planet, though, we are chased by green anteater pigs. In a strange twist of fate, Security Guard Failure is killed outright when a tree falls on him without any warning (we’re given no choice to save him, so he definitely lived up to his name). My medical officer is then crushed beneath an alien monster and dies, too. I try to shoot this weird crew-crushing alien pig thing, but it seems to me immune to the stun setting on my phaser because that only served to make it angry enough to tear my arms off. And without their illustrious captain, my crew probably resorted to starvation and cannibalism before they crashed the ship into the planet by accident or something.
So yeah, Starship Traveller. It was better than your average episode of Enterprise. Now let us never speak of it again.
Cause of death: Trampled by space-anteaters.