The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were blockbusters of the era. So let’s find our way out of the Crypt of the Sorcerer!
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 yeah, when I first had these Fighting Fantasy books as a kid, one of the ones I never got around to playing was Crypt of the Sorcerer. I’m not sure why, but I suspect that the cover may have something to do with it. It had a fine enough cover back in the day, but something about the original’s image of a hunched and decrepit old man that looked as if he was about to fall over and break his hip, just didn’t really inspire you to grab a copy in the same way that a vicious dragon or a bloodthirsty vampire would. The later versions of the cover were certainly more energetic. Although, when I look at them as an adult, I really do appreciate the original’s atmospheric colouring and moody shadows. But anyway, let’s get on with the adventure.
The story begins with your character being given a fairly hefty monologue from your wizardly buddy Yaztromo, who I pretty much imagine looks a bit like Dumbledore. He tells you that long ago, an evil sorcerer was slain by a heroic adventurer. It seems that now the sorcerer has got bored sitting around in his tomb, so he got up and decided to come back to the world of the living and cause some trouble… I kinda imagine being dead as a large waiting room for these wizards, where you sit and read magazines until you’re called back to bring havoc on the living. Maybe they even have a little ticket machine that reads out your number. “Now resurrecting ticket number 7.” Curiously, I imagine that this waiting room is also used by superheroes in comic books when they ‘die’.
Either way, to kill the sorcerer again, I need to pick up the sword from the adventurer who slew the sorcerer in the first place. The only problem, that adventurer is living quite a distance away near a local lake, and is a skeleton now for some reason. Right. Well, no point sitting around, off I went.
I’d rolled up some fairly decent stats – not ‘Conan the Barbarian’ good, but not ‘keel over and die if a goblin sneezes on me’ poor either. Discount Dumbledore gave me a healing potion with enough for five solid gulps, and the advice that I should look for magical amulets. In FF games, that’s always a clue. “Look for keys”, “Look for dragon’s teeth”, “Look for magic amulets”. It basically translates into “If you don’t find these items, you may as well just start over again, because you’re screwed if you don’t find them.”
This adventure didn’t seem especially punishing or unfair, but a lot of the encounters I stumbled across felt rather disjointed. I’ll explain this as I go. The first problem I came up against was a swarm of tracker-jackers that assaulted me near a river. Okay, so they’re not exactly the little insects from The Hunger Games, but I want to pretend that I’m Katness for this part of the adventure. It’s more cool that way. I was very lucky with my dice and managed to only suffer a few small scratches that were of no huge concern.
I hurried along past the next potential distraction, and came across a dying dwarf, whose hut had been attacked by generic wandering monsters. Like a noble warrior, I gave him my remaining health potion and nursed him back to health… nah, just kidding, I robbed him. The only noteworthy possessions he had were a knife, and a pendant of sanity. Remembering what Discount Dumbledore told me, I figured that this pendant would be very important later, so I felt proud of myself. Yay.
Also, pendant of sanity. Best item over. Who needs mental health treatment to cure your PTSD or anxiety when you can wear a magical necklace? One of these days, I’ll set up a stall on the seafront and sell pendants of sanity to tourists.
I killed a few chameleons, and painted myself with their blood. No, really, the book gives me the option to do that. It’s explained that their blood had magical powers, but when I tried it, I found that I was immune to their blood. For some reason. Well what a massive waste of time that was. Either way, I was now a man running around with chameleon blood on my face, waving a pendant of sanity around. For some reason I don’t think the pendant is working.
In a boneyard, which I imagine looking something like the bone ship from the movie ‘Alien’, I met the Bonekeeper. I’m not too sure what a Bonekeeper is, I picture a lanky man with wild-looking hair. I kinda imagine him looking something like John Cleese (I don’t know why, I suspect my brain just made a Monty Python reference that I didn’t quite consciously grasp). I gave him my knife, and he gave me a ring that kept werewolves away. I did not encounter any werewolves for the rest of the time I possessed the ring, so I can only assume it worked. That… that is how things work, right?
Leaving the boneyard, I was attacked by a few goblins. Sadly it doesn’t look like the magic ring keeps goblins away. Having fended off the green menaces, things were looking very positive for a while until I caught sight of a figure in the distance darting into a forest. I quickly followed the figure, hoping that it was the fabled adventurer skeleton dude, only to find that he was a ‘black faerie’. A black faerie. I checked the illustration, and sure enough, he had dark skin. Black faeries are, according to the book, “the most evil of all faeries”. He also had a gang. Who mugged me. Yeah…. So I’m forced to remember that these books were written in a very different time, but… yeesh.
Racial overtones aside, the black fairies stole everything I had, including my pendant of sanity. Although as it turned out, the item that I would soon be needing most of all would be a simple healing potion. I escaped from the assailants, set up camp, and that night I was was attacked by fire beetles.
Now seriously wounded, I staggered onwards out of the forest, hoping beyond hope that I would soon reach my goal, when suddenly a woman riding a gryphon flew down and killed me.
This confused me, because this encounter felt so unexpected and random that I first assumed I’d turned to a different page by mistake. I had no idea who this person was, what she wanted, or why she was even there in the first place. She literally just flew down and started thumping me with her gryphon – possibly swinging the poor beast by its tail over her head like some kind of angry fuzzy flail. Was she a bandit of the skies? A local mad woman who’d stolen some poor gryphon, tamed it and took it for a joyride? If she was a mad woman, would my pendant of sanity have helped at all? We may never know…
This was a rather difficult fight, and without the healing potion to recover from the fire beetles the night before, I knew I wouldn’t make it. Sure enough, I died.
Overall this is a pretty solid book and I definitely enjoyed trying it out. I’d like to give it another shot at some point. The environments feel suitably wide and descriptive, and the combat is paced well (not too much, not too little), although losing all your items is always a beast when playing these games. I can’t believe that nobody took the chance to modify the ‘black faeries’ description though…
Cause of death: A terminal case of Gryphon-to-the-head…