The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were blockbusters of the era. Who is up for a trek in the moors? Shame it’s the DEATHMOOR!
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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“The dagger held at your throat cuts deep. Your adventure ends here.” That’s section 400 in this adventure. I read ahead. Was just curious, you see. Something tells me that this book is going to be a tricky one, and not in a good way.
Physically, Deathmoor feels to have less pages than most Fighting Fantasy books. The system is basic, without any of the extra stats to keep track of. Having hit shelves right after Legend of Zagor, I get the feeling that this one may have been overshadowed by that. I don’t even think I seen this one in the shops.
The princess of some back-water kingdom in the arse-end of nowhere has been kidnapped by a group of nasty gits, who want all the gold in the kingdom for her return. But the quest isn’t given to the eponymous YOU this time, it’s been given to your rival adventurer, Fang-zen of Jitar! Oh well, he got the contract first. I’ll just sit back and wait for the next job to come in… oh no, wait, that would result in a very short adventure. Guess I’d better give chase and rescue the princess before he does, then.
I manage to roll up pretty much the most average stats possible for my stamina, skill and luck, and head off in pursuit of Fang-zen. And I stumble off into the wilderness, no idea where to go to find the kidnappers, and die in a gutter somewhere.
So now, rather than wandering off with no clear idea what to do or where to go (which is pretty much how most Fighting Fantasy books start until I stumble upon a tarot card reader or a sage who tells me what magic weapons I need to find), I instead hit the local pub. It’s there that I find Fang-zen, having a few drinks with some friends. What an odd coincidence. Almost as if the meeting was orchestrated by some author of some sort…
Anyway, I insult Fang for a bit and challenge him to that game in which people stab their fingers with knives, you know the game. I manage to not stab myself too badly, and Fang loses, handing over six gold coins and, on my insistence, the contract. It’s funny, I never really imagined that being a brave and heroic adventurer involved so much paperwork!
I wasted the rest of the night going to another pub and buying some ‘lucky’ heather from an old hag, which was a con as it was not remotely lucky. I had a random fight later that night with two fish-people who had a grudge against me due to some previous adventure, and the next morning I stopped in at the local market to buy some rope. Rope is always useful. Having wasted enough time, I read the details on the contract, and went off to the arranged meeting point with the kidnappers.
When I meet up with the kidnapper’s ogre colleague, he lets slip that he is working for Archanos. Yes friends, that is none other than the dread Archanos the Life-Stealer. Who, in case you didn’t know, is an evil dastardly fiend who is responsible for acquiring trade routes across the land, buying up gold mines, and arranging for the trade federation to blockage the planet of Nabboo so that the senate will pass a vote of no-confidence in Chancellor Velorum and allow Palpatine to seize control.
Actually, no, the last one of those is too boring and stupid for this book. But either way, Archanos’ plot to seize control of the gold trade by kidnapping the princess just comes across as being a bit too bureaucratic for a super-villain. Still, the ogre tells me to wait here for two days and he’ll come back with the princess. So naturally I follow him back to his lair instead. Across a region of the land known as the DEATHMOOR!!!
And no sooner have I set foot into the moors, than Fang-zen shows up and lobs a spear at me. I can’t say that I’m surprised at this, and frankly it’s quite nice to have this plot thread tied up. Having got quite tired of his silly antics, I beat him over the head my sword for a while, and loot the body. While I steal all the gold and silly sandals that he’s got, I notice that the ogre I’ve been tracking has escaped. I’m nowhere near skilled enough to keep tracking him, so I head to a small village outpost that’s aptly named Outpost.
The villagers there are slightly more friendly than the villagers at Khare, because they don’t shoot me with laser eye-beams or try to drown me with poo. But they do refuse to give me anywhere to stay for the night, all but one of them, who demands both gold and a free meal before he’ll even let me crash on his sofa for the night. He does mention that he doesn’t trust outsiders because a little old lady in a house nearby was murdered by a giant the night before… wait, that must be the ogre!
I hurry to the scene of the crime to investigate, only to find no clues whatsoever. And when I get back to the house, the man’s locked me out. Feeling very annoyed with the lack of hospitality in the village of Outpost, I settle down to camp for the night. During which I am attacked by a wolf. I cleave its head off, and grumble in annoyance as I promise myself that, one day, I will burn this village to the ground for their display of ill manners.I still have no idea why the ogre killed the old lady. Maybe he was hungry.
We trudge along through the moors until we get to a river, where we are attacked by two Blackhearts – creatures of mixed orc and dark elf heritage. Which makes me wonder how that pairing came about. Did an orc bonk a dark elf at some point? Is that a regular thing? Are they both physically compatible? Which one carries the child? Wouldn’t an orc be a little, erm, over-sized for an elf lady? And… y’know, I don’t know why I’m even thinking about this. I kill them both.
The whatever-they-are have a special amulet which signifies that they’re loyal members of Arch-thingie’s army of goons, and a map leading to their camp. The book then actually asks if I want to go to their camp, which seems like total suicide to me. So I do it. Sadly it seems that these two chaps I’ve killed were the camp’s only inhabitants, so after searching the place until I find bits of broken stones and rotten food (joy of joys), I decide to head south along the river.
I’m attacked by an acid-spitting snake, which I kill, and proceed to cross the river. Mid-way across I’m attacked by yet another monster, this time it’s a Granochin. The book doesn’t tell me much about what this thing actually is, so I have to work off the artwork, which indicates that it’s a kind of angry fish-thing with clawed hands or something, I dunno. By the time I get to the other side of the river, I notice that my stamina’s rather low and chow down on some provisions.
After camping up for the night, I head into a valley which seems to be littered with skeletons. They promptly come to life and try to attack me, causing me to flee into a nearby ruined farm house. The book tells me to roll dice to see if I can get into the house, but neglects to tell me how many dice I need to roll (yay for the editing!), so I’m going to just assume I make it to the house nice and safe.
Unfortunately, some stupid bugger built their house right on top of a Tantaflex, which is a giant shoggoth-type monster who has caused the skeletons in the area to come back from the dead. After I carve my way through four of the skeletons, the shoggoth awakens and gnaws on my lower intestine for a while. The book outright says ‘in the unlikely event that you survive’. But I do survive. Barely. I survive with one stamina point.
I promptly die while attempting to climb up the side of the ravine in order to get out of the valley, by losing one stamina point due to minor scratches and bruises from loose grit and pebbles. I’m the greatest hero in the known universe.
If Deathmoor was a cake, it would be low-fat lemon cake. It’s bland, but not criminally so. If you had the chance, you’d go for something a bit more tasty.
Cause of death: Pebble-dashed! Oh wait no, that sounds wrong…