The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were blockbusters of the era. Now let’s see if we can face the MOONRUNNER!
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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In the wake of a great war that brought ruin to much of the lands, the feared General Karam Gruul has eluded capture. As a bounty hunter, the main character is asked to track down this war criminal and bring him to justice. I really quite like this idea. It’s a nice change from the usual “a wizard is raising an army, go and kill it” type of scenario.
Wonder if being a moonrunner is much like being a bladerunner….
The introductory bit for this book is excellent. Our mighty bounty hunter, who we’ll name Fobar Bett, has been enlisted to track down Gruul, who is believed to be hiding out in the city of Blackhaven, and possibly under the protection of a cult called the Cabal of Werewolves. General Major Bretton, who is debriefing you on the information, offers to pay for the mission – but the character announces that he has a personal grudge to settle with Gruul as well.
No sooner has Bretton given me some leads, does he keel over dead. Assassinated by throwing knife through the window of the fort, no less! I quickly examine the blade, and recognise it as the work of a local artisan. But there’s no time for further investigation of the crime scene, I charge through the window after the assassin.
Using my acrobatics skill, I’m able to get to the ground easily… Oh yes, this is one of those Fighting Fantasy books that employs a range of possible skills. Like the ones from Sword of the Samurai, you may remember. But these are implemented far better already, quickly giving you a feel of possible actions without relying on the old ‘this skill will boost skill stat’ type of fallback. All the skills are accessible directly via the text, which not only adds to the flavour of the story, but makes it easier to cheat. Not that I’m cheating here, though. But you could. If you wanted to.
I pursue the assassin until he hurls a smoke bomb at me and makes good his escape. I decide to quickly check out the man who made the knife, hoping that I may find some clue there – only to instead realise that he has been cleared out of town, and instead a particularly nasty pit trap has been left on his doorstep for me. I fall into a cage beneath the doorstep, which is almost washed into the river. Thankfully I happen to have picked a few rather good skills, and I’m able to pull myself free without being drowned in the city’s wet and almost certainly sewage-encrusted river.
Without any strong idea where I should head to, and suspecting that I should have given stronger attention to tracking the assassin earlier, I instead decide to hit the local tavern and ask for advice. “Hey,” I say to the barmaid, “Know anything about the Cabal of Werewolves?” This rather weak attempt at a chat-up line does not go down well, leading to a bunch of men of ill repute hitting me with a bar stool and throwing me out of the tavern. And I did not even get a slap-up dinner, either.
Taking pity on me, I meet a sagely old professor lady who offers to help me recover from my recurring habit of getting beaten up by entire hordes of people. Professor Van Heldenghast (surely the most fortuitous name in the history of the universe) takes me to her home and lets me rest up. I’m actually going to enjoy this while it lasts, knowing (from having played Fighting Fantasy books so often before) that this will likely be the final moment of comfort in my terribly short and gruesome life.
And even better, she DOES provide me with a lovely dinner! The Professor tells me that Gruul is a practitioner of a rare form of sorcery, and that we can overcome it by acquiring six relics which are scattered throughout town. She gives me a shopping list of items for me to pick up from interesting places around town. Naturally, being me, the first place I choose to visit is the Chamber Of Horrors!
Sadly, it turns out that the Chamber of Horrors is just a wax-work display. It is not even slightly like the Circus of Horrors, which I went to see earlier this year. It lacks the fire-breathing rock’n’roll guru ringmaster Doc Haze. It lacks the bewildering contortionist Anastasia the 4th. It lacks the amazing Hannibal, the heavily tattooed sword-swallower who hangs from hooks over the stage. It lacks Captain Dan, the demon dwarf, who amazes audiences by dragging a Henry Hoover around the stage with his penis. Instead, the Chamber of Horrors has some wax works. And a shroud that a necromancer was once buried in, tucked in amongst the displays. Or rather, it DID possess the shroud. Until I nicked it.
My next stop is a curio shop, where I have to pick up a bottle of a vampire lord’s blood. The shop owner tries to charge me more gold than I have, so I threaten to do horrible things to his puppy unless he just hands over the bottle. With it, I head over to the old abandoned jail, to recover a chain that has been used to bind a powerful demon. Having unchained the demon, I promptly kick it back into the pit that it has crawled out of. Interesting fact about demons, they are vulnerable to being jump-kicked.
It’s about at this stage that things start to go… not so good.
I decide to head to the temple next, in order to recover the mask, seeing as masks seem to often be used as horcruxes and all that. En route, a man in a crowd gives me a note telling me to meet him on a hilltop on the far end of town for information on Gruul. Sure, sounds legit. What could go wrong? Not like it could be a trap or anything….
Oh shit it’s a trap! Who’d have guessed? When I get there, I am chased around the hilltop in the middle of a rainstorm by an obsidian monster for a while. It knocks me around, and is just about to kill me when it is struck by lightning. Not a lovely way to spend a few hours, but by the time I get to the temple, I discover that the mask has already been stolen by Gruul. Hmmph.
Hoping to pick up some speed, I head to the seediest tavern in the city next, where I need to meet two bodysnatchers who will help me find the next item, an evil skull from the local graveyard. They offer me a pint to drink, and I gladly accept. I wake up a few hours later, still reeling from the drugged ale, to find all of my possessions have been stolen. Yeah, only got myself to blame for that one…
The last item, the wooden hand of an executed thief, I find in gallows square. Sneaking through the gibbets and avoiding the executioners as they kick a beggar, I’m able to find the hand without too much trouble. But that’s not the last part of this item’s mission. No, I need to take the hand to a powerful necromancer who will enchant it.
The necromancer lives in a very dark house, probably called ‘Mansion Sinister’. It’s full of shadows and echoes. The necromancer, who may as well be called Wicked McEvilson for all I know, takes the hand and tells me to wait here while he enchants it, telling me most emphatically not to follow him through the door into his ritual chamber.
Y’know…. what do YOU think I do?
Just… scroll down a bit, and put a comment in telling me what you think I do at this point in the adventure. Tell me if you think I stay and wait, or if I follow the necromancer through the forbidden door.
I’m not going to tell you how this adventure ends, but I will mention that it ended very, very soon after I made that decision. Very soon. With lots of screaming and yelling, and the sounds of the mortal mind snapping like broken glass, and eyes being burned with the images of something called the Necrotic Wilderness of Q’Yann.
So, how was the book? Well… the premise, as mentioned at the top of the post, feels suitably interesting and new. Our antagonist feels genuinely calculating, leaving various traps throughout the adventure. It’s full of some very colourful and interesting characters. The atmosphere is also excellent, both moody and dramatic, and you can often picture the sweeping gothic architecture of the city. This is definitely aided by the strong and evocative artwork.
The gameplay itself feels very free. I restarted the chase sequence a few times during play, simply because it can spiral off into so many different results. It certainly doesn’t feel at all linear. The last areas we visited here, recovering the artefacts throughout the city, feel like inter-connected mini-adventures all on their own, but don’t feel isolated from the rest of the story. And the options of skills that you can change (all of which open up new routes through the adventure) give a lot of replay potential.
So in short, I just LOVED this book! Big thanks to Stuart for sending it, I’m thoroughly glad to have got the chance to finally try this book as it has a whole lot to offer. Fantastic! Good to end on a high note, eh? Especially after the last few weeks’ less-than-excellent fare. Lovely. And damn, I’ve needed to get a good book going, after the last two. Feels damn lovely to be able to have something positive to say about things again.
Cause of death: Brain-melt.