The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were blockbusters of the era. The sinister count has risen again, and it’s up to us to prevent the REVENGE OF THE VAMPIRE!
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 dear. Here we go.
I wanted to like Revenge of the Vampire. When I was a kid, I wanted to love it. I mean, Vault of the Vampire was my first Fighting Fantasy book, and without a doubt it’s my fave of all time. But, Revenge? I had a copy of it when I was a kid, and cared so little about it that I spilled some fruit over it and it smelled of kiwi for years to go. Aside from that, it was utterly un-memorable, certainly nowhere near as cool as Vault. It’s just so utterly packed full of errors and continuity problems, it’s clear that it wasn’t playtested properly. It’s damn near unplayable at some points.
And don’t expect that it will be easy to get a copy of this book, either. It’s the rarest Fighting Fantasy book around, selling for about £200 on ebay. My copy cost me £40, and only because it is a former library copy and has stickers and stamp marks all over it.
Count Reiner Heydrich is one of my fave vampire characters in fiction, based on these books. And that’s a list that includes Count Strahd von Zarovich, Eli from ‘Let the Right One In’, and the Vampire Hunter D. It’s a weird list, I admit. But either way, Heydrich has risen from the grave (again) and it’s up to me to go and put an end to his nefarious deeds. So, off we go!
The adventure begins in a tavern, just like 99.7% of all fantasy adventures. My character is sipping his ale (which he evidently must have stolen, as I don’t start this adventure with any money) when he catches sight of a frail old man at the fireside. After talking to him, he tells me that he is on a journey. Not wanting him to fall victim to any thieves over night, I keep an eye on him and check that he is alright in the morning. Instead it seems that he was killed during his sleep.
Checking his belongings, I find that he was an old vampire hunter. His life’s mission was the destruction of Heydrich, and he has been working with a scholar-monk called Sewarth in order to accomplish this. I travel to Sewarth’s monastery, without pausing to steal the old man’s belongings, only to be informed by one of the monks called Endrell that Sewarth has left on an important journey.
I stay at the monastery overnight, and the text makes it very clear that Endrell is rather evil. The book continually asks me things like “Have you uncovered Endrell’s evil plot” and “Have you killed Endrell” etc, so I opt to play along with it and confront him about what’s going on and where Sewarth has got to. So yeah, this entire segment could have been put together in a far more subtle and intelligent manner, is what I’m saying.
So that night, I search Endrell’s bedroom and find a book on the history of Mortvania (the Fighting Fantasy version of… well, take a guess). I confront one of the other monks, Marcus, about this and he tells me that the only reason the monks know that Sewarth is away is because Endrell told them. Not suspicious at all, then. Marcus suggests I search Sewarth’s room and the library.
I do this, and find very little. There’s a note in Sewarth’s room which tells me that he’s hidden something in the areas beneath the monastery (which is probably where I’d have gone anyway), so I wasted a blood point to find this. Oh yeah, the blood points. In this book, if you waste a lot of time doing pointless things like spending your whole afternoon reading gamebooks, you lose blood points. Think of it like being a measurement of how much time you’ve wasted. I mean, sure, they could have called them ‘Time’ points, but that would be too sensible.
Anyway, I go to the library and pass a ‘spot skill’ test (which is exactly the same as passing a skill test, using the same statistic and done in exactly the same manner, but it’s called a spot skill test because of shut the hell up) which tells me that someone has been researching the undead… I’d have never guessed that. Anyway, I head over to the other wing of the monastery hoping to find something of any use, when I see a scared monk running screaming out of a tunnel. I head into that same tunnel, and slay a Ghoul Monk, in the hopes that this will give me some kind of clue to make the three ‘blood’ time points I’ve wasted thus far actually meaningful in some manner.
For my efforts, I get sod all. Of course. I stumble around the monastery for a while, until I find the kitchens. I find a trap door leading down into something, possibly a wine cellar, when I hear Endrell toddling along the hallway. I decide that I’ve had enough of this nonsense, and leap atop him, chopping him into pieces. See, this is what happens when you lead me on a wild goose chase.
In the cellar I find Sewarth’s notes, in which he states that Heydrich cannot be killed due to the power of a Soul Gem, and that we’ll need to destroy that before we can finish this game. I’m attacked by a vampire bat as I leave the cellar, and I decide to leave the monastery altogether. As I do, I see a horse-drawn carriage in the courtyard, into which a mysterious figure is climbing. I rush over to halt the figure, but he simply knocks me down and rides off.
So I follow Sewarth’s notes, heading north until I find a small village. I ask around to see if anyone has seen the carriage, and I’m given the option of asking around to see if anyone in the town knows much about magic. I can bribe some villagers for information for the cost of one gold, or spend an entire day working manual labour to earn one gold if I don’t have any at hand. But if I spend that whole day working, it costs me one blood point too. And here’s another real issue – searching a monk’s room for an hour costs me two blood points, but hauling farm equipment for a full day costs me only one? There’s no consistency in this book!
Anyway, I eventually hear about a chap called Sandor who lives near town and knows a bit about magic. I go to see him, and find that he has a zombie in his stables. I don’t know why, the damn thing ignores me because my faith score is rather high. Inside, I find Sandor, and he greets me by trying to stick a dagger in my face. This is the usual method of saying hello to someone if you live in Manchester, I should mention.
I rip his weird mind-possession necklace off, which restores his own mind. He explains that the necklace that the Count put on him was controlling him. A bunch of zombies then stroll into the house and attack us, these ones don’t seem to be at all repelled by my faith score however, they just try to attack me. Not sure where the consistency is there, but I kill them anyway. While Sandor recovers, I find that the Count has stashed a coffin in this house. I kill the imp that was sitting inside it, and smash up the coffin, which nets me a few blood points back.
Sandor tells me that it’s quite important that I check out a mountain called Crab Point. But he doesn’t know where it is, and neither does anyone else in the whole village. At all. Nobody has ever heard of a mountain called Crab Point. Tsch, whatever. I leave town and head in the direction of Heydrich manor, hoping to find something along the way. En route, I am attacked by giant ravens, and told that my horse has run off during the fight… wait, I had a horse? No, I didn’t have a horse, the book just tells you that whether you had a horse or not!
In fact, there’s a lovely bug in this book which means that, if you buy a horse early in the book, it will cost you ‘every gold coin’ you possess. Only a few paragraphs later, you’re asked to pay for a room at an inn. There’s no chance to earn any gold between these segments… and according to reports on the Fighting Fantasy wiki, the correct price for the horse was meant to be 8 gold coins . How on earth do you get from ‘8 gold coins’ to ‘every penny you possess’? (edit Turns out that the wiki says NOTHING about this… I can’t remember where I heard that it was meant to be 8 gold, and perhaps I even just imagined it! Shows how reliable my memory is…) The bugs on this aren’t just minor bugs – they’re gigantic, rampaging, ravenlous bug-blatter beasts of Traal!
I stumble through the mist for a while, my high faith score sustaining me, and slay a mist bat. It’s a supernatural monster that takes less (not zero) damage from non-magical weapons, and that’s a bit of a relief to see this for a change. Normally if a segment involves combat and magical weapons, it’s only to tell you that you’re screwed. Emerging from the mist, I arrive in the town of Farleigh and I’m given the option of talking to the merchant whose life I saved. If you’re thinking ‘what merchant?’, then… yeah, I didn’t meet any merchant… remember, no real editing in this book.
Just to remind you… £100 for this book if you want a copy.
I ask around town to see if I can find anyone with useful occult knowledge, and eventually do find a merchant who promises to be useful, if I come to see him the next day. When I turn up at his house, he’s been murdered by the Count. No surprise there, another chance of finding this elusive Crab Peak shot in the knee. I’ve given up much hope of being able to get there by this point, so I simply push on to the count’s mansion, stopping only at the market to arm myself with a silver stake and mallet.
I don’t get much chance to use them. When I get to the manor, I break my way through the gate, being assailed by gargoyles all the while. I then opt to sneak through the western wing of the manor, running into a pack of ghouls as I do so. Bleeding quite heavily, I find my way into a room and… do you know what a grand revenant is? It’s an undead monster that just won’t die. I kill it, and it gets back up and keeps coming after me. So my heroic attempt to infiltrate the manor hits a slight snag, namely that I wind up barricading a door to stop a grand revenant from eating me, and limping weakly through the hallways while pouring blood all over the place. Fun times.
I start to hopelessly yank open doors in the hopes of finding something vaguely useful. In one room, I find a variety of jars and bottles, which I’m given the option of smashing. Naturally, I manage to choose the only bottle that explodes in my face when I smash it, reducing my health points to a single one. No doubt I’m clutching my own liver in my hands as I’m stumbling through the hallways now, until I eventually find my way into the Count’s dining room. It’s at this point when an invisible ghost decides it’d be fun to chuck the silverware at me, and I die from a most pathetic whack of a plate to the head.
Which comes as a bit of a relief, to be honest. But hey, it’s still a better book than Twilight.
This book really had so much potential, and it’s a damn shame to see that it wasn’t used to its fullest. It feels so clumsy and unpolished at times, and really deserved some stronger editing and a few more stringent playthroughs. It could have been so much more, and it’s just a damn shame it didn’t reach the promise of Heydrich’s previous adventure.
Oh well. At least you can make a pretty penny if you still have a copy of it, eh?
Cause of death: Cutlery. Yes, cutlery.