Armies of Death

The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were blockbusters of the era. Now we have to fight our way through an entire bunch of armies – the Armies of Death!

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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Did you ever wonder what happens AFTER you win the adventure and get the big box full of treasure? The answer seems simple enough – you buy a massive army.

Personally, I’d buy a giant statue of myself made out of solid gold. But that’s just me. Hell, I wasn’t able to win the Deathtrap Dungeon, and I’ve been there twice now. But the character in Armies Of Death got through it no problem, and has spent his treasure on recruiting an army of his very own.

And before we’ve had the chance to invade all of Westeros, we learn that Aggrax the evil is amassing an army of his own, in order to take over the world etc etc. Of all the Fighting Fantasy books, this is published around the 30s, at which point pretty much every storyline is “Evil wizard A is amassing an army, find the magic B and go to his castle at C to win the day.” Having the strength of an army behind you really does change the feel of it all.

We start out buying a ship from a grubby old man in the middle of the road, which can happily accommodate my 200 or so troops. We all cram into the boat and sail down the river, singing sailing songs. Eventually we catch sight of a barrel floating in the river, which contains a load of apples (and not hobbits, as I was expecting). My troop happily chow down on the apples, unaware that they were all poisoned by an evil crone. An evil crone whose main source of happiness in life is to float barrels full of poison apples down the river, hoping that a group of people eventually find and eat them…

Ah, it’s an Ian Livingstone adventure. That explains it.

In Fighting Fantasy books, my luck with going into rivers is almost legendary, resulting in drowning, being eaten by piranahs and eels and ambushed by pirates. So naturally enough, we are immediately attacked by pirates. Fortunately my elven archers are able to see them away, and the day takes a turn for the fortunate when I find a dead body in the river which is holding a clearly useful key.

My army is soon bolstered by a group of wild-men who offer their services, and one of their number is kind enough to give me a yeti’s tooth which will magically keep werewolves away. I’m so grateful for the wild-men joining my army that, the next morning when we are attacked by poisonous wasps, I let them have the glory of dying in my place.

After seeing another ship full of pirates on their way, our noble ship eventually docks and my army merrily skip along to a nearby town, setting up camp nearby. The town’s officials don’t seem to be too bothered about the massive army of a few hundred bloodthirsty warriors camped up near their settlement though, and are quite content to let me ride into their shopping district to do a bit of retail therapy. I manage to find a rather nice gold ring, and an exotic pet pokemon creature that can turn invisible (at least, that’s what the store owner told me, although I suspect that he just sold me an empty cage!)

I manage to find a small gym type building, which I take to be a local fighter’s guild, and after proceeding to beat the living snot out of the manager (technically we call it ‘bartering for a good price’), I manage to recruit a bunch of fighters for my army. I’m running a little low on funds, but settle for a nice quiet little inn to stay the night. We meet a very familiar looking gentleman at the inn, who tells me long and involving stories about his old sailing buddies, and eventually gives me a rather nice sword as a reward for listening to his rambling stories. Lovely!

The next morning I get lost in town, and eventually find my way back to my army’s encampment. We set out to explore the nearby forest, hoping to find some clue as to the demon lord chap’s location, and instead stumble upon an elf village. Having a closer look, it seems that the dark lord whosisface’s forces have massacred the village, so I suppose we’re on the right track after all.

I then proceed to make a complete fool of myself by trudging into the middle of a giant puddle of mud in order to recover an old wooden box, and get bitten by a whole load of insects in the meantime which causes me to develop all kinds of horrible diseases. My army laughs at me. And for all the effort, the box contained a load of useless bones… Who is putting boxes full of bones in mud pits? Eh. Doesn’t matter.

We rescue a group of dwarves from some especially unpleasant ogres, or hobgoblins, or whatever. In gratitude, the dwarves join us, and it’s about at this point that I start to see a few similarities between the combat system as used here and the one later used in Blood of the Zombies. See if you can spot them too. We now get to the part of the adventure that I call ‘getting lost in the forest’.

After stumbling around for a while, I find my way into a cave. Chopping apart the giant ant who’s no doubt just happily sitting in the cave (which is probably just the giant ant’s bedroom, which I have invaded). I grab a small box, which contains a flash-bang bomb that blinds my character utterly. My skill score, which was at a rather health 10, plummets as a result. Oh, giant ant, why do you even have this item in your cave?

We stumble through the forest for a while longer until we meet a group of knights who are guarding a bridge. In order to allow us to cross the bridge, they ask us a riddle. Well, not really a riddle. They just ask us who one of the big important Fighting Fantasy wizards was. I’m not even sure if this wizard was mentioned in the book prior to this, or if the book is just asking a general bit of trivia to test the reader’s knowledge of the setting, but either way I guess at the illustrious Yaztromo being the correct answer. And it is.

The knights join the group, and we cross the bridge, setting up to make camp for the night. During the night, I look up and see that there is a full moon tonight… somehow, I can still see this despite being blind. I just assume that the book means that my trusty lieutenant tells me that there’s a full moon. Anyway, this means that the camp is soon attacked by a werewolf! It howls viciously, but my trusty yeti tooth holds even greater power, causing it to be frozen in place while we dispatch its foul lyncanthropic hide. I’m actually fairly impressed that the damn thing worked. I guess I owe my respect to the poor, dead wildman who gave me the thing.

Still, after having killed the werewolf, we’re able to get a good night’s sleep. The next morning, we wake up and continue on our trek, only to come face to face with an army of Chaos Warriors. Sometimes, you can see little things like this which remind you about the whole warhammer connection to these gamebooks. I wonder why Games Workshop never took advantage of this link and published any of their own gamebooks… anyway, the Chaos Warriors butcher my dwarves without breaking a sweat.

The Chaos Warriors then unleash a horde of goblin war machines, which tear through a large chunk of my army. The entire forest turns into the battle for Pelinor Fields at that point, and I am personally drawn into a fight with a Hill Troll. As you’ll remember, I’m now blind, but my blind fighting kung fu skills are amazing and I manage to slay the troll. Barely. I have three health points left.

So once I’ve killed the troll, a Mountain Orc takes his place and finishes the job. I no doubt die in a horribly gruesome manner. My blind fighting kung fu skills have abandoned me. Perhaps I should have played a Pandaren Monk instead.

Armies of Death is a pretty solid and exciting book. Its system for large scale combat is really easy to use and flexible enough to work really smoothly without cutting into the flow of the story. This is good. Buy it. Then get me a new pair of shoes. Mine are muddy.

Cause of death: Trolls and orcs, oh my.