The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were blockbusters of the era. Now let’s arm up and get ready to fight, for we are the Battleblade Warrior!
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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This post’s entry is on Battleblade Warrior, a book that I did own as a kid and don’t remember anything about. I remember the cover easily enough, but none of the content. Also, my spellcheck seems to believe that Battleblade isn’t a word. I suspect it may be right. Right, let’s have a look. Battleblade Warrior has a picture of a lizardman on a giant flying pterodactyl on the front, and the system works with the basic Fighting Fantasy system, no additional stats added.
The background section tells the tale of your homeland under siege by the lizardmen, who are invading because that’s the kind of things that lizardmen do. Possibly they are using pterodactyls, it doesn’t outright say at this point. But we can always hope! As prince of the kingdom, you’re soon charged with going on a big ol’ quest to find a special weapon, etc. We’ve heard it all before, but what really shines here is Marc’s writing, giving little details here and there that make the intro feel genuinely unique and involving. Huge points there.
My father has long since died in the siege and my mother, the queen, is leading the war effort. One morning, after a long night of helping out with the wounded, I am met by a glowing mysterious figure dressed in glistening armour, who may or may not by my nation’s patron diety, who tells me to go and pick up a powerful weapon with which we can repel the invading army. “Oh, sure thing” I say, having nothing better to do. “Couldn’t you maybe just go and bring it here instead, being all powerful and everything?” I ask. The mysterious glowing figure laughs and walks off.
So the queen allows me to take a few items along, I grab my dad’s bow and arrow set and a crystal orb full of swirling mist. I’ve no idea what it is, but it’s swirly and pretty. Maybe it’s a snowglobe. I bid goodbye to the queen (“See you later mum”) and head out on my quest. I’m given the choice of fighting my way through the siege, sneaking out, or swiping a boat and sailing out, so I choose the sneaky option, because my skill score is a mere 9.
Evidently my plan to sneak out was overseen by my mother, who decided to send an entire squadron of soldiers off on a suicide mission to distract the lizardman army, purely so that I can sneak out through a tunnel. With an amazing tactical mind like that, it’s no surprise we’re losing the war. “Don’t worry son, I’ll send wave after wave of soldiers against the enemy until they have killed so many of us that they are all very tired. Then in their exhausted state we’ll be able to defeat them easily!”
I shuffle through a trench for a while, clambering over dead bodies and mud, until I hear a sound above the edge of the trench. I look up and see a lizardman riding on a triceratops. “Roar” it says, and whaps me over the head with its javelin. I promptly kill the thing, and wonder about the idea of a lizardman riding on top of a giant lizard. Would this be like a man riding a gorilla to work in the morning? I keep thinking this, mainly to distract myself from the knowledge that I’m walking over a bunch of dead bodies, until I stumble across another lizardman standing atop the edge of the trench, laughing at his luck at finding me. I grab his leg and pull him into the trench with me, during which he falls on his sword and dies. What a shame.
By now I’ve snuck all the way to the enemy camp. I’m ready to head off, when I see a large set of catapults launching a variety of fiery bales at my home. I decide that this is a good time to use one of my dad’s three magic arrows, and fire it at the barrel of pitch nearby. The barrel promptly explodes, somehow. I don’t know how, but eh, it works. With the catapults reduced to smouldering ruins, I press onwards.
I slip through some tents in the camp, hiding behind some barrels from patrols, until I arrive at the stables. I promptly steal one of the riding lizard mounts, and charge off into the sunset. The lizardmen, of course, notice me and give chase. The chase sequence is actually pretty tense, with arrows flying and lots of tension, until I near a copse of trees. My mount is promptly shot by a man in the trees, who I confront angrily. He apologises, and makes it up to me by shooting two of the pursuing lizardmen with arrows. I’m given the option of helping open fire with my own bow at this point, but as I only have two arrows and the stranger’s pet saber-toothed tiger (!) scares the rest off, I leave them be.
The man, Lecarte, tells me of his own quest to find his father and I try to look as if I care. Sorry dude, but you shot my really cool giant lizard mount, your personal quest is your own business! He tells me that we should go to Capra, which I assume is being over-run by Cylons. Lecarte then explains that I’m thinking of Caprica, not Capra, and shakes his head in despair. Finally, to make up for killing my cool lizard-horse thing, he decides to set a trap for the lizardman.
That night, twelve lizardmen return to the trees and try to hunt us out. By that point we’ve set up a trap involving gunpowder that Lecarte got from Sardarth (ah, continuity, don’t you love it?) which explodes in a giant fireball, roasting the screaming lizardmen alive, their flesh charring and blistering… y’know, they just don’t make kids books like this any more.
We arrive in Capra, to find that nobody there is any help whatsoever. I take my leave of Lecarte, who suggests I wear a disguise for the next part of my journey, so he stands on the other side of the room and throws handfuls of mud at me. “Honest, this’ll make you look like an orc” he explains. I am pretty sure that this is not how disguises work. Sure enough, about a day’s travel north of Capra, I stumble across an orc encampment. Good thing I was in costume, I suppose.
I slip into the orc camp, where they are having a funeral for one of their dead elders. I pay my respects to the elder in the traditional orc way, which is to take a huge bite out of the dead man’s body. Following this, one of the elders realises that I’m not actually an orc after all, and whacks me over the head with a stick until I run away.
On my flight from the orc camp, I run into a messenger called Katya, who is on her own personal quest type of a thing. I’m thus far very impressed with this book’s use of additional characters, so I recruit Katya to my party. She has a rather sickly horse, having ridden it all the way from her own besieged homelands without a break. When we make camp for the night, the horse sadly dies. I say sadly, because we don’t get a heartbreaking scene of the horse sinking into the swamp of sadness. OH GOD ARTAX WHY DID YOU HAVE TO DIE?
So the next morning we NO ARTAX PLEASE DON’T LET THE SADNESS OF THE SWAMPS GET TO YOU PLEASE GO ON ARTAX NO DON’T DIE!! ahem, sorry, can’t help myself sometimes. Yeah anyway, the next morning we continue our expedition, only to encounter yet more fantasy tropes. As we enter a desert region, we can hear a rider approaching on the road in front of us. We attempt to hide from it, but this ersatz nazgul catches us. It chains us to Conan’s tree of woe, where we bake in the sun for a few days.
Like the typical Fighting Fantasy companion, Katya dies almost immediately. I’m lucky enough to be rescued by a travelling trader, who brings me to his camp in the middle of the desert. He offers to tell me some information on my next lead, if I give him a special item. But lacking any such item, he simply says “Well, nice to meet you” and kicks me out of his camp. I trudge through the blistering desert for a while under the hot sun, until the ground starts to get very wet and damp, and I realise I’ve hit swamp-lands. OH GOD ARTAX NO ahem sorry. I promptly run into a giant swamp mutant lizard godzilla thing, which almost bites my head clean off.
Having killed the thing, I decide to climb up a nearby tree to sleep. The following day, I climb higher in order to see my route through the swamp, and catch sight of some mountains in the distance. I also manage to find some rope ladders and vine swings, which quickly alerts me to a small village set into the treetops. My luck starts to turn, however, when I find a preserved body of one of these treetop inhabitants mummified among the leaves.
The dead guy’s friends then turn up and attempt to kill me, forcing me to take a leap from the treetops and flee, leaving all of my possessions behind. I trudge blindly through the swamp, until a lizardman riding a flying pterodactyl swings down from the sky and tries to poke me with its pointed stick. After a few turns of hitting me, it gets bored and flies away. By this point I’m pretty low on stamina, and I’m hoping to find a place to rest soon. Before I do so, though, I am confronted with an illusion of a gigantic tiger traipsing through the sky, which nearly frightens me to death. Having convinced myself that the gigantic tiger is just the illusion of the local jungle gods (they like to dick around with us mortals for a laugh), me and my three remaining health points stumble into a camp.
“Are you the old man I’m looking for?” I ask the man who lives in the camp. He nods. “Good” I say, and pass out.
The old man, Laskar, wakes me up in the morning to tell me to head off into a horrible dungeon of death and suffering. “But I’ve only got three stamina points left”, I explain, “My arm is hanging off by a thread.” “Walk it off” says the old man, and before I know it I’m sitting at the mouth of the dungeon, snarfing my face with provisions in the hopes that I can recover enough hit points in order to survive the next few sections of the book.
Stumbling through the first few tunnels of the dungeon, I am soon met by a pair of stone guardians who do the whole “None shall pass” schtick. I make short work of reducing them to pieces of flint, but at the cost of most of the stamina that my provisions have regained. I slip into the chamber that they were guarding, only to find that it is inhabited by a giant slug.
“I know, I’ll sneak past it” says I.
“No you won’t” says the giant slug, and it eats my head. Thus endeth the journey.
I genuinely enjoyed this book a lot more than I thought I would. I was worried that it would be one of those bland, tedious books without much character of its own, but Mark’s writing really helps elevate it above any risk of that. You’ve got a huge sense of landscape and travel here, and the many characters you encounter definitely bring the adventure to life. Take note, this is a very standard Fighting Fantasy adventure that boils down to ‘go get weapon and kill enemy’, but the way it’s written sets it as one of the examples of the series doing it at its best. So yeah, this book gets a very shiny and positive review from me, and I’m thrilled to have rediscovered it.
Cause of death: Slug head-eating.