The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were blockbusters of the era. Originally planned for the first series, this abandoned volume resurfaced under a new publisher – BLOODBONES!

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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BLOODBONES!! I just love that title.

I also love that the game’s introduction gives you a past. You were growing up in a nice happy little village, everything was peachy and charming, until the evil pirate Bloodbones came along. He murdered your family, and possibly burned down your village as well (as evil villains tend to do in fantasy games), and now you’re out for revenge.

I joke about that, but it actually does add a lot to the game. You feel that your character has a history. Which brings me to another thing I noticed… the book gives you the option of choosing from pre-made characters if you like. The description for these characters are pretty neat, and it does inspire you to think up a bit more about the character that you’re rolling up, though. For instance, my character was lucky enough to roll a high stamina score, so I decided that he would be called ‘El Cahote’, the greatest lover to ever grace Port Blacksand, with a cutless in hand and a rose in the other. He has slain a thousand enemies, but will he carve his way to his beloved’s heart?

I’d have liked to see the book make more reference to the character’s past at times though, because this really was a neat idea. A few little things like “the ale in this tavern tastes bad, even worse than the swill you drank in Khare, which you remember discovering was actually fermented from rats”, or “you finish the enemy with a vicious knee to the jaw, just like you used to dispatch the savage cannibal chieftain of the Baruga islands.” I mean, it’s silly I know, but if you’ve set up a history for the character, why not take full advantage of all that it can bring, and use it to show and tell some of his swashbuckling adventures?

Anyway, I quickly learn from an old drunk in a bar that the fiersome pirate Bloodbones has been brought back from the dead by powerful voodoo. He invites me to talk to him further outside, which I agree to do. The moment I step outside, though, I see that he has been attacked by three vicious pirates. Naturally, I charge into combat, shouting my battle-cry “How appropriate! You fight like a cow!” only to immediately discover that they’re to… fight both enemies at the same time? Wait, what?

I took them down readily enough. The third pirate had a special feature in his combat which let him do fancy tricks with his whip, which further cemented the idea that this game doesn’t mess around. I was already regretting not choosing the ‘run away like a little chicken’ option. But I eventually managed to drop this pirate, and got on with the adventure proper.

I immediately start off doing what all adventurers do – hitting the gambling pits, where I managed to totally fail to solve a simple number puzzle. I think the game took pity on me then, because I over-heard some pirates whispering some clues. The book instructed me to take note of a keyword. It seems that this book’s going to be quite involving, with a time score, keywords and the like. In general, keywords remind me of playing ‘Clash of the Princes’, Fighting Fantasy’s two-player books, when I was a kid. Specifically, it reminded me of one chapter that asked me to wait until the other player had found a keyword before I could advance – I waited for two hours, before deciding that I wanted to play Nintendo instead.

At the gambling pits, a woman gave me the key to her hotel room, which is a regular occurance for El Cahote. Eager for a night of loving, I hurried along to her room, only to find that the woman had left me a gift – not a rose or a box of chocolates, but a cursed skull. Well, not the most romantic gesture in the world. I was then attacked by voodoo cultists, which I easily killed, earning another keyword in the process.

The game then gave me a few more options of places I could explore, as well as telling me that it was now night-time. I had no idea where to go, so I decided to pick one of the new areas. The sewers and the graveyard were possible, but I tend to have a good idea of what those locations tend to involve in FF games – giant rats and zombie hordes, in that order. I chose the third option, the lighthouse.

The lighthouse was awesome. I explored a cave, which lead to a fight with a giant octopus (I got nothing from this except for the pride of saying that I killed a giant octopus, which is a shame given how difficult it was to get to the cave in the first place). After dispatching a few pirates, I found a letter that told me that the villain’s ship was listed under an assumed name, which gave me a third keyword. I felt I was making progress. I then opened a trap door, and was attacked by a cat. A trapdoor cat. I like to think that if the player is already low on stamina, this could have been an amazing way to end their adventure – death by being scratched by a cat.

Now that I had three keywords and a clue about the ship, I decided to check out the dock. Only a few moments after I arrived on the docks, a man threw an anchor at me. He THREW an ANCHOR at me!! Now, I live in a port town in real-life, and I happen to know that anchors tend to be pretty massive and solid things – they have to be in order to do their job. And this enemy had just picked one up and chucked it at me. Yeah, I was a wee bit worried now. I was fighting the Anchor Man, who was even scarier than the trapdoor cat! Seems he didn’t think this idea out too well, because I was able to chuck the anchor into the sea, dragging him along with it, and earning another keyword in the process.

I then decided to head to the graveyard, only to be intercepted by the two of Bloodbones’ mid-level bosses – the vile and sadistic Silas Gallows, and the deadly assassin Wu-Lin. I killed them both, but not without having to use the last of my provisions to recoup my lost health levels after the fight. Now without any means to recover further health, I was going to have to be even more careful with my next steps.

In the graveyard, I seen two suspicious looking chaps who I decided to follow. I was asked to test my luck, and I was lucky, so they didn’t spot me. I followed them into a tomb, where I was confronted by an ancient ghost who demanded a password. I didn’t have one, so the ghost attacked me. Yeah, I really felt ‘lucky’ at this point. Either way, I couldn’t hurt the ghost, but it could sure hurt me, and I quickly joined it on the other side of the afterlife.

So that was my adventure in Bloodbones. I suspect that, having finished with a time score of 11, I would have been already too late to catch the pirate ship, but there’s no way I can tell. This is a very varied and interesting book, it really seems to use all the tricks from past FF books (keywords, codes to determine which paragraph to turn to, additional scores) to the maximum, and a lot of the enemies have extra rules in combat to keep the action varied.

The environment doesn’t seem at all linear, giving you loads of places to explore. But you have so many options and so little clues as to what may be useful or not, it generally feels like you were stumbling around hoping for things to happen without any real idea of what you were looking for. Overall it’s a pretty fun ride, and with a little more work, could have been a classic.

Cause of death: Dragged down by a ghost!