The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were blockbusters of the era. Today we are caught between two powerful combatants as they enter into a mighty Clash of the Princes!
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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Clash of the Princes is perhaps the most unique of the Fighting Fantasy series. It’s slightly rarer than Steve Jackson’s Sorcery series, and is the only FF book (outside of Fighting Fantasy, The Riddling Reaver, and Dungeoneer/Blacksand/Allansia) that have multiplayer capabilities. It also predates these multiplayer books by several years, I believe. What is the big pull for this book? Well, it’s two-player. And it’s two books.
Two-player gamebooks weren’t unknown, but were better known under the ‘Duel Masters’ series, which really captured and perfected their form. With Clash of the Princes, each book could be played solo, unlike the ‘Duel Masters’ series. But the real heart of Clash of the Princes was the impression of freedom that it gave the players. The very first choice you make in the game, for instance, is if you want to work together or not.
But as I said, it’s also one of the rarer Fighting Fantasy adventures. This is mainly because it was sold as a box set of both books. Many bookstores simply didn’t know what to do with this big box – split them up? Display them separate? And then there was the price tag, which was a hefty £3.50. Can you imagine, two books costing that much? For 1986, that was crazy money. Let’s say that you’re 9 years old, your parents usually can be coaxed into indulging you with a Fighting Fantasy book for £2 every couple months or so. Now try begging them for one that’s almost twice that much!
Of course, books don’t cost anywhere near that little these days. Except for my book, that is – available on Kindle now, if you’re interested.
But anyway, the first book (The Warrior’s Way) sets you as Clovis, fighter-prince. The second book (The Warlock’s Way) sets you as Lothar, mage-prince. Both princes are sent out into a world full of crazy mad things that want to kill them, and told to find a magic gem in order to prove that they are worthy of ruling their nation. I am unsure if this is a good means to select a ruler. On one hand, I doubt that David Cameron could complete a quest any more dangerous than kicking a disabled person. On the other hand, I can’t really picture Clovis’s great-grantfather, Mad Douglas the Demented, would have much grasp on the economic nuances of ruling an entire empire when his only claim to rulership is that he headbutted a gryphon to death and nicked its ruby.
Clovis, the warrior, plays exactly the same as your typical Fighting Fantasy adventurer. Lothar, the warrior, has less skill points – but makes up for this with a number of magic points, which he can use either when the text allows him to cast a spell, or before combat to give him a variety of stat boosts or injure his opponent. I’d generally suggest that of the two players, the less experienced FF player take Clovis for the first few playthroughs.
Me and my partner decided to give this a shot. In order to keep both players synched up, we are required to record Status and Action scores. Both scores are essentially little more than flagpoints, but they work very smoothly. For instance, we might come to a section where Lothar has the chance to lay a trap for Clovis. If he does, he would change one of these two scores to a set number, and then continue on his way. When Clovis gets to that point, he is asked to look and see what number is set. If the score is set to the number associated with the trap being set, then Clovis would fall into the trap – otherwise, play continues as normal. This method of synching is very smooth and works surprisingly well.
As an example for this – the first choice we are asked to make is to decide if we want to travel together. I was playing Lothar, my partner was playing Clovis. Lothar wanted to travel together, so the text told me to change the Action score, and wait until the Status score changed. When Lothar changed the Status score, the text told me to turn to a paragraph (“If the Status score changes to X, turn to section Y. If it changes to anything else, turn to section Z.”) Section Z would mean that Clovis didn’t want to journey wth me and ran off on his own. You follow? No? Tough!
We decided mutually to travel off together. It wasn’t long before we come across a villager who tells us that his home has been over-run with orcs. Those pesky orcs, they’re worse than woodlice. We decide to split up, with Clovis charging in through the door whilst Lothar opens the window and chucks spells into the house, assuming that the villager doesn’t mind the inside of his home being consumed in a myriad of fireball spells. Unfortunately, Lothar’s plan fell apart when he got caught in a magical rope snare that was waiting at the window, leaving Clovis to chop his way through a bunch of unhappy orcs.
Clovis freed poor Lothar and claimed the majority of the loot for his trouble. Together the two hurried along to their next location, a large bridge across a vast river. The bridge, more a small fortress, had an upstairs area which was abandoned. Together the two princes hurried upstairs, only for Clovis to be caught by a giant moth. Lothar saved the day by turning the moth into a mouse (he had the option to cast a fire spell, but given that Clovis’ player was screaming for him not to use any fire because that would result in surely certain death, he went for the more sensible choice of spells). Lothar took some of the moth’s silk as a reward, and then promptly fell down a hole in the floor and got swept away by the river.
With both princes separated, they began their adventures apart. Clovis crosses the bridge and ventured north, going onwards until his path ventured into a small valley. The walls of the valley grew narrower and narrower, until they were wide enough for only one person to walk. Then Clovis seen someone in the distance. It was himself.
Realising that he was standing in front of a giant mirror that some mad bugger had installed in the middle of a ravine (and really, who does all this stuff? Fighting Fantasy books are replete with odd bits of geographical features that could only have been put there by mad buggers), Clovis stands around looking confused for a while. Then his reflection steps out from the mirror and tries to kill him. It’s a tough fight, because the mirror image had the same stats as Clovis, but Clovis is able to win through. No sooner has he killed his reflection, however, than Clovis begins to fade away. Without a mirror of his own to create a new reflection, he fades out of existence.
Lothar, meanwhile, fares no better. He drags himself out of the river and trecks across the landscape for a while until he encounters a lake. A group of boatmen tell him that it is the Lake Of Death (with capital letters, no less), and that it is filled with venomous , flesh-eating fish, which are also invisible!
Lothar, being no rube, tells then “You’re having a laugh, mate. Pull the other one!”. He isn’t stupid enough to fall for such a blatantly fake and utterly moronic story, especially not when it’s coming from a bunch of boatmen who are asking for almost every penny Lothar has in order to ride him across the lake, which is only a yard deep anyway. So the warlock-prince wades out into the lake to cross it. Whereupon he is promptly eaten by venomous flesh-eating invisible fish.
So ended the royal line.
I like to think that in the aftermath of this tragedy, the regent decrees an end to mad buggers installing geographical features at random and a cull on all implausible nonsensical monsters. But frankly, that wouldn’t be half as much fun. Early FF books really captured this sense of whimsical madness perfectly, and this is a wonderful example.
Clash of the Princes plays spectacularly. It has a whimsical atmosphere and a system that compliments it excellently. It is also fiendishly difficult in the traditional Fighting Fantasy manner. Playing it is a joy – the game advises that you play in silence and only talk with the other player when instructed to, but we had so much fun comparing the madness that occurred when we went our separate ways that we couldn’t resist speaking. I would recommend that if you love your Fighting Fantasy books, scrape your way through ebay to find a copy of this one. It tends to go for about £15 these days, but it’s worth it.
Cause of death: Eaten by venomous invisible fish.