Howl of the Werewolf

The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were blockbusters of the era. Now let’s travel into the realm of gothic horror, in HOWL OF THE WEREWOLF!

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!

Before continuing, please be aware that all of this content is made possible by the goodwill and support of my backers on Patreon. If you enjoy the work on this site, please consider supporting the creation of more content like this by clicking the button.

First up, beware the War-Wilfs! “Howl of the Werewolf” is brutal!

How brutal is it? Well, you know how in some of the more difficult books, you start off with meals or healing potions to help you regain stamina? This book starts you off with TEN of them. You’re going to need them, too – I have never seen your stamina go up and down so rapidly in a Fighting Fantasy book before! You’re going to be rolling dice a LOT.

For this game, I decided to try out one of the pre-made characters from the back of the book. If you choose to roll your own, the way you do it is slightly different, with the skill score set so that it’s never below 8. This book is very combat-heavy, so the stats are structured to account for that.

The adventure opens with you blithely staggering through the woods, only to be leapt upon by a vicious black wolf. You are bitten by the creature, only to be rescued to a helpful woodsman. While recovering from the attack in the woodman’s cabin, he explains that the paw that he had chopped from the wolf has now transformed into a human hand – it was no wolf that bit you, but a werewolf!

Either way, I pocketed the hand’s signet ring, which belonged to Prince Garoul Wulfen, of the ruling house of Lupveria. I suppose this kind of thing must happen a lot in this part of the world. Either way, the woodsman leads me to the house of an old wise woman, who tells me that I will need to slay the count. There’s two things you need to know about the wise woman. The first is that she’s a woman. The second is that she’s wise.

While she’s bleeding some of the wolf venom out of my bloodstream, her hut is attacked by a pack of wolves. I manage to fend off five wolves, while the woodsman chops up two others, and granny bludgeons another with her frying pan. As old ladies tend to do.

One of the things about FF books is that if you ever have a companion, a follower or any other character who wants to help you out, chances are that they’ll die horribly at the earliest opportunity. The same fate befell out friendly woodsman, who got eaten by a werewolf as soon as we left the wise woman’s cabin. After stabbing the werewolf until it stopped moving, I went to try to help the woodsman – who promptly turned into a wereBEAR and tried to eat me as well. I suppose this does explain why he was so keen to help me find a cure for my own lycanthropy in the first place, but still, if he’s likely to turn into a monster then I guess it’s for the best that I chop his head off a little.

After buring my noble werebear companion, I head on into the local town. I’d already taken quite a lot of damage and had ran through a lot of my meals, so I was glad to stop at the inn and replenish my health. In gratitude, I decided to help this village, which was beset by attacks by something called The Howling. Cue movie reference any time now. I joined the village defence party, and found that the Howling was infact a pack of spectral ghost wolves formed from a particularly unpleasant and nasty mist that would roll into town every night. I slew the Spectral Wolf, and saved the entire village.

Things were going well for me. I made a steady march onwards, across the moors, where I was attacked by a villainous highwayman who tried to run me down on his horse. The only curious thing about this? The highwayman HAD NO HEAD! Hey, I remember him, he used to drive the carriage for the Count in Vault of the Vampire! I fled from him and spent the night in a local inn on the moors. There, a sullen man told me that his sister had ran away with a creepy carnival, and the landlord’s daughter told me that a man she loved would come back from her even though he was dead. Life is good on the moors.

I was awakened during the night by the shaking and movement of furniture in the room. As I got out of bed, I was attacked by a table and chair. I hope the inn’s landlord has home contents insurance, because I promptly chopped the two into kindling. Slipping out of my room to investigate what was going on, I quickly found the innkeeper’s daughter was casting some foul dark magic using a human skull. I grabbed the skull, and was immediately attacked by the headless highwayman. I slew him and shattered the skull.

The book then informed me via exposition-dump that the daughter had been in love with the highwayman when he was alive, and now brought him back from the dead so as that they would never be seperated. Either way, I decided to quickly sneak out of the inn, because I didn’t really want to explain to the landlord that his daughter got sucked into a horrible hell-dimension by the dying ghost of her dead lover. That kinda thing can make a father kinda upset.

I realised around about this point that this book was going to consist of several mini-adventures until I arrived at the Prince’s castle. My next stop was a disturbing carnival filled with cackling dwarven ringmasters, bearded ladies, men with gills on their necks, siamese twins, snake ladies, and so on. The book occasionally gives you codewords, and will later ask you if you’ve got those codewords noted down, so that it recreates the idea of remembering information – so I remembered what the man at the inn told me about his sister running away with the carnival, and I decided to sneak into the tents under the cover of night.

This went very well, as I immediately stepped into a tent full of killer dolls and puppets. Dolls freak me out. No, they really creep me out. I dispatched them with relative ease, but was captured and brought before the ringmaster, who told me that his circus was a safe haven for freaks and that normals like me weren’t welcome snooping around backstage. They then stole all my gold and threw me out. Hm, I suppose this reduces me chance of buying a load of silver crossbow bolts, then.

Continuing along north, I seen a gypsie camp and decided to join in their dancing and celebrations. They shared their drink with me. I woke up the next morning, and although I expected that the book would pull the old “gypsies have stolen your money and pierced your sister’s ear and stole your kid’s bike and poo’d in your garden”, I was impressed to see that they had actually GIVEN me a few extra meals, and a bottle of very powerful vodka to boot!

Around about this time, my lycanthrope curse started to flare up. My initial stamina and skill would go up between every village or so, and my ‘change’ score started to get higher as well. I’ve not mentioned the change score, but it basically reflects how much of a werewolf you are – if you scare people with your wolfy nature, if you’re liable to go into a berserker frenzy, if you eat politely at the table or ‘wolf’ your food down (sorry, bad pun), that sort of thing. Until now my score was rather low, but it now starts to creep up. You also learn extra abilities, which can be very useful, as we’ll uncover soon.

The next town was relatively uneventful. They were beset by werewolves. I hoped to earn back some of my gold by helping them slay some of the beasts. I joined up with a group of them though, and because I stupidly got lost during the hunt, I was attacked by one of their hunting dogs. Thankfully I’d learned an ability called ‘Call of the Wild’ when my lycanthropy flared up last. I gave a fearsome howl, and the dog fled. Sadly we didn’t catch any werewolves, so I was still penniless.

On the way to my next village, my lycanthropy flared up again. Instead of a new ability, I was stricken with cursed blood, which gave me yet more change points and a whole bunch of damage. Oh joy. Also, around this point in the game, the book starts to refer more and more to my keen animal-like senses, meaning that you really start to feel the progression of the curse, and making you aware that you’re running out of time!

I was close. The castle was in sight. First I had to get through the village. The village was unoccupied, the doors boarded up, nobody prowled the streets. Well, nobody except the wolves, which began to chase me. An old begger told me “Come with me if you want to live”. Being a sucker for Terminator references, I went with him. He hid me in the sewers, and then revealed that he was a were-rat and wanted to claim my kill for his own. Why oh why oh why can’t I meet anyone nice and who’ll help me without them either being a were-rat, a were-bear or a were-swan? Okay, I’ve not met a wear-swan, but would it really surprise you if I didn’t run into one?

I was beset by a were-warg. I slew it without difficulty, because I had now grown to such impressive strength. I found my way into the kitchen of the castle, where I met an evil crone. At least, I didn’t think she was evil, until she threw a giant frog ‘the size of a pony’ at me. Hey, c’mon lady, that’s hardly playing fair. I killed both the frog and the crone, and now felt utterly undefeatable. Three combats, without a scratch.

Sadly my winning streak was soon to run out. I found my way into the castle’s library, which contained a book on the summoning of demons. Yeah, you remember how my adventures in House of Hell ended? I read an evil book and it killed me. So why on earth did I repeat the same mistake twice? This book brought forth Silent Death, and for all the might of my werewolf nature, I did not possess either a magical or silver weapon that would have allowed me to slay death. It’s a shame that the adventure had to end here, when I felt so close to victory.

This book’s a total mammoth to read through. It’s got loads of sections, and plenty of villages with their own little adventures. That has a downside though, because each village’s segments can feel rather isolated, so it doesn’t feel as connected together as it could – one moment you’re in an inn on the moors, the next you’re sneaking into an evil carnival. The codewords try their best to cover for this, but in the end it feels more like a string of disjointed adventures than one single journey.

That’s the bad points though. One of the good points is the way that the text grows to describe more and more of your werewolf curse, and the ‘change’ stat has a fairly decent arc (you don’t pick up too much too early, but it picks up the pace later on). This has been a rather nice book and it’s interesting to see how the series has changed over time with a ‘new’ book like this. The artwork is AMAZING. If the original FF series had finished with a book of this caliber (as opposed to Curse of the Mummy), it would have been a high-quality send-off to the series.

Cause of death: Shhh, hush, it’s a silent death….


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!

Before continuing, please be aware that all of this content is made possible by the goodwill and support of my backers on Patreon. If you enjoy the work on this site, please consider supporting the creation of more content like this by clicking the button.

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!

Eye of the Dragon

The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were blockbusters of the era. Now let’s visit the series as it was reborn under a new publisher, in EYE OF THE DRAGON!

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!

Before continuing, please be aware that all of this content is made possible by the goodwill and support of my backers on Patreon. If you enjoy the work on this site, please consider supporting the creation of more content like this by clicking the button.

Eye of the Dragon seems a bit odd to me. I’m writing this intro before sitting down to play it, so consider these my initial thoughts.

It was published in 2005, and was the first Fighting Fantasy book in about a decade, following the conclusion of the original series. But it seems a fairly standard FF book. It doesn’t have any of the special rules or extra stats that we’ve seen in the other new-FF books. It has 407 paragraphs, which is an odd number, and I can’t really see any reason for it. In general it seems that an odd one to be the ‘big return to the franchise’ that we’d have imagined after a decade of nothing.

This book was evidently also owned by ‘Alec’ before me, and he had a skill of 10 when he began his adventure – I know this because he was nice enough to fill out the sheet in pen. Thanks, Alec! I hope you’re reading this right now, because if you are, I hope the titular ‘dragon’ in this book ate you.

My adventurer (with a skill of 10 and a stamina of 19) is on hard times, struggling to afford to eat – I guess I’ve already emptied most of the dungeons around. While kicking back in the town of Fang, presumably considering whether to enter the Deathtrap Dungeon contest or not, a particularly suspicious chap called Henry Delacour joins me and tells me about his adventures. The book makes a point of telling me that there’s something very dodgy about Henry. Please remember that.

Henry tells me the story of a golden dragon statue which is worth untold riches. He has found the dragon, but cannot pick it up unless the dragon’s ‘eyes’ (two emeralds) are returned to its sockets. If you touch it without both emeralds in place, you die. Somehow. He never explained how, if this is simply an ancient curse or if some stupid bugger painted the dragon in asbestos paint. Either way, Henry hands me over one of the dragon’s eyes, and tells me that if I can find the other one and bring him back the dragon, he’ll split the profit with me.

Then, to make sure I come back, he asks me to drink some poison. Without so much as questioning if it’s a good idea to drink some dodgy liquid offered to me from a dodgy man in a tavern, my character gulps down the poison. And yes, the character KNOWS it’s poison! Henry tells him so! The idea is that if I come back with the dragon, he’ll give me an antidote. My character isn’t tricked into drinking it, he volunteers! “Ooh, poison? Yummy, I’ll have a pint of that, barkeep!”

I’m only four pages into this book, and I’m already convinced that my character was dropped on his head as a child. I don’t mean just once, I mean repeatedly for an entire hour.

It immediately seems that most of this adventure is going to be a dungeon crawl. I’m sent off to the Forest of Doom (which I’ve still got to play at some point soon), and find the entrance to the dungeon via a woodcutter’s cabin. This strikes me as a rather odd entrance, because the dungeon is very busy – I wonder if anyone has noticed all the people going in and out of this woodcutter’s cabin in the middle of a forest. Still, I find an axe head in the cabin before I venture down…

In the dungeon itself, I soon come across a room in which I find an old painter. He seems to be creating quite a gallery, although I’ve no idea why he’s deciding to display his entire life’s works in a pit beneath a forest. He tries to sell me a painting of an owl, but I’m not interested and continue on my way. I head down the tunnel for a while, before I find a merchant’s store – why is this here? This surely can’t be a good place to get customers! Is this a dungeon, or a subterranean village?

I want to ask the merchant why he didn’t just set up shop in the abandoned woodcutter’s hut, so that he could get a better location for his store. I want to ask the merchant why he looks like Ian Livingstone. Instead I just buy a silver dagger, because I know how these books work and know that silver weapons are the only things that can kill dungeon-dwelling spirit beasties.

I leave the store, activate a trap in the tunnel and am almost impaled by arrows. Why is this trap here? So far, the only people I’ve seen in this dungeon are old men who want to sell me things. The painter doesn’t seem the type to be dodging traps, and surely it doesn’t help the merchant if half of his customers are shot with arrows before they even get to the door of his store. What is going on with this place? God damn it book, MAKE SOME SENSE!!

I enter another room. This new room is almost entirely empty aside from a statue of a cat. I notice that it has jewel eyes, and thinking that this may be some sort of clue, I take a closer look. The statue then hypnotizes me, and I collapse. I wake up later, with 2 stamina points missing, a splitting headache, and the cat statue has turned to dust. I then leave the room. Could anyone explain to me the point of this? What was the statue doing there? Did I lose my stamina points by hitting my head on the floor? If not, how did I lose them? Who put this statue here? What is it doing here? Who does it belong to? The merchant? Why did it turn to dust? THIS MAKES NO SENSE!! BLAAARRGHLGGLGHG!!

catches breath Okay, okay, I’m calm, I’m calm. Let’s continue.

The next room I stumble across is a torture chamber. Okay, fine, that’s in keeping with the theme of the dungeon… But whose torture chamber is it? The merchants? Who does he torture? There aren’t any prisons or… agh, stop thinking about it! Just… just focus… okay, okay… there’s a treasure chest in the chamber. I open it, and find a silver box and a crystal dagger. Yay. Happy yay. Yay. YAY! YAY YAY YAY YAY!!. All is good in the world. Let’s not question it. Keep going. La la la. Yay.

Things seem to start to make more sense now, as I find a large chasm. Deciding not to cross it just yet, I climb down into the pit, and on the chasm floor I find a ghoul. Ghouls are nasty, as any FF player will remember – they can paralyse you if they get enough hits. Thankfully this one’s rather weak, so I manage to kill it and find a rather nicely polished shield. Good. Things are definitely back to normal now. I climb back up, head over the bridge, and continue down the tunnel.

In the wall of the tunnel, I find a large fountain. The face of the fountain is of an old crone, the water trickling from her mouth. The book asks if I want to drink this old woman’s spit-water. Because I’m feeling masochistic, I go for it. Curiously enough, it’s actually quite a refreshing drink, and heals some of the damage I took from the ghoul.

I come across an alcove in the wall, which contains a chair made from skulls. Hmm, I’ve always wanted to sit on a chair of skulls, preferably after I’ve taken over the world. I decide to try this one out for size. Expecting horrible things, the book instead tells me that this is a ‘chair of life’ and that I’ve regained some stamina… If it’s a chair of life, why is it made of skulls? Shouldn’t it be a chair of death, or at very least a chair of skulls? I.. but… it… no sense….

I press onwards, feeling more and more that this isn’t really an adventure. I figure that instead it’s actually an LSD trip that’s being caused by the poison I drank at the start of this silly series of events. I find a door which has rats nailed to it… I expect a rather unpleasant chap inside this room. Sure enough, I find a troll. Not just a regular troll – a two-headed troll. Due to a series of unlucky dice rolls, it nearly beats me to death, but I’m able to scrape through with 6 stamina points remaining. Most of its loot consists of silver, namely a silver arrowhead and a silver charm in the shape of a lion.

I feel I’m actually making some progress when I come across a river. By this point I’m having flashbacks of Warlock of Firetop Mountain, and decide to ride across the river in the raft. The book has other ideas – instead it gives me an instant-death segment in which the river tumbles into a series of horrible river rapids, from which I plummet down a waterfall to my death.

Or at least, that’s what the book tells me. Truth is, I suspect that my character simply passed out as a result of excessive poisoning caused by mind-altering chemicals he’d drank at the start of the adventure. He would awake later on to find himself chained to a table. Looking around, he would see Henry Delacour in the corner of the room. “Oh, foolish adventurer” Harry would say as he stepped closer, “I hope that you will enjoy the rest of your existence as part of one of my experimental humunculus!”

The adventurer would glance around, stricken with panic. Sure enough, the room would be lined with many other experiments. Half-pigeons half-sharks would fly through the air. Half-people half-books would cry in pain as they try to read what’s written on them, but just can’t manage to see. An orc centipede would stumble pass, far more family friendly than the human centipede variety. “Your fate will be similar” says Henry, “For I plan to take your brain out and replace it with the brain of someone who won’t just randomly drink any poison that strangers in the pub give to them!” Reaching up, Henry would remove his mask to reveal the true mastermind of the dungeon, the most sinister and evil of all of Titan’s creatures… THE MERCHANT!

Yes, Mr Livingstone, I’m on to your little secret!

Cause of death: Fall down a waterfall!

Sorcery! – The Crown of Kings

The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were blockbusters of the era. Now let’s head into the grand mini-series of gamebooks in the lands of Kakhabad: SORCERY! – THE CROWN OF KINGS!

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!

Before continuing, please be aware that all of this content is made possible by the goodwill and support of my backers on Patreon. If you enjoy the work on this site, please consider supporting the creation of more content like this by clicking the button.

And here we are – after travelling through three books (and dying horribly in each of them), we arrive at the finale of Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! series, The Crown Of Kings! The Mampang Fortress stands before us, in the distant mountains – and within, the dread Archmage! Think we can do it? Well, first of all we need to get to the fortress, and that’s not as easy as it sounds…

Our trek resumes in the Low Xamen foothills. The fortress is in the distance, clearly visible against the sky. The route winds through the mountains, and there are clear signs of life around the trail. Before too long, we arrive at three caves – our first choice in this book. That’s quite nice, and really sets the tone for the adventure in that it has not one but three choices. Definitely gives you the feeling that this is the big conclusion to the epic. Which, of course, is a sentiment that’s echoed by the book being twice the size of a typical Fighting Fantasy book!

I settle into the cave that’s furthest away, in no small part because there are hoof-prints outside which causes me hope that whoever may be inside would be friendly. Instead, I find a satyr. She’s quite friendly. Well, I mean, she’s not aggressive and doesn’t attack me. Well, I mean she doesn’t attack me because she’s dead. But I guess that’s as friendly as people in the Low Xamen foothills can be!

Feeling a bit perturbed, I leave that cave and stick my head into one of the others, hoping that perhaps we can find some treasure. As I head into the second cave I am met by a terrifying wailing sound. So horrific and so haunting is it, which the text asks if I wish to head in. Drawing my sword, I venture onwards, fearing that I’ll meet whatever it was that killed the satyr. The source of the noise is a Jub-Jub – a small fuzzy critter that defends itself by wailing loudly. Startled, it runs off. Well, at least the cave is safe!

The Jub-Jub’s cave contains a small glass bottle, which holds a little scrap of paper which features writing in a mysterious language. I figure this is quite enough cave-diving, and decide to press onwards with my travels. I push on into the mountains, choosing to risk crossing a potentially rather dangerous rope bridge. Shortly thereafter I catch sight of a large nest up in the Cliffside but, knowing that the area is packed with exceptionally vicious bird creatures I decide not to gamble quite that far.

Sure enough, it’s not long before a Birdman decides to swoop down and peck at me. Nasty bugger it is, too – but easily dealt with by means of a hefty dose of fireball spell. Boom. Hurling a fistful of flame at the birdmen seems to cause their feathers to ignore and them to tumble out of the air with a smell similar to roast turkey. The next obstacle we come across on our trek through the mountains is nothing less than a rope. It’s not an angry, living rope that tries to snap at me, oh no – it’s a rope swing. I have the option to grab it and swing across to the other side of the chasm, all Indiana Jones like. I decide that no, I’m not feeling especially suicidal today, and take the long route around.

The trek through the mountains in the first part of this book is deadly. I was left with the sincere impression that Steve Jackson really hiked up the difficulty in this section, and left the player weaving their way through a series of instant deaths. There are doubtless numerous important items littered around the area, and I really don’t think that I was able to collect any of them aside from the piece of paper that we mentioned earlier. But eventually, with much effort, we wind our way to the fortress itself. Of course, we need to survive a deadly rock-slide before we can get to the door, oh no!… But fear not, because thanks to the WAL spell, which creates a rather handy little magical barrier to keep us safe from the tumbling boulders, our hero is able to elude this terrifying trap and make their way to the door to the fortress itself!

The Archmage’s fortress is a terrifying sight, decked with foul spikes and evil gargoyles that leer down on the player ominously. So ominous and fearful, in fact, that you lose one Skill point until you get into the fortress itself! That’s pretty harsh, there’s no other way to put it!

Getting into the vast gate that surrounds the fortress, however, is another matter – we can sneak in, or make a run for it while the guards are looking in another direction. It seems that sneaking in is significantly easier than I thought because, as I draw closer, I realize that they are slouching around drinking from flagons. Oh, silly drunken guards, you never change. Once I get through the gate, I’m extremely close to accessing the fortress proper. Not a bad day’s work – we camp out for the evening.

During that night, the Goddess Libra appears before us in a vision. She tells me that she is pleased with my progress, but that she cannot help me once I am inside the fortress. Oh gosh, thank you sooo much! Instead, she states that she is aware of a hidden entrance into the fortress, and tells me that I can access it by deducting 92 from any paragraph. This is one of those ‘if the paragraph makes sense, then it is the right one’ type of a deal – not one that generally care for personally because my idea of ‘making sense’ isn’t necessarily the same as anyone else’s, if I’m honest. I tend to prefer the more specific ‘if this is correct, the paragraph will start with a specific word’, but… well, it’s all an anti-cheating system really, isn’t it?

Arriving at the entryway to the fortress, I figure that the best way to get inside is the old knock-the-door-and-run-away trick. When the guard sticks his head out and finds nobody there, I slip past – only to run face-first into three other guards! I mean, can’t fault them, they’re clearly better than the ones at the outer gate! As the four of them rush towards me, I cast DUM – a spell which causes one of the four guards to trip and knock himself out. The remaining three are dispatched easily enough! So far, so not dead.

The entire fortress is packed with guards. I am able to sneak through a door to the right of the main hall – it’s exceptionally rusty and squeaks something fierce, but I’m lucky in that I can get through without alerting the guards. No sooner have I got into one of the hallways am I confronted by a group of, uhh… oh dear. Well, I’ll describe this encounter as tactfully as I can. A group of Black Elves meet me and, before combat begins, they make a comment about how disgusting my skin colour is. Black Elves, as I’m sure you can guess, are elves with black skin. We could go into a discussion here about why the defining feature of them that signifies that they’re ‘evil’ is the dark colour of their skin, but I won’t go into that here. Instead, the book offers me the chance to laugh it off and try to befriend them, which I choose – instead, the book states that I make a similar comment back to the elves, which can only be described as exceptionally racist. My character then continues, unabated, to make more and more racially charged comments – completely without my input as a reader – telling the elves that they ‘must surely find it hard to see themselves in the dark’, until the elves have had quite enough of me. The book tells me that I have learned that the elves’ sense of humour doesn’t extend to laughing at themselves (!) – because, of course, it’s the elves who are to blame for being upset at being subjected to my character’s racist tirades.

The elves quickly chase my character out of the room, much to my relief and ever-lasting embarrassment. I’m soon able to find my way to a large set of double doors, which I open by means of whispering the password that Libra had given me earlier. This section of the fortress is occupied mostly by Birdmen – before too long, I hear their footsteps approaching. I hope to elude them by diving into a nearby room. No sooner have I shut the door, though, than I notice that there are three other Birdmen standing in the room I’ve just entered! I try to talk my way out – hoping that I don’t start spewing racial insults at these poor people!

I chat with the birdmen for a while, politely asking them about their hobbies and if they have any news about the current affairs in the fortress. To my amazement, they start chatting away, telling me that the Archmage has been spending a lot of time in his tower lately, and awaiting guests. Hey, I wonder if that guest might be me! Having proved that good communication and open sincerity beats casual racism any day, I leave the Birdmen to their lunch and begin my favourite Fiighting Fantasy gamebook pastime – wandering blindly around hallways until I find something of interest!

Sure enough, I find my way into a greasy and ill-kept room. It is occupied by a creature called a Mucalytic,  It’s easy enough to kill it, but it’s a monster which does something nasty to you if it hits you three times. I, mercifully, don’t find out quite what that ‘something nasty’ is, because I kill it before it gets a chance to do that. My reward is a bottle of cooking oil that it was drinking at the time I interrupted it. Eww.

Leaving the chamber, we come to a tunnel which ends in a pair of doors. One leads to a room containing an old, grime-encrusted machine. After playing around with the machine for a while, I figure out that it’s an automatic blade-sharpener, so I polish up my sword nice and fine. There’s no other way out of the room with the machine, so I head back to the other door. This one contains an inferno. Yeah, just… a literal inferno. “This is where the fire lives”, I guess. The book gives me the choice of either diving blindly into the inferno or, y’know, not. Choosing not to simply loops me back to the hallway, and because there is only the machine room, I don’t have much of a choice. With nowhere else left to go, I dive into the inferno room. Hey, maybe it’s just an illusion or… nah, I die. Horribly.

So ends the tragic tale of Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! An adventure which saw me die in a field of flowers, drown in human excrement, starve at a lakeside, and finally just hurl myself into a chamber of fire. It’s been a wild journey, we never did get  to the Archmage or recover the Crown of Kings though. I know that when you do eventually encounter the big bad, you face an especially challenging situation which requires you to out-think your enemy rather than outfight them. No spoilers, but it requires careful use of the Zed spell!

Sorcery! is a heck of a good series, and certainly one of the best products to bear the Fighting Fantasy label. Although perhaps it has aged… somewhat…

Cause of death: Jumped into a fire because of lack of alternatives.