Clash of the Princes

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!  

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.

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.

Blood of the Zombies

The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were blockbusters of the era. It’s time to witness the rise of the undead as we return to Earth, in BLOOD OF THE ZOMBIES!

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.

Hmm, wouldn’t it be interesting if Blood of the Zombies is set in the same universe as House of Hell? Gingrich Yurr could have been an old friend of the Earl of Drummer. Neat!

Blood of the Zombies is the second Fighting Fantasy game set in a modern world. It was released for the series’ 30th anniversary, and you no doubt already know this anyway. Otherwise, why would you be reading this? My copy must be second-hand, because it has someone’s name written inside it, Ian something-or-other. Honestly, some people!

Anyway, the biggest thing you’ll notice in this book is that the combat system has been completely reworked. Now, you have only one stat – stamina. Each zombie you encounter has only one stamina point, meaning that each hit you deal will kill one zombie. How many you can hit in each turn is determined by the type of weapon you have – a baseball bat deals 1 dice worth of damage, while a shotgun will deal 1 dice + 5 points of damage. You make your attack first in each turn, and then you receive one point of stamina damage for each zombie that is still surviving.

This means that, just like in the classic zombie Romero movies, it is fairly easy to dispatch one or two zombies on their own, but far harder to deal with them in swarms. And speaking of Romero zombies, let me just say here – fast zombies are stupid. They’re not scary, they’re just generic monsters that jump out at the characters. The reason Romero’s slow zombies are scary is because you underestimate them. On their own, a single one is no threat. So you don’t worry about it. If there’s two of them, well, still no real threat, they’re easy enough to get rid of. When it gets to five or six of them, well, it could be worse… but because you underestimated them when there were only a few, their numbers grew. You became complacent. Like the birds in ‘The Birds’, the next time you glance their way, there are hundreds of them. And suddenly they don’t seem so silly any more.

And you have nobody to blame for that, because you underestimated them. Your worst enemy wasn’t the zombies, it was yourself. Which hits right in with another key theme of Romero’s work – that the real threat doesn’t come from the zombies, but from human nature.

Do you think this will help me out at all during the game? Here’s a clue – NOOOOOOOOOOOOPE!!!!!!!!!!

I wake up in a cell in the basement of a dingy old castle. After having been kidnapped during my explorations in Romania, I am being kept alive for an unknown reason. My guard, a gruff and cruel man by the name of Otto, is the only light in my otherwise dreary daily cycle, and by ‘light’ I mean ‘person who comes into my cell and kicks me’.

One day, after drinking down a bowl of gruel with my feet (and being the envy of contortionists around the world while I do so), I decide that enough is enough and tell Otto that he smells like a bag of dead frogs. This sends him into a raging fury, during which time I kick him in the gut and grab his keys for my shackles. I lock him up in my place, and proceed to interrogate Otto.

He tells me that he is a poor man who is treated cruelly by his evil master, Gingrich Yurr, and is kept here as a virtual prisoner himself. Awww, poor Otto. I feel so sorry for him that I almost want to not kick him in the ribs a few times in revenge. I leave, and soon find my way into Otto’s bedchamber. I proceed to raid his entire belongings, steal a stylish backpack he happens to own, and snarf down what’s left of Otto’s dinner. Trust me, the guy deserves it.

Otto’s room also contained a small penknife, which I took as a weapon, because I currently had nothing at all to my name. I also helped myself to his whole wealth of $15, and a piece of string. Because string is the most useful thing in the world. No, really, you try escaping from a castle full of zombies without some string!

Toddling down the hallway, I found a small bag that contained some matches, a pen, and a key with a number ‘9’ engraved on it. One thing I’ve learned is that keys with numbers on them are always useful. Eventually I found my way into a store room, which to my surprise was inhabited. Two of Gingrich’s goons, who didn’t seem the most loyal of chaps, were quite willing to tell me his entire evil plan – for a small bribe, of course. Ah, good to know that money still buys henchmen loyalty. Here’s what they told me…

Gingrich Yurr is evil, and is amassing an army of zombies in order to take over the world.

Y’know, sometimes I think that these insane villains need to watch a movie sometime. Just so that they can get an idea about how this is all going to turn out. The henchmen then tells me that I will need to kill EVERY SINGLE ONE of the zombies. There’s even a space in my sheet to record how many zombies I kill. So I’m immediately left with a feeling that this is going to be very, very important. I’m then given the chance to buy some of his supplies, so I spent my remaining $5 on a hacksaw, a pair of rubber gloves, some batteries, glue, and sticky tape. I think these are sensible choices, I mean, it’s still cheaper than my local hardware store!

Thanking him for helping me in my work of saving the whole of humanity from the horrors of the undead (and charging me money while he does it!), I head on my way and soon find my way into the launderette. I’ll say one thing about Yurr, he’s fully planned out what he’s going to need in this castle. Seems that someone left a sports bag in here, which contains my first really useful weapon – a baseball bat. Sure, it’s not a cricket bat (which anyone who’s seen Shaun of the Dead will tell you, is the best thing for taking care of zombies), but it’ll do in a pinch.

Speaking of which, two zombies burst out of the cupboard in back of the launderette. My first encounter with them, and the dice are on my side, I manage to beat them both down with my newly-acquired bat without breaking a sweat. Nice work!. I finish putting on a change of clothes, grab some items out of the cupboard (a first aid kit and some bullets, which will be very useful if I ever find a gun) and make my way out of the room.

I make my way down the hallway, deciding not to open one small door I encounter, and eventually come across a stale old mattress that’s resting against the wall and obviously blocking a doorway. I push it out of the way and head through the hidden doorway, finding my way into an old and disused workshop. Before I even have a chance to look around, I am set upon by a swarm of eight zombies. I’m able to dispatch five of them in the first round, and the others in the second round of combat, leaving my health down by three points. As you see, taking on a large number of them at a time can be pretty deadly, and I’m hoping to find something better soon.

Taking a pair of blacksmithing tongs with me, I find a door hidden behind a curtain. It’s locked, but the key I found earlier unlocks it without any trouble, leading into a coal storage room. Buried in the coal, I find a grappling hook – making me wonder why anyone would bury a grappling hook in a pile of coal? I press on into the boiler room, where I’m able to bandage up my wrists (still sore from being chained up for so long) and dispatch three other zombies before I find a real treasure – a crowbar. If my hunch is right, this crowbar is going to be very useful in this adventure!

I follow the doorway back out of the boiler room and emerge into a main hallway of the castle. I’m instantly beset by four more zombies, and this time my dice are not too lucky. I’m forced to use my medkit from earlier to patch myself up. But my perseverance is rewarded, because on one of the zombies I’m fortunate enough to find my first real strong weapon of the game – a pistol. I will call her ‘Zombie-Killer the first’, and she will claim many deadites.

The crowbar is instantly useful because I find a wooden crate in the hallway, which contains two grenades. These are going to be awesome, dealing 2d6+1 damage each. Sadly, I have to part with one of them very soon. I pry open a manhole cover that leads down into the sewers, thinking that it’s unlikely that the zombies will have got so far down into the bowels of the castle. As I head down, I’m beset by a creature that isn’t quite zombie, but certainly isn’t human – a pack of fifteen giant mutated rats. Sadly there’s too many for me to be confident in shooting the lot, so I lob a grenade down into the tunnel to clear them out. This does a good job, and I’m able to clear up the remaining rats with my pistol.

My hope of the sewers being empty of zombies proves to be a pipe dream though, as I soon find two of them lurking in the tunnels. After shooting them down, I notice that one of them is carrying a locket that belongs to a woman called Amy Fletcher. I’m hoping this will be of some use to someone, but probably not for a while yet. I push on through the sewers, until the tunnel becomes too narrow, and my hopes of escaping from the castle by means of the sewer tunnels evaporates. I do, however, stumble across a scrap of paper that contains the combination lock for a safe, should I ever need it.

Emerging from the sewer, I swallow my sadness at having never met any mutant turtles and wonder how high my dry cleaning bill will be this month. Squealching through the hallway, it’s not long before I see a painting on the wall of a man. He has a cruel glare in his eyes, a flashy sports car in the background, and is holding a white rabbit. It’s a painting of Gingrich Yurr, which tells me that I’m pretty sure he had the rabbit for dinner later that same day. Even better, behind the painting I find a hidden cabinet, which contains… a shotgun! Groovy!

After refreshing myself in the cleaner’s cupboard, I start to head up the stairway when I run into an encounter that would no doubt kill me outright had I not found my trusted Zombie-Killer the second. A swarm of twelve zombies meet me on the stairway, each dragging weapons with them, each strong enough to deal two damage points rather than a simple one! This fight is rough, and although I’m tempted to use my grenade, I’m still able to emerge victorious without wasting it. But my health is down by almost a half at this point. I hope I’ll be able to find another health kit soon.

I get to the top of the stairs, and soon find my way into the games room. I like the games room, because it has a shelf full of Fighting Fantasy books which I could sit and read. Maybe it should be called the ‘breaking the fourth wall’ room. Sadly, the only thing I find in this room that’s of any immediate use (aside from a copy of Warlock of Firetop Mountain) is a safe box which is locked with a key that I do not possess. Sadly, I leave the room, wishing I could stay and play a few rounds of Arkham Horror.

As I enter the next room, my trusty crowbar betrays me. It slips on the locked door and hits myself on the knee, knocking my stamina down to eight. After I burst the lock open, I find that this new room holds a swarm of seventeen zombies… yikes! The book (wisely) advises that I chuck my last grenade into the room. I do so, and… what kind of sound do exploding zombies make, do you think? It’s easy to pick off the remaining ones, and for my effort I am rewarded with being able to retrieve a box from the room. It contains $15, an empty plastic bottle, and bullets that I already have. I feel like I wish I had skipped this room and kept my grenade.

I keep on walking down the hallway, when I come to a box that has a note pinned to it, which reads ‘do not open’. At first I’m about to open it, but then I think, who wrote the note? It’s not a zombie, so it must have been a person. And I assume that they’ll have put the note on there for a reason, so I guess that maybe the box contains a pack of flesh-eating zombie ferrets or something. I leave it alone, and enter the library.

Dispatching two more zombies, I manage to find a rather interesting book that documents the history of zombies from their days of carribean myth. I also find a hidden switch which, when I push it, fires a poison dart into the back of my head. Why would you have this sort of thing in your castle? Oy… My stamina’s now down three, so I guess that I’m going to either die or find a health pack real soon. I keep bumbling around with the switch until it makes a hidden doorway slide open.

I’m pretty excited when I enter this secret passageway, as I’m hoping it’ll lead me to a room full of health kits and grenades. Instead, it leads me to a room in which 19 zombies are locked. They break loose. The following death scene is reminiscent of Dawn of the Dead, so I’m sure to shout “Choke on them” to whichever zombie is eating my leg.

I can’t complain. I played a gamebook called ‘Blood of the Zombies’, and got eaten by zombies. There is nothing about this that is not perfectly in keeping with the theme of the game.

I loved this gamebook, it is fiendishly difficult just as I’d expected from Livingstone. I killed 50 zombies with this new combat system, and the way in which it works means that the player spends a lot more of their time and focus on exploration and item hunting. It’s not a combat system that would work in all FF books, or indeed most FF books, but because we’re dealing with zombies here (and remembering what I said earlier about them being a threat when in a swarm), it works. And I killed 50 zombies. Fifty! C’mon, that’s pretty impressive, isn’t it? Admit it, it’s better than you’d have expected, eh?

The atmosphere is lovely, the artwork is first-rate, the way it incorporates a modern setting while remaining true to the ‘dungeon crawl’ core is excellently executed, and this is definitely an instant classic of the Fighting Fantasy series. Seriously, play this.

Cause of death: Zombie Chow.

Night of the Necromancer

The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were blockbusters of the era. Turn off the lights and wrap up warm, it’s bedtime – during the NIGHT OF THE NECROMANCER!

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.

This is the last of the newer FF books that I’ve picked up. Written only a few years ago by Jonathan Green, this was the most recent FF book until Blood of the Zombies came out. I still struggle to consider the Wizard Publishing books as ‘true’ Fighting Fantasy ones, even though there’s several that are just simply fantastic books, and I’m sure that this one will be no exception.

As I return home from a long crusade against the forces of evil and darkness, I am waylaid by assassins. Among their number is a cultist of Death, who fires a spell upon me. The spell kills me instantly.

So, what did I think of this book? Well, it was short. Overall I’d give it a seven out of ten, and… Oh wait, I’m not quite dead.

My undead soul has been ripped from my body, becoming a wraith-like spirit of vengeance. I fight the cultist, showing him the fury of the un-living. He tries to banish me, but I resist too strongly and he escapes before I have the chance to beat information from him. I don’t know who it was that ordered my death, but it’s my goal to find out.

The site of my murder is a set of standing stones, called the Nine Sisters. In the ethereal light of the moon, the spirits of the stones elect me as their champion, fusing me with ancient power. This raises my stats somewhat, which is rather nice as I’m unsure quite how dying would affect my stamina score. No, seriously. This is something of a mystery to me at this stage. As I receive the power from the standing stones, I find a portal which seems to lead off into the realms of the dead.

I step through the portal, and find myself in what I assume to be some kind of nexus of the spirit world. Up ahead is what I can only describe as a doorway to hell (or more accurately, the hereafter). I feel vaguely drawn towards it, but I’m strong enough to resist it. I emerge from the portal with a new codeword, as my Will score is sufficiently high enough that I do not get drawn into the hereafter. Returning back to the earthly realm, I decide that it’s high time I stop faffing around with ethereal ghostly energies and go talk to someone who can help me with my current problem.

Remembering the stories of an old woman who lives in the Wraith Woods not too far from here, I decide to make my way over there and speak to her. As I stumble through the woods though, I am beset by the terrible Baron Blood, the spectral huntsman, and his hunting party. I try to hide in the undergrowth, but his hounds manage to drag me out of the shrubbery, kicking and screaming.

Blood gives me an ultimatum – he wants to have some sport, so asks me to run to a nearby tree before his dogs can catch me. If I get to it, he’ll leave me alone. So, I start running. So do the dogs. They run faster. They catch me and use me as a play-toy. Then Mister Blood takes my soul off with him, and I awake back in the realm of the dead. It’s pretty clear that I’m going to wind up here each time that I ‘die’ in this adventure. This time, that big doorway I mentioned earlier that’s trying to draw me into the hereafter? Well, there’s things in it. Bad things. Things I have to kill. It’s called a Sin Eater. And it looks like bad nightmares.

I manage to kill the thing, rather more easily than I had anticipated, and claw my way back out of the realm of the dead and into the woods once again. It isn’t long until I’m able to find the hut of the Wise Woman. Now, there’s three things you need to know about the Wise Woman. The first is that she’s a Woman. The second is that I think I’ve made this joke before. The third is that, when she offers to summon a powerful netherworld imp that will answer the questions about who ordered my murder, the imp states that he cannot say as he is bound by another power before he rips the old woman’s throat out and tries to kill me.

Wiping some demonic imp blood off my ghost-sword, I head off to the village of Sleath instead. The route to the town passes through a graveyard, and the spirits of the dead ask me to aid them. It seems that they are being bothered by a Grave Golem (like a Clay Golem or a Flesh Golem, but it’s made out of Graves). One thing I’ll say about Jonathan Green’s books, they’re full of imaginative monsters.

I’m making pretty good progress when I get to Sleath. Upon entering the town, I’m attacked by the external personification of the town’s nightmares – a vivid cloud of billowing insanity called a Phantasmagoria. Actually reminds me something of one of the monsters that I fought in Black Vein Prophecy. Which in turn reminds me of the Angels from Evangelion, which in turn reminds me of the Colour Out Of Space, which in turn reminds me of fractals, which in turn… anyway, I kill it.

While I puzzle over how I can kill something that doesn’t quite have a body of its own, I notice that the town has a spiritual medium called Zelda who owns a little store in town. I hurry on over, hoping to possess her and re-enact the pottery wheel scene from ‘Ghost’. Zelda agrees to read my fortune in her crystal ball, and (much to her own surprise) gives me some rather useful information, such as not to trust someone who believes only in good.

I decide to head into the local tavern, hoping to terrify some foolish mortals. To my surprise, I find that I have developed a few ghostly powers – I can pass through solid walls and I can conceal myself in shadow. Very nice. Anyway, inside the tavern is a ghost hunter who seems only to believe in the power of good, so I decide to avoid him and check out the local chapel instead. Surely that’s a bit more safe, eh?

Pushing through a ward of protection (which bloody well hurts and knocks my stamina really low), I encounter a ghost of an old paladin. He tells me that he can sense great evil in the land, and offers to help me if I can answer a puzzle for him. It’s a reworking of the old ‘a man was going to St Ives’ puzzle, and I get it right, for which the paladin teaches me how to use poultergeist skills to move objects with the power of my ghostly mind.

Without much else to do in town, I head to the Burgomaster’s house. The house, it seems is already haunted, and when I accidentally step on the cat, it wakes up the three ghosts who are already in residence. I manage to fend them both off and escape with only one stamina point remaining. By this point, the town has nothing to amuse me further, so I let myself be drawn back towards my family home in the castle overlooking the village.

Now, when I was alive, I was a noble and the guards would certainly have let me pass. But being that I’m currently not in possession of a body, I don’t think the guards would be too keen to see me strolling town the road to greet them. So instead I decide to crawl through the castle’s sewer to get into my old home. Sadly, the sewer is also home to a pack of giant skeletal rats. “Bite bite bite”, go the rats. And before you know it, I’m back in the land of the dead, staring at that portal to the hereafter once again.

This time, I am greeted by the grim reaper himself, in full black robes and scythe regalia. We discuss the philosophical meaning of justice and I debate the merits of having a second chance, and much to my amusement he does not ask to play chess. Or Cluedo, or Twister even. He decides to let me run around for a little while longer, because it will be a laugh for him. Yeah, nice to see that Death has a real sense of humour.

Anyway, I’m chucked back into the mortal world once again, and I’m in the main courtyard of the keep. I investigate the stables, only to find my own horse in one of the stalls. Curious. Could the death cultist who murdered me have brought the horse here? I manage to tame a spectral steed in the stables and go to the blacksmiths to investigate further. The keep’s blacksmith, a childhood friend, recognises me instantly. She tells me that there is indeed evil rooted here in my own family home.

I decide to make the most of my time by trying to see who else I can coax onto my side. I try the kennels first, and find my trusting hunting dog Korzen, who will follow me into battle. Trying the guard’s barracks, I encounter the captain of the guard, who (once I convince him that I’m who I say I am) tells me that a group of knights have been invited to stay in the keep by the chamberlain. They have forbidden my family’s guard to enter the keep proper, and my sister is imprisoned in the tall tower.

The barking of the dogs in the kennel alerts a pair of Spirit Hunters, trailing ghostly brains with tentacles (yeah, I’m not sure either) and I manage to kill them without too much hassle. I opt to sneak through the hidden tunnelways into the keep proper, and as I do, I find the dessicated husk of a truly giant spider. The narrowness of the tunnel means I have to step over it, and – oh crap it’s alive! Actually this spider is kinda unfair, because it’s brought back to life because I’m relatively healthy – if I’d been close to death, it’d have remained dead too. Anyway, it has a really, really nasty poison that serves to heal it whenever it bites me, and that’s enough to send me spinning back to that big ol’ gateway to the realm of the dead once again.

Sometimes, I wonder if stepping through this door would take me to 1920s Berlin.. sorry, that’s such an obscure reference, I doubt anyone’s going to get it. Anyway, this time the gateway gives a booming voice screaming that it will devour me and hurl my soul into the abyss, but the cries of a million souls who have deemed me the champion. I’m given one last codeword – Endgame. One more ‘death’ and that’s it, game over.

I don’t want to risk wasting any more time – I charge straight through this part of the castle and into the main drawbridge, eager to get to the final encounter as soon as possible. I hurry over the drawbridge, when something genuinely massive lumbers into view. It’s a giant iron golem that breathes fire. And… why is this a thing? What kind of insane megalomaniac castle-stealer me-murdering git builds a giant fire-breathing golem to guard his stolen castle? I mean…

My ability to hide inside shadows is almost no use here. I try my best to avoid its fire, and soon I’m able to dodge my way through, hurry over the drawbridge, and get to the large main entrance to the keep, only to find that it is painted over with large runes and scripts. It has been completely sealed against spirit beings like myself, and I don’t have the requisite powers to get through it. I’m sure that they were in the second part of the keep, which I ran right past in over-eagerness to get to the ending.

And there is no way to get in. So, I fail. I have nothing else I can do but to re-enact the sad ending to Warlock of Firetop Mountain – sit there and cry.

This is a very impressive book. The use of the recurring gate into the lands of death is a nice dramatic touch, and gives you a countdown of remaining ‘lives’. The book completely forgoes the idea of an inventory system in favour of code-words for everything, which gives it a more ‘puzzle’ feel to it. The atmosphere is very nice, with a lot of horror tropes and themes recurring throughout the adventure. There’s also a few rather nice touches, in that normal weapons don’t seem to hurt you, only magical or monsterous ones do – and it seems that pretty much everyone has one of those. Might want to borrow them for the next time I run into a Fighting Fantasy monster that can’t be injured by non-magical weapons, I think!

Cause of death: Sat at the door and cried.


The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were blockbusters of the era. Have you ever slain a storm before? I hope so – you’re now the STORMSLAYER, dog!

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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The blurb on the back of the book is very non-specific, discussing there is a dark power, and that I’ll need to harness the power of elements, but not really telling me anything of great use. It’s all rather ominous, so I’m really in for a surprise here. I know that it’s one of the new-FF series published a few years ago, but aside from that, this book’s a mystery to me.

The combat mechanics seem the standard, and you begin with an enchanted sword called Wyrmbiter, which damages ghosts and elementals (and if you’ve played enough FF books as I have, you’ll know just how useful something like this can be!) and deals double damage to dragons. Nice!

You also begin with two other curious objects, chosen out of a total of four – I’ve elected a sun talisman, and for a giant tattoo of a red dragon that’s covering my back. I chose the sun tattoo in case I stumble across vampires on this adventure (see my hazy logic there?), and I chose to get this huge tattoo because I’m a total nutjob who’s likely to do this sort of thing in real life anyway.

Because this is one of the newer FF books, it gives you the option of choosing a pre-made character. Once again I reject this idea and come up with my own – I decide to honour my Scottish heritage and name my character Wee Fat Jimmy, the most dreaded ginger-haired madman in the known kingdoms. He reached infamy when he confronted the mighty dragon Ffafnir and slew the great beast, with a cry of “See you, mate, I’m pure gonna chib ya!”

Good fortune seems to be with my new set of dice today (I dug out some of my old pretty chessex dice from my D&D days) as I’ve rolled up 12 skill, 12 luck and 20 stamina. It is also Fireday. Yeah, the book asks me to take track of what day of the week it is, I presume because certain elemental powers are stronger on certain days, or some such.

Enough talk. Let’s rock.

I am an aged warrior, who has recently completed another of a long series of noble adventures. I sit in the local tavern, amusing the barmaid and a crew of merry folk with tales of my escapades. I must admit that if I were a real-life sword-wielding adventurer, this is what I’d do most of the time as well. As I tell the crowd my stories, an old rival of mine trudges into the bar. Varick Oathbreaker, he is the Belloq to my Indiana Jones. He swears revenge against me (it seems that I beat him to the treasure on my last adventure), and then slinks off into the shadows.

I hear the rumble of thunder, and a storm opens up above the town. Hailstones wrack the rooftop of the tavern, turning the previously sunny warm day to a deluge in under a minute. Now, here in England, this is perfectly normal weather. In fact, the exact same thing happened last week – which is why I caught a cold and got laid up in bed for a whole day! But still, rather than just shrugging and downing another pint, I decide to do the heroic thing and actually investigate. After all, the book tells me that there’s a travelling circus in town, so I wouldn’t want any of the animals or children to be seriously hurt.

As I get outside the tavern, it seems that the weather actually IS worse than it is in England. The lightning is striking the ground, hailstones the size of grapefruits are destroying the buildings… It’s a right mess. Being the heroic type, I rush to help as many people as I can into the tavern, where they can buy me more drinks be safe. As I do, I notice that the book tells me to test my skill, but to add 2 to my score if it’s Stormday – it seems I’m right about how the days work in this game. Neat.

I charge in to the rescue, and after saving as many people as possible, I notice that the lightning has seared the door loose from the cage of a travelling circus. The fantasy world’s version of an escaped lion is on the loose – a manticore! Thankfully, the owner has had the thing de-venomed, so I manage to chop it up without too much difficulty. Anyone who remembers The Shamutanti Hills will recall just how tricky a fully-fledged manticore can be if it’s got its venom ready to go. With that one down, I turned and headed into the heart of the storm.

In the heart of the storm, I find the entity that is causing the chaos – an ice elemental. It has some pretty nice attacks, but because I’m wearing a sun amulet and because it’s Fireday, the elemental is weakened and I’m able to make short work of it. Quite a stroke of good luck, there. That’s two monsters down already, phew. So sure enough, once the ice element’s knocked to pieces, the storm subsides, indicating that it was the elemental’s work after all.

I’m certainly enjoying the book so far, and my enjoyment is perked a bit more when I notice something floating in the sky following the storm – a large brass fish. How odd. I just can’t resist a brass fish, I decide that I absoloutely need to get one. Maybe I can ride around town on it. Be honest – if YOU had a brass fish, you’d ride it around town as well! This fish, though, is evidently the vessel of the person responsible for the elemental’s attack.

I head north, hoping that one of my old friends at the mage’s college will know more about this curious fish. That’s another reference to my character’s past, and I’m really enjoying them. It gives a lot of depth and flavour to this story. I travel north to a large city, the book telling me to be sure to mark two days have passed. That’s another point I quite like, as it serves to give the adventure a sense of scale. I also learn along the way that the storm was not an isolated incident – indeed, the weather seems to be out of whack in many parts of the land.

The mages refuse to help me. I suppose I’m too heroic to torture them for information, too. I storm out of the college, but as I leave, one of them catches up with me and tell me exactly what is going on. He explains that the other mages are simply too ashamed to help me out on this, because the person responsible for this mess was actually one of their own – The brass fish seems to belong to a mage by the name of Balthazar Sturm.

With a name like Sturm, he was destined to either be a Bond villain or an evil weather mage – and sure enough, he’s an evil weather mage! After being chucked out of the college, he’s sworn revenge on the world and plans to use the power of the elements to do so. Which is just lovely. Titan does seem to breed quite the large number of insane megalomaniacs, doesn’t it? You’d think that with the number of evil warlocks, power-hungry kings and sinister necromancers that prowl the lands, a college of mages would be a bit more strict on their entry requirements!

Being possibly the only helpful mage in the city who’s going to help out, the chap who’s told me all of the above then offers to help me against one element. But only one. Oh gee, thanks – I guess that if I get eaten by an earth elemental because you didn’t give me more than one useful item, you won’t shed any tears, eh? Bloody mages! Well, reasoning that the dragon tattoo will help me against either fire or air, I choose water, and the mage gives me a potion that’ll let me breath underwater.

I have four possible places to go, one for each element. In each area, there is an artifact that will let me defeat one of the elementals that are within Sturm’s grip. First up, I head to the local market and grab a few useful items, namely a wyrskin cloak and a grappling rope. I have the choice of going to the deep sea, into a volcano, beneath a mountain, or to the windy plains. With my happy potion of non-drowning in my backpack, I decide to head off to face down to the port and see if I can find a ship to take me out to sea for a while.

I manage to book passage on a boat with a rather fetching lady captain, as she’s the only person who will venture out into the sea due to the recent weather chaos. Although I’m an adventuring swordsman and she’s a pirate lady in leather britches, I don’t ever have the option to ask her if she’d like to walk my plank. So instead we sail for a while before the ship is beset by a chilly fog. But not just a regular fog – a fog elemental, who has been causing much of the recent problems. Is fog an element? Who cares – like the ice elemental earlier, I make short work of him.

The ship comes to a halt, and our captain informs me that somewhere far in the depth below us are the ruins of the Temple of Hydrana. I chug down the underwater potion as if it were pepsi, then dive into the ocean. Sinking all the way to the ocean floor, I then realise that actually finding the temple is a bit more difficult than I’d hoped. Yeah, you’d be amazed how difficult it can be to navigate when you’re at the bottom of the ocean. It can be difficult to navigate in such a dark and three-dimensional area. Where was I to go?

I make for a nearby cave. Clearing out the rabble of sea life which decided to try to attack me, I figure that this seemed a good bet. The spongy, tongue-like floor under my feet is ominous, as are the giant pointy teeth-like rocks. Those are never good signs. Sure enough, I’ve strolled right into the mouth of a leviathan. If Ian Livingstone were writing this, I’d be looking at insta-death right now – but in this book, I’m given the chance to roll to escape, and I manage to escape before the giant sea monster noms me for lunch.

In the rotting carcass of a nearby whale, I find a rather nice dragon shield, which I’m hoping will be of use in later realms. I press on, and soon enough I do indeed catch sight of the temple. My goal is in sight – but the temple is not unguarded. I first need to hack my way through one of the most ancient foul entities in the FF books – the Abyssal Horror. The description for this creature is just fantastic, and really makes this fight sequence feel epic. Once again, the monster’s given a load of special attacks to use on me, so this could be a pretty tough fight.

No problem. Not for an adventurer like me. I knock it down without breaking a sweat. Damn, a skill of 12 is pretty useful here.

Having slain the ancient one, I find my way into the temple. Standing before the great statue of Hydrana, I am asked to choose which item I should take in order to harness the element of water. The statue holds a gold trident, surely the item that would harness the element of water? No, don’t be silly – the item I want is the little seashell that’s sitting at the bottom of the statue’s plinth. Yeah, I’m not so easily fooled – if it’s made of gold, just leave it where it is.

I grab the shell, and as I try to slip it into my pockets, the water forms into three maidens. It seems that the Abyssal Horror was not the only guardian of the relic. The three Naiads ask me why I want to take the item. I calmly explain to the Naiads why I need to raid their temple of useful items, and because I’m such a lucky chap, they give me their blessings, as opposed to killing me for defiling their holy ground or anything. Phew, a good luck roll can really make all the difference.

I head back to the ship… hey, remember that giant monster from earlier? The one who almost swallowed me? Well, guess who’s back for another round! This monster is a leviathan, and it certainly is going to live up to its name. This combat is pretty tough, it has a mammoth 20 stamina, and it’s only because I lucked out on my skill roll that I’m able to eventually drag its stamina down to a manageable level. It didn’t have any special attacks, thankfully, resting on its huge stamina score to be the real cause of trouble.

Phew, two giant sea-dwelling horrors in one day. Not bad, eh? Sadly the ship captain wasn’t too happy that I hadn’t brought her back any treasure. Sorry m’dear, but my main goal was the relic, and I’ve got it. We head back to port. All seems well for now, but I’ve three more elements to go! And if we don’t stop Sturm, he’ll capture all of the other elements and defeat Titan’s greatest champion, Captain Planet!

I decide to head to the Howling Plains, hoping to be able to tackle the ‘air’ section of the game. The trip south takes two days. On the way, I’m reminded of another useful thing that the system of days does here – it allows me to regenerate health at a level of one point per day. I was six health points below my initial stamina, so by snacking on one meal and counting on both days’ travel time, I was able to get my health back up to full pelt. Very useful.

On my way, a village asks me for help. The chaotic weather has lead to flooding, and as a result their local dam is now filled to dangerous levels. Without my help to relieve the pressure on their dam, it may break. Helping them out requires a pair of skill and luck tests, which I manage to pass, although I’d have personally liked the chance to flood the village entirely, simply for a bit of a laugh. I’m a rather evil man at heart, I think. For my help, the villagers give me a quantity of food and gold, and the feeling that I’ve done a good service. A nice feeling, but in the whole I’d rather have drowned the whole lot of them. That would teach them for being unable to work their own damn dam!

The Howling Plains are aptly named. The book describes them as a desolate, wind-swept region. I pass through them, and soon encounter yet another elemental to bar my way – a sand elemental. I manage to dispatch it, and in doing so I rescue a man who tells me of a great drought in his homeland, caused by the rampaging elements. I am rather envious of this man, because he rides around on a hot air balloon. This seems a lot of fun, but no matter how much I plead, he won’t let me ride in it.

The air element section is not easy. It is straightforward though. The book requires me to navigate a ravine, choosing which pathways through chasms I travel. Each decision I made brought me into a fight sequence with another monster – first a dust devil, then a pack of vultures, and finally a birdman. By now my stamina was running rather low, so I had to dig in to my reserves of food in order to survive. I think this is what you’d call ‘running a gauntlet’. Maybe I just chose my directions poorly.

Eventually I manage to make my way to the tallest peak in the ravine. Clambering to the top, I find an old man, a sagely keeper of great wisdom. I ask him for his aid, and like most old sages, he responds with a riddle. It’s one of those awful type of lateral thinking maths riddles which I’m notoriously awful at, the kind where he asks me “x amount of people each have x amount of friends, who in turn have x amount of friends, how many people are there altogether?” and I try to count. Given that the answer I arrive at is 400, it’s a safe bet I was miles off!

In my hopes that he’ll respect my honesty, I humbly tell him that I do not know the answer. I mention this because the book also gives me the option of attacking him with my sword, but I choose not to do this. I probably should have, because for my lack of ability to solve maths puzzles, the keeper banishes me from his sight, hurtling me out of the ravine. I will have to hope that this game can be solved without the artifact of air.

I’m pretty nervous about that. I mean, in most FF books, if you’re missing the special items that means you’re pretty much dead. I’m given the option of heading right to Sturm’s fish (damn, I love the idea of flying around in a giant fish) right now. But I instead decide to press on with more of the elemental realms. My logic here is that if I can recover at least most of the items, then the ones I’m missing may take care of itself – a la The Seven Serpents. It’s a long shot, I admit, but I’m going to take it.

I head off into the drought-assailed lands, where the sun beats down relentlessly, hoping to recover the artefact of fire. People are leaving the lands in huge numbers, as they are unable to grow their crops. The book gives me the option of joining the exodus, essentially a ‘do you want to back out now’ chance, but I am not to be moved from my path!

The fleeing people are suddenly thrown into attack as a monster attacks – a giant tunnelling worm. Not the kind of giant worm I fought during Temple of Terror though, I imagine this one as being more like the beasties in Tremors. The first of those movies were good, but the sequels… urgh… and the tv series, even worse… Still, better than the Highlander tv series by a long shot. Sorry, I’m going off on a tangent here.

The landscape here is worth note – the hot rock from the volcano (oh yeah, I’m going to a volcano – it’s a fire elemental landscape, what do you expect?) mixes with the local river, and creates a landscape dotted with crystals. That’s so much more exciting than the ravines of the previous locale, and I’m very impressed. I manage to book passage on a raft to take me right to the volcano, but fate may be against me on this – by the time I arrive, it is now Fireday. Oh dear.

Once I get into the volcano itself, it’s a little disappointing. The general structure is the same as the ravines, with choices between going left or right to get to your goal, and monsters interspersed therein. There description is very nice though, with the heat causing a deduction of your skill (unless you have a dragon tattoo, which I have) and the prose is suitably lavish, describing the flames licking through cracks in the walls and so on. I manage to slay one blisterwing (a fiery kind of bat) and check out its nest, only to be pecked on the face by its offspring.

I manage to put my grapple hook to good use in scrambling over a chasm, and find a rather curious fire crystal. I pocket it, and press on deeper into the suitably-named fire caves, which grow hotter and hotter as I progress. I come across a couple of rather neat monsters – Bone Fires, the reanimated skeletal remains of previous adventurers which have been consumed by fire. Very neat, and made more difficult due to the buff they get from the day of the week, but I hack them apart and press on.

I’m feeling pretty cocky so far, so when I come across a river of molten lava, I decide to be a jammy git and jump from rock to rock in order to cross it. As I do, I am attacked by lava beasts… holy crap, there’s a lot of combat in this book. I mean, this is very combat heavy. Maybe this is why it’s taking me so long to get through it. If you had a low skill score, I suspect this book would be damn impossible. Still, the variation in monsters is good. Although they are given the ability to push me into the lava, I manage to slay them and cross the river without too much trouble.

Delving deeper and deeper into the volcano, the heat is becoming quite deadly. I didn’t know it at the time, but it seems that I was built to resist the high temperature. Between my tattoo, the shield I found under the sea and the cape I bought at the market when I was back in town near the start of the adventure, I manage to survive the worst of the damage. Finally, when the heat is so blistering that I’m barely able to go on, I see my goal – an alter to the great fire elements. Unfortunately it’s right down in the heart of the volcano.

No problem, I’ll just use my trusty rope and grapple down. My rope hasn’t let me down before, surely it won’t let me down here. I mean, it’s not as if rope can catch fire or anything. I latch it in place and lower myself down over the ledge, into the pits of the lava.

Sizzle, says the rope. Oh crap, I say. Splash, says the lava as I fall into it.

And thus ends my adventure.

With a variety of locations and a non-linear path through them, I’d have loved this book when I was a kid. It is, however, very combat-heavy. I fought a manticore, an ice elemental, a fog elemental, reef monsters, a giant worm, an abyssal horror, a leviathan, a sand elemental, a dust devil, a pack of vultures, a birdman, a tunnelling worm, a blisterwing, two bone fires and two magma beasts. The legend of Wee Fat Jimmy will live on forever as one of the most prolific monster-killers of all time. Stitch that, lad!

The game also tends to steer clear of instant-death paragraphs, and I suspect the one I fell upon was one of the very few. It gives you a lot of chances to roll to avoid horrible fates. The day system works very nicely, buffing your enemies but also giving you limited health regeneration to balance out the challenge.

I’m extremely happy with this adventure, and would encourage other FF fans to give it a shot. It keeps a lot of the best things about Bloodbones and Howl of the Werewolf, almost as if they were written by the same author or something (heh heh). Just… try to roll a good skill score, okay?

Cause of death: Took a dive into the lava.