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!
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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….