The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were blockbusters of the era. Journey with me now as we climb the Tower of Destruction!
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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So, Tower of Destruction. Must be honest, I’ve been looking forward to this one. I remember seeing it on a visit to a library once, when I was a kid, but never did get around to borrowing it. I’d rather grown tired of the selection in my local library, so I’d insisted that we use the library in a neighbouring part of town for a while, which tended to have a better selection.
In part, I think it was catching sight of Tower of Destruction there, during a school visit, that had convinced me to insist on making this journey each time I needed to rent out a library book. This is almost entirely down to the cover. Look at it. Seriously, that is epic. Not having actually read the book yet, I’m still convinced that the giant… thing… on the cover IS the titular Tower of Destruction, a flying tower that rains down destruction on innocent villagers. A flying tower. Freaking awesome, guys!
The game has a few extra stats, namely the often-annoying Time stat to keep track of (has this ever been anything but fiddly and unnecessary?) and an Honour stat, which brings to mind Sword of the Samurai. This, in turn, makes me think of oriental mythology, which in turn makes me remember the giant flying tower in Final Fantasy 9. See how my mind works? Terrifying, isn’t it?
The story begins as I trudge through the snowy northern lands, to find that my home village has been destroyed. Which is all rather like Conan the Barbarian, with the slight difference of that James Earl Jones wasn’t a giant flying tower. Leaving the village, and my family as smouldering ruins, I spend the evening helping the survivors patch their wounds and tending to their injuries. The next day, I’m sent off to follow the tower, because one man with a sharp sword is a perfect match for a flying death machine.
At about this point I realise that this adventure has nothing in common with Sword of the Samurai. I trudge off through the snowy northlands, until I stumble upon a small copse of trees. Among the trees, I find an owl. He tells me, in plain and simple language, that I should probably go and talk to the wise man who lives to the east. I don’t question my newfound ability to talk to the animals, because in Fighting Fantasy games it’s just more unusual to find animals who don’t talk. It’s kinda like Oz in that way. I toddle off to find the wise man’s wooden hut some day’s travel away, only to find that it’s occupied by a Smoke Demon.
The Smoke Demon is a pretty tough fight for this early in the game, with a skill of 9. But because I was sneaking around the house and being all Stealthy McStealtherson, I managed to score a free first strike on him, which helped. To add to its general worrying nature, its accompanying illustration also shows the Smoke Demon is actually an entirely naked rotting zombie, with only a whisp of smoke covering its decomposing floppage. Either way, I find the old wise man, Tasrin, who babbles incoherantly and then dies. My working theory is that he summoned the Smoke Demon whilst drunk.
I steal the dead old man’s ring and run off to get back into the trail of the tower, which the book is referring to as a sphere. Which is a little confusing, but maybe I’m just not doing it right. Along the way, I find a dead snow fox, and I’m given the chance to take it. Unable to resist carrying around a dead body, I pack the fox’s corpse into my backpack, because fuck it why not? Before long I find a batch of footprints, which I decide to investigate, hoping to meet some new friends and show them my newfound lump of carrion.
The footprints belong to an injured barbarian called Torsten, who I nurse back to health. He tells me that he has been injured by Ice Ghosts, which are essentially White Walkers from Game of Thrones. He doesn’t seem impressed by the dead fox that I’ve got crammed in my backpack, but he does offer me to come back to his place for some booze and entirely non-homoerotic night-time activities.
Torsten introduces me to his village’s shaman, who tells me that the spirits have been chattering away about an evil wizard who has summoned the flying death sphere. The wizard is, apparantly, inside the sphere and yet at the same time not there, so perhaps he’s a time lord, I dunno. Or the shaman is just faking, and trying to hedge his bets. Anyway, that evening a merchant shows up at the barbarian camp, and I have the option to sell him a ‘Silver’ Fox. I don’t know if this is the same item as I found earlier, which was a Snow Fox. But the two are similar enough, I’m happy to call it the same thing. I sell him the dead animal and buy a crowbar, some food, and a bag of salt.
I’m getting worried about the time score on this. The game requires me to keep track of how many days pass, and by the time I leave the barbarian village, it’s so late that I’ve lost two days worth of travel, bringing my total to four. I sleep for the fourth time in a cave, and upon emerging to continue my adventure, I manage to accidently attract the attention of a dragon which has been flying overhead. Rather than roasting me where I stand, the dragon instead lands and asks if I can convince him not to eat me. I’m somehow not only able to convince him not to eat me, but to let me ride him on to the next part of the journey!
Rather bewildered by this, I’m now close enough to the sphere to see that it is, indeed, a flying sphere about twelve meters across, and not a giant tower as I’d seen on the front cover. Not sure how to feel about that, to be honest. Everything I’d thought I’ve known was wrong! But yeah, there’s an entrance into the sphere, and I step on inside, only to find a large tunnel. It’s clearly bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. I rush to check the year that this book was published. Hmm, seems that Doctor Who was off the air during that year. Most curious, most curious indeed…
I travel down a long, long corridor until I wind up in the engine room. A large golem appears to be throwing round balls of super-heated… stuff… into holes in the wall, which I assume is somehow powering the sphere. I knock the golem down and stamp on it, it’s somewhat less of a challenge than the naked zombie we met earlier. The book then offers me the chance to jump into the engine’s furnace, which… yeah, doesn’t quite appeal to me. I head out of the room, heading into the opposite direction, and meet yet another naked zombie. I’m now convinced that I’ve stumbled upon a British Nudist gathering.
Making short work of the zombie and its flapping bodily appendages, I find a secret panel in the room. The book then asks how many days I’ve been awake for, and I’m barely able to scrape through with four days. The cut-off period here is five, and I barely manage to pass. As a result, the secret room into which I step that is full of dead bodies is relatively safe. I assume that if I were too late, those dead bodies would be fully alive and strolling around.
I’m then promptly thrown into an especially deadly boss fight. The very next chamber contains a man-orc champion with a hefty sword, who has a fondness for thwapping me with it. It also contains a mage who likes to zap me with lightning bolts. I’m pretty sure that the mage is in charge of this freaky operation, so I beat up the man-orc for a while until I can get a good look at the mage. The mage then blasts me with lightning.
I can’t get a good hit in at the mage, because of his tendency to blast me with lightning. Instead, I turn my attention towards the only other thing in the room, a giant statue of a demon. The statue of a demon then blasts me as well, just for good measure. But I’m able to determine that the eye of the statue is its weak spot, so I break the gem that’s set into its eye socket. This seems to cause the mage to teleport out.
By this point, I’ve taken quite a bit of damage, and the man-orc still needs to be killed. I finish him off, and the book reliably informs me that this chamber is the control system of the sphere. It also tells me that there is a door opposite, behind which I can hear ‘something’. I decide to try to play around with the controls, only being electrocuted for my effort. Grumbling and hemoraging stamina points like there’s no tomorrow, I throw open the door and find a prisoner. Yay, I can be a hero and rescue this prisoner, although the sphere seems to be about to explode.
I hurry out of the sphere, prisoner in tow. The sphere promtly explodes, and I’m quite confident that I’ve managed to win this part of the adventure. But I’m then promptly struck on the head by a piece of exploding debris, which deals an enormous four hit points of damage. Combined with the five I’d suffered for daring to touch the controls of the sphere, and all of the ones I’d taken from the mage’s blasts a few seconds before, all without any real chance to heal up. The bit of debris knocks my stamina down to zero, so although I’ve rescued the prisoner and saved the world from the evil flying death sphere, I nontheless die.
But I die a hero, right?
I actually rather like this one. The text isn’t as descriptive as I’d like it to be, though, but the structure of it is very nice and delivered well. You’re left feeling that the adventure is arduous and difficult, and I don’t at any time feel that the death I suffered was unfair.
I’m going to count this as one of the ‘Books I didn’t play as a kid but I’m very glad I have now’ from the series. Very nice, overall. Check it out if you get the chance.
More adventure (hopefully) this time next week! Hopefully with less naked zombies next time.
Cause of death: Rock to the head.