The Warlock of Firetop Mountain

The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were blockbuster hits of the era. Travel to Firetop Mountain, beat up a wizard and steal his money!

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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Published the same year I was born, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain was the first Fighting Fantasy book, and has had an incarnation in every version of the books. The original cover of this book showed the titular warlock as a gnarled old mage, whilst the later ones showed him as a younger man wielding the forces of chaos and destruction. This is Zagor, the warlock who would return twice more throughout the Fighting Fantasy series – in Return to Firetop Mountain and Legacy of Zagor, as well as starring in the spin-off novels The Zagor Chronicles, appearing in two board games (based on Warlock and Legacy, respectively) and several video game versions.

In short, Zagor is the face of the Fighting Fantasy franchise. And was also my first online internet username. But the question here is “Can I kill him and steal his treasure?” That’s the only real storyline we have to go on. Zagor isn’t raising an army, he’s not cursed a village with moon dogs, he’s just happily sitting in his mountain, chilling, drinking a cup of hot tea and watching Twilight Zone reruns on the telly. And we, like traditional dungeon-crawling adventurers, are going to break into his home, beat up the old man, and nick everything. We did that a lot in classic Dungeons and Dragons, you see. I miss those days… Anyway, on with the show!

Firetop mountain is so named because of the red rock deposit at the top, not because it’s a volcano. Which is a shame, because being set inside a volcano would have added a whole new level of adventure in it. Probably not a good idea, because my stamina roll was quite low at only 16 – but my luck score was very lucky at 12, with my skill an even 10. I slipped into the cavern entrance of the mountain, and took a turn which lead me to a guard post. The guard, a goblin, was sleeping quite happily. Wish I could get away with that when I was at work!

Slipping past the guard, I entered a room which contained another sleeping goblin. I managed to grab a small box from the room, which contained a couple gold coins – not bad, given that the book’s instructions didn’t mention that I had any to start with! The box also contained a mouse, which I didn’t keep. How odd. But in the second room I entered, which was otherwise empty, the box contained a snake. Not a giant snake, just a regular snake, which I killed with only one hit. I wonder what kind of person keeps a snake in a box. Does the box have air holes? Do they open it to feed the snake every day? It seems like such a difficult way to keep a pet.

Either way, the snake was ‘guarding’ a key, which I took. I remembered that you need to collect a good number of keys in order to get to the good ending of this book. Hoping that this key was one of them, I pocketed it and left the room. I investigated another room, in which two orcs were singing badly. Seems they were drunk. The book didn’t offer me the choice of joining them, sadly, so I just killed them. Under the table in this room, there was another box which contained instructions on how to cast the Dragonfire spell, which could easily slay a dragon. Given that there’s a dragon on the cover for this book, I figured this was a good discovery!

My next room contained a raving lunatic. Kinda like when I was living in university student dorms, I suppose. Anyway, I figured that he was a prisoner, because he wasn’t an orc. So I tried to calm him down, which was very useful. Once he was calm, he told me that I had there was a trap further down the tunnel which I could solve by pulling the right-most lever. Which is quite useful, and may even save me from what might otherwise be an instant-death choice, possibly.

I venture on, and in the next room I enter, I find an armoury. You have to remember though that this is an orc armoury, so it’s full of pointy sticks and so on. But I do find a rather nice shield, which will let me take less damage if I roll a 6 after being injured in combat. Rather unlikely it’ll be of much use, but it’s better than nothing – however, in order to take it with me, I need to leave behind one of my other pieces of equipment. Okay then, I’ll leave behind… my previous, crappier shield! Wow, difficult choice, that.

Leave room, walk down tunnel, enter new room. This room contains two goblins who are busy torturing a dwarf. The book then gives me the option to run in and take part in torturing the dwarf!! I am so, so tempted to choose this option. I really want to. If it had been a Gnome, I’d definitely have taken the choice. One thing that World of Warcraft has taught me is that Gnomes are only good for torturing, throwing long distances, and the occasional barbeque. But anyway, I decide not to torture the poor dwarf, and kill the two goblins, like a good hero. And in reward, I am given cheese! I have the cheese!!

Leaving the room, I eventually come across the trap that the crazy man warned me about. I pull the right-most lever, and a portcullis raises, allowing me to continue. I then make a number of choices between turning west, north and other directions, which I didn’t bother to note down, because that makes for the most boring playthroughs ever, “First I went north, then I went east, then I went east again”, sod that! So I ran around blindly for a bit. Until I ran into a crazy barbarian.

I don’t know what the barbarian was doing in the dungeon, but once I killed him, I discovered he was carrying a mallet and several sticks of wood with pointy ends. My working theory is that he’s a vampire hunter. It’s a shame I had to kill him, because I’d have been quite interested to find out how a barbarian had got into the line of vampire hunting. Maybe he was the latest in a long line of vampire hunters. Maybe he had trained under Buffy Summers or the Frog Brothers or something. This would be a very interesting story, but sadly it will never be revealed, because I killed the barbarian. See, violence is never the best answer.

The next room is a lavish portrait room, with paintings on the wall. I look at them, and recognize one of them as the legendary Zagor himself. This is a bad idea, because the portrait immediately starts to cast a spell on me. Hmph, wish they’d stop doing that kind of thing. The book asks if I have anything that could stop Zagor’s spells.

Sadly, I don’t (unless the cheese can be used for this – maybe wizards are lactose-intolerant?) so I flee the room, and quickly come to another room which I’ll call ‘the garbage room’. It contains some driftwood, which I have the choice of taking. Oh yeah, a hunk of wood will be so useful, I’m sure – I leave it behind, and try to find some rope instead. Rope is always useful. Except when it comes to life and tries to kill you. This rope does. So I chop it up.

Finally, we come to the river. I’m a wee bit worried, because I’ve only found one key so far, and the river kinda marks the mid-point of the adventure. Also I remember that on the other side of the river lurks the dreaded labyrinth. Anyway, I play nice and ring the bell for the ferryman. I have two gold coins from the earlier rooms all ready to pay, but it seems that the ferryman decides he’s going to charge me extra.

I assume he thinks I’ve got the word ‘sucker’ printed on my head. I’m all ready to teach him a lesson with my sword, when he changes into a giant salivating wererat. Yeah, I didn’t see that coming, either. And to make matters worse, the book won’t give me the option to tempt the wererat with any of the cheese I found earlier! Pah, useless cheese. Anyway, I kill the wererat and decide to commandeer the boat for myself! On the opposite side of the river, I approach a door, when I am suddenly knocked unconscious. I never do find out what struck me, but when I wake up, I am in a room with four zombies.

It’s a bit of a gamble, and I realise my chance of killing all four of them are slim, but I don’t hesitate and leap to attack. Sure enough, I am able to barely scrape through, having killed all four zombies. My stamina is running low, so a quick glug of my magic stamina potion quickly gets me back up to shape. I search the nearby corpses and find some gold, and a silver crucifix. Hmm, a lot of vampire-related items. They come in very useful though, as the very next room contains a vampire. Yep, the next chamber is a crypt, and from a nearby coffin stalks a vampire. Boy, it’s lucky I found those stakes earlier! Even more lucky, because, well…

According to this book, I am the most inept and yet the luckiest vampire hunter ever. You see, as the book narrates it, I approach the vampire with the stake. The vampire backs away. I trip and fall. The stake goes flying out of my hands. By sheer luck, the stake hurtles through the air, right into the vampire’s chest, piercing its heart. I’m not even joking here. This actually happened. Feeling utterly amazed at my luck, I find the vampire’s coffin contains a book (I’m not told what it is) and some y-shaped sticks. Maybe the vampire had an interest in dowsing.

The following area of the dungeon was half-completed, and I managed to see some enchanted digging tools constructing new tunnels, all the while singing happily. I think I’ll have to make sure not to pack mushrooms in my provisions in future. Anyway, I stumble onwards, almost tripping over a ghoul on the way. The ghoul can be quite tricky as he can paralyse you with its touch, but I’m able to handle it without too much difficulty. And so I journey into the LABYRINTH OF ZAGOR!!

This part of the adventure is amazingly frustrating to try to explain. It’s just as it sounds, a maze. Anyway, I won’t bother to document the actual tunnels of the maze, it’s really the sort of thing that’s best to solve by making a map as you go along. It’s pretty impressive that something like this could be included in a text-based format like a book, but still, it’s very time-consuming and is definitely the low point of the adventure. I’ll just describe the more interesting rooms I come across.

I manage to find a room full of dwarves who are playing cards, and through the graces of my high luck score I am able to earn some extra gold without needing to cheat. The next room I find is very appropriate for a labyrinth, as it contains the ominous minotaur. I kill him, but he does manage to deal quite a bit of damage. And I manage to acquire my second key! I’m sure I’ve lost any chance of getting enough of the correct keys by this stage in the game, but its still nice to have this.

I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, oh wait I’ve found a dragon.

Excellent. The book asks me if I remember the magic spell from earlier. That’s quite interesting as you can see that this ‘do you remember’ question will later develop into the code-word system. Without further ado, I hurtle the spell at the dragon with all the efficiency of Lina Inverse’s Dragonslave spell! The tunnel leads at long last into the warlock’s study. I try to sneak in, yet the warlock notices me and prepares to attack. With my amazing memory, I remember that the wizard’s power lies in his desk of magic cards (and y’know, I may have even forgot about that if he hadn’t been playing with them when I walked in!), so I grab the cards and set them alight. The warlock is now relatively easy prey, and I cut him down without too much trouble.

And, like many thousands of adventurers before me, I fall at the final hurdle. I have only two of the keys needed to unlock the warlock’s treasure, and so I fall to the floor in tears. This, my friends, is how the vast majority of Warlock of Firetop Mountain playthroughs end. Warlock is definitely a classic, for all the good and bad that entails. It feels very much like a classic dungeon hack, and doesn’t have the stronger flavour of later Fighting Fantasy books.

The combat is relatively easy, the maze is more tedious than challenging, and the difficulty in finding the right keys to unlock the warlock’s treasure is the stuff of urban horror stories. Your tastes may vary on the artwork, for me it’s very nostalgic and I’m quite fond of a lot of the illustrations. The trick to the game is to play through it many times, note down where you discover the keys each time, and that will ensure you can get through the game with the best ending.

My copy of the book contains an advert for the Fighting Fantasy fan club, which as best I can tell is no longer in operation, and adverts for two rather interesting books – a biography on JRR Tolkien, and a study on Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ books. Definitely fantasy-theme, but non-fiction books are a curious choice for adverts in this book. Oh well.

Cause of death: Sturdy chest locks.