A MetaFilter Post In Which YOU Become The Hero!
July 22, 2012 10:20 PM   Subscribe

Fighting Fantasy (FF) is a series of interactive gamebooks for kids, originally published in the UK between 1982 and 1995, created by Steve Jackson (no, not that Steve Jackson) and Ian Livingstone. In a nutshell, they were Choose Your Own Adventure books with simple dice-based gaming rules built into them. The books primarily focused on fantasy themes, but sci-fi, post-apocalyptic, super-heroes, and modern-day horror tales were all covered as well. Containing art both fantastic and ridiculous, they were many a young lad's gateway drug into more complex nerdery.

For example, you'd have your normal choice to take the blue door by turning to page 32 or the green door by turning to page 85 that any reader of a CYOA book would be familiar with, only to encounter a Giant Space Walrus or what have you. You'd then roll dice to decide the resulting combat using an extremely basic system, based on the critter's stats listed in the book and the stats you had randomly rolled for your hero at the start of the adventure. If you were defeated, the book ended there; any wounds you took carried on through the rest of the book.

Many of the artists used would go on to do a great deal of work for Games Workshop and elsewhere - some of my favourites were:

- Martin McKenna
- John Sibbick
- Iain McCaig
- Peter Andrew Jones
- Russ Nicholson

After a hiatus following Puffin Books' dropping of the line, FF returned in 2002 under the stewardship of Wizard Books, who began re-releasing the original books with new covers, as well as commissioning brand new efforts.

Expanding on the original, there was a series of games developed for the ZX Spectrum & Commodore 64. A PlayStation edition of Deathtrap Dungeon, and recent video game releases have been made of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain and Talisman of Death. A brand-new, full-fledged RPG (i.e. not gamebooks, but more complex and akin to Dungeons & Dragons), spun out of the old Advanced Fighting Fantasy system, has recently been released as well.

More Stuff:

- Previously on the blue. Also, a post on the similar but unrelated Lone Wolf series.

- A full list of all Fighting Fantasy books.

- A loving fanzine tribute to the series. Other fan sites: Fighting Dantasy, Turn To 400, and Fighting For Your Fantasy.

- SVG walkthroughs of all the books. Never hold your thumb on a page again!

- An illustrated history of Fighting Fantasy and Games Workshop. Previously on the blue.

- The Wayback Machine has kindly preserved this old FF FAQ. Or you can check out the Fighting Fantasy wiki.

- A fabulous site featuring a price-guide, cover art galleries, collector's info, and a whole lot more.

- Create your own gamebooks! And along those lines, play books created by others.

- Buy original Fighting Fantasy art from the amazing Martin McKenna here.

- A new book is due out in August.
posted by Palindromedary (50 comments total) 68 users marked this as a favorite
This is a fantastic post!

FF books were what I spent all of my allowance money on when I was 11 or 12, I think. I had every single one up to about 37 or something. I really wish I still had them. They disappeared sometime during my going away for college.
posted by porpoise at 10:36 PM on July 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Great post! Here's hoping the mods fix that typo; "ridiculous" should clearly have been "TOTALLY BITCHING AND INSPIRATIONAL".

Sent from my improvised tiger catamaran
posted by No-sword at 11:06 PM on July 22, 2012 [5 favorites]

Definitely digging into this later, when I finish surfing on tigers...
posted by lucien_reeve at 11:24 PM on July 22, 2012

Related. Just a few posts down! Was that post the inspiration for this one?
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 11:52 PM on July 22, 2012

Conrad: Yep! It made me realize this was the perfect thing to make my first MeFi post about. I figured since it was only a few posts down there was little sense in linking to it, however.
posted by Palindromedary at 11:58 PM on July 22, 2012

This is great. I just bought the beginner box of Pathfinder for my 8-year-old. Pathfinder handles the problem of how to play when you just opened the box of your new RPG and don't know any other gamers by providing a (tiny) dungeon with "turn to section 15" options to get around, and super-simple combat. It's more to have something to do and familiarize with the most basic mechanics than edify for hours, but it reminded me of these books, which I played when there weren't any other gamers around.
posted by mph at 12:00 AM on July 23, 2012

A terrific first post. The first thread has unlocked a flood of memories for me; thank you so much for curating all these links for further exploration!
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 12:00 AM on July 23, 2012

were many a young lad's person's gateway drug into more complex nerdery

posted by nicebookrack at 12:02 AM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is a Fightin' Fantastic post.
Oh, Forest of Doom, my one true love. Some day I will complete you!
posted by Mezentian at 12:13 AM on July 23, 2012

the back catalogue and new books are also getting iOS/Android releases.
posted by russm at 12:16 AM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Forest of Doom. Pfft. Black Vein Prophecy made Forest of Doom look like, well, I dunno, Citadel of Chaos or Swamp of Scorpions it was that easy!

Black Vein Prophecy had so many deaths, and many choices were linear and took you from critical info needed for completion. Coupled with hiding the happy ending on a different page from four hundred, even cheating my very hardest I was never able to finish it, fingers on pages and automatic fight wins and all. Brutal.
posted by smoke at 12:18 AM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

There are some surprisingly good adaptions of Fighting Fantasy gamebooks available as "active content" on the e-Ink Kindles, that offer interesting features like inventory management, automapping and multiple fight die-rolling styles. I was surprised, they're actually better than the iOS versions despite being black-and-white and having less responsive interfaces.
posted by JHarris at 12:20 AM on July 23, 2012

Black Vein Prophecy? That's in the 40s.
I was there at the beginning man, when there were only three.

I've just remembered, I saw the Blood Sword series a few days ago, second-hand, and I'ma go out and buy that.
posted by Mezentian at 12:23 AM on July 23, 2012

Black Vein Prophecy? That's in the 40s.

Hey don't get me wrong, man, I was there for Firetop Mountain, Citadel of Chaos, etc but Black Vein was my killer.

Hmmmm, Top 5 FFs? (no order)

1. Temple of Terror
2. Demons of the Deep
3. Dead of Night
4. Forest of Doom
5. hmm maybe Chasms of Malice?

I liked the ones with lots of travelling. Most of the dungeon-based ones were a bit boring to me.
posted by smoke at 12:31 AM on July 23, 2012

While I have a few fans here: does anyone know what ever happened to Bob Harvey, artist on Talisman of Death? I would have linked him as one of my favourite FF artists as well, but I couldn't find a single thing on him. This image was absolutely captivating when I was young; very similar to McKenna in that wonderful inked gothic sense.
posted by Palindromedary at 12:31 AM on July 23, 2012

Marc Gascoigne, who was line-editor on the Fighting Fantasy series for many years and wrote most of the Advanced Fighting Fantasy RPG books, is now running kick-ass award-winning scientifiction publisher Angry Robot.
posted by Hogshead at 1:23 AM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Well shucks. I never knew that Steve Jackson was two different people. One of the Wikipedia articles notes that the U.S. Steve Jackson wrote three books in the Fighting Fantasy series, furthering the confusification.
posted by XMLicious at 1:41 AM on July 23, 2012

great post - thanks - I picked up the first of these books for my 7 year old at a jumble (rummage?) sale recently. (well, for me really!)
posted by the_very_hungry_caterpillar at 1:49 AM on July 23, 2012

Citadel of Chaos! Temple of Terror! Demons of the Deep! Such alliterative menace! Can I fill up the alphabet?

The Arcade of the Androsphynx!
The Burrows of the Bat Creature!
The Caverns of Carrion!
The Dire Dragons of the Demonpits!
The Elysium of the Elder Things!
The Furnace of the Fungus!
The Grinding Gyre of the Grievous Griffons!
The Hounds of Hades!

I'm having trouble with I, but J's covered with The Jabbering Jeremiad of the Jabberwock.
posted by JHarris at 1:57 AM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm having trouble with I

The Infernal Investigation of the Ixitxachitl!
posted by Mezentian at 2:06 AM on July 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

As a 14/15 year-old lacking even the social wherewithal to play RPGs with other people, these books were just the ticket. I think I bought the first seven in the series before becoming more exclusively fixated on computer games.

From around the same time: Maelstrom, an RPG rule-set published as a Puffin paperback
posted by misteraitch at 2:09 AM on July 23, 2012

I've been saying for years that the Sorcery Epic (Shamutanti Hills/Kharé - Cityport of traps/Seven Serpents/Crown of Kings) would make a great video game series. Any plans in this direction?
posted by Brentusfirmus at 2:32 AM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

I remember playing several of these in their Hebrew translations when I was a kid! Interesting to see the slight changes in vowels they sometimes made to make the names of some things sound more native. Boy, I had a hard time finding these because "Steve Jackson" kept landing me on the other one!
posted by anateus at 3:46 AM on July 23, 2012

more complex nerdery

Battletech is indeed more complex nerdery, but it doesn't have to be. Here are the rules I developed for my five year old son. It has all the cool stuff from Battletech - designing your own mechs; lasers, cannons and missiles; juggling size / speed / offence / defence within a lance - but none of the grief. It plays fast***, and is easy for little heads learning to add and subtract small numbers.

Battletech: Cadet


Mechs have a size from 1 to 10. 1 is very small. 10 is very big. Small mechs don't have many weapons and can't take much damage, but they move quickly and are hard to hit. Big mechs have lots of weapons and tough armour, but are slow and easy to hit.


Mechs move 11 - size. For example, a size 1 mech moves (11-1) = 10. A size 5 mech moves (11-5) = 6. A size 10 mech moves (11-10) = 1.

Move is a reflection of a mech's overall agility - how fast it can run, dodge, weave. To hit a mech, you must roll over its move on 2d6.


Size is a measure of a mech's overall toughness. To damage a mech (after hitting it), you must roll over its size on 2d6. If successful, roll for damage.

A mech can take damage equal to its size before it's destroyed.


There are three kinds of weapons: lasers, cannons, and missiles. They all do 1d6 damage.

Lasers: have no ammo, must have line of sight to target.
Cannons: have 10 ammo, must have line of sight to target, if you roll a 6 for damage, keep rolling
Missiles: have 6 ammo per rack (ie can fire six salvos), don't need line of sight to target, target must roll over damage to remain standing (knocked down mech misses a turn standing up)

Weapons can be small, medium, or large. Small weapons have a short range (1-3). Medium weapons have a medium range (4-6). Large weapons have a long range (7-9).**


A mech has (size * 2) slots. A small weapon is 1 slot. A medium weapon is 2 slots. A large weapon is 3 slots.


A Locust is a size 2 mech. It moves 9. It has 2 armour, and 4 slots. It has 2 small cannons (1 slot each) and 1 medium laser (2 slots). To hit a Locust, you need to roll a 10 or better on 2d6. To damage a Locust, you need to roll a 3 or better on 2d6.

An Archer is a size 7 mech. It moves 4. It has 7 armour, and 14 slots. It has 4 medium lasers (2 slots each) and 2 racks of large missiles (3 slots each). To hit an Archer, you need to roll a 5 or better on 2d6. To damage an Archer, you need to roll an 8 or better on 2d6.

The whole thing fits on a small card (in 2 columns):

Size = 1 to 10
Move = 11 - size
Armour = size
Slots = size * 2
To hit: 2d6 > move
To damage: 2d6 > size
Damage = 1d6
Small = 1 slot = 1-3 range
Medium = 2 slots = 4-6 range
Large = 3 slots = 7-9 range
Lasers = no ammo, line of sight
Cannons = 10 ammo, line of sight, roll again if damage = 6
Missiles = 6 ammo, no line of sight, roll over damage on 1d6 to remain standing

Set tonnage for a game (eg mechs whose sizes add up to 15), design your mechs (or pick them off the shelf), build block / lego / polystyrene city, blast away. Faster mechs move first, roll initiative for same sized mechs. You can move then shoot; move a bit, shoot, move some more. You can fire each weapon once per turn. There's no heat - a mech is assumed to be able to dissipate the heat required by moving and firing all its weapons. Plant ammo stashes around to allow cannons / missiles to reload - lots of fun trying to destroy enemy caches while protecting your own.

*(Why yes, for most Inner Sphere mechs, size does work out to be tonnage / 10, and they can have substantially identical weaponry. If tonnage ends in 5, you either round up / down and gain/lose a small weapon or a size level for one weapon (for example, a Wasp could add another small weapon, or upgrade its small missiles to medium). A few very lightly armoured mechs have a much smaller size in the new system - for example, a 55 tonne Wolverine becomes a size 3 mech rather than size 6 - but this gives them a high movement which reflects their jump capability (which I've factored into overall maneuverability - think anime mechs dodging, skidding, leaping.)

**(You may like to experiment with 1-5, 6-10 and 11-15. Note that this makes it easier for large assault mechs to keep light mechs in range of large weapons. This can be a bad thing. Under the default ranges, large mechs already require a disproportionately large number of shots to be taken down - the 'average shots required to destroy' curve is largely flat on the bottom for light mechs, but curves upward steeply for large mechs - almost a right angle J. I'm not mathemteh...mathmetia...numbers talking guy but I think this is a side effect of overlaying a bell curve (2d6) on a linear size system. An Atlas is seriously f*cking terrifying. Hit, hit, hit: ping, bounce, ricochet. ATLAS SMASH! This is offset by smart play from smaller mechs - use higher speed to move from cover, fire, return to cover. ATLAS SMA...WHERE TINY MECHS GO?)

***(To play faster, change to hit / damage to equal to or greater than move / size on 2d6, rather than greater than. Very large and very small mechs are markedly weakened (always hit / always damaged respectively).

posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:15 AM on July 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think some of these are available on the iPad now. I tried to play WoFM on the iPad, but the magic had gone, sadly.

In addition to kickstarting my interest in tabletop RPGs, these books also got me obsessed with mapping. Mostly this involved sticking sheets of graph paper together to make giant poster-maps, suitable, I felt, for capturing every detail. I don't have any of them any more. I wish I did. It's surprising what we throw away. They're probably the only visually creative things I ever tried to do in my life.

The map for Warlock of Firetop Mountain was the first, of course. I did it over and over, trying to make it better each time. I colored it in, and tried to figure out how to impart something emotional to it - the sense of excitement that was in the book. This was how I discovered that real artists have to wrestle with a very personal language of art, and that I just wasn't going to succeed in it. I mapped Deathtrap Dungeon, and was very proud of myself. I tried mapping Forest of Doom, and was never really happy with the result.

Anyway, for me the true pleasure in tabletop RPGs was always about making new maps. In every group of players, there's supposed to be one unfortunate soul who gets stuck with the job of mapping the dungeon as the dungeon master describes it. This was always a disaster:

"The corridor proceeds another 50 feet before bending sharply to the right. Halfway up the left side there's a door."
"On the left? That's like, West, yeah?"
"Yes. West side."
"And that's before the corridor bends, right?"
"Yes, of course. If it was around the bend, you wouldn't be able to -"
"Is it a wooden door?"
"Sure! What does it matter?"
"I'm just using a special symbol for wooden doors. Is the corridor ten feet wide?"

Also, the maps they drew looked shit.

So I used to draw little map fragments as well and pass them out as I was describing them, and then they could glue them to a sheet of paper or copy them onto their own map. This made me happy, because I got to draw more maps, and it made them happy because they didn't have to give a shit anymore.

This was all pre-internet of course. I did a quick search just now and noticed that lots of people drew maps of the Fighting Fantasy books - many of them are awesome.
posted by Ritchie at 4:46 AM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

I think this thread just turned me nine...

... and I can't find my fecking dice box.
posted by Mezentian at 4:55 AM on July 23, 2012

Oh, holy fuck, I had complete forgotten Maelstrom.

But not Dragon Warriors,
Monster Horrowshow or
Darksword Adventures!

This thread has Joe Dever, a man worthy of a FPP on his own.
I'm sure these aren't forgotten realms of pulp.
posted by Mezentian at 5:04 AM on July 23, 2012

ntastic and ridiculous, they were many a young lad's gateway drug into more complex nerdery.

Raises hand.
posted by Artw at 5:23 AM on July 23, 2012

I think that FIGHTING FANTASY is really the nostalgia pulp of a certain (now 30something) generation, just as other things (Twilight Zone? Doctor Who? Doc Savage? Tarzan? Sherlock Holmes?) were in the past.

I really loved the art, which was wildly pulpy and swung from the sublime to the ineptly ridiculous on a regular basis.

It set a different tone for 80s fantasy in England than in the States - one that was more grungy, punky, historically referential (Gary Chalk reaching back to woodcuts; John Blanche channelling a kind of putrid Beardsley-by-way-of-Francis-Bacon). There was a feeling of Doom hanging over 80s UK fantasy, like the whole world was one step away from apocalypse and death, that probably came from being a tiddly little island stuck between two huge superpowers that seemed awfully blase about blowing the world to bits.

Seconding BrentusFirmus on the SORCERY epic - that was a really scuzzy low-fantasy full of horrible deaths, grotesque creatures and sneaky puzzles (some concealed in the illustrations).

Other classics:

SLAVES OF THE ABYSS (awesome weird fiction with a tonally consistent but completely original mythos)

BENEATH NIGHTMARE CASTLE (Lovecraft does Dracula)

CREATURE OF HAVOC (Man? Or Beast? Technically impossible, too.)

SEAS OF BLOOD (You're a Pirate, Will... and the whole book is structured around making money!)


ROBOT COMMANDO (You have to pilot gigantic mecha on a planet populated by dinosaurs to save your country when the baddies put everyone else in it but you to sleep using a chemical weapon... How is that not absolutely brilliant as a set-up?)

At their best, these books seethed with imagination and dark wit.
posted by lucien_reeve at 6:00 AM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

I blame Mike Moorcock.
posted by Artw at 6:20 AM on July 23, 2012

gateway drug into more complex nerdery

Hell, they were my gateway drug into more complex gamebooks, like Lone Wolf and the magnificently complicated Fabled Lands, which had you writing down passwords to maintain continuity through what was basically an open world that spanned 6 books.
posted by Copronymus at 6:26 AM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Fabled lands sounds amazing...
posted by lucien_reeve at 6:43 AM on July 23, 2012

Thank you for reminding me that I never finished Black Vein Prophecy without cheating. My 33 year old self is tutting at my eight year old self and buying a copy right now to show him how its done.
posted by Molesome at 7:18 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Shhhhh, don't tell anyone else, but I TOTALLY CHEATED on these.
posted by Theta States at 7:42 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


SKILL 10         STAMINA 8
posted by the quidnunc kid at 9:09 AM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

You have no LUCK stat?
posted by Artw at 9:13 AM on July 23, 2012

Oh! You're a monster!

If you totally pretend to roll dice, pretend rolling 12 every time, go to the next comment. If not go back to 17614 and face the quidnunc kid.
posted by Artw at 9:15 AM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Creature of Havoc was a masterpiece of interactive storytelling. Disarmingly linear, full of never-ending loops that slowly killed you, unforeseen sudden deaths and devious secrets, it nevertheless was an adventure in sentience itself. As the titular Creature, you were at the whims of your cognitive abilities, and if your primal instincts pulled you the right way, you were the centrepiece of a rollicking adventure.

House Of Hell was one of the first encounters I had with genuine horror. There are some terrifying moments in there, at least as much as my 10-year old brain can remember.

I remember Scorpion Swamp being interesting - it was a genuinely non-linear romp around a dangerous marshland. Despite this, I recall it being was pleasantly simple and relatively easy.
posted by Magnakai at 9:41 AM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

For me Island of the Lizard King was my peak FF experience.
posted by Artw at 9:46 AM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

As previously noted, Sorcery was brilliant.

One of the forgotten absolute gems of the FF world was the two player Clash Of The Princes set.

Each one followed a pair of princes on the competing quest to ...umm... something. But the awesome thing was you had somewhat independent adventures, but bumped into each other along the way. You'd pass pass phrases back and forth to indicate your actions. If you weren't careful, one player could die, leaving the other one to mournfully continue their quest on their own.

In my heart though, I'm a Lone Wolf man. You'll notice that my username pays tribute to this.
posted by Magnakai at 9:48 AM on July 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

Yay! I reckon half the kids in my class had The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, myself included. Me and my friend used to think very poorly of people that didn't play it properly with a dice etc... heheh.
posted by Monkeymoo at 10:05 AM on July 23, 2012

Hell, they were my gateway drug into more complex gamebooks, like Lone Wolf and the magnificently complicated Fabled Lands, which had you writing down passwords to maintain continuity through what was basically an open world that spanned 6 books
Fabled lands sounds amazing...

you're welcome
(officially sanctioned btw)
posted by juv3nal at 11:19 AM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

CLASH OF THE PRINCES sounds a lot like ge DUELMASTER series, two of which - BLOOD VALLEY and CHALLENGE OF THE MAGI - I adored as a kid...
posted by lucien_reeve at 11:46 AM on July 23, 2012

I just interviewed Ian Livingstone - he was saying that it took him about two years to finish "Blood of the Zombies", whereas he used to knock out a gamebook every couple of months. In terms of the opportunity cost it was about the worst thing he could have done - as he is now advising the government on getting children into computer science, acting as an ambassador for video games and for Eidos, of which he is life president - but he really enjoyed it...
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:52 PM on July 23, 2012 [5 favorites]

Someone tell me who the traitor was in Masks of Mayhem, because I never figured that out.
posted by Palindromedary at 1:44 PM on July 23, 2012

Palindromedary, the answer lies within.
posted by Magnakai at 3:43 PM on July 23, 2012

Sweet: thanks!
posted by Palindromedary at 4:00 PM on July 23, 2012

Any one else notice the resemblance between Iain McCaig's Zanbar Bone in City of Theives and Darth Maul whom he also designed? That's amused me for some time. I really like his art for City of Theives andDeathtrap Dungeon and have kept those book around from my youth when the artwork terrified and fascinated me.

I heard that he did an earlier design for Darth Maul that Lucas said was 'too scary' and so he came up with the one we saw on screen. I haven't been able to confirm this story, but if not true it should be.
posted by wobh at 6:47 PM on July 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

resemblance between Iain McCaig's Zanbar Bone in City of Theives and Darth Maul whom he also designed?

Mind: Blown.

I heard that he did an earlier design for Darth Maul that Lucas said was 'too scary' and so he came up with the one we saw on screen

I am sure I saw a youtube video with that recently, in Lucas' own words.
posted by Mezentian at 3:38 AM on July 24, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Life is lawless and dangerous. Survivors like you either live in scattered, fortified towns, or roam outside as bandits. YOUR mission is to cross the wilderness to the far-distant oil-refinery at San Anglo and bring vital supplies back to the peaceful town of New Hope"

Oh god. And I have to work tomorrow, too.
posted by cromagnon at 8:52 AM on July 24, 2012

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