For this episode’s unearthings: The Fighting Fantasy book series, from Steve Jackson and Ian Livingston
The Fighting Fantasy books are a gamebook series–and yes, by ‘gamebook’ I mean the reader actively gets to participate in the story and make decisions as to where the plot goes next. As a younger kid, I was a huge fan of the Choose Your Own Adventure series (who wasn’t?!) and owned many different adventures. But then, one Christmas when I was 11 years old, my father gave me my very first Fighting Fantasy book, entitled Masks of Mayhem…
And I was hooked.
The Fighting Fantasy books were pretty popular and imitated throughout the ’80s–at least, according to wikipedia (I was 11 in the ’90s, plus I was living in Indonesia so I was in my own little bubble). Think of them as Choose Your Own Adventure…on crack. Basically how it works is, as in the CYOA books, the reader assumes the role of the main character, involved on some kind of mission. However, the FF books require dice and scratch paper. Before the game starts, you must roll the dice to determine your skill, stamina, and luck levels (in some of the books there are other factors too, but for the most part it’s just these three)–these are imperative to the gameplay story. To “fight” other characters/creatures encountered throughout the book, it’s a process involving rolling the dice, adding and subtracting points until either you or the other character/creature is dead. Similarly, there are sections to see if you are “lucky” or not (affecting the outcome of the plot line taken). Of course, I always ended up cheating like a mofo, saying I won fights when I actually lost, or choosing the ‘lucky’ route when I wasn’t lucky. So sue me. **Note: There were also a healthy amount of riddles (of the word and math variety) that are impossible to cheat on, so there!**
Perhaps the best thing about these books is that the plots were much more complex than CYOAs, but at the same time simple enough so that you could play alone (none of my middleschool girlfriends were much into this sort of thing, so getting a dungeons and dragons group going was pretty much out of the question).
On the fantasy aspect–these books have it in spades! Almost all of the FF stories take place in the same world, called Titan. Titan itself is split into three continents: Allansia (symbolic of America), the Old World (symbolic of Europe with many different states, and a history that focuses heavily on WWII and its aftermath–in this series called the “War of the Four Kingdoms”), and Khul (the dark land, with some Japanese references). Yes, a lot of the fantasy elements are accused of being stereotypical, or generic–but you gotta start somewhere right? And for young, middle-school aged me, this was a whole new world to discover.
These are my all time favorites–Masks of Mayhem, Crypt of the Sorcerer, and Sword of the Samurai.
Masks of Mayhem
Morgana, the fell sorceress of Krill Garnash, is poised to let loose her dreaded Golems, which none are able to resist. For she has equipped them with the Masks of Mayhem, which give them power over all things. Only YOU can end her evil designs – but beware: peril and treachery await you at every turn, and help is hard to find.
My first ever FF book, and probably the hardest one I ever played. Probably because it’s damn near impossible to get everything you need–i.e. the horn with the seeds, orb and scepter, the sword, the spectral army, etc (which is basically the only way to get the knowledge and power you need to finish the story–a lot of these games have only one path you can follow to win). This book’s plot and the fantasy itself is also just damn good. You play a hero that is sent on the quest by Ifor Tynin, and gradually through your mission discover that treachery is afoot.
Crypt of the Sorcerer
An ancient evil is stirring in bowels of the earth, and the land is blighted. After being entombed for one hundred years, the dread necromancer Razaak has been re-awoken and is poised to fulfil his promise of death and tyranny. His army of undead are at large across Allansia, bringing death and destruction to all who resist.
It is up to YOU to find the only weapon to which Razaak is vulnerable – his own magic sword! Only then might you survive the dangers that await you in his evil lair – the Crypt of the Sorcerer!
This is the only FF book that I honest to goodness won, without cheating, flipping back and forth to test the waters, and figured out every riddle without help…so there! Seriously though, this was one of my favorites because it is one of the few books where you have loyal companions to aid your journey. Plus, the cover used to scare the crap outta me, but in a good way (it’s the whole noseless thing). I’m weird. I know.
Sword of the Samurai
The land of Hachiman is in grave danger. The Shogun’s control is slipping. Bandits roam the land freely and barbarian invaders have begun to raid across the borders. All this because the Dai-Katana, the great sword, Singing Death, has been stolen from the Shogun. YOU are the Shogun’s champion, a young Samurai. Your mission is to recover this wondrous sword from Ikiru, the Master of Shadows, who holds it hidden deep in the Pit of Demons.
This one was pretty damn cool because it was the first FF I had played that was not set in Allansia or the Old Kingdom, and instead took me to Khul–based on a model of Feudal Japan (which happens to be one of my favorite historical periods, probably in large part due to books like this). Also, this book featured an “honor” section–you could become a dark, lawless Ronin mercenary if you made too many bad decisions. Plus, there is a choice of certain skills that you can choose to develop that affects gameplay (I believe invisibility was one of them–and the one I most often chose).
Recently the FF books have been bought and republished by Wizard Books. You can check out the webpage here. I don’t like the new covers as much, and the limited titles kinda bug…but still, it’s cool to see this series still around.
Aaaaaand, now I will gracefully retreat and hide my dorky self from public for a while.