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- Nick Folley
To be fair this is less of a review of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain than an account of how this book ‘started it’ for me all those years ago.
One day in late August 1982 my cousin phoned to announce that he had a new kind of book, one where you could interact and fight monsters, save the village and defeat the evil wizard. I wondered how this would be achieved and visualized some kind of pop-up book, but it still didn’t make sense. Then I was introduced to The Warlock of Firetop Mountain and my life changed. We devoured that book, and the next, The Citadel of Chaos. Suddenly our walks in the countryside had taken on a new dimension – that was the village of Stonebridge over in the distance, the forest near my cousin’s house became The Forest of Doom (coincidentally it also had three parallel paths running through it). I was of course also an avid fan of Lord of the Rings so Fighting Fantasy complemented this interest nicely.
But back to The Warlock of Firetop Mountain – it is still my favorite of all the Fighting Fantasy books and I am the proud owner of an original Puffin edition. It was a very playable game, even a moderate skill and luck score could get you through with luck. Some later books – Return to Firetop Mountain stands out in this respect – were frustratingly populated by lethal scenarious and monsters that could easily get the upper hand even of a hero with Skill 12 and Stamina 24! Trying to play that latter book at times I felt like Sisyphus. The one sticking point was the maze of Zagor. It was actually quite brilliant – an endless series of loops in which you became trapped should you take a wrong turn. We finally worked out – with the aid of a carefully drawn map and after many attempts – that a secret door opened into a passage and from there it was necessary to follow a series of turns strictly and touch nothing! Another excellent feature is the use of the numbered keys without which it’s impossible to find the correct reference. This feature also appears in later Fighting Fantasy books under various guises and adds an exiciting tension to the game in that the hero is obliged to find quest objects which have a real function.
The one flaw we found in the Fighting Fantasy series is the arbitrariness of some passages though The Warlock of Firetop Mountain seems to suffer least in this respect. By this I mean that the outcome of some actions are extremely difficult to predict logically. Doing A may get you killed while doing B may reward you. It might be argued that real life can be like this, but in real life one would have more information with which to assess the best course of action. I know that adding too much detail could make the game unwieldy but sometimes it seems that a certain path will result in certain arbitrary death simply because it has been deemed that this path must end and through no fault of the hero. It would have helped if more, and better hints were given as to the probable outcome of the hero’s choices. Choices could also be made in more realistic stages. For example, who in real life would march into a room and gulp down whatever ‘clear liquid’ was in a cup on the table without at least first examining it and tasting it? I’m sure there’s a big difference between the smell and taste of white spirit, soda and vodka! In a similar vein, there are some adventures where you might, say, stumble across three objects. You might be given the possibility of examining one of them and whether or not this prove productive you are directed out the door of the dungeon without the option of assessing the other objects! “You decide to leave the room and continue…” Eh? Did I? Aww, I wanted to look at the helmet as well! Ok, it’s not that common but it’s an obvious flaw in the story. More dialogue would also enrich the adventures greatly. True, many monsters have a limited vocabulary and are confined to leaping out to the attack with grunts, but more humanoid creatures could at least shout something indignant when rushed al improviso by the hero with sword drawn!
Needless to say it wasn’t long until we tried our hand at writing our own adventures. My cousin was (and still is) an outstanding graphic designer and illustrator so there were no shortage of drawings of the monsters. However we abandoned the first adventure after a few dozen paragraphs. Our main problem was not having a coherent plot worked out from the beginning. What was the purpose of the quest? What were the obstacles the hero would encounter along the way? I decided to break new ground by setting my next attempt at an adventure in World War 2. I had the hero as a Commando opertaing solo behind enemy lines travelling across country to blow up a railway bridge. My concept of historical accuracy was rather limited (I was onlt 11 at the time!) and I had our Commando armed with a Lee Enfield .303 and a pistol. However I felt proud to have added what I thought were new features. For example the Commando started the adventure with 100 rounds of ammunition. Every attack round meant you had to subtract rounds of ammunition along with all the other calculations. Obviously zero ammunition meant you had to find some other way to attack your opponent with perhaps a reduced skill score (or in some cases you simply couldn’t fight the enemy, if they were distant for instance). However – and again historical accuracy was not my strong point! – our Commando could pick up ammunition along the way, from dead enemy for example, or sometimes just stumbling across a stash in a bunker. He could also obtain grenades and so on in the same way. In one sense this prefigured computer games like Medal of Honour. But then I saw Starship Traveller and realised my idea of a modern setting had already been covered!
The work of writing these adventures was no easy task – kids with word processors these days will find it hard to appreciate what it meant to bang them out on an old Remington typewriter (yes, I owned one, at 11 years of age) then cut all the paragraphs up by hand and reassemble them in jumbled order before retyping them.
Sadly, nearlly all those own-adventures and drawings were lost over time, only the Maps of Fighting Fantasy adventures we completed remain. However I have considered from time to time writing an adventure for my own amusement and may one day get down to doing it yet!