The Reading Canary: Fighting Fantasy (Part 6)

It’s time once again for another one of my (very) irregular reviews of the Fighting Fantasy series of gamebooks. In previous instalments I’ve covered the books up to late 1985 (including Steve Jackson’s Sorcery! spin-off series), and for this one I’m going to cover the last books released in 1985 and the first ones from 1986. The glut is well and truly underway, and a fairly wide range of authors have been recruited to serve it – in fact, each of the gamebooks I’m reviewing this time around were written by different authors.

All of them are men; in fact, not a single Fighting Fantasy book was written by a woman until Crystal of Storms by Rhianna Pratchett, released last year by Scholastic. Despite a certain homogeneity of author, otherwise the series seems to be zooming in a range of different directions, with science fiction, superheroics, pirate adventure and samurai missions encompassed in the concepts this time around. And we start out in the four-colour world of comics, as after quite some delay since my previous article in this series we finally make it to our…

Appointment With F.E.A.R.

Scenario

It’s perhaps no surprise that Steve Jackson’s mind was on superheroes in 1985. In the previous year, Games Workshop had just come out of a failed bid to produce a Marvel-themed superhero RPG – the RPG licence eventually went to TSR instead – and had consoled themselves for their loss by releasing a spruced-up edition of Golden Heroes, a superhero game which had originally been self-published in 1981 and which they’d bought the rights to in the vague hope of using it for Marvel before deciding to release it as a generic supers game in order to recoup some of their losses.

It should be remembered that this is comfortably before stories like Watchmen, The Dark Knight ReturnsA Death In the Family and The Killing Joke injected a big fat dose of grimdark into the superhero genre, so the tone of Golden Heroes tended to be bright, colourful, and optimistic; this is also true of Appointment With F.E.A.R., which if Jackson didn’t write specifically to perhaps spark interest in superhero roleplaying at the very least came out at an opportune time to do so.

Continue reading “The Reading Canary: Fighting Fantasy (Part 6)”

The Reading Canary: Fighting Fantasy (Part 5)

This article was previously published on Ferretbrain; due to the imminent closure of that site, I’m moving it over here so that it can remain available.

Previously In Fighting Fantasy

Having kicked the series off, Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone spent some times on separate projects, respectively experimenting with the wonder that is Sorcery! and writing a series of vanilla adventures for the core series. Then they began incorporating more gamebooks by other authors.

Ian Livingstone vs. Andrew Chapman: Who’s Better?

The incorporation of additional authors into the series was a simple factor of demand for new adventures far outstripping what Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone alone were able to produce, combined with a deliberate strategy to shove their competitors out of the market. The plan was to get at least one new gamebook into shops each month; the idea was that the readership’s pocket money wouldn’t stretch to buying many more gamebooks than that, and given the choice most readers would opt for the well-regarded Fighting Fantasy brand over the various imitators on the market.

By this point, said imitators were thick on the ground and included some stiff competition. In particular, they included the well-regarded Lone Wolf series by Joe Dever – who ironically had originally begun planning the book as a Fighting Fantasy adventure before jumping ship from Games Workshop and making his own deal with a publisher. In this context I can’t help but take a second look at the way the Fighting Fantasy books by third party authors were presented; though the genuine authorship of each book was acknowledged on the interior title page, the authors’ names would be kept off the front covers, which instead would read “Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone Present” – with the “present”, in decidedly smaller text, the only oblique clue that this was not in fact Jackson and Livingstone’s own work. In this way, Jackson and Livingstone’s names garnered far more brand recognition than any of the third-party contributors to the series, and I have to wonder whether part of the reason for this was to make it less likely that any of the writers in question would be able to garner enough recognition to helm their own breakaway series – not that that didn’t happen anyway.

1985 was the first full year in which the one-a-month plan was in effect, and whilst the target wasn’t quite met, Puffin did manage to get a decent brace of books out, including the four I’m reviewing here. This set is particularly interesting because two of them are written by Ian Livingstone himself, and two of them are written by Andrew Chapman, whose own Space Assassin was the first release of 1985. Moreover, each author this time contributes one book set in the Fighting Fantasy world itself – which by this point was becoming the default setting for all fantasy-genre Fighting Fantasy gamebooks – and one SF book (post-apocalyptic stuff for Ian, space opera for Chapman). This is makes these the ideal set to pick for a comparison between the two. Could the upstart Chapman beat the series founder at his own game?

Continue reading “The Reading Canary: Fighting Fantasy (Part 5)”

The Reading Canary: Fighting Fantasy (Part 4)

This article was previously published on Ferretbrain; due to the imminent closure of that site, I’m moving it over here so that it can remain available.

Previously In Arthur’s Fighting Fantasy Reviews

Having established the series, Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone focused their energies on separate projects; Ian wrote a line of books for the core series which would begin to flesh out the gameworld, as well as setting the model for many gamebooks to come, whilst Steve Jackson wrote the epic Sorcery! series, pushing the boundaries of the format.

Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone Present… a Whole Bunch of Other Guys

This brings us up to around 1984-1985. Even though by this point Steve had completed Sorcery! (or finished the first draft, at least) and was able to return his attention to the core series, demand still outstripped supply. Having experimented with allowing outside parties to write Fighting Fantasy adventures with Scorpion Swamp, the duo felt able to open the floodgates. From here on in, the majority of Fighting Fantasy gamebooks would be written by outside authors.

Continue reading “The Reading Canary: Fighting Fantasy (Part 4)”

The Reading Canary: Fighting Fantasy (Part 3 – Sorcery Special!)

This article was previously published on Ferretbrain; due to the imminent closure of that site, I’m moving it over here so that it can remain available.

Previously In Arthur’s Fighting Fantasy Reviews

I tackled the beginning of the venerable series, and I covered Ian Livingstone’s inspirational run of solo-written gamebooks, as well as the first book written by a third party. Now, whilst the books in the second review were being written and published, Steve Jackson wasn’t standing idle – he was producing Sorcery!

Sorcery!: Taking Fighting Fantasy to the Limit

The first of the Sorcery! series came out in 1983, and with 456 numbered paragraphs was the largest Fighting Fantasy adventure published at the time – but, to give you an idea of the scope of Sorcery!, it’s actually the shortest gamebook in the sequence, with the final volume having a whopping 800 paragraphs; the full saga comprises over 2200 paragraphs. With a single story mapped out over four gamebooks, intricate connections between the books, a full spellcasting system, and the option to play as a warrior or a wizard.

Considering the unique nature of this series, I’ve changed the format of the reviews a little: I’ll cover the scenario and the system in this first little segment, and then the entries for each book will cover my attempts at solving them, as well as the possessions I had managed to accumulate so far.

Continue reading “The Reading Canary: Fighting Fantasy (Part 3 – Sorcery Special!)”

The Reading Canary: Fighting Fantasy (Part 2)

This article was previously published on Ferretbrain; due to the imminent closure of that site, I’m moving it over here so that it can remain available.

The Reading Canary: a Reminder

Series of novels – especially in fantasy and SF, but distressingly frequently in other genres as well – have a nasty tendency to turn sour partway through. The Reading Canary is your guide to precisely how far into a particular sequence you should read, and which side-passages you should explore, before the noxious gases become too much and you should turn back.

Fighting Fantasy: Sowing the Seeds of Gamebookmania

On receipt of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, Puffin Books were ecstatic, and wrote back to Jackson and Livingstone demanding more books, as soon as possible. In 1983 and 1984 the Fighting Fantasy boom truly began; at first, Jackson and Livingstone were fairly prolific, but by the end of 1984 they would have made the fateful decision to share the burden with additional authors; Jackson and Livingstone’s names would remain on the front covers to help promote the books and to prevent them from being distributed wildly throughout the kids’ section in bookstores, but the actual content would be authored by a wide variety of individuals, and of course those authors would look to Jackson and Livingstone’s earlier efforts when designing their own entries for the series.

Thus, the four gamebooks presented here are of crucial importance to the development of the line. Three are by Livingstone and one, Scorpion Swamp, is the first Fighting Fantasy gamebook to be written by an outside contributor. Let’s see how they measure up.

Continue reading “The Reading Canary: Fighting Fantasy (Part 2)”

The Reading Canary: Fighting Fantasy (Part 1)

This article was previously published on Ferretbrain; due to the imminent closure of that site, I’m moving it over here so that it can remain available.

The Reading Canary: A Reminder

Series of novels – especially in fantasy and SF, but distressingly frequently in other genres as well – have a nasty tendency to turn sour partway through. The Reading Canary is your guide to precisely how far into a particular sequence you should read, and which side-passages you should explore, before the noxious gases become too much and you should turn back.

Fighting Fantasy: Solitary Pursuits of the Young and Geeky

If you weren’t a kid in the UK in the 1980s or early 1990s, and if you weren’t an especially bookish sort, you might have been forgiven for not noticing the gamebook explosion that took place around that time. “Gamebooks” were stories which invariably promised to make YOU the hero (not lowercase-you, always the capitalised YOU) through the aid of numbered paragraphs representing the branching choices you face as you tackle the plot of the book. (“If you want to fight the crippling loneliness and actually go outside for once, turn to paragraph 138; if you want to give in and spend the evening idly jerking off to porn channel previews, turn to paragraph 212.”) In the States, of course, you had the Choose Your Own Adventure craze, but it was in the UK where the mania really took hold, and it was all thanks to Fighting Fantasy.

Fighting Fantasy was the brainchild of Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, who as the founders of Games Workshop have probably inspired more geekery than the British Isles has ever previously seen. Previously, Jackson and Livingstone had concentrated on importing American RPGs and wargames, introducing Dungeons & Dragons, Runequest, and other classics to a European audience; in 1983, Games Workshop would produce the first version of Warhammer, a line which would rapidly end up consuming the entire business and reshaping it in its image. Whilst both efforts represent major achievements in gaming, it is the development of Fighting Fantasy and the release of the first gamebook in 1982 for which Jackson and Livingstone are primarily known, simply because Fighting Fantasy was a phenomenon which reached beyond the roleplaying and wargaming subcultures and entered the popular consciousness, as well as recruiting a new generation of awkward speccy spods into the gaming scene which spawned it. Just as American tabletop roleplayers of a certain age tend to have a soft spot in their hearts for the so-called “Red Box” edition of the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set, so too does an entire generation of British dice-tossers feel a certain admiration for the Fighting Fantasy series.

Continue reading “The Reading Canary: Fighting Fantasy (Part 1)”