Recently, while waxing nostalgic abot comic books and planning my next novel series (which I won’t even start writing for probably another year, BTW), I remembered an awesome book I’d once read/played called Appointmet with F.E.A.R.. Remembering that book got me thinking about my childhood, and how much of it I’d spent reading Fighting Fantasy gamebooks.
Pretty much everyone read Choose Your Own Adventure books at one point or another, right? Of course you did. What’s not to love about them? You get to take something of an ego trip and interact with the book you’re reading on an extremely personal level, and instead of yelling at the book because the characters did something bone-headed, you get to yell at the book for being so mean and making it so the mummy kills you just because you chose to open the red door instead of the blue door.
(For those of you who may have been living in a cave for the past 20 years, a Choose Your Own Adventure is a YA 2nd person novel that provides different choices for what you can do at critical junctures in the story. Your choice leads you to different pages, and the fun comes from trying to make he best choice while imagining you’re the character in the story.)
When I was a kid, I used to love Fighting Fantasy gamebooks. Never heard of them? That’s okay. From what I can tell, they’ve been out of circulation for a while, and they were always a little different from “traditional” CYAs. The brainchild of uber-writers Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, the Fighting Fantasy books combined traditional CYAs with strong elements of RPGs (Role-Playing Games…seriously, do I need to tell you this?).
In addition to having to make choices that would sound familiar to Dungons & Dragons players everywhere — things like “You come to a T-junction in the corridor: Do you go left, down a passageway that appears to have been recently smelted, or right, down a hallway lines with bones?” – you also used 6-sided dice to play out combats with a very simplistic battle system. Essentially, you rolled dice for yourself, then for the monsters. The winner inflicts damage on the other. Proceed until one or the other is dead. If that’s you, end of story, thanks for playing, return to Page 1.
There was also a wonderful feature called Testing Your Luck. You start with a score between 7 and 12. Every now and again, the books would call upon you to Test Your Luck, whereupon you roll the dice and try to get under your Luck score. If you’re lucky, you keep playing. If you’re unlucky, something fun happens, like getting eaten by cannibal monkeys or having your face melt off. Each time you have to Test Your Luck, your Luck score permanently drops by 1 point, which means that eventually, as the saying goes, your luck will run out.
They’re great fun, and I say with only a tiny amount of shame that much of my adolescense was spent braving the horrors of Firetop Mountain or escaping Deathtrap Dungeon, battling the minions of F.E.A.R. or racing across the post-apoclayptic landscape in my Dodge Interceptor. Without anyone to play Dungeons & Dragons with, the moderate role-playing of these books really appealed to me, and I remember going to Waldenbooks with my Mom when I was a kid and racing back to where the FF books were hidden away, eager to see if a new book had come out. I stole liberally from these books when I ran my first Dungeons & Dragons campaign, and designed entire adventures around places like the lost city of Vatos and the dreaded Island of the Lizard King.
Sadly, these books are hard to come by anymore. Some are available on Amazon, and you might get lucky and run across one in the used book store every now and again. If you can find them, check them out! (Or you can just order a copy from the FF website, provided you live in the U.K., which I do not.) When I decided to check and see if I could find any of the books, I was thrilled to see that, while I’d stop reading around Volume #23, the last one made was Volume #59! There were also a couple of spin-off series, and even an RPG based on the system, which I will admit looks interesting.
With some of my old favorites (which I’ll talk about below) in hand, I’ve delved back into the world of solo RPG action, letting my imagination run wild and allowing for my brain escape for a few minutes here and there from my very busy life. (It made me smile a bit when I was reading one of these on the train the other day and I heard someone talking about a new video game he’d downloaded for his Smartphone. I felt like I was truly kickin’ it Old School. “Because back in my day, video games were called books.”)
Did you read Choose Your Own Adventures, Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, or anything like them? What are some “Old School” favorites of yours that help you escape when life gets to be too crazy?
The Warlock of Firetop Mountain: The original FF adventure. You’re an adventurer who seeks to defeat the warlock Zagor and take his treasure. Many have tried and fails…will you succeed? The non-linear dungeon and complicated maze means you can literally get lose in this adventure for days. Trust me, folks, this one has everything a fantasy lover needs! (There’s also a sequel, which I plan to read through soon!)
DeathTrap Dungeon & Trial of Champions: The fantasy genre’s first and only competitive dungeon! DeathTrap Dungeon is a place where adventurers go to test their mettle, testing their wits against deadly traps and puzzles and battling evil creatures and each other in a bid to come out alive and claim the prize. If you survive the first go around, fear not, there’s a sequel with a totally redesigned Dungeon!
Temple of Terror: The evil sorcerer Malbordus is scouring the lost city of Vatos for five ancient dragon figurines of incredible power. Only your sword and magic can save the day! Brave the terrors of the desert and search the ruined city to find them before he does!
City of Thieves: The vile Zanbar Bone must be stopped, but the means to destroy him are few. An adventurer is needed to acquire the special components and items needed to defeat Zanbar from Port Blacksand, the City of Thieves, an incredibly dangerous place filled with corruption and evil!
Freeway Fighter: Yes, it’s a Road Warrior rip-off. Or a Car Wars spin-off. Either way, it’s AWESOME! Cross the barren wastelands in your heavily armed Dodge Interceptor, battling post-apocalyptic bandits and scavengers as you try to acquire supplies vital to the survival of the town of New Hope.
Appointment with F.E.A.R.: You are the superhero called the Silver Crusader. And it’s of vital importance that you locate and stop a secret meeting of the notorious F.E.A.R. organization, headed by the incredibly powerful Titanium Cyborg. An old-fashioned superhero adventure filled with very real dangers, failing to stop the Cyborg could mean the destruction of Titan City!