The first book in the Fighting Fantasy series has a suitably basic premise: there is a warlock who lives in a mountain, and he has a lot of treasure. You want to kill him and take it for yourself. It doesn't really get much simpler than that as far as adventuring motivations go, and we're certainly not mucking about with any moral quandaries. So into Firetop Mountain I go, sword in hand, and woe betide anything that stands between me and that shiny pile of gold.
But first, there are rules to be dealt with. A Fighting Fantasy character typically has three scores: Skill, Stamina and Luck. Skill determines how you are in a fight, and is sometimes used to resolve various feats of physical prowess. Stamina is akin to health; when you are hurt it decreases, and if it reaches zero you're dead. Luck does exactly what it says on the tin. Often when something bad is about to happen to you, you can make a roll against your Luck score to avoid it. Skill and Luck are determined by rolling a six-sided die and adding 6 to the roll, Stamina by rolling 2d6 and adding 12. I rolled an 11 for Skill, 18 for Stamina and 12 for Luck, making for an extremely viable character. In the early books there's a decent chance of success even with the lowest scores, but rolling high makes life a hell of a lot easier.
As for equipment, Fighting Fantasy adventurers travel light: I have a sword, leather armour, a shield, a lantern and a backpack. I also have ten Provisions, a sort of super-food that restores 4 Stamina points when eaten. In addition I get to choose one of the following potions: a Potion of Skill, a Potion of Strength, and a Potion of Fortune. Each of these potions has two doses, and corresponds to one of the three stats. When used they restore that score to its initial level. The Potion of Fortune has the added benefit of adding 1 to your initial level as well, which is pretty nifty. I opted for the Potion of Strength, which restores Stamina. I don't really know why, because those Provisions are mighty curative all on their own. I probably ought to have gone with the Potion of Fortune, but what man can explain a decision he made two weeks ago, back in the mists of antiquity?
After the rules there is a short introduction, in which my character stopped at a village near Firetop Mountain to gather rumours about the warlock. There's a lot of useful, albeit vague, rumours to be had:
- Apparently, the warlock gets his powers from an enchanted deck of cards, or possibly a black silk glove.
- The warlock's treasure is in a chest with two locks, and that the keys are guarded by monsters throughout the dungeon.
- The entrance to Firetop Mountain is guarded by warty-faced goblins, with more fearsome monsters lurking further in.
- To reach the warlock I'll need to cross a subterranean river. There's a ferryman who apparently enjoys a good barter.
Armed with this scant foreknowledge, I set forth for Firetop Mountain.
After entering a cave mouth at the base of Firetop Mountain, I was presented with that most ubiquitous of Fighting Fantasy dilemmas: a T-junction! Should I turn east or west? You may scoff, but whole adventures can hinge on this choice. Fighting Fantasy adventurers do not retrace their steps unless there is no other path forward. They just push relentlessly forward, never looking back or considering that maybe they might have missed something important. Like, you know, those keys the nice villagers told me about? Should I look for those, perhaps? No, best to push onwards and hope for the best.
I turned east and came to a door at the end of the corridor, which I promptly tried to charged with my shoulder. This required a Skill test, which is done by rolling two dice and trying to get a result equal to or lower than my Skill score. Given my Skill score of 11 I did so with ease, smashing through the door and falling headlong into a shallow pit for my trouble. The pit isn't described all that vividly, but I imagine it as a rubbish dump for the denizens of the mountain (not to mention a source of cheap amusement for author Ian Livingstone). Picking myself up, and cursing the loss of 1 Stamina point, I walked back to the junction and headed west.
The tunnel turned north, but there was someone asleep at a guard post there: a warty-faced ORC! (Yes, the book capitalises every monster or potential foe you meet. It's terribly dramatic.)
This is the first Orc that I ever encountered in any form of gaming or fiction, so he holds an extra-special place in my heart. The good vibrations must have extended to my character as well, because I tried to sneak past the Orc instead of just running him through. This required me to Test My Luck, which is done by rolling two dice and trying to get equal or lower than my Luck score. Every time you Test Your Luck, your Luck score drops by one point, which means that eventually your good fortune is going to run out. Anyway, I succeeded, and managed to sneak past without waking him up.
Further up the passage there was a door on the west wall, and inside was a sleeping quarters where another Orc lay asleep. I sneaked into his room and managed to steal a box containing a single gold piece and the Orc's pet mouse. Or snack mouse, depending upon your view of Orcs. I let the mouse go, which really does go to show that this is the first book of the series; if this were a later Ian Livingstone book this mouse would have gone straight into my inventory. Rule #1 for survival in a Fighting Fantasy book: discard nothing!
I continued north and found another door on the west wall. This one was unoccupied, and I assume belonged to the first Orc sentry I had encountered, but there was another box. Which I opened, of course, only to reveal a SNAKE!
This was my first fight of the book, so here I'll explain how dead simple the combat rules are. The enemy's Attack Strength is determined by rolling two dice and adding the result to its Skill score. My Attack Strength is done the same way, using my own Skill score. Whoever gets the highest Attack Strength wins that round, and the loser must subtract 2 Stamina points. This is repeated until someone's Stamina reaches zero, at which point they are dead. Luck can be used to make a hit deal more damage to your foe, or to reduce any damage done to you, but I don't need that here because this Snake only has 2 Stamina points. I throw the box in the air and chop the Snake in half with a single blow before claiming the key that is hidden in the box. This key has the number '99' stamped on it, which is a pretty common thing in the Fighting Fantasy world. Keys, jewelry, dragon teeth, they all have numbers stamped on them for no readily apparent reason other than making it harder for cheating bastards to get to the end of the book.
Further north was yet another door on the west wall, from which I could hear drunken singing. I burst in to find the following sordid display.
I killed them, because ORCS, and discovered that they had a book called 'The Making and Casting of Dragonfire' by a dude named Farrigo di Maggio. It contained a spell for defeating dragons, which may or may not come in handy later on I'm sure. I don't know why or how these orcs came to own a book like this, but I'm not about to complain about illogical adventure design when it works in my favour.
Further on I discovered... another T-junction! I turned left, and entered a room where an Orc Chieftain with two left hands was whipping his servant.
Thinking that I might obtain an Orc sidekick who I could push into traps and the like, I attacked the Chieftain, only for the ungrateful bastard I was trying to save to leap to his defence. Regardless of the odds I carved said Orcs to pieces, and set about opening their treasure chest. It was trapped, of course, and the poisoned darts knocked off a whole 6 Stamina points. I fixed this by bandaging my stomach and scoffing some Provisions, which leads me to believe that medical practice in the Fighting Fantasy world is less than ideal. But it was worth it, because inside the chest were a whole load of gold pieces, a black glove, and a potion of invisibility. Score!
I headed back to the junction and went east, then east again at the next junction, and came to a kitchen wherein five Orcs were cooking up a storm. I was feeling pretty cocky by this point, so I calmly strode in and took them on. Much to my delight they lined up like a conga-line and fought me one by one. I slaughtered them, which brought my Orc tally to a respectable nine so far, and in the kitchen I found a bow and silver arrow with a mysterious inscription.
A vital utensil for every kitchen. I returned to the previous junction and went north. A door in the east wall opened into a small cell, with the following dapper gentleman there to greet me:
I let Mad Johnny Chairleg know that I was there to free him, and he calmed down right quick. It turned out that he was an adventurer who had been captured by the Orcs, and he even had some good info for me: I should pull the right lever when I get to the portcullis, and I should pay my respects to the boatman. At that point my character had the temerity to ask Mad Johnny to come with me further into Firetop Mountain, which makes me question my own levels of compassion. The dude is traumatised! Not surprisingly he opted to leave, and I bade him farewell, not bothering to mention that there were still two Orcs loitering around near the entrance.
Further north there was another door in the east wall, this one leading to an armoury. I took a shield, which makes it harder for foes to damage me, but it was so heavy I had to leave another item behind. I chose my original, inferior shield; it was an agonising decision.
Further north there was yet another door in the east wall (this is not a dungeon design classic, let's just say that). Inside was a torture chamber, wherein two GOBLINS were torturing a Dwarf. At this point the book gave me the option to walk in, poke the Dwarf with my sword and laugh evilly. I was sorely tempted, but instead I leaped in and killed the Goblins with gusto. Sadly, the Dwarf was already dead, but I was rewarded with a lovely piece of delicious cheese. Delicious, delicious goblin cheese.
I soon came to the portcullis that Mad Johnny Chairleg had told me about, and I pulled the right lever like he told me to. The portcullis opened, and I went on my way unharmed. I remember this trap well. The other lever is a fake, a sword blade covered in wax that will cut your hand if you try to pull it. Forewarned is fore-armed!
Past the portcullis was a T-junction. I headed east, and soon came to an inviting chair.
This set-up screamed trap to me, but I sat down anyway and ate some Provisions. Against all odds the chair was imbued with benevolent magic, and restored some of my Stamina. I never would have guessed.
The passage turned north, then I headed east at a junction and east again at yet another junction. This led to a lovely marble room containing an iron statue of a cyclops, with a bloody great gem set in its eye.
Even when I read this book for the first time as a nine-year-old boy, I knew the set-up here. Yet what self-respecting adventurer could leave that gem behind? I set to prying that baby out with my sword, and tried to stifle a yawn as the IRON CYCLOPS came predictably to life.
The Cyclops was actually pretty tough, with a Skill and Stamina of 10, but I still hacked him and his incredibly well-defined buttocks to death. I was well rewarded: the gem was worth 50 gold pieces, and there was another key inside the Cyclops, this one numbered '111'.
I walked back to the junction and went north, only to be attacked by a random BARBARIAN. No warning, no options, just a fight. I could have run away, but he wasn't so tough. For reasons unknown he was carrying a wooden mallet and some sharpened stakes. This is what I refer to as Chekhov's Wooden Stake: there be Vampires in this mountain somewhere.
The next room had paintings on the wall, one of which was of the warlock.
I took a look and learned that his name was Zagor, but I also lost a Stamina point due to fear. Somewhere in the world, there is a Fighting Fantasy reader who died by looking at that painting. It's not so embarrassing, though, because there is obviously some magical shenanigans going on, and I was under mental attack. I looked through my pack for an item to use, and opted for the Eye of the Cyclops over my moldy goblin cheese. Lo and behold the gem thwarted the Warlock's power, and I was able to continue.
The next room was just full of some random junk, like a rope and some y-shaped sticks. I checked out the rope, kind of mystified that I wasn't already carrying such a vital piece of gear, only for it to come to life and try to strangle me. I chopped it in half, understanding now why I didn't have any. The y-shaped sticks were bulky, and I would have had to leave something behind to carry one, so I left them behind. What could they possibly be for? Finding water? Making a slingshot? Trapping a snake's head? The possibilities are endless.
Further north I came to an underground river, which I remember as kind of the half-way point of the adventure. As I understand it, Ian Livingstone wrote everything up to this point, and Steve Jackson wrote everything after the river. This feels like a good place to take a break, so I'll tackle the rest of my quest in the next post.