Originally published at http://fightyourfantasy.blogspot.co.uk/ by Justin MacCormack - Please be sure to check out the original article, and support the author by purchasing his latest book, "Return to 'Return to Oz', and other tales".
Written by Steve Jackson, Artwork by John Blanche
If someone asked you to travel from your home in Analand across the
land of Kakhabad, across the Shamutanti Hills and over the Baddu-Bak
plains and the dreaded Forest of Snatta to get to the fortress of
Mampang that lies in the peaks of High Xamen, and recover the Crown of
Kings from the villainous Archmage of Mampang, you'd probably say "How
did you come up with all those silly names?"
what Steve Jackson did really well. That, and make up encounters with
very strange people, in very odd locations, which were all very
colourful and strange. In those early, slightly trippy days of Fighting
Fantasy, Steve Jackson brought a lot of the weirder elements. Ian
Livingstone brought the risk of being instant-killed by a horde of
zombies. They complimented themselves perfectly, like Rob Grant and Doug
Naylor did when writing Red Dwarf.
So when Steve
Jackson wrote a series of four books, all of which continued on from
each other to form one massive and epic adventure, it was a really neat
twist. Like many of the early FF books, it had an experimental magic
system, and artwork by the amazing John Blanche, whose unique flair
gives this series a fantastic atmosphere. In fact, I like his artwork so much, it's pretty much all I've used in this post. Enjoy!
is simple enough - you need to cross from the borders of Analand to the
port city of Khare. Later books in the series take you further in the
journey, but for now, our focus is on crossing the Shamutanti Hills and
getting to the city. I had a copy of this book as a kid, which I got at
an indoor market in Blackpool one year. The eyes on the monster on the
cover were covered over in black marker pen, possibly because his
despairing expression scared a previous owner of the book. I do regard this as the better version of the cover, though, because the newer one has a rather grotesque dismembered body littering the floor by the manticore, it's not even a cartoonish body, it's simply too realistic and grotesque.
let's get things underway. The book can be played in two 'modes', basic
and advanced. If you choose basic, it works just like any other FF
book, then you play as just a regular adventurer. If you go for the
advanced mode, you take a slightly diminished skill score but have
access to a variety of magic spells. The spells are listed in a separate
section in the book, and all have a simple three-letter name like 'zap'
or 'dim', which makes them easier to memorise - and memorise them you
must, because you're not allowed to look at them once your adventure has
And given that I have managed to win a grand
total of zero Fighting Fantasy books so far in this blog, I am clearly
ready to charge head-first into an advanced escapade!
stats are very fortunate when starting out - a full 12 in luck, 20 in
stamina and 10 in skill (the highest that you can have for a wizard-type
character in this game). I also have 20 gold pieces, and only two meals
which I can eat only when instructed.
begins as I stand at the gate from my homeland of Analand. I have to
admit, any country that marks its borders by building a giant wall
around it tends to be a little suspicious in my book, and I'm now
starting to work on the theory that I'm not so much 'liberating' the
crown as instead 'sneaking in and nicking it' or something similar.
Nevertheless, a guard in a silly hat opens the gate and lets me out,
telling me that he won't wish me a safe journey because I'm pretty much
A short walk from the border gate, and I've
found my way into a trader's village. Given that I have only twenty
gold, I take the chance to buy a few useful items, but I'm unsure at
this point what would count as useful. I know immediately that a lot of
the objects listed are used in spells, because I remember them being
mentioned in the spell section of the book. I play it a little
conservatively and don't buy all the items I want right away. I end up
with a bag of monster's teeth, and a bottle of Bilbury Juice. I remember
that the teeth are useful in a few spells, but the juice's use eludes
my memory. It does, however, refresh some stamina, so maybe I can use it
as a quick energy drink.
I leave the village, and
quickly encounter my first combat sequence of the game, in the guise of a
pair of bandits who demand that I pass over my worldly goods (namely
the bag of teeth and bottle of juice). They should be easy enough to
dispatch by hand, but I'm keen to try out the magic system. I recognise
one spell from the ones I'm allowed to choose, and select that one,
which creates a force-field. The bandits hammer on the field for a
while, before they get bored and go home.
in my travels, I soon encounter an old man who seems to be stuck in a
tree. He explains that he was chased up the tree by some elves, who
stole all his belongings. I help him down, and he gives me a little
riddle about a monster who protects a key. It's not very useful at this
stage, only really telling me that the monster in the riddle may be a
bit near-sighted, so I convince the old man to go home so that I can
steal some honey from a nearby beehive. I manage to swipe the honey
without being stung by the bees, which will serve as a spare meal.
I press on until the sun is going down,
whereupon I make camp for the night. I dine on honey that night, and
fall asleep beneath the stars. During the night, I am woken by the
sounds of elven creatures playing in the river, tormenting fish and the
like. The book actually asks if I wish to call out to them. Knowing the
way that elves are racially profiled in these books, this would count as
suicidal, so I hide from them and am lucky enough to not be noticed.
The next day, I continue my travels.
Crossing at a
bridge, I push on through the undergrowth when something unusual
happens. The flooring beneath me collapses, and I am about to fall into a
trap... when the book gives me the option of NOT testing my luck. This
is really odd. why would I choose not to test my luck? This makes me
curious, I choose this option. Sure enough, I collapse into the pit
trap, only to wake up being tied and bound by a group of headhunters.
Not quite sure what the point of this was...
I try to
blast them with a spell, only to be told that I have now learned that
magic does not work when my hands are bound. This is a mistake I won't
make again, I can attest to that. Meanwhile, the dark-skinned
headhunters who wear animal skins and have bones through their noses
start to gather around a large boiling pot filled with human bones and
oh god this is so politically incorrect right now.
unsure if now is a good time to pray to the goddess Libra to free me, or
if I should sit tight and wait for the cannibals to start doing their
impersonations of the crows from Disney's "Dumbo". That's another point
that I'd neglected to mention about this book - in desperate times, you
can pray to your goddess for salvation. She can help free you if you're
trapped, or you can ask her to restore your stats or cure you from a
curse/poison, but you can only choose to invoke her once during the
It's a bit of a gamble, because I was hoping
to save this for later, but I'm not really wanting to think about what
might happen if we let this silly escapade go on any longer. My prayers
are answered as clouds start to gather and rain pours down,
extinguishing the cooking fire and sending the natives fleeing at this
terrifying display of typical British weather. I toddle along on my
Before too long, I find my way to the
entrance of a goblin's mine. Deciding to be especially greedy, I slip
into the mine and poke around for a bit, until I find a processing room
where the minerals are shoved through machinery by a large ogre,
resulting in a few pretty gems coming out of the other end. The other
end of the machine, that is. Not the ogre. We don't want to think about
what comes out of the ogre's other end. Any way, I kill the ogre (with
my sword this time, rather than risking a spell) and take the gems.
local inn rips me off for a full 5 gold pieces for a night's dinner and
bed, but in exchange I do manage to get my stamina points up to their
full level once again. The next day, I head across the hills and make
route towards the unfortunately named village of Dhumpus. I feel sorry
for anyone who ever has to admit that they're from a village called
Dhumpus. The people of Dhumpus seem nervous, possibly because all the
people from neighbouring villages make fun of their village's name, but
also because I'm carrying a sword. So as to avoid a diplomatic incident
with the noble village of Dhumpus, I leave my weapon to one side and
chat with a few of the locals. Sadly, this all goes down badly when I
say something insulting (possibly "So what's it like being from a
village with a name that sounds like a genital disease?") and wind up
being chased out of town. To make things a little more entertaining,
I've managed to leave my sword in Dhumpus, meaning that my skill now has
a -4 pentalty, bringing it to a mere rating of 6.
make camp for the night, and the book asks me to roll to see if I am
attacked by a random monster. Sure enough, during the night a wolf
attacks me, and I have to cast a spell to fend it off (because with my
skill of a mere 6, I'm liable to fall over and hit my head on a rock,
resulting in instant death). I cast a spell which transforms me into a
twelve-foot tall giant, which causes the wolf to flee in terror.
seems that the book was not satisfied to simply give me the plague,
because it then decides to give me something even worse - a little pixie
companion. Her name is Jaan, but I call her Navi. This charming little
creature asks if it can accompany me along my journey, I decide to allow
it in the hopes that I can feed her to a monster at some point. Navi
goes on to tell me that the next village is quite large and populated
with very annoying children who are running wild.
little word about the kids in this village, and this is
something that's quintessentially Steve Jackson - there is a local
festival going on at the moment, a day during which children and adults
swap roles. The kids, of course, take this a step too far and run riot. I
initially thought of checking out one of the local sights, but decided
not to risk it in case I run afoul of the Children Of The Corn. This
little town offers a place to stay, but at a cost of 9 gold for bed
and food - I opt to pay for this by handing over a gem, as I only have
seven gold pieces left. I go to sleep, hoping that the children of the
village won't decide to tie me up and feed me to a rancor overnight.
It's only by the time I start to see all the skeletons of previously-deceased adventurers that I realise that the pixie's plan has succeeded. Sure enough, the scent of the flowers is poisonous, and I die there in the field. All I can hope is that I have the strength remaining in my body to grab Jaan and bite her little pixie head clean off. It's a fair death, because it gave me the choice of using a spell to determine if this route was indeed the best route. I was foolish enough to trust an evil, demented pixie who has no doubt lead many poor adventurers to her field of death over the years.
This is a fun adventure for sure, and definitely has that classic Fighting Fantasy feel that is so unique to its time. I'd forgotten how much fun this was, how unique it feels, and hopefully if you've not played this before you'll want to give it a shot!