Written by Steve Jackson & Ian Livingstone, Artwork by Russ Nicholson
|This cover was from the board game.
Maybe I'll tell you about that game one day....
Published the same year I was born, Warlock of Firetop Mountain was the first FF book, and has had an incarnation in every version of the books. The original cover of this book showed the titular warlock as a gnarled old mage, whilst the later ones showed him as a younger man wielding the forces of chaos and destruction. This is Zagor, the warlock who would return twice more throughout the Fighting Fantasy series - in 'Return to Firetop Mountain' and 'Legacy of Zagor', as well as starring in the spin-off novels 'The Zagor Chronicles', appearing in two board games (based on Warlock and Legacy, respectively) and several video game versions.
In short, Zagor is the face of the Fighting Fantasy franchise. And was also my first online internet username. But the question here is "Can I kill him and steal his treasure?" That's the only real storyline we have to go on. Zagor isn't raising an army, he's not cursed a village with moon dogs, he's just happily sitting in his mountain, chilling, drinking a cup of hot tea and watching 'Twilight Zone' reruns on the telly. And we, like traditional dungeon-crawling adventurers, are going to break into his home, beat up the old man, and nick everything.
We did that a lot in classic Dungeons and Dragons, you see. I miss those days... Anyway, on with the show!
Because the book has such a classic reason for going into the mountain (ie, there is a mountain, it has treasure in it, go get it), I have decided to come up with my own backstory for the adventure. As we all know, Zagor studied the dark arts alongside his fellow students Balthus Dire and Zharradan Marr, in a school on the edge of the Flatlands, under the tutelage of the sinister Volgera Darkstorm. This is true. But what the history records did not mention is that there was a fourth student; Torgo the Stupid.
|A wizard of unfathomable power?
When the Demonic Three graduated from their studies (by slaying Volgera Darkstorm with a cunning Rain of Knives spell), they went their separate ways, ready to establish their kingdoms. Sadly, none of them bothered to invite Torgo to the after-graduation party, and when Torgo awoke the next morning, he found himself in the charred ruins of the school, with no way to continue his studies. He had been left behind with only the mocking laughter echoing in his ears.
And when Torgo discovered, among the ruins of Darkstorm's possessions, a book on how to construct artificial golems, he studied it relentlessly. For years he practiced, grafting animals together to form hideous humunculi, which would later plague the land. He made dog-headed gorillas, man-faced lions and pigeons with the reproductive systems of elephants (which sadly could no longer fly). Soon he created his ultimate lifeform, mute dim-witted mass of human body parts. It could not think, it could only smash. It would be controlled directly by Torgo, who would command it from afar. YOU are Torgo, and the book allows you to guide your construct on its rampage of destruction against those who have wronged you...
Starting with Zagor.
Firetop mountain is so named because of the red rock deposit at the top, not because it's a volcano. Which is a shame, because being set inside a volcano would have added a whole new level of adventure in it. Probably not a good idea, because my stamina roll was quite low at only 16 - but my luck score was very lucky at 12, with my skill an even 10. I slipped into the cavern entrance of the mountain, and took a turn which lead me to a guard post. The guard, a goblin, was sleeping quite happily. Wish I could get away with that when I was at work!
Slipping past the guard, I entered a room which contained another sleeping goblin. I managed to grab a small box from the room, which contained a couple gold coins - not bad, given that the book's instructions didn't mention that I had any to start with! The box also contained a mouse, which I didn't keep. How odd. But in the second room I entered, which was otherwise empty, the box contained a snake. Not a giant snake, just a regular snake, which I killed with only one hit. I wonder what kind of person keeps a snake in a box. Does the box have air holes? Do they open it to feed the snake every day? It seems like such a difficult way to keep a pet.
Either way, the snake was 'guarding' a key, which I took. I remembered that you need to collect a good number of keys in order to get to the good ending of this book. Hoping that this key was one of them, I pocketed it and left the room. I investigated another room, in which two orcs were singing badly. Seems they were drunk. The book didn't offer me the choice of joining them, sadly, so I just killed them. Under the table in this room, there was another box which contained instructions on how to cast the Dragonfire spell, which could easily slay a dragon. Given that there's a dragon on the cover for this book, I figured this was a good discovery!
My next room contained a raving lunatic. Kinda like when I was living in university student dorms, I suppose. Anyway, I figured that he was a prisoner, because he wasn't an orc. So I tried to calm him down, which was very useful. Once he was calm, he told me that I had there was a trap further down the tunnel which I could solve by pulling the right-most lever. Which is quite useful, and may even save me from what might otherwise be an instant-death choice, possibly.
|A tunnel. Expect to see a lot of these in this book.
Leave room, walk down tunnel, enter new room. This room contains two goblins who are busy torturing a dwarf. The book then gives me the option to run in and take part in torturing the dwarf!! I am so, so tempted to choose this option. I really want to. If it had been a Gnome, I'd definitely have taken the choice. One thing that World of Warcraft has taught me is that Gnomes are only good for torturing, throwing long distances, and the occasional barbeque. But anyway, I decide not to torture the poor dwarf, and kill the two goblins, like a good hero. And in reward, I am given CHEESE! I have the cheese!!
Leaving the room, I eventually come across the trap that the crazy man warned me about. I pull the right-most lever, and a portcullis raises, allowing me to continue. I then make a number of choices between turning west, north and other directions, which I didn't bother to note down, because that makes for the most boring playthroughs ever, "First I went north, then I went east, then I went east again", sod that! So I ran around blindly for a bit. Until I ran into a crazy barbarian.
I don't know what the barbarian was doing in the dungeon, but once I killed him, I discovered he was carrying a mallet and several sticks of wood with pointy ends. My working theory is that he's a vampire hunter. It's a shame I had to kill him, because I'd have been quite interested to find out how a barbarian had got into the line of vampire hunting. Maybe he was the latest in a long line of vampire hunters. Maybe he had trained under Buffy Summers or the Frog Brothers or something. This would be a very interesting story, but sadly it will never be revealed, because I killed the barbarian. See, violence is never the best answer.
|I found it! I found it!
I found the cheese!!!
Sadly, I don't (unless the cheese can be used for this - maybe wizards are lactose-intolerant?) so I flee the room, and quickly come to another room which I'll call 'the garbage room'. It contains some driftwood, which I have the choice of taking. Oh yeah, a hunk of wood will be so useful, I'm sure - I leave it behind, and try to find some rope instead. Rope is always useful. Except when it comes to life and tries to kill you. This rope does. So I chop it up.
I assume he thinks I've got the word 'sucker' printed on my head. I'm all ready to teach him a lesson with my sword, when he changes into a giant salivating wererat. Yeah, I didn't see that coming, either. And to make matters worse, the book won't give me the option to tempt the wererat with any of the cheese I found earlier! Pah, useless cheese.
|So if I can stake a vampire by accident,
why do we need YOU anyway?
I search the nearby corpses and find some gold, and a silver crucifix. Hmm, a lot of vampire-related items. They come in very useful though, as the very next room contains a vampire. Yep, the next chamber is a crypt, and from a nearby coffin stalks a vampire. Boy, it's lucky I found those stakes earlier! Even more lucky, because, well...
According to this book, I am the most inept and yet the luckiest vampire hunter ever. You see, as the book narrates it, I approach the vampire with the stake. The vampire backs away. I trip and fall. The stake goes flying out of my hands. By sheer luck, the stake hurtles through the air, right into the vampire's chest, piercing its heart. I'm not even joking here. This actually happened. Feeling utterly amazed at my luck, I find the vampire's coffin contains a book (I'm not told what it is) and some y-shaped sticks. Maybe the vampire had an interest in dowsing.
The following area of the dungeon was half-completed, and I managed to see some enchanted digging tools constructing new tunnels, all the while singing happily. I think I'll have to make sure not to pack mushrooms in my provisions in future. Anyway, I stumble onwards, almost tripping over a ghoul on the way. The ghoul can be quite tricky as he can paralyse you with its touch, but I'm able to handle it without too much difficulty.
And so I journey into the LABYRINTH OF ZAGOR!!
I manage to find a room full of dwarves who are playing cards, and through the graces of my high luck score I am able to earn some extra gold without needing to cheat. The next room I find is very appropriate for a labyrinth, as it contains the ominous minotaur. I kill him, but he does manage to deal quite a bit of damage. And I manage to acquire my second key! I'm sure I've lost any chance of getting enough of the correct keys by this stage in the game, but its still nice to have this.
I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, I hate the maze, oh wait I've found a dragon.
|Quite simply the best way to deal with dragons.
The tunnel leads at long last into the warlock's study. I try to sneak in, yet the warlock notices me and prepares to attack. With my amazing memory, I remember that the wizard's power lies in his desk of magic cards (and y'know, I may have even forgot about that if he hadn't been playing with them when I walked in!), so I grab the cards and set them alight.
The warlock is now relatively easy prey, and I cut him down without too much trouble.And, like many thousands of adventurers before me, I fall at the final hurdle. I have only two of the keys needed to unlock the warlock's treasure, and so I fall to the floor in tears. This, my friends, is how the vast majority of Warlock of Firetop Mountain playthroughs end.
My copy of the book contains an advert for the Fighting Fantasy fan club, which as best I can tell is no longer in operation, and adverts for two rather interesting books - a biography on JRR Tolkien, and a study on Philip Pullman's 'His Dark Materials' books. Definitely fantasy-theme, but non-fiction books are a curious choice for adverts in this book. Oh well.