Fighting Fantasy is a series of single-player fantasy gamebooks created by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, originally published by Puffin and now by Wizard Books. Although not the first books to use this format, Fighting Fantasy popularised the format and spawned dozens of imitators.
There were 59 books in the core series, beginning with The Warlock of Firetop Mountain (Jackson & Livingstone, 1982) and concluding with Curse of the Mummy (Green, 1995). Three new books, Eye of the Dragon, the long-lost adventure Bloodbones and Howl of the Werewolf have been published by Wizard, bringing the total up to 62. Additional books include the four-part Sorcery! series, by Steve Jackson.
The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks were similar to other interactive gamebooks that were being published at the time — most notably the Choose Your Own Adventure series — in that the reader takes control of the story's protagonist, making many choices over the course of the story and turning to different pages in order to learn the outcome of their decisions. The Fighting Fantasy series distinguished itself by the use of a dice system to resolve combat and other situations, not unlike that used in Dungeons & Dragons and other role-playing games, though far simpler.
The action in a Fighting Fantasy gamebook is split into small sections, ranging from a paragraph to a page, at the end of each of which the character usually must make a choice or roll a die. Each page features several of these sections, each headed with its number in bold. Where the page number would appear in an ordinary book, a Fighting Fantasy book gives the range of sections appearing on that page, much as some dictionaries do for the words listed on a page. Most of the early books in the series had 400 of these sections, with the optimal ending being number 400. Some later books had more than 400 sections, and some concealed the optimal ending somewhere in the middle of the book to make it harder for the reader to find. A few books contained less than 400 references.
With the notable exception of Steve Jackson's Sorcery! miniseries, all entries in the series are stand-alone and do not assume any prior knowledge on the part of the player. That said, many of them take place in a single world known as Titan, and the three books which deal with the wizard Zagor, (namely The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, Return to Firetop Mountain and Legend of Zagor), are undoubtedly more rewarding if played in sequence, as are the books Deathtrap Dungeon, Trial of Champions and Armies of Death.
Typically, a Fighting Fantasy gamebook follows the "collect w, x and y to reach z" approach. This means that the player can only reach the end of the book by following the correct path and finding all the items (keys, gems, rings or even pieces of information) that let him or her proceed to the final confrontation. Later books sometimes varied this formula, allowing multiple routes to success.
Following the success of the first book, Jackson and Livingstone began to produce further gamebooks, writing solo in order to make better use of their time. In 1983, Jackson produced the second Fighting Fantasy adventure, The Citadel of Chaos, and Livingstone the third, titled The Forest of Doom. Jackson then produced the first book in the series with a science-fiction setting, Starship Traveller, and Livingstone the first with an urban setting, City of Thieves, as well as Deathtrap Dungeon and Island of the Lizard King. In 1984, the decision was made to expand the number of writers working on the project, including Andrew Chapman, Carl Sargent (aka Keith Martin), Marc Gascoigne (also the longest-serving Fighting Fantasy editor) and Peter Darvill-Evans.
Three of the books (Scorpion Swamp in 1984 and Demons of the Deep and Robot Commando in 1986) were written by the other Steve Jackson, the US-based founder and owner of Steve Jackson Games. This has led many gamers to mistakenly believe that the two Steve Jacksons were the same person.
The series enjoyed good sales all through the eighties, but experienced the same difficulties in the early nineties as the rest of the role-playing industry, brought on primarily by the increasing dominance of video games. The series was slated to conclude with book 50, Return to Firetop Mountain (Livingstone, 1992), but this book was unexpectedly successful, experiencing better sales than any recent gamebook and prompting an increase in demand for the Fighting Fantasy back catalogue. As a result, ten more books were written, but only nine were ever published, and the series came to an end with 1995's Curse of the Mummy. A sixtieth book, Bloodbones, was written but never released, although it was later published by Wizard.
In 2002, Wizard Books bought the rights to the Fighting Fantasy series and has put many of the original titles back into print, making the controversial decision to change the order of the books in order to fit their reduced line-up (initially only the gamebooks by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone were published) and to incorporate the Sorcery! miniseries into the core series. The original cover art has also been replaced. The Wizard editions have also been criticized for the extensive errors in the rule section of the reprints. Copying and pasting from Firetop Mountain has introduced errors into the rules, in most cases affecting the rules for Provisions and Potions. These problems have continued in the more recent re-releases as number 24, Talisman of Death, also has these errors.
In 2005, a brand-new Fighting Fantasy book entitled Eye of the Dragon was released by Wizard, written by Ian Livingstone. In 2006, Talisman of Death and Sword of the Samurai, both written by Jamie Thomson and Mark Smith, were released. This was the first time Wizard had reprinted works by "secondary" authors.
In 2007, Fighting Fantasy celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary. To commemorate the event, Wizard published a new 25th-anniversary yearbook and a special edition of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain that used the original wrap-around cover image and contained extra material.
Three standard gamebooks were also released in 2007, all written by Jonathan Green. Curse of the Mummy and Spellbreaker were due to be re-released in April and June respectively. Both have been edited to make them more playable, with skill scores and possibly other aspects changed. Also released in 2007 is Howl of the Werewolf, a brand-new adventure that Jonathan Green had previously mentioned in a letter to a fan.
The majority of the Fighting Fantasy books are set in the heroic fantasy world of Titan — 46 of the 59 Puffin books take place there, as does the Sorcery! spin-off. Like many fantasy settings, Titan corresponds roughly to medieval Europe, with the addition of magic, monsters and several sentient non-human races. Titan consists of three continents: the one most commonly used in the series is Allansia, followed by the Old World and then Khul. The scattered and somewhat incoherent information gleaned about the world of Titan from the gamebooks is consolidated and greatly supplemented by a reader's guide titled simply Titan (Gascoigne, Jackson & Livingstone, 1986).
Legend of Zagor (Livingstone, 1993) is set in a second fantasy world, Amarillia, as are the first, second and fourth volumes of The Zagor Chronicles (Livingstone, 1993–94). Magical communication and travel between Amarillia and Titan is possible, suggesting that they are part of the same 'universe'.
A third fantasy world called Orb features in book 11, Talisman of Death (Thomson & Smith, 1984). Orb is also the setting of Thompson and Smith's otherwise unrelated series of gamebooks Way of the Tiger.
In addition to these, a small minority of Fighting Fantasy books employ a science fiction setting. It is never specified whether or not these books are intended to be set in the same world, but the lack of consistency between them or mention of common locations seems to indicate that they are not. The science fiction books, in order of publication, are Starship Traveller (Jackson, 1983), Freeway Fighter (Livingstone, 1985), Space Assassin (Chapman, 1985), The Rings of Kether (Chapman, 1985), Rebel Planet, (Waterfield, 1985), Robot Commando (Steve Jackson (US), 1985), Star Strider (Sharp, 1987), and Sky Lord (Allen, 1988). Of these, at least three (Freeway Fighter, Rebel Planet and Star Strider) directly or indirectly refer to our Earth.
Appointment with F.E.A.R. (Jackson, 1985) featured the reader as a superhero in the fictional "Titan City" (presumably named after the regular setting of Titan), again deviating from the usual fantasy environment.
House of Hell (Jackson, 1984) is the only Fighting Fantasy book set in modern-day Earth. It caused perhaps more controversy than any other book on its release because of its extensive use of occult and Satanic themes.
The Fighting Fantasy system, in comparison with the mechanics employed in role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons or even the similar Lone Wolf series, is extremely simple. The player character, in the majority of books, has only three statistics, namely skill, stamina and luck, which are determined randomly by dice rolls at the beginning of the adventure.
Whenever the player engages an enemy in combat, the statistics for that enemy are displayed in the text. The player rolls 2d6 (a pair of six sided dice) and adds this number to their skill, then does the same for their opponent. Whichever combatant has scored higher has wounded the other, and the wounded party must subtract 2 points from their stamina. At this point the player has the option to Test Luck, a gamble which either increases or decreases the damage done. This process usually continues until one party's stamina reaches 0, at which point they are dead.
Testing Luck comes into play both by explicit instruction at various points in the narrative, and (at the player's choice) in combat. The player rolls 2d6 and compare the result to their Luck score. If the result is lower or equal than their score they are considered to be Lucky and are informed of their results; conversely, a roll which results in a score higher than the player's Luck will have a different, almost invariably negative, result. In either case, the player's luck score is decreased by 1 each time it is tested and thus subsequent Tests of Luck become increasingly difficult unless the player finds some way to replenish luck. (Sometimes the player is given a choice not to Test Luck and thus to conserve a higher luck score for future occasions.)
Some books employ extra statistics, such as Sword of the Samurai (Thomson & Smith, 1986), in which the character also has an Honour score, or Beneath Nightmare Castle (Darvill-Evans, 1987) which includes a Willpower score. Other books allow the player to select from a number of abilities, such as the spells available in The Citadel of Chaos and Temple of Terror (Livingstone, 1985), the special skills in Moonrunner (Hand, 1992) or the superpowers in Appointment with F.E.A.R. (Jackson, 1985).
Some books use vehicle combat as well as hand to hand (examples include Starship Traveller and Freeway Fighter), and most of the science fiction settings include some form of ranged combat, with a variety of methods of resolution.
The Sorcery! series was the first to feature images of dice at the bottom of each page. These allowed the game to be played without having actual dice to hand, by flicking through the book to a random page. The Fighting Fantasy books published by Wizard used the same device.
Books with the final Puffin cover design featured the number of the book on the front and spine of each book until a small number of print runs where all numbers were removed from the books. After this the number of the book featured on the spine of each book, but not the cover. The cover credit was printed in bronze-foil until the publication of the 51st book, after which it was printed in black. The first two books, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain and Citadel of Chaos were given new cover illustrations when printed with the second and final Puffin cover design.
The Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks republished by Wizard feature a new cover design, a new Fighting Fantasy logo and new cover illustrations (with, so far, the exceptions of Appointment with F.E.A.R and Curse of the Mummy, which retain their original cover illustrations). The covers were changed because the old covers were not considered acceptable for the modern market.
Authors other than the series' co-creators are not credited on the cover, which instead features the phrase 'Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone Present'. These authors are credited on the inside title page.
The Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks published in the US by Dell/Laurel Leaf featured a new cover design and illustrations by Richard Corben.
All Fighting Fantasy gamebooks are illustrated and most of the art is considered by fans to be of very high quality, especially in comparison to other role-playing products of the time. The cover artwork of the original series are also considered to have played a major role in the original popularity of the series; Jackson and Livingstone reflected this belief by personally signing off on every cover throughout the entire series.
All Fighting Fantasy books feature two forms of interior illustration; full-page pieces which depict the action taking place in one of the sections on the opposing page and smaller, generic pieces scattered at random throughout the book, often serving as breaks or space fillers between sections. The full-page illustrations are generally used for the most dramatic or spectacular sections of the story, while the generic images usually depict items such as skulls, swords, monsters and treasure. The two sets of illustrations are always drawn by the same artist.
Many artists contributed multiple illustrations to the series: Les Edwards and Terry Oakes created 11 and 12 covers, respectively; Russ Nicholson drew the interior illustrations for 13 books, and Leo Hartas provided the maps included in 18 books. Other notables included Ian Miller, John Blanche and Iain McCaig.
In 1989 a second Fighting Fantasy multiplayer system was released, referred to as Advanced Fighting Fantasy. Three books were produced using this system: Dungeoneer, Blacksand! and Allansia, all by Marc Gascoigne and Pete Tamlyn; "Out of the Pit" and "Titan" were subsumed into the range as sourcebooks and reissued in reformatted, companion editions.
Seven Fighting Fantasy novels have also been published. These began with three standalone books, titled The Trolltooth Wars (Jackson, 1989), Demonstealer (Gascoigne, 1991) and Shadowmaster (Livingstone & Gascoigne, 1992). In 1993 Ian Livingstone and Carl Sargent began a four volume series entitled The Zagor Chronicles, reprising the popular villain of Warlock of Firetop Mountain and its sequels.
Clash of the Princes was a pair of books designed to be played or read by two players simultaneously as opponents (although either book could also be read on its own). In the two-player game each of the readers would from time to time be instructed by the book to make a note on a shared piece of paper as they made decisions, which could influence what happened to the other player as his book instructed him to respond accordingly.
Other Fighting Fantasy spin-offs have include an oversized poster book, the Fighting Fantasy 10th Anniversary Yearbook (a diary with articles, trivia and a gamebook spread across the days), and a boxed set of dice and character sheets. Games Workshop's Citadel Miniatures produced a small range of 54mm plastic warriors. The associated magazine Warlock first produced by Puffin Books and later Games Workshop, ran for 13 issues. It featured a gamebook in every issue, as well as new monsters, rules, reviews and comic strips. Editors were variously Ian Livingstone, Steve Williams and Marc Gascoigne. Strangely, the magazine was licensed for a Japanese edition, which continued with original material from issue 14 onwards and continued to publish until recently.
In 1984 a number of Fighting Fantasy videogames were released for the Commodore 64, Amstrad, BBC, and Sinclair ZX Spectrum. They were based directly on specific Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, specifically The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, The Citadel of Chaos, The Forest of Doom, Temple of Terror, Seas of Blood, Appointment with F.E.A.R. and Rebel Planet.
In 1985 Steve Jackson wrote a picture gamebook with the title Tasks of Tantalon, in which the player was required to solve a series of puzzles set by the wizard Tantalon, which were presented as large, full colour pictures containing hidden clues to be located and assembled.
1986 saw the release of the Warlock of Firetop Mountain boardgame from Games Workshop, followed in 1993 by a second game based on the Legend of Zagor novels.
On December 5, 2006, it was officially announced that Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, co-creators of Fighting Fantasy and also co-founders of game studio, Games Workshop, are planning to release a new series of video games based on the Fighting Fantasy series for Nintendo DS and Sony's PSP.
The Fighting Fantasy series popularised the use of a dice mechanic in gamebooks, a random element which contributed hugely to the suspense and the enjoyment of the play experience. Many series would attempt to emulate the Fighting Fantasy style, with varying degrees of success: Joe Dever's Lone Wolf series enjoyed success nearly equal to that of Fighting Fantasy. Other series included GrailQuest, Fabled Lands and Way of the Tiger. The phrase 'Fighting Fantasy' is sometimes used to refer to all single player role-playing gamebooks, most notably in item descriptions on eBay, where such gamebooks are regularly sold. Fighting Fantasy and other gamebooks are seen as a primer or gateway to the RPG hobby for younger enthusiasts.
Despite common claims to the contrary, Fighting Fantasy was not the very first series of gamebooks. The gamebook format used in Fighting Fantasy was previously seen in a series of solitaire adventures released for the Tunnels and Trolls role-playing game, the first of which was Buffalo Castle
Although not as well known outside its readership as other fantasy writing, such as The Lord of the Rings, the series is occasionally referenced in popular culture: