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Just wondering, did anyone play Fighting Fantasy gamebooks as a kid? Most of you are probably too young, but I've been on a nostalgia trip and bought a couple of these again lately.

They are "choose your own adventure" books- turn to 217 if you want to go through the door, this sort of thing. I've been saving this up but want to write about some favourites from my childhood which I have replayed. I love these but they are also just silly and flawed.

CITY OF THIEVES (Ian Livingstone)

Let me start by saying, I think cheating is allowed. If you don't have a high skill you won't win this. It's worth playing for the atmosphere though- we have to go in to a foul city of criminals to find the wizard Nicodemus, who will tell us how to kill the Night Prince (Zanbar Bone, the evil skeleton man).

Firstly, if you play this a few times, you'll realise these books are stupid trial and error. For example, it's actually beneficial to get arrested by the guards in the first scene. In prison, you can tell them you think you have the plague- and they all immediately run out of the room, and you can steal the merchant's pass.

Nicodemus gives us a big list of items to collect (the classic Ian Livingstone "shopping list"). One of these is that I need to get a tattoo of a white unicorn in a yellow sun on my forehead. This is so I can "withstand the Night Prince's gaze". If it means I will withstand it because he'll fall about laughing, then I believe it.

So, we need:
- a black pearl
- hag's hair
- a lotus flower

-  humiliating tattoo

We go and nick some black pearls from a pirate, go into the sewer and kill a hag, and then- in what's probably the laziest bit of writing I can think of- find that there is a public garden in the city where they have some lotus flowers.

There's an amusing bit where you can collect some money from a woman with a snake for a head by pretending you're a tax collector.

By now you'll realise these books are full of mistakes. The starting rules tell you you can only eat your provisions when you are explicitly told you can- well, the book never tells you you can anywhere.

It also tells you your skill can never exceed it's initial score unless explicitly told. This means you can buy an expensive chainmail coat for +2 SKILL, but it won't benefit you- except if you later take it off you have to lose 2 SKILL. I just use this as an example of how even by 5 in the series these books were a bit of a mess.


So, yada yada yada, we go to the Night Prince's tower. After a stupidly hard fight with two "Moon Dogs" (where I basically cheated) the door is opened by some sort of undead butler. He says "What are you doing here?" where he clearly should be saying "Why have you got that silly unicorn tattoo on your forehead?"

Zanbar Bone's tower is a bit of a crap conclusion. It's like he stocked it from a list of Hammer horrer monsters- there's a vampire downstairs, zombies in the attic, (Loch Ness Monsters in the lavatory?) and a mummy in the bedroom next door to him.

In classic bullshit FF writing, a magic ring which you absolutely have to have to kill the Night Prince is located... in the room right next to him. This is the equivalent of writing your PIN number on the back of your debit card.

We dispel his illusion with the magic ring, fight some skeletons, shoot Zanbar with a silver arrow, and then kill him. The book ends with a 1-in-3 luck choice to kill him, which is just the most ridiculous thing ever. Who is not going to cheat at this point?

Our mission complete, we sleep in a field (apparently) and then go and get fabulous wealth or something.


It may sound like I dislike these books but I do love them; they introduced me to fantasy. I just see now how many mistakes are in them.

I hope someone might enjoy this. I had more to say about City of Thieves than I thought so I'll leave Citadel of Chaos for another day.


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  • 2 weeks later...

I had a huge collection when I was much younger, they were my "gateway drug" to tabletop RPGs...lol. I always thought Steve Jackson's were the best of the series - the "Sorcery" quartet in particular actually introduced the concept of an ongoing campaign to Fighting Fantasy - that said, Joe Dever and Gary Chalk's Lone Wolf series and, if you favoured a campier fantasy experience, the twisted genius of J.H. Brennan's "Grailquest" series (one of the first items you received is your constant companion, a smartmouthed, arachnophobic talking shortsword called Excalibur Junior who actually has a mechanic written in for reducing his damage when you face a giant spider) were - to my mind - better written and more enjoyable. Brennan's series probably wouldn't have appealed to everyone, and ruleswise they were probably more flawed than FF, but the silliness was just so sublime sometimes that I played through my copies until they fell apart.

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Thanks for responding Enkidom. I didn't know if anyone would but I enjoyed writing this. :)

I've never read the Sorcery quartet but I would like to check them out. I know there are other gamebook series, which I never read- this was kind of a wonderful experience of rediscovering something from my childhood. I told Juno that reading these again, I came close to understanding D&D, so I kind of get you on that.


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CITADEL OF CHAOS (Steve Jackson)


In this book you play a brave fighting wizard student. So in this book we have MAGIC! You can pick a selection of spells at the beginning.

We have to go to the Citadel and defeat a sorceror called Balthus Dire. He's being very naughty and is going to launch an attack on a nearby town with a big army. Though when you get there there's no evidence of an army. Oh well, never mind.


First things first- get past the guards at the entrance (one is a dog with a gorilla's head- yes, honestly). In the courtyard, we need to go right.

Obviously the best way to behave in life is to start fights with innocent people who are minding their own business. An orc, a dwarf and two goblins are sitting around a fire having some food- so naturally we sit down with no invitation, and then attack them. Slaughter these poor creatures and we get a jar of ointment and a copper key. (You can't really win without the ointment, which makes me think the author was suffering from some painful medical problem.)

You can at this point also cast a levitation spell, and the book hilariously points out that hovering above the ground didn't really help.

We get inside somehow past the rhino-man on the door (Balthus Dire has been up to some seriously weird shit here). If you go downstairs, you can have an amusing encounter with a leprechaun who throws a tomato at you. Despite him being a really offensive Irish caricature, this is quite funny. However, this is the wrong way to go.

Instead, we go through the main door. From there, into a room with a monster called a "Gark". He is a big macho orc-like thing, but when we kill him he's carrying a beautiful hairbrush. We need this. (And he capitalised "Hairbrush". Come on Steve. I know you wrote this in a tearing hurry but, come on.)


At this point you have to go left into the library, to get the combination to Balthus Dire's man-cave. If you go the other way you go into a gambling den- you can win loads of gold pieces here if you play risky games, but it's a bit daft because gold pieces are no real use to you from this point on. Which makes sense- is there going to be a convenience store in a sorceror's tower? I suppose you might want to buy a newspaper and find out where the hell his army has got to.

Now we can unlock the door on the left with the copper key. It turns out to be a bedroom and more than that, Balthus Dire's wife is here in bed. Why the hell would the goblins in the courtyard have the key for his wife's bedroom?

No time to think about that because she is shooting fire from her eyes at us. This is bad news- but wait! What's that on the bed? It's a golden fleece! If you go the wrong way earlier, you can find a cursed washerwoman who will tell you "You will never succeed without the fleece".

You can offer the sorceress one of three possible gifts to stop her horribly murdering you. One is a spider in a jar (which, if you have this, she quite correctly says "Why the fuck would I want that?" Not those words but similar.). The correct one is the nice hairbrush we got earlier. Yes, feminism is alive and well in Fighting Fantasy! If you meet an evil sorceress just give her a lovely hairbrush and she'll get all distracted. Test your LUCK and pinch the golden fleece.

Now we go up into the tower. In the strangest scene in the book, floating ghost-heads called GANJEES attack us. You cannot defeat these with magic or your sword- though they will accept the jar of ointment and let you through. This is so bizarre I don't know what to make of it.

Upstairs there is a HYDRA. This was my favourite illustration from the book, an amazing multi-headed snake. You can use 3 creature-copy spells to create another Hydra to fight it, but the correct thing is to give it the golden fleece. God knows why but it likes that.


Now we get to the top floor. Balthus Dire's door is here, but of course, we know the combination. Boom!

The first thing you'll notice when you see the picture of Balthus Dire is that he has a really stupid haircut. He looks like he's just been auditioning for the part of Electra in Starlight Express.

It's clear Steve Jackson put a lot of effort into the final battle and it really shows. I used some knowledge from my childhood- first he chucks a clawbeast at you, so cast a weakness spell and it will drop like a sack of potatoes.

Dire causes an earthquake and you must levitate. Then you have a choice. I believe there is a better ending but I chose to drift to his cupboard and found a magic sword (he should probably have put them somewhere else). I fought him and killed him in battle.


This ends probably the best early FF book in my opinion- because I think you really could win this one with low stats.

Some day maybe I will do Deathtrap Dungeon but not yet.

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I don't think I've ever read a Fighting Fantasy book before, but I did have a Batman choose your own adventure book "The Doomsday Prophecy".  It was fun enough.

These sound like fun.  Might look into them.

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