A post about… Choose your own adventure

Fighting Fantasy, it’s just something of interest.

I have quite a few of the Fighting Fantasy (FF) books, penned variously by some combination of Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone (names that should be pretty familiar to any who has ever played any kind of fantasy game, pretty much ever) as well as some others, including the other Steve Jackson (creator of GURPS and Munchkin, amongst others). These are the guys who created Games Workshop and Citadel Miniatures, along with FF and numerous other projects including video games, and Livingstone even got an OBE for his contributions to the video games industry. They are pretty key players in the birth and popularity of fantasy wargaming in its many guises.

Of the original 59 books in the series (not including the other six that were slightly separate, and none of the new stuff) I own 46 of the predominantly hideous snot-green bound affairs, though some of them feature earlier orange and blue spines. I used to adore these books as a child, they were one of the major factors that contributed to my interest in Warhammer and D&D in the first place (the other main ones being Airfix kits, and an interest in games from my experiences with chess and go). The format was straightforward enough: interspersed with some classic old-school fantasy art would be a page of text, presenting you with a number of options, and depending on which option you took (along with which stats you had chosen for your character at the very start) you were instructed to turn to a corresponding page. That page would then inform you of the outcome of the encounter, as well as your untimely death on occasion, and this would continue so on until you finally completed the adventure. Most of the books took a fairly standard dungeon crawl kind of route, though there were some written in urban and sci-fi settings.

The whole appeal of the FF books (and the multitude of never quite satisfactory rip-offs) was the level of interaction, the idea that you were determining your own destiny, and expressing some control over where the story took you. The lead character of your book would always take the course of action that you would yourself, and this conferred a level of roleplaying on to the reader quite unlike any other. This is of course the same appeal that D&D holds for many people, the concept of writing your own epic saga, where you are the hero, the lead part in a play where you hold sway over your own manifest destiny. Obviously, the early FF books tended to contain only one true path to victory, wherein you must have defeated monster X, collected item Y and solved riddle Z, for example, to be successful – though the later books offered more than one route to the (usually) happy ending. A D&D campaign would (or at least should) never railroad players in such a manner, but the format of the FF books was always of a fantastic quality.

We ended up talking about the books at the pub this evening, as part of a conversation about playing D&D without a DM. Of course, there are rules for such things, and we also considered options such as someone taking on the mantle nominally whilst playing their char, alternating the DM duties around and simply rolling a number of random encounters as the evening progresses. One suggestion was to use the FF books as the basis for the adventure, translating whatever encounter occurs in the book into D&D terms in real time, allowing us to do it ourselves, but keeping some air of mystery and story about the whole thing. It would certainly be pretty nostalgic for me. There truly was nothing better than, after a morning of trawling around after your parents at a carboot sale bored stupid, stumbling across someone with a box of these gems at 50p a shot and then spending the rest of the day frantically flicking between pages trying to complete the quest. It is quite possible that eBay may be scoured over the next few days as a I attempt to complete the collection!

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