Friday, 12 January 2018

Blast from the Past! Caverns of the Snow Witch

At this time of year Northern Allansia finds itself in the grip of winter. (Not for nothing is the first month of the Allansian Calendar known as Freeze!) With that in mind it seemed timely to revisit a classic Fighting Fantasy Gamebook. There are several set within the northern climes of Allansia - including Tower of Destruction for one - but the book we are concerning ourselves with today is Ian Livingstone's Caverns of the Snow Witch...

Caverns of the Snow Witch (FF9, first published by Puffin Books in 1984) sent the hero into the freezing depths of the Icefinger Mountains.

Having initially been hired to hunt down and slay the Yeti that has been attacking trade caravans in northern Allansia, the hero hears from a dying trapper of the great riches to be found in the Crystal Caves, home of the evil enchantress the Snow Witch. And so he sets off to make his fortune, but in time he learns the true cost of his greed.

“I’d written FF books set in dungeons, forests and islands,” says Livingstone, “and decided it was time for some freezing mountain snow for adventurers to survive. I thought about the irony of Caverns of the Snow Witch during a charity climb of Kilimanjaro years later. It had been snowing the whole day. At such altitude it was miserable.”

WARNING! If you've not played Caverns of the Snow Witch before, there are SPOILERS AHEAD!

The fact that the adventure was first published in a shortened 190-paragraph form in Warlock magazine goes some way to explain the adventure’s unusual structure. Having defeated the vampiric Snow Witch, the hero escapes the Crystal Caves in the company of Redswift the Elf and Stubb the Dwarf, only for the three companions to discover that the witch has cast a Death Spell upon them. The adventure then turns into a race against time as the hero struggles to find a way of counteracting the effects of the spell.

Having been illustrated by Duncan Smith for the Warlock version, for the extended paperback edition, two artists, Gary Ward and Edward Crosby, worked together to provide the interior illustrations, the only time this has happened in the entire history of Fighting Fantasy.

“We worked out roughs for each illustration, had someone pose for photo reference (that locked the overall pose and angle of the figures in place), then Edward and I worked on the agreed illustrations at separate locations,” explains Ward. “Edward then delivered the final pencil drawings once a week or so. I tended to work on the more human characters. Edward’s style suited the goblins and monsters more. I inked them all to keep a constant style.”

Yeti, by Gary Ward and Edward Crosby.
(©Gary Ward and Edward Crosby, 1984 and 2018)

Do you have a favourite encounter from this particular icy adventure? Or do you have fond (or otherwise) memories of another snowbound encounter in a different Fighting Fantasy Gamebook? Let us know in the comments below.

You can read more about the creation of Caverns of the Snow Witch in Jonathan Green's YOU ARE THE HERO - A History of Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks, available now from Snowbooks.

Friday, 5 January 2018

New Year Resolutions

It's the start of a New Year, a time when people traditionally look back over the past year and make plans for the future, promising themselves that they will achieve certain goals.

2017 was an epic year for Fighting Fantasy. For a start it marked the 35th anniversary of Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, which was celebrated with the series' return, courtesy of Scholastic Books, and a brand-new title by Ian Livingstone, The Port of Peril.

On top of that, there was the release of not one but two graphic novels, one of which compiled the Ian Livingstone's FREEWAY FIGHTER limited-run comic mini-series.


And then there were FF video games releases from Tin Man Games and Nomad Games.

2017 also saw the second FF convention, Fighting Fantasy Fest 2, take place in Ealing - at which YOU ARE THE HERO Part 2 was launched - along with various signings, most notably those held at Forbidden Planet in London.

There's still plenty more to look forward to in 2018, including another tranche of titles being release by Scholastic in April, including Charlie Higson's The Gates of Death!

So, what are your Fighting Fantasy-related New Year Resolutions?

Friday, 22 December 2017

The Second Swordsman - Who is the Hero?

It's Gamebook Friday again, which means there's just time for one more of Malcolm Garcia's  Second Swordsman posts before Christmas.

This time he considers a trio of adventures in which YOU may be the Hero, but YOU don't actually know who YOU are!

The Second Swordsman - Who is the Hero?

By Malcolm Garcia

In most FIGHTING FANTASY adventures, YOU start as a seasoned adventurer, setting out on an epic quest to save the world from an evil scourge or to find a horde of treasure beyond your wildest dreams. But there are a handful of books in which YOU do not even know who YOU are when YOU begin your journey.

Talisman of Death has YOU transported from Earth to the world of Orb. Through this mysterious process YOU acquire swordsmanship skills previously unknown, but which will be necessary if YOU are to succeed in the task given to YOU by some deities to save the world from Death itself. In Black Vein Prophecy, which is the first FIGHTING FANTASY novel I’ve yet read where there is zero background, YOU awaken in a tomb not knowing who or where YOU are, and YOU acquire your SKILL, STAMINA and LUCK scores via a series of trials. Where Black Vein was short on background, in Creature of Havoc there was an abundance of history to read before starting the adventure. But this is all irrelevant as YOU don’t know who, where or even what YOU are.

None of these three adventures where YOU start off as an unknown were written by the same author. Talisman was penned by Jamie Thomson and Mark Smith, who would go on to write Sword of the Samurai. Black Vein was written by Paul Mason and Steve Williams, who also wrote Slaves of the Abyss and The Riddling Reaver. And Creature was the product of Steve Jackson – his final book in the FIGHTING FANTASY series. In a 2011 poll of FIGHTING FANTASY readers, Creature ranked number five – previously  the highest rated books I’ve attempted using the Second Swordsman process were House of Hell (also by Steve Jackson) and Deathtrap Dungeon – ranked six and seven and respectively.

Deliberately choosing every second option meant that Talisman of Death lived up to its name. After establishing some decent SKILL, STAMINA and LUCK scores, and buoyed by my possession of ten meals and a STAMINA-restoring potion, I started my adventure, not unusually, in a subterranean vault. Within a few choices I had been given the eponymous talisman and tasked with keeping it from the clutches of the minions of Death. But then within another few options I had made the foolish decision to charge into a group of Dark Elves, who swiftly captured me and took me to their evil master. Thusly I had failed within just a handful of choices of the start (although not doing as badly as in Island of the Lizard King), having undergone no LUCK tests or fought any creatures.

In Black Vein, the Second Swordsman process enabled me to escape the tomb that was collapsing around me in the beginning, along the way not being sure whether what I was seeing was real, or a hallucination. When I reached the ruins of the city above I remained unsure about my reality after encountering a talking horse and, obviously freaked out by this encounter, choosing the second option meant I decided the best way to get away from the city was to launch myself into the ocean using a catapult. Because I’d acquired a poor LUCK score when underground, I failed a LUCK test and lost some STAMINA when I hit the water. But I was then rescued by a ship, the Captain of which somehow knew about a dead body I’d found in the tomb at the start. My confusion only increased when I had to fight a crazy man who was floating on the sea in an inflatable zorb-like ball – which would unfortunately turn out to be the last time I had a fight.

Soon I went ashore with the Captain, who I then bizarrely chose to betray to some travelling bandits. Being bandits, they robbed me and left me tied to a tree. For the rest of the adventure, choosing the second option made me ignore several opportunities to interact with the locals and my aimless wandering was soon mercifully put to an end by some suspicious locals who had me jailed and executed. Through all of my choices in Black Vein I never really got an idea of what I supposed to be doing; somewhat akin to my earlier misadventures in Demons of the Deep and Spectral Stalkers.

Creature started promisingly enough with what has to be the most comprehensive, but also instantly redundant, background story of how the Necromancer Zharradan Marr came to be. I then gained consciousness and proceeded to kill and munch my way through the dungeon where I’d been put, for reasons as yet unknown. Yes, munch. It turns out that whoever/whatever I am has a hankering for hobbit meat. Sating this appetite was helped by the new rule that if I rolled a double for my attack strength I instantly killed my opponent – even if their attack strength was greater in that round. Because it’s not too hard to roll a double, I knocked off five of my nine adversaries this way.

Deciding what to do in Creature was not always possible by using the Second Swordsman process, because at the start of the adventure several of your choices are selected on the basis of random dice rolls. But once I gained more control over my own fate, I rewarded this by making some foolish decisions, such as provoking a Giant Hornet and falling into a trap pit. I then got lost in a series of the dungeon’s dead ends and brought about my own doom by attacking a poorly constructed tunnel.

Excluding Talisman, which was an abject failure when just choosing the second option, these adventures started promisingly – I enjoyed the process in Black Vein whereby YOU establish your SKILL, STAMINA and LUCK scores, and being a brutal killing machine in Creature was a refreshing change from the pressure of always having to try and save the world. But a series of poor choices in both of these adventures soon caught up with me, and my failures were rather anticlimactic. Next time I’ll hopefully learn who I was in Black Vein or get out of the dungeon in Creature, if only to devour some more hobbits – I never seemed to get full no matter how many I ate!

Thank you and Happy Christmas to Malcolm, for his latest Second Swordsman blog post. Which titles will he be tackling in the New Year? You're just have to logon to to find out!

And remember, if you have any suggestions for items for the official Fighting Fantasy blog don't forget to get in touch via