The Warlock of Firetop Mountain written by Steve Jackson (UK) and Ian Livingstone is the first title in the Fighting Fantasy (FF) gamebook series. Published in 1982 it was such a great success that nearly 60 titles in the series followed. As the very first book it also works as a blueprint for many other books in the series. This includes the arbitrary limit of 400 sections and dungeon crawling in a fantasy setting.
The title spells most of the back story already. YOU are an adventurer that tries to find the treasures of the warlock Zargor in the firetop mountain. Those are hidden in a maze in subterranean halls of the mountain. The game mechanics are easy to learn. The requirements are low as everybody has a pen and paper. On the bottom of the pages are the required dices printed even though most readers will likely raid the family board game collection to get some actual dice. This low entry barrier is to this day key for the series’ success.
Cover by Martin McKenna of the Wizards Series #1 (Credit: Martin McKenna, Wizards Books. Fair use.)
The gameplay consists of stat keep of the character and their inventory. Tests of luck and combat situations are resolved with just the two dices. The monster encounters are quick fights that give the flow of the book a nice pace between action and exploring.
All classical flaws that haunt the FF series are present like roll or die scenarios where bad luck just ends the adventure. Dead ends like missing one of the required keys also ends the journey while the player did nothing wrong. The dungeon itself is engaging and well described so that map drawing is fairly easy. Finding a low risk route is done by trial and error to finally get the treasures of the warlock. After you found the treasures the replay, value is nil.
The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is a classic and a great introduction to the gamebook genre to this day. Instead of world building it focuses on the gameplay. The atmosphere and flair comes from the great black and white illustrations by Russ Nicholson which more than compensate the missing world building in the text. Many reprints and translations for the very first FF adventure are available so everybody has a good chance to read a well recommended classic.
Interior pages with illustration (Own work. License: CC-BY-SA.)
Life’s Lottery by Kim Newman works like a classic Choose Your Own Adventure book but with an adult story in a real world scenario. It explores how little, seemingly unimportant decisions can steer the life of the protagonist. There is no stat keeping or dice cast necessary to follow the life of Keith Marion from childhood to death. A minor childhood decision can derail his adulthood from happiness to misery which gives the reader great pleasure because it allows messing with someone’s life.
Every decision asks if Keith actually has a choice when you know all details from his life to this moment. Even worse, some events are inevitable baring the question: Is there any choice in life or is it just predestined? The plot handles all aspects of life like confronting the school bully, losing the love of your life or a criminal career.
Book cover (Credit: Titanbooks. Fair use.)
The multiple endings of the story vary a lot so the replay value is high. But it is more about back tracking and re-reading sections to nudge destiny in the right direction instead of re-reading the whole story again. In the book are no illustrations so it feels and looks a bit dry. I recommend reading Life’s Lottery because it strays from the sucked dry fantasy setting to a rare real world setting. The adult themes are a refreshing change from the common gamebook stories.
The Dungeon of Abkadev by Peter Konink is a Print & Play Adventure that closely mimics the gameplay of the Fighting Fantasy (FF) gamebook series. This adventure is based on the winning One-Page Dungeon 2016 of the same name.
The rules are very similar, including the magic, to the rules of the classic Citadel of Chaos which is the second in the FF series. Classic game mechanics are extended with random wandering monsters and the abstinence of roll or die situations. If you played any of those books before then you will understand it very quickly.
View inside the PDF file. (Credit: Pieter Konink. Fair use.)
While the story places you in the aftermath of a massive battle between two mighty wizards, the actual gameplay is just one big dungeon. You explore the dungeon to find the Tome of Vyzx for your wizard master. Even though the adventure consists only of 100 sections you get everything from monsters, traps, riddles to map drawing. The difficulty is high as it is impossible to obtain all three keys on the first try. Knowing traps and encounters before hand will help you to select the better routes and fitting magic spell. If you do not get all keys it is better to restart the adventure as back tracking is very tedious. Once you have collected all keys and finished the adventure there is little replay value.
The adventure contains several good illustrations that enrich the atmosphere. Together with the good layout and type setting the adventure looks really good when printed out at home. Dungeon of Abkadev is a great dungeon crawler every FF-fan should play.
Printed copy, used for playing (Credit: Pieter Konink. Fair use.)