Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Interim SKELETON Report


Have finished "Forest of Doom" after two sittings (you won't believe the HILARIOUS ending! Let's just say that SHAPE-CHANGER on the cover knows "a thing or two" about "furniture"!) but I won't have an opportunity to write it up for a week or so... thus to keep things breathing, here's an extra special SKELETON REPORT.

Or perhaps I should say, "eXXXtra speXXXial"?

 No, that would be unseemly.

YouXXXrs faiXXXfully,


Thursday, June 17, 2010

#2 - "The Citadel of Chaos" - Steve Jackson (1983)

Much to my alarm, when I delved into my inherited wineboxes full of gamebooks I couldn't find a copy of "Citadel" so I actually went and bought a copy of the 2009 re-release from the Young Adults section of Whitcoulls, in amongst the "Goosebumps" and "Twilight" novels. I felt pretty awkward about this. I even had a story ready to go if the cashier queried my purchase - "The Citadel of Chaos" was to be a present for a fictive thirteen year-old cousin named Lucas, in hospital with a brittle-bone syndrome and an immediate need to be discouraged from further participation in high-risk activities such sports and rough-housing with boon companions. But I escaped unchallenged and Lucas has been stashed away to avert some other future stigma.

Astute readers will notice that I have nevertheless posted an image of the first-edition cover (lifted from here) since it is one of my favorites. The artist, soft-porn icon "Emanuelle", has not been heard from in the world of illustration since realizing this vision and retiring to loll about on a golden cumulus of achievement. On the other hand, back in 1983 when Steve Jackson viewed the first proofs of the cover he reportedly exclaimed "MOTHERFUCKER it is meant to be Citadel of CHAOS not Citadel of CONGA" and remained inconsolable for a number of minutes. Accordingly, in later editions the original art was replaced by a mess of opera-singing green spaghetti which can only be construed as a deliberate affront to Emanuelle. You can see it right here if you want (but I'd say that you don't, really).


Once again you are sneaking into a wizard's house to stick his toothbrush up your bum, which I mean metaphorically, because literally, of course, you are there to murder him. However, in the first of several improvements over "Warlock" we have a bit of context to work with. Basically the nefarious Balthus Dire is squatting up there in his Citadel planning a massed monster invasion of the surrounding countryside and, in an effort to preserve his own repressive hegemony, the local strongman "good King Salamon" employs YOU to go put a hole in the dude's throat.

(That's it - not much of a story I suppose, but I felt like I could get behind it)

Rolling Up My Dude

Starting stats:
SKILL - 12 (another lucky roll for SKILL)
LUCK - 7

In the first of Steve Jackson's many variations on the core rule-sets, in "Citadel" you are also a magician, and must therefore roll two dice and add six to find out how much spells you got.

I rolled a 14 for magic, and chose the following:

Creature Copy
Fire x2
Illusion x2
Levitation x3
Luck x2

The functions of these spells should be pretty obvious from their names, so I won't describe them. Besides which, none of them mattered since every time I actually cast a spell it was in response to some red herring designed purely to induce me to waste spells (well to be truthful, a Levitiation spell did save me from one particular trap that a less awesomely empowered mortal may have evaded instead by simply letting go of a rope).

It's worth noting that in the 2009 reprinting of the book, you are also given the option of choosing from three characters with prepared stats and their own names (e.g. Tybalt Spellcaster!) and back-stories (he is the youngest scion of the Spellcaster family, a long and noble line of business continuity managers!) This is presumably because intervening generations of children have been so ruined by techno music and Dragonball Z fight scenes that they are unable to display the recquisite grit and initiative to roll up their own character and choose a few spells in the dreadful foreknowledge that "Fucking" Steve Jackson is going to trick you into wasting them on bullshit.

("Tybalt Spellcaster" is an actual name from the book by the way. Didn't make that up.)

The Adventure

At the gates of the Citadel of Chaos you are greeted with a sight now justifiably renowned in all corners of the world:

These guys are the Kid'n'Play of Fighting Fantasy.

Reviewers sometimes cite APE-DOG and DOG-APE as evidence that Steve Jackson was basically just making up nonsense, but I feel their appearance is totally consistent with the notion of Balthus Dire as this over-resourced magical lunatic, tinkering with head swaps in the quest to create the ultimate war-beast (or possibly just facilitate the greatest expression of love between two creatures that has ever been conceived). It is certainly more interesting than encountering a couple of asleep goblins at the gate.

I was able to bullshit my way into the Citadel by whipping out some garden weeds and pretending to be a herbalist summoned to treat "Kylltrog" (which presumably I knew was a popular name for orcish babies about twenty years ago). Encouraged by this success, and despite my overwhelming combat skill, I adopted a policy of stealth and subterfuge, avoiding fights and generally wandering around trying to act as though I belonged. This policy wasn't 100% successful - at one point some unseen assailant shot an arrow in my leg before wandering off - but in the main it worked well. This is presumably because Balthus Dire has such an odd assortment of servants and allies that it is impossible to appear out of place among all the DOG-APES, RHINO-MAN guards, laundry GHOSTS, BLACK ELF sommaliers, "living whirlwind ladies", etc. The old principle applies - if you walk around purposefully holding a piece of paper, people will assume that you're supposed to be here. I guess Balthus Dire was relying on lack of local knowledge to catch out any ne'er-do-wells (which actually worked in my case).

Locals presumably know to step over the subterranean warty grey tentacles when strolling about the courtyard.

I bumbled into a couple of silly STAMINA penalties that are worth mentioning since either of these could kill you and probably have taken out a few players over the years. In one case I was trying to open a box and barked my shin on it (painful sure, but deadly?) Later I lost a STAMINA point because I got scared looking at a painting of Balthus Dire.

Oof, my STAMINA!

I should add that in the same gallery Balthus also has an "ape-bodies" version of this painting:

Classics never die.

Monsters and Combat

As mentioned above I tried to bullshit my way around combat, and against my expectations, I only had two fights in the whole adventure. The two battles have an ironic connection in fact. The first fight I picked was against this GOLEM, basically because I couldn't resist seeing what was inside those three boxes sitting on the pile of crap in the corner.

So, the GOLEM has his own little "Flintstones" coffee table and chair? That's an odd detail.

The GOLEM, at SKILL 8, was a low risk fight for a guy that still had SKILL 11. As for my prize - one of the boxes contained a key, which unlocked a second box, which also contained a key, that - you guessed it - unlocked the third box. The third box contained a jar with a man-faced spider in it, which naturally I took with me (perhaps elsewhere in the Citadel there is a spider-faced man?)

As it turned out, in that whole performance with the nuisance boxes (one of which I barked my shin on) I unlocked only my ultimate demise...

Failure and Death

So here's what happened with my second fight. It started with GANJEES:

GANJEES happened.

I first read Citadel of Chaos at a very young age and was for years afterwards was pretty convinced that there was a GANJEES Face living in the garage. Upon sight of this nasty old Ian McKellen face wafting towards you, the text states you "throw yourself on the ground" and "begin to feel very frightened" which I guess was enough to make a strong impression on me as a child. The other memorable characteristics of the GANJEES are that they cancel magic and can't be fought, basically if you don't have one of two items to get past them then "it's curtains for you" (which is what I was planning to say to Balthus Dire when I fought him but I didn't get to use that line in the end).

So, remembering that I needed an item I fished around in my backpack and produced the jar with the man-faced spider, whereupon the GANJEES exclaimed, "Racknee! You have returned!" and promptly popped the cap on that mess. Turns out the man-face spider and the GANJEES go back a ways - who knew. Racknee then "growls a little growl" (adorable) and we enter combat (a strange image considering that despite having a little old age pensioner face, Racknee is just normal spider size). By this point - only my second fight - my SKILL had been worn down to 9 through various mishaps, and Racknee got a good roll and damaged me in the first round. Since he was extremely venomous, that's all she wrote:

"Your last memory is its ugly little face biting into your neck"

How pleasant. Peeking ahead, had I survived the fight with Racknee I would have been offed by the GANJEES anyway - perished for want of a jar of ointment which the GANJEES would've accepted in trade for my life, for some purpose (rub it on their face, I guess?)


Yes I have skimmed "The Citadel of Chaos" fairly thoroughly and there are no SKELETONS. This is a troubling result that brings the whole need for a SKELETON Report into question. I'm hoping that my boy Ian will come through with some more boney action next time in "Forest of Doom". Dude is practically the patron saint of SKELETONS after all.

Final Thoughts

My trip through "Citadel of Chaos" felt like it was over pretty quickly - maybe because I accidentally chose one of the shorter routes to the GANJEES room, or perhaps because I'm benchmarking it against that awful maze in "Warlock". Lack of a labyrinth isn't the only improvement over "Warlock" though - compared to Firetop Mountain, the Citadel feels much more like a real place, with rooms and denizens that seem to have an everyday purpose - there's a wine cellar, a larder, a kitchen, a banquet hall, servants (usually monsters, but sometimes GHOSTS), bedrooms...
...even day care!

So, with a coherent environment, a sense of a greater (albeit hackneyed) story playing out, and a wider variety of interesting monsters and encounters, "Citadel" is a big step up from "Warlock". 


Monday, June 7, 2010

#1 - "The Warlock of Firetop Mountain" - Steve Jackson & Ian Livingstone (1982)

Fighting Fantasy books usually have a few pages of prose at the beginning that sets the scene for your quest, nine times out of ten this will boil down to something along the lines of "The Boss Skeleton is gathering a skeleton army that threatens the land, you better kill that big old skeleton!" Or perhaps you have to get a magic rock from on top of a mountain and show it to the boss skeleton and then he turns to dust and his army of SKELETONS return to their usual passtime of collecting rusty sabres and waiting around in unexpected places. But that is the general vein of these things.

As the first book in the series, "Warlock" doesn't even have this much story set up. It's kind of a prototype I guess. Basically, the Warlock has some treasure and you've decided to take it off him. That's it. The Warlock of Firetop Mountain doesn't even have a name. He probably can't get a passport. I guess when he's at Firetop Mountain he can just be all "i'm the warlock. do you see any other warlocks here? didn't think so", but if he goes anywhere else that shit won't play.

According to the little bit of back-story that is provided, you spend a few days in a nearby village talking to the "local peasants" and collecting rumours. Basically you are told that you will probably die, and that you should talk to the village graph paper merchant because you're gonna want a map. You also hear what the gossip mags have to say about the Warlock - some said his power came from an enchanted deck of cards, others from the silky black gloves that he wore. Sounds pretty fruity to be honest. I reckon I can take this guy.


Rolling Up My Dude

Starting stats:
SKILL - 11
LUCK - 8

Quite happy with that roll for SKILL. Part of the theory of good design for FF is that, if you make the correct choices you should be able to get through with a low-skill character, i.e. no difficult fights. However since most of my choices will be between "go left",  "go right" and possibly "go straight ahead", my judgment probably won't count for much.

I had a choice of three potions, and took the Potion of Fortune (restores LUCK - didn't end up using it).

I should mention that everything from here on in contains spoilers, so any readers who want to have an unadulterated first experience of a gamebook from 1982 should probably not continue.

The Adventure

Firetop Mountain is kind of a weird environment. The area near the entrance is populated with ORCS and GOBLINS who are all either asleep or getting drunk. This is fairly typical of the media's negative stereotyping of such creatures. The orcs/goblins live in unadorned rooms that usually contain a straw pallet, a small box with mysterious contents, and nothing else (well, maybe a table in some cases). Passing through, you do not get the sense that they have many amenities, they have been poorly provided for and have little to do. Many are fairly clearly depressed (at least up until the moment that you murder them). In one notable encounter, I barged in on a couple of GOBLINS who had just tortured a DWARF to death. I was given the option of rushing in, stabbing the dead DWARF and faking an evil laugh.

("hey, what's up, guys? you doing evil stuff? that a dwarf you got there? you torturing a dwarf, huh? hey, that's cool. HA HA HA HA HA i'm evil too you see. did i mention that? let's party")

I like to think this option could've lead to handshakes, shy introductions and then perhaps it'd be back to their nondescript room for a few rounds of disgusting swill.

These fellows plainly feel that life has let them down.

But I just killed them instead because I'd already realized that with SKILL 11 it was mathematically impossible for GOBLINS (SKILL 5) to hit me, so I didn't need to bother with the dice rolls.
Along the way to the underground river in the middle of the dungeon there are a few amenities, such as an armour storage room, and a strangely out-of-place shop where a gregarious man sells Blue Candles and apparently nothing else. These are weird glimpses of some kind of functioning community in Firetop Mountain, but it's hard to make sense of it. In one bizarre encounter, I swapped swords with some kind of invisible water spirit - "Thanks!" the entity responded flippantly after I threw my sword into the river.

On the other side of the river (the PIRANHA-infested river, naturally) you soon find yourself stuck in the Maze of Zagor, which is extremely boring. I think it took me more than an hour of cardinal-direction-choosing action to get through. I was determined not to make a map, so in the end what I did was keep a list of passage numbers that I'd already read and avoided choices that led back to numbers I recognized. Eventually this approach got me out. That maze was pretty annoying. There are secret doors in the maze but you are generally punished for looking for them - either by having to fight wandering monsters or occasionally, you'll be knocked out by gas and wake up in another part of the maze... not clear who's hauling your comatose body around in these circumstances. I think Messrs. Jackson and Livingstone must've learned from the fun deficit in this episode as I don't recollect any of the other books having anything quite as irritating in them.

Not too long after your eventual escape from the maze, you stumble across the Warlock himself, who like most inhabitants of Firetop Mountain is sitting around in a non-descript room (why is there no decor in this place?). More on him in a moment.

Monsters & Combat
Subsequent books in the FF series saw some quite interesting monster design, such as the Bloodbeast from Deathtrap Dungeon. However Firetop Mountain sticks to pretty standard fantasy tropes - GHOULS, GIANT BATS, TROLLS, etc. I look forward to meeting some more intriguing old friends such as the MESSENGER OF DEATH in future episodes (also the books where you fight DINOSAURS).

In terms of combat difficulty, it was surprisingly easy. With SKILL 11 it was doddle, most monsters I faced had SKILL of 5 or 6 with the occasional 7. To put it in perspective, a SKILL 7 monster could only damage me if they rolled a 6 and I rolled a 1. SKILL 5 and 6 could never damage me at all. My toughest opponent was this wiseguy:

Disturbingly, this MINOTAUR seems to have murdered a BABY MINOTAUR and re-purposed its skull to embellish his undies.
And note, once again, the featureless room that serves as this poor soul's home. 

His stats? SKILL and STAMINA of 9. So, not too much of a challenge either.

But surely the Warlock himself is a bit of a hard nut? Well, let me tell you about that...

Failure and Death

The Warlock was hanging out in just another room facing directly onto one of Firetop Mountain's many corridors. When I blundered in he was disguised as an old geezer playing Solitaire with a possibly magical deck of cards. (The text neglected to mentioned whether he was wearing his black silky gloves so I figured the gloves must have been a red herring). I don't know whether this was for my benefit, but since none of my previous encounters seemed to indicate that anyone was alert to what I was up to, I suspect it was just normal R&R for the guy.

The Warlock briefly hypnotized me and used the opportunity to shed the "old man" illusion, get geared up in his arse-kicking pants and go stand on the other side of the room, leaving his deck of cards on the table next to me. With a successful Test Your Luck I remembered how those mangy old peasants had pestered me with their theories about the Warlock's magic deck of cards and promptly burned them, which weakened the Warlock down to a paltry SKILL 7. From there it was an trifling matter to put him to the sword.

Had there been any inherent reason for offing the Warlock, I could at this stage have confidently turned to 400, but, you'll recollect that I was only there for the treasure. Bashing into an adjoining room, I was presented with a chest with three locks on it. Given that I had only found one key on my travels, I attempted to smash the chest open and was zapped by a magic trap and, failing a Test Your Luck, was killed - "your charred remains have formed a small black outline on the floor" - no doubt leaving a cryptic crime scene for some intoxicated GOBLINS to ponder when they wander up to the Warlock's office to ask why their pay-cheques haven't been coming in.

This was a fittingly absurd end to an absurd adventure, the seemingly innocent master of the dungeon and I, his bumbling assailant, both terminated for the sake of a box of non-specific "treasure" that may well have been a stack of old Hustler magazines that the Warlock didn't want the cleaning GNOMES to find. 

The alternative for those with insufficient keys is literally to sit on the chest and bawl your eyes out, so, at least I went out with a kind of idiotic dignity. I have no idea where the other keys were (the one I had was sitting in the bottom of a pot of fake gold in the MINOTAUR's room), and I daresay you'd have to play through multiple times to find them.  The first decision you have to make in Warlock is whether to go east or west after entering the tunnels under the mountain. I went west, and it may be that I immediately lost the game by doing so.


To my surprise I did not encounter any SKELETONS during my adventure, however, after playing I quickly skimmed through the book to find them. My conclusion?

What were they doing? Well, five of them were building a boat.

After an unvisisted branch of the story where the protagonist runs in and violently ends the SKELETONS' nefarious boat-building scheme, another four SKELETONS with rusty sabres rush down the corridor a few moments later to investigate the kerfuffle (they are avoided by hiding in an alcove). And that appears to be all the SKELETONS in this book, "The Warlock of Firetop Mountain".

Please note that I am only counting SKELETONS who have been somehow animated by dread arts, not garden variety inanimate skeletons such as the ones being cared for by these little rascals:

"Why, hello!"

Skeletons that are clothed in flesh and moving around inside bodies will not be counted either, but we must never forget they are there.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, "Warlock" comes off as a series of interesting but disconnected encounters playing out in a largely bland, unembellished environment. Firetop Mountain seems like dungeon equivalent of a newly completed office building, all fitted out but with scant contents and zero character. I never really had a coherent sense of what was happening or why.

I found myself wondering how all of these creatures get by and what kind of relationships they have with each other. Does the VAMPIRE catch a ride with the FERRYMAN across the river when he wants to go to the candle shop? And does the FERRYMAN pull that same bullshit charging 3 gold pieces when the sign only says 2, or is that shit just for TOURISTS? What does the DRAGON eat? Does the MINOTAUR stay in the same room all day? Were all of these guys reporting to the Warlock? Did they have meetings? Where are the toilets? And so on.

I shouldn't judge too harshly though - this is book #1, and 1982 was back in the early days of role-playing when corridors connecting a series of rooms containing monsters guarding boxes holding traps and/or treasure was what it was all about. Excepting the maze, it's pretty fun to play, and with a little charitable imagination you can imagine explanations for out-of-place stuff like the candle shop and the poker-playing midgets in the maze (oh, did I not mention them?)  And the apparent incoherence of goings-on within the dungeon is fairly consistent with the notion that you're just some guy breaking and entering, which is exactly the case.

And what's more of course, "Warlock" laid the foundation for a hell of a lot more to come...

Sunday, June 6, 2010

So What Is The Deal Here Exactly

Thanks to the bounty of true friendship, I have recently come into possession of two wine-boxes full of old-school Fighting Fantasy gamebooks (big thanks to my boys Dave Hall and Michael Zanzibar Currie!). As a low-stakes exercise in writing I intend to work my way through these books actually playing them properly, and write up my impressions of the experience. This will continue until all books are exhausted, or more likely, until I lose interest.

Before going any further I should also acknowledge my conceptual debt to the Fighting Dantasy blog, which basically did this whole thing already (though to avoid spoilers I haven't read it). What I can say is that I will be bringing something fresh in the form of a far more obsessive approach to estimating how many SKELETONS there are in each book (my working hypothesis is - yes, there are a lot of skeletons in these books). Possibly I will be more of a dick about the plot and the artwork also.

Here is some background on Fighting Fantasy for the uninitiated:

The basic idea of a FF book is that YOU are the hero. Every book in the series trumpets this fact on the blurb (and there are more than 50). So what does this mean. Apart from being written in the second person, these books have a branching storyline, structured as a series of passages numbered 1 to 400. At the end of most passages you are given two or more choices of what to do, and after making your choice you turn to the next passage as instructed.

For example, suppose you have found your way to passage #34 in my (non-existent) Fighting Fantasy fan-fic, "THE SECRETS OF SKELLYTOWN". It might look like this:

You are wandering around in some tunnels. The walls are made of dirt and they are pretty much just some ordinary tunnels in the ground. Suddenly you encounter a SKELETON who appears to be picking up trash with a long-handled pincer and putting it into a sack, while muttering to himself.
What will you do;
Draw your sword and murderously deprive a SKELETON family of their loving father and primary source of income (turn to 198)
Drop an apple core on the ground and stare at the SKELETON expectedly (turn to 373)
Loudly exclaim "O Lawdy, a SPIRIT!" before flinging your arms up in fear and comically waddling back in the other direction (turn to 4)

This continues until you lose (generally by dying) or, through the correct set of choices, make it to passage 400, where you are told that you did a good job.

Some readers may be more familiar with this concept from the inferior "Choose Your Own Adventure" series, which was targeted at a slightly younger audience and generally contained only about four actual choices per story. Primary school libraries were teeming with these.

An example of the inferior "Choose Your Own Adventure" series:
Edward Packard's "You Are A Shark"

On the other hand, Fighting Fantasy books were generally not available from school libraries, perhaps because of their supernatural themes, high levels of sword violence, and tendency to be ruined by kids writing "MAGIC SORD" under "Inventory" in the Character Sheet, pressing so hard that the words ghost through fifty pages of the book.

A comparison: The "Choose Your Adventure" logo vs. the "Fighting Fantasy" logo.
One, a tranquil hot air balloon, adrift without occupants, soothing to tiny babies and school librarians alike. 
The other, a dagger with some kind of evil monster face on the handle, which at the age of 9 was the most pants-wettingly badass thing I had never conceived. 

Rolling the Bones
Fighting Fantasy also added some simple dice-roll mechanics and the titular "fighting" to the branching storyline concept. In most of the books, you roll up some initial stats for your character which influence your ability to survive combat and some other outcomes. These are:

SKILL - basically how good you are at beating things up. Determined by rolling one die and adding 6, so you get a number between 7 and 12. Combat works by rolling one dice two dice each for yourself and your opponent, and adding your respective SKILLS to the score. I would give an example to illustrate this but I very much doubt anyone who doesn't already know how this works would care.

STAMINA - how much of a beating you can take before dying. Determined by rolling two dice and adding 12, giving a result between 14 and 24. You lose STAMINA from food poisoning, barking your shin, getting rolled on by monsters, etc. You restore STAMINA by eating provisions, continuing a grand tradition in gaming whereby the effects of getting stabbed twice in the guts can be immediate allayed by eating a salad.

LUCK - calculated as per SKILL, one dice roll + 6. LUCK is used at various points to determine a random outcome. You are asked to Test Your Luck, basically you roll two dice and if the result exceeds your LUCK score you are Unlucky (turn to 133), otherwise you're Lucky (turn to 77). Every time you're lucky your LUCK score reduces by one, which is probably offensive to statisticians, but that's the rules.

You can also use LUCK during combat to change the amount of STAMINA damage from a strike, but seriously, what nine-year-old could ever be bothered with that horse-shit.

A real-world example: At this point in his life, I estimate Arnie had SKILL 11, STAMINA 24 and a LUCK of 12.

If all of this sounds like a gateway to more intensely nerdy activities such as Dungeons & Dragons that's because it was.

 Dice abuse: Fledgling nerds are often introduced to the d6 through mainstream boardgames such as Monopoly -  "harmless fun" which all-too-often leads the unsuspecting user to more hardcore polyhedrons such at the d4 and the d20

Failure and Death
The instructions for FF state quite clearly that if you "die" or otherwise lose the game, either in combat, through bad decisions, or at Steve Jackson's whim, you have to go back, re-roll your stats and start again from the beginning. However, myself and I suspect most other kids playing Fighting Fantasy weren't trying to hear that shit. Nobody wants to re-read large sections of the book nine times in a row, advancing a little closer to the "one true path" by tiny increments. Nor indeed get to the final fight and fail due to unlucky dice rolls, then read through the exact same series of actions to reach the same point again (with another chance at dying in each fight along the way). So in practice, like many others I usually skipped the fights and just assumed that I  won them. On a Test Your Luck, I was always lucky. Worse yet, I also cheated on the choices, keeping a finger between pages after making a decision, so that if it turned out badly I could go back to a previous passage and do over. At times, in complicated stories, I may have had six or more fingers wedged into various sections of the book which made a normal page-turn a gamble against the whole thing eluding my control and flapping bird-like from my hand to vanish into nearby mounds of cat-puke, wasp nests, storm drains, etc (Test Your Luck).

I recall a few occasions in which I started playing properly, using the dice, but I do not believe I ever completed a game without cheating. The authors of FF books gave every impression of being totally aware of this kind of behaviour and utterly incensed by it. As the series wore on, various mechanisms were employed to confound cheaters, some of them quite elaborate (more on those as we encounter them).

In penance for my poor moral character as a nine-year-old, I re-iterate now that I will actually be playing by the rules. I will also attempt only one play-through of each book. This almost certainly means I will not be reaching passage 400 very often, indeed, some of my experiences with these books may be very brief and more than a little bitter.

The Creators
A quick brief now on the two creators of the FF series, who together are probably responsible for about 60% of the total contents of my imagination - Steve Jackson & Ian Livingstone.

Roguish Steven "Steve" Jackson tended to focus on innovation in game mechanics in his gamebooks, introducing new rulesets and new settings such as sci-fi and horror. He also seemed to be the more sadistic of the pair, his books are typically difficult to win (even by cheating), and sometimes require the reader to make maps or even learn basic cryptography techniques to succeed.

For this reason he is known among some FF players as "Fucking" Steve Jackson, a crude nickname but nevertheless still an affectionate one.

According to Wikipedia, since the 1980s Ian Livingstone has been awarded both an OBE and "lifetime presidency" of a software company - presumably because he wrote "Deathtrap Dungeon". Unlike Steve, Ian tended to leave the core rules as they were, and seems to have focused on developing the history and flavour of the main gameworld of Fighting Fantasy. His books are more likely to feature recurring characters and locations. Evidence also suggests that Ian had a great fondness for pitting the reader against SKELETONS, and as the FF series continued readers often found themselves stumbling across SKELETONS embroiled in increasingly compromising situations.

OKAY. It is now my bedtime.  Tomorrow I will begin playing book 1, "The Warlock of Firetop Mountain" - I will roll up my stats right now and here they are:

SKILL - 11  (oo, that is decent)
STAMINA - 16  (meh)
LUCK - 8 (meh)

That's what I'll be working with.