When you think of fantasy roleplaying games, it’s a good chance that your first thought goes to video games. Games like The Elder Scrolls, World of Warcraft, and The Legend of Zelda have catapulted this popular genre into mainstream pop culture, so it’s not surprising that they’re often considered a jumping-on point for anyone interested in fantasy gaming.
But, before Blizzard released its smash hit MMORPG, and even before The Legend of Zelda became a mainstay of Famicom Disk System players in 1986, fantasy roleplaying has been a massively popular gaming genre.
The 1980s were huge for the fantasy genre. With Dungeons and Dragons at its peak and the first iteration of Warhammer Fantasy hitting the shelves of Games Workshop stores, millions of gamers were brought together in shared worlds they created with their friends.
But, what if you want to play these kinds of games on a rainy weekend when no one can get together to play? What if you can’t find people to play with? And, what if a global pandemic stops you from meeting your friends to play these kinds of roleplaying games together?
That’s where Fighting Fantasy comes in.
What is Fighting Fantasy?
Fighting Fantasy is a series of choose-your-own-adventure books first published in 1982 by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, who you might recognize as the founders of Games Workshop.
Having been approached by a publisher to write a book about fantasy tabletop gaming, the two decided to use similar mechanics to D&D and in a choose-your-own-adventure book. Their first title, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, was an overnight success, and Jackson and Livingstone would go on to produce Fighting Fantasy books until the 1990s.
The latest title, Crystal of Storms, was released in 2020, and with Fighting Fantasy being adopted by a new generation of fans, there are signs that even more titles are on the horizon.
How Do You Play Fighting Fantasy?
Unlike other choose-your-own-adventure style books, before you get started with Fighting Fantasy, you’ll have to use six-sided dice (or a D6, if you’re in the know) to roll for your character’s statistics. Some books may also give your character items to use, so having a notebook and pencil handy is also a good idea.
Each book is divided into sections, and you’ll start reading the book from section one. In each section, you may be asked to choose the actions you want to take, and you’ll be asked to turn to a specific section for that choice. In others, you may be asked to roll your dice for a certain skill-based action, and the section will tell you what result you need based on your character’s skills. That section will then tell you where to go depending on if you pass or fail the roll.
In each book, your character will face consequences for their actions, with some of those consequences resulting in your character’s death.
Some books may also only have one ending, while others may have multiple depending on the choices that you make.
All of this means that there are hundreds of different ways to play Fighting Fantasy books, and if your character dies, you can immediately go back and try again.
Why You’ll Love Fighting Fantasy
If you’re a fan of tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder, or even Dungeon World, then you’ll love Fighting Fantasy. The Fighting Fantasy gamebooks offer a wide variety of fantasy scenarios to play through, ranging from Tolkien-esque swords and sorcery stories to roleplaying as a blood-thirsty pirate. So, you’re not limited by a single fantasy setting.
If you’re not a fan of the orcs, goblins, and magic type of fantasy, then there are plenty of options for you too. Appointment with F.E.A.R and Rebel Planet are two of Fighting Fantasy’s science fiction gamebooks, and there are plenty of other examples set in the future or modern-day.
The character creation system, while inspired by the one used by Dungeons and Dragons, is remarkably simple and easy to set up. Each book will tell you which attributes you’ll be using during the game, but more often than not, you’ll only need to roll for three attributes - skill, stamina, and luck. You can, of course, go into more detail about your character and their appearance if you like, but unlike with other tabletop roleplaying games, it isn’t a necessary part of the game.
So, unlike with tabletop games, you won’t need to spend hours setting up your character. You won’t even need to search for a local gaming group, either, because the book is essentially your Dungeon Master.
Plus, the Fighting Fantasy books are designed for hours of enjoyment. If your character dies, you can immediately start the story again or simply backtrack your actions and make a different choice. With many of the books having multiple endings or pathways, you can also replay them time and time again to play through every single storyline.
All of this makes Fighting Fantasy the perfect game for people who love roleplaying games who either want to play tabletop games but don’t have a group or can’t get together with their friends to play.
If you’re doubtful that an interactive book can have the same story-driven feeling as a tabletop campaign, then that’s understandable. Charlie Higson, the author of the Fighting Fantasy novel The Gates of Death, said that writing an interactive book was far different from his previous experience working on the Young Bond novels. Speaking to the Guardian, he said “You’ve really got to guard against telling it like a story; it’s got to feel to the reader that they’re driving it forward”.
Getting Started with Fighting Fantasy
With dozens of books in the series to choose from, it can be difficult to know where to start. With that in mind, here are the most popular titles and why they’re so well-loved.
City of Thieves is a popular title because it’s got all the elements of a classic fantasy adventure. However, this novel shows you the battle through the eyes of your character, which not all of the other Fighting Fantasy books do.
City of Thieves is set in Port Blacksand, a setting readers will learn is a location swarming with pirates and outlaws. There are twists and turns throughout the story, and readers will have to solve puzzles as well as pass their dice rolls if they want to survive.
All of this makes City of Thieves a great starting point for new Fighting Fantasy players.
If you’re looking for an action-heavy roleplaying experience, then you’ll love Island of the Lizard King. Your character is tasked with freeing the human slaves that are held captive in the gold mines of the Lizard Men.
Set on the world of Titan, a setting shared across dozens of other Fighting Fantasy novels, you’ll get to learn more about the continent of Allansia, Fire Island, and the creatures that inhabit it.
It’s also one of the most popular Fighting Fantasy titles for the large-scale battles that occur, something that’s rarely done in other interactive fantasy novels.
The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is the very first Fighting Fantasy title, and it’s the closest to an old-school tabletop roleplaying game experience that you’ll get in any interactive fantasy book. Set in Allansia, the same content as Island of the Lizard King and dozens of other Fighting Fantasy novels, your character is tasked with finding the treasure of Zagor living within Firetop Mountain. With multiple pathways to explore, you can either fight your way through the Warlock’s lair or sneak your way past the guards and monsters to find the treasure within.
Livingstone and Jackson would go on to publish two sequels to The Warlock of Firetop Mountain that delves into the character of Zagor, allowing you to play through a rich storyline with hundreds of hours of replayability.