Fight For Fighting Fantasy

When I was a kid, I liked books.  Perhaps not quite as much as I liked watching, say, Doctor Who, or whichever horror films I could get away with, but I liked them.

In 1982, one series of books ensured that my nose would remain buried in books for a fair chunk of the decade.  Fighting Fantasy books hit Britain's high streets in a big way: interactive affairs in which YOU were the hero, flitting between paragraphs in a decidedly non-linear fashion, in order to determine how a continually branching storyline would proceed.

The 'gamebook' was born.  At that point, I had already been reading the US-born Choose Your Own Adventure books, but those were far more simplistic in structure and content, clearly being aimed at children.  Fighting Fantasy offered a darker and more layered world altogether.  You needed to roll dice too, and I'm always on the lookout for an excuse to do that.  These books were also created and written by real heavyweights.  Even back then, Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson had already co-founded the role-playing games colossus Games Workshop with John Peake in 1980.  Ian would go on to earn an OBE, while Steve became an honorary professor.

I read the second book first: Citadel Of Chaos blew me away.  Then came Warlock Of Firetop Mountain, Forest Of Doom, City Of Thieves and the mighty Deathtrap Dungeon which really should be a film.  Strangely, the sci-fi slanted Fighting Fantasy books like Starship Traveller never appealed to me: I wanted dungeons and demons all the way.  Stuff like the series' tenth entry House Of Hell, which was precisely as scary as it sounded.  There is no doubt that the Fighting Fantasy books nurtured my imagination and my love of immersive fiction.

Great artwork from City Of Thieves
I didn't stop at Fighting Fantasy, either.  I bought any books which involved dice and decision-making.  Ian and Steve's brainchild led the way for a plethora of other series, including Lone Wolf, Golden Dragon, GrailQuest, Way Of The Tiger and Demonspawn.  It also expanded its own universe: Steve Jackson's epic Sorcery! series, which climaxed with surely the all-time biggest gamebook in The Crown Of Kings, is one of my favourite things ever and I'm very happy to learn that Inkle Studios will be bringing it to iPad and iPhone next year.

While a whole generation of these gamebooks' readers would inevitably grow up to become distracted by sex, drink and rock 'n' roll, many Fighting Fantasy fans have come home to roost over the last decade.  The series lives on: this year, Ian Livingstone celebrated its 30th anniversary by writing a brand new FF title, Blood Of The Zombies.  Select titles have also been given a new lease of life on smartphone apps, which handle all those dice rolls for you electronically - handy for the businessman, for instance, who might feel self-conscious about 'rolling the bones' on a train.  These apps have also taken the wonderful step of colourising the amazing artwork which helped make these books so very evocative.

So why am I writing about Fighting Fantasy books now?  Apart from the momentous nature of their 30th year, there's the matter of a new documentary about the series.  The documentary is called Turn To 400, in reference to the fact that the FF books always consist of 400 numbered segments.

"That's great!" you say.  "Where can I get hold of this documentary and rekindle some wonderful feelings of nostalgia?"  Well you can't yet and you won't be able to, unless you join me in backing Turn To 400's Kickstarter campaign.

You can throw in as little as £1 or as much as you like.  It all helps and there are some nice physical incentives on offer besides receiving the doc itself: T-shirts, USB keys and the like.  As I write, the total is around £7000.  Unless that total reaches £40,000 in the next 14 days, documentary-maker Sean Riley won't receive the money already pledged (yes, I know, Kickstarter's a funny business in some ways, echoing the all-or-nothing format of Dragons' Den) and may not be made.

I'd really like to see this documentary completed and glowing out of my television into my brain.  So please consider making a pledge, spreading the word to others or both.  If you choose to do either of these, please add 5 LUCK points.  I thank you.

Turn To 400's Kickstarter campaign page

Turn To 400's Facebook page

Ian Livingstone on Twitter

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Anonymous said...

Absolutely LOVED the Fighting Fantasy books as well growing up. They were such a seminal part of my childhood and really helped to get me into reading more than just comic books. Thanks for sharing and I'll check out the kickstarter campaign.

Magz said...

Nice post. I used to love the FF books too! (Still have them on the bookshelves!) Now for a bit of shameless plugging...
Did you know, that Ian Livingstone has written the intro for the upcoming Dark Harvest anthology? Which is just tremendously exciting for me since I've scribbled one of the short stories in it!
*Shameless plug ends*

PS - Am I the only one who has real problems reading the verification letters? :(

Oli said...

I really must donate to this. There's no past tense in my love of Fighting Fantasy books. I think I'm missing only four of the later ones, and I have Curse of the Mummy and Alansia, the hard to get ones. Mmmmmmm, green spines.