A Little Bit of History

Warlock of Firetop MountainIt all started with the Warlock of Firetop Mountain.

The history of adventure game books is 30 years old this year, and to celebrate that fact a friend of mine has organised a Kickstarter to finish his book on the subject.

I’ll leave a full description to Jonathan over on KS. I just thought I’d tell you why I paid for a copy.

Firstly, it’s an odd purchase for me. It’s not a game, nor a model, nor even funny dice; it’s not a nice selection of new paints, a T-shirt with amusing geek humour or anything remotely “useful” for actually gaming. That makes it  a bit of an odd one for me. Most of the stuff I buy which can remotely be described as for my hobby is directly useful. However, this promises to be that rarest of items: an account of modern gaming history that I don’t already know.

There aren’t many books on the subject of recent gaming history, and sadly all the ones I have read have been fairly poor. I’m sure I missed a few, but this has been largely because I was so put off by the feeble efforts of the ones I have wasted hours trawling through. Mostly the authors seemed to know less than I did from simply being a customer at the time. You Are The Hero promises to be different as the author is not only a professional writer, but is also the author of several game books himself. He does proper research (increasingly a rather splendid novelty), rather than just using Wikipedia and guesswork and knows the business from both sides of the fence. These are all Good Things.

What I am hoping and expecting to end up with is an interesting and well illustrated read with lashings of nostalgia and some choice pieces of evocative art from my early days in gaming. I’m hoping to find out some amusing anecdotes along the way. So I’ve pledged my $30 for a copy. I’m even wondering where my battered copy of Warlock is lurking, and my pristine copy of Titan. Perhaps I’ll have one more bash at nabbing the old geezer’s loot…

Does anyone else remember the heyday of the game book? Does anyone play them regularly now?

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40 Responses to A Little Bit of History

  1. Ben says:

    Remember the heyday of the game book? They’re the reason I’m here now. I vividly recall seeing “Island of the Lizard King” in my primary school’s book club catalogue and asking my mother to buy it for me based solely on the cover. That was back in 1984 and from there I spent the entire summer in the local library reading every game book I could get my hands on (the Lone Wolf series was my favourite). Through game books I discovered rpg’s and through rpg’s I discovered Games Workshop. What Airfix were for lot of gamers, game books were for me.

  2. Doug says:

    Game books introduced me to Fantasy, specifically the lone wolf series. I started reading them in 1990 when I was 9. My mother signed a form that exempted me from religious studies in the school, so whilst everyone was reading the same book I got an entire library for an hour. My school library had most of the early LW series.
    Heroquest followed a few years later then the hobbit etc. But it was the LW gamebook series (especially the lovely black and white art style that I still love to this day) that got me into fantasy and gaming in general.

    • Quirkworthy says:

      It’s this sort of nostalgia that I’d like this project to capture. The more artwork we can persuade into it the better.

      Are you listening Jonathan?

      • Doug says:

        My nostalgia had me sign onto Mongoose’s mega deal for their LW reprints when they first suggesdted it years ago. I never reaslisd how much that series meant to me until I discovered I couldn’t get all the remaining novels (some selling on eBay for ~$200 plus).
        Brian Williams who illustrated the majorty of the LW series is still one of my favourite illustrators. The realism and precision of his blackline art is just incredible.

  3. Doug says:

    No unfortunately. the first miniatures i ever encountered were in a friend’s Heroquest box set a few years later, which I save up to buy. I don’t know if the LW miniatures were ever available in Australia but I wasn’t buying miniatures until ~1994 and the local game shop pretty much only had GW stuff.

  4. Island of the Lizard King, Forest of Doom, The Giant Robot one… so many memories. I really liked the Way of the Tiger ones too. Adding Ninjas makes anything cooler.

  5. Back when I was reading the Way of the Tiger books it was a simpler time. We only had Ninjas. And we were lucky to have that. Kids these days don’t know they’re born…

  6. North_Irish says:

    Robot Commando was the book that started it all for me. It had a robot fighting a dinosaur on the cover! To a seven year old boy that was the coolest thing in the world, I’m 33 now and still think its the coolest thing in the world. At the time I lent it to my mate, who loved it and bought another FF book; pretty soon all the boys in my class were buying, playing and swapping titles. From that I moved onto Heroquest and well, here I am today.
    Lately I’ve been buying Gamebooks when I see them, I never realised how many different systems there were, and am introducing my son to them. When he’s had a bit of practice I’ll get Clash of the Princes going, I found it a while back and am saving it for us to play together.
    I’m excited by the thought of this book, let me know if I can help in any way.

    • Robot Commando! That’s the one! Couldn’t remember the name for the life of me. Yeah, that one was one of my favourites. That and the Post Apoc car driving one were quite similar in style I recall, what with picking up different vehicles n’ that.

  7. David Clegg says:

    Freeway Fighter. I’m certain the cover art from that appeared on a board or computer game around about the same time. I recently bought blood of the Zombies and spent a weekend mapping it 🙂

  8. David Clegg says:

    North_irish from above, thought I’d creat an account 🙂

  9. Mark says:

    Remember Maelstrom? An entire (and quite sophisticated) historical (c. 17th I believe) RPG in a Penguin book. I also still have a Sorcery! boxed set, with free transfer!

  10. Ben says:

    16th century and you can still buy it as a PDF and there are expansions too.

  11. Talarius says:

    I purchased a noteworthy adventure book last year, titled, “The Legion of Shadow” by Michael J. Ward. I got the hardcover edition, as it’s nearly 700 pages long! Checking his website, I see he’s published a second book, so I’ll have to pick that one up as well. In Mr. Ward’s “Destiny Quest” system, you have a character sheet with a couple of stats, several slots for armor and weapons, a backpack with items. You’ll also gain skills, abilities and spells along the way. You progress on a map towards your ultimate goal, choosing adventures to attempt based on a color-coded difficulty scale. You can go for a magic-based character or a shield and sword approach.
    (Shipping was free with the Book Depository, worldwide, iirc)

  12. Hipcat says:

    I’d almost forgotten about Freeway Fighter! As I write this, I’m looking up at my Lone Wolf collection 1-28; 1,2 & 4 in Sparrow Books and the remainder in Red Fox. Definitely going to look at this Kickstarter!

    • fiendil says:

      Freeway Fighter, the Fighting Fantasy one, or the Freeway Warrior series, done by the same chap as did Lone Wolf?

      I had a lot of time for both. Even picked the latter up off Ebay a few years back.

  13. mr pharmacist says:

    You can play Lone Wolf online: http://www.projectaon.org/en/Main/Books

    They were available in spanish, but they are out of print now, dunno about Fighting Fantasy.

  14. fiendil says:

    My introduction to gaming was The Forest of Doom. Picked it up from a high street bookshop when I was about 9 or 10. Never looked back. Still got a load of the FF books, maybe some of the Lone Wolf books, and some of the oddball books that came out when it was all big, like Cretan Chronicles, Grailquest and Forbidden Gateway. I even still use the green dice that came with the Fighting Fantasy playing kit thing.

    Also, if you’re talking about gamebooks: http://youchosewrong.tumblr.com/

  15. fiendil says:

    Interesting. Wizard Books have apparently been doing reprints of the FF books since the turn of the century:


  16. Douglas says:

    I remember really WANTING to get into game books when I was young. The closest I got, unfortunately, was the ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ series. They were good, but not quite Fighting Fantasy. However, I did try a post-apocalyptic sci-fi book, when I was a little older, called ‘Heart of Ice’ — part of a game-book series called ‘Virtual Reality’. Apparently this series is due to be republished soon. I think game-books are on the rise again — I’ve seen attempts to revive the genre in local WHSmith stores. They don’t look as good as FF, but at least the concept is still around for a new generation.

  17. Hum_Con says:

    I remember Jonathan Greens Fighting Fantasy books as being seriously vicious, the sort where if you got something wrong you were did, but you wouldn’t know it until thirty minutes later.

    My favourite was Mage Hunter. It was quite short, largely because there were so many variant paths. I played through something like eight times until I found the ‘correct’ path to the end.

  18. Matt Gilbert says:

    I’ve pledged too. You know my opinion of Game Books 🙂

  19. Lazycamel says:

    Lone Wolf was the greatest!

    But without a doubt the greatest gamebooks, and very cleverly put together too, were this series of two-player gamebooks. I don’t remember what they were called at all, maybe someone can help. You would each have a book and play against the other, while having your own adventure as well, and they used a system of codewords to synch the two narratives. If you passed by somewhere and killed the gatekeeper, you would record the codeword AMBERGRIS, say. Then when your opponent passed that way he would have to ask whether you had that codeword (inadvertenly revealing where he was…), and if you did he would be sent down another track in the narrative in which there was the gatekeeper’s dead body there…

    What were they called? I’d play those again. There was one dealing with fantasy gladiators, battling in an arena and through a labyrinth under the arena. Another one in which one player was some sort of monstrous lord of this valley and had to hunt down the other player, who was a slave who had been released for the hunt and had to attempt to escape the valley.

    Anyone remember those? What were they called?

  20. amusketeer says:

    AHHH the memories……….Started with White Dwarf in 1980 and was a Dungeon Master while in the RAF in Germany. I am 57 now, but i still war game and paint my figures. These books were brilliant ,(will have to try and find some) sold all mine years ago.
    Gary (P.A.W)

  21. amusketeer says:

    p.s i did meet Steve Jackson many years ago, and he signed a book for me.Cant remember if it was a D&D book or a Fighting Fantasy book ?

  22. Hi Jake

    I’d like to send you some questions about Fighting Fantasy, with an inclination towards game design, if you’re up for it. If so, would you mind emailing me at info@jonathangreenauthor.com and then I can send them on?



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