Part 2: The mechanics of Fighting Fantasy
Players begin ‘The Warlock of Firetop Mountain’ by rolling dice to determine their skill, stamina and luck levels. Skill represents a player’s fighting ability and stamina is their endurance level – essentially their lifeline – with luck coming into play in the ‘test your luck’ game mechanics. These scores would then be written in the adventure sheet at the front of the book, though it was advisable to use a pencil as these levels fluctuated throughout a game.
Players then have to select a potion of either skill, strength or fortune (again annotating their selection on the adventure sheet) which can be used twice during the adventure to replenish their skill, stamina or luck respectively. They also start with 10 packs of provisions which can be used to bolster their stamina score (players would often use these following a particularly damaging battle).
The player then reads through a short introduction to set the scene for the adventure to follow, in this instance laying out your mission to find the treasure belonging to the titular warlock. The villagers from whom you have been seeking advice shed tears upon your departure and the introduction ends with the slightly ominous sentence: ‘You couldn’t help wondering whether they were tears of sorrow shed by eyes which would never see you alive again’.
The adventure is told from a second-person perspective. The player begins their adventure in the first numbered section, at the end of which they make their first choice, whether to turn west or east at a junction. Depending on which direction they choose the player is then instructed to go to either section 71 or 278 and from here the narrative continues to branch in different directions. Throughout, the player encounters obstacles that can impact upon their skill, stamina and luck levels while also finding keys and other quest objects (which are added to their adventure sheet). These include a sword which bolsters their skill level by two points and a shield that, should they roll a six during combat, minimises damage taken.
There are 400 numbered sections in ‘The Warlock of Firetop Mountain’ with the ultimate good ending appearing in section 400, both of which were to become standard practices for most of the series. However, originally there were 399 entries so an extra section was added to round it up to 400, though the section did nothing other than ask the player to turn to another section.
During a player’s progress towards the warlock they encounter various foes who they need to negotiate in combat, including goblins, trolls, a wererat, a dragon and a minotaur. In Fighting Fantasy, this entails throwing two dice for both themselves and the creature, adding the dice rolls to the respective skill scores, with whoever has the highest total inflicting two points worth of damage on the other’s stamina. Again these scores should be recorded on the adventure sheet. This process continues until one of the combatant’s stamina levels reach zero, meaning defeat and death.
During combat players can use the ‘test your luck’ system, whereby they roll the two dice again, and if the combined rolls are lower than or equal to their own luck score, they are considered lucky and greater damage is inflicted if they won the previous attack round, or less damage is received if they lost it. However should the two rolls be higher than their luck score the opposite would be the case. ‘Test your luck’ is used in other scenarios to enable players to avoid battles and traps, though their luck score decreases by a point every time they test it.
Before meeting the Warlock players have to navigate their way through the Maze of Zagor. Though players are given clues to find their way out of the maze, the best way to prevent themselves going round in circles is to sketch a map to ensure they are, in fact, making progress and not just stuck in a never-ending loop.
As there is only one true path through the adventure players will in all likelihood uncover the bad endings which result in death before they discover the correct route through. Players would often leave their finger inside the book following a difficult choice (this one certainly did) so they could go back and choose again if it all went wrong. In ‘The Warlock of Firetop Mountain’ there are fewer bad-end scenarios than in future adventures though players can only successfully complete the adventure if they have visited certain areas and collected the correct combination of keys to open the Warlock’s treasure chest at the end.
Next week we look at the series that developed following the success of ‘The Warlock of Firetop Mountain’.