Yesterday, a book arrived in the post that I had been waiting for - ‘You Are The Hero’, a history of the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks written by Jonathan Green. Pretty much as soon as it arrived, I tore open the packaging and started to read, and had a very enjoyable few hours reliving some childhood memories - and when I finished it, spent the rest of the day running through Warlock of Firetop Mountain and Deathtrap Dungeon. Impressively - I almost completed both of them - I killed the Warlock and reached the end of Deathtrap Dungeon, but didn’t manage to get the items I needed to finish them. Curses! However, it was a lot of fun.
Moreover, it got me thinking about my influences in fantasy again - I’ve been working on some ideas for fantasy novels to be written in the new year anyway, so this was fresh on my mind. I am thirty-two years old, so I grew up in the late 1980s and 1990s. Certainly, that’s when my habits for fantasy and science-fiction were developed, my first exposure to the genres. I’ve made a bit of an effort to reacquire them in the recent past, ebay and Amazon being my friends here, and once again I have a decent collection of gamebooks. In no particular order…
Fighting Fantasy, realistically, has to be at the top of my list. I think Starship Traveller was my first, but that didn’t manage to put me off - Citadel of Chaos is the one that I first remember actually completing, but I read a lot of them over the years. I delved into Firetop Mountain, through the Forest of Doom, I fought the Snow Witch and tried to escape her evil Doom...and to me, I think, that is fantasy. It certainly shaped what I expect fantasy to be, and the world of Titan was the first one that really gripped me. I didn’t have a regular RPG group in my teens - I played, but not consistently - so this satisfied my gaming fix.
White Dwarf, I suppose, is also unquestionable. You can easily date a British gamer by asking him how long he read White Dwarf for; I started in about issue 153 and ended with 207, and yes, after more than a decade I can still remember them! I’ve got a run from about the late 90s to the early 200s today, and I still like leafing through them from time to time, even though the games they are talking about are long out of print. There’s a certain atmosphere to them that is still missing today, though how much the memories of my youth influenced this, I don’t now.
One that I missed - sort of - was Imagine magazine. This one really will sort the men from the boys - the UK’s alternative to Dragon magazine, produced by TSR UK for thirty glorious issues, despite constant opposition from the American end of the business. I won a complete run in a fortuitous eBay win when I was about seventeen, and it really changed my attitude to gaming. It led me to start OD&DITIES, which for me is where my writing began. It feels very early White Dwarf in appearance...like a cross between White Dwarf and Dragon, which I suppose should be no surprise.
My first RPG, I suppose, has to be Hero Quest, and I should probably have put this first! Again, it opened up a bit of a world for me, and I remember pouring over the scenarios in the book...as recently as a couple of years ago, if I’m honest, though now in PDF format. Again, to me...this was fantasy. Still is, I think. In my head all my dungeons probably look quite a lot like the map that came with the game, and I still put in Orcs, and Goblins, and Skeletons into my scenarios. An exercise in prescriptive campaign creation I should try at some point is to create a campaign using the monsters in Hero Quest as the basis...heck, I could even convert the modules...there’s a thought.
Black Box OD&D is probably not very well remembered these days, but it was my OD&D. It came out in 1991, one of the last flares of the game system, a big black box with lots of stand-up figures inside it. There were other boxes with it, but I never saw them until years later, but I didn’t need them. The forces of the evil wizard, Zanzer Tem, were waiting to be fought, and the ‘Dragon Cards’ that came with them were what I used to learn the game. I don’t remember ever actually running the scenarios that came with it, oddly enough, and the box is long gone now - but I still have the rulebook and the cards.
Getting to television, I suppose it has to be Knightmare, a children’s show that sent parties of adventurers into a dungeon to complete a quest, or simply to escape. Quite notable for its day - almost no-one actually won! Whole seasons went by without a successful delve, which I always thought was rather good. It made it seem like quite a triumph when someone did get through. They were pushing the technology - and their budgets, moreover - to the absolute limit with this one, but the effect was worth it. It’s still worth watching today...Youtube is your friend here.
I shouldn’t forget Lone Wolf, of course, though this almost goes into the same bracket as Fighting Fantasy. I can still remember the first one of these I bought - I was touring secondary schools with my folks, we were working out where I was going to go, and one of them had a second-hand book stall out for some reason. It was The Darke Crusade, and I still have very fond memories of it - though I don’t ever recall completing it. I came to the series late, but my library has a few - another area where I am working on rebuilding my collection, with quite a bit of success lately.
I’ll throw in one more, and that is Dragon Warriors. A game I read - and still managed to retain - in the original six-book form, and loved, though I never got a chance to run it, regrettably. Of special note was the sixth book, which established the game world. I must have read it a hundred times, and along with Titan, I think it shaped my view on what a setting ought to be - Titan and Legend were my Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms, I supposed - I wasn’t exposed to those settings until a lot later on.
Seven, then - that if anyone demanded, I would cite as my primary influences. I could probably add a few more - the Dragonlance trilogy, that I devoured in the school library, some of the later Dragons I managed to pick up - again, ‘my’ run of Dragon Magazine starts in the 250s, ending with the launch of 3rd edition. I got to it rather late, but to be honest, having read them since then…(thank goodness for the Dragon Magazine Archive)...during my teens, it was going through one of its fallow periods. Though I’m sure those who discovered it then would disagree! Keep on the Borderlands, perhaps, as well, but even then… The point is, I could add forever, but those seven are the main ones.
Now, where are those dice? The Citadel of Chaos won’t explore itself...