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Monday 24 November 2014

Solo History

There are many gamers who will tell you that it was Vampire the Masquerade that got them into roleplaying. That was in the 1990s. There are many gamers who will tell you that it was Dungeons & Dragons that got them into roleplaying. That was in the 1970s and of course, ever since... There are many gamers who will tell you that it was another phenomenon, of the 1980s, that got them into gaming, certainly if they are British, that of the Fighting Fantasy™ solo roleplaying books. Created in 1982 by Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson with the publication of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, in the thirty years since, some sixty or so titles have published in the series and some seventeen million copies have been sold. In their time, the Fighting Fantasy™ series has produced bestsellers, computer games, board games, and of course, a dedicated fan base. Now it has its own history book.

You Are The Hero: A History of Fighting Fantasy™ Gamebooks is that history book. Funded via Kickstarter, this is the definitive guide to the series and the phenomenon; a ‘coffee table’ style book lavishly illustrated with artwork that has both graced the insides and the outs of titles in the Fighting Fantasy™ series, from first—The Warlock of Firetop Mountain—to the last, Blood of the Zombies. This includes the book covers by the likes of Peter Andrew Jones, Ian Miller, Ian McCaig, as well as the internal illustrations of Russ Nicholson, Martin McKenna, Alan Langford—and more!

That more includes the original map for The Warlock of Firetop Mountain; original notes for The Forest of Doom; details about cameo appearances made by Livingstone and Jackson in Fighting Fantasy artwork; maps of the worlds and locations of the Fighting Fantasy series; plus the input of not just the artists and authors involved in every Fighting Fantasy title, but the fans too. The array of opinions given here are surprisingly frank. Most of them are as positive, even as gushing, as you would expect, but some are bluntly critical, in some cases by authors and artists of their own work. This gives the book a refreshingly engaging feel. Also explored are the other media where Fighting Fantasy appears—board games, computer games, phone games, magazines, and more. The book is thus thoroughly comprehensive, all but exhaustive in its coverage of all things Fighting Fantasy. Along the way it throws in fact after fact about the books, their creators, and the Fighting Fantasy phenomenon, all before bringing right up to date with the publication of Ian Livingstone’s Blood of the Zombies and the adaptations of the Fighting Fantasy series into titles that be played on tablets and mobile telephones.

To an extent, You Are The Hero is not just a history of the Fighting Fantasy series. It should be no surprise to the reader given that Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson created the series, that this volume also sketches a biography of the two men’s careers, and thus of Games Workshop and the games and computer industries in the UK over the last forty or so years. If there is an issue with You Are The Hero it is that it feels slightly rushed. It needs an edit in places and the layout is clumsy in places. Perhaps the book’s biggest weakness is its lack of an index, which is disappointing given that the subtitle of the book is ‘A History of Fighting Fantasy™ Gamebooks’—and that suggests that the book is intended to be reference work. The lack of an index is only a hindrance to that purpose.

There were ‘choose your adventure path’ style books available before the Fighting Fantasy™ series, whether that is the solo adventures for the Tunnels & Trolls RPG or my first experience with the genre, Mission to Planet L, part of the Tracker book series in 1975. Similarly there were various books and titles that appeared alongside the Fighting Fantasy™ series. Of course, they are not the subject of You Are The Hero, so there remains to be written a definitive history of the ‘choose your adventure path’ style book. Jonathan Green, the author of You Are The Hero and himself the author of four Fighting Fantasy adventures, is perhaps the man to write such a history… After all, he has already written the Fighting Fantasy chapter right here. As much a trip down memory lane as an informative and fascinating exploration of gaming before the digital age brought into said digital age, You Are The Hero: A History of Fighting Fantasy™ Gamebooks is the definitive guide and history to the phenomenon that introduced reading, interactive fiction, and fantasy roleplaying to a wider audience than ever before.

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