Sunday 29 November 2020

Blast from the Past! City of Thieves

The fifth and sixth Fighting Fantasy gamebooks regularly via for the top spot in best of polls, and they have a number of elements in common. They were both written by Ian Livingstone, co-creator of the FF series, they were both illustrated inside and out by Iain McCaig, and they are both challenging to complete. However, where they differ is in that Deathtrap Dungeon is a classic subterranean dungeon crawl, while City of Thieves is the first gamebook that features an urban setting.

For his second gamebook with the sole writing credit, Ian Livingstone plumped for a city-based adventure. City of Thieves sends the hero to Port Blacksand for the first time, searching for the means to save the prosperous town of Silverton from the evil Night Prince Zanbar Bone and his bloodthirsty Moon Dogs.

This was the first occasion on which Iain McCaig produced not just the internal illustrations but also, what has since become, a classic cover.

“I've always been fascinated by graveside sculptures of the Grim Reaper,” says McCaig. “I eventually designed one for Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  Zanbar Bone is an early attempt to bring one to life.”

Jackson and Livingstone originally asked McCaig to work on The Warlock of Firetop Mountain but at the time he was busy painting a Jethro Tull album cover and had to turn them down. “Fortunately, the timing worked out better for Ian’s first solo book, The Forest of Doom,” explains McCaig, “for which I did the cover, and both his follow-up books, City of Thieves and Deathtrap Dungeon, for which I did both the interior and cover art. I don’t think I ever enjoyed such a close working relationship with any other author, before or since,” says Iain.

City of Thieves was my first taste of the Fighting Fantasy universe awaiting me,” says comics writer Andi Ewington, who later turned Freeway Fighter into a graphic novel. “I had been reading TSR’s Endless Quest series for a while, and even though they were enjoyable, I found they didn't quite leave you feeling ‘heroic’ at the end… I remember being drawn to that iconic Iain McCaig cover featuring Zanbar Bone. Picking it up and several brief scans of the interior later I realised I was holding the Holy Grail of single player gaming experience in my eleven year-old hands."

When Titan - The Fighting Fantasy World was published, it included a detailed plan of the streets of Port Blacksand, drawn by cartographer Steve Luxton.

Heroic adventurers have revisited the eponymous City of Thieves, many times since, not least in Graeme Davis's Midnight Rogue, which cast the hero in the role of an aspiring member of the Thieves’ Guild of Port Blacksand, and the second Advanced Fighting Fantasy volume Blacksand!

In Blacksand! co-author Marc Gascoigne added detail to the City of Thieves, giving an insight into the individuals, the taverns, businesses and temples of Port Blacksand, as well as its various guilds and nefarious cults.

In 2017, City of Thieves was reissued by Scholastic Books, featuring a new cover by Robert Ball.

Ian Livingstone returned to Port Blacksand, for The Port of Peril, the first new Fighting Fantasy adventure published by Scholastic, while the ruler of the City of Thieves, Lord Azzur, also made an appearance in 2019's Assassins of Allansia.

And somehow the Warlock doubts that this is the last we have seen of that particular den of iniquity either...

Friday 20 November 2020

Fighting Fantasy Guest Authors on BBC Radio 6 this Saturday

Fans of Fighting Fantasy gamebooks will want to tune in to BBC Radio 6 on Saturday morning, between 7:00am and 10:00am.

Rhianna Pratchett and Charlie Higson will be on Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie's show, talking about the titles they have contributed to the FF series in recent years.

Stuary Maconie and Mark Radcliffe.

Crystal of Storms, by Rhianna Pratchett.

The Gates of Death, by Charlie Higson.

Thursday 19 November 2020

Beyond the Pit - Set XI

This week, Arion Games have released another set of Paper Miniatures for Advanced Fighting Fantasy. They are continuing to work their way through Beyond the Pit, and this set presents another 16 miniature monsters that you can use to help bring your tabletop games to life, including the Roc, the Saltsucker, and the Sea Hydra.

To purchase this new set, as well as other Advanced Fighting Fantasy products through DriveThruRPG, simple click on the image below.

In case you missed them, Sets IX and X are also available, featuring such horrors as the Rad-Hulk, the Polar Worm, the Manic Beast, and the Nightgaunt.

Friday 13 November 2020

Blast from the Past! Creature of Havoc

Written by Steve Jackson, co-creator of Fighting Fantasy, and first published in 1986, Creature of Havoc has quite rightly gone on to achieve legendary status and remains a firm favourite with many FF fans today, despite the fact that it is so complex and challenging.

Utilizing a device that has been imitated in numerous gamebooks many times since (and not just Fighting Fantasy ones), the story begins with the hero waking up with no memory of where he is, how he came to be there, who he is or even what he is. The hero is the havoc-creating Creature of the title.

The book even goes so far as to initially give the beast no concept of language or reason. The hero attempts to make choices but is often thwarted in the early stages of the adventure, when the beast all too often resorts to acting on instinct alone. Slowly, however, the greater plot unfolds as the hero begins to discover what exactly has happened to him and who is responsible.

Featuring a flying ship, an undead Half-Elf and Zharradan Marr, an evil witch-born sorcerer, it is a truly memorable adventure with some wonderful set pieces. And no doubt many readers raised a snigger when they discovered that the Creature’s snack food of choice is Hobbits.

The Galleykeep, made by Steve Beale.

The book took Steve Jackson five months to write and contains the longest background section of any FF adventure (running to nineteen pages and containing information on everything from Elven birthing practices to the sorcerer Volgera Darkstorm).

Jackson: “With Sorcery! I’d written each adventure longer than the previous one. I didn’t have the same 400-reference limit which had kind of become a standard like the main FF series. Always looking for new angles, I’d decided that Creature of Havoc would set the reader as a monster. That was a new feature. And that I wouldn’t be bound by the 400-reference adventure. I was particularly pleased with the reader having to learn a language."

But how was Jackson able to include Hobbits in the book? “I can remember there being some debate at the time as to whether Hobbits were copyrighted or not. Someone somewhere came up with a reference to Hobbits in medieval literature.”

The book featured a cover by Ian Miller. The green-skinned figure that is the focus of the image was originally supposed to be Darramouss the undead Half-Elf. However, when Jackson saw the finished painting, he was so impressed he went back and changed the text so that the figure on the front became the Creature’s vile nemesis, the black-hearted, half-demon sorcerer Zharradan Marr.

Zharradan Marr, by Alan Langford.

“In truth I did not know this,” Miller told Alex Ballingall, when he was interviewed for the FF fanzine Fighting Fantazine, “but it’s nice to think the image resonated so. Maybe that comes of reading the book and meeting the author.

Alan Langford produced the internal illustrations for the book, including such fondly-remembered monsters as the Clawbeast, the Toadmen, and the disturbing undead Master of Hellfire.

“I enjoyed doing that one,” says Langford. “I didn’t like the murder of Hobbits though; I’m quite fond of them.”

Master of Hellfire, by Alan Langford.

So which is the artist’s favourite image from the book?

“I think it’s one with the shadow of the monster in the foreground and a Dwarf cowering in the background. That one stays in my mind in particular, not because it was my favourite, because it… sort of turned the situation around in a visual way. You got that experience all the way through the written part that Steve did, but my illustration… that was the one that sort of brought it together. The rest could have been just an ordinary Fighting Fantasy book, but that’s the one that stays in my mind.”

Cowering Dwarf, by Alan Langford.

Creature of Havoc was the last FF title to bear the green zigzag banner across the top of its cover and is also the last Fighting Fantasy gamebook Jackson has written to date.

The book remains a fan-favourite to this day. “It was full of great details and ingenious puzzles,” says Jon Ingold of Inkle Studios, the people behind the app versions of Jackson’s Sorcery! series, “and really pushed the boundaries of how these books could work.”

Creature of Havoc is back for a new generation in a a new edition, available now from Scholastic UK.

The French edition of the adventure is also available in a new edition, from Gallimard.

Sunday 8 November 2020

Collector's Corner

Do have a Fighting Fantasy collection that you have built up over the years, or some unusual items that you're particularly proud of? If so, why not share them with other like-minded fans on in the Fan Zone.

Simply email some photographs of your collection, along with a brief paragraph about it, highlighting any elements of it you would like to, to, and you could end up appearing in Collector's Corner too.

Sunday 1 November 2020

Martin McKenna (1969-2020)

We were deeply saddened yesterday to learn of the passing of fan-favourite Fighting Fantasy artist Martin McKenna, at the beginning of September.

If there is one artist who encapsulates the way the art of the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks developed over the years, in terms of tone as well as subject matter, it has to be Martin McKenna. He illustrated 12 FF gamebooks in total, and ended up producing covers for 18 of them in their various different editions.

He also produced the wraparound cover art for Jonathan Green's YOU ARE THE HERO - A History of Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks. When interviewed for the book, he didn't attribute his success to one big break:

“It was probably more like a lot of little breaks. Really early stuff like meeting Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone in ‘86 was helpful. They liked the fanzine work which had included a Fighting Fantasy spoof, and they recommended a submission to Warlock magazine. Coincidentally Marc Gascoigne had seen my fanzine stuff and liked it, and he was then editor of Warlock. Most importantly, an invitation came from John Blanche, then art director at Games Workshop, to produce work for him. John’s initial contact came as a result of me entering an art competition featured in the Citadel Journal. Instead of the hoped-for prize of a two quid postal order, I got a letter from John expressing interest in my stuff. This led to my very first paying commission: illustrations for an Out of the Pit article in Warlock. So a bunch of things came together in the very beginning. And one way or another they've continued to do so ever since.”

Daggers of Darkness was the first Fighting Fantasy adventure to feature Martin's artwork, after he was commissioned to illustrate the book when he was aged just 17 years-old, and still at school!

Illustrations from Daggers of Darkness.

He soon became the go to guy for horror-themed titles, illustrating not only Vault of the Vampire and Revenge of the Vampire, but also Dead of Night, Legend of the Shadow Warriors, Moonrunner, Curse of the Mummy, Howl of the Werewolf and Night of the Necromancer.

Illustrations from Vault of the Vampire.

Illustrations from Dead of Night.

Illustrations from Legend of the Shadow Warriors.

Illustrations from Moonrunner.

Illustrations from Revenge of the Vampire.

Illustrations from Curse of the Mummy.

Illustrations from Howl of the Werewolf.

Illustrations from Night of the Necromancer.

Over the years Martin's style matured and developed, as he moved from drawing with a fine pen and ink on paper to working digitally, which allowed him to draw fine white lines on black, as well as vice versa. This, coupled with modern printing techniques, meant that his more recent illustrations are some of the most detailed ever to appear in Fighting Fantasy gamebooks.

Martin's first cover for a Fighting Fantasy gamebook did not appear until the last title in the Puffin Books' run - that of Curse of the Mummy. Produced using traditional media, Martin would later touch it up digitally for the Wizard Books re-release of the title.

The cover for Curse of the Mummy, by Martin McKenna.

Ian Livingstone's later Puffin FF gamebooks were all illustrated by Martin McKenna, as was the first new Fighting Fantasy adventure published by Wizard Books, Eye of the Dragon. Indeed, Martin's work most recently appeared in the new edition of Ian Livingstone's Return to Firetop Mountain, introducing his art to a new generation of Fighting Fantasy fans, who will now be able to appreciate how great a loss his passing is to older FF fans.

Illustrations from Return to Firetop Mountain.

Illustrations from Legend of Zagor.

Illustrations from Eye of the Dragon.

On hearing of Martin's passing, Ian Livingstone put into words what no doubt everyone is thinking at this time: "Absolutely shocking and a tragic loss of life."

Steve Jackson had this to say: "Martin will always be remembered as one of the principal and most prolific of the Fighting Fantasy artists."

He will be truly missed, and our thoughts are with his family and friends at this very difficult time.

In memory of
Martin McKenna

Those who knew what a genuinely kind person Martin was wanted to do something to honour his memory and so are in the process of setting up a charity in his name, which will help disadvantaged children gain access to arts programs.

If you feel able to help, and would like to make your own small donation in Martin's name, you can do so here

And if you find yourself in need of somebody to talk to during these difficult times, do not hesitate to pick up the phone and speak to someone.