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.

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