Thursday 25 March 2021

Tolkien Reading Day

Today is Tolkien Reading Day, an event begun in 2003 by the Tolkien Society, to celebrate and promote the life and works of J.R.R. Tolkien by reading favourite passages from his books.

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings have had an immeasurable impact on fantasy literature and roleplaying games, particularly in the 1970s and '80s, providing many with the template for fantasy races - humans, elves, dwarfs and orcs - as well as monsters, such as dragons and giant spiders, and all powerful wizards.

However, among Tolkien's most popular, well-known and enduring creations were the Hobbits.

As fans of Fighting Fantasy will know, Hobbits make an appearance in Steve Jackson's seminal Creature of Havoc - the 'hero' having a penchant for snacking on the diminutive beings - but did you know that Hobbits could have featured even more heavily, but for one particular moment in FF history?

Roll the clock back 41 years to early 1980. The synopsis for the book that would eventually become The Warlock of Firetop Mountain was finished and sent off to commissioning editor Geraldine Cooke at Penguin Books, with a detailed encounter from the adventure that demonstrated the gamebook style attached, for her to consider. The up and coming editor suspected she had something special on her hands but she found it hard to convince anyone else at Penguin that this was the case.

“The idea was thrown out on its ear at the Penguin editorial meeting,” explains Cooke. “Senior Penguin management roared with laughter at the idea... I managed to keep the idea on the agenda for months and kept on batting away at it.”

Incredibly, Penguin sat on the proposal for over six months before making a formal offer, and publishing it through their children's imprint Puffin Books.

During this time, understandably Livingstone and Jackson’s frustrations grew. At one point, Jackson went so far as to send the synopsis to Allen & Unwin, publishers of The Lord of the Rings, but they politely declined to take the project on. 

Just think how different things might have been had they said yes...

Friday 19 March 2021

Big in Japan

In Fighting Fantasy's heyday, in the mid 1980s, Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone's premier gamebook series was a huge hit in Japan.

The good news for Japanese FF fans and hardcore collectors, is that the books are coming back, courtesy of Group SNE, who have recently published the Advanced Fighting Fantasy Second Edition RPG in Japan.

Here are the first five titles, which are also rocking some classic art on their covers.

by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone,
featuring cover art by the late, great Martin McKenna.

by Steve Jackson,
featuring cover art by Ian Miller.

by Ian Livingstone,
featuring cover art by Iain McCaig.

by Steve Jackson,
featuring cover art by Ian Miller.

by Ian Livingstone,
featuring cover art by Martin McKenna.

The five books will also be available as a box set.

Friday 12 March 2021

Blast from the Past! The Citadel of Chaos

First published this month, 38 years ago, The Citadel of Chaos was the second book in the Fighting Fantasy series and the first to be written just by Steve Jackson.

Jackson did not stray that far from the familiar format of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. Although it was set within a castle, The Citadel of Chaos was effectively another dungeon bash, but with the addition of rules for using magic.

“I wanted to name my second book in such a way as it served to promote GW’s brand, i.e. Citadel Miniatures,” explains Jackson. “So the adventure had to be set in a Citadel. And some of the illustrations of the Citadel were reminiscent of the Citadel Miniatures logo. It was, if you like, a promotional in-joke.”

Russ NIcholson's illustration of the Black Tower - a.k.a. Balthus Dire's dread Citadel of Chaos - from The Trolltooth Wars, alongside the original Citadel Miniatures logo.

Atop his sinister Black Tower, the dread sorcerer Balthus Dire is making plans of conquest. The hero of the adventure is a student of the Grand Wizard of Yore, charged by King Salamon with penetrating the stronghold of the fell magic-user, and stopping the fiend before he can unleash his army upon the peaceful Vale of Willow.

Before beginning the adventure, the hero has to determine his MAGIC score and then choose a corresponding number of spells from a pool of twelve that includes such enchantments as Creature Copy, Fool’s Gold and Levitation. But where did the inspiration for Balthus Dire and the lethal Ganjees come from?

Ganjee, by Russ Nicholson.

Jackson: “Creating names for new characters monsters and places was always a brainstorming exercise. I’d write lots of contenders on a sheet of paper and eventually pick one which to my mind sounded evocative... ‘Balthus’ was the name of a French painter. At the time I was constantly on the lookout for inspiration for names for characters, places and creatures. I came across Balthus the artist – his name, not his art, which I have never seen! I thought: ‘Yes. That’s a cool name. Sounds kind of demonic, or like a dark religious pontiff.’ I used to use a thesaurus a lot for inspiration. ‘Dire’ sounded particularly bad. And thus Balthus Dire became the boss of the adventure.”

Internal art was by Russ Nicholson again, while the cover was produced by the enigmatically-named Emmanuel.

Emmanuel's original cover for Steve's Jackson's The Citadel of Chaos alongside Ian Miller's revised cover.

“The only art I really didn’t like was the cover of the original Citadel of Chaos,” reveals Jackson. “As this was the second book in the series, it could have been interpreted as a significant statement of art intent. But it was followed by Iain McCaig’s cover of The Forest of Doom which set a new standard. I asked Penguin many times to have The Citadel of Chaos cover recommissioned. Eventually they gave in and Ian Miller did a fine job.”

Did you know...?

Jackson once named his favourite character from the Fighting Fantasy books as being Balthus Dire, the villain from The Citadel of Chaos, while his favourite monster is the Jib-Jib, which first appeared in the final instalment of his Sorcery! series, The Crown of Kings.

Balthus Dire, the wizard-warlord, by Russ Nicholson.

When Wizard Books republished The Citadel of Chaos in 2002, Kevin Jenkins was tasked with providing a new cover for the book.
Kevin Jenkins' artwork for the Wizard editions of The Citadel of Chaos.

And of course, The Citadel of Chaos is back in print again, thanks to Scholastic Books, featuring cover art by Robert Ball.

Robert Ball's artwork for the Wizard editions of The Citadel of Chaos.

Since it was first published, back in 1983, The Citadel of Chaos has inspired computer games, and even an audio drama, The Terror of the Ganjees, that is now available from Audible.

Monday 1 March 2021

Happy St David's Day!

Seeing as it's St David's Day in the UK, in honour of the patron saint of Wales, today on the official Fighting Fantasy blog we're celebrating the various dragons that have appeared in Fighting Fantasy gamebooks over the years.

So here we go, counting down from number ten to number one, but be warned - there are some spoilers ahead...

10. Pocket Dragon (FF51 Island of the Undead)
Dragons are cool, right? So how cool would it be to have a dragon that you could keep in your pocket? Ice cold, right?

Pocket Dragon (and Stonewight), by Russ Nicholson.

9. Wyrm (Allansia)
Not technically a dragon, but close enough. This monster of the icy wastes is encountered by the Heroes in the multi-player Advanced Fighting Fantasy RPG adventure A Darkness of Kaad.

Allansia cover (featuring the Wyrm) by John Sibbick.

8. Skeletal Dragon (FF54 Legend of Zagor)
Even though it's dead, this dragon is still deadly. (Legend of Zagor also features a Wyvern and a War Dragon!)

Skeletal Dragon, by Martin McKenna.

7. Stone Sentinels (FF39 Fangs of Fury)
Six massive stone dragons guard the tiny kingdom of Zamarra. But the fire they breathe has been extinguished. And now Zamarra is under siege by Ostragoth the Grim and his swarming hordes...

6. Brimstone Dragon (The Tasks of Tantalon)
The keeper of a treasure hoard in the Old World kingdom of Gallantaria. But how many gold pieces were really in that hoard?

Brimstone Dragon, by Stephen Lavis.

5. Wyvern (FF3 The Forest of Doom)
Also technically not a dragon, but the Wyvern's dramatic appearance towards the end of The Forest of Doom made a big impression on many a young role-player.

Wyvern, by Malcolm Barter.

4. White Dragon (FF9 Caverns of the Snow Witch)
One of the guardians of the Snow Witch's Crystal Caves.

White Dragon, by Edward Crosby and Gary Ward.

The same dragon, by drawn by Robert Ball for the Scholastic edition of Caverns of the Snow Witch.

3. Titan (Titan - The Fighting Fantasy World)
The name given to the dragon that appears on the cover of Titan - The Fighting Fantasy World. This particular dragon was even immortalised as a sculpture, to mark Fighting Fantasy's 10th anniversary, by Clarecraft.

Dragonspell, by Chris Achilleos.

2. The Night Dragon (FF52 Night Dragon)
One of the Ancient Dragons, corrupted by Evil, that fought against the gods themselves. A dragon so bad-ass that even after it's been killed its head grows legs and attacks you!

The Night Dragon, by Tony Hough.

1. The Dragon of Firetop Mountain (FF1 The Warlock of Firetop Mountain)
The original and still the best. A memorable encounter near the climax to The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, for many young readers this was the first dragon they had ever gone toe-to-toe with in a role-playing game. And it has appeared on the cover of every edition of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain since the book was first published in 1982.

Dragon, by Russ Nicholson.

Bubbling under...
Kilanirax, Lord of all Dragons, and the Dream Dragon (both from FF51 Night Dragon), the War Dragon (from FF54 Legend of Zagor), the Sea Dragon (FF19 Demons of the Deep), the golden dragon statue from FF60 Eye of the Dragon, and the dragon, from the Dragon Cover Format, by Chris Achilleos.

Eye of the Dragon, by Martin McKenna.

Dragon Cover Format, by Chris Achilleos.

What do you think of our list? Are there any egregious omissions that you believe should have made it into the Top Ten?

Let us know in the comments below and also let us know if there are any other Fighting Fantasy Top Tens you would like to see.