Saturday, 15 December 2012

Fighting Fantasy The Introductory Roleplay Game playthrough

Written by Steve Jackson, Artwork by Duncan Smith

Did you know that originally, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain was to be an introductory role-playing game? It was so sucessful that it spun off its own series of gamebooks. But Steve Jackson didn't leave the idea of an introductory role-playing game in the past. The Fighting Fantasy series had five books aimed at teaching people how to run and play tabletop RPGs.

This is the first, Fighting Fantasy. It contains two adventures. Other tabletop Fighting Fantasy books include The Riddling Reaver, Dungeoneer, Blacksand and Allansia, all of which we'll get to in time. But first, a quick word. The author of many Fighting Fantasy adventures, Jonathan Green, author of Howl of the Werewolf, Stormslayer, Bloodbones, and many other books I've yet to reach on my blog, has his own Kickstarter project going right now to produce 'coffee table' book celebrating 30 years of Fighting Fantasy. Go check it out. I'll wait.

Back? Donated some money? Good, then we can continue. Now, I've been giving these books a lot of thought as to how I'd write about them. I didn't want to just read them and post my thoughts and analysis. I wanted a proper fully-blown playthrough.

And to do that, I needed a few victi-erm, players. Let me introduce the people I convinced to play this game with me (also known as 'the reasons why I drink').

Vargus is played by Simon, a long-time Dungeons and Dragons enthusiast, who has played a game every weekend for the last ten years. He works as an IT specialist, and his interests include internet radio, Doctor Who, comic books, and the furry fandom (which I have promised him that I will not make any jokes about during this entire blog post). Vargus wears chipped mail armour and carries a sword that has seen many battles.

Reaver is played by John, a long-time Vampire the Masquerade roleplayer. His favorite character to play is a Sabbat Malkavian, and if you know what that means, it tells you everything you need to know about how John plays roleplaying games. His hobbies include Strongbow, cackling dementedly, and studying for his degree in bio-engineering at our local university. Reaver is an elf who wears a long, billowing trenchcoat, which earned him the nickname 'Dick Tracy'.

Brian is played by Brian, who wanted to choose a name that wouldn't be too confusing. He's our youngest player at 16 years old, and has never played a Fighting Fantasy book until now. His experience with fantasy roleplaying is via Warhammer 40,000, and World of Warcraft. His hobbies include thrash metal, not getting a haircut, and banging his head against walls. Brian carries a spiked staff, and he wears large clanking black and silver armour which has skulls on the shoulders, which breathe fire for some reason.

Now that we have our band of fools, the chaos can begin
So during this week I invited all three around to my flat and we played through Fighting Fantasy, the introductory role-playing game. Our first adventure, The Wishing Well, is simple enough. Somewhere in the world, there is a wishing well that is full of treasure. The characters need to go and find the treasure. Each room is pretty much a self-contained puzzle piece, with a monster, or a trap, or some kind of Gygax-ian riddle to solve. All the players need to do is survive the dungeon and try not to burn down any nearby villages. Simple enough? You'd have thought it'd be simple enough, wouldn't you?

Our game begins with the three adventurers riding down into the well via a rope. At the bottom, they encounter Sadako, who kills them all instantly. No, not really. But the players do make constant bad puns about The Ring until they follow a tunnel leading north, where they eventually encounter a locked wooden door. While Reaver goes back to the bottom of the well to search for a key, Vargus tries to smash his way through the door. The door, however, springs open and causes Vargus to smash his head on the floor, taking damage. Brian helps by standing far back and laughing at Vargus.

The next room contains a dwarf with a gigantic beard, which nests several birds. I don't know quite what he's doing there, so I decided that he would welcome the players to his home, which is this one single room, for some reason. He then offers the players some peanuts. Reaver's nut was sour and had gone off, apparently so bad that he took damage from eating it. This angered Reaver, who killed the dwarf.

A moment of silence for the sanity
of dungeon masters everywhere
It's at this point that I realised that leaving a dead body in the same room with these players was a bad idea, because Brian decided it'd be funny to pee on the dead dwarf, while Reaver removed the dwarf's face and wore it on top of his own face. This continued for a while until the players had tired themselves out, and eventually decided to go and look in one of the adjoining rooms. The adjoining room contained a large abundance of weapons and armour, all of which was clearly labelled 'do not touch'. So they stole the whole lot.

The moment they tried to steal the items, a siren began to wail. The party could hear the sounds of footsteps charging towards the room. As a result, they grabbed one item (an axe, a crystal pendant and a pouch) each and ran into Thrushbeard's room, where they jammed the door shut using the dwarf's dismembered body. I did not have the heart to tell them that the siren, and the footsteps, were illusions and that they were perfectly safe. And after Vagrus explained, in very explicit detail, how you can jam a door shut with a dead body, I decided not to question that either.

The group head into a room through the northern-most door, to find three treasure chests and a variety of skeletons. They proceed to get into a massive argument about which bones they should rip off the skeletons. Eventually, Brian gets bored of the bickering and opens one of the chests, which causes a large snake to jump out a bite him. He tries to kill the snake, but notices that the axe which he had stolen from the previous room is of such poor quality that he can barely hit it. Eventually Vargus chops the snake's head off, and Reaver spends the next ten minutes trying to fashion the snake's body into a whip.

Before going any further, the adventurers investigated their stolen loot, worried that it may all be as much junk as Brian's axe. Reaver pulls out the crystal pendant, only to find that the 'crystal' was actually made of ice, and has since melted. Vargus is dissapointed to find that his pouch only contained a single gold coin. I did not tell him that the pouch creates a new single gold coin every fifteen minutes, which could have made him the richest member of the party.

With behavior like this, how could they
ever become the Avatar?
Deciding to leave the other two treasure chests well alone, and go into the room to the west, which appears to be the bedroom of a large two-headed lizard creature called a Calacorm, which is sleeping peacefully in a bed. The party decide to throw a chair at it. Because, what else would they do to it? This startles the poor lizard, so much that it tells the cast his most protected secret - that the treasure of the Spider-King is behind the door in the north wall of his room, and that the key is hidden by another denizen of the dungeon.

The players then tell the Calacorm to go and get them the key, or they'll set fire to his room. And to convince the Calacorm that they're serious, Reaver sets fire to its bed. While the Calacorm is still in it. So yeah, I decide that they've done enough chaos, and I have the poor traumatised creature stumble through the rest of the dungeon on the behalf of the players, returning about half an hour later with the crystal key that they need. Brian then kills the Calacorm, and wears the top of its head as a hat.

Unlocking the room, the party head into the dungeon's heart. A large cave, with three exits. The players puzzle over the middle one, as it is covered in giant spider's webs. Before they can carve their way through, they are attacked by a Nandi Bear, a giant bear with a taste for human brains (he's in for a very small meal here). The group are able to kill the bear, and while Reaver tries to cut his way through the spider's web, Vargus and Brian split up to check out the other alcoves.

Brian finds a locked door in the left-most alcove, which he cannot open. Vargus, however, opens a door in the right-most alcove and finds only a dark chamber inside. Darkness, and a fire-spitting doggie. The hellhound inside the room isn't too much of a problem once Brian and Reaver join the fight, but Vargus is badly injured by now and badly in need of a healing potion.

The Mads capture how my face looked
throughout the entire playthrough
The party decide to leave the dark room alone for now, and head into the central alcove, which leads them to the Spider-King. Which, as you'd expect, is a giant spider which speaks, and wears a little crown on its head. The Spider-King demands that they bow before him. Instead, Vargus insults its parentage and throws the dead hellhound at it, which he had been carrying around with him. They fight, and sure enough manage to kill the Spider-King.

They do not, however, find the treasure in the king's throne room. Instead they find a note, which states that the treasure room can only be opened by a magic spell, which the hell-hound was guarding. It takes them a while to feel around inside the dark room, but they eventually find a door that leads to a chamber containing a spellbook. While Reaver is reading the book, a zombie materialises in the corner of the room and kills Vargus.

While Brian and Reaver kill the zombie, Vargus then gets back up again, having now become a zombie himself. Zombie Vargus manages to take down most of Brian's stamina points, before the pair kill it for good. Now with only two party members remaining, the group return to the treasure room and use the spell to unlock the door. The treasure room contains a lot of gold, about equal to 80 gold pieces worth. So of course, Reaver decides to take it all for himself, and kills Brian. Brian's player then calls Reaver's player a douchebag, and we all demand that Reaver's player make it up to us by buying the evening's pizza.

And so began the second adventure in the book, "Shaggradd's Hives of Peril". Simon rolled up a new character, a gristled old hunter called McKinley. Brian rolled up a new character too, called Brian. After ten minutes of jokes about shagging and hives, the adventure begins.

Sometimes, only an internet meme will suffice
An old elf woman, Shaggradd, approaches the party and asks that they assist her in recovering the wealths of treasure buried under her land. She insists on keeping ten percent of all gold that the party find. At this point, Reaver holds the old woman down and forces her by knife-point to sign over the deed to her entire lands into his name. The party then hire a cart into town and, using the money they acquired from the Wishing Well incident, hire a band of mercenaries to go into the caves beneath Reaver's newly-acquired lands. They then spend the rest of the night getting drunk and bothering prostitutes.

And that was how the second adventure went. I'm not joking. The curious thing is, this is pretty much how ALL tabletop RPGs turn out. So... I suppose, as an introductory roleplaying game, Fighting Fantasy has worked perfectly.

Well, it's certainly been an experience doing this book, I'll say that much. As mentioned earlier there are three other tabletop RPGs in the original Fighting Fantasy line, and I'm sure I'll post playthroughs of them in the future too.

The far future.

Far, far future.


  1. Jesus. So that's why alignment was invented.

    You should give a skill point, though, for wearing extra armor. The downfall is that it decays and falls off in the middle of a big fight.

    1. I've ran games that turned out worse.

      No, really, I have. All things considered, this was a decent turn-out.

  2. Yep, I think we all had games that went that way. I remember the highlights of some of those games I've run was going through my mother's peppermints while pretending to break a tooth or two. It was really hard to stay serious, and I often was the culprit of too many bad jokes. Mea Culpa.

  3. Yep, we've all had our daft RPG sessions. I wonder what the players would have made of the second adventure. I mean, I've never figured out exactly why it features an eatery run by dwarves...

  4. That makes me glad I never succeeded in getting into roleplaying (I tried but it's quite cliquey). Having said that, the one time I did roleplay, my character blew his own hand off while trying to shoot a pygmy with a flare gun.