Saturday, 9 March 2013

Titan and Out of the Pit read-through

This isn't a play-through. It's just a read-through. Because these books aren't gamebooks. They're setting books.

It seems pretty strange nowadays to think that Fighting Fantasy was so popular and so big that it could, at one point, support two setting books. Especially when you consider how shakily written and poorly edited some of the later books were. But yeah, it's true to say that in its early years, FF gamebooks were THE gamebooks that dominated the marketplace.

And as a result, Marc Gascoigne edited together two setting books. Now, you'll normally see setting books as being something that exists in full-blown roleplaying game lines. Dungeons and Dragons have stacks of these, for instance. Out of the Pit is the FF equal to the D&D Monster Manual, outlining a variety of creatures. Titan covers the history of the world. Both of these books were slightly bigger than the usual FF gamebooks, roughly the same dimension as Dungeoneer, Blacksand and Allansia, so it's pretty clear that the aim of Titan and OotP was to serve as resources for the Advanced Fighting Fantasy roleplay game system.

Both of these books have very distinct memories associated with them. Out of the Pit was the first of the two that I'd got when I was a kid, picked up on the same Christmas as I'd got a few other Fighting Fantasy books (Island of the Lizard King being one of them). I remember flicking through it while waiting for Christmas dinner to be ready, and trying to figure out just what an aardwolf actually is. The other, Titan, was much harder to find, and was one of the ones that I picked up in Blackpool during a summer holiday. In fact, I suspect that I got it on the same summer as I'd found my copy of Midnight Rogue, at a used book stall at an indoor market.

So, let's look at Out of the Pit first. My copy has a sticker on the inside front cover, with the words 'Fiend p114, Dragon p85' written on it. So if you recognise these words and this used to be your copy, some advice - use a damn bookmark in future, not a sticker!

Like any monster manual type of book, Out of the Pit is full of monsters. And creatures. Actually, the creatures significantly outnumber the monsters. For sake of simplicity, I'm counting 'giant' versions of creatures as still being creatures. You'll find a huge number of bats, lizards, crocodiles, wolves, wild boars... These do just feel like they're only there to pad out the pages.

When you get to the actual monsters, though, things take a turn for the better. You're instantly surrounded by classic monsters who you'll remember immediately from their respective Fighting Fantasy books. The Crystal Warrior, for instance, brings back a lot of memories of the Cavern of the Snow Witch. There's an entry on the Ganjees who I'm sure we all dreaded from Citadel of Chaos. And even the bizarre Living Corpse fro Khare: Cityport of Traps makes an appearance.

Each entry has a piece of artwork, usually taken from the monster's most memorable FF appearance. Some of them are very good, like the Zombie's entry, which was taken from House of Hell. I say 'most', because some of them evidently didn't quality for this special treatment and have had to have artwork specially put together for this book, to a varying degree of success. The artwork for the dragon is especially depressing, managing to make the dragon look cute and bubbly. I'm kinda confused about this, because there was a lovely drawing of a dragon in The Warlock of Firetop Mountain that would have been perfect. I wonder why they couldn't have used that.

The book gives all of the monsters their respective game stats, and there's some balancing issues with this. For instance, a simple banshee is easily stronger than a dreaded brain eater, and the crystal warrior could easily go toe-to-toe with a nightmarish hell demon. The descriptions for the monsters does a good job of giving their history, personality and explaining their special attacks though, so you feel that you've been able to learn a few things about them. This is quite useful, so I'm happy about that. You'll not often find any useful tips on how to take down the enemies in the FF gamebooks, though, but it's always worth a try if you find you're struggling with them.

So let's talk about Titan. In its own way, this is a far more ambitious book than Out of the Pit, because it attempts to cover the entire world of the Fighting Fantasy setting. And that's a huge place. Just to outline this, the first segment of the book covers the land itself. The world, Titan, is split into three continents (named Allansia, Khul, and The Old World, as any FF fan will remind you), each of which has its own unique landscapes and atmosphere.

We start out with a look into the land mass of each continent, and there's a short few sentences and paragraphs describing the general layout of each of them. It's a nice segment, accompanied with some illustrated maps of the regions, which gives a good overview of the regions and shows quite a bit of creativity. You soon notice that different regions have their own respective naming conventions, which are grouped together appropriately, which is impressive. It shows the way that the setting for the books have grown over time and taken a life of their own.

Our next section goes into the history of the world, and it's worth noting at this point that most of the book has quite a distinctive narrative voice, as if it's being relayed to the reader by another more-experienced adventurer or scholar. This section first goes into the world's creation myths, which draws influence pretty much evenly from Nordic myths and Tolkien's own work. It's distinctive, and keeps the pace going as it goes on to describe some of the world's large wizard battles, the rise of civilisations and all of that. This section ends with a few pages describing the pantheon of goodly dieties.

The following segments are laid out quite nicely. They cover the traditional fantasy races of dwarves and elves, giving an illustrated layout of a home city for each of them. We then cover how magic works in the setting, including the obligatory mention of the sour old mages Yaztromo and Nicodemus. And then we're onto discussing the forces of evil, which tells the reader all about the demons and their planes of existence, the orcs and their culture, goblin tribes, lizard and snake men, dark elves, and so on and so on.

The segments on all of these different races composes the backbone of the book, and takes up the most number of pages. Each one is very indepth, leaving you feeling that you've been given a very detailed understanding of them. I especially love the illustrated cities/villages/lairs, which adds a lot of depth and creativity. One thing I did wish was that it covered a bit of technology as well here. For instance, we see in later FF books that some regions are more advanced than others, and it'd be interesting to see why some areas and races have been able to develop intricate clockwork machinery while others settle with swords and bows.

The segment that follows this, though, are the ones that are probably the most interesting. They cover the 'big bads' of the FF-verse. The evil gits that you're sent out on adventures to go and kill. There's pages on Razaak, Malbordus, Shareela the Snow Witch, the happy school days of Balthus Dire, Zharradan Marr and Zagor, the Deathtrap Dungeon architect Baron Sukumvit, the crown of kings stealing Archmage of Mapang, and the as-of-yet-still-alive Lord Azzur of Blacksand. Yes, he is indeed as evil as Zagor.

The remaining pages squeeze in as much info as they can about sundries, like Atlantis, the calender, local holidays, the life of an adventurer, currency, and the most important thing of all, a rough guide to the pubs. I'll give Titan this, it squeezes a lot of info into its page count, and feels far more hefty and useful than Out of the Pit. It's easy to imagine a young, roleplay-hungry GM using this to put together a campaign in which the players can take down the evil Lord Azzur.

Me, I just read it as if it were a history book. I was that kind of kid. Unlike most setting books, it doesn't really ever read as being dry and full of generic statistics. This probably comes down to its narration. Overall I'd rate it higher than Out of the Pit, for its general depth and involving structure.

Oh, and check this out - I've got through these books without dying. Which is more than I manage in most of the posts in this blog.

But yeah, these two books are pretty useful for any FF enthusiast. In more recent years, they've been remade, and I think there's a second Out of the Pit book due at some point. I don't know if the remade ones have been expanded or not, they're a bit outside of the remit of this blog, but it should be useful for readers to know that these are still available if you should ever want to check them out.

6 comments:

  1. The original editions of both books were A4 size. I had no idea they existed until I tried to replace my old copies and I got the larger versions in the post!

    As far as I'm aware the new editions just have new covers, but the layout and contents are the same as the original A4 printings.

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  2. Kelvin's correct - the "2nd edition" publications of OOTP and Titan are only reprints which is a shame. :/

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  3. Titan came out at around the same time as book 23, Masks of Mayhem, so it couldn't draw on the later FF books you mention. In context, the material on Marr and Razaak was far-reaching stuff, because it referred to the villains of books which weren't even out yet.

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  4. I have a large (A4-ish) Titan that I picked up a couple of years ago. I never had it as a kid/adolescent because I did most of my FF-ing through the local library, and they didn't have Titan.

    This post has convinced me to dig out Titan and have a proper read. I also have a limited edition FF spin-off somewhere - a short adventure accompanied by a diary and some things that seem like they might be extracts from Titan.

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    1. That's the -- I think tenth -- anniversary book. It has some monsters from the later books, a diary and a short adventure.

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  5. I'm currently working on a sequel to Out of the Pit for Arion Games' relaunched Advanced Fighting Fantasy range. It will have 250 new monsters from the later gamebooks and is very close to approaching completion. It's called Beyond the Pit and should hopefully be available soon! :-)

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