Fighting Fantasy

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Fighting Fantasy is a series of single-player roleplaying gamebooks created by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, originally published by Puffin and now by Wizard Books. Rather than being read straight through as a novel, a Fighting Fantasy book consists of a series of (usually 400) numbered paragraphs describing different possible scenes in an adventure where the reader takes on the role of the central character. The story progresses through a sequence determined partly by the reader/character’s choice and partly by chance, with dice being used to determine the outcome of combat and other uncertain events.

Beginning in 1982 with Jackson and Livingstone’s The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, the books proved exceptionally popular, running for over 10 years in the original Puffin edition. When it was finally discontinued in the mid-1990s, 59 books had been published in the core series, alongside various sidelines such as Sorcery!, Advanced Fighting Fantasy, and others. The Wizard reissuing, beginning in 2002, has seen the publication of the famous “lost” 60th book, Bloodbones, and more original titles are planned.


Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone had founded Games Workshop in 1975 to distribute Dungeons & Dragons and other roleplaying games in the United Kingdom. Five years later, having expanded from a bedroom mail-order company to a successful publisher and manufacturer (the first Games Workshop store opened in 1977, and in 1979 the company provided the startup capital for Citadel Miniatures), the two were able to persuade Penguin Books editor Geraldine Cooke to consider a proposal for a handbook on the growing new hobby.

While preparing their synopsis for the publisher, a new idea occurred. Jackson recalls, “It was only when we got home and talked about it that Ian and I agreed the best way to get people to understand what a roleplaying game was like was for them to actually play one ... We knew that it was possible to do this by simply letting the book be the Gamesmaster.” [1] Instead of the “how-to” book Penguin had expected, the final proposal — The Magic Quest — was for a book where the reader took on the role of a character in a fantasy adventure, choosing their own route according to options the book presented and rolling dice, as in a tabletop roleplaying game, to simulate risky events such as combat.

Somewhat taken aback by how to deal with this concept — should it be considered a book or a game, and should it be aimed at children or at adults? — Penguin took a year to approve the proposal, during which time the Endless Quest series of gamebooks was released in the United States. When the green light was finally given, Jackson and Livingstone set to work on what was to be unveiled to the world as The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. A dungeon quest where the hero battled through monsters and mazes to confront an evil sorcerer in his underground lair, the two authors worked concurrently on different parts of the adventure, Livingstone writing the journey through the outer tunnels, Jackson the descent into the inner sanctum, although stylistic differences meant Jackson (“I drew the short straw”) later had to rewrite the earlier sections to make the story coherent [2]. Finally published in August 1982 in Penguin’s children’s imprint, Puffin Books, a slow initial uptake gave way to great success, with the book being reprinted twenty times before its first anniversary.

Sequels were commissioned and, with Jackson and Livingstone working on separate projects this time so as to avoid the rewrites required for their first effort, the Fighting Fantasy series was under way. 1983 saw the publication of four new adventures along with the debut of Warlock, a quarterly companion magazine that ran until 1986. The adult market was also targeted with Jackson’s Sorcery! series, a Fighting Fantasy spin-off featuring a complex adventure spanning four books. In 1984 Jackson released Fighting Fantasy, a companion volume to the gamebook series which presented adventures and extended rules for multi-player tabletop roleplaying. Out of the Pit, released in 1985, provided a compendium of monsters and other assorted beings from the Fighting Fantasy world.

From 1984 onwards the series began including books by other authors — beginning, confusingly, with another Steve Jackson, the American game designer who would later become famous for his roleplaying system GURPS. Other early “sub-authors” included Mark Smith and Jamie Thomson, who would go on to write the Way of the Tiger gamebooks, Andrew Chapman, Penguin editor Robin Waterfield and former Games Workshop general manager Peter Darvill-Evans. Sub-authors were typically credited only on the inner title page, with book covers carrying the legend, “Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone present ...”

1986 saw the release of Titan, a book describing the world where most of the Fighting Fantasy adventures were set, and another tabletop roleplaying release, The Riddling Reaver, by Paul Mason and Steven Williams. Tabletop roleplaying was taken much further in 1989 with the release of the first of Marc Gascoigne and Pete Tamlyn’s Advanced Fighting Fantasy series, which introduced many extensions to the basic Fighting Fantasy rules, including an extensive range of “special skills” to customise characters’ abilities and a comprehensive spellcasting and magical system. 1989 also saw the release of the first Fighting Fantasy novel, Steve Jackson’s The Trolltooth Wars.

Although not the first gamebooks to use dice mechanics — priority goes to Buffalo Castle, published by Flying Buffalo in 1976 — Fighting Fantasy popularised the format immensely, leading to the emergence of many rival series.


See also: Titan (Fighting Fantasy)


For more information, see: Fighting Fantasy game mechanics.