With the release of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain in 1982 a new type of book captured the imagination of children across the UK. This book was the first in a series known as the Fighting Fantasy game books, which differed from normal books in that they weren’t intended to be read from start to finish. Instead the book allowed the reader to become the player, making choices which affected the overall direction of the story.
In order to “play” a Fighting Fantasy game book you needed some paper and a pencil to keep track of your character statistics and possessions, and for drawing a map, and two six sided dice. Before you began your adventure you had to roll the dice to create your character, which in most of the books meant determining values for skill, stamina and luck attributes, in much the same way as a true role playing game such as Dungeons and Dragons required. These values determined how good your character would be at fighting monsters or getting out of scrapes unharmed. Of course it was possible to cheat and award yourself maximum points, but where was the fun in that.
Having created your character you then read section number one of the book. This would end with one or more options which were available to them, each of which was assigned a different section number. For example, you may have reached a junction in the path where you could turn left or right. You made your decision and then read the indicated section, and thus you generated your own story. Obviously there were only a limited number of actual eventual outcomes, but there were enough to allow you to come back and read the book several times over, which is where drawing a map came in handy, so you could try a different route next time.
Sometimes you would encounter an enemy creature and were forced to fight it. This brought the dice into play again. First you rolled two dice for yourself, and added your skill value to the total. You repeated this for the creatures skill level. Whichever value was higher determined which combatant was injured, which caused their stamina score to be reduced by two. You could additionally roll against your luck score in a similar manner to increase the damage done or received. Of course, many people just ignored the fighting and automatically declared themselves the victor, since they just wanted to try and get to the end of the story and win.
The first Fighting Fantasy books were co-authored by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, who founded the Games Workshop chain of shops and publisher of role playing and board games. They wrote the Fighting Fantasy books in order to open up the world of role playing games to a wider audience, an aim which I think they achieved admirably. Between them Jackson and Livingstone created the first nine books in the series, including titles such as Starship Traveller, The Forest of Doom and City of Thieves. Demand was such that other writers came on board (including rather confusingly a second Steve Jackson!) to yield an eventual total of 59 books in all, all published by Puffin books. The books have since been reprinted under the Wizard publishing brand where the total number has increased to 62 books.
These days Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone are still involved in the creation of games, but now it is videogames they work in primarily. Jackson worked has worked with Lionhead and Codemasters on titles such as The Movies and Colin McRae: Dirt, whilst Ian Livingstone was on the board at Tomb Raider publisher Eidos, and also retained his position when Eidos was bought by SCi. In 2006 Livingstone was awarded an OBE for services to the computer game industry.