Saturday, 12 November 2011
Before embarking on your adventure to read this blog post, you must first determine your own strengths and weaknesses. You have in your possession a sword and a backpack containing provisions (food and drink) for the read. Use the Adventure Sheet to determine your skill, stamina and luck. If you encounter any spelling errors you may slay the author. If you want to escape at any time you will have to Test your Luck, but you may get flicked on the ear as you run away into the forest. Now read on brave adventurer. Turn to 8.
I first encountered The Forest of Doom while leafing through a book club catalogue in primary school, when I was enchanted by the title cover showing a hissing, lizard-like SHAPESHIFTER, stepping over a mossy log in Darkwood Forest, finger curling, ready for battle. I remember the excitement when my teacher announced the book had arrived and handed it to me at the end of the school day. When I got home and started reading, my mind was opened to an engrossing new reading experience called Fighting Fantasy, in which YOU (I) are (was) the hero! Turn to 235.
The Forest of Doom was actually the third in the Fighting Fantasy series of books, the debut adventure being The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, published a year earlier in 1982 by Puffin, and the first book in what was to become a highly successful series, created and written by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. Turn to 76.
The ZX Spectrum and BBC Micro, barely just on sale at the time, had only started to hint at the interactive possibilities of the video games that would come after them, so Fighting Fantasy books were fairly mind blowing, especially considering they were simple books – but with a difference. They were not presented as a linear narrative, but as a multiple choice adventure game in book form, made up of numbered paragraphs of story, detailing various scenarios that could be played out, depending on what you – the reader – chose to do or was your fate at the roll of a dice. Effectively they were role-playing adventures and the interactive element made them highly engaging to me as a child. No longer was I a passive reader of a story, frustrated by a plot I wanted to change or character I wanted to kill (a writer in the making?). At last, I could choose my own adventure. The addiction continued through childhood and I avidly read all the Fighting Fantasy books I could and eagerly awaited new titles – a particular favourite being The Creature of Havoc, where I soon discovered, to my delight, that I was playing a monster! Turn to 171.
So what has all this got to do with anything? Well, while browsing in a charity shop with my son not long ago we happened across an original tatty copy of The Forest of Doom. It was exchanged immediately for a few gold coins and on the way home I eagerly prepared my son for an incredible experience. He’s getting to be a confident reader at 7, but needed some help with setting it all up. This involves rolling dice to create the attributes for your “hero” of SKILL, STAMINA and LUCK, furnishing yourself with gold coins and, following successful navigation of the establishing story pages, equipping oneself with magical items to use on your adventure, such as, Nose Filters, a Net of Entanglement and the Headband of Concentration – genuine Fighting Fantasy items that would also be useful to any parent of young children. Turn to 98.
And so my son and I played out the adventure together, entering forest paths and encountering creatures and puzzles on our way. It wasn’t good for bedtime reading – far too exciting and besides, we’d lose the dice in the bed covers - so it became great father-son bonding time on the sofa at the weekend, me reading passages (with all voices for the creatures) and my son eager to fight any foe in battles, decided upon by rolling dice and adding or subtracting various attributes to establish who had hit who and how much damage was inflicted. Initially, without hindsight, my son always chose to fight in preference to running or peaceful trade – what hope humanity!? If anything, it’s a very enjoyable maths workout and I wondered if any teachers have used a Fighting Fantasy book to enhance a lesson? Turn to 130.
To my surprise I discovered it was actually harder than I’d remembered because, after several attempts, we found ourselves viciously slaughtered by various creatures after failing to win battles or left for dead because we didn’t have the correct magic potion. And like an unsaved computer game, if you die in a choose your own adventure you have to go back to the start and try again, this time choosing different paths, which does mean occasionally having to read the same passages out again. I began to tire of this, however my son seemed to enjoy the repetition and prior knowledge of the encounter ahead – for example, knowing when the SHAPESHIFTER on the cover, would shapeshift and start a fight so we could avoid it. Turn to 231.
We found the key to success was mapping. There are many compass directions - go east, go west (life is peaceful there), go north, etc, that can get you rapidly lost. Having said this, you cannot ever get entirely stuck, unlike a computer game, because you’ll either end up dead or eventually get to the end of the story – although not always with the items you needed to complete your quest. Turn to 139.
At this point I must confess to resorting to what all Fighting Fantasy players must have done, at least once – cheat. This involves keeping your finger in the page you are on, before you turn to the numbered section to determine the outcome of your decision or action. I’m sure the creators knew people might do this because often you’d get to another short paragraph – usually something about continuing eastwards, and then a jump... Turn to 59.
To another section of narrative summary...Turn to 360.
Until you found out the trail you were on would lead to certain doom. And so, like all those years ago a new generation has discovered the magic of Fighting Fantasy. Of course now you can get video games and even iPad versions, but I urge you to try the original before you’re spoilt by computer controlled dice rolls.
And what of our own adventure? My son and I are technically still stuck in Darkwood Forest, our story virtually paused, with about 10 yellow post-it notes stuck in the pages, a reward on the turn of each page, or certain death. Turn to 400.
You emerge, tired, hungry and victorious after reading this blog post. Now fortified with knowledge of the magic of Fighting Fantasy and the urge to seek out a paperback copy for yourself or your child, and then to roll some dice and choose your own adventure, one where YOU are the hero!
Thank you Philip! Please see my review of Philp's Jack and Boo's Bucket of Treasures here; his most recent book, Jack and Boo's Snowy Day, is going to be the Christmas present of some small people in my life!