Saturday, 23 February 2008

#1 - The Warlock Of Firetop Mountain

I must've attempted this particular book a million times without success when I was a kid. Who am I kidding - I was still trying to procure Zagor's damn treasure well into my teens. Seriously. Although it was the first in the series, I found no other Fighting Fantasy gamebook as difficult as The Warlock Of Firetop Mountain - except perhaps Starship Traveller (which I'll be most likely failing to complete in a few posts' time).

The copy of the book I've got now is an '80s original - the back cover only lists two other gamebooks in the series, there's no "Steve Jackson & Ian Livingstone Present" banner across the top, and most tellingly, a few of the instructional pages are almost falling out. Surprisingly for a second hand copy, the page where you keep all your statistics, inventory and fight notes hasn't got layers and layers of rubbed out pencil. I always hated it when you'd spend your week's pocket money at the second hand book store on a new gamebook, only to find some dickwad has done his adventure in pen.

The aim of The Warlock Of Firetop Mountain is to defeat Zagor, the Warlock of the book's title, and acquire his treasure, which is kept in a chest only accessible if you have the right combination of keys.

Anyway. I began by rolling a ten for my skill level, 17 for stamina and eight for luck. Not too bad, but not exactly the best stats. I used to just give myself 12/24/12 (the maximum), but in the interests of accurate journalism (this is a blog after all... come on!) I'm gonna do things properly this time.

So to the adventure - once inside the mountain, I went west, snuck past some sleeping guards (I love how most guards you meet in the Fighting Fantasy world are fucking slackers) but soon came across some drunken orcs (I also love how most orcs you come across are drunk - except when they're guards, in which case I assume they're sleeping off killer mead hangovers).

The intro to the book claims there is one "true" way through the book, which you can do with minimal danger and effort. I most certainly did not take that way. I was attacked by a giant sandworm while sitting down for a feed, attacked by a vampire while hanging out in a crypt (not sure what I expected to happen), and at one point, the book asked if I had any cheese on me.


On my way through the mountain I did come across a spell to neutralize dragon breath though, which was perhaps the only right thing I did. I also managed to spend half an hour stuck in a maze, which was seriously not fun. I assume Jackson & Livingstone had several pages to fill, and decided to be complete arseholes. Mission accomplished.

I reached Zagor's, um, we'll call it a lair shall we, without any special weapons bar a Y-shaped stick, which apparently broke in my rucksack. I have a sneaking suspicion if I attempted the book again, it would break again, so I think we can assume it's useless. Luckily the dice weren't broke, and I managed to defeat Zagor with four stamina points left.

So, onto the chest it was. I thought alright, I've got two numbered keys, I should be sweet... temporarily forgetting the number of times I'd made it this far way back when, with more than two keys, and still failed to open the damn chest.

Turns out you need at least three to begin with, so I was fucked, and as with every single other time I've made it this far and every single other person who's made it this far without finding the right keys, I sat on the chest and wept.

So, The Warlock Of Firetop Mountain, you win again, even in your lead villian's death, again. I'm not sure how Jackson & Livingstone managed to get the formula right on their very first book, but it's one you'll always go back to - simply because it's so freakin' difficult, without seeming impossible. It doesn't use monsters with insane skill levels to defeat you, nor fifty/fifty "if you make the wrong turn you instantly die" copouts. It's simply well put together and intriguingly arranged...

Apart from that fucking maze, of course. Is there something in there you need to complete The Warlock Of Firetop Mountain? Or is it just a royal pain in the arse? I've got about 50 other books to get through before I go back to it, so I'll leave it at that.

Except to ask, is Zagor the real villian here? He's just hanging out in his mountain, minding his own business, and in comes some spotty-faced bounty hunter interested in only one thing, and isn't afraid to slaughter and lie his way to it. Think about it.


Anonymous said...

you need the keys numbered 99,111 and 111

TheWycliffe said...

LMAO! What a fantastic idea for a blog : ) I've loved FF since I was a kid. I'm only a few short of completing the series.

As for #1, it was alright. Not too easy, not too hard. It took me many a try to master it. No matter how many times I read it though, I'm always underwhelmed at the end. It should be more...EPIC! It just kinda fizzles out. Imagine the "Price Is Right" in boring beige with a staid crowd rather than the technicolor mirage that it is; that is the disappointment upon reaching paragraph 400. "Warlock" needs more proverbial Plinko.

My favorite part was crossing the river because I knew that part 1 was (probably) complete and I made it relatively unscathed. The worst part was the maze...after reading the book upteen times, I finally cheated. I don't recommend doing so, but I just couldn't help myself.

I have bookmarked your site and look forward to many more updates.

Chris said...

Yeah, there's a room in the maze that has a Minotaur in it. Killing said bull-man gives you one of the keys you need.

Other than that, no, the maze can get bent.

Unknown said...

I won't spoil your fun if you want to re-visit this adventure later on, but I always found that two of the necessary keys were really easy to find, whereas the third was easily missed.

The Maze of Zagor drove me crazy as a seven-year old too...

Karl said...

Ohhh, I love this one! The first one I tried (only the first three FF books were ever translated into Norwegian). I've finished it several times (even without cheating). There are essentially two paths, and two key combinations that lead to victory. And if you diligently draw a map (as the book encourages you to do), you won't get lost in the maze.

One thing I've always wondered: when you defeat the vampire, you get, among other things, a book. It doesn't say what kind of book, not even the title of it, just "a book". And you never need it for anything. Except possibly at the very end, when you can toss one of your inventory items as a distraction. I always use the book, anyway.