Friday, 18 October 2013

Milestones in gaming #2: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain

The second in my occasional series on my personal milestones in gaming, those eye-opening moments which may or may not have been of importance to the wider gaming fraternity, deals with The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. Penned by Games Workshop founder Ian Livingstone and published in 1982, it was one of the first of the 'choose your own adventure' game books to hit the market.

At the time, I was in boarding school in the West Midlands. At the start of every term, my mother always used to buy my brothers and I a new book each to take our minds off the start of term. I was 12 at the time, and had no previous knowledge of RPGs, so WoFTM was a bit of an eye opener for me. Here was no work of fiction to be read cover to cover. It was an adventure, where you decided which path to take and found out what happened next as your adventurer quested deeper into the bowels of the mountain.

The plot was not complex: you were there to kill the warlock and take his place, fighting your way past the various underworld denizens, like orcs and giant rats, which protected him. On top of this, there was a game element, with variable starting attributes for your character , and simple combat / fortune mechanics. It was a cost-effective solo gaming experience at a time when the earliest home computers were appearing on the market (by 1985 I was already playing games on the Spectrum +), but one you could play at school in break time without ever going near a computer (all you needed were a pencil and a couple of d6).

WoFTM kicked off a mid-1980s craze in adventure gaming books, and swept my school as the latest must-have mania in circa 1982/83. I can't believe it was 30 years ago. Its sequels, the Citadel of Chaos and Forest of Doom, were also eagerly devoured, and we were soon tremulously treading the streets of the City of Thieves or exploring Deathtrap Dungeon.

The awesome ghoul illustration by Russ Nicholson
The books were very atmospheric, and if you were playing through one for the first time, entirely absorbing. The early ones were also illustrated by Russ Nicholson, who for me, like Larry Elmore with Dungeons and Dragons, became the definitive artist of the series.  

I've since bought a few for my son, who has played through a few, but for someone who is growing up in the era of Dragon Age and Minecraft, they probably don't hold the same level of fascination for him as they did for me in 1982/3.

I've recently had a crack at a few of the others which I didn't get around to in the 1980s, but somehow the appeal and excitement were simply not what they were - perhaps attention spans have been narrowed by too much video gaming.

I also see WoFTM has gone on to spawn a board game and Nintendo DS and PSP variants, which seems like a sensible move. It seems somehow unfair that the original only rates a 5.8 on Boardgamegeek, which surely does not take into consideration its innovation?

At the back of my dog-eared copy of WoFTM was an advertisement for John Butterfield's - What is Dungeons & Dragons? I read this with interest too. The result of that will be the topic of my next milestone...

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