Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone are wonderful people. Really, really wonderful people.
If not for these two enigmatic chaps forever staring out from behind their spidery-white signatures on the garish back covers of 60-odd Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, I doubt my inner world would be a fraction as rich, imaginative or demented as it is today, and I’m sure many individuals of a certain age could say the same. Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone really are just wonderful people.
But they are also filthy, filthy liars.
The following quote is taken directly from page 17 of the Puffin Books edition of Fighting Fantasy #6, Deathtrap Dungeon:
“The one true way involves a minimum of risk and any player, no matter how weak on initial dice rolls should be able to get through fairly easily.”
Any one of YOU who has spent any time with two dice, a pencil and an eraser in hand deciding which routes to follow, which dangers to risk and which monsters to fight knows this statement for the steaming hot load of bollocks it so plainly is.
This line was repeated in the Hints on Play section of all the earlier books, and the clear implication – at least to my naive young mind – was that this also held true for the rest of the series. And a lot of the time it felt like there was no “one true way”, and there was most certainly no “minimum of risk”, and sweet sloshing BLOODBEAST riding a MANTICORE backwards to Port Blacksand, there was no bloody “get[ting] through fairly easily”.
And so, as one of the former tweenage peons whose meagre pocket money was regularly and eagerly contributed to help those serial liars Jackson and Livingstone and their capitalistic cronies at Puffin Books acquire their “OVER 10 MILLION COPIES SOLD WORLDWIDE!” trademark bragging rights, I have decided I have a civic duty.
And yes, that civic duty involves playing each and every one of these damnable books with the lowest possible ability scores to expose these foul deceptions for what they are. And my clumsy, wheezing, ill-omened adventurers will die again and again and again, by tooth, by claw, by sword, by mace, by ray gun, by pit trap, by poison, by hunger, by fatigue, by mind control, by ritual sacrifice, by – you get the picture. And alongside me here as each and every drop of blood is shed shall be YOU, dear reader, in the time-honoured Fighting Fantasy manner. And through our collective suffering YOU too shall know the truth, and the truth shall set YOU free.
“May the luck of the gods go with you on your adventure ahead!” page 17 of Deathtrap Dungeon continues in what I can only imagine to be the same kind of sneering and sardonic tone with which Michael Moorcock’s Elric, “king of ruins, lord of a scattered race that had once ruled the ancient world”, “sorcerer and swordsman, slayer of kin, despoiler of his home land, white-faced albino, last of his line”, “doom-driven adventurer who bore a crooning rune blade that he loathed”, would say, “I am having a wonderful day and feeling like a cheerful happy person whose cup runneth over with zest for life and a general sense of self-worth.” May your STAMINA never fail,” Ian Livingstone used to like to say. Yeah, all 14 bloody points of it.
Strap on your leather armour and backpack and load up your sword, shield and potion, dear adventurer. It’s time to die.