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Sunday, 6 June 2010

A lost Fighting Fantasy gamebook

I keep saying, "Here's a curious little fragment" so by now you know that's par for the course around here, right? Today we've got one of several proposals that Jamie and I submitted to Puffin as ideas for Fighting Fantasy books.

The book the Puffin editors went for in the end, The Keep of the Lich Lord, was actually our least favorite of the bunch. The one reproduced here, The Mists of Horror, might have been fun to do but we were keener on four others: Curse of the God Kings (based on one of our epic role-playing campaigns with Oliver Johnson, Mark Smith and others), The Best Thief in Arantis (which I was very very glad to eventually write, located instead in its correct Arabian Nights setting, as Twist of Fate), The Keeper of the Seven Keys (very ambitious that one; you played the bad guy in what would have been a gamebook precursor of Dungeon Keeper) and Jamie's favorite, Dinosaurs of Death, which did exactly what it said on the tin and surely would have pleased boys everywhere. Including us two boys who wanted to write it.

Maybe we'll run some of the others later, but for now here's the pitch we made to Puffin Books for...

The Mists of Horror

You are a journeyman-sorcerer travelling to a new College of Magic where you intend to continue your studies. Your journey takes you from the city of Harabnab across the wild moors of Ruddlestone's hinterland. Full of high spirits, you decide to ride on ahead of your retinue to arrange lodging at an inn along the road. As you return to join them, you find yourself riding into gathering fog banks. You can find no sign of your servants, nor of the books and travelling-chest that were on the mules with them. You go on to the inn, expecting your servants to turn up there, but night falls and still they have not arrived.

Outside, the fog has closed its grip on the countryside. You can see it sitting along the ridges of the moor like the ranks of a phantom army. You realise you would have no chance of finding your servants now, so you return to brood by the fire. It is nearly midnight when a man staggers in, his clothes torn as if by brambles and his face white with shock. The landlord recognises him as the miller from the next village down the road. He mutters a few cryptic remarks about "the Faerie King" and "the Unseelie Court" before collapsing in delirium.

The next day, you look out of your window to see the village encircled by fog. Stray wisps creep across the ground outside, and it seems the fog is closing in.

You go downstairs to find the villagers gathered in the common room of the inn. There are mutterings about an old stone circle out on the moors, and the village priest fearfully relates the ancient story that this was a portal leading to the Otherworld, where the spiteful fays of the Unseelie Court reign supreme. The ancient tradition was that a blood sacrifice should be made once in every hundred years to keep the portal closed, but since the locals turned to the worship of the benevolent Hamaskis, God of Wisdom, they have not kept up the rituals of their forefathers.

Now the mutterings in the inn begin to grow, and soon panic at the thought of Otherworld magic turns the villagers into a crazed mob. Fearful for their lives, they seize the innkeeper's daughter - a friendly girl who served you food and drink the night before. They mean to sacrifice her to the callous Old Gods in the hope that the magical portal to the Otherworld can be closed again. You are horrified at such a suggestion, though you realise that their terror is such that you cannot hope to reason with them. Along with the priest, you manage to persuade them to at least let you have one day in which to find the stone circle and try closing it with your own magic. What you do not tell them is that you are only a journeyman-sorcerer, and you have scant hope that your own power will be enough. Still, you must try - or else an innocent girl will go to her doom, and her blood will be on the hands of these honest but frightened villagers.
Having crossed the circle of mist around the village, the protagonist finds himself in the Otherworld - a magical envoironment where events follow a strange dreamlike logic. His success will be decided in part by his ability to adjust to the different ways of thinking that this environment demands.

The protagonist's task is to find the Unseelie Court, which corresponds in the Otherworld to the stone circle's position in the real world. His missing servants are being held captive oat the Court. There he must battle the Faerie KIng to drive the Otherworld back and close off its contact with the real world. Throughout the adventure, a major worry for the protagonist (as expressed in the narrative) will be the need to conserve his magical power for the initiation tests he expects to face at the College of Magic.

In fact, victory will only be won by attacking the Faerie King with no holds barred - seemingly giving up on the hope of entering the College later. However, this in itself merely constitutes a moral choice for the protagonist: in order to win he has to forget his own selfishness. Making the correct choice in this situation means the reward of a second victory on returning to the village: not only are the villagers (including the girl) safe from the threat of the Otherworld, but the fellows of the College of Magic have learned of the trouble and now deem the protagonist worthy to enter their ranks.


  1. Here's some other 'lost' fantasy game books...

  2. ROFL! Brilliant. If you like those, Wayne, there are some SF & fantasy covers here in a similar vein:

  3. Yeah, that site did literally make be laugh out loud - hilarious. My faves being Barbarian Idol, Type II Diabetics from Mars and Lizard Man Robin Hood, The Best Gamebook of all Time... damn, they're all just fantastic.

    Cheers for the link - I see the Bloodsword covers have turned up there too. Not unexpected really. :)

  4. Dave, just wanted to say thanks for your blog and though I hope your filing cabinet continues to yield more nuggets, what you have posted already has been some of the best reading I've had all year...

  5. Thank you, Anon. And those BS covers, Wayne - they deserve to be there; they were like albatrosses around my neck. The first one, for instance. I said to the artist, "There's this spectre hanging in the air... You know the ghost in the library in Ghostbusters?"

    "Yeah yeah! Don't say any more," says the artist.

    "You know the ghost I mean?"

    "Sure." Well, turns out he thought I was talking about Slimer. Argh.

  6. Dave, I was wondering if you could post a list of gamebooks that you recommend.

  7. Sure thing, Mike. My favorites are the Duel Master books that Jamie wrote with Mark Smith, the best of which is Challenge of the Magi. I also recommend their Way of the Tiger series.

    In the Fighting Fantasy series I enjoyed Crimson Tide and Black Vein Prophecy, both by Paul Mason. Also any by Steve Jackson, though I like those more for their inventive gameplay mechanics than for the stories.

    There are two Steve Jacksons, of course, and the US one more or less invented fantasy gamebooks with Death Test, released in the late '70s. That's worth tracking down if you can get it at a decent price, but there's not much of a story. It was Bantam who revolutionized gamebooks by adding a plot and, crucially, getting them into regular bookstores with the Choose Your Own Adventure series.

    Also worth a look are Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective and Tales of the Arabian Nights, which are both hybrids of boardgame and gamebook.

    Hope that helps!

  8. I couldn't find any information on Tales of the Arabian Nights on I was also wondering who performed the radio performance that you posted on here a while back.

  9. This is great Dave, thank you! I would love to hear more about the others too (although an extensive outline of 'Keeper of the Seven Keys' has done the rounds online). 'Dinosaurs of Death' would certainly have appealed to me when I was younger and still does...

    Have a look at, where we've assembled details of unpublished FF books. We'd love to add more if we can.

  10. Mike, for Arabian Nights check out:

    Paltogue, I've got more details of several of those gamebook concepts - I'll try and remember to run them soon.

  11. Oh, and the radio show was co-written and performed by Jamie's brother Peter (who has the stage name of "Francis Thomson") and you can get it here:

  12. I'm just going to add here that some gamebook fans ( have suggested that I was inspired by Stephen King's story "The Mist". Actually I had never heard about that story until it got turned into a movie a few years ago (long after we pitched this to the FF editors) but I was almost certainly partly inspired by John Carpenter's movie The Fog (1980). The main inspiration, though, was Celtic myth (and Celtic mists) by way of Mike Moorcock's second cycle of Corum books.