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Wednesday, 8 June 2011

The Castle of Lost Souls

In 1984, gamebooks were getting to be big business in Britain. This was mainly thanks to Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson who, during a fact-finding trip to Los Angeles, had seen the success of Choose Your Own Adventure and guessed that a more rules-heavy Dungeons & Dragons style of gamebook would sell in the UK. Somehow they sold the notion to Philippa Dickinson at Puffin. She later confessed to me that she spent months wondering if she had made the smartest or stupidest decision of her career. It turned out to be the former, and so Fighting Fantasy was born.

Livingstone was then the nominal editor of White Dwarf magazine, though the real editorial duties fell to Fabled Lands' very own Jamie Thomson, and he figured that a solo adventure would help bring Fighting Fantasy readers into the even more hardcore roleplaying hobby. (White Dwarf at that time was a roleplaying magazine.) As I was in the habit of hanging around the Games Workshop offices nattering with Jamie, and had already written an entire roleplaying game - no, wait, two of them! - for Livingstone and Jackson back in 1980, I had become in their eyes the unofficial staff writer and ended up with the task of writing a four-part solo adventure to run in WD issues 52-54 (April to July 1984).

"The Castle of Lost Souls" was my first gamebook-style work, co-written with my girlfriend, Yvonne Newnham. I'm sure I treated it as slumming, my real interest being in roleplaying games, and not of the "snotty goblins" school of GW fantasy either. But life, as Lennon said, is what happens when we're busy making other plans, and little did I know that I was about to embark on a decade of gamebook writing that produced about thirty titles (if you include Heroquest and Knightmare).

The adventure got repurposed as the sixth book in my Golden Dragon Gamebook series. That's the cover above, shorn of the yappy little loldragon face that the Grafton art director saw fit to inflict on the series. The original magazine version was quite different from the book, especially in the opening instalment, "The Champion". And you can try it for yourself next Monday, when we'll be posting up that first part right here.


This is an adventure like the well-known Fighting Fantasy Gamebooks. Your fate will be determined by the decisions you make, along with a little luck. Read only those numbered paragraphs you are sent to in the text. You begin by determining your characteristics. These show how good an adventurer you are.

Roll one die. Add 5 to this number. The total is your Fighting Prowess. The higher the score, the better you are at swordplay and other martial skills.

Roll two dice and add 10. This is your Constitution. A high score enables you to resist hardship, disease and poison, and gives you the strength to fight on even when badly wounded.

Roll one die and add 5. This is your Cleverness— how fast you can think and act in an emergency. Your Cleverness helps when you are trying to jump clear of a hidden trapdoor, hide from a pursuer and so on.

Roll one die and add 3. Add 1 more if your Fighting Prowess is 7 or less. Add 1 if your Constitution is 14 or less. This is your Magical Fortitude. The higher it is, the better chance you have of resisting the effects of hostile sorcery,

What you have just done is called rolling up a character. Note down your scores in each characteristic on a piece of paper; this is your Character Sheet.

When you fight, you will be told your opponent’s Fighting Prowess, Constitution and armour. Note these down before the combat starts, as you may need to turn to other paragraphs during the combat.

A fight comprises a number of combat rounds. During each combat round, both you and your foe get to strike at each other. The sequence for each combat round is as follows:

Keeping Track of Your Characteristics
Keep careful note of your characteristics. Your Constitution could change quite a bit, as you take wounds in combat or suffer other hardships. Sometimes your other characteristics may change as well. Make a special note of your initial score in each characteristic as (unless you are told otherwise) your score in a characteristic cannot exceed its initial value. If you successfully complete this adventure, you will have a chance to permanently increase one of your characteristics.

The armour you are wearing reduces the damage you take from a blow. Your opponents will often have armour as well. In the case of monsters, this usually represents their tough skin rather than being actual armour. 1-point armour is leather (or thick hide); 2-point is chainmail (or horny scales, like a dragon's). You start your adventure with chainmail armour, which will absorb 2 points from the damage of any blow that strikes you. Note this down on your Character Sheet.

You should also note down the equipment you have. As well as the chainmail, you have a sword, a dagger, a bow and six arrows, a backpack for holding treasure, a Potion of Healing (see below), and 10 gold pieces. Whenever you pick something up during the adventure, note it down on the Character Sheet.

The Potion of Healing
You start with a flask containing one dose of this potion. When you drink it (which you can do at any time except during a combat), roll one die and add 3. This is the number of Constitution points you recover. The potion cannot, however, increase your Constitution above its initial score.

The more chivalrously you behave during the adventure, the more Honour you will acquire. Conversely, you lose Honour by behaving in an underhand fashion. In many cases it may seem easier to take a dishonourable course of action, but be warned that this could make parts of your subsequent adventures more difficult. You begin with an Honour score of 3.


You are a famous and skilled warrior. Your many adventures have pitted you against all manner of foes: wily goblins in the Spiderbite Hills, mummified guards of desert tombs, ghoul-witches of Dastragor Marsh, many a crazed wizard, and more than a dozen of the kingdom's mightiest knights. Your fame (or notoriety) precedes you into every town and village, so you are not surprised when you trudge into yet another smoky tavern to hear the rowdy hubbub stop as faces turn towards you. You drop your backpack by the hearth and sit at an empty table, your broadsword carefully propped against the chair.

The landlord pours you ale while whispers flit among the other pat¬rons. 'I suppose they are unused to seeing an adventurer in a town such as this,' you say to him.

'Allow me to correct you,' he replies cheerfully. 'Lately, adventurers have been as thick as flies on the back of an old horse. My other customers are surely discussing your chances on the morrow. Aha! Look there.' He gestures towards two men counting money. 'I believe Logbrew the miller has just wagered five silvers on your acceptance.'

You lean forward, interested now, and motion the innkeeper to sit down. 'Please join me for a glass of wine and explain all this to me. I have just arrived in town after a long trek through the uninhabited forest to the east.'

'Well then, you will not have heard of the interviews tomorrow. Hogron, head of the wealthy and prestigious Greengosh family since his father's death some months ago, seeks to hire a warrior for some great quest. Word has been sent far and wide, and adventurers have come from many leagues away to apply for the position. The candidate selected by Hogron and his brothers stands to profit richly.’

After getting full details from the innkeeper, you take a room for night. In the morning, you arise and have a light breakfast. Refreshed, you set out briskly for the Greengosh estates at the west of the town. You are confident that the interviews are a mere formality and that you will be selected for the quest.

The Greengosh mansion is an imposing edifice in an estate of some thirty acres. A gaunt servant in a black coat opens the door and escorts you upstairs to a room off a long gallery. Shortly, you are joined by a well-groomed man of about forty who introduces himself as Hogron. After a few questions relating to your previous adventures and preferred fighting technique, he jots down some notes in a ledger. He tells you the interviews are nearly all complete and so you will not have to wait long. Then he leaves.

You are now ready to begin. Turn to 1 in the first instalment of the adventure, which follows on Monday.


  1. If you remember, we turned it into an adventure game for the ZX Spectrum. I think I still have it somewhere (...and a working Spectrum to boot!)

    1. If you do have any bits of it around, World of Spectrum would love to see it!

  2. Would this that the second retro-clone posted on this blog? Compile the creature stats and there's rules-lite, oldschool RPG just waiting to happen!

    Blatant plug - my reviews of CoLS (heavy on the spoilers, and booze) part 1 part 2.

    Hmm, a speccy version would be cool!

  3. Steve - ah, the dim mists of memory part. What became of that? Was it ever released, or was it yet another idea of those lovable GW rascals for which much work was done to no avail?

    Mr Zhu, how could I have forgotten your brilliant review/revisit of CoLS? Beer and gaming - my two fave things.

  4. I think GW baulked when we asked for a higher royalty. Then they got Jamie to write a different adventure. Mr Rollings of this parish may be able to help me recover it into a more modern format, or at least into a Speccy emulator.

  5. That's actually a great idea - if it can be recompiled it into an ifiction format such as Z-Machine or Glulx then you suddenly have pretty much every modern device on the planet to pitch it at!

  6. I think you're right, Steve. Though didn't you mean to write, "GW baulked when we asked for a royalty"?

    Jiminy, for all I understood of that, you may as well be talking Ancient Greek :)

  7. Re. Jimmys gobbledegook aka techhead speech.

    He does that a fair bit. I find it best just to nod and smile.;)

    Damian May

  8. Oh, that's right - go ahead and mock old Jim. Tsk. 8^)

  9. I didn't understand enough to even start mocking :-)

  10. Hello, there..

    I help out with World of Spectrum - a site dedicated to the Sinclair ZX Spectrum.

    I was interested to read you mention a title which was written but not released. Would you be willing/able to get in touch with me to answer a few quick questions about it?