From Fighting Fantasy to the Time Crocodile

I was slightly surprised the other day to see in a book club type of thing at my childrens’ nursery that it was possible to buy a set of something called Fighting Fantasy books.

I don’t know why I should be surprised, other than at the fact that they are still going. As a child, I was a fan of the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks myself, having got the first one, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, for Christmas in 1982 when I was seven years old.

Indeed, I was such a fan of the series that I bought something like the first forty books from the original set — as well as the spin off series Sorcery!. I played them over and over and over, although after the age of about fifteen the frequency of play tailed off until I think the last time I played one was in my early twenties.

Yes, that’s right, these books aren’t the sort of books you just read: these are the sort of books you play. Each section would have a reference number and at the end of each section (normally somewhere between a couple of paragraphs and a full page), you’d have some sort of decision to make, and depending upon that decision, you’d be told to continue reading from a reference number appropriate to that decision.

They weren’t the first books I had encountered to try this concept — I’d already come across “Pillars of Pentegarn” from the Endless Quest series of books, and “Who Killed Harlowe Thrombey?” from the Choose Your Own Adventure series, but the Fighting Fantasy books added something I hadn’t encountered before: the addition of rolling dice to combat enemies to add an element of luck — as well as some considerable excitement — to the game.

Some of the books were incredibly difficult — I never, ever managed to complete Starship Traveller, for example, and found House of Hell almost as difficult, but for the most part I thought the books were pitched just tight: moderately difficult if you made the right decisions, and somewhere between extremely difficult, fiendish and impossible if you made a series of poor decisions.

I quickly progressed from the first Fighting Fantasy gamebooks to Dungeons & Dragons — but you’ll have to wait until later in the week for that story as here I’m just looking at the game books.

The Fighting Fantasy books were so successful in popularising the gamebook genre (raising the profile of Endless Quest and Choose Your Own Adventure) but also resulting in a whole slew of other gamebook series arising: J H Brennan’s Grailquest series; Joe Dever’s Lone Wolf and the Greystar The Wizard books set in the same world, as well as the Way of The Tiger gamebooks where you played an assassin/ninja, the Combat Heroes gamebooks (which had the unusual twist of being mostly graphical, and potential two-player) and of course the Blood Sword gamebooks. And those were just the series that I owned!

Indeed, a feeling as to how popular the genre was at the time can be given by the fact that they were incorporated into my English lessons I had as a 12 or 13 year old, where our class was tasked with writing a “choice book”. Obviously, our story was somewhat simpler, was set in the school and featured the teachers as murderous aliens or something similar, but it meant that we had to develop the basic framework of the story, deciding which options and paths could be followed, and then who was going to write the relevant pages. Great fun.

Now where was I?

Ah yes, the popularity of these gamebooks can be established by the fact that they are still selling twenty-five years later, with the original Fighting Fantasy books having been repackaged and re-released. But the ‘gamebook’ has jumped out of its traditional fantasy genre and is now being used to tie in with whatever happens to be popular at the time.

A couple of weeks ago, this was illustrated by the fact that I was able to buy a Dr. Who gamebook for my son who is nearly four. I know that they are pitched at older children, but he’s a big Dr. Who fan, and I thought he’d enjoy me reading it out to him. Thus bringing us up to date with the Doctor Who “Decide Your Destiny” series and in particular book 3, The Time Crocodile.

So I started reading the book to him, and in order to try and make him feel more involved, when the text said something like:

“What do you want to do then?” the Doctor asks, “Should we open the door, or continue down the corridor?”

…I would insert his name in the line somewhere a bit, to try and make him feel more involved. However, typically he disputed this, saying at first that it must be a different boy with the same name as him in the books, until I explained that it was a magic book, and it enabled him to actually be there with the Doctor and Martha Jones while still sitting in the front room with his Daddy. Unfortunately, that backfired too…

…as he announced that he didn’t want to be in there any more by himself in a magic book because he was too scared, and he just wanted the Doctor and Martha to decide. I explained that it didn’t work like that, and there wouldn’t be any more story unless he could decide what to do, but he was adamant that he wasn’t going to be in the story as he would be frightened. Fortunately, the “magic” nature of the books meant a simple workaround — I could go adventuring with him, then I would be able to protect him.

On the one hand, that made me feel nice. On the other hand, it could get a little tiresome when I had to start making up bits of dialogue and actions for myself all the time (when there wasn’t a suitable line I could just pinch from the Doctor or Martha), but I had to keep doing it otherwise he asked where I was!

And we did meet the time crocodile himself; but if you want to know what happened, I’d suggest you’re going to need to get the book for yourself and “Decide Your Destiny” — you’re not copying ours! But it was nice to feel that I was involved in passing the “choice book” baton down to the next generation…

One Response to “From Fighting Fantasy to the Time Crocodile”

  1. Steve Pugh responds:

    Not such a new thing, there were some Doctor Who choose your own adventure style books produced in the mid-80s. See

    Amd I’m not sure anyone ever completed Starship Traveller…

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