In the year 1980 the editors of the UK gaming magazine White Dwarf
(formerly the Owl and Weasel gaming
fanzine), two adherents of the new Dungeons & Dragons
phenomenon named Steve Jackson
and Ian Livingstone
, came up with the notion of combining the dynamic pencil-and-paper notes kept in the tabletop gaming
they knew well with the primitive hyperfiction
which was then just beginning to make itself (first in 1979) seen in the form of the Choose-Your-Own Adventure
Only a foolhardy adventurer would embark upon such a perilous quest without first finding out as much as possible about the mountain and its treasures. Before your arrival at the foot of Firetop Mountain, you spent several days with the townsfolk of a local village some two days' journey from the base. Being a likeable sort of person, you found it easy to get on with the local peasants. Although they told many stories of the Warlock's sanctuary, you could not be sure that all - or indeed any - of these were based on fact. The villagers had seen many adventurers pass through on their way to the mountain, but very few had ever returned. The journey ahead was extremely dangerous, that you knew for certain. Of those that returned to the village, none contemplated going back to Firetop Mountain.
A year of brainstorming formal constraints, concocting a simple ruleset and ferreting out publishing contacts led to a contract from Penguin Books
in 1981 for them to produce the first adventure gamebook
the world would ever know under the tentative (and rather bland) title of The Magic Quest
There seemed to be some truth in the rumour that the Warlock's treasure was stored in a magnificent chest with two locks, and the keys to these locks were guarded by various creatures within the dungeons. The Warlock himself was a sorcerer of great power. Some described him as old, others as young. Some said his power came from an enchanted deck of cards, others from the silky black gloves that he wore.
In August of 1982 the book (now known as The Warlock of Firetop Mountain) was published. Ian Livingstone recalls the first month:
"Penguin wouldn't market it. They couldn't see a future in interactive books, and made a minimum print run (of 20 000 copies). It didn't sell for three weeks, and Penguin kind of said, 'Told you so.' So Steve and I decided to market it ourselves through our White Dwarf magazine and Games Workshop. A few schools latched on to the idea, and the initial run sold out. Then it just exploded. Warlock was reprinted 11 times."
The entrance to the mountain was guarded by a pack of warty-faced Goblins, stupid creatures, fond of their food and drink. Towards the inner chambers, the creatures became more fearsome. To reach the inner chambers, you would have to cross a river. The ferry service was regular, but the Ferryman enjoyed a good barter, so you should save a Gold Piece for the trip. The locals also encourage you to keep a good map of your wanderings, for without a map you would end up hopelessly lost within the mountain.
As described in the rumours, the geography of the game was laid out into several (roughly four) sections: grubby outer chambers populated by orc
s and goblins, an inner area guarded by, well, creatures more dissimilar and menacing (including a dragon
!), after which came a maze
and what is known in video game circles as a Big Boss
room. A subterranean river (paragraph #73) ran through the dungeon
inside the mountain's cavern
s which marked a rough halfway point through the story both for the player and for the authors; everything preceeding the river is written by Ian Livingstone while everything after is the work of Steve Jackson. Shortly before submitting the manuscripts to their prospective publisher, they realized that the disonnance between their individual writing styles would be jarring to a reader/player and eminently apparent to any editor worth half their salt, so at the last minute they drew straws to see which one of them would get the dubious honour of re-writing the paragraphs on the other side of the river in their own style to massage the overall text into a more coherent and harmonious work. Steve Jackson tells us of his misfortune: "In the end I drew the short straw and had to go over Ian's sections re-writing them in 'Jackson style'. That's why WoFTM was the one and only book we wrote together. It made more sense to write books individually."
When it finally came to your day of leaving, the whole village turned out to wish you a safe journey. Tears came to the eyes of many of the women, young and old alike. You couldn't help wondering if they were tears of sorrow shed by eyes which would never see you alive again...
The book was a success partially on account of its then-unusual reading action and partially because of Ian and Steve's successful assemblage of stock fantasy elements but it is a grave disservice not to give note to the distinguished interior illustrations by Russ Nicholson
and the cover art that got it all moving in the eyes of the book-buyer: a menacing, twinkle-eyed and smoke-belching dragon unwinding along the top of the cover, while along the bottom lurks an enchanter emanating a vague Weekend-At-Bernie's vibe, propped up behind a crystal ball and clearly sapped after having had his cards and gloves (magical fetish objects) incinerated before him.
This cover, by Peter Andrew Jones, caused a minor stir in the UK publishing community in its assertion of title space in the centre of the cover; unheard-of at that time, when books' vital stats were expected to always reside along the top margin. In subsequent printings the dragon remained on the cover but the musty wizard was replaced by a much more youthful (and, with this strange new energy, menacing) version of the sorceror.
(Speaking of who, I should note that the phrase "The Warlock of Firetop Mountain" doesn't just refer to the title of the book, but to (among other things - see below) the warlock himself, a classy antagonist going by the quasi-mystic moniker of Zagor.)
Oh yes. I forgot to ask Ian what came next - "It was only after the eleventh reprint that the editor came and asked sheepishly for another book." But they did not settle for another book. Oh no. By the mid-'90s (when the burgeoning computer game industry stomped gamebooks dead), the Fighting Fantasy gamebook series this book initiated ran 60 books strong (primarily fielded off to other writers) including two sequels/revisitations to this hallowed ground, Return to Firetop Mountain (#50) and Legend of Zagor (#54) as well as numerous novels, role-playing literature and sundry spin-offs...
...two of which also mined the name (and often, not much else) of this sucessful instigator of the franchise:
in 1984 a computer game for the Sinclair ZX-81 Spectrum was contracted by Puffin (the children's lit division of Penguin) from a game company named Crystal. Apparently it was essentially "a simpler and more playable version of Hall of the Things," an earlier game for the same platform. Its derivative nature, as well as the slapdash conditions under which it was assembled, are confirmed by two comments extracted from the game's source code:
"We apologize for the game being boring but we were only given three weeks to write it."
"Return of the Things coming soon ... Oh no, not again!"
The other product bearing this name was the The Warlock of Firetop Mountain board game
produced by Games Workshop
(another early venture of Ian and Steve) in 1986, essentially a more-random, replayable and multiplayer version of (presumably) the gamebook; I haven't actually found anyone who's ever played it. Or seen a copy of it. But we are assured that it existed at some point.
2009-03-11@23:53 clooneyclub says Hi there, I realise you wrote this a long time ago but if you want I can e-mail some pics of the boardgame. I bought it on the day of release and it is fantastic.
The original book's ISBN number is 0140315381, and a complete walkthrough of the game can be located at http://www.jps.net/arekusu/FF/sols/sol0.htm
for those of you in our home audience in possession of a copy of the book but lacking the clear thinking or fortunate die-rolling necessary to successful traverse the twists and passages of the warlock's dungeon.
(Update: in 2004, a faithful adaptation of the gamebook was released for the Palm, including Russ Nicholson's original illustrations.)
(Further Update: in 2006, a roguelike adaptation of the game was released, entitled "Warlock's Mountain".)
(More notes from the future: circa 2010, the book was adapted not only into a Nintendo DS game, but the gamebook (and several others!) were adapted for play on the iPod Touch and iPad. The future is here, and it looks a lot like the early '80s.)