FF1: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain

Shane Garvey
Steven Holtom
Dave Holt
Andy Jones
Per Jorner
Demian Katz
Frank La Terra (spoiler - win condition)
Robert La Vallie (spoiler - win condition)
Roland Lee
Simon Osborne (spoilers - true path, win condition)
Guillermo Paredes
Laurence Sinclair
Bryan Spargo
Aaron Thorne


[Shane Garvey]

The book that basically started it all, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain was first published in 1982 and is renowned as a classic amongst gamebook enthusiasts. But does it stand the test of time?

I started the book by rolling up my adventurer and getting SKILL 11, STAMINA 20 and LUCK 9. An above average character, so I should have a good chance of survivng.

It has been quite some time since I had played this particular book, and my memories of it were basically an exciting dungeon crawl with a frustrating labyrinth near the end of the book that I could never find my way through. So it was with some trepidition that I once again stepped into the tunnels beneath Firetop Mountain.

I was immediately struck by how the book is showing its age. The book is essentially a dungeon crawl, as I had remembered; but it was a product of the 1980s and things were different back then. Dungeons didn’t have to make much sense; you went into them, killed everyone you found, and looted their bodies. The Warlock is one of those adventures. Nowadays more people demand that at least some thought be put into their dungeon crawls or for them to at least make a little bit of sense.

As an example, early on in the adventure you find a spell book that has been hidden by a mage who was scared of it ‘falling into the wrong hands’. Why hide it beneath Firetop Mountain then? The domain of an evil warlock?

Maybe I am being nitpicky, as the book was aimed at those in their early teens. And, as stated, you could get away with those things in the 1980s when the gaming scene was still in its infancy.

Anyway, the adventure continued, and I was busy killing bad guys and taking their stuff. So far so good, I had barely been injured and had found a number of keys that I knew were needed to get to the Warlock’s treasure. Then I entered the maze.

This thing is as annoying as I remembered. Several times I nearly gave up in disgust, much like I also remember doing when I was younger. But I perservered, and after much hair pulling and frustration, I found my way out of the maze to confront a dragon. Luckily I had the aforementioned spell book and was able to see the dragon off with minimal effort. Now to confront the Warlock himself.

I drunk a potion of invisibility that I had found and drew my sword. The Warlock is a tough customer to fight! With SKILL 11 and STAMINA 18, he was almost as good as me! Luckily, the potion made it harder for the Warlock and I was able to see him off, though he did get me down to 8 STAMINA remaining. Now for the treasure!

There were three locks on the chest, and I had found four keys. I had to try different combinations to open it. Right, first combination: dang. Lose 2 STAMINA. Okay, 6 left, no problem. Second combination: damnit! 4 STAMINA left. Did I have the right keys? Had I missed a vital one? Was it all for naught? Third combination: YAY! The chest opens and the treasure is mine! Victory!

Even now in the 21st century, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is a fun romp through a monster filled dungeon. However, as I stated at the outset it is showing its age. If it were written today I would doubt it would trigger the same cult status it has recieved, but it is still enjoyable on a hack-and-slash level. It is not really a difficult book, as most of the monsters are easily defeated; however, finding the right combination of keys and your way through that damned maze are frustrating. It does add to the replayability of the book, but I would suggest making a map so as not to go bald through tearing your hear out.

RATING: 6.5 out of 10


[Steven Holtom]


I'd recommend this book to anyone who, like me, bought it the first time round and wants to buy this new edition purely for nostalgia.

However, if instead you're someone who's a fan of the series but never read this book, I suggest you save your money and perhaps borrow it from a friend. This is the first book of the Fighting Fantasy series and, without rose-tinted glasses, it shows.

Firstly there's no real plot. The objective is to slay a warlock and take his treasure. Except that it never tells you any "evil deeds" the warlock has done, or where the treasure came from. You aren't described as the hero or the villain of the adventure - you're just there to, err, win.

Secondly, a great number of references in the book comprise of the "classic" direction choice (i.e. do you wish to go North, South, East or West?) that I find quite boring. Later (better) books in the series don't use these kinds of references at all.

Thirdly the book is very thin and that's for a reason; it's not a very descriptive book at all.

Finally, while the illustrations are of a good quality, there's one thing that annoys me about them. In almost every case, the cave and room walls are not shaded, they're just drawn as outlines. This means that a large proportion of almost all the illustrations is just the white of the paper. Every time you get to a reference with an illustration it completely destroys your mental picture of being in a cave or even indoors.


[Dave Holt]

When this book was first released in 1982, I was an avid reader of fantasy. Alan Garner - who remembers the fantastic The Weirdstone of Brisingamen? Tolkien obviously and Terry Brooks brilliant Shannara series are three of the main authors I was really into.

I was introduced to the Warlock of Firetop Mountain in mid 82 by a friend in school who knew about my liking for text adventures on the BBC computer in school and because I always seemed to be reading something.

Lending me his brand new copy, which he seemed very excited with, I took the book home and settled down to read it. The title alone at first sounded great and as for the books cover - what more can be said? As a 12-year-old, the idea that a book would allow you to venture into worlds similar to Middle Earth or that of the Four Lands sounded too good for words and as I turned page after page my world was totally changed forever.

As I read the rules, becoming totally enthralled, I realised that as impossible as it first seemed I would soon be venturing into a mountain to find an evil Warlock's treasure, hidden deep within a dungeon populated with a multitude of terrifying monsters. The idea that with several dice, a pencil and an eraser I would be able to go inside a mountain where they're dwelled a dragon and a warlock was my idea of heaven. The ability to fight and interact with foes on my quest, to slay the dragon and defeat a warlock ultimately ending with the discovery of his treasure made me even more excited.

What I think all gamebook and especially FightingFantasy fans will have to agree with is that this one book is an absolute classic. It is the key that unlocked the door to the FF phenomenon and more importantly the gamebook genre. Reading and playing the adventure is familiar territory fot those who like Ian Livingstone's writing style. It's supprising that he kept the method of collecting various artifacts throughout all his books as in most of his books you need these discovered artifacts to often complete the book. In the Warlock of Firetop Mountain this becomes the search for three keys, which throws you completely although to be truthful, I always prefered the main Ian Livingstone trademark of useing numerical values for certain elements as a page reference that you will eventually need to turn to in the future

The book itself is a simple quest compared to many of the more complex adventures later in the series and your main task as well as to find the three keys is to negotiate through the mountain, maze, across the river until your eventual task to slay and defeat Zagor. If you want to read a Fighting Fantasy adventure that pushes the boundaries of the format this is not it - but should it be? The warlock of Firetop Mountain has many memerable encounters and will take you into the first adventure of the Fighting Fantasy legacy. For a while at least it you realise why the book was the success. It's simple, easy to navigate, it's a dungeon (the most popular of all beginning adventures) and of course it has a dragon and we all love dragons. Its one of the main reasons I fell completely in love with fantasy in the first place.

Rating: 8/10




Well, this book is a game and book in one. It's like a role-play game in book form where you choose the correct path in an effort to get to the end without being killed during your quest.

Although these books were around years ago, they started to publish them again a few years ago. People now around the age of 30 who read books in the 1980s as children may remember them and I do.

They were popular in the 1980s and 1990s and then stopped for a decade or more before they started coming out for a new generation of kids. They have changed things though by altering the order of the books and including some new ones that weren't in the original series like Bloodbones and Eye of the Dragon.

This book was written by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone who, according to the website, actually wrote half of the book each and then stuck it together. This probably explains the different styles in different parts of it.

In summary, this book is an adventure where your character is given the mission of entering the underground lair of a mad sorcerer and killing him to save the people of the surrounding land. Now, the evil wizard character lives in a huge mountain at the middle of a maze complex, surrounded by guards and creatures.

To win, you have to explore the mountain and the tunnels inside it and collect stuff along the way. You can't win unless you explore around and get certain objects, so it's quite hard and you'll fail some times before you get through to the end.

Now, the mountain's innards are separated by an underground river and I believe this is where the different authors started or stopped from. One author wrote the bit before the river and the other wrote the bit after the river and then combined them together into the finished book.

I think this is a good adventure as I was interested enough in it to keep playing and exploring the tunnels and caverns until I managed to finish it. The bit before the river isn't too hard, but the maze beyond it I found confusing and spent many hours just wandering around and fighting animals that lurk in the tunnels.

I think it's cleverly written to allow you to double-back and go around in circles without really realising it as the caves and tunnels eventually all look and feel the same. As a result, it's quite easy to get lost and this adds to the game I suppose.

The evil wizard enemy isn't too hard to beat but there's a clever twist at the end of the book that can deny you a victory even if you manage to get that far. If you play this game, you should really explore about and check out all the caves and rooms, but I won't say any more.

It's an enjoyable afternoon adventure that will give you fun to complete. I liked it and found the maze the best bit to adventure around. I suppose that this book and the others that are out there are aimed at the 10 year-old school boy market and I remember it well from my own childhood.


[Andy Jones]

It's easy for FF fans to be generous when voting for WOFM, because it holds such a special place for people. However, dewy-eyed nostalgia aside, really it's just a standard sword-and-sorcery adventure, isn't it? To be honest, I played a few other books before this so I was a little disappointed at the lack of atmosphere but, looking back, it has its fair share of original ideas (the maze, the keys etc)so credit where it's due. It may be the granddaddy of them all but it still holds up surprisingly well even now.



[Per Jorner]

As for so many others, WoFM was my first gamebook experience. I remember how every paragraph, every choice seemed laden with significance: East or west? Bash the door or not? (But of course!) I also remember being surprised that all of the book took place within the maze; I'd expected a Forest of Doom-like journey to get there, probably because that's how ordinary RPG quests were usually set up.

Replaying it now, the encounters seem a little like standard fare compared to later books. You get Orcs, Trolls, Giant Rats, Skeletons and Ghouls at face value, with only a few vaguely exotic exceptions. It didn't matter much at the time, though, since everything was happening for the first time in gamebook terms. Someone who's played later books but missed out on this may be disappointed by the relative simplicity of the traps and turns.

It's not really that difficult in terms of getting to the final confrontation. You only get to chew Provisions when you're told, but it's not that big a problem unless you have Skill 8 or something. Luck keeps regenerating as you win small victories, something that only happens on special occasions in later books, if at all. As an aside, the book also kicks off the tradition of letting you collect lots of gold, especially toward the end of the book, although there are very few ways to spend it. Almost as if the gold counter was included to meet some kind of basic fantasy criterion.

The difficulty instead rests with the fact that you can get to the very end and still have no idea whether you took the right path or not. It can even happen that you get everything you need, but choose wrongly in the end, die, and decide to pick another (incorrect) path on your next attempt. Since each game can take quite a while, with the maze and all, you'll need some luck and/or patience to finally win through.

All told, WoFM is something of a classic, suitable for beginners, quite charming in places, with a maze that can be infuriating if you don't cheat by mapping it (I truly believe you'll get the most out of a book if you don't map it until you've finished it successfully). Love the boathouse.

Rating: 7/10


[Demian Katz]

Plot Summary: You travel to Firetop Mountain, a dangerous place inhabited by Zagor the Warlock, in search of treasure and adventure.

This is a decent start to a good series, and it's easy to see how people were hooked on gamebooks after playing this. It's more or less plotless, but the dungeon environment it allows the reader to explore is pleasantly quirky and greatly enhanced by Russ Nicholson's remarkable artwork. I'm especially fond, for some mysterious reason, of the delightfully repulsive ghoul pictured near section 275.

Gameplay is fast and fun, though also rather flawed. My biggest complaint is the frequent use of a lazy pattern of game design. For example, say the reader can go either east or west. If the reader goes east, there's no turning back, but if the reader goes west, something important happens, and the reader is subsequently herded east anyway. This pattern shows up again and again in the book, and while it obviously made the writing process easier for the authors, it's often a source of frustration for the player -- there are times where it would be nice to turn back, but no such option is offered. Certainly, it would have been difficult to increase the player's freedom of movement without making the book overlong, but the linearity of this particular story structure could probably have been masked a little better.

A lesser complaint is that the game's inventory system is poorly thought-out. There's no inventory limit, but certain objects require you to drop an existing item before picking them up. This almost makes sense for a heavy shield (though not if you drop a light black glove to make room), but it's totally senseless when later in the adventure you are required to drop an item in order to pick up a key. Inventory is one place (though not the only place) where Lone Wolf undeniably had an edge over Fighting Fantasy.

A final feature of game design that I'm not sure whether to praise or complain about is the final segment, where you have to open a chest using keys gathered during earlier parts of the story. This is done using a fairly clever mechanic (adding key numbers together to yield a section which shows whether or not the keys fit), but it means that you can get within an inch of victory again and again without ever actually winning. This makes replay high, but it might be considered a bit cruel. Personally, I think it works well enough for this book since the adventure's challenge level is low overall, but it would be unspeakably nasty to place a similar twist in a tougher adventure.

Also, if I may be picky, I'd like to point out that the very first paragraph of the rules says that you start with a shield but that it subsequently seems that you don't (especially since you can find one at one point in the adventure). Probably just a little flaw missed in copy editing. Also, my early British printing of the book is missing the letter "e" in the word "grey" in the picture caption by section 122, though my more recent printing includes the letter.

Anyway, overall, I think this book deserves its classic status. It's challenging but not impossible, it has a number of memorable situations (aided greatly by good artwork), it's fun to map, and it has some unusual design elements (most notably the final key puzzle) despite being more or less the first of its kind. Of course, it can also be blamed for typecasting the whole genre of interactive books through its fantasy setting and its emphasis of mechanics over storyline. While these things are a shame, they can't really be used as direct criticisms of the book. Taken at face value, it's a good bit of fun and worth reading the four or five times it'll most likely take to emerge victorious.


[Frank La Terra]

If you are new to Fighting Fantasy or gamebooks in general, then there is really no better place to start than this book.
Unfortunately, if neither of those things apply to you, then there really isn't a hell of a lot here to recommend.
A classic only because it was the first one of its kind, WOFTM is pretty poorly written (not much flavor to the text at all), has next to no storyline to speak of (you're a heroic adventurer who basically walks into some guy's home to nick his treasure) and reeks of cliché (generic D&D monsters and traps all over the place - no prizes for guessing what beast lives at the heart of the maze!). The dungeon that the book takes place in is a classic 80s dungeon - you know, the kind that makes no sense. There are rooms with magic items sitting in them for no apparent reason, traps all over the place that would make Firetop Mountain unlivable for its inhabitants, and all sorts of creatures and encounters that apparently exist for the sole reason of waiting for an adventurer or two to pop around. *spoiler* And why on earth would the warlock hide the keys to his treasure chest all over the dungeon, one with an item that is deadly to him no less? What, he never likes to look at or use his own treasure? *end spoiler*
Still, the book is not too challenging and it plays through quickly, so it can be fun, with the exception of the maze, which I found pointless, frustrating and boring. Other people seem to love it though.
Good for beginners, but advanced users may wish to look elsewhere.
Gameplay: 3.5
Story: 1.5


[Robert La Vallie]

Living in the United States in the early 1980's, the only type of non-linear books was Choose Your Own Adventure. And even though I had not even reached my teenage years, I found these books to be juvenile, simple, and rather tedious.

But then, in 1982, a line of books was created that changed the method of reading forever. This line was known as Fighting Fantasy. And the beginning of this line was the Warlock of Firetop Mountain. The title alone was the reason for my purchase of this book. For this 12-year-old, the idea that I would be venturing into a mountain with a fiery top, inside of which dwelled a dragon and a warlock was compelling. Add to this sword-and-sorcery concocture that my quest was to slay a dragon, defeat a warlock, and obtain a treasure and I was more than eager to begin my journey into this rocky realm of high adventure.

But then, as I read the rules, I became even more enthralled. I determined my own skill, stamina, and luck? How would a low skill affect my adventure, I wondered. How much would a high stamina benefit me, I reflected. Would an average luck score be enough to complete this adventure, I contemplated.

And so, as my character began his quest into Firetop Mountain, so did I begin my 59-volume journey in the lands of Fighting Fantasy.  My traverses into this unnatural wonder were compelling and invigorating.  Which path do I take? Should I enter this room?  Will key #66 be the one of the keys that unlocks the treasure that awaits me at the completion of this quest? (It isn't.)

And here I am, hacking and whacking away at creatures that have the audacity to cross my path, and I'm feeling pretty confident until... the river.

What is a river doing inside of a mountain?  And this river is no mere trickle of aquatic pleasure.  No, it is a deluge of torrential rage, containing crocodiles and pirhannas.  How do I get across?  A swim, perhaps?  Or, maybe I can traverse these subterranean terrors by traipsing on that rickety, broken-down bridge.   Better yet, I'll pay the ferry man.  What?  I thought the price was two gold pieces.  I'll not stand for that.  Oh, OK, don't get your hair out of place, I'll find some way to get across that river.

Exhausted from my travels thus far, surely, the end to my quest is near, right? What maze?  You mean I have to escape this maze?  Alas and alack, here I go amidst these pathways of puzzlement.  Shall I search for a secret passage?  What do you mean there is none and I have to fight a random creature?  What madness is this?  I am fatigued beyond belief, let me just open this door and rest inside of this room.  A minotaur?  And I have no red cape.  Yet another creature to decimate.  Perhaps it is the key for my success.

As the hours increase, so does my enervation.  Also, spending all this time within these catacombs of confusion has chilled my bones.  Ah, let me just warm myself against that fire up ahead.  A dragon?  It certainly has a spell on me.

Or should I say, I have a spell on it.  Well, look who's here but the Warlock himself.  It's too bad we can't see eye to eye.  And the treasure awaits. Confidently, I insert my keys into the locks and turn.  The treasure is mine, all mine.

What?  Only two of the keys turn?  But, I have no other keys.  I travelled inside of rocky pathways, crossed a river, traipsed through a maze, slayed a dragon, and defeated the warlock.  Where is my happy ending?  No, instead I am stuck here, penniless, inside of this mountain forever.

This adventure is just that, in the truest sense of the word.  Not only must you overcome all of the obstacles above, but if you do not have the correct three keys, you are doomed to spend your earthly existence trapped within this mountain.  Even at the age of 28, the novel is both compelling and enticing. Your missteps, mishaps, and mistakes are anything but few and far between.  The action is fast and furious.  And if you are not equally fast and furious, while still retaining a mite of logic and common sense, Firetop Mountain will not be your source of financial freedom, but rather a cavernous coffin.

Rating: 10/10


[Roland Lee]

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain was the first book in a successful series of game books offering simple rules for character generation, combat and making "saving rolls."

The book was written by Ian Livingston and Steve Jackson. I had always wondered about the "schizophrenic" nature of the adventure - one portion of the book allows you to "wander" around and retrace your steps... and another portion leads you on what is essentially a "forced march" (you can't retrace your steps), quite literally shoving you toward your appointment with destiny. Well, the reason behind the stylistic differences of the two parts is actually quite simple - each section was written by one of the authors! Ian Livingston wrote the "forced march" section and Steve Jackson wrote the "wander around" section!

Each section has its strengths and weaknesses - going on a forced march seems very constrictive and takes away from the reader/player's sense of being able to control his/her destiny by the choices he/she... but it does prevent you from walking around in circles around a maze and propels the "story" forward. Being able to "wander" around has the advantage of granting the reader/player a certain degree of freedom to retrace his/her path and fully explore the game's world... however, if you're terrible at making maps and/or notes or have a lousy memory, one could easily end up chasing one's own tail with the story being "stalled" as a result... with freedom comes choice and with choice comes responsibility. I guess there's a certain philosophical message in there somewhere.


[Simon Osborne]

The text of Warlock is rather brief and to the point; no unnecessary details to be found here! This makes the game very fast-paced and I imagine was designed to hold the attention of demanding younger readers. As with many gamebooks, there are some odd choices and encounters. For example, trying on boots in a Giant Spider's cave always struck me as a strange thing to do, and that whole "Eye of the Cyclops beats up the Warlock automatically" plotline has always baffled me. Despite Steve's re-writing of Ian's sections, Ian's gamebooks design style shines through, and is also apparent in his subsequent works. As mentioned by Demian, in the first half of the book, be prepared to be prevented from changing your mind. If you choose to go East instead of West, that may make all the difference between success or failure; there's no chance to alter your decision after 10 paces. There's no doubt that this is Ian's preferred style of gamebook design, rather linear. Steve's part, however, has quite a lot of chances to explore and return to areas you have already been to, specifically the Maze of Zagor sections. While Ian tends to go for the more "traditional", linear approach, Steve Jackson has always seemed to be pushing back boundaries and doing things differently. This means that his books can vary in quality more than Ian's. Unfortunately, the actual Maze part of Warlock is not so complex once drawn out as a map; it is Jackson's writing style that confuses matters. This part, I feel, is overlong and too boring. However, the sections he wrote before the Maze, with the zombies, or the skeleton boatyard, are very atmospheric and affecting. These two aspects balance out to make a good rather than great second half. Livingstone's steady first half lacks flair and has some dumb encounters, but is overall solid, making that good, too.

The illustrations and artwork by Russ Nicholson are part of the mythology of the book. When I first flicked through this book in my school library many years ago, the artwork for the Ghoul, the Skeleton Boatyard, the Warlock and the Iron Cyclops all etched themselves onto my memory. Nicholson is a good illustrator, and I am a fan of his work.

The gameplay is where the book is let down. Aside from the things mentioned by Demian, there is the disparity in statistics.A small snake (SK5, ST2) is hardly less powerful than an Orc (SK6, ST3) who is 10 times its size! This is a problem of quick'n'dirty gameplay, and is not one easily resolved; certainly, when role-playing in a fantasy world, giants are exceptionally more powerful than orcs. However, this must be balanced against the ease of the game: the rolls are simple and the rules easy to learn. Because the Fighting Fantasy rules were in place from here onwards, this disparity was rarely if ever successfully addressed, more emphasis being placed on the gameplay of the text than the mechanics of the rules. Joe Dever's Lone Wolf arguably has better rules and a better conceived system of mechanics, but it is apparent that he learned this from the problems inherent with Fighting Fantasy; in other words, without Warlock, there would have been no Lone Wolf.

It is a shame that the first part of Firetop Mountain is so linear. There is only one true way through this section, and failure to take it will mean failure to succeed in veating the Warlock's Treasure Chest. There are so many interesting locations in Firetop Mountain that it is impossible to visit and complete the book; the Giant Rats, the Mosaic Room, the Gas Trap room, the room with the two helmets... That said, Firetop mountains is full of places to visit and investigate, even along the correct path. That this was a new medium is telling, with the authors setting up events and encounters in a way which would be copied into parody in subsequent gamebooks. Nevertheless, this first Fighting Fantasy gamebook is fast-paced and fun, with a high replay value. Unlike Demian, I actually like the numbered keys sub-plot, and I think it added the "one-more-go" factor for the person who got right to the end, but with the wrong keys. It also set the standard for number puzzles in later adventures. It forced people to scour the mountain, searching out new places to explore and visit, hoping against hope of dropping on that correct key-combo.

Warlock is a fun gamebook to read, with a memorable location, cast and crew. Despite its problems, re-reading is more like visiting an old (predictable) acquaintance than a boring chore. I like it.


[Guillermo Paredes]

My thoughts: (based on the original Puffin version; this review contains some spoilers)

This is a very tough book to review, due not only to its seminal place in gamebook history but also because the styles of the two authors involved would come to influence the hobby in different ways. A lot has already been written about this book: at the time of this writing, there are 19 different reviews posted on the Internet, if one counts only those available at the FF Reviews Archive and Planète LDVELH. So why bother writing yet another one? One reason may be that there are several specific criticisms which are made by more than one reviewer, and while there is certainly some validity to them, it's surprising that so many seem to be missing the point. Before tackling the criticisms, a summary of the book is in order.

As others have already pointed out, the book's plot is very simple. You play a warrior who decides to venture into the subterranean den of a Warlock of great power, with the intent of defeating him in combat and keeping his vast treasure. The entirety of the adventure takes place inside the dungeon complex, and the player's task consists not only of finding the final room and confronting the Warlock, but also of finding the keys to the treasure chest, each of which is hidden in a different part of the dungeon. The first half of the dungeon, written by Ian Livingstone, is very characteristic of his style, with many corridors to choose from, each of which runs through a series of rooms in sequence. The challenge in this first part, as players will eventually find out, is to figure out a single correct route along which the items essential to the completion of the adventure lie hidden. As is also usual with Ian, once certain points in the dungeon are reached, the player is not given the option of turning back, so taking a single wrong turn will result in an eventual inability to complete the adventure successfully. The second part of the adventure, written by Steve Jackson, is very different, since most of it consists of navigating a maze where the player has complete freedom of movement, before the final battle with the Warlock himself.

The book's writing is very concise and has even been described as dry by some. This criticism probably arises from the fact that other gamebook writers (including some who wrote later books in the FF series) usually write better. However, since this is a work of entertainment and not art, and also since it succeeded at keeping engaged the children and young teenagers who were its target audience, I believe this conciseness is to be praised rather than criticized.

People have also complained about the fact that there is no way to figure out which of the many keys to be found in the dungeon are the correct ones, thus usually requiring the player to replay the adventure until the correct ones are found. For my part, I do find this appealing rather than off-putting, because if it weren't for the fact that one of the distinctive features of the branching-path book is not revealing its entire content in a single read, thus forcing the reader to take a different path each time, the genre wouldn't be different from the linear novel at all. Keeping vital information hidden from the character and encouraging the reader to learn it through subsequent plays does more for this type of book than scattering clues everywhere (which, by the way, would render further choice-making meaningless).

Another common criticism is the thinness of the plot, which I also have no problem with. Since reaching the Warlock's chamber is a difficult goal, and finding the correct keys is not exactly an easy feat (except if done by chance), most players are easily immersed in the challenge offered by the adventure, and this more than makes up for the scarcity of developed characters, storylines or dialogues. This emphasis on gameplay rather than plot contributed a lot to defining gamebooks as a distinct genre, and even later books which intended to balance the two owe a lot to it.

Other reviewers point out that the book is too derivative of Dungeons & Dragons, which is to a degree justifiable by the fact that one of its goals was to introduce young audiences to the role-playing hobby. Besides, Russ Nicholson's artwork does a lot to bring the creatures to life, so that the Dragon, the Ghoul, the Zombies, Goblins and Wizards all have a flavour which really sets them apart from depictions in other role-playing materials, and contributes to the unique identity of Titan as a setting. Furthermore, the portrayals of the Warlock in the illustrations are so good that I assume many of us felt more motivated to reach the final encounter just by looking at them.

Yet another complaint is that the dungeon seems illogical with its assortment of creatures and traps which seem to serve no other purpose other than wait around for adventurers to arrive. This criticism stems from a school of thought which holds that a fantasy adventure should be planned out like an ecosystem, and that every creature, object and event should have a logical raison d'etre within a larger context. In principle, I have no quarrel with this opinion, and I could even agree that this kind of effort could lead to interesting adventures, but I think this kind of "logic" is hardly a requirement. The fantasy genre, after all, allows for a great deal of free-wheeling creativity in characters and situations (authors like Lewis Carroll and Lyman Frank Baum come to mind as examples). Furthermore, a scientific explanation for the presence of wildly varying creatures living next to each other is more a requirement of science-fiction than it is of fantasy fiction. Finally, there are many genres of entertainment, besides the dungeon crawl, which have obvious incoherences and are still a lot of fun, so dismissing this book based on a "lack of logic" seems like extreme purism to me.

Before proceeding, a disclaimer must be made. My comment about the free-wheeling nature of fantasy on the previous paragraph should not be interpreted, as some people have done, as an advocacy of free association to the point where the limits of fantasy are crossed and one wanders into the realm of Surrealism. In my opinion, the thinly-plotted dungeon-crawl genre is still within the defining limits of fantasy because the elements relevant to that genre are prevalent in it. Moreover, the way those elements are assembled in the dungeon-crawl is also consistent with the themes of fantasy literature. 

But let us proceed with the review of TWoFM. The inventory system, as Demian has pointed out, is poor, such as in the instance where the player can take a glove out of his / her backpack in order to be able to carry a shield on his / her hand. Fortunately later entries in the series adopted more logical systems or let go of inventory restrictions altogether.

Ian's part of the adventure, as mentioned before, sets the style which would become characteristic of his works in this series. Some reviewers have complained at the lack of flexibility, since at many points in the adventure, the author's whim prevents the player character from retracing her / his steps. As questionable as this design practice may be, the truth is it was very influential on the gamebook genre, to the point that it's far more common to find a gamebook where the character is always propelled forward - and must choose her / his way often at random -, rather than one where the player is allowed full freedom of movement. Steve's part, on the other hand, allows such freedom, and although some people claim it's boring - mostly due to the fact that there are rather few encounters in it - it should appeal to you if you like solving mazes. It's very easy to be transported from one point of the maze to another far away without warning, however, so mapping it will require a lot of patience. A nice touch in the second segment is the use of instructions which direct the player to a different paragraph if a specific location is visited more than once. This feature is so clever it was copied in many later gamebooks, both in this series and elsewhere.

The criticism that Ian's design makes it easy to miss items which are essential to the completion of the adventure should also be taken with a grain of salt, since this is true for one of those items at most.

In both parts, the encounters and traps are often designed in a very clever way, and often prove entertaining to solve (with the flexibility of the choices helping a lot). Who can forget the room with the star tiles, the dark room, the giant spider, the magic portraits, the river and the room with the vampire, to name only a few? Most traps are hardly fatal, but it's possible to weaken your character by reducing his / her SKILL or Attack Strength if you're not careful. Since completing the adventure will require at least two tough fights, a character with a low Skill will have a hard time prevailing in this book. This should pose no problem except if you're one of those dorks who don't dare to roll up several characters beforehand and settling for a powerful one. There are also some Skill-raising items which can be helpful. Zagor the Warlock is a very tough enemy if battled hand to hand, but there are at least three alternate strategies which will make the final battle easier, and the player is advised to pay attention to the clues available throughout the adventure in order to figure them out.

While this was not the first attempt to bring solitaire role-playing adventures to the public (Tunnels & Trolls did it before, and High Fantasy published standalone gamebooks which coincided with the early titles of the FF series), this book was indeed the first one to introduce a game system which, while far from perfect, was accessible to younger readers and as such introduced them painlessly to some basic concepts of the role-playing hobby. The immersiveness, complexity and atmosphere of the adventure make it a true classic, even if, like me, this was not your first full-system gamebook. Overall, an essential read which, for better of worse, defined what many people would come to understand as the basic features of the genre.


[Laurence Sinclair]

As with many other people, this was the first FF Gamebook that I read. The fact that I read it ten years after it was first released did nothing to lessen my enjoyment of it. Even now, almost ten years later, I can still look back at it and find it fresh and exciting.

The plot of the book isn't the most original in the world; an evil wizard lives in the mountain and you, as a guy with a sword, must go and kill him because... well, you're never really told, to be honest. Its presentation, though, is something else. Some of the most original characters and settings I've seen anywhere pop up in the strangest of places, and at times you have to remind yourself that you're still inside a mountain. This element of mystery is one of the books greatest strengths. The minor friends and enemies that you meet along the way never have their stories explained, you must merely accept the fact that they are there, and they are weird!

The book is none too difficult (my mother completed it on her second go), but the fact that there are so many odd people and places scattered around the dungeon will have you coming back for more, just to see what else the writers have cooked up.

Were it to have a greater storyline, a coherent theme running through it, this Gamebook may well have been perfect. But if it had, it just wouldn't have been The Warlock of Firetop Mountain. Minor flaws aside (why are all the monsters CAPITALISED?), it's a book that's impossible to hate.

Rating: 9 out of 10


[Bryan Spargo]

In the early 1980s, Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone united to develop an intriguing new concept - the gamebook. Their gamebook line, Fighting Fantasy, was a combination of Dungeons & Dragons and the Choose Your Own Adventure series of children's books, yet the FF rules were simpler and easier to learn than D&D and the text was more mature than the childishness of CYOA.

The first book in the innovative series, "The Warlock of Firetop Mountain," co-written by Jackson and Livingstone, was published in 1982 and immediately became the benchmark for which all later gamebooks would be compared.

Twenty years after its original publication date, "Warlock" is still an engaging read. Jackson and Livingstone throw at the reader a wide variety of monsters to fight, from typical D&D fare (Orcs, goblins, dwarves, and an ogre) to the undead (skeletons, zombies, a Wight, and a vampire) to a dragon and the tile warlock himself.

All of these enemies are skillfully interwoven into the story, with each given an area of the mountain in which it dwells, allowing the reader to feel as if he/she is progressing through increasingly difficult encounters through the mountain. For the final two confrontations, the dragon and the warlock, Jackson and Livingstone allow for either swordplay combat or innovation on the player's part by using what the player has found/learned during the adventure.

While "Warlock" as a whole may not be as difficult as some of the later FF gamebooks, it isn't a pushover, either, giving an average character a fairly decent challenge. Defeating the dragon and warlock in back-to-back encounters via swordplay (if the reader so chooses) is no easy feat.

The maze, even if the reader is actively mapping the mountain, still presents a challenge in navigating through it. And, in what would become a Livingstone trademark, the reader will have needed to find certain numbered keys during the adventure. Only by adding the numerical values of the correct keys will the reader discover the passage number, which in turn will lead to the end of the adventure and the warlock's treasure.

While there may be a couple of gamebooks in the Fighting Fantasy series that are better, there is no denying the power, innovation, and importance of "The Warlock of Firetop Mountain." This is the original, and still one of the best, gamebooks ever published. Highly recommended.

Overall grade: 10 (out of 10)


[Aaron Thorne]


Ah, the beginning of it all. Though not the first Fighting Fantasy book that I've read, this book is the one that pretty much started the whole phenomenon. I remembered being insanely difficult when I was 9 years old (or however old I was at the time I read it), but I didn't believe in making maps back then; I know better these days.

In this gamebook you are an adventurer trying to sneak into Firetop Mountain, kill the warlock who is master of the mountain, and make off with his treasure; a standard loot and pillage adventure. First, you go through what I refer to as the "first line of defense," which consists of the orc and goblin tunnels. The river marks the end of this line and the beginning of the "second line of defense," which consists of the area controlled by mostly undead creatures like skeletons and wights. This area lasts until you hit the Maze of Zagor, which is the "third line of defense," which culminates in your encounter with the warlock, assuming you make it that far. Getting through the first section isn't difficult, but there are some critical items that you need to find in this section in order to successfully complete your quest.

The second zone is somewhat more difficult, and as before, you need to find some specific items to gain the warlock's treasure. The third zone is a true maze, though not a very dangerous one, all things considered. If you make a good map of your progress, you will eventually stumble across the warlock. Unless you have some good items to help you, this is a very tough fight. But after you defeat the warlock you must still unlock his treasure chest. The first time through as I was reading for this review, I defeated the warlock (barely), but was unable to unlock the chest, so I failed. I did better the second time.

This book was enjoyable. It was challenging, but not maddeningly so, even though I really despise when gamebook authors put mazes in their books. Ack. But at least this one was solvable, unlike the one in Grailquest 6, which forces you to cheat. There are a number of worthless items you will encounter during your quest, though there are some truly wonderful things that will make your job much easier. The writing was pretty good for a Fighting Fantasy book, and there was not an excessive amount of fighting, like some of the books. There was some of the typical silly stuff where you encounter people who have seemingly lived for years stuck inside an evil mountain fortress with no ill effects on them, which never makes sense, but not as much as I was expecting. Overall, this book is very good, and is a good starting place for enjoying the Fighting Fantasy series.