Time to start what must be at least my third attempt at playing through the whole Fighting Fantasy series in order.
The first time I encountered a copy of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, it was being auctioned by a teacher to raise funds for something. I was one of the bidders, and before long there was only one other person bidding against me, and the price kept creeping up, and up... And then the other guy named a sum higher than the cover price of the book and, realising I'd be able to get a brand new copy for less in town, I let him win. And borrowed the book off him.
I had no dice handy, and wasn't bothered about the rules anyway. By sheer chance, I happened to take the correct turning at both of the junctions where going the wrong way would have guaranteed failure. So how come I didn't succeed at my first readthrough? Curiosity. I got as far as the fight with the Ghoul, and the paragraph detailing it stated which section to turn to if my character got paralysed. As I wasn't using dice, there was no way I could actually lose the fight, but I wanted to know what happened in that section. After all, this was a book for kids, and there was no way that a kids' book would have anything really bad happen to the main character (especially one which explicitly identified the reader as the hero). So I turned to that section, and read an account of the Ghoul celebrating its victory and then beginning to feed on me. Game over. Mind-blowing stuff for this eleven-year-old. How could I not be hooked on the books after that?
Today I have something of a problem. The thing is, I know this book. I know where to find the essential keys, I know the loophole in the rules which gives me a chance of success even if I roll up the weakest character imaginable, I even know the correct path through the maze thanks to having mapped it more times than can be entirely healthy. So the outcome is, if not quite a foregone conclusion (the random factor allowing for surprises), at least highly predictable. And while I could do with a win to balance out my shameful two-section-long adventure in T&T-land, an easy victory may not make for the most entertaining reading. Especially in a book that's already been covered by pretty much every other gamebook blogger there is.
I briefly contemplated playing the alternate version of the adventure, published in issues 1-2 of Warlock magazine, which relocates half the keys, changes the winning combination, and, at the climax, plays delightfully nasty mind-games with readers who can remember section numbers. Depending on my mood, I might even have a go at that variant between Kharé - Cityport of Traps and Scorpion Swamp, as that's when the magazine came out. But right now, I should play the proper version. The one that is Fighting Fantasy book 1 whether we're talking Puffin, Wizard or Wizard redux.
So what's my character like?
Skill 7 (a good chance to put the 'any player, no matter how weak on initial dice rolls, should be able to get through fairly easily' claim to the test)
I'd better choose the Potion of Strength, as (hello, Mister Loophole) that can restore me to full Stamina even in the middle of a fight. Twice.
It's quite appropriate that the title of this adventure mentions a mountain. After all, George Mallory justified his intention to climb Everest with the statement, "Because it's there," and that phrase pretty much sums up our hero's motivation for seeking out the eponymous Warlock with the intent of killing him and taking his stuff. There's a vague attempt at making out that this is acceptable because the Warlock hasn't been very nice to other people who tried to slice him into little bits and loot his home, but really, can you blame him? Well, I need a better motivation for this. So my character is an inspector who works for the Sinister Magic-Users' Guild, here to carry out a check for health and safety violations, unsuitable working practices, and anything else that can be used to justify capital punishment and a fine equal to 100% of his financial holdings.
Just past the first junction, the Warlock gets his first black mark. A guard sleeping on duty. From the sound of it, the relief guard is also napping, but that's permissible, so I pass on to the second door, and in the room beyond, I encounter offence 2, which could be noted under cruelty to animals or H&S. Either way, live snakes should not be left lying around in small wooden boxes. Particularly not boxes that are also being used to store keys.
There are more guards in the next room, but they're drunk. By the time I've finished with them, they're dead drunk, if you will permit a sub-Arnie post-kill pun. The room also contains a book that should clearly have been filed somewhere else, dealing as it does with protective measures to be taken when handling Dragons.
I proceed to a room where the Orc Chieftain is carrying out disciplinary measures against his servant. Observing certain flaws in his technique, I demonstrate a more effective method of employing brute force. The treasure chest in the room has a flimsy lock, and a regrettable tendency to fire poisoned darts at inspectors checking up on how secure it is. This is clearly not up to standard, so I remove the gold and potion contained within it and place them into my backpack until a more suitable storage unit can be found.
At the other end of the corridor I find yet more badly-trained Orcs. Initially too preoccupied with their food to notice the presence of an inspector in their midst, they compound their error by attacking one at a time once I have drawn their attention. The resultant fight does, alas, leave them too dead to explain who is responsible for the bow and silver arrow that have been left here rather than put in the armoury where they belong.
The next door I encounter is locked. Quite rightly, as it turns out, as this room is being used as a cell for an unsuccessful adventurer, but owing to a lack of clear labelling, I have to break the door down in order to learn this. The prisoner is obviously not to blame for this, so I schedule a tribunal to resolve the matter, and allow the man to leave provided he returns to give testimony at the appropriate time.
Having learned my lesson, I ignore the next locked door, and proceed to check out the torture chamber. The methods being employed here are obviously unsuitable for extracting pertinent information, as they kill the subject far too quickly, and I illustrate this problem to the torturers by using the technique on them. They also lose points for not keeping cheese in a suitably refrigerated environment.
A portcullis with booby-trapped controls restricts access to deeper regions of the complex. This would be commendable, but for the lax data security which enabled the prisoner to learn of the correct way to bypass the trap. Naturally he told me of this, and I test the accuracy of the information he was allowed to discover, gaining confirmation that this is a serious breach.
The next noteworthy feature I discover is an Iron Cyclops with a jewelled eye. Checking that the jewel is properly secured in its mounting causes the statue to animate and attack me. Regrettably, owing to a string of bad rolls, not even the Potion of Strength suffices to keep me alive until this malfunction can be put to rights, as a result of which my report remains incomplete and unfiled.
Oh, well, at least I didn't wind up blubbing on account of only having two keys.