Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Another early Fighting Fantasy trilogy?

The 'Stonebridge' trilogy is not the only sub-series in the early days of Fighting Fantasy. Three of Ian Livingstone's other early gamebooks also seem to have been linked: City of Thieves, Deathtrap Dungeon and Island of the Lizard King.

City of Thieves, the fifth FF gamebook, begins in Silverton with no apparent connection with any other gamebook. Silverton is about 50 miles east of Port Blacksand (para. 1). After your adventures in Port Blacksand and Zanbar Bone's tower, you return to Silverton to receive your reward and the thanks of the people of the town.

The sixth FF gamebook, Deathtrap Dungeon, begins with you spotting an advert for the Trial of Champions. You decide to head for Fang, walking two days west to Port Blacksand, where you catch a boat north to your destination. Although Silverton is not mentioned, a two day walk east of Port Blacksand must put you in the area of that town. Deathrap Dungeon ends with you being proclaimed 'Champion of Deathtrap Dungeon' in Fang (in the unlikely event that you actually survive the adventure...).

The next FF gamebook, Island of the Lizard King, sees you travelling south from Fang for a few days' rest with your friend Mungo in Oyster Bay (60 miles south of Port Blacksand). It ends with your victory over the Lizard King on Fire Island, off the west coast of Allansia.

So far so good - here we have three consecutive FF gamebooks by the same author, the last two of which start in the same place as the previous one finished. This can hardly have been by accident. That in itself marks this out as a little sub-series within the FF gamebooks, regardless of other considerations which I'll discuss below. But what can we call this FF trilogy? The only place common to them all is Port Blacksand, but in two of the books it is just somewhere you pass through in the Background to the story, so 'The Blacksand Trilogy' doesn't really work. What would YOU suggest?

Identifying these three books as a trilogy doesn't of course mean that the hero is the same individual in each of them. But (s)he could be. I suspect Livingstone intended the links between the adventures to allow readers to imagine that it's the same hero in all three books if they wanted to. But there are problems with assuming that it's the same hero in each book, as Ed rightly pointed out in the comments to my post on the 'Stonebridge' trilogy. These are:
  1. The books don't actually say that the hero is the same in each adventure. As Ed suggested, just because he has a friend who's been to Wimbledon, that doesn't make her Tim Henman. But let's think about this a minute. There was no reason for Livingtone to start each book in the place the previous one finished unless he wanted to suggest that the heroes could be the same person.
  2. After City of Thieves, you are a wanted individual in Port Blacksand with a very obvious identifying mark (as Dungeoneer points out). In that case, why would you pass through it between each adventure? I don't suppose it would be hard to wear a hood or a bit of make-up to hide the problem though.
  3. In Deathtrap Dungeon, you meet Ivy, the sister of the troll Sourbelly, who you've met or perhaps even killed in Port Blacksand in City of Thieves. As Ed puts it, 'there's no hint of recognition when Ivy mentions being his sister'. Probably wise if you killed him of course!
  4. In your conversation with the doomed Mungo at the start of Island of the Lizard King, he tells you that his father died in Deathtrap Dungeon at some point in the past. Ed is right that it is odd, since you've just won through the dungeon, that you don't make any comment here (even to yourself), but of course now is not really the time to be boasting that you survived the dungeon that killed your friend's father!

So there we have it - this is a trilogy, in which it is up to the reader to decide if the hero is the same individual in each book (which Livingstone appears to have suggested at least). But hang on a minute! Is it really just a trilogy? In issue 7 of Warlock - The Fighting Fantasy Magazine, a multi-player adventure by Paul Mason and Steve Williams called Deathtrap on Legs appears. This adventure, which takes place in the neighbourhood of Fang, is written as following straight on from Deathtrap Dungeon, and constitutes another installment in this series of adventures (in this case the third of four). But that's only a minor aside to the main trilogy to be honest. More strikingly, it's just about conceivable that another of Ian Livingstone's later books, Trial of Champions follows on, perhaps by some time (it is set a year after Deathtrap Dungeon according to Titan - The Fighting Fantasy World, Sukumvit and Carnuss), from Island of the Lizard King. You end Island of the Lizard King on Fire Island and start Trial of Champions sailing in a small boat south from Port Blacksand to Oyster Bay. Not the most convincing of links, I'll grant you, but it puts you in the right part of Allansia and you certainly have a reason to visit Oyster Bay again.

But there's more. deadshadowrunner has just pointed out in the comments to my last post (thanks!) that the Wizard 2nd edition of Trial of Champions states on its backcover that 'YOU are the legendary adventurer who conquered Baron Sukumvit's perilous labyrinth'. I had never noticed that before, as it is not present on the blurb on the back of the Puffin editions of the book! So this confirms that Trial of Champions follows on from Deathtrap Dungeon, which means that if Island of the Lizard King follows on from Deathtrap Dungeon, we are dealing here with a tetralogy (or a pentalogy if we include Deathtrap on Legs). And of course we all know what happens after Trial of Champions - you use your massive winnings to hire an army and take on the Shadow Demon Agglax in Armies of Death.

So actually, it looks like this isn't a trilogy after all. It's a pentalogy if we ignore the multi-player adventure in Warlock, or a hexalogy if we do include it.
  1. City of Thieves
  2. Deathtrap Dungeon
  3. Deathtrap on Legs
  4. Island of the Lizard King
  5. Trial of Champions
  6. Armies of Death
But that still leaves us with finding a suitable name for the series.

What was that? Did I just hear you mention Demons of the Deep (after all, if Conan could become a pirate...), Dungeoneer, Blacksand! and Allansia?! I think I'd better stop now before I work out how to link all of the Fighting Fantasy adventures in one grand scenario.


  1. Name,huh?I still like the Unicorn one,or maybe the "Skill 12 Stamina 24 Luck 12" Hexalogy,because those are the stats you need for even having a chance to complete it(or DD and ToC,at least).

    1. You definitely need to be the ultimate warrior (and a lucky so-and-so) to get through these books. Or a cheater of course!

  2. There was no reason for Livingtone to start each book in the place the previous one finished unless he wanted to suggest that the heroes could be the same person.

    How about worldbuilding? There's nothing in Warlock, Citadel, Forest and City to suggest that the eponymous locations are anywhere near each other. The references to previous books in Dungeon and Lizard are the first indications that different FF books are even set in the same fantasy world, let alone the same region.

    Nowadays it's generally accepted that all the fantasy FF books (bar Talisman of Death) are set on Titan, but back in 1983 there were no in-story connections between the adventures. It wasn't until the map of NW Allansia in issue 1 of Warlock (or the references to Firetop Mountain, Stonebridge and Port Blacksand in Caverns of the Snow Witch, for people who only accept the books as 'canon') that a common context was established for all of Ian's books.

    Another difficulty with the 'it's all the same person' theory is the disappearance of all non-standard equipment between adventures. Wouldn't the Attack Strength-boosting treasures from City have come in handy in Dungeon? But there's no sign of them in it. The hero of DD wins a fortune, but the hero of IotLK has no money, so if it's the same hero, where did the winnings go? Do fresh Provisions cost 1000 gold pieces per portion in Fang?

    Same setting? Definitely. Same character? Unsupported.

    1. Just to make clear, I'm not arguing that we have to interpret the hero as the same in each book; I like the fact you can make that choice for yourself (except for the unnecessary retcon in the blurb of the 2nd edition Wizard Trial of Champions).

      The world-building explanation doesn't necessarily follow. Although it helps you to work out the relative positions of the places in the adventures, there's some other world-building in the books anyway (e.g. Ivy, Mungo's father) which tells you you are in the same world. And why, for example, start two days' travel east of Blacksand at the beginning of DD when you could just have started in Blacksand itself (likewise for IotLK, why start in Fang and not Blacksand or Silverton?), and the relatively positions of the locations would still have been recoverable.

      The equipment and money issue is of course a bigger problem, and has to be the case to allow the books to be stand-alone adventures. No doubt we could work out scenarios to explain it (stashing money away in case you lose it, Sukumvit not allowing you to bring special equipment into the dungeon, not bringing much with you to Oyster Bay, as you are going on holiday, etc.).

      Anyway, as I said, I think IL's intention was to allow you to imagine that you could be the same individual across the books, not to force you to be so. In any case, they form a trilogy (and indeed longer series) not just because you can pretend you are the same character in each but because they are linked in other ways. I'll talk about this more in later posts, but there are other sub-series in FF which definitely don't have the same hero, but which nevertheless are sub-series (e.g. the 'Astragal' trilogy).

  3. And don't forget the Zagor Trilogy!;)

    1. Zagor is a complicated case, appearing in various FF gamebooks, novels, and two worlds. He deserves a post (or several!) of his own I think, so that I can unravel his uncertain history.