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Fighting Fantasy: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain Review and Walkthrough
Hello, my name is Chamomile, and this is my review, walkthrough, and suggested revisions to the Warlock of Firetop Mountain, a Fighting Fantasy gamebook written by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, the latter of whom is evil. The walkthrough is delivered psuedo-in-character, mostly because I wish I could get someone to pay me to write fiction, but I can't, so I'm doing this instead. Also, this entire introduction serves mostly to shove as many keywords (like Fighting Fantasy or gamebook or Steve Jackson or walkthrough, for example!) into the article in as short a space as possible. Does it show? And have I mentioned this is a review and walkthrough of the Warlock of Firetop Mountain Fighting Fantasy gamebook by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingston?
The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is the first Fighting Fantasy book ever written, and it shows. The game is horribly plagued by decisions that rely purely on luck and almost never offers the option to first take one choice and then the other, even in situations where this would make perfect sense. For example, you are regularly asked whether you want to go left or right and are unable to backtrack once you've chosen. The book's introduction informs us that "you can expect many frustrations in Firetop Mountain," and you know things are headed in the wrong direction when entertainers think they've done a good job when their audience is having as little fun as possible.
Story-wise, the book is fairly lacking, which is rather unfortunate seeing as how this is in fact a gamebook. An evil wizard named Zagor has shacked up in Firetop Mountain with all kinds of riches, and is presumably doing evil stuff in there with his monstrous armies. You, as a bold and greedy adventurer, set out to stop him. There are occasional side-characters, like an imprisoned adventurer driven mad by his incarceration, a band of dwarves hanging out just down the subterranean street from Zagor's bedroom for some reason, and a shopkeeper who eagerly tries to sell you a magic candle, his eagerness being understandable as he's set up shop inside the evil lair of a dark wizard two day's travel from the nearest village and surrounded by hostile orcs. I think you might see some more foot traffic if you found a better location, Mr. Shopkeeper. These characters are all very stereotypical and never advance the plot past "find evil wizard and kill him," and their existence often puts heavy strain on the suspension of disbelief.
Mechanically speaking, the game is decent enough for a single playthrough, but doesn't have enough player choice to sustain multiple runs, since your stats are determined by die roll and the only mechanical decisions you make at all are whether to fight certain monsters, when to test your luck (the answer to which may well be "never" if you rolled badly for the relevant stat), and which of three potions you're going to take with you, one of which is rendered kind of redundant since it heals you and you automatically get 10 provisions which do the same thing. The lack of mechanical choice is particularly egregious considering that there is one set of monsters that you must kill to succeed and absolutely nothing to be gained from fighting any of the others, so playing the game with the minimum Skill of 7 and the maximum of 12 is actually exactly the same, but for the former you need to be luckier to kill the required monsters. The game does keep track of how much gold each monster drops, but there's no point of comparison whereby you might figure out how much you're actually making off of all this and there's only about 150 gold in the entire mountain to be had, and that's if you cheat and take all possible routes instead of following Jackson and Livingstone's railroad, while the Warlock's final treasure is said to be worth over a thousand gold, which makes everything else kind of moot. If acquiring gold acted as a sort of high score, it might be worth risking otherwise unnecessary fights to pick up the loot, but alas not.
Speaking of the Warlock's treasure, perhaps the biggest frustration in the book (and the most easily changed) is the three keys needed to unlock his chest. There are plenty of keys scattered about the dungeon, but only three of them are the right ones. Early on in the game, the path branches into three separate routes that all meet up again at an underground river, and you can only explore one of these routes because shut up. One of these three routes holds the correct key, and if you don't pick that one, you've basically lost already no matter what else you do. This is an abominable design decision, as not only is two-thirds of the early content something you are required to ignore if you want to succeed at the end, but it's possible to be stuck with what basically amounts to a gotcha death half an hour after you made the "wrong" decision by choosing either one of the wrong paths, which look absolutely identical to the correct one. Absolutely no hint is given as to which of the three paths is correct.
And I'm trying to keep this section short since we're at double the recommended length already, but the Maze of Zagor on the north side of the river was a terrible idea. The random encounters are so weak as to be irrelevant for the vast majority of players, and going around in circles is just a timewaster.
Final verdict, the Warlock of Firetop Mountain is a mess. It has frustrating mechanics and a story that's equal parts bland and nonsensical. It might be worth an hour or two if you're a completionist, but I wouldn't recommend spending money, and you should absolutely not try to introduce someone to the concept of gamebooks using this train wreck when there are other, better books out there (even the very next book, Citadel of Chaos, is significantly better).
Warlock of Firetop Mountain: Walkthrough
Smoke rises from the Mountain of Doom. The hour grows late, and Yu rides to Hubgard, seeking my counsel. For that is why you have come, is it not, old friend? As you are likely already aware, Zagor has seized Firetop Mountain from the dwarves who once lived there, and is building an army for nefarious purposes on behalf of the Dark Lord of Living Stone Ian, his old teacher, and their mutual friend and ally Steven, son of Jack. But not even his magics can escape my clairvoyance, and with the aid of my instruction, even an orc can hope to overcome him and lay claim to his treasure.
In general, it is recommended that you eat provisions until you are at full Stamina at every opportunity, unless you have very low Skill, in which case you may well need the provisions more. Even in this case, eat as many as you can without wasting them (as in, if you have 2 Stamina short of your maximum, don't eat a provision). It is also recommended that you take a Luck potion, particularly if you have high luck to begin with, and to save as much Luck as possible for battles against strong opponents, in which case you should test your luck every round for as long as you have at least 7 points (which gives you better than 50% of odds of success).
When you first enter the mountain, go left. The door to the right just leads to a trap. Proceeding down the left hall, ignore the first door, but enter the second. In the second room is a box containing an easily killed snake guarding one of the three keys you'll need. Further down the hall, enter the third room as well. An easy battle against a pair of drunken orcs will grant you a powerful spell.
Head right at the intersection.
Head north at the threeway junction. Ignore the first door. Behind the second door, you'll hear the ravings of a crazed man. Break the door down and calm him down, then listen to his advice. Ignore the third door and when you reach the portcullis, pull the right lever. Past the portcullis, head east until you find the room with an iron cyclops. Take the eye and then slay the cyclops when it comes to life. This battle is difficult, but necessary. Not only does the cyclops' eye allow you to avoid a much more difficult battle further down the line, but its chest hides one of the three keys you need to retrieve Zagor's treasure.
Across the River
Back at the junction, head north, kill the barbarian, and then look at the paintings in the gallery. One of them is an apparently quite terrifying picture of Zagor. Maybe it does that thing where the eyes follow you no matter where you go. Regardless, hold up the cyclops' eye to scare it off. Continue on until you reach the river, ring for the ferryman, pay him his due, and then head through the large timber door on the other side. Kill the four zombies (they are not a terribly difficult fight), and then grab the sword and examine it to find that it is enchanted, which will be very helpful in the one other battle you will have to fight in the mountain.
A vampire lives in the crypt. Leave immediately before he has a chance to awaken, as he could potentially mesmerize you, no doubt with his sparkling skin and white boy angst. Go north at the crossroads, descend the stairs, and ignore the bodies. They contain nothing of value and one of them is a vicious ghoul that may paralyze you. Although if you want to test out that new sword, you should be able to kill the ghoul even if you started with a Skill of 7. You are now in the Maze of Zagor, which is clearly the work of his old teacher, Ian of the Living Stone. If you use this guide for nothing else, use it to get through this thrice-damned maze.
The Maze of Zagor
After the portcullis drops (entry 197 if you'd like to start over), go east, north, north, west, north, and open the door. Kill the minotaur, take the key and the gold, and you may as well throw your sword away now because you're done with it.
Back at the crossroads, go south, south, north, shout up the hall that the Mazemaster sucks and then head east, north, west, north, examine the dead end for secret passages, push the knob, and head north until you find a dragon.
Use the di Maggio spell you found near the beginning to insta-gib the dragon. Greet the old man curiously and he will reveal that he is the Warlock. Use the cyclops' eye to insta-gib him (why did he even have that in his lair?). Use the keys 99, 111, and 111 to open the chest and get enough treasure to render all the rest of your exploits in the mountain moot.
Congratulations! You have slain the tension in the climax (and also an evil wizard, or something)!
So you want to play the Warlock of Firetop Mountain for the things it gets right (like...Um...The illustrations, I guess) or just for the sake of completionism, but you don't want to slog through Fighting Fantasy's very acute growing pains? Fortunately, it's possible to solve a lot of the problems without completely remaking the book.
As you progress through the mountain, make a map, using the number of the entry to mark different rooms and junctions. You can then use this to backtrack through areas you've already explored and try to explore multiple routes. This won't always work, for example if you reach the river crossings by jumping into the river upstream, you won't have the entry numbers for the room to the south. If you like, you can assume that the river crossings are actually on an island in the middle of the river, and that it is actually impossible to go back once you reach it, perhaps because the bridge back is destroyed, or because the current is too strong to swim against.
Because you can now backtrack more easily, there is no reason to put the cyclops' eye in the same room as an important quest item. Thus, the cyclops' key (labeled 111) is instead guarded by the giant spider.
It's extremely anti-climactic for the warlock and his dragon, the two final battles of the game, to be insta-gibbed by special items that are either easy to find or impossible to miss if you're going to win anyway (though this is alleviated somewhat by moving the cyclops' key to the giant spider). Instead of killing the dragon and warlock completely, the respective items reduce their skill by 2 and their Stamina by 8. This is roughly the same effect as getting lucky and burning the warlock's cards just before you fight him.
Any three keys may be used to open up the warlock's chest (for reference, the entry wherein you successfully unlock it is #321).
Instead of rolling randomly for Skill, Stamina, and Luck, start with 8 points and all stats at 7. You can then raise each of them according to the following chart:
- 8: 1
- 9: 2
- 10: 3
- 11: 4
- 12: 8
Then double your final Stamina score. This gives you a bit more control over what kind of character you're playing...Although it's worth noting that a high enough Skill makes higher Stamina basically irrelevant. If you want to play again at a higher difficulty, you can just reduce the number of points allowed at start (thus, for example, eliminating the possibility of starting with any stat maxed out).