The Trolltooth Wars (1989)

Occasionally, I’ll be posting something that isn’t quite a vintage RPG, but is thematically close. This is one of those times. Check out The Trolltooth Wars (1989), by Steve Jackson, the first novel set in the world of the Fighting Fantasy pick-your-path game books.

For those who don’t know, pick-your path books were popular interactive books from the 80s. You read a passage, then were presented with a choice and turned to the corresponding numbered passage. They ranged from simples stories to elaborate “light” RPGs, with spellbooks and dice-based combat. Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone’s Fighting Fantasy was one of the best of the latter, spanning 60 core books, a handful of novels and several short spin-off series. Primarily English, they’re a little hard to come by in the states. I got mine on a trip to Toronto, from the World’s Biggest Bookstore, where they had a wall of them. It was overwhelming.

The Trolltooth Wars is a surprisingly dark sword and sorcery romp. Two evil sorcerers start a drug war, which threatens a peaceful kingdom stuck in the middle. Chadda Darkmane (he’s got black hair, get it?) is tasked with stopping the war by any means necessary, blah blah blah. Lots of people die. I don’t really recall the details, but I know I read the book several times. My 6th grade teacher took it away from me at one point. The nerve. Who needs math when you have orcs fighting the undead?

A lot of the charm of The Trolltooth Wars (and the Fighting Fantasy series in general) comes from the illustrations by Russ Nicholson. Old school D&D players will recognize his work from the Fiend Folio (Githyanki!) but he gets to shine here with over-packed compositions. Nicholson’s world is dark, his line work evoking an unsettling organic quality. His costuming is elaborate and decadent. He also delights in stylized violence of the most gruesome sort. Just look at how that swath of black blood riding the sword after it passes through the strong-arm’s neck! It is graphic in the most literal sense.

Cover art: Chris Achilleos

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