The Shamuntani Hills (1983)

Where to start with Steve Jackson’s Sorcery series? At their most basic, they are close cousins to the Fighting Fantasy books: they share the same fantasy setting as the majority of those books and use a modified version of their rules.

That probably begs the question: what are Fighting Fantasy books? Your basic choose-your-own-adventure gives you control over the narrative through choices, usually binary ones; your success or failure is directly tied to which option you pick. Fighting Fantasy introduced dice-based combat and statistics, a-la D&D, to the mix, meaning you could fail because of bad decisions and bad luck in combat/poor equipment management. First appearing in 1982 Fighting Fantasy paved the way for similar series (reaching a height of popularity between ’84 and ’86) like Lone Wolf, Golden Dragon and the Grailquest books.

There isn’t much practical difference between these sorts of books and the solo-quest modules available for D&D, RuneQuest and Call of Cthulhu. Those didn’t catch on in conventional RPGs and, while I love all of the series that I mentioned, I am not sure the addition of RPG mechanics adds anything to the experience other than a measure of frustration. Your mileage may vary.

The first volume of Sorcery is The Shamuntani Hills. Someone stole a magic crown and you’re aiming to get it back, first by trekking through a dangerous wilderness. John Blanche (who did a lot of work for both Fighting Fantasy and Games Workshop) does some of his best illustration work here. I’ve always thought his style was similar to Ian Miller, which is either a blessing or a curse. In this instance, blessing, for my money anyway. Bonus points for putting a badass manticore on the cover. Points deducted for giving the manticore wings.

Story wise, Sorcery starts out strong with brief entries that allow for a lot of varied ground to be covered. There’s some flat-out evil instant-deaths, though, so beware.

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