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Fighting Fantasy (1984)

This is Fighting Fantasy (1984). It is Steve Jackson’s attempt to create, as the subtitle says, an “introductory role-playing game” out of the very light rules that power the Fighting Fantasy series of gamebooks. This is emphatically not a construction project, but rather an exercise in re-arrangement. The system is exactly the same, Jackson just basically shows you how to use it to run D&D-like games with a group instead of as solo adventure books. The section on resolving common situations, like opening chests or picking pockets, seems like a place you might find new mechanics, but nope. Jackson puts all the decision making for these things ultimately in the hands of the GM, though he does outline ways to give penalties and bonuses to the die rolls. This is remarkably light for 1984. Too light, maybe? Dragonroar (1985) is credited as being the first major fantasy RPG produced in Britain and I wonder why this gets passed over for the honor. Perhaps because it is encased in a paperback novel format?

I think, though, that Fighting Fantasy is more built for group gamebook play. Maybe that seems like a silly distinction, but the two scenarios included in the book do not feel like RPGs. They feel like slightly more open-ended gamebooks. The same is true of the scenarios in the Riddling Reaver, the lone FFRPG supplement. And because of that open-endedness, they distinctly lack some of the magic that makes the regular Fighting Fantasy gamebooks so compelling. There’s more art (lovely stuff by Duncan Smith, though his cover art is…curious), but the dungeons seem spartan and the plots thin.

It doesn’t feel sustainable as a game system. And, looking at history, I guess it wasn’t!

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