I took a crack at Fighting Fantasy: Caverns of the Snow Witch

Awhile ago, I was at Goodwill and happened to see this book called “Fighting Fantasy: in which YOU become the hero!” proper title: “Caverns of the Snow Witch.” by Ian Livingstone.

The name “Ian Livingstone” sounded familiar to me, and I later remembered why–I had been about 20 when ads for a game adaptation of Deathtrap Dungeon (which at the time I didn’t know was based on a book) were in magazines. I never played that, and I had no pre-existing familiarity with Fighting Fantasy except that some role-players I’d talked to had spoken highly of it.

So I was like, “I’ll buy this. It’s only a dollar.”

Fighting Fantasy is basically, if Choose Your Own Adventure and Dungeons & Dragons got married and had a baby. If you make Decision A, turn to page XXX, if you make Decision B, turn to page XXY. The twist is you roll stats, and there are parts where your page reference isn’t made by decision but by dice roll. There are also monster fights.

The system works. Basically you and the monster have a “skill” rating and then you both roll dice, add that to your skill to get an “attack power” and whoever has higher AP is the one who deals damage (if you tie, its assumed you both miss). You can also spend a luck point for a chance at doing extra damage, or reducing the amount received. Its pretty elegant, though it means battles basically come down to whether the dice screw you or not.

On my first attempt, that’s precisely what happened–I got attacked by wolves and every. Single. Turn I would take damage until I died. Thus ended my first, very short adventure (literally the only decision I had made at that point was whether or not to cross a bridge).

Now, I gotta admit that while I loved Choose Your Own Adventure as a kid, these days I don’t have quite the fortitude I used to–I usually read until I reach a definite ending of some sort, and then I’m done for the day. So after the wolves killed me, I was like “Oh well, that’s that” and went to play some Outrun. But then today I decided to tackle it again.

I decided to roll a new character to see if I could get better stats, then went once more into the brink.

This time, I discovered something about combat. What I had been doing for awhile was rolling both sets of dice at once–mine in the left hand, and the monster’s in the right–but when I instead switched to rolling the monster first and then rolling my own, I tended to have far better results. I’m not sure why this would matter, but we live in an illogical, magical world, so its time to start believing illogical, magical things.

In general, I seemed to be doing a lot better. Any time I was called to make a dice roll, I succeeded more often than not, and almost none of my decisions got me into too much trouble… until the end.

What finally happened, after I had the fight of my life against a White Dragon (at a huge disadvantage because I didn’t have any of the magic items which were supposed to make this encounter much easier, save for a Sword of Speed) which I just barely managed to win–using my luck to do additional damage and end the combat one round early–I discovered the Snow Witch.

Who was a freaking vampire.

And I didn’t have garlic. Or a runic stave. I had a half-dozen other odds and ends that I never used anywhere (a key found in a loaf of bread, a slingshot and three iron balls, a candle, and so on) but apparently I needed that runic stave to kill the toothy bitch, and since I didn’t have it, she proceeded to make me her undead servant.

This is NOT sexy.

Very well, Snow Bitch, you win this round, but just wait until my mental fortitude returns! I’m gonna record it, too.

… So yeah, this was a fun little diversion. One thing about “Gamebooks” in general though…. I loved CYOA as a kid, but I think it was because they were a kind of video game I could play while in school. Whenever I was at home I, of course, preferred my computer or my SNES, and I do think part of the reason is that being a book, you know much of it is “canned.” Fighting Fantasy does an admirable job of fighting this problem actually, since you have a character sheet and outcomes can depend on inventory or die rolls, but still, there are times where I wish I was playing this as either a Sierra adventure game or as an actual D&D session with people.

Then again, the primary point of these is that they’re for when you don’t have those other things, so lets not shoot for the moon here.

Still, there was something oddly enthralling about playing essentially Quest for Glory but in book form. I’m thinking of hunting down more of these books, particularly Deathtrap Dungeon.

And like I said, next time I attempt Caverns of the Snow Witch I’m gonna record it. Would that be considered a “Let’s Play?”

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