D is for Dungeon – Deathtrap. #FathersStoryWeek

As we come to the end of Father’s Story Week, I thought I’d share one of the books that sparked a hobby that I’m passing on to my kids – roleplaying games.

Deathtrap DungeonI’ve blogged about our gaming nights here before, how we go from playing card games, to Carcassonne, to Castles and Crusades, Dr Who, and so on. If it weren’t for the efforts of two gentlemen by the names of Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson, I don’t think we’d be much beyond the card games.

Back in the 1980s, a book called “The Warlock of Firetop Mountain” was published.  It had 400 numbered chapters that – and here’s the clever part – you didn’t read in order.  You chose your own path through the book based on the options given.  One chapter might describe a room you, the adventurer, were in and give you options like “look through the desk, go to 98; examine the bookcase, go to 233; leave the room by the door you came in, go to 3”.  And you’d make your choice and go to the section in question.  With the aid of a character sheet and some normal, everyday dice, you’d test your luck, fight monsters and cast spells – these would also determine where you went in the book.

With the random element introduced by the dice and the possibility of making bad decisions, there was no guarantee your adventurer would survive to the end of the book – which was not necessarily the last section, no skipping to the end to see how the story works out!  If you played fair, it would take several attempts to get through the story.  If, like most people, you hit the “undo” button when you died, keeping a note of which section you’d come from, you could always pick the other direction.  Then, of course, there’s the “G0d-mode” where you win every combat, always succeed when testing your luck and always have the right key when you reach the door.  But that’s cheating.

By the time Deathtrap Dungeon came out in 1984 I was already hooked.  The premise for this one was a little different, though.  For this one, the setup was almost Big-Brother-House-Esque.  A constructed dungeon/arena that people paid to watch the adventurers fight their way through to win a cash prize.  You can imagine them televising it today.  I have fond memories of this book, read it so much it fell to pieces.  Work of genius.

There’s a mini-documentary on YouTube about the Fighting Fantasy books – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vEvH12X95hE – which makes for interesting viewing.  At one point you see the “map” for Warlock of Firetop Mountain!  Massive cross-referenced spidergram thingummy, makes the mind maps I’ve  drawn for our works Intranet workflows look trivial by comparison.

Absolutely the best thing about the Fighting Fantasy books is that they give you the whole roleplaying experience but with just a single player.  No need to find a group to play with, no need to organise a time, work out what to do about the player who’s late/doesn’t turn up at all.  But they give you a spring-board into full-on roleplaying games.  It’s just a short step from Fighting Fantasy to Castles and Crusades, Dungeon Crawl Classics, or any of the myriad other games out there.  If there’s a TV series you enjoy, chances are there’s a game to emulate it – Smallville, Doctor Who, Leverage, Firefly/Serenity…  If there’s a genre you want to play, there’s a game for it – for horror, there’s  Call of Cthulhu, World of Darkness, Fear Itself; Science Fiction has Ashen Stars, Traveller, Spacemaster; Fantasy? Take your pick – Castles & Crusades, Dungeon Crawl Classics, the original (but now by no means the best) Dungeons and Dragons, The One Ring (if you prefer your fantasy set in Middle Earth).  Any genre, any story, anything.  It’s all possible with the right RPG.

So…  Are any of my readers gamers too?

2 Replies to “D is for Dungeon – Deathtrap. #FathersStoryWeek”

  1. I remember being given a Choose Your Own Adventure book when I was about 10 (in the States, around 1980) and I LOVED it. I was hooked and I had a whole series of them, some better than others. I never came across the gaming books though. I am fairly sure I would have loved those as well. I did play D&D for a while with some guy friends but I kept wanting to be things I wasn’t allowed to be, like a druid with elvish powers or something. They tolerated it because I was the only cute girl who wanted to play, but I know I tested their patience.

    As a family, we like Risk, and Labyrinth and I’ve had a look at Carcassonne but have yet to buy it. May have to do that this summer! Intrigued by these books too.

    1. Labyrinth’s great. Not tried Risk (have a look on YouTube for Rimmer’s Risk Diaries, a scene from Red Dwarf). If you’d stuck with D&D you’d be playing that druid/elf combo with ease now, they’ve changed the way characters can be customised so much. Cute girls playing D&D? Rare as hen’s teeth. Talisman’s a board game that’s a blast from the 80s and been re-released – much fantasy, a bit of roleplaying, but more boardgame than anything. And 0One Games has their “Venture” line of RPG/boardgames. Hmmm. I may know too much here. Dangerous levels of knowledge.

      Carcassonne’s excellent, highly recommend it. If you’re in the US and have a Kindle, there are some of the Fighting Fantasy books available on there. We can’t get them in the UK as they’ve not allowed us to have “Active Content” yet. And given that my daughter trod on her Kindle this weekend and bust the screen, I’m not that concerned yet.

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