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Fighting Fantasy

I can trace my interest in Dungeons & Dragons to my sister who came home from elementary school one day to tell me excitedly about a game boys were playing in the classroom during recess. She said there was no board– only pencils and paper and oddly shaped dice. I clearly remember the fascination I felt. I remember her saying how she thought I would like it. She may even have said the game was called “dragons and something.” This would have been the mid-1980s.

We played board games. I liked watching movies. I had an active imagination– creating stories was something I liked doing at school and, sometimes, at home. I did not know what Dungeons & Dragons was, but the idea that you could make a game out of telling stories was something that stuck with me. I also remember repeatedly saying, “There’s no board?” I could not wrap my head around there being a game with no board.

I don’t know how much later, but later while still in elementary school I started telling friends “adventures”– spoken stories with decision points. The “player” made a decision and I continued the story. There was no dice, no rules, but also no paper and no pencils. It was me telling stories and someone else listening and making decisions. I made it up as I went along.

I remember one session where two friends and I remained in the basement for a whole afternoon– me telling the story and each of them having a cast of characters moving through the tale. The climatic finale was a set of doors they had to open. In one door was instant death. In another was victory– an escape. That is as much as I can remember of the plot, but I remember the feeling of sitting on the couch with two friends (they were brothers), me making up the story, and them making decisions. All afternoon.

I also remember one of the characters was named “Gump”, which was lifted from Ridley Scott’s Legend.

I was NOT a reader at this point. Not an avid reader.

I could read and I did read, but I did not read a lot. And yet I told stories, drawing inspiration from movies, and from Choose Your Own Adventure books, which were one of the few books I did read.

The book that turned me into an avid reader.

I moved to another city in Grade 6 and met a new set of friends. This was North Bay, Ontario. I only lived there for a year and a half, but I know this is where my storytelling games became more sophisticated.  This is where my actual experience with Dungeons & Dragons began and where I started adapting that system into other genres. This is also where a girl in my class (Julie Neil) gave me a novel for my birthday. She knew I played Dungeons & Dragons. She thought I’d like the book. It was War of the Twins by Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman. I remember not making much of a fuss at the time, but I did read it.

And it changed my life.

It made me a reader, which, in turn, continued to fuel my interest in role-playing games and storytelling, which, in turn, kept me interested in writing, which, in turn, kept me interested in discovering new forms of reading, which, in turn, got me to say “yes” when a friend in another city years later asked me if I wanted to borrow some comics, which, in turn, eventually made me get a comic file in another city many years later, which, in turn, is why many years later I am a published comics writer and now own a comic shop, which is how I came to be holding in my hands last week a copy of Freeway Fighter #1 written by Andi Ewington, drawn by Simon Coleby, and published by Titan Comics.

I brought a few copies in because of the cover art alone. I was surprised when it sold out on release day. The fact that the comic was branded as “Ian Livingstone’s Freeway Fighter” struck me as odd, as did the Fighting Fantasy logo on the bottom corner of the cover. I did not dig into those names until the comic sold out the day of its release. There had to be a reason so I researched “Ian Livingstone” and “Fighting Fantasy”.

Interior art from Freeway Fighter #1. Click to see full size.

I was presented with a series of book covers that knocked me back to those days of my youth where I was exploring role-playing games and storytelling. I saw those covers and I knew I had read those books. I had forgotten about Ian Livingstone’s Fighting Fantasy, but now it was coming back to me in fits and starts as I browsed the digital images of the original covers, as Google showed me the character sheets included within, as I read about Ian Livingstone and Steve Jackson and their impact on the gaming industry. These were things that I did not know at the time as a kid, but were now interesting and important historical facts of the industry in which I work.

My memory was sketchy– I had clearly forgotten about these books– so I reached out today to two friends who were with me during those early role-playing days. Brent was in the North Bay days– the grade 6 and 7 days in the late 1980s. Jason was in the 1990s days– the Assembly of the Dragon days. I figured if I had not owned these books– I felt I would have remembered them more clearly had I owned them– then it was highly likely I had seen these in the hands of Brent or Jason.

This is the first cover I saw in the search results. It sparked my memory.

Turns out both of them remember having the books. Since Brent and I learned about D&D together I suspect he was the one who showed me Fighting Fantasy. The concepts of Fighting Fantasy and our early role-playing adventures are to similar for it to be otherwise. It is possible that years later in the mid-90s Jason still had these books and perhaps gave me a loan of them. These books sold millions so Jason also knowing the books isn’t surprising. Perhaps it was those books that laid the foundation for his interest in D&D.

Seeing and recognizing the Fighting Fantasy book covers was one of those moments where you are taken unexpectedly from the present to the past and are given the tools to engage in positive reflection. I now know these books have impacted me in regards to the storytelling I told as a kid. The covers, the illustrations within, the settings, the peril, the dice-rolling, the recording of stats. That was “dragons and something” in another form. That was the now me beginning to take form.

Freeway Fighter the comic was created to help celebrate the 35th anniversary of Fighting Fantasy. I’ve reordered issue #1 for the store and for me and have added the series to my pull-list.
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