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Literature / The Warlock of Firetop Mountain

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This doesn't actually happen in the book. Still looks cool, though.
The one that started it all.

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain is the first entry in the Fighting Fantasy line of Gamebooks. Written by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone, founders of Fighting Fantasy. It came out in 1982.

In this adventure, you play as an adventurer on a quest to defeat a sorcerer while accumulating treasure, objects and killing monsters along the way. It was the first one, so of course it's going to be a bit... "classic". Still, it has its share of Early-Installment Weirdness.

Warlock has received two iOS Video-Game App conversions, the first as a straight interactive book by Big Blue Bubble Studios, the second by the Australian Production team of Tin Man Studios as a board-game style Action RPG. The latter of the two conversions was, in turn, converted into a Nintendo Switch App in October 2018. There's also a board game adaptation.

Received a sequel as the Milestone Celebration in the form of Return to Firetop Mountain.

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain provides examples of:

  • Bavarian Fire Drill: When you enter the boathouse and encounter a group of skeleton workers, you can tell them you're their new boss and go back to work. There's a 2 out of 3 chance of getting a desirable outcome, where you'll successfully fool the skeletons into leaving you alone.
  • Big Bad: The Warlock/Zagor. Somehow subverted as he is not really depicted as doing great evil here, which has made the morality of this book quite infamous.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Subverted. A Y-shaped stick seems like it is going to be useful, but when you intend to use it against Zagor in the end, it turns out to have broken.
  • Covers Always Lie: The original cover depicts a Merlin-like wizard with long white hair and beard, which is not how Zagor looks like at all (he has short black hair and a black goatee). And he summons a dragon from a crystal ball. Said dragon is simply found waiting for you in a cave. The cover has been remade in more modern editions so that Zagor looks like himself, however they kept the "summoning dragon" aspect for nostalgia sake. And maybe also for Rule of Cool. Then again, Shadow of the Giants has you encounter a portrait whose description exactly matches the above art, and confirms that yes, that's supposed to be Zagor.
  • Dem Bones: Animated skeletons are working on building a boat.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • Zagor is not depicted as an evil wizard who is a danger to the world. It seems more like adventurers just keep pestering him and he is the victim who stands for his life.
    • The hero's quest is not achieved unless he manages to unlock the Warlock's treasure... and given the option to become the new master of the Mountain. If he cannot unlock the chest, his only option is to sit, put his hands on his face and weep like a little child. It's like it was all about Greed!
    • Bonus points are given for weird reasons. The hero frees a prisoner who gives him valuable information and he obtains 1 LUCK point. He opens a box, freeing a regular mouse and getting a coin, and this gives him 2 LUCK points.
    • You are only allowed to eat meals when the text tells you you can. Future books allow you to eat a meal whenever you want. This is especially bad in the French translation of the Fighting Fantasy series, where the rules for Warlock of Firetop Mountain were copy-pasted for many of the other books... making players unable to eat their meals at all.
    • There are only three endings that result in instant death or failure (excluding losing in combat), much fewer than in subsequent books: one where the Ghoul gets four hits on you, one where the Vampire successfully charms you and drinks your blood, and one where all three keys fail to unlock the chest.
    • Unlike every other book in the series, Ian Livingstone literally wrote the first half of the adventure and Steve Jackson the second (the crossover point comes, very noticeably, at the moment where you cross the bridge over the river).
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: Whoo boy. The Warlock's orc guards are so ridiculously incompetent at their jobs, it's unbelievable. Sleeping on duty? Check. Getting drunk on the job? Check. Too busy flogging a slave to notice you? Check. It could be justified by the fact that, unlike later evil sorcerors in the franchise which are actively threatening the safety of Titan, Zagor is merely minding his own business, and therefore hasn't told his mooks to anticipate an assassination.
  • Happy Dance: If the ghoul kills you, she will dance for joy around your body before making it her meal.
  • Have a Nice Death: A whole paragraph/reference is devoted to what happens if you are killed or paralyzed by the ghoul. Said ghoul is very happy to have fresh meat at her disposal.
  • Luckily, My Shield Will Protect Me: You can recover a magnificient, golden shield which can absorb damage for you.
  • The Maze: You'll need to cross a difficult and hair-pullingly frustrating one halfway through the game. Good luck!
  • Mirror Monster: In the Domain of the Dead in the Tin Man Studios Game Adaptation, you can fight against a Mirror Demon from Deathtrap Dungeon... which is said to be Zagor's mother, no less!
  • One-Hit Kill:
    • You can kill Zagor instantly if you have the Cyclops's Eye.
    • The bow with a silver arrow can one-shot the Wight.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: You face a big dragon before getting to Zagor. You can either fight it regularly, or use a special spell that will make it hurt by its own fire. "Make fire, like fire, fire fire, di Maggio."
  • Our Minotaurs Are Different: In the usual tradition of mythology, you can run into a Minotaur in the warlock's maze. It's the personal quest-boss of playable character Arran Gottspeed in the Tin Man Studios version of the story.
  • Permanently Missable Content: The book is filled with various numbered keys in order to distract you from collecting the three keys compulsory for winning the game. It's easy to be misled into collecting the wrong keys and missing an essential one, and fail your quest after defeating the warlock because you chose the wrong item.
  • Red Herring: The Y-shaped stick. Even if you decide to use it in the final fight, you learn that it's broken and never know if it had special abilities.
  • Rodents of Unusual Size: You come across some giant rats.
  • A Taste of the Lash: You can come across an Orc Chieftain flogging his servant with a whip in one of the many rooms inside the mountain.
  • The Undead: The middle part of the Dungeon is infested with undead and has you fighting Zombies, Ghouls and a Vampire. Oh, and the aforementioned skeletons.
  • Unbuilt Trope: One of the very first gamebooks that helped launch the genre. While the plot is the classic "kill the sorcerer", the sorcerer himself is not depicted as actually villainous and having it coming, and killing him does not win the game; the protagonist has to find his treasure next, and is offered the opportunity to replace the sorcerer as the ruler of the mountain. This kind of ambiguous morality makes it unusual in the gamebook genre.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: You find a servant being cruelly whipped by his master. If you decide to attack the latter, expecting the other to help you, he will instead join him in fighting you. It's actually an achievement to fall for this in the Nintendo Switch version.
  • Unwinnable by Design: To win the game you must find and use specific keys to open the final treasure chest. If you don't find them or bring along the wrong ones, you cannot win the game, even though you defeated Zagor.
  • Unwinnable by Mistake: In the Tin Man Studios game adaptation, the playable character Wanushu has a personal quest to find a particularly large specimen of Giant Spider. If you talk to the drunken orcs and the old man held prisoner in the very first portion of the map, they'll direct you to the ogre's cave in the second portion of the map. But if you go there, one of your options when the ogre appears is to distract it by throwing an object, after which you sneak back out of the cave and turn west. This prevents you from ever getting to the spider's lair, forcing you to either restart the playthrough or get Wanushu killed and resurrect back at one of the first two benches.
  • Video Game Cruelty Potential: You find a dwarf getting tortured to death. You can actually join in the torturing, with an Evil Laugh to boot!
  • Weaksauce Weakness: One of the sources of Zagor's power, which you can exploit to gain the upper hand, is his playing cards. If you burn them, he becomes nothing more than a helpless old man.