Monday, 8 September 2014

Fighting Fantasy Fest report

Photo: Tin Man Games
It's a wonder what the staff at the Doubletree Hilton in Ealing thought when droves of people, some dressed as vampires and warlocks, began to flood into their hotel on the morning of Sunday 7th September. At one point an armour-clad goblin shuffled through one of the corridors, barking guttural commands to the enthused crowd. It must have been bizarre for 'normal' guests to open the elevator doors and be greeted with this weird sight. Fighting Fantasy Fest had come to London.


The inaugural Fighting Fantasy Fest was organised by lifelong gamebook fan and writer Jonathan Green, who used the event as both a massive nostalgia trip and a vehicle to launch his Kickstarted tome You Are The Hero, a history of Fighting Fantasy. Green's wife and children did an excellent job ushering in the crowds and making sure everyone got an amazing goodie bag, which was chock full of great FF paraphernalia including a poster, dice, a book by Green, a lovely Warlock of Firetop Mountain miniature and a download code from Tin Man Games. As I was one of the first ticket-buyers I also got a hardcover copy of Warlock of Firetop Mountain signed by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone themselves. I would go on to get artist Russ Nicholson to put his pen to the book later on.

The one thing that was immediately apparent was how friendly this convention was. It helped that the venue was cosy, with only a handful of rooms set aside for gaming, art displays, stalls and panels (playfully mapped out in the con schedule as a true-to-form Fighting Fantasy-esque world complete with Deathtrap Dungeon and The Black Lobster Tavern). The close confines meant that people were easy to spot and people struck up conversations about their favourite books.

It was striking to see giants of the industry Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone just walking around the room, all smiles and jokes with the guests. It was also great to see Tin Man Games flying their banner high, along with Inkle Studios, All Rolled Up, Otherworld Miniatures and more.

Speaking of Tin Man, the first panel was an interesting talk by Creative Director (although he's not keen on the title) Neil Rennison, who took us through the past, present and future of the company. He showed some incredible reworked artwork from the upcoming Caverns of the Snow Witch art as well as some proof-of-concept videos of their Allansia project, which seems to be an open world graphical gamebook.

Next up was the main event. Jackson and Livingstone strolled up to the front and took their seats at the table along with Philippa Dickinson, the original editor of Warlock of Firetop Mountain. Together they expounded the history of the series, telling some hilarious stories that some fans might already know, but it's great to hear from the horse's mouth nonetheless.

It's worth noting that I met a few familiar faces at FFF, including gamebook god Stuart Lloyd and Fighting For Your Fantasy's Justin Parallax. Hell, I even gamed with them - Advanced Fighting Fantasy with Lloyd at the helm. While we were butchering demonic chickens Ian Livingstone came to have a nosey at the game, asking us what the hell we were doing massacring chickens ("they've got red eyes, so it's ok").

One of the highlights of the con was the art room, which proudly displayed original paintings, illustrations and publications from Fighting Fantasy's past. One of the most interesting pieces was the entire plan of Firetop Mountain, with all the original notes (key here, death here). The artists themselves were on hand to flip through their incredible portfolios and sign a book or two, including Russ Nicholson, Chris Achilleos, John Blanche, Malcolm Barter, Tony Hough and Leo Hartas.

The day rounded off with a mass signing, a costume competition and an auction, where prized pieces like Jackson's own copy of White Dwarf #1 was up for grabs.

I can't impress on you enough what a positive day it was. Everyone was cheerful and enthusiastic, the stars of the day were approachable and I met some great new people. Jonathan Green did an outstanding job organising the first Fighting Fantasy Fest, so let's hope he'll be up for it in 2015. There's certainly an appetite for it.