Fighting Fantasy Fest 2014 – Your adventure starts here!

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An absolute goldmine

It takes a lot to drag me away from my home in a leafy Yorkshire village these days. The arrival of the first ever dedicated Fighting Fantasy Fest however, was a temptation I simply could not resist. I had been looking forward to this event ever since it was first announced earlier this year. By my own shameful admission I slept on the Kickstarter campaign for Jonathan’s book on the history of Fighting Fantasy, You Are The Hero! but I was delighted that the book had reached its goals and found its audience and was keen to join all the other errant sons and daughters of Allansia in making the pilgrimage to be a part of the celebration.

FFF 2014 was held in Ealing at the Doubletree Hilton Hotel, not an obvious choice of location! There were limited number of tickets available given the size of the venue and to ensure a more intimate experience. As it turned out, that was one of the factors that contributed to making the day so very special.

The hotels function areas were divided up into segments named after key locations in Allansia (Darkwood Forest, The Black Lobster etc) and the immediate reception area was given over to registration where helpers were busy dishing out passes and the adventurers knapsack (more on that later) as attendees arrived. Beyond that was a seating area full of tables which were quickly occupied by groups of hardy dungeoneers participating in boisterous Advanced Fighting Fantasy sessions courtesy of Arion Games . Given the amount of hooting and hollering we could hear from the seminar room it certainly sounded like they were having a great time of it!

A number of stalls were littered throughout this area and the adjoing room. Jamie Fry, the FIGHTINGFANTASY.COM dungeonmaster was in attendance and judging by the constant throng around his booth, was doing a roaring trade in FF rarities and vintage and foreign variant FF books. I didn’t manage to get a look in until the end of the day by which time he was pretty much cleared out, still managed to snag a Zagor novel so it wasn’t all bad.

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Original John Blanche artwork from The Shamutanti Hills. Shit photo.

Otherworld Miniatures are the guys responsible for the Zagor miniature in the adventurers pack and their stall was a formidable prospect indeed, a veritable wall of fantasy miniatures! These guys produce some of the best sculpted, dynamic and characterful D&D miniatures I have come across. I treated myself to a box of Drow warriors that will find a home in my burgeoning Dark Elf army. Be sure to visit their site HERE

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Ian Mcaig’s iconic original painting for the cover of Forest Of Doom

There were two rooms full of original FF artwork and props. Ian Mcaigs cover to Forest of Doom and City Of Thieves were both stunning to behold in the flesh! Sadly (and despite my wife giving me permission to take the good camera – I forgot it) I only had my phone to take pictures with so I apologise for the poor quality. Many of the other artists had brought portfolios and preliminary artwork sketches for us to pore over. Leo Hartas maps and Russ Nicholsons super detailed illustrations were of particular interest for me and I found it hard to tear myself away from gawping at them.

Also sharing the room was Damien Sparkes of Pure Evil Miniatures who was showing off his breathtaking prototype models for his forthcoming range of official Fighting Fantasy models.

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Ian livingstone’s original map of Temple Of terror!

It was the panels and Q&A’s that the majority of the faithful were keen to witness however. Organiser and host Jonathan Green opened up proceedings by welcoming us all to the event and encouraging those at the back who missed out on seats to hunker down at the front, creating a nice informal atmosphere that continued throughout the day. He then introduced the guests of honour to the room, the legendary Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone. A thunderous round of applause heralded their arrival and they both looked slightly taken aback by the tidal wave of adulation that swept the room! The pair thanked everyone for coming and for sharing in a day for celebration of all things Fighting Fantasy before handing the floor over to Neil Rennison.

Neil was at FFF2014 representing Tin Man Games an indie games developer based in Australia. TMG are the guys behind the recent FF Iphone adapatations and therefore whom I hold responsible for the numbness of my posterior (and subsequent bollocking at work) that came from spending far too long sitting on the toilet playing Forest Of Doom on my phone last year!

It’s never easy being an opening act in front of a rabid crowd hungry for the headlining act (I know, I have done it!) but Neil did really well and delivered a presentation of what we can expect from Tin Man in the near future. He discussed Tin Mans new gamebook engine and revealed fascinating tech developments for their future titles Caverns Of The Snow Witch & Warlock Of Firetop Mountain. It looks like these games will be far more interactive and immersive than previous adaptations, very exciting!

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MAPS!

We also got an exclusive look at the new artwork commissioned for Caverns Of the Snow Witch. It was clear that Neil was a bit nervous when revealing the new art, which is totally understandable given the crowds loyalty to the originals. However the overhaul, for the most part, looked great. Much of it reminded me of the illustrations in the new D&D 5th Ed players guide, a classic fantasy aesthetic. Tin Man have just released Appointment With FEAR for Iphone, go check it out on the ITunes app store.

After a short comfort break it was time for the main event. Steve and Ian returned to the stage and were joined in conversation by Phillipa Dickinson, their former editor at Puffin. What followed was a presentation and accompanying commentary from the pair giving fascinating insight into the development of Warlock Of Firetop Mountain and the early days of Games Workshop. Much of this period is detailed in You Are The Hero, so go pick that up if you are keen to know more!

Phillipa provided an interesting counterpoint with her casual dismissal of ‘little boys boring everyone with D&D talk’ which definitely raised a few eyebrows, but Ian soon had her on the back foot as he began grilling her about delays in the publication of Warlock and payment of royalties! It seemed like he wanted to pick at a few old wounds! Equal parts awkward and hilarious, I have to give full credit to Phillipa for being a good sport and taking it all in her stride.

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Worlds shittest picture of Livingstone & Jackson.

As the discussion meandered and the anecdotes flowed, I found myself fascinated by simply watching the dynamic between Steve and Ian. I have idolized them since I was 8 years old and it was a surreal experience to witness them telling stories and bouncing so fluidly off each other. Of the two, Steve seemed more introspective and serene, almost zen like! Livingstone on the other hand, worked the crowd like a pro with his ruthless wit and a wicked glint in his eye. Certainly not afraid to poke fun at themselves, some of the archive pictures in the presentation were absolutely hilarious. Plenty of shots of the pair sporting Bee Gee’esque beards and barnets whilst meeting Gary Gygax, Kelly Brook in her smalls promoting Deathtrap Dungeon before she became famous. Ian & Steves sharp commentary was the perfect accompaniment to it all.

For two men who have accomplished so much and been as successful as they have it was refreshing to see how humble, down to earth and genuine they both seemed.
Ian made a poignant comment during the subsequent Q&A session when asked about the obvious financial success, and I paraphrase “It was never about money, we were just really passionate about games and we were just very lucky that we managed to build successful careers from our passion” Right on.

Toward the end of the talk the panel was joined by Geraldine Cooke, the Sci-Fi/Fantasy and childrens editor responsible for Puffin eventually commissioning Warlock back in the day. Geraldine was charming, enthusiastic and for some reason she rather reminded me of Beryl Reid! Her thoughts and observations provided a window into those early days, her belief in the project and the battles she fought to get Warlock published. If it had not been for Geraldine history would have been very different and it was clear that both Steve and Ian have a great deal of affection for her.

I ran into an old acquaintance from the hardcore days which was a nice surprise, so we grabbed some lunch and caught up. Good to see you Andy!

After lunch the artists got a chance to have their say. With a panel consisting of Russ Nicholson, Chris Achilleos, Malcolm Barter, Leo Hartas, Tony Hough and hosted by Jonathan Green. Once again it was fascinating to hear the recollections of these men, who in my opinion, defined the dark tone and threatening atmosphere of fantasy that I found so appealing as a child. Whilst it was disappointing to discover John Blanche hadn’t made it to the event, the other guys were hugely entertaining. I particularly appreciated Russ Nicolsons dry wit and Chris Achilleos telling the story behind the development of the iconic cover to Titan, brilliant!

After that came the mass signing with fans having the opportunity to have their heroes sign books and share a few words. I was no exception and as well as getting my edition of YATH signed I was keen to get my battered but treasured copy of Trolltooth Wars scrawled on by Steve, Russ and Chris. Mission accomplished!

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Wretched hive of scum and villainy.

Probably the most welcome and unexpected aspect of the fest was the camaraderie amongst the audience. It was truly warming to witness spontaneous conversation and laughter breaking out as attendees shared stories, memories and nostalgia whilst waiting in line for signings or mingling at the stalls and displays. Overhearing conversations about having to hide the cover of House Of Hell because it was so terrifying, made me smile. It’s encouraging to learn that in some other town, another kid was fighting the same battles as I, and years later I think there is solidarity in sharing those mutual experiences. I grew up in relative isolation with all this stuff, the few school friends I had did not share my enthusiasm for dungeon crawling, midnight rogues and necromancers, so it was very cool to be in a room with folk who could relate to the same cultural reference points.

I met some really great people at FFF 2014. Game developers, app designers, artists, fanzine writers, bloggers, podcasters, authors, comic book writers. All intelligent, enthusiastic passionate people. It seemed like everyone in the room was a creative spirit of some kind surely the most fitting testament to the legacy of Fighting Fantasy. I have always believed that there IS magic in those books, something metaphysical that can’t be replicated or imitated, that lit a spark in those of us who explored the wilderness of Allansia as kids on lonely summer afternoons and washed out rainy holidays. A magic that Jon Green understands and somehow harnessed, to summon us to Ealing and fill a room full of bold adventurers 30 years on.

After that I had to sprint back to Victoria to commence my long journey north, so I sadly missed the auction and I didn’t have a chance to get my picture taken from the guys doing Fantasy portraits, kind of kicking myself over that to be honest, reckon I’d look good as a hooded rogue. I relished the trip back to Leeds though as an uninterrupted opportunity to dive straight into YATH and explore the contents of the adventurers pack, full of books, models and other treats.

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Fortune & Glory

With the success of FFF2014, Jonathan Green has cemented his own legend as a modern day folk hero amongst the FF fan community. His book, You Are The Hero is an absolute triumph. It is a love letter to a cherished memory, written with a scholars knowledge and a fanboys heart. He has documented the tale of a couple of oddball game fanatics who slept in a van, endured literary ridicule, Rigsby’esque landlords and all manner of other tribulations and obstacles on their epic journey to create something truly wonderful that changed the course of so many lives.

Jackson and Livingstone gave a generation of children (including a lonely little boy from Margate) the most precious gift a child can receive, the keys to a kingdom of imagination without borders. Thank you for everything..

6 thoughts on “Fighting Fantasy Fest 2014 – Your adventure starts here!

  1. Great article, sounds as if it was a rad day! Very much looking forward to reading the book when i get around to it. Haha, so glad that Miller’s artwork for HOH has that effect on other people!.

    • Yeah it was a really fun day Mark, I don’t think anyone will be disappointed with Jon’s book, a real feast for the eyes!
      I wrote an article about my sleepless nights caused by House Of Hell HERE might be something you can identify with !

  2. It was indeed an excellent day (speaking from the viewpoint of someone who was “working”!) I have never had a crowd around an Arion Games stand like the one at FFF. And even though i have been working with Steve, Ian, Russ & co for a few years now, i was also a bit star struck by these icons of my youth.

    I also travelled down from Yorkshire, but obviously had to go by car due to carrying stock. You were sort of lucky you had the train as i had to leave home before 4am and got back after 11pm. Mind you, that was closer than those who travelled from Australia!

    • Graham, thanks for your comment. I’m glad you had a busy if exhausting day, every time I tried to get near your booth it was positively teeming! Finally squeezed in though and grabbed a copy of the Heroes Companion I’m keen to start working through it later! I also noticed the link for Arion in the post wasn’t working, should be fine now!

  3. Nice write-up of the event Nathan. No way I could make it from Australia, so reading this is almost as good as being there. I had a similar experience to you regarding the indifference of my childhood friends to fantasy – exploring the FF world was a very isolated adventure for me, but I was aware of the passionate interest of others primarily via Warlock magazine. Am now eagerly waiting for my copy of YATH to arrive!

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