OK, reaching back into the mists of time here. I've been giving a bit of thought to my early influences in both the fantasy genre, and gaming in general, and they seem to focus on one particular series of books – the Fighting Fantasy series. Millions of them sold around the world, but for the unfamiliar, these were essentially 'interactive fiction'; the reader picked his own path through the book with a series of different options along the way, and fought battles using dice as he went. These game books tended to be somewhat lethal on occasion, not to mention extremely difficult!
The first of the books – and the one that set the tone, was the legendary 'Warlock of Firetop Mountain', where the reader's character had to inflitrate the fortress of the evil Warlock, Zagor, to obtain his treasure. I must have read the book countless times, but I never actually managed it! You had to collect these keys as you went, and...it was a bit of a nightmare, really. 'Citadel of Chaos' the next in the series, felt like a revolution – you actually had spells!
My favourites in the series tended to be the ones that pushed the envelope a bit. 'Forest of Doom' was an excellent wilderness adventure, and though 'Caverns of the Snow Witch' began conventionally enough, it rather rapidly turned into a mad dash to find someone would could cure your curse, before time ran out. 'City of Thieves' was an urban-based adventure. Looking back, it is totally obvious that these are entirely D&D-inspired, indeed these have strongly informed the games I have run over the years.
These weren't the only game books – TSR had a go with the 'Endless Quest' series, but they made less of an impression, and 'Lone Wolf' stood out, but it seemed to just go on for far too long, the character getting more and more powerful until it seemed ludicrous that this 'Grand Master of the Kai' would spent time sitting in a tavern. Lots of fun though.
Best part is – they aren't out of print! New editions are still coming out, even new books completely. In fact, you know what, I'm going to pick up a couple and see if they are as much fun now as they were back then. I suspect that the majority of the buyers will be people my age (28), unfortunately, who were hooked first time round. The curse of World of Warcraft may well have ensorcelled the younger generations forever!