Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Blog status

Greetings from the Pit. You may be wondering where I've gone and when things will resume on the blog. I've been taking a break from it as I've been busy with other things and have been lacking in FF inspiration. Promising to do a post a week was as much in an effort (a failed one it turned out) to force myself to keep at it as anything. But keep an eye on this space (or on my Twitter account, @Paltogue, or on any of the FF forums and Facebook page) for future updates. I can't promise when they'll be, but hopefully I'll get something together at some point.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

My Fighting Fantasy Collection

If you follow all things Fighting Fantasy online (and you're reading this, so you probably do!), you'll have a noticed a trend of people posting pictures of their FF collections. Well, not to be left out, here's mine, along with some other gamebooks (I have loads of others too in another cupboard):

Everything on these shelves is awesome!

Here you can see all the original Puffin editions, the new Wizard 1st series books, and all of the Wizard 2nd series, as well as the FF roleplaying games, Advanced FF books, the FF novels, Clash of the Princes, Sorcery!, two of The Adventures of Goldhawk books, the Deathrap Dungeon computer game (two versions, and the special edition gamebook that came with them), the new Advanced FF books from Arion Games (and the Blacksand map in the tube), the original sourcebooks, Out of the Pit and Titan (in two sizes), The Tasks of Tantalon, the Warlock magazines, the 10th Anniversary Yearbook, the 25th Anniversary WoFTM, Ashkar the Magnificent, and YOU are the Hero. I'm missing the other two Goldhawk books (which I don't care enough about to get), Casket of Souls, the FF Posterbook, the other FF computer games (though I have most of the new ones on my iPod), various other paraphernalia such as boxsets, figurines and bookmarks, and I don't have multiple editions of most of the gamebooks (which is something I'd like one day to fix; I wouldn't mind getting some of the boxsets too). Not a bad collection, and it was years in the making. No doubt we've all got interesting stories about how we built our collections, and here's a quick outline of how mine came about, with added details for some of the more interesting additions.
  • I first got into FF reading some of the books in my local library (Island of the Lizard King was the first, followed by City of Thieves), but the first one I actually bought with my limited pocket money was Masks of Mayhem (late 1986), which had just come out but which none of my friends could afford at the time. Shortly after they persuaded me to buy Scorpion Swamp, as none of them had it, having decided it looked crap from its cover.
  • But actually most of my collection, at least up to Robot Commando, was bought second hand (mostly at a rate of 50p each) from these school friends, who had lost interest in the books by about 1988. I got my Sorcery! books from an English kid in our school; these had never appeared in our local bookshop in remote Northern Ireland (well, a battered copy of Kharé had hung around the shelves of a toy shop for a few years), and he charged me £2 each for them, the enterprising git!
  • Most of the later books were bought with my meagre pocket money. Pretty much every day, we marched down the town to the local bookshop to check out if there were any new FF books on the shelves. Most days there weren't, but new FF book days were special, unless it was a SF one... Buying the books often involved me not eating much dinner through the school week, surviving on a few penny chews, and hiding my purchases from my mum (who wasn't against FF books, but would have been cross if she'd known I was missing my dinner). But it was worth it!
  • To my shame, I traded a porno mag for Rebel Planet from the English kid. There's something completely wrong about that, I know...
  • Like many FF fans, I eventually entered my 'dark ages', when I lost interest (to an extent, if not entirely in my case) in the series. I collected up to Legend of the Shadow Warriors, missed Spectral Stalkers, got Tower of Destruction, then didn't collect any of the gamebooks as they were published until Return to Firetop Mountain (I also collected the AFF books though). After that I got none of the original releases. I remember seeing Curse of the Mummy in a shop but though tempted I didn't buy it at the time, more's the pity. All this was partly due to waning interest, but also because they weren't appearing in my local bookshops so much from that point. But I never completely lost interest in the series, and didn't pack my books away or get rid of any of them, and I'd go through phases of getting them out and reading them again.
  • I did pick up a few books after that though. I got a copy of Magehunter in Singapore in 1998/9, and in 1999 or early 2000 I picked up Spellbreaker, Deathmoor and Knights of Doom in one of those cheapie bookshops that sells off old (but still new) stock. In fact, the one I bought them in had loads of copies of these. I still remember to this day selecting the best looking of about a dozen Knights of Doom; if I'd bought the lot I could have been a rich man today!
  • In 2000 I think it was, I was looking through a pile of green spines in a second hand bookshop (unfortunately no longer there) in the Grainger Market in Newcastle Upon Tyne and I came upon something very unexpected. I thought I knew about all the FF books in existence (in fact, like other FF fans, I sometimes dreamt of finding new ones in the shops), but suddenly I spotted a strange title I'd never seen before. I had a complete double take when I saw an unnumbered green spine with the name The Warlock's Way on it. I had never heard of this before and was totally blown away (and of course bought it, for £1.50). This of course was enough to kick me out of my semi-Dark Ages once and for all. I immediately got online and discovered all about Clash of the Princes (and that there was a thriving community of adult FF fans out there too). I quickly completed my collection (including Warlock magazines, Zagor novels and Deathrap Dungeon computer games), the most expensive item being Curse of the Mummy for £20 (from a seller in Hong Kong).
So there you have it. I'm still collecting FF stuff of course, what with YOU are the Hero and continued digital releases by Tin Man Games and Inkle. But it would be nice to see some new FF gamebook titles one mythical day in the future...

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Some Fighting Fantasy news, January 2015

Well, the new year marches on and I'm currently writing something else (work stuff), and I tend to find when I'm in the swing of writing something, it's hard to get the inspiration for writing other things. So I'm a bit late this week on the blog and don't have anything ready to discuss in detail right now (though I have been working on a couple of things in the background, so watch this space). There have been a few bits and pieces of interesting news on the FF front though, which I thought I'd share with you just in case you've missed any of them.
  • Inkle's Sorcery! 3 is thankfully coming our way, though there's no date yet for its release. In the mean time, we can enjoy this fab illustration of the Baklands' most iconic creature, the Baddu-Beetle.
  • While we wait though, there's more Mike Schley loveliness in the form of poster-sized prints of his maps from the first two Inkle Sorcery! adventures. These look bloody brilliant and I can't wait till the end of the month when I (might) have some spare cash to order them!
  • Bloodbones is here! The Tin Man Games app of Jon Green's FF adventure is already available via Google Play (since December 24th), and they have announced that it will be available tomorrow via iOS. Great stuff, looking forward to it.
  • Issue 14 of Fighting Fantazine is out, and features a brilliant in-depth interview with Fighting Fantasy legend Marc Gascoigne (where we finally learn more about his unpublished/unwritten FF adventure, Night of the Creature), a report on the Fighting Fantasy Fest, a mini (but not that mini!) Lone Wolf adventure by the Kai Master himself, Simon Osborne, and all the usual features.
  • And a shout out for another FF blog which is great but a bit under the radar, Brett Schofield's excellent Trolltooth. Some nice discussion on there, and his latest posts have really got me thinking and are providing inspiration for future musings on here.
I think that's about it for now, let me know if you've heard about anything else of note.

Friday, 2 January 2015

Fighting Fantasy 2014

Happy New Year Fighting Fantasy fans! I hope you've had a restful holiday period and had some time to go adventuring in addition to eating all those festival provisions (you can't go past your initial STAMINA after all, you just get fatter I've discovered).

2014 was certainly an interesting year in the world of Fighting Fantasy. Arion Games released two more Advanced FF books, the long-awaited Beyond the Pit by Andy Wright in January, and Brett Schofield's excellent The Warlock of Firetop Mountain in May (Andy and Brett are both from 'down under', so good work the Ozzies!). Arion Games continues to be the only (English language) producer of brand-new FF lore, so long may their work continue, as new FF gamebooks have become as rare as hen's teeth.

New versions of some of the classic adventures continued to be released in digital form, however. Although we're still waiting on further Sorcery! installments from Inkle (it's been over a year since the release of Kharé, so let's hope things haven't stalled altogether on that front), Tin Man Games have continued to produce the goods (and are also based in Australia, which is rapidly becoming the heartland of FF in the 21st century!), with Starship Traveller in May, Appointment with F.E.A.R. in August, Caverns of the Snow Witch in October, and Bloodbones in December (according to Titannica anyway, though I don't see this one listed on their website yet). I haven't actually got hold of any of these yet (partly because I'm mainly interested in the fantasy titles), which is something I should remedy as soon as I get over the Xmas and New Year hangover.

UPDATE, 07/01/15: @TinManGames "If you're still waiting on Bloodbones on iOS, it's still in review with Apple. Sorry about that!".

Probably the FF event of the year was the Fighting Fantasy Fest, held in London on the 7th of September. Unfortunately I couldn't make it, the price of accommodation and trains from Edinburgh and back (never mind for all you folk outside of Britain) being ruinous. Pity, as it seemed like it was a great event. Maybe next time! It also saw the launch of Jon Green's monumental YOU are the Hero history of Fighting Fantasy (which is STILL on my to-read pile I'm afraid - watch this space). Now, if we could just persuade Jon to write some more FF gamebooks...

Other than that, there has been some new FF stuff produced in France, though as don't speak or read much French I haven't kept up to date with it, and there has been quite a bit of amateur activity, even though the old discussion groups, especially those on Yahoo!, are essentially dead (probably reflecting a move away from discussion boards to blogs, Facebook and Twitter rather than a lessening of interest in FF, at least I hope so). Oh, and 2014 saw only one issue of Fighting Fantazine, which is a significant slowing in production, but issue 14 is on its way and future issues are already being planned and put together so I think things are fine on that front.

It'll be interesting to see what 2015 brings. No doubt there will be further digital releases, but will there be any all new material (in digital form or otherwise)? Let's hope so. I'm aiming to bang out a blog post about once a week this year, and I should also be submitting one or two things for the Fantazine (probably not adventures though, even though I'd like to try and find the time to write some more). Anyone got any news from 2014 or 2015 that you'd like to share?

Friday, 12 December 2014

The Geography of Shadowmaster

No time for anything brand-new this week, what with the Christmas rush and lots of work deadlines. So here are some of my observations on the geography of Shadowmaster, the third Fighting Fantasy novel, abstracted from the article of the same name in Fighting Fantazine 4. At some point I'm going to have a go at putting all of the places discussed below on a map of Allansia, but that's for a future post.

Although interpretation of the geographical information in Shadowmaster is made more difficult by contradictions in the text (see below), a fairly clear picture emerges of the geography of the lands involved when all of the available evidence is analysed. The most important section for geographical information in Shadowmaster is pp. 53-55, where Gereth Yaztromo and the others pore over maps of the area in order to determine whether there is any pattern to the raids. The first thing to note is that the area under consideration lies “between Darkwood and the Moonstones” (SM: 53). If we set aside the incorrect geography of Yaztromo's map for the moment, we have the following:
Here is Tegris – I got that right at least. And Kierdale is here, almost due north of it. Here is Oldcastle, of course, and over there, due west of here, that must be... Oakwall...” Yaztromo's voice tailed off. They did not need to hear any more. They all saw it, there, where the imaginary lines their minds drew connecting the four raided villages crossed. Where the unknown cartographer had drawn a small but distinct silhouette of a stylized village... he or she had inscribed the name of the village. ‘Drystone’. (SM: 55)
The clear implication here is that the villages Tegris, Kierdale, Oldcastle and Oakwall form four points of a cross, at the centre of which lies Drystone. This may be illustrated as in the scheme below.


The description above makes it clear that Tegris, which lies on the Silver River, forms the southern point of this cross, whilst Kierdale, “almost due north of it”, forms the northern point (SM: 55). The positions of Oldcastle and Oakwall are more complicated, however. The description just given indicates that Oakwall lies west of Oldcastle and, as such, we should expect it to lie on the left-hand point of the cross in the diagram above, with Oldcastle lying on the right. It appears, however, that this cannot be the case, given the other geographical evidence in Shadowmaster.

Perhaps most significantly, Jemar Val describes Kierdale as “two days’ hard ride” from Oldcastle, to the north-east (SM: 54). If we combine this with the geographical indications just discussed, we get a lay out of these villages something like the layout in the map below.


Suddenly the villages no longer form a cross, and the position of Drystone cannot fall on any intersection of the lines connecting them, defeating the whole point of the exercise. How do we resolve this contradiction in Shadowmaster? There appear to be two ways to do so:
  • Assume that there is an error in the book, and what Jemar Val should have said is that Kierdale is north-west of Oldcastle. This puts the villages back in a cross configuration once again, with Oakwall in the west and Oldcastle in the east.
  • Assume that there is an error in the book, but that the two instances where it states Oakwall is “west” of Oldcastle should read “east”. This would also put the villages back in a cross configuration, this time with Oldcastle in the west and Oakwall in the east.
How do we decide which of these two alternatives is correct? If the evidence from Shadowmaster is examined carefully, it appears that only one of these alternatives is really tenable – that Oldcastle lies in the west, and that Oakwall lies in the east (second option above). The reasoning is as follows:
  • Yaztromo can see the plume of smoke from the burning Oldcastle (SM: 28). If Oldcastle lies on the eastern point of the cross, this potentially places it further away from his tower than any of the other villages. The fact that it is the first village he decides to visit suggests that it is also the closest. Although Yaztromo says that it is two days’ walk to Oldcastle (SM: 30), this need not mean that it is very far away, since he is an old, unfit man (and, as usual, distances in Fighting Fantasy are not specified precisely).
  • Although Yaztromo's map of the area is defective, it appears that he has positioned Tegris and Oldcastle correctly. For example, Shadowmaster tells us the following: “Here is Oldcastle, where we are meeting today.” Yaztromo's finger slid down and to the right across the parchment, until it rested upon another crudely drawn ink spot. “The first raid which I would unhesitatingly attribute to these bandits was upon Tegris, here, by the Silver.” (SM: 53-54). This indicates clearly that Tegris lies south-east of Oldcastle, indicating that Oldcastle must be the western point of the cross.
  • Oakwall is described as being among the hills, albeit on Yaztromo's defective map (SM: 54). This suggests that it lies at the eastern point of the cross, in or near the Moonstones, rather than in the west.
None of this fits easily if Oakwall is in the west and Oldcastle is in the east, but makes perfect sense if Oldcastle is in the west and Oakwall is in the east. Since it is a toss up whether the book has two errors indicating that Oakwall is to the west of Oldcastle, or has two errors indicating that Oldcastle is to the west of Kierdale and Tegris, we can only assume that Shadowmaster is in error in stating that Oakwall is west of Oldcastle, in light of the other evidence.

The Lowland Gap and Hallon

A number of other geographical indications of interest are given in Shadowmaster, in particular those concerning the Lowland Gap and the village Hallon.

In Shadowmaster, Oakwall is described as lying “several days beyond the Lowland Gap” (SM: 54), whilst Drystone is “perched on the brow of a low hill in the very middle of a wide, wooded valley that was known locally as the Lowland Gap.” (SM: 57). The name “Lowland Gap” suggests that it is a valley which connects the lowlands south and west of Darkwood and the Moonstones with the hills and forests beyond. There appear to be two possibilities: (1) that the Lowland Gap is the southern entrance to the narrow strip of land between Darkwood and the Moonstones; and (2) that the Lowland Gap is a valley which enters the Moonstones themselves, with the lowlands north of Chalice on the west and the Moonstones on the east.

The village of Hallon is mentioned twice in Shadowmaster. Riders from Drystone are “despatched on the road to Chalice ... If they manage to get fresh horses at Hallon and then ride through the night, they will be in Chalice by dawn tomorrow.” (SM: 57). This indicates that Hallon lies somewhere between Drystone and Chalice or, at least, it lies on the easiest route between them. Chadda Darkmane also passes through Hallon on his way from Port Blacksand to Chalice (SM: 58), and is overtaken by the riders despatched from Drystone (SM: 59). If it is assumed that Darkmane is following the road from the Catfish River to Chalice marked on the map in Dungeoneer (p. 33), then Hallon lies somewhere on this road, or at least not far from it – it is possible that Darkmane has missed the turn for Chalice, which is why he has to ask the villagers of Hallon the way there.

Other places

A number of other place-names of interest are mentioned in Shadowmaster, including Angrim, Wintermere and Gnollwood (SM: 94). Although these names fit with the general nomenclature and culture of the area under discussion, there is nothing in the text of Shadowmaster to indicate that they are found in this area and, indeed, they could lie anywhere in Allansia.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

The northern borderlands of your kingdom

At the start of The Forest of Doom, you are told that "You are an adventurer, a sword for hire, and have been roaming the northern borderlands of your kingdom ... Not once during the last ten days since entering the northern borderlands have you set eyes upon another person" (FoD, Background). And during your adventure in the middle of Darkwood 'Forest', you may encounter a man riding a white stallion and accompanied by a pack of hounds (FoD, paras. 194, 396). If you chat to him, you learn that he is a hunter and that "the best game in all the northern borderlands can be found in this grassy plain within Darkwood Forest". These are very interesting little nuggets of information on the as yet unnamed lands the adventure is set in, and given what we now know about those lands from the later adventures and source-books, it's a rather intriguing reference. What is meant by "the northern borderlands of your kingdom"?

Other Fighting Fantasy fans have of course considered this issue. Here's what Simon Osborne had to say about it in on p. 121 of his excellent, though unfortunately no longer available The Atlas of Titan (I believe he was asked to take it down from his website due to it containing a large number of maps copied from FF sources CORRECTION: Simon tells me he had to remove it from his website as the file was too big and he was going to be charged for hosting it):
Later maps call this area south of Darkwood Forest the Windward Plain, the nearest city to which is Chalice on the Silver River.
   A marriage alliance was proposed between Barinjhar, son of King Pindar of Chalice, and Sarissa, daughter of King Salamon LVII of Salamonis. However, Barinjhar had no desire for such an alliance for fear of Chalice becoming nothing more than a vassal city-state, allowing Salamonis to extend its borders northwards and become a small empire. Further south is the Kingdom of Salamonis, though its distance from the Windward Plain seems too considerable for it to have borders toward Darkwood Forest. This seems to be borne out by the events of 285 AC.
   This being the case, it could be that the term “northern borderlands” refers to a wild area of the Windward Plain some days’ walk northwest from Chalice, and adventurer in this vicinity could therefore hail from an outlying village under the protection of that city-state.
   Alternatively, the term northern borderlands could be an old term referring to kingdoms long since perished. If the ancient kingdom of Allansia, with its capital city of Carsepolis, stretched this far east, or if the kingdom of Salamonis extended further north before the War of the Wizards, then this archaic term could have stuck in the memory of those living in countryside that once belonged to either kingdom.
I think Simon has hit the mail on the head with the latter idea. While it's not impossible that the reference is to Chalice, I like the idea that a memory remains of the old political border between Allansia, with Carsepolis as its capital (and Salamonis as a smaller town towards its eastern edge), in the south and Goldoran, with its capital Gar-Goldoran, in the north (and with the Dwarven towns in between as a kind of buffer between the two states). Perhaps the people of this part of Titan still think of the area south of the Red River as a single historical kingdom, now centring on Salamonis, which, however, is not really in control of most of the lands that were once ruled by Carsepolis (especially the rebellious Port Blacksand). It makes for an interesting view of Allansian geo-politics - Salamonis as the pompous inheritor of Carsepolis, which ruled all the lands south of the Red River (and Dwarf towns), from the sea to the edge of the Flatlands. But although Salamonis feels, as a result, that it has a historical claim to rule the same area, Port Blacksand has sprung up in the ruins of Carsepolis and pays heed to no-one, and Chalice, a relatively new power if Crypt of the Sorcerer is to be believed, considers itself to be an independent polity (as evidenced by Dungeoneer) and is resentful of Salamonis' presumptions of superiority. That just leaves Silverton as the only major settlement in the old kingdom of Allansia, and given that its ruler seems to be a 'Mayor' (City of Thieves) perhaps it is still notionally under the rule of Salamonis, even if the power of Salamonis is rarely felt so far west. Of course, north of the Red River things have changed even more dramatically, with the destruction of Gar-Goldoran and the emergence of two new polities, Chiang Mai and Kay Pong, with their eastern names and (in the case of Chiang Mai at least) rulers, perhaps in origin eastern barbarian inheritors of Goldoran's power after its destruction.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

The Doughnut of Doom

Ian Livingstone's first solo Fighting Fantasy gamebook, The Forest of Doom, was an important landmark in the history of the series. It was the first time we had the opportunity to properly venture out of doors in this new fantasy world, it was our first encounter with the wizard Yaztromo, it had the first map, it contained a host of new creatures, many of them illustrated in Malcolm Barter's unique style (giving a very appropriate feeling of gnarled and knotted wood, unfortunately never repeated), and it had that iconic cover, with Iain McCaig's first Fighting Fantasy contribution still standing out as a highlight of the series. The creatures and encounters in the book were memorable, from the hideous Shape Changer to the oddly passive Clones, and the forest itself felt alive, the perfect place for an exciting adventure. And although it felt kind of artificial, the dungeon-like mappability of the paths through the forest was certainly one of the aspects of it that appealed to me.


One of the most curious things about this book though, and a thing which I remember my school-friends in the mid 1980s commenting on repeatedly, was that Darkwood Forest didn't actually seem all that big. Not long after you've entered the forest and had a few encounters, you notice the trees thinning out (paras. 27, 97, 300, 337), and soon after that you exit the forest entirely, onto a grassy plain (paras. 109, 118, 300, 329). Thereafter, a large chunk of the adventure doesn't take place in forest at all, but in plains, hills and scrubland, including the various places where you cross the (unnamed) Catfish River. (For many years I wondered whether Ian had originally intended the Catfish River to flow west-to-east, giving that having it flowing the other way would mean a river bifurcation, a very rare phenomenon, and that its east-to-west flow was a result of Darkwood Forest being forced into the later Allansian map. But the text of The Forest of Doom does in fact make clear on closer examination that the river flows east-to-west - para. 291 - so the bifurcation of the Red/Catfish Rivers is original.) It is only much later in the adventure, as you approach the Dwarven village of Stonebridge, that you re-enter the forest (paras. 144, 149, 150, 390), and after a few more forest adventures you exit the forest again just south across the (Red) River from Stonebridge (para. 311). Here's a quick map of the adventure that shows what I mean:


This map shows pretty clearly that in fact most of the adventure doesn't take place in forest at all, but in the grassy, hilly plain in the middle. The text of The Forest of Doom describes the geography of this plain as follows (paras. 119, 198, 314):
"All around in the distance you see the (dark/tight) green cicle of Darkwood Forest."
We know from Malcolm Barter's map and later maps that Darkwood Forest is roughly oval in shape, though with fairly flat east and west sides. That means that the forest, rather than being a dense tangle of trees throughout is in fact doughnut shaped, i.e. it has a hollow, unforested middle, something like the following:



Strange indeed! And curiously never referred to again in Fighting Fantasy canon. For example, none of the later maps show the deforested plain in its midst, and at the start of Temple of Terror, you spend the night in the middle of the forest with Yaztromo, on your way from Stonebridge to his tower. No mention of the plain is given in Titan - The Fighting Fantasy World, despite two important Elven settlements being located within the bounds of the forest (the underground city of the Dark Elves, Darkside/Tiranduil Kelthas, and the tree-top Wood Elven town of Caëranos, destroyed by Malbordus).

So there you have it, one of those strange quirks that make Fighting Fantasy the thing we know and love. I'd be intrigued to hear your thoughts on how this strange plain in the middle of Darkwood Forest came into being and how long it has been there. At any rate, the name of the book, The Forest of Doom, is somewhat misleading (though I suppose many places we think of as forests, such as the New Forest, have large patches of heathland in them), and although The Doughnut of Doom may not be quite right, maybe it should have been called The Forest and Plain of Doom, though I think we'll all agree that it wouldn't have sold half as well and that a name like that might have doomed the series entirely!