Sunday, 2 October 2016

The History of Transoxalia, Part 1: The evidence from Titan - The Fighting Fantasy World

In this post I want to start examining the history and geography of an interesting part of Khul that I have so far not visited in my explorations of the Dark Continent - the area from Neuburg to Zagoula. Ken Beuden, in his interactive Map of Khul, calls this area Transoxalia, though it's not clear that this is where Luke Sharp intended that land to be (see my previous post on the topic). But I'm warming to the idea (it's not clear where else Transoxalia might fit, and the area is beyond a river, in this case the River Swordflow, which we can imagine having been called the 'Oxalis' in the long distant past).

Anyway, here's a map of the area I'm on about, by Steve Luxton from Titan - The Fighting Fantasy World:


This is a pretty key part of Khul during crucial periods in its history. Here's a summary of what we learn about the region from Titan - The Fighting Fantasy World (page references are A4/B-format). First of all Old Time (OT):
  • Small towns in western Khul unite under the rule of King Klarash Silverhair in 1510 OT, the nation of Klarash growing by 1565 OT to stretch from the southern edge of Scorpion Swamp to the River Swordflow. (38/73)
  • In 1542 OT, the first explorers from the kingdom of Klarash attempt to cross into the goblin-infested lands south of the River Swordflow. (38/73)
  • During the reign of Klarash III (the original king's grandson), a new capital for the kingdom, Shakista, was founded (near the later Ximoran). (38/74)
  • The southern goblins were eventually overcome and the city of Zagoula was founded in 1611 OT as a bulkwark against them. It quickly became a centre for learning and sorcery. (38/74)
  • By the end of the 2nd millenium OT, the kingdom of Klarash extended as far south as the garrison towns of Yaziel and Hyennish. Scholars and sorcerers from Zagoula travelled across Khul seeking new knowledge. (38/75)
  • In 1997 OT, adventurers from Zagoula found the Dead City, far across the Scythera Desert, and unwittingly unleashed the Forces of Chaos, changing the world of Titan for ever. (39/76)
  • The Forces of Chaos that had been unleashed quickly gathered and in the spring of 1998 OT, they swept into Zagoula, destroying the city. (39/78)
  • The exact movements of the chaotic armies aren't easy to explain following this, as parts of the army swept northwest to attack Kabesh at the heart of the continent, whilst another army made for the capital of Klarash, Shakista, but was stopped in the Anvil Pass through the Mountains of the Giants by a large force who had been warned of the invasion by survivors from Zagoula. The Mountains of the Giants are to the west of the lands of Klarash, and Ken Beuden, righty I think, places the Anvil Pass in the obvious narrowing of these mountains to the west of Shakista (as indicated in the map above). But why did the chaotic army that had sacked Zagoula so successfully retreat back into the centre of Khul and then attempt to attack by the Anvil Pass through the Mountains of the Giants, rather than push north from Zagoula across the River Swordflow into the heart of Klarash? (41/79)
  • In any event, the armies of Chaos pushed the forces of Klarash back to Shakista. Having held back the invaders for 11 days, the defenders of Shakista were finally relieved by the armies of Brendan Bloodaxe from Arion. The Forces of Chaos were destroyed by the combined armies of Klarash and Arion, though the capital had suffered so badly that it had to be demolished. (41/82-3)
And After Chaos (AC):
  • In the years after the invasion, Shakista was abandoned and the new capital, Ximoran, was built. The Klarash dynasty continued to rule from Ximoran for 60 years, but came to an end when the king died without leaving an heir. (43/87)
  • Following this, the lands of the old Klarash dynasty were ruled by the Council of Seven, a council of members from the seven main towns of these lands (Anghelm, Buruna, Djiretta, Kalima, Kelther, Neuburg and Ximoran) (24/39, 43/87).
  • Although Yaziel and Hyennish had survived the invasions by the chaotic forces, they were now sundered from the northern lands. (43/87)
  • Zagoula never recovered from its destruction at the hands of the Forces of Chaos, and it was abandoned by all but the ghosts that haunted its chaos-tainted  ruins (43/87). Titan tells us (24/40) that Zagoula is now "a terrifying place, shunned by all but the most adventurous. Some ruined towers and battlements poke above the shifting sands, but most of the city is now underground, and its streets are now tunnels wandered by strange subterranean creatures and a great many undead souls".
  • In the 'present day' from the perspective of the writers of Titan (284 AC), the lands of the Council of Seven stretch from the Coast of Sharks to the River Swordflow, where the "small walled city of Neuburg" is on the southern edge of the civilised lands. (24/39)
  • South of Neuburg are wild, unsettled lands, inhabited by Goblins and tribes of "short, swarthy humans", supposedly the original inhabitants of much of this part of Khul. Titan describes them as violent and warlike, engaged in raiding for slaves and hostages, but that "swift action by organized troops from Neuburg usually keeps them from doing anything more dangerous". (24/40)
For more discussion of the recent history of Ximoran, see my previous post on the topic. A couple of interesting details are worth pointing out in this brief recap of the history of Transoxalia since later Fighting Fantasy publications contain further interesting details about them. Firstly, Titan tells us that Zagoula was destroyed by the Forces of Chaos and abandoned thereafter. It's quite possible that this illustration (probably by Alan Langford) from Titan (24/38) is a representation of its deserted ruins (especially since in the 1st edition of Titan the illustration appears right next to the description of Zagoula's ruins, and the picture fits the description, given above, perfectly), though it might be Kabesh (but it seems unlikely that someone would be riding a horse through the centre of the Wastes of Chaos in the dead heart of the continent).

Secondly, the town of Neuburg must have existed before the end of the Shakista dynasty (some time after 60 AC according to Titan, 81 AC according the The Fighting Fantasy 10th Anniversary Yearbook), because the dynasty was succeeded by the Council of Seven, and Neuburg is named as one of the seven towns/cities which make up that council. But given the complete lack of reference to Neuburg in the OT period in Titan, and the fact that it is called Neuburg (= 'new castle'), we might expect that it doesn't have a long history before this point. Lastly, some of the lands south of the River Swordflow have been described in detail in later Fighting Fantasy publications, giving us a rather more complicated picture of these wild lands than is presented in Titan. I'll return to these issues in subsequent explorations of the history of Transoxalia and the rest of southwest Khul.

Friday, 2 September 2016

The Warlock of Firetop Mountain (by Tin Man Games) now on Steam!

As if you didn't already have a reason to visit Steam, Tin Man Games, who have done a sterling job converting some of our favourite Fighting Fantasy adventures into apps, have just released their amazing reimagining of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain on the online gaming platform.

That first 'left or right' decision!

This is a game in an altogether different league: part gamebook, part boardgame, part video game, it's a visually glorious adaptation of FF's first adventure. I've just purchased it (at £14.99, so certainly a step up in price from the other FF adaptations by Tin Man and Inkle Studios), and it looks great. I'm looking forward to having a proper play and will report back on my progress here.

Monday, 29 August 2016

The World of Fighting Fantasy is alive!

I could regale you with tales of my ill-fated adventures in these wild lands, of my capture and torment by the heartless pirates of the Black Shore, and of my daring escape back to the realm of the free. But suffice it to say, I am alive! And now, free at last, I will resume my studies of the World of Fighting Fantasy. Look out for some new posts, coming soon!

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 KharĂ© 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?