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 Caƫranos, 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!

Saturday, 22 November 2014

The location of Zanbar Bone's Tower (and rambling in the Allansian countryside)

Ian Livingstone's City of Thieves, the 5th Fighting Fantasy gamebook, was the second one of the series I read, having found it and Island of the Lizard King in my local village library at the age of 12 in early 1986 (I later bought it, like much of my collection, from a friend for about 50p). As is often the way with the books that got people into the series, I retain a deep affection for this book, but if you think about the combination of brilliant cover and interior illustrations, atmospheric setting, mappability and devious difficulty (which appealed to my younger self a lot), there's a lot to like about this book. It's also got that old-fashioned charm characteristic of the early FF books - nothing too complicated, just a fun fantasy world of rollicking adventures, set in a land we didn't know much about, but one we knew was filled with all sorts of adventuring possibilities.


One of the (many) things I like about City of Thieves is actually the bits of the adventure which happen between the main places of interest. The journeys from Silverton to Port Blacksand, from Blacksand to Zanbar Bone's Tower, and from there back to Silverton. These are only tiny bits of the whole adventure, but they give us brief hints of the rural background to the adventure, adding to the atmosphere and our knowledge of the world of Fighting Fantasy, and they involve my favourite Fighting Fantasy activity of them all - travelling through the beautiful but treacherous wilds of Titan, camping under the stars, foraging for food, and living a life of adventurous freedom. These bits of the adventure, short as they are, bear repeating here, I think:
"The walk to Port Blacksand takes you west some fifty miles across plains and over hill; fortunately without any harmful encounters. Eventually you reach the coast and see the high city wall surrounding Port Blacksand and the cluster of buildings projecting into the sea like an ugly black mark." (para. 1)
"Following Nicodemus's map, you start your long walk north to the guarded tower of Zanbar Bone, the Night Prince. You walk through woods and fields. You are able to relax a little in the pleasant countryside and breathe the fresh air with its wonderful scents. As the light fades you decide to camp under a huge elm tree. You cook a meal of stewed rabbit and mushrooms before settling down to a long, deep sleep ... You set off again but it is not long before your surroundings become less welcoming, the trees are twisted or stunted and there are no birds to be heard" (para. 201)
"You leave Zanbar Bone's black tower ... You sleep the rest of the night and long into the next morning in a hayfield, before setting off for Silverton in the afternoon. Battle-weary and hungry, you arrive in Silverton the same evening." (para. 400)
Ah! That's the life, isn't it? Maybe there should have been a whole FF adventure devoted to just wandering about in the countryside (oh, hang on, there is, The Shamutanti Hills, another favourite of mine). These little bits of the adventure also give us a nice insight into everyday rural life in northwest Allansia, a place of quiet fields and woods, not just of scummy cities or dank dungeons.

But there's something else of interest in all of this too. Where exactly is Zanbar Bone's tower? It's not marked on any of the Fighting Fantasy maps, but there's quite a bit to go on in the text of City of Thieves, so let's see if we can work it out. Here are the key points:
  • Silverton is 50 miles west of Port Blacksand (CoT para. 1). We're not told how long the journey from Silverton to Blacksand takes you, but you leave Silverton at dawn (Background) and don't sleep in Port Blacksand (you sleep somewhere between Blacksand and Bone's tower, para. 201), so it's likely to be at least two day's travel.
  • Nicodemus's map shows you that Zanbar Bone's tower is north of Blacksand (paras. 201 and 283). It is quite some distance from the city: you travel north for some time after leaving Blacksand before camping for the night, then walk all day to Bone's tower, getting there at night (para. 217).
  • The journey back from Bone's tower to Silverton only takes you half a day (you set off in the afternoon and arrive the same evening, para. 400).
Hmm, there's something which doesn't quite add up here. If you travel 50 miles west from Silverton, at least two day's journey, then north from Blacksand for a day and a half to Bone's tower, then back to Silverton, you'd expect the journey back to Silverton to take about two and a half days. According to Pythagoras, the distance from Bone's tower to Silverton should equal the square root of the sum of the squares of the length of the journeys from Silverton to Blacksand, roughly two days, and from Blacksand to Bone's tower, roughly one and a half days, since these two journeys are at right angles to each other, west-east and south-north: √(2²+1.5²) = 2.5. But that's not what we get in CoT, so what's going on? I can only assume that although you set out in a vaguely northward direction from Blacksand, you must veer quite considerably east as you travel, so that Bone's tower lies much closer to Silverton, e.g. somewhere between Mirewater and Silverton, north of the Catfish River (and the Chalice-to-Blacksand road, see Dungeoneer p. 33). This would also explain the Night Prince's special interest in and knowledge of the inhabitants of Silverton - the town is close to his domain. What do you think?


It's nice to think that after all these years there's still plenty in the early FF gamebooks to intrigue us. Well, I think I'll turn in for now, set up camp, start a nice fire, and cook some of those mushrooms and squirrels I found earlier. I'll ponder the location of Bone's tower as I drift off to sleep and hope that I don't have to roll any dice through the night to see if I'm disturbed.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The Crossing at the Crossing

Just a quick one, prompted by the map of the area around Firetop Mountain in Brett Schofield's excellent Advanced Fighting Fantasy adaptation of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain (Arion Games 2014) which I received in the post the other day (by the way, hat-tip to Arion for sending it within two days of me ordering it!).

Ever since the publication of Forest of Doom in 1983, we've known that there is a road running up the east side of Darkwood Forest, crossing the Catfish River before reaching the bridge across the Red River to Stonebridge.


In the classic map of northwest Allansia in Out of the Pit, this area looks like this (no roads are marked on the map):


Stonebridge has been rather shunted to the left here, but this is probably explicable by the orientation of the map generally, which has got a slightly warped shape, with things shifted slightly to the left the further north you go (e.g. the coast isn't quite in a straight north-south line, which other maps suggest it should be). It should probably be just under the BR of 'Stonebridge' on the map.

Although less detailed, a similar layout is indicated in the important (largely because it shows the major roads) map of northwest Allansia in Dungeoneer. Stonebridge is where it should be, but unfortunately the Catfish River is obscured in the crucial stretch where it enters Darkwood, but it looks like it might be indicated branching south from the Red River just above the R of 'Darkwood' on the map, which doesn't seem right at all when we compare it with other maps of the area.


And here's the relevant bit of Brett's map for comparison, which is more or less compatable with the Forest of Doom map, though more detailed, and with a somewhat odd shape to the northern part of the forest:


What both Dungeoneer and the AFF The Warlock of Firetop Mountain (and other later Fighting Fantasy sources, such as the d20 conversions and Dave Holt's various maps of the area) ignore though, is that this area of northwest Allansia is described in the first FF novel, The Trolltooth Wars. On p. 177 of the novel, we read that Chadda Darkmane, Jamut Mantrapper and the Chervah spend some time looking through the telescope at the top of Yaztromo's Tower. Among the sights they view is the area of the road east of Darkwood as it approaches Stonebridge, which is described as follows:
Yaztromo advised them to follow the path between the edge of the forest and the lower reaches of the Moonstone Hills ... The viewing-scope picked out the busy Crossing at the Crossing, where a ferry service would take them across to the north bank. Yaztromo swung the scope westwards to pick out Stonebridge ...
This is interesting, containing as it does a name which doesn't appear elsewhere in Fighting Fantasy and which hasn't been picked up by later authors - the 'Crossing at the Crossing'. But it's not easy to interpret this description, or fit it with the maps we have of the area in the other books. The Forest of Doom map shows bridges over the Catfish and Red Rivers, and it's not immediately apparent that Stonebridge is west of this crossing, even if it was a ferry crossing. So where is the Crossing at the Crossing, and why is it called that?

One option is that there is more than one road in the area, and that one of them runs straight north along the edge of the Moonstone Hills to the point where the Catfish River and Red River diverge, crossing before the two rivers split so that only one river crossing is needed. We can assume, in this case, that a road then runs west to Stonebridge from the north shore of the Red River. And as for why it is called the 'Crossing at the Crossing', might this refer to the two rivers in the area, which appear to rise as two streams in the northern Moonstone Hills, before merging together for a while and then splitting again into the Red River and Catfish River? In a sense, this is almost a crossing of rivers (not very likely in real-world terms, but this is a fantasy world after all). Might this give rise to the notion that the two rivers are crossing each other, and that the Crossing at the Crossing is so named because it crosses the river in the stretch where they are combined (i.e. where they are crossing)? Anyway, that's one idea, I don't know what you think of it. 

Another option is that the Crossing at the Crossing is at the bridge across the Catfish River halfway up Darkwood Forest. It's possible that there's also a ferry service there (or the bridge has been destroyed and replaced by a ferry service). This might also explain the name - there was a crossing (the bridge), but it's now replaced by another crossing (the ferry service), which is known as the 'Crossing at the Crossing' as a result. This would avoid the complication of having two roads and would fit better with the maps, but it doesn't quite square with the description in The Trolltooth Wars. What do you think?

Anyway, once again the novels prove a fruitful source of information on the world of Fighting Fantasy, and I suspect there's plenty more in there that I'll explore at some point. I still think the definitive map of northwest Allansia, spiritual home of Fighting Fantasy, has yet to be drawn, and this is one area it would be nice to see sorted out taking the various sources into account.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

The geography of the start of Demonstealer

As you might have worked out by now if you've been following my posts, I like a good geographical conundrum in the world of Fighting Fantasy. The Fighting Fantasy novels are an amazingly rich source of information on the world of Titan (and beyond) which, I think, is rather unexplored by FF fans (myself included), and they provide a number of intriguing geographical puzzles, especially since some of them came without a map. In this post, I want to explore one such conundrum - the geography of Arakel's initial movements in the second Fighting Fantasy novel, Demonstealer.

Let's summarise what we know:
  • The necromancer, Arakel, steals the scroll from Yaztromo's Tower and escapes on the back of a Giant Bat (pp. 20-24).
  • The remains of the Giant Bat are spotted "to the far western side" of Darkwood Forest, and Arakel is seen "limping away towards the Blacksand Road" (p. 33). The Blacksand Road must either be the road running through Mirewater or, more likely, the road running from Chalice to Blacksand, crossing the Catfish River some way west of Darkwood, on the map in Dungeoneer (p. 33).
  • Arakel narrowly escaped Chadda Darkmane at this stage; we are told on p. 147 that "the thief had fled further and further away from Darkwood Forest, narrowly slipping through his pursuer's fingers several times".
  • The next time we see Arakel, he is summoning the 'Skinless Ones' at the stone circle (pp. 34-43). The Skinless Ones take on the bodies of Wolves, but must change their bodies each day (p. 42).
  • The first time they do so is when they butcher the goatherd Ulrich and his grandson (pp. 44-48). I.e. this must have taken place relatively close to the stone circle, as it is within 24 hours of the release of the Skinless ones.
  • When Chadda Darkmane gets to the port of Rimon in Arantis, he had been chasing Arakel for weeks, trailing him to Port Blacksand, where Arakel boarded a fast boat to Rimon (p. 69). Arakel arrived in Rimon 3 days before Darkmane (p. 52).
  • Further information on this chase is given on p. 54; Chadda tells the Chervah that he has been pursuing Arakel for 5 weeks, the last two of which were in a coracle at sea (presumably from Blacksand, chasing Arakel aboard the fast ship (the Crown Runner).
 
 
So far, so good, but there is one piece of the puzzle we don't know from all of this: where was the stone circle where Arakel summoned the Skinless Ones? Did he do this before he got to Blacksand, in the three weeks or so before Darkmane pursued him by sea to Rimon? Or did he do it in the short space of time between him arriving in Rimon and Darkmane and Gan catching up with the Skinless Ones there? If he did it before getting to Rimon, we must assume that he parted company from the Skinless Ones (would they have been able to go by ship, needing a new body each day?), and then rejoined them in Rimon (it would be quite a journey for them from northwest Allansia by land). Alternatively, the summoning of the Skinless Ones and their feeding on Ulrich and his grandson must happen in the short period between Arakel arriving in Rimon and Darkmane catching up with the Skinless Ones' lair.

Let's have a look at some more evidence to see if we can come up with any more clues. We learn that Ulrich and his grandson live in an upland, mountainous area, where wolves are driven down from the uplands to prey on their goats during the winter months (pp. 34-35, 46-47). This perhaps suggests a northerly location, rather than the semi-tropical Arantis, but could conceivably be the result of the place being in an upland area further south (and the goats and upland meadows are maybe more suggestive of an Alpine/Mediterranean environment). The name 'Ulrich' (p. 44) also sounds northern rather than the sort of thing someone from Arantis might be called, but I don't suppose we can set too much store on that, as names in Fighting Fantasy can be rather random at times (this is a topic I'll no doubt return to in later posts). Then we have the following description on p. 34, as Arakel is preparing to summon the Skinless Ones from the stone circle: "Storm clouds were gathering in the north, sweeping inexorably down towards the coast". This suggests, though it's not concrete, that there is a coast to the north of the stone circle.


So what are we to make of all of this? If Arakel summoned the Skinless Ones before he left northwest Allansia, there are various places this could be, for example the eastern ends of the Icefinger Mountains (to allow for weather sweeping in from the sea), or the mountainous northern shores of the Desert of Skulls (which definitely does have a coast north of it). If, on the other hand, Arakel summons the Skinless Ones after he arrived in Rimon, the stone circle must lie in the hills and mountains north and east of the city. The first solution would explain why Arakel took three weeks to get from Darkwood to his ship in Blacksand and would also explain the slightly northern feel of the area of the stone circle, but leaves us with the conundrum of how the Skinless Ones also got to Rimon. The second solution leaves unexplained what Arakel was doing for the three weeks between Darkwood and leaving Blacksand, and doesn't fit quite as well with the northern feel of the stone circle area (the mountains north of Rimon are on the edge of the Desert of Skulls; could we expect essentially Alpine conditions there?), but it does avoid the complication of getting the Skinless Ones from northwest Allansia to Rimon, either over the vast Desert of Skulls, or on board a ship, where they would each need a new body per day.
 
Part of me likes the idea of the stone circle being in northwest Allansia, as I'm a big fan of that area and it's always good to learn more about that part of the world. But I'm not convinced it is. The evidence seems to point towards the area north of Rimon. I mean, when have wolves in northwest Allansia ever waited until the winter months to trouble folk in the lowlands?! The other option, that Ulrich lived on the northern mountainous fringe of the Desert of Skulls doesn't seem quite right either. Why would wolves keep to the uplands in such an uncivilised part of Allansia? And we'd surely expect that to be a desert area, and it would involve Arakel travelling south of Oyster Bay, then back again to Blacksand (though maybe that's what took him three weeks), and then the Skinless Ones travelling down the western fringes of the Desert to Rimon.
 
Anyway, as you can see, no definitive answer (unless Marc Gascoigne is reading and fancies giving us an insight!). Do any of you have any suggestions or opinions, or is there anything else I've missed?

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Review of The World of Fighting Fantasy's first year

Today it is one year since I started The World of Fighting Fantasy blog, and I thought I'd take a moment to reflect on how it's been. I'd never blogged before, so it's been a new experience for me. Let's have a look at some stats:
  • Number of posts published: 34
  • Total number of visits to the site as of noon today: 11,356
So that's something short of my initial target of a post per week (but see below), and that's a good number of visits to the site, over 200 per week on average. I'm pretty pleased with that, though I'd like to post more (again, see below), and I've got a long way to go before I match the number of visits at, for example, Lloyd of Gamebooks, which is currently getting nearly as many visits in a month as I've got all year!

Let's look at things a little more closely. Here's a graph showing the number of visits per month to the blog:


As you can see, after an initial burst, things fell off quite a bit, largely as a result of few posts from me on the blog, but things have climbed nicely through the year to over a 1000 views a month more recently. I'll have to make sure to produce more posts than I've been doing if I want to keep that going I suspect.

Here's a graph showing the number of visits per post (note that visitors can read posts without clicking on the links to them, which is why the figures are much lower in the following graph):


This graph shows a pretty steady number of visits per post, with some obviously creating more interest than others. A pretty obvious pattern stands out in the graph, one I'm all too aware of, and that's the fact that I produce bursts of posts with significant gaps between them. I could time post releases to get rid of this, but I prefer to let the blog reflect how I actually work and what I'm currently interested in, so I haven't done this. This also relates to the number of posts I've done this year - in 'real life', I have a pretty intense job which frequently spills over into evenings and weekends, so the time I have to post things on the blog is limited and varies according to how busy I am with work.

As for the popularity of posts, here's all of the published posts ranked by popularity:
  • Mike Schley’s Inkle Sorcery! maps (10/11/2013) - 433
  • Where did you say you’re from again? (31/03/2014) - 345
  • The end is near ... (25/01/2014) - 335
  • Another early Fighting Fantasy trilogy? (20/11/2013) - 314
  • Fighting Fantasy solutions (24/11/2013) - 309
  • Where on Titan is Arkand? (27/04/2014) - 301
  • What does YOUR bookshelf say about you? (06/04/2014) - 253
  • The Dungeoneers (23/10/2014) - 241
  • The geography of Scorpion Swamp (30/07/2014) - 235
  • More Fighting Fantasy LEGO (06/08/2014) - 233
  • Gundobad in Khul (24/05/2014) - 23
  • The geography of Ashkar the Magnificent (01/06/2014) - 227
  • Other Fighting Fantasy sub-series (22/11/2013) - 226
  • Fighting Fantasy LEGO! (05/01/2014) - 213
  • More Fighting Fantasy maps – Steve Luxton (11/11/2013) - 210
  • The ‘Stonebridge’ Trilogy? (18/11/2013) - 203
  • Fighting Fantasy SVGs (27/11/2013) - 191
  • Some Fighting Fantasy statistics (14/04/2014) - 185
  • The Allansian Adventurer (30/11/2013) - 170
  • Flaxenmane of Silverton (04/09/2014) - 164
  • The demise of Rebuilding Titan (29/03/2014) - 160
  • Ashkar the Magnificent (28/05/2014) - 147
  • The Ximoran Protectorate and the Council of Seven (03/08/2014) - 132
  • The geography of Hachiman (28/07/2014) - 132
  • Deathtrap Dungeon, the computer game – available to play again! (14/11/2013) - 119
  • Fighting Fantasy Characters in Focus: Beshbalik (12/11/2013) - 109
  • Welcome to The World of Fighting Fantasy (09/11/2013) - 100
  • Various bits of Fighting Fantasy-related news (15/05/2014) - 96
  • Once more unto Deathtrap Dungeon, dear friends, once more (29/03/2014) - 94
  • Transoxalia (16/08/2014) - 90
  • Fighting Fantasy soundtrack (15/11/2013) - 89
  • The Pit has been reopened! (25/11/2013) - 77
  • Out of the Pit II – Beyond the Pit! (13/11/2013) - 68
  • Central northern Khul (27/07/2014) - 51
Well, it's not that easy to work out from that what's popular and what's not, but posts involving adventurers seem to get a lot of interest, as do most of the posts on geographical analysis. Perhaps surprisingly, the two LEGO posts have done well too - I'm not sure how much interest FF fans have in this at all, but it's one of my interests and I'll no doubt return to FF and LEGO soon. Mike Schley has, understandably, proved popular, currently holding the lead by quite some way.

So what does the future hold for The World of Fighting Fantasy? Well, I'm hoping to have a bit more time over the next year to write more posts, but we'll see (and even if I do have time, FF isn't my only hobby). I'm going to aim to produce about one a week, but they may come in bursts as before, and I think I'll leave it like that, as it reflects how I work. I'd like to continue with geographical, historical and political analysis of places in Titan - I've still to finish the Khul series, and I'd like to do a series of posts considering other areas I find most interesting. I've been hoping to do some reviews too, but we'll see, and other ideas include blogging some posts from the perspective of a charcter within Titan (kind of like a travel diary maybe), more 'Characters in Focus' posts, and obviously any FF-related news I come by. Maps I've drawn from the books may also appear.

Anyway, just for now I want to thank everyone who has visited the blog and provided (the very welcome) comments on the posts - I hope the blog is doing what it's meant to do, and is providing some FF fun and interest. Let me know if you have any comments about posts, future ideas, or anything going on in the world of Fighting Fantasy that I should know about. It's a curious thing that, in 2014, Fighting Fantasy is still very much alive, even if new gamebooks appear to have dried up entirely. Let's hope the next year brings even more FF goodness!

Thursday, 23 October 2014

The Dungeoneers

Marc Gascoigne and Pete Tamlyn's Dungeoneer, the first Advanced Fighting Fantasy manual, came out in November 1989. I can still remember the day I went into my local bookshop, one school lunchtime, and spotted this huge big FF book with a blue spine on the shelf - I spent as long as I could reading it in the shop, and I think I had to wait until the next week's pocket money was supplied until I could buy a copy (for £3.99, which seemed like a lot in those days!).

As one of the few fans of FF in my area, and with the few of us who did exist living quite a few miles apart, roleplaying wasn't something I ever really got into, and it was the huge amount of Fighting Fantasy lore that I was most impressed by in Dungeoneer. That and the superb illustrations by John Sibbick, whose work had previously appeared on the covers of Masks of Mayhem and Midnight Rogue, and in the interiors of Crypt of the Sorcerer and Midnight Rogue. He's always been one of my favourite FF illustrators, with the people and creatures in his pictures having a kind of life about them that's quite unique. In fact, some of the pictures in Dungeoneer are among my favourite in the whole of Fighting Fantasy - especially the attacking Ghouls on p. 154, Nicodemus on p. 270, the female warrior being attacked by Tentacles on p. 318, and the skeletal Tyrannosaurus on p. 342.

Another interesting feature of Dungeoneer was that it came with a set of pre-determined characters for you to play, each of which was accompanied by an illustration by John Sibbick, giving us a good idea of what they look like. These characters are:

  • Aspen Darkfire, a female elf adventurer
  • Jerek Stormgard, a male human mercenary
  • Gordo Brondwyn, a male human thief
  • Grimbold Tornhelm, a male dwarf warrior
  • Axel Wolfric, a male human barbarian warrior
  • Baradas Rangor, a male human wizard

The adventurers are referred to by name in the two scenarios in the book, but curiously a different set of adventurers (though with some similarities to the pre-defined characters) is illustrated repeatedly in the pictures in those scenarios and in the rest of the book. These characters appear in all sorts of adventurous situations, from battles with chaotic hordes to quieter moments examining ancient hieroglyphs. In the rest of this post I examine who these adventurers are, and what they are doing in the illustrations in Dungeoneer. I think they really add an extra dimension to the book, as you trace their struggles and successes through the illustrations. I call them the 'Dungeoneers'.

The Dwarf
Given his short stature and strong build, the Dwarf is perhaps the most distinctive of the Dungeoneers. Unlike Grimbold Tornhelm, who is a young Dwarf with a black beard, the Dungeoneer Dwarf appears to be older male, with grey or white hair and beard. Like Grimbold, he is a warrior, and he also wears a horned helmet (though of a different design). He wears spiked armour on his shoulders, and wields a short, broad, doubled-bladed axe.


The Dungeoneer Dwarf is pictured on the following pages:
  • p. 10, standing holding a torch at the top of the well, which some of his fellow Dungeoneers are climbing out of.
  • p. 28, standing by the spike-pit trap, watching helplessly as one of his companions, the Amazon, falls into it.
  • p. 38, riding a short pony towards Xortan Throg's Tower with the retinue from Chalice.
  • p. 48, entering the tunnel in the crag beneath Xortan Throg's Tower.
  • p. 63, apparently falling backwards as the portcullis in the tunnels under Xortan Throg's Tower is triggered.
  • p. 146, battling the hordes of Chaos on the narrow bridge (extreme left of picture) with his Dungeoneer companions.
  • p. 234, bringing up the rear of the party of adventurers as they approach the throne of King Salamon the 57th.
  • p. 353, looking backwards down the tunnel of a dungeon at one of his companions, the Explorer, whilst some of the others try to figure out where to go next.
  • p. 392, grinning with pleasure as he opens a chest of riches with one of his Dungeoneer companions, the Knight.
  • possibly on p.162, as a shadow on the wall (mostly of his axe) as his Dungeoneer companion, the Elf, holds a knife to the throat of an Orc.

The Elf
Unlike Aspen Darkfire, the Dungeoneer Elf is a male warrior and archer. His main weapon is a long bow, but he also wields a sword or knife as the situation requires, and he wears metal shoulder armour. From the pictures of him in Dungeoneer, he certainly doesn't come across as a gentle, peace-loving creature of the woods. Quite the opposite in fact!


The Dungeoneer Elf is pictured on the following pages:
  • p. 20, watching on as his companions tend to the wounded members of their group.
  • p. 63, jumping in surprise as the portcullis trap is sprung beneath Xortan Throg's Tower.
  • p. 104, firing arrows into the fray as his companions battle a group of Lizardmen.
  • p. 146, firing an arrow into the battle between his companions and the hordes of Chaos on the narrow bridge.
  • p. 162, clamping his hand over an Orc's mouth and holding a knife to its throat.
  • p. 170, hacking with a sword at the tentacled horror which is assailing him and his companions (one of the tentacles has wrapped itself around his left arm).
  • p. 234, approaching the throne of King Salamon the 57th with his fellow adventurers.
  • p. 282, realising that a young thief has stolen his purse in a market.
  • p. 358, riding a horse in front of the slain beast (front rider, about to pass through the city gate).

The Wizard
The pre-defined Wizard character in Dungeoneer is the dweebish, clean-faced young Baradas Rangor. The human Wizard who features as one of the Dungeoneers throughout the book is a more mature, grizzled character, a hook-nosed man of middle years with grey bushy eyebrows, moustache and chin-beard. He dresses in a spiked cap and a billowing robe, tied at the waist, and sometimes wears a pair of pince-nez glasses to read. Carrying a spiked staff, his favourite spell appears to be a blistering blast of white fire, which issues from the tip of his index finger.


The Dungeoneer Wizard is pictured on the following pages:
  • The front cover, discharging his spell at the knightmarish beast from the Pit.
  • p. 20, tending his wounded companion, the Explorer.
  • p. 38, in the retinue from Chalice approaching Throg's Tower (just about discernible, his spiked staff most obvious, above the Dwarf, bottom right).
  • p. 104, in the midst of battle with his companions against the Lizardmen.
  • p. 127, using excessive force (in the form of twin fire bolts) to deal with a couple of unfortunate Goblins.
  • p. 146, lighting up the battle on the narrow bridge with another blast of spell fire.
  • p. 194, studying ancient hieroglyphics with his companions, wearing his pince-nez glasses to see them better.
  • p. 353, examining a parchment or map with the Warrior as his party of adventurers try to work out where to go in a dungeon.

The Knight
A rather more clean-cut looking armoured human warrior than the pre-defined Jerek Stromgard, who I dub 'the Knight', appears in the illustrations throughout Dungeoneer. This Knight, who has a neat, dark moustache, dresses in a metal helmet and camail, in a mail hauberk, and a leather or cloth coat and gloves. He wields a two-handed sword.


The Dungeoneer Knight is pictured on the following pages:
  • p. 10, holding the rope at the top of the well his companions are climbing out of.
  • p. 28, standing helpless as his companion, the Amazon, falls into a spike-pit trap.
  • p. 170, with a two-handed sword, slicing a limb off the tentacled horror which is assailing the group of Dungeoneers.
  • p. 353, looking back down the dungeon tunnel as his companions try to figure out the way forward.
  • p. 392, with the Dwarf, basking in the glow of gold coming from an opened treasure chest.

The Explorer
The young thief, Gordo Brondwyn, in the list of pre-defined characters is probably the nearest equivalent to the next of the Dungeoneers, who I've called 'the Explorer'. Looking like a cross between Indiana Jones and Lee Van Cleef, this human is a middle-aged man with a bushy moustache, dressed in a fur jerkin with a broad leather strap diagonally across it, trousers and a brimmed hat. He carries a rope over his shoulder and fights with a long, slender, curved sword.


The Dungeoneer Explorer is pictured on the following pages:
  • p. 10, climbing up the well with his companions.
  • p. 20, lying injured with an arrow in his back, being tended by his companions after a fight (at least I hope he's only injured and this isn't some kind of out of sequence Pulp Fiction style Vince-on-the-toilet moment).
  • p. 48, approaching the tunnel into the crag under Xortan Throg's Tower (third in line).
  • p. 63, surprised by the portcullis trap in the tunnels under Throg's Tower.
  • p. 104, probably the Explorer using a long, thin, curved sword to fight off a Lizardman who is wielding a whip (the character's head is obscured in the picture).
  • p. 127, standing behind the Wizard as he discharges his spell at the Goblins, with his back to us.
  • p. 146, fighting the hordes of Chaos, half way across the narrow bridge.
  • p. 170, attempting to pull one of his companions, the Adventurer, from the clutches of the tentacled horror which is assailing the group.
  • p. 194, looking on as the Wizard studies the hieroglyphs (just above the Wizard's cap in the illustration).
  • p. 234, probably the Explorer kneeling before King Salamon the 57th (on the left near the front).
  • p. 350, having a near-death experience, as he brandishes the Crystal of Power in an attempt to destroy Xortan Throg just as he casts a Death Spell.
  • p. 353, checking an alternative passage as his companions try to figure out the best way forward in a dungeon.
  • p. 358, riding one of the horses which is pulling the slain beast, waving his hat in the air in celebration.

The Adventurer
The list of pre-defined characters in Dungeoneer includes the Barbarian human, Axel Wolfric. He doesn't appear in the illustrations throughout the book, but another character, who could just about be interpreted as a Barbarian does. This man, who I've named 'the Adventurer' because of his leather armour, has longish hair, a band across his brow, and a leather vest held in place by broad leather straps across his shoulders, over a tunic which streches down almost to his bare knees. He wields a long sword.


The Dungeoneer Adventurer is pictured on the following pages:
  • The front cover, wielding a sword as the creature from the Pit emerges.
  • p. 10, climbing out of the well.
  • p. 20, helping the Wizard to tend the injured Explorer.
  • p. 38, the first horse rider in the retinue approaching Throg's Tower.
  • p. 48, the second Dungeoneer approaching the tunnel into the crags under Throg's Tower, behind the Dwarf.
  • p. 104, fighting a Lizardman in the foreground of the picture.
  • p. 170, caught by the tentacled horror and being pulled by it in one direction and by the other adventurers in the other.
  • p. 234, kneeling before King Salamon the 57th, at the front of the group of adventurers.
  • p. 318, approaching the Warrior to help her escape the tentacled beast which has trapped her.
  • p. 358, walking behind the slain beast.
  • p. 373, holding a sword surrounded by traders.

The Warrior
The Dungeoneer party has two women among its number, neither of whom has an equivalent in the pre-defined characters at the end of the book. The first of these I have named 'the Warrior'. She has a distinct ponytail (as well as smaller braids of hair), wears a thigh-length, armour-studded leather tunic with a strong leather cross-belt, and fights with a sword (and sometimes with a dagger or pole-arm). She carries a small shield, often on her back.


The Dungeoneer Warrior is pictured on the following pages:
  • p. 10, climbing up the well with her companions, her ponytail swinging behind her.
  • p. 146, fighting the hordes of Chaos on the narrow bridge (the figure nearest the Elf).
  • p. 154, getting ready to fight a pair of sword-swinging Ghouls.
  • p. 162, her shadow visible on the wall behind the Orc's head.
  • p. 234, possibly the Warrior in front of the Elf, approaching the throne of King Salamon the 57th (this character appears to have a ponytail).
  • p. 318, fighting to escape from the tentacles of some amphibious beast.
  • p. 353, examining a map or parchment with the Wizard, as the Dungeoneers try to work out the best way forward in a dungeon.
  • p. 358, one of the horse-riders (with a spear in her hand) dragging the slain beast.

The Amazon
The last of our Dungeoneers is the other woman in the group, who I've named 'the Amazon', given her shock of wild hair and the fact she fights with a spear (she also carries a sword). She wears a short-sleeved tunic over trousers, and has a wild, half-long head of hair that she holds back with a hairband.


The Dungeoneer Amazon is pictured on the following pages:
  • The front cover, wielding a spear.
  • p. 20, standing guard in the background while her companions attend their wounded.
  • p. 28, falling into a spiked pit-trap (though she appears to be bracing herself with a hand and a foot).
  • p. 104, fighting the Lizardmen (top right).
  • p. 170, guarding her companions from behind as they fight to free the Adventurer from the grip of a tentacled horror.
  • p. 353, at the front of the group of adventurers as they try to work out the best way forward in a dungeon.
  • p. 358, riding a horse in front of the slain beast (just left of the Explorer).

So there we have it, quite an adventuring crew! As I said, I really think they add an extra dimension to Dungeoneer (and to Allansia), and it's fun to imagine how they got into the situations pictured and how they got out of them (if indeed they did). It's worth pointing out that these Dungeoneers don't appear to have survived into the other Advanced Fighting Fantasy books, although characters very like the Knight and the Dwarf do turn up in a couple of illustrations in Blacksand!. Let me know if you have any further ideas or comments about the Dungeoneers, or have spotted anything I've missed. I may return to them from a rather different angle soon, so look out for that.


Thursday, 4 September 2014

Flaxenmane of Silverton

Here's an interesting one from Steve Jackson's Fighting Fantasy masterpiece, Creature of Havoc, that Kieran Coghlan pointed out to me in the comments on my earlier post, The Allansian Adventurer. Obvious spoilers ahead!

After Zharradan Marr engineered the theft of the magical Vapours of Stittle Woad, he hid them in his dungeons until he could understand their secrets (CoH, pp. 30-31). Fearing that Marr would become invincible, the towns of Stonebridge, Chalice and Silverton sent parties of adventurers to search for the Vapours and return them to safety (CoH, p. 32). It is of course in these dungeons that your adventure as the savage Creature of Havoc begins. Your first encounter in the adventure is with the unfortunate Dwarf, Swinebeard of Yore, who has been sentenced for the crime of arson in Salamonis to enter Marr's dungeons and search for the vapours. On the written sentence from the court that Swinebeard carries with him someone (probably Swinebeard himself) has scribbled Vapour of  knowledge / - Flaxenmane of Silverton = / - Winged helmet (CoH, para. 337).

After what can only be considered to be an unfortunate encounter with a Hobbit (read the book to find out why if you don't know already!), you come to a room with four corpses in it, which three Flesh Feeders are feasting on (CoH, paras. 101 and 447). There are corpses of two 'pug-nosed' creatures, presumably Orcs, and of two adventurers - one dressed in a leather tunic and helmet, the other, described as a Knight, dressed in metal armour and a ornate winged helmet (see the illustration below from para. 447). We can assume that this unfortunate individual, who has been dead a long time (CoH, para. 101), is the character identified on Swinebeard's note - Flaxenmane of Silverton.


We can also assume that Flaxenmane was one of the adventurers sent by Silverton to recover the vapours of Stittle Woad (and indeed he had succeeded in finding one before his demise) and, given that he is wearing fancy armour that he was, unlike Swinebeard, a willing participant in this endeavour. It doesn't look like he is someone from your past, though, since he is notable enough to be described in some detail in the book but isn't mentioned by Zharradan Marr later in the adventure.

Creature of Havoc is a book packed full of detail, and that's part of the brilliance of it, but the attention given to such a minor character in the story obviously invites us to ponder who exactly Flaxenmane of Silverton might have been. As I mentioned at the start of the post, Kieran Coghlan mentioned a fan theory, one which I hadn't heard before, concerning Flaxenmane. At the end of Ian Livingstone's early FF book, Forest of Doom, you are rewarded for returning King Gillibran's magical war-hammer with jewels, gems and a fabulous golden winged helmet, which you proudly place on your head. Could it be that this is the same helmet that Flaxenmane is wearing and indeed that Flaxenmane is this same Allansian adventurer?! It's an intriguing thought that the hero of the Stonebridge Trilogy (and maybe even of other Allansian adventures, such as the Deathtrap Dungeon sequence) might have come to an inglorious end in the bowels of Zharradan Marr's dungeons but, as Kieran points out, he's exactly the sort of renowned adventurer that might have been sent on the desperate mission to recover the Vapours of Stittle Woad before Marr uncovered their secrets. I like this idea a lot, not least for its subversive take on the fortunes of the (essentially Livingstonian) Allansian adventurer. But of course a winged helmet is not a lot to go on, so maybe there's no connection at all (though that would leave us wondering why Steve Jackson took the trouble to describe Flaxenmane that way in the first place). What do you think?

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Transoxalia

Say what you will about Luke Sharp's fantasy-themed FF gamebooks (I know some of you hate them!), but I don't think anyone can disagree that the man had an eye for an interesting setting. Whether it be the Dark Chasms beneath Gorak, the Turkic-inspired lands of Kazan, or the weird mix of cultures and environments that make up Zamarra, he really did a lot to add interest to the world of Titan. I'll explore these lands in more detail in later posts, but in this post I want to pick up on one intriguing little reference in the Background section to Sharp's fourth Fighting Fantasy gamebook, Fangs of Fury. As he tells you about Ostragoth's plans for the destruction of Zamarra, Astragal the wizard suggests that:
"If he succeeds here, Gorak, Kazan, Transoxalia, all of south-west Khul will fall to his power."
Very interesting. These are lands in south-west Khul which were not detailed in Titan - The Fighting Fantasy World (Luke Sharp's books having appeared after Titan was published). We know about Gorak from Chasms of Malice and Daggers of Darkness. Kazan we know from Daggers of Darkness, and of course Zamarra is the location for Fangs of Fury itself. But what about Transoxalia? It's clear from the context that it is in south-west Khul and that it is probably a land like Zamarra, Kazan and Gorak, but other than that we know nothing, as this is the only mention of it in the whole of Fighting Fantasy. I like to think that it would have been the location for Luke Sharp's next book had he kept writing them or had the Puffin range not been cancelled. But where might Transoxalia be? Let's have a look at south-west Khul and the locations of other lands we know more about.


I've marked in the areas of the maps in Chasms of Malice, Daggers of Darkness, Fangs of Fury, and Peter Darvill-Evans' Portal of Evil for reference, as these are the only FF maps we have of this part of Khul apart from the Titan map. As you can see, we know a reasonable amount about the geography of south-west Khul, and there are a number of areas we can rule out as the location of Transoxalia. Firstly, anywhere north of the River Swordflow seems unlikely, as these are the vast lands of the Council of Seven and don't really constitute south-west Khul anymore. Secondly, we can rule out anywhere east of the Cloudhigh Mountains (essentially the Wastes of Chaos and the Scythera Desert), as again these aren't in south-west Khul and anyway they aren't settled lands which anyone would care about falling under Ostragoth's rule. Thirdly, we can rule out the lands already detailed by Luke Sharp: Kazan itself (i.e. all the lands between the River Swordflow, the River Dart and the coast; Zamarra, between the Lesser Ilkhan Mountains and the sea; and Gorak, between the River Dart, the River Swordflow, the Lesser Ilkhan Mountains to the south, and extending an unknown distance to the east.

So where does that leave us? One possibility might be one or both of the islands of Soldragar and Pendragar, but as they are already named this seems unlikely. Another possibility would be the area immediately east and south-east of Gorak, though there isn't a lot of room here before bumping into the forests around Kleinkastel. Better might be the area between the River Dagger and the River Swordflow, which isn't part of Gorak (see the Background section in Chasms of Malice). It might even be that this area could include lands south of the River Dagger, east of Gorak. The area around Zagoula is unlikely, as this ruined city is clearly an emerging centre of Chaos in the region, so Astragal is hardly going to be concerned about it being conquered by Ostragoth's chaotic forces. (Exactly where Ostragoth, his army and his fleet have come from to besiege Zamarra is another interesting question which I won't go into right now, though Zagoula must be one possible candidate.) Areas south of Zagoula might be possible locations for Transoxalia, including the peninsula southwest of it and the area around Yaziel and Hyennish (which was once the southern reaches of the kingdom of Klarash according to Titan, so we could imagine it retaining vestiges of civilisation). The only other place that Transoxalia could be is in the area between the River Swordflow and Lake Mlubz - i.e. the area detailed in Portal of Evil, the new southern limits of the lands of the Council of Seven. This is the location of Transoxalia assumed by Ken Beuden in his map of Khul but locating Transoxalia here isn't altogether unproblematic since Peter Darvill-Evans never uses the name for this region, most of it is unsettled or only recently settled forest and jungle and, in any case, it is part of the Council of Seven lands rather than a separate land in its own right in danger of falling under the rule of Ostragoth.

One clue as to the location of Transoxalia might lie in its name. Like many other names in Luke Sharp's fantasy books (see my Fact of Fiction article in issue 3 of Fighting Fantazine), this name is modelled on a name from the Near East and Central Asia - in this case the name of the Central Asian region Transoxiana, the land beyond the Oxus (Amur Darya) river as far as the Jaxartes (Syr Darya) river (note the name Jaxartes, also used in Fangs of Fury). The name Transoxiana contains the Latin prefix trans- meaning "across, beyond, on the other side", so it means "(land) beyond the Oxus". If we apply the same principles to the FF name Transoxalia, then it means something like "(land) beyond the Oxal" or something to that effect. The Oxal (or similar) would then be a geographical feature such as a river, a mountain range or a plain, beyond which lies Transoxalia. Now obviously this doesn't give us a location for it, but it might help us to work out where Transoxalia might lie.

So there you have it. My personal preferred location for Transoxalia is the area between the Swordflow and the Dagger, or the area around Yaziel and Hyennish, but I'm sure some of you have other ideas, which I'd love to hear.