Monday, 31 March 2014

Where did you say you're from again?

Unlike Magnamund, the Lone Wolf world, which was created by Joe Dever alone, the Fighting Fantasy world of Titan was essentially designed by committee - each author created his* own part of the world, with only the over-all structure as laid out in Titan - The Fighting Fantasy World as a guide from 1986 onwards. I say committee, but I sometimes get the impression that this committee never met and that its members didn't really know the other members or that there even was a committee! The result is a wonderfully incoherent world with a mish-mash of cultures, races, monsters and lands which make Titan an interesting place to adventure in for sure but also one which lacks the consistency of more carefully planned worlds. It's one of the things I like about it, but this rather eclectic approach sometimes creates problems which might have been avoided with just a little bit of coordinated effort. I'm thinking of things like Khul in the southern hemisphere having the same seasons as Allansia in the northern hemisphere, the Foulbrood River running the wrong way on the Titan map, the Inland Sea existing in two fantasy worlds simultaneously, there being three entirely different maps of Kharé, none of which matches the original description of the city in Sorcery! or each other, and any number of other inconsistencies.

In this post, I want to consider how this rather haphazard approach to world-building has resulted in two villages in Titan having up to three different names each, and how we as fans of Fighting Fantasy might react to this bizarre situation.

The first of these villages is where it all began in 1982. In The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, you start your adventure in an unnamed village two days away from the mountain. This village was given a name in the first issue of Warlock Magazine in 1984, in the reworked version of TWoFTM that appeared there - Anvil (which is also marked on the first map of Allansia in the same issue). The sequel to TWoFTM, Return to Firetop Mountain (1992), also starts in Anvil, creating a nice link between the two adventures. So far so good, but then all of these adventures were written by the same person, Ian Livingstone, and the identity of the village hadn't been interfered with by the 'committee'.

Fast forward to 2003 and this village suddenly received an entirely new name - Gilford. It is named Gilford in the Myriador d20 conversion of TWoFTM (there's no reason to think it's not the same place, as you start the adventure there, two days' travel from Firetop Mountain, just as in the original adventure). And in the same year, a possible third name for the village appears in the short-lived Salamonis Gazette, by former administrator of the Official Fighting Fantasy website, Dave Holt. In that issue, a village named Haven appears on the map of the area around Firetop Mountain, although it's not stated that that's the village you start TWoFTM in, so maybe it's another village entirely. But that's at least two different names for the same place, something which could have been avoided with a little background research by the Myriador team.

Crossing the Western Ocean to the Verminpit of Kakhabad, a similar situation arises. In the first Sorcery! book, The Shamutanti Hills, you may pass through a village afflicted by plague. This 'plague village' isn't given a name, but when you encounter the riddling hunchback, Vancass, he lists villages you may have travelled through (Cantopani, Kristatanti, Dhumpus, Birritanti) plus another village, Gorretanti. The identity of Gorretanti is unknown, but it seems possible that it could be the otherwise unnamed plague village.

Again fast forwarding to 2003, and the plague village is named Taddapani in the Myriador d20 coversion of The Shamutanti Hills (unfortunately Taddapani is about the only authentic Kakhabadian-sounding new name in the module). The name Gorretanti doesn't appear anywhere in this version of the adventure. And then in 2013, the plague village received another new name, the similarly authentic-sounding Urrustanti, in Inkle Studios' excellent reimagining of the Sorcery! epic for iPod/iPhone.

So, what are we FF fans meant to think about all these multiple names for the same places then?! Do we raise our hands in despair and mutter something about arses and elbows? Do we try to come up with imaginative but unlikely scenarios that allow us to explain these apparent contradictions? Or is there some other way of reconciling ourselves to the curious hodge-podge that is the world of Fighting Fantasy? Well, while the first option certainly has its attractions, we can set it aside for now as not really contributing anything useful to the problem. The second option is very much the kind of approach that was imagined in the old Rebuilding Titan Yahoo! discussion group, as stated in its group description:
"due to being created by a variety of different authors with little cohesion, it requires some help to become a fully operational fantasy world. This list is a discussion forum for roleplayers and fans of the Fighting Fantasy series to rebuild the world as they feel would be most useful"
For example, the plague village and Gorretanti could be considered to be different villages entirely, as would Gilford and Anvil, whilst Taddapani and Urrustanti would be explained by there being two plague villages (plague does spread after all), by a change in the name of the village, or by a mistake by some Black Lotus addled adventurer. Or by declaring certain FF publications 'canon' and others as not (or ranking the canonicity of the various sources). Hmm.

As is often the case, a third way is, in my opinion, the best. Rather than giving up on the FF world in despair or trying to create cohesion where none exists, I prefer to study the whole corpus of Fighting Fantasy, from the first gamebook to the latest digital wizardry, as part of its unfolding (hi)story. Anvil, Haven, Gilford, Gorretanti, Taddapani and Urrustanti are all part of that story, and it doesn't really matter whether some of these are alternative names for the same place. Actually, this is really the only valid approach to the problem when a world has been built at random by committee and/or is full of inconsistencies. It's not up to me as a fan of FF to decide which bits of the franchise are canon and which are not, or what the 'truth' is behind all the contradictions. The next fan who comes along might have different ideas and the FF 'committee' is and was too diffuse to have one opinion on such matters (assuming they have any!). Those of you who have followed the publications of, for example, J. R. R. Tolkien, will be familiar with this issue. In his case, his mythology was his life's work, but it never achieved a fixed, final form, and those who search for a final 'canon' version of his world and languages will search in vain. This has led fans who are especially interested in his works to study everything he ever wrote as equally valid and to recognise that internal consistency isn't what's important.

So if someone asks you where you're from in Titan, don't tell them you're from Gorretanti, which shouldn't be confused with a plague village formerly called Taddapani and now Urrustanti, but tell them that according to Steve Jackson/Vancass, your village might (or might not) be called Gorretanti, according to Myriador it's called Taddapani, and according to Inkle it's called Urrustanti. Oh, and try not to cough on them - you might have the plague!

*Have there ever been any female writers for Fighting Fantasy? I can't think of any other than Ruth Pracy, who only contributed FF-style adventures to Warlock magazine.


  1. Female FF fan here - I haven't published any FF adventures or stories, but have been working on a novelization of the Sorcery! series and Scorpion Swamp - strictly for my own amusement and that of anyone who might eventually want to read them, no copyright infringement intended.

    Regarding what's "canon"... I noticed a long time ago that I tend to have different ideas about some aspects of the FF milieu, and as long as I keep them consistent in my own stories and characters and they're a reasonable fit with the *character* of Fighting Fantasy (as in fantasy RPG), it should work out. An example of this is the way characters are named. I name my gamebook characters, and usually use a "____, son/daughter of _____ of (village/city/some other place)" format.

  2. I suspect there were a whole load of female FF fans (my wife had an original edition of The Warlock of Firetop Mountain when I met her), but the FF series seems not to have any female contributors sadly.

    The whole issue of canon and how it interacts with fan fiction and fan expectations is complex and interesting. I think this may have been the first of several posts on this topic!

  3. Myriador? Research? Hah!!
    Their Sorcery modules are a cringe-enducing read. Every FF location, no matter how exotic, is always reduced down to the blandest boilerplate D&D setting possible. Nothing screams 'Tibetan-inspired fantasy setting' like a character called Troy Longbow!
    I guess we have 'FF Consultant' Dave Holt to thank for that? :P

    1. LOL! If I could delete them from the history of FF, I would. You are spot on in your description of them. I too would be interested to know whether Dave Holt played any part in the creation of the names. I'll no doubt discuss them at some point in a future post.

  4. Great stuff!

    Since I rarely, if ever, remamber every detail of the names of things, I go with the closest map at hand and be done with. Not really something to be proud of, but it sure works. :)


  5. Yeah, that works for me too! ;o)


  6. In the Myriador map Anvil and Gilford are two different towns.

    1. Yes, I know. It doesn't change the point though - in the Warlock version of TWOFTM, you start in Anvil, in the d20, you start in Guildford.

    2. First off. Thanks for giving me an excuse to dig out my Myriador book/WOFTM and re-read stuff.
      Second. I think you're too harsh on the Myriador books. They seem to go out of the way to indicate Gilford and Anvil are not the same place. The tavern and the people are different.
      It would be interesting to see what they had to work with when making the Myriador books.

    3. If you think I'm being too harsh on the Myriador books, wait till you see my review of their Sorcery! modules ;)

      But fair, enough, they included Anvil, though it isn't where the adventure starts (and anyway, it being a role-playing adventure, there's no reason why it should be exactly the same at the FF book).

      As for what materials they had to work with, I assume they had the same as the rest of us (all the FF books and Warlock mags), and maybe even some 'help' from other people at FF, who knows?

    4. I never bought the Sorcery! myriador books, though I've got the original Sorcery books somewhere... time to re-read more stuff!
      Apparently greywood is selling all the myriador stuff for 20 bucks right now. Wonder if it would be worth picking it up.
      I wonder if the two guys who seem to have done all the work on the myriador books were unaware of the Warlock stuff. They're terrible about responding to emails though.

    5. If like me you are an FF completest, they are worth having. There's one or two interesting things in there, but the main feeling I got from them was a complete misunderstanding of or complete lack of care about the beautiful setting Steve Jackson had created for Sorcery! - the (many) names they created are totally wrong for the setting, and the maps just don't fit with the descriptions in the books. I'm not a roleplayer, so can't comment on how they play though.

      As for what info they had - if they were writing anything within the FF license, they should have cared enough to know the source material first (which maybe they didn't). I also heard a rumour, don't know how much truth there is in it, that they had help from 'FF consultant' Dave Holt, one-time moderator of the official FF site. He at least knew the source material (even if his maps, gazettes, etc. show a willingness to completely invent knew stuff about FF which, to my mind, didn't always fit the world of Titan very well at all).

    6. I'm a roleplayer but I've never actually had a group play through the myriador books to see how they would play. Given that the original books assumed a single player there are whole sections dedicated to how a GM is supposed to make the stuff work with a group. I was always skeptical about it. (Then again it might give you more chances to pass some luck based events...)

      I checked my books again and David Holt is listed as FF consultant from book 3 on up, but what contribution that actually means is something someone would have to ask the writer or Dave himself.