Saturday, 24 May 2014

Gundobad in Khul

If you've ever played the 2-player Fighting Fantasy gamebook Clash of the Princes,* you'll be familiar with the golden city of Gundobad and the lands surrounding it, as detailed in this beautiful map by Dave Andrews:

The curious thing about Gundobad and its surrounding lands is that they were not connected in any obvious way with the rest of the Fighting Fantasy world, Titan, despite looking like they should be (in terms of the style of map, the kinds of monsters and situations you encounter and, of course, because this was a fantasy-themed FF adventure). When I joined the online FF community, it turned out that other fans had, like me, been wondering whether Gundobad was in Titan and where it would be if so. Not only that, but Andrew Chapman, one of the authors of CotP, had told fans on the Rebuilding Titan forum the following:
"I don’t think I was even aware of Titan when I wrote Clash of the Princes and was certainly never consulted by anyone about it. I have no problem with Gundobad being situated in Titan and you may place it there with my blessing."
All sorts of theories were dreamed up, from Gundobad being on Titan's Unknown Land (see the world map of Titan in Titan - The Fighting Fantasy World) to Gundobad being on the ancient continent of Irritaria. None of these theories was particularly convincing, although there was some support amongst fans for Gundobad being in the Unknown Land or in Khul.

In 2005, I put together a document (placed in the titan_rebuilding discussion group files section) summarising my thoughts on the location of Gundobad in Titan, and I later developed this as an article in the first issue of Fighting Fantazine in 2009. In this article, I discussed the likely locations for Gundobad in Titan and suggested that it was in northwest Khul for the following reasons:
  • We know nothing about the Unknown Land and it could be that it is a frozen wilderness.
  • Likewise, we know very little about the geography of the ancient continent of Irritaria, and no part of it looks like the map in CotP.
  • One place on the CotP map (Kalamdar) has a similar name to a place in Khul (Kalagar).
  • The coastline of Khul in the neighbourhood of Kalagar is very similar to the coastline in the CotP map of the lands around Gundobad, with Kalagar and Kalamdar lying in exactly the same position.
  • The mixture of Asiatic honorific ('Pasha') with a Germanic personal name ('Vulfolaic') of the emperor of the lands around Gundobad looks quite Khulian (compare the Vizier of Kazan and the barbarian horse-lord, Khan Gyorgir, of the central Khulian plains).
In the Fantazine article, I suggested that Kalagar and Kalamdar were the same place and the reason for Gundobad not appearing on the maps in Titan was that this part of Khul had simply not been developed at the time Titan was written (in the same way that various other areas developed in later FF gamebooks don't feature in the Titan maps). Whether the resemblance of the coastlines around Kalagar and Kalamdar in the Titan and CotP maps was an accident or was intentional (though perhaps muddled by the committee) still remains unknown, but the idea that Kalagar = Kalamdar and that Gundobad is in Khul seems to have been well received by the online FF community. So much so, in fact, that Andy 'greyarea' Wright has written the new FF bestiary, Beyond the Pit, under the assumption that Gundobad is in northwest Khul (see here). So it looks like Gundobad has found a home at last in the Fighting Fantasy world.

In the Fantazine article, the editor, Alex Ballingall, drew a map of the Kalagar/Kalamdar area showing where places like Gundobad would lie in Khul. This was based on a Paintshop job I'd done on Steve Luxton's map of Khul from Titan, which I thought it would be nice to share with you:

I think this looks like just the spot for Gundobad, with its woods, hills and barbarian overlord.

Oh, and in one other intriguing cross-over between the lands of CotP and the continent of Khul, we have a scene which appears in both The Warlock's Way and in Seas of Blood, also by Andrew Chapman (thanks to 'Vastariner' for pointing this link out). In The Warlock's Way, you may catch a merchant ship from Kalamdar to the Isle of Orcmoot (not marked on the CotP map) via the kingdom of Peleus (also not marked on the map). The ship is waylaid by pirates, and the captain surrenders his passengers and cargo so that he and his crew can go on. You can either surrender to the pirates (and be sold into slavery), or use magic or some artefact to scare the pirates off or escape. One option given to you is to summon a SHADE to attack the pirate captain; unfortunately this leads to several pirates firing their crossbows at you, resulting in your death (para. 266). In Seas of Blood, your pirate ship may be sailing in the middle of the Inland Sea, between the isle of Enraki and the Shoals of Trysta, and you may encounter a heavy laden merchant ship travelling from the Eastern Rim to Kish. If you attack the ship (with your crew of pirates who wield scimitars and crossbows), "a hooded figure, obviously a Warlock or Magus" steps forward from among the other terrified passengers and summons a SHADE to attack you (para. 391). If you defeat the SHADE, the other passengers on the merchant ship seize the Warlock, tie him (he is identified as male) up, and throw him into the sea to his doom (para. 252). The merchant ship captain places himself and his ship at your mercy (and you are in fact fairly merciful).

Although the two episodes are very similar, they are not quite the same, and it's impossible to square their geography. No doubt this is just Andrew Chapman having a bit of fun, but it's another interesting link between Gundobad and Khul. Anyway, the placement of Gundobad in Khul means that there's another part of the Dark Continent we now know something about. If we add this to what we know from the other FF gamebooks and Titan, the projected location of Arkand, and what we can conjecture from Andrew Chapman's Ashkar the Magnificent (which I'll return to in a later post), a pretty detailed picture can be reconstructed as to what the geography of Khul might be like.

*I never heard about Clash of the Princes when it first came out. In fact, I was totally oblivious to its existence, having never seen Warlock Magazine where it was advertised and having never seen it listed amongst the gamebooks inside the front cover of any Fighting Fantasy gamebook. In about the year 2000 or 2001, just before I got involved in the online FF community, I was browsing through a collection of greenspines in a second-hand bookshop in Newcastle-Upon-Tyne and found a copy of The Warrior's Way. How could there be an FF book I've never heard of?! I had dreamt of such things, but it was a big surprise to find such a thing for real. I soon bought The Warlock's Way on ebay to complete the set.


  1. I was never a fan of including Gundobad in Titan as it just seemed too different from the rest of the FF world to fit in neatly. However, Beyond the Pit has made it an official part of Titan, so its high time I cracked open those books and took another look!

    1. I always thought it would be a shame not to include it in Titan. It's not that different, no more so than say Kazan or Zamarra. But yes, I'm glad Andy has cemented its position!