Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The geography of Scorpion Swamp

Over to the other side of Khul for a change, to that early Fighting Fantasy adventure location, Scorpion Swamp. Outside of the eighth FF book, the only geographic information we have on this miasmic place is the map of Khul (by Steve Luxton) and a few notes in Titan - The Fighting Fantasy World. Let's see what we can find out about it.

Scorpion Swamp, by the other Steve Jackson, was the second FF book I bought, encouraged as I was by my friends who thought the cover was crap and were worried it was rubbish inside too. It's never been an all-time favourite of mine, but I like it, as much for its old-school charm and non-linear approach (and, as we'll see, its easy mapability). There's not much information about the geography of the swamp and the lands around it in the background and the start of the adventure before you actually enter the swamp, but we know this much:
  • There's a "King's highway" (sic.) with towns along its course (Background).
  • Scorpion Swamp "lies far to the west of the kingdom", and you have to travel a long way to get there: "As you travel further west, the mountains around you turn to hills, the hills to plains, and the plains to damp lowlands". You eventually come to the little town of Fenmarge, on the southern edge of the swamp (para. 1).
  • One of your possible benefactors in the adventure, Poomchukker, tells you that it would save weeks and weeks of time if his caravans could travel through Scorpion Swamp to the town of Willowbend on its northern edge rather than going round it. This suggests that the swamp is vast (para. 173).
In order to say anything more about the geography of the swamp as described in the book, I'm going to have to follow the advice given on pp. 21-22 and do some mapping! It's been a while since I mapped this one out, and I have no idea where my old maps are, so time to have some fun doing it again for the first time in years. Here's the result (obvious spoilers included):

That was fun! Very satisfying seeing all the clearings coming together so nicely. Not exactly a complicated layout, but I think it's effective (if not at all realistic). So what do we learn from this romp through the swamp? Well, here are some points of interest:
  • It takes you a day to travel between Fenmarge and Willowbend, so the distance between them isn't great.
  • The swamp is bisected by the Foulbrood River, which is about 200 metres wide and is crossed by an old stone bridge. Interestingly, the river flows west to east (see paras. 339 and 369).
  • Willowbend is a bustling town with at least three inns in it. It lies north-northwest of Fenmarge.
That's about it for the geography of Scorpion Swamp from the gamebook itself. Let's have a look at what we can learn about the geography of the swamp from Titan - The Fighting Fantasy World. Here's the part of the Khul map that contains Scorpion Swamp:

Scorpion Swamp lies, like a rotten core, in the middle of the civilsed lands of western Khul. To its east are the King's Highway (sic.) and the Mountains of the Giants. The Foulbrood River runs roughly through its middle, from the northeast to the southwest. Fenmarge is at the east-southeast edge of the swamp, and Willowbend is at the west-northwest edge, and a considerable distance lies between the two towns (there's not a big difference between the two of them in a straight line compared with going around the swamp).

Clearly there are things here which don't match the original gamebook (again I'm not blaming anyone for this; in fact I'm glad it's different, otherwise this post wouldn't have to be written!). The swamp isn't in the far west of the kingdom, a long way distant from the mountains (though we can imagine a traveller coming south down the King's Highway past the mountains to the lowlands south of the swamp). Fenmarge and Willowbend are in the wrong positions relative to each other (they should be on a nearly north-south axis), and they are far too far apart considering it only takes a day to get between them (compare the distance to the size of the Inland Sea or Hachiman in the same map in Titan). And of course the orientation and direction of flow of the river are wrong! It should, according to the text in the gamebook, flow in a west-east direction.

I think it's time to revise the Khul map somewhat to bring it closer to the description in the gamebook. There's not much we can do about the direction of flow of the river, and I think we'll have to assume that in a swamp the water might be pretty stagnant and could flow in various directions. But the rest we can fix, to an extent at least. Here's my version of the same area of the map:

In this version of the map, I've changed the positions of Fenmarge and Willowbend to make them the same as the map drawn from the gamebook. I've also put them much closer together, essentially in the fringes of the swamp itself, presumably on drier promentaries. I've slightly widened the swamp in an east-west direction to account for Poomchukker's estimate of how long it takes caravan's to get round it (no doubt he was exaggerating somewhat, and I suspect he had other motives for exploring the swamp too). Finally, I've corrected the course (though not the direction) of the Foulbrood River somewhat to make it fit better with the text of the gamebook. What do you think?

Anyway, there you go. One of the curious things about the gamebook Scorpion Swamp is that it is really the only source of information we have about the civilised western lands of Khul north of Neuburg. However, it can hardly be considered to be typical of those lands! We can assume that most of the evil, nasty things in western Khul have ended up in places like this, where civilsation does not quite reach. The bustling towns of Fenmarge and Willowbend give us a better idea of what these western lands are like, but it would be nice to know more.


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  2. Awesome!

    Too bad the project of re-maping Titan wasn't a reality anymore. Sure, some things would just not fit (specially when 2 books talk about bordering or same places), but, overall, it would be great to have better maps.

    Anyway, at least I can say that the maps are "well intentioned drawings", probably made by scholars that collected data from travellers and did the best to represent many different (and wrong) information.

    1. It's an interesting question what the current state of affairs is WRT the publishing of new maps and information on Titan (e.g. Titan 2). I don't know, but would be interested to hear.