Saturday, 16 August 2014


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.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

More Fighting Fantasy LEGO

Here's another Fighting Fantasy-inspired LEGO build. This was much more of a technical challenge than the last one, I can tell you! It was also a lot of fun.

It's built at minifigure scale (though whether there's anyone inside is currently unknown). As you can see, I didn't quite have all the pieces I needed to perfect the build (i.e. the red rather than brown struts and the grooved rather than smooth chimney pieces), so I'm going to keep at it till I'm completely happy with it, but it's near enough that I thought I'd share it with you. Oh, and photographing LEGO is an art in itself, and quite obviously one I haven't mastered yet...

Anyway, anyone got any idea what (and where) in the world of Fighting Fantasy it is?

Sunday, 3 August 2014

The Ximoran Protectorate and the Council of Seven

To my mind, one of the most interesting, yet one of the most unexplored areas of the world of Fighting Fantasy is the civilised western part of Khul which is governed by the Council of Seven, who rule from the capital of the area, Ximoran (see Titan - The Fighting Fantasy World, p. 24/39 (large/small format)). We can, following the practice of Titannica, call this area the Ximoran Protectorate. Other than some information in Titan, which I'll discuss further below, we learn almost nothing about this part of Titan other than a few crumbs of information in Scorpion Swamp by Steve Jackson (US) and a fair bit more about the area around and south of Neuburg (especially in Peter Darvill-Evans' Beneath Nightmare Castle and Portal of Evil). In this post, I'm going to explore this part of Khul and see what we can learn, and offer some suggestions of ways we might develop this area further for our own adventures and stories.

Let's start with Steve Luxton's map of Khul in Titan. Titan (pp. 24/39) suggests that the Ximoran Protectorate stretches from the River Swordflow in the south to the Coast of Sharks, with the Council of Seven made up of representatives from the seven main cities: Ximoran, Anghelm, Buruna, Djiretta, Kalima, Kelther and Neuburg. We know from Portal of Evil that the Protectorate extends some way south of Neuburg, but it is unknown whether it extends far beyond Djiretta to the area of Shantak Bay.

South of the River Swordflow lie the lands of Kazan and Gorak, which I'll talk about more in later posts (as I will also do for the lands around Neuburg), and the forests and jungles north of Lake Mlubz, which are largely unsettled. This huge expanse of territory, bounded in the east by the Mountains of the Giants, in the north and west by the sea, and in the south by the River Swordflow, looks like a land of lush river valleys, ancient forests (some fans have equated the large forest in the northwest of the land with Mithrir Forest, mentioned in Daggers of Darkness, but this is only conjecture), rolling grassy plains, and teacherous swamp (see my previous post for a reanalysis of the geography of Scorpion Swamp though). It's obvious that there are many more towns and villages in the Protectorate than are marked on the map (which only shows the main cities and the two villages which appear in Scorpion Swamp) - see the Background section of Scorpion Swamp and the map accompanying Portal of Evil for some indications of this. Otherwise we know very little about the geography of the area, though thankfully we do know more (though still not a lot) of the history of this part of Khul (see Titan, pp. 24-5/39-41, 38-41/73-83, 43/87). In outline, the kindgom of Klarash, named after the dynasty of the same name, grew up in the area, centred on its capital, Shakista (near where Ximoran later lay). At its height, Klarash extended from the north coast to Yaziel and Hyennish in the far southwest. The Spawning of Chaos in Khul almost ruined Klarash for good, but it survived the convultions which destroyed much of the rest of the continent, though it had lost its southern territories around Zagoula and Shakista had to be abandoned due to the ruin caused by the forces of Chaos. A new capital was built at Ximoran, and it looked for a short while like Klarash might return to its former glories, but then the last King of the Klarash dynasty died without leaving an heir, and the lands became ruled by the Council of Seven. Instead of a unified nation, the result was a loose confederation of lands united under a governing council and notionally under the protection of Ximoran.

Interestingly, The Fighting Fantasy 10th Anniversary Yearbook adds a few choice details to the history of the region. The Yearbook records that the last king of Klarash was called Orien, and that he died in 81AC (After Chaos), on the 20th day of Nature's Curling. Nine years later, the Yearbook records, the 'Queen of Silver' was banished from Ximoran (on the 6th day of Forests Golden in 90AC), and in 103AC the Riddling Reaver was unmasked in Ximoran on the 2nd day of Watching. These last two events are fascinating if rather enigmatic - who was the 'Queen of Silver', and what was the Riddling Reaver doing in Ximoran? It's tempting to connect all of these events, since the Yearbook considered them (and only them) important enough to record. Perhaps the Queen of Silver was Orien's dowager queen (though not of the Klarash line herself), who may have found herself in conflict with the new Council of Seven. And perhaps the Riddling Reaver saw a situation here which he could work to his own unknowable advantage. I like to think that perhaps he posed as a (false) claimant to the throne, Perkin Warbeck style, maybe even supported by the Queen of Silver, who had become seduced by him. None of this is canon of course, but it certainly makes for an interesting episode in the history of the Ximoran Protectorate.

Actually, the impression I get from the Ximoran Protectorate is of a land not dissimilar in some ways from George R. R. Martin's Seven Kingdoms from his A Song of Ice and Fire series (spoilers ahead, just in case you haven't read all the series yet). Okay, so there's no king or ice wall and frozen north, but there are lush river lands (see, for example, the area north of Ximoran, which reminds me of Martin's Trident and Riverlands), a possible pretender to the throne, fAegon style (in the form of the Riddling Reaver), and seven semi-independent sub-kingdoms and a council which is no doubt the scene of scheming and intrigue (especially if we go back to the times after the death of Orien). I'm not suggesting that Ximoran should be based on Martin's Seven Kingdoms, only that we might be able to model it partly on that. And, of course, I'm not suggesting that Martin drew his inspiration for the Seven Kingdoms from the Ximoran Protectorate, even if there are tiny bits of evidence which might, maybe suggest that Martin drew inspiration here and there from Fighting Fantasy (e.g. the deadly poison, the Tears of Lys, which we can compare with the Black Poison of Lisz from Daggers of Darkness, and the name Sansa, which is obviously close to the name of the first noble of Kharé). One further aspect of Martin's Seven Kingdoms that we might also be able to incorporate into the Ximoran Protectorate is the chivalry, gallantry, and knightly society which is such a keystone of his work. There isn't actually anywhere in Titan where knights and their courtly deeds take centre stage, and I wonder whether Ximoran might be the place for it. We do have some evidence of knights in Khul, for example the tourney in Daggers of Darkness, the knights of Zamarra (I like to think of Zamarra as an early outpost of Klarash founded by adventurer knights, now gone its own way), and the Order of Knights Errant from Dave Morris's unpublished Fighting Fantasy gamebook, The Keeper of the Seven Keys, and I can't help feeling that the Ximoran area might be the source of all this on the continent. Anyway, it's just an idea, but I think a settled land combining elements of what we know from canon FF sources, and inspiration from Arthurian legend and A Song of Ice and Fire might make the west of Khul a really rather interesting place. What do you think?