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.


  1. You lost me at "Pythagoras".

    1. Ha ha! Well, to put it another way, the side of a right-angled triangle that's not at right angles to the other two sides has to be the longest.

    2. Alright,I kind of got it now.You are measuring by days,correct?So maybe the protagonist travelled at different speeds for each journey,perhaps?The only way to be sure would be if you knew the exact distances.

    3. Yes. The only distance we know is 50 miles from Silverton to Blacksand. Regardless of how long it takes you to walk that, there is no way you could walk back the long side of the triangle, from Zanbar Bone's tower to Silverton, in half a day if one of the short sides was 50 miles.

    4. Oooh,okay,that makes sense.Hmmm...I give up.

    5. :) If I gave up every time I encountered an inconsistency in Fighting Fantasy, I'd have given up a million times by now! It's all part of the fun of the thing (and provides fodder for blog posts of course). Still, I'd love one day to see a definitive account of all these things so in the mean time I'll have a go at seeing what I can come up with.

    6. I know it's not much, but there are several ways to leave Port Blacksand. You can leave by the north gate, (Weaver Gate? Gallows Gate?) climb the north wall and jump, (wait that kills you, use the climbing rope) or get out of town west via a wagon (Gallows gate again? Field Gate?) which leaves you by a woods where looking back Port Blacksand appears as a "daunting shape"

      In each case leaving the city results in simply heading north (northwards) to reach Zanbar Bone's tower.

      For that matter, the walk from Silverton put us south of the city where we walked north up the coast to the main gate right? You almost get the idea that our hero didn't really have a good sense of where to go until he got the map from Nicodemus. Perhaps the 50 miles is artificially inflated because our hero missed the road leading to Port Blacksand... or perhaps Zanbar Bone's Spirit Stalkers actively prevented travel by this road. I get the idea that Silverton is suffering a severe lack of trade if our hero is the first visitor in 10 days to a town that depends on trade to survive. Owen doesn't mention any other visitors to the town in 10 days, presumably that is why the townsfolk are considering giving in to Zanbar Bone's demands.

    7. Yeah!There should be a new book like Beyond the Pit written by a fan or hopefully one of the FF writers that takes care of that.Maybe it should be called ;) The World of Fighting Fantasy:Inconsistencies That Are Now Addressed In This Book or something like that.And then,on page 45,the heading:Location of Zanbar Bone's tower.And on the page it is revealed that Zanbar Bone's tower flies around randomly when no one is looking.Hmmm...

    8. Anonymous - the 50 miles can't be very far wrong, as it's stated at the start of Island of the Lizard King that Oyster Bay is about 60 miles south of Port Blacksand. Looking at the map of northwest Allansia in OOTP, that compares very nicely with the distance from Silverton to Blacksand. Also, it fits well with the size of Darkwood Forest, which it takes over a day to traverse.

    9. Deadshadowrunner: Yes, such a book would be great! I think Titan II would be excellent, but the more I think of it, the more I think a series of books concentrating on smaller areas of Titan would be better (e.g. one on northwest or 'old' Allansia). Maybe you're on to something about ZB's tower flying around - there is another example in FF after all!

    10. Now that you mention it,the more it seems that the fly around theory is likely to be correct.Perhaps Zanbar Bone's tower was indeed built by the same people who built the ToD.That would certainly have an interesting bit of backstory to it.Although why Zanbar Bone does not use the flying ability to his advantage would be something of a mystery.

  2. Can you post a picture of the map you are referring to as far as distances for Port Blacksand to Silverton to Oyster Bay? As far as I can tell Oyster bay looks like it's twice as far away as Silverton from Port Blacksand. (I gotta be looking at a different map)

    1. Just search for "out of the pit allansia map" on Google.

      It all depends where you measure from, as the towns/cities are very large on the map, but if you measure from the middle of Silverton to the middle of Blacksand (or from the gates of each) on the A4 OOTP map, it's 4 cm. From the middle of Blacksand to the mouth of the Whitewater River is 5 cm. Close enough for the mileages to be roughly right.

  3. Ah, it seems Safari can't cope with blogspot and just vanished my comment. What I tried to say (over a day ago) was:
    Quite impressive getting to a point where you can use Pythagoras!

    I was going to suggest that you might be slower with trepidation heading toward Blacksand and the tower before gleefully hurrying back to Silverton, but as you point out if the tower is due North it must be more than 50 miles - probably a lot more. That would need quite a lot of glee for a ‘battle-weary and hungry’ warrior.

    Perhaps Zanbar Bone’s tower is up a slope. But still, gamboling home let’s say 80 miles even downhill is still a bit unlikely… I think your solution really is the only one that make any kind of sense.

    Perhaps heading north just means taking a northern track rather than the eastern one back to Silverton and then following landmarks. It’s unlikely the hero has a compass.
    Must admit, I hadn't got as far as thinking the tower might have a 'Castle Duckula' function. :) That might make it a little difficult to find.