Friday, 12 December 2014

The Geography of Shadowmaster

No time for anything brand-new this week, what with the Christmas rush and lots of work deadlines. So here are some of my observations on the geography of Shadowmaster, the third Fighting Fantasy novel, abstracted from the article of the same name in Fighting Fantazine 4. At some point I'm going to have a go at putting all of the places discussed below on a map of Allansia, but that's for a future post.

Although interpretation of the geographical information in Shadowmaster is made more difficult by contradictions in the text (see below), a fairly clear picture emerges of the geography of the lands involved when all of the available evidence is analysed. The most important section for geographical information in Shadowmaster is pp. 53-55, where Gereth Yaztromo and the others pore over maps of the area in order to determine whether there is any pattern to the raids. The first thing to note is that the area under consideration lies “between Darkwood and the Moonstones” (SM: 53). If we set aside the incorrect geography of Yaztromo's map for the moment, we have the following:
Here is Tegris – I got that right at least. And Kierdale is here, almost due north of it. Here is Oldcastle, of course, and over there, due west of here, that must be... Oakwall...” Yaztromo's voice tailed off. They did not need to hear any more. They all saw it, there, where the imaginary lines their minds drew connecting the four raided villages crossed. Where the unknown cartographer had drawn a small but distinct silhouette of a stylized village... he or she had inscribed the name of the village. ‘Drystone’. (SM: 55)
The clear implication here is that the villages Tegris, Kierdale, Oldcastle and Oakwall form four points of a cross, at the centre of which lies Drystone. This may be illustrated as in the scheme below.

The description above makes it clear that Tegris, which lies on the Silver River, forms the southern point of this cross, whilst Kierdale, “almost due north of it”, forms the northern point (SM: 55). The positions of Oldcastle and Oakwall are more complicated, however. The description just given indicates that Oakwall lies west of Oldcastle and, as such, we should expect it to lie on the left-hand point of the cross in the diagram above, with Oldcastle lying on the right. It appears, however, that this cannot be the case, given the other geographical evidence in Shadowmaster.

Perhaps most significantly, Jemar Val describes Kierdale as “two days’ hard ride” from Oldcastle, to the north-east (SM: 54). If we combine this with the geographical indications just discussed, we get a lay out of these villages something like the layout in the map below.

Suddenly the villages no longer form a cross, and the position of Drystone cannot fall on any intersection of the lines connecting them, defeating the whole point of the exercise. How do we resolve this contradiction in Shadowmaster? There appear to be two ways to do so:
  • Assume that there is an error in the book, and what Jemar Val should have said is that Kierdale is north-west of Oldcastle. This puts the villages back in a cross configuration once again, with Oakwall in the west and Oldcastle in the east.
  • Assume that there is an error in the book, but that the two instances where it states Oakwall is “west” of Oldcastle should read “east”. This would also put the villages back in a cross configuration, this time with Oldcastle in the west and Oakwall in the east.
How do we decide which of these two alternatives is correct? If the evidence from Shadowmaster is examined carefully, it appears that only one of these alternatives is really tenable – that Oldcastle lies in the west, and that Oakwall lies in the east (second option above). The reasoning is as follows:
  • Yaztromo can see the plume of smoke from the burning Oldcastle (SM: 28). If Oldcastle lies on the eastern point of the cross, this potentially places it further away from his tower than any of the other villages. The fact that it is the first village he decides to visit suggests that it is also the closest. Although Yaztromo says that it is two days’ walk to Oldcastle (SM: 30), this need not mean that it is very far away, since he is an old, unfit man (and, as usual, distances in Fighting Fantasy are not specified precisely).
  • Although Yaztromo's map of the area is defective, it appears that he has positioned Tegris and Oldcastle correctly. For example, Shadowmaster tells us the following: “Here is Oldcastle, where we are meeting today.” Yaztromo's finger slid down and to the right across the parchment, until it rested upon another crudely drawn ink spot. “The first raid which I would unhesitatingly attribute to these bandits was upon Tegris, here, by the Silver.” (SM: 53-54). This indicates clearly that Tegris lies south-east of Oldcastle, indicating that Oldcastle must be the western point of the cross.
  • Oakwall is described as being among the hills, albeit on Yaztromo's defective map (SM: 54). This suggests that it lies at the eastern point of the cross, in or near the Moonstones, rather than in the west.
None of this fits easily if Oakwall is in the west and Oldcastle is in the east, but makes perfect sense if Oldcastle is in the west and Oakwall is in the east. Since it is a toss up whether the book has two errors indicating that Oakwall is to the west of Oldcastle, or has two errors indicating that Oldcastle is to the west of Kierdale and Tegris, we can only assume that Shadowmaster is in error in stating that Oakwall is west of Oldcastle, in light of the other evidence.

The Lowland Gap and Hallon

A number of other geographical indications of interest are given in Shadowmaster, in particular those concerning the Lowland Gap and the village Hallon.

In Shadowmaster, Oakwall is described as lying “several days beyond the Lowland Gap” (SM: 54), whilst Drystone is “perched on the brow of a low hill in the very middle of a wide, wooded valley that was known locally as the Lowland Gap.” (SM: 57). The name “Lowland Gap” suggests that it is a valley which connects the lowlands south and west of Darkwood and the Moonstones with the hills and forests beyond. There appear to be two possibilities: (1) that the Lowland Gap is the southern entrance to the narrow strip of land between Darkwood and the Moonstones; and (2) that the Lowland Gap is a valley which enters the Moonstones themselves, with the lowlands north of Chalice on the west and the Moonstones on the east.

The village of Hallon is mentioned twice in Shadowmaster. Riders from Drystone are “despatched on the road to Chalice ... If they manage to get fresh horses at Hallon and then ride through the night, they will be in Chalice by dawn tomorrow.” (SM: 57). This indicates that Hallon lies somewhere between Drystone and Chalice or, at least, it lies on the easiest route between them. Chadda Darkmane also passes through Hallon on his way from Port Blacksand to Chalice (SM: 58), and is overtaken by the riders despatched from Drystone (SM: 59). If it is assumed that Darkmane is following the road from the Catfish River to Chalice marked on the map in Dungeoneer (p. 33), then Hallon lies somewhere on this road, or at least not far from it – it is possible that Darkmane has missed the turn for Chalice, which is why he has to ask the villagers of Hallon the way there.

Other places

A number of other place-names of interest are mentioned in Shadowmaster, including Angrim, Wintermere and Gnollwood (SM: 94). Although these names fit with the general nomenclature and culture of the area under discussion, there is nothing in the text of Shadowmaster to indicate that they are found in this area and, indeed, they could lie anywhere in Allansia.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

The northern borderlands of your kingdom

At the start of The Forest of Doom, you are told that "You are an adventurer, a sword for hire, and have been roaming the northern borderlands of your kingdom ... Not once during the last ten days since entering the northern borderlands have you set eyes upon another person" (FoD, Background). And during your adventure in the middle of Darkwood 'Forest', you may encounter a man riding a white stallion and accompanied by a pack of hounds (FoD, paras. 194, 396). If you chat to him, you learn that he is a hunter and that "the best game in all the northern borderlands can be found in this grassy plain within Darkwood Forest". These are very interesting little nuggets of information on the as yet unnamed lands the adventure is set in, and given what we now know about those lands from the later adventures and source-books, it's a rather intriguing reference. What is meant by "the northern borderlands of your kingdom"?

Other Fighting Fantasy fans have of course considered this issue. Here's what Simon Osborne had to say about it in on p. 121 of his excellent, though unfortunately no longer available The Atlas of Titan (I believe he was asked to take it down from his website due to it containing a large number of maps copied from FF sources CORRECTION: Simon tells me he had to remove it from his website as the file was too big and he was going to be charged for hosting it):
Later maps call this area south of Darkwood Forest the Windward Plain, the nearest city to which is Chalice on the Silver River.
   A marriage alliance was proposed between Barinjhar, son of King Pindar of Chalice, and Sarissa, daughter of King Salamon LVII of Salamonis. However, Barinjhar had no desire for such an alliance for fear of Chalice becoming nothing more than a vassal city-state, allowing Salamonis to extend its borders northwards and become a small empire. Further south is the Kingdom of Salamonis, though its distance from the Windward Plain seems too considerable for it to have borders toward Darkwood Forest. This seems to be borne out by the events of 285 AC.
   This being the case, it could be that the term “northern borderlands” refers to a wild area of the Windward Plain some days’ walk northwest from Chalice, and adventurer in this vicinity could therefore hail from an outlying village under the protection of that city-state.
   Alternatively, the term northern borderlands could be an old term referring to kingdoms long since perished. If the ancient kingdom of Allansia, with its capital city of Carsepolis, stretched this far east, or if the kingdom of Salamonis extended further north before the War of the Wizards, then this archaic term could have stuck in the memory of those living in countryside that once belonged to either kingdom.
I think Simon has hit the mail on the head with the latter idea. While it's not impossible that the reference is to Chalice, I like the idea that a memory remains of the old political border between Allansia, with Carsepolis as its capital (and Salamonis as a smaller town towards its eastern edge), in the south and Goldoran, with its capital Gar-Goldoran, in the north (and with the Dwarven towns in between as a kind of buffer between the two states). Perhaps the people of this part of Titan still think of the area south of the Red River as a single historical kingdom, now centring on Salamonis, which, however, is not really in control of most of the lands that were once ruled by Carsepolis (especially the rebellious Port Blacksand). It makes for an interesting view of Allansian geo-politics - Salamonis as the pompous inheritor of Carsepolis, which ruled all the lands south of the Red River (and Dwarf towns), from the sea to the edge of the Flatlands. But although Salamonis feels, as a result, that it has a historical claim to rule the same area, Port Blacksand has sprung up in the ruins of Carsepolis and pays heed to no-one, and Chalice, a relatively new power if Crypt of the Sorcerer is to be believed, considers itself to be an independent polity (as evidenced by Dungeoneer) and is resentful of Salamonis' presumptions of superiority. That just leaves Silverton as the only major settlement in the old kingdom of Allansia, and given that its ruler seems to be a 'Mayor' (City of Thieves) perhaps it is still notionally under the rule of Salamonis, even if the power of Salamonis is rarely felt so far west. Of course, north of the Red River things have changed even more dramatically, with the destruction of Gar-Goldoran and the emergence of two new polities, Chiang Mai and Kay Pong, with their eastern names and (in the case of Chiang Mai at least) rulers, perhaps in origin eastern barbarian inheritors of Goldoran's power after its destruction.