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.


  1. Good stuff. Interestingly in the map from the French version of the AFF rulebook Oldcastle is located just below Firetop Mountain on the very northeast tip of Darkwood. Drystone is on the western fringes of the Hills, directly east of the Lowland Gap, which is positioned between Darkwood and the Moonstones.
    Hallon is just southwest of Drystone and a fair way northeast of Chalice, which means that Darkmane was way off course if he was travelling from Blacksand to Chalice. Tegris lies east of Chalice on the Silver River; Oakwall isn't marked on the map at all.

  2. great to see so much activity on this blog as you poke around in every dusty corner, nook and cranny of the world of fighting fantasy, feeding us fresh nuggets of info and undiscovered gems.

    Paltogue, was just wondering if you or indeed anyone who reads this blog still actively collects the original FF books...? Recently at a charity sale, I managed to uncover not only THE RIDDLING REAVER and SEAS OF BLOOD but also DUNGEONEER !

    I was amazed that anyone would have given this to a sale as its much harder to find than titles in the ' green spine ' series and I had to pay quite a sum to get my other copy on amazon. So a lucky find for sure. Anyone else here had a similar experience...?

    1. Thanks Ed, your comments are very kind and very welcome!

      As for collecting FF book: I collected all of them up to Towers of Destruction and Allansia, and added Return to Firetop Mountain when it came out. After a few years of not collecting, I got the books I'd missed on Ebay and 2nd hand/outlet shops around about 2000-1, thankfully for not too much money (I regret not buying the 10-15 copies of Knights of Doom I once found in a Publishers Warehouse bookshop in Newcastle Upon Tyne, but I didn't realise it was rare and only bought one). Since then I've collected the new books and the new AFF stuff and a few other bits and pieces (e.g. DD computer game and manuals). I think the only obvious books I still don't have are Casket of Souls and the poster book.

      I have been thinking about trying to get hold of some new greenspines to replace some of my more worn copies. I look in 2nd hand book shops from time to time, but rarely see any these days. In fact, just yesterday, I looked to see if the one in the Grainger Market in Newcastle (where I don't live any more) has any, as it had loads the last time I was there about two years ago, but the shop has gone unfortunately.

  3. knights of doom is one I actually picked up in a second hand bookshop but most of my collection I accquired from amazon sellers. You are never quite finished with collecting FF as there were so many reprints and variant covers. For example how many fans know that the first two books in the SORCERY ! series originally had wrap-around art covers before they were re-printed..?

    I know I didnt until just a few years ago. I'm still amazed that dungeoneer (which you posted about recently ) turned up in a charity sale. The ' blue-spine trilogy ' and the last batch ( 51-58) of FF are the hardest to find.