Monday, 31 March 2014

Where did you say you're from again?

Unlike Magnamund, the Lone Wolf world, which was created by Joe Dever alone, the Fighting Fantasy world of Titan was essentially designed by committee - each author created his* own part of the world, with only the over-all structure as laid out in Titan - The Fighting Fantasy World as a guide from 1986 onwards. I say committee, but I sometimes get the impression that this committee never met and that its members didn't really know the other members or that there even was a committee! The result is a wonderfully incoherent world with a mish-mash of cultures, races, monsters and lands which make Titan an interesting place to adventure in for sure but also one which lacks the consistency of more carefully planned worlds. It's one of the things I like about it, but this rather eclectic approach sometimes creates problems which might have been avoided with just a little bit of coordinated effort. I'm thinking of things like Khul in the southern hemisphere having the same seasons as Allansia in the northern hemisphere, the Foulbrood River running the wrong way on the Titan map, the Inland Sea existing in two fantasy worlds simultaneously, there being three entirely different maps of Kharé, none of which matches the original description of the city in Sorcery! or each other, and any number of other inconsistencies.

In this post, I want to consider how this rather haphazard approach to world-building has resulted in two villages in Titan having up to three different names each, and how we as fans of Fighting Fantasy might react to this bizarre situation.

The first of these villages is where it all began in 1982. In The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, you start your adventure in an unnamed village two days away from the mountain. This village was given a name in the first issue of Warlock Magazine in 1984, in the reworked version of TWoFTM that appeared there - Anvil (which is also marked on the first map of Allansia in the same issue). The sequel to TWoFTM, Return to Firetop Mountain (1992), also starts in Anvil, creating a nice link between the two adventures. So far so good, but then all of these adventures were written by the same person, Ian Livingstone, and the identity of the village hadn't been interfered with by the 'committee'.

Fast forward to 2003 and this village suddenly received an entirely new name - Gilford. It is named Gilford in the Myriador d20 conversion of TWoFTM (there's no reason to think it's not the same place, as you start the adventure there, two days' travel from Firetop Mountain, just as in the original adventure). And in the same year, a possible third name for the village appears in the short-lived Salamonis Gazette, by former administrator of the Official Fighting Fantasy website, Dave Holt. In that issue, a village named Haven appears on the map of the area around Firetop Mountain, although it's not stated that that's the village you start TWoFTM in, so maybe it's another village entirely. But that's at least two different names for the same place, something which could have been avoided with a little background research by the Myriador team.

Crossing the Western Ocean to the Verminpit of Kakhabad, a similar situation arises. In the first Sorcery! book, The Shamutanti Hills, you may pass through a village afflicted by plague. This 'plague village' isn't given a name, but when you encounter the riddling hunchback, Vancass, he lists villages you may have travelled through (Cantopani, Kristatanti, Dhumpus, Birritanti) plus another village, Gorretanti. The identity of Gorretanti is unknown, but it seems possible that it could be the otherwise unnamed plague village.

Again fast forwarding to 2003, and the plague village is named Taddapani in the Myriador d20 coversion of The Shamutanti Hills (unfortunately Taddapani is about the only authentic Kakhabadian-sounding new name in the module). The name Gorretanti doesn't appear anywhere in this version of the adventure. And then in 2013, the plague village received another new name, the similarly authentic-sounding Urrustanti, in Inkle Studios' excellent reimagining of the Sorcery! epic for iPod/iPhone.

So, what are we FF fans meant to think about all these multiple names for the same places then?! Do we raise our hands in despair and mutter something about arses and elbows? Do we try to come up with imaginative but unlikely scenarios that allow us to explain these apparent contradictions? Or is there some other way of reconciling ourselves to the curious hodge-podge that is the world of Fighting Fantasy? Well, while the first option certainly has its attractions, we can set it aside for now as not really contributing anything useful to the problem. The second option is very much the kind of approach that was imagined in the old Rebuilding Titan Yahoo! discussion group, as stated in its group description:
"due to being created by a variety of different authors with little cohesion, it requires some help to become a fully operational fantasy world. This list is a discussion forum for roleplayers and fans of the Fighting Fantasy series to rebuild the world as they feel would be most useful"
For example, the plague village and Gorretanti could be considered to be different villages entirely, as would Gilford and Anvil, whilst Taddapani and Urrustanti would be explained by there being two plague villages (plague does spread after all), by a change in the name of the village, or by a mistake by some Black Lotus addled adventurer. Or by declaring certain FF publications 'canon' and others as not (or ranking the canonicity of the various sources). Hmm.

As is often the case, a third way is, in my opinion, the best. Rather than giving up on the FF world in despair or trying to create cohesion where none exists, I prefer to study the whole corpus of Fighting Fantasy, from the first gamebook to the latest digital wizardry, as part of its unfolding (hi)story. Anvil, Haven, Gilford, Gorretanti, Taddapani and Urrustanti are all part of that story, and it doesn't really matter whether some of these are alternative names for the same place. Actually, this is really the only valid approach to the problem when a world has been built at random by committee and/or is full of inconsistencies. It's not up to me as a fan of FF to decide which bits of the franchise are canon and which are not, or what the 'truth' is behind all the contradictions. The next fan who comes along might have different ideas and the FF 'committee' is and was too diffuse to have one opinion on such matters (assuming they have any!). Those of you who have followed the publications of, for example, J. R. R. Tolkien, will be familiar with this issue. In his case, his mythology was his life's work, but it never achieved a fixed, final form, and those who search for a final 'canon' version of his world and languages will search in vain. This has led fans who are especially interested in his works to study everything he ever wrote as equally valid and to recognise that internal consistency isn't what's important.

So if someone asks you where you're from in Titan, don't tell them you're from Gorretanti, which shouldn't be confused with a plague village formerly called Taddapani and now Urrustanti, but tell them that according to Steve Jackson/Vancass, your village might (or might not) be called Gorretanti, according to Myriador it's called Taddapani, and according to Inkle it's called Urrustanti. Oh, and try not to cough on them - you might have the plague!

*Have there ever been any female writers for Fighting Fantasy? I can't think of any other than Ruth Pracy, who only contributed FF-style adventures to Warlock magazine.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

The demise of Rebuilding Titan

Another short post, just to get me back into the swing of things after what has felt like a long, draining semester.

Those of you who have been involved in the Fighting Fantasy online community for a long time will likely know about the Rebuilding Titan Yahoo! discussion forum. The forum was launched in 2000, before I became involved in the FF online community myself (I think that was in 2001 or 2002), and was moderated by Daniel Fiander. Its aim was to try to pull together everything we then knew about the world of Fighting Fantasy and to try and bring some consistency to things. This was partly because at the time FF was no longer being published and there was no hint that the series would be relaunched by Wizard Books. There was kind of a feeling in those days that FF was no longer a going concern and that it was up to the fans to keep the franchise alive and even to develop it further.

The early years on Rebuilding Titan were exciting, filled with posts exploring and developing all sorts of things to do with Titan, the FF world. Well known names in the online FF community were involved, including Ken Beuden, Dave Holt, Jared Milne, Doug Riddell, Brett Schofield and Andy Wright. There's loads of great discussion on there if you can bear to access it (see below).

Unfortunately by 2006, the moderator of the group, Daniel Fiander, had disappeared (and has never been heard from since). Since the group didn't require moderator's approval to join, it became swamped with spammers, who began to fill the list with links to all sorts of dodgy business. Several of us complained to Yahoo!, but they appear to have a policy of only dealing with the moderator of a group and wouldn't do anything to help. As a result, we abandoned the group and set up a new version of it, titan_rebuilding, also on Yahoo!, where the discussion continued and ultimately gave rise to the FF bestiary databases and the FF wiki, Titannica. (That group has now largely fallen into disuse too, for entirely different reasons which I'll maybe come back to in another post.)

Although we had abandoned Rebuilding Titan, it still exists out there on the forgotten edges of the internet. In fact, I kept my membership of it going for years in order to have access to the (non-spam!) posts that are on there. Unfortunately in recent months the spam has got a lot more dubious (i.e. not just your regular links to sites for people in your area looking for casual fun, but stuff which looks illegal), so I decided I'd better terminate my membership. I made a quick copy of some of the posts I'd made on the group and pressed 'Leave Group'. A sad day indeed, but there doesn't seem to be any hope that the group can be saved. Not unless Daniel Fiander comes out of retirement, or Yahoo! finally decide to evict the spammers and clean up the site.

The history of FF online is in some respects a history of discussion groups which have waxed and waned (and which have often disappeared because the moderator has pulled the plug without warning), but the case of Rebuilding Titan seems particularly sad, like some kind of archaic deep space probe drifting beyond our communication in the lonely depths of space. Maybe one day it'll be fixed or, more likely, Yahoo! will just put it out of its misery.

Help us Daniel Fiander, you're our only hope!

Once more unto Deathtrap Dungeon, dear friends, once more

Just another couple of quick notes about the Deathtrap Dungeon computer game by Eidos:
  • I didn't think they would, but the original cheats for DD work on the Steam version too. You can get unlimited health, increase strength and speed, acquire all the inventory, and access all the levels without completing each one. Just search for "deathtrap dungeon pc cheats" on Google. Very useful for anyone like me who wants to explore the dungeon without spending weeks getting killed over and over again, although I find that acquiring all the inventory is not much fun as you can just walk through each level without having to explore, missing lots of areas without realising it.
  • You can view an almost complete playthrough of the PC version of the game on YouTube (thanks to bloodbeast on the Fighting Fantazine forum for the tip). I think you can do the same for the PS version of the game too, although I haven't looked into that yet.
So time to get mapping! The maps in the Official Strategy Guide by Prima aren't very detailed or complete, so there's plenty of work to be done. Happy adventuring!