Sunday, 27 April 2014

Where on Titan is Arkand?

Many of you will no doubt be aware that there were a number of 'lost' Fighting Fantasy gamebooks - gamebooks which were in the pipeline, typically only at the ideas phase, when the Puffin series came to a close or which just never made it into production for one reason or another. I'll explore all of these in more detail in another post or series of posts, but right now I want to consider a possible geography for one of them, The Keeper of the Seven Keys, as recently described in detail by Dave Morris on the Fabled Lands blog.

Now of course Seven Keys never became an FF gamebook, as it never got past the concept phase, and Dave Morris and Jamie Thomson may even end up reusing the idea without connecting it to FF at all. But it's such an interesting idea for an FF gamebook, with lots of nice names of people and places, that it's fun to imagine how it might have fitted into the world of Fighting Fantasy had it been published as part of that gamebook series.

Let's start with what the original proposal for the book tells us. The adventure is set in the continent of Khul in Titan and revolves around a conflict between the 'evil' lord Karabane of the 'Tower of Doom' and the nearby city of 'Arkand'. Neither of these two places had appeared on FF books or maps before, so we're left wondering where in Khul they might have been. Let's look at what else we can learn about the geography of the adventure from the outline on the Fabled Lands blog. Firstly, the names associated with Arkand (Karabane, Araminta, Kalara, Arkand itself) look Khulian enough without looking like they come from places such as Hachiman, southwest Khul and the Inland Sea, which have their own unique linguistic 'flavours' (i.e. Japanese, Turkic/Mongolian, Sumerian respectively). So we can rule out those areas. Where else might Arkand lie? Well, most of the centre and south of the continent is a chaos-warped wilderness or desert, so that doesn't fit with the 'poor harvests' and 'blighted crops' that the people of Arkand are blaming on Karabane. The west of Khul is a relatively settled and well documented part of the continent. The northeast is less well known, but this is Robin Waterfield territory, with Masks of Mayhem, Phantoms of Fear and Deathmoor all being set here, so we know a bit about this part of Khul. In addition, it looks like Clash of the Princes is set in the same part of the continent too, especially given the retconning done by Andy Wright in the new Beyond the Pit. All that being the case, that really only leaves us with one part of the continent which hasn't been explored or detailed in any of the FF books - the central eastern part of the continent, between Hachiman and Corda. Could Arkand and the Tower of Doom be located here?

Let's look at some other evidence from the Seven Keys outline. One obvious feature is the presence of two characters from Hachiman in the adventure: Uldarik Hsao and Fudoshin Raiko. Hsao's first name isn't very 'eastern' at all, but maybe that's what we'd expect from someone from that secretive land who now lives amongst people from a different culture. One other name in the outline is vaguely 'eastern', if not exactly Japanese or Chinese, in type too - Prince Chemcho (of Sariandor). So although Seven Keys can't be set in Hachiman, it looks like it might not be a million miles away from it, given the Hachimanian element in the adventure. That fits the area between Hachiman and Corda in eastern Khul rather well I think.

There are a few other places named in the outline which may be in the same general area. There's 'Fernor', home of Mogresh the Alchemist, 'Kelados', home of Syrena the Amazon, 'Sariandor', home of Prince Chemcho, and 'Qor', home of the Wizards of Qor and the Longbow of Qor. Amazons are a well-known element in society in some parts of Khul (see Beyond the Pit), so we can assume it is somewhere in the continent. The location of the other places relative to Arkand is of course unknown, but we can guess that they aren't too far away, as people from those places are involving themselves in this adventure. In the map below (adapted from the original by Steve Luxton in Titan - The Fighting Fantasy World), I've marked most of these places to give an indication of where they might have been had Seven Keys ended up as an FF book - Arkand in a plain amongst the hills, the Tower of Doom in the nearby hills to the west, Qor on the edge of the central Khulian wastes, and Fernor and Sariandor as ports on the eastern coast. I'd be interested to know what you think!

South of Qor lie the lands of the Inland Sea. There's a whole lot more detail about those in Andrew Chapman's non-FF novel, Ashkar the Magnificent, especially the lands north and east of Lagash, which I'll talk about in another post. So although none of this is part of Fighting Fantasy canon, there is a considerable amount we can project for our own adventures in this otherwise undocumented part of Khul.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Some Fighting Fantasy statistics

We all remember those heady days when it seemed like there was a new Fighting Fantasy book on the shelf every time you went into the local bookshop. Or at least you do if, like me, you're now in your 40s and your memories of things long in the past are sometimes better than things that happened yesterday... Then came the slow decline and first death of Fighting Fantasy, followed by the empty years, before the franchise was resurrected in the new century, at least for a while.

It's interesting to look at some statistics from the history of FF, and in this post I'm going to briefly examine the publication history of the original Puffin Books run of the series.* The first FF book, The Warlock of Firetop Mountain (obviously), was published on the 27th of August, 1982. The last Puffin FF book, Curse of the Mummy, was published on the 26th of November, 1995. That's exactly 13 years and 3 months of Fighting Fantasy, but of course for us FF fans it wasn't long enough. Publication of the books throughout that period wasn't constant though. The following graph illustrates the rise and fall of the Puffin Fighting Fantasy series:

That works out as 59 regular gamebooks and 21 other books (such as Sorcery!, the novels and the Advanced Fighting Fantasy series, but ignoring the Adventures of Goldhawk books which hardly count as FF books IMO), at an average of 4.2 regular gamebooks (5.7 over all) per year. Not all years were equal of course, as the graph shows clearly. From its first tentative step in 1982, the series exploded from 1983 to 1988 or 1989, and then tailed off in a slow death, with only a brief flutter of its old glory in the tenth anniversary year, 1992. The years 1984 to 1988 in particular stand out as the years when FF was at its height. 1985 was a bumper crop. Those were the years when the books came thick (well, Appointment with F.E.A.R. and Creature of Havoc were thick anyway) and fast, and the only down side to that was when you walked into the bookshop, saw a brand-new FF book, lifted it up excitedly, and then realised it was a sci-fi one. I hated it when that happened! It's interesting to have a look at the publication history of these (and other non-Titan) books too:

In this graph, I've grouped gamebooks (from the original 59) according to whether they were set in Titan or not. I've categorised Spectral Stalkers and Magehunter as being half in Titan, half not. There's a pretty obvious pattern here: non-Titan books were fairly common from 1983 to 1988, peaking dramatically in 1985. After that they disappeared from the scene almost entirely (and those which contained non-Titan elements were either partly set there or, in the case of Legend of Zagor, linked to Titan in other ways). Someone clearly realised that it wasn't just me having that reaction to the sci-fi books!

So there we have it, a little bit of Fighting Fantasy history. I don't suppose we'll ever see the like again, but maybe in another post I'll explore other FF statistics, e.g. the Wizard Books runs of the series.

*Thanks to Titannica for the dates analysed here.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

What does YOUR bookshelf say about you?

I've always liked Lortag the Elder - a gentle scholar living quietly in a corner of that open sewer of a city, Kharé, spending his time puzzling over ancient runes and trying to educate the lawless Orclings of the city in what is probably a futile attempt at widening participation. At least until I read Inkle Studios' engrossing version of the second Sorcery! adventure... But that's a different story for another day. In the original Kharé - Cityport of Traps, Lortag may invite you into his study for a chat and, as has happened to me far too many times in real life in similar situations, you might find that you aren't so much paying attention to what he's saying as to what books he has on his bookshelves. (In real life of course, this is not a good thing as you may suddenly realise you haven't been following the conversation and find that you are expected to reply to something you haven't really heard.) And what a collection of books Lortag has! They say you can tell a lot about someone from the books that they read, so what does Lortag's collection tell us about him?


This excellent illustration by the master of punk-fantasy art, John Blanche, is worth a closer look, especially if you are a Titan nerd like me who likes to find out as much about the world of Fighting Fantasy as possible. I don't know about you, but I really want to know what's on Lortag's shelves, so there's only two things we can do, short of interrogating John Blanche - either scan the image in at high quality them zoom in and see what the book titles are, or get a decent magnifying glass and have a closer look. I think you'll agree that squinting through a magnifying glass is much more fun than clicking buttons on a computer screen, so let's go for that for now. So what's Lortag been reading then?

Let's start on the top shelf. This is clearly where Lortag shoves all sorts of stuff that he hasn't sorted out or doesn't want visitors to see, so most of it is not spine-outwards and we can't work out what it is. But at the right-hand end of the shelf is a stack of books, some of which have readable titles on their spines. These are:
  • Axiome
  • Necropolitics
  • White Dwarf 1-30 (or 1-36)
Axiome brings to mind the word axiom, meaning 'premise', 'initial assumption' or 'principle', derived from Ancient Greek ἀξίωμα. Necropolitics obviously refers to the politics of death or, as Wictionary puts it, "The relationship between sovereignty and power over life and death". Definitely top shelf material! White Dwarf is of course the name of the gaming magazine published by Games Workshop. How Lortag has managed to get hold of a bound volume of the first 30 (or 36) issues is anyone's guess.

Let's move on to the rather untidy second shelf. The only legible spine here is near the left:
  • Tolkien
Ah hah! I always look to see if people have any Tolkien on their shelves when I visit their houses. It's generally a good sign, although a battered copy of just The Fellowship of the Ring bought in a second-hand bookshop on holiday one time doesn't qualify, whilst having the whole History of Middle-Earth in hardback proudly displayed in your living room is probably going too far, as is having ANY Tolkien on your office book shelves. Lortag seems to be playing it safe with what looks like a single hard-cover copy of one of Tolkien's books (probably the Silmarillion by its thickness).

On to the third shelf. Things are starting to get really interesting here, not surprisingly as this looks like a shelf that Lortag can easily reach. As well as a small telescope and various other bits of paraphernalia and untitled books, we have, from left to right:
  • possibly volume V of something with a sun symbol on the spine
  • volumes II and III of something with a fleur-de-lis symbol on the spine
  • Jackson
  • Jes
  • Balykoth
  • Malkuth
  • Voloder (?)
and two others at the right-hand end which have illegible or obscured titles. Jackson may be the Kakhabadian name for the Trickster God, revered by many in those chaotic lands. Jes and Voloder are obscure, but Balykoth and Malkuth are very interesting. Although I can't find a source for Balykoth (though it's the kind of word that looks like it has one in the real world), it is similar to Balkoth, the name of an arch-demon in the Lords of Magic PC game, and Balchoth, a term created by Tolkien for a race of eastern barbarians. Whatever its origin (do let me know if you have any ideas), it has a diabolical look to it. Malkuth (Hebrew מלכות, meaning 'kingdom') is named after one of the attributes of the Kabbalah tradition. All very esoteric!

On the fourth shelf, we have a strange collection of stuff:
  • Garibo[...] (?)
  • Khare
  • Dwarf Hymns
  • Syn 1
Hmm. Garibo[...], if that is what it is, is partially obscured by Lortag himself. Khare (there may be an acute accent floating to the top right of the e) is obviously about Lortag's home city. Dwarf Hymns hardly seems like fascinating reading, though Syn 1 looks more promising.

The remaining shelves are mostly obscured by Lortag, but on the fifth shelf we have:
  • Blanche Vol I
  • Unlife Vol III
  • Ions
  • Bezelgue (?)
  • Mogibell
Blanche Vol I appears to refer to an obscure (but obviously prolific) Kakhabadian artist from the mid 280s After Chaos. Unlife Vol III adds to our growing suspicion that there's a darker side to Lortag. Ions hints at a fascination with atomic physics, which is somewhat unexpected in a medieval fantasy world. Bezelgue (if that's what it is) and Mogibell are rather more obscure; the former looks like a French surname, the latter like it could be a book about cute cats to me.

Nothing can be made out on the sixth and seventh shelves, but on the eighth, unfortunately partially obscured not only by Lortag but also but his table, we have:
  • Slee[...]
  • D. McFa[...]
Not much to go on there. I initially thought D. McFa[...] might be MCFA (which looks like it might refer to Middlesex County Football Association), but that requires us to ignore the D. and the small size of the c.

So there we have it. Lortag might look and act like a mild-mannered old gentleman, but his library gives us an insight into what's going on behind his calm exterior. He's definitely into some weird, indeed disturbing, stuff, as we might expect from a scholar in the Verminpit of Kakhabad. He also has a penchant for role-playing and fantasy fiction, whilst in his quieter moments he enjoys singing Dwarf hymns and reading about cute kittens.

If you happen to have any other ideas about any of these weird and wonderful books titles, do let me know!