Wednesday, 30 July 2014

The geography of Scorpion Swamp

Over to the other side of Khul for a change, to that early Fighting Fantasy adventure location, Scorpion Swamp. Outside of the eighth FF book, the only geographic information we have on this miasmic place is the map of Khul (by Steve Luxton) and a few notes in Titan - The Fighting Fantasy World. Let's see what we can find out about it.

Scorpion Swamp, by the other Steve Jackson, was the second FF book I bought, encouraged as I was by my friends who thought the cover was crap and were worried it was rubbish inside too. It's never been an all-time favourite of mine, but I like it, as much for its old-school charm and non-linear approach (and, as we'll see, its easy mapability). There's not much information about the geography of the swamp and the lands around it in the background and the start of the adventure before you actually enter the swamp, but we know this much:
  • There's a "King's highway" (sic.) with towns along its course (Background).
  • Scorpion Swamp "lies far to the west of the kingdom", and you have to travel a long way to get there: "As you travel further west, the mountains around you turn to hills, the hills to plains, and the plains to damp lowlands". You eventually come to the little town of Fenmarge, on the southern edge of the swamp (para. 1).
  • One of your possible benefactors in the adventure, Poomchukker, tells you that it would save weeks and weeks of time if his caravans could travel through Scorpion Swamp to the town of Willowbend on its northern edge rather than going round it. This suggests that the swamp is vast (para. 173).
In order to say anything more about the geography of the swamp as described in the book, I'm going to have to follow the advice given on pp. 21-22 and do some mapping! It's been a while since I mapped this one out, and I have no idea where my old maps are, so time to have some fun doing it again for the first time in years. Here's the result (obvious spoilers included):

That was fun! Very satisfying seeing all the clearings coming together so nicely. Not exactly a complicated layout, but I think it's effective (if not at all realistic). So what do we learn from this romp through the swamp? Well, here are some points of interest:
  • It takes you a day to travel between Fenmarge and Willowbend, so the distance between them isn't great.
  • The swamp is bisected by the Foulbrood River, which is about 200 metres wide and is crossed by an old stone bridge. Interestingly, the river flows west to east (see paras. 339 and 369).
  • Willowbend is a bustling town with at least three inns in it. It lies north-northwest of Fenmarge.
That's about it for the geography of Scorpion Swamp from the gamebook itself. Let's have a look at what we can learn about the geography of the swamp from Titan - The Fighting Fantasy World. Here's the part of the Khul map that contains Scorpion Swamp:

Scorpion Swamp lies, like a rotten core, in the middle of the civilsed lands of western Khul. To its east are the King's Highway (sic.) and the Mountains of the Giants. The Foulbrood River runs roughly through its middle, from the northeast to the southwest. Fenmarge is at the east-southeast edge of the swamp, and Willowbend is at the west-northwest edge, and a considerable distance lies between the two towns (there's not a big difference between the two of them in a straight line compared with going around the swamp).

Clearly there are things here which don't match the original gamebook (again I'm not blaming anyone for this; in fact I'm glad it's different, otherwise this post wouldn't have to be written!). The swamp isn't in the far west of the kingdom, a long way distant from the mountains (though we can imagine a traveller coming south down the King's Highway past the mountains to the lowlands south of the swamp). Fenmarge and Willowbend are in the wrong positions relative to each other (they should be on a nearly north-south axis), and they are far too far apart considering it only takes a day to get between them (compare the distance to the size of the Inland Sea or Hachiman in the same map in Titan). And of course the orientation and direction of flow of the river are wrong! It should, according to the text in the gamebook, flow in a west-east direction.

I think it's time to revise the Khul map somewhat to bring it closer to the description in the gamebook. There's not much we can do about the direction of flow of the river, and I think we'll have to assume that in a swamp the water might be pretty stagnant and could flow in various directions. But the rest we can fix, to an extent at least. Here's my version of the same area of the map:

In this version of the map, I've changed the positions of Fenmarge and Willowbend to make them the same as the map drawn from the gamebook. I've also put them much closer together, essentially in the fringes of the swamp itself, presumably on drier promentaries. I've slightly widened the swamp in an east-west direction to account for Poomchukker's estimate of how long it takes caravan's to get round it (no doubt he was exaggerating somewhat, and I suspect he had other motives for exploring the swamp too). Finally, I've corrected the course (though not the direction) of the Foulbrood River somewhat to make it fit better with the text of the gamebook. What do you think?

Anyway, there you go. One of the curious things about the gamebook Scorpion Swamp is that it is really the only source of information we have about the civilised western lands of Khul north of Neuburg. However, it can hardly be considered to be typical of those lands! We can assume that most of the evil, nasty things in western Khul have ended up in places like this, where civilsation does not quite reach. The bustling towns of Fenmarge and Willowbend give us a better idea of what these western lands are like, but it would be nice to know more.

Monday, 28 July 2014

The geography of Hachiman

"The world of Titan has three main continents - Allansia, Khakabad [sic.] and Khul, the Dark Continent. It is on the eastern coast of Khul that the lands of Hachiman lie; the sea on one side and mountains on all the others cut Hachiman off from the rest of the continent."

So begins the memorable Background of the twentieth Fighting Fantasy gamebook, Sword of the Samurai (by Mark Smith and Jamie Thomson, published in April 1986). Unfortunately the book didn't come with a map (the first inside cover map didn't appear until three books later, in Masks of Mayhem), so we were, other than for geographical indications in the text of the book itself, left in the dark as to the wider geography of this part of Khul and, in particular, of the geography of Hachiman itself. The geography of places like Konichi, the Shios'ii Mountains, the Hang-Yo and Hiang-Kiang Rivers, the Mizokumo Fens, the Forest of Shadows, and Ikiru's mountain fastness, Onikaru, could only be guessed at. We had to wait until October of the same year to get our first (and so far only) map of this exotic part of the world of Fighting Fantasy. And here's what it looked like (map by Steve Luxton, from Titan - The Fighting Fantasy World, as usual):

Although the only place-name from the adventure to appear on this map is Konichi, it's pretty obvious that the mountains all around Hachiman are the Shios'ii Mountains, the forest is the Forest of Shadows, the marsh is the Mizokumo Fens, and the rivers are the Hang-Yo (to the south of Konichi) and the Hiang-Kiang (running west-east through the country). More detail would have been nice, given the size of the land, but at least it was something.

But on returning to Sword of the Samurai, it was clear that this map of Hachiman wasn't as good as it could have been (I'm not blaming Steve Luxton for this by the way, given the lack of a map in the gamebook and the rather confusing geographical indications in it as to the relative locations of the places). Despite some of the main geographical elements appearing on the map, it simply didn't mesh particularly well with the description of the lay-out of Hachiman in Sword of the Samurai. Let's take a close look at the geographical indications in the book to see what I mean (obvious spoilers ahead!).

  • You start the adventure in the capital, Konichi, and travel north by road through beautiful countryside, soon coming to a fork. You can either head west and north to the Shios'ii Mountains via the Forest of Shadows and Hagakure Bridge, or east to the ford and through the Mizokumo Fens to the mountains (para. 1). This choice is the major split between the two paths in the adventure, and I'll discuss them both in turn.
  • The west and north route is pretty straight forward. You travel for a few days through peaceful countryside (para. 10), before coming to a burning village and Lord Tsietsin's fortified castle, which nestles against the foothills of the southern Shios'ii Mountains (para. 300). Beyond that, the main road runs through a shallow valley before it comes to the large Forest of Shadows, which it passes through (paras. 222, 386).
  • Eventually you come out of the Forest, almost immediately coming to the Hagakure Bridge over the Hiang-Kiang River, beyond which you can see the Shios'ii Mountains on the horizon (para. 82).
  • The journey to the mountains takes some time (you must sleep between Hagakure Bridge and the mountains), with you eventually leaving the road and following a goat track into the mountains towards Ikiru's stonghold, Onikaru (para. 211).
  • The east route is rather more complicated. You begin by following the East Road (the Road of the East Wind) through the civilised, fertile plain of the great Hang-Yo River, before climbing into the uplands and the Charcoal Burners' wood, leaving the river behind (para. 29).
  • From here you can either travel northwest through the Dales of Kanshuro, including the Village of the Undead and the Vale of Tinshu (paras. 197 to 397), or north through the Longhills (paras. 195 to 237).
  • If you travel through the Dales of Kanshuro, you eventually come to the Marcher Lands (para. 397) and then to a low range of hills, beyond which lies a sheer cliff that stretches as far as you can see (para. 381). Realising that you cannot get past this, you 'retrace your steps' to the upper Hiang-Kiang River, before coming, after two days' travel, to a ford over one of the tributaries of the Hiang-Kiang (para. 381).
  • If you go north from the Charcoal Burners' wood, avoiding the Dales of Kanshuro, you travel for two days through the Longhills before coming to the same ford over the tributary of the Hiang-Kiang River (paras. 195-237). It seems likely that this is the same route you take after retracing your steps from the sheer cliff beyond the Dales of Kanshuro.
  • Crossing the Ford of the Kappa, you travel over a ridge of slate hills (para. 335), which afford you a panoramic view of the lands beyond (para. 295). It's worth quoting the text in full here as the description of this bit of Hachiman is very interesting: "The great valley of the lower Hiang-Kiang River lies below you. In the distance lies its delta amid the Spider Fens of Kumo. The Spider Fens are lost in a pall of mist. Knowing that to detour around the enormous delta would take weeks, you set off down the gentle slope of the valley."
  • This journey to the Spider Fens takes you three days across open lawless territory, but entering the Spider (Mizokumo) Fens "will allow you to penetrate deep within Ikiru's territory" (para. 17).
  • The vast Spider Fens themselves consist of marshes and lakes, with ancient paved roads on dykes stretching through the delta (para. 17). Most of the paths through the Fens are treacherous and lead nowhere but the depths of the marshes, but it is possible to cross the Fens, ultimately emerging via another dyke on their north side, at the foot of the Shios'ii Mountains (paras. 285 to 87). From there, you can follow a goat track into the mountains towards Ikiru's fortress.

How does this compare to the map from Titan then? Well, there are a number of problems. Firstly, Konichi is far too close to the Forest and the Fens, which should be much further north, near the mountains. Secondly, the Hiang-Kiang River should, in its lower reaches, form a huge delta (presumably as it approaches the coast), which constitute the Mizokumo Fens. Thirdly, there's a problem with the geography of the Hiang-Kiang River which the map doesn't resolve. On the west and north route, you cross the Hiang-Kiang River via the Hagakure Bridge. The river can only be flowing west to east (or northwest to southeast) here, as the east route takes you to the lower Hiang-Kiang and its delta. On the east route, though, you appear never to cross the Hiang-Kiang itself but only cross a tributary of it as you travel north towards the Fens. It's hard to see how you can cross the Hiang-Kiang going north over the Hagakure Bridge, but only cross a tributary of it going north to the Spider Fens, especially if we try and fit all of this to the course of the river in the Titan map.

One notable long-time fan of the Fighting Fantasy series, Ken Beuden, set himself the task of not only trying to work out the geography of Sword of the Samurai, but also of detailing the rest of Hachiman in a way consistent with what we know about the land from published sources. The following beautiful map, from Ken's website, Fang's Finest Emporium, includes all of the places I've discussed above plus many more that Ken invented for the purposes of 'rebuilding' the word of Titan for the fan community (this was at a time, between the demise of the Puffin range and the production of the Wizard series of the gamebooks, that many fans felt FF to be dead, so that if they wanted to know more about the world of Fighting Fantasy, they would have to invent it themselves). He used the layout of the map from Titan as his starting point.

There are a couple of notable features of this map which relate to the outline of the geography of Sword of the Samurai given above. Firstly, Ken very sensibly locates Lord Tsietsin's fortress at the end of the southern spur of the Shios'ii Mountains that extends eastwards towards the Forest of Shadows in the Titan map. This is a good solution to the location of this fortress at the foothills of the southern Shios'ii (para. 300), even though you are still a long way from Ikiru's stronghold in the same mountain range. Ken also tries to accommodate the Hiang-Kiang delta in the Mizokumo Fens by assuming that the delta is where the Fens are marked in the Titan map and is fed by a number of smaller rivers running westwards from a range of hills. This is one way of imagining the situation, but I don't think it's ideal. The most striking feature of Ken's map, though is how he attempts to resolve the problem with the course of the Hiang-Kiang River itself. In order to explain why you never appear to cross the main course of the Hiang-Kiang, Ken has the river disappearing under the Longhills, into the nicely named 'Caves of the Fragrant Jewels'. In Sword of the Samurai, then, you cross over the river without actually crossing the river, coming to the Ford of the Kappa (which Ken problematically locates within the Spider Fens). This is an ingenious solution, but I think it's a bit unlikely and doesn't, in any case, really fit with the text of Sword of the Samurai, constrained as it is by the problematic layout from the Titan map. Let's look at the text of the gamebook again and see if we can come up with a better solution.

In fact, two other solutions present themselves. One option is that you do in fact cross the Hiang-Kiang (e.g. by bridge), but that it isn't mentioned in the text. This may be hinted at by the description in para. 381, where you retrace your steps to the upper Hiang-Kiang before coming to the tributary. This might possibly be problematic when we consider the location of the Hiang-Kiang delta, further to the north, though it wouldn't be very hard to work out a course of the river that would fit with this. The other solution is that the lower Hiang-Kiang breaks up into many smaller branches in the delta, which you cross without mention via the dykes in the Spider Fens. The tributary wouldn't be a problem in this case, as we could imagine it rising somewhere in the heart of Hachiman, say in the Forest of Shadows, and flowing eastwards to meet the Hiang-Kiang delta further east. In neither case is it necessary to imagine that the Hiang-Kiang conveniently disappears underground for a while.

But in any case, the Titan map doesn't represent the descriptions in the book very well at all. So maybe we need to fix that part of the Khul map, and try out the two solutions just described. Let's start by scratching the problematic detail on the Khul map:

That's better! Now we can start from with a blank slate and try to fix not only the Hiang-Kiang problem but also the other geographical issues.

Let's try solution 1 first - that you do in fact cross the Hiang-Kiang before you get to the Ford of the Kappa and the Fens. I've followed Ken in placing Lord Tsietsin's fortress near the eastward spur of the southern Shios'ii, but have located the Forest of Shadows further north and have combined the Mizokumo Fens with a coastal delta of the Hiang-Kiang River.

Hmm. I'm not convinced, even if the layout in this map isn't optimal. Crossing the Hiang-Kiang, then the Kappa tributary, then coming to the Spider Fens in the Hiang-Kiang delta is messy, and it forces us to shunt the delta so far east that you wonder why it couldn't just be avoided altogether (the sheer cliff is before the Kappa tributary, so it doesn't help). Also, the text suggests (para. 17) that the Fens are near Ikiru's territory. Let's try solution 2 to see if that fares any better.

Now that's more like it, if I may say so myself! I hope you agree. Increasing the size of the Forest of Shadows, and making the Spider (Mizokumo) Fens a huge delta stretching from the Shios'ii Mountains (near Ikiru's stronghold) to the sea fits much better with the book. Moving Konichi further south gives room for the Charcoal Burners' wood and the Dales of Kanshuro too. The bit where you lose your way and back track to the upper Hiang-Kiang is more problematic, but at least it allows us to imagine that you initially headed northwest towards the Forest of Shadows, came to the sheer cliff and then back tracked towards the Dales of Kanshuro and on to the Ford of the Kappa (the tributary flowing east from the Forest). The main civilised area of Hachiman would be in the south and along the course of the Hang-Yo River (which I've put flowing past or through Konichi). What do you think?

So there we have it. I think it is possible to construct a coherent map of the layout of Hachiman based on Sword of the Samurai without resorting to forcing the Hiang-Kiang to flow underground, as long as we're willing to accept that the map in Titan isn't right (I like to imagine that Titan was written by a scribe in Salamonis based on the best information (s)he had - and not all of it was right!).

There are still a few other parts of Khul that could do with further exploration - I'll return with some more geographical analysis soon.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Central northern Khul

While I wait for my visa to visit Hachiman (it's taken a while, I know, but it is a closed country), I thought I'd quickly revisit central northern Khul just to sketch out a few further geographical details, bearing in mind what I said about traders and slavers travelling between the Parine valley and Arkand in the south and Ashkyos and Gundobad in the north. In the following map, I've added details from the black and white map in Master of Chaos, and I've suggested locations for the Isle of Orcmoot and the Kingdom of Peleus from Clash of the Princes

I can imagine there are two main routes across this part of Khul. The first would skirt through the Wastes of Qor and around the worst parts of the Wastes of Chaos, making for Rahasta, then Ashkyos and Gundobad. This could only be a harsh route, but it is more direct and avoids traders having to pass through Arkand, which might be to their advantage tax-wise. The other route would be north from Arkand, either via Rahasta or, more likely, to the bay south of Corda (or even to Corda itself), then across the Battlegrounds to Ashkyos and Gundobad. This looks like the safer route, and is likely to be the route for trade to Arion, but it is longer and who knows what dangers lurk in the Battlegrounds.