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Fabled Lands

Fabled Lands is the name of a series of fantasy gamebooks written by established gamebook authors Dave Morris and Jamie Thomson and published by Pan Books, a division of Macmillan in the mid 90s. Cover art was by Kevin Jenkins with Russ Nicholson providing maps and illustrations.

Originally planned as a twelve-book series, only six were released between 1995 and 1996 before the series was cancelled. The first two books were also printed under the name Quest in the U.S. by publishers Price Stern Sloan.

Overview

The books deviated from other mainstream gamebooks (such as the Fighting Fantasy or Lone Wolf series) in a number of ways. The most notable of these was the open-ended, free roaming gameplay. Other gamebooks gave the character a set quest, with some leniency in how they went about accomplishing it; when they completed the quest, the gamebook ended. The Fabled Lands series gave the player an entire fantasy world to roam around in, doing whatever they wished with no limits or linearity; there was no set quest and there is no way to "finish" the series (unless the player dies). There are hundreds of quests in the six books that were published, some extremely long and some very short. The player is free to pursue these at his leisure, or spend his time doing entirely different things - wandering, trading, exploring or building up his abilities.

Each book contained a different geographic area of the Fabled Lands, and the player could easily travel between regions by switching to another book. The books became increasingly difficult as they progressed, with tougher enemies and harder quests; this was to account for the player becoming more powerful as they went through each book.

Other differences between previous gamebook series included:

  • A greater number of sections, 679 to 786
  • Large (A4) format with fold-out character sheet and colour map
  • Open-ended trade via marketplace goods, investment or shipping
  • Acquisition of large assets such as houses and ships
  • Plot discovery through use of uncovered keywords

Although the final six books in the series have never been published (or even written), Dave Morris has indicated in the past that he is interested in reviving the series:

I'd love to complete the series. It would take some time to get back into the flow of it, but I still have our (very extensive) notes. I would think the first step might be to set up books 1-6 as Web pages and see what kind of interest they generated. This, I think, is a better format for gamebooks now - we are no longer in the era of the printed word. If that worked out, and the net publisher could set up a subscription system, I think Fabled Lands and many other gamebook series could enjoy quite a renaissance.

System

The Fabled Lands system was fairly simple, as with most other gamebooks. The player has six basic attributes:

  • CHARISMA - the knack of befriending and impressing people; also represents bardic skills
  • COMBAT - fighting skills
  • MAGIC - the art of casting spells
  • SANCTITY - the gift of divine power and wisdom
  • SCOUTING - the techniques of tracking and wilderness lore
  • THIEVERY - the talent for stealth, agility and lockpicking

The player's initial score in each of these six attributes is determined by their chosen profession. There are six different professions to choose from: Warrior, Mage, Priest, Rogue, Troubadour and Wayfarer (a wandering traveller, most similar to Rangers in other fantasy systems). Each profession is proficient or weak in different abilities; for example, Priests have high SANCTITY but low COMBAT scores, and Wayfarers have high SCOUTING but low CHARISMA scores. The player has opportunities to increase these abilities throughout the books by completing quests. For example, after successfully tracking down a wild boar in a forest, the player can roll two dice, and if they score higher than their SCOUTING ability they can increase it by 1. No ability can be raised higher than 12, or drop below 1.

When the player is given the opportunity to use an ability, the task is given a Difficulty rating. The player rolls two dice and adds their score in the ability; to succeed in the task, they must score higher than the ability. For example, a player wishes to calm down an angry innkeeper. This might have a CHARISMA score of 9, and the player's CHARISMA ability is 3. The player would have to roll 7 or higher to succeed. It is possible to obtain "blessings" in various abilities from different shrines and temples, which allow the player to reroll failed ability rolls. These work once only, however, and cost money.

Combat in the Fabled Lands is an extension of ability rolls; the enemy's DEFENCE is the Difficulty, and the player uses their COMBAT skill to try and defeat their opponent. The amount the player rolls above the enemy's DEFENCE is how many Stamina points the enemy loses.

The player's own DEFENCE score is equal to their Rank + their COMBAT score + the bonus for any armour they are wearing (if any). Their own Stamina score is given when they begin playing, and can be increased by going up in Rank (which gives them 1d6 Stamina).

The player's starting Rank is equal to the number of the book they begin in (i.e. a player starting in The War-Torn Kingdom begins at 1st Rank, while a player starting in Lords of the Rising Sun begins at 6th Rank). The player can increase Rank by performing extremely difficult taks, such as slaying a dragon or defeating three samurai in unarmed combat (the book will tell the player when they can increase in Rank).

The player can carry up to 12 possessions, which are marked in bold text (i.e. gold compass). Some items give ability bonuses - for example, an amber wand (MAGIC +1) or a set of splint armour (DEFENCE + 4). The player can carry unlimited amounts of cash.

The series feature a number of smaller quests, which can help the player increase his personal might, status and wealth. Many of these, however, are profession-specific: In the War-Torn Kingdom, for instance, only a Wayfarer will get the Chief Druid's mission on the Druid's Isle, while in The Plains of Howling Darkness only a Rogue may claim the title of 'Nightstalker'.

Books

1. The War-Torn Kingdom

Sokara, a nation at war with itself

Set in the land of Sokara, shortly after a civil war in which the king was overthrown in a military coup. This background provides the book's two major quests; the player can choose to either help the heir to the throne and his band of partisans regain power, or assist the new leader General Grieve Marlock in crushing the last few pockets of resistance.

Other quests involve assassinating the king of the rat-men infesting the sewers in the city of Yellowport, looting treasure from the lair of Vayss the Sea Dragon, delivering packages between the druids of the City of Trees and the Forest of Larun, defeating the Black Dragon Knight in combat to the death and rescuing a trapped god from the summit of Devil's Peak.

679 sections, ISBN 0-330-33614-2

2. Cities of Gold and Glory

Golnir, a wealthy land steeped in curious folklore

Set in the prosperous kingdom of Golnir, wealthy from its rich agriculture. A common complaint readers had about the second book was that it was far more difficult to find quests than in the first book. There are still several major quests, however, including slaying a dragon for the Baroness Ravayne (the ruler of Golnir), searching for magical artefacts for the wizard Estragon, bringing to justice a murderer on behalf of his victim's ghost, finding the key of stars to gain access to a treasure filled tomb in the Forbidden Forest and making a map of the northern mountains.

The quests in the second book have a more whimsical, fairytale nature to them than those in the first book. This gives Golnir a very strong Merry England atmosphere.

786 sections, ISBN 0-330-33615-0

3. Over the Blood-Dark Sea

Swashbucking adventure on the high seas

Set in the Violet Ocean, which separates the northern continent of Harkuna from the southern continent of Ankon-Konu. Travel is severely restricted without a ship, making it a difficult book to start off in, particularly for less experienced gamebook readers. Over the Blood-Dark Sea is also one of the first in the series to feature regular danger - the player is almost always at risk of pirates, storms and even sea monsters.

Key quests include assassinating Amcha, king of the pirates, enrolling at a wizard's college in the city of Dweomer to learn magic, searching for buried treasure on hidden islands and climbing the enormous mountain on Starspike Island.

718 sections, ISBN 0-330-34172-3

4. The Plains of Howling Darkness

The desolate wastes of the Great Steppes

Set in the Great Steppes, an environment of grasslands, plains and tundra similar to Siberia and Mongolia. Key quests include liberating the Citadel of Veris Corin for the King of Sokara (closely linked with quests in The War-Torn Kingdom), releasing the King of Harkuna from his prison underneath the Rimewater (closely linked with quests in The Court of Hidden Faces) and killing the immortal tyrant Kaschuf (based on the legend of Koschei the Deathless) who rules over the village of Vodhya (which requires the player to find and release his soul, hidden on an island in Over The Blood-Dark Sea).

This was the first book in the series to introduce the concept of a harsh environment - out on the Steppes, the player must make constant SCOUTING rolls in order to find enough food, and on the northern steppes the player loses one point of stamina a day from the cold, unless they have a wolf pelt to keep warm.

710 sections, ISBN 0-330-34173-1

5. The Court of Hidden Faces

Exotic intrigue in Uttaku and Old Harkuna

Set in the nation of Uttaku (similar to the Byzantine Empire), which is occupying the kingdom of Old Harkuna (similar to the lands of Arthurian legend). If the player frees the king of Old Harkuna from his prison in The Plains of Howling Darkness, the king can reclaim his land, end the Uttaku occupation and restore prosperity. There is also an abandoned castle in Harkuna which the player can rebuild and claim for himself. Most other major quests involve undertaking tasks for the Uttakin government (the titular Court).

The book takes its title from Uttaku's court of ruling nobles, who wear elaborate masks to hide their faces. The king himself is born without a face at all.

723 sections, ISBN 0-330-34431-5

6. Lords of the Rising Sun

Imperial Akatsurai, land of samurai and ninja

Set in a land which is an obvious parallel of Imperial Japan. Much like The War Torn Kingdom, a revolution is occurring. The self-proclaimed Shogun Yoritomo has declared himself in charge of the eastern seaboard, while the old Emperor Kiyomori remains in control of the western seaboard, and the country is on the brink of a civil war. Although the player can undertake quests for both sides of the revolution, the two forces never actually begin war as they do in the first book.

Other major quests involving retrieving a tatsu pearl from a great dragon, exploring Kwaidan Forest to learn the secrets of the tengu, and venturing into the Black Pagoda.

750 sections, ISBN 0-330-34430-7

7. The Serpent King's Domain

The lost tribes of the Feathered Lands

This book was never published, but it would have been set in the jungles of the southern continent of Ankon-Konu, a land similar to Africa or South America.

8. The Lone and Level Sands

The harsh deserts of western Ankon-konu

This book was never published, but it would have been set in the Desert of Bones, in Ankon-Konu. This presumably would have been the Fabled Lands' equivalent of the Sahara. It also featured the Blue Grasslands, which according to information in the first six books is populated by blue-skinned nomads and tribes like the Golden men and their flying arks. Other locations would have been the City of Stargazers, and the Country of the Hidden Ones - judging from information in the first six books, and the names on the map, it would have been similar to the Himalayan countries of Nepal, Tibet and Bhutan.

The phrase 'the lone and level sands' appears in Shelley's poem Ozymandias.

9. The Isle of a Thousand Spires

Chrysoprais and the Sea of Stilts

This book was never published, but it would have been set (as the subtitle implies) in the western locations of Chrysoprais and the Sea of Stilts.

Chrysoprais presumably would have been very similar to India; the names on the maps have an Indian flavour (for example, the Crimson Fort rather than the Red Fort). Also, a few clues are left in the first six books regarding the culture of Chrysoprais - for example, in the Japanese-inspired land of Akatsurai featured in Lords of the Rising Sun, there is a religion following the "Sage of Peace" which is clearly based on Buddhism. If the player fails in a quest relating to the Sage of Peace, they can travel west to "the saint of Vulture Peak" (found in Chrysoprais) to seek redemption and enlightenment. This suggests that people in both Chrysoprais and Akatsurai worship the Sage of Peace; in real life, Buddhism originated in India and later spread to Japan.

10. Legions of the Labyrinth

Philosopher kings of the west

This book was never published, but would have been set in the western lands of Atticala. Atticala was clearly inspired by Ancient Greece; the map of the Fabled Lands reveals this, as many of the towns have Greek-sounding names and are symbolised by Greek architecture.

The name 'Atticala' is also similar to 'Attica', a region of Greece.

11. The City in the Clouds

Danger in the heart of a vast metropolis

This book was never published, but was to have been set in the city of Dangor in the mysterious "Forbidden Realm." It is not known how the book would have been structured to fit within a single city - all other Fabled Lands books were spread over an entire landscape, with many cities and towns in between.

Very little is known about Dangor, except that it is situated at the top of cliffs hundreds of metres high called "The Golden Cliffs." Dangor's harbour is apparently at the very top of these cliffs, with the rest of the city. In Over The Blood Dark Sea, the player can read the account of a Sokaran sailor in the library of Dweomer. He recounts of how his ship waited for three days at the bottom of the cliffs, while a mountain climber took their documents to the port authorities above. When all was found to be in order, "grapples were lowered and secured and the whole vessel was winched up to the docks a thousand feet above."

12. Into the Underworld

The ultimate journey

This book was never published, but it would have been set in the underworld of the Fabled Lands. Whether the authors intended for this to be a series of caves and caverns or a literal Hell (or both) is uncertain; there are many entrances to the twelfth book throughout the first six. Some of these are through caves and tunnels, while others are through magical gateways, by falling off the edge of the world (in both of these instances the player is told that they will arrive in "Hell"), or even board a ship in a celestial harbor.

A series of magical gateways found throughout the books allows the player to travel instantaneously to the many cities of the Fabled Lands, including those in books that were never published. One of these was called "Erebus" and sent the player to the twelfth book. In Greek mythology, Erebus was a god associated with the underworld.

See also

References

External links

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