Welcome to Harkuna – better known to many as the Fabled Lands. Explored, charted and described between 1995 and 1996 by those wayfarer-troubadours Dave Morris and Jamie Thomson, and then by the intrepid Paul Gresty in the 2010s, these distant lands contain countless legends, quests, stories, rumours and tales.
But even more significant than the adventures that can be enjoyed within them, the lands of Harkuna contain a mechanism of solo roleplaying that was almost entirely new. Their legacy is the ability to explore an entire world within a gamebook, independent of game master or referee, tracking changes and choices with unique items, tickboxes and codewords, moving between volumes, replaying over and over again.
I’ve remapped the locations of the seven currently-published [Dec’ 2023] books of the Fabled Lands and the connections between them, partly to inform the writing of my fourth Steam Highwayman gamebook. These use a scheme originating from Randall Right’s analysis of the Legendary Kingdom series published on Facebook.
In most cases, the background image is the map that was published in colour on the original, large-format books, drawn by Russ Nicholson. Dave Morris has shared images of some of hand-drawn maps that were used to plan the Fabled Lands; and one of these makes a great background for the map of Over the Blood-Dark Sea.
Fabled Lands 1: The War-Torn Kingdom
Sokara, the War-Torn Kingdom, was the first in the Fabled Lands series and there is a fresh simplicity about exploring it. Most locations offer simple compass-point options, and the vast majority of routes are ambi-directional: they can be travelled in either direction without any difference. There is a relatively light density of random encounters (indicated by ?); in most instances, quests and encounters follow active choices within locations, rather than happening to the reader.
Of note is the hill on the Isle of Druids that offers portals to three coastal cities in south Harkuna: these teleport routes are not common in Fabled Lands, and this was their only use within the book.
You might also see that Nerech (the Land of the Manbeasts) is only accessible by travelling to Fabled Lands 4: Plains of Howling Darkness. I suspect that this region was originally to be written into the first book, but the authors may have run out of time. Its treatment in FL4 doesn’t justify the three entry-points, as you may see if you scroll down.
Concerning sea routes, I also find it interesting that there is a link south to III.55 (Over the Blood-Dark Sea) but not to Fabled Lands 6: Lords of the Rising Sun. You can sail from that book back into book one, but not vice-versa.
Fabled Lands 2: Cities of Gold and Glory
Golnir really contrasts with Sokara, just over the River of Souls. While the north is laid out in a similar grid pattern, the rich farmlands of the south are densely packed with visitable locations and routes between them. Many routes are unidirectional and random encounters are scattered liberally over the region, meaning that any session of travelling through Golnir is very likely to be interrupted by an encounter or event that the player did not choose – something that has been very influential on my own gamebook writing.
The picture map is also intentionally inaccurate in at least one detail (not shared here!) and the region in the central southern section labelled the Whistling Heath is infamous as a place where heading west may take you to a location sited to the east: in other words, a nonsensical maze. There are story reasons for this, but it present a problem for anyone trying to map it!
Fabled Lands 3: Over the Blood-Dark Sea
The Violet Ocean connects the lands of the north (Fabled Lands 1, 2 and 5 with volumes 7 (written later) and 6, and also 9 and 11 (unwritten). It looks simple enough, but is complicated by the large number of random events that occur within it and particularly the storms that can redirect your travel from one area to another.
Fabled Lands 4: Plains of Howling Darkness
This is the simplest of the books, yet includes great atmosphere and some intriguing gameplay. Part of the exploration of this region is the compulsory skill rolls – often SCOUTING – that can sap your stamina as you cross the frozen wastes.
This map reveals how Nerech is far smaller on the inside than the outside too.
Fabled Lands 5: The Court of Hidden Faces
The land of Uttaku – or really the lands of Uttaku and Old Harkuna – can be explored in a predictable fashion, with locations relating well to one another. In this region, large areas can be represented by a single passage fewer than 30 words long.
Fabled Lands 6: Lords of the Rising Sun
The printed colour map did not actually include all of the areas that could be explored – hence the composite background. Interestingly, the planning map posted by Dave Morris is restricted only to Yodoshi, Udai and Toho as well – see below.
Fabled Lands 7: The Serpent King’s Domain
Other maps of Harkuna
Megara (?) map c.2018
Planning Map with ornate compass rose, showing planning sea passages (Morris, Thomson and Nicholson)
Planning map of Akatsurai – Fabled Lands 6: Lords of the Rising Sun
The Forest of the Forsaken – a map found in book one, relating to an area of book two. Nice!