The Fabled Lands is a series of Gamebooks that were written by Dave Morris and Jamie Thomson. It was first released in the mid-nineties, and, to this day, is probably the most elaborate gamebook series ever written.
It differed from other gamebooks (at the time) by presenting a Wide Open Sandbox filled with numerous quests and places to explore. Each book covers one region that makes up the titular "Fabled Lands", and all of the books were connected so you could literally cross the border from one book to the next with the same character. While the "level" of the books scales upwards from Book 1 onwards, there is nothing preventing you from travelling between the books in any order you wished. A vast array of "keywords" memorises the quests you are on and the things you have accomplished, allowing the world to change according to your actions.
For example, you can choose to help a deposed king reclaim his throne, or you can assassinate him in the name of the new regime. You can climb the dizzying social circles of a mask-wearing theocracy, play the stock market for massive profit, or even buy your own ship and make a living as a merchant by buying low and selling high. The sheer volume of options in the game is what makes Fabled Lands stand out as a series.
The complexity of gameplay falls somewhere between Fighting Fantasy and Dungeons & Dragons. There are six stats (Charisma, Combat, Magic, Sanctity, Scouting and Thievery) to keep track of, with skill checks and fight scenes requiring (at most) two six-sided dice. There are also six character classes to choose from (Warrior, Mage, Priest, Rogue, Troubadour and Wayfarer), which determine your starting statistics and influence some quests. As the adventure unfolds, you increase your power in three main ways: finding better equipment (most equipment offers a boost to one stat), increasing your Rank (a rough equivalent to "character level") by completing major quests or overcoming exceptional trials, and increasing your basic stats through training or the completion of minor quests and challenges.
However, since this was a gamebook series created in the Nineties, it can also be extremely Nintendo Hard, with many choices leading you straight to an early grave and others offering a single dice roll between safety or the dreaded "You are dead" page. The game does offer limited help in the form of Blessings (which allow you to reroll a failed skill check) and Resurrection Deals (Exactly What It Says on the Tin) from temples, but they are pricey. And then there are moments when the Random Number God decides to burn down your town house and ruin all of your stored possessions.
Unfortunately, Morris and Thomson underestimated the production costs, and only six of a planned twelve books were ever published. However, There Was Much Rejoicing when this was announced, and now the prospect of having the series Uncancelled is a very real possibility... if the reprints of the first six books sell well enough.
In July 2015 a Kickstarter campaign to fund Book 7 (The Serpent King's Domain) was launched here. The kickstarter was successful and The Serpent King's Domain was released in February 2018, largely authored by Paul Gresty working with the notes created by Morris and Thomson.
A free Java version of the first six books is also available here, with the blessings of the original authors.
In 2011, a Tabletop RPG based on the series was released. The RPG features slightly expanded rules and a series of supplements detailing the various lands. The first (about Sokara) has since been published.
The Fabled Lands provides examples of the following tropes:
- Absurdly Low Level Cap: The earlier books had a level cap of 10. The later books did away with the cap.
- An Adventurer Is You: You can choose your name, gender and class, or take a pick from one of six pre-defined characters.
- Army Scout: If the player ends up Made a Slave by the Uttakin, one of the tasks they can be assigned is as a scout to a slave army. The player has the option of scouting an enemy force or escaping to freedom. Completing the assigned task will boost your scouting skill.
- Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: If you have the "Chosen One of Negal" title, then Book 4 can give you the opportunity to become the right-hand man to the god of death himself. All things considered, it's one of the better "Game Over" scenes you can get.
- The Blank:
- The leader of Uttaku, in The Court of Hidden Faces, is whoever is born without a face, once a generation.
- You can also lose your face at one point. Surprisingly, this doesn't affect anything in Uttaku...
- Call-Back: The pregen wizard character for the third book is the villain from Morris's earlier The Temple of Flame.
- Canon Immigrant: The Keep of the Lich-Lord, originally a Fighting Fantasy novel, has been reprinted in the Fabled Lands setting; and can be used as an opening quest.
- Characterisation Marches On: In the original gamebooks, Grieve Marlock comes across as a brutal dictator; the RPG gives him a much more sympathetic light as a man of honour and genuine patriotism while the Royalists are treated less sympathetically turning the Sokaran Civil War from Black and White Morality to Grey and Grey Morality.
- Class and Level System: Kind of, you can choose a class at the beginning of your play-through, and each one is initially better at something then the other. While any class can max out all stats, certain quests are restricted to specific classes; For example, the Lauria questline is exclusive to Rogues. You have a sort of level, or Rank; there's no Experience Points system, but certain specific achievements or victories grant you a rank increase or the chance thereof. Of course, there are certain Random Encounters (such as battles with pirates) that cause this, allowing for Level Grinding by just going back and forth.
- Corrupt Church: The Church of Ebron, which controls the nation of Uttaku. Their religion basically states that the rich and powerful are the most blessed of Ebron. As a result, the upper echelons have become bloated with their own personal power, funnelling wealth from the poor to the rich and arresting anyone who displeases them for "heresy". The rules of the religion themselves are so complex and numerous as to be compared to a game of Calvinball, and while nobles are not completely immune to the scriptures, you essentially become above the law if you climb up the hierarchy high enough.
- Creator Cameo: Morris and Thompson themselves appear alongside the premade characters in each book with parody biographies, inventories, and backstories to go with them.
- Cult: You encounter a rather messed-up one in The War-Torn Kingdom. Given the nature of the gameplay, you can either fight them or become a member.
- Deadly Decadent Court: The Court of Hidden Faces, from the book of the same name is this taken to the extreme.
- Death Is Cheap: It certainly is if you remember to pay for a resurrection (which is only cheap if your patron god is the god of death or war. And if you've remembered to leave some money aside to pay for all the equipment you just lost. Hmmmm.... maybe it's not that cheap after all). If you only fly what you can afford to lose, and don't rely on unique items, it's cheap (in fact, some strategies use death as a quick ticket back to Yellowport). If not, Continuing Is Painful.
- Developers' Foresight: If you have the title Saviour of Vervayens, they'll give you certain items for free at their market. Attempt to sell these free items back to them and they'll run you out of town.
- Digital Piracy Is Evil: Notably averted by the free Java based version of the books, which were given the OK by the original writers.
- Disc-One Nuke: The starting Rank and stats scale with the books, so if you begin your quest in a high-level region and then immediately move to a low-level region, it makes the game easier.
- In Book 4, a starting character can get themselves kidnapped by the Trau by going to the Gemstone Hills (right outside the starting area), passing a simple Magic skill check (which can be repeated if failed) and then failing a average Sanctity check. The character loses all of their items (which shouldn't matter for a new character) but gets incredibly useful items in return, including a wolf pelt (essential for that region), a decent amount of cash, a chunk of selenium ore (which can be traded for a +4 Magic wand) and an incredibly rare key that opens up warp gates across the world.
- But wait, it gets better! By wandering west from the starting city, a character has a small chance of running into a satyr. Getting kidnapped again (by failing an incredibly tough Magic check) will again lead to you losing all of your possessions but getting incredibly useful ones in return, including two uncommon items you can use to complete a quest in the starting city, which in turn reveals the quest that lets you trade in the selenium ore for the wand. In short, getting kidnapped is great!
- Less dramatically, players starting in The War-Torn Kingdom are highly advised to make Yellowport their first destination and immediately perform the quest to slay a nearby dragon. It can be accomplished in an extremely small number of steps, is very easy (even for the weakest starting characters), and finishing it gives you just enough money to get yourself seriously started as an adventurer. It's all but the official tutorial quest of the game.
- Distressed Damsel
- Early Game Hell: Oh boy. No matter which book you start on, you will begin with almost no money, basic level equipment and average-at-best stats. The hardest part is locating the quests that give you a foothold into the world, and even those are susceptible to bad dice rolling.
- The High King is loosely based on King Arthur.
- Kaschuf the Deathless is loosely based on Koschei.
- The Fair Folk: Messing with faeries is a very bad idea, most of the time.
- Fantasy Character Classes: Your choices at the beginning of the game are...
- Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Each book focused on a particular culture, most of which were heavily influenced by a specific real world culture:
- Golnir, from the second book is Ye Olde Merry England, with dragons and knights.
- While not a country per se, the Great Steppes from The Plains of Howling Darkness are based on Siberia and Mongolia, with Mongols that are actually an outcast Akatsurese tribe.
- Uttaku is the Byzantine Empire, but with loads more backstabbing, a fundamentalist religion, and a court society based on masks.
- Akatsurai is feudal Japan (specifically, the late Heian period and the Genpei War), complete with samurai.
- Sokara is a fantasy medieval version of the English Civil War, with a military dictator and the rightful heir to the throne in hiding.
- Atticala was going to be based upon ancient Greece, while the Feathered Lands were going to be based on several South American cultures.
- Fantasy Pantheon: Different cultural areas worship different gods, though given only the first six books were published we only get a few mentions of some pantheons. The Harkunan pantheon worshiped in Sokara, Golnir and Old Harkuna (and a few more distant enclaves) has elements of Ancient Greek, Norse and Celtic mythology and is led by a Zeus like deity named Elnir. The Akatasurai pantheon is based on Shintoism. The Uttakuns are monotheistic and follow the god Ebron.
- Girl in the Tower
- Global Currency: Shards.
- Global Currency Exception: The Fair Folk trade in Mithrals, the currency of the Underworld. It's possible to trade items for Mithrals at Fairfolk markets in Golnir. Of course, you'll want to have some on you before leaving or you'll end up stuffed into a bag and buried.
- Grey and Grey Morality: Neither the rightful heir to the throne nor the upstart dictator of Sokara are completely blameless, and the choice between them is actually a rather complicated one. The rightful heir is, obviously, "rightful" - that is, if you're a believer in monarchy. He's also idealistic and compassionate... and, it is implied, rather spineless as well and not above acting quite villainously when it suits him. The dictator, meanwhile, may be a bloody handed, iron fisted tyrant but he's also a very effective one (the old "...but the trains run on time" argument) and unlike the prince, he wears his beliefs on his sleeve. Furthermore: it is implied that much of the population actually prefers him on the throne, once again leading to the player having to question whether it's really okay for someone to rule just because they were born to the right man whilst a better qualified one exists.
- Oddly the 2011 Tabletop RPG shifts this into Black and White Morality in Marlock's favour. The dictator is given a very sympathetic backstory as a honourable patriot and elements that showed his more brutal side, such as corruption and bullying by his soldiers and the sack of the city of Trefoile are either eliminated entirely or retconned to make Marlock look better. In contrast the king Marlock overthrew is made seem even worse by implying he killed his father and sister and the rightful heir is left a cipher whose personality is not even described.
- Guide Dang It!: Getting Savior of Vervayens Isle requires starting in the correct book (which is a bad idea unless you're specifically going for the title, due to the difficulty of travel if you're unprepared) and getting exactly the right rolls to land on the island and save it.
- A Homeowner Is You:
- You can buy a townhouse in each town. They're susceptible to random events, though.
- You can even get your own castle in Book 5.
- Hub City: Most players make Yellowport their main base of operations. It's an extremely safe and central location, and it's one of the only places where you can both stash items in complete safety and have them readily available if you're resurrected.
- Ideal Illness Immunity: The Immunity To Disease/Poison blessing. It's absolutely essential to have this blessing, given how many things can kill you by infecting your wounds.
- Implacable Man: Kaschuf. He's not called the Deathless for nothing.
- In Medias Res:
- You start off on a boat, in the middle of the sea, without any water or food left, when suddenly you see land! You manage to crash there, and begin your adventure.
- Except for Book 6, where you're revived after almost drowning with no memories and only the clothes on your back and an earring.
- Infinity +1 Sword: The White Sword of Nagil, which adds a whopping +8 to your Combat skill. As an added bonus, it can never be lost through robbery, imprisonment or death.
- Karl Marx Hates Your Guts: Completely averted. Prices can differ depending on where you buy your items, allowing you to play merchant by buying low and selling high. This is especially true if you buy a cargo ship. The quests you complete can also affect the economy, and more often than not you can get a Hero Discount by performing good deeds.
You can even engage in a bit of evil market manipulation. There is a lake which has been frozen with a curse, and the Uttaku have set up a mining operation since the magical ice melts incredibly slowly and can be used to cool drinks. You can buy satchels of this ice and then sell it in the Uttaku capital for a modest profit. Your best move is to stock up on rime ice, and then melt the lake by lifting the curse. After this, the price of rime ice soars in the capital and you can make an absolute killing.
- Killed Off for Real: There are places where you are killed in such a way that you cannot be resurrected. More often, you're just permanently sealed in a can somewhere, and nobody ever comes to release you.
- Knighting: The player can attain the title of Paladin Of Ravayne for slaying a dragon (or at least providing a dragon's head, which is available at some markets).
- Level Grinding: There are some areas where you can go back and forth to find encounters that provide increased Rank, money (or stuff to sell for money), or increases to your stats. Most players look down on excessively grinding infinite loops, however; the point of the game is to get out there, adventure, and experience the Fabled Lands rather than get yourself repeatedly sold into slavery to pump up your muscles. To be fair, Stat Grinding is extremely limited, as the game's rules only allow each of the six stats to go to a maximum of 12. Defence, however, is linked to level, so Level Grinding will increase that as much as desired.
- Level Scaling: Each book has progressively harder encounters than the last one. A specific example is a dragon that you can slay in book one - at which point you could head to the west and into book two, and within three page selections of your dragon slaying encounter an "enraged bull" that poses a far greater challenge.
- Though the Bull is harder then some of the fights in later books too.
- Permanently Missable Content: Almost anything can be lost permanently, so don't get too attached to your awesome equipment. A special prize, however, goes to the Savior of Vervayens Isle title; you can only get it if you start off in Book 3, and only if you're dumped on the isle by the Random Number God. If you don't get it then, you'll never get it.
- Made a Slave:
- You can be enslaved in Uttaku for any number of reasons. It can actually be of benefit, as you can be assigned to a task that will increase one of your stats.
- You can do this to Lauria as revenge.
- Mundane Utility: In the steppes, there is a lake that was cursed to be permanently frozen solid, in order to keep the settings King Arthur expy sealed away beneath it. So what do the Uttaku do? Set up a mining operation, of course, where they carve out chunks of the unmelting ice and export it so the nobles back home can use it to keep cool.
- Our Dragons Are Different: Several different types including "generic" firebreathing, flying western dragons, sea dragons and (in Akatsurai) oriental style dragons. At least some of them are intelligent and capable of speech.
- Pirate: Pirates are a common enough occurance, especially along the Violet Ocean. Sea battles are a good way to level up and upgrade your crew. The player can become a pirate in one particular questline.
- Rat Men: The sewers beneath Yellowport are home to a colony of Rat Men. They are pretty cowardly creatures individually but are more dangerous in numbers and their king is a tough fighter, at least against a beginning character.
- The Rival: In Book 1, you can gain one in the form of a career rogue called Lauria by agreeing to help her case the mansion of a powerful wizard. If you do so, then you can encounter her multiple times throughout the various books, usually when she has another scheme in motion.
- Scenery Porn
- Sealed Good in a Can: You might free a few (the High King is a notable example). You might even become one. If you're lucky, a hero will come along to rescue you eventually. If not, you'll end up Killed Off for Real.
- Soul Jar: Kaschuf's soul is sealed into a locket that's buried on an island in the Violet Ocean. Opening it is the key to defeating him for good.
- Storming the Castle: At one point in an inter-book quest, you have to help the rightful heir to the throne take an important castle, that is stopping his army from attacking. Kind of subverts this though, as the only way for you to get into the castle is to sneak in, then let some other characters storm it for you.
- To Hell and Back: It's entirely possible to get on the ship of the death god, of course you can only leave if your patron god is that of death or war. If not, well, you're dead. There was also supposed to be a whole book dedicated to exploring the underworld, and you could find entrances to it throughout the world. Sadly, the series ended before it got that far.
- Uncancelled: The first 6 books have been republished! And, if sales go well, we'll be getting All 12!!! Read more about it here.
- Vestigial Empire: Uttaku.
- Villain Protagonist: The pregen wizard character for Over the Blood Dark Sea is the villain from one of the Golden Dragon Fantasy Gamebooks.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: General Grieve Marlock is seen as this. While his regime is seen as a brutal dictatorship, he overthrew a king that was corrupt and neglected the people.
- When Trees Attack: The Red Garden, Uttaku's execution grounds. You'll probably find yourself there several times if you go to Uttaku. It's actually not as dangerous as the Uttakin think it is.
- Warp Whistle: You can find several, but they're usually rewards from important quests.
- Wide Open Sandbox: Compared to other gamebooks, heck, compared to some video games, this series is huge, with six different, but interconnected countries, you could do whatever you wanted to pretty much. Considering that the creators originally planned twelves books, this could have been much bigger... and might still be yet.
- Wizarding School: Dweomer in Book 3 has a college for mages that the player can join to improve their magical skills and obtain some quests. Prospective candidates should not have too high a Sanctity skill when applying for the college, as being too pious is seen as a detriment to the pursuit of magical studies. Passing the Sanctity check during the application process will result in the player failing the entrance exam and being teleported straight to Smogmaw.
- Wretched Hive: Smogmaw. Think a tropical fantasy version of Mos Eisley.