Tuesday, May 13, 2008
REH, Pulp and Me
Most of you probably share with me a love of pulp fantasy in the Howard style. I find it rather interesting that most of the Grognards I rub elbows with across the interweb probably fall into the Howard camp more so than the Tolkien camp. D&D, of course, doesn't fall into any camp, and it's literary influences were simply generic fantasy as a whole. It took a bit from Tolkien, a bit from Vance, a bit from Howard, a bit from DeCamp, a bit from Leiber, a bit from Anderson, etc. All of these little bits blended together to form a somewhat generic milieu intended to get the creative juices flowing for other aspiring referees who also might want to host fantastic medieval wargames.
What we ended up with, ultimately, in AD&D, was an all-inclusive generic fantasy setting which eventually became the default D&D worlds, inspired by Gygax's Greyhawk, and later, Greenwood's Forgotten Realms. I'm a big fan of Greyhawk, and I appreciate the Forgotten Realms, but at the end of the day, both are somewhat generic melting pot settings of fantasy inspiration. This is not a knock on either, just an observation that both share many accepted D&D standards.
In the past, many game designers, authors and individual fans of particular settings and styles have indeed taken up the torch and molded D&D into more narrow settings. For example, the very first D&D game I ever played (not refereed) was a home brewed OD&D LBB campaign that was all Tolkien, all the time. It was a helluva lotta fun. Clearly, because I am still playing this silly game 30 years later, and can even recall quite clearly those first sessions.
Recently, I have rediscovered my fondness of Robert E. Howard, thanks in no small part to Del Rey books and their reissuing of Howard’s works in their original state. It began in 2003 with The Coming of Conan The Cimmerian. Recently I started reading the sixth such book in the series, Kull: Exile of Atlantis. I read (and reread) the three Conan books; The Coming, as well as The Bloody Crown of Conan and The Conquering Sword of Conan. I also thoroughly enjoyed Bran Mak Morn: The Last King, and The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane. I highly recommend ALL of these excellent volumes. I purchased all but Kull, which I grabbed at Borders a few days ago, from Amazon.com.
Back in the day, I loved the chronological Conan Del Rey paperbacks. It was great fun collecting them and reading them, and (in case you haven’t noticed) I love Frank Frazetta’s art. At the time, I didn’t realize that most of the stories within that long running series were not even written by Howard. Now, in reading these original works, it’s quite clear which of the stories were actually Howard’s own. They jump off the page and crackle with raw, visceral energy. I’m a huge fan of DeCamp, too, but he could never quite do Conan justice. In the end, the DeCamp and Carter fillers simply detracted from the real Howard stories. DeCamp was at his best with his Harold Shea series with Pratt. But that’s a topic for another post.
The new series presents Howard’s work in the order in which the stories were written, and makes no efforts to fill in the gaps or ghost write anything to make it into a complete life and times of Conan. If you aren’t familiar with the real Conan by REH, do yourself a big favor and read The Coming of Conan The Cimmerian. I’d bet that you’ll end up reading all six books. (Del Rey is also publishing other pulp works by REH, I think it’s his Westerns and Boxing stuff. If it’s REH, it’s probably good. But knowing what I know about REH, S&S was his love, the other stuff paid the bills).
This brings me to my recent interest in pursuing how I might incorporate my love of REH (and Lovecraft, too) pulp fiction into my D&D games. My two major side projects right now, No Future and Project X, are basically my dream of somehow blending REH and HPL into an OD&D campaign setting.
All of this has also led me to download and print an awesome stripped down version of TSR’s mid 80's Conan RPG called ZeFRS.
It might be just what the doctor ordered to plug into my No Future setting. But, on the other hand, you know as well as I do that I’ll end up opening my little tool-kit with those LBB and making my own house rules for D&D in a grim, gritty, low magic setting. If I can ever get my hands on the actual TSR game:
I'd be one happy fanatic.
~Sham, Quixotic Referee