Friday, January 22, 2010

R.E. Howard: a commemoration

Today (22 January) is the anniversary of the birth of Robert E. Howard author of the Conan, Kull and Solomon Kane stories among many others. He was a prolific pulp author in the 1920s and 30s till his suicide in 1936, with his output including westerns, comedy and horror stories as well as his better known fantasy works.

I've been a reader of his stories for many years, primarily Conan and Kull but also Solomon Kane and the horror fiction. Though he was a correspondent of H.P. Lovecraft and wrote stories that do fit into Lovecraft's Yog-Sothothery (as HPL called the Cthlulhu Mythos, such as the Black Stone, he had a very different authorial style. For example the protagonists of Pigeons from Hell or Worms of the Earth react by struggling against the supernatural more than say the protagonist of The Hound or the Color out of Space. To be fair not all Lovecraftian heroes are inactive, but it is a different style of storytelling between the two authors.

Personally I do enjoy Howard's writing and what I'd describe as its percussive rhythms and spare descriptions. My favourite stories are probably Red Nails, Queen of the Black Coast, People of the Black Circle, Jewels of Gwalhur, Mirrors of Tizun Thune and Worms of the Earth.

Howard has been an important influence on Fantasy fiction and role playing games with the films of Conan starring Arnold Schwarzenegger having made his most famous character part of mainstream culture.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A World lit only by Fear! Part 1 Cthulhu Dark Ages

I've decided on this title for a series of blog posts about roleplaying in the dark ages and middle ages particularly on the theme of horror roleplaying.

Cthulhu Dark Ages is a product that I've not really had the chance to use yet which I regard as a great pity. I think that the early medieval era is a good one for roleplaying particularly with Call of Cthulu.

The actual CDA book published in English is a complete game book in itself though it would be useful to have other Call of Cthulhu books for more creatures and magic details. It has been well supported by the author, Stephane Gesbert with his website including errata and scenarios. The rules are very much the standard Call of Cthulhu ones except for a number of name changes or replacements to match the period that it is set in.

The character creation uses point buy for statistics with 100 points to allocate to the 8 characteristics giving an average of 12.5 points in each which is slightly higher than the usual amount from rolling the 3d6 for six of the characteristics and 2d6+6 for Intelligence and Size used in CoC and the Dark Ages quick start.There are a number of occupations for characters which will affect the skills they are able to put their points into and these seem like a good choice for the period. Examples are Hermit, Mercenary, Scholar and (Free) Warrior.

There is a useful timeline for the era around 1000AD and background information that helps flesh out the setting and a brief bestiary. There is a scenario included in the book that a Keeper can use to get started and there are more adventures available on the net. I'm going to do a proper in depth review and post it to in the near future so more will come then.

There has been a new book released by Pegasus in German CoC Mittelater - Die Dunkeln Jahre, roughly translating to CoC Middle Ages - the Dark Years covering the period 600AD to 1600AD which I feel is rather broad as it moves from the dark ages period to the early modern/renaissance period. As I don't read German I won't be purchasing this unless an English edition is released.

I'll be returning to this topic soon with some thoughts about roleplaying in this era.