'Barbarism is the natural state of mankind,' the borderer said, still staring somberly at the Cimmerian. 'Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.'

-Robert E. Howard
Beyond The Black River

Friday, March 30, 2018

Conan 2d20 - Quick, cheap and easy Combat dice!

If you are familiar with Conan 2d20 either through playing or reading about the system, one thing that stands out is it's damage system. Instead of weapons doing 1d6, 2d8, 1d10 or other combination it uses a number of combat dice to determine the damage and effectiveness of the weapon. These dice are nothing more than a fancy 1d6, and you can easily use a regular d6 to get the result.

Modiphius does however make custom combat dice, and I have found they can make a difference. They sell these in a players dice set that will run you about $30cad and comes with 4 of these combat dice, 2d20 and a hit location die. Four combat dice is probably not going to be enough for most players, especially ones with high brawn. As mentioned above we can simply replace the missing dice with d6s.

We do have another option. You can buy a set of inexpensive blank dice from Aliexpress or Amazon. I prefer the sets from Aliexpress, simply because I get more bang for my buck, even if shipping is a little slow. This is a link to a set of 20 16mm blank dice for about $5US, with shipping included! The size of these are the same as the combat dice, but have a slightly different shape, mirroring the dice you might find in Monolith's Conan boardgame.



Using a regular fine point sharpie we can simply write on the values we want, following the patterns laid out by the combat dice. It is important to note that when you write on the dice, the ink from the shaprie will take a little time to dry. I have found it to be fine after about 10 seconds. Once dry it is a fairly robust addition to the die and can't be wiped off. I am sure after some use it will begin to wear out.


One of the happy parts of these dice is a little acetone will clean the ink right off the dice face without damaging the face. Over the course of the last couple of days I have been experimenting and have cleaned the sharpie from the dice multiple times with no issues. This is a super quick way to make a multitude of combat dice at your table.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Why Pulp Fiction?

Escapism is all around us. Today society has myriad forms of entertainment ranging from the written word to the moving picture. We live in a world that has made all of this entertainment and escapism accessible to the masses.

Stories have always been important to us. Since the dawn of man we have found ways to record our exploits and our heroics, but until the modern era these stories were told by word of mouth or perhaps through expensive reproductions laboriously copied by hand on vellum.

Paper, in the Western world at least, wasn’t really needed until the invention of the printing press in 1450. Suddenly we had the ability to mass produce books, but we still lived in a labor intensive society. We still didn’t have time to sit down and consume entertainment like we do now.

Listen to me talk, I complain about not having enough time to do half the things I want to do. In reality though I could make much better use of my down time. In the middle ages and renaissance, living and working by sunlight or lanterns, I simply would not have. I wouldn’t have the luxury I have now.

Enter the Industrial Revolution. Automation of processes brings workers time and an increase in the standard of life. It gives them, for the first time, the ability to have a sustained ability to consume entertainment. Although I am not going to discuss, or hypothesize as to why, we also see a dramatic increase in literacy. (Devon Lemire, 2012)

Now we have paper, the ability to produce the written word and an audience. What becomes of this? If we type “Penny Dreadful” into google we largely get hits from a TV show called “Penny Dreadful”. This TV show about the weird and dark side of Victorian London takes its name from the widely available cheap literature of the day. These magazines, known as a Penny Dreadful specialized in sensational stories and offered the working class a way to get the written entertainment without having to buy the more expensive novels. You should check out this article for a more in depth look at the Penny Dreadful.

In 1900s United States we see the rise of the pulp magazine. These magazines are the direct successors to the serialized cheap publications that came to be known “Penny Dreadfuls”. The collective name for those publications is a combination of the content and the price, the pulp magazine takes its name from the paper used, which has become synonymous with how the content is generally viewed; cheap, tawdry and of no value.

From the introduction of these magazines in the early 1900s to their demise in the 1950s, a wealth of these magazines were produced, and because of this need for content many people tried their hand at writing. Some created iconic characters that have lasted to this day; Conan, Tarzan, Doc Savage, The Shadow.

In the 1950s rising costs and increased competition from books with higher production quality, television and comic books saw this boom in pulp literary entertainment begin to wane and the majority of the pulp magazine companies going out of business. I found a graph stating that in 1950, 9% of US households had television, and in 1955 it had rise to 64%, by 1965 92% of households had television (Understanding Media and Culture: An Introduction to Mass Communication). I am sure it’s now close to 100% and although reading is still popular among some, I am sure we all know someone who just doesn't read anymore.

Pulp magazines are often looked down on. Their authors are not held up like “true” authors. They are not typically views as literary masters, or authors that made a contribution. I am not here to tell you that everyone who wrote in a pulp magazine was an expert wordsmith, but to wipe our hands of every author because they were commercial authors being published in the pulps is a disservice to literature. I would argue that these authors writing in the early 1900s have had a significant effect on our culture, as great as any of the large names. They have created ideas and characters that have become our modern heroes, or the basis for them. Who’s work reached a larger audience: Hemingway or Howard, Lovecraft or Lawrence, Steinbeck or Smith?

These magazines defined a large portion of entertainment for the working class for the first half of the 20th century. They were a large part of culture during that time and to ignore their influence on it is folly. The authors of those magazines certainly wrote to get published but that doesn’t make them less. This does not mean that there is not depth in their stories.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Black God's Kiss by CL Moore.

Jirel stands defeated as Joiry is conquered by Guillaume. Captured and imprisoned Jirel escapes and seeks a weapon to exact her revenge. Is revenge worth it at any cost?

Today I want to talk to you about to a pulp author from the 1930s that is new to me and perhaps to you as well. CL Moore was published in the same magazine that published many of Robert E Howard, HP Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith's stories; Weird Tales. I believe I became aware of CL Moore through CromCast Podcast, and due to their work had a basic idea of the story line of this tale.

The main character is "Jirel of Joiry" a warrior and Lady of Joiry. Although female characters are not unheard of, what sets Jirel apart is that her author was also a woman. Catherine Lucile Moore wrote under the name CL Moore and perhaps this allowed her to get published? This was the 1930s after all. That is supposition on my part as the artists who create the risque covers for Weird tales was also a woman. With that bit of background behind us I thought I would try my hand at a little review of this enjoyable pulp story who's character never rose to the fame of Conan and Robert E Howard or the Cthulhu Mythos and HP Lovecraft.

The Black God's Kiss was published in Weird Tales in October 1934, vol. 24, no. 4. I enjoyed the story and the character of Jirel and will be looking forward to continuing her adventures. I felt it stood on it's own and wasn't just a carbon copy of other heros I had read. It kept me interested as Jirel progressed across her journey with both good visuals and some depth to the story. I highly recommend you pick up this story and give Jirel and CL Moore a try. This was clearly an important character from the time of the pulps that is often overlooked.

The story was enjoyable and it flowed well. I found when I had put it down to go do something else, I was drawn back to the story to find out what would happed to Jirel, clearly the mark of a good tale! There was a few places I had to go back over and re-read to fully comprehend what had happened, but it was very few and I didn't find it hurt my enjoyment of the story. For good or bad depending on your opinion, I felt that CL Moore was less "thesaurasy" than some of the other pulp writers I am familiar with, especially Clark Ashton Smith. I felt this took a little potential flavor out of the story, but substitued it with easy of flow and language across nearly a century.

I think the story was paced well and had a lot of interesting visuals and ideas within it's pages. On it's surface it starts as a simple revenge story, but quickly becomes a question of what is actually worth sacrificing for that revenge. I especially liked this lack of black and white. Revenge wasn't portrayed as a simple right and wrong. Jirel being the hero doesn't instantly make her revenge justified or even a correct course of action. Jirel isn't just a carbon copy of the other Heros of her day, she feels like she has her own motivations, ideas and needs.

"I know. Do you think I'd venture down if I could not be sure? Where else would I find such a weapon as I need, save outside God's dominion?"