'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

Showing posts with label Weird Tales. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Weird Tales. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Barbaric Future. A Role Playing Setting.



There are a few things in my mind that make Conan, Conan. These things need to be there or we are simply going to get barbarians with laser swords, and that is not the aim of this project.

There are two things that I believe absolutely need to be involved in this setting.

  • Barbarism vs Civilization
  • Rise and fall, cyclical nature of the rise and fall of society and civilization

Cyclical Nature and the Hyborian Essay

Robert E Howard wrote a short essay titled, "The Hyborian Age". In it, he outlines his world. The rise and fall of civilizations, cataclysms, the migration of the people and the evolution and devolution of mankind. It ends with Howard telling us that the people that populate the world today can trace their origins far older than they know, back to the Hyborian Age.

The ancient Sumerians had no connection with the western race. They were a mixed people, of Hyrkanian and Shemitish bloods, who were not taken with the conquerors in their retreat. Many tribes of Shem escaped that captivity, and from pure-blooded Shemites, or Shemites mixed with Hyborian or Nordic blood, were descended the Arabs, Israelites, and other straighter-featured Semites. The Canaanites, or Alpine Semites, traced their descent from Shemitish ancestors mixed with the Kushites settled among them by their Hyrkanian masters; the Elamites were a typical race of this type. The short, thick-limbed Etruscans, base of the Roman race, were descendants of a people of mixed Stygian, Hyrkanian and Pictish strains, and originally lived in the ancient kingdom of Koth. The Hyrkanians, retreating to the eastern shores of the continent, evolved into the tribes later known as Tatars, Huns, Mongols and Turks.

The origins of other races of the modern world may be similarly traced; in almost every case, older far than they realize, their history stretches back into the mists of the forgotten Hyborian age...


The Hyborian Age
-Robert E. Howard


Barbarism vs Civilization

It is well known that Howard had no love for modern civilization. He saw it as broken and corrupt and felt a kinship to those who came before. He had a special affinity for the medieval Irish, and so it is no surprise that Conan was his ultimate hero in many ways. Several of his writings talk about the evils of boomtowns. How the rise of civilization and money where he lived bred corruption and evil deeds.

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

Civilized men are more discourteous than savages because they know they can be impolite without having their skulls split, as a general thing.
-Robert E. Howard

Tower of the Elephant


Barbaric Future

So with these two basic tenants in mind, I present the initial stages of the world I imagine...

Thousands of years into the future the initiative of humanity has continued to carry the species forward. Technology has continued to progress, new ideas in genetics, energy, materials, and computing have formed new weapons, new armor and in some cases new people. Despite the massive abilities and technological advances of mankind, we largely remain confined to our world. We have lifted ourselves into orbit and explored much of our solar system through drones and a few manned missions, but Earth remains our home and efficient space travel still eludes us.

War remains a reality and several massive conflicts have been engaged in between then and now. Some conventional, some small scale nuclear.

Our world has seen the rise of capitalism and the formation of great corporations. It has also seen the governments of nations fall and these new centers of power rise to fill the void. Now the world is dotted by the Corporate States, rife with corruption and greed. Each maintains a stranglehold on their populations through information censorship and military power. They lie in the temperate zones of the Earth, places less likely to be touched by disaster or rising sea levels. Places untouched by radiation and devastation of ancient nuclear conflict.

In the places abandoned by the Corporate States live tribes of humans. These people live a more primitive and savage life, sometimes using the discarded junk from the Corporate States, sometimes living in the skeletons of long-abandoned cities, using older technology and still others existing alongside nature.

In the wildest places, the far frozen places, the places rife with disease, the irradiated places, live others who have reverted to a more bestial state, over uncounted generations, they have devolved into a beast that is more ape than man, still clever and cunning and still able to use primitive weapons.



Corporate States

With a basic idea we can go forward and flesh out our three zones of humanity with a few key points about each area.

  • Very high tech. AI, Robots etc.
  • Clean.
  • State controlled.
  • Isolated.
  • Crime & Corruption.
  • Cybernetics.
  • Genetic enhancement.
  • Fusion power.
  • Projectile & Beam weapons are outlawed.


Tribes of the Free

  • Generally lower technology.
  • Almost post apocalyptic in some places.
  • Savages, Barbarians and Canibals.
  • Primitive religions.
  • Knowledge of the old worlds. Libraries of books, paper and digital.
  • Solar, wind, hydro power.
  • Ruins.


Savage Wastes

  • Potential high radiation.
  • Mutant humans.
  • Mutant beasts.
  • Ruins.
  • Lost technologies.


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Monday, January 14, 2019

The Weird West of Robert E. Howard: Old Garfield's Heart.

Continuing my look at the Weird West of Robert E. Howard I thought I would look at a few of the stories in depth. The first I have chosen is probably one of my favorites as well as being my introduction to Howard's work in this genre.

Old Garfield's Heart was first published in Weird Tales in December of 1933 and is generally labelled as a "Horror Story". I am not sure if I agree with that assessment, but I understand why it receives it. Either way it takes place shortly after the end of the Wild West, but for me falls squarely into the "Weird West" genre. The story is about an frontiersman, Old Garfield, that has lived as long as anyone can remember. The story is told through the eyes of an unnamed narrator who believe's the tales told by Old Garfield are nothing more than whims of fancy or tall tales. As I mentioned, the story takes place in a time that post-dates the Wild West by a few years, but it's central themes are from the 1870s.

As the story opens the narrator is waiting for the doctor so he can accompany him to check up on Old Garfield, and engaged in conversation with his grandfather. Despite Old Garfield's injuries, the grandfather doesn't believe he will die. We learn that the Grandfather and Old Garfield had been in a few fights together including fights with the Comanche. During one of these Old Garfield is grievously wounded and a medicine man mysteriously shows up and saves him.

The narrator travels with the doctor to check up on the mysterious Old Garfield. They find him injured, as we have been told, but he is delirious and tells us the story of how "Ghost Man" saved him and made him immortal.

After this the narrator ends up crossing paths with a local bully, Jack Kirby, over an argument about a cow that was bought. The narrator ends up nearly killing Jack, and ends up on an assault charge. The charge isn't nearly good enough for Jack. Once he has recovered he sets out to kill the narrator.

The narrator and Jack have their showdown at Old Garfield's place and we finally learn the truth.

Old Garfield's Heart is a fairly short story at about 3500 words, but in that we get action, adventure, mystery and a sprinkling of magic. The world Howard creates, through descriptions and dialogue, is almost tangible. In my opinion the amount of depth and flavor he achieved is amazing, especially given the amount of time he has to create it.

Robert E. Howard wrote a lot of fantastic stories set both in the modern world, the medieval world and worlds time has forgotten. These are all places of his imagination, perhaps well researched, but still not places he knew first hand. Stories like this are a little different, this world he has near first hand experience with. The setting is his own. The stories and tall tales from the old timers he loved to listen to. The narrator in this story could be Howard, a younger man talking to an old timer about the old days of the frontier.

If you are a fan of Howard's other characters, or if you are new to Howard in general, and are looking to try something new this is a great intro to some of his other works.

The story can be found on Gutenberg Australia at Old Garfield's Heart. I encourage you to take 10 minutes, give it a read and let me know what you think!

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Friday, January 11, 2019

Friday's Forgotten Fiends: The Gibbering Darkness

Today I want to revisit a creature I came up awhile ago. The concept of this thing was a creature that would assail PCs in Conan 2d20 and cause a wound to a Character. Why would you do such a thing? Sometimes drama and tension can be increased when the PCs feel threatened and there are times when they simply don't in Conan because of how competent that they can be. A mob of these attacking in the deep ruins will generally use it's point of doom to attack first and most likely injure someone before being vanquished. I wouldn't recommend using something like this all the time, but everything in your toolbox has it's place.

The Gibbering Darkness


In the deep ruins of time immemorial there are places, rifts to some black place, where darkness seeps into our world as formless shapes, seeking the life energy of our existence like a wild predator seeks its prey.

The Gibbering Darkness is darkness made manifest, shifting shadows on the wall. Dark places in the corner of your eye. As easily as the dark is vanquished these creatures can be returned from which they came. Do not forget that like the darkness these hide things that are both physically and mentally deadly.

Many an naive adventurer has been reduced to lifeless husk, or worse a mindless husk, as unsuspecting they walked into a forgotten place and were assaulted by the dark mindless gibbering of these things.


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Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Weird West, REH Style.

All night Ghost Man did magic, callin' my ghost back from spirit-land. I remember that flight, a little. It was dark, and gray-like, and I drifted through gray mists and heard the dead wailin' past me in the mist. But Ghost Man brought me back.
Old Garfield’s Heart
-Robert E. Howard

The time is the late 1800s. The place is the western United States; the Wild West. The idea of it brings images of a dusty landscape populated with lawless men preying on the helpless, with the occasional man of character defending them. A time of gunslingers, prospectors and pioneers. It is a time of romanticized violence in the Americas. A time of barbarism vs. civilization.

In this time legends were born: "Billy the Kid", "Wild Bill", "Butch Cassidy" and "Wyatt Earp" are just a few of the men who have been made into icons of this time. The places these men fought and died have become just as famous as the people themselves: "The Shootout at the OK Corral", "El Paso Gunfight", "Northfield Bank Raid" to name only a few of these events.

In the Early 21st century, over a century since men rode horses and brandished six shooters, we are still enthralled by this era. Television shows such as Hell on Wheels, Deadwood and Godless are all set in this time, while Westworld, a modern remake of a classic uses the west as a backdrop. As I write this Red Dead Redemption II has just been released, and seems to be selling well, another testament to our interest in this time period.

But what of the pulp era? Why have I chosen to talk about the Wild West? The Pulps as I generally think of them are published from about the 1900s to sometime in the 1950s. I generally narrow my scope to the 30s and earlier, simply because I am often talking about Robert E Howard and his contemporaries. If we do a search on wild west pulp magazines we turn up a cornucopia of pulp magazine covers dedicated to the Wild West, plenty of which fall into this pre-1930s era. Clearly they were popular.

As a man living in Texas, having seen the effect of boom-town America, trying to make a living selling yarns to the pulps, it should not be a surprise to anyone that Mr. Howard penned his share of western tales. Especially given his interest in the cycles of civilization.

But I didn’t write this article to talk about the Wild West, despite its interest to many people. I want to talk about a sub-genre: The Weird West. Take all the adventure the Wild West serves up and drop in fantasy and horror elements. Perhaps a secretive eastern sorcerer is up to no good, or a ghost train haunts the tracks. Maybe the outlaws have come face to face with a zombie horde?

Where men with swords in the dark ages meets the fantastic and magical we get Swords and Sorcery.
Where the six gun meets the weird we get the Weird West.

The RPGs

The RPG I know that falls, perhaps most famously, is the Savage World setting: Deadlands. There are others, most of which I am not familiar with, but I wanted to also say the ICRPG has a Weird West setting called Ghost Mountain which shouldn’t be missed.


The Inspiration

Across social media I see people asking the same question as they move into this setting, “What can I read/watch for inspiration?”. Of course watching westerns will get you into the right headspace, everything from “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” all the way up to more modern westerns like Tombstone.

I wanted to give a mention to a fairly brutal film that I think fits in here nicely as both a solid western as well as a film that touches on the potentially weird aspects of the west, "Bone Tomahawk". If you haven’t seen it and are ok with fictionalized realistic violence, I recommend checking out this film.

The Stories of REH

As I am sure you have guessed by now Robert E Howard wrote a few weird west tales as well.

Most of these stories are available online or through audio book. I strongly suggest you check them out as some of the foundational work in this genre. You can find them at Project Gutenberg and then doing a search for Robert E HOWARD

Pigeons from Hell. If you are familiar with REH and the Weird West I am sure you are thinking to yourself, “What? This isn’t set in the Wild West!”. Before you think I am crazy though, this is set in the 1890s around the same time as the Wild West. Despite it dealing with magic of the south, the ideas and concepts wouldn’t be hard to find inspiration from for the Weird West.

Old Garfield’s Heart. One of my favorites. Great story about a man and First Nations magic. Lots of good ideas and ambiance in this one!

The Valley of the Lost. Robert E Howard and vanished civilizations go together like cookouts and beans. This western tale is one of an ancient civilization, blood feuds and shootouts. It is definitely worth your time.

Horror from the Mound. Another classic REH tale. This time burial mounds and ancient curses are the order of the day.

The Dead Remember. A story about magic and revenge set in 1877. Told as a series of statements by the main characters and eye witnesses to the events the story revolves around. Not surprisingly, another good one.

Beyond the Black River. Yes, it’s a Conan story, but it’s also set on a frontier and is as much a western as anything. It features a fort, scouts, the Picts, magic and dark forests. It is an excellent story that you should be able to pull a fair amount from and push into a more traditional Wild West setting.

Do you have some more ideas on what stories Robert E Howard wrote that would help readers get an idea for some Weird West adventures. Do you have any favorite Weird West games you like?

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