Thursday, September 10, 2015

Retro Commentary On The Free OSR Lost World Download- The People of the Crater by Andre Alice Norton For Your Old School Campaigns

Grab It Right Over

Where do I begin with The People of The Crater By Andre Norton? Well, this is a very early novel and not usually considered as part of an Appendix N download, this is one of the reasons why it makes a nice bridge gap adventure from a modern alternative Earth into a lost world style sword and sorcery campaign. Also this isn't one of her more well known novellas. The basic plotline runs pretty close to the pulp era of sword & sorcery and lost world novels but because it was written in 1947 it was one of the first of Norton's novellas. It shows her influences and themes straight out of the gate.The plot line goes something like this according to the Amazon blurb - 'A flight to a lost world of Antarctica. Garin Featherstone has been sent to explore a mysterious blue haze that was spotted in the polar region. There he discovers a lost civilization and a strange environment of vivid green lands, crimson tree trunks, and golden rivers. He most save Thrala of the light against the lizard men. This is Andre Norton's first professional published story from 1947. Even the Grand Dame of Science Fiction had to have her first sale. And she shows her strengths in her first fantastic adventure story.'

Straight out of the gate time has rendered this novella's setting into an alternative world. "Six months and three days after the Peace of Shanghai was signed and the Great War of 1965-1970 declared at an end by an exhausted world, a young man huddled on a park bench in New York, staring miserably at the gravel beneath his badly worn shoes. He had been trained to fill the pilot's seat in the control cabin of a fighting plane and for nothing else. The search for a niche in civilian life had cost him both health and ambition."
We get a full treatment and background of this style of pulp world setting along with an alternative history take on the world, this is nice because it gives the dungeon master plenty of leeway to sketch in the details as necessary. This isn't a complicated story but it does have a pulp charm that lends itself to all kinds of ideas for expansion. The world of the People of the Cavern is rich with lost world creatures and ideas ripe for mining. The Folk of Tav are tribe of lizard men like goblin things that were created by the Ancient Ones and these guys are perfect for PC allies. They're quite sophisticated and intelligent in their own way. The folk of Tav are perfect as a DM tool to introduce all kinds of lost world elements and they also have their own brand of super science artifacts and relics. All of this takes place within the environs of a lost world Antarctica and its rife for conversion over to your favorite old school campaign system. The fact that there's a whole sub genre of lost world Antarctica science fantasy dating back to the earliest polar expeditions might also help.

A good example of this is the 'Anas' which make a great stand in for all kinds of small science fantasy fluff balls, familiars, companions,etc.
From the text - If the lizard-folk had been goblin in their grotesqueness this visitor was elfin. It was about three feet high, its monkey-like body completely covered with silky white hair. The tiny hands were human in shape and hairless, but its feet were much like a cat's paws. From either side of the small round head branched large fan-shaped ears. The face was furred and boasted stiff cat whiskers on the upper lip. These Anas, as Garin learned later, were happy little creatures, each one choosing some mistress or master among the Folk, as this one had come to him. They were content to follow their big protector, speechless with delight at trifling gifts. Loyal and brave, they could do simple tasks or carry written messages for their chosen friend, and they remained with him until death. They were neither beast nor human, but rumored to be the result of some experiment carried out eons ago by the Ancient Ones. We get the usual prophecy,history  and background on the Ancient Ones as well all ready to be dropped into your favorite game.
"In the days before the lands of the outer world were born of the sea, before even the Land of the Sun (Mu) and the Land of the Sea (Atlantis) arose from molten rock and sand, there was land here in the far south. A sere land of rock plains, and swamps where slimy life mated, lived and died.
"Then came the Ancient Ones from beyond the stars. Their race was already older than this earth. Their wise men had watched its birth-rending from the sun. And when their world perished, taking most of their blood into nothingness, a handful fled hither.
"But when they climbed from their space ship it was into hell. For they had gained, in place of their loved home, bare rock and stinking slime.
"They blasted out this Tav and entered into it with the treasures of their flying ships and also certain living creatures captured in the swamps. From these, they produced the Folk, the Gibi, the Tand, and the land-tending Eron.
"Among these, the Folk were eager for wisdom and climbed high. But still the learning of the Ancient Ones remained beyond their grasp.
"During the eons the Ancient Ones dwelt within their protecting wall of haze the outer world changed. Cold came to the north and south; the Land of Sun and the Land of Sea arose to bear the foot of true man. On their mirrors of seeing the Ancient Ones watched man-life spread across the world. They had the power of prolonging life, but still the race was dying. From without must come new blood. So certain men were summoned from the Land of the Sun. Then the race flourished for a space.
"The Ancient Ones decided to leave Tav for the outer world. But the sea swallowed the Land of Sun. Again, in the time of the Land of Sea, the stock within Tav was replenished and the Ancient Ones prepared for exodus; again the sea cheated them.
"Those men left in the outer world reverted to savagery. Since the Ancient Ones would not mingle their blood with that of almost beasts, they built the haze wall stronger and remained. But a handful of them were attracted by the forbidden, and secretly they summoned the beast men. Of that monstrous mating came the Black Ones. They live but for the evil they may do, and the power which they acquired is debased and used to forward cruelty.
"At first their sin was not discovered. When it was, the others would have slain the offspring but for the law which forbids them to kill. They must use their power for good or it departs from them. So they drove the Black Ones to the southern end of Tav and gave them the Caves of Darkness. Never were the Black Ones to come north of the River of Gold—nor were the Ancient Ones to go south of it.
"For perhaps two thousand years the Black Ones kept the law. But they worked, building powers of destruction. While matters rested thus, the Ancient Ones searched the world, seeking men by whom they could renew the race. Once there came men from an island far to the north. Six lived to penetrate the mists and take wives among the Daughters. Again, they called the yellow-haired men of another breed, great sea rovers.
"But the Black Ones called too. As the Ancient Ones searched for the best, the Black Ones brought in great workers of evil. And, at last, they succeeded in shutting off the channels of sending thought so that the Ancient Ones could call no more.
"Then did the Black Ones cross the River of Gold and enter the land of the Ancient Ones. Thran, Dweller in the Light and Lord of the Caverns, summoned the Folk to him.
"'There will come one to aid you,' he told us. 'Try the summoning again after the Black Ones have seemed to win. Thrala, Daughter of the Light, will not enter into the Room of Pleasant Death with the rest of the women, but will give herself into the hands of the Black Ones, that they may think themselves truly victorious. You of the Folk withdraw into the Place of Reptiles until the Black Ones are gone. Nor will all the Ancient Ones perish—more will be saved, but the manner of their preservation I dare not tell. When the sun-haired youth comes from the outer world, send him into the Caves of Darkness to rescue Thrala and put an end to evil.'
So then we hop right into a fully fledged dungeon crawl with the hero and NPC all we really need is a party of outworlder adventurers and freebooters! Yeah, this is pretty much a perfect set up for an entire old school adventure campaign right in one story and we'll get to that in a moment.

Constructing The Frame work of Norton's People Of The Crater
As Old School Campaign Adventure
This 1947 novelette has also been published as "Garin of Tav" and was included in the collection Garan the Eternal (1972). The novelette has a ton to recommend it as an old school campaign setting, from its Anaractica location to its lost races pulp aesthetic to the super science, mental powers,etc. All of the classic elements are right there waiting to be exploited. I  know Rafael Chandler's World of the Lost is coming out soon  for Lamentations of the Flame Princess but I've got players who want to play now. I really look forward to that book, but People of The Crater has what I'm looking for right now.
Now given the Atlantis and lost world aspect of the People of the Crater its easy to see using this novelette as a perfect demi plane for a game such as Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea. The setting is readily made for exploitation and a dimensional expedition for the sorts of adventurers that AS&SH generates. The technological artifacts, powers, inhuman tribes,etc are perfect for the pulpy goodness of AS&SH. But it has so much more potential for old school campaigning.
  • The novellette is not well know among Norton fans giving the DM a world easily and readily available for play. 
  • The adventure location means that it can easily be back fitted into a Lamentations of the Flame Princess campaign that takes place on a pseudo historical Earth without screwing up the continuity of an on going campaign and in point of fact is perfect as a one shot location or as a continuing recurring adventure location. 
  • Makes a great location to swap out modern NPC's into a Lost World setting with little issue and as a cross over point for several old school campaign games. For example as a cross over point for getting Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers PCs involved with a Lamentations group without screwing up the existing campaign worlds. 
  • The high science fantasy pulp tech angle can give PC's experiences with the joys of technology and its hazards. 
  • All kinds of elements of pulp UFO mythology could be retroengineered into such a setting like connecting in Qelong
  • Because of the artificial nature of the societies of the People of the Crater several Logan's Run style elements could be introduced to a LoFP game. For example could the Crater be a hot house laboratory environment created by either the Elder Things or The Great Race? Many of the People of the Crater setting elements scream of it.

    For example the limited amount of land, peoples, tribes, etc. might hint at far more barbaric rites then are expressed in such a quick run through of the location of the story. Then there is the little matter of of the psychic  powers that are taken for granted in The Peoples of the Crater. I get the feeling reading through the novelette that we the readers are only scratching the surface of the location. Could there be a Carcosa connection given the artifacts, technologies, and weird pulpy elements of this tale? I'd swear there could be a dimensional doorway there some place. The Dark Ones might have a revolving doorway with some of the tribes of Carcosa.
    Given the alternative world feeling of this book we could see this adventure location serving as a jump point for all kinds of old school games to intrude for example Dark Albion the Rose War's powers would be perfect allies of the Dark Ones and their machinations. Some of the setting elements of People of The Crater are exactly the sort of things that James Raggi goes into in the Referee's Book of the Grindhouse edition.

    Now given the nature of many of the weird creatures and monsters of the Peoples Of The Crater the artwork of Gennifer Bone springs to mind. So perhaps the creature generators of Lusus Naturae might be in order here especially given the pulpy nature of the material.
    The NPC's horrors of
    Lusus Naturae  might well be looking to exploit the resources, peoples, or materials of the People of the Crater or they might actually be responsible for the setting themselves for future exploitation and the PC's blundering in could set the stage for all kinds of conflict.  

The People of the Crater is a great and highly under appreciated novelette that is ripe for all kinds of exploitation for your old school campaigns the great sword and science fantasy feel of the piece easily lends itself to all kinds of old school campaigns. Do yourselves a favor and check it out!

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