Monday, April 2, 2018

Cosmicism, Appendix N, And The Rot From Within The Dungeon In Old School Campaigns

So over the long Easter weekend I got a chance to get my cosmicism on with original Dungeons & Dragons & the apocalypse trilogy of John Carpenter. John Carpenter gave birth to three films that link into what he has calls  his "Apocalypse Trilogy:" The Thing (1982), Prince of Darkness (1987), and In the Mouth of Madness (1995). All of these films draw from the older tradition of classic pulp stories of the 20's thru 50's  & the atomic sci fi & horror films of the Fifties. This is the same heady mix that Gary Gygax & Dave Arneson drank from. Delving into Appendix  N from the Advanced Dungeons & Dragon's Dungeon Master's Guide I'd have to echo through with the heroic tradition of Robert E Howard's horror & Cthulhu mythos stories which adheres closer to Carpenter's They Live film. The adventure location of the dungeon is rife with opportunities to deal in both principles of heroism & cosmicism. But let's define the philosophy of H.P. Lovecraft;
"The philosophy of cosmicism states that there is no recognizable divine presence, such as a god, in the universe, and that humans are particularly insignificant in the larger scheme of intergalactic existence, and perhaps are just a small species projecting their own mental idolatries onto the vast cosmos.[citation needed] This also suggests that the majority of undiscerning humanity are creatures with the relative significance of insects and plants, when compared to the universe.[citation needed]
The most prominent theme in cosmicism is the insignificance of humanity.[citation needed] Lovecraft postulated, "The human race will disappear. Other races will appear and disappear in turn. The sky will become icy and void, pierced by the feeble light of half-dead stars. Which will also disappear. Everything will disappear. And what human beings do is just as free of sense as the free motion of elementary particles. Good, evil, morality, feelings? Pure 'Victorian fictions'. Only egotism exists.""

Where does the cosmicism of Dungeons & Dragons live? In the darkest recesses of its monsters & the unknown of the furthest reaches of its dungeon locations. A good example of this feeling is conveyed quite nicely in this advertisement for the first edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual.

I mentioned John Carpenter's They Live & his nameless drifter has the same spirit as Robert E. Howard's 
Esau Cairn from the novella Almuric described as  "a complete misfit in modern America who "belongs in a simpler age". Exploited by a corrupt political boss which he finally kills with his bare hands". The heroic misfit is also the adventurer helping keep the dungeon from spreading.

Conan clears the board of any & all threats of the occult & dangerous supernatural so that mankind's next generation can continue.The dungeon is a cancer spreading across the campaign world reducing everything around it to alien chaos & rot. These same otherworldly elements at play that we see in the apocalypse trilogy of John Carpenter & H.P Lovecraft's At The Mountains of Madness. The adventure or dungeon location as social vector for ruin. Perhaps the gateway to adventure is more then it seems.

American author Fritz Leiber.'s Our Lady of Darkness novel plugs into this very same notion & uses many of the same conventions of other Appendix N authors including Ambrose BierceClark Ashton Smith,  M. R. James ,& H.P. Lovecraft.
This novel is not for the faint of heart & covers much of the same ideals & territories that Lamentations of the Flame Princess exercises within their adventures. Adventurers can't over the dungeon location but perhaps exploit it for their own downfalls or personal gain.
Cover of the first edition, published by Berkley Books.
Cover art by Richard M. Powers.

The treasures & artifacts of the dungeon or adventure location often seem to have their own minor spiritual elements to them. Legacies of the rot of ages that travel with them & I've often wondered about the gold & trinket's that Conan spread across the face of Hyboria. Could he have hasted his own world's age's ending by spreading the rot of ages past?
These themes are the bread & butter of Clark Ashton Smith especially in his Hyperborea cycle with
Tale of Satampra Zeiros, The (1931). His entire Zothique cycle is rife with this sort of alien rot of the ages & the burden of cosmicism
In the OSR I find the alien rot of  cosmicism lurking at the edges of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea's second edition's latest kickstarter. The dungeon can not hold the menace & its only a matter of time.
AS&SH art by Val Semeiks

Or are the situations held in check by the heroic gestures of the adventurers like McCready in John Carpenter's The Thing? I have to say that after having dungeon mastered my fair share of original Dungeons & Dragons & many OSR games I think that its a bit of both.
We'll get into more of the origins of the rot tomorrow! Don't get infected in the dungeon!

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