Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Clark Ashton Smith's Wizards & The Mysteries of X2 Castle Amber (or Château d'Amberville) By Tom Moldvay

Supreme with night, what high mysteriarch—
The undreamt-of god beyond the trinal noon
Of elder suns empyreal—past the moon
Circling some wild world outmost in the dark—
Lays on me this unfathomed wish to hark
What central sea with plume-plucked midnight strewn,
Plangent to what enormous plenilune
That lifts in silence, hinderless and stark ?

The brazen empire of the bournless waste,
The unstayed dominions of the brazen sky—
These I desire, and all things wide and deep;
And, lifted past the level years, would taste
The cup of an Olympian ecstasy,
Titanic dream, and Cyclopean sleep.
Desire of Vastness  (1922)
by Clark Ashton Smith

Once again I've been gone for the day yesterday but as I've said on line with social media the Christmas season is my busiest time of year. But its also afforded me the luxury of doing some heavy thinking about Clark Ashton Smith & Tom Moldvay's X2 Castle Amber. Specifically I've been thinking about the wizard-noble Stephen Amber (Etienne d'Amberville). Let's start off this blog entry with the understanding that Clark Ashton Smith's wizards are different. Even though Stephen Amber (Etienne d'Amberville) never appeared in the body of CAS's work he still operates on the same rules of conduct as other CAS wizards.

While they are alive these wizards are some of the most cunning & cagey foes that PC's can encounter. Stephen Amber (Etienne d'Amberville) is driven by two traits common to the wizards of Clark Ashton Smith his sumpreme arrogance & his desire for revenge against his family. His curse is just like Namirrha from CAS's Dark Eidolon, The (1935), its all consuming & bridge's space, time, & even history. But the real question is what was Stephen Amber (Etienne d'Amberville) like when he was alive?! The all powerful sorcerer Maal Dweb from the Xiccarph cycle maybe a good example to go by. When the CAS's wizard's are alive in their lives & have their demonic pacts, sorcerous knowledge, & arcane might backing them they are forces of nature to be reckoned with. Yes I know that this is the world of Averoigne.
But power like the Amber's family doesn't come cheap. Wizards of Clark Ashton Smith's variety love their arrogance & madness which  play into their theatricality. The Death of Malygris,  (1933) has this theatricality & revenge motif ramped up to eleven.
While these wizards are alive demons & ancient god things give them arcane  power on a grand cosmic scale but the reaper is not to be denied. In other words CAS's wizards have a cycle of power: their ascension to magickal power, the use of that power for twenty to fifty years or more, & their last reality altering curse or work. I think in my mind Stephen Amber (Etienne d'Amberville) when he was alive was a working wizard & scholar. He fits right into the world of Averoigne & he's cunning as well as very cagey combined with his sense of whimsical humor makes him very dangerous.
There's a sort of contrast between the wizards of Clark Ashton Smith & Jack Vance. They both have similar qualities & according to the List of Dying Earth Characters entry on Wiki;
"The most powerful wizards of the 21st Aeon of the Dying Earth are banded together in an association, and mostly reside in the territories of Ascolais and Almery. Unlike other wizards of the Dying Earth, such as Turjan and Mazirian, these wizards possess nearly godlike power. With little effort, they can travel to the distant past or the furthest reaches of the universe, freeze time (a popular dirty trick), prolong their lives for eons, change their shape and appearance, summon useful objects, and call forth numerous spells of protection, destruction, investigation, or simple amusement and experimentation. Much of their power comes from their ability to bind and control potent genie-like beings called sandestins, while they also derive power from their large stores of magical relics"

The all powerful sorcerer Maal Dweb from the Xiccarph cycle could & would rub elbows with Vance's contempory wizards. They probably play the usual sorcerous games of blood, & dust across time, space, & the cosmos.  But don't count Stephen Amber (Etienne d'Amberville) out of such games! On the contrary in his youth he was probably able to hold his own against any one of Vance's fop wizards. These wizards are borderline villains in many ways whose antics across space & time could endanger the innocent.
Zothique for instance boasts some of the most dangerous wizards to hail from a future world millions of years in Earth's future. Any dealings with these wizards could result in the PC's getting into circumstance way over their pay grade & heads. Death, desolation, decay & decadence always mark CAS's work. This makes Zothique the perfect place to encounter Michael Morcock's Elric & Moonglum  on some arcane errand.

Elric from
Deities & Demigods AD&D first edition

But the PC's will be lucky to make it out of any situation involving Elric alive. In the past any encounters with the white wolf resulted in player's PC's actually leaving the campaign area. And yes Elric has appeared in the world of Averoigne
Death is never denied in Clark Ashton Smith's cycles & may be cheated for a little while but never denied. Even undeath offers no rest for the wicked in Clark Ashton Smith's universe. The prospect of death offers an end to suffering but not for adventure.

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