Sunday, February 10, 2019

Wizards, Relics, & The Path of Power In Old School Campaigns

I've been doing a lot of thinking lately about Conan's Thoth-amon & especially the classic Barry Windsor piece of artwork from the Savage Sword of Conan magazine. What I started thinking about was the accumulation of treasure & artifacts by D&D style wizards & magic users. Clark Ashton Smith & Jack Vance both speculate about the 'how's' & 'why's' of wizards gathering treasures & relics.

Conan villain, Thoth Amon by Barry Windsor Smith. 1975.

Going all the way back to original Dungeons & Dragons the magic user was limited for spells. But this is one of the motivators for adventuring, power. The fact is that wizards are going to want to adventure not only to gather treasure for building up their power base in society. But to actually begin to understand the secrets of those who came before them. Robert Howard creation Conan's Thoth-amon  is an excellent example for a Dungeons & Dragons player of how a wizard gathers power without really casting spells.. Demonic pacts are way too risky for low level wizards & so its material power & wealth that starts the path.

Happy birthday Frank Frazetta
'Sorcerer' by Frank Frazetta (1965)
 Eerie #2 (Mar 1966, Warren)

By the time that we meet 
 Robert Howard creation Conan's Thoth-amon  in The God In The Bowl, he's been digging up the ancient relics of Stygia's past glory. He's using them to expand the might of the Stygian empire in a next work of underworld occult trading networks. Ancient antiquities that could potentially create an expanded & very dangerous supernatural path for his nation's power in the world. With D&D wizards only being able to cast one spell at first level is it any wonder that they'd turn to evil? Any means necessary to gain the path to power. No wonder so many of them are twisted in mind by the time they reach higher levels. The path to power is so winding & twisted. Wizards are looking for every advantage they can get.
This brings me to Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique story  “The Dark Eidolon.”
Here the sorcerer Namirrha is of a much higher playing field then Conan's Thoth-amon  but both are consumed by some twisting of mind & spirit. This plays out again & again in Sword & Sorcery even in High Fantasy;

"Many were the necromancers and magicians of Zothique, and the infamy and marvel of their doings were legended everywhere in the latter days. But among them all there was none greater than Namirrha, who imposed his black yoke on the cities of Xylac, and later, in a proud delirium, deemed himself the veritable peer of Thasaidon, lord of Evil.
Namirrha had built his abode in Ummaos, the chief town of Xylac, to which he came from the desert realm of Tasuun with the dark renown of his thaumaturgies like a cloud of desert storm behind him. And no man knew that in coming to Ummaos he returned to the city of his birth; for all deemed him a native of Tasuun. Indeed, none could have dreamt that the great sorcerer was one with the beggar-boy Narthos, an orphan of questionable parentage, who had begged his daily bread in the streets and bazaars of Ummaos. Wretchedly had he lived, alone and despised; and a hatred of the cruel, opulent city grew in his heart like a smothered flame that feeds in secret, biding the time when it shall become a conflagration consuming all things.
Bitterer always, through his boyhood and early youth, was the spleen and rancor of Narthos toward men. And one day the prince Zotulla, a boy but little older than he, riding a restive palfrey, came upon him in the square before the imperial palace; and Narthos implored an alms. But Zotulla, scorning his plea, rode arrogantly forward, spurring the palfrey; and Narthos was ridden down and trampled under its hooves. And afterward, nigh to death from the trampling, he lay senseless for many hours, while the people passed him by unheeding. And at last, regaining his senses, he dragged himself to his hovel; but he limped a little thereafter all his days, and the mark of one hoof remained like a brand on his body, fading never. Later, he left Ummaos, and was forgotten quickly by its people. Going southward into Tasuun, he lost his way in the great desert, and was near to perishing. But finally he came to a small oasis, where dwelt the wizard Ouphaloc, a hermit who preferred the company of honest jackals and hyenas to that of men. And Ouphaloc, seeing the great craft and evil in the starveling boy, gave succor to Narthos and sheltered him. He dwelt for years with Ouphaloc, becoming the wizard's pupil and the heir of his demon-wrested lore. Strange things he learned in that hermitage, being fed on fruits and grain that had sprung not from the watered earth, and wine that was not the juice of terrene grapes. And like Ouphaloc, he became a master in devildom and drove his own bond with the archfiend Thasaidon. When Ouphaloc died, he took the name of Namirrha, and went forth as a mighty sorcerer among the wandering peoples and the deep-buried mummies of Tasuun."

By using the forgotten lore & legacy of past civilizations wizards are hoping to gain a leg up on one another & the world around them. This is why treasure especially relics is very important. Not only occult secrets but the accumulation of knowledge is priceless to them. Those 'golden  age' wonder workers who came before them had strategic advantages that many wizards seem to use. The line between D&D adventuring wizard & vile villain is only an alignment change away.

Cartoon from the AD&D first edition Dungeon Master's Guide

This brings me to the Arthurian literature & the treasures of bygone eras when the wizards & witches of legend are literally king makers. These treasures represent the true occult base of power in Europe during the time of Arthur. The world & old order's creating the new base of power from the point & parcel of their point in time.
 But like in  Jack Vance's Dying Earth series of novels. Its not only having these treasures but having the knowledge of where they are.

'Morgan le Fay with Excalibur', 1905. An illustration from Stories of King Arthur and the Round Table by Beatrice Clay, 1st Edition, 1905

This is one of the main reasons why thieves & bards are so important in the Dungeons & Dragons settings. Knowledge is power & the next work of NPC's & PC's that stretches in the game is the net that holds the campaign together. Wizards unto themselves are struggling on every level & for their very lives. But with some careful maneuvering & social climbing magic users can be force to be reckoned with.
Next where does all that treasure go? Whose money was that anyway?!

All artwork used without permission no trade mark or copyright infringement is intended. This blog post is for educational & entertainment purposes only. All writing is copyright & trademark Dark Corner Productions@2019 all rights reserved. 

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