Saturday, March 2, 2019

The Monster Manual II By Gary Gygax & Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique's Monster Ecology

Zothique has been Clark Ashton Smith's millions of years in the future world when the last gasp of humanity is only a razor edge event away. The 'stars have already come right' & Ragnarok events have already happened! The 'Old Ones' & deities of old have murdered each other.  There are brand new gods, demons, & heroes who have emerged from the chaos & legacy of this aftermath.   Alila,Basatan,Geol,Zothiquean, Mordiggian,Ojhal, Thamogorgos,Vergama,Yuckla,Yululun,   Thasaidon are only some of the deities that we see in the world  Zothique. First of all remember that Zothique suffers from the chaos burnout that we've gotten in Arthurian literature.
One book is the perfect Monster Manual to get across the very alien nature of Zothique & its not the Fiend Folio which in the OSR has gotten considerable more well known. So there's a very controversial choice for this set up which is the Monster Manual II by Gary Gygax .

If we look at the very essence of Zothique then it becomes clear why not only is the Fiend Folio one option but the Monster Manual II is another option; 

"Clark Ashton Smith himself described the Zothique cycle in a letter to L. Sprague de Camp, dated November 3, 1953:
Zothique, vaguely suggested by Theosophic theories about past and future continents, is the last inhabited continent of earth. The continents of our present cycle have sunken, perhaps several times. Some have remained submerged; others have re-risen, partially, and re-arranged themselves. Zothique, as I conceive it, comprises Asia Minor, Arabia, Persia, India, parts of northern and eastern Africa, and much of the Indonesian archipelago. A new Australia exists somewhere to the south. To the west, there are only a few known islands, such as Naat, in which the black cannibals survive. To the north, are immense unexplored deserts; to the east, an immense unvoyaged sea. The peoples are mainly of Aryan or Semitic descent; but there is a negro kingdom (Ilcar) in the north-west; and scattered blacks are found throughout the other countries, mainly in palace-harems. In the southern islands survive vestiges of Indonesian or Malayan races. The science and machinery of our present civilization have long been forgotten, together with our present religions. But many gods are worshipped; and sorcery and demonism prevail again as in ancient days. Oars and sails alone are used by mariners. There are no fire-arms—only the bows, arrows, swords, javelins, etc. of antiquity. The chief language spoken (of which I have provided examples in an unpublished drama) is based on Indo-European roots and is highly inflected, like Sanskrit, Greek and Latin.
Darrell Schweitzer suggests the idea of writing about a far future land may have come from William Hope Hodgson's novel The Night Land, noting that Smith was an admirer of Hodgson's work.[2] However this theory was conclusively disproven by Scott Conner’s "Dust and Atoms: The Influence of William Hope Hodgson on Clark Ashton Smith" in Sargasso#2 (2016), the scholarly journal devoted to Hodgson."

Noting that in the Nightland there are a number of alien monsters not even remotely native to the local space time continuum. Zothique D20 by George Hager has some very nicely tuned guidelines for handling some of the more traditional Dungeons & Dragons monsters on Zothique. Things like Annis, Aboleth, Antlions, Aspis,& even Azer all from the Monster Manual II all fit into the Zothique parameters of Clark Ashton Smith.

Even the favorable reviews of the Monster Manual II by Gary Gygax in White Dwarf covers the old school monster ecology of book; "
Monster Manual II garnered positive reviews, receiving a score of 7 out of 10 in a review in White Dwarf magazine.[2] The reviewer praised the book's standard of clear presentation, and felt that the artwork was of a higher quality than that in the previous monster books. However, the reviewer felt that there were too many high level and overly deadly monsters, and that most of the monsters in the book were inimical to adventures. The reviewer did make note of the fact that there were "many interesting ideas and several well-developed tribes and hierarchies", and felt that, overall, the book is "a good, well presented addition to the AD&D series, with some very useful creatures". The reviewer recommended the book to anyone who likes a wide range of monsters in the game." 

One of the interesting tid bits that gets mentioned in Clark Ashton Smith's story 
The Witchcraft of Ulua Weird Tales, February 1934 hints at the fact that occult & supernatural forces of the Earth have returned to the levels were the Fairy & Fey are back on an even footing with mankind. Things like Boggarts & Buckawn could well be found in the extinct abandoned edges of the world where the ruins of man make excellent lairs for such creatures. 

Many of the plant related monsters that we see in Clark Ashton Smith's various tales have many monster analogies in the Monster Manual II. Monsters  such as the hang man tree & mossman are perfect for Zothique. The various fungi & related creatures also fit the world setting. 

The Basidironds are a fungioid monster that looks like it was taken straight out of the imagination of Clark Ashton Smith.Many of the monster from the Monster Manual II could be some of the most dangerous creatures that adventurers might run across. Those with the chaotic evil alignment could be straight out infected with the energies of Chaos. They could be more of a threat then the player's realize. Things such as the Olive Slime might invade the local area without the PC's even aware of it. First appearing in the adventure module The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth (1982). This monster could continue to play adventurers long after the adventure location is banished back to the realm of Fairyland. 

Entire villages & small towns could fall victim to this invasive species & the locals might have to call in inquisitors to purge the area. This could have happened during certain events during the 'Thirty Years' war when a black wizard opened a window of summoning into the world of Zothique. An Olive Slime was let loose on the wizard's local town & worse the horror was let loose on the countryside. 

Josef F Heydendahl Szene aus dem dreißigjährigem Krieg

Dark Albion: Cults of Chaos RPGPundit and Dominique Crouzet is perfectly suited for this style of campaign. Much of Dark Albion & even Lion & Dragon rpg material is perfectly fine to use with other OSR games. And its perfectly suited to use it with the Monster Manual II.

Many of the creatures of the Monster Manual II especially the devils & demons have various prototype demonic & devil monsters available as reflections in the Amazing Adventures Manual of Monsters. This is very important because it hints at the fact dark cults & orginazations have imported a variety of these into the Pulp era. This includes various 'Old One' minions & their ilk. 

Aleksander PrometDeath of the miser 

There are hints in Zothique that it not only is the far future of Earth but also a part of the HP Lovecraft Dreamlands. Dreams & monsters are very powerful combination which ties directly into the Arthurian literature; "The Dream of Rhonabwy (WelshBreuddwyd Rhonabwy) is a Middle Welsh prose tale.Set during the reign of Madog ap Maredudd, prince of Powys (died 1160), its composition is typically dated to somewhere between the late 12th through the late 14th century.[1] It survives in only one manuscript, the Red Book of Hergest, and has been associated with the Mabinogion since its publication by Lady Charlotte Guest in the 19th century. The bulk of the narrative describes a dream vision experienced by its central character, Rhonabwy, a retainer of Madog, in which he visits the time of King Arthur."

"The frame story tells that Madog sends Rhonabwy and two companions to find the prince's rebellious brother Iorwerth. One night during the pursuit they seek shelter with Heilyn the Red, but find his longhouse filthy and his beds full of fleas. Lying down on a yellow ox-skin, Rhonabwy experiences a dream of Arthur and his time. Serving as his guide is one of Arthur's followers, Iddawg the Churn of Britain, so called because he sparked the Battle of Camlann when he distorted the king's messages of peace he was supposed to deliver to the enemy Medrawd (Mordred). Iddawg introduces Rhonabwy and his friends to Arthur, who regrets that Wales has been inherited by such tiny men.
Iddawg reveals that Arthur's men are assembled to meet the Saxons at the Battle of Mount Badon. However, Arthur is more concerned with a game of gwyddbwyll (a chess-like board game) he is playing against his follower Owain mab Urien (Ywain). While they play, messengers arrive declaring that Arthur's squires are attacking Owain's ravens; when Owain asks that this be stopped Arthur only responds, "your move". Finally Owain orders his ravens to attack Arthur's servants; when Arthur asks him to call them off, Owain says "your move, lord". Eventually Arthur crushes the chess pieces into dust, and the two declare peace between their forces. After this the Saxons send a contingent asking for a truce, which Arthur grants after consulting his advisors. Cai (Kay) declares that any who wish to follow Arthur should come to Cornwall. The noise of the troops moving wakes Rhonabwy, who realizes he has slept for three days."

A manifestation of some of the most dangerous nightmares given form are the Drelb who are souls of psychotic horrors from the depths of consciousness. They are called by necromancers, black wizards, & other black wizards to the prime material plane. 

Wraiths have become more common within the 19th century time space continuum to black forces that these monsters have come well on the view point of black occultists as a viable option for their dungeons & lairs. Zothique's setting has become a viable point of entrance for adventurers as well as these cults. Zothique is just as dangerous as any of the more common classic era TSR campaign settings. Greyhawk, Mystera, Blackmoor, & even Bloody, Bloody  Arduin are all available as places that intersect with Zothique when the stars align.


Make no mistake to the contrary to the fact that Monster Manual II is a great book despite reviews like this one;

"Doug Cowie reviewed Monster Manual II quite favorably for Imagine magazine.[3] He noted that the cover was good, and contrasted it with the first edition Monster Manual, whose cover was "universally held to be appalling" and whose "childish style" may have "seriously hampered the development of RPGs as adult games".[3] As for Monster Manual II, Cowie suggested: "If you like the AD&D game, go and buy it immediately."[3] Although he found some monsters "to be just plain silly", they are all "well presented, properly thought out and adequately described""
Silly or not these monsters are perfect if a dungeon master knows how to use them!  When you look over the Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique cycle it  has many stories that play twenty questions with the reader that hint that many dark & dangerous monsters lurk on its fringes; 

  • Black Abbot of Puthuum, The (1936)
  • Charnel God, The (1934)
  • Dark Eidolon, The (1935)
  • Dead will Cuckold You, The (1950)
  • Death of Ilalotha, The (1937)
  • Empire of the Necromancers, The (1932)
  • Garden of Adompha, The (1938)
  • In the Book of Vergama (1934)
  • Isle of the Torturers, The (1933)
  • Last Hieroglyph, The (1935)
  • Mandor's Enemy (1989)
  • Master of the Crabs, The (1948)
  • Morthylla (1953)
  • Necromancy in Naat (1937)
  • Shapes of Adamant (1935)
  • Tomb-Spawn, The (1934)
  • Voyage of King Euvoran, The (1931) [Illustration "Quest of the Gazolba" By Boris Dolgov]
  • Weaver in the Vault, The (1934)[CAS Illustration]
  • Witchcraft of Ulua, The (1934)
  • Xeethra (1934 [CAS Illustration]
  • <Zothique (1951)

    Next time we get into the deep end of Zothique & its place into the horrors of the future history of mankind. Old school adventurers play a key role in the survival of mankind. Stay tuned & for now keep em rolling! 
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