Volume 14, Issue 2
Cover art by Hugh Rankin
Conan always seems to get more attention then Kull in my humble opinion but Kull has a charm all his own in the annals of Sword and Sorcery. There is lots to use including the best depictions of the serpent men outside of their mention in Lovecraft. Then there is the entire depiction of Kull's Atlantis and all of its environs.
According to wiki :
"Featuring Kull, a barbarian precursor to later Howard heroes such as Conan, the tale hit Weird Tales in August 1929 and received fanfare from readers. Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright bought the story for $100, the most Howard had earned for a story at this time, and several more Kull stories followed. However, all but two were rejected, convincing Howard not to continue the series."
The Kull Timeline and the coming of the Barbarians To Atlantis
While we see many of the echoes of Kull in Howard's Conan's tales. Kull is a very different creature from the barbarian thief. There are many elements that would later be incorporated in other creations of Howard. Here Howard is at his Atlantian cycle's high and it shows. The evil that Kull face is real, in his face, and absolutely determined.
"Kull was born in pre-cataclysmic Atlantis c. 100,000 BC. At the time Atlantis was ruled by barbarian tribes. East of Atlantis lay the ancient continent of Thuria, divided among several civilized kingdoms, including Commoria, Grondar, Kamelia, Thule, and Verulia. Most powerful among these was Valusia. East of Thuria were located the islands of Lemuria, which were the mountaintops of the sunken continent of Mu.
Kull was born into a tribe settled in the Tiger Valley of Atlantis. Both the valley and tribe were destroyed by a flood while Kull was still a toddler, leaving the young Kull to live as aferal child for many years. Kull was captured by the Sea-Mountain tribe and eventually adopted by them. In "Exile of Atlantis", an adolescent Kull grants a woman a quick death so that she would not be burned to death by a mob; for this he is exiled from Atlantis.
Slave, pirate, outlaw and gladiator
Kull attempted to reach Thuria but was instead captured by the Lemurian Pirates. He spent a couple of years as a galley slave before regaining his freedom during a mutiny.
He tried the life of a pirate between his late adolescence and his early twenties. His fighting skills and courage allowed him to become captain of his own ship, creating a fearsome reputation for himself in the seas surrounding Atlantis and Thuria. Kull lost his ship and crew in a naval battle off the coast of Valusia but once again survived. He settled in Valusia as an outlaw but his criminal career proved to be short-lived as he was soon captured by the Valusians and imprisoned in a dungeon. His captors offered him a choice: execution or service as a gladiator. He chose the latter. After proving to be an effective combatant and gaining fame in the arenas of the capital, a number of fans helped to regain his freedom.
Soldier and king
Kull did not leave Valusia or return to the life of an outlaw. Instead, he joined the Royal army as a mercenary, pursuing elevation through the ranks. In The Curse of the Golden SkullKull, approaching his thirties, is recruited by King Borna of Valusia in a mission against the ambitious sorcerer Rotath of Lemuria. Kull proves to be an effective assassin.
Borna promoted Kull into the general command of the mercenary forces. Borna himself, however, had gained a reputation for cruelty and despotism. There was discontent with Borna's rule among the nobility leading eventually to civil war. The mercenaries proved more loyal to Kull than any other leader, allowing him to become first the leadership of the revolt and then King. Kull killed Borna and took his throne while he was still in his early thirties. In The Shadow Kingdom, Kull has spent six months upon the Valusian throne and faces the first conspiracy against him.
The series continued with Kull finding that gaining the crown was easier than securing it. He faces several internal and external challenges throughout the series. The conspiring of his courtiers leaves Kull almost constantly threatened with loss of life and throne. The aging King is ever more aware of the Sword of Damocles that he inherited along with the crown.
The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune finds Kull reaching his middle-forties and becoming progressively more introspective. The former barbarian is left lost in contemplation of philosophy. At this point the series ends. His fate is left uncertain."
Why Use Kull's Cycle For Your Old School Campaigns
Kull isn't as well known today as he was when the 1970's Marvel comic book was out.
There are lots of sword and sorcery elements to borrow for your OSR sword and sorcery games. Kull is intelligent, dangerous, and his fate very uncertain.
The stories also contain some of the best depictions of Picts in the Howard cycle of stories.
Here the serpent men in all of their evil are dragged into the light of day and we are given their doom in word and deed. A fate they nor their ilk would ever recover from. Then we are given the Pictish people at one of their cycles of civilization's heights.
We see this according to wiki :
Several characters reoccur throughout the series. The best known is his trusted ally Brule the Spear-slayer, a Pre-cataclysmic Pict. First Councillor Tu is a trusted administrator, but also a constant reminder of the tradition bound laws and customs of Valusia. Ka-Nu, the Pictish Ambassador to Valusia and wise man, is responsible for the friendship between Kull and Brule despite the ancient enmity between Atlanteans and Picts. Kull's mortal enemy is the sorcerer Thulsa Doom.
Thulsa Doom is one of the best depictions of a 'lich' in old school sword and sorcery around. He's nasty, completely evil, and very, very, dangerous.
"Thulsa Doom first appeared in the short story "Delcardes' Cat" by Robert E. Howard, which featured the character Kull as the protagonist. Howard submitted the story to Weird Tales in 1928 under the title The Cat and the Skull but it was not accepted. The story did not see print until 1967 in the paperback King Kull published by Lancer Books. Thulsa Doom is described by Howard in "The Cat and the Skull" as being a large and muscular man (As he and Kull are said to be "alike in general height and shape."), but with a face "like a bare white skull, in whose eye sockets flamed livid fire." He is seemingly invulnerable, boasting after being run through by one of Kull's comrades that he feels "only a slight coldness" when being injured and will only "pass to some other sphere when [his] time comes.
In the end Kull is one of the best of Howard's creations and much under used by DM's and gamers in my humble opinion. These are simply some fast thoughts, humble opinions, and ideas use them as you will.
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