Saturday, February 29, 2020

Tracts in Amber - Some CampaignThoughts on Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique, Mystara, & Tom Modvey's X2 Castle Amber

"Aeons of aeons ago, in an epoch whose marvelous worlds have crumbled, and whose mighty suns are less than shadow, I dwelt in a star whose course, decadent from the high, irremeable heavens of the past, was even then verging upon the abyss in which, said astronomers, its immemorial cycle should find a dark and disastrous close.
Ah, strange was that gulf-forgotten star - how stranger than any dreams of dreamers in the spheres of to-day, or than any vision that hath soared upon visionaries, in their retrospection of the sideral past! There, through cycles of history whose piled and bronze-writ records were hopeless of tabulation, the dead had come to outnumber infinitely the living. And built of a stone that was indestructible save in the furnace of suns, their cities rose beside those of the living like the prodigious metropoli of Titans, with walls that overgloom the vicinal villages. And over all was the black funereal vault of the cryptic heavens-a dome ol infinite shadows, where the dismal sun, suspended like a sole, enormous lamp, failed to illumine, and drawing back its fires from the face of the irresolvable a baffled and despairing beam on the vague remote horizons, and shrouded vistas illimitable of the visionary land.
We were a sombre, secret, many-sorrowed people-we who dwelt beneath that sky of eternal twilight, pierced by the towering tombs and obelisks of the past. In our blood was the chill of the ancient night of time; and our pulses flagged with a creeping prescience of the lentor of Lethe. Over our courts and fields, like invisible sluggish vampires born of mausoleums, rose and hovered the black hours, with wings that distilled a malefic languor made from the shadowy woe and despair of perished cycles. The very skies were fraught with oppression, and we breathed beneath them as in a sepulcher, forever sealed with all its stagnancies of corruption and slow decay, and darkness impenetrable save to the fretting worm.
Vaguely we lived, and loved as in dreams-the dim and mystic dreams that hover upon the verge of fathomless sleep. We felt for our women, with their pale and spectral beauty, the same desire that the dead may feel for the phantom lilies of Hadean meads. Our days were spent in roaming through the ruins of lone and immemorial cities, whose palaces of fretted copper, and streets that ran between lines of carven golden obelisks, lay dim and ghastly with the dead light, or were drowned forever in seas of stagnant shadow; cities whose vast and iron-builded fanes preserved their gloom of primordial mystery and awe, from which the simulacra of century- forgotten gods looked forth with unalterable eyes to the hopeless heavens, and saw the ulterior night, the ultimate oblivion. Languidly we kept our gardens, whose grey lilies concealed a necromantic perfume, that had power to evoke for us the dead and spectral dreams of the past. Or, wandering through ashen fields of perennial autumn, we sought the rare and mystic immorteles, with sombre leaves and pallid petals, that bloomed beneath willows of wan and veil-like foliage: or swept with a sweet and nepenthe-laden dew by the flowing silence of Acherontic waters.
And one by one we died and were lost in the dust of accumulated time. We knew the years as a passing of shadows, and death itself as the yielding of twilight unto night."
From the Crypts of Memory  (1917) by Clark Ashton Smith

Thomas Moran - Pueblo at Sunset (1901)

Clark Ashton Smith's work creeps into your head a the weirdest hours & in my case it was right after my 
Cha'alt/Godbound  campaign session last night. I rolled into my place around four A.M. & took care of a few things around the house. I lay in bed & Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique slithered its way into my mind suddenly I was transported back to my sessions on the Dying Earth of CAS. But what is Zothique? Here's a quick & dirty break down of CAS's Zothique from the Wiki entry; "Zothique is an imagined future continent in a series of short stories by Clark Ashton Smith. Zothique is also the title of the cycle of tales which take place there.[1] In terms of number and extent, the Zothique cycle is the largest collection of stories written by Smith. The cycle belongs to the fantasy genre, and more precisely to the Dying Earth subgenre." I lay in bed thinking about my sessions of Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique with my  friend Steve. 
 You can read about those here:  These days I run these sessions a bit differently right from the start. Many of the campaign resources would be changed right from the start.

Steve's version of Zothique based on Rodney Mathews fantastic artwork.
Used without permission no breech of trademark or copyright is intended.

There's a lot that I would do different these days, especially given the fact that I've got so many good OSR resources & the fact that I've still got Steve's campaign notes. Steve had based much of his material on the 
the Zothique D20 Guide
 hosted on the  'The Eldritch Dark' website. But these days I've got a ton of additional OSR stuff available to me as a dungeon master. Given the fact that I own a good chunk of the Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea rpg books & adventures this is the source book & OSR Rpg system that I'd be using as a campaign base. 

Then I'd go straight back to Steve's notes & go back to the Zothique cycle of stories themselves.  
Let's start with the fact that Greg Gorgonmilk did an affordable version of Zothique available on Lulu. Bless his heart! 

Given Steve's notes I'd use ACK's Heroic Handbook  coupled with AS&SH & then spun through the lens of Domains at War complete. I asked Alexander Marcus for a copy of Domains at War Complete. To be honest I'm still going through it.

Couple Domains of War with Goblinoid Games Realms of Crawling Chaos & you've got a perfect set up for Lovecraftian city state warfare. And yes that is as insane as it sounds.  But why would there be city state warfare in Zothique?

The real fly in the Zothique ointment?! Well that's the Amber family (d'Amberville in French, as an option) who have influence & involvement in Zothique. The Amber family from Tom Moldvay's X2 Castle Amber has been a major pain in the neck for my players for years now. Stephen Amber is dead but he's not gone at all. According to Steve's notes. The lich of Stephen Amber has been engaged in a three sided war with the Lich Lords from Mayfair Games Role Aids Adventure Lich Lords

But what your not seeing is the fact that Stephen Amber isn't simply an arch wizard but an arch wizard with the command of Principalities of Glantri as his secret weapon. The deserts of Zothique are his battle ground for the control of the world of Zothique.  T
he d'Ambreville family appears prominently in GAZ3: "The Principalities of Glantri" (1987). So there's a strong connection between Mystara & my setting version of Zothique. Mystara is by no means an isolated plane & has interaction with both Zothique & even Ravenloft given my experience of campaign play in Steve's gaming sessions. 

Mark of Amber puts this influence over the top and brings the cursed family of the d'Ambreville family in a whole different place. With hundreds of agents combing across the face of Zothique looking for clues to the patriarch of the d'Ambreville family. 

But I can already hear the Adventurer, Conqueror,King crowd going where's Barbarian Conquerors of Kanahu by Omer Joel, & Alexander Macris? Well that title is being saved for a  completely different aspect of this campaign.
 The cycle of Clark Ashton Smith's stories are as follows: 
What are the connections between 
 Averoigne, Ravenloft, Mystara, & even Castle Amber itself? That dear friends is a blog entry for another day

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