Monday, June 8, 2020

The Lost World By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle As Old School Campaign Setting

Nineteen Seventy Four was a killer year if you were a dinosaur fanatic like I was as a kid. Let me start off with a bit of quick background. I got an email request about a generic OD&D, AD&D, & OSR friendly non commercial setting that could be quickly set up & ready to go. Now why I mention Seventy four is because of the other Saturday morning cartoon show from Hanna Barbara that never gets mentioned. Yes I'm talking about; "Valley of the Dinosaurs is a 30-minute Saturday morning animated series produced by the Australian studios of Hanna-Barbera Productions and broadcast on CBS from September 7 to December 21, 1974."  Basically many folks see it as a poor man's Land of the Lost and while it shares many similarities with that show. There are some distinctions & one of those is the geographic location of Land of the Lost.

With that iconic voice over coming over the tube in the early morning you were tuning in to see dinosaurs. I was thinking about the fact that they had taken a good portion of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World and dropped in their characters into it. And that's where we begin to diverge from Valley of The Dinosaurs. I'm talking about Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novel from 1912 & not the Michael Crichton novel from which we gets so many iconic CGI dinosaurs.Instead we're talking about one of the first block buster speculative fiction adventure novels of its time;"The Lost World is a novel released in 1912 by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle concerning an expedition to a plateau in the Amazon basin of South America where prehistoric animals (dinosaurs and other extinct creatures) still survive. It was originally published serially in the popular Strand Magazine and illustrated by New-Zealand-born artist Harry Rountree during the months of April–November 1912. The character of Professor Challenger was introduced in this book. The novel also describes a war between indigenous people and a vicious tribe of ape-like creatures." Yeah pay attention to those vicious tribes of ape like creatures because they'll become very important in a moment. "The Lost World is a 1925 silent fantasy adventure film adaptated from Arthur Conan Doyle's 1912 novel of the same name. The movie was produced by First National Pictures, a major Hollywood studio at the time, and stars Wallace Beery as Professor Challenger. It was directed by Harry O. Hoyt and featured pioneering stop motion special effects by Willis O'Brien, a forerunner of his work on the original King Kong. Doyle, who also created Sherlock Holmes, appears in a frontispiece to the film, absent from some extant prints."
Below is the complete and updated version of the film The Lost World and its an excellent resource of the film you can find it over at the Internet Archive. It runs for about one hour & sixteen minutes.

The plot is one that we've seen a million times in paperbacks and pulp magazines but this is one of the best uses of the lost prehistoric world its also one of the seminal classics; "Edward Malone, a reporter for the Daily Gazette, asks his news editor, McArdle, for a dangerous and adventurous mission in order to impress the woman he loves, Gladys Hungerton. He is sent to interview the cantankerous Professor Challenger, who has become notorious for claims made about his recent expedition to South America. The professor has been plagued by intrusive reporters and, being a formidable man of great strength, has taken to forcibly ejecting them, despite the resulting police prosecutions. To gain entry Malone pretends to be an honest enquirer, but is quickly discovered, assaulted and thrown into the street. Although this is witnessed by a policeman, Malone does not press charges as the original deceit was his. Challenger is suitably impressed, and decides to reveal something of his discovery of living dinosaurs in South America. Malone is invited to a scientific gathering that evening at which he volunteers, along with the biologist Professor Summerlee and the Amazon adventurer Lord John Roxton, to travel to South America to investigate the claims. After a long and arduous journey they reach the plateau. But one of their local guides has a score to settle with Roxton and destroys their temporary bridge across a precipice, trapping the explorers on the dinosaurs' plateau, where he expects them to meet their deaths.
On the plateau, the explorers encounter five iguanodons and are later attacked by pterodactyls, and Roxton finds some blue clay in which he takes a great interest. After numerous encounters with dinosaurs, Challenger, Summerlee, and Roxton are captured by a race of 'ape-men'. While in the ape-men's village, they discover a tribe of anatomically-modern humans (calling themselves Accala) inhabiting the other side of the plateau, with whom the ape-men (called Doda by the Accala) are at war. With the help of the expedition's firepower, the Accala conquer the ape-men; and insist that the expedition remain on the plateau. With the help from the young prince of the Accala, whom they had saved from the ape-men, the expedition discover a tunnel to the outside world, where they join a large rescue party. Upon return to England, they present their report, which include pictures and a newspaper report by Malone; but they are disbelieved by the public, until Challenger shows a live pterodactyl as proof, which then escapes into the Atlantic Ocean. At dinner, Roxton reveals that the blue clay contains diamonds, about £200,000 worth, to be split between them. Challenger plans to open a private museum, Summerlee plans to retire and categorize fossils, and Roxton plans to return to the lost world. Malone returns to his love, Gladys, only to find that she had married a solicitor's clerk in his absence. He therefore volunteers to join Roxton's voyage."
So what is it about the Conan Doyle book that is so important? Well Maple White Land is a hidden prehistoric  world on a South American plateau. It has all of the classic ingredients of the lost world genre & its all public domain. Many gamers haven't even read the book and so its wide open for exploitation by enterprising dungeon masters. In fact Maple White Land is a perfect OSR setting & recently I got the chance to play in a very different game by a friend. Glen is a DM up in Litchfield Ct that I've known for years whose DMing a very different sort of OSR campaign inspired by Sir Arthur Conan's The Lost World with few pulpy twists of his own.

Glen is a first edition AD&D dungeon master and retroclone enthusiast like I'm and loves to tinker with settings. Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World is easily adaptable to a number of OSR style games. With all of the classic setting material available its easy to see why. Here's how one dungeon master has made it his default OSR setting.

He's taken the setting of Maple White Land and made it into a hot house laboratory for HG Well's Morlocks of Time Machine  fame who are actually the vicious ape like humanoids that Professor Challenger's party fights and defeats. These are a variation of the Labyrinth Lord Morlocks able to go out in daylight but just as degenerate as their overseers.
The Morlocks are not the original owners of the laboratory but we'll get to the original owners  in a second. The campaign was actually inspired by a mash up of Goblinoid Games Labyrinth Lord retroclone systems & Mutant Future as well as Realms of Crawling Chaos thrown in for good measure. The setting was generated using the classic book. The Morlocks have been maintaining the systems of Maple White land for a very long time but their purpose is most likely the same as the time machine.

The original owners of Maple White land are H.P. Lovecraft's Old Ones who used this location as a biological breeding facility for alien and unknown purposes. Glen's campaign uses Lamentations of the Flame Princess real history conceit to add in his PC's at various times of history finding Maple White Land mixed in with some of the alien tech of World of the Lost plus bits of LoFP's Carcosa. Let's just say that there are certain tunnels you really don't want to go down in his version of Maple White Land.

Another aspect that Glen has mixed in is the inclusion of Maple White Land's Plateau surviving an apocalyptic event. Here your PC's are mutant cave men adventurers trying to survive in a mutated world gone mad. The Morlocks have spread out into the world and things are starting to get weird as Iguanodon
,Stegosaurus,  Allosaurus ,Megalosaurus , Apatosaurus  have spread to the Florida panhandle and the world has been terriformed into a jungle wasteland. There are deep connections to Rafael Chandler's 2016 supplement "The World of the Lost" but I can't get into them here because several of Glen's players read this blog. If you haven't picked up LoFP's World of the Lost I suggest you do, its a good solid campaign & toolbox plus its a good read packed with useful OSR stuff.

The Lost World remains a public domain resource that seems to seldom get mentioned in OSR circles which is too bad. The book would make an excellent excursion for Dark Albion as well with expeditions being mounted to Maple White Land for all kinds of natural resources. The book has the potential to be an exceptional old school campaign if a DM wants to put the time and effort into mapping it out.

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Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World For Free

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