Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Kingdoms of Sand & Death - "Empire of the Necromancers" By Clark Aston Smith & Zothique

 "The legend of Mmatmuor and Sodosma shall arise only in the latter cycles of Earth, when the glad legends of the prime have been forgotten. Before the time of its telling, many epochs shall have passed away, and the seas shall have fallen in their beds, and new continents shall have come to birth. Perhaps, in that day, it will serve to beguile for a little the black weariness of a dying race, grown hopeless of all but oblivion. I tell the tale as men shall tell it in Zothique, the last continent, beneath a dim sun and sad heavens where the stars come out in terrible brightness before eventide."
"Empire of the Necromancers" By Clark Aston Smith (Weird Tales, September 1932) 

Is there any other tale such as "Empire of the Necromancers" By Clark Aston Smith (Weird Tales, September 1932)?! No, the curtain is raised on our two necromancers from Naat who go about setting themselves up as the two kings in the mighty graveyard of an abandoned city of a not so forgotten empire. According to the wiki entry on Zothique the breakdown goes something like this; "Setting: The city of Yethlyreom in the realm of Cincor. Characters: Mmatmuor and Sodosma, necromancers; Illeiro and Hestaiyon, dead emperors of Cincor." 
The undead in CAS's Empire of the Necromancers are both ancient rulers & victims within their own realm. And it's the perversion of the state of undeath in this story that highlights the complete violation of the 
 dead emperors of Cincor. And it speaks volumes of the nature of Zothique itself as a setting.

 A world of tomb like ancient empires set amid the grand rot of the Earth on its last legs. 
 If your not farmiliar with Zothique let me enlighten you with a letter between Clark Ashton Smith & L. Sprague de Camp from the Zothique wiki entry;

"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."

 "Empire of the Necromancers" By Clark Aston Smith is the a typical Zothique tale with it's haughty characters. Strange dark occult underpinnings and it's air of mystery. If you haven't read "Empire of the Necromancers" By Clark Aston Smith then I will not spoilt the ending. But needless to say that the tale is one of CAS's best tales. "Empire of the Necromancers" By Clark Aston Smith speaks volumes about what has been left behind in the wastelands of Zothique and what makes the setting so unique. For the dungeon master this is master class in adventure hooks scattered throughout the three or four page tale. From hints of extensive ruins and scattered dungeons "Empire of the Necromancers" By Clark Aston Smith drops them in spades. 

"Empire of the Necromancers" By Clark Aston Smith could be used as the basis for a Hill Canton's style point crawl where the PC's are hot on the trail of the necromancers after their dirty magicks in the wastelands of Zothique. Learning of their dark fate only seals the deal for the PC's. Because they will only have hints & rumors to help piece together the two necromancer's fates. There may indeed be treasure but would it be cursed by the dead emperors of Cincor themselves?

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