I wanted to play a game that caught the atmosphere of Robert E Howard’s Conan, Karl Edward Wagner’s Kane, or Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Grey Mouser stories. I wanted to adventure in a place of unholy shadows, where magic was scary and thrilling and men with swords sought lost treasures in glittering towers where old gods and dark secrets waited.
Clearly, D&D was not quite what I was looking for. The white box contained an unholy mishmash of Tolkien, bits of medieval history, and a weird variation of Vancian magic from the Dying Earth which, while awesomely powerful, was not very scary or, well, magical. Magic items were as common as if they came in cereal boxes. And what was with it with those cleric guys and the undead?
The setting of D&D did not look like any fantasy world I had read about, but it was clearly influenced by a number of them. There were thieves that might have been Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. There was a barbarian character class in an issue of White Dwarf that might, if you squinted, have resembled something like Conan.
But D&D did not quite hit the mark. There were also elves and halflings and dwarves and all manner of other things that did not exist in the S&S universes of my particular dreams. There were echoes of Howard and Leiber and Clark Ashton Smith, but they were smudged over with bits of Tolkien and a kind of high fantasy.