The Great Savage Sword Re-Read: Vol 4

Sunday, May 7th, 2017 | Posted by John R. Fultz

SSoC-Vol4-CvrThis series explores the Savage Sword of Conan collections from Dark Horse reprinting Marvel Comics’ premiere black-and-white fantasy mag from the 1970s. Previous installments: Volume 1 / Volume 2 / Volume 3.

In volume 4 the superb team of John Buscema (pencils) and Tony DeZuniga (inks) continues to dominate the magazine’s “Golden Age” (i.e. the late 70s). However, this volume begins with John’s talented brother Sal Buscema stepping in for issue #37, ably inked by Rudy Nebres.

It’s a good issue, but things really take off when the regular (John) Buscema/DeZuniga team returns in #38 to adapt the story “Road of Eagles” by Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague DeCamp. This is a landmark issue: Conan has never looked more fierce, and his world hasn’t been this fully realized since Alfredo Alcala’s hyper-detailed inks in the mag’s early days.

I’ve read that Buscema didn’t care much for DeZuniga’s inks — but he didn’t really like anyone’s inks over his pencils except his own. That’s fairly common for the Great Pencillers of comics history — yet they were usually too busy with deadlines to do their own inks.

Personal taste aside, Roy Thomas obviously realized the greatness of the Buscema/DeZuniga pairing. He made sure this team worked together as often as possible: 7 out of these 12 issues feature John Buscema pencils with DeZuniga inks. Roy even tapped DeZuniga to ink two more great issues penciled by Sal Buscema (i.e. #39 and #44).

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Literary Wonder & Adventure Podcast Presents: Robert E. Howard, Master of Sword & Sorcery: A Conversation with Author Howard Andrew Jones

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017 | Posted by John ONeill

Literary Wonder & Adventure Show Howard Andrew Jones

I have thoroughly enjoyed the last two audio shows from Robert Zoltan’s Dream Tower Media, a lively conversation with Black Gate blogger Ryan Harvey on Edgar Rice Burroughs, and a fascinating discussion with Scott Oden on the history and writing of J.R.R. Tolkien. So I was very excited to see that for Episode #4 the subject was the distinguished Howard Andrew Jones, author of the beloved Dabir & Asim Arabian fantasy tales, and the future bestseller For the Killing of Kings, out next year from St. Martin’s Press. The topic this time was none other than Robert E. Howard, the legendary creator of Conan, and perhaps the greatest Sword & Sorcery author of all time.

As usual, calling this a podcast doesn’t do it justice, as it’s really a professionally-produced radio show set in the dimension-hopping Dream Tower (with a talking raven). I’ve had plenty of lengthy discussions with Howard — who is the Managing Editor of Black Gate — over the years, and here he’s at the peak of his form, entertaining and highly informative. The podcast opens with a animated discussion of life in small town Texas, Robert E. Howard’s substantial gifts as a storyteller, and why he added whipping scenes to so many pulp tales. It looks at REH’s enduring creations — including Conan, Solomon Kane, and Dark Agnes — before exploring our fascination with ruins, Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, and the influence of gaming on modern fantasy.

My only criticism is the host’s tendency to wander off topic, and repeatedly cut off his guests to talk about himself. Robert Zoltan is a fascinating guy, and I enjoy his opinions, but that doesn’t mean that a 1-hour podcast on Robert E. Howard is the right place for a 3 minute monologue on Van Gogh, or a 7-minute monologue on narcissism and how hard it is to make a living as a musician. Future podcasts should focus more on his guests, or maybe just do away with the pretense of an interview entirely. That might set better expectations with listeners.

Check out Literary Wonder & Adventure Podcast Presents: Robert E. Howard, Master of Sword & Sorcery: A Conversation with Author Howard Andrew Jones, and all the episodes of the Literary Wonder & Adventure Podcast, here.

Modular: Rethinking the OSR through Modiphius’s Conan – Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of

Thursday, February 9th, 2017 | Posted by Gabe Dybing

ConanRPGWell, many of you don’t need to be told that Mophidius’s Conan: Adventures in an Age Undreamed Of is out. Well, maybe it’s not quite out: for those of us who require a hard copy, word is it won’t be shipping until sometime in June. But backers and shoppers now have access to PDF copies of the Conan Core Book and a collection of adventures entitled Jeweled Thrones of the Earth.

I became a backer quite late in the game. Indeed, it couldn’t have been much more than a month ago. I’m not sure why I was late. I’m almost certain I looked at the Kickstarter when it was announced but probably initially passed it over because I assumed that so much of the Conan material probably was done “better” (as in open to additional literary inspirations) in the “conventional” rpgs (D&D and its clones) with which most of us already are familiar.

Curiosity is what made me change my mind. Modiphius was offering free “Quick Start” rules in PDF form. I downloaded them and read them all, including the introductory adventure. Contrary to what some others on this site have reported, I was absorbed and excited by the rules set. I didn’t run the adventure because, well, I write my own adventures. And, outside of egotism, the main reason I don’t run other people’s adventures is because I can’t see how most of them can work. At one point in the introductory “To Race the Thunder” adventure, it reads,

With no hope of joining or rescuing the forces inside the fort, the player characters’ only hope is to strike out to the settlements, to warn the settlers, gathering them and helping them across the Thunder River to safety. The banks of the Thunder River are their only hope at this point, else they will all end up as corpses, cooling as their life-blood sinks into the black and hungry earth.

Are you kidding me? If my players are told they can’t possibly get into the fort, you can be certain that that is the one and only thing they obsessively will try. And with me as GM, they very likely will succeed.

And with that observation, I have come to the thesis of this article: rethinking the OSR in light of what I have learned from reading the new Conan RPG. The OSR, as many of us need not be told, stands for Old-School Renaissance (or Revival, or Roleplaying). And I am fascinated and excited by it. For the few of us who don’t know already, broadly speaking the OSR names a movement in the tabletop rpg industry that is regressive, perhaps nostalgic, a return to iterations of D&D that were popular before the third edition (or d20 system) of the rules. This return was facilitated by “retroclones” made legal under the Open Game License. Examples of retroclones are Swords & Wizardry, Castles & Crusades, Dungeon Crawl Classics and a host of others that might be impossible to enumerate. And to add to this OSR, players no longer need “return” to revised versions of the old rules but can purchase the actual old rules outright from Wizards of the Coast, because the latest owner of the D&D property now has released virtually its entire back stock in PDF and print form.

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Modular: An Interview with Jeffrey Talanian, the Creator and Publisher of Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea

Friday, November 11th, 2016 | Posted by Gabe Dybing

hyperborea2ecoverThis November 3-5 I had the pleasure of attending the fourth iteration of Gamehole Con in lovely Madison, Wisconsin. At the con I had the additional pleasure of sitting down at Jeffrey Talanian’s table to play an Amazonian Fighter in Jeff’s Lovecraftian adventure “The Rats in the Walls”. I’m not going to give away spoilers here, but the creepy escapade had more to it than rats in walls! And, despite Jeff’s best attempts to kill us, our party overcame its antagonists in an epic last battle of first-level proportions! If you can’t tell from my exclamation points, it was great fun!

Jeff’s “The Rats in the Walls” takes place in the City-State of Khromarium. This is an area in Hyperborea, which is the official campaign setting for Jeff’s own roleplaying game that is published by North Wind Adventures. The second edition of Jeff’s game currently is 365% funded on Kickstarter with nine days left to go! After our game, Jeff graciously agreed to an interview with me. Here it is:

What is AS&SH?

AS&SH stands for Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, a role-playing game of swords, sorcery, and weird fantasy. It is a tabletop RPG inspired by the fiction of Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith. Its rules are inspired by the works of Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax. AS&SH was released in 2012 as a boxed set. In 2013, it was nominated for several ENnie awards (Best Game, Best Production Values, Product of the Year), and in 2017 it will be rereleased in Second Edition hardback format.

Why did you create a game specific to the flavor of these writers and these genres? Did this grow out of what they call a “homebrew” game? If so, please tell us about that game and exactly how it resulted in AS&SH?

Growing up, I greatly admired fantasy, science fiction, and horror. I started reading genre fiction at a very young age (most notably the Conan paperbacks, The Hobbit, and The Chronicles of Narnia). I also got into comic books and magazines; Savage Sword of Conan and The Mighty Thor were my favorites. I also devoured sword-and-sorcery themed cartoons and films. I never missed an episode of Thundarr the Barbarian, and films like Conan the Barbarian, The Beastmaster, Hawk the Slayer, and Krull really captured my imagination in those halcyon days. I loved Tolkien, and read Lord of the Rings in the sixth grade, but for me it was always the grittier, more personal tales that I’ve loved most: Conan, Kull, Solomon Kane, Elric, Hawkmoon, Corum, Tarzan, John Carter, Carson Napier, Doc Savage, Gray Mouser, etc.

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Heavy Metal Lyrics, Sword & Sorcery Fantasy and Video Games: A Cultural Synergy by Dr. Fred Adams

Thursday, September 1st, 2016 | Posted by Bob Byrne

Fred_SpaceInvadersLast year, Dr Fred C. Adams, Ph.D., joined our parade of writers in the Discovering Robert E. Howard series with an entry on Esau Cairn, REH’s classic science fiction character. Dr. Adams is back for another guest post here at Black Gate. Put on your headphones and go!

The parallel (and almost simultaneous) ascensions of heavy metal music, video game technology (which later migrated to personal computers), and sword and sorcery fantasy to mass popularity from the early 1970s forward are not coincidental. Rather, they are synergistic. All three draw from the late 20th century youth culture’s fatalism and nihilism, honed to a fine edge in the fin de siècle era of the 1990s.

Consider the aesthetic of the Ur-arcade-video game of the 1980s, Space Invaders: ranks of grotesque aliens march across the screen as space ships fly overhead firing missiles. You, represented by a screen icon, scuttle back and forth, trapped in a small area firing and dodging missiles while trying to destroy the oncoming ranks of invaders before they reach you and symbolically stomp you into the earth.

The more you destroy, the more ranks appear, starting closer and advancing more quickly. You can forestall death for a time, but the denouement is inevitable. You will lose; the programming foreordains that you will die no matter how well or how long you fight. Other games of the era, like Missile Command, and Asteroids followed suit.

An occasional arcade game like Dragonquest allowed victory, but most reduced play to a life-and-death struggle the player will never win. The kill tally represents the only satisfaction—how many of them do I take with me? As the Time Traveler of Wells’ famous novel says of fighting an impossible number of Morlocks in the darkened forest, “I will make them pay for their meat.”

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Discovering Robert E Howard: The New Conan RPG

Tuesday, March 15th, 2016 | Posted by Bob Byrne

ConanRPG_QuickstartThere’s a massively successful Conan Kickstarter wrapping up this week.

I’m a fan of Mongoose’s Conan RPG. It ran from 2004 through 2010, with over three dozen books between the 1st and 2nd Editions. It used the Open Game License. Well, dice rollers will once again be wreaking havoc throughout the Hyborian Age. Modiphius Games seems to have hit the jackpot with Robert E Howard’s Conan: Adventures in An Age Undreamed Of.

The base goal of $65,344 was to produce the Core Rulebook. As I type this, the KS is at $393,000. 13 stretch goals have been unlocked, adding 1 adventure book, 1 bestiary, 6 sourcebooks, 2 sets of geomorph tiles, 2 maps and double the art in the Core book. With the late surge successful Kickstarters inevitably get, I expect a few more items to be unlocked. There’s also a slew of add-ons (need a Conan backpack?) you can toss more money at, as well as stuff like a sourcebook tie-in to Monolith’s massively successful Conan board game.

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Discovering Robert E. Howard: “My Very Dear Beans, Cornbread and Onions” (Valentine’s Day—Robert E. Howard Style)

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016 | Posted by Barbara Barrett

One Who Walked Alone Novalyne Price Ellis-smallFor those of you who searched for the right way to describe your feelings for that certain special someone on February 14, Robert E. Howard might have been be a good source. After all, he was a wizard with words. And he did have a novel approach when it came to romance. As Bob Howard explains to Novalyne Price Ellis in her book One Who Walked Alone:

[M]en made a terrible mistake when they called their best girls their rose or violet or names like that, because a man ought to call his girl something that was near his heart. What, he asked, was nearer a man’s heart than his stomach? Therefore he considered it to be an indication of his deep felt love and esteem to call me his cherished little bunch of onion tops, and judging from past experience, both of us had a highest regard for onions. (106)

REH expanded this “indication of his deep felt love and esteem” in future letters to include:

“My very dear little Bunch of Radishes” or “My very dear Beans, Cornbread and Onions” or “My dear Sausage and Big, Brown Fluffy Biscuits as well as sliced red beets with butter over them.” (110)

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Discovering Robert E. Howard: Howard Andrew Jones and Bill Ward Wrap Up Their Epic Conan Re-Read

Monday, February 29th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

Conan and the Emerald Lotus-small Conan and the Emerald Lotus-back

Howard Andrew Jones and Bill Ward have completed their epic re-read of every complete story of Conan the Cimmerian written by Robert E. Howard. They’ve been blogging about the project at, and we’ve been following along with the viewers at home. In their wrap-up, Howard and Bill look over the vast catalog of Conan pastiches.

Howard: Such a fantastic character practically begs to have more adventures told about him, which is probably why the regrettable Conan pastiche industry popped up. Well, maybe not entirely regrettable, because I’ve read some I’ve really enjoyed…

Bill:  I’m actually looking forward at this point to checking out the many pastiches I’ve never read — I’ve got a stack of Ace Conans that I’d started reading before we came up with the plans for this epic reread… I’ve never read the deCamp and Carter pastiches, or the other stories by REH that de Camp Frankensteined into Conan tales. It’ll be a while before I jump into that series, though, as [I’ll] be rereading all the REH tales again as well. As for other pastiches, I’ve only read a few — Wagner’s Road of Kings was good, and, of course, Hocking’s [Conan and the] Emerald Lotus is terrific.

Read the complete exchange here.

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Discovering Robert E. Howard: Howard Andrew Jones and Bill Ward Re-Read “Red Nails”

Tuesday, February 16th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

Weird Tales July 1936 Red Nails-smallHoward Andrew Jones and Bill Ward wrap up their re-read of The Conquering Sword of Conan by Robert E. Howard with the novella “Red Nails,” the last Conan tale REH ever wrote. In a letter to Clark Ashton Smith, Howard said:

Sent a three-part serial to Wright yesterday: “Red Nails,” which I devoutly hope he’ll like. A Conan yarn, and the grimmest, bloodiest and most merciless story of the series so far. Too much raw meat, maybe, but I merely portrayed what I honestly believe would be the reactions of certain types of people in the situations on which the plot of the story hung…

“Red Nails” was originally serialized in the July, August/September, and October 1936 issues of Weird Tales. Here’s Bill and Howard:

Bill: Arguably, the final Conan stories seem to show a bit of a distancing between REH and his creation… I think anyone reading “Red Nails” who has some awareness of REH’s life will at some point stop to ponder the question of whether or not he ever intended to return to Hyboria, or if perhaps the Cimmerian himself had run out of stories to dictate at REH’s shoulder. Whatever the answer, “Red Nails” does serve as a fitting farewell to the character and world that have become so dear to so many, offering a story of adventure, intrigue, and exoticism…

Howard: [Valeria is] the closest we’ve come for a long time to seeing someone who is Conan’s equal partner… although she’s not, really. She IS the most formidable of the women who appear in Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories… But what a masterful opening, with Valeria finding the lay of the land, then mystery following upon mystery. The strange skeleton, the lost city, and the exotic environment are all incredibly compelling.

Read the complete exchange here.

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Discovering Robert E. Howard: Howard Andrew Jones and Bill Ward Re-Read “The Black Stranger”

Thursday, February 4th, 2016 | Posted by John ONeill

The Conquering Sword of Conan-smallHoward Andrew Jones and Bill Ward are wrapping up their re-read of The Conquering Sword of Conan by Robert E. Howard, the third and final omnibus volume collecting the complete tales of Conan, with what Howard calls “my most pleasant surprise so far during the re-read,” the story “The Black Stranger.” It was never published during Robert E. Howard’s lifetime, appearing for the first time in Karl Edward Wagner’s anthology Echoes of Valor in 1987. Here’s Bill:

Like “Beyond the Black River” which precedes it, “The Black Stranger” is a tale set in the Pictish wilderness of Hyboria that sees a vulnerable outpost of civilization overrun by the wild men of the wood. But this time around the threat of the Picts — still an Amerindian analog — serve as more of a backdrop to the infighting and machinations of pirate captains, an exiled nobleman, and a cagey Conan. Again REH draws on the American frontier for inspiration, but it isn’t the dominant theme of the piece, which also manages to end on a far more up tempo note despite the carnage. Wild battles, double-crossing, pirate treasure, and a mysterious demonic stranger are all skillfully woven together into a complex but nonetheless fast-paced adventure that stands solidly alongside the better Conan stories.

Read the complete exchange here.

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