Sunday, August 19, 2012

Swords & Sorcery

I've been looking at the upcoming setting product Tales From the Fallen Empire, which looks really interesting to me. I love that it takes inspiration from the fantasy films of Roger Corman, such as The Warrior and the Sorceress and Deathstalker, as well as the more traditional sword & sorcery fiction of Leiber and Howard. The only thing I'm not so intrigued by is that it is going to be for Dungeon Crawl Classics. Now, I've not got much against that game, but it's just not likely to be one that I am going to pick up. I've already got a couple of class/level games that treat sword & sorcery topics well enough (I'm talking about D&D and S&W, as well as The Arcanum), and I haven't seen anything that really compels me about DCC.

Anyway, I discovered this setting when I was googling around for information about The Warrior and the Sorceress, and found a thread on one of the RPG boards about it where it was mentioned that one of the classes in the setting (the "Wanderer") was inspired by the Order of the Homerac from that film, or specifically by David Carradine's character in it. It got me thinking, though, about what specific movies and fiction I'd want to use as inspiration for a swords & sorcery setting, staying away from the obvious ones like Conan the Barbarian and the works of people like Howard or Leiber.

The Warrior and the Sorceress is a no-brainer. There's a lot of implied setting there that can serve as inspiration. Similarly, Deathstalker is pretty neat. There are some interesting ideas in Fire and Ice, which is pretty much what happens when you take Frazetta's art and make it into a setting and story. The "Taarna" sequence from Heavy Metal has a lot of inspirational imagery and concepts, and the "Den of Earth" sequence has a few ideas as well.

Speaking of Taarna, there's the story sequence of Arzach and Legends of Arzach by Moebius and Lofficier.

An unusual source which might be interesting is the boardgame Dark Emperor from Avalon Hill. The idea of an immortal necromancer coming back from the land of the dead with the Lord of Vampires and the Goddess of Fear to conquer a decaying empire is an interesting one. The unusual geography (it is based on a landscape of meteor strikes and the resulting round seas instead of plate tectonics) is neat, too.

Tanith Lee's Tales From the Flat Earth books are amazing. Vaguely Arabesque fantasy with a darkly modern perspective, like fairy tales told by a madwoman. She's also writing a couple of new ones, so soon there will be seven volumes or more, with the upcoming two to be published in 2014 and 2015.

Richard Tierney's Simon of Gitta stories are a wonderful mix of sword & sandal, sword & sorcery, and Lovecraftian themes, rationalizing the heretic Derleth's ideas with those of Lovecraft through the interpretation of Gnostic theology, but a lot more entertaining than that sounds. Most of the stories are collected in the Chaosium collection Scroll of Thoth, and the others are found in the novel The Drums of Chaos, one story in the Chaosium collection The Azathoth Cycle, and one story (originally published in the magazine Crypt of Cthulhu) online here. There's also a novel titled The Gardens of Lucullus, which is part of the cycle, but very hard to find at the moment. Loosely connected, the movie The Silver Chalice was an inspiration on this series of stories, as Tierney has said that Jack Palance's portrayal of Simon the Magician is how he envisions the main character.

What odd sources would you use for a sword & sorcery setting?


  1. Replies
    1. Excellent choice! I can't believe that I left that one out, since I just watched it a few days ago.