Monday, July 28, 2014

[Throwback Thursday] Barbarians of the Wilderlands 1

So today’s Throwback Thursday was pretty much called out by the OSR itself, as the subject of the Barbarian class in AD&D has been of some issue of late, being discussed both at Tenkar’s Tavern and Greyhawk Grognard.

This is quite pertinent to a major booklet I wrote for the Wilderlands of High Adventure: Barbarians of the Wilderlands 1, which was essentially my attempt to re-create and adapt the Barbarian class presented by Gary in Unearthed Arcana for use with the Wilderlands in Castles & Crusades format. Like most, I had a love/hate relationship with the Barbarian as originally designed. Something always seemed a bit off about it; it did not fit my own personal notions of what a Barbarian class should be like, and it was some years before I understood why.

I grew up, like many, reading the 1966-1977 Lancer/Ace editions of Robert E. Howard’s Conan stories; you know these well, as they were graced by the work of Frank Frazetta, who influenced people’s concept of Conan’s appearance for all time. These are the 12-volume paperback series edited and expanded by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. I also sought out and read a number of the full-blown pastiche novels in the expanded series by various publishers, most notably by Tor from 1982 on…

Gary often mentioned the strong influence the Conan stories had on Dungeons & Dragons from the start; it would be fair to say, I think, that it was the sword and sorcery of Conan that had a greater influence on him than the high fantasy of Tolkien's Middle-earth, though even the Conan stories take a back seat to the picaresque tales of Jack Vance’s Dying Earth. Gary probably read the original Gnome Press compilations of Conan, the first collections of the stories originally released from 1950-1957; this was the first time they were compiled since they were published in Weird Tales from 1932 to 1936.

But strong the influences were, and yet, from the outset of the game, a “barbarian class” was nowhere to be seen. I think that this might come from recognition that, as adventurers go, Conan was quite unique. Though he was a barbarian, and quite proud of that origin, he was so much more than “just another barbarian.” By the end of his career, he was highly educated, perhaps the most well-traveled adventurer of his day, and has been so many more things than just a simple barbarian.

Conan was unique even among his own people. Though given to their black moods and melancholies, he rose above his grim-minded cousins and went into the wider world. Remember, no civilized person who had not spent time on the Cimmerian border ever mentioned having ever even seen a Cimmerian. Conan was not merely a barbarian, he was an aberration, and his career, though hardly unique (as we meet many adventurers in the Conan tales) was the broadest and deepest of its kind in its day, from a street-thief in Zamora to a king in Aquilonia.

Conan wasn't just some thick-skulled barbarian. Rather, Howard’s Conan wasn’t; he was something else, something unique, altogether. However what Conan, the literary character did was launch an entire genre of literature, the Sword & Sorcery genre, with a distinct sub-genre in emulation of Conan himself, the Barbarian Genre. This, I think, is where far more influence on the “Barbarian Class” came from; not Conan himself, but the other barbarians of pulp literature that later followed. As I, and I think many, missed out on these characters, the Barbarian class as presented in Unearthed Arcana always seemed a bit off… as it didn't really emulate Conan much at all, nor did it really intend to...

Dig deeper into Appendix N, and you will find the real fathers of the Barbarian class… Fafhrd of Lankhmar (1957, Fritz Leiber, published by Gnome Press, the second publishers of Conan stories); Thongor of Lemuria (1965, a Conan pastiche by Lin Carter, ere his work on Conan); Ganelon Silvermane of the Gondwane series (1974, again, Carter); and Kothar and Kyrik (1969 and 1975, respectively, both by Gardner Fox). And these are merely the barbarian characters who made the cut to both get published books (rather than mere stories in various magazines) and get mentioned in Appendix N.

Pulp fiction was rife in the late ’70s and early ’80s with stories with barbarian characters who had been inspired by Conan, and Gary had read, at the very least, many of the most prominent of them. I believe that it was these barbarian characters, rather than Conan himself, upon which Gary's Barbarian class was based. That, I believe, is why the Barbarian class never rang true with me, in relation to the Conan stories I had read. It was not until more recently that I was able to acquire the Kothar and Kyrik tales, and put all the materials therein in conjunction with what I knew about Fafhrd, Thongor, Ganelon, and the other barbarians of the later pulp era (notably Brak the Barbarian, by John Jakes, published first in 1968).

Suddenly, after reading these stories, the Barbarian class as Gary designed it made a whole lot more sense. It was never meant to emulate Conan; it was meant to emulate these other barbarians, inspired by what the readers and writers thought Conan was all about. These other barbarians are more like stripped-down versions of Conan, focusing on the caricature of the barbarian rather than the character of Conan himself, as of course each author had to develop his own character separate and distinct from that of the “original” barbarian.

So anyway, this realization came upon me long after I had published Barbarians of the Wilderlands I. In it, I developed the Barbarian class as I felt it should have been, if written for use with Castles & Crusades. It included many of the core elements that made Gary’s Barbarian distinctive, but also was designed more with emulation of Conan in mind, notably with the addition of the Versatility class ability, which allows the barbarian to adapt to the society and cultures around him as he travels about on adventures. In essence, I created a “Conan-style” barbarian and left the barbarian class as developed in Castles & Crusades (itself a development of the barbarian in Third Edition Dungeons & Dragons) as the more “generic barbarian,” or “savage warrior,” as I re-name the core C&C barbarian class in Barbarians of the Wilderlands I.

Here’s the sale’s blurb:

From beyond the Pale they stride. Grim, mighty-thewed, born on battlefields and raised amidst wolves and lions. A road of red ruin they wreak across the civilized lands. From the cold north, the burning wastes, the boundless plains, and the fetid jungles they come, finding civilization wanting, but wanting all that civilization can give... and whatever they can take...
 Barbarians of the Wilderlands 1 features an alternative barbarian class for Castles & Crusades; tips on how to work both the original barbarian class (renamed "savage warrior") and the barbarian in together in urban and rural civilizations; plus listing and details on the major barbarian nations of the Wilderlands. If you prefer a barbarian class based on classic pulp Sword & Sorcery themes, this is the class you have been looking for...
 The new barbarian class abilities include: Native Arms & Armor, Primal Rage, Resilience, Savage Glory, Sixth Sense, Tribal Abilities (Animal Handling, Armor Maker, Battle Cry, Berserkergang, Bowyer, Canoeing, Demon Slayer, Fast Movement, First Aid, Horsemanship, Horse Warrior, Jumping, Languages, Master Armor Maker, Master Bowyer, Master Weapon Smith, Runes, Running, Savage Horde, Savage Retainers, Scale, Seamanship, Signaling, Sound Imitation, Swimming, Weapon Smith, Wilderness Abilities, and Wizard Slayer), and Versatility.
 Versatility is the great ability of the barbarian, as it enables him to learn the skills and abilities he needs to operate, excel, and conquer in the decadent realms of civilization.
 The new barbarian class can be used with any Castles & Crusades campaign!
 Plus, this booklet also includes details on nine barbarian nations of the Wilderlands of High Adventure: Altanians, Amazons, Karakhans, Karzulun, Mgona, Moonrakers, Skandiks, Tharbrians, and Valonar.
AGP00251, 36-page digest booklet, $7.00 MSRP

I like to think I pretty much succeeded in my goal of creating a more Conan-esque barbarian class. It was certainly one of the more popular AGP product, both in PDF and print format, and is a “Copper Seller” on both DriveThruRPG and RPGNow.

The class itself, however, is less than half the book. The rest is taken up with details on the specific major barbarian peoples of the Wilderlands, brief two-page spreads detailing the history and origins, range, appearance, religion, tribal structure, terrain and climate, favored weapons, favored armor, specific tribal abilities, languages, and names of nine major barbarian nations. So there is a ton of information on the Wilderlands of High Adventure in the book, too. It was the brief write-ups that eventually inspired me to go all-in and write up a complete guide to the Tharbrians… which as I mentioned earlier, didn't sell quite as well.

Finally, I should note that the tome is called "Barbarians of the Wilderlands 1" as a second volume was in the works. That volume was to include the barbarian nations of Karak, to go with the map of Karak, and to include numerous important barbarian NPCs from around the Wilderlands. That volume was only ever partially completed ere I folded AGP. You can find some of the NPCs I wrote up in early posts on the Google+ fan site for the Wilderlands.

I also later went on to put together a Barbarian class for Labyrinth Lord and publish it on my personal blog; this one needs some more work on it, I think. Maybe I’ll finish it some day and combine it with some tribal write-ups for the Barbarians of the Olden Lands… hmmm…

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