Friday, 5 May 2017

The Evil Sorcerer

Thousands of years before the dawn of civilisation, evil magicians fought for supremacy... and Ko-Tep was the most aggressive. 
Ko-Tep: "The world was mine this morning, the battle was won. All that stands im my way is Razman." 
Razman: "OOOH Ko-Tep! you have defeated my hosts. But in order to win this world, you must defeat my magic, or your own demons will destroy you!". 

And so begins the climatic magical dual of Ko-Tep and Razman....

Ko-Tep and his Demon Army
Ko-Teps Demonic Evil Humanoid

Behold! Ko-Teps demon army, a wretched band of scum and villains. A spike-helmed hobgoblin, a Nazgûl re-imagined by Jack Kirby from the neck up,  an armoured vampire Bugbear, a lesser-spotted cycloptic orc, a Barbed Devil (more on him in a moment) a Chaos Broo and some odd fellow in latex fetish gear.  A line-up of strange humanoids that could have been generated by an Encounter Table  out of back of Gary Gygax 1977 Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual.

The Hosts of Razman
Opposing Ko-Teps demonic hordes stands the Hosts of Razman who display a little more orderliness, with their Centurian / Cuirassier / Firefighter helmets, heater shields and pole arms. Not a million miles away from the Legion of Sérqu from Armies of Tekumel (1978) and I wouldn't be surprised if Razman turned up in any 70s TSR product. We don't see much of these armoured warriors, but the prospect of arraying Razman and Koteps armies against each other across a tabletop is an awesome prospect for fantasy wargaming.

But hold on a second, what is this thing we're talking about Zhu? Obviously some kind of cartoon. Thundarr the Barbarian, or the Herculoids? Maybe Space Ghost or Space Sentinels?

No, dear reader, it is Spider-Man.

Spider-Man 1967 Title Card.

Spider-Man?

Spider-Man 1967 Intro. Don't count the legs.
Yes. Your Friendly-Neighbourhood Spider-Man.

The original Spider-Man cartoon was  first broadcast between 1967 and 1970. The first series, produced by Grantray-Lawrence Animation, consisted of reasonably lightweight advetnures of Spider-Man battling his well recognised comic book foes, Scorpion, Green Goblin, Sandman, Mysterio, Rhino, whilst eye-rolling at desk-thumping, cigar chomping newspaper boss J Jonah Jameson and flirting with Betty Brant.

With Series 2 production was moved to Krantz Films, and it gets off to a solid start with the Spider-Man origin story in Episode 21 - the first time in the animations run that the story is told and the series settles into a comfortable mirror of the 1960s comic book, teen romance, looking after Aunt May, battling villains, struggling with studies - all pretty much what one would expect. But then it all starts to unravel, and go a bit weird. Strange otherworldy Swords & Sorcery motifs and freaky psychedelic vibes unexpectedly emerge as the spiders web spins off into unfamiliar territory.

Whilst there are both earlier examples fantasy-genre themes and later near-legendary trips into psychedelic weirdness in Spider-Man, it's Episode 29: The Evil Sorcerer  that stands out as the most clearly Swords & Sorcery influenced episode, in which Peter Parker learns of the prehistoric battle for supremacy between the evil wizards Ko-Tep and Razman.

So we return to our story a thousand years or so after Ko-Teps defeat by the spells of Razman, he is accidentally reanimated from his petrified form to harass museum-going hipsters and beatniks in swinging sixties Manhattan and summons, once again, his mighty fire-breathing Barbed Devil minion. It's not long before Ko-teps evil plans are stopped by Peter Parkers arachnoid alter-ego, but not before he ruins the troubled teenagers date with archeology student and Mary-Jane Watson look-a-like competitor, Susan.


Barbed Devil  | Spider-Man Episode 29: The Evil Sorcerer

Trampier | Barbed Devil | AD&D Monster Manual

The similarities between the demon from Spider-Man and Trampier's Barbed Devil are clear, the cone-head, horns protruding from the middle of the forehead, elongated ears, and although not shown in the screen-cap above, a long tail. Tusks, which are viewable in the group shot, but not in the solo one, are entirely optional. While we're talking about Trampier and Spider-Man, in Episode 30: Vine, we see our Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man doing his Mad Caeru impression...


 Spider-Man Episode 30: Vine
...stealing jewels from the eye sockets of a gargantuan tiki demon idol statue in order to use them as a weapon against giant dimension-hopping Triffids destroying New York City. I kid you not, that is the actual plot. One can only speculate regarding the relationship this scene has with Trampiers cover to the iconic AD&D Players Handbook (1978) which features the theft of jewels a left eye from the eye sockets of a gargantuan demon idol statue. There are burning braziers either side of the idol in the cartoon as well. It's always the left eye that gets stolen first isn't it?

Trampiers Players Handbook 1978

So how did we get here? How did our Friendly Neighbourhood Spider-Man go from the troubled teen costumed crime-fighter with super-science spider-powers to gonzo science-fantasy dimension hopping adventurer?

The first thing any animation fan will tell you is that Spider-Man Series 2 was overseen by Ralph Bakshi, and much of the strangeness is attributed to his influence and Bakshi's love of the fantasy genre is evidenced throughout his career. There is the whole war-of-the-wizards plot in The Evil Sorcerer that characterises both Wizards (1977) and Bakshis adaptation of The Lord of the Ring(1978).  Then there are specific design elements, like the angry green barbarian hobbit goblins that Spider-man calls "Elves" in Episode 27 Spider-Man vs. the Molemen who appear to be direct predecessors of Weehawk and the other denizens of the land of Montagar in Wizards.

Spiderman vs the Moleman "Elves"

Armies of Montagar | Bakshi's Wizards

Then there are also thematic uses of cyclopean architecture, and the sketchy watercolour psychedelic black, cyan and magenta background  colours of Spider-Man that reappear in Wizards and the more adventurous impressionistic scenes in Bakshi's adaptation of Lord of the Rings both by John Vita, I think.

Ian Miller | Scortch | Baskhi Wizards (1977)

Writing credits on Series 2 & 3 of Spider-Man also go to Lin Carter whose Worlds End series is listed by Gary Gygax in Appendix N of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (1979). Whilst obviously later than Carters contributions to Spider-Man, The Warrior of World's End (1974) bears some strong parallels...

Warrior of World's End via
The Warrior of World's End has no discernable plot and instead throws its protagonists into a sequence of increasingly bizarre unplanned events and accidents. The book displays no pretence of character development arcs or other paint-by-numbers literary formula. The muscle-bound dolt of a genetically engineered Hero remains such from beginning to end. The world-building makes no sense whatsoever, there are Tiger-men, Death Dwarves (a kind of poison-eating Niblog), powerful magic using evil queens who are set up as antagonists and then completely abandoned.

Map of Gondwane via

The other characters are a menagerie of Gamma World (1978) random generation proportions - there's a teleporting psychic ghost lobster, a sentient giant golden eagle robot airplane, an illusionist who masks himself constantly in purple vapours, a buxom teenage female warrior knight clone of Red Sonja. Each page reveals some new invention or novel weirdness, yet never seems to form a coherent whole. It's brilliant, wacky fun and maybe where Carter really shines, in the gonzo-funhouse literary equivalent of a saturday morning cartoon.

Carter has more tangible connections into the gaming world as well. Being the co-author of two fantasy games published by FGU - Flash Gordon and the Warriors of Mongo (1977) an RPG sourcebook for the Flash Gordon comics by all accounts,  and the miniatures wargame  Royal Armies of the Hyborean Age (1975) with Carter doing the background and force composition and FGU founder Scott Bizar doing the rules. Carter also corresponded with MAR Barker on Barkers Tékumel prior to the publication of The Empire of the Petal Throne (1975)  - and for the petalheads out there, Carter briefly borrows the name "Yán Kor" - an Empire to the north of the lands of the Petal Throne for the name of an immense desert in Warrior of Worlds End . This is amusing not least because  Barker and Carters world-building strategies seem so at odds, Barker containing much that is strange and unusual brings his vision into a coherent and richly detailed whole, whereas Carter seems more enamoured with the joys of invention and poaching from pop-culture for its own sake. In this way both Spider-Man and World's End are very much like Gary Gygaxs default setting in AD&D, where quasi-folkloric and fairy-tale figures rub shoulders with dinosaurs and creatures cribbed from a myriad sci-fi novels, comic books a no-holds barred, anything goes attitude.

Cyclopean Underworld Architecture

Both Carter and Bakshi come into a fair amount of negative criticism, some of it quite undeserved. Bakshi's heavy reliance on both rotoscoping (tracing drawings from film), most notable in Fire and Ice (1983) co-produced with fantasy art demi-god Frank Frazetta, and his heavily stylised cartooning which conservative fantasy fans tend to dislike, draw a lot of flack. Then there are persistant accusations of plagiarism, especially regards Vaughn Bodés character Cobalt 60 and Peace / Necron 99 in Wizards, for which I'm inclined to believe Bakshi's intention to pay tribute. Many Tolkien fans despair at his Lord of the Rings (1977) adaptation for it's style, forays into expressionist psychedelia, editing and lack of an ending. Even Spider-man despite it's occasionally glorious delving into Swords & Sorcery and the bizarre, due to pressing budget, recycles animation sequences, plots, and on more than one occasion is just plain shonky.

Carter is probably best known for his pastches of Howard, Lovecraft and Burroughs and alongside his role in the de Sprage / Conan controversy, these have somewhat coloured his reputation.   Thongor and the Wizard of Lemuria (1965)  and the sequels which Carter was working on during his Spider-Man period, itself adapted by Marvel Comics in the 1970s, is more coherent than either Spider-Man or Warrior of World's End, but is ultimately pretty dull barbarian fantasy fare, although it has more air-cars and fantastical creatures than the average Conan story. Nontheless, in my potted and unthorough research on Carter, his genre contributions to Spider-Man seems to be almost totally overlooked in fannish retrospectives and biographies. I can't help think without that missing strand of 1960s New York saturday-morning cartoon surf-jazz, it may be too easy to miss the genius that lurks within Carters work and the strange web of influence it has on the wider genre.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Tékumel in Chimaera zine

Recently discovered some early Tékumel game reports from 1970's British postal gaming zine Chimaera. Two issues have covers, which have been taken (traced) directly from the Empire of the Petal Throne rulebook, and printed in colour - no easy feat with the DIY printing technologies of the day. There is also some great proto-ascii-art, figlet typography going on in the header.


Chimaera issue #12 Feb 1976

Chimaera issue #13 Mar Feb 1976


Chimaera was a British game zine edited by Clive Booth, primarily focussed on running games of Diplomacy (including Tolkien variants), it also ran En Garde, Dungeons & Dragons and Outdoor Survival.

Starting with issue 11 (January 1976),  Clive begins a column that starts off as a 3 part review of Empire of the Petal Throne, then goes on to solo play report of an campaign over twenty two issues. The story follows the adventures of Ukshén, from getting off the boat in Jakalla, seeking fame and fortune in the fabled lands of Tsolyánu, to finding a patron in the magic-user Qyshü to delving into the underworld and beyond.

Unfortunately I don't own copies of these zines, but they have been made available at the Diplomacy Zines Archive and I've linked the relevant issues below for convenience.

Chimaera 11: Review of Empire of the Petal Throne
Chimaera 12: Viringálu: Colour cover, Review cont.
Chimaera 13: The Stroming of Ke'ér: Colour cover. Review. Cont, chargen
Chimaera 14: The Adventures of Ukshén Part 1.
Chimaera 15: The Adventures of Ukshén Part 2.
Chimaera 16: The Adventures of Ukshén Part 3.
Chimaera 17: The Adventures of Ukshén Part 4. - New Tékumal (sic) heading
Chimaera 18: The Adventures of Ukshén Part 5.
Chimaera 19: The Adventures of Ukshén Part 6.
Chimaera 20: The Adventures of Ukshén Part 7.
Chimaera 25: The Adventures of Ukshén Part 8.
Chimaera 26: The Adventures of Ukshén 9.
Chimaera 27: The Adventures of Ukshén 10.
Chimaera 28: The Adventures of Ukshén 11.
Chimaera 29: The Adventures of Ukshén 12.
Chimaera 30: The Adventures of Ukshén 13  + 14.
Chimaera 31: The Adventures of Ukshén 15.
Chimaera 33: The Adventures of Ukshén 16.
Chimaera 34: The Adventures of Ukshén17.
Chimaera 35: The Adventures of Ukshén 18
Chimaera 36: The Adventures of Ukshén 19. also brief article on naming.
Chimaera 38: The Adventures of Ukshén 20.
Chimaera 39: The Adventures of Ukshén 21
Chimaera 41: The Adventures of Ukshén 22
Chimaera 42: The Adventures of Ukshén 23

The headings here are my own, the column in the zines themselves are more often than not just Tekumel: The World of the Petal Throne with occasional variants. Alongside the two covers above there are occassional illustrations copied from the Empire of the Petal Throne rulebook. Sometimes the scanned, mimeographed typed pages aren't very easy to read, but are decipherable.

So far, I have only just skimmed them, and read through to Chapter 4 (with a cliff-hanger ending, testing the properties of some Eyes). but have found them quite entertaining, lightly written with the game mechanics only slightly poking through - combat is somewhat blow-by-blow. It's not Man of Gold by any means, but it's a nice insight to someone elses take on the Tékumel experience, with a focus on adventure, exploration, magic and combat, rather than world-building, clan-loyalites and cult divisions.

Bonus content

For Games Workshop fans and early British fantasy gaming afficionados, Chimaera 24 also has a nice advert for Steve Jackson & Ian Livingstones original zine, Owl & Weasel.

Owl & Weasel Ad. Chimaera 24

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

An Oldhammer Reader: The History of the Runestaff


The History of the Runestaff by Micheal Moorcock contains four novels  The Jewel In The Skull, The Mad God's Amulet, The Sword Of The Dawn, and The Runestaff.

I found reading though the books a bit of a slog, not that Moorcocks writing is challenging or the ideas were particularly less interesting than his other works, but the protagonist Dorian Hawkmoon of Koln is somewhat dull. Unlike the tortured, disfigured and somewhat reluctant incarnations of the Eternal Champion - Elric of Melniboné and Corum Jhaelen Irse, Hawkmoon is hero cast in the more traditional mould of Swords & Sorcery hero - a natural leader, a military man, determined, proud and valiant. While he is as much a pawn of higher powers beyond his comprehension as the others, he takes his fate with aplomb - he's also more human, rather than the elvish Vadhagh or Melnibonéan.

Jim Cawthorn : Map of the Dark Empire

Then there's Hawkmoons world, which for all intents and puropses is a post-post-apocalyptic Earth, with clear references to real world place names, and people - notably figures from the pre-catastrophy 1960s such as The Beatles and Harold Wilson. These references are just an incidental gloss rather than being used for amusing the or satirical effect. I found it slightly grating and lacking the spark of sardonic wit and psychedelic verve that accompanies Moorcocks other stories, but then I've never liked The Beatles. Maybe living in a post-truth, post-brexit, economically and culturally insecure Britain of the 21st century, the idea of the island of Granbretan (Great Britain) invading and unifying mainland Europe by force with legions of animal masked warriors fails to resonate all that much. Yet.

Jim Cawthorn : The Emperor
Moorcocks reflects on the writing of Hawkmoon in an article at tor.com - British nationalism and anti-German sentiment of the Britain in the 1960s (especially from the editors of pulp fiction and war comics he was writing) and Hawkmoon as a construction of a German saving a small French dominion (and then subsequently the entire world) from an evil British Empire, being a direct overturning of the conservative values and an intentionally countercultural move. Some attitudes may have changed since then, but it doesn't feel revolutionary, small minded nationalism is still the province of the hysterical far-right rather than an ingrained status-quo.

There certainly are high-points of effective prose - pirate cultists carrying out a grisley ritual, and Hawkmoons summoning a legion of undead legion of southern barbarians using his Sword of the Dawn is evoked with a deftness and weirdness that is striking. Other encounters with the weird, such as the ghostly elfin inhabitants of ancient cities aren't quite as successful, and seem a little out of place in an otherwise earth-bound fantasy sequence. The walls of the multiverse grow thin and stranger things step across the dimensions.

Jim Cawthorn : The Palace of Taragon
The characters are very sketchily outlined, and although we see Dorian fall in love and embark upon an epic quest we don't really know much of Hawkmoons internal life. The question of Hawkmoons falling in love with the daughter of the ruler of Karmag, and his pledging allegiance to the nation feels very much in the vein of a fairytale allegory of political allegiances.  The Nation as female - we can think of Marianne of the French Republic, Britannia of Great Britain, Helvetia of Switzerland or countless other examples. The female relegated to a position of passivity, a prize to be fought over and won, a symbol equated with nation-state, rather than as a self-motivated individual, almost Arthurian in its romantic conservatism.

The big-bad-end-guy is the immortal King-Emperor Huon, an immortal being, entrapped in his Globe Throne,  served by bickering political factions. Huon is eventually usurped by his second in command, a revolution that Hawkmoon uses to finally defeat his enemy, despite serious losses of friends.
Jim Cawothorn : Jewel in the Skull
The edition I have contains some  panels from the collaboration / adaptation with Jim Cawthorn on Hawkmoon books. Jims work is stunning. I'm sure that if Cawthorn had led my introduction to Hawkmoon, I'd feel much more positively about it. Also the physical format of the collected book. The combined volume feels like one of those door-stop blocks of fantasy epic, and it doesn't really do Hawkmoons lightweight characterisation and gung-ho satire world justice. With the original four slim paperbacks, the episodic and pulpy nature somewhat spelled out by the material presence of the book. I might slice up my Elric of Melinboné before embarking upon re-reading it to see if there is any merit in this consideration.

Under the Nefarious Influence of the Dark Empire

The second edition of Warhammer Fantasy Battle was dedicated to Moorcock, Tolkien and Phil Barker. The influence of Moorcock in early Warhammer is everywhere, from incidental art clearly depicting Elric to the eternal struggle of Chaos and Law and back again.

There are specific motifs that stem from the Hawkmoonian milleu - the use of real-world geographical cues being a fundamental one, as are the punning references to contemporary pop-culture and political figures, which abound in early Warhammer.  Oh yeah, and the entire 'expected to be good guys are actually bad guys' trope of the Empire in 40k, except Moorcock has the decency to have actual good guys who fight oppression, so the whole universe doesn't descend into the hate-thy-neighbour philosophy of fascism like 40k does.

The story of the King-Emperor being usurped by his most powerful and at one point trusted warlord is one that resonates down to ancient times, but it's also clear precursor of The Horus Heresy. The thematic legions such as Meliadus' Order of the Wolf are echoed in the Space Wolf Chapter of the Space Marines. The insane gothic splendour of Londra reflected in a billion Imperial buildings.

Jim Cawthorn : The Bridges of Londra
The battle as depicted in The Runestaff feels very wargamey, often taking a high vantage point as the battle spills out across the docks of Londra and to the Palace of Huon, and even talks about weapons having minimum ranges, very gamey. The climactic fight through the streets is quite tense. The Siege of Kamarg (in Jewel in the Skull IIRC) also features ornithopters (which appear in 40K:RT) which fly over great energy heavy-weapons mounted on castle towers that burn great swathes through massed troops. This mixture of medieval fantasy and lost high technologies permeates throughout.

The Lost Chronicles of Mournblade

At one point GW speculated on developing a Warhammer supplement based on the Elric Saga, so why not other incarnations of the Eternal Champion? Most of the characters and troops would be standard human / hero / major hero profiles, with only their arms, armour and techno-sorcerous equipment to really differentiate them. So here follows some musing and rules on the weaponry in Hawkmoons world at the time of the Dark Empire:

The Flame Lance
The First Citadel Compendium (1983) gives stats for The Flame Lance - an energy weapon that appears in History of the Runestaff, wielded by the goodly legions of Kamarg under the command of the mighty Count Brass.

Flame Lance - Citadel Compendium
The firing, discharge and re-energising cycle is pretty spot on for the Flame Lance of Hawkmoon. It isn't quite a laser weapon - having features of both laser and fire weapon, but it's a reasonable write up that hews closely to the text. People often talk about Moorcocks influence on Warhammer in a vague or loose sense, but this is a straight-forward adaptation, showing I think the impact and importance of Moorcocks works and Warhammer being specifically designed to gamify those stories.

Eternal Champion (1986)
Designed by Jes Goodwin, painted by John Blanche

Jes even included what looks like a Flamelance on his figure of Hawkmoon for Citadels BC5 Eternal Champion Boxed Set (photo, bottom right). Hawkmoon doesn't wield one in The History of the Runestaff series, but perhaps does in the contnuation Count Brass. Either way it's an iconic weapon from the stories that certainly deserves representation. The elongated flame weapon concept would continue into 40ks Eldar energy weapon / polearm hybrid weapons - notably the Fire Pike of the Fire Dragon Exarch, Flame-Lance, Fire-Pike.

Eldar Fire Dragon Exarch with FirePike | via
It's not too difficult to re-imagine Jes Goodwins Eldar design as a organic-armoured Karmagian soldier in the style of Rodney Matthews. The Rogue Trader version of the Firepike / Flame Lance is described as the Ancient Eldar weapon in the Eldar supplement of White Dwarf #127 (reprinted in the Rogue Trader Compilation):


It's slightly more powerful than the 1st Edition Warhammer version above, and if the 3 shots a day limit were re-instated, this would make a good statline for the Flame Lance.

The Runestaff
A multidimensional artefact of immense power, the Runestaff appears as an ornate wooden pole, some 6ft tall, encrusted with shifting and ancient runes. Weird lights and patterns project out from the staff, making a dazzling psychedelic display in the air around the user. The Runestaff is a Battle Standard which weaves the strands of fate around its wielder, allowing the unit that carries it to re-roll any dice in combat, and cause Fear in chaotic units within 12" . 150PV

The Sword of the Dawn
For a skirmish-level and low points value games The Sword of the Dawn summons 1d6 Warriors of the Dawn. For a full-scale wargame, the forces summoned by the Sword should really be calculated in at the outset, but placed on the tabletop within 24" of the wielder. 200PV

Warriors of the Dawn
The warriors summoned by the Sword of the Dawn carry Spears and Shields, and have a standard human profile. However, when defeated in combat, a new Warrior of the Dawn appears next turn, within 12" of the bearer of the Sword of the Dawn, to a maximum of 3 regenerations.

The Amulet of the Gods
Lends strength and wellbeing to its wearer. +1 Strength +1 Toughness. 50PV

The Jewel in the Skull
The Jewel in the Skull is a piece of arcane technology developed by the Dark Empire of Granbretan to control Hawkmoon. Each turn, an opposing player may attempt to activate the Jewel. Roll 1d6
1-2. The jewel remains inactive. No effect.
3. The victim is wracked with pain. Lose 1 W
4. Black-out. The victim may do nothing for 1d6 turns.
5. Complete mind control. The opposing player may decide actions of the character.
6. Full activation. The victim is dead.

Possession of the Runestaff will nullify the effects of the Jewel in the Skull.

Mirrorhelm
Again, the Eldar are described with something very similar - in this case the Harlequins Rictus Mask (White Dwarf 106 / 40K Compilation). The mirrorhelms are worn in the final march against Granbretan by Hawkmoon and the other heroes. A strangely-wrought reflective helmet that replaces the attackers face with that of the victim. Causes Fear in hand-to-hand combat. 25PV

Funny, that whilst I'd consider these the weakest of Moorcocks stories I've read, the idea of gaming some of the conflicts using the characters and armaments seems really quite appealing.