Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Retrospective: Adventures in Blackmoor

I'm not ashamed to admit that, when I first started playing Dungeons & Dragons, I barely recognized the name of Dave Arneson. Certainly, his name appeared prominently on the inside front page of the Basic Set I first owned, but, for some reason, it never really registered with me. That probably has something to do with the fact that, in the pages of Dragon and elsewhere, Gary Gygax was the spokesman and face of all things D&D. Arneson was relegated to little mentions here and there, if at all. 

Consequently, I was somewhat surprised when I saw an advertisement for the Origins Game Fair in 1983 that announced that the convention's guest of honor was Dave Arneson, "co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons games." After my initial bafflement wore off – after all, Gary Gygax was the creator of D&D, right? – I recalled seeing Arneson's name and started asking some of the older guys I knew about this mysterious Arneson fellow and why I'd never noticed his name before. 

This being before the Internet, precise information was hard to come by. Instead, I got hearsay and innuendo about a falling out between Arneson and Gygax, former friends and colleagues, a lawsuit, and more. It was all vague and unclear but it was my first sense that the history of D&D was a lot more complicated than I had believed. The game had not sprung fully-formed from the head of Gary Gygax but may have, in fact, involved others, such as this Dave Arneson fellow. I had to content myself with such fragmentary evidence for years. It was only when I obtained a copy of Supplement II: Blackmoor that I gained some confirmation of the story. Reading Gygax's effusive praise of Arneson in the foreword to that work made it clear that, at one time, the two men had indeed been friends and collaborators. Exactly what had sundered their relationship, I did not yet know – and wouldn't for many years – but I now knew it was true.

Around the same time, TSR began to publish the "DA" series of adventure modules for the Dungeons & Dragons line, the first of which was entitled Adventures in Blackmoor. I, of course, knew the name Blackmoor already, both from the OD&D supplement I had acquired just previously but also from the World of Greyhawk setting, which featured a Barony of Blackmoor in the far northwest of the Flanaess. This new module didn't seem to have any connection to Greyhawk, but the cover, depicting some frightful retro-tech machine with the face of a bull, intrigued me and I bought a copy. 

I was immediately enthralled. Though the 64-page module did include an adventure intended to introduce the characters to Blackmoor (here depicted as having existed 3000 years in the past of TSR's Known World setting), it was the gazetteer and sourcebook of the Northlands that was vastly more interesting to me. Here was, I had just learned, the first setting for fantasy roleplaying, and it was quite different from any of the D&D settings I'd previously seen. I already knew from Supplement II that Blackmoor included science fictional elements, much like Gygax's own Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. Arneson's "Temple of the Frog" adventure from that book included an alien being – Stephen the Rock – genetic engineering, high-tech weapons and armor, and more. So, seeing that weird Jeff Easley cover piqued my interest mightily.

The appearance of Adventures in Blackmoor seemed to coincide with the departure of Gary Gygax from TSR and I doubt that was coincidental. That said, the module is fascinating in its own right, in that we get we get a decent amount of information about the Kingdom of Blackmoor, its history, present political situation, and notable personages, albeit through the lens of Frank Mentzer's D&D revision and the burgeoning Known World setting (later to be redubbed Mystara). The map by Tom Darden, depicting the Northlands, was, for me, the crown jewel of this module and I pored over it for many hours, pondering its many evocative place names (as well as noticing commonalities with names from Gary Gygax's World of Greyhawk, such as the Duchy of Ten(h)). 

What Adventures in Blackmoor did was make me much more aware of and interested in the early history of Dungeons & Dragons and of the RPG hobby in general. Consequently, I have very fond feelings about this module and keep it within arm's length of my writing desk. It and two of its three sequels – I never owned The Duchy of Ten, alas – are among my favorite TSR products from the the late 1980s. If anything, my warm feelings toward them have only grown.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Your Mother Was a Martian

These rules are strictly fantasy Those wargamers who lack imagination, those who don't care for Burroughs' Martian adventures where John Carter is groping through black pits, who feel no thrill upon reading Howard's Conan saga, who do not enjoy the de Camp & Pratt fantasies or Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser putting their swords against evil sorceries will not be likely to find DUNGEONS & DRAGONS to their taste.

The seminal influence of Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber on the creation of Dungeons & Dragons is well established, I think. The role of L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt is probably less known, given how few people have even heard of, let alone read, the Harold Shea series. Even less known, I think, is the influence of the Barsoom stories of Edgar Rice Burroughs. And yet he's the very first author whom Gary Gygax mentions in the "forward" [sic] to Volume 1 of original D&D. 

Consider, too, Gygax's words in the (again misspelled) "forward" to Warriors of Mars, written less than a year later.

Worlds of heroic fantasy are many, but perhaps the best known of them all is the Barsoom of Edgar Rice Burroughs, where John Carter, Tars Tarkas, Dejah Thoris, etal [sic] adventure endlessly in eternal youth.

I don't think there can be any question that Gygax highly esteemed the Barsoom stories, which are included even in Appendix N (though, it should be noted, Burroughs is not listed among "the most immediate influences" upon AD&D). 

OD&D contains multiple references to Mars, such as the tables for wilderness wandering monsters in Volume 3. The column for "Desert" has a parenthetical note "(Mars)," with entries for Red, Black, Yellow, and White Martians, as well as for Tharks. There's also an "Optional Arid Plains" column with entries for Apts, Banths, Thoats, Calots, White Apes, Orluks, Siths, Darseen, and Banths. Now, none of these beings or creatures are given any game stats and indeed it wouldn't be until the 1981 Moldvay Basic Rules that this would change, when one of these – the white ape, albeit with only two arms – finally appeared in print. Additionally, Mars is cited as an example of another world where one might set D&D adventures.

As it turns out, Gygax did just that. One of his son Ernie's characters was called Erac's Cousin and had an adventure on what is quite clearly the Mars of John Carter. One retelling of his exploits can be found here, from which I quote the following:

One of Erac's Cousin's more memorable adventures occurred after he spotted a strange red star in the night sky. He drifted off to sleep thinking of the strange star and when he awoke he discovered he had been transported to Mars. To his surprise he arrived stark naked. Soon after his arrival, the mage was attacked by the Cannibals of Ugor. Much to his dismay, he discovered that magic didn’t work there, and he was forced to fight toe-to-toe with the bloodthirsty cannibals using nothing more than a tree branch. In time the unnamed adventurer adapted and ultimately excelled in is new environment. Due to the planet's low gravity the marooned wizard's strength was heroic. He could leap 20 to 40 feet into the air, and much further than that forward. During the many months that he spent there, being unable to use magic, Erac's Cousin began training as a fighter. Instead of using magic to defeat his enemies, he would now cut them down with a sword. Before returning to Oerth he had slaughtered hoards of Green Martians, and organized an escape from the mines of the Yellow Martians. Finally he discovered a method of returning to Greyhawk. He found Oerth in the night sky before going to sleep and when he awoke he was back home. Unfortunately his arrival home was similar to his arrival on Mars; naked. He had left a fortune behind on the red planet.

Erac's Cousin's awakening on Mars naked recapitulates Carter's own experiences and, if the reference to multiple colors of Martians were not enough of a giveaway, there are the Cannibals of U-Gor, which appeared in the 1930 story, A Fighting Man of Mars. Issue #3 of the first volume of The Strategic Review (Autumn 1975) features an article on randomly generating ruined Martian cities by James M. Ward. It's not specifically associated with OD&D, but it's another example of Barsoomian content in a TSR product. 

I think it is unquestionable that the fantasy genre as we understand it today – and hence the roleplaying games that derive from it – owes its existence largely to Edgar Rice Burroughs's stories of Barsoom, which even a youthful H.P. Lovecraft regarded highly (he would distance himself from them later in life) and which inspired generations of imitators and pasticheurs, including such luminaries as Robert E. Howard and Michael Moorcock. That Gygax, give his age and fondness for pulp literature, would have likewise admired and drawn upon these same stories should surprise no one. Nevertheless, I think the influence of Barsoom on D&D's development is underappreciated and ought to be known more widely.

The Forest of Enchantment

Look on my works, ye grognards, and despair!
I mark the end of D&D's Golden Age at 1983 for a number of reasons, but one of them is that '83 is when the vast majority of weird licensed Advanced Dungeons & Dragons products begin to flood the market. (It's probably not a coincidence that, during this same period, Gary Gygax was in the midst of his exile to Hollywood, as well as in the midst of a rancorous divorce from his first wife.) By comparison to beach towels, wood-burning sets, and needlepoint patterns, AD&D-branded storybooks seem positively benign. Only a heartless curmudgeon like me could hate this stuff, right?
Take a look at the credits. It's published by Marvel, illustrated by Earl Norem (best known for painting the covers of men's adventure magazines in the '50s and '60s, though he also did plenty of work for Marvel, including The Savage Sword of Conan), and written by Bob Stine – known to a later generation of children under the name R.L. Stine. 

The book tells the story of Caruso the elf bard and his fellow elf Filaree the druid as they attempt to foil the machinations of the sorcerer Kellek, his master Warduke, and their army of lizard men, who are using the titular forest as a staging ground for ambushing Princess Mirra so as to steal the magical Ruby of the Seven Stars from her. I've read fantasy novels with worse plots than this, but that's hardly a vote in favor of The Forest of Enchantment. 
No doubt there were many children whose first encounter with Dungeons & Dragons was through this book. No doubt some of them eventually went on to buy and play the RPG. If so, that's great! But I hope I can be forgiven for finding the whole thing faintly ridiculous and even a little embarrassing. I fortunately never came across this book at the time. If I had, I imagine I'd have had even stronger words to say about it.

Chainmail Bikini

After so many entries in the Pulp Fantasy Library series, I sometimes forget the books and the stories about which I've already written. This happened recently when I started writing a post on Robert E. Howard's "Sword Woman," featuring Agnès de Chastillon – Dark Agnes, as she is sometimes called – only to discover that I'd previously written one on this very story more than a decade ago. The reason I wanted to make a post on this story is that it's often reported that Marvel's Red Sonja is based not just on the similarly named Red Sonya of Rogatino but also on Dark Agnes. 

Of course, the matter is complex. None of Howard's yarns about Agnès de Chastillon appeared during his lifetime, though he shared drafts of them with fellow writer C.L. Moore. In fact, Moore was so enthusiastic about Dark Agnes that she was inspired, at least in part, to create her own fictional swordswoman, Jirel of Joiry. In any case, a "posthumous collaboration" between REH and Gerald W. Page resulted in the third Dark Agnes story being published in the neo-pulp magazine Witchcraft & Sorcery in early 1971. That story, entitled "Mistress of Death," served as the basis for "Curse of the Undead-Man," the first (original) story to appear in Marvel's The Savage Sword of Conan" in 1974. 

The Savage Sword of Conan is itself a fascinating topic worthy of further discussion, not just for its role in further popularizing Robert E. Howard's most famous literary creation, but also for its influence on later fantasy entertainments of all kinds (including RPGs – remember that OD&D appeared almost contemporaneously with its inaugural issue). For present purposes, what's important is that Savage Sword was initially published not by Marvel Comics directly but the related company of Curtis Magazines. This meant that, among other things, Savage Sword did not have abide by the strictures of the Comic Code Authority (which, at any rate, had already revised its rules several times in the early '70s). Unsurprisingly, Roy Thomas – and, more importantly, his artists – were freer in adapting Howard's stories, particularly when it came to violence and sexual or occult content. Equally unsurprisingly, this made the comic one of the most popular and successful of the decade.

So it was into this environment that we first see Red Sonja in the garment for which she is most famous – the chainmail bikini, as it is commonly known.
Recall that Sonja had previously appeared in issue #23 (February 1973) of Conan the Barbarian and it's to this prior adventure that she refers here. Recall, too, that when Sonya appeared in that comic, she dressed rather differently.
Still not the most practical armor perhaps, but at least her arms and chest are protected. So what happened? Why the change in the character design? 

According to Roy Thomas, it was Spanish artist Esteban Maroto whom we have to thank for this innovation. The story goes that Maroto submitted a piece of artwork to Thomas that depicted Sonja in this now-famous outfit. Thomas loved the look and ordered John Buscema to use it as the basis for Sonja's appearance in "Curse of the Undead-Man," while Maroto got to illustrate a back-up story featuring the Hyrkanian warrior woman entitled simply "Red Sonja." Also worthy of note is that the cover to Savage Sword, depicting Conan and Red Sonja fighting side by side against a horde of undead, was done by Boris Vallejo, back before he had become fantasy caricturist and demonstrated some genuine talent.

Growing up in the '70s, it was almost impossible to escape Red Sonja. She was featured regularly in advertisements for Marvel comics during the period and, alongside Conan himself, forms a big part of my early awareness of sword-and-sorcery as a distinct literary genre. To this day, I've never actually read a single one of her own titles; she's always been a secondary character in Conan's comics. Still, she's an important part of the pop cultural history that feeds into the history of roleplaying games, so I may need to familiarize myself better with her as a character. Even if you're not interested in her as a comic character, her creation touches on the interplay between publishing and fans, as well as changing mores regarding what was acceptable content for comic books. Those are some rich veins to mine for anyone interested in the prehistory of RPGs, so this probably won't be the last time you'll see the chainmail bikini in these pages.

Imagine Magazine: issue #11

Once again, Imagine has a very striking cover, this time  by artist Peter Knifton. Also of interest is that issue #11 (February 1984) features the banner "For players of Dungeons & Dragons," which had not been there previously. Previous issues had had occasional articles about other RPGs, but it was still predominantly focused on D&D. I suspect that the addition of this banner was by order of TSR in the USA, based on a news item mentioned later in the issue, which mentions a visit to the TSR UK offices by Gary Gygax and the Blume brothers, Kevin and Brian. I would be quite surprised if there were not a connection, but I am deeply cynical.

"The Adventures of Nic Novice" by Jim Bambra and Paul Ruiz continue, this time focusing on interacting with intelligent monsters in a non-violent fashion. The player characters encounter a kobold prisoner of some orcs they just slew. The kobold offers to help the PCs if they will free him, but Norva Ironarms – Nic's character – wonders whether the creature is leading the party into a trap. This is actually a useful little article, not just in presenting the pros and cons of parleying with monsters, but also for the way it sheds light on how to differentiate characters of the same class through roleplaying. For perhaps the first time, I see some value in this feature (though, as I've repeatedly said, it's not intended for old hands of the game).

Roger Musson's "Stirge Corner" tackles the vexing issue of D&D's weights and measures, including units of time. He's right to do so, I think, because D&D has always been a welter of systems and units, often to the point of confusion. "The Cavalier" by Gary Gygax is a reprint of the article that originally appeared in Dragon #72 (April 1983), as is "Social Status and Birth Tables," also by Gygax but from issue #70 (February 1983). These were articles I really enjoyed at the table, but, in retrospect, I have far less positive feelings about them (that's probably a topic for another time). Complementing these Gygaxian contributions are a pair of articles: "Horse Combat" by Chris Felton and "Orders of the Day" by Carole Felton. The first rules for using lances from horseback, while the second discusses a pair of historical chivalric orders. "Black Roses" is a mini-adventure written with cavaliers in mind; it involves the defense of the town of Braeme against invasion.

"In the Time of Meltingice" is a forgettable piece of fiction by Andrew Darlington. "The Private Lives of NPCs" is more interesting, as it offers a series of questions a referee should ask about his NPCs in order to make them more interesting – and fun – to play. We also get new episodes of the comics "Rubic of Moggedon" and "The Sword of Alabron." The "Illuminations" columns offers up gaming news, as well as sarcasm, this time directed at Avalon Hill's soon-to-be-released Powers & Perils. "The Imagination Machine" talks more about the possibility of the then-nascent technology of personal computing, which is of historical interest but little else.

This month's reviews take on the Traveller adventure Nomads of the World Ocean – a favorite of mine – along with Talisman, James Bond 007, and Lost Worlds. Re-reading these reviews, I was reminded that, even ten years after the appearance of D&D, there's still a great deal of vibrancy in the broader hobby. That's why it's intriguing that it's precisely at this time that Imagine decided to rebrand itself as being a Dungeons & Dragons magazine rather than a general RPG periodical. I will be very curious to see what future issues have to offer.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Stalker the Soulless

The 1970s were a time of both great instability and great creativity at DC Comics, with new characters being created at a rapid pace and then discarded just as swiftly. This was particularly true of those characters created to capitalize on the growing popularity of sword-and-sorcery themes and concepts, few of whom lasted more than a handful of issues.

A very good example of this is Stalker, premiering in June 1975. Created by Paul Levitz (perhaps best known for his work on The Legion of Super-Heroes) and Steve Ditko (of Spider-Man and Dr Strange fame), Stalker only lasted four issues before being unceremoniously canceled. It's a pity, because there are some clever ideas in the comic that, given time, might have developed into something of lasting interest. As it is, Stalker is, at best, a curiosity for those of us chronicling the history of fantasy themes in pop culture.

Stalker takes its title from its protagonist, who begins as a nameless urchin from the streets of Geranth near the Cold Wastes. Dreaming of one day becoming a great warrior, he seeks out the temple of the god of evil and war, Dgrth – try pronouncing that – and offers the deity his soul in exchange for his martial blessing. Dgrth not only agrees but appears before the young man to give him the power and skills he desires – as well as the moniker of Stalker.

Dgrth is true to his word: Stalker is now a potent warrior of unmatched skill. Unfortunately, he soon finds that he takes no pleasure in his blessing. Dgrth, it seems, has already taken his soul and, with it, his emotions and everything that made him a human being. 

Enraged, Stalker decides to storm Dgrth's hell to force another audience with the god and there to demand his soul be returned to him. After many trials, he succeeds in facing the god of war once more, who explains to him that what he seeks is impossible, for Stalker's soul has already been absorbed into his very being. So long as evil and war existed, he was invincible and there was thus no way for Stalker to reclaim his soul. Rather give up, Stalker instead takes Dgrth's words as a challenge.
It's actually a pretty good setup for a sword-and-sorcery comic, as Stalker travels across the world, attempting to find a way to stop wars and defeat evil without in the process strengthening them – quite a task for a soulless man whose only powers are of a violent nature. The whole thing has a vaguely Moorcockian vibe, which is helped somewhat by Ditko's signature style. Stalker the Soulless is no Elric, to be sure, but, as heroic anti-heroes go, he's much more interesting than Kane

Like many of these discarded fantasy heroes from the 1970s, Stalker has apparently made small appearances in DC comics over the years, though I know little of their contents. If anyone knows more about the subsequent history of the character, I'd be interested in knowing about it.

Artifacts, Relics, and Minimalist World Building

One of my favorite sections of the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide was the section discussing artifacts and relics. Even if one ignores their "potent powers and possible strange side effects," artifacts and relics are notable in that they come with hints of a setting specific to AD&D. I used to think about all the names, places, and events referenced in this section and wonder what they might mean.

When I say this, I'm not talking about, for example, the Codex of the Infinite Planes or the Jacinth of Inestimable Beauty, both of which explicitly reference the World of Greyhawk setting, though entries of this sort did command my attention nonetheless. Rather, I mean items like the Rod of Seven Parts, which talks of "the Wind Dukes of Aqaa" and "the great battle of Pesh, where Chaos and Law contended," or the Crown of Might, part of a mighty set of regalia "constructed for special servants of the deities of each alignment when they were contending amongst themselves." In just a few words, Gygax implies a great deal; it's a great example of minimalist world building.

Even more interesting in my opinion is the final part of this section of the Dungeon Masters Guide, where Gygax discusses "possible destruction means for artifacts/relics." Here, he references multiple legendary locales without any explanation. In a few cases, these locales come from Earth mythologies, such as Arthur's Dolmen, the River Styx, or the Clashing Rocks. In others, though, it's a bit less clear to what he is referring. What is the Well of Time or the Earth Wound? Where is Marion's Trench or the Cornerstone of the World? Is the Tree of the Universe the same as Yggdrasil or is it something else entirely? How about the Juggernaut of the Endless Labyrinth? 

These are all questions without answers, at least in the page of the Dungeon Masters Guide. To my mind, that's what makes them so compelling: the only answers that exist are the ones you come up with and, boy, did I spend a lot of time trying to come up with my own. My Emaindor setting, for example, included the Earth Wound, as well the Cornerstone of the World, the former of which actually played a big part in its history. I often think that a creator can achieve more with suggestion than straightforward explanation. The DMG's discussion of artifacts and relics is a great example of one way to do that.

Wandering DMs

Dan Collins and Paul Siegel very kindly invited me to be a guest on their video show, Wandering DMs. We talk about a bunch of different topics, such as fanzines, Empire of the Petal Throne, and Traveller, among other things. Dan and Paul are terrific and did a great job of putting me at ease, since I have zero experience of appearing on video. I doubt I'll ever get used to hearing my voice outside of my own head, though. Give it a watch if you're interested in any of these topics or if you just want to watch my weird mannerisms.

Words Gary Taught Me

High Gygaxian is the term used to refer to the pedantic, archaism-laden, run-for-the-dictionary writing style often employed by Gary Gygax, particularly in his AD&D rulebooks and adventures. I'm on record as adoring this idiosyncratic manner of speech. For me, High Gygaxian establishes the feel of the particular strain of fantasy that I associated with Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. This is one area where I believe AD&D is superior to OD&D and goes a long way toward explaining the enduring influence of this version of the game, even though it's been twenty years since any currently published RPG bore this title.

High Gygaxian was educational to me as a young person. Reading through the Players Handbook, Dungeon Masters Guide, and Monster Manual expanded my vocabulary enormously (as well as introduced me to Latin abbreviations that I still use today). I know I'm not alone in this, which is why this post is celebration of just a few of the grandiose turns of phrase I owe to Gary Gygax. 

Deliquescing: Apparently, the soul of the Faceless Lord possesses this quality.

Enmity: This one is simply fun to say; I think it has something to do with the placement of "n" before "m."

Ichor: It's possible I first came across this word in Bullfinch's Mythology, but Gygax used it much more memorably and I now associate it with D&D.

Legerdemain: Synonyms for magic abound in Gygax's writings (v.i.) and this is one of my favorites.

Leman: While I could have included numerous examples of words I learned from unfairly derided harlot table from the DMG, this one has the advantage of being much more handy in real life.

Milieu: If I had to pick a single word that encapsulates the spirit of High Gygaxian, this would be a strong candidate for it.

Offal: Gygax was also fond of synonyms for carrion, garbage, and rubble. This one has the advantage of being useful when talking to your local butcher.

Prestidigitation: Another delightful synonym for magic.

Puissant: Obscure enough that the blog's spellchecker doesn't recognize it.

Weal: Of which assassins are the antithesis.

This is far from an exhaustive list, which is why I encourage readers to share others in the comments below. What words did you learn from Gary Gygax's extravagant diction?

Pulp Fantasy Library: Bloodstone

I find it hard to believe that, in all the years I've been writing entries in the Pulp Fantasy Library series, I've never written one about Karl Edward Wagner's, aside from this one. That's an oversight that needs correcting, which is why today's post discusses the 1975 novel Bloodstone.

Before jumping in, some introductory words are in order. Kane, like Conan, lives in a grim, fantastical world that precedes our own. He is described as a left-handed, red-haired warrior who is implied to be the firstborn son of Adam and, therefore, cursed by God to wander the world forever for having slain his younger brother. Kane is thus an anti-hero like Elric of Melniboné or Thomas Covenant. It's important to bear this in mind when talking about Bloodstone or any of Kane's other appearances, as he is a mercenary who works for the highest bidder. Though his effective immortality has allowed him to acquire knowledge of a vast array of subject, he remains an amoral slayer of men.

Kane appears in the novel almost immediately.

An ominous black shadow in the leaping firelight, the big man crouched enswathed in his cloak and moodily sipped wine from a crockery mug lost in his huge fist. His close-fitting shirt and trousers of dark leather were freshly stained with sweat and blood, and the right sleeve was rolled back from a scarlet-streaked bandage encircling an arm thick with corded muscle. A belt bright with silver studs crossed his massive chest, holding fast an empty sword scabbard behind his powerful right shoulder. The sword itself stood before him, its point embedded in a gnarled tree root. Absently running a knuckle over the short red beard that framed his rather brutal face, he brooded over the many nicks and red brown smears that defaced the blade and cast shadows of violent by the flickering light. Seemingly he was oblivious to the others as they greedily spread out the loot to divide among themselves.

Amidst the booty these bandits have assembled is a strange ring – large in size and made of a hard metal. More significantly, the ring's setting holds a bloodstone. Kane takes an immediate interest in it, but his companions, particularly their leader, Hechon, are not so keen to hand it over to him, despite Kane's claim that bloodstone "is scarcely a precious gem, and this ring's value is only that of a curiosity." They suspect that, if Kane wants it and is willingly to forfeit the rest of his share of the loot for it, the ring must be quite valuable indeed. Inevitably, a fight ensues over the ring and the red-headed warrior ably demonstrates his prowess at swordplay. Kane leaves the camp with the ring and the novel's real story commences.

As Hechon guessed, Kane does know something about the true value of this ring – or at least he thinks he does. One of the downsides of his immortality is that he often forgets things he has learned; they exist only as vague memories. For this reason, he seeks out Jhaniikest, a winged sorceress with whom he has good relations to learn more. Kane makes use of her "collection of scrolls and strangely bound volumes" and, in time, uncovers the history of the bloodstone. Jhaniikest is appalled and implores him,"Kane! Don't attempt this. I see only death for you in this madness! Let this ancient power lie buried!" His suspicions confirmed, Kane sets off to make use of the bloodstone ring to further his own plans, plans that Wagner does not immediately explain but instead reveals to the reader only slowly through the course of the novel.

I wish I could say that I like Bloodstone but I don't. I like the ideas of the novel, many of which are in the pulp tradition of Robert E. Howard, to whom Wagner was very devoted. Likewise, I like the idea of Kane, but, unlike Elric, he comes across as largely unsympathetic and bloody-minded. That may have been Wagner's point, of course, but, if so, he did his job too well and I found it difficult to care about Kane's exploits. The purple prose and convoluted plot did the novel no favors either and I frequently found myself losing both track of and interest in its action. It's a shame, because I think the ingredients of a good sword-and-sorcery tale are here; they're just poorly assembled.

Before I re-read Bloodstone in preparation for this post, I remembered liking it, but I may have been confusing it with other Kane stories, of which there are slightly more than a dozen. It's also possible that, as I've gotten older, I have simply lost the taste for the hammy, over-the-top style of fantasy that Bloodstone evinces. In the coming months, I might return to Kane and try another story to see if my feelings on the matter have changed.