Thursday, October 7, 2021

The Fantasy Trip

In the course of seeking out information on an unrelated topic, I came across the following image:
In case it's not obvious, this is a portion of a sheet of LSD blotter paper. Blotter paper frequently featured artwork, often psychedelic, occult, or fantastical in nature. Given that, I suppose it was inevitable that there'd eventually be blotter art directly inspired by – or, as in the case above, directly taken from – specific works of fantasy. 

From what I've been able to gather, this blotter paper came from Mexico in 1980 or '81. This matches the period when Marvel licensed its popular Conan the Barbarian comic to Editorial Novaro. This was actually the second time Marvel had licensed the character in Mexico, the first being a decade earlier, when Editorial La Prensa published the series under the title Vulcano el Barbaro. Because the blotter paper identifies the character as Conan rather than Vulcano and features the artwork of John Buscema rather than Barry Smith, the early '80s timeframe makes the most sense. (The history of Conan in Mexico is actually quite an interesting topic. Perhaps I'll delve into that in a future post).

Strictly speaking, none of this has much relevance to the history or play of RPGs, but it's one of those oddities that appeals to me that I like sharing. This makes me wonder if there's ever been any blotter paper with artwork taken from D&D or another roleplaying game … 

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Retrospective: Dungeon Masters Adventure Log

When I was younger, I had a strange fondness for office supplies – pens, paper, notebooks, binders, staples, etc. Whenever I was about to begin a new project for school, I'd pop down to the local office supply store and buy whatever supplies I thought were necessary for the completion of the task. For reasons that are obscure, I developed a strong association between office supplies and being "organized" and "prepared." 

Consequently, I was a ready mark for gaming accessories like TSR's Dungeon Masters Adventure Log. Appearing in 1980, it boasts of being "the second playing aid designed specifically for the DM of ADVANCED DUNGEONS & DRAGONS™!" (the first presumably being the AD&D Dungeon Masters Screen). Further, the Adventure Log claims to free the referee from having to "rely on memory and sketchy notes to keep track of one's players in the midst of play." Nowadays, I wouldn't see much point in such a product, but, at the time, it appealed precisely to that part of me that thought the Trapper Keeper was the height of technological progress.

The Log is quite a simple product. After a few pages of reproducing various AD&D rules charts, ranging from the genuinely useful (like AC modifiers and XP tables) to the downright esoteric (magical aging causes), the meat of the product consists of a series of two-page spreads that look like this:

On the left hand side, there's space for detailing up to ten player characters. There are columns for most of the expected information, such as player and character names, class, level, race, sex, alignment, hit points, and so on. On the right hand side, there are spaces for marching order, monsters encountered, treasure acquired, light sources, and "unusual events." None of this is especially innovative, but I loved it all the same and made regular use of it at my table. I feel a bit silly about it now, but such is the folly of youth.

Despite the relative weakness of its design (and limitations of its layout), there are nevertheless three things that stand out a noteworthy about the Dungeon Masters Adventure Log. The first is the terrific cover illustration illustration by Erol Otus. The second is a four-page centerfold that provides illustrations of many common pieces of AD&D armor and weaponry. Here's a page to give you an idea of what it all looked like:
This, along with the weapon illustrations, was genuinely useful to me, if only because it made it clear that a Lucerne hammer was not, in fact, a blunt weapon). The third and final thing the Log provided were filled-out sample pages of its interior. Besides showing how the product was supposed to be used, it was fun, as you can see:
Click on the image above and take a look at some of the players and the character names. Notice that not only does Black Dougal die (again!), but so too does Sister Rebecca. I have no idea if the information on these pages in any way represents an actual adventure session played by the people involved, but, even if it doesn't, I find it fascinating for the way it depicts the supposed content of such a session. This is why is still retain a certain fondness for the Dungeon Masters Adventure Log after all these years.

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Grognard's Grimoire: Yeretshak

Yeretshak (Golden Bloodsucker)

Yeretshaks are 3’-long scuttling creatures common to subterranean locales, though they sometimes venture above ground in search of prey. These beasts use their sharp mandibles to bite and attach themselves to their quarry to suck blood. The carapace of the yeretshak is tough and possesses a sparkly sheen that makes it much prized as a material for armor and shields, particularly by the Ga’andrin.

AC 3 [12], HD 2* (9hp), Att 1 × bite (1d4 + blood sucking), THAC0 18 [+1], MV 120’ (40’), SV D12 V13 P14 B15 S16 (1), ML 8, XP 25, NA 1d8 (2d6), TT Carapace

  • Blood sucking: Upon a successful attack, attaches and drains target’s blood: 1d4 automatic damage per round.
  • Carapace: Worth 1d4 × 10dm to armorers and weaponsmiths (double this amount if sold in Ga’andrin lands).
  • Disease: Bite has 1-in-20 chance of infecting the target (save versus poison). The disease has a 1-in-4 chance of being deadly (die in 2d4 days). Otherwise, the target is sick and bedridden for one month.
  • Detach: If yeretshak drains blood equal to its own hit points or if it or its target dies.

White Dwarf: Issue #12

Issue #12 of White Dwarf (April/May 1979) features a cover by Eddie Jones, who had previously done the cover for issue #10. According to Ian Livingstone's editorial, Jones was the favorite cover artist in the poll he commissioned in the previous issue. For myself, I am regularly struck by how commonly 1970s fantasy art include spaceships and other elements we might today consider science fictional. It's a reminder of just how fluid those two categories were once upon a time. 

Livingstone also comments on a couple of other interesting topics. First, he notes that, thanks to the increase in its readership, White Dwarf is expanding to 32 pages from 28. By my lights, though, it doesn't seem as if those extra four pages are being used for content but rather for more advertising. Second, and relatedly, he notes that "the hobby industry" is not "mass market" and its prices will be accordingly higher. Livingstone then takes aim at "photocopier fanatics" who make copies of rules or magazines rather than buying them. He encourages his readers to give such miscreants "a bad time" and to support game companies by buying their properly printed products. 

"The Fiend Factory" presents eight more monsters for use with Dungeons & Dragons. Five of these are creatures I recall from the Fiend Folio, including the githyanki. Notable too is the fact that many feature illustrations by the inimitable Russ Nichsolson. Indeed, some of the illustrations look identical to those that would later appear in the Fiend Folio itself, though it's possible that my aged memory is simply playing tricks on me again. Lew Pulsipher's "Useful Dungeon Equipment" is a short article presenting a collection of pieces of specialized equipment he feels would be of use in dungeon exploration, such as a crowbar, an eyepatch, and noseplugs. I remember reading many articles like this over the years and have a strange fondness for them. They reflect, I think, a real culture of play, in which players regularly came up with inventive solutions to equally inventive obstacles created by referees. Articles like this speak to D&D "as she was played" back in the day and they're every bit as important to understanding the history of the hobby as the ins and outs of designers and companies.

"Open Box" presents five reviews, only two of which are of products with which I am familiar. The unfamiliar products are FGU's Rapier & Dagger (rated 6), Conflict Interaction Associates' Pellic Quest (rated 7), and Gametime Games's Spellmaker (rated 6). The last review is interesting, because the game's creator, Eric Solomon, is given a small space in which to reply to the review's criticisms. The two familiar reviews treat Chaosium's All the World's Monsters (rated 5) and The Arduin Grimoire, Volumes I, II, and III (rated 4). The review of the Arduin books ends with the following comment:
All this issue's reviews are by Don Turnbull, who, in my estimation, tends to be quite harsh in his judgments on non-TSR products. As I've commented before, I can't help but wonder if the combination of his obvious industry – he is one of early White Dwarf's workhorses – and his largely uncritical promotion of TSR played a role in his being made head of TSR UK in 1980.

"Pool of the Standing Stones" by Bill Howard is a "mini-dungeon" for 5th and 6th-level characters. Like so many dungeons of the past, it's an odd mixture of elements. There's a druid who's interested in maintaining the balance between Law and Chaos, bandits, martial artists, mad scientists, and more. There are a few genuinely imaginative elements, like the talking entrance doors, but it's mostly a bizarre mishmash that, while not bad, is still far from good. The best I can say is that it's certainly no worse than many dungeons I created in my youth, though that's very faint praise indeed. 

Part five of Rowland Flynn's "Valley of the Four Winds" appears in this issue, though, as with the previous installments, I can't say much about it, as I lost interest in it several issues ago. "Treasure Chest" offers up a large number of new magic items, a few of which are decent, if not necessarily inspired. Brian Asbury also offers some modifications to the barbarian class that appeared in issue #4, in light of the publication of the Players Handbook. On that very front, Don Turnbull's "A Dip into the Players Handbook" is a two-page examination of certain aspects of the AD&D Players Handbook from the perspective of its innovations over OD&D. I found the article strangely enjoyable. It's a piece of history and provides some insight on how the piecemeal publication of AD&D was received by the existing players of D&D. Turnbull, as one might expect, is a fan of most AD&D's changes, but, even so, his comments are useful bits of data for anyone with an interest in the hobby's history.

Monday, October 4, 2021

Pulp Fantasy Library: Three Hearts and Three Lions

Appendix N includes just shy of thirty different authors whom Gary Gygax considered to have been "of particular inspiration" to him creating Dungeons & Dragons. Of these, Gygax singles out a handle for special mention: DeCamp & Pratt, Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, H.P. Lovecraft, and Merritt. I think it would be difficult for any fair-minded person to find fault with his selection of these authors; their direct influence on D&D (and on the wider fantasy genre) is undeniable. 

Nevertheless, there is one Appendix N author not listed among "the most direct influences upon AD&D" that I feel ought to be there – and, no, I'm not talking about J.R.R. Tolkien. That author is Poul Anderson, particularly with reference to his 1961 novel, Three Hearts and Three Lions. Anderson is generally seen as a science fiction author and understandably so, given his output in that genre, which might explain why he's often overlooked compared to Howard or Leiber or Vance when it comes to seminal D&D inspirations. If you look more closely at his fantasy works, however, I think it becomes harder to deny his direct influence on the game.

More than a decade ago, I wrote a very brief post about Three Hearts and Three Lions. While that post references many of the novel's major connections to Dungeons & Dragons, I thought it worthwhile to return to it at greater length in this post, focusing not just on those connections but on more of the details of its story. Like many older works of fantasy, starting with Edgar Rice Burroughs's A Princess of Mars, Three Hearts and Three Lions is presented as "true" account of the adventures of its protagonist, as told to the author of the book. In this case, the protagonist is a Danish engineer named Holger Carlsen, who had come to the United States as a university student sometime before World War II. Though enamored of America and intending to stay there, the invasion of his homeland by the Nazis in 1940 awakened in him a patriotic fervor that, within a year, resulted in his returning to Europe to join the resistance in Denmark. 

Carlsen fought in the resistance for a couple of years, evading capture and dealing significant blows to the Nazi war effort. In 1943, he helped Niels Bohr to escape to Sweden and, ultimately, to safety. This endeavor, however, brought him face to face with the Nazis, who shoot him in the head. He blacks out and awakens some time later in a place that is at once familiar but not. Like John Carter, Carlsen is naked, but it doesn't take him long to find some attire. An immense, friendly stallion (named Papillon, according to the engraving on his headstall) approached him, bearing medieval armor and weapons. The armor fits him perfectly – too perfectly – as if it were made specifically for him. His shield bears three hearts and three lions upon it, heraldry very similar to that of the coat of arms of Denmark, which has nine hearts and three lions. 

Carlsen is completely confused and begins to wonder if he is mad or dreaming. Over the course of the next several short chapters – the novel is arranged more or less as a series of vignettes – he comes to realize that, against all logic, he has somehow been transported to Denmark during the reign of Charlemagne. Even so, Carlsen is determined to find some way to return to the 20th century and enlists the aid of multiple magical beings to aid him in this. The first is Hugi the dwarf, but he is soon joined by Alianora the swanmay as well. From them, he learns much about the world to which he has been transported and it's this that is of great interest to players of D&D.

Holger got the idea that a perpetual struggle went on between primeval forces of Law and Chaos. No, not forces exactly. Modes of existence? A terrestrial reflection of the spiritual conflict between heaven and hell? In any case, humans were the chief agents on earth of Law, though most of them were so only unconsciously and some, witches and warlocks and evildoers, had sold out to Chaos. A few nonhuman beings also stood for Chaos. Ranged against them was almost the whole Middle World, which seemed to include realms like Faerie, Trollheim, and the Giants – an actual creation of Chaos. Wars among men, such as the long-drawn struggle between the Saracens and the Holy Empire, aided Chaos' under Law all men would live in peace and order and that liberty which only Law could give meaning. But this was so alien to Middle Worlders that they were forever working to prevent it and to extend their shadowy dominion.

This passage and others like it are the ultimate origins of Chainmail's alignment system, which, in turn, would become the basis for that in D&D. They're also, not coincidentally, the origins of Moorcock's own takes on Law versus Chaos from his Eternal Champion stories. Regardless of what one thinks about D&D's use of this idea, it's hard not to find Anderson's version quite compelling. Had D&D done a better job of grounding alignment in a larger, cosmic struggle, I suspect that many, if not most, of the objections to alignment in the game would evaporate (though gamers, being a querulous bunch, would still find ways to complain about it).

As the trio travel across medieval Denmark, they encounter all manner of fantastical creatures, such as elves, a giant, a dragon, and a werewolf. They also make the acquaintance of a Saracen named Carahue and a wizard called Martinus Trismegistus, both of whom provide them with aid. Throughout the story, Carlsen begins to have increasing flashes of memory. He remembers more and more about this fairytale Denmark, as if he'd been here before. In time, he realizes that he's in fact from this time and place originally and that he is in fact Holger Danske, the legendary Ogier le Danois of the Matter of France who was destined to return when Denmark most needed him. 

Three Hearts and Three Lions is a quick read, being about 150 pages in most editions. It's engagingly written and filled with lots of interesting characters and ideas. Aside from the aforementioned presentation of alignment and the swanmay, there's also the first instance of the regenerating troll in fantasy literature and Holger himself, who is a paladin both within the story and as the inspiration for the character class of the same name. There's much to enjoy here, both for fans of classic fantasy literature and archeologists of roleplaying. I wish more people were familiar with this novel.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

RIP: Terry K. Amthor (1958–2021)

Terry K. Amthor, one of the original founders of Iron Crown Enterprises, has died, according to the following announcement from the ICE website:

To all in the ICE family

It is with the greatest sadness that we must inform you that the incomparable Terry Amthor has died. We extend our most heartfelt condolences to his sister Tamara, his family and his friends.

The cause and circumstances of his death are still under investigation, so we cannot provide any details on this and will defer to his family on what they choose to disclose in due course.

Terry was a founder member of the original ICE and a cocreator of Rolemaster and Spacemaster, writing and contributing to many of its most iconic products, and to some of the most exceptional 1st edition Middle-earth modules. Most of all, he has shaped our imaginations with his masterful Shadow World epic fantasy setting. He continued to develop Kulthea through his own Eidolon Studio company, before joining forces with Guild Companion Publications to create new sourcebooks and adventures bringing ever more of Shadow World to life, and working as our layout guru for most of our other products.  

Author, designer, world builder, and friend, Terry’s genius has enriched our lives for decades. His creations will continue to inspire us all for years to come.

Rest in peace, Terry.

Nicholas, Colin, John and Thom

In recent months, I'd begun to delve into the Shadow World setting, which was largely the creation of Amthor, so this news is strangely affecting. I now wish I'd had been more familiar with his work and other contributions to the hobby over the years. I now have added impetus to correct this oversight in my gaming education. Rest in peace, Mr Amthor.

Friday, October 1, 2021

"Inscrutable Dungeonmaster Par Excellence"

Had he lived, today would have been the 74th birthday of David L. Arneson, co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons. 

There's not much I can say about him here that others have not already said better – a big change from the days of my youth, when Arneson and his contributions to the hobby weren't as well known as they are today. In the years since his death, Arneson's star has risen considerably, particularly among those of us who favor the earliest editions of D&D. That's as it should be. 

Dave Arneson was, after all, "the innovator of the 'dungeon adventure' concept" on which the entire game was founded. It's an idea of such remarkable durability and flexibility that it remains a centerpiece not just of D&D and its many imitators but also of other forms of entertainment that have grown up in its wake. In a very real sense, so much of modern popular media was born in the dungeons beneath Castle Blackmoor in the first years of the 1970s and we have Arneson to thank for lighting the spark that would one day grow into a brilliant flame.

Happy Birthday, Dave.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

White Dwarf: Issue #11

Issue #11 of White Dwarf (February/March 1979) features a very odd cover painting by John Blanche. I'm not quite sure what it's supposed to depict, but, like so many of Blanche's work, it's undeniably compelling. Coincidentally, Ian Livingstone's editorial asks readers their opinions about the cover illustrations of the first ten issue of the magazine. I am very curious to see if a future editorial includes an acknowledgement of the results of this survey.

"Fire-Arms: 3000 A.D." by Brian Asbury is a catalog of ten new weapons for use with GDW's Traveller RPG. Unsurprisingly, the weapons include a blaster pistol and a plasma blade, two commonly referenced "omissions" in the game's equipment lists. The "Fiend Factory" presents eight more monsters for use with Dungeons & Dragons. Eight seems to be the default number of new monsters in each issues. I wonder if there's any significance to it beyond, say, the space allocated to the column. 

Lewis Pulsipher's "A Bar-Room Brawl – D&D Style" is a mini-game of sorts, based on an event at UK Games Day III event that Pulsipher than used as inspiration for his own event at Dragonmeet 1. The premise is, as its title suggests, a brawl in your typical fantasy inn, filled with a variety of characters and monsters (23 of them, in fact). Complementing the article is a hex map and cut-out counters to adjudicate location of combatants and objects in the barroom. Also accompanying the article are Pulsipher's recollections of having run this scenario at the convention. I appreciate details like this and wish more articles included them.

"Humanoid Variations for Starships & Spacemen" by Charles Elsden is a very short article describing a few new aliens for use with FGU's Starships & Spacemen. These descriptions are completely devoid of any game statistics, though, which surprises me. "Open Box" reviews three games. Four – Dimension Six and SPI's Middle Earth – are given fairly mediocre reviews (5 out of 10). The third, of Chaosium's RuneQuest, is given a score of 9 and much praise. I find the review fascinating, because, by the time I started reading White Dwarf, the magazine had a reputation for being a source of much quality RQ material. The final review, of AD&D modules D1, D2, and D3, is even more glowing. Reviewer Don Turnbull gives the modules a score of perfect 10. I like those modules a great deal myself, but perfect

"Treasure Chest" presents three more monsters (which were originally submitted to "Fiend Factory," according to the column's introduction), a magic item, and a humorous class called the Weakling. Here's its advancement table:

Humorous character classes are a staple of old school gaming magazines, so this is very much in keeping with that tradition. The issue ends with part four of Rowland Flynn's "Valley of the Four Winds." Also of note is this advertisement on the back cover, about which I'd written long ago.

Monday, September 27, 2021

The Perpetual Campaign

Last year, I wrote a couple of posts about the need for long campaigns, the second of which riffed off a post on the same topic over at Monsters and Manuals. Lately, I've been thinking about this topic again, as my ongoing House of Worms campaign crosses the six and a half year mark of regular play. And, in a remarkable display of synchronicity, Monsters and Manuals published a post the other day that mirrors much of my own thinking. Please go read it if you haven't already, because it's very good.

Before the latest House of Worms session began, my players and I talked for a little while about the state of the campaign and its current events. This wasn't a "meta" discussion about the campaign and its setting in an detached, objective way. Rather, it was a discussion from within, meaning how their characters viewed current events, what their immediate and longer term goals were, and even why they were proceeding as they were. It was a very fruitful discussion and proved quite helpful to me, the referee, in understanding how the players, through their characters, were approaching the campaign. Mind you, we have these kinds of discussions every few months, since there's so much going on in the campaign at any given time that it can be very easy to lose track of things (helped in no small part by my own laziness and forgetfulness).

One of the things that quickly became clear as we talked was the fact that, while the players were all largely on the same page, this wasn't completely true. For example, in the last session, the characters were scouting out an ancient ruin they had been told had become a flashpoint for conflict between several factions on the Achgé Peninsula. The ruins were of unknown origin and had recently partially collapsed, with portions of them falling into a huge crevasse at their center. Chemical-smelling smoke was wafting out of the crevasse and military forces engaged in battle seemed to be under the influence of some sort of mind control that was causing them to turn even on their comrades. Further scouting showed that the military forces were large and entrenched, meaning that any attempt at scouting was potentially dangerous and they simply lacked the numbers and resources to do this without danger to themselves. So, they decided to leave the ruins behind and make their way back to the colony city of Linyaró instead.

This decision was not to the liking of all the characters. At least a couple of them preferred that they brave the dangers of the ruins to find out both the source of the smoke and the reason the various armies were fighting over the ruins. They saw it as their best chance to learn something about the big events of the Peninsula, from which they'd been separated for about eighteen months of game time. Though the dissenting characters went along with the decision of the group, I suspect they'll eventually want to learn more about the ruins and might well undertake endeavors to achieve that end and they'll enlist the aid of various NPCs who share their point of view, even if the other player characters do not. Whatever they ultimately decide, there will be reverberations in the campaign, reverberations that will add to the glorious mess of the overall campaign setting.

But then that's how things go for the House of Worms. Over the course of the campaign, I've been assembling a huge list of NPCs, each one with a short description to jog my memory. Every time the characters encounter anyone, from the administrative high priest of a major temple right down to a street vendor, I add them to my file. That way, I can refer to them again should the need arise. This helps create a feeling of continuity, not only between sessions, but in the world itself, as if it exists outside the characters' control. There's nothing quite like the look of recognition that occurs when the characters encounter a NPC they've met before. There's a special kind of fun in this, as it not only helps with immersion in the setting, but also recalls earlier sessions and the events therein. These moments of recollection are vital to a campaign's success and longevity. They also provide more energy for keeping all the campaign's metaphorical wheels turning.

Bit by bit, the players and I, working together – and sometimes working at cross-purposes – have built up the campaign setting to the point where we've described, detailed, and catalogued so many elements that, if we want to, we could probably keep the campaign going forever. There are minor, personal elements, such as Keléno's complicated family life; mid-level ones, such as Aíthfo's efforts to keep the colony running; and high-level ones, like the power politics between the Naqsái city-states of the Peninsula. All these and more are there to form the focus of many sessions of play, in the process spawning even more. While I hesitate to say that the world of Tékumel is now "real" to the players of the campaign, there's nevertheless a certain truth to it. After six and a half years, their characters now "live" there full time and the choices they, the players, make concerning them are motivated primarily by what makes sense for the characters in this fantasy world filled with almost as many options as the real one. It's a lovely thing to experience and I consider myself fortunate to have found a group of players with whom we could realize this.

As I said, at this point, I don't see an end to the campaign. It's possible, I suppose, that enough players could lose interest in it that we simply lose the necessary "critical mass" to keep it going, but that seems unlikely. Over the years, we've lost more players than we've kept (though four of the original six from 2015 remain). Likewise, we've picked up new players, some of whom have stuck with the campaign longer than those who've departed (and we sometimes get old players back for "guest appearances"). Furthermore, the House of Worms campaign isn't just about one thing. At various times, it's been about underworld exploration, wilderness travel, espionage, clan business, imperial politics, military conflict, occult investigations, and too many others. If asked what the campaign is about, I would probably say something like, "The lives of seven Tsolyáni and their allies as they make their way through the world of Tékumel." That answer might sound somewhat glib, but it's nevertheless true. 

That's the secret to a perpetual campaign: slowly build up a world with as much depth and detail as you can and you'll never run out of things to do. If my players are to be believed, it's definitely worked for us.

Pulp Fantasy Library: The Footfalls Within

I've been on something of a Robert E. Howard kick lately, which is why I'm again returning to the works of Two-Gun Bob for this week's post. Much as I admire stories of Conan the Cimmerian, they're not my favorite series by REH. In fact, I hold the tales of Puritan swordsman Solomon Kane in even higher esteem. I've thought about my feelings on the matter for some time, attempting to determine why I Kane has eclipsed Conan in my affections – and I'm still thinking. That said, I think part of Kane's attraction for me is his mystery. We know very little about his origins or the events that led him to take up the life of a wandering avenger, which I find appealing. 

That leads to an uncomplicated directness in most of the dour Puritan's adventures, as we can see in "The Footfalls Within," which first appeared in the September 1931 issue of Weird Tales. 

Solomon Kane gazed somberly at the black woman who lay dead at his feet. Little more than a girl she was, but her wasted limbs and staring eyes showed that she had suffered much before death brought her merciful relief. Kane noted the chain galls on her limbs, the deep crisscrossed scars on her back, the mark of the yoke on her neck. His cold eyes deepened strangely, showing chill glints and lights like clouds passing across depths of ice.

"Even in this lonesome land they come," he muttered. "I had not thought –"

Kane has a particular hatred for slavery and, especially, slavers. The sight of this dead young woman, whose body bears the telltale marks of bondage, enrages him. He vows to find the slavers and mete out justice on them.

"Woe unto ye, sons of iniquity, for the wrath of God is upon ye. The cords be loosed on the iron necks of the hounds of hate and the bow of vengeance is strung. Ye are proud-stomached and strong, and the people cry out beneath your feet, but retribution cometh in the blackness of midnight and the redness of dawn." 

This is precisely what I mean about Kane's stories being uncomplicatedly direct. Howard wastes no time in giving the Puritan adventurer a goal to pursue, nor does he tarry in presenting him with a foe against which to pit him. Kane soon sneaks up on a train of slaves – "More than a hundred blacks, young men and women … stark naked and made fast together by cruel yoke-like affairs of wood" – and spies their drivers.

Of the drivers there were fifteen Arabs and some seventy black warriors, whose weapons and fantastic apparel showed them to be of some eastern tribe – one of those tribes subjugated and made Moslems and allies by the conquering Arabs.

Kane "followed like a brooding ghost and his rage and hatred ate into his soul like a canker. Each crack of the whip was like a blow on his own shoulders." He ponders how best to deal with the slavers until he sees them about to kill another young woman in a most unpleasant fashion – and he acts without thinking.

A pistol was smoking in his hand and the tall butcher was down in the dust of the trail with his brains oozing out, before Kane realized what he had done. 

The Englishman then fights with divine fury, taking down three guards before they overwhelm him. He's then divested of his weapons and taken before the leader of the slavers, a tall, lean man with a hawk-like face named Hassim ben Said, who asks his name.

"My name is Solomon Kane," growled the Puritan in the sheikh's own language. "I am an Englishman, you heathen jackal."

The dark eyes of the Arab flickered with interest.

"Suleiman Kahani," said he, giving the Arabesque equivalent of the English name. "I have heard of you – you have fought the Turks betimes and the Barbary corsairs have licked their wounds because of you."

Kane deigned no reply. Hassum shrugged his shoulders.

"You will bring a fine price," said he. "Mayhap I will take you to Stamboul, where there are shahs who would desire such a man among their slaves."

Now a captive of the very slavers he hoped to defeat, Kane travels with them as they continued their trek toward the market where they would sell him and the others. Along the way, a "lean, gray-bearded Arab" approaches him, identifying himself as Yussef the Hadji. He bears in his hand a wooden staff, one Kane had carried with him and that had been tossed aside during the ill-advised fight that preceded his capture. Kane tells him that the staff had been given to him by his blood-brother, N'Longa the magician. 

Yussuf is impressed with the staff, which he claims to have read about "in the old iron-bound books" and that Muhammad "himself hath spoken of it by allegory and parable!" He goes on to claim that it is none other than the staff by which "Suleiman ben Daoud drove forth the conjurers and magicians and imprisoned the efreets and the evil genii!" Sheikh Hassim scoffs at these claims.

"It did not save the Jews from bondage nor this Suleiman from our captivity," said he; "so I value it not as much as I esteem the long thin blade with which he loosed the souls of three of my best swordsmen."

Yussuf shook his head. "Your mockery will bring you to no good end, Hassim. Some day you will meet a power that will not divide before your sword or fall to your bullets. I will keep the staff, and I warn you – abuse not the Frank …"

As you might expect, Yussuf's words are prophetic. Later, when the slave train passes by some ruins "of a pre-pyramidal age," the staff and Kane's ability to wield it proves decisive, but I will say no more, for the benefit of those who wishes to read the full story. "The Footfalls Within," like so many tales of Solomon Kane, is fast-moving and equal parts spare and bombastic in its verbiage as the circumstances demand. It also contains a goodly dollop of horror in its final half. The result is a terrific story and a personal favorite of mine.