Wednesday, December 12, 2018

BlackStar: The Influence of Clark Ashton Smith

For the past month, I have been reading all the stories of Clark Ashton Smith in roughly chronological order.  In many ways, I like his works more than I do of H.P. Lovecraft's.  I find CAS easier to approach and his protagonists more relatable. '

Recently I just finished Marooned in Andromeda first of what is commonly called "The Captain Volmar Stories". The next one was A Captivity in Serpens and a third, which I have not gotten to yet, The Ocean-World of Alioth.  What struck me was how much they were like Star Trek.  Add in the Lovecraftian like horror of Marooned in Andromeda and you practically have a blue-print for what I want in BlackStar.

Indeed, the Trek connection has not gone unnoticed.  Ronald S. Hilger and Scott Connors the editors of the Night Shade collection in which all three stories appear make not of the similarities between Captains Volmar and Kirk.  Captivity in Serpens presages the Next Generation episode "The Most Toys" with it's crew member in captivity for a personal collection.

While doing some research this morning I came across the beginning of an adventure I had started back in the late 80s / early 90s for the then Next Generation version of FASA's Star Trek RPG.

I mentioned this last month as the adventure "Ghost Ship".  As time went on it was the Enterprise B (lost according to my notes in 2329, the Enterprise C was launched in 2332), but before that, it was the USS Excelsior.  In my document here it predates even that and it was the USS Necromancer.   Astute readers might recall that the NX-3113 USS Necromancer is one of the "Ships of the Line" of the Mystic Class.   The Necromancer seems to be a bit on the nose for this.  Instead given the writings of CAS and the main representative of his work in the OSR world,  Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, it seems best to call the ship the NX-3102 USS Sorcerer

I was thinking that maybe I could use the events of the CAS Capt. Volmar stories to give my Horror Universe a bit more of a backstory. Volmar's ship was called Alcyone.   The Alcyone system is about 445 light years from Earth, so not sure if I could say Volmar is from Alcyone. So I going to say that the Alcyone was his previous command.  His name is Howard Solomon Volmar since he has been compared to Robert E. Howard's creation, Solomon Kane.

There is so much more here too.

Seedling of Mars deals with an alien craft that lands in California in 1947 (the future from CAS' then perspective) that carries a group of scientist to Mars where it's one lifeform is a planet-wide hybrid of plant and animal that is near god like.  While CAS' martian is a benign entity, it does have the look of a Lovecraftian monster.  One could imagine a great Cthulhuoid beast in its place.  The deal that makes with humanity is less for their benefit and more Faustian in return.  Indeed in CAS' tale, the being wipes out much of the Earth's population but it's ok since those are the ones that were not scientifically minded.  The rest of humanity is relocated onto Venus. Still, while this story is more Science-Fantasy it just needs a nudge to push it out of the light and into the dark of Horror.

Clark Ashton Smith in My Games
It is fair to say that CAS has had more influence on my games than Lovecraft has, save for the effect Lovecraft had on CAS himself.
In my regular D&D 5 games (and before that) CAS has had a huge effect on my game universe as detailed here:


For these, I made a special effort to reread or in other cases re-read all the Averoigne stories to get a good feel of Medieval Horror.  It was great.

These days the Atlantis and Hyperborea tales of CAS are well handled by Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea.   Actually, I would love to use AS&SH as the system for a Zothique game.  I have already taken ideas from it for BlackStar and plan to have the PCs travel to Yamil Zacra: The Infernal Star.

Depending on how my BlackStar game goes I could conceivably pull another "Where No One Has Gone Before" and send the poor crew of the Protector to Earth, 250-300 Million years in the future.

I could combine this with the "Ghost Ship" idea above. Though that might be too much.
Alternately, I could alter my Starcrash on Hyperborea adventure idea to Starcrash on Zothique.  I kinda like that idea. Shades of "The Time Machine" here too.  It would also give the option of something I wanted to try in some other games.  I have wanted the PCs to run into their future-incarnations; their reincarnated souls as it were in new bodies.  The excuse I would give is that the Earth is so old now that old forms are being reused. 

If I wanted to bring in some Atlantis I could just use some of my ideas for Doggerland.

The Black Gate ran a fantastic series on Clark Ashton Smith.  I won't link all of them here, just ones that are germane to this discussion, but they are all good.

1 comment:

Theodric Ælfwinesson said...

All on point: CAS is the man. I need to fill the holes in my collection!

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