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Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Invaders & Ancients

Back in the 1970s, I was a voracious reader of pulp fantasy including (of course) the works of Robert E Howard, creator of Conan. Around that time, or a few years earlier, Howard's literary agent Glenn Lord unearthed a storage trunk containing thousands of pages of unpublished fiction and poetry. Now, I'm a natural skeptic and a born believer in Lucius Cassius's maxim of "cui bono?" so I have to admit that I used to wonder about that trunk. To the thirteen-year-old Morris mind, it seemed awfully convenient that all those stories had shown up just when REH was starting to enjoy a new surge in popularity with the Lancer paperbacks of Conan, with their unforgettable covers by Frazetta at his best, and of course Roy Thomas's and Barry Windsor-Smith's comic book adaptations for Marvel.

So, I just want to take this opportunity to publicly apologize to Mr Lord for ever having entertained those unworthy suspicions. Dishonored is he who thinks ill of others, and now I see how very possible it is to stumble across a stack of unpublished work that you believed lost forever. For this is what I wrote three years ago in my preface to the reissued Dragon Warriors RPG:

"...There was also an entire world of Dragon Warriors rules and adventures, much more extensive than in the original six books. This is the Invaders & Ancients book, which was to have been incorporated into Chaosium’s Questworld project. When that deal failed to come about, we reworked the material into a massive worldbook, called Ophis, that would have comprised some of DW books 7-12. If you’re interested, a little glimpse of that continent of Ophis will feature in Shadowline: The Art of Iain McCaig. But that is all there is, alas, as in those days we did our work in non-electronic form. The manuscript may have taken the train to Dumfries or been used to lay the cornerstone of a church or used to light a fire on an especially cold winter’s night – all those fates that the one and only copies of things are wont to suffer."
But no no no, I spoke too soon. For in sorting through boxes at the back of my wife's wardrobe (it is a big wardrobe; you could live in it) I came across folders containing the actual typewritten pages and hand-drawn maps that Oliver and I did for that project. And it's a massive amount of material - a whole campaign of linked scenarios, a detailed continent, two (perhaps three) distinct cultures, new magic items and monsters. Everything you'd have expected of Dragon Warriors books 7-9, at least, if not up to the twelve books I estimated in that preface. This material has survived twenty-five years of house moves, leaky roofs, burglaries and wifely clear-outs, which to me is not so much a sign of divine providence as of the gob-smacking improbabilities of blind chaos.

The premise in brief: pilgrims from the known lands of Legend sail west seeking an earthly paradise as the millennium approaches. They arrive at another continent, which many are convinced is their reward from God. Some centuries later, few still believe that in their hearts, though it is still the official teaching of the Church and the capital city is called Deliverance. Inland, a decadent civilization known to the Coradians as Ancients, shored up by a slave army of creatures called habdigars, continues to oppose the newcomers' expansion along the great river Ophis. Think Legend meets Aguirre with a dash of Showboat World and you're not far off.

If you're a DW fan, don't expect this stuff to be rolling out overnight. It was originally written for Questworld, so much of it uses Runequest rules. Typewritten pages are not so convenient for re-editing as Word documents. Some of it is too close to other ideas we've used since. Role-playing has moved on (well, changed anyway) in the intervening years, so it would need updating. And editing material Oliver and I wrote over two decades ago has to take a back seat to projects like the Fabled Lands e-gamebooks. But in spare moments we'll tinker with it, and eventually, you never know...


  1. I really wonder if Khitai wouldn't have colonised those lands instead of the Coradian Nations. In DW 6, a ship from Khitai, led by a powerful magician, is met in the Mungoda Jungle...


  2. That's true, but the man behind that expedition, Lord Chonmaru, was really a Khitan prodigy. We might expect the energy of the Coradian nations to throw up more Marco Polos and Columbuses than Khitai, which is large, comfotable and enduring enough to mostly look inwards.

    Logic aside, Legend has always been intended as our own history seen through a distorting prism. So, although the Ophis lands are not America, and the Ancient Race are not at all like American Indians, and 999 AS is not 1492 AD - yet there's resonance there with Lief Ericson, millennial panic and a kind of socio-religious radicalism you see hints of in the Crusades.

    There may be Khitan colonies *as well*, of course, despite the huge distances they would have had to cross. Interesting idea.

  3. Oh my. That would be simply fantastic.

  4. We've been chatting about this on the Gringle's Pawnshop forums. If this becomes a fully-fledged setting, what will happen to the rest of the world? I assume that the original material only covered one of the Questworld continents?

    Also, is there any chance that the material will see the light of day in its original form, i.e. with RQ rules?

  5. Sorry for raising the dead, but I'm also following a thread on Gringle's Pawnshop, which led me here. I'd love to see the material in RQ form, if you ever decide to even scan it.

  6. I'm sure there are a lot (well, a few) of Runequest/BRP players out there who would love to see this. Surely it's a sign that this stuff has survived so long.