Wednesday, April 16, 2014

N is for Nehwon

Funny thing: I've been talking with friends about this A to Z challenge, and am surprised that I keep forgetting what I did for "A". I can remember Blackmoor, Calidar, Dominaria. Eberron, but the "A" just kept slipping my mind. It was Amber, which I forget because it is not so much as a gaming world as a fantasy world which had some gaming attached. But it a world with games, so it qualifies.

And similarly, Nehwon, home to Fritz Lieber's city of Lankhmar and its two most famous denizens,  Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.I think of this world from its text, not its games, but it has had a lot a gaming in it.
[Important Update: And in the original of this draft, I typoed the name. Yeah, that shows my level of attention, here. Thanks to Allen Varney for pointing this out and making this Important Update necessary,]

I encountered Leiber in those post-Lord of the Rings years, when I came off the original trilogy, read the Hobbit, and then say, what, that's it? Where is the fantasy? (yes, I'm going to tell you kids how easy you have it, these days).  We had Tolkien, we had Lewis (I preferred Silent Planet to Narnia), we had Moorcock boldly shouldering his way onto the scene with Elric and Hawkmoon, and we had ... who from the American side? Howard, though I never embraced Conan's textural incarnation as much as his comics version. Maybe Randall Garrett or Gardner Fox or Jack Vance or Clark Ashton Smith, but they were woefully under-represented on the spinner rack and at the book department at Kaufmann's. Frank Baum's Oz. And then there was Leiber with F and the GM.

Leiber comes out of that American Fantasy Tradition, which is darker and more horror-based than its European cousin. Lovecraft is its patron saint, and unifying point for the others, and HP's correspondence the American equivalent of The Eagle and The Child where Tolkien met. He communicated with Howard and Clark Ashton Smith and to Robert Bloch, and, yes, Leiber. And Leiber has done his Cthulhoid stories and studies as well, and was deeply influenced by the Providential master.

And Leiber brought Nehwon forward, with a pair of heroes motivated not so much from high gallantry as by more earthly matters of alcohol, women, and petty cash. Originally a set of short stories that were collected and reorganized into the paperbacks I discovered, it was another world, different from the epic nature of Tolkien or the moralities of Lewis and the Byronic antiheroes of Moorcock.

In addition, Nehwon was not a traditional world as we think of it. It had a "Death Pole" in the Shadowlands, home of death and a "Life Pole" where the other gods clustered. It seemed to be a hollow world, in that the stars themselves were on a far ocean, spinning within great waterspouts. It was fantasy adventures in a nonstandard world, capable of turning itself inside out for the purposes of a story.

And it had games. Early connections brought Nehwon into TSR's orbit, and it did not only a Lankhmar game, but added its pantheon without conflict to the D&D system. And it added adventures and source material over the years, the best probably being Lankhmar, City of Adventure, by Messrs. Nesmith, Niles, and Rolston, with a cover by Keith Parkinson, was a superior setting for urban adventures. And more recently, there was a Mongoose version using RuneQuest rules.

But the world is interesting for two completely opposite reasons - its urban setting in Lankhmar itself, City of Seventy Score Thousand Smokes (yeah, that would have been rough to put on the cover), but also its outlands, which were as wild and woolly and nonstandard as possible. And that made for both an excellent place for stories and a gaming setting.

More later,