Friday, December 3, 2010

Tony Bath's Hyboria, Part III: Conan and Emergent Story

A small detour before diving back into Bath's world-building.

I was reminded by HC player Mack aka Desert Scribe that Phil Barker, the author of Hordes of Things and countless iterations of WRG and Dbxx (not to be confused with my other favorite Phil Barker of Tekumel fame), was also a player in Hyboria—a veritable “Dream Team” of old guard wargamers. Barker mentions in HoTT that the greatest of the Hyborian "cardboard characters", Conan himself, played a recurring role in the game. It's an easy fact to omit as Bath fails to mention this completely in the original campaign book!

But fortunately he does make mention of it in a series of dispatches to Battle For Wargamers magazine in the late 1970s (these may be included in the Hyborian Legends in the new omnibus, but I'm still waiting not-so patiently for the new edition to arrive in my mailbox). Here's a choice section from the early days of the campaign when it was still a two-side affair:
“...Don Featherstone and I launched into the first real Hyborian map campaign. I had begun populating my countries with a few characters taken from Howard's stories, beginning of course with his hero, Conan, the Cimmerian barbarian who had become King of Aquilonia. For this campaign I decided that Conan had formed a coalition of the Western kingdoms with a view to conquering and civilizing the dangerous areas on their northern borders his own old homeland of Cimmeria. I, of course, took the part of Conan (for years I never allowed anyone else to do so) while Don had Cimmeria.”
Compare that to this next section about Conan taken from later in the campaign. What I think is especially interesting is how rich “the story line” has become—and just like the best of D&D campaigns not as a pre-written GM-exercise fixated on acting out Bath's or Howard's plotlines but as a story emerging from the rich experience of game play itself:
“The [combined Vanaheim, Asgard and Cimmeria] Empire's borders were naturally strong, and were now strengthened by a program of fort building to command vital passes through the mountains. Since a lasting peace with Namedides the Fox of Hyperborea seemed unlikely, the Emperor sought to secure his Southern border by a defensive-offensive alliance with King Conan of Aquilonia. This alliance also was bolstered by a political marriage.
Conan's position was already very strong, the more so as he sought no new foreign conquests and was interested only in giving just but firm government to the lands under his control. The biggest problem was that portion of Nemedia held by Aquilonia, and here the King made every effort at conciliation, recognizing a Nemedian noble, Riach Glyndwyr, as its Duke, and giving him virtually independent control of the country, Aquilonian troops being withdrawn.With his northern border secure, he could turn his attention elsewhere, and his first step was a political coup--the marriage of his son and heir Ban Cruach to Queen Taramis of Khauran, thus extending his influence well to the south of his old enemies, Namedides and his ally Valbroso of Corinthia, and establishing a common frontier with Vendhva, of whose alliance he was assured by his close friendship (some said more than friendship!) with the Devi Yasmina. Less certain of the future of Shem, he re-insured by effecting certain other political marriages with both the ruling family and that of Thoth-Mekri, who was second in power only to the Emperor."
As Hyboria became a more robust multi-player affair, Conan would become something of an NPC wild card as Mack mentions. Before each campaign year, Bath would roll to see which side the ever-mercurial Cimmerian would join.

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