Klarkash-Ton and Castle Amber

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The Cimmerian was not the only venue celebrating the nativity of  Clark Ashton Smith this thirteenth of January just past. Cool websites such as Grognardia and Cinerati marked the occasion as well. Their tributes differed somewhat from those proffered here in that they noted the influence of Clark Ashton Smith upon the history of fantasy role-playing games. Specifically, they both cited Tom Moldvay’s Castle Amber gaming module as being what led them to Klarkash-Ton.

What is particularly striking about both tributes is that Castle Amber remains the one, single, solitary example of an RPG product that either blogger concerned (or myself) knows about which was largely based upon the works of CAS. Yet, that module appears to have exerted an outsized influence over the years.

Speaking for myself, I discovered Smith’s fiction while still in high school, courtesy of Timescape’s The Last Incantation (edited by Donald Sidney-Fryer). I was led to that collection by a reference to CAS from Glenn Lord or L. Sprague de Camp. I’m not sure which. I didn’t encounter Moldvay’s module until my sophomore year of college, by which time I’d been gaming for over a year. A friend of mine owned a copy and praised it. Looking at the module closely, I noticed the short bibliography in the back citing some of the stories from CAS’ “Averoigne Cycle,” a few of which I hadn’t read at the time. When I pointed out the literary provenance of Castle Amber to my buddy, a new Clark Ashton Smith fan was born.

James Maliszewski, proprietor of Grognardia, actually proclaimed his debt to Castle Amber in a post from 2008, but he kindly reposted that blog entry for his readers last Wednesday. Moldvay’s module made a deep and lasting impression on Malizsewski and it led to his profound admiration for CAS today.

Cinerati is a blog helmed by Christian Lindke, a gamer who was also brought to the altar of Klarkash-Ton by Castle Amber. As he put it:

I had purchased Castle Amber believing it had some relation to the Amber stories of Roger Zelazny. I was wrong, but I have rarely been so glad to be incorrect. The Castle Amber module is a celebration of the Weird Tale, combining narrative elements from Edgar Allan Poe, H P Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith. The Poe references were obvious to me, even though I was quite young when I first read the module, but the references to a wondrous place called Averoigne were entirely new to me. I had never heard of the “Beast of Averoigne,” (nor the Beast of Gévaudan for that matter) “The Colossus of Ylourgne,” or “The Holiness of Azédarac.” I likely never would have, but for the fact that Moldvay had a brief bibliography listing the stories that influenced Castle Amber.

The testimonials from both bloggers made me think. Looking back, on the rare occasions that I encountered someone who knew of Clark Ashton Smith, it usually turned out that they had encountered him by way of Castle Amber’s bibliography. Truly, much like Gygax’s “Appendix N” (which didn’t mention CAS, incidentally), that list led many gamers to literary treasures from days of yore.

The post that James Maliszewski wrote in honor of this year’s CAS nativity is very well done (I expected no less), it being mostly concerned with Smith’s impact on role-playing games. However, in my mind, he has yet to top his 2009 birthday tribute to Klarkash-Ton. From where I stand, it is one of the best short pieces devoted to the Enchanter of Auburn that has so far emanated from an Internet venue. Read it and judge for yourself.

Maliszewski has stated his intention to write more about Clark Ashton Smith in 2010. I look forward to it.