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Robert E. Howard, Harold Lamb, and The Dearth of Historical Adventure in RPGs

So reading through Lord of Samarcand and other adventure tales of the Old Orient by Robert E. Howard. In the introduction by Patrice Louney, he shares an excerpt from a letter by Howard, after he had just written "The Sowers of Thunder", to a friend about possible subjects for Oriental Tales.

"And Babar the Tiger who establishes the Mogul rule in India — and the imperial phase in the life of Babair the Panther the subject of my last story — and the conquest of Constantinople by the Fifth Crusade — and the subjugation of the Turks by the Arabs in the days of Abu Bekr — and the gradual supplanting of the Arab masters by their Turkish slaves which culminated by the conquest of Asia Minor and Palestine by the Seljuks — And the rise of Saladin — and the final destruction of Christian Outremer by Kalawun — and the First Crusade — Godfrey of Boullion, Baldwin of Boulogne, Bohermund — Sigurd the Josala-farer — Barbarossa — Couer de Lion. Ye Gods, I could write a century and still have only tapped the reservoir of dramatic possibilities. I wish to hell I had a dozen markets for historical fiction — I’d never write anything else."

So as we can we hear from the thunder of Robert E. Howard’s words, there is much win and awesome to be found among historical adventure, especially the Crusades, and many other times of High Adventure One of the foremost Historical Adventure Fiction writers of the Pulp period, a favorite of, and major influence upon Howard, was Harold Lamb.  Most noted for his Khlit the Cossack adventures, but he also wrote many tales in the Crusades period. (Indeed he wrote a two volume history of the Crusades, and several other histories. He majored in Asian studies at Columbia University.

Which brings us to the oft-repeated observation of the lack of historical adventure in RPG’s. Is it as Howard faced in the Pulp days, it doesn’t sell as well as Fantasy stuff? Also, is is the old bias of Western derived fantasy, and its lack of Eastern and African based settings? Such as mentioned by Kevin Crawford in his African themed Spears of the Dawn Kickstarter?

2 thoughts on “Robert E. Howard, Harold Lamb, and The Dearth of Historical Adventure in RPGs”

  1. I have in the past signed up to play what i thought would be historical fiction games, and certainly started out as such. Around a third of the way on though, there’s been some big shift and all of a sudden the world we thought we knew had changed, and magic and/or impossible sci-fi has made an appearance. I don’t always mind, but I would have preferred it to just stay as fine old romp. In one occasion, all the other player characters had created characters with some kind of occult knowledge or background.

    I decided against ti as I thought that points would just go on an occasional knowledge roll, and I wanted to create a sailor who one day would captain his own ship. Come the day of the supernatural event, I was totally unprepared for it, and ended up missing out on a lot of the plot. Luckily for me though, i was the only person who knew how to sail in a pirate game, so even though everyone else knew how to fight the big bad, I was indispensable if they ever wanted to move from island to island.

    1. The first and second generation RPGs had all kinds of straight historical, non-fantasy games: En Garde, Boot Hill, Top Secret, Gangbusters, Flashing Blades, etc. I’m not sure what brought this to an end… lack of commercial success? A generational thing?

      Black Vulmea has been keeping the faith and blogging excellent notes concerning his Flashing Blades campaign set in historical 17th century France. Check it out here:

      But elsewhere, yeah, there’s definitely a dearth of historical adventure in RPG :-((

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