Zothique (1970)

Clark Ashton Smith isn’t mentioned in the Dungeon Masters Guide’s Appendix N. If that seems an oversight, that’s because it is: Gygax hadn’t read Smith’s work in 1979. Had he, Gygax would have discovered that Smith has more in common with fantasy than Lovecraft, is more philosophically varied than Howard and matches Leiber for bejeweled decadence. His prose, however, is dense, narcotic and waxes poetic, so perhaps it would have been a poor match in that regard.

Still, any one of Smith’s settings has much for D&D to draw on. There’s ancient Hyperborea, with its dinosaurs and its looming doom of the ice age, or Averoigne, a fictional region of medieval France full of black magic and werewolves and worse. This 1970 Ballantine paperback collects all the stories of Zothique, a future continent of our own earth, returned to a more primitive age and where the dead outnumber the living by a vast margin. There’s a story called “The Empire of the Necromancers,” for Pete’s sake. It doesn’t get much more D&D than that.

The only D&D publication I know of that directly references Smith’s stories is the X-Series module Castle Amber, set in Averoigne and full of hallucinatory set pieces. For people who have read Smith, it is easy to forget that he remains relatively unknown compared to his fellow pulp authors. Consider this my small attempt to encourage you to try Smith, the greatest fantasy author to not influence D&D.

Bonus Fact: The amazing cover painting by George Barr also appears as the cover of the occult metal band Blood Ceremony’s self-titled debut LP, which you should check out if you’re into any combination of metal, witchcraft and flutes.

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