Thursday, November 5, 2015

Black Lotus Moon (SPOILERS)

Art by Peter Laird

Had Tom Moldvay lived, he would have been 67 years old today.  At Thoul's Paradise, we typically celebrate Moldvay's birthday by focusing on one of his contributions to role-playing games (of which there are many).  Today, however, we look at Moldvay's fiction.  It is your humble host's understanding that the well-read Moldvay aspired to be a fantasy novelist.  Alas, his only entry in the Internet Speculative Fiction Database is for a short story, Black Lotus Moon, published in the Dragontales anthology.

Dragontales was “An original collection of fantasy fiction and art, presented by the publishers of Dragon magazine.”  The 78 page volume was edited by Kim Mohan who, at the time (August 1980), was assistant editor of (The) Dragon.  Moldvay's story is accompanied by art supplied by Peter Laird, before he gained fame and fortune as one of the creators of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  (Another Dragontales artist, Kevin Siembieda, would go on to produce the TMNT RPG.)

One of the characters in Moldvay's story is a “black-haired, gray-eyed barbarian...clad only in a fur loincloth.”  He claims to be of the “Aesir” tribe from “the northern mountains.”  We also learn that he has “been a mercenary in more kingdoms than you have fingers to count with.”  During the story, this barbarian and two accomplices (one of them a woman) infiltrate a tower to gain treasure.  This may sound familiar, but Moldvay isn't being derivative – he's toying with readers' expectations.

Anyway, the protagonists – two 'thieves' named Tamara and Saris – recruit the barbarian, Arngrim Wolfbane, as an equal partner in a venture to loot the tower of Gorilon, an immortal wizard.  Gorilon sleeps only once a month, during the night of the full moon.  On these occasions, he “retires to his sanctum in the tower to inhale the fumes of the black lotus.”  (Hence, the source of the story's title.)  Central to the plot is the knowledge that...
...while he sleeps, his treasure is protected by safeguards which he claims a clever and daring individual can overcome, as long as the thief uses no magic.  He could easily make the tower impregnable using his magic, but the standing challenge to thieves amuses him.
One of the safeguards is a “demon-monster” (shown above).  Prior to the beginning of the story, Saris found the testament of a thief who tried to raid Gorilon's tower hundreds of years previous.  The document explains that “only a physical attack will kill the demon.”  This is the reason the two thieves bring the barbarian along.

A significant portion of the story details the trio's foray into the tower and Moldvay's role-playing game mindset is evident.  Many sections of the narrative could easily be an account of player characters exploring a dungeon:
          They tapped the walls for secret doors, and scanned the floor...One by one, each twist and turn was eliminated until only a single dead end remained.
          Tamara crept forward, sweeping her spear in front of her to check for traps.  An inch from the end wall, the spear tip vanished.  Tamara continued to push the spear forward.  It disappeared inch by inch until nearly all of it was invisible.  When Tamara pulled the spear back, it slowly reappeared, complete and intact.
          “The end wall is an illusion,” Tamara said.
Did Moldvay create a story from a gaming scenario?  Perhaps it was the other way around.

The protagonists survive the tower and get away with some treasure but the story doesn't end well for the ersatz Conan, as shown below.

Art by Peter Laird

1 comment:

  1. I have some unpublished Moldvay fictions among his unpublished adventure manuscripts. Am working on cataloging them.