Thursday, November 22, 2012

Conan: Black Colossus Volume 8

Recently I was at Half Price Books when they were having one of their sales. In this instance, it was 50% off on a Sunday so I picked up this volume of Conan for like a fiver. From what I know, there are already several volumes past this one but I'll have to wait for the store to have it in stock and for another sale. Thankfully one of those criteria will be met tomorrow and I'll have to see if the other is when I go there.

And sorry if I'm pitching out so many of those mini-notes on the Conan books but while I've got some time off, I figured I'd better take advantage of it.

In the collected Conan comics that make up volume 8, Timothy Truman is joined by Tomas Giorello and Jose Villarrubia. This collection features a new telling of Black Colossus which has had a few interpretations over the years.

One of the biggest problems this volume faces is found in the early version with art by John Buscema. His line work is fantastic. It's not that the artists here are bad mind you. The artist who does the chapter breaks, Joseph Michael Linser, is top notch and I'd love to see him fully illustrate some Conan.

John's artwork though, is gigantic in scope. From the first page of the original, where Shevatas a thief stands on an outcropping of rock locking over the ruins of Kutchemes, the tone is set. In the new version... it's almost a little too carton like in scope in terms of the line work. It's too bright, too vivid. John's artwork relies on the almost impossible to appreciate details he puts into it. His pages are often packed with illustrations while the new volume uses pages like they were going out of style.

Now mind you, that may be part of the whole publishing bit. When stories like this are told for today's audience, the intent is usually to collect them which requires a certain number of pages and issues to do so. John didn't necessarily have to worry about that and may have had to ram the page with art.

The good news though, is the new version is actually more... useful for mining for role playing ideas. It has a few things that I've mentioned are useful to gaming before. For example, Conan has work as a mercenary. His patron keeps him around because he's the best swordsman he has. Sounds like something players would fall into with their unusual skill sets.

In addition, dreams are a part of the scenario here. The princess who hires the mercenaries Conan is allied with is haunted by visions of a sorcerer who desires her for his queen. She on the other hand seeks out wisdom in the temple of Mirtra and is provided instruction. Dreams and the messages of the gods working their ways on the campaign may seem a bit high fantasy for a Conan tale but they're in both versions. Visions and omens from the gods and supernatural elements shouldn't be overlooked as ways to hint at things.

Conan also discovers that working for mercenaries means that there are those who might not like a potential threat to the status quo. In this case, he makes an enemy of a fellow officer who causes a bit of trouble for him. Having rivals that the party members can't simply kill right away due to time or circumstance can add a level of pressure to the players as they have more things to take into account when they make their plans.

Speaking of that circumstance, having something ready and on hand to throw into the campaign to keep it moving is always a good idea. When the mercenaries here are at rest, Conan's patron finds out that they're not getting paid and so that leads to the mercenaries sacking the town and then moving on. Be prepared to move the adventure forward and push the players so that they're not always just sitting around waiting for the next mission.

In terms of my biggest fault with the new version here, is something that probably wouldn't hurt to throw in the campaign every now and again just to add that dreaded 'realism' to the setting. In this collection, the sorcerer who survived three thousand years and the sacking of his own city, loses his powers because he was so focused on getting his queen that he failed to abide by the terms of his pact with his demon god Set. Love makes people do crazy things. Throwing some weakness like this into your master villain can make them more interesting and rounded.