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Srith of the Scrolls

aka Charles Fewlass, Creator of the Scrolls of Lankhmar

Nehwon and Me

Charles FewlassBack in the early eighties our family had just moved back from Germany to San Antonio, Texas– Fort Sam Houston to be exact–and I was starting my first year in Junior High. It was in that year that I was introduced to D&D at school and I was soon playing it every weekend and collecting all the books that went with it.

It was with Deities and Demigods that I had my first exposure to Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser and all of the denizens of Nehwon. I was not favorably impressed. Alignment–D&D's representation of a character's moral code–was an important stat in the early day's of D&D, and as it turned out, one of the two heroes of Nehwon was listed as Neutral–a very dubious alignment–and many of the gods were one or another form of evil. There was a depiction of an ectoplasmic fog with huge eyeballs, welding swords and axes against some adventurers. A prominent god was being tortured on a rack and his wrists laid horribly at right angles to where they should be. Many gods had assassin levels, skulls and skeletons abound, and bizarreness and evil beings ruled the day.

Who would want to play in such a world where even the heroes were suspect!? I certainly didn't. It didn't sound at all like a proper adventuring world! It was no Arthurian mythos, or Egyptian, or Greek, or anything reasonably normal.

Skip forward some years to college. I was already a big fan of Asimov and prided myself on the fact that if he could boast that he had written over 400 books, I could read them. I even started buying paperbacks where he was just the editor–among which were anthologies of Hugo winning stories. It was in one of these Hugo anthologies that I encountered Fritz Leiber again, and the story was Ill Met in Lankhmar. I finally had a proper introduction to Nehwon … and I was hooked.

From there, it was a matter of picking up all of the ACE Paperbacks–with the mysterious and enticing Jeff Jones cover paintings– and reading the entire series. What had seemed a bizarre and immoral world before was still bizarre and certainly filled with plenty of gray and outright blackness, but now the skulls promised adventure, the ectoplasmic fog confronted the heroes with inner and outer conflict, and the heroes weren't aloof and uncaring, but nor were they simply two-dimensional knights in armor. They loved life, and living life. They were gutsy, earthy, urbane, philosophical, witty and foolish. They drank and fought, and they loved women.

They were a buddy cop movie in a fantasy world. Nehwon was no Middle Earth, and a good thing too. Instead of elves and dwarves and faerie folk, the inhabitants of Nehwon were relatable–even if a little fantastic. You could sit down and have a drink with Fafhrd or the Mouser, have a conversation, and sympathize with how each others' day had been going. Try that with Conan or Legolas.

After devouring the books, I started buying all the Lankhmar D&D material that was out at the time, and very soon I was running Lankhmar adventures for my friends and they were the ones having drinks with Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. Glasses were clinking at the Silver Eel every weekend, and through the smog and smoke of Lankhmar lay the promise of skull-filled adventures for all my friends.

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