Thursday, October 8, 2015

[Horseclans] Coming of the Horseclans

One of the strongest influences on all my works has been the writings of Robert Adams, specifically his Horseclans series of 18 novels and two Friends of the Horseclans short story compilations.

The Horseclans series take place in a post-apocalyptic North America. The titular Horseclans are nomads from the Sea of Grass, the PA Great Plains, from the Mississippi to the High Plains of the Rocky Mountains, and from southern Canada to the Rio Grande. The Horseclans themselves are descended primarily from the youthful survivors of a bomb shelter in Los Angeles who, over the first several generations, migrate east, eventually taking to a nomadic life after the climate change that follows the war makes farming difficult if not impossible in the West (or was Adams simply prophetic about the forthcoming centuries-long Great Drought?).

Along the way they bring into their tribal alliance various other survivors, including descendants of Canadian military, Anglo-Canadian and French-Canadian refugees, campers from Yellowstone, experimental ranchers from Texas, descendants of National Guardsmen from Missouri, and others. Though most of the ancestors of the Kindred, as they are called, are white, their culture is more Mongolian-Turkic, including yurts, wagons, sabers, and an intense dislike of Dirtmen (farmers), who are worthy only of raiding and taking as slaves.

The Kindred are mutants, most of them, with powerful telepathic powers; some exhibit other powers, but other abilities are rare. Using their telepathy, they are better able to work with their horses, which are also telepathic and smarter than your typical horse. Their major allies, however, are the prairie cats, which are descended from an attempt to re-create the saber-toothed tiger through back-breeding. These are as intelligent as humans, and have very strong telepathy, of greater power usually than even the strongest Kindred.

The leader of the Horseclans is Milo Morai, an immortal, one of the Undying. He was born long before WW III; how long before is unknown, as he lost his memory before the 1930's, but he was obviously a fighting man in the era before guns became popular, because even then he was a past-master of swordplay and knew dozens of languages, many of them long dead. My own theory is that he was a Greek or Roman from the Migration era; the author at one point mentioned that he was actually an alien, but that makes no sense, as there are other Undying. The Undying can die, it just takes cutting off their head; drowning them; or burning them at the stake; all things that can kill them faster than they can regenerate, which is at a speed as to turn a troll's head.

Most of the early action in the series focuses on the east coast, as that is where the Horseclans migrate to in the first book, The Coming of the Horseclans. It is the late 26th century, about 700 years after the Two Day War and the Great Dyings, which are by now a time of myth and legend. In the early series the war was ~1980; as that year passed, the author later placed the war ca. 2015 (starting in the Middle East, likely with a local dictator getting a nuke and hitting Israel, but as it was intimated that it was Libya and Qaddafi, I'm not too worried today). An ancient prophecy among the Kindred tells that the clans would one day return to the Holy City of Ehlai; as Milo knows that it is a radioactive ruin, most of which slid into the sea after the Big One finally hit in the 23rd Century, he takes them east instead.

There they run into the kingdoms of the Ehleens, or Greeks, who migrated to the east coast some centuries ago, fleeing the depredations of the Turkish Sultan. They built a great kingdom on the east coast, from Virginia to the Mississippi and south of the savage lands of Tennessee, that broke up after the Big One (which was continent-wide, and took out much of the east coast and the coastal cities with tidal waves). So when the Horseclans arrive, they find three divided countries of now decadent and debased Ehleens.

In The Coming of the Horseclans, the Kindred conquer the northern country, Kehnooryos Ehlahs or New Greece, in the process discovering the presence of the Witchmen, who are men from the old world who use technology to move their minds from one body to another, and thus try to re-build their kingdom, which was destroyed when the Ehleens invaded. They defeat the current machinations of the Witchmen, defeat the decadent Ehleen nobles, and start a new united kingdom from their city of New Ehlai, built atop the ruins of Hampton, Virginia, where Milo spent some years following WW II as part of the budding military-industrial complex.

In  the second book, Swords of the Horseclans, the other two kingdoms come calling, wanting to re-conquer the lands the Horseclans took in the previous generation (the books follow Milo at this stage, and as he is immortal, each book jumps a generation or two). The Kingdom of Karaleenos (the Carolinas, of course) is at first at war with the new Confederation, which is a union of the Ehleens and the Kindred. Then the vast army of Zastros, the newly-crowned King of the Southern Kingdom, comes up to wipe away both forces. Zastros is under the influence of the Witchmen, and doesn't care how many are killed, as all the chaos is needed to enable the Witchmen to reconquer the eastern coast (they are stuck in the swampy ruins of Florida, where they were based before the war, at Cape Canaveral/Cape Kennedy Research Center). Thanks to prophecies provided by Blind Hari of Kroogah, a Kindred bard with many of the other unusual psychic powers the Kindred can possess, High Lord Milo and his allies are able to defeat Zastros, and unite all three kingdoms into the Confederation.

In the third book, Revenge of the Horseclans, we find that things are going well for the Kindred, as they now mostly rule the Confederation. However, the Ehleens, now sharing or losing much of their power, seek to regain it, and unite behind the Ehleen Church, a debased and decadent version of the old Greek Orthodox faith, long ago infiltrated and perverted by the Witchmen. During the Great Rebellion, we see Thoheeks (Duke) Bili Morguhn, son of a chieftain and Duke of Morguhn, rise to the occasion and rout the Ehleens, though other counties are not so lucky, such as the Kindred of the Duchy of Gafnee, the whole clan of which is extirpated when their virtually impregnable fortress is struck by a "miracle" i.e., a Witchman magic item, an ancient missile!

These were the first three in the series, originally published by Pinnacle Books in 1975, 1976, and 1977, and later picked up by Signet for the rest of the run beginning in 1982. The first prints of the first and second books had covers by Carl Lundgren, the third by Ken Kelly, who went on to do the covers for the whole series under Signet.

You may well ask why I am posting about the Horseclans like this. Well, with Richard Le Blanc of New Big Dragon Games nearing completion of the Basic Psionics Handbook, I hope to revive an old dream of mine... to run a science-fantasy version of the Horseclans. Rather than just adding in bits and bobs from the series, or adding elements inspired by the series, I'll be able to run the series using Labyrinth Lord with bits of Mutant Future. While an official GURPS supplement came out ages ago -- GURPS Horseclans, which was excellent -- I much prefer B/X and Labyrinth Lord. So I am hoping that this new book will enable me to run that campaign without a lot of house-ruling, as I've tried in the past...

No comments:

Post a Comment