D&D 5E Existentialist Sword and Sorcery

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
Milius was... ...probably making a statement about hippies with Thulsa Doom, and opens the movie with that quote from Nietzsche about what doesn't kill you making you stronger.
I think Bedrockgames is more on target with the Manson family reference. Murderous cult groups like Manson's, or Jonestown in 1978, were recent history/current events when the movie was made. So the idea of Thulsa Doom drawing all these spiritual seekers to be mindless followers while being a murderous villain would be a topical theme. The Nietzche quote seems like a very mass-market/pop culture way of expressing the same theme of reforging a person that Steampunkette articulated in more detail.

I'd argue Howard was doing the same thing Tolkien was, using place names reminiscent of the actual locations to give a sense of familiarity (Shemites=Semitic).
Well, sort of. Both of them were writing fantasy stories set in a mythological pre-history of our Earth. Tolkien did use elements of real world historical cultures to partially inform his own (Hobbits very like pastoral English, Rohirrim like horse-based Danes), whereas Howard's countries were kind of re-skinned exaggerated versions of real-world cultures, full of pulpy tropes.

Howard was less concerned with making his cultures plausible or naturalistic, because he had no need for a coherent, solid history. Just the outlines of sweeping world events, to the minimum extent necessary to provide a background for his adventure stories. Whereas for Tolkien consistency in worldbuilding was massively important.
 

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Steampunkette

Rules Tinkerer and Freelance Writer
Supporter
I disagree with your interpretation of the Conan movie--Milius was one of Hollywood's few right-wingers, was probably making a statement about hippies with Thulsa Doom, and opens the movie with that quote from Nietzsche about what doesn't kill you making you stronger--but there's enough poetry in your description you really ought to turn it into a novel or at least a novella.

I'd argue Howard was doing the same thing Tolkien was, using place names reminiscent of the actual locations to give a sense of familiarity (Shemites=Semitic).
... kind of... Mannahnin hits it better, here:
Well, sort of. Both of them were writing fantasy stories set in a mythological pre-history of our Earth. Tolkien did use elements of real world historical cultures to partially inform his own (Hobbits very like pastoral English, Rohirrim like horse-based Danes), whereas Howard's countries were kind of re-skinned exaggerated versions of real-world cultures, full of pulpy tropes.

Howard was less concerned with making his cultures plausible or naturalistic, because he had no need for a coherent, solid history. Just the outlines of sweeping world events, to the minimum extent necessary to provide a background for his adventure stories. Whereas for Tolkien consistency in worldbuilding was massively important.
More specifically: Howard was a RAMPAGING Racist. Take another look at that map I posted earlier.

Hyborian-Age-of-Conan-the-Barbarian-map.jpg


Sure, you've got Shemites who are Semites/Semitic, but there's also IRANISTAN. And Afghulistan. Punt. Brythunia/Brittania. Amazonia, Asgard, Nordheim...

He wasn't doing what Tolkien was doing with using "Reminiscent Names". He was making hyper-racist caricatures of real world peoples and places. His Darfari Africans are cannibals who sharpen their teeth. His Zamoran Romani are thieves and assassins. His Turkish Turani are oil-slathered hairy warriors with big guts who lounge in their palaces with a harem tending their whims.

As far as Nietzsche... He was one of the fathers of what would eventually be Existentialist thought. And "That which does not kill you makes you stronger" literally means "You change if you don't die". You become someone else. Reforged, in the previous allegories alluded to in Howard's work and inferred to exist in Millius's movie.

Like. I get he was Right-Wing. That doesn't mean he somehow rejected existentialist thought.

Don't get me wrong. He -absolutely- made Thulsa Doom's minions as a clear hippie allegory. I'm not debating that or trying to poo-poo on his very obvious disgust with them. Hell, making one of the leaders in the minion-army into a gay man interested in getting Conan naked was an even more obvious nod to the right from Milius.

Just saying. Existentialism isn't a political ideology. It just exists as a school of thought.
 

Blue Orange

Gone to Texas
Lots of famous existentialists such as Sartre lean left (and you're right about Howard's racism too, honestly). I was just referring to Milius.

Indeed, it seems to be one of the last schools of thought with adherents on both sides of the aisle. Though when we learned about it, one of the things you were supposed to do was find your purpose through acts of engagement, which could involve political activism (though working in a soup kitchen or finding a cure for cancer would also qualify).
 

I think Bedrockgames is more on target with the Manson family reference. Murderous cult groups like Manson's, or Jonestown in 1978, were recent history/current events when the movie was made. So the idea of Thulsa Doom drawing all these spiritual seekers to be mindless followers while being a murderous villain would be a topical theme. The Nietzche quote seems like a very mass-market/pop culture way of expressing the same theme of reforging a person that Steampunkette articulated in more detail.

I think too there is definitely a hell's angels thing going on with his inner circle so it feels a little Altamont as well. Thusla Doom, and his two main henchmen would be bikers in the real world, not hippies.

As far as existentialism goes. My parents were hippies. There were lots of existentialist books on the shelves growing up (and the hippy movement of the 60s wasn't monolithic: people within the movement were troubled by some of the excesses and some of the unanticipated consequences).
 

And that's a big part of why I like Dark Sun. It is all of these things if you choose to play it in that manner. Tempting power, corrupting civilization, Sorcerer-Kings and unknown horrors hiding in the ruins of what once was... and may yet be. Makes for a really great Swords and Sorcery setting, if a bit high on the magical scale.

Yes, I agree. Dark Sun's attraction is that it takes existentialism and nihilism and turns those dials up to 11 in a post-post-post-apocalypse. I've even had DMs run the setting as near Randian objectivism (rejection of the mystical and superstitious), which was a real interesting take. The only thing I haven't seen is full-on Kafkaesque Dark Sun, which would just be exhausting, I think. Still, the nice people you encounter are merely social Darwinists.

Ravenloft, too, can lean into the same sorts of themes. Gothic horror draws from the same sorts of struggles. I could imagine a domain in Ravenloft that leans into it. There's a reason Bloodborne, Dark Souls, and Call of Cthulu lean into the gothic horror, body horror, and existential themes as well.

I think that The Witcher setting also leans into existentialism, nihilism, and gothic horror in much the same ways. Endless wars tearing apart the fairy tale kingdoms, monsters roaming the land but also slowly being exterminated, civilization's "corruption" destroying magic, magic's "corruption" fueling the unnatural. It feels like a world teetering on the edge of fantasy before a plunge into reality, potentially becoming quite dystopian in wholly new ways. Certainly the witchers themselves view the world in much the same way that the PCs in Dark Sun do.

These all require a table with the wherewithal to play in it, as so many of the themes and structures of the game world are going to be depressing or frustrating. At one point I'd have called it "mature," but wallowing in a dark setting doesn't require maturity; it requires a stomach that wants to endure it. It's one of the reasons I haven't enjoyed the movies from DC recently. I'd like a less post-modern more optimistic take, thank-you-very-much. If I wanted all grimdark all the time, I'd watch cable TV news.
 

pemerton

Legend
Lots of famous existentialists such as Sartre lean left
Sartre was a communist. His falling out with Camus was over that. I wouldn't necessarily call Nietzsche left-wing. And Heidegger supported National Socialism.

I don't think existentialism can be equated with the left. It's broadly hostile to Benjamin Franklin-esque or Jeffersonian or Benthamite :common sense", but not from any particular point on the political spectrum.
 


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