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October 8, 2012

For you gamers out there . . .

The Hound’s Bloodsword is a +2 longsword.

When it draws blood (any damage to a living target, or it can absorb any spilled blood) the steel changes to a blood red color. The sword retains the magical “scent” of that target’s blood and leads the wielder unerringly to that person, regardless of the distance that separates them. This bond remains until the wielder chooses to empty the blood from the blade, or the target is killed.



September 20, 2012

Has it really been almost two months since I’ve checked in here at the Arron of the Black Forest blog?


Okay, but I’ve been busy. Lots of consulting work coming in, the Fathomless Abyss is going strong, and so on and so forth, but what about poor Arron? What of him?

Well, Mel is still working on the next book, and I’ve got a great idea for the one after that. How about Arron in a jungle adventure reminiscent of Tarzan?

Yeah, baby!

I’ve also been immersed in pulp culture, acquiring classics of the SF and fantasy genres for Prologue Books and continuing to read (and write) sword and sorcery fantasy and space opera SF for myself!

I promise that Mel, Keith, and I will be here more often, and we’ll get that next book on your reader just as soon as we can. And the next one, and the next one . . .



—Philip Athans


July 26, 2012

It’s been a while (too long!) since I’ve dropped in on the Arron blog, but this morning I read an article by novelist Elizabeth Bear on Clarkesworld, and I just had to share.

I agree, Ms. Bear.

I agree wholeheartedly.

And that’s exactly what Arron of the Black Forest is all about.


—Philip Athans


June 5, 2012

ARRON OF THE BLACK FOREST Book 1: The Haunting of Dragon’s Cliff is a great read. Fast-paced, old-school rip-roaring fighting action in the Conan vein, but with humor and a cast of engaging characters—especially the Hound and the Magus. The hauntings alone are worth the price of admission. I loved it.

 —Ed Greenwood, creator of The Forgotten Realms® and bestselling fantasy author

Thanks, Ed!

Conan, King of the Barbarians

April 26, 2012

This was the barbarian I grew up with.  I remember how weird the comic looked on the spinner racks when I was a kid.  Nearly everyone else was in spandex and had capes.  I was down with superheroes, still am.  But there’s something about barbarians and jungle girls that just will not leave me alone.  Yeah, Raquel Welch in 1 MILLION BC really scarred me for life too.

At the time the comic came out, I didn’t even know who Conan was.  I hadn’t noticed the Lancer editions that were coming out with Robert E. Howard, L. Sprague de Camp, and Lin Carter’s names on them.  But after I read Roy Thomas’s story and devoured Barry Wood’s art, I had found a new hero to root for.  Conan wasn’t Superman, didn’t have web-spinning ability, or powers gained from cosmic radiation, but he was the closest thing there was to Batman before Batman became the Dark Knight we all know and love these days.  Denny O’Neill was just warming up his character-changing ideas for Batman, and Frank Miller was still in school.

For a lot of years there, I read all the barbarian heroes.  They had their worlds that were interesting and fun.  Thongor of Lost Lemuria (also by Lin Carter).  Kothar of the Magic Sword (written by comics and SF veteran Gardner F. Fox).  And dozens of others.  Before John Jakes reached bestsellerdom with his international hits, The Kent Family Chronicles, he was penning the adventures of Brak the Barbarian.

Sadly, the barbarian hero seems to have faded from publication as fantasy novels have gone more upscale and moved in political climates (Tolkein meets West Wing) like in Game of Thrones.

With the advent of ebooks, a return to basically the same kind of pulp atmosphere (including dark economic times) that spawned Howard’s Hyborian, Phil Athans and I thought it would be good to  bring a hero like this out again.  So we did.

In the meantime, you can still enjoy the original in books, comics, and movies.  The latest run at Dark Horse Comics includes the fateful meeting of Conan and Belit.  I’m really enjoying it.

But don’t forget to pick us up!



April 19, 2012

Despite having some background in the German language, and at least according to Wikipedia (the ultimate qualifier of 21st Century America), I have been pronouncing Fritz Leiber’s name wrong for about thirty-five years. In German you pronounce the second letter in the ei or ie combinations, so Leiber is pronounced LIE (as in, to tell a lie)-ber. Entschuldige mich, Herr Leiber.

Fritz Leiber is another of the great sword & sorcery authors who have influenced my writing for years, and particularly with Arron of the Black Forest.

Like me, Leiber was influenced himself by H.P. Lovecraft, and some of his earlier stories borrow from the Lovecraft Mythos. Over a very long career starting in the pulps he wrote a great deal of exceptional science fiction and other stuff, but he’s still best known as one of the fathers of pulp sword & sorcery.

I first ran across his name in the back of the first edition Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide. On page 224 (of 232 pages) we find Appendix N: Inspirational and Educational Reading, and it’s a list that anyone interested in fantasy should track down and consider a sort of summer reading list. Though chances are, if you’re reading this, you’ve probably read most or all of these books, many of which (like The Hobbit and what Gygax called “Ring Trilogy”) are undisputed classics of the genre.

And on that list is: Leiber, Fritz. “Fafhrd & Gray Mouser” Series; et al.

Right around the time I found this list in my brand new DMG, there was some talk (I’m pretty sure at least) in the pages of Dragon magazine that much of the core assumptions of the D&D rules set—especially the magic system—was inspired by Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories. If that wasn’t an invitation to a young fantasy fan and first-generation RPGer to read that series, well, I mean, come on!

And read it I did. Honestly I don’t think I’ve read every single one of the Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories, but I should. That’s a goal I won’t mind completing.

What made me think of Leiber again is that I’ve been (oh so very slowly) working my way through Otto Penzler’s mammoth anthology The Big Book of Adventure Stories and came to Leiber’s Fafhrd story “The Seven Black Priests.” I’m pretty sure I’ve read the story before, though in 197(ahem) . . . but reading it again now from this perspective was eye opening.

How did “The Seven Black Priests” influence D&D, and, therefore, me?

Let’s see:

The story takes place in and around a strange mound that bears a striking resemblance to the classic D&D module The Tomb of Horrors.

The currency of Leiber’s world: goldpieces. Gygax made that two words for D&D.

Were the eponymous black priests the inspiration for Gygax’s version of the drow? Let’s go ahead and say, “probably,” to that one.

And there’s more—lots more—especially as you keep reading in the series. It’s close enough, in fact, that over the years TSR has published several D&D game products set in Lankhmar under license from Leiber.

Even if you aren’t a D&D player, though, you owe it to yourself to catch up with Fritz Leiber. His brand of sword & sorcery is rather less earnest than Robert E. Howard’s. Leiber’s sense of humor is more evident and he may be the best of all time in balancing comedy and action. There are a handful of great chuckles to be found in every Fafhrd story, but I’ve never felt dismissed or made fun of the way too much “humorous” fantasy makes me feel. The jokes come from the characters and the situations, not from anything nearing a contempt for the genre or the audience.

Fritz Leiber is truly one of the greats, and as much as Howard and Lovecraft, his influence is liberally sprinkled throughout The Haunting of Dragon’s Cliff and the entire world of Arron of the Black Forest.


—Philip Athans



March 8, 2012

You’ll find whole convention seminars devoted to the fine line separating various fantasy and science fiction sub-genres, and those discussions can range from spirited and friendly to near-riots. Though there may be a few instances where most people can easily agree, and some sub-genres seem pretty obvious, like steampunk or so-called “erotic fantasy,” others are a little trickier to nail down. I’ve written before, for instance on the line between urban fantasy and horror—that one has really been confused over the past several years.

But what about the “big three” fantasy sub-genres, and how Arron of the Black Forest fits in?

Mel and I have used the term “sword & sorcery” to describe the series, and have kept that in mind when writing it. But what does that mean?

First, let’s start with the “big three,” the three primary divisions of traditional fantasy. And by traditional fantasy I mean fantasy with a vaguely medieval technology level in a secondary world (a world created entirely from the author’s imagination, like Middle Earth or Faerûn) rich in magic and monsters.

Epic Fantasy

This is the biggest of the three, and I mean literally. Here you’ll find those giant books by the likes of J.R.R. Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, and Robert Jordan. These are big books, with big events. The short definition: In epic fantasy, the hero is trying to save the world.

High Fantasy

Often barely one notch down on the “epic” level, high fantasy can have all the same richness in worldbuilding as epic fantasy, but the stories themselves tend to be a bit more contained. The Forgotten Realms novels fall into this category (I know that for a fact, too, because for a decade and a half or so I put them there). This is fantasy’s middle ground, with motivations that are a little more personal. The short definition: In high fantasy, the hero is trying to save the kingdom.

Sword & Sorcery

This is too often seen as fantasy’s poor cousin, the realm of the pulp potboiler. But it’s in this subgenre that some of the genre’s legends, like Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard, plied their trade. It’s also making something of a comeback in the work of authors as diverse as Steven Brust, Ari Marmell, and Mel Odom and myself. This is fantasy that’s lighter on the worldbuilding and political intrigue, heavier on the action and more narrow in its focus on a single character. The short definition: In sword & sorcery, the hero is trying to save himself.

To be clear, I’m a huge fan of all three of these sub-genres and many, many others, too. I’m not at all trying to make the case that one is better than the others. I’ve written high fantasy in the Forgotten Realms line, The Haunting of Dragon’s Cliff is an intentional effort to wield sword & sorcery, and I also have an urban fantasy novel making the rounds with editors as we speak. But when Mel and I started discussing the idea that became Arron of the Black Forest, we were both drawn to that everyman hero, the classic fantasy barbarian. Sword & sorcery gives us a chance to tell personal stories of personal courage, personal sacrifice, and personal danger.

I think I’m drawn to that becuase in reality, I feel a lot more like a sword & sorcery barbarian, plying my trade in a world that’s barely comprehensible, let alone controllable. I vote and stuff, and try to be a good citizen, but the fact is it’s not up to me to save the kingdom (or the republic), let alone save the world. I’m not a politician or even a soldier. I just don’t have that power—I’m not in that position. But in navigating the everyday “dangers” of paying bills, raising kids, managing a career . . . it’s me (with a lot of support from family and friends) against . . . what? The world? No, not really. “The world” isn’t out to get me, any more than “the world” was out to get Conan, or Arron. But every once in a while there’s the occasional evil wizard or demon cultist that jacks up my credit card rates or causes my car to need a sudden, unexpected, and costly repair.

And like Arron, I wade into battle secure in my own ability to fend off the enemy and live to fight another day.


—Philip Athans