"Know, oh prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars — Nemedia, Ophir, Brythunia, Hyperborea, Zamora with its dark-haired women and towers of spider-haunted mystery, Zingara with its chivalry, Koth that bordered on the pastoral lands of Shem, Stygia with its shadow-guarded tombs, Hyrkania whose riders wore steel and silk and gold. But the proudest kingdom of the world was Aquilonia, reigning supreme in the dreaming west. Hither came Conan, the Cimmerian, black-haired, sullen-eyed, sword in hand, a thief, a reaver, a slayer, with gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth, to tread the jeweled thrones of the Earth under his sandalled feet
." - The Nemedian Chronicles
Sword and Sorcery often gets a bad rap, though I guess I get it. A lot of the genre's public image is wrapped up in John Milius' 1982 film Conan the Barbarian
, prominently featuring the macho muscularity (and occasional acting talents) of a then-young Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the art of Frank Frazetta, prominently featuring scantily-clad barbarians, male and female, engaged in heroic bloodshed. Now I like that film - I also like Frazetta - but it never prepared me for actually reading the original stories by Robert E. Howard, whose pulpy reputation belies his talent, and whose public saturation obscures the efforts of other creators. There is violence, yes, and sometimes sex, but also introspection, mythic context, and wonder, carried by protagonists with immediate concerns and personal goals, struggling to survive in a world that makes them small. These simple heroes find themselves adrift, sandwiched between the majesty and indifference of nature, the decadence and cruelty of civilization, and the alien dreams of unknowable gods and ravenous spirits.
It also plays well with the short story format. The best Sword and Sorcery, in my opinion at least, is found less in rolling epics than it is in serial escapades, the needs of the moment.
So that's what I'm looking for: Sword and Sorcery.
To better accommodate the potential purple in your prose (for what's a good legend without exaggeration?), I'll be upping my usual cap to 1,500 words
. Don't make me regret it. Flash rules available on request
; unlike last time, these'll be more open to interpretation, and decidedly less goofy. Rather than make you jump through hoops, I'd rather you focus on writing good stories.
Though "Fantasy" on the Internet tends toward the Medieval, Sword and Sorcery (usually) is a little more global. These are tales from when cities were pockets of stability, islands of order in a sea of quiet chaos. Ancient Mesopotamia, the Mongol steppes, river kingdoms in Africa, even Mesoamerica; all these, and more, are available to you. I've got no beef with European influences, but if that's not your thing, then write something else! The stage is set dressing, the feel is what counts. Likewise, lest you feel beholden to overly masculine archetypes, your protagonist need only be someone who can act of their own accord, untethered from society, who acts as they see fit. The classical barbarian is typically your go-to character, but remember that a barbarian is only someone who speaks a different language
from the assumed perspective. A certain level of physicality is presumed in the protagonist, but it is just as often their cunning, knowledge, or other skills that secure their victory. Magic, however, is a rarely among them (though not unheard of, nor forbidden), and rooted more firmly in the realm of ritual and spirituality. Wizardry is typically the province of villains who rely on fickle, otherworldly powers they don't fully understand, whose attempts at control often foretell their doom, but many a reticent witch or shaman have proven prudent in communion with the stars.
If all that got a bit dense for you, here's a summary:
1. Sword and Sorcery is a subgenre of Fantasy Adventure.
2. Sword and Sorcery protagonists are "Outsiders," wanderers caught between the natural, spiritual, and civilized spheres; whatever else is true, they are self-reliant and capable, often opportunistic, and typically concerned with the needs of the moment (as opposed to lofty ideals).
3. Sword and Sorcery protagonists typically contend with either the savagery and indifference of nature, the whims and wiles of the gods, the excesses and intrigue of civilization, or some combination thereof.
4. Sword and Sorcery is rooted more in mythic Antiquity than Medieval folklore; stories can be rooted in history or made-up completely, but feel free to draw from a diverse array of cultures and influences.
So basically, if you've seen any post-Spaghetti Western, dress it up in fantasy and you're on the right track.
Aside from that, the standard rules apply: original characters only, no screeds, no porn.
Now go forth and conquer.