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Candid Photos From "Conan the Barbarian" (1982)

This post is barely gaming adjacent, but the Conan stories have informed much of my fantasy gaming since my first forays into the hobby. I've seen the John Milius adaptation more times than any other movie (probably over 50 times, though most of those viewings were on VHS or HBO as a teenager). The 1982 Conan film was the first R rated movie I saw in a movie theater (age 12). The first convention game I ever played in was one in which I played the barbarian himself. The first convention game I ever ran as game master was an adaptation of Howard's "Beyond the Black River." For good or ill, I've spent a lot of time in that fantasy world.

When I stumbled on an online trove of about 400 candid photos from various sets of Conan the Barbarian shot by somebody on the crew, it was oddly visceral for me. It generated a warm feeling getting to see these actors and sets from new angles, both in character and out, in situ and behind the scenes. Seeing Sandahl Bergman, Gerry Lopez, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and James Earl Jones in costume and on set but smiling and letting their guard down between takes was somehow like getting to catch up with old childhood friends. I'd seen all of the publicity stills and official on-set photos countless times over the years, but these new photos wiped away that sheen of familiarity and gave me a little frisson of peeking behind the curtain afresh.

I'm typically not a fan of "behind the scenes" documentaries and the like when it comes to demonstrating how special effects and what not are actually created. I skip DVD extra features that concentrate on the mechanics of green screens, CGI, and the dangling of actors on wires. I watch movies to be immersed in the fictive dream of the world it's presenting. You don't go to a magic show to see how a trick is performed; you go to be amazed and transported. For instance, the original cache of photos I stumbled on had dozens of shots of the mechanical snake, but I only included one here for that very reason. I don't want my imagination cluttered with a bunch of stage hands mugging with a giant fake snake...I want that snake to live in my imagination as the menacing, fully alive presence it was intended to be.

I've pared back the several hundred photos to a few dozen here, cleaning them up and applying some basic color correction. I wish I could credit the original photographer, but as of now I have no idea who he was on the crew (I'll amend this to give proper credit if I can find out).

For now, though, let me show you photos of the days when they made a movie about high adventure...

John Milius on the set for the Temple of Doom finale.

I had no idea it was this cold on the set in this scene.

This sequence was cut from the movie. I understand why: Milius conveys the same information more powerfully when one of Thulsa Doom's followers jumps to her death from the ledge above. This "sacrifice" becomes redundant.

Director John Milius with producer Buzz Feitshans.

Producers Buzz Feitshans and Raffaella De Laurentiis.

Producer Raffaella De Laurentiis, a striking beauty in her own right.

The amazing Ron Cobb, artist and cartoonist by trade, one of he art directors for the Conan production. 

I've been carrying a torch for Sandahl Bergman for 38 years.



Well-thumbed posts

Chainmail: Battle of Emridy Meadows

In my imagination, Chainmail has always been that shadowy precursor to Dungeons & Dragons that I was both intrigued by yet leery of. I loved the idea of a game involving mass battles in a fantasy setting akin to those depicted in the The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but I also had a sense that Chainmail, released in 1971 a mere year after I was born, was likely a clunky wargame that would be too frustrating to bother mastering. It also didn't help that my first inkling of its existence was around 1980 or so when I could never dream of amassing the miniature armies needed to play out these massive conflicts. No, back then I was pretty sure Chainmail was the province of grizzled old grognards who had started wargaming before I was even born.

Even after my gaming rebirth decades later in 2016, I was fine with letting the dim past remain so, and was more than content during my first couple of years back in the hobby exploring rules of a more recent vintage and manageable scale…

Lost Art of D&D: Alex Nuckols

Artist Alex Nuckols made what disappointingly ended up being a minor yet still evocative contribution to the visual history of D&D with a series of paintings he was commissioned to produce for a school supply company named St. Regis. It seems he painted nearly a dozen pieces that graced the covers of D&D-themed notebooks, folders, and three-ring binders in 1980-81. As a D&D-obsessed kid of 10-11 years old at the time, I owned three or four of these and have never parted with them. 

Here are some examples I found online. I’ve always regretted that Nuckols didn’t produce work for any actual gaming material released by TSR (or any game company) because to this day I think he captured the gritty feel and texture of how I imagined these fantasy worlds in my mind’s eye. He was certainly a more accomplished artist than many of those who ended up in the stable as staff at TSR at the time. Artistically, his compositions are always compelling and typically eschew the over-heroic pose…

All Together Now: 'Sellswords & Spellslingers' and the Pleasures of Cooperative Gaming

I've always enjoyed a good competitive match as much as the next guy, whether it was sports in high school or video games (HALO, etc.) in my thirties. But regardless of the game, I've always been partial to team play, and the best cooperative games put all of the focus on succeeding as a team. That's one of the reasons I was enthusiastic about getting Andrea Sfiligoi's latest release, Sellswords & Spellslingers (Ganesha Games), on the table for this month's Second Saturday Scrum Club gathering.

Last year I had organized a Halloween game (recap) to beta-test Sfiligoi's Run From the Dead, which is built atop the same cooperative mechanics as Sellswords. I was surprised when I discovered these rules were re-skinned for the fantasy genre and released last December ahead of Run From the Dead. Hopefully, the zombie apocalypse version of the rules is not too far behind because I definitely think Run From the Dead is the best tabletop miniatures rule set I've …

Historicon 2019: New Digs, Epic Games

Historicon is turning into one of the highlights of my summer. I've developed some fond friendships over the past three years of attending and feel like I'm beginning to be more a part of a community and less a neophyte or spectator. It was at the first Historicon I attended in 2017 that I met future fellow Scrum Clubbers Walt O'Hara and Steve Braun, and the circle of gaming friends has expanded significantly from there to include great guys like Ivor Evans, Miles Reidy, Jeff Allen, Joe Bloch, Eric Schlegel, and a bunch of the HAWKs gaming group (Don, Duncan, Buck, Chris, Greg, Bill, et al.).

The two hour trip up to Lancaster Friday morning made for a lovely drive with the convertible's top down and Spotify blaring out a summer tunes mix. I had found a great Airbnb condo five blocks from the convention, but I decided to go straight to Historicon without checking in (which finally happened a bone-weary dozen hours later and well after midnight).

I spent most of that fi…

Scrum Con 2020: A Leap Forward!

Scrum Con 2020 was held last weekend in Silver Spring, Maryland on Leap Day, which seems fitting in that the convention itself took quite a jump forward from 2019: More than double the number of games, more than double the number of attendees, double the number of convention t-shirt designs, and three times the space.

And we sold the show out again! 

We had about 215 registered attendees and filled almost 275 seats in the 35 games we offered over the course of the day. We had folks come from some distance to attend, including Philadelphia, West Virginia, New Jersey, and other exotic locales that I'm sure I'm forgetting. As always, we organize the convention as an equal split between miniatures games and role-playing games, and I was pleased to see even more attendees this year sign up for one of each type.

We're admittedly small as far as these things go, but I think the quality of the experience we offer is a cut above, and we put a lot of effort into everything from the pri…

Striking Back Against COVID-19: Free Conan Scenarios for 'Sellswords & Spellslingers'

Long-time readers of the blog will remember the adaptation of "Beyond the Black River" I started working on in the spring of 2018 for the Sellswords & Spellslingers rules. I ran it for the first time at Historicon 2018, and have now run it at several conventions and game days since.

Sellswords & Spellslingers is designed for solo and co-op play, so to do my bit in helping the game community in its fight against boredom during these isolating pandemic days, I've decided to gather and organize all of the material I developed for my convention scenarios and make it freely available as a download via this blog. At the link further down is a 68-page PDF file with all of my player aids and notes.
Of all of the major solo/co-op miniatures rules that have been released in the past few years, Sellswords & Spellslingers is hands down the best if unfortunately not the most widely known or used. I highly encourage you to buy a copy of the rules, if you haven’t already, a…