Translating the inner Barbarian: An Interview with Vincent Darlage

Guest Writer: Christopher Bishop

Vincent Darlage

I was lucky enough to meet Mr. Vincent Darlage in June of 2017. We sat down and played a few rounds of the Conan Monolith game, and he was kind of enough to show me around his library, which is an impressive array of Robert E. Howard and other authors various collected volumes. His encyclopedic knowledge of Howard’s works was impressive and the ENnies he had hanging on the wall were sheer proof of the fact this man knew his stuff. So I asked him for an interview and he was kind enough to agree.

Every great hero has an origin story, and I would assume great writers have the same. What got you interested in Roleplaying in general? What is your gaming origin story?

When I was 12 (back in 1982) my uncle Richard talked about Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D, now known as 1st Edition AD&D, but back then it was just AD&D) and I was mesmerized. He finally taught me to play and for my 13th birthday, my parents bought me and my brother the whole set of AD&D books available at that time. That first game… I was given a 20th level wizard, and I fought Demogorgan and gained the Eye of Vecna. In hindsight, it was WAY over the top, but that was my introduction.

I know you are an avid Robert E. Howard fan, and while you have of course branched off to reading different authors as well, what first got you interested in Howard’s writings and what story was the tipping point that took it from a casual liking to an obsession with you?

The very same Uncle Richard handed me two Ace paperbacks, Conan the Adventurer and Conan the Usurper when I was 13. The first Conan story I read was “The People of the Black Circle,” and that story propelled me to seek out the rest of the series at flea markets and used bookstores – by the end of summer I had the whole set, but it was a mishmash of the Ace reprints and the Lancer originals. They were unlike anything I had ever read before and were my introduction to Sword and Sorcery literature.

I remember seeing some ENnies up on your wall. What products did you win them for and what was your part on that product?

I won them for my websites. Two were for my Conan d20 webpages. I was so excited by 3rd Edition D&D and I felt for the first time that Conan could be adequately represented. The third ENnie was for my homebrew website, the World of Inzeladun. That’s the campaign world I invented when I first started playing AD&D in 1983 after my parents bought me the books. Virtually all of my fantasy gaming has taken place in Inzeladun.

Your name is pretty synonymous with the Mongoose Conan line of roleplaying books. Which one of those books was your favorite to work on and why?

That’s a hard question to answer. I thought Ruins of the Hyborian Age (renamed by the editors to Ruins of Hyboria) was the most useful book, but my favorite was probably Across the Thunder River because I got to use my dad’s expertise and passion (frontier life and Indians) a lot in that one. I also liked my attempt to make Knowledge (Religion) useful in the Stygia book.

Is there any product you wish you could have delved into more depth from the Mongoose line?

I would have liked to have finished the Hyborian Age Atlas for Mongoose. It was a proposed rule-neutral 12 volume set. I was only able to write two and a half volumes before they lost the license.

Have you considered shopping around the 12 volume system neutral setting with REH Foundation or perhaps Modiphius? It just seems like a resource that would see a lot of use. Your Road of Kings and Return to the Road of Kings entries were amazing in their detail, I would imagine a 12 volume atlas of the Hyborian Age would be a must have for Conan fans and REH enthusiasts alike!

No. They paid me for what I wrote, so Mongoose owns the volumes I wrote.

I know one of the gut wrenching things about loving Howard’s works are the numerous tantalizing fragments of stories left behind. If you could finish any one of these fragments…or see it finished perhaps, which one would it be?

“Tigers of the Sea.” Technically, it’s been finished twice by different authors (by David Drake in Baen’s “Cormac Mac Art” and Richard Tierney in Zebra books’ “Tigers of the Sea), but I wish REH had finished it.

So what does the future hold for Vincent Darlage in terms of writing? Any projects in mind or things you would be interested in doing? I know you recently did work with Modiphius on their new game Conan, Adventures in an age undreamed of. Do you have any plans to do more work on that line?

I’ve written a novel, but no takers on it yet. I have a couple of novels in various stages of completion. When I finally finish my PhD I hope to finish them. I did write some stuff for Modiphius and am happy to continue working with them.

Okay so the stars align and you can work on your all time dream project. What would it be?

Honestly, I’d like to write novels of my own and have them published. I’m always happy to work on stuff concerning REH’s characters.

Have you ever considered trying to take up the pen yourself, similar to August Derleth and Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos and continue on with some of the REH stories? I know my recent voluntary drowning in Howard goodness has left me wanting more Solomon Kane for sure, and thinking on the aspect that Howard has gone from this world and it is not to be leaves me a little sad.

No. I wouldn’t mind writing in the world of the Hyborian age with my own characters, but I’d never want to actually want to posthumously “collaborate” with REH, or try to write stories about an REH character.

L. Sprague De Camp and Lin Carter were known for doing pastiches on Conan’s stuff, which some fans feel was to the detriment of the franchise. Where do you stand on that controversy?

I enjoyed the stories when I first started reading Howard, but I didn’t know any better, really. I don’t mind pastiche so long as it is packaged separately from the REH stuff. The Gnome Press volumes put the pastiches in separate books (Tales of Conan and The Return of Conan). What I don’t like is how the original Ace/Lancer books combined pastiche with original stories. For a young 13 year old just discovering REH, that was a little confusing.

I personally wouldn’t want to write REH pastiche because I am not REH. No matter how much I love his characters and/or identify with them, I would not be able to write those characters the same way. Besides, I’d like to write my own characters.

What are you playing now game wise? What are you looking forward to playing? Any projects you have your eye on?

I play mostly board games now. Scythe is one of my favorites, as is the new Conan board game by Monolith.

Game companies are always searching for talent. Is there any genre outside of Sword and Sorcery you would be interested in tossing your hat in the ring to try?

I’ve always wanted to write a game (or novel) of Cowboys & Dinosaurs, where the American Indians were the sorcerers out for blood.

There are so many roleplaying systems out now, you almost have to be pretty flexible to write these days. Are you open to writing for any system out there?

I can write for any system. It’s the world that I enjoy exploring. I could care less what their pet system is. I can adjust for that easily enough.

Another Conan movie is announced and you are asked to hired on as an adviser and script writer. What Howard story do you pick and whom do you cast as the central characters? Whom would you pick to direct?

The People of the Black Circle.  I’d still pick Jason Mamoa as Conan.  At the very least, I’d rather have an athlete than a weight lifter.  I’d hire Indian actors and actresses for the other roles.  Maybe Michael Apted as director. 

You’re thrust into the world of Conan. Your given one chance to make your persona in that harsh world, and no you cannot be Conan. What kind of character would you choose to be and why?

I would want to be someone driven to survive and succeed. I’d like to be the Victor Frankenstein of the Hyborian age (the Hammer films version).

Publishers and Game Designers can reach Mr. Darlage at Vincentdarlage@gmail.com. Business inquiries only please!

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