Saturday, June 3, 2017

Adapting Clark Ashton Smith's Novella The Plutonian Drug To The 'Old Solar System' Campaign Setting

The Plutonian Drug is one of the cooler early efforts by Clark Ashton Smith & fits right into the Old School Solar system nicely. The connections are there for the other H.P. Lovecraft's circle of writers & the Plutonian drug lays down some very deep connections indeed. The Plutonian Drug, published in Amazing Stories for September, 1934 isn't that well known outside of fans of Lovecraft & CAS.

Not only do we get a quick overview of how dangerous space exploration is but we get a quick nod to a Moon expedition in 1975!
"'It is remarkable.' said Dr. Manners, 'how the scope of our pharmacopoeia has been widened by interplanetary exploration. In the past thirty years, hundreds of hitherto unknown substances, employable as drugs or medical agents, have been found in the other worlds of our own system. It will be interesting to see what the Allan Farquar expedition will bring back from the planets of Alpha Centaurt when -- or if — it succeeds in reaching then and returning to earth. I doubt, though, if anything more valuable than selenine will be discovered. Selenine, derived from a fossil lichen found by the first rocket-expedition to the moon in 1975, has, as you know, practically wiped out the old-time curse of cancer. In solution, it forms the base of an infallible serum, equally useful for cure or prevention.'"  This might be a homage to HG Wells First Men in the Moon later made into the classic '64 film.

This story outlines not only one of the CAS early efforts but the planet where the Mi Go of HP Lovecraft's Whisperer in the Darkness  had a colony. By the time we get to CAS novella 'The Plotonian Drug' the Mi Go & Yuggoth have moved on. There are lots of little details about space exploration & the science of the time that get into the myriad of hazards of the 'Old Solar System'.

Mi Go artwork by Khannea SunTzu

Now I haven't gotten into the artifact that is the Plutonian Drug. Its a drug that unhinges the individuality of a person from their personal time space continuum, it shows them all of their selves along the lattice of existence. If this wasn't enough it also makes the person vulnerable to space & time traveling entities such as the Hounds of Tindalos or Dimensional Shamblers.

'Plutonium,' explained Manners, 'as its name would indicate, comes from forlom, frozen Pluto, which only one terrestrial expedition has so far visited — the expedition led by the Cornell brothers, John and Augustine, which started in 1990 and did not return to earth till 1996, when nearly everyone had given it up as lost. John, as you may have heard, died during the returning voyage, together with half the personnel of the expedition: and the others reached earth with only one reserve oxygen-tank remaining.
This vial contains about a tenth of the existing supply of plutonium. Augustine Cornell, who is an old schoolfriend of mine gave it to me three years ago, just before he embarked with the Allan Farquar crowd. I count myself pretty lucky to own anything so rare.
'The geologists of the party found the stuff when they began prying beneath the solidified gases that cover the surface of that dim, starlit planet, in an effort to learn a little about its composition and history. They couldn't do much under the circumstances, with limited time and equipment; but they made some curious discoveries — of which plutonium was far from being the least.
'Like selenine, the stuff is a bi-product of vegetable fossilization. Doubtless it is many billion years old, and dates back to the time when Pluto possessed enough internal heat to make possible the development of certain rudimentary plant-forms on its blind surface. It must have had an atmosphere then; though no evidence of former animal-life was found by the Cornells.
'Plutonium, in addition to carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and oxygen, contains minute quantities of several unclassified elements. It was discovered in a crystalloid condition, but turned immediately to the fine powder that you see, as soon as it was exposed to air in the rocketship. It is readily soluble in water, forming a permanent colloid, without the least sign of deposit, no matter how long it remains in suspension.'
'You say it is a drug?' queried Balcoth. 'What does it do to you?'
'I'll come to that in a minute — though the effect is pretty hard to describe. The properties of the stuff were discovered by chance: on the return journey from Pluto, a member of the expedition, half delirious with space-fever, got hold of the unmarked jar containing it and took a small dose, imagining that it was bromide of potassium. It served to complicate his delirium for a while — since it gave him some brand-new ideas about space and time.
'Other people have experimented with it since then. The effects are quite brief (the influence never lasts more than half an hour) and they vary considerably with the individual. There is no bad aftermath, either neural, mental, or physical, as far as anyone has been able to determine. I've taken it myself, once or twice, and can testify to that.
'Just what it does to one, I am not sure. Perhaps it merely produces a derangement or metamorphosis of sensations, like hashish; or perhaps it serves to stimulate some rudimentary organ, some dormant sense of the human brain. At any rate there is, as clearly as I can put it, an altering of the perception of time — of actual duration — into a sort of space-perception. One sees the past, and also the future, in relation to one's own physical self, like a landscape stretching away on either hand. You don't see very far, it is true -merely the events of a few hours in each direction; but it's a very curious experience; and it helps to give you a new slant on the mystery of time and space. It is altogether different from the delusions of mnophka.'"

The novella picks up the ball of time travel & twists it in a very personal direction but its what happens when it wears off that the fun begins. This brings up the real potential here for adventurers who are more then likely to try this ancient horror from the past with a whole host of old school adventure complications for a campaign!
Were the Mi Go using this drug to cause those trapped within those brass brain cases to travel down their own personal time continuum for some alien purpose? Adventurers  are going to face destruction from a wide variety of sanity destroying sources! On the whole the whole affair might be similar to the Fungi From Yuggoth poetry cycle that HP Lovecraft wrote back in '29.

"It is a certain hour of twilight glooms,
Mostly in autumn, when the star-wind pours
Down hilltop streets, deserted out-of-doors,
But shewing early lamplight from snug rooms.
The dead leaves rush in strange, fantastic twists,
And chimney-smoke whirls round with alien grace,
Heeding geometries of outer space,
While Fomalhaut peers in through southward mists.

This is the hour when moonstruck poets know
What fungi sprout in Yuggoth, and what scents
And tints of flowers fill Nithon’s continents,
Such as in no poor earthly garden blow.
Yet for each dream these winds to us convey,
A dozen more of ours they sweep away!"

The Fungi From Yuggoth By  HP Lovecraft

The Plutonian Drug from Clark Ashton Smith should be used with some restraint within old school campaigns because it can both enhance or wreck a carefully laden pulpy setting easily. Doses of the stuff are easily going to go for 10000 gold pieces each and only obtainable through a qualified scientist or wizard. Dungeon masters should read the original story carefully before using it within a campaign and adventurers who obtain the stuff would be paid about three to four thousand gold pieces themselves. Those who are exposed to it must save vs poison or experience its sanity shattering effects for themselves.

You can download the original

Amazing Stories (1934 issue 09) Right Over Here that contains CAS's Plutonian Drug novella

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