Found in a Forest tables

Matazo Kayama, Frozen Forest

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10 weird things found in a forest clearing

1. A cart wheel made of marble, with a very tall candle at its center. While the candle is unlit it serves as a solar and lunar clock. If the candle is lit, the clock acts as a compass: its shadow points to a specific place (as suiting the DM’s needs). For as long as the candle is lit, and 24 hours after it is snuffed, the person that lit it is unable to rest and sleep.

2. A black flower that always moves away from the hand that tries to pick it. If somehow picked, a portal to the Underworld opens.

3. Three unbreakable, untearable yet quite flexible giant leaves (1 metre wide each). There appears to be no matching tree around. If taken out of the forest they try to constrict and suffocate whoever carries them.

4. A boar tusk, roughly the size of an open hand, with a serpent-like symbol engraved on it. If shaken, something can be heard inside it. It is resistant to any normal damage. Can be broken only by a charging boar, at which point the spine of a small snake is revealed.

5. The journal of a ranger’s shadow. It is made of the shadows of big leaves, bound with silver hair. The book can be grasped normally (it feels like touching cold dandelions). It is full of bitter entries: the shadow is bound to follow its owner around, never able to do what it wants.

6. Three little holes recently dug, as if someone wanted to plant something but then left in a hurry. The holes only accept teeth – anything other put in is ejected. If teeth are planted the next night a full-grown double of the tooth’s owner sprouts. Tusks also work.

7. A saw made entirely out of wood. Useless against wood, cuts stone easily. Will not let its owner rest in any settlement larger than a small village.

8. A rope ladder tied on a large tree branch. Cannot be separated from it. However, each person can cut and take one and only one step out of it. The step can be used to reach a safe place once – then it disappears forever.

9. A full helm (its closed visor is sculpted in the realistic likeness of a human face) half buried in the vegetation. If opened there emerges a small plant head on a very long, branch-like neck, waiting to be fed.

10. Α dead baby hanging from a tree branch. Stillborn, it was left in the air so as the soul would be reclaimed by birds (it has already been taken).

8 weird beings found in a forest clearing

1. (Only at night) An old man who despises the sun. He will pay handsomely for a piece of the sun or anything that is related to the star of day; he will then proceed to ritually destroy the object. If somehow tricked into staying with the characters until morning, he is bound to the nearest tree for a year.

2. The ghost of a long-dry stream. Appears as a pond of silvery water and will communicate with anyone that drinks from it (its water tastes like gaseous honey, its voice is like water dripping from a corpse’s lips). Will reveal the location of a magical dowsing rod (that leads to lost memories) to anyone carrying some of its water to a large city well. Only a special container will do the trick, which can be crafted from the hoof of a legendary forest boar.

3. A single cow moving backwards, part of a god’s stolen herd. If slain its meat will restore any wounds and heal all fatigue, but if its bones are not buried afterwards, the god-owner of the herd will know of the deed.

4. Three acorn spirits in the guise of children. They will ask to be guided out of the forest, and will try to climb on the three stronger characters, mentioning that they are very tired. If they are allowed to, they slowly and almost imperceptibly immerse themselves in their carriers’ bodies (8 hours). If completely immersed, they turn the carriers’ bodies to earth within 3 days, and a little tree sprouts from each.

5. A heavy-backed mother of three, her head always covered with a thick woolen kerchief. She will lead the characters to a destination within the forest, if they help her with a mundane chore. However, if the PCs refuse to help her with the chore, she removes the kerchief.
If the acorn spirits are on the characters she will immediately chase them away, saving the characters.

6. Large crows dining on a long table, upon golden goblets and silver plates. They are ancients of their species, and can cover huge distances very quickly; they can even fly up to the sun and bring a piece of it back. If they are disturbed while eating, or they are not addressed in a polite way, they trap half of the PCs in the other half’s shadows.

7. A peddler of hair, fur and wigs has spread his merchandise all around the clearing. Is currently looking for customers, as well as providers of exotic hair. For a sample of his merchandise roll on attached table.

8. A noble old man trying to make a compact with a spirit of darkness. He needs the blood of a special animal to craft the ink for the contract. If the PCs aid him he will reward them handsomely with his new powers. If they refuse and try to stop him, nightmares will haunt them, while in the forest, making rest impossible.

Table – Hair-peddler’s merchandise

1A wig made of scarecrows’ straw hair. Any kind of bird is unable to harm, or even approach the wearer, who however becomes slow in his movements and reactions.
2Hair of a corpse, still growing (one centimeter per night). They are unbreakable, but will try to subtly arrange for the hanging of anyone who uses them.
3Patches of boar fur boiled in liquid shadow. They can be used to walk on quicksand and pit traps without danger.
4A whip made from the gold-coloured ponytail of a long dead acrobat, renowned for her skill, notorious for her cruelty. It can be used to make a horse jump impossible distances, even walk on walls; however, as soon as the horse stops it falls dead. Horses will not willingly go near anyone carrying the whip.
5The complete (280cm long) fur of a winter snake, a species long thought to be extinct. A scabbard covered with this will break any faulty weapon inserted in it, no matter how tiny its flaw. Thus it is prized by weaponsmiths.
6A shoulder-length wig made of silver hair; the whole thing is extremely polished, so as to act as a flowing mirror when under moonlight. Any animal reflected in the wig can verbally communicate with the wearer.
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Clark Ashton Smith Collected Fantasies, vol 3 – A Vintage from Atlantis

Despite the larger number of stories and pages in comparison to volume two, the third tome of Clark Ashton Smith’s Omnibus, was overall better, containing no pages that forced skipping. On the contrary, the good stories are many, and the great are among the author’s most exquisite writings.

Mediocre:
-Beyond the Singing Flame: The sequel to the City of the Singing Flame takes us back to the great city of Ydmos, and even beyond, explaining some of the Flame’s mysteries.
A rare sequel, this story builds on the success of its predecessor, and tries to elaborate on the Flame’s hazy nature. The cosmic and psychedelic elements are increased, the atmosphere becomes more ominous and tenebrous, even apocalyptic (somewhat reminiscent of Dunsany’s gods), but the truth is that the weirdness, a crucial part of the original’s magic, is here reduced. Solid, though somewhat tiring in alien descriptions.

-The Eternal World: A man finds himself in a place beyond space and time, where he, along with three other omnipotent beings, is abducted by a mysterious spaceship.
An interesting idea, yet the implementation is tiring, as tends to be the norm with CAS’s hard space science fiction

-The Demon of the Flower: An empire ruled by plants, with a demonic flower as a divine emperor. A man travels to find a way to banish the tyrant.
This one is a mix of fairy tale and weird fiction, an intriguing combination that unfortunately proves less than stellar in this one, most probably due to the weirdness immensely overpowering the flow.

-The Invisible City: Two explorers wander through Gobi desert and reach a city with invisible buildings and denizens.
A stellar idea which however was is less than stellar in its execution. Things are rather forced and sped up, especially in the latter half.

-The Immortals of Mercury: A man is captured by the immortal people residing in Mercury’s interior, and is to be used as an ingredient for a metal alloy.
A typically protracted sci-fi story which however has a nice Underdark (deep cave) feeling. Still, more a train of gonzo and action scenes than a proper story. The idea of heat-resistant giant lizards used as grills was amazing.

Good:
-The Holiness of Azedarac: Part of the Averoigne circle, this centers around the pious monk Ambrose, his quest of exposing Azedarac’s satanic faith, and his sudden disappearance.
Not an astounding plot, yet here Clark Ashton’s pen indulges in a wealth of verbal delights. Good sylvan atmosphere and a pinch of archaic druidic mysteries. Also, the end is unusually kind and optimistic, pushing aside the cold hand of duty that is many times unmoving in such fairy-tale-like legends.

The Maker of Gargoyles: Also part of the Averoigne circle, this concerns two malevolent gargoyles, imbued with their creator’s spiteful instincts and desires.
An essentially magical way of thinking, the transference of and animation with powerful emotion to creations. The story is not unpredictable, but it nicely zooms in the setting, town and particular period, offering also a wealth of lore.

-Seedling of Mars: An empty martian spaceship kidnaps (somewhat) a number of humans and takes them to Mars, who is revealed to be an almost animated planet. What follows is a battle between open-mindness and exploration lust on the one side, and conservative human nature on the other.
Finally, a very good science fiction story. This is part philosophical, part action, vibrating with the wonder of novelty.

-A Vintage from Atlantis:A pirate crew finds an ancient jar in a beach, containing a wine from Atlantis. Once drunk, the wine bestows visions of the now-sunken continent.
Magnificent prose, jewel-encrusted words that flow like amber wine through the pages. An oneiric atmosphere.

-The Weird of Avoosl Wuthoqquan: A miserly moneylender pawns a couple of huge emeralds which start rolling from his reach. He chases them through city and forest to a cave, where doom awaits.
A quirky story with a weird idea (gems rolling on their own), completely on the side of fairy-tales. Almost great.

-The Seed from the Sepulcher: Two Amazonian explorers looking for rare plants. One of them becomes infected by a parasitic plant.
Grotesque, with a fear of hybrids and impurity in its core. A bit verbose, it could benefit from a tighter editing.

-The Second Interment: The protagonist is deathly afraid of premature burial, having already been buried alive once. The story follows his mental and bodily sensations as he sinks in the despair of the inevitable second coming of his dreadful situation.
A Poe-like thematic story which traces the manic, panicked and feverish thoughts of a phobic man that dreads the grave.

-Ubbo-Sathla: An artifact found in a pawnshop is revealed to be a divination implement, able to bridge eternities. Using it, the protagonist’s consciousness is slowly merged with that of an ancient sorcerer, and then a primordial god.
A nice story of sorcerous might and hubris, it kind of fails to rise to stellar levels.

-The Plutonian drag:An extraterrestrial drag causes anyone imbibing it to perceive near future and past visually, flattening time into perspectiveless space.
The core idea of this is ingenuous and very well presented. Alas, it could be expanded a bit more; right now it is just a rough uncut gem.

-The Supernumerary Corpse: A man poisons his nemesis but ends up with two identical (and far removed in spatial terms) corpses.
This has a very short and weird plot, which remains essentially unexplained. Very nice.

Empire of the Necromancers

Great:
-The Vaults of Yoh-Vombis: A team of settlers from Earth ventures into the ruins of a forgotten race on Mars.
An amazing dungeon crawl in Martian ruins, better than your best dungeon crawl adventure (fantasy or otherwise).

-The Nameless Offspring: Someone finds himself in the vicinity of his childhood neighborhood. He ends up in the manor of an old acquaintance, who hides a secret offspring.
A gothic manor story which has everything: the decrepit owner, the dead spouse, crypts, the deformed spawn, the butler. This is the stuff CAS lived and died for, who in this particular case throws in both Necronomicon verses and ghoulish delights.

-The Empire of the Necromancers: Two necromancers leave a region populated by the living, in order to establish an empire, in a province long decimated by plague; their empire is populated by undead animated by their spells.
This is how the archaic undead rises through the pen of a true master. This is how terrible majesty and arcane wonder is evoked. One of the best CAS stories.

-The Double Shadow: A sorcerer’s apprentice watches his master’s approaching doom as a conjured unfathomable being slowly approaches his shadow.
Clark Ashton Smith at his best. Sorcerous evocation, a weird and utterly unexplainable horror from the dark past.

-The Colossus of Ylourgne: The dead start leaving their graves and converge in a ruined castle where a sorcerer plans his revenge upon the world.
Magnificence incarnate in the Averoigne circle. A long story with highly atmospheric parts, a solid plot and parts that could well have influenced such a masterpiece as «In the Hills, the Cities.» Reified awe.

Volume 2
Volume 4