Thursday, December 31, 2015

Mysterious Island

This year marks the 150th anniversary of a remarkable event that occurred here in Richmond.  Now, this last day of 2015 affords me a final opportunity to commemorate the anniversary and atone for my procrastination.  The event was simply the ascension of a balloon carrying five passengers. The remarkable aspects of the event arise from the circumstances of the voyage and the ensuing adventure of the passengers – an adventure so fantastic, so incredible that the world can only regard it as fiction.

These exploits were dramatized by Jules Verne in his L'Île mystérieuse (first published in 1874).  I use the word “dramatized” because Verne was more interested in telling a story instead of relating a factual account.  As is often the case in his works, Verne sacrificed accuracy for the sake of literary style.  Not that I blame him; if the final result would be labeled as fiction regardless, he might as well “improve” the story.  Of course, Verne was not responsible for all deviations from the truth; some changes were necessary for legal reasons and others were imposed by editors.

The balloon passengers were Cyrus Harding Smith, Captain of the Union Army, and his associates – Gideon Spillet, Boniface Pencross, Herbert Dunn, and the “servant,” Neb.  Please note that personal names were not immune to alteration in Verne’s narrative.  Verne also added a dog.  Anyway, in March of 1865, Captain Smith and company appropriated a military balloon to escape from Richmond.  Due to inclement weather, they had no practical control of the balloon.  As a result, they eventually arrive at a mysterious island.  Here we see  a profound departure from reality on Verne’s part.  Verne’s description of the weather is thus:
Few can possibly have forgotten the terrible storm from the northeast, in the middle of the equinox of that year. The tempest raged without intermission from the 18th to the 26th of March. Its ravages were terrible in America, Europe, and Asia, covering a distance of eighteen hundred miles, and extending obliquely to the equator from the thirty-fifth north parallel to the fortieth south parallel. Towns were overthrown, forests uprooted, coasts devastated by the mountains of water which were precipitated on them, vessels cast on the shore, which the published accounts numbered by hundreds, whole districts leveled by waterspouts which destroyed everything they passed over, several thousand people crushed on land or drowned at sea; such were the traces of its fury, left by this devastating tempest.
In essence, Verne presents a phenomenal storm that lasts more than week, afflicts three continents, and causes inestimable property damage.  This is a case of exaggeration.  In reality, the weather was not quite so dramatic.  Regarding March 1865, Robert K. Krick provides the following information in his Civil War Weather in Virginia :
Richmond’s residents saw a “splendid rainbow” on the night of March 15. The next night “a violent southeast gale prevailed . . . with rain.” Bright sun tempered winds still blowing through Richmond on the 18th, but the dawn of the 19th reminded a diarist of spring in the Garden of Eden. Warm and pleasant weather continued into the 21st, when blossoms appeared on apricot trees.
I had not realized that former residents of Eden were living in Richmond during the Civil War.  Perhaps the phrase “reminded . . . of” was meant to convey “inspired notions . . . of” rather than an actual recollection.  Regardless, Captain Smith and his companions likely ascended on the night of March 16 when there was a “southeast gale.”  In Verne’s version, the party leaves on March 20 and the storm is “from the northeast.”  Verne’s “aerial maelstrom” carries the balloon thousands of miles contrary to the jet stream in about seventy-two hours.  Verne must invoke such a preposterous storm because he chose to place the Mysterious Island in the Pacific.  I suppose there are many mysterious islands in the Pacific, but the Mysterious Island – the one where Captain Smith’s party found themselves – is in the Atlantic.  So why the switch in ocean?  I can’t answer for Verne, but I suspect the explanation (or at least a partial explanation) is that divulging factual information about something mysterious would tend to compromise the mysterious nature of said something.  Mysterious Island is mysterious for a reason and – to this day – the ‘powers-that-be’ have a vested interest in that reason and in maintaining the mystery.

You won’t find Mysterious Island via Google Earth.  Very few maps chart the island’s position and those that do are secreted in secure collections to which the public is not admitted.  A flat-out denial of the existence of Mysterious Island is not feasible, but it is easy enough to suggest that any given reference to it stems from fiction; thereby, the mystery is preserved.  I believe Mysterious Island’s official status (perhaps ‘official non-status’ is more apt) can be traced to an amendment to the Treaty of Tordesillas.  However, the only surviving copy of that amendment is in the Vatican’s Secret Archives; not the Secret Archives that everyone knows about, but the really Secret Archives.  Rumors that pre-human artifacts were found on the island (and that the Church wanted that knowledge suppressed) are unsubstantiated (yet not entirely disproved).

Eventually, Captain Smith and the others encounter Prince Dakkar (more commonly known as “Captain Nemo”), one of the most misunderstood figures of the 19th Century.  (Verne manages to depict him as both a misanthrope and a humanitarian.)  Once again, Verne’s account veers away from the actual circumstances. 

The events of Verne’s Vingt mille lieues sous les mers (published in 1870 but serialized starting in 1869) transpire after the Civil War.  When the story begins, the world is not yet acquainted with Prince Dakkar’s depredations.  However, in L'Île mystérieuse, the exploits of Prince Dakkar are well-known to Captain Smith and company even though they have been on the island since the conclusion of the war, ignorant of any subsequent world events.  In terms of storytelling, Verne didn’t want to weigh down the narrative with exposition from his earlier work.  Since the readers knew about Captain Nemo, then so should the protagonists.

In truth, Vingt mille lieues sous les mers (hereinafter Leagues) follows L'Île mystérieuse, not vice versa.  It was Gideon Spillet who ‘broke the news’ about Prince Dakkar to an astonished world.  Spillet accompanied Prince Dakkar during the events of Leagues and, since he was a journalist, he reported those events. Verne’s account is narrated from the point-of-view of his long-time friend Pierre Aronnax.  No mention was made of Spillet in Leagues due to a dispute over publication rights.  Spillet and Verne reconciled their differences by the time the latter wrote L'Île mystérieuse, so Spillet appears in that story.  Shortly after their reconcilement, Spillet met an untimely death.  However, Verne could not include Spillet in updated editions of Leagues because of complications with Spillet’s estate.  Those complications also prompted Verne to change the spelling of Gideon Spillet to the unabashedly French Gédeon Spilett.  American editions used the ‘Gideon’ spelling.

Prior to Prince Dakkar’s claim to the island, it had been used sporadically as a refuge for pirates (or, alternatively, a staging area for privateer activity).  In any event, I consider theories that conflate ‘Treasure Island’ with ‘Mysterious Island’ to be altogether fanciful.

The destruction of Mysterious Island in a fit of apoplectic volcanism is another of Verne’s inventions.  I guess it makes for a good story.  (SPOILER:  The dog survives!)  In reality, the island fared just as it had previously – largely unknown but occasionally called into some peculiar service.

During the Second World War, Mysterious Island was used as a base of operations by the Blackhawk Squadron.  This multi-national task force employed cutting-edge aviation technology against Axis threats, often of an outré variety.  During this time, Mysterious Island was known as Blackhawk Island.  Notwithstanding the legend of their comic book analogues, the Blackhawks disbanded shortly after the war.  Allegedly, this was done at Stalin’s insistence and was a source of contention at the Potsdam Conference.

Eventually, a colony was established on Mysterious Island.  Specifically, it was an involuntary retirement community for people possessing knowledge inimical to the status quo. Whether the island still hosts this colony is a matter of conjecture.  When inquiring about some things – such as the particulars of Mysterious Island – prudence should be exercised.  After all, questions are a burden to others; answers a prison for oneself.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Arduin Adventure Bibliography

Detail from the back cover of Michael Whelan's
Wonderworks: Science Fiction and Fantasy Art

Role-playing game bibliographies (or ‘Appendices N’ as the case may be) tend to list two categories of material:  research works and genre literature.  Depending upon the game, ‘literature’ may be inclusive enough to accommodate motion pictures, television programs, and even music as sources of inspiration.  In addition to including the aforementioned types, Hargrave embraces the aphorism that a picture is worth a thousand words and indicates specific art books in the bibliography for The Arduin Adventure (hereinafter ArdAdv).  Although it makes perfect sense, art books are not commonly acknowledged as RPG inspirations.  Hargrave specifies the following art books:  Alien Landscapes, Beauty and the Beast, Faeries, GiantsSolar WindTomorrow and Beyond, and Wonderworks.  Also, I suppose we can categorize An Atlas of Fantasy as an art book.

Hargrave ends the bibliography with a few items that “have served as wonderful sources of fun and ideas.”  Included among these are Elfquest as well as Marvel Comics (“An unlikely, but valuable source of inspiration”).  If we count art books as sources of inspiration, there is no reason why we should construe comic books as an ‘unlikely’ source.  For whatever reason, Hargrave singles out Marvel Comics.  Surely, if Elfquest makes the grade, Marvel cannot be the exclusive source of inspiration among comic books.  Given Hargrave’s acknowledgement of comics and art books (especially the Achilléos book), I find it strange that Hargrave doesn’t mention Heavy Metal.  The remaining ‘wonderful source of fun and ideas’ is “The entire works of J.R.R. Tolkein.”  Complementing that assertion is the inclusion of The Complete Guide to Middle Earth and A Tolkien Bestiary in the bibliography.

For “expanded insight into what is happening in the fantasy gaming world,” Hargrave lists three periodicals:  Alarums and Excursions, Different Worlds, and Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  Notably absent is Dragon ; it’s good enough to advertize in but not good enough to endorse.

Some role-playing games have bibliographies that reference other RPGs; ArdAdv is not one of those games.  However, Hargrave does mention Chaosium's Authentic Thaumaturgy.  Speaking of Chaosium, the RuneQuest (Second Edition) bibliography lists the first three Arduin books in the ‘Other Fantasy Role-Playing Games’ section.  Additionally, the ArdAdv and Runequest bibliographies have one non-fiction work in common – George Cameron Stone’s A Glossary of the Construction, Decoration and Use of Arms and Armor in All Countries and in All Times, Together with Some Closely Related Subjects.

Along with Authentic Thaumaturgy, the ArdAdv bibliography has a variety of books about magic – from reasonably academic texts like The Complete Illustrated Book Of The Psychic Sciences and The Supernatural to the rather eccentric The Morning of the Magicians.  Hargrave also has The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft & Demonology.  As shown in a prior post, Hargrave prefers to spell magic with a ‘k’; he even alters the spelling when the word ‘magic’ appears in the title of a book.  Therefore we see in the bibliography “The Encyclopedia of Magik & Superstition” (sic) as well as “Magik, White and Black” (sic).

Hargrave carries his interest in Japan over into Arduin.  We find in the bibliography Secrets of the Samurai, Japanese Short Stories, Martial Arts (although the title is generic, the book focuses on Japanese martial arts), and – in another instance of ‘magik’ versus ‘magic’ – “Seven Magik Orders” (sic).  The only other reference to a (real world) culture in the bibliography is in the form of The Phoenicians.

Several books in the ArdAdv bibliography discuss fantasy creatures.  Aside from such books listed above, Hargrave includes An Encyclopedia of Fairies, Mysterious Monsters, and Zoo of the Gods.

The Fantasy Almanac has earned a place in the ArdAdv bibliography.  The remaining ‘reference books’ can be sorted into two types:  mythology (The New Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology, Men of the Earth) and history (War Through The Ages, Medieval Warfare).

In terms of ‘traditional’ fantasy literature (besides Tolkien), Hargrave gives “Personal thanks” to Robert Asprin, Stephen R. Donaldson, and lastly, C. A. Smith “for his fantastic tales of wonder and glory, but mostly for Zothique, the true progenitor of ARDUIN.”

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Gallytrots, Spoorns, and Tantarrabobs

The Two Damsels Rescue Roger from the Rabble (by H. J. Ford)

In this special Christmas Eve installment of Thoul's Paradise, we present an article from Michael Aislabie Denham.  Citing no less an authority than the Bard, Denham assures us that this night shall not be plagued by ghosts nor any other malevolent, supernatural entities.  Denham supplies an abundant list of said entities from folklore of the British Isles; indeed, presentation of the list seems to be the whole point of the article.  Many names are familiar, yet many are unfamiliar.  Among the more familiar terms, we see a reference to “hobbits.”  Apparently, Denham's article is the first written mention of hobbit as some sort of creature.  Absent this distinction, I suspect Denham's efforts would suffer from more profound obscurity than they already do.  Tolkien assumed he originated the word hobbit and had no recollection of being previously exposed to it.  Given that Tolkien was a linguist well-read in folklore, we cannot dismiss the possibility of prior exposure; regardless, there is a certain difference between 'being exposed' to something and 'consciously using' that something.

Happy holidays!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Spells in The Arduin Adventure

Art by Stephen Fabian

A common misgiving of the (early) D&D magic system was the 'Vancian' paradigm wherein a magic-user must 'forget' a spell upon casting and then re-memorize the spell before it could be cast again.  (Of course, contrary to the notion of 'forgetting' a spell, a given spell could be 'memorized' more than once.)  Different 'spell point' systems were devised as alternatives to the unsatisfactory Vancian method.  In The Arduin Adventure, Dave Hargrave employs a system of 'mana points' for magic magik spells.  However, in The Arduin Adventure (hereinafter ArdAdv), mana points do not obviate the 'forgetfulness' imposed by the Vancian philosophy, but merely act as an adjunct.

In ArdAdv, there are two types of magik:  Thaumaturgical (cast by Mages) and Priestly (cast, appropriately enough, by Priests).  When a mage memorizes a spell, he (or she) must invest an amount of mana specified in the spell's description.  At any point after the spell is memorized, the mage can cast the spell by speaking a trigger phrase.  All thaumaturgical spells take a combat round to cast.  (Apparently, material components are not required.)  “Once used,” the rules tell us, “mana takes 10 hours to 'recharge' to working level.”  Does this mean that if a mage casts a one mana point spell, he (or she) regains that point ten hours later?  If a mage uses half of her (or his) mana points at once, will all of those points will be available after ten hours?

Priestly spells (sometimes called “rituals”) also have a mana cost, but spells need not be memorized.  Mana is expended when the spell is cast.  Priestly spells take an entire minute to cast:  “This is because priestly magic also requires proper obeisance (kow towing) to the god in question and certain rituals (variable according to the spell).”  Priestly spell listings do not describe the particular rituals to perform, so it is safe to assume that – for game purposes – ritual activity is not distinctive.  Regardless, casting a priestly spell during a combat situation would not seem to be a feasible option.  Presumably, mana expended via priestly spells is 'recharged' in a fashion similar or identical to how mages recover mana.

Mage characters begin with a number a mana points equal to their Intelligence plus five points as a result of training:  “A mage must spend years learning his craft, either as an acolyte with an already established mage or at a 'College of Magik.'”  Priest characters begin with a set amount of fifteen points of mana.  Both types of character gain three additional points of mana for each experience level gained.

Rather than spell level, ArdAdv uses the term “order of power (or OP).”  The highest 'order of power' to which a mage has access is equal to half of the mage's experience level, rounded up.  So, through the second experience level, a mage only has access to 'first order' spells; starting at the third experience level, a mage can use 'second order' spells, etc.  The rules do not comment upon the schedule by which priests access successive orders of power.  One could assume that priestly 'spell progression' uses the same formula that applies to mages.

Each mage has a 'book of power' in which the mage writes his (or her) spells.  For each order of power of the spell, at least three pages are required.  There is no other mention in ArdAdv about pages in mages' books.  It takes a mage an amount of time to memorize a spell equal to thirty minutes for every order of power of the spell.  Memorization time is “reduced by half per (experience level) earned over the (experience level) needed to cast the spell.” 

For both thaumaturgical and priestly spells, ArdAdv presents four orders of power – enough for eight experience levels.  There are 32 thaumaturgical spells and 29 priestly spells.  In general, the ArdAdv spells are reminiscent of their D&D counterparts, but typically with suitable name changes.  For example, instead of “Silence 15' Radius,” ArdAdv has “Sound Wipe”; instead of “Web,” there is “Tangle Trap”; and instead of “Mirror Image,” there is “Multiple Image.”

Aside from spells, priests have spell-like abilities.  They can “Turn Away” undead:
Priests have a 10% chance of success for each 10 HP less than 100 the undead have.  Thus, a priest has a 100% chance versus 10 HP undead but only 10% chance versus 100 HP ones.
Evidently, a priest's experience level does not modify this chance.  Also, “A priest can 'Lay on Hands' to heal those of his faith.”  (To use this ability on a character not of the priest's faith, the priest must succeed with “a 'God Reaction Roll' see if the priest's patron deity will allow this to happen.”)  It is quite taxing for a priest to 'Lay on Hands,' but all wounds (other than fatal) will be completely healed.  (This ability is distinct from the healing spells to which priests have access.)

Monday, December 14, 2015

Combat in The Arduin Adventure

Art by Marshall Frantz

Characters in The Arduin Adventure (hereinafter ArdAdv) have a Defense Factor (DF) which “is a numerical rating for the natural (Armor Class) or worn armor a character has.”  Armor Class is defined as “The sum total of a character's ability to actively or passively defend himself.”  Armor Class starts at nine (“Person in normal clothes, with no special protection”) and descends.  However, unlike D&D, ArdAdv AC does not extend into negative numbers.  AC 2 represents “Full plate armor and small shield” or “Half plate and standard shield” or “Scale and Chain mail with tower/kite shield.”  The next AC is not 1, but instead “2+1.”  “Full plate armor and tower/kite shield” is AC 2+2, which is the limit of Armor Class.  However, due to modifiers, Defense Factor extends up to “2+7” (at least according to the Combat Chart).  The rules state, “for each DEX and AGIL point LESS THAN 7 a character has, subtract 1 point from his the same token, for each DEX and AGIL point MORE THAN 12, ADD 1 point to the DF.”  By 'subtract', I suppose Hargrave means impair and by 'add', I suppose he means improve.  “Targets in flight” add four to their DF; characters benefiting from partial cover get a bonus of two.

Wearing armor imposes a penalty on both Dexterity and Agility.  For instance, “Small shields and cloth armor have a penalty of one each...A set of full plate armor with tower shield has a combined penalty of 8.”  Defense Factor modifiers are determined before armor penalties are applied to Dexterity and Agility; however, movement rate is determined after penalties are applied.  The number of feet a character may move per melee round (six seconds) is determined by the formula:  5 × (Dexterity + Agility).  (Each ten pounds of weight carried reduces movement rate by five feet.)

ArdAdv characters also have an Attack Factor (AF) – “a numerical rating of the kind of weapon or attack used.”  The Combat Chart indexes a column of twenty-five weapon types against a row of Defense Factor values.  Examples of weapon types include Maul, Short Spear, Throwing Knife, and “Non-Weapon.”  If I had created the Combat Chart, the laws of semantics would prevent me from including “Non-Weapon” as a “weapon” type.  Instead of weapon type, I would use attack type and have two “Non-Weapon” categories:  pummel and claw.  Anyway, the intersection of Weapon Type and Defense Factor provides a number (Attack Factor) which is the minimum number required to hit on 1d20.  A character's Strength can modify Attack Factor.

Characters attacking a target from the rear get “a +3 bonus to their AF...”  By this, I suppose Hargrave means characters get a bonus to their attack roll.  Also, a target being attacked from behind loses the “AGIL/DEX and shield bonuses” to Defense Factor; this also applies to “downed” targets.  (I suspect that penalties from Agility and/or Dexterity still apply.)  Attacks from the side provide a +2 bonus and attacking from an elevated position grants a +1 bonus.

When attacking, a roll of twenty indicates a critical hit.  If a roll of 20 was required for a successful hit, then the hit is a normal hit instead of a critical.  Unfortunately, ArdAdv does not make use of Hargrave's Arduin Grimoire critical table; instead we are presented with a 1d10 table with each result representing a different body location.  For instance, a roll of '4' means an arm was hit for three points of damage with a 'side effect' of:  “Major artery cut, bleed to death in D20 combat rounds.”

A roll of '1' when attacking typically indicates a fumble.  Just as ArdAdv lacks the Grimoire critical table, it also lacks the fumble table.  Instead, Hargrave presents a 1d10 junior version with results like “Trip and fall, 1 to 5 melee rounds to get up” and “Hit wrong target FULL DAMAGE.”

Weapons in ArdAdv inflict a fixed amount of damage (e.g., a short sword inflicts five points, a flail inflicts ten).  A high Strength score provides a bonus to inflicted damage, but a low score does does not subtract from damage.  Each weapon type is associated with one or more types of damage:  bruising, crushing, puncture, slashing, stab, and tearing.  How these different types are supposed to affect game play is not explained.

Chapter VI, “How to Have a Melee,” begins with:
A melee consists of two parts:  movement and combat.  First comes movement, each character moving all or part of his allowable movement distance.  Then comes the actual combat.  Both parts are carried out in the order of the fastest (dexterity for combat, or agility for movement) to the slowest.
When opponents have the same Dexterity, the character with the weapon that “has length (or reach) advantage” attacks first.  Chapter XI, “A Glossary of Terms for the Basic Adventurer,” does a good job of describing various weapons and types of armor; however, not all of the weapon descriptions include the length of the weapon.

In his Introduction, Hargrave explains that ArdAdv “has a unique modular learning system that permits the gamer to apply any part of it to another system, or part of another system to itself.”  Gamers are apt to 'mix & match' rules in a blithe fashion without regard to whether the systems at issue “permit” it.  As such, there is nothing unique about the ArdAdv system other than Hargrave's acknowledgement that such customization is to be expected.  In this spirit, Hargrave offers “Optional Advanced Rules” for combat.  Said rules focus on the concept of “Coordination Factor,” which is the average of Agility and Dexterity.  (Why not just have a Coordination attribute instead of Agility and Dexterity?)  Instead of a melee round consisting of movement followed by attack, characters have a number of actions based upon Coordination Factor (CF).  Any given action can be movement or attack at the player's discretion.  Characters with a Coordination Factor less than five have only one action for every two melee rounds.  Otherwise, characters have at least one action per round.

In essence, there is a “CF COUNTDOWN” each melee round.  The character with the highest Coordination Factor acts first.  Other actions take place on subsequent counts.  “For example,” the rules state, “my character’s CF is 15, so I divide that by three, which gives me the number five...I now know that every five counts of the melee/movement round my character can perform an action...Thus at 15,10, and 5.”  A character's movement rate per action equals the rate per melee round divided by the number of actions the character has per round.  Such calculations start to get wonky when characters have less than one action per round.  Although Hargrave admonishes that “the GM as well as players will have to exercise a little common sense,” I think that a minimum of one action per round (instead of one action per two rounds) would offer a more elegant process.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Happy Birthday, Leigh Brackett!

Art by Allen Anderson

December 7 is, of course, a date which has lived in infamy.  Yet every date has good associations as well as bad and December 7, 2015, happens to be the centennial of Leigh Brackett's birth.

In Appendix N of the Dungeon Masters Guide, Gygax lists two kinds of authors:  “In some cases I cite specific works, in others, I simply recommend all their fantasy writing to you.”  Leigh Brackett is of the latter sort.  This is interesting in that Brackett didn't write fantasy per se ; she wrote 'science fantasy' (as well as westerns and mysteries).  Yet she certainly influenced – and was influenced by – 'traditional' fantasy.  Regardless, the quality of her work transcends genre pidgeonholes.  Among her claims to fame, she wrote the first draft of The Empire Strikes Back.  (TLDR?  Here's a summary.)

In a sort of homage to Robert E. Howard, Brackett named a character 'Conan' in Lorelei of the Red Mist (written in collaboration with Ray Bradbury).  It seems that L. Sprague de Camp despaired that he partnered with Lin Carter rather than Brackett when he excavated Howard's legacy for more Conan material.

Brackett's most famous character is Eric John Stark, who first appeared in “Queen of the Martian Catacombs,” a story from the summer 1949 issue of Planet Stories.  The cover of said issue appears above; the person in the lower left-hand corner is supposed to be Stark.  There are several things wrong with this representation.

First, just what is he wearing?  Is that Martian lederhosen ?  Second, I'm almost certain that Stark doesn't shave his armpits (although I could be wrong).  Finally and most importantly, there's the matter of Stark's skin color.  According to the story, “His skin was almost as dark as his black hair, burned indelibly by years of exposure to some terrible sun.”  (In The Ginger Star, his coloration is described as “dark purple.”)  Other than the Stark books published under Paizo's Planet Stories imprint, illustrations of Stark consistently show him with light skin.  After all, failing to pander to white male power fantasies would be a bad marketing decision (or at least was presumed to be).

Stark was presented in (A)D&D terms in the 'Giants in the Earth' feature of (The) Dragon #28 (August, 1979).  This adaptation is shown below.  The non-game text is largely correct; however, Stark's skin coloration is absent from the description of his physical features.  Also, while Stark is a mercenary, he's of a type occasionally found in the province of fiction – a 'principled' mercenary.  “He'll sell you out, he'll cut your throat, if he thinks it best for the barbarians,” a character explains in “Queen of the Martian Catacombs.”  Stark aids indigenous peoples oppressed by Terran expansionism.  I think this is a noteworthy qualifier to his mercenary status.

The description includes a random table to establish the nature of an encounter with Stark.  I suspect this is Moldvay's work.  Random determination of behavior defeats the purpose of using a detailed, complex character like Stark.

Most of the 'Giants in the Earth' personalities are definitely fantasy characters, even though they are products of their respective settings.  Inserting them into a traditional fantasy campaign poses no difficulty.  However, characters outside the typical scope of fantasy – such as Stark – require some consideration.   The character's knowledge and technology (such as Stark's “plasteel mesh armor”) can cause unintended (and perhaps drastic) consequences in a campaign.  Also, being transplanted to an alien environment will necessarily alter a (non-player) character's outlook and motivation.