Johannes Cabal is a necromancer and (as one might expected) a disagreeable sort of guy, though not in the usual cackling villain sort of way. True, when we first encounter him in Johannes Cabal the Necromancer he’s running a travelling carnival as a cover for collecting souls for Satan--but he’s got important goals. Mainly, it's Cabal’s arrogance and disregard for social niceties that make him unlikable--but those qualities only make him more enjoyable to read about.
Cabal has appeared in three novels. The first tells the story of the carnival and features Cabal’s more moral brother, Horst (a vampire). The second, Johannes Cabal the Detective, has Cabal on the run in a Ruritanian crazy-quilt Europe and forced by circumstances to solve a series of murders on an airship.
Both of theses novels feature quirky characters and a good deal of humor amid the soul-stealing, political intrigue, and murder.
Cabal himself emerges as a more complex character than he first appears. He’s a misanthrope by all appearances, but he wants to conquer mankind’s greatest enemy--death. He just doesn’t care overmuch who he’s got to kill or what amoral direction his “studies” have to take to do it.
The world of the novels is ours but with some differences: extra European nations, ornithopter-like aircraft, and a generally higher profile for necromancy, most prominent among them. The time period the stories takes place in is pretty vague, too; it mostly seems to be loosely Edwardian (maybe late Victorian), but with occasional mentions of science/technology that might even place it in the early 1960s.
The third Johannes Cabal novel is apparently out in the UK. Johannes Cabal: the Fear Institute is about an expedition into the Dreamlands, which sounds promising. Howard sprinkles the occasional Lovecraftianism in the other novels, so it will be interesting to see what he does there.
In preparing this post I ran across an article written by Jonathan Howard himself about Cabal on D&D website. I’ll let the author himself tell you how Cabal can inspire gaming. He even gives a character sheet!
I can say the novels are well worth a read.
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