Tuesday, June 9, 2009


Warning: this entry has a bit less to do with Dungeons and Dragons than normal.

I discovered Ken St. Andre's truly cool Stormbringer RPG around the age of 15 or so...once again finding the boxed set in my favorite used book store in Missoula, Montana. You have to understand I spent a lot of time in Montana as a youth (bi-annual visits to see relatives), and I enjoyed reading and had limited funds to spend. Plus, my family would usually be traveling by car from Seattle, and as I finished most of my initial reading material on the ten hour journey East, I always needed to pick up new material for the return trip.

By this time, I knew who Elric was, and all about his legendary demon sword. I may have even read my first Moorcock book, though I don't think that occurred till later (maybe I read the graphic novel). Anyway, Stormbringer would be my introduction to Chaosium, the BRP system, and crunchy combat mechanics in role-playing. It was very, very cool.

The first edition of Stormbringer is a beautifully illustrated soft-cover rule book with everything you need to play the game, including lavish black-and-white illustrations that perfectly set the mood and tone for the game. At the time, having split with my oldest, original gaming group, and having no interest in the pastel colors of 2nd Edition AD&D, Stormbringer was a perfect fit: bleak, cynical, deadly, and full of angst.

Of course, the game itself didn't appeal to everyone. For one thing, your character was almost completely random in generation, right down to character class (determined by randomly determined nationality)! You could end up a literal beggar or farmer, or a sorcerer warrior-priest, wealthy and powerful.

In the end it didn't really matter as the mortality rate was as high for the noble-born as the peasants. Again, this feels remarkable true to the source material...throughout Moorcock's books the powerful, the wealthy, the wise...well, they all die, sometimes in truly ignoble fashion. All except Elric, who is more a force of nature (a la Galactus) than an RPG player character.

Even the BRP skill system was fairly easy, as skill selection is based on class, and skill level based on (randomly rolled) attributes. Skill use was simple and intuitive, and I found it fairly impossible to get too attached to individual characters randomly created...fortunately enough as they tended to die rather easily.

For myself and my buddy Michael, we found the game quite refreshing, often laughing at an amusing impalement or fall to the death of a character...or being exhilarated when one actually triumphed. But perhaps this was because we were fans of the books, and they informed our style of play. Michael eventually purchased the 3rd or 4th edition of the game which kept the same random deadliness but added actual spells (in addition to sorcerous summonings), a very cool update. He ran a game for myself and a pair of other players and I had a blast...while the other two complained bitterly the whole time. Nope it wasn't D&D. Nope, you may have been born a barbarian hunter in backwater Org...such was your lot in life. They (the other players) hated it; Michael and I thought it was great (and it was nice that he had the chance to act as GM after I had slain so many of his farmer-turned-mercenaries...ha!).

Yeah, fun. I'd have to say my experience with Stormbringer is part of the reason I'm neither offended, nor particularly enthused by the Carcosa supplement. What I've read of Carcosa, with its sorcery and human sacrifice, simply conjurs to mind Stormbringer play. It's not really what I consider D&D, and while I do enjoy that type of play on occasion (bleak, dark, destructive), there are already existing game systems that facilitate it.

Now Chaosium's Elric! game...and every edition of Stormbringer that followed it...effectively sucks donkey ass (to put it mildly). But that's a subject for another post, that I won't spend time on today.


  1. Yeah, Ken's is still my fave, even though it pisses Mike off. ;)

  2. Why do you think Elric! "effectively sucks donkey ass"? It's one of my favourite games, and I don't see it as fundamentally different from earlier editions (less random, perhaps, but also based on BRP).

  3. Hmm...I prefer the character generation in the 1st edition to that of Elric! by perhaps a factor of 10. I find the characters of Elric! to be over-powered capitol-H HEROIC types which is much different (I believe) from the tone of Moorcock's books, where everyone can (and does) die...often "going out like chumps."

    Stormbringer did a great job of modeling Moorcock's Young Kingdoms. Elric! just gives the players a chance to kick a bunch of ass. For myself...for those of friends of mine that cut our teeth initially o Stormbringer...Elric! is a cheese-ball game. Right down to the "!" in the title.

  4. Well, I don't find the characters in Elric! to be that overpowered. Less 'random' and less 'variable', sure, but a Melnibonean sorcerer in E/SB5 is less powerful than one in an earlier edition. And I certainly think that you're wrong in characterizing most important characters in Moorcock's books as 'chumps'. I just finished rereading the Corum novels, as well 'The Silver Warriors', and none of the main characters were 'chumps' there!

    But YMMV, and all that. And I do agree that the "!" was irritating.

  5. Oh, I don't think the characters were chumps, just that they "died like chumps"...by which I mean they tend to die ignoble deaths rather than grand heroic ones.

    But I'm speaking specifically of the Elric books, not Corum or any of the other Eternal Champion books. All those Young Kingdom folks that pass through Elric's life die through misadventure, and most NOT on the point of his sword. Life in the Young Kingdoms is nasty, short, and brutish...I think St. Andre's original game does an excellent job of modeling that. At least the first five-six novels/compilations (that form the basis for the 1st edition game) are well represented. When you start getting into the "dream thief" stuff you may well need a different game system.

  6. You are an overcocky opinionated zealot. I really like that in a blog! Keep up the good work.