Showing posts with label Michael Moorcock. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Michael Moorcock. Show all posts

Monday, October 05, 2015

Talking Stormbringer

Recently I came into some stuff for the early editions of Chaosium's Stormbringer game. This fills a hole in what I actually do collect in gaming because, even though Michael Moorcock is one of the few fantasy writers whose work I enjoy, because I never really liked the early editions of the game. What I wish that I could tell my younger self is that a game can still be good, even if it doesn't fulfill what it is trying to do.

I'm sure that's a confusing sentiment. Hopefully, I will make it clearer as I put this post together.

I picked up on the second edition of Stormbringer, and the supplement/stand alone game (don't ask, it was the 80s) Hawkmoon, both adapted from the works of British fantasist Michael Moorcock, when a friend brought them to college with him. I was already familiar with Chaosium's horror game Call of Cthulhu, because I had picked up one of the boxed sets while I was in college, and I had a passing familiarity with Runequest at this point, but Stormbringer was new to me. I borrowed the two boxed sets that he had in his dorm room and read them (each game is probably less than 100 pages of text, so this wasn't that hard). My diagnosis? I hated the game. I felt that, despite being a well made game, it did a bad job of simulating Moorcock's works, and because of that I wasn't interested in the game. I wouldn't come back to the game until the Elric! edition (probably closest to being a 4.5 edition of the rules) a number of years later.

While I still think that the first few editions of the game aren't very good at simulating Moorcock's works, I do think that Stormbringer (talking the first through third editions) is probably one of the best dark fantasy games, perhaps second only to first edition Warhammer) that the RPG "business" has managed to produce.

I admit that I have never really been a huge fan of the Dungeons & Dragons stream of fantasy role-playing games. Class and level based games just don't get me as interested, which is why I am more interested in the games that Chaosium has produced over the years. I love dark fantasy. Whether we're talking about Moorcock or Smith or Howard or any number of other writers in the genre, that kind of fantasy gets me a lot more interested than the works of Tolkien or his imitators. This is why I regret missing out on Stormbringer for so many years.


Really, we have two "streams" of Stormbringer. I don't want to call them editions (since there were in fact five or so editions of the game), but there was definitely a philosophical shift in the game between the third edition (produced by Chaosium in conjunction with Games Workshop...which would inspire the creation of their house game Warhammer) and the fourth edition. While the game did move closer to the source material with the fourth edition, it also managed to somehow become more generic at the same time. I'm not really sure how that happened. For the rest of this post, I'll refer to the first three editions as Early Stormbringer and 4th, Elric! and 5th edition as Later Stormbringer. There's no real judgment in this split, it just seems the best way to break up the conversation.

Why do I think that Early Stormbringer is such a great dark fantasy game? Where other RPGs had magic-users who could throw fireballs, Early Stormbringer would have your sorcerer character summon and bind a fire elemental to their will and then compel it to throw fire at your opponents (or perhaps you could even throw an elemental at people, even though this would be a wasteful use of an elemental). This flavor difference alone makes for a whole new gaming "ballgame." In the Later Stormbringer, this was diluted by the addition of spells with more traditional effects.

"Classes" in the game aren't really classes in the sense of D&D, and they aren't yet quite the Professions or Occupations that we will find later in other Basic Roleplaying Games, either. They are a cluster of skills and bonuses to skills that make character generation go quicker. When you have a class-based game and you want a "Fighter," you just pick the appropriate class, roll up some attributes and go. In games like Runequest this process can take longer because you have to pick out all of the relevant skills and everything else. Stormbringer shortened this process with their classes. Combined with random determination, it might actually make Early Stormbringer characters as fast to make as an early edition D&D character. And considering how fragile characters could be in either game, fast character generation could be important.

As often as not in the early days of gaming, I think that Ken St. Andre and Steve Perrin accidentally created a game that was so much better than the one that they intended to create. For example, Stormbringer characters were much more "heroic" than early edition D&D characters, without being the "super-heroes" that a lot of old school gamers disdain. I like a "heroic" character much more than I like the zero-to-hero approach. I want to play Conan or Elric. I don't want to play the guy who is going to be Conan or Elric.

I think that much of the stripped down and quicker approach of the rules owes itself to the design sensibilities of St. Andre. His Tunnels & Trolls rules were the definition of stripped down, in an era when even D&D didn't have a lot of rules. His approach to gaming is to keep things simple. Combined with the sensibilities that would bridge between how D&D was played and how Runequest would be formulated (Perrin came up with the highly influential and widely adopted D&D house rules known as the Perrin Conventions that would inform the creation of the Runequest rules), Stormbringer is a tight little example of how a game can be simple while still being a highly robust engine.

If I had to state a preference between Early Stormbringer and Later Stormbringer, it would probably have to be for Early Stormbringer. The simplicity, the ingenuity and the robustness of the design all combine in a game that hits a sweet spot for me. The best part is that the fact that, for me, it didn't do a good job at simulating Moorcock's work just means that it all that much better of a game to use for a variety of campaigns that I would like. I wish that I could go back and tell my younger self to get over it and play the damn game. This way I would have decades of fun with this game behind me, and I probably would have spent a lot less time looking for "the right game" for my fantasy needs. Luckily, that isn't a worry anymore.

I think that I want to add a Red Sonja game using Early Stormbringer to my gaming bucket list now.

If you're interested in a "clone" of Later Stormbringer (the Elric! version and 5th edition), be sure to check out Chaosium's excellent Magic World game. This is (basically) Stormbringer 5e with the specific Moorock-related IP stripped out, leaving behind a really good set of fantasy rules. Unfortunately no "clone" of the earlier, more rollicking, editions of Stormbringer yet exists. Stormbringer also still exerts an influence on contemporary role-playing games. The seminal indie game Sorcerer by Ron Edwards shows an influence of the demon summoning from Stormbringer in its own demon summoning rules.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Classic Elric Comics Return From Titan Comics

Some of you may remember when the now sadly defunct comic company Eclipse Comics had the rights to do Elric in comic form. If you don't remember this, then you are lucky because you are going to get to experience them for the first time through an upcoming reprint series from Titan Comics.

"Unforgettable action and intrigue...a must-read for any fans of science fiction, sorcery or sword-and-sorcery epics!" - Comics Bulletin

"Richly deserves to be back in print...Can’t wait to return to the Dreaming City!" - SFX

"A terrific book." - Jeff Vaughn, Scoop

Collecting the first volume of the classic adaptation of Michael Moorcock’s bestselling fantasy saga, Elric of Melnibon√© marks the perfect introduction to the series’ iconic antihero, his fabled blade, Stormbringer, and his harrowing adventures across the Dragon Isle.

Adapted by former Marvel Comics editor, Roy Thomas, and beautifully rendered by longtime comics illustrator,Michael T. Gilbert, and the multiple Harvey and Eisner award-winning P. Craig Russell, this definitive collection marks an essential read for all fans of sword and sorcery and brings the Moorcock’s epic tales to life with luxuriant imagination.

The Michael Moorcock Library - Volume 1: Elric Of Melnibone hits comic stores February 18, 2015 and is available to order now from your local comic store using Diamond code NOV141648.

 
 
 
 
 
Writer: Roy Thomas
Artist: P. Craig Russell, Michael T. Gilbert
Format: 176pp – HC - FC
Volumes In Series: 1 (of 15)
Publisher: Titan Comics
Price: $22.99/$25.95 CAN /£18.99 UK
ISBN: 9781782762881
Release Date: February 18, 2015
Diamond Order Code: NOV141648

To pre-order via Amazon visit:
http://www.amazon.com/Michael-Moorcock-Library-Vol-1-Melnibone/dp/1782762884/

For more information visit:
http://titan-comics.com/c/182-the-michael-moorcock-library-elric-vol-1-elric-of-/

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