In this portion of the game notes, we’ll discuss history and myth.
It was as if some enormous sun, thousands of times larger than Earth’s, had sent a ray of light pulsing through the cosmos, defying the flimsy barriers of Time and Space, to strike upon the great black battlefield.
When Elric blew the Horn of Fate, a rent in time and space allowed the Gods of Law to pass into our world and do battle with Chaos. Eventually the power of the Horn swept all gods away and ushered in a new age and new world.
At least, that’s how the common version of the myth goes. As Moorcock fans we’re familiar with the events in Stormbringer up to the point of Elric’s final toot of the horn (and subsequent betrayal by the eponymous sword) and it’s generally assumed that the world that follows is both geographically and metaphysically altered into our own world.
The alternate earth of Elric of R’lyeh exists after that cataclysm; the Elric myth is broadly aligned with the events of Stormbringer, but it is still a myth. The cataclysmic event at the beginning of the Common Era is the beginning of known history, and the time before is speculation — and the Elric myth is probably a rendering down of a complex series of events to make it palatable to modern citizens.
But, let’s consider what could have happened.
Firstly, the Horn of Fate is a macguffin. It could be a metaphor for vast cosmic change, or it could be a coincidental detail that has been blown out of proportion. What if the sound of the horn was the “thin, monotonous whine of blasphemous flutes from inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond Time” (H. P. Lovecraft, Nyarlathotep) and Elric’s true purpose was to summon Nyarlathotep to usher in a new age?
Another idea: what if the Horn of Fate were a weapon? Its intent was to usher in a new age, reset the balance and sweep the old gods away. When Elric sounded the Horn of Fate and conjured the gods, what if they came there not to do battle with Chaos, but — facing their own extinction — with the sorcerer himself?
“So it is over,” Moonglum murmured. “All gone — Elwher, my birthplace, Karlaak by the Weeping Waste, Bakshaan, even the Dreaming City and the Isle of Melnibone. They no longer exist, they cannot be retrieved.”
And finally, when the Horn was sounded for a third and final time, did the Earth change, or did Elric’s perception of the Earth change? Did he truly witness the Earth whirling “faster and faster… day giving way to night with incredible rapidity” (Stormbringer) or did Dead Elric dream those changes after his final battle ground sank beneath the waves? Elric is popularly portrayed as mortal, yet he is also Melnibonean; he is both fantastically long-lived and powerful, and there is no-one in the Common Era who is truly Melnibonean, and thus his true power is likely beyond the estimation of modern scholars. That he lives still is a frightening possibility.
Ylrhc the sorcerer created a weapon that could challenge the gods themselves, and for his blasphemy they met him in his palace at R’lyeh to strike him down. He was defeated but not killed, for he did the gods terrible harm and weakened them such that even they could not end him. And so the gods consigned his R’lyeh to beneath the waves, along with his weapon, so men would never find him and understand that they had the power to challenge the gods.
Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Ylrhc R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn!
- Unnamed heretical scroll, from the archives of the Vatican
There’s not a lot to say about mucking about with history. It falls down to two things: inserting historical figures into your game, and establishing a timeline.
Let’s talk about historical figures first. Melnibonean bloodlines present a lot of potential; in my campaign Queen Elizabeth was the last true Melnibonean, and the class structure was predelicted on Melnibonean blood and how many generations one was removed from Her Majesty. The greater the percentage of Melnibonean blood the longer lived the individual is, too. I’ll cover modern society and its obsession with bloodline and status in a later post.
With the potential for historical persons having a drop of Melnibonean blood in their veins, there are opportunities to insert any figure you care to from history into the 1920s. But, this is hardly new, since we were doing it in Vampire 20 years ago.
In fact, Melniboneans are a lot like Vampires in their scope to change history — they’re unusually long lived and usually powerful. The differences between a Melnibonean and a Vampire that matter are
- they’re able to go out in the sunlight
- they walk around in a society which obeys them rather than fearing them
- they’re public figures.
History should be made by Melniboneans. Bear in mind that “Melnibonean” is a fluid concept and applies to members of rich families with strong Melnibonean bloodlines — but not exclusively alien. No-one in 1920’s earth is a “pure” Melnibonean, or has any concept of what that would look like — maybe with the exception of Queen Elizabeth.
Where it’s amusing to do so, pluck figures from history and give them Melnibonean blood. Pay attention to their relative ages. No-one is older than Elizabeth herself, but having NPCs who were born in the 1700s is plausible. In my own games I inserted Elias Ashmole and various contemporaries of Elizabeth. However I was mindful not to turn it into an alternative Vampire with the players as mere observers to the Elder’s machinations. This should still be an investigation game.
This is a sample timeline. In this world the Dragon Isle and Melnibone are both synonymous with The British Isles, and Imyrr is synonymous with Oxford (city of dreaming spires and all that).
0-500 – age of Chaos.
Sinking of R’lyeh followed by a power vacuum. The Western Ocean is named the Boiling Sea and becomes impassable for the next 1500 years. Old Melnibonean feudal estates within Britain and on mainland Europe vie for power. End of the Bright Empire witnessed by Maximillian von Becque who founds the Church of Law. At the end of the Age the Church of Law is a significant power in central Europe.
500-1000 – age of the Construction.
Church of Law gradually permeates through civilisation, and challenges the Melnibonean estates. British Isles resist influence of Law and is widely held to be haunted by mainland Europe, inhabited by ancient sorcerer-kings and frightened tribes of humans. Capital of the Church of Law established at the ancient pre-collapse city of Byzantium.
1000-1500 – age of Enlightenment.
British Isles invaded by William who establishes his United Kingdom and begins the reconstruction of the largely superstitious and Chaos-aligned Britain. This is the Middle Age of Britain, during which time the Church of Law is fully established. At the same time the Court of Chaos is put in place to satisfy (the vanity of) the remaining Melnibonean estates on the island. The southern estates join the alliance of the Church of Law and the Court of Chaos under the British Monarch, though in the far north of Scalland the estates refuse to bow to the alliance and a bloody war ensues which is never fully resolved, only conceded. The Scalls continue to predominantly observe the cults of Chaos and become known as the Lands of a Thousand Cults.
At this time the old cities of Melnibone are rediscovered and William arbitrates on the rightful stewardship of the settlements. Oxford is one such city, and becomes a principle seat of learning. Towards the end of this period the collapse of the Byzantine Empire is imminent, to be replaced by the modern European structure.
1500-present – modern age; the Age of Empire; the Rediscovery of Melnibone.
The influence of Law spreads as cities prosper and the precepts of Law supplant the old allegiances to the cults of Chaos; however in rural areas local cult worship is common. Queen Elizabeth comes to the throne in Britain after a brutal war of succession following the death of her father, Henry. As it happens this profoundly influences the Balance between Law and Chaos throughout Europe. Had her sister Mary succeeded their father it is likely that Mary would have founded New Byzantium and a second Great Age of Law would have resulted; instead Elizabeth sought a balance between the Church of Law and the Courts of Chaos, and the latter was able to establish itself in the political landscape. This was the great Rennaissance of Chaos, with the rediscovery of the arcane sciences and a resurgence in magic. The British Empire — also known as the Second Bright Empire — is established during this time, and spreads throughout the modern world as far as the New World to the West, and Asiacommunista to the East.
The “Romance of Melnibone” is a phrase used for the romantic sensibilities of old Melnibone, the rediscovery of Melnibonean relics and knowledge and a reconnection with the spirit of Melnibone which Elizabeth sees as a continuation of the work of William’s Reconstruction. As part of the Rediscovery, the pioneers of the new Bright Empire travel west across the Boiling Sea and successfully land in the New World. Colonies of the Bright Empire are established there until the war of Independence, where the United States split from the Empire completely.
Britain has recently fought a Great War with Germania and won; for the moment there is peace in Europa, though the cost has been very high. Russian revolution leads to the renaming of the Eastern continent as Asiacommunista. Church of Law establishes prohibition in the former Imperial Colonies who now refer to themselves as the United States — though the Empire calls them the Young Kingdoms.