Once the darling of RPG theory, the Threefold is barely tolerated these days. A lot like Ben Elton. Unlike Elton they didn’t sell out, they were just too abstract to begin with — so they ended up needing a lot of additional qualification and just sounded pretentious. The problems with the threefold, and specifically GNS, are/were:

  1. The tenet that you must play one to the exclusion of the others, or your game is incoherent
  2. The idea that the output is “story”, which is a loaded term…
  3. …which then elevates Narrative over the other two styles/modes
  4. Game, Narrative and Simulation don’t have easy real-world examples of products; instead they’re supposedly behaviours leading to certain outcomes…
  5. …which supposes that not only is one outcome more favourable than another, there are correct and incorrect behaviours.

M-A-D

Rather than using abstract terms, let’s take genre examples:

  • Mystery: a game in which the characters seek clues and are rewarded with an overall truth
  • Adventure: a game where the characters overcome obstacles, usually with an element of risk or time pressure, and are rewarded by either gaining power, or succeeding in opposing an enemy
  • Drama: a game where the characters interact verbally or physically in a series of conflicts, that progressively define their relationships with one another

The Markers

Each of the three genres can be classified with four markers:

  • Relationships: whether the relationships are dynamically changing or mostly static; whether they are between PCs, or PC-NPC
  • Landscape: is the environment a fixed backdrop, or does it change as the game progresses
  • Obstacles: why obstacles exist and what we get from overcoming them
  • Effort: where the effort is in preparing to play the game

Mystery

Relationships Static and assumed benign between PCs; unknown and developing over time between the Party and various NPCs/antagonists. This is the “squad fallacy” that assumes the PCs will work together (which becomes part of the unspoken agreement between players).

Landscape Used to frame a source of clues, therefore usually changes progressively following a predictable, ordered path (e.g. from the Mansion to the Well to the Mill to the old Factory) but sometimes retreading previous locations as the relationship with NPCs develops (q.v.)

Obstacles Exist to serve up clues, and balance the gain of clues with a certain risk or cost.

Effort A great deal of effort up-front to construct a mystery. A coherent back-story, with well-paced clues that aren’t impossible but don’t give the game away too early. This is the basis for Cthulhu product lines (CoC, ToC, etc.) where you’re playing for an experience in play (rather than just another splatbook).

Adventure

Relationships Like the Mystery, the PC-PC relationships are often static and benign, “squad-like”. Unlike the mystery the PC-NPC relationships are often known from the outset, with NPCs as antagonists, allies or neutral service providers.

Landscape Used to frame encounters; investigated as a sandbox, so progressively explored but in a non-predictable manner.

Obstacles Exist to make the act of exploring dangerous (with location encounters) and provide gains in power/wealth and/or neutralising opposition.

Effort Effort to construct a location-by-location sandbox, with encounters and a back-story. No requirement for pacing of plot/clues, but may need to keep track of events or the progress of antagonists (e.g. in Deep Carbon Observatory, if they arrive at certain locations before or after the characters)

Drama

Relationships Main focus is PC-PC and will change dynamically; there may be in-game currency (drama tokens, strings) that regulates this. PC-NPC relationships may be secondary.

Landscape Fixed set of locations that are usually directly connected to, and known to the characters (i.e. not much scope for exploration)

Obstacles Obstacles are usually in the form of tensions between two characters that must be resolved; and resolving them (or failing to) creates further drama and fodder for the next scene. Apocalypse World does this really well but in a very specific way with moves, etc.

Effort Effort is in up-front creation of the structures — including tension, wants, etc. — which will then be fodder for scenes. This effort is further delegated to the play group in the first scene, e.g. following the PCs around to see what they do (PbtA) or talking specifically about what they want from each other (Dramasystem). Of the three this is possibly the least effort for individual games.

Closing Remarks

I have my own reasons for looking at the games in this way but I’d argue that there are two benefits. First, each corner of the threefold relates to an actual genre that players can articulate a preference for and you can pitch in e.g. a convention game.

Second, rather than being exclusive you can mix and match the approaches. In fact I don’t think many games are purely M, A or D. A lot of trad games are Mystery-Adventure with components of both survival/risk and obtaining and following a trail of clues, scene-by-scene exposition with some Drama, etc. And Silent Legions is a really excellent sandbox Mystery game, removing a lot of the effort needed for Chaosium-style modules and replacing with the tag system.

52% of my fellow Britons want to leave the EU. I have no idea what this will mean long term, but the pound is already suffering. I’m sad, because I like being European as well as British.

Here’s a martini made with Spanish gin and French vermouth. Yes, I know it’s early.

P1030204

Gin Mare is the gin of choice, a really interesting gin with lots of herbs and no fixatives (orris root, etc.). But that’s OK because it’s not going to last long. Noilly Prat is the vermouth of choice, and it’s great for cooking too. I’m trying Regan’s orange bitters (as an alternative to Fee’s).

P1030211

Mix the lot in a mixing glass and stir, then strain into a cocktail glass and garnish. I like green olives. I use a ratio of 3:1 gin to vermouth plus a bar spoon of bitters, which was fashionable around the 1920s.

P1030213

It’s a fairly complex and subtle martini. I think the Gin Mare may be better shaken in a dirty martini, but it’s tasty anyway. The Regan’s is very different from Fee’s, much less citrus and a lot of spice. Probably better suited to savoury cocktails in general, though I’ll keep the Fee’s for my gimlet recipe. Chin chin!

P1030278

The FP community has been asking Lamy to make a purple Safari for ages. The Safari knock-off Hero 359 came in purple, but the Safari special editions have all been unpleasant neon colours. But in 2016 the Dark Lilac Safari arrived:

P1030283

P1030285

The Safari is cheap and the nibs are easily swapped, and they have a really useful clip. The sections are a bit marmite. I own several but the one that’s always inked is my charcoal Safari with an EF nib because unlike every other Safari and Al-Star it’s textured ABS and feels much better in the hand. Lamy has made textured Safaris in the past (like this brown bear version) but they’re usually limited editions.

But good news! The Dark Lilac is textured.

P1030287

P1030288

I noticed that the new pens are rougher than my charcoal, but that’s probably because I’ve handled that pen frequently. The colour is very similar to the Diamine / Cult Pens “Deep Dark Purple” I inked it with (and I guess Lamy’s own special edition ink will be similar).

P1030292

P1030303

P1030310

(look at the fantastic gold-green sheen on that puddle of Deep Dark Purple)

Bottom line: if you like the Safari and especially the charcoal, the limited edition will make a really good cheap beater fountain pen. We bought two, and I might get a third as a contingency because I think this one will get a lot of use.

P1030306

5 years ago I made my first post here on Department V.

To celebrate 5 years of blogging I’ve revised, edited and expanded my Elric of R’lyeh setting. You can grab the pdf here.

Moving forward, I’m going to update the site over the next few weeks to simplify the pages and consolidate downloads. None of the content is going away.

And after that, something new. Watch this space!

EoR Inspiration

Just recently I found this site cataloging the Premier and Nouvelle Editions of the French Hawkmoon RPG. The links to Oriflam and other places are long dead, and it’s a shame that the graphics aren’t bigger but you can see that the French line was extensive — while not much became of the English language RPG until Hawkmoon was picked up by Mongoose around 2008 (whose translation constitutes the French 3rd edition, I think).

Hawkmoon-252520resized

It took the French to keep Hawkmoon alive with its European heroes and Granbretan as the big bad. If only the Cornish nationalists had pulled their finger out we might have a line of Corum games somewhere. Although I can’t read Cornish.

1986’s Hawkmoon

Hawkmoon probably doesn’t qualify as Dying Earth although it has many of the trappings in common with Vance (and Wolfe, and Harrison) — a weird fantasy landscape, ancient technology as sorcery, regression to medievalism and feudalism, etc. I think this is important to bear in mind for this kind of setting where nods to a past Earth are dotted around like Easter eggs. Without it the whole thing degenerates into a weak sub-Tolkien fantasy of warring medieval nations.

In the mid-80s the genre wasn’t particularly well exploited in RPGs — there was enough post-apocalyptic stuff with Gamma World, After the Bomb and arguably Paranoia, but the only explicitly future earth settings that come to mind came much later, e.g. GURPS New Sun (1999) and Chronicles of Future Earth (2010). Is Kerie L. Campbell-Robson’s Hawkmoon RPG the first of its type?

brunner_hawkmoon

Chaosium’s Hawkmoon came in a box set with 3 books — one for players, one for GM and the Science book. There are maps, and a lovely cover by Frank Brunner.

Much like Stormbringer, Hawkmoon’s treatment of Tragic Europe’s locations is terse and mostly confined to the Character Generation chapter of the Player’s guide. Aside from the map the rest of that booklet is skills, combat, injuries and other fairly generic stuff. Likewise the GM’s booklet is just two scenarios plus a beastiary. The Science booklet is the most interesting with a fictional timeline — which I think is wholly created by the RPG authors — that places the end of the Runestaff chronicles around 5304 CE. There’s a section on technology and artifacts, one on animal and plant mutations, and a final piece on interdimensional travel. Actual “magic” or science that the players can manipulate is conspicuous by its absence. Even the sorcerer-scientists, Granbretan’s Order of the Serpent, only get the briefest mention.

System-wise this is pretty much identical to Stormbringer first edition — but without magic, demons, or any system for tracking affiliation to Law and Chaos. It’s definitely my favourite iteration of BRP, particularly with the grouping of skills.

Mongoose Hawkmoon RPG

mongoosehawkmoon

If Campbell-Robson’s Hawkmoon was sparse, Gareth Hanrahan’s offering for Mongoose goes in the opposite direction. At nearly 30 pages the gazeteer of Tragic Europe is thorough but a lot of it is dull, plodding stuff. Here and there the writing threatens to inject some colour, such as the boxed-text description of “wormwoods”:

That is not to say, of course, that wormwoods are empty – quite the opposite. They writhe with unnatural, twisted life. Trees drip bulbous green-glowing maggots and scream at the dawn;three-headed wolves hunt through the undergrowth, pushing through strange poisonous plants that shiver a thousand colours down their leaves and spit venom when disturbed. Mutant barbarians and mechanical things lurk in the shadow of the wormwoods; they are not good places to go.
The eldest wormwood is said to be in Muscovia, where they call it by its native name of Kernobul.

Yeah! That sounds great, let’s go wonder around some wormwoods, fight three-headed wolves and plunder the ancient tombs of mechanoids. Except… wormwoods are hardly mentioned again throughout the supplements (there’s three instances in passing in Hanrahan and Steele’s Granbretan, nothing in the linked adventures in Secrets of Tragic Europe).

Obviously Hanrahan appropriated and injected a few extra bits here and there; the wilds of Tragic Europe sounds more like the toxic marshes of M. John Harrison’s Viriconium, and I like that — but if Hanrahan’s Tragic Europe is going to be toxic and dangerous, where is that content in the Adventuring chapter? Where are my rules for toxic environments and ancient mechanical traps?

My second gripe about the core book is Science and Sorcery. This system has been lifted almost wholesale from the Sorcery rules from RQIII (and I presume MRQ1) so include all the effects like Intensity, Duration, etc. So far, OK. I can even forgive the generic spell descriptions like Damage Boosting, Cast Back, and so forth, which have been lifted directly from RuneQuest. What spoils things is the “requirements” for the spells which include workbenches and laboratories — a perfect fit for sorcerer-science, but totally incongruous with the point-and-click of RuneQuest magic spells. Casting a spell like Acid requires a workbench — a restriction which would seem to make the other restrictions (range Touch, casting time 5 minutes) totally irrelevant. It’s an incoherent union of system and setting.

The rest of the book is about skills, adventuring sub-systems (falling, sneaking, etc.), combat, and some statted-up Moorcock personalities, and a brief synopsis of the fiction; and since I own a lot of BRP material and a lot of Moorcock, I don’t really need either. And system-wise this is the iteration of RQ/BRP I like least.

Mongoose Hawkmoon is a plodding mess that completely drops the ball — in representing the source material, in presenting a compelling setting to play in, and in presenting a coherent system. Its one saving grace are the 2 pages at the beginning which discuss several kinds of parties and adventures (a Lord and Retinue, Mercenaries, Agents at Court, etc.).

Now the supplements are much, much better — Granbretan is both more useful and more fun to read, with spells that actually make sense, biological weapons, and a summary of Granbretan’s campaign in Europe. But then a company which releases a weak and incomplete core rulebook doesn’t deserve loyalty from customers for the rest of the game line. All of this is moot of course since there will be no more EC products from Mongoose. Still if you’re buying secondhand I’d say the core book is for completists only.

Closing

What a disappointment. Chaosium’s product is too sparse, Mongoose’s is too long-winded, and both understate the most important aspects of the setting — Granbretan as the villain, mad science-sorcery, weird yet familiar landscapes. Mongoose’s version does have some quality writing in the supplements — and I’m guessing that Hanrahan did much better when he wasn’t obliged to incorporate the MRQ1 SRD in the middle of his book.

Given that neither system is complete as far as doing the sorcery-science, these are the alternatives for running Hawkmoon:

  1. Use Stormbringer, and re-interpret demons as sorcerous devices, elementals and beast lords as lost technology, and so forth. Of course this magic is now devised rather than summoned, but it could still work. Was this what Chaosium intended? If Hawkmoon had caught on, might we have seen supplements? I’d love to know how the Nouvelle Edition of Oriflam’s product handles science.
  2. The CYD system in Mournblade could be made to work, and is way more coherent. Also it has a built in allegiance system.
  3. Whitehack would be a totally different but probably workable solution (given the flexibility of Wise characters re: magic).
  4. Last but not least, how about a game like Omnihedron’s Duty and Honour? It would only suit a certain kind of campaign, i.e. military action by the Kamarg forces against the advancing Granbretan army. Also it would need some hacking — reputations, social class and so on would need to fit into the Tragic Europe setting.

This post is so familiar and alien at the same time. Familiar because it describes the make-do of roleplaying in the 80s, but not the scene I remember since as a Brit I hardly played D&D. And thanks to that I can wax lyrical about old-school Stormbringer or WFRP or Fighting Fantasy and there’s just not enough interest to create any kind of argument. No-one’s invested in being right about that particular “Old School”.

It’s the comments to Rick Stump’s rant that are illuminating. “This kid who wasn’t even born in the 80s had the temerity to tell me about the Old School”. Etc. Which is fair enough, but let’s unpack that a bit.

First, this veneration of the Old School… it’s not cool. The Old School is frequently reactionary, outdated, and harmful — how about “old school” industrial health and safety? Or gender roles or family units? Or methods of disciplining children? Or attitudes to women in engineering roles? Or punitive teaching by rote? There are a lot of instances of Old School that can just piss off, as far as I’m concerned.

Second, since roleplaying was so localised and cobbled-together, there really never was any “school” or single coherent body of thought and practice back in the 80s.

Third, it’s ironic that the normally reactionary older generation is admonishing millennials for being so prescriptive and inflexible in defining “the Old School”.

But fourth, it’s not really Old School, it’s the OSR. And all the OSR really is, is an evolving collective of modern ideas which uses the one component of “the original roleplaying game”, the system, as a basis — because that’s the one part of the Old School that actually doesn’t need updating, because it’s still functional 40 years on.

What the OSR is doing is more like what we do in HEMA — we take historical treatises, some of which are incomplete, and turn them into functional modern systems that can be taught and used. As such, the age and experience of people in the OSR is irrelevant, it’s their output and participation that matters; but just like the MA world, there’s an expectation that the most senior members will be able to wear their 20, 30 or 40 years long-service badge and hold court over their juniors forever.

Of course I’m lucky because no-one is going to come back from the 18th century and tell me I’m doing it wrong. But then if they did I could just stab them because they’d be undead.

I got my copy of Mournblade at Librarie la Licorne in Aix. Last visit they’d moved all the jeux de roles to the cellar and kept the bandes desinees on the ground floor. They had lots of sexy French editions of L’Appel de Cthulhu and even translations of Monsterhearts and Polaris. Service is great! Recommended when you’re between sojourns along la cote d’azur.

IMG_4222

Mournblade is produced by the French RPG house Sombres Projets. Both Mournblade and their other game Wasteland use their Choose Your Dice (CYD) system, which is a clean but otherwise run-of-the-mill, trad-modern, middle-crunch fantasy RPG system. Production values (like all French RPGs, IME) are fantastic.

(Just FYI Wasteland is all about a new Knights of the Round Table in a post-apocalyptic world where only southern England and northern France exist. This is the only game I know that makes Eastbourne a major location, which is hilarious.)

Moorcock in RPGs: A History

I think I’m correct that there have been five incarnations of Eternal Champion/Elric RPGs:

  • Ken St. Andre and Steve Perrin for Stormbringer 1e-4e (with John B. Monroe for 4e)
  • At the same time, the French Hawkmoon and Elric lines by Oriflame, which probably include direct translations — although the Hawkmoon line contained a lot of new material I believe (can’t confirm as I don’t own any)
  • Lynn Willis and Richard Watts and others for Elric!/Stormbringer 5e (and also Darksyde’s Corum supplement)
  • Lawrence Whitaker and others for Mongoose’s Elric of Melnibone (and at the same time, Gareth Hanrahan for Mongoose’s Hawkmoon), using the Mongoose RuneQuest (MRQ1) rules
  • Ismael Saura, Jawad and others for Mournblade

As a Moorcockian reference Mournblade is a footnote at best, a device that underlines Yyrkoon as counterpoint to Elric and Stormbringer. In an alternate narrative Yyrkoon is a drug-addled sociopath, reaving his way across the Young Kingdoms after sacking his home city, with Mournblade as his conscience like a soul-devouring Jiminy Cricket.

So in the context of the RPG timeline Mournblade is a knowing wink that brings us full circle back Stormbringer. But what matters in the whole timeline is the point where the title transferred from Chaosium to Mongoose. Despite a new system Mournblade is still “a collective endeavour based on Mongoose’s Elric of Melnibone, the works of Michael Moorcock and the CYD system” and bears both Mongoose and Mongoose’s Elric of Melnibone branding alongside Sombres Projets, who appear to be producing the game under license from Mongoose. Not only is Mongoose’s writing team acknowledged in the credits, portions of Mournblade’s text are direct translations of Whitaker’s work from Elric of Melnibone.

(Back in 2013 when Sprange announced that there “were no plans for future Elric books” he dodged the licensing question; I suppose Mournblade answers that question.)

In some ways Mournblade is the clean break that the Elric of Melnibone RPG failed to make with five generations of Chaosium product. Whittaker’s writing has real heart, not to mention significantly more volume (Stormbringer and Elric! each devote about two pages to the various islands, Elric of Melnibone and Mournblade have 8 pages each on the equivalent section, with a lot more context and history) but that game was hamstrung by a mediocre version of BRP and Mongoose’s shocking production values (poor headings, low contrast grey-on-grey printing, a character sheet that looked like it was knocked up in Word). The fact that Elric of Melnibone used a variant of BRP can’t have helped — and while the CYD system won’t set the world on fire it does at least make Mournblade its own thing.

Despite the change in writing team Willis and Watts’ Elric! still feels like a Chaosium game with concomitant production values and a particular atmosphere. Make no mistake, I have a deep, nostalgic love for Stormbringer and Elric!, especially early SB with the best magic system, fewest compromises and demons, demons all the way down. But just as Call of Cthulhu isn’t about playing a Lovecraft story but playing in Lovecraft’s worlds, Stormbringer is about playing a fantasy game with all the trappings of Moorcock’s worlds, but not necessarily with the same tone as his stories. In some ways I think SB suits low fantasy better than high, absurd demon power levels notwithstanding.

Sombres Projets’ Mournblade: An Overview

Mournblade is one big, thick hardback book with 300 full colour pages. Old art from former products (Mongoose’s, and also Frank Brunner’s art from SB 1e) appears alongside new illustrations. The division of content is traditional:

Livre 1: Les Jeunes Royaumes (pp 7-82)

This is the history, geography, and slice-0f-life fluff that sets the stage. Includes:

  • A brief history of the Young Kingdoms (mostly focusing on the golden age and fall of Melnibone, and upstart nations)
  • Les Enjeux (“issues”): law and chaos, conflict, the age of exploration and the “agony of the old kingdoms”
  • Life in the Young Kingdoms
  • A big section on geography, covering northern, southern and western continents, islands, and mentioning the Unknown East

Livre 2: Les Elus (pp 83-246)

Literally “the elected”: in the context of Moorcock’s fiction les elus are characters who do the bidding of Law and Chaos. This reflects “Les Dieux Vous Ont Choisi” on the back cover.

This section is the largest and comprises:

  • the CYD (Choose Your Dice) system
  • character creation
  • combat
  • magic (runes, elementals, demons, automata)

Livre 3: De L’Autre Cote De L’Ecran (pp 247-301)

The GM’s section with adventures and characters, focused around Bakshaan on the northern continent.

Livre 1: Les Jeunes Royaumes

IMG_4253

The headline here is that a good portion of the text is directly translated from the Mongoose RPG — right down to prose. I haven’t gone through and directly compared every passage, but I know that e.g. the sections on Religion and Melnibone are near identical.

However the first book has more than double the page count of the corresponding chapter in Whitaker’s book, with no appreciable art padding or difference in font size — so there is new content here. Some of it seems to be expanded from Whitaker’s book (e.g. “Magic and Technology” appears to have been more than doubled, and includes a section on l’etat des sciences). Some of it may be new. It’s possible that some of it may come from other Mongoose supplements like Bright Shadows, but I’m not inclined to go through the text with a fine tooth comb.

This section has pretty much everything you’d expect — geography, history, life in the Young Kingdoms, arts, sciences, magic, Law and Chaos. I think Whitaker’s treatment of the source is both more thorough and more engaging than the Chaosium offerings (which seem to rush things), and Mournblade appears to be more of the same.

IMG_4225

My one complaint is that when Whitaker wrote the section on Melnibone he included a fair amount of localised but important history, and since his work has been repeated here it follows that the History section doesn’t contain all of the History — pieces are still scattered throughout the geography and other sections. This isn’t the best organisation, though hardly a deal-breaker.

Livre 2: Les Elus

IMG_4255

The USP of CYD is that you get to choose whether to roll a d10 or a d20 for skill tests.

  • Use a d10 for a “prudent and measured” approach where the linear result is applied to the stat+skill value against target number.
  • Use a d20 for a “flamboyant and risky” approach. If you get an even number, you get your result; if you get an odd number, it’s zero. But a 1 or 11 is automatically un echec dramatique, i.e. a critical.

Otherwise the CYD system works around the tried-and-true Attribute+Skill+Roll formula. There are five attributes:

  • l’Adresse is reflexes, manual dexterity, etc.
  • la Clairvoyance is mental acuity, memory, spirit and senses
  • la Presence is charisma, leadership and personality
  • la Puissance is strength and physical resistance
  • la Trempe is courage and willpower

There are secondary derived attributes (defence, health, psychic energy and speed), a fixed number of skills, and predilections (specialities, sub-classes) for those skills. There are about 18 skills listed on the character sheet. It’s neat enough, and much more consistent than BRP (and especially Mongoose’s RQ1).

Other parts of the character sheet include system currency in the form of Bonne Adventure points and Eclat points, which are gained and spent in-game to represent fortune and heroic acts much like Drama points in other games (and as part of the overall experience section). The Cosmic Balance is determined by the character’s affinity to Law and Chaos, and the margin between.

There are the usual sub-systems and examples for cooperation, conflicts, duels (which could be any conflict between two or more individuals, resolved in a fixed number of dice rolls).

Origins, Heritage and Professions

This is the usual “character tuning” section by geographic location, by social class, and by profession. The Origins (homelands) section is a nice summary for players of the different regions with divinities (Law, Chaos, beast lords and elementals) and advantages. Then the Heritages tend to be a package with advantage and disadvantage, including pariahs, nobles, abominations, hermits, and scoundrels (“crapule”). Finally the professions (assassins, courtesans, scholars, knights, etc.) provide an effective class with specialities and starting equipment.

Combat

IMG_4237

The combat section is predictable, with combats divided into rounds (tours de jeu) of six seconds, initiative, tests and damage. There’s a section on the effects of an echec dramatique on the outcome of a fight. For melee combat there are four basic attack options (violent attack, precise attack, feint and coup bas or trick) plus some advanced ones like charging into combat, containing an adversary, disarming them, or fleeing; there’s rules for improvised weapons, advantageous positions, etc. Wounds are lethal and non-lethal; there are rules for healing and the disadvantages of being wounded.

IMG_4230

Granted this is my first read-through and I may have missed something, but I’m struggling to get excited about any of it. It’s straightforward enough. I’d need to play it out to confirm it’s actually functional.

Cults and Pacts

IMG_4232

This is another familiar section, right down to the Grome illustration by Frank Brunner:

IMG_4236

This section seems much more extensive than both Stormbringer and Mongoose Elric. While I like the latter for the list approach of does-don’ts for each cult, Mournblade’s approach to La Veneration Des Puissances works like this:

  • the character sacrifices Ame (psychic) points to form a Principal Pact
  • this gives access to various Gifts
  • depending on the cult, each Gift has an associated Tendency (e.g. visions, demonic aspects, chastity, hydrophobia depending on Law, Chaos, Elemental or Beast cults)

There are lots of examples and choices. I do feel that Mournblade does a better job than previous versions in connecting the characters to the higher powers. I haven’t checked how much of the text is directly translated from other sources, e.g. Mongoose’s Cults of the Young Kingdoms but the content here is more than enough, and most importantly a lot is player-facing and puts the cults in the context of an agreement between individual and deity (whereas in Mongoose Elric the “gift” comes from cult devotion — mechanically the same, but thematically more like Runequest)

IMG_4233

Magic

The magic system borrows heavily (and possibly wholesale) from Mongoose Elric, so if you know that system it’s basically more of the same. Mournblade has

  • Rune Magic
  • Elemental Summoning
  • Demon Summoning
  • Automata and Enchantments

It’s worth noting that the various Demons of Desire, Knowledge, Combat, Protection and Travel (but not Possession) made it back into Whitaker’s game, and also appear here. They’re still not quite the same conceptually as early Stormbringer, but at least they’re not the “breeds” from SB 4e/5e.

In general the magic is interesting and provides a lot of variety and I guess it’s necessary to have a discrete magic system market a fantasy game in general. Maybe I’d like them to have been a bit braver and roll the elemental and demon summoning into the system of Pacts and make personal power solely about connections with higher powers. But it’s a good, muscular magic system you can sink your teeth into.

IMG_4244

Livre 3: De L’Autre Cote De L’Ecran

IMG_4256

The obligatory GM’s section always follows the same format: an adventure, maybe one or two essays on how to GM, and a few charts and tables and a character sheet in the back. From what I can tell the adventure is perfectly serviceable, there are setting maps and personalities and nice pictures to go along with them.

IMG_4251

I think to properly evaluate the content I’d have to run it. But otherwise it’s pretty much what you’d expect: maps, personalities, a synopsis (a rescue mission to an island of cannibals in the archipelago near Bakshaan, if I read correctly).

IMG_4249

Closing Remarks

“What, you can actually read French?”

My French is not great, but with Mournblade I’m not only familiar with the source material, I’m also expecting certain rules and structures (from world-building to character creation to combat rules). All that compensates for the gaps of my vocabulary and make sense of the content. And RPGs are (usually) written for comprehension rather than prose, which helps. Fiction and bandes desinees are harder owing to prose and slang.

Am I glad I bought Mournblade? Hell, yes. It makes me happy that there’s still someone making a Moorcock RPG, even if it’s not in English.

Would I run it? Before I gave it a proper read through I expected it to just be a souvenir and sit on my shelf next to SB 4e, Elric! and the Mongoose books. I don’t really feel the need of any new system — and since I’ve been thinking up an OSR hack for SB 1e’s demons, I’m more likely to use that. But I do feel the urge to run with the CYD system, at least once. I can see myself running See Hawmgaarl and Die! at a Con with a bunch of CYD pre-gens.

Should you buy it (if you can find it)? That depends:

  • If you’re a completist, then of course. It’s the prettiest Moorcock game I own.
  • If you want to show off by running a French RPG, then go for it.
  • If you loved MRQ Elric of Melnibone and want a tidier package with a better system, it could be for you. Note that I never owned the second edition of Mongoose’s game (for MRQ2) which may be a lot cleaner.
  • If you feel that MRQ Elric is all you need, or are inclined to take MRQ Elric and run it with a hacked OSR system then Mournblade may not add anything new.
  • If you’re a Stormbringer diehard from the mid-80s, and frankly you don’t approve of anything other than the Perrin/St. Andre version, you might want to give this a miss.
  • OTOH if you felt Stormbringer didn’t do Moorcock justice and never got a chance to own MRQ Elric, you may be pleasantly surprised if your French is up to it.

400th blog post!

Yesterday we weighed Rowan, and at 8 weeks he seems to be the weight of an average 4 month old child. Based on that data point we can assume his weight will double every 2 months, which means that some time around 2028 he will be around the same mass as the Moon.

Furthermore if he stays approximately the same size, by 2024 he will be around the same density as a neutron star. I don’t know if he’d collapse into a singularity under those conditions because that’s not my field, but I think it’s safe to say we have about 8 years to develop space flight and retreat to a safe distance

IMG_4150

this is the face of your doom

This post from 2011 showcases a number of different maps of Moorcock’s Young Kingdoms. Some of these appear in the novels (the Collier and Collier/Romanski versions). One is the “classic” William Church version from the Stormbringer RPG. Two are in French; I’m wondering if at least one comes from Oriflame’s French language editions of their Eternal Champion jeux des roles.

For completeness, here are mine (photos rather than scans, sorry).

J. Cawthorn, 1992

Based on the Collier/Romanski map this one appears in my Eternal Champion omnibus editions, published by Millennium in the early 90s. I can’t see a scale anywhere.

IMG_4173

Stormbringer 4e, William Church

This is the one most role-players of a certain age will know. The smaller map in the back of the book puts one inch at 300 miles.

IMG_4170

Elric! map by Gustaf of Uhaio

This one appears in Elric! (which was later Stormbringer 5e, though I don’t know if it kept the same map). The scale (which you need a magnifying glass to see) is approx 500 miles to an inch.

IMG_4177

Mongoose’s Elric of Melnibone

Not the prettiest map, suffering from both Mongoose’s horrible grey-on-grey printing and the Papyrus font, but it is the most complete — joining the “unknown East” with the better known area around the Oldest Ocean. Around 500 miles to an inch, which is the same as the others; but while this map covers a lot more area, there isn’t nearly as much margin padding so curiously the distances aren’t wildly different.

IMG_4175

Mournblade

French-only, full colour, with 500 km to just over half and inch (around 580 miles to the inch). Definitely the prettiest (which is consistent with the rest of that book).

IMG_4168

Orientation and Distances

Stormbringer’s original map by William Church is “Authorised by Michael Moorcock”. I assume the Collier/Romanski map is similarly authorised and pre-dates the RPG. I would also assume that Church wouldn’t deliberately contradict previous maps. In general the relative distances are roughly the same between different versions, as are the directions. Hawmgarl is north of Imyrr, Menii is to the east, Vilmiro is north-east.

For more fun, when you measure the actual distances Church’s Stormbringer map puts the distance between Imyrr and Hawmgarl at 630 miles; Mongoose’s map puts it at 700 miles; Elric! at 870 miles; and Mournblade at 1280 miles.

There are a few references to distance in the books, but I can’t remember them. But J. Cawthorn (and possibly Collier/Romanski before them) saw fit to just not bother with a map scale; and Moorcock almost certainly pulled the original distances out of thin air.

It hardly matters, being fiction and all. I guess you might be concerned with distance if the Young Kingdoms world was a sphere and Imyrr was a certain distance from the equator and the weather varied. 700 miles is the distance between London and Marseille, where it’s warm enough to grow palm trees. Another 700 will get you to the North African coast.

Cartographers lie anyway. It’s 925 miles from Chicago to Houston but it’s 4500 miles from Caracas to Buenos Aires; 1800 miles from London to Morocco but 7500 miles from Morocco to Cape Town. Not that you could tell from a Mercator projection. Are the Young Kingdoms cartographers telling the truth?

IMG_4181