Tuesday, 18 July 2017

StormHack: Demon Realms

The higher (moral, magical, macroscopic) external universe is composed of six Demon Realms, a pattern which repeats and resonates throughout all creation and is mirrored by the (individual, microscopic) internal universe within all sentient beings capable of moral choices.

This internal universe is a sequence of six impulses that direct individual behaviour. Mediating between the internal and external are six Pillars of Capability that form the mind-body composite.

Game significance of the Demon Realms:

  • The six-fold attribute/ability spread should be familiar to OSR fans. The Ability Scores themselves (the “mediating Pillars of Capability”) are used mostly as you’d expect, for task checks, saving throws and other random rolls.
  • Impulses come in at the personal level; they’re used to tie freeform background stuff like personal history, relationships and so on into the rest of the game. All PCs have a number of lines of Backstory which are just single sentences that describe formative history, personal views, affiliations to certain groups, etc. and each of these lines hinges on a particular Impulse.
  • Finally on the universal, cosmic or magical scale there are Demons. Each type of Demon is tied an Ability Score and is the manifestation of the character’s potential in that Realm. Demons provide all of the exceptional powers in the game.

Realm of Violence

The Realm of Violence represents directed force. The Gods of this Realm (if they exist) represent at their most virtuous the directed energy that burns away corruption and extraneous matter; and at the most base, absolute chaos and destruction.

Realm of Violence Significance
Impulse: Forceful aggressive, violent, and destructive actions
Ability: Strength fighting; shoving, lifting, or applying force; restraining or hanging on
Demons of Violence Demon Weapons and Demon Fighters

Realm of Durance

The Realm of Durance represents survival. The Gods of this Realm (if they exist) represent at their most virtuous fertility, health, and harvest; and at the most base, perpetual agony.

Realm of Durance Significance
Impulse: Steady patience, persistence, reliability
Ability: Constitution working; travelling; staying awake; resisting pain, fatigue or illness; Body-based saving throws
Demons of Durance Demon Armour, Guardians and Wards

Realm of Flux

The Realm of Flux represents dynamic change and motion. The Gods of this Realm (if they exist) represent at their most virtuous change and evolution; and at the most base, confusion and entrapment, and distortion of time and space.

Realm of Flux Significance
Impulse: Quick speed, balance, reactions
Ability: Dexterity moving quickly; moving stealthily; manual dexterity; reactions and Reflex-based saving throws
Demons of Flux Demons of Movement, Teleport Demons, Gates

Realm of Science

The Realm of Science represents understanding. The Gods of this Realm (if they exist) represent at their most virtuous foresight and truth; and at the most base, the boundless truths of the universe, and therefore the futility of mortal existence.

Realm of Science Significance
Impulse: Curious asking questions, insight
Ability: Intelligence situational awareness; languages; spotting clues
Demons of Science Demons of Knowledge, Divination and Scrying

Realm of Desire

The Realm of Desire represents dreams and imagination. The Gods of this Realm (if they exist) represent at their most virtuous the realisation of desires and the formation of new worlds; and at the most base, the inability to separate truth from illusion.

Realm of Desire Significance
Impulse: Sensitive intuition, empathy, feeling, the subconscious, dreams
Ability: Wisdom gut feel and intuition; telling reality from illusion; Will-based saving throws
Demons of Desire Demons of Illusion and Reality-Shifting

Realm of Majesty

The Realm of Durance represents interaction and leadership. The Gods of this Realm (if they exist) represent at their most virtuous organisation and moral leadership; and at the most base, falsehood and self-serving manipulation of others.

Realm of Majesty Significance
Impulse: Vocal expression, articulation, creativity, charisma
Ability: Charisma intimidating, charming and leading people
Demons of Majesty Demons of Command, Control and Possession

Summary

Impulses, Ability Scores and Demons map onto each other like this:

Impulses Ability Scores Demon Realms
Forceful Strength (STR) Realm of Violence
Steady Constitution (CON) Realm of Durance
Quick Dexterity (DEX) Realm of Flux
Curious Intelligence (INT) Realm of Science
Sensitive Wisdom (WIS) Realm of Desire
Vocal Charisma (CHA) Realm of Majesty

Thursday, 22 June 2017

StormHack: New Character Sheets

Prepping for two games using the StormHack system.

This one’s for Black Mantle, the YA Dystopia SF meets Attack on Titan / Knights of Sidonia

And this one’s for a sort of Eternal Champion type game

This week has been trying in the extreme, and it’s been a struggle to just get this out but… we’ll see

Saturday, 27 May 2017

StormHack SRD Lite: Drama and Adventure Games

An update to the SRD mini-document for StormHack. What this includes:

  1. the “Drama game” which is how you play in downtime or flashbacks, for dramatic scenes/origin stories etc.
  2. the “Adventure game” which is basically an OSR game.

What it doesn’t contain are details on the Demon Ladders which just wouldn’t fit, but those will come shortly in the complete SRD. But it should give you sort of an idea on how to play.

Here’s the two sides. Print them on one sheet of paper, and make the little booklet as previously shown; when you open it up you should have the two modes of play in there.

Here’s the thing in PDF, which may be useful if you’ve got a printer that does double-sided printing.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Pregens with Hawkwind

This is my forthcoming Eternal Champion style game for a house con:

The WishTower At The Junction Of Nine Planes

Once in a generation the WishTower intersects all dimensions. The Sorceress who resides within will grant one wish, without reservation, to any Champion who penetrates her inner sanctum. You are that Champion; chosen by your people, groomed from birth with a sword in hand, and send far from home to await the Tower’s reappearance at the very edge of Lawful land, where only rough weeds cling to nightmare cliffs over a roiling lambent sea, and the monuments to past Champions lie shattered and sand-blown, and clouds of ash consume the suns.

  • Other Champions from other nations also wait: will you fight, or work together?
  • Will you embrace your past, or reject it?
  • Will you wish for your family, your nation, or yourself?

Right, so I have a game idea. Now I need pre-gens. What better inspiration than Hawkwind?

Arrival in Utopia (from Choose Your Masques)

Stasis, the World City at the End of Time is technologically brilliant yet artistically stagnant, and spirals towards cosmic insignificance. An avatar, dressed in archaic armour, is sent back in time to seek the source of Chaos and re-ignite the Sun.

We dreamed of golden shining towers // Of lazy days and thrilling hours // Fields of wonder, streets so fair // Of amber ships which sailed, through the air // Dreamed of steel and glass and wire // Of days of wine and nights of fire // Dreamt of dogs that talked like boys // Of girls who flew, of unnamed joys // And now our dreams are true // We don’t know what to do // For we don’t like it here // There’s nothing for us to fear // Bored mindless in Utopia

The Sleep Of A Thousand Tears (from The Chronicle of the Black Sword)

An ancient sword Qanjana, sworn to protect the mortal society that owns it but desperate to be free to return to its own dimension. Its demon manifests as a drooling, whining albino who carries it aloft in battle; the sword has full use of the albino’s senses and voice box.

With your white arms wrapped around me // And locked in embrace so cold // We slept a thousand years or more // To awake in a land of gold // Where, the king of the world was a creature // Both man and woman and beast // Under landscape boiled with a million strange flowers // And the sun set in the east // And we were heroes you and I // By virtue of age and skill // And we rode to the land at the edge of the skies // To an emerald tower on a hill

Infinity (from PXR5)

A young knight in the service of Queen Antipathe, sworn to protect the Vale from alien invaders. She was not always a knight; once she was a twelve-year old child in a world far away who ventured into a forest alone and was trapped in Antipathe’s dream world, where she was aged magically to young adulthood. Despite her longing for home she has come to love the people of the Vale as much as she hates her mistress.

I met her in a forest glade // Where starbeams grew like trees // I did not take her for a witch // She wasn’t what she seemed // She turned the key of endlessness // And locked me in a dream // Infinity

Sonic Attack (first appearing on Space Ritual)

A weary warrior wearing white plate armour ringed with black grommets to dampen vibrations at different frequencies. He is a veteran of the Sonic Wars, where both sides employ sonic weapons and sonic drugs which resonate key areas of the brain to control sleep and emotion. Their world is a wasteland where the years-old remnants of aural detonations still resonate in unexpected patterns, making any journey outside a soundproofed Dome hazardous. In this world the ultimate act of intimacy is to remove one’s ear pods and listen to another human being.

The warrior’s generals want a weapon to end the war. The warrior craves one thing: silence.

These are all signs of imminent sonic destruction // Your only protection is flight // If you are less than ten years old // Remain in your shelter and use your cocoon // But remember Help no-one else

Magnu (from Warrior at the Edge of Time)

They terraformed the Sun! The golden knight rides the solar flares towards the Edge Worlds, bringing the message of the Solar Church to one and all, with a simple message — embrace the New Light, or be incinerated. Now they have travelled further than ever before, with the intention of illuminating the entire universe…

Sunbeams are my shafts to kill // All men who dare imagine ill // Deceit that fears the light of day // Fly from the glory of my ray // Good minds open and take new light // Until we diminish by the reign of night

Fable of a Failed Race (from Quark, Strangeness and Charm)

It is heresy to claim that there was ever a world other than this. Sand-blown and sterile where a fat green sun wreathed in flocks of monstrous crows presides over the half-submerged Pyramid Cities. A heretic priest is the last hope of the failing race; they will journey far away to find the source of life and return life to the surface.

Our legends tell we came from a seed // That traveled at a whirlwind speed // Til it came to rest upon this land // That once was green and is now all sand // That buried us up to our eyes // And made us watchers of the skies // Til the shadow wings came for our sight // And left us to conspire with night.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Cow Report part 1: Playtesting

Here’s what happened when I went to Concrete Cow a couple of weeks ago. I ran StormHack in the morning slot, then played in Matt Sanderson’s Kult 4e game (I believe the KS playtest version, only partially translated into English) followed by Scott Dorward’s Cthulhu Dark session in the evening.

This first part is a sort of designer diary, mostly about things that went wrong. I’ll talk about the other games I played in part 2.

StormHack

I did a playtest for StormHack. To save time I didn’t write a new scenario but instead grabbed the short and classic See Hwamgaarl and Die from the Sorcerers of Pan Tang supplement from Stormbringer 4th Edition.

I think the scenario went OK (it’s railroady as hell, but works for a fixed-time slot), but on the other hand 75% of the session involved hardly any dice rolling at all. Normally I’m fine with that but it’s hardly a stress test of the system.

The Walkover

The session was too easy. That’s partly a matter of system tuning and scaling but it was mainly caused by three design decisions:

  • Players roll to hit against the threat of damage if they fail (Apocalypse-world style). Keep successfully hitting and you don’t take damage.
  • Rolling was under attribute with a d20, Whitehack style (mostly).
  • Skills allow you to roll with advantage, i.e. roll two dice and pick the result you want.

I checked the probabilities of rolling with advantage; it works out that an advantage is the equivalent of a whopping +5 on your attribute. No wonder everyone was winning.

More importantly this asymmetry just didn’t work with the players. It isn’t “trad”, and it certainly isn’t “OSR”. It wasn’t relatable. And that’s the biggest take-away I had: I wanted an OSR game that didn’t deviate too far from the framework, and I’d added these bits that did not do what I set out to do.

Dice Clocks and Carcosa Hit Dice

See here. These worked OK but for two issues. On the GM side they count down the enemy’s hit points nicely but some players found it difficult to imagine the whole mass of dice as representing several antagonists at once. The idea is that the mass of dice represents the whole threat, and once you’ve knocked out the dice all the antagonists are either dead or fleeing.

But some players need to know how many people they’re fighting, which means how many hit dice per person. This made for a weird kind of double accounting: I had the dice clock down on the table but I still had to translate that into actual numbers of people that they could count down in their heads.

I think this is just a small cognitive hump that needs to be overcome. The other issue was much harder: some players didn’t get the idea of rolling their hit dice on the table, Carcosa style. Whenever dice are rolled the instinct is immediately to snatch them up again (I believe Sorcerer has this problem) rather than let them sit. And the players can be bad at keeping their Hit Dice in play separate from all the other little puddles of dice that are just standing by. And last, when they took hits they looked to the character sheet for a hit point track instead of sacrificing the Hit Dice on the table.

I still think having the GM roll a pool of hit dice for the threat in the middle of the table works as something to focus on. There are things you can do with that (different colours for morale dice, using d8 for demon dice, etc.). But this is a tool to present a heterogeneous body of monsters as a single threat to chew on. You don’t need to do that the other way; each PC is an individual and their character sheet will do fine.

Funny Names

I had some new properties like Heartstrings (after J. Gregory Keyes’ The Waterborn) and Quick. Heartstrings were just Hit Dice and calling them a funny name just confused everyone. As for Quick (a sort of combination of luck/fate points, insight and reflexes) it could work but there was just too much of it as a burnable resource. Besides that stuff normally comes from Ability scores and saving throws. Again, I’d deviated from the OSR plan.

The Demons

This was the biggest issue. The idea of what demons are wasn’t communicated adequately, for example one player treated their demon as an autonymous NPC whereas it’s really a thrall. The main problem was not enough focus on the relationship between owner and demon (see here) so not enough hard bargaining. In the back of my mind Demons are supposed to work like the Shadow in Wraith the Oblivion, and can be played by others at the table within very tight guidelines. The scenario didn’t test that at all.

Demons were supposedly powered by Quick, i.e. spend a point of Quick to get the demon’s Service. Fine in theory but in practice Quick never ran out (one of the players suggested bidding Ability Score points instead, which would have a lot more bite).

So in summary a lot that didn’t go the way I planned but the upside is, I think it’s all fixable; mostly by going back to the original premise, i.e. remixing the OSR portion to add the demon relationships without too much much clever clever changes to combat etc. that aren’t really needed.

That’s all for now. Part 2 will cover the games I played.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Sunday, 19 June 2016

The Revised Elric of R’lyeh

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

Thursday, 16 June 2016

RPG Retrospective: Hawkmoon

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.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

RPG First Look: Mournblade

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

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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

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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.

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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

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

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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)

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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.

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Livre 3: De L’Autre Cote De L’Ecran

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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.

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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).

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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.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Maps of the Young Kingdoms

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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?

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