I’ve spent alot of time recently reading the old school renaissance blogsphere and seeing the explosion of Sword and Sorcery/Weird stories/Barbarians vs Evil Sorcerers/Lovecraft meets D&D/”What ever the heck you want to call it” that is currently going on. Its all fun stuff, but I still find the Sword & Sorcery genre confusing at times, because when I was a lad it was either Tolkien (and inspired rip offs) or later on Micheal Moorcock and his Eternal Champion books (Elric/Corum/Hawkmoon/Oswald Bastable etc). Like wise our D&D games were more Tolkien inspired with a large dollop of pseudo-medievalism, rather than Conan and company. That was until Games Workshop put out their printing of Chaosium’s Stormbringer RPG.
If I remember correctly I encountered the novel of the same name first. It was my late teens, angst was firmly taking hold and I was tiring of Books/Films/Comics where the good guys were the focus of the story, I wanted a book/film where the hero was a villain or at least various shades of grey. In film I quickly encountered the “Man with No Name” Leone/Eastwood Spaghetti Westerns. In book form this desire took shape and was fully fulfilled in Stormbringer. The main character, Elric, was a bad guy, the last Emperor of an Evil Empire of weird sociopathic sub-humans. Everybody else he meet was either equally villainous, or Good and dead in short time. There was buckets of blood and sex, and by the end of the book everyone was dead and the world was destroyed. I loved it (and still do secretly).
The Games Workshop edition of Stormbringer, often called 3rd Edition, was a fab book. It is a fantastic example of a one-book rpg, where truly all you need is within its pages. It had copious and relevant art, and as well as the core-rules it contained the Companion which brought the adventure count up to 7 (including a solo adventure!). It was powered by the Basic Roleplaying System, a variant more deadly and straight forward than RuneQuest. Major highlights for me was a character generation system were your nation (most Stormbringer characters were Humans or sub-human species) mattered and gave you firm identity both in narrative and rules terms, the sharp and deadly combat system (which was a firm influence on the world of pain that is OpenQuest’s Combat system) and the magic system – which was available only to the a select number of depraved sorcerers and was a highly flexible system of summoning demons.
The Demon Magic system allows Sorcerers to summon and bind into their service Demons of Protection (armour), Weapons, Assassin/Bodyguards, Knowledge and Transport (either teleportation or more traditional beast of burden). Combined with the elemental pacts system its vastly over powered and breathlessly deadly. To my 16 year self whose highest D&D level was 5th it was a real eye opener.
Kinda in keeping with the novel’s premise (which Moorcock deliberately made the mirror image of Conan), but also because the munchkin players will want to be either a Sorcerer or a Warrior (who is being provided with armour/weapons by the sorcerer), the players are definitely not the “Good Guys”. At best they are “Man with No Name” style anti-heroes at worst they are one step away from the deepest parts of Hell. Which is probably why I’ve not played it as much as I should have done over the years; it requires a great sense of maturity from its co-players. Without it descends into a parody of itself, where rules lawyers exploit the ambiguities of the rules and some decidedly unpleasant sides of your fellow gamer comes out in the roleplaying
Its a game that you would have to prise out of my cold dead hands, except it notoriously falls apart , the pages being the prime offender here. I’m currently borrowing my mate John Ossoway’s copy, mine long disintegrated into nothing 😉