This is my Swords & Sorcery RPG!

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.

Stormbringer 3rd Edition (Games Workshop Printing) cover

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 😉

8 thoughts on “This is my Swords & Sorcery RPG!

  1. That rang faint bells… so I went hunting on the RPG shelves. Lurking at the back is a book called “Elric”, by Chaosium. The rule system looks a lot like RQ, could well be BRP, and a lot of the rest fits, on a quick glance. It’s just about mint. I’m never going to use it – want it?

    • That be effectively Stormbringer 4th – where they toned it down alot 🙁

      Thank you for your kind offer but I’ve already got a copy (lurking in the attic).

      • Stormbringer was a brilliant game. Not so faithful to the books, but awesome in play. Balance? That will be the Cosmic Balance, as life is cruel, and there is no other balance to be seen.

        And yes, mine fell apart too and lived in a lever arch for 20 years. I am now working on removing the punch hole protector rings and see if I can have it properly bound again.

        [Elric! is effectively Stormbringer 5th. There was a 4th edition, with a point buy summoning system. This makes Stormbringer 5th ed, a reworked Elric! effectively 6th edition. Confused?]

  2. I liked Elric!.. different vibe but more consistent with where the canon had gone by then, since MM had written a new tranche of later novels.

    I’d say the GW edition is basically a variant 2nd edition.. not a 3rd edition at all.

    Totally imbalanced and crazy, with a massive T&T style influence from Ken St. Andre, the original Trollmaster himself.

  3. I was unusual in purchasing and running ‘Hawkmoon’ instead of ‘Stormbringer’ in the 1980s.

    Eventually I picked up ‘Elric!’ (around 1993), although I’ve never had an opportunity to play it. Since I much prefer Moorcock’s ‘Corum’ series, I’d like to run a campaign using ‘Elric!’ and Darcsyde’s excellent ‘Corum’ supplement someday…

  4. I played Stormbringer back int the day and was the gamemaster. I found the system highly unbalanced but when you focused on the role playing element rather than the mechanics, it was really fun. Additionally, I was a GM that tweaked the rules a good bit and managed the game toward an enjoyable romp through the Young Kingdoms. I think the players I GM’d for had the most fun when we played Stormbringer because they knew the implications of Law and Chaos and the power that certain sorcerers would bring.

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  6. A copy of Stormbringer, in one form or another, has been in my backpocket since I borrowed and Never returned a high school friends copy back in 1984. At one point in my late teens-early twenties I was bouncing around the country with nothing but my rucksack, a copy of “On the Road” and my other book was said softcover Stormbringer 1st edition rule book. Whether stuck in the middle of nowhere or in a city bus station I could disappear into a world of fantasy with either one of these books. In San Diego one night I got these guys who never heard of rpg’s to play and all I remember was one of the shipwrecked rogues throwing his hand axe at charging natives and splitting the natives skull open with a critical hit. I was using 2d6 from a Monopoly game and roughed out percentile chances with them. I’ve owned this Games Workshop edition as well. It was the copy I had during my college years. It disintegrated and is lost with the comic book collection I had accumulated at the time as well. The last twenty years Elric! softcover has sat proudly on my bookshelf and it still serves as my gateway to languid daydream escapism as I dream up gritty Sword & Sorcery adventures.

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