Review: Stormbringer 1st Edition

A few weeks ago my friend Adam Sink bought me a copy of Stormbringer first edition rulebook that he found on the shelf of a used bookstore for fifteen dollars. Knowing that I was in the midst of collecting a mammoth Stormbringer collection, he texted me, asking if I wanted him to pick it up on my behalf. I demurred, saving money for Gen Con. Adam, the sport that he is, picked it up anyway as a gift.

Any man, I sure am glad that he did.

Stormbringer is set in the world of the Young Kingdoms, the realm where the Elric portion of Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion cycle of novels takes place. It deals with a failing empire in conflict with nascent powers and the fate of tragic figures driving this world into an apocalypse that has been foreseen, but which the characters are powerless to prevent.

The 144 page softcover book is actually the manual that came inside of the 1st Edition Stormbringer boxed set. This was published in 1981 by Chaosium and is written by old school roleplaying luminaries Ken St. Andre and Steve Perrin. The art for the book is wonderfully evocative and composed by Frank Brunner.

The copy Adam found for me was sans boxed set, which is why it was priced so attainably. The boxed set comes with a fold out map of Michael Moorcock’s Young Kingdoms and some other play aides, but everything you need to play the game is contained inside the covers of the manual. Additionally, I have like 4 other versions of the Stormbringer RPG so I’m up to my eyeballs in maps of the the Young Kingdoms anyway.

Now, I could get into a whole screed on the differences between this edition and any other. Some of those differences are big, some are nuanced, but they are beyond the scope of this review. My purpose here is to inspire you to go on eBay immediately and hunt up a copy of first edition Stormbringer, regardless of its condition, regardless of whether it has the box and the dice and all that crap.

But in order to go forward I have to go back a little further first. See all of this was presaged to me by none other than Sunderland’s resident wizard Jamie over a year ago via Instagram.

Jaime owns and operates Colosseum Rex in Sunderland, UK,  and I’m sure you’ve heard me talk about him here before. But In case you haven’t, I’ll catch you up. I met Jaime on Instagram back in 2014. At the time we would just talk about roleplaying games that captured our imaginations. He lived in the UK. I lived in LA. As the years have passed, Jaime has constantly challenged my perceptions of roleplaying and pushed me to explore more and be open to new ideas. As a thinker and a student of tabletop gaming he’s always about a year ahead of me. I find it incredibly vexing, but if past precedent is any kind of future predictor, whatever Jaime is up to now – will be the fad that I’m binging on in twelve to fifteen months.

One day on Insta he called out my love of the OSR movement directly. I wish I could find the quote. But his point was simply “Do we even need an OSR movement when there are so many great old games laying around, waiting to be rediscovered and played?” Of course, even after a spirited round of debate with him, I still believe that new blood exhuming old ideas and breathing new life into them is a necessary force in the roleplaying community and an objective good. I don’t think the brilliance of Diogo Nogueira’s “Sharp Swords & Sinister Spells” or James Vail’s “Xas Irkalla” would be with us if we didn’t have young blood developers looking back in order to find the way forward. But I will say that Jaime’s argument opened my mind to taking a deeper look at games that had more or less run their course by the time I was discovering the hobby in the very late 80s, early 90s.

So that brings us to Stormbringer first edition. I started reading it on a lark. There was something about the way the high weight pages of the manual felt in my hand that took me back to my teenage years when I would spend all day on the weekends or when school was not in session, draped across a couch reading a softcover Vampire manual. Seized by this nostalgia I began to read the book carefully from the inside cover, and fell in love with a brilliant and beautiful game that as far as I am concerned never got the attention or the lifespan it deserved.

Now this is the part of the review where we would usually start breaking things down into bullet points, pros and cons. I’m going to forego that tradition for this game because I don’t think that kind of binary thinking serves old school games very well. There are aspects of this game that some people will delight in, those same aspects will make others climb the walls with frustration.

I will say this as a downside: Stormbringer books are very difficult to get a hold of. In the last year since I have gotten serious about collecting them, I have noticed that their prices have risen sharply, and they were not cheap to begin with. If you are a compulsive collector of things of beauty, consider this before starting down the path of collecting Stormbringer: you cannot have just one.

You cannot have just one core book, one edition, one sourcebook. Once you have partaken of this game, you have no choice but to have them all, and some pieces will come at great cost.

So:

Character creation in Stormbringer should really be called the character lottery. It’s clear that Ken St. Andre didn’t have balance on his mind when he was writing this game. And on some level that’s fine. The Elric cycle of novels doesn’t have much to do with balance. The central protagonist of the novels is the monarchy of one of the world’s greatest empires and he spends his time in the novels chumming around with everyone from scum of the earth adventurers to merchant princes to everyone in between.

Indeed, a very small percentage of the characters in the Stormbringer game will be mind-bendingly powerful. Predominantly magic-users, they will harness the power of demons, slay anyone who dares to stand against them and carve the history of the Young Kingdoms. Everyone else will pale in comparison to their raw power. All of this is determined in the character creation phase by rolling dice. Your ‘race’ your class, your attributes are determined for you by prescribed dice roll. There are very few choices you, as the player, have any say in during this phase. Honestly, if the GM were to lay out 4 or 5 pregenerated characters before the campaign began and let the players discuss which one they wanted to play, there would be more agency and selection. A typical Stormbringer character could be generated by a computer program. Now, as I said, some players will embrace this ‘winds of fate’ style of roleplaying. Others will reject it.

The Stormbringer system is sort of weirdly math-y. It’s a classic OSR style percentile, where the higher your percentile is in something, the better you are at it, and there are incentives to roll low. If you are a Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay or Dark Heresy enthusiast you will recognise this game design principle.

While reading, there were times when I would marvel at the system’s simple elegance. Other times I found myself wondering why anyone would bother with this. Overall I found it to be really fun, at least on paper, I haven’t had a chance to run this thing yet. There are lots of unique subsystems dealing with fractions of percentages that at times I found kind of tedious and burdensome. But then there were subsystems that got no constraints at all like the winged men of Myrrh’s ability to fly without defined restrictions, which I thought was amazing.

Combining both the idea of subsystems and power level, a huge part of the Sorcery section of the book details systems that player characters will rarely, if ever, have the chance to use. The magic of the Elric universe is arbitrated by demons. Humans have no ability to wield magic on their own, and must impose on bound demons to borrow their power. Still, the ability to bind a demon is so rare, difficult and risky, it’s unlikely that a PC will ever get to have the experience. The rules seem like they were included largely to cover NPCs, but Ken St. Andre doesn’t tell us this straight out. He waits until the very end of the magic system and then sort of alludes to it, but I think that a lot of players in the 80s sort of glossed over his warning.

I’ve heard that there can be weird problems with this version of the game where people are binding demons to every damned thing in hopes of getting bonuses out of them, which is clearly against the intention of the book, although there are no rules prohibiting it. I guess it’s one of those classic John Wick style situations where the rules end up defining the incentives of the players.

All in all I really can’t say how much I love Stormbringer as a game, the first edition in particular. I could go on and on, but this review has already been our longest yet, so I won’t. I have some guys on deck to play and now that I’m done reading the book, I’m stoked to start the process of putting together an adventure and setting at date to journey into the Young Kingdoms.

Meanwhile,you may be saying to yourself, “yeah, that’s all well and good, but I’ve never read any of those Elric novels. Is this review even aimed at me?”

First, yes it is. And if you haven’t read Elric, get out there and do it. The original Elric cycle of novels is currently out of print in America, and it’s a shame. I recommend hitting up eBay and purchasing some of the Berkley Fantasy silver softcover editions as cheap as you can. The ones with the pictures of Elric on the cover, portrayed as a haunted and lonesome figure.

Start with book one, Elric of Melnibone. It’s a quick read and it will change the way you look at fantasy. At least that was my experience when I first read it after college, after by dear friend Ben Bailey had been on me to read the novels since the early days of high school roleplaying. I suggest that you take a look at book two as well, The Sailor on the Seas of Fate. If after reading them you don’t want to go any further, that’s cool, everyone has different tastes and you’ll get only respect from me for broadening your horizons. But check out at least the first two books, you owe it to yourself as a gamer and a game master.

Second, while a love of Moorcock and his novels make the perfect accompaniment to this game, they should not be seen as prerequisite. I would highly recommend Stormbringer 1st edition to any OSR player for it’s dark feel, it’s grit and it’s fatality. I would recommend it for it’s baroque magic system, it’s strange creatures, it’s exotic lands and it’s prevailing sense of doom.

Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay tried to capture what Stormbringer had already created: hopeless adventures in doomed world. But Stormbringer did it first, and I think did it better. Jaime had it right in a certain way, and I encourage my fellow OSR throat slashers to get out there and find a copy of Stormbringer 1st edition for their collections.

BONUS EPISODE – Diogo Nogueria – Solar Blades & Cosmic Spells

Yo yo yo!

In today’s episode we are joined once again by Brazilian game design superstar Diogo Nogueria! He talks about his new science fantasy epic Solar Blades & Cosmic Spells. Let me tell you kids, this game sounds hot!

Links below!

Solar Blades & Cosmic Spells Indiegogo Page
www.indiegogo.com/projects/solar-b…oks/x/18709928#/

Quick Primer For Old School Gaming (FREE)
www.lulu.com/shop/matthew-finch…oduct-3159558.html

Cyber Sprawl Classics G+ Community
plus.google.com/u/0/communities/1…00453662933776628

BONUS EPISODE – Christoffer Sevaldsen – Black Void

It’s a new BONUS EPISODE!

This time we have Christoffer Sevaldsen in all the way from Dubai to talk about the creation of his new game Black Void, now on Kickstarter! This game is very different from a lot of the other stuff that is being kicked right now, so I think that you cultists will really want to hear about it.

Patron Richard hits Christoffer up with a question as well.

Link to the Black Void Kickstarter below:
www.kickstarter.com/projects/681334…rm=Black%20Void

Enjoy!

Episode 47 – The End of the World Wrath of the Gods Review, Black Blood, Mutant Year Zero

In this episode:

Brendan and Adam do some much needed bookkeeping!

We got shout outs to the the first 21 Patrons!
A new iTunes Review!
Preview of Horrorism #1
New Mexicon news!
The End of the World – Revolt of the Machines Giveaway Winner Announced!

Adam Reviews: The End of the World – Wrath of the Gods

Updates on:
World of Darkness: Black Blood
Mutant Year Zero

Review: The End of the World: Wrath of the Gods

The End of the World: Wrath of the Gods

I bought this book years ago, back when it was first released. I recall reading it at the time and not particularly liking it. I was much more a traditional gamer back then, and I found the idea of my role-playing group playing themselves in the game to be very strange, and I did not care for how incredibly rules light it was. After all, the point of games is to inhabit a character, and how could such a simple system capture the complexity of a real person I know? Prior to giving away a copy of The End of the World: Rise of the Machines, the Full Metal RPG crew decided we wanted to give the game an actual play to decide what we thought of it collectively. Being the only one with a core book, I was on deck.

First up, we need to talk about the rules a bit. There are six abilities split among the three categories: Physical, Social, and Mental. Two per category. They roughly correlate to more familiar concepts in gaming. Vitality is Strength and Endurance. Dexterity is nimbleness and the ability to work with your hands. You get the idea. You a rating from 1-5 in each ability, and that is your target number to roll equal to or under on a d6.

There are no skills, instead under each category you have an advantage and a trauma. An advantage is something related to that ability that might help you on a roll. A trauma is something that might hinder you. Sticking with the physical category, an advantage would be Distance Runner, while a trauma would be Clumsy. These add a positive or negative die, respectively.

To make a test, you start with 1d6, then you can add a positive d6 if you have a related advantage in that category, and additional d6s if you have equipment, situational advantages, or assistance. Next you have to add in negative dice if you have a related trauma, or situational disadvantages like darkness or needing to rush the job. It helps to have different colored d6s for this reason. You make your roll. Any negative dice cancel out positive dice showing that same number on a one to one basis. After doing that, if you have any positive dice that are equal to or under your ability, you pass! Any uncanceled negative dice add stress under the category you rolled against.

Each of the three ability categories has a stress track. Three levels with three boxes in each level. As those boxes are ticked off, the player comes closer to death, or insanity, or whatever terrible fate awaits them. It is called the End of the World, not Uncle Fuzzies Fun Van, which… is probably also pretty terrible.

You can trade levels of stress for additional traumas, which is the death spiral of the game. As you gain more trauma, you roll more negative dice, leading to more failed checks and more stress until you die.

Ok, enough bookkeeping. What did we think of the game? Speaking for myself, I had an absolute blast running this. It was fun and frantic, which was only amped up given that we were play testing with a two-hour time constraint. Character creation was really easy. After all, who knows you better than yourself? With our sheets in hand, we started playing.

I opted to run the scenario covering the rise of Cthulhu, That Which Cannot Die. Right away that started things off in a pretty dire situation. The game starts at the very table you are sitting it, with the very people you are sitting with. This makes determining equipment fairly easy. What is there immediately around you that might be of use? From there, the players more or less drove the narrative as they decided where to go and what to go. I only had to act as the arbiter of the current state and function of the world. I killed myself as quickly and brutally as I could, because I do not like the idea of running a GM character and it set the mood for what was to come.

Pros:
The game is fun. It is great beer and pretzels game. I could easily see running it as a darker, more somber affair. It would make a good con game, as well. You can stretch or contract the timeline as much as you need to for one shots or a longer-term game, though you do need to keep in mind that it is very lethal.

The system, which I initially did not care for, runs really well and stays out of the way. Players can argue for or against positive and negative dice on checks and it works nicely. Provided you can keep failing forward, there is never a loss of things to do. It almost works like a background system from other games. The players know what they have studied and what their strengths and weaknesses are, and provided you are all keeping each other honest it is really easy to take test and determine outcomes. There were no arguments over the rolls as went, just people deciding what to do and then doing it.

The game understands what it is about and it delivers on that understanding. This is the end of the world. There is not going to be a positive outcome. Even if you survive, you may come to envy the dead as monsters or robots or aliens ravage what is left of civilization and struggle to survive in the ruins. Our game was dark and comic. It could easily be more tragic if run slowly and built up. If the idea of playing an end of the world scenario is appealing to you, then you will find something to like in this series.

You get five scenarios to choose from. If Cthulhu is not your speed, you can try on Quetzalcoatl, Ragnarok, Revelation, or Nature rising up to destroy humanity. They each offer their own set of challenges and awful ways to die. It is not a setting book, so you need to do some lifting to fit events and suggested scenes into your game, but that is remedied easily enough.

Cons:

This is going to turn off a lot of trad gamers. The game is extremely narrative, and the players are playing themselves, so you have to cede almost all control to them. That can be a very unsettling feeling for the traditional crowd. Combined with the really light rules and grim dark nature of the game, it can be off putting to people who want to smash monsters and take their loot.

The trauma system could get too real for people who are suffering from real, deep seated traumas. It is best not to drill too deeply there and let the players decided what they comfortable with putting down and dealing with. Players can always opt to play a character instead, which would be a fine solution. Depending on the direction you are taking the game, an X card may be reasonable to have on hand.

Other Thoughts:

Wrath of the Gods is unrelentingly brutal. Unlike other games in the series where you fight aliens or zombies or robots, you cannot fight the gods. The best you can do is keep running and staying one step ahead of the mayhem. I suspect Rise of the Machines would be a game where you at least stand a change of fighting back, whereas in Wrath of Gods if you decide to fight a Star Spawn, you are probably getting ripped in half.

Ultimately, I was pleasantly surprised by this game. I had a feeling I would enjoy it more returning to it with a fresher sensibility on what gaming is and what I want out of games, and I was not disappointed. It was a really good time and I would easily run this game again. In fact, I will likely pick up a couple of the other books in the line as well for future game nights. It is fun. It runs well. It is narrative. That checks off three big boxes for me right away.

BONUS EPISODE – Sarah Doombringer – Bluebeard’s Bride, LotFP, Magpie Games, New Mexicon

In this BONUS EPISODE, Brendan and Adam team up to interview Sarah Doombringer, co-creator of Bluebeard’s Bride and creator of Velvet Glove! We talk to her about her work, women in gaming and her upcoming appearance at New Mexicon April 21st and 22nd in Albuquerque, New Mexico!

Caveat Emptor: We had some problems with Sarah’s audio file, and so in post production I had to lay a filter over it to remove these very tinny, abrasive, bit-crushed noises out of it. Because of this, it sometimes sounds like Sarah is talking through water. We apologize for this, Sarah still brought her a-game to the interview and we think it’s a great listen.

Episode 46 – Chris Zac, Ghouls Fatal Addiction Review, White Wolf, Vampire

It is the last day of March and that means brand new episode!

We have the homie Chris Zac from Twin Cities by Night here to talk White Wolf, podcasting and supporting the online community. He does a guest review of Ghoul: Fatal Addiction for Vampire: the Masquerade 2nd Edition.

If you wanna check out any of Chris’ projects, hit the links below:

www.facebook.com/groups/862703457198327/?ref=br_rs

@twin-cities-by-night

Adam and Brendan catch people up on their games!

Thanks for listening cvltists!

If you like what you hear, check out our Patreon!