Tabletop RPG Review: Stormbringer

Stormbringer cover

From the early days of tabletop RPGs comes this game of Law VS Chaos in the fantastical world of Michael Moorcock’s Eternal Champion, Elric (if you’ve seen The Witcher on NetFlix…Geralt is basically a carbon copy of Elric).  It’s a world of ancient sorcery, deadly reavers, weird gods, and yes, the ancient conflict between the forces of Law and the forces of Chaos.  It’s important to note that in the Multiverse of the Eternal Champion, neither Law nor Chaos is good or evil.  Too much of either is a bad thing.  Moorcock’s work was hugely inspirational, not just for tabletop RPGs, but for music and Fantasy literature in general.  It’s no surprise it was one of the early intellectual properties to get a direct, official adaptation.

Like a lot of games of its time, Stormbringer features pages upon pages of text blocks.  It also manages to be crammed with too much information…and not enough information, all organized in a less than ideal fashion.  It dives right in by giving a paragraph or two on each of the various lands featured on a map.  You get a lot of facts, but very little understanding.  Then it transitions into a weirdly detailed discussion of coins and trade and immediately into an explanation of the dice.  That’s one section with no break.  We then move into character creation, where each possible culture your character might be from gets a paragraph of explanation…just pages after the explanation for the very same cultures.  From there, it’s the usual Basic Role-Playing based game section on combat and skills.  But then we get into one of the things that gives Stormbringer a unique feel, it’s magic.  Right off the bat, it makes things clear.  Magic is, by its nature, of Chaos.  In this world, sorcerers don’t go around manipulating raw magic to shape the world to their will.  Sorcerers in Stormbringer must summon and bind elementals and demons in order to work their powers.  So, the magic system is focused on the dangers and rewards of messing with extra-dimensional beings of great power.  Giving the magic rules a quick read-through, I can see how it might make for some very different game play from other Fantasy magic systems I’ve seen.  After magic, it gets a bit into the religion of the world and then some of the critters.  Since Stormbringer takes place in a non-time Earth, similar to Howard’s Hyborian Age or Tolkein’s Middle Earth, many of the animals are familiar.  There are, however, a few weird creatures to mix things up.  The last section has some suggestions for game masters and a quick adventure.

There are a few other bits in the box, including a nice fold-out map, but the main thing is the 144 page book, which makes the huge box seem odd. I guess it’s nice because it has room for other books if you get them.

Here’s the thing.  I’m biased.  Basic Role-Playing was my first tabletop RPG.  It’s the game I got into the hobby with and it’s still a system I enjoy and a system I frequently use when introducing folks to the hobby.  I find it more intuitive than something like Dungeons & Dragons and much, much more adaptable.  Fantasy isn’t really my genre and after reading this game, I’m just not sure it’s something I’m ever going to run.  However, I kept thinking about how much fun it might be to be a player in.  The biggest problem for someone trying to be a game master for Stormbringer is, I think, the organization.  Tabletop RPGs have come a long way since 1981, and while Basic Role-Playing hasn’t changed too much, how rules and settings are presented has.  In the early 80s, folks used these games as they were presented, because they were the only options.  Someone would buy it, read it, then proceed to do all the mental gymnastics they could to make the rules into something workable for a game with friends.  Stormbringer isn’t as poorly put together as something like Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, but it’s still gonna be a tough one for a new player or GM to try out.


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