Saturday, January 10, 2015

Leiber vs. Moorcock - Part Three - Gaming the Books


Now, to bring this discussion about Fritz Leiber's Swords and Devilry and Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion back to gaming . . . 
If I could judge a book by it's cover, this one would win, hands down.  Just look how angry that horse is!
In SD, Grey Mouser and Fafrhd are prototypical RPG heroes.  They each have skills and weaknesses, motivations and goals.  They frequently appear to be a one critical hit away from death (or a lucky roll from success).  Their stories read like modules brought to life.  You can almost hear the experience points ringing up.  

However, if I were to place Grey Mouser and Fafhrd in either the D&D universe or the Warhammer analogue, I'd place them in the latter.  SD is not a world of dwarves and paladins, but rather mule skinners and rat catchers.  Not castles and dungeons (or dragons for that matter), but a well sketched-out sandbox, filled with black markets, underground guilds and half-timbered dwellings on the verge of collapse.  There's no Beholders to fear - you're more likely to get a knife in the back from a drunken beggar.  Simply put, the third story in SD is a Mordheim board brought to life.

On the other hand, EC's Erekose seems to be unplayable as a player character in either world.  While it does not appear that he's completely invulnerable, at no time in EC is he in danger of anything other than having a psychotic episode brought on by an overabundance of cognitive dissonance.  And the world he inhabits lacks any descriptions that invite exploration.  It's a low-detail hex map, a gleaming city here and a gleaming city over there, with "Palace of Ten Thousand Windows" or "jeweled gates of the palace" as typical descriptors.   No where to go, nothing to do, but wage some abstract "war" with a million warriors at your back.  

If you're looking for some hooks for your next gaming session, you could do far worse than steal a few plot points from Swords and Deviltry - and it's an enjoyable ride as well.  The Eternal Champion is certainly worth a read too, but I didn't find much inspiration for the tabletop.  That said, I'm guessing that Moorcock's Elric series may be more in line with traditional gaming tropes - and in fairness, Elric is the series is mentioned specifically in both Appendix N and "Oldhammer Reader".  So, I'm probably judging Moorcock's wrong work for gaming purposes.  But, these were both sold as the "opening" books in their respective series, so . . . there you are.

As an aside, I have an unread copy of the Stormbringer RPG (the 1987 version issued in tandem by Games Workshop and Chaosium).  So, I'm looking forward to reading more about Elric and the game based on his world.  There must be something playable in Moorcock's other books - else there wouldn't be an entire RPG about it.  Right? 

Anyway, thanks for sticking through these posts.  I'd love to hear your thoughts on both books!