Monday, March 28, 2022

Stormbringer redux #11 The whiff Factor & Attrition


Stormbringer and all BRP games sometimes have a problem with the whiff factor - two or more combatants all swinging away at each other and missing or failing to do damage. "So does D&D!" you might say. Fair enough, but add in defences like Parry and armor and BRP combats can become long, drawn-out affairs.

One simple idea I have had to solve this is adding the concept of Attrition, or whittling down of energy or strength. Combat is long and gruelling, as anyone with experience will tell you. When I fought in karate tournaments in Japan, the 3 minute rounds felt like an eternity. Anyone below brownbelt was a gasping, wheezing, wobbly-legged bucket of sweat by the end of one. Even blackbelts felt the toll, but were both more conditioned to handle it and were better at conserving energy.

You see this in Moorcock's works - Elric is so exhausted after the first battle with Young Kingdom raiders, Yrkoon takes the opportunity to throw him off the golden battle barge. Similarly, he is also drained after the fight with Belbane, the Mist Giant. Here is a proposal to simulate this and speed up the result of combat.

Using Attrition in Stormbringer

First, since this adds to bookkeeping, it should only be used when a combat is already dragging on but a resolution of some sort is required. Both GM and players should agree on the use of Attrition to end the combat. In this light, Attrition is mostly useful in duels or small skirmishes, such as when Hawkmoon and Baron Meliadus both collapse during their fight at Hamadan in The Jewel in the Skull.

For each round that the combatants whiff (ie fail to hit or do damage to one another), both receive a point of Attrition. Ideally, I would use STR as the pool, as Elric often mentions his lack of strength. But to reduce bookkeeping, a GM could use HP and consider Attrition as temporary damage healed after a short rest.

When a character reaches zero, they can no longer attack, but only defend. The GM should remind them there are other options to fighting (fleeing, surrendering, or playing dead). If the fight continues out of stubborness, a character who reaches negative in STR (or CON if using Hit Points for Attrition) collapses and is unconscious for 1d100 minutes.

Recovering from Attrition


The GM may rule that any standard healing potion negates attrition, but cannot be imbibed while fighting (this is not an MMORPG)


Resting nets you the following recovery

1 point per quarter hour sleeping after the fight

1 point per half hour spent resting after the fight

1 point per hour spent walking after the fight

First Aid is for more serious wounds and effects and does not affect Attrition

Attrition & Death

Note that losing consciousness to attrition should not always lead to death. See my blogpost on replacing death with story effects HERE.

UPDATE - Other Fixes

On the FB page for Elric / Strombringer, some fine people suggested fixes even better than my Attrition rule. One poster related that he or she adds 5% to attack skills of combatants for every round they whiff. This is easier to track than Attrition (STR or CON) and increases the probability of a critical that decisively ends things. I'm running a game on Discord this weekend (DM me if you want in) and I think I'll throw the option to players.

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Wealth & Social Mobility in D&D

(Yet another half-formed backlog post that has been sitting around for years and I have no time, energy, or clue to come back to)

D&D adventures take for granted that a social hierarchy exists, that kings and queens are at the top and peasants at the bottom.Yet social mobility is also a given, especially for PCs, who can ransack a few tombs and start climbing the ladder to become ruler of their own domain.

In the real world, social mobility is far from given. People who rise are criticized as nouveau riche or grasping beyond their station, while those that fall are scorned as having gone to seed or become decadent. The poor at the bottom resent the rich at top, while the lucky 1% look down their noses at the lowest workers who uphold the system that enriches them.

Here is the sketch of a simple plug in ruleset that models how wealth and social mobility interact. It is inspired by the writings of Pierre Bourdieu, who theorized about how one's social background or what he called 'habitus' largely determined an individual's opportunities for social mobility.

First, every character is situated at a certain level of wealth, which is reflected in the standard coinage they use for all economic transactions, and provides a modifier for certain activities.

COINAGE                   LEVEL                                    MODIFIER
Copper pennies            Peasants & slaves                    - 1
Silver dollars               Tradesman & yeomen                 0
Electrum half crowns  Aristocrats & guild masters     + 1
Gold crowns                Royals                                      + 2
Platinum eagles           Celestial imperials                    + 3

Minus one to reaction for every level below your own you pay to those below or above you. A peasant trying to pay with gc will be conned, an aristo using pennies will be scorned.

Colonisation just becomes an opportunity to improve one's class. Colonies are free zones where social mobility n chance for enrichment are maximized, total meritocracy.

Upward Mobility is Hard, Downward is Easy

You Take Your Habitus With You

On The Feel Of The Dice Part Two

(This is another ancient backlog I am pushing out)

7 Pcs/set Desk Polyhedral Custom Dice 4/6/8/10/12/20 Pear Dnd Acrylic Dice  Set In Tube Packaging Or Dice Bag Multi Side Gaming - Buy Dice,Custom Dice, Dice Bag Product on

The Dice Tube vs The Bag of Dice

The dice tube is held by the noob, the gal or guy getting into the hobby. The bag of dice marks you as half LARPer or true roleplayer, for it is your purse of sparkling treasures. The halfway point between the two is the Crown Royal bag, when the roll player is emerging from the chrysalid the only way they can - with the help of alcohol.

This is, of course, for fantasy roleplayers. Scifi or horror gamers are happy with the dice tube, as it relegates the dice to chance generators, and not fetishes or totems from an imaginary world.

Rollooo Genuine Leather DND Dice Bag Tray 5 Celtic Designs Cute Drawstring  Pouch for D&D Roleplaying RPG Gift Ideas Coin Purse|Dice| - AliExpress


The old stalwart of character generation, expounded for the magical Bell Curve it produces. On the plus side, you could swap characters between any number of old systems (D&D, GURPS, BRP, DC, etc) without missing a beat. Seems to be going the way of the dodo considering Call of Cthulhu just relegated it to the nether realms. Still, dear to the heart of many a grognard (who all cheat and use 4d6 drop the worst or 2d6+6 anyway...).

That said, rolling 3d6 vs skills TRYING to get a low result in GURPS always felt dirty, like using your mother's China to feed the dog. This is why many GURPS collections gathered dust while BRP came to the fore with its d100...

Bescon Super Jade Glow in Dark Polyhedral Dice 100 Sides, Luminous D100  die, 100 Sided Cube, Glowing D100 Game Dice|Strategy Games| - AliExpress


Ostensibly the 'logical' choice for skills, since all real-world probability talk is done with percentages. The simple pass / fail dynamic quickly grew stale, and thus criticals & failures, normal and superior successes, etc etc all got tacked on. But the d100 remains the cold, hard stare of probability. Funnily enough, younger players have come to the table not knowing how to use them, a problem only compounded by online gaming. But other uses for the d10 soon came into vogue...

A Fistful of d10s

Vampire popularized the dice pool, which expanded everywhere a short few years before people grew tired of handfuls of dice and trying to add or match them all up. Small wonder that in the same year the late great Wujick published the Amber Diceless system. Speaking of...


I played a game of Zombie Cinema and was refreshed to see story mechanics that put the choices and outcomes in player's hands, and was relieved to create a satisfying narrative together. Still, I think diceless requires an experience and integrity not all have, and so dice will never totally fade away. In fact, it seems to be going back to basics...

The New School D6

Mork Borg, Free League, and a ton of other avant garde games and designers have returned the lowly d6 to prominence. It is all you need for many new games, such as Lasers & Feelings, which hinges all action resolutions on opposing uses (roll high or low) of the d6. I guess the old Star Wars game was ahead of its time. Still, no one carries a d6 in a tube...

Friday, March 25, 2022

Stormbringer redux # 10 - Combat baby!

Stormbringer combat has always been a point of contention. When I ran the game back in the day, people complained about its lethality. When I run Call of Cthulhu now, the whiff factor of BRP combat makes it a bit of a slog.

In this post, I'll continue to suggest minor changes that use pre-existing mechanics in a different way that solves these issues and improves the experience overall.

Note that I have the Chaosium Big Gold Book on my shelf, as well as Stormbringer 5e and Elric of Melnibone!, but I am not referencing these. My exercise is to take the original Stormbringer rules (I'm looking at 1e and 3e GW) and tweak these to make the game 1) emulate the source fiction better and 2) be more playable for a modern audience after 40 years of TRPG development, without pandering to power gamers.

Michael Moorcock Interview - Elric of Melnibone | Screen Rant


Forget DEX ranks. In game terms, it overvalues that one attribute. As someone with a blackbelt in karate from years in a dojo here in Japan, I can tell you 100% that the combatant with the highest attack skill is the one who decides whether to go first or next. Even if you have natural talent (ie high DEX), someone who has mastered the art of combat will eat your lunch. And considering in my post on character generation I suggested using DEX as the base for Attack skills anyway, the attribute is still important, but now experience is factored into its utility in combat.

In karate, we talk about different types of initiative, but 2 main ones stand out:

先の先 (sen no sen) This translates as 'first before the first'. In other words, you are so fast you can outstrip your opponent. You stop them before they get started.

先の後 (sen no go) This translates as 'after the first'. Put simply, you let the other guy commit to an action first, and respond in a way that neutralizes him.

Other dojos list many other types of initiative, but they all point to one thing - high skill decides initiative. In combat, the higher Attack skill should always get the choice to attack first or anytime afterwards. This adds a strategic element where skilled fighters can see and seize their chance better than unskilled foes. The fastest fighter can thus attack right away, or wait until he sees an opening to distract a foe threatening a weaker comrade.


The original shield rules are exceedingly vague and scattered all over the combat section. Here is everything we know about Stormbringer shields:

1) Shields can block attacks, but doing so negates the use of a weapon to Parry

2) Shields are the only thing that can Parry arrows or sling stones

3) Shields are described as "nearly indestructible" and can parry "any number of attacks"

4) Shields are destroyed when they are used to Parry a Critical Hit

This is a good start, but here are a few extensions of these descriptions to make shields more versatile:

1. Shields add to the Armor value

As everyone knows, Stormbringer uses a dice roll to determine how much damage the armor stops. As a reminder, let's look at the armor ratings (and range of damage stopped) from the rulebook:

Leather 1d6-1 (0-5)

Barbarian 1d8-1 (0-7)

Half plate 1d8-1 (0-7)

Plate (no helmet) 1d10-1 (0-9)

Plate with helmet 1d10+2 (3-12)

I understand why Stormbringer armor works like this. The range provided by the dice roll reflects how armor can stop damage, but also be bypassed by an attack. Some people advocate switching to static armor values, but this doesn't sit well with me.

I propose using the shield damage as an extra dice of damage reduction. This reflects how shields can deflect an attack or reduce damage taken even if an active shield parry has failed. As a former SCA member, I can tell you this is exactly why people used shields - to cover their body better.

Now let's look at shield dice and damage ranges:

Buckler 1d4 (1-4)

Target 1d6 (1-6)

Heater 1d6 (1-6)

Tower 1d6+1 (2-7)

So if we use shield damage as armor rating, then combining armor and shields is a lifesaver. Here are some examples of damage reduction by shields, along with armor:

No armor, target shield 1d6 (1-6)

Leather with a buckler 1d4+1d6-1 (1-9)

Half plate with heater 1d8+1d6-1 (1-13)

Plate, helmet, and tower 1d10+1d6+3 (5-19)

As we can see, allowing shields to reduce damage ablatively really improves the chances of surviving an attack. Even a character with only a shield can reduce damage greatly, while a fully plated knight with tower becomes a veritable tank that can only be taken down by a Critical Hit or area weapons such as flaming oil.

You might object that shield armor reduction has a higher range than body armour. I have no problem with this, considering that whereas shields are disks of mobile cover that are reinforced against damage, body armour is by necessity both incomplete cover and full of chinks to allow movement in a fight.

2. Shields can be sacrificed

Here is a story effect based on the OSR houserule "Shields shall be splintered." Whenever a PC is in danger of taking a mortal blow, they can sacrifice their shield instead. Since shields are destroyed parrying a Critical Attack anyway, why not let PCs decide if they want to use this option? As we shall see, adding choice to the mix improves the combat in many ways.

Using shields as additional damage reduction and a throwaway damage block thus adds a strategic element to combat. Do you try to do more damage with two-handed weapons like the Melnibonean axeman and great-swordsmen of Moorcock's books, dual wield for a chance at a  double attack like Moonglum, or do you use a shield and one-handed weapon like the Young Kingdom opponents they fought? Considering that I will be using the Encumbrance rules outlined previously, these new shield rules make them worth carrying.


Speaking of Moonglum and his dual weapons, I think it best to outline how they would work. First, the character would need to be ambidextrous. Google tells me 1% of people are ambidextrous, so if a player wants it, let them roll.

It is best to keep rules simple and logical, so dual weapons need one shorter than the other, ie a longsword and a short sword. This what the samurai used (大小 daisho or katana and wakizashi), and resembles the epee and parrying dagger of the West.

Basically, the player can do one action (attack or parry) with either weapon, with the same rules and restrictions as other weapons. This means any cumulative action is at a 20% penalty.

1. Guarded (normal) - The PC attacks with one weapon (usually the longer) and parries with the other. Resolve as normal.

2. Defensive - If surrounded or outnumbered, they can Parry with both weapons. This means they can Parry once with either weapon at no penalty, but incur the cumulative 20% penalty to skill for countering subsequent attacks.

3. All out attack - They can choose to attack with both weapons, and since these count as actions, any parries they perform after start at -20%.

Note that PCs can use a sword & shield in the same manner if ambidextrous, but still incur the cumulative 20% skill penalty if they use a shield first as a weapon before using it to defend.

If the PC has the highest Attack rating, they can wait to see what their foe does before deciding what mode to use. If their foe misses his attack, they can choose to do two attacks, or if they go first, they can attack and defend, or attack twice and hope they don't get hit. This might be a bit fiddly in practice and would need testing.


One of the main reasons given for Stormbringer's lethality is the critical hit rules, especially the wounds table. Rereading the rules, this criticism is entirely valid.

According to the rules, the following happens on a critical hit:

1) Damage is doubled

2) Armor is ignored

3) Any wound inflicted is considered a Major Wound regardless of amount of damage done

4) If parried, the parrying weapon or shield is destroyed.

This is all a bit much. Instead, I would use the following rule to give Players more choice over what happens.

If you roll a successful Critical Attack roll against an NPC or monster, you can choose the following:

1) Do double damage vs armor (or simply double damage vs unarmoured foes)

2) Do normal damage but ignore armor of armored foes

3) Do no damage but roll on Wounds table

4) Try to Disarm or Trip using rolled damage vs the opponents STR or DEX respectively

Conversely, if you suffer a Critical Hit from an NPC or monster, you can choose the following:

1) Take double damage vs your armor

2) Take normal damage but ignore your armor (NB: You can't choose this if unarmoured, sorry)

3) Take no damage but roll on the Wounds table

4) Sacrifice a shield or piece of armor, or ally if you are an Agent (see Sacrifice section below)

I think this is a fairer rule that empowers players through greater choice of effects, and the chance of a Major Wound for doing more than half Hit Points is still relatively large.

As for Player vs Player (PvP) combat, if what the attacker and defender choose conflict, I would keep the rules above, but have both players randomly compete (ie flip a coin, roll a dice, thumb wrestle etc) to see who's choice is enacted. For example, if player A does a critical hits and wants to ignore armor but player B wants to take double damage vs their armor, have them flip for it.


Like the Critical Hit rule, this is a bit overpowered. Instead, I would instead make Fumble effects cumulative. All the Fumble tables have 3 effects, which increase in penalty the higher the number rolled on d100:

Melee Weapons

01-50 Drop

51-85 Weapon breaks

86-00 Wound friend or yourself

Missile Weapons

01-50 Drop

51-85 Weapon flies away

86-00 Weapon breaks or wound yourself

Natural Weapons

01-50 Trip

51-85 Strain self

86-00 Wound yourself

In my conception, if a fumble is rolled on 99 or 00, you roll an additional d10. If you roll anything but 0, apply the lowest effect. If a 0 is rolled, roll d10 again. If you roll anything but 0, apply the second effect. If a 0 is rolled, apply the third and harshest effect. Basically, you need to roll 0 twice for a simple Fumble, three times for a moderate Fumble, and four times for a disastrous Fumble. This drastically reduces the odds or broken weapons and self-inflicted wounds.


“… an arrow slid past his helm almost at the same moment the bowstring sounded. Elric flung himself to one side and sought about for cover, but there was no cover save the rock behind which the archer hid.”

-       Beyond the Shade Gate


Although Cover is mentioned briefly in the rules, I thought I'd try to nail down their effects a bit more concretely.

Degree Example Effect

Minor Knee height or low archway Reduce Attack skill by 1/10

Medium         Waist height or half profile Reduce Attack roll by 1/2

Major Window or arrow slit Reduce Attack roll to 1/10

Remember that you cannot Dodge if Attacking, so someone attacking from cover is a sitting duck betting on a higher chance of getting in a shot while not taking one. I thought about also adding a damage resistance roll as I have done with shields, but decided to wait until these rules are tested in combat.


Sacrifice is a major thematic device in the Elric saga. Elric sacrifices Smiorgan to escape after the dragons after the sack of Imrryr, and skewers Duke Avan to summon Arioch in R'lin K'rin A. I think adding this as a story mechanic is a great addition to the game.

Types of Sacrifices

There are two types of Sacrifices, depending on the type of game and characters played:

Normal Pulp characters: Once a session, a PC can sacrifice a piece of combat gear to avoid damage that would kill or cripple them. This generates broken swords and shattered shields, and fits the genre well. 

Champions or Agents of Saga-style characters: Once a session, a Champion or Agent of a higher power can sacrifice a companion when in dire need. Again, this option suits the Elric saga well, but requires a PC of high enough stature to enact. Basically, two conditions need to be kept:

1) The sacrificing PC has to be an Agent or Champion

2) The sacrificing PC has to be of higher social rank than the sacrificed

I think this rule should be optional as many players or groups would find it unpalatable. For me, it suits the genre perfectly, and balances out the advantages of having an Agent or Champion in the group with the fear that they might sacrifice others.

Just as Elric did in the novels.



I think I ran animals wrong back in the day, and gave them one attack like humanoids. The rules state, "Some characters and some animals have more than one weapon being used at a time, and they are allowed one attack for each weapon." This means a dragon would get two claws for 9D6 damage (!), and a Clakar would get 2 claws and a bite.

In this respect, it is useful to clarify a few things about combat with beasts:

1) Whereas humans must choose whether to Attack or Dodge in a round but can Parry with either, animals & beasts can Attack and Dodge, but most cannot Parry. Since humans have advantages of armor and numbers that even out against the raw destructive power of animals and beasts, this makes sense.

2) Unless noted, animal or beast Dodge is DEX x 2%. Remember, most cannot Parry, but can either Dodge and Attack, but take the same 20% penalty to cumulative defence rolls as humans. In other words, a group of armed and armoured humans will wear down a beast, but one on one is to be avoided. This is in keeping with the novels, where a few Clakars are enough to wound Moonglum and Elric.

3) It also needs to be noted that many beasts and animals have unique abilities hidden in their descriptions. I think I probably missed a lot of these back in the day:

  • Dragons can Parry with their long talons.

  • Clakar bites cannot be parried.

  • Dharzi Dogs always fight to the death unless Masters are defeated. Can be summoned via Demon of Desire.

  • Matik Creatures have magical beak and claws, equal to their POW, capable of harming magical creatures.

  • Mist Giants: Immune to normal weapons, corrode normal weapons, paralyze any in vicinity with pain unless they succeed at INT x3% roll, do 2d8 to Demon weapons if they succeed POW roll (RUN AWAY!).

  • Oleb: Always get surprise (I would allow an Ambush or See roll save against this for PCs).

Note that in a future post I will look at creatures of Moorcock's conception, and how these reflect the themes of his novels, and offer a way to emulate this.


This is the last thing I want. I am trying to emulate the fiction I have loved all my life with an admittedly older, skills-based system that was my first RPG love. I think my proposed changes do that. I will address the whiff factor of Stormbringer BRP combat at a later date.


As someone on the Stormbringer / Elric! FB page reminded me, unconscious at 0 and dead at - CON is a great rule that I would use.

Lifespan & Racial Outlook

(This is an old blogpost I never finished and never will. Just want to put it out as is and reduce my backlog.)

How long you live colours your thinking. Whether you're GMing alien races or playing a member of one, the lifespan of the race should inform your roleplaying.

These are based on real world and fictional examples.

Planet X vs Earth

1. Short Lived (10 years or less). Insects.

Good - Follow orders. You owe your life to the queen and the hive.

Bad - Live for today. No time to make anything, just beg, borrow, or steal. Parasitic or exploitative thinking.

Ugly - Burrow into others and fill with your spawn. All other life exists as food for your brood.

2. Half-Century. Dogs and cats.

Good - Find a bigger creature, stay loyal to your master. Die for them if you must.

Bad - Live with your master, but on your own terms. Hunt and leave them 'gifts', whether they appreciate them or not.

Ugly - Stay feral, never be tamed. Take down bigger creatures when you have the advantage of numbers, hunt smaller game if alone.

3. Century. Human. 

Good - Big dreams, chase them in youth, surround yourself with family later on. Grow olive trees you will not live to sit under. 

Bad - It's all abut money and power. Life is short, so get what you can, realize there are more important things too late.

Ugly - Might is right, us vs them. Gaining power for your side should give your life meaning, but never quite does.

4. Multi-Century. Elves.

Good - Wise but sad. See patterns in events, the larger context. Saddened by history repeating itself.

Bad - Fanatics. Life is struggle, so you fight on, regardless of whether your efforts change anything.

Ugly - Nothing matters, nothing changes. Retreat from the world and don't get involved.

5. Millenial. Demigods.

Good - Ultimate aesthetes. Everything you make is a work of art that takes lifetimes of other races to construct. The pommel of your sword is from a tree that has evolved into something else, the blade from starstuff mined when the world was young.

Bad - Living millennia totally warps your humanity. Evil and good are just flips of the coin, what side of the bed you wake up on this century.

Ugly - Other races are teardrops in the rain, bubbles in your morning coffee. Their life or death means nothing in the larger scheme of things. 

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Rotten Pulp for CoC

Dunno how I stumbled across this blog, but Rotten Pulp has some creepy stuff to that could easily be ported to Call of Cthulhu.

The Contaminant is


Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Stormbringer Redux # 9 - Sanctuary

Although it is not mentioned explicitly in Michael Moorcock's novels, the idea of Sanctuary, a place where you can retreat from the world, rest, and drop your burdens, is integral to the Eternal Champion books. Rackhir seeks Tanelorn to escape his punishment from the Lords of Chaos; Elric hangs up his runesword for years in Zarzonia's castle armoury; Saxiff D'aanin lives in a pocket dimension to escape his nemesis while honing his sorcerous power; and Myshella resides in her mystic castle for millenia. Elric's initial adventures are non stop adventures, and he can only summon infernal aid reliably with access to his grimoires in the silence of his massive chambers.

Sanctuary is thus also integral to the Stormbringer RPG. All too often the flow of play and immersion is broken by players wondering if they can make skill checks, learn a new skill, summon a new demon, or do a side quest to get out of whatever tangle they've gotten into. If the GM limits all these bookkeeping or administrative actions to the time when players are in Sanctuary, he can adjust the pace from the hectic adventure of a scenario to the montage of Sanctuary time.

The Quest for Tanelorn by Michael Moorcock

Sanctuary Actions

Check skills - If any skills were 'checked' (ie used successfully) in the preceding adventure, now is the time to roll for improvement as per the rules.

Summon new demons - I would limit impromptu summonings, which Elric fails at many times in the books, to demon types the sorcerer has already learned with the skill penalties noted in the rules. If the player wants to calculate a new demon type, he or she must wait till they reach Sanctuary.

Learn a skill - You'll have to find a Master of the skill (90% or higher), then roll as per the rulebook.

Get information - A good Sanctuary is a place to gather information for the next foray. There may be spies, fellow adventurers, or a seer who can tell the PCs exactly what they need to know.

Escape fate - Have assassins or demons aiming to take your life? Sanctuary is the place for a reprieve from the constant looking over your shoulder.

Regain Sanity - If you're using the Sanity Rules from Demon Magic, this is the place to recover them. Regan d10 Sanity for time spent in a Sanctuary.

Types of Sanctuary

Here are some examples of Sanctuaries. Choose the most appropriate, roll 1D6 to determine a line, of roll 3D6 for a chaotic result as you see fit.

1 mythical     1 city     1 of Balance

2 enchanted     2 castle     2 of a sorcerer / sorceress

3 luxurious     3 palace     3 of an emperor / empress

4 explanar     4 island     4 of a lord / lady

5 secluded     5 woodland     5 of an elemental

           6 impregnable       
6 prison        6 of a god