Wednesday, August 8, 2012

A Blackrazor by any other name...

Continuing the theme of books that influenced DnD (and therefore my writing!) the next one I thought I’d tackle was Michael Moorcock’s Elric saga. A lot of Moorcock’s work in the sixties and seventies probably had a direct influence on Gygax and the other creators of the game, not least the Corum sequence and the two Hawkmoon series (The Runestaff quartet, and the Chronicles of Count Brass trilogy), but undoubtedly Elric was a key one.

Everyone who played the game in the early Eighties with me knew of Elric, although only a few of us had read it. The RPG Runequest had a particular supplement relating to Elric as I recall, and since then I think there has been a specific game around him. I got around to reading the Fantasy Masterworks collection of Elric last year, and enjoyed it. I could see why it had appealed to so many people, although I’ve never really got into Moorcock’s style (I did enjoyed Dancers at the End of Time).

Moorcock is often quoted as saying he wrote Elric as a direct opposition to the traditional fantasy works of Tolkien and RE Howard (he famously described Lord of the Rings as akin to a fantasy Winnie the Pooh). Elric, in his original inception in the nine short stories that comprised Stormbringer (re-published by Fantasy Masterworks as ‘Elric’) is a superb anti-hero. He starts the stories leading an attack upon on his own kingdom, he then proceeds to (admittedly inadvertently at times) chop up all his mates, and he becomes addicted to his magical sword, Stormbringer. Perfect for the Sixties, when people wanted their heroes rather more flawed than the idealistic Fifties!

The influence on the game is overt in a number of areas. The DnD alignment system owes a large debt to the concept of Law and Chaos that Moorcock used, although this in itself was probably evolved from Poul Anderson’s Three Hearts and Three Lions (which I’ll review next time). Moorcock took it further, and this battle between the two forces was the key plotline in the later part of the Elric saga (and continued in parts of the Eternal Champion sequence). Law and Chaos are balanced by Neutrality (the Cosmic Balance) and in his books the Eternal Champion served the Cosmic Balance. Moorcock created deities aligned to both Law and Chaos that feature in his books. It’s easy to see how the addition of good and evil created the 9 alignments in AD&D.

Stormbringer, a runeblade that is essentially a Chaos demon in sword form, was a major aspect of Elric’s saga. It was a mighty sword that could chop through anything and drank life energy to sustain Elric, in a vampyric fashion. Its sibling blade was ‘Mournblade’ which had similar powers. In the DnD game the idea of life-drinking magic swords was most obviously emulated in White Plume Mountain (S2), which to my gang was the most frequently played module next to B2: Keep on the Borderlands. I’ve still got the original pale-orange covered one at home! The sword in question was Blackrazor, one of the three personalised magic weapons in the adventure. The author of the module, Lawrence Schick, later admitted he was embarrassed by his blatant rip-off of Stormbringer (he’d thrown the module together from his favourite bits of his own scenarios). Personally I thought it was awesome, and each time we played it there was a full-on scrabble for the soul-drinking sword.

The more subtle influence of Elric on the game was the adventuring aspects of the books. Elric has a group of companions—Moonglum, Dyvim, Rackhir—with whom he adventures, fulfilling ‘missions’ and ‘quests.’ We also had a healthy collection of opposing sorcerers, and a few monsters chucked in for good measure.

There’s a criticism of Moorcock’s Elric books that the characters can be a little flat, and the dialogue a little cheesy, but I think if you read them as a fun fantasy read in instalments (as they can get a touch ‘samey’) then you’ll not go far wrong. And let’s face it we all wanted to have a character as cool as Elric... soul-drinking sword, hot-line to demons to save your arse in a fight, a goth-look that the lasses adored... perfect.

Next up... torn between Fritz Lieber and Poul Anderson....Thieves vs. Paladins...


  1. Probably one of my favorite series of all time. If you are a fan of fantasy and haven't read these, do yourself a favor. They are truly epic.

  2. Oh how I loved DnD. I then moved on to Runequest (via Zelda) then WOW to Diablo.

    I have read some good books written around DnD and I LOVE these books. Epic

  3. I have to admit to never having read the Elric books. Don't get me wrong, I am an avid fan of Moorcocks other works (love the Jerry Cornelius stuff, and all the Runestaff/Count Brass ones....) As you say, his works were VERY influential in the D&D world (and hence on other RPGs). Having said that, I'm really looking forward to your thoughts on Fritz Lieber on your next instalment (one of the authors who influenced my RPG playing the most!)