Monday, August 10, 2009

Beggars Can't Be Choosers

Stormbringer, at least in its first edition, which I'm now reading voraciously, is a hard core old school game, in some ways more hard core than OD&D where you at least get to pick your race and/or class. In Stormbringer, both race (i.e. nationality) and class (i.e. profession) are determined by random roll. One of the classes you might roll (4% chance on D100) is "beggar." Aside from social penalties, beggars also suffer from 1D6 afflictions, which can range from tooth decay/bad breath to leprosy or hemophilia (again, determined randomly).

The rulebook includes a section --, if you're interested in its wargames-style organization -- entitled "Difficulty of Being a Beggar." It reads in part:
Because of their handicaps and very low status in the Young Kingdoms' society, it is not recommended that beginning players attempt to use Beggars for their adventurer characters. If you have randomly determined that your adventurer character is a Beggar, you may roll again on table [] Class Background if you wish.

However, those players who enjoy a challenge may get a special kick out of attempting to beat the system and win with a character who is blind, deaf, or partially crippled. Any triumphs won with such a character would be correspondingly greater than those won by normal characters. If you do choose to play a Beggar, you have my condolences and best wishes.
Maybe it's final, definitive proof that I'm as mentally deranged as some have claimed, but I think that's one of the more awesome bits of text I've read in any gaming rulebook lately. Makes me want to run an all-beggar mini-campaign set in Nadsokor.


  1. No one could ever accuse Ken St. Andre of being boring.

  2. I guess I am just as mentally deranged as you, cause that sounds AWESOME! An all-beggar campaign would be great, there would be an obvious in-game reason for the characters to be hanging out with each other, and of course they would know the seedy underbelly of the city like nobody from the upper echelons of society.

  3. I am beginning to regret the fact that I've only recently begun to appreciate his contributions to the hobby.

    This must be rectified.

  4. This is so many different kinds of awesome. I've got to get this now..

  5. James,

    That rulebook bit is awesome. I have always found it awesome. When I read "new school" D&Ders speaking of game balance, precisely balanced encounters, challenge ratings I always think of Stormbringer and all the fun I and my players had with this game.

    Stormbringer is pure old school awsomeness and I am really happy that this blog "discovered" it. It really fits into the ethos and aesthetics of Grognardia.

    I wish I lived near you to play in your all beggar campaign. Unfortunately Switzerland is a bit too far from Canada.

  6. @ Kuni: Ha!

    In every "campaign" of Stormbringer I started (I use the term loosely as the PCs have a greater tendency to die, horribly mutilated, than in any other game I've played) there would always be at least one beggar. Getting saddled with one actually tended to bring out a horrible viciousness in a play, such that they truly echoed the image of a dastardly curmudgeon from Nadsokr. Much fun, folks.

    Having a whole posse of lepers would, I think, detract from the "specialness" of the character class.

    ; )

  7. I, too, am glad you are 'getting it'.

    It is one of the industry's very best, and Ken has received so little recognition for it.

    I look forward to reading more of your Stormbringer posts in the future.


  8. I hear a lot about this Ken St. Andre guy. I met a Scandinavian/Canadian guy at AdAstra 2009 wearing a T&T shirt. Apparently there has been some kind of reissue of stuff recently.

    And as I love the dirt, I'd like to know what happened in the falling out with Chaosium. Didn't he help design this?

    Wikipedia says that at the moment he's drying out at Betty Ford after setting the reference section of the Phoenix library on fire with drug paraphernalia... I have my doubts.

    Does he show up at cons? Is he still active in gaming? Does he have a website?

    Oh, wait ... the SFWA: "There is good news this year on the personal publishing front. Fiery Dragon is doing well enough with T & T 7.5 that they are publishing another multi-product set called the T & T Delvers Package which should be out in time for GenCon--only 2 weeks away as I write this. There will be 2 new St. Andre written adventures in it, and lots of extra goodies for the hardcore gamer. Also published this year:
    GRIFFIN FEATHERS and other tales of Trollworld--a full-length, albeit fairly short novel set in my gaming universe--was published last year. This year I've had one tiny short story published in THE BOOK OF EXODI. I'm very pleased to tell you both books are availabe from I don't think they're on Kindle though."

    And Trollhalla ... right, that's what I want.

  9. In Stormbringer, both race (i.e. nationality) and class (i.e. profession) are determined by random roll.

    One of the greatest "games we never got a chance to play" came from Stormbringers completely random character creation.

    We never got past character generation but I still remember most of the characters we rolled up that night. Amongst them was my Melnibonean who rolled the absolute shortest height possible for the race (thus turning him into Elric with a Napoleonic Complex), Otic Bedhead, a man from the Purple Towns with "a penchant for bedclothes," and a third character who suffered from pyromania. All thanks to the BTB character generation method.

    I don't think we could have created those characters by our own devices if we tried.

  10. The great thing about Stormbringer characters is not that they are all freaks of nature, but how incredibly fragile they are.

  11. Heh, in the Palladium Books Rifts main book, there is a character class option for a Vagabond. I always thought a group of Vagabonds would be a cool campaign idea.

  12. Frail characters was a hallmark of Chaosium in those days. My first RPG was the 2nd edition of RuneQuest, and unless your GM wanted characters to use the previous occupations rules in the back of the book, you really started out weak. Even if you did use those rules, you were greatly underpowered by modern standards. I think this design ethic is present in both Stormbringer (perhaps my favorite game of all time) and Call of Cthulhu as well.

  13. You know, it's kinda sad. Here I just picked up a copy of Elric! and Seas of Fate, plus the new BRP rules (in pdf), thinking I might use some combo of them for some S&S goodness, and your recent posts remind just how awesome my old copy of 1e Stormbringer is.

    I always think of WFRP for lethality, but it's true; BRP -especially some of the older games- is pretty freaking brutal.

    ...& the Beggar campaign sounds like 17.6 flavors of awesome sauce to me too, BTW.

  14. re the all-beggar campaign: my only advice is to read Tim Powers' The Anubis Gates before running it. I think it contains the kernel of a whole campaign, and might help ground the Elric setting (something I always had trouble with in practice, but you might not - even though I love it dearly, the Stormbringer setting always felt a little 2D to me, I could never quite figure out what the stakes were).

  15. Ah, Stormbringer, how I miss you so.

    I ran a "campaign" back when the First Ed. came out. My 2 buddies were the

    I think we played about 3-4 adventures, and at least 75% of those adventures always had a sailor or a thief. Oh yeah and the thief had a SIZ of 19 (think of Andre the Giant as a sneak It was crazy how often they rolled up sailors or thieves.

    When interest was waning in the game, I let them roll like 4-5 times taking the character they liked out of those rolls. One guy had a Melnibonean Wiz, the other had a fighter this time. A new guy to the group had a farmer or something crazy.

    The new guy had a recurring dream that if they opened a large bronze ornate door they would be killed. They went into the tomb/dungeon and came upon a huge ornate door. Unfortunately as new guy was about to say "somethings' familiar about that door" I think the Wizard pulled the ring and the giant door fell on them crushing them all.
    Good times.

    Word verification: inglurb - The sound a Stormbringer character makes when being crushed by a 15 ton bronze door.

  16. Ken St. Andre is very awesome....he's online a lot these days. You should email him and tell him how much you enjoyed Stormbringer...

    This is also makes me think of my one big beef with the OSR these's almost always about D&D...but back in the day (my day anyway) there were so many games it was a blast to be a gamer.

    I think this focusing on OD&D is a hindrance, not a boon. Third party games are the best part about gaming, IMHO, and 3rd Ed's OGL brutally stomping out most of the alternatives was a huge crime to the gaming community.

    You just pick up a game and run. Cyberpunk might also be up your alley- a bit newer than some, it had a very brutal old school mentality. I don't think most of my characters lasted long, and it too had a "career path" you rolled for.

  17. We played a *lot* of Stormbringer back in the day.

    Our player characters were without exception either demi-gods or wimps. We never got anything in the midranges. Stormbringer was a game of extremes, and forget about play balance...

  18. This is also makes me think of my one big beef with the OSR these's almost always about D&D...but back in the day (my day anyway) there were so many games it was a blast to be a gamer.

    The OSR is still in its infancy, so it's inevitable, I think, that there'd be a lot of focus on D&D, as that was the first RPG and the one the vast majority of us cut our teeth on. I fully expect lots more discussion of non-D&D games, both here and elsewhere, as the months and years wear on. I know I'll be devoting a lot of attention to Chaosium games, for example.

  19. Which is excellent to hear :) I did notice a few (very few) covering my favorite of choice- tunnels and trolls...

    I should perhaps blog about that game more often, contribute, rather than complain about the lack of something...

  20. Paul,

    I'd love to see more old school blogging about T&T and Chaosium stuff, since I need to be better educated about the former and I share an abiding love of the latter. I plan to do my share of writing about both -- and other cool old school games like Traveller -- but I'm only one man and a rather idiosyncratic one at that, so I'm actually quite keen to see others join in on the fun and give me more to read :)

  21. I blog about T&T, as often as I can. Almost everything I write about the OSR in general is from a T&T perspective. It would be great if you joined in Paul!

    It's also interesting to note that when I blog about Call of Cthulhu, I get a lot of new visitors. :) There will be more CoC in a short while.

    BTW I'd love to play/run a Stormbringer campaign with just beggars. I might in fact to just that!

  22. brasspen,

    That was me you met at AdAdstra! Glad to hear that you remember me. Send me a note if you want to talk more about T&T.

  23. Cool... I just found a long time thought to be lost copy of a 4th edition Stormbringer rulebook, and I were looking for info on the Net about the differences between editions. It seems that this section is there... :-)