Converting Stormbringer's 'Stealer of Souls' and 'Black Sword' - final thoughts


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Photo of a reMarkable on a desk with a Staedtler Digital Pencil above it and a spiral bound book to the right. The reMarkable has a flow map titled 'Part One', with multiple connecting nodes.
Flow mapping the Stealer of Souls

This is the follow on post I promised earlier on converting 'Stealer of Souls' and 'Black Sword' from Stormbringer to TRIPOD, a much more narrative system, so I could run the two campaigns back to back at Longcon.

Photo of black spiral-bound copy of two Chaosium Stormbringer supplements. The cover is an amalgam of the top half of each of the original publications; the top shows Elric in a forest and is titled 'Stealer of Souls'. The Bottom is a night scene with Elric fighting a red-haired woman with towers in the background and is titled Black Sword.
Both scenarios printed out for mark-up and reference

As previously described, I ordered the spiral-bound print-out with the scenarios and supporting material in and then re-read both modules. After the first read through, I got my reMarkable out and started to map the flow of the scenario. This stage isn't always needed, but the age of these modules meant it was a necessity. There's a huge amount of information in them, well-written from the perspective of providing all the background and options you'd want. Unfortunately, the information isn't well structured for quick use at the table, with background, location information and plot all mixed up without any clear distinction to allow you to differentiate when glancing through the text at the table. It's enough to give Bryce palpitations.

Flow map of the key nodes for 'Stealer of Souls', handwritten on a reMarkable. The scenario shows a sandbox structure with a short linear finale.
Flow map for Stealer of Souls (reMarkable sketch)

I mapped out the nodes in the structure of the scenario, with interlinks shown in a crude flowchart. Each node had the page references, and key locations and NPCs called out. This was a way of giving me a fast way to navigate the material. I ended up with each scenario outlined in a single page. It was immediately apparent that I was dealing with two very different beasts.

Stealer of Souls is very much a sandbox where you have to handle reactions and deal with the outcomes on how they affect the plot. The players are very much in control and the narrator just gets to roll with it. The one linear section - the chase after Pilarmo - was cut short by very clever use of a Demon of Transport by the players. Interestingly, we spent a good hour's play on an interaction with the Immyrian Mercenaries which is really a throwaway single line rumour source in the module. However, the players wanted to explore this so I rolled with it.

Flow map of the key nodes for 'Black Sword', handwritten on a reMarkable. The scenario shows a very linear structure.
Flow map for Black Sword (reMarkable sketch)

Black Sword is a linear chase, with the players only really getting control of the plot when they start to explore the more detailed nodes; Org, the Bubble Maze and Karlaak. In our game, the player's short-circuited through the Bubble Maze. If you were playing the scenario with the original engine (the Stormbringer RPG, a Basic Roleplaying D100 engine) then Nadsakor would also have become more significant and would have felt more like a dungeon crawl with beggars. Karlaak has the most agency for the players; they completely control the narrative pace and locations. Certainly, there are ways for the Narrator to push things by using Zarozinia and Moonglum, but I found that our party was in the driving seat at that point.

The linear structure for the second half was a benefit for me. I knew I had around 20 hours of gaming to fill (with a bit of flex either way), so it was a relief to know that if we got bogged down then I could cut sections of the overland trek out without the players feeling cheated. I wanted to have started Black Sword by the evening session on the first day, and we did that ably. We could have finished Nadsakor, but everyone was getting tired, so I called it at a cliffhanger point.

Several of the locations had very assumed plots; in Bakshaan, it's assumed the party will parlay before they end up assassinating the merchants. However, I lost all control of that because Freyda was a player. Fortunately, they did do the parlay, but by the time that happened, one of the merchants was already dead from a duel. The subsequent ambush nearly killed Freyda, and definitely gave the feel of a real threat.

Nadsakor is complicated; it tries to get the feel of a huge shanty town populated with outcasts, cared for by a Chaos Lord. It does it very much in the form of a dungeon crawl with potential guides. Instead, I opted to use a montage of encounters to show it off. When they met Narajhan, I did paraphrase around the box text and it was surprisingly effective at getting a feel of being in the presence of a god.

Org was the most problematic; it assumes that your players will get swept up in a revolution, but when they decide to go down the same demigod approach that Elric did, it becomes complicated. It was gloriously messy, and also the second time that one of them was at risk of dying.

They short-circuited the Bubble Maze by stealing a demon of knowledge to guide them out the safe way. They were even nice enough to leave it with a servant of the aged sorcerer and to tell them to take it back.

Two page spiral bound spread from the Chaosium 'Stealer of Souls' book for Stormbringer with yellow and pink highlighting and also two post-it notes with demon stats.
Marking up in progress

Conversion was really simple, as TRIPOD uses a narrative trait based engine that generates a pool of dice into your hand for challenge resolution. However, I took a fair bit of time to get to this following the node-mapping because I went down the rabbit hole of completely converting my old conversion notes for character generation from the melange of Wordplay (TRIPOD 1e) and HeroQuest to be completely TRIPOD.

Once I did that, I had templates for all the Stormbringer demon and elemental types, and background traits for all types of characters.

I went through the scenarios looking at scenes, characters/monsters and narrative text with three different highlighters. This allowed me to pull a selection of traits from the text descriptions and character blocks. I then looked at the relative power and looked at the table for NPCs and made a note alongside the stat block of something like '4-5/3' which translates to 4d attribute plus 5d for primary skill or 3d for a secondary skill. Equipment could be added as a bonus on the fly (most gives 1-3d), and magic was applied using the same rules the players had. I wrote most demon details down on a post-it note, as it was more convenient. If you look at the mark up above, it gives a part completed example. Yellow are character traits, Pink scene traits.

Static traps and challenges were addressed by making them a set challenge rating - typically 3d, 6d or 9d.

Overall, it worked well in the game and it never felt like I was struggling to handle the situations that presented.

Photo of bags of dice lying on a game book. There are a mixture of blue, green, white and yellow D6s and D8s in transparent plastic ziplock bags.
Plenty of D8s

The conversion introduces D8s as the base dice for demons. These give a different spread of success to the standard D6 in the game; 1-4 is a failure, 5-6 give 1 success, 7-8 give two successes and 8 also triggers an exploding re-roll. I also messed around with lawful items; the lawful contrivance - a sword - rolled a normal dice, but gave two successes if it rolled any level of successes (ie 4-6 all gave 2 successes). In play these worked well except the first time a handful of both dice went in the dice tower and jammed it.

An image of a plasticised map of Michael Moorcock's Young Kingdoms by Axel Maps printed at A1. The map looks like satellite imagery.
A lovely map of the Young Kingdoms

I printed an A1 PVC poster of the Young Kingdoms from a lovely image by Axel Maps on Deviant Art. The PVC was a good call as two drinks went over close to it. During the game we used some meeples on it to show where we thought Elric was compared to the players.

I also printed many of the maps from the scenarios out as A4s. We only used one in play, for the ambush at the start, as this was the main combat the players had. It worked well enough with a combination of meeples and dry-wipe counters.

I did one character from scratch with the new conversion rules (Freyda) and converted the Wordplay conversions of my Stormbringer campaign's characters for the others. The players picked a good mix and they seemed to work well in play.

To summarise; converting the game was pretty simple and easy to use in play. Provided you have print-out to highlight it's a fast process*. TRIPOD gave a dramatic and dynamic system where players could have heroes in play, yet feel a little vulnerable, with game mechanics that supported their growth. In the end, we played through the whole campaign. The TRIPOD engine meant that even the most intense combat sequences only took 15 minutes at most.

I enjoyed running this; feel free to ask any questions if there's more you'd like to know.

7 July 2024

*Confession - I didn't quite finish the Black Sword conversion before the con, so did the later parts of the book on Sunday morning before we reached them. It took around forty-five minutes including re-reading notes.

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That sounds great! 🎲

I remember playing this in the 80’s.
Our party of PCs were wiped out in the first ambush, all killed except one who was captured. He was a Melnibonéan sorcerer.

We rolled up new PCs and went to rescue the Melnibonéan sorcerer only to find him leading the ambushers.

I remember going through a few PCs myself as they kept on getting killed, each new PC was worse than the one before. I think I dropped out of the campaign by the time my fifth character was killed.
The others carried on though.