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Magic World, Mu and Tékumel too

May 18, 2013

In the seventeen years from 1994 to 2011, I did almost no gaming. (If memory serves, I DM’d three sessions of D&D and played in one.) However, I did plenty of writing – mostly for AD&D 2e, Call of Cthulhu and Skyrealms of Jorune. I filled several ring binders with maps and notes for campaigns I knew I was unlikely ever to run. Why? Well, just because I find the whole world-building aspect of being a GM fun, relaxing and therapeutic.

One of the ideas I had during that time was a Vikings-versus-Cthulhu weird sword-and-sorcery campaign (a bit like Beedo’s Black City only nowhere near as cool or imaginative), for which I planned to use a simple mashup of rules from Stormbringer and Call of Cthulhu*. (The working title was “Storm of Cthulhu”. Obviously.) However, that idea never really got off the blocks. I thought about it again when the BRP Big Gold Book came out, but I had too many irons in the fire at that time. Now Magic World has got me thinking again about campaigns I’d like to run.

magic worldMagic World is a strange beast in some ways. It’s not a BRP supplement, it’s a standalone game, but it’s been cobbled together, Frankenstein-style, from earlier Chaosium publications – primarily Elric! and its supplements The Bronze Grimoire and Sailing on the Seas of Fate. (The editor is Ben “Zomben” Monroe, but the book is credited and dedicated to the late Lynn Willis, who was responsible for Elric! and so much more.) All the Moorcockisms have been scrubbed off, leaving a fairly generic fantasy iteration of the venerable BRP system. A default setting, “The Southern Reaches”, is provided, with 18 pages of background info and a fold-out map. It has a kind of “Celtic Tolkien” flavour, but it doesn’t really grab me.

In terms of complexity, Magic World – like Elric!/Stormbringer sits pleasingly in the middle ground: more detailed than Call of Cthulhu but less crunchy than RuneQuest. If you’ve ever played a BRP-based game, you know the drill: STR, CON, SIZ, INT, POW, DEX, APP, Hit Points, Magic Points, pick an occupation (Bandit, Beggar, Mercenary, Merchant, Sailor, Sorcerer, etc.) and assign points to skills. You need POW 16+ to cast spells, of which about ninety are described. (Many more are planned for a supplement, Advanced Sorcery.) Hit locations are out; random armour protection and major wounds are in. Allegiance rules (the BRP equivalent of alignment) are an option. Seventy monsters are included – mostly the usual fantasy suspects, but with a few entertaining interlopers from folklore and literature: the fachan, jabberwock, stoorworm, etc. There’s also a 20-page chapter on seafaring, which mercifully concentrates on the hazards of waterborne travel (storms, monsters, sea-sickness, getting lost, availability of food and water, etc.) rather than overly wargame-y rules for naval combat. What’s not to like about a game that has a full-page (and eminently customisable) “Sailing Fumble Table”, which – if you’re unlucky – might direct you to roll on the nearby “Ship Disaster Table”?

I could easily see this set of rules being used in conjunction with Call of Cthulhu for a “Storm of Cthulhu” campaign. Not that I intend to write such a thing any more, because Beedo’s already done it (better) in D&D-speak and hopefully the Black City will see print one day. Alternatively, I think Magic World plus Call of Cthulhu would make a decent platform for sword-and-sorcery gaming in a prehistoric, Robert E. Howard or (especially) Clark Ashton Smith-style setting. A percentile equivalent of Crypts & Things or Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, if you will.

Which brings me to Mu.

Aye, I know it’s probably bad form to suggest using the winning post from the recent Swords & Wizardry Appreciation Day blogfest with a different system entirely. But I’ve spoken before about the modularity and, hence, adaptability of BRP, and I can think of no easier or better way to conjure up some crazy-awesome sword-and-sanity roleplaying than using a solid fantasy engine like Magic World and souping it up with bits bolted on from the boss of all Lovecraftian SAN-shatterers, Call of Cthulhu. Hell, you’ve got your Ghatanothoa stats right there.

Speaking of adaptability, I recently acquired a copy of Empire of the Petal Throne (the Different Worlds “pink book” edition from 1987) courtesy of one of my players – thanks, Stuart! – and it occurs to me that, with a little bit of effort, one could run a game set in Tékumel using Magic World and it ought to work quite nicely.

I might have more to say about the mechanics and presentation of Magic World in future posts. For now, the game has inspired me to think about ways I might want to use it. Most likely few, if any, of these ideas will ever progress beyond the stage of “what if?” But just thinking about this stuff is fun. And I genuinely hope that someone picks up the Magic World Mu campaign concept (“Mu-gic World”, anyone?) and runs with it. Let me know if you do.

*This was before the publication of Cthulhu Dark Ages, which I still don’t own in any case.

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