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A Song of Dice and Wires

A Song of Dice and Wires

About this Writers Block

The thoughts of a turbo-nerd who works as a games journalist and apparently spends his free time also working as a games journalist.

Entries in this Writers Block

Why you should check out Elric of Melniboné

Ben Burns

During a bit of research, I recently stumbled across the fact that Ken Rolston, one of the lead designers on both Morrowind and Oblivion, cut his teeth working on the Stormbringer pen & paper RPG. I wouldn’t be surprised if that doesn’t mean anything to you, but that’s exactly why I’m writing these words right now. The more you look into the most celebrated works of fantasy gaming over the years, the more you hear the name of author Michael Moorcock and his criminally underappreciated protagonist, Elric of Melniboné.

Elric VIII, 428th Emperor of Melniboné, might sound like the most clichéd paperback name you’ve ever read, but nothing could be further from the truth. Elric was first introduced to the world in June of 1961, via a novella titled The Dreaming City. At that time, most fantasy fiction was either pulpy stuff like Conan the Barbarian or the high, complex fantasy of writers such as Tolkien. These stories told tales of unlikely heroes, slaves, hobbits and downtrodden humans, who sacrificed everything for the good of their people. Elric, on the other hand, was an irredeemable asshole. While Frodo was busy traumatising himself for the good of Middle Earth, Elric was off betraying his own people to a bunch of pirates, accidentally killing his lover, and spending the entire journey home contemplating his own suicide, and that’s just the plot of the first story.

However, it wasn’t just in its rejection of Tolkienesque tropes that Moorcock’s work was innovative, many concepts which are really key to modern gaming were forged by the pen of this criminally overlooked writer.

He was the first fantasy author to really explore the concept of order vs chaos, especially in relation to a pantheon of Gods. This would later become a staple of fantasy RPGs like D&D and Warhammer, the latter of which pretty much copied everything, right down to the symbol. The concept of a vorpal blade, a term first penned by Lewis Carrol, was really only solidified by Moorcock in the form of Elric’s sword, Stormbringer. A demon which transformed itself into a sword, Stormbringer is capable of devouring the soul of anyone it cuts. Elric both loves and hates the sword, as it is the source of all his power, yet it frequently causes him to slay friends and lovers. This exact archetype would later appear in pretty much every fantasy universe going, from Nethack, to D&D, to the DC comic book universe.

I could go on and write a full essay about why the Elric saga is such an important piece of historical geek culture, but I’d prefer you to discover it for yourself. The legacy of Moorcock’s work is far-reaching, from Hawkwind’s 1985 album, Chronicle of the Black Sword, to Vampire: The Masquerade creators, White Wolf, naming their entire company after one of Elric’s titles.

Stick some heavy metal on, pick up The Dreaming City, and soak up the doom-drenched atmosphere. I promise you won’t be disappointed.

The time is right for a AAA Dungeons & Dragons game

Ben Burns

How in the name of Selûne have we made it to 2019 without so much as a whiff of a AAA Dungeons & Dragons game? It’s been a full thirteen years since Neverwinter Nights 2, the last quality single-player D&D experience, graced our hard drives. Sure, we’ve had the Neverwinter MMO, by most accounts a decent effort from Cryptic Studios. In 2015 Sword Coast Legends came out, a budget RPG which garnered a lukewarm reception. There was also that godawful Daggerdale atrocity, but the less said about that the better. While excellent CRPGs like Pillars of Eternity and Divinity: Original Sin have certainly filled Wizards of the Coast’s vacated gauntlets more than adequately, I can’t help but find myself pining after another adventure to Baldur’s Gate, Icewind Dale or one of the literally thousands of other compelling locations in the multitude of published settings for D&D.

I’m not just a fanboy moaning about not having enough content to consume either. The time is right for a new, fully realised, D&D CRPG. The game is currently more popular than it has ever been, owing to platforms like YouTube and Twitch generating a whole newer, younger audience for the hobby. It even has two active MMOs, in the form of Dungeons & Dragons Online and Neverwinter, both of which maintain a stable player-base.

Once upon a time we would have been able to say with almost certainty that an offering was inevitable, owing to the fact that a major Dungeons & Dragons motion picture is on the way. Currently slated for release in 2021. It seems someone is finally taking D&D movies seriously, with Paramount Pictures producing it in conjunction with Hasbro. A decade ago this would have meant that a videogame tie-in was in the works, which in this case would have been awesome because the film is going to be set in the Forgotten Realms universe, the very same setting that hosts Baldur’s Gate, Waterdeep, Neverwinter and Icewind Dale. I never thought I’d say this but...what a shame move tie-ins are a thing of the past.

Still, we don’t need a movie to give us an excuse for a new D&D computer game. In fact, there are already plenty of awesome adventures out for 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons which would make excellent video games. Out of the Abyss is basically one huge dungeon crawl through the dank, cavernous Underdark, pitting the players in a desperate struggle for survival against the pursuit of Drow slavers and the many alien Gods that hold sway over the landscape’s inhabitants. Waterdeep: Dragon Heist’s bizarre series of events that occur as you search the city for a treasure trove of unimaginable wealth would make for a quality linear narrative. Out of all of the published adventures though, I reckon Storm King’s Thunder, a sprawling adventure that takes the party through innumerable towns and cities along the Sword Coast, would make for a truly Skyrim-esque experience. You may be understandably skeptical about all of this, but let's not forget that Pathfinder, arguably D&D’s closest competitor, managed to push out a decent isometric RPG last year in the form of Kingmaker, itself a conversion of one of the system’s most popular campaign modules.

Better still, why not draw on some of the classic adventures from previous editions of the game? Red Hand of Doom, a criminally overlooked 3rd edition adventure, sees the party rescuing a vale populated by a handful of small cities and farming communities from the onslaught of a horde of bloodthirsty enemies. Or perhaps it’s time the gothic land of Barovia came to our computer screens in the form of a conversion of Ravenloft. After all, the module’s brooding antagonist and moody landscape is widely regarded as a watershed moment in RPG narrative.

I could (and would love to) bang on for days about why literally hundreds of D&D modules would make an excellent CRPG, but the point is that this franchise has both the resources and the audience to make something like this viable, if only Hasbro would be willing to sign off on it. Make it happen guys!

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