Two Gods – one Dead yet Living, the other trapped behind the Barrier of Law – struggle for power in the Young Kingdoms. For too long has this battle has ebbed and flowed, and now through the manipulation of an innocent bard the plans of both sides reach towards a conclusion.
Yet, even now the Mistress of Fate, Balance, acts in the guise of our heroes. Through their actions and decisions, the future is yet to be decided. Which God will prevail? Only time – and perhaps the Book of Brilliant Things – may tell…
The Book of Brilliant Things is a scenario written by long standing guardian of all thing Eternal Champion, Loz Whitaker and appears as one half of the supplement – The Fate of Fools (released by Chaosium Inc in 1994 for the Elric! Edition). As with all scenario reviews on the Stormbringerrpg.com site, these commentaries are the opinion of the author only, and are rated in three simple categories – Must Run, Should Run, Might Run (see the sidebar below for more information on these ratings).
In The Book of Brilliant Things, the heroes find themselves in Raschil – the capital of Filkhar – when they discover that the stories of a local bard are coming to life and threatening the city’s inhabitants. Drawn to the mystery by the storyteller – Ranyart Finn – himself and the avatar of a Chaos God, the group will find themselves departing to Cadsandria – the heart of knowledge and learning in the Young Kingdoms – to locate and acquire the titled Book of Brilliant Things; the only item that can capture the storyteller’s fantasies and dreams.
Of course, nothing is ever that simple, and one does not trust an avatar of any God (let alone a Chaos one) without caution. Moreover, other powers are on the move, and a long dead God also seeks the Book of Brilliant Things. Lead by the mercenary – Menekeyil – and supported a number of talented assassins, this group’s plans for the book are well advanced by the time the heroes arrive.
Arranging and running sessions of Eternal Champion roleplaying can be difficult in this day and age, and it is hoped that through the material and reviews on this website, potential Game Masters can be assisted in making the best choices for their sessions. To this end we categorize each scenario we review in the following manner:
- Must Run – These are the most interesting and iconic adventures written for Stormbringer in all its guises. They aren’t always the best written or presented, but in the opinion of the author they highlight the concepts, plotting and styling that makes the Eternal Champion’s multiverse such as a unique setting for gaming. To these ends, we believe it is these scenarios that should be run first and foremost in any new Stormbringer session or campaign.
- Should Run – While some published Stormbringer adventures bring interesting or icon material to life on their pages, they aren’t always the easiest to prepare or run. Some too have failed to age gracefully, and may need more than a few tweaks or changes to ensure that the meet the expectations of the game table. In short, all these scenarios are great but may need some TLC before play.
- Might Run – Fortunately few published scenarios in this category, but those that are, are in the opinion of the author, lacking in the elements that distinguish Stormbringer adventures from those available for other roleplaying game systems. That’s not to say that are not without merit, but as a Stormbringer Game Master you may only wish to run these after the other categories are exhausted.
And so, it becomes a race, one part tactical and one part strategic, to secure the tome from its resting place in the vault of Cadsandria’s legendary library. Along the way they will not only need to overcome Menekeyil, but also negotiate compromised librarians, troublesome civic authorities and the numerous attempts on their very lives!
Why is this a Must Run Scenario?
As with most, if not all, of his material for Chaosium’s Stormbringer, Lawrence Whitaker understands the elements that ultimately make for a true Eternal Champion story; and this scenario is no exception. Right from the start it places the characters in the heart of the action, in their rightful place as both pawns of fate while also being the ultimate instruments of change. This is the essence of Stormbringer, and in The Book of Brilliant Things such concepts are readily reinforced.
From becoming the unwitting champions of an irredeemable drunkard, through to discovering that they stand in the midst of a struggle where there is no good or evil, simply two sides of Chaos and change; this is Stormbringer at its best!
At the heart of the scenario is an investigation and race, although the characters won’t be aware they are party to one until much later in the plot. The first section is based in Raschil where the effort here is to align the characters with Maluk, before they embark on the main plot. Once in Cadsandria, the story is much more free-formed, where the potential to undertake numerous avenues of investigation are open to the party, all the while with an unseen clock slowly ticking away. The ending is one of the least pre-determined to appear in a roleplaying scenario, and almost any conclusion has a legitimate possibility of playing.
In the end it has magic and demons, great characters with real motivations, and an healthy opportunity for combat, heated discussion and roleplaying in equal measure! What more could you ask for?
This scenario has many highlights some of which are baked into the scenario and some of which are more aesthetic. In no particular order:
- The Openness – While there is definitely a strong underlying plot to the scenario, there is also a tremendous scope for bringing the story to life. The whole adventure takes place over a number of days (weeks even), in the cities of Raschil and Cadsandria, which allows plenty of time for discovery and exploration. This is obviously Loz’s opinion as well, as there is some really expressive flavour text mixed throughout the scenario, that really makes the settings ‘pop’.
- Maps of the cities – There are simple, but more than usable maps of both Raschil and Cadsandria. I found these to be quite inspiring!
- Never without an example – Loz never leaves it all up the Game Master to come up with everything, and there are plenty of examples of scenes and events sprinkled through the scenario; from the storyteller’s legends that come to life, through to potential assassination attempts on the party, and even the effort of flesh out an entire villa that not once in my two play-throughs has anyone ever visited!
- Non-Player Characters with Motivations – Every character in the adventure – from the curesed storyteller Ranyart Finn, through to the thugs at The Savage Dice Rollth (a gambling house located in the apt named Unlucky Buggers Way) have reasons for respond and acting the way they do. This means no-one ever feels out of place or forced into the setting, which we all know is a challenge in open framed scenarios such as Brilliant Things.
An Anecdote from Play – Cadsandria University’s Assistant Librarian is one Niglis Nightdiver. Who – to quote the scenario – is “Plump, Obsequious, and mealy-mouthed. He resembles a cross between a man and a bullfrog.” This character is immense fun to play and have engage with the heroes. Come on… what better opportunity is the Game Master ever going to have to give the characters a piece of his mind than when playing the abhorrent Niglis!
Issues or Constrains
No scenario is without its issues and this one is no different, thankfully those that seem most glaringly obvious are easy enough to resolve with a bit of planning (see below for some of my suggestions).
- The Connection to Finn – The whole motivation for helping Finn, especially early on, seems really thin. Sure the characters are heroes and champions of the Balance, but really, why are they putting themselves in harms way for a drunkard? It’s only later on that the real threat of the living tales becomes obvious, and since this fact is raised by an individual no right minded player would trust, I won’t blame anyone for not taking up arms on their behalf!
- Assisting the Lesser of Two Evils – Although the players might not come to the conclusion until near the end of the story, it will eventually become obvious that they are really interjecting between two Gods of Chaos. This, in my mind, makes the need for the player’s connection to the scenario to be even stronger – because, as written, there is nothing to stop the heroes from simply walking away once they know who they are ultimately working for!
- Too much stuff – Seems odd to complain about having too much material in a roleplaying scenario, however there do seem to be a couple of sections – such as the Librarian’s home and the aforementioned gambling house – that didn’t need quite so much time and space devoted to them. Now, I know each group is different, but in both cases I’ve played/run this scenario both these locations were barely touched.
Suggestions in Play
Having both played in and run this scenario, there are a couple of things I like to suggestions to any Game Master thinking about rolling this adventure to for their players…
- Experience at the Table – I’d definitely aim to run this for experienced players, maybe both in regards to roleplaying experience as well as knowledge of the Stormbringer setting and its motifs. Inexperienced gamers might well get lost in the detail of the story and they will likely not to immediately grasp the expectations of characters cast in the roles as agents of fate. None of this is insurmountable, of course, but a Game Master might like to reinforce the scenario’s themes prior to play, so that every is onboard for its conceits.
- Be Prepared – As noted earlier, a lot of ‘in game’ time might pass during the running of this scenario, and the characters, once they get a grasp on thier situation, have a lot to explore. Loz did a great job at adding in plenty of flavor in the text, but still there is scope and time for the characters to do (lots) of other things. In fact, in hindsight, I think this whole scenario might work best when it is mixed with other events going on for the party to deal with. So my advise is to be prepared with some other sidetracks and events as well… such things never go astray in any case.
- Strengthen up the Drivers for the Heroes – While the players will likely buy into the story if they know Stormbringer’s stylings, the connection the heroes have to the main plot can feel a stretch at times (especially when physical harm is put in their way). This is especially so real harm or danger arises and the group starts to question just why are they risking life and limb for a drunken bard and a one-eyed witch. A good Game Master will take the time to build on the connections between the characters and Finn/Raschil/etc. This isn’t too hard, really, and it could be covered by anything as simple as having family in the city being threatened by the living nightmares, through to a specific hero’s adherence to the orders of Chaos… option abound and I’m sure you’ll think of something!
An Anecdote from Play – The demon guarding the the Library’s Vault in this adventure is particularly disturbing. Not only does the illustration remind me of something out of one’s worse nightmares, but its ability to ‘Suck Face’ is almost as horrid as it sounds! In the session where I was a player, this creature almost took out one of the other party members with this ability…ouch what a gruesome way to die!
So, while The Book of Brilliant Things might not be the first scenario I’d run for a group of players new to the Stormbringer game and/or the Eternal Champion setting, it is most definitely something I’d look to follow up an initial session or two with. It is a longer scenario, at is ripe for expanding with atmosphere and opportunity, and as such could easily be grown into a wider campaign or series of stories (what happens to the book, what if Menekeyil escapes and plots revenge, or even what will become of Raschil if the heroes fail!).
BTW, Did I mention that it allows the characters to visit Cadsandria (a location that gets referred to regularly in various other adventures and even Michael Moorcock’s stories)? That alone should be reason enough to run this for any one keen the Elric novels!