Sword & Sorcery

The world of Malmsturm was designed as a setting for fantasy roleplaying games. Malmsturm belongs to a specific subtype of fantasy that is mostly referred to as »Sword and Sorcery«, a term coined by Fritz Leiber. Sword and Sorcery had its origins in the »pulp« magazines of the 1920s and 30s, in which fantastical tales appeared along with »normal« crime and adventure stories. These short stories were either horror, science fiction or or fantasy, according to todays understanding, although the writers rarely payed attention to a strict separation of these genres. The boundaries between magic and science or betweeen aliens and supernatural monsters were often deliberately blurred. At the same time, the starring roles were mostly reserved for humans, while intelligent non-human races did either appear as dangerous monstrosities or not at all – an exception to this rule where tragical characters that made an appearance as the last of their kind. The genre of Sword and Sorcery originated with the fantasy stories by Robert E. Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, C. L. Moore and Fritz Leiber. In later decades their tradition was picked up by L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter, Michael Moorcock and Karl Edward Wagner.

“What happened to fantasy for me is what also happened to rock and roll. It found a common denominator for making maximum money.
As a result, it lost its tensions, its anger, its edginess and turned into
one big cup of cocoa.”
– Michael Moorcock –

There is a overlap with elements of Sword and Sorcery in the so-called »Dying Earth« genre, which revolves around ancient and dying civilizations. Especially Clark Ashton Smith, Jack Vance and Gene Wolfe come to mind. In this spirit, Malmsturm deliberately presents a world that combines many typical aspects of classic Sword and Sorcery and Dying Earth stories: A mazy history full of lost cultures and empires, humans as the dominant intelligent species, remnants of forgotten technology and science, a grand empire sinking into decadence, wilderness roamed by barbarians, monstrous animals and plants, exotic city states and so forth. But real Sword and Sorcery adventures require not only a suitable world, but most of all suitable characters and conflicts! The heroes of Sword and Sorcery shape this genre by their – often little heroic – idiosyncrasies and adventures: Classic fantasy heores determine the fate of the world in grand wars and with epic efforts. Their fate is the fight against evil. The scope of the stories of Conan, Kane, Jirel, Elak or Fafhrd are usually much smaller and more personal. Even when those characters battle demigods their motivations are mostly mundane. The greatness in Sword and Sorcery lies in its heoroes: We meet them when they are already experienced champions. They show willpower and emotions, bear personal codes of honour, aims and desires. Exceptions can be found in the characters of later authors like Michael Moorcock or Gene Wolfe: Those are involved in decisions of a cosmic scale, but they still act out of personal motives and often only grasp the whole meaning of their fate at the end of their respective stories. However, actual destiny and the helplessness of a hero in the face of his fate do not belong in classic Sword and Sorcery stories – and Malmsturm in particular, due to its individually susceptible reality, is hardly suited for it.

“Better freedom and a chilly road than a warm hearth and servitude.”
– Fritz Leiber–

Sword and Sorcery heroes would do anything to reach their goals. Any blow taken they will meet with an immediate riposte. Instead of entangling themselves in a long-lasting guerilla war they go through hell, in order to take what they need to kill their enemy. Others eke out a living as thieves or mercenaries for years and almost become the victim of some political intrigue as seemingly expendable scoundrels – only to begin a bloody vendetta against the noble high priest and originator of the plot. These characters are anti-heroes: Instead of using their extraordinary abilities to help the weak, they mostly only serve themselves. This is not unintentional, however, and is in line with the origin of Sword and Sorcery, since even contemporary early heroes, private eyes and masked avengers from pulp magazines – The Shadow, Domino Lady, The Continental Op, The Spider – were often anti-heores or moved in rather individual moral grey zones. Therefore, many Sword and Sorcery protagonists are lone wolves. Yet there are also example for longtime companions, whose friendship is particularly close due to the fervour of these characters. Hence, in the creation of a player character for Malmsturm one should not shy away from extreme events in the characters backstory or dramatic-sounding aspects – quite the contrary!
Many Sword and Sorcery protagonists are distinguished by bravery and a strong will to stay true to themselves, and in the world of Malmsturm this is exactly what capacitates them to gread deeds.
So timidly designed characters with cautiously phrased aspects will rarely go well with Malmsturm. It is often our co-players that help us to releases the brakes in our heads during character creation.

“My characters are more like men than these real men are, see.
They’re rough and rude, they got hands and they got bellies.
They hate and they lust; break the skin of civilization and you find the ape, roaring and red-handed.”
– Robert E. Howard –