Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Fate Of The Tragic Millennium

Frank Brunner's stunning cover

Maybe we're in it now. I've been reading a bit of Michael Moorcock recently. Really, it's the most I've read of Moorcock since my high school days, when I read just about everything I could get my hands on by him. Not the Cornelius stuff or the "straight" SF, mind you; what I read back in those days and am enjoying again are his swords and sorcery/planetary romance stories.

Currently, I am re-reading The Mad God's Amulet, which was the second Hawkmoon novel. I bought the first three of the Tor reprints of the series, read the first novel, the Jewel in the Skull maybe a year ago, and then let the series sit for a while. After polishing off the last of the Kane of Old Mars novels a week ago, I decided to dive-in and read this one. It's a fun romp through Western Asia and up into the former (waaay former) Soviet Union, and induces a bit of a frisson while browsing through my recently arrived copy of Chris Kutalik's Slavic pointcrawl, Slumbering Ursine Dunes. (And yes, it's no accident that they feel connected.)

Cover art by David Lewis Johnson

So what is Hawkmoon, or to put it more accurately, "The History of the Runestaff"? It's a sequence of Eternal Champion novels featuring Dorian Hawkmoon, a knight from the German statelet of Koln. Hawkmoon is one of the few warriors willing to stand up to the might and insanity of the Dark Empire of Granbretan.

Just as Melinbone's Bright Empire is a reflection of the British Empire, so too is the Dark Empire. But Granbretan is far more homicidal than Melinbone at its most warlike and decadent. The Melniboneans may have looked upon humans as being their inferiors, but at least they weren't exterminationist about it. Granbretan is more like Pan Tang: a twisted image of Melnibone, as dreamed up by its inferiors.

(At this point, it is probably worth pointing out that the History of the Runestaff was published around 1968 - at least the volume I'm reading now was. It was published at the height of a mad empire's overreach in Southeast Asia - a drama that same empire was to reproduce as farce in West and South Asia just a couple of decades later. Like that other empire, Granbretan embodies the march of Chaos. A chaos barely constrained within a framework of ostensible order. One wonders whether Moorcock had read Franz Neumann's seminal study of the Third Reich, Behemoth: The Structure and Practice of National Socialism: 1933-1944?)

The Dark Empire marches East. The nations of Tragic Millennium Europa (our far future, post-collapse) are falling one after another to the beast masked legions of Granbretan. Only Hawkmoon and a handful of others stand in their way. The world is a familiar one, but damaged, rendered weird. There are mutants, there is weird science, and there's magic. Many castles and palaces probably have laboratories beneath them - as well as dungeons. Tragic Millennium Europe is littered with ruins that have caches of inexplicable artifacts based on strange technologies.

(Monty Cook didn't invent this idea with Numenera; neither did Gene Wolfe with The Urth of the New Sun, nor Michael Moorcock. These are science fictional ideas that go way back, and they are recurrent.)

This setting is gameable. It has the makings of a points-of-light-getting-successively-extinguished kind of campaign. There are pockets of resistance to the Dark Empire. More than just Kamarg. These might be small states, or they might be resistance forces within the occupied cities of the Dark Empire.

There are probably other campaign models that I haven't even considered yet. But one thing I am convinced of is that this setting would work exceptionally well using Fate. Eternal Champions and their Companions are typically not 1st level types. They are most often experienced. The PCs need not be Hawkmoon or his Companions, but to truly have a Moorcockian feel, a campaign should really feature the PCs facing off against entire armed companies. With arcane swords, relic tech artifacts, and no doubt summoned allies.


  1. It would be interesting though to read about origins of sufficiently advanced science, that isn't so different from magic.

    Not sir Arthur Clarke's "law", but maybe some progenitor Sci-Fi story and history of the concept throughout the years.

    1. Brian Stableford had a history of early SF (the 19th C. "scientific romance") that traced some of that out. He argued that early sf/sr made no hard distinction between science and magic or the supernatural (or "preternatural" as he calls it in a couple of his fantasies, starting with "Werewolves of London"). Over time, the distinction hardened, and with the advent of the New Wave and now anime, it has softened again considerably. I read that book like 20-30 years ago, so I have no idea about the title. The RPG "Forgotten Futures" played with that considerably, especially in the supplements.

    2. I might add that the old school Hereticwerks blog is very much in this vein too, and inspired many things here at FATE SF, such as the science fictional spells of the Galactic Grimoire

    3. I would look into, thanks... There weren't new spells for quite some time, btw...

      Maybe, something new is on our doorstep? Something eternally or championey? =)

    4. Oh, it's just been a very busy fall. There will be a lot more where the spells come from... and more.

  2. I'm not sure I think this setting would benefit from Fate. But, something very dramatic it would have to be.