Ever since I picked up RuneQuest II from Mongoose last year, I've been looking for a suitable setting for it. I finally found what I was looking for when I bought the Elric of Melniboné Core Rulebook last week. Although published last year, I never really felt compelled to give it a look until recently and I'm glad I did. Now I will confess, I've always found the Elric saga a bit of a hard slog. While not especially complicated plotwise, Moorcock's writing has, for me at least, always been easier to put down than to pick back up again. I have read all the books in the Elric saga, but it took years. Having said that, the setting of the series is impressive. Melniboné and the Young Kingdoms is quite possibly the most perfect campaign world possible for a dark fantasy rpg and Mongoose has done an admirable job of bringing it to life.
Not surprisingly, the book starts off with some 35 pages of history and geography of the Young Kingdoms. Though probably not necessary for most players, GMs will find some useful background in here for running a campaign. The second chapter deals with character generation. Human is the default race and many GMs may decide just to allow humans. However, rules are included for playing Melnibonéans, Half-Melnibonéans and several minor humanoid races from various time periods including a race of extinct giants called the Karasim, a winged race called the Myyrrhn and a primitive, dwarf-like race called the Pukwadji. In addition to the new races, new cultures are added to supplement the four already provided in MRQII, Civilised, Barbarian, Nomad and Primitive. The new cultures are Melnibonéan, Poor, Outlaw and Wanderer of the Time Streams. The first three are pretty self-explanatory, but for those who have not read a lot of Moorcock's stories, the last one might need some explanation. The world of Elric is just one of many in Moorcock's Multiverse, known as the Million Spheres. The worlds of the Million Spheres are connected to each other by several overriding concepts, such as the Eternal Champion, who is destined to fight for Balance in each world. Besides Elric, other manifestations of the Eternal Champion include Dorian Hawkmoon, Earl Aubec and Corum. Some characters, including Elric himself, have been able to transport themselves between worlds within the Million Spheres, while others do so unintentionally. Characters who shift from world to world are Time Stream Wanderers. Needless to say, such characters are a challenge for both players and GMs. Also included in this chapter are new skills, such as Dreamtheft, Rune Casting and Witch Sight. Most of these new skills relate to the unique magic systems in the game (see below).
After a brief chapter on currency and equipment, there is a discussion of metaphysics. The eternal conflict between Law and Chaos is central to Moorcock's stories. Powerful forces on both sides struggle through their mortal proxies to control the Multiverse, while the somewhat quieter force of Balance seeks to ensure neither comes to dominate. The Eternal Champion typically works toward greater Balance, although in the case of Elric, it is not his original intention. Next follows a section on magic. There is no Common Magic, but Sorcery and Spirit Magic do exist in the game. Two other types of magic, Dream Magic and Rune Magic are also introduced. Rune Magic is not unlike Sorcery except for the obvious addition of runic symbols during casting, but Dream Magic is quite different and rather unique to the Elric stories. There are two types of Dream Magic, Dreamtheft and DreamQuesting. The former involves the theft of someone else's dreams for the benefit of either the Dreamthief or a client. Stolen dreams can provide insight into the dreamer's personality and motivations, can aid in the solution of a dilemma into which the dreamer might have some insight or even allow the recipient of the stolen dream to improve a skill which the dreamer possessed. DreamQuesting, on the other hand, allows a dreamer to travel to alternate worlds or distant time periods to experience real events. It is a particularly popular pastime for Melnibonéans, which is why their capital city of Imrryr is known as the Dreaming City.
A large chapter on cults is next. Cults play a big role in the various versions of RuneQuest as a source of knowledge, both magical and mundane. Typically, every character will belong to a cult. The cults in the Elric of Melniboné Core Rulebook revolve around the various Lords described in the Elric saga. These include the Lords of Law and Chaos, the Elemental Lords and the Beast and Plant Lords. The book finishes with a chapter on monsters and prominent NPCs, another on tips for GMs and a final one on playing the game in other eras beyond that covered in the Elric saga. All-in-all, it's a pretty solid core book. It is well-written and, perhaps even more importantly, given Mongoose's track record, well-edited. The interior art is sparse and all black-and-white, but competent. If you like RuneQuest II and seek a campaign setting that doesn't have any Ducks, this may be just what you're looking for.