07 December 2010

Hawkmoon RPG Thoughts

Last week, James Maliszewski of 'Grognardia' fame posted a 'retrospective' on the Hawkmoon RPG (published by Chaosium in 1986). Since I've been thinking about BRP (and BRP-related games, such as RuneQuest and OpenQuest) quite a bit lately, I thought that I would share a few of my own thoughts on the game and its setting.

I ran a Hawkmoon campaign during the summer of 1989, and found it to be an eminently enjoyable experience. It was the final role-playing campaign that I ever ran for my 'high-school' group (I already had completed my first year of university, as I went a year earlier than most of my peers, but the rest of the group had just finished up high-school). Consequently, my recollection of the campaign is tinged with a bit of nostalgia. It also was the first BRP campaign that I ever ran (although I had been a player in a few sessions of Call of Cthulhu before the summer of '89). And since the Cold War was still going strong -- nobody was expecting the Eastern Bloc to crumble in only a few months -- the post-apocalyptic setting resonated with us and our fears of imminent nuclear holocaust (we were sensitive souls, alas).

I had planned to run the Shattered Isle campaign, which is the only supplement published by Chaosium for Hawkmoon. Instead, I simply ran the scenario included with the core rules, and a few homemade scenarios. Nothing about them strike me as especially inspired in retrospect, but the unique combination of magic and science gave them a distinctive flavour. Indeed, because of the setting's unconventional nature ('science fantasy'), and its familiar 'real world' references (far-future Europe), Hawkmoon was a refreshing change from the Middle-earth campaigns that I had run throughout most of the late 1980s (using ICE's MERP system, of course).

I still own the game, and think about running it again, from time to time. Having lived in Ireland for three years (2005-2008), I would especially be interested in running The Shattered Isle, as it pits Hibernian rebels against the oppressive forces of the malevolent Granbretan Empire (of course, there's more to it than that!). It would be fun to draw on my real life knowledge of the isle (and photographs) to run such a fantasy campaign.

As for Moorcock's character 'Hawkmoon,' I find him to be rather shallow and uninteresting. Instead, I much prefer Corum. Indeed, I find the Corum tales to be superior to those featuring either Elric or Hawkmoon (especially compelling, in my judgement, is the way in which Moorcock draws on Celtic mythology in the second Corum trilogy). Nonetheless, the 'Tragic Millennium' is a great setting: it is familiar yet exotic, and provides ample opportunity for adventure. Moreover, unlike the 'Young Kingdoms,' the players can adventure in the world of Hawkmoon without the knowledge that the whole place is going to be destroyed in a few years hanging over them! Indeed, this difference was the main reason why I picked up Hawkmoon instead of Stormbringer 22 years ago.


  1. As someone who grew up on Hawkmoon (you're right, Corum is better, but Hawkmoon was the first Moorcock I read), I found the original Chaosium game disappointing. It was treated in many ways as a standard post-holocaust setting - nuclear bunkers, ancient armoured personnel carriers, all the signs of a lost 20th century world - whereas the ancient tech in the books is all giant clockwork baboons and mind-control jewels that eat your brain. I found the recent Mongoose edition (now sadly out of print) much more atmospheric and in keeping with the original source material.

  2. You raise a legitimate criticism, cardandol. I guess that I didn't notice this feature of the RPG's treatment of the setting decades ago. I should reread the Hawkmoon stories, as I've forgotten about some of the more exotic technological devices in them.

    As for the Mongoose version of Hawkmoon, I believe that a revised edition will be produced for MRQII. As I have a high opinion of MRQII, I may check it out (assuming that it doesn't suffer from the irritating editing problems that plague so many of Mongoose's products).

  3. "Mention the Lord of the Rings
    Just once more
    And I'll more than likely kill you
    "Moorcock, Moorcock, Michael, Moorcock" you fervently moan."

    Half-Man Half Biscuit "She's got Dickie Davis Eyes"

    Sorry had to include that, hee, hee :)

    Seriously though, I really liked the MRQ1 Hawkmoon, I've got both the core book and the Granbretan sourcebook - and I'm quite dispondant that they haven't updated it (and put it in one big book that makes sense) in the same way that they did for MRQ2.

    The Corum supplement from Darcsyde Productions is pure gold and a good source of inspiration even if you don't want to use it as a setting book.


  4. I agree that the Chaosium Hawkmoon never felt that much like Hawkmoon. The MRQ1 I have, but haven't yet gotten around to read. Maybe I should.

    The fact that the world was going to end never bothered me with Stormbringer. I kind of saw it as a feature.

  5. I concur that the Corum supplement is brilliant, Newtus.

    The imminent doom of the 'Young Kingdoms' wouldn't bother me as much now, Andreas. However, two decades ago, it did make the setting unattractive to me. (I was the kind of person who always ran my MERP campaign during the 4th Age, in order to retain an 'open future' for my PCs.)

  6. Well, I don't blame you. I did the same thing...

  7. No question that Dorian is not in himself very interesting; he's pretty cardboard hero. Well, except when he's suicidal in the first book, which was cool. I think even Moorcock wasn't that interested in him, which is why he surrounded him with a large cast of supporting characters, including my all-time favourite, Guillam D'Averc. I've long dreamed of a D'Averc series. Ah well.

    But, as you say, the setting is nifty. And the fact that Dorian's shadow doesn't hang over the world is a goof thing from a gaming perspective.


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I'm a Canadian political philosopher who lives primarily in Toronto but teaches in Milwaukee (sometimes in person, sometimes online).