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seneschal

What is is about Stormbringer?

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After perusing the threads, other than the Big Two (Runequest and Call of Cthulhu) Stormbringer/Elric! seems to get the most love of all the BRP iterations, even forming the basis for other versions of the game.  What makes Stormbringer special in a way that other out-of-print products, say Ringworld and Superworld, aren't?

(I mean, with the latter two your character could one-punch that giant cave troll and sent it drifting off into space!)  :D

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I can't answer the question completely as I have never played Ringworld though I have read the rules for Superworld. I think what Stormbringer did for Chaosium was to bring a set of SIMPLE, medium crunch rules to the fantasy genre in a way that RuneQuest wasn't able to do. The Stormbringer books are concise with just what you need to run a fantasy setting with nothing extra. It wasn't that RuneQuest was unsucessful it was just aimed at a player that wanted a more gritty and realistic approximation of fantasy. Add to that the unique demon magic rules offered by Stormbringer and the great playability of the Young Kingdoms and you had the perfect game. If Chaosium would take those same rules and put them into a high quality generic fantasy (as they did with Magic World - but higher quality) I would scoop it up in a second.

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1 hour ago, seneschal said:

What makes Stormbringer special in a way that other out-of-print products, say Ringworld and Superworld, aren't?

I would actually say that it's about the acessability of the source material. If you haven't read any of Larry Niven's Known Space stories, Ringworld was going to be a miss. The same could also be said of Morcock's Eternal Champion series', however books like Elric and its sequels were short easy reads in comparison the Niven's work. Superworld's problem is that it's generic for obvious reasons. Unlike any of the branded universe superhero games, you needed to think about what you were doing style-wise when running it. When offering games at my RPG club historically (in the last 30 years) Stormbringer/Elric has been played far more than Superworld and Ringworld together, purely on the knowledge of those who want to play. Off the top of my head popularity of Chaosium games runs so (BTW we set the club up to play Chaosium games, but we do play others):

1. Runequest 2, 3 and new G dozens and dozens of times (our primary love).

2. Cthulhu (all editions) dozens of times

3. Stormbringer/elric! dozens of times, but much less than Cthulhu

4. Nephilim a couple of times

5. Worlds of Wonder a couple of times

5. Superworld - once

6. Ringworld - once

7. Elfquest - once

8. Solely BRP (BGB) derived - never

BTW you can still buy Superworld: https://www.chaosium.com/superworld/

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I never had any interest in Stormbringer / Elric as the source material never grabbed me. Back in the day we went from D&D to RQ, so I didn't like the simplified system, it felt like a step backwards (this was the 80s, we wanted to know you plunged a sword between the enemies 3rd and 4th rib, not some abstract damage mechanic :P ).

In later years I've come to appreciate the simpler systems of the BRP family, so Magic World was a good fit for me. A good system without the ties to a specific game world I'm not interested in.

 

Ringworld is even more of a niche market. It is Sci-fi which for some reason has never seemed to have the popularity of fantasy. Sci-fi is also a less fragmented market with Traveller still maintaining a very solid hold, particularly in the 80s. Then you add in the Ringworld setting itself which is a somewhat limited attraction. 

 

Superworld had a lot going against it. BRP is far better suited for lower end supers, more like highly talented normals which at the time was not a well established comics genre. Relatively low powered supers like Batman and Spiderman were seriously pushing the bounds that Superworld could do well. Then you add in a lack of "named" heroes. The final nail was the fact there were already well established games in the genre like Champions and Villains & Vigilantes which did the 4 color thing more reliably, and non-generic games based around the DC and Marvel worlds.

Superworld failed to establish itself as superior in any way, even to someone like myself who likes the BRP system. Comedy RPGs don't tend to be a thing, but Superworld strikes me as a decent system for above normal slightly off supers, The Tick, Superhero League of Hoboken, Mystery Men. It also could have been a good choice for pulp era supers like the Shadow, Doc Savage but that would have placed in into another niche already partially filled by Chaosiums own Call of Cthulhu and Hero's Justice Inc.

 

 

I think Strombringer / Elric have earned a spot because there was a solid game underneath them and while the source material wasn't as big as Conan or LotRs it is still one that is quite well established within the fantasy genre. It is also a rather unique game world, RE Howard and Tolkien rip offs abound, I'm not aware of too many Elric clones.             

Edited by Toadmaster

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3 hours ago, seneschal said:

After perusing the threads, other than the Big Two (Runequest and Call of Cthulhu) Stormbringer/Elric! seems to get the most love of all the BRP iterations, even forming the basis for other versions of the game.  What makes Stormbringer special in a way that other out-of-print products, say Ringworld and Superworld, aren't?

(I mean, with the latter two your character could one-punch that giant cave troll and sent it drifting off into space!)  :D

It's Elric.  It's Hawkmoon.  It's the Eternal Champion.  Done.

We can talk about simplicity, flexibility, complexity, etc. endlessly and it will all boil down to that. 

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7 minutes ago, Algesan said:

It's Elric.  It's Hawkmoon.  It's the Eternal Champion.  Done.

We can talk about simplicity, flexibility, complexity, etc. endlessly and it will all boil down to that. 

No; REALLY no.

You have captured one of the customer-bases -- it's the Eternal Champion.  Sold.

There is a separate pool of non-Moorcock fans for whom this hit the sweet-spot for gritty, playable, flexible, etc; who bought the game having already dumped the Eternal Champion, just to use the rules (or who play in the default setting because it's the default; but would as-happily play in any other).

I think the success of the game (in terms of sales numbers) is in having BOTH those customer-bases; the MagicWorld customers and the Moorcockian customers.

 

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I loved the Eternal Champion novels, but utterly missed Elric!/Stormbringer (played a lot of D&D in high school, then graduated and put gaming in the rear-view mirror for more than a decade).

Magic World wasnt the first D100 game I looked at (Mythras and OpenQuest) but it was the first one I fully grokked. It felt like a revelation; hitting a sweet spot of complexity and flexibility. It's an incredibly easy game to teach and it runs fast at the table and I can pull in things from other D100 games with ease.

My only complaint is that MW is kind of an ugly book when it comes to layout and reference at the table. Elric! on the other hand is an exemplar of design and ease of use, and I tend to use it when I need to look something up.

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35 minutes ago, Nick J. said:

 Elric! on the other hand is an exemplar of design and ease of use, and I tend to use it when I need to look something up.

I agree. I love the Elric! rules.

 

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4 hours ago, seneschal said:

  What makes Stormbringer special in a way that other out-of-print products, say Ringworld and Superworld, aren't?

 

It's fantasy (and lets face it that genre pretty much dominates roleplaying, even today) and it was fun. Nuff said. ;)

Edited by Conrad

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4 hours ago, seneschal said:

After perusing the threads, other than the Big Two (Runequest and Call of Cthulhu) Stormbringer/Elric! seems to get the most love of all the BRP iterations, even forming the basis for other versions of the game.  What makes Stormbringer special in a way that other out-of-print products, say Ringworld and Superworld, aren't?

(I mean, with the latter two your character could one-punch that giant cave troll and sent it drifting off into space!)  :D

I think it was a combination of things.

First, at the time time, Stormbringer was a very appealing balance of rules complexity and simplicity. It allowed a play style that was more fluid and swashbuckling / pulp than RuneQuest, but with the same accessibility and intuitive core mechanisms as BRP / RQ.

Second, it presented an accessible and compelling setting that gamers found really appealing: at the time (circa 1980), the world of the Eternal Champion series (the Elric saga, the Corum and Hawkmoon sequences as was at the time) was epic in scope, open ended and accommodating to a wide variety of tonalities, styles of play and, most importantly, player characters.

Like Call of Cthulhu, but on a lesser scale, Stormbringer hit a sweet spot of system AND setting that has given it an enduring appeal, even though it was never as actively supported as Call of Cthulhu, nor as original a work in its own right as RuneQuest.

Cheers,

Nick

Edited by NickMiddleton
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1 hour ago, Nick J. said:

My only complaint is that MW is kind of an ugly book when it comes to layout and reference at the table. Elric! on the other hand is an exemplar of design and ease of use, and I tend to use it when I need to look something up.

I completely agree but I can tolerate that part. Like I said if there were to clean it up and re-release it I would be all in!

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Both Call of Cthulhu and Stormbringer were released in 1981 and, at the time, Stormbringer would have been the bigger release as Michael Moorcock was a more culturally prominent writer in the 70s to fantasy enthusiasts. He was a bit of a rock star, was the editor of New Worlds magazine and was credited for fostering the 'New Wave' of science fiction writing at that time. Even now he is regarded as an 'essential' fantasy author within the genre and has one multiple lifetime and other awards. 

Call of Cthulhu eventually eclipsed Stormbringer mostly because it was reaching out to a new genre (horror) in which it became archetypal within the broader hobby, while Stormbringer was still within the fantasy genre which most rpgs were at the time. 

However, Stormbringer was also seminal in it's own way as being the first adult orientated 'bad boy' RPG - focussing on dark subject matter and demonology - while the tone of the game felt like you were playing doomed antiheroes. There was some inspiring art, empowered but still vulnerable characters, a degree of brooding, philosophical depth and a straightforward ruleset in the main. 

White Wolf games took their name from Elric's moniker, and the appeal of those games to their market with the World of Darkness games, is largely what Stormbringer offered before they came along.  

 

 

 

Edited by TrippyHippy
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7 hours ago, g33k said:

No; REALLY no.

You have captured one of the customer-bases -- it's the Eternal Champion.  Sold.

There is a separate pool of non-Moorcock fans for whom this hit the sweet-spot for gritty, playable, flexible, etc; who bought the game having already dumped the Eternal Champion, just to use the rules (or who play in the default setting because it's the default; but would as-happily play in any other).

I think the success of the game (in terms of sales numbers) is in having BOTH those customer-bases; the MagicWorld customers and the Moorcockian customers.

 

Okay, some truth there, but maybe you don't realize the level of interest in Moorcock's Eternal Champion series and especially Elric among those that played RPGs at the time.  Heh, Chaosium published Stormbringer! in 1981, when Blue Oyster Cult, at pretty much the top of their popularity in 1980 put out Black Blade at one of their songs, followed in 1981 by Veteran of the Psychic Wars, as well as Warrior on the Edge of Time by Hawkwind back in 1975.  It may have only been one demographic, but it was darn sure a big enough one (at least in the Elric portion) to make sure of plenty of sales when you have that much exposure in popular culture for a niche market series.  Lots and lots of people who have little to know clue about who the Eternal Champion is are familiar with Elric of Melnibone. 

Yes, there is a solid, fun and useful game and system behind it, which helps with the popularity continuing, but being able to play Elric (which you could NOT do in anything resembling even a passing familiarity to the rules D&D or AD&D game) was a huge draw for us at the time.

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55 minutes ago, Algesan said:

Okay, some truth there, but maybe you don't realize the level of interest in Moorcock's Eternal Champion series and especially Elric among those that played RPGs at the time.  Heh, Chaosium published Stormbringer! in 1981, when Blue Oyster Cult, at pretty much the top of their popularity in 1980 put out Black Blade at one of their songs, followed in 1981 by Veteran of the Psychic Wars, as well as Warrior on the Edge of Time by Hawkwind back in 1975.  It may have only been one demographic, but it was darn sure a big enough one (at least in the Elric portion) to make sure of plenty of sales when you have that much exposure in popular culture for a niche market series.  Lots and lots of people who have little to know clue about who the Eternal Champion is are familiar with Elric of Melnibone. 

Yes, there is a solid, fun and useful game and system behind it, which helps with the popularity continuing, but being able to play Elric (which you could NOT do in anything resembling even a passing familiarity to the rules D&D or AD&D game) was a huge draw for us at the time.

I think the Moorcock fanbase is notably bigger.  Multiple Chaosium editions, plus other ET'verse games, translations into other languages, at least one other non-Chaosium RPG, and Chaosium have said they'd be interested in getting back the license ...   etc etc etc.

As compared to MW which AFAIK had 1 edition (after the WoW booklet), and Chaosium announced they will not continue developing for it because of lack of sales/demand.  So, yeah -- MW fans are the minority population here!

But in the realm of niche RPGs, selling an entire run of 3000 books in a year is GOOD, but 1000-ish is disappointing.  Adding that 1000-ish to the 3000 is really, really good!

Of course, Someone Official might have some real numbers -- mine are freshly-pulled out of my ...

...

 hat.

 

WHAT???  Where did you think I'd get my made-up numbers???!?    :D

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Let me put it this way - reading a Moorcock novel led one of the most gorgeous women I ever met to initiate a conversation with me while on Inish More of the Aran Isles in 1990 and a very enjoyable evening in the pub. I haven't had any such moments reading any other genre literature in the public since.

Moorcock's Eternal Champion certainly was a big IP well into the nineties. I have the impression that the hype ebbed away with his later Elric novels, starting with The Fortress of the Pearl. My own involvement certainly did with the second of those books.

So, with regard to the Moorcock fan-base, I think that it lost a lot of fanaticism in the nineties, and the Young Kingdoms and the rest of the multiverse got replaced by newer settings. The fans didn't go away, but they found new interests.

 

As to the RPG, Stormbringer's concept of sacrificing souls to embody those demon powers into artefacts was a powerful idea for a magic system, and in perfect keeping with the decadence of the setting. It might have been the Melniboneans who caused Paul Jaquays to add a "decadent" fifth stage to the four culture types (which I first encountered in RQ3) in the fantasy edition of Central casting (primitive, nomad, barbarian, civilized). Empowering player characters to do so brought all kinds of dark and predatory morality into the game.

The Elric! rules returning to the much tamer RQ battle magic were sort of a let-down for me with regard to magic, even though the presentation of the game system really was excellent. 

 

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I agree, the old Stormbringer had a nice balance of rules complexity. However, at some point the game was broken, specially when you began getting a lot of demon objects and weapons. There was also a bit of disconnection with the novels with Virtues, too much overpowered Chaos over Law, the false dichotomy of Chaos=Magic and Law=Technology, and then some types of magic missing. Some of this things were addressed in Elric! which was IMO the best streamlined and concise rules I ever read, but overall the game felt less fun. I finally made my own Elric RPG which I am pretty proud of. I hope Chaosium will release someday a game with the Elric/Magic World rules.

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I've dragged out my old copies of the old Stormbringer and Hawkmoon after an earlier discussion and looked them over.  Yes, there appear to be a lot more "holes" in the system than I'd remembered, but since nobody actually rolled up some of the sillier combinations (the beggar from....oh crap, let me look....Nadsokor) and we were a lot more into RP'ing stuff rather than worrying about DPS and such, it was fun.  Pretty much as long as everyone did what they could, it was all good. 

One thing I remember liking about Stormbringer! was the idea of "the party is going to X to do a quest....okay, got your stuff and you are leaving...okay, you are there" instead of the more common D&D random encounters where you step out to go to the end of the block to pick up something from the convenience store and have to fight an encounter on the way, an encounter there and two on the way back type thing....  I mean, it seems like some sessions were spent getting our horses and getting to the city gate, then a session riding a few miles to the dungeon..then finally getting into the dungeon.  Yes, it filled out the play schedule but man the time it took to do anything besides hack'n'slash dungeon crawling...although, actually, that is a lot of what we did back then.  It might not have helped that I had automated most of the encounter tables and passed copies around so it was trivial to have pages and pages of pre-generated encounters...  Okay, I'm sliding off topic a bit here...

Anyway, I actually preferred Hawkmoon (even the books, Elric is cool, but for some reason the Hawkmoon series appealed to me more) and I would have truly loved to have tried out Corum, but that was released much later.

Interestingly enough, that might actually be why I like that fantasy character generator thing someone made up.  It works more like Stormbringer! and less like HERO than the standard BRP rules.

Edited by Algesan

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17 hours ago, g33k said:

I think the Moorcock fanbase is notably bigger.  Multiple Chaosium editions, plus other ET'verse games, translations into other languages, at least one other non-Chaosium RPG, and Chaosium have said they'd be interested in getting back the license ...   etc etc etc.

As compared to MW which AFAIK had 1 edition (after the WoW booklet), and Chaosium announced they will not continue developing for it because of lack of sales/demand.  So, yeah -- MW fans are the minority population here!

But in the realm of niche RPGs, selling an entire run of 3000 books in a year is GOOD, but 1000-ish is disappointing.  Adding that 1000-ish to the 3000 is really, really good!

Of course, Someone Official might have some real numbers -- mine are freshly-pulled out of my ...

...

 hat.

 

WHAT???  Where did you think I'd get my made-up numbers???!?    :D

 

Not really an equal comparison. Stormbringer came out when there were basically 3 brands of Fantasy RPGs, D&D, T&T and RQ, and Chaosium was a major player in a new industry. Add that it was a licensed setting at a time where that was still kind of unusual.

 

Magic World came out into a market saturated with fantasy RPGs when Chaosium had little visibility beyond Call of Cthulhu and many viewed BRP as an out dated system. CoC was even being challenged as the heavyweight horror RPG by other Cthuthu focused games based on other systems. 

 

Back in the day I suspect the underlying system would have likely done just as well had it been attached to any popular S&S license, like Conan, or Thieves World, and even as a generic S&S RPG with a halfway decent setting (as in the current MW) in the 1980s it would have blown Magic World's 2012 sales out of the water. It was a very different time for BRP based games.  

 

Worlds of Wonder was a lightweight, not much more than some added genre rules for the 15-20 page BRP booklet that is of little value as a comparison to MW.

 

Not to take away from the setting, but I don't think a Stormbringer game based on another existing system would have fared as well. BRP and the setting were a good match.

How many still play TSRs Conan RPG? That lasted about 10 minutes, and it certainly wasn't due to a lack of interest in the setting. Based on its small fan base apparently not a horrible game either, just the wrong game at the wrong time with zilch for support from its publisher. 

Edited by Toadmaster

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22 hours ago, TrippyHippy said:

Both Call of Cthulhu and Stormbringer were released in 1981 and, at the time, Stormbringer would have been the bigger release as Michael Moorcock was a more culturally prominent writer in the 70s to fantasy enthusiasts. He was a bit of a rock star, was the editor of New Worlds magazine and was credited for fostering the 'New Wave' of science fiction writing at that time. Even now he is regarded as an 'essential' fantasy author within the genre and has one multiple lifetime and other awards. 

Call of Cthulhu eventually eclipsed Stormbringer mostly because it was reaching out to a new genre (horror) in which it became archetypal within the broader hobby, while Stormbringer was still within the fantasy genre which most rpgs were at the time. 

However, Stormbringer was also seminal in it's own way as being the first adult orientated 'bad boy' RPG - focussing on dark subject matter and demonology - while the tone of the game felt like you were playing doomed antiheroes. There was some inspiring art, empowered but still vulnerable characters, a degree of brooding, philosophical depth and a straightforward ruleset in the main. 

White Wolf games took their name from Elric's moniker, and the appeal of those games to their market with the World of Darkness games, is largely what Stormbringer offered before they came along.  

 

 

 

 

You know this actually helps explain to me why I don't particularly care for the setting. I am perfectly fine with morally grey characters who do the right thing when pushed, but I've never found "evil heroes" particularly satisfying. I'm not a big fan of gangster movies for much of the same reason, I generally find them rather depressing.

Similarly the World of Darkness have never appealed to me. I dig vampire movies but they rarely really do the morally bankrupt hero the way those games do. Vampire movies are almost always straight up evil vs good (Dracula), or they are "good" vampires bucking the evil established system (Underworld, Blade). I'm even good with the likable evil guy, Zorg in the 5th Element being a good example. He is an awesome character but you still cheer when he goes boom.  

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3 hours ago, Toadmaster said:

 

You know this actually helps explain to me why I don't particularly care for the setting. I am perfectly fine with morally grey characters who do the right thing when pushed, but I've never found "evil heroes" particularly satisfying. I'm not a big fan of gangster movies for much of the same reason, I generally find them rather depressing.

Similarly the World of Darkness have never appealed to me. I dig vampire movies but they rarely really do the morally bankrupt hero the way those games do. Vampire movies are almost always straight up evil vs good (Dracula), or they are "good" vampires bucking the evil established system (Underworld, Blade). I'm even good with the likable evil guy, Zorg in the 5th Element being a good example. He is an awesome character but you still cheer when he goes boom.  

I didn't say 'evil heroes', though, I said 'antiheroes' who very much fall under the notion of morally grey characters. In the case of Elric, the moral greyness comes in the form of his consciousness of his acts (aided and abetted by demonic figures). 

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Stormbringer is what started me into roleplaying games.  2nd edition is still my favorite.

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See?  Elfquest would never generate this sort of passionate discussion despite having Leetah on the cover and its own Marvel Comics adaptation.

So, broody pale homicidal elves beat sexy, wolf-loving homicidal elves.  Hmmm.

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On 4/29/2018 at 6:52 PM, TrippyHippy said:

I didn't say 'evil heroes', though, I said 'antiheroes' who very much fall under the notion of morally grey characters. In the case of Elric, the moral greyness comes in the form of his consciousness of his acts (aided and abetted by demonic figures). 

Conan wouldn't truck with devils, there is a point where the ends don't justify the means to him. I only read a few Elric stories decades ago, but I gather Elric crossed that line on many occasions. At the most basic level he essentially lives by feeding souls to his sword, and his sword doesn't really seem to have his best interests at heart. Perhaps evil hero is a bit too strong, he does seem well meaning. Lets just say his morality is a shade of grey too dark for me. 

Your comments about Stormbringer and World of Darkness made a connection I had not previously made, but it explains why I don't care for a popular series in a genre I enjoy.

 

I have nothing against people enjoying the setting, it just doesn't do much for me. The Godfather is considered a classic, I've never seen it. I don't begrudge it the awards it won.  

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2 hours ago, Toadmaster said:

Conan wouldn't truck with devils, there is a point where the ends don't justify the means to him. I only read a few Elric stories decades ago, but I gather Elric crossed that line on many occasions. At the most basic level he essentially lives by feeding souls to his sword, and his sword doesn't really seem to have his best interests at heart. Perhaps evil hero is a bit too strong, he does seem well meaning. Lets just say his morality is a shade of grey too dark for me. 

Your comments about Stormbringer and World of Darkness made a connection I had not previously made, but it explains why I don't care for a popular series in a genre I enjoy.

 

I have nothing against people enjoying the setting, it just doesn't do much for me. The Godfather is considered a classic, I've never seen it. I don't begrudge it the awards it won.  

Well, everyone has tastes, and I don't begrudge you your own. 

It should be noted though that Elric as a literary character was written as a direct antithesis to Conan. Wheras Conan started as a barbarian who ascended towards being a King, Elric started as an Emperor who destroyed everything he had. This is what made him an antihero. 

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