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D&D 5E Existentialist Sword and Sorcery

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
He's far from alone there.

Im in the same boat.
We all deal with our Existential Crises in our own unique ways.


I hope you find the peace that comes with acceptance, in time. Or find the right beliefs to hide you from this terrible world. No one should have to suffer like you do, now.

 

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Yora

Legend
Broadly speaking, existentialism has lost most of it's new radical shine decades ago. People have argued that it's become the mainstream worldview of Western Culture over the last 70 years. For Lovecraft the scale of the universe and the vastness of time, combined with the strangeness of cutting edge physics in the early 20th century was an unsettling disruption of familiar assumptions. For us, those things are the only things we've ever known. The problem of telling right from wrong in a deterministic universe with no guidance by higher power has effectively been solved generations ago. (Mostly be deciding that the philosophical question don't actually matter in daily life.)
The weird new discoveries of the cosmos have become our new normal.
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
Broadly speaking, existentialism has lost most of it's new radical shine decades ago. People have argued that it's become the mainstream worldview of Western Culture over the last 70 years. For Lovecraft the scale of the universe and the vastness of time, combined with the strangeness of cutting edge physics in the early 20th century was an unsettling disruption of familiar assumptions. For us, those things are the only things we've ever known. The problem of telling right from wrong in a deterministic universe with no guidance by higher power has effectively been solved generations ago. (Mostly be deciding that the philosophical question don't actually matter in daily life.)
The weird new discoveries of the cosmos have become our new normal.
Which is absolutely true! The advancement of society and technology, knowledge of the world around us and the universe we fit into, has pushed the Existential Dread largely to the side as a simple accepted fact of reality almost invariably learned, now, as children.

Oh, we still tell them the same stories and share our religions and beliefs, but the ever-expanding scope of our knowledge just washes everything in the context of an immense uncaring universe. For Lovecraft Tentacles and oddly pulsing oozing monsters were the edge of madness 'cause the dude lived in New England and the Sea was the single most dangerous "Monster" in his day to day life, for all its beauty.

Meanwhile nowadays tentacles are just a part of a cephalopod for most kids and pornographic for a lotta teens and adults!

The great startling mysteries and horrors of Lovecraft's work have largely faded from the world. Instead we create new forms of Existentialism to terrify us. Things like the whole Black Mirror television series where technological advancement and its endless creative change become our new stand-in for Eldritch Monsters. Where our lives and ourselves can be replaced by computer programs, holograms, and robots. And where even "Heaven" as a concept can simply be a computer network that we upload our flickering brain-patterns into in those final brief moments before the Synaptic Tsunami sends us into the White Light with the continuing question from that point being whether that computer-self which holds all of our memories is the "Real" us, while our body has died and our soul, if any such thing should exist, has left.

Just gotta repackage things based on the new situations we're in, is all!
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
For comparison, here are excerpts from some of my own writing both to try and mimic the vivid descriptions of Lovecraft's style and also to bring things up to a more modern concept of horror.

The Narrator of the book is a Researcher whose mentor and colleague was investigating legends in Louisiana when a Hurricane struck. The mentor was killed but the Researcher follows his footsteps, trying to find out what he'd learned and also complete his work. The short story was laid out in the form of journal entries.

As the entries go on, and the Researcher is exposed to more and more of the Cosmic horror, their descriptions change from simple sensory information of sound, sight, scent, and touch...

The scent of rotting lumber permeated the air. The wind was heavy with moisture that made the heat all the more oppressive, no sweet wind to blow cool comfort this was a hot rag, intangible but present, resting upon me. I was coated in sweat that couldn’t dry. It was miserable hard labor clearing the collapsed barn with the others, but we had to see what was under it, whether anyone, or anything, had survived the tumbling timbers. I could swear I heard the soft huffing of a trapped animal, something large… perhaps a horse? Then again it could have been the man to my left, wheezing with the effort of clearing a beam.
I could hear the thing breathing down the hallway. It was rattling. Like a smoker with a phlegmy cough. Each gasping inhalation gulped at the air, like a fish trying to survive in an environment it wasn’t evolved for. The exhalations were easier. Slower, almost as if the creature took it’s time, savoring the flavor of it’s fetid breath, smelling for all the world like rotten yogurt and cat piss, the funky dairy rot mingling upsettingly with the ammonia-crisp chemical scent.
The fog. Clinging, cloying, cold. Surprisingly so, for Louisiana. As I raced to the car I could feel something near me, just out of sight, just behind my neck, that uncomfortable terror of darkness that there’s always -something- right behind you. Only now I had seen the shapeless things in the dark, the formless terrors that chase children up the stairs as the living room lights go out. They have shapes. They have forms. It is only names they seem to lack. As the car door closed beside me, I felt the uncomfortable certainty of danger behind me, anew. I looked in the mirror, then turned to check the back seat. I was safe, for now. And with the grace of whatever gods looked down on me in the moment, the engine growled to life with the same sort of guttering coughs as the thing in the hallway.

Towards a Synesthetic chaos in the wake of the interactions.

Touching the flesh of the pustulent mass was at once like pressing your hand to the hood of a car too long in the sun and licking a battery, the electric and acidic tang ran over my hand which, while unharmed by the flavor or the heat, I jerked aside regardless. Eyes like the embers of cigarettes turned on me, and one of it's mouths opened to belch forth a language I could not understand, somewhere between the rumbling of thunder and the dizzying ecstacy of standing too close to the speakers at a rock concert. The world darkened and I lost consciousness… a blessing.

Each interaction with the "Things that must not be known" increases the effect. Until in the end, madness takes hold as darkness, true cosmic blackness, the absence of all light, becomes the inescapable horror.

I looked directly into her eyes, pale blue, surrounding that darkness, the absence of light. I could have fallen into it, the shadowed paths that amble amid the blue of sky, the darkened halls of solemnity where nameless wonder rests and nameless horror thrives. No! No. Her eyes. Her eyes bore into me! I was the watched, not the watcher! My mouth fell open as if to offer words or some insensate cry, but little came of it but a shocked exhalation, a realization. The darkness was within me, as well. The same darkened halls stared from my face, the same shadows that clung to the miserable electric flesh and cigarette smoldering eyes gazed without and within. All held in her eyes, all horror in mine. I screamed, belatedly, my face twisting like rotten pumpkins days into November… but it was her that seemed terrified. She must have seen the monsters clinging to the inside of my pupils.
 

Broadly speaking, existentialism has lost most of it's new radical shine decades ago. People have argued that it's become the mainstream worldview of Western Culture over the last 70 years. For Lovecraft the scale of the universe and the vastness of time, combined with the strangeness of cutting edge physics in the early 20th century was an unsettling disruption of familiar assumptions. For us, those things are the only things we've ever known. The problem of telling right from wrong in a deterministic universe with no guidance by higher power has effectively been solved generations ago. (Mostly be deciding that the philosophical question don't actually matter in daily life.)
The weird new discoveries of the cosmos have become our new normal.
I have considered that as part of the reason most things are terrible we do things for no reason without a goal and most people just no longer care.
Which is absolutely true! The advancement of society and technology, knowledge of the world around us and the universe we fit into, has pushed the Existential Dread largely to the side as a simple accepted fact of reality almost invariably learned, now, as children.

Oh, we still tell them the same stories and share our religions and beliefs, but the ever-expanding scope of our knowledge just washes everything in the context of an immense uncaring universe. For Lovecraft Tentacles and oddly pulsing oozing monsters were the edge of madness 'cause the dude lived in New England and the Sea was the single most dangerous "Monster" in his day to day life, for all its beauty.

Meanwhile nowadays tentacles are just a part of a cephalopod for most kids and pornographic for a lotta teens and adults!

The great startling mysteries and horrors of Lovecraft's work have largely faded from the world. Instead we create new forms of Existentialism to terrify us. Things like the whole Black Mirror television series where technological advancement and its endless creative change become our new stand-in for Eldritch Monsters. Where our lives and ourselves can be replaced by computer programs, holograms, and robots. And where even "Heaven" as a concept can simply be a computer network that we upload our flickering brain-patterns into in those final brief moments before the Synaptic Tsunami sends us into the White Light with the continuing question from that point being whether that computer-self which holds all of our memories is the "Real" us, while our body has died and our soul, if any such thing should exist, has left.

Just gotta repackage things based on the new situations we're in, is all!
ah, the endless blind remixing of this age, it depresses us so as there seems to be nothing new other than minor change it is just stagnant life.
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
ah, the endless blind remixing of this age, it depresses us so as there seems to be nothing new other than minor change it is just stagnant life.
Sorta!

Philosophies from the past jump into and out of vogue off and on. Whether it's Tech CEOs these days screaming about "Rational Self Interest" just like Sears did in the 90s or the latest "Workers should be thankful for what they have" fad of trying to get everyone under 400k a year to learn about and follow through with Stoicism as a philosophical standard...

Which is the same return to form that it was in England in the 1800s, where Stoic men were suggested to be more likely to advance in the workforce.

Existentialism just got a faster turnaround because it's a more recent one that can be easily adapted into story format to inspire Dread or Hope.
 

Sorta!

Philosophies from the past jump into and out of vogue off and on. Whether it's Tech CEOs these days screaming about "Rational Self Interest" just like Sears did in the 90s or the latest "Workers should be thankful for what they have" fad of trying to get everyone under 400k a year to learn about and follow through with Stoicism as a philosophical standard...

Which is the same return to form that it was in England in the 1800s, where Stoic men were suggested to be more likely to advance in the workforce.

Existentialism just got a faster turnaround because it's a more recent one that can be easily adapted into story format to inspire Dread or Hope.
it just seems to be a loop no change no victory or defeat just endlessly going nowhere.
 

Azzy

KMF DM
This is really an interesting discussion. While I've never thought about exploring Existentialism in D&D or Sword and Sorcery, I have had ideas to explore it an urban fantasy/low-level supers style conspiracy theory-laden game and toy with the player's expectations of whether they really are facing a supernatural threat or that they are victims of self-delusion. Are we really heroes or are we deluding ourselves into beieving ourselves heroes in a narative that we've created to feel empowered against a reality in which we ultimately are inconsequential.
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
it just seems to be a loop no change no victory or defeat just endlessly going nowhere.
I mean... That's just Media in general unless there's an intent to explicitly end the story.

Every Superhero Comic restores the Status Quo 'til their villain breaks out of jail to go on another crime spree. Unless they -kill- their villains like the Punisher. In which case someone new puts on the villain's cape (Or the villain wasn't -really- dead, or just gets brought back to life for REASONS) and gets killed later 'cause that's just how comic books work.

Same thing for the Forgotten Realms. No matter how many times you save that world it's -always- on the brink of some new evil world-ending catastrophe. From Tiamat busting through to Toril or Demogorgon parading through the Underdark or an inter-planar Lich sucking everyone's life-force away. And it's -always- been that way. Your big victory over Tiamat means nothing in the long term because less than one year later some new terrible event happens with the next Adventure Path release.

How many times did the Winchesters split up at the end of the season, how many times did they die, how many times did they have to have the -exact- same melodramatic conversation about being Honest with each other? It's just a function of open-ended or episodic storytelling, not specific to Swords and Sorcery.

And I'm really glad you think so, @Azzy! And I hope you get to explore it in that game!
 

Yora

Legend
This is really an interesting discussion. While I've never thought about exploring Existentialism in D&D or Sword and Sorcery, I have had ideas to explore it an urban fantasy/low-level supers style conspiracy theory-laden game and toy with the player's expectations of whether they really are facing a supernatural threat or that they are victims of self-delusion. Are we really heroes or are we deluding ourselves into beieving ourselves heroes in a narative that we've created to feel empowered against a reality in which we ultimately are inconsequential.
Speaking of which, I think both Sword & Sorcery and existentialism have to be done without alignment. Right and wrong are subjective, at least insofar that any objective right or wrong is unknowable by humans and unprovable by reason. There is no magic spell that can determine who is good or evil, and players and GMs can fall back on a monster description saying so.
Which is where faith enters the picture. Trust that your path is just, even when you can't prove it, and trust that your intuition and emotions on values actually helps promoting what you consider to be good.

But it also means acknowledging that you're flawed, and that you can make mistakes and be mislead. Your convictions have to be questioned and compared to your new experiences and knowledge. Heroic and virtuous characters have to accept that they did wrong in the past and change so that they will do better in the future, instead of continuing with something that has become doubted to avoid the consequences of past mistakes.

I think change is actually quite a big element in existentialism. Some guy or another created the phrase "existence precedes essence", which opposes and rebukes the idea of Platonic Ideals. Things don't have a fixed nature that exist as a universal abstract that manifest themselves in the world as physical objects. The essence of a thing does not exist as an ideal even before the thing itself appears in reality. Things, and the one thing it's really all about is a person, begin their existence as a blank slate. What defines a being are the things it experiences, does, and thinks. And as such, all beings are in a constant process of changing, or more fancifully, in a constant state of becoming.
Which is not necessarily a process of improving. Corrupted heroes fit perfectly into even the most broad strokes abstractions of Sword & Sorcery, but in the same way there needs to be a space for redeemed villains as well. Though I think to keep with the overall tone, people shouldn't be expecting miracles. Vile genocidal maniacs won't suddenly renounce the Dark Side and join Team Heroes because they lost a duel and suddenly find themselves not wanting to be killed by the hero.
Evil (as a subjective judgement, of course) becomes a lot more meaningful if doing evil things is not in the nature of villains and monsters, but a choice. Villains who do evil things but can freely chose not to are much more interesting antagonists.
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
Alignment in D&D is Descriptive. Not Proscriptive. That's why changing alignments is a thing.

So long as you treat it in that manner, Alignment works just as well in S&S as in any other setting. Which is to say: Flawlessly.

The issue comes when people view alignment as a straight jacket rather than a description. When it stops being words which describe the content of a person's character and the moral weight of their past actions, and instead becomes the full breadth and depth of their capabilities. Locked eternally into two letters.

Fluidity makes it work. Like most things in life and simulation.
 

Alignment in D&D is Descriptive. Not Proscriptive. That's why changing alignments is a thing.

So long as you treat it in that manner, Alignment works just as well in S&S as in any other setting. Which is to say: Flawlessly.

The issue comes when people view alignment as a straight jacket rather than a description. When it stops being words which describe the content of a person's character and the moral weight of their past actions, and instead becomes the full breadth and depth of their capabilities. Locked eternally into two letters.

Fluidity makes it work. Like most things in life and simulation.
Hard disagree. I really don't feel that even descriptive grouping of things into 'good' and 'evil' has place in S&S.
 

Steampunkette

Shaper of Worlds
Supporter
Hard disagree. I really don't feel that even descriptive grouping of things into 'good' and 'evil' has place in S&S.
Conan was Good. Neutral Good, specifically.

Go through his life, and with all the brutality he commits, the violence that follows him, the blood on his breast and pouring from his wounds... And he was a good person. Not -KIND- by any stretch of the imagination. Not the sort to throw coins to penniless paupers on the streets or fund an orphanage. But when he sees people in trouble he rescues them. When evil rears its head he fights it. When a Mad King threatens to destabilize the region, Conan marches into his throne room and pauses when he begs for his life, ready to offer mercy, and only throttles him to death when the Mad King tries to kill him.

But the people he fought weren't "Morally Grey". They were wicked, cruel, hateful, and evil in their core. Thoth Amon of the Ring didn't have some secret emotional motivation that casts all that he did in a potentially positive light. He wanted power for power's sake. As a child he grew up a penniless orphan on the street with his kindhearted sister and his friend Amon. When Amon got the chance to study at the temple, Thoth BASHED HIS HEAD IN with a stone. As a -CHILD-. Because he figured the Priest of Ibis wouldn't know the difference between Thoth and Amon and he was right.

Dar, the Beastmaster, is the same. He doesn't even -want- to fight. He just wants to live a happy and simple life with his animal friends and maybe a matressable lovely. But when evil strikes, or danger hits, he stops what he's doing and fights. Mad Martigan. Willow. Prince Corwyn. Captain Navarre.

Okay, Navarre you might be able to argue on, or Conan in the movies since he only goes after Thulsa Doom out of revenge and just -happens- to get a big payday out of it. But by and large?

Heroes are Heroic in any medium. And Villains are Villainous.
 

Yora

Legend
Hard disagree. I really don't feel that even descriptive grouping of things into 'good' and 'evil' has place in S&S.
The thing is, who is making the judgement of who is good or evil?
In practice it will be the GM, but the only judgement that should matter is that of the players. I feel the GM shouldn't give the players any ways to confirm or deny that their judgements on these things are correct. If the players are looking for an answer, the GM should push that card firmly back to the players, without saying one way or another.
 

The thing is, who is making the judgement of who is good or evil?
In practice it will be the GM, but the only judgement that should matter is that of the players. I feel the GM shouldn't give the players any ways to confirm or deny that their judgements on these things are correct. If the players are looking for an answer, the GM should push that card firmly back to the players, without saying one way or another.
Yeah. It's not like words 'good' and 'evil' don't exist, but they're just opinions. Hardcoding them on stats/character sheets makes them seem far too objective for my liking.
 

I don't mind them as descriptive.

I can also see going without them, or including Evil as only Supernatural Evil. That is, normal human beings are never EVIL. Protection From Evil and the like only apply to supernaturally baleful effects and creatures, like your "normal" undead. This is how it works in Five Torches Deep, for example.
 

Doug McCrae

Legend
This is the first of three connected posts that compare anti-existentialist passages in the 1e AD&D DMG with the existentialism of some of the early Elric stories. The stories considered form part of the collections The Stealer of Souls (1963) and Stormbringer (1965), which are both in Appendix N.

In the 1e AD&D DMG Gary Gygax offers a solution to the existentialist problems of lack of meaning and purpose:

The game is not merely a meaningless dungeon and an urban base around which is plopped the dreaded wilderness. Each of you must design a world (DMG pg 21)​
There must be some purpose to it all. There must be some backdrop against which adventures are carried out, and no matter how tenuous the strands, some web which connects the evil and good, the opposing powers, the rival states and various peoples. This need not be evident at first, but as play continues, hints should be given to players, and their characters should become involved in the interaction and struggle between these vaster entities. Thus, characters begin as less than pawns, but as they progress in expertise, each eventually realizes that he or she is a meaningful, if lowly, piece in the cosmic game being conducted. When this occurs, players then have a dual purpose to their play, for not only will their player characters and henchmen gain levels of experience, but their actions have meaning above and beyond that of personal aggrandizement. (DMG pg 112)​

According to Gygax, the PCs' existence becomes more meaningful when they are part of a wider world, a world greater than the bare minimum required to play D&D. This greater meaning is realised by becoming a soldier of increasing significance in a cosmic struggle between good and evil, and knowing that one is part of that struggle. Existentialism finds meaning exclusively within individuals, whereas Gygax also finds it in the realm of the gods.

Sword and sorcery is concerned with the personal, while high fantasy is about the fate of the world. Wikipedia sword and sorcery entry: "Unlike works of high fantasy the [sword and sorcery] tales, though dramatic, focus mainly on personal battles rather than world-endangering matters". John Clute and John Grant's The Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) states that high fantasy deals "with matters affecting the destiny of those [imaginary] worlds". Seeking only "personal aggrandizement" should therefore be considered sword and sorcery, while taking part in a "cosmic game" between "evil and good" is high fantasy.

Gygax's recommendation is to transition a D&D game from sword and sorcery to high fantasy. An alternative interpretation is that the campaign always was high fantasy but that this truth is only gradually revealed.

The next two posts will consider existentialism in the early Elric stories.
 
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Doug McCrae

Legend
WARNING: This post contains unblurred spoilers for the Elric story While the Gods Laugh

Existentialism is a major theme in several of Michael Moorcock's early Elric stories. This post is about the novelette While the Gods Laugh. This story first appeared in the British magazine Science Fantasy #49 (1961) and formed part of the collection The Stealer of Souls (1963), which features in Appendix N of the 1e AD&D DMG.

Moorcock describes the influences on Elric in the introduction to a later collection, Elric: The Stealer of Souls (2008): "Before I came to write the first Elric stories I was already absorbing the kind of literature which influenced my generation, including that of the great French Existentialist writers and film-makers."

While the Gods Laugh is existentialist in at least two ways (and this is also true of other early Elric stories). Firstly, Elric is himself an existentialist who believes that life is meaningless. Secondly, events in the narrative suggest that Elric is correct in this view.

His companion, Shaarilla, asks him why he seeks the Dead Gods' Book, "believed to contain knowledge which could solve many problems that had plagued men for centuries". He replies

"Does an ultimate God exist — or not? That is what I need to know, Shaarilla, if my life is to have any direction at all."​
"Does Law or Chaos govern our lives? Men need a God, so the philosophers tell us. Have they made one — or did one make them?"​
"Despairingly, sometimes, I seek the comfort of a God, Shaarilla. My mind goes out, lying awake at night, searching through the black barrenness of space for something — anything — which will take me to it, warm me, protect me, tell me that there is order in the chaotic tumble of the universe; that it is consistent, this precision of the planets, not simply a brief, bright spark of sanity in an eternity of malevolent anarchy."​
"Without a God, a sensitivity to the order of things — of climbing destiny — without this, my only comfort is to attempt, equably, to accept the anarchy. This way, I can revel in chaos and know, without fear, that we are all doomed from the start — that our creeping flash through time is meaningless and damned. I can accept, then, that we are more than forsaken, because there was never anything there to forsake us. Sometimes this is comforting to know — sometimes it is mind-shattering and I gape at myself in horror, wondering why I should believe in anarchy and evil when so much proof exists to the contrary. I have weighed the proof, Shaarilla, and believe that anarchy prevails, in spite of all the laws which seemingly govern our actions, our sorcery, our logic. I see only chaos in the world. If the Book we seek tells me otherwise, then I shall gladly believe it. Until then, I will put my trust only in my sword and myself."​

However when Elric finds the Dead Gods' Book, it crumbles to dust in his hands.

"Now," he said, "I will live my life without ever knowing why I live it — whether it has purpose or not. Perhaps the book could have told me. But would I have believed it, even then? I am the eternal sceptic — never sure that my actions are my own; never certain that an ultimate entity is not guiding me."​
"I envy those who know. All I can do now is to continue my quest and hope, without hope, that before my span is ended, the Truth will be presented to me."​

Thus the story's message is also existentialist. Elric's attempt to gain knowledge about the deeper truths of reality was futile (and, as he says, may have been futile even if the book had been preserved). He is as beset by existentialist anxieties at the end of the story as he was at the beginning. He has learned nothing.
 
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Doug McCrae

Legend
WARNING: This post contains unblurred spoilers for the Elric novel Stormbringer

This post is about existentialism in four early Elric novelettes – Dead God's Homecoming, Black Sword's Brothers, Sad Giant's Shield, and Doomed Lord's Passing. First published in the British magazine, Science Fantasy, in 1963-1964 they were collected in the Appendix N novel, Stormbringer (1965).

Elric maintains the existentialist worldview that he held in While the Gods Laugh. "He [Elric] was suspicious of pattern, disliking shape, for he did not trust it. To him, life was chaotic, chance-dominated, unpredictable. It was a trick, an illusion of the mind, to be able to see a pattern to it." (DGH)

Sepiriz, one of ten immortal "servants of Fate" who bear an "awful knowledge", advises Elric throughout the four stories. He provides a possible answer to Elric's existentialist doubts:

Elric smiled, his own suspicions confirmed. "Aye, as I expected, there is no justice."​
"But there is," Sepiriz said, "justice of a kind — justice which must be carved from the chaos of existence. Man was not born to a world of justice. But he can create such a world!" (DGH)​

But this is ironic given Elric's heavy reliance on Stormbringer, his "hell-forged blade". He is ultimately successful in his aim of defeating the forces of Chaos and bringing into being a new world dominated by Law. But it is only the power of Stormbringer, "forged by Chaos to conquer Chaos", that destroys the earthly incarnations of Chaos gods in each story. In fact in Black Sword's Brothers, Elric is unconscious as it does so. It is only thru Stormbringer that Elric acquires the energy to blow the "Horn of Fate" three times, which rouses the Melnibonéan dragons, summons the gods of Law, and creates the new world, which is our own. "Without Stormbringer's vitality, he [Elric] felt weak and limp… without the blade, he was less than half a man, for his albinism weakened him." (BSB)

The promise of a positive existentialism that Sepiriz offers, of mortals forging their own destiny independent of supernatural beings, is therefore undermined.

In the final story, Doomed Lord's Passing, even after all of the Chaos gods and their army have been fought and defeated and Elric has learned much about the nature of his reality from Sepiriz, he is still troubled by existentialist questions of meaning. However Sepiriz can’t give him the answers he seeks.

"But what is the meaning of it all?" Elric said. "That I have never fully understood."​
"Who can? Who can know why the Cosmic Balance exists, why Fate exists and the Lords of the Higher Worlds? There seems to be an infinity of space and time and possibilities. There may be an infinite number of beings, one above the other, who see the final purpose though, in infinity, there can be no final purpose. Perhaps all is cyclic and this same event will occur again and again until the universe is run down and fades away as the world we knew has faded. Meaning, Elric? Do not seek that, for madness lies in such a course."​
"No meaning, no pattern. Then why have I suffered all this?"​
"Perhaps even the gods seek meaning and pattern and this is merely one attempt to find it… Men struggle and credit the gods with knowing why they struggle — but do the gods know?"​
"You disturb me further when I had hoped to be comforted," he sighed. "I have lost wife and world — and do not know why." (DLP)​

What was considered sufficient meaning by Gary Gygax in the AD&D 1e DMG – gaining knowledge of a cosmic struggle and fighting in that conflict as a willing soldier – is considered insufficient by Elric.

The ending of Doomed Lord's Passing is even more unsettling. After Elric is slain by his own sword,

The entity that was Stormbringer, last manifestation of Chaos which would remain with this new world as it grew, looked down on the corpse of Elric of Melnibone and smiled.​
"Farewell, friend. I was a thousand times more evil than thou!"​
And then it leapt from the Earth and went spearing upwards, its wild voice laughing mockery at the Cosmic Balance, filling the universe with its unholy joy. (DLP)​

At the very end, the Cosmic Balance, which is the closest equivalent to an all-powerful benign God in Moorcock's multiverse, has been partially thwarted. A powerful force of Chaos and evil is loose upon our Earth. So it seems that the views that Elric expresses in Dead God's Homecoming – that life is "chaotic, chance-dominated, unpredictable" and that "there is no justice" – have been proved to some extent correct.
 
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I mean... That's just Media in general unless there's an intent to explicitly end the story.

Every Superhero Comic restores the Status Quo 'til their villain breaks out of jail to go on another crime spree. Unless they -kill- their villains like the Punisher. In which case someone new puts on the villain's cape (Or the villain wasn't -really- dead, or just gets brought back to life for REASONS) and gets killed later 'cause that's just how comic books work.

Same thing for the Forgotten Realms. No matter how many times you save that world it's -always- on the brink of some new evil world-ending catastrophe. From Tiamat busting through to Toril or Demogorgon parading through the Underdark or an inter-planar Lich sucking everyone's life-force away. And it's -always- been that way. Your big victory over Tiamat means nothing in the long term because less than one year later some new terrible event happens with the next Adventure Path release.

How many times did the Winchesters split up at the end of the season, how many times did they die, how many times did they have to have the -exact- same melodramatic conversation about being Honest with each other? It's just a function of open-ended or episodic storytelling, not specific to Swords and Sorcery.

And I'm really glad you think so, @Azzy! And I hope you get to explore it in that game!
no, it is more the observation of the world nothing other than our lives seems to truly die off.
WARNING: This post contains unblurred spoilers for the Elric novel Stormbringer

This post is about existentialism in four early Elric novelettes – Dead God's Homecoming, Black Sword's Brothers, Sad Giant's Shield, and Doomed Lord's Passing. First published in the British magazine, Science Fantasy, in 1963-1964 they were collected in the Appendix N novel, Stormbringer (1965).

Elric maintains the existentialist worldview that he held in While the Gods Laugh. "He [Elric] was suspicious of pattern, disliking shape, for he did not trust it. To him, life was chaotic, chance-dominated, unpredictable. It was a trick, an illusion of the mind, to be able to see a pattern to it." (DGH)

Sepiriz, one of ten immortal "servants of Fate" who bear an "awful knowledge", advises Elric throughout the four stories. He provides a possible answer to Elric's existentialist doubts:

Elric smiled, his own suspicions confirmed. "Aye, as I expected, there is no justice."​
"But there is," Sepiriz said, "justice of a kind — justice which must be carved from the chaos of existence. Man was not born to a world of justice. But he can create such a world!" (DGH)​

But this is ironic given Elric's heavy reliance on Stormbringer, his "hell-forged blade". He is ultimately successful in his aim of defeating the forces of Chaos and bringing into being a new world dominated by Law. But it is only the power of Stormbringer, "forged by Chaos to conquer Chaos", that destroys the earthly incarnations of Chaos gods in each story. In fact in Black Sword's Brothers, Elric is unconscious as it does so. It is only thru Stormbringer that Elric acquires the energy to blow the "Horn of Fate" three times, which rouses the Melnibonéan dragons, summons the gods of Law, and creates the new world, which is our own. "Without Stormbringer’s vitality, he [Elric] felt weak and limp… without the blade, he was less than half a man, for his albinism weakened him." (BSB)

The promise of a positive existentialism that Sepiriz offers, of mortals forging their own destiny independent of supernatural beings, is therefore undermined.

In the final story, Doomed Lord's Passing, even after Elric has fought and defeated all of the Chaos gods and has learned much about the nature of his reality from Sepiriz, Elric is still troubled by existentialist questions of meaning. However Sepiriz can’t give him the answers he seeks.

"But what is the meaning of it all?" Elric said. "That I have never fully understood."​
"Who can? Who can know why the Cosmic Balance exists, why Fate exists and the Lords of the Higher Worlds? There seems to be an infinity of space and time and possibilities. There may be an infinite number of beings, one above the other, who see the final purpose though, in infinity, there can be no final purpose. Perhaps all is cyclic and this same event will occur again and again until the universe is run down and fades away as the world we knew has faded. Meaning, Elric? Do not seek that, for madness lies in such a course."​
"No meaning, no pattern. Then why have I suffered all this?"​
"Perhaps even the gods seek meaning and pattern and this is merely one attempt to find it… Men struggle and credit the gods with knowing why they struggle—but do the gods know?"​
"You disturb me further when I had hoped to be comforted," he sighed. "I have lost wife and world—and do not know why." (DLP)​

What was considered sufficient meaning by Gary Gygax in the AD&D 1e DMG – gaining knowledge of a cosmic struggle and fighting in that conflict as a willing soldier – is considered insufficient by Elric.

The ending of Doomed Lord’s Passing is even more unsettling. After Elric is slain by his own sword,

The entity that was Stormbringer, last manifestation of Chaos which would remain with this new world as it grew, looked down on the corpse of Elric of Melnibone and smiled.​
"Farewell, friend. I was a thousand times more evil than thou!"​
And then it leapt from the Earth and went spearing upwards, its wild voice laughing mockery at the Cosmic Balance, filling the universe with its unholy joy. (DLP)​

At the very end, the Cosmic Balance, which is the closest equivalent to an all-powerful benign God in Moorcock’s multiverse, has been partially thwarted. A powerful force of Chaos and evil is loose upon our Earth. So it seems that the views that Elric expresses in Dead God’s Homecoming – that life is "chaotic, chance-dominated, unpredictable" and that "there is no justice" – have been proved to some extent correct.
the world never seemed based on chance just lacking in reason it is more cold grinding order than the fires of change that rules us.
 

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