In this episode which we finally get around to talking about 13th Age Glorantha. Ludo and Jörg are joined by Becca of “Dames & Dice” fame on the Iconic Podcast, and by Evan Franke, of “Exploring Glorantha” fame.

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In my review of the Prosopaedia I went over the history of the last few years of RuneQuest publications. The Gloranthan fandom was waiting for something big to happen, based on much teasing and many sneak peeks from Chaosium. The clouds darkened, electricity built up in the air… and now a bolt of light blinds our eyes! Thunder cracks! Take 1D6 of damage to a random location!

Okay, please excuse the heavy-handed game metaphors, I’m excited to be holding, at last, the “Lightbringers” volume of the Cults of RuneQuest!

Released concurrently to much marketing fanfare with the “Earth Goddesses” volume (which I’ll review in a few weeks), these two books are the first in the new “Cults of RuneQuest” series to describe the playable cults of Glorantha at length and in depth. Or, as I like to say: RuneQuest finally gets splatbooks! Has the game advanced to the 1990s? Are we getting some metaplot heavy scenario books next? Is Chaosium going to get acquired by some online gaming company? I’m joking, of course (well, partially), because, again, I’m excited. This year is gearing up to be a very good year for RuneQuest players with disposable income.

Before we head further into the matter at hand, please note that I received a review copy from Chaosium. Big thanks to Brian and Dustin! The book is available in hardcover and PDF from Chaosium, or in PDF from DriveThruRPG (affiliate link).

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I have acquired the Lightbringers and Earth Goddesses splatbooks! I have only just started reading them (so far I’m quite happy) but you should expect some in-depth reviews in the coming weeks.

Chaosium’s Glorantha is known for being a fantasy world that can stand on its own. Some members of the fandom famously (and sometimes arguably unfortunately) “study” Glorantha as an almost academic pursuit, benefiting from the existence of almost as many system-less books on the topic as gaming books. In fact, two of the most acclaimed Glorantha books are system-less: the Glorantha Sourcebook (also here) won the ENnie gold medal for “Best Supplement” in 2019, and the massive encyclopedic two-volume Guide to Glorantha won, among other awards, the Diana Jones Award for Excellence in Gaming in 2015. Both of them have absolutely zero game mechanics in them.

This new release from Chaosium, The Prosopaedia, is another such system-less book, although arguably the first one to be branded under a game line (RuneQuest in this case). It is available in leatherette, hardcover, and PDF from Chaosium, and in PDF from DriveThruRPG. Let’s take a closer look!

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Runic Rants is an irregular series of thoughts, opinions, and experiments about RuneQuest.

This article was originally written as a comment on the BRP Central forums, and has been heavily edited and expanded here.

A question that I’ve seen come up a few times online is that of game terms employed in the RuneQuest rules compared to what people on Glorantha would “really” speak about.

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Our guest for this episode is Austin Conrad, who last graced our podcast in episode 2, On the Road. Austin is the author of many things on the Jonstown Compendium, generally publishing under the “Akhelas” brand, while he is known as “Crel” on BRP Central, Discord, and social media.

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In this month’s Glorantha Initiation interview, Ludo talks to Bryon Ross without any Joerg present. Bryon is a long time RuneQuest lover, but he played mostly with the Fantasy Earth setting until the release of the RuneQuest Quickstart in 2017. He is also a retired marine, SCA participant, and regular Chaosium convention gamemaster.

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Art by Dan Barker, from the Broken Council Guidebook

We start this episode with a minor existential crisis on Ludo’s identity, followed by Ludo being protective of our usual guests by volunteering to take the brunt of Jörg’s incoming obscurantism and pedantry. Ludo accuses rather than praises Jörg of being a bright guy…

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This week marks the amazing milestone of the 100th issue of the Journal of Runic Studies! Sadly, this is also the occasion to announce that I’m stopping publication of the Journal… so I guess there is no 100th issue after all and I just lied!

Such is the role of the Trickster.

It’s been a pretty eventful couple of years since we started doing newsletters. The first one was Wind Whispers, back when the podcast was called Wind Words. A worldwide pandemic happened, and it was relaunched when the podcast mutated into The God Learners. If you look at that very first issue, and compare it to any of the last few issues, the structure hasn’t changed much. But other things have changed, including:

  • Chaosium designers, especially Jeff Richard and David Scott, have become very active online, interacting with the Gloranthan and RuneQuest communities. We originally were the only place attempting to archive all this information, but David stepped up wonderfully and it now gets almost all archived on the Well of Daliath.
  • The community content programs for Chaosium games have become an immense success. During the Wind Whispers run we saw the appointment of Nick Brooke to the position of ambassador for the Jonstown Compendium, which now has more than 250 titles.
  • The fan base has grown tremendously, with many old hands and newcomers alike (re)discovering Glorantha. We started our Glorantha Initiation series to interview the latter, and still have many more people to talk to (if you’re waiting for me to reply to your email, know that I haven’t forgotten you!)

Those of us who came to Glorantha with the new RuneQuest line might not appreciate it, but I’m told by 1990s gamers that it’s quite an amazing thing to be able to fill several pages of weekly content for such a niche thing.

In addition to that, I’ve been learning a lot about both Glorantha and Earth. I’ve become genuinely fascinated by the ancient world, not just for gaming potential (although that, too) but simply because it’s super cool. I hope that you enjoyed following me as I researched, discovered, and mused about both worlds.

This all takes a fair amount of time. It takes between three and five hours to make an issue of the Journal, depending on how much research (thank the gods for PDF searches!) or YouTube-watching or whatever else I want to go through on a given week. I was glad to do it because it gave me a good excuse to learn more about Glorantha, about ancient history, about gamemastering, and more.

But I’m creating more RPG content lately. I’ve got an increasing amount of illustrations to make, half a dozen manuscripts to finish, and a few other unrelated hobbies and projects I’ve been neglecting. To continue, the Journal would require two or three other regular contributors… so after taking a good long look at my ever-expanding list of fun things I want to do, I had to prioritize. Hence this final hundredth issue. Which, again, is not a real issue!

Here’s what you can hopefully expect this year from me in terms of Glorantha-related material:

  • The podcast continues, of course. Only the newsletter stops. Joerg and I will be recording the next episode this week-end, in fact.
  • “The Bloody Banquet”, the all-Telmori one-shot RuneQuest adventure that I ran at ChaosiumCon (pictured above), is likely to be my next publication on the Jonstown Compendium. It’s almost fully written: it needs stat blocks (uuugh) and a couple of editing passes.
  • My long coming “kids intro campaign” for RuneQuest is next. It’s nicknamed “Goonies in Glorantha”, and this should tell you all need to know. The real title will almost definitely not be as good. It’s designed to easily introduce both players and gamemasters to Glorantha. It’s about half-written, but I don’t know yet if it will all fit in one book…
  • You should see my art in a few other Jonstown Compendium books this year. If all goes well, you might even notice me getting better!
  • With a couple of extra hours of free time each week, you may expect a few more occasional Runic Rants, Found Documents, and other similar articles around these parts. Maybe.

Of course, the goal is to spend my time doing other things anyway — if you’re into Call of Cthulhu, Delta Green, or Vaesen, you might see one or two things. If you’re into open-source development, you might too. And if you’re my neighbour, you might hear me playing more music.

I want to extend a big thank-you to everybody who supported the newsletter in the past, whether it was by subscribing to it, sharing it on social media, commenting on it, or sending us emails with corrections. Thank you for showing me I wasn’t just talking to an empty room! And on the topic of talking to an empty room, thank you to everybody who listens to and supports the God Learners podcast. Frankly, when I started it I genuinely expected to have only a dozen listeners for such a niche thing. Apparently, there’s more than a dozen of you giant nerds who want to hear people talk about an imaginary historically-incorrect fantasy world. Who knew!

If you want to follow what we’re doing, there are many options:

  • We are on Facebook, Twitter, and Mastodon. These are news-only accounts, so if you prefer my personal shenanigans, head over there.
  • You can also find Joerg and myself Discord. We hang around the various Chaosium and Glorantha related servers. If you need an invite link, contact us.
  • If you’re doing things right, you use an RSS newsreader and can subscribe to our main feed.
  • Hopefully you’re already subscribed to our podcast. If we do something really cool, we’ll probably mention it in the next episode. And you know Joerg: if it’s mentioned, it will be in the show notes!

Finally, please support us by using my affiliate DriveThruRPG code! Click here and start buying things! Hopefully, this includes my own RuneQuest adventures “A Short Detour” and “Bog Struggles“!

Welcome to a new issue of the Journal of Runic Studies, the premier Malkioni publication for studies into the nature of Glorantha. If you haven’t subscribed yet, please consult with the spirit bound to the appropriate electronic page.

God Learner Sorcery

Here is what us God Learners were up to this week.

Episode 23: Arkat the Minmaxer

Our new episode is all about the legendary figure of Arkat, with Bud (from Bud’s RPG Review) as our guest! Together we talk nonsense about Arkat’s life, accomplishments, war against Nysalor, and legacy. Of course we give plenty of ideas for using Arkati lore in a RuneQuest Glorantha game. Plus: conspiracy theories!

Note: Joerg went a bit crazy with the show notes… he had some corrections to make, and of course a bit of pedantry to indulge in! We might have to do another episode on Arkat to get it out of system…

Runic Rants: Spreadsheet for the People

I wrote a thing about the value of spreadsheets! Yes, spreadsheets! If you know me, you might not be surprised…

It might sound very nerdy, but I think a lot of questions get answered by making a spreadsheet for your Glorantha setting. The first spreadsheet I made keeps track of the population in terms of cult memberships, villages and farms, spirit societies, and so on. […]

This exercise really helped me realize a few things. For instance, you very easily “run out” of initiates for any given cult once you’ve allocated 2/3rds of your adults to Orlanth and Ernalda.

You might have already read it when I posted it on the RuneQuest Facebook group. If not, read all about it here!

ChaosiumCon 2023: Podcasting 101 Panel

As I mentioned in my Chaosium Con report, I was in a panel on podcasting alongside much more clever and experienced people like the great Seth Skorkowsky, Michael Diamond, and Arthur Rothfuss. The panel was moderated by the equally great Emily Mills.

Well you can listen to panel now on the Old Ways podcast, or watch us over here on YouTube:

Seth is of course the host of his titular and super-popular YouTube channel (along with being a fiction and RPG writer, and co-host of the Modern Mythos podcast), Arthur and Emily are part of Under the Library, and Michael is part of the Old Ways Podcast. And I’m the useless guy on the left.

Chaosium News

Here are this week’s Chaosium news!

Combat in RuneQuest

James Coquillat interviews Jeff Richard to get tips and advice for running RuneQuest combat, especially for newcomers to the game. The usual suspects are here: use augments, cast spirit magic buffs, do a volley of missile weapons before heading out into melee, etc.

By now you should be aware of my… conflicted feelings about RuneQuest as a game system, especially its combat. But I guess the good thing with this interview is that, in case you weren’t aware of it before, it should be clear that Chaosium considers the RuneQuest rules as entirely optional. It’s a rather substractive game system: an incredibly crunchy set of rules that you’re supposed to juggle and prune as needed to adjudicate situations. Most other game systems I’ve played (and like) tend to be, on the other hand, modular or additive, that is: you get some core minimal rules, and you add some improvised rules and rulings based on what feels right, or based on explicitly optional/extra rules.

Side note: there are a couple of art overlays during the interview, and I’m not sure if I’ve already seen them all in published material? Especially the one around 3:50? Has anybody seen that one elsewhere?

What Attendees Said About ChaosiumCon

Once again about my ChaosiumCon report, I linked at the end of it a bunch of other reports. But there are a few more! Chaosium has been keeping tabs on them and provided this short compilation of blog posts about their recent gaming convention. Of course my own report is on there. Feel free to check out others if you want more FOMO in your life!

Cover RuneQuest Maps Now Available for Download

Until now, the maps found in the inside covers of the RuneQuest Glorantha rulebook were conspicuously absent from the digital version. David Scott heard from the fans on Discord and fixed it! Yay!

Go to the Chaosium website, click on the “user” icon to login and access your account, go into the “Orders” tab, and find your order for the RuneQuest rulebook… this might require a bit of patience if you have as many orders as me. But once you’ve located it, you can click on the download icon and find the two new files!

David isn’t just helpful with digital downloads (he’s known to have fixed a lot of small issues with the RuneQuest PDFs), he’s also a great podcast guest! Check out our episodes on the RuneQuest Passion mechanics, or on Nomad Gods for more goodness from David!

Six Ages 2 Demo on Steam

If you’re eagerly awaiting the release of Six Ages 2: Lights Going Out, a demo is available on Steam right now! I haven’t checked it out yet so, err, that’s all I have.

Jonstown Compendium

The Jonstown Compendium is Chaosium’s community content program for all Gloranthan games, hosted on DriveThruRPG. Disclaimer: all the relevant links are affiliate links that hopefully will let us cover some of the hosting and maintenance costs for the website and podcast! Thanks for using them!

Shameless Plug!

The Jonstown Compendium has been a bit quiet lately so instead of just skipping this segment this week, why not do a bit of shameless advertising for my stuff?

© 2022 BOLT80 & Chaosium Inc.

A Short Detour” is an adventure in three acts that you can easily “sprinkle” on top of your ongoing campaign. It presents a tough moral choice to your players, and potentially introduces a cool villain! Plus, you get a whole deep dive on what exactly is Chaos, and rules for giving a Chaotic taint to your players! Errr I mean to your players’ characters!

© 2022 BOLT80 & Chaosium Inc.

Bog Struggles” is another easily inserted adventure in which the adventurers need to save a Newtling village from possible destruction. Spirit World horror meets cute amphibian people!

Both are Silver Best Sellers, and “A Short Detour” is actually getting into “possible Gold Best Seller” territory at this point. If you have already bought these adventures, a hearty “thank you” goes to you! If you haven’t, please consider making them your next Jonstown Compendium purchase! We don’t have a Patreon or anything like that for this podcast and this newsletter, so that’s how you can show your appreciation!

Jeff’s Notes

Jeff Richard, the current mastermind on everything Gloranthan at Chaosium, is often posting notes and thoughts on the RuneQuest Facebook group. Here’s our curated list from the past week. A partial archive of these sources is compiled on the Well of Daliath.

Rule of Thumb for Gloranthan Demographics

I think I mentioned it already in the past, but the “new” rule of thumb for Gloranthan demographics is for about 2/3rds of adults and 1/3rd of children. Jeff confirmed this recently on BRP Central:

I used to assume as a short-hand that half the population of any given human Gloranthan community were adults, the other half uninitiated children. I’ve refined that somewhat, and now assume that about 60-66% of any given human Gloranthan community are adults, the rest uninitiated children. 

Now the reason for that comes down to lower children mortality, longer lifespan, and also that in most Gloranthan communities adulthood initiation takes place at around 14-17 years old. This ends up with the adult being initiated into a RuneQuest, although the full process might take several years.

For people making spreadsheets like me, this is good stuff! I did spot this change of statistics between the HeroQuest Red Cow books, the RuneQuest Gamemaster Adventures book, and the several clan statistics that Jeff kindly shared during the past couple years as a sneak peek into the Sartar Homeland book (see here and here, among others). I’ve been using this ~60-something% of adults in my world-building for the past couple years.

There are a couple other things to consider, which may or may not be “canon” but make sense to me:

  • Different clans and tribes might have different percentages of adults/children based on how they survived the Great Winter (aka the Windstop) and the Lunar occupation. If you used a 50% stat, congrats, you can add a sub-plot of many children having died during the Great Winter, and how that affects the community. Or, you know, just hand-wave it. The extra 10% of kids were grounded.
  • Becoming an adult is only one step in someone’s life. Children get initiated into adulthood between 14 and 17 years old, but then they undergo 2 years (sometimes 3) of apprenticeship with a cult. Maybe they stay in their village to work at the local Orlanth temple, maybe live in the city in the bigger Orlanth temple, or maybe they move away to Jonstown to be a junior scribe at the Lhankor Mhy temple. Either way, in my Glorantha, these young adults learn the cult’s skills and spirit magic during that time, and then they become initiate of the cult. So not all adults are initiated into a cult yet IMHO.

A few more rules of thumb come from last week’s post about Runemasters, which got a few more comments. I’m mostly interested in this one:

As another aside, I figure most initiates only make the single POW sacrifice and don’t continue going much deeper into the cult mysteries. They are likely concerned about other things like work, relaxation, sex, family, more work, avoiding work, feeding the chickens, etc.

It’s tricky to imagine why the average Gloranthan would not continue sacrificing points of POW to gain more magic, but not everybody is driven by a power-hungry min-maxing player. NPCs have a life to live after all, and sacrificing a point of POW takes a full week of prayer and meditation. Orlanthi farmers may not have the luxury of taking a week off, and may not get many opportunities to get a POW increase roll afterwards.

But in my opinion, a single Rune Point feels too low. Orlanthi farmers are also generally part of the tribal militia. Going on raids, fighting off trolls, and dealing with random monsters are all fairly common occurrences. This brings opportunities to raise one’s POW, and puts at least a bit of pressure to get some useful magic. After all, people worship gods because they provide useful spells, right? That’s often what we’re told.

So I figure most Orlanthi have between 1 and 4 Rune Points, depending on their age. They might be able to go meditate and sacrifice their POW once every couple years at best, probably shortly after winter started, or at just before spring. YGWV and all that, obviously.

Average Sartarite Clan

Speaking of cult demographics, here is an “average Sartarite clan” according to Jeff:

There are 157 clans in Sartar (not including the Telmori and Pol-Joni), with an average population of about 900 people per clan. About 600 are adults, and about 300 are children. The average Sartarite clan claims about 55 square kilometers of territory.

About 40 adults belong to the clan aristocracy of priests and thanes (and their immediate family), about 400 are full free members of the clan, about 100 are semi-free tenants and other adult dependents, and about 60 are unfree.

In times of war, the average Sartarite clan can muster about 200 warriors: 20 martial priests and thanes, and 180 militia.

Again, this is great data for world-building. Jeff even provides some rough cult membership for this average clan, showing how you have less than a dozen initiates of most Lightbringers’ cults. That’s the kind of stuff I put in my spreadsheets. Yes, I keep talking about spreadsheets this week… not my fault! It just happens!

Of course, these numbers assume that these cults are all spread out evenly among the clans, which is not the case. Yelmalio cultists tend to congregate into a handful of clans that are dominated by the cult. At least half of all Chalana Arroy, Issaries, and Lhankor Mhy cultists are in cities, where they make up a disproportionate percentage of the population.

There’s another set of cult membership figures for a Yelmalio-centric clan if you want to compare. That’s useful if you’re playing near Alda-chur for instance…

Surprisingly enough, I didn’t expect this from the upcoming Mythology book:

There are cult demographics for each homeland in the Mythology Book. Available soon!

Crown Tests and Chief Tests

The Orlanthi “Crown Test” is mentioned in passing in the RuneQuest Glorantha rulebook, as part of “Vasana’s Saga”. On BRP Central, Jeff shares a bit more about the requirements to become tribal king, along with some information on the “Chief Tests” and the similar requirements to become clan chieftain:

Keep in mind what a clan is – its an extended kinship group normally with a thousand or so people. The chieftain is the leader/protector of the clan. The title literally means “most important” or “big man.” The violent ethic of the Orlanthi lifestyle makes the chieftain a de facto warrior. He must also be just, to balance the many needs of his people; and strong, to represent them to the outside world. There is no gender requirement, but even if female, the chieftain is referred to as a “he”. He has the responsibility of being spokesperson and decision-maker for all members, especially in times of emergency. His success as community leader depends upon the support of the council and the folk, both of whom have separate methods of removing him from office, should the need arise. The clan chieftain serves as the speaker to the clan’s magical guardian or “wyter” and the recipient of the immense benefits and power that the community spirit may give.

Because of the importance of the Orlanth cult among the Orlanthi, the clan leader needs to have been an initiate of Orlanth for at least a year. Orlanth, not Orlanth Rex (they might be a lay member of Orlanth Rex as well or even a temporary initiate, but that is a tribal matter). 

If there is more than one candidate among the kin, then they have to prove their skills against each other in the Chief Tests.

And:

[…] A chief is not a mini-king and the Chief Tests are not the Crown Test.

So the “Chief Test” are basically proof that the candidate meets the requirements of being a candidate – remember that the assembled members of the community ultimately choose who among the candidate will lead them.

The “Crown Test” is a ritual duel, display of magic, or feat of adventure (like a raid or quest). The more impressive the Crown Test is, the more obvious it is that the gods support that person to be tribal leader.

And:

A clan is an extended kinship group, not a political district. So imagine the average clan in Sartar with about 600 adults. About 40 adults belong to the clan aristocracy of priests and thanes (and their immediate family), about 400 are full free members of the clan, about 100 are semi-free tenants and other adult dependents, and about 60 are unfree.

The chief is almost always going to come out of that group of 40, and most likely there are no more five or six potential candidates. Everyone in the clan likely knows who the potential candidates are. If there is more than one actual candidate, the 400 full free members decide who that is. But usually this is just decided by acclamation – everyone knew that Baranthos was going to become chief after his uncle died – his immediate family (who had led the tribe for nearly two decades) agreed that he was the family leader, the Clearwine Earth temple (led by members of his immediate family) supported him, and he even had ties to the Sartar Dynasty. There really was no other real candidate. 

Now among the Varmandi a few years back the choice was less clear-cut. After so much suffering from war and rebellion, the clan assembly was dominated by the women of the Ernalda cult and a wealthy (and peaceful) farmer was chosen instead of a Wind Lord (who had the backing of the Orlanth cult leaders). That happens, but it is relatively uncommon.  

Community Roundup

The community roundup is our highlight of interesting things being mentioned in the Glorantha-related Facebook groups, sub-Reddits, and other similar online places.

Unprofessional Unboxing of the RuneQuest Prosopaedia

Friend of the show Scott aka OrcusDorkus has a YouTube channel in which he does “unprofessional unboxings” (his words, not mine!) of various RPG products… well, his FOMO about ChaosiumCon was too great so I sent him a copy of Rivers of London and of the Prosopaedia while I was there. I’m happy to see that he received it in due time, and in good shape… this is your chance to get a good look at it until it’s available for general purchase!

Unprofessional Unboxing of Borderlands

Scott does another unboxing of a RuneQuest product in the same week! But here he goes back in time to 1982 with the classic boxed set of Borderlands! If you have the POD reprint, you might not know how it looked like in its original box, so check it out… boxed sets are super cool but sadly they don’t seem to be a viable form factor at the moment.

Exploring Glorantha’s First Age

This week, JM and Evan serendipitously talk about… Arkat! Just like us! Well, they talk about the First Age in general, but the synchronicity makes me smile. This was recorded before ChaosiumCon so Evan talks a bit about what he was planning to do there at the beginning.

Thank you for reading

That’s it for this week! Please contact us with any feedback, question, or news item we’ve missed!