Journal of Runic Studies #12

2021-09-06

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.

Apologies for being late this week: up here in western Fronela, we are in the middle of the “back to school” rush, and I still have to buy scrolls and crystals for my kids.

God Learner Sorcery

We are now occupying a nice little tower with a long history of previous occupants who have left behind documents, tablets, artifacts, and other kinds of junk. As we clean up and archive these things, we share the most interesting ones with you.

Episode 3: Passions in RuneQuest

The latest episode of our podcast was released last week, and deals with “personality mechanics” in RuneQuest. In this longer-than-usual episode, we welcome the wonderful David Scott from Chaosium, who filled our air-time with many wonderful historical game design facts, gaming anecdotes, and Gamemaster tips! If you haven’t yet, please subscribe to the God Learners podcast in your app of choice (see this guide if you’re not sure how) and listen to some Gloranthan goodness while you walk the dog or clean the house!

Conventions

The Owlbear and Wizard’s Staff convention is back to meat-space this year in the UK, but they are keeping an online component as well. There are Gloranthan games on the schedule, and last I looked, a couple of them still had some space!

Chaosium News

Here are this week’s Chaosium news!

The Battle of Queens Rages On

The White Bull Campaign (a.k.a “the Chaosium house campaign”) is now fighting the Lunar armies near Old Top.

Besides watching Jeff Richard choking on a peanut, this is mainly our first look at the mass combat rules, which are actually a bit crunchier than I expected. This is mostly a good thing though.

Notes on the Battle Rules Preview

As far as I can tell, the battle rules work as follow:

  1. The GM prepares a list of the different units and notable NPCs that make up the opposing army. In this case, Jeff describes various groups such as Lunar provincial militias, Tarshite Cavalry, Silver Shields, Antelope Lancers, Granite Phalanx, Lunar Magicians, etc. Rough army sizes are also provided at this point. This is the kind of information we’ll see, I assume, in the upcoming “Dragon Pass Campaign” book. The thing I appreciate here is that, as far as I can tell, this is the only bit of preparation the Gamemaster needs to do to run a battle (and a good Gamemaster equipped with some books of NPC stats can even improvise that easily). The rest of the battle can be made-up on the spot.
  2. The players declare what kind of preparations they go through before battle. This includes ritual practices to get a magical bonus in combat, casting Rune Magic with Extension (some protection like Shield is a good idea here!), and so on.
  3. The players nominate a “band leader” or “unit leader” for their group. This group may include many companion NPCs, or be limited to the Adventurers’ party. I’m not sure how NPCs are handled, though.
  4. The army leaders on each side roll their Battle skill, modified by various factors such as difference in army sizes, unit power levels (militia vs professional warriors), homeland advantage, having scouts and spies to provide up-to-date information, and so on. It’s not clear what this opposed roll means, but I get the impression that it drives what the leaders decide in terms of strategy for the next turn of battle (in this case, Kallyr decides to charge the Lunars). Since Jeff is very much philosophically opposed to rolling against himself, he has one of the players rolling Kallyr’s Battle skill.
  5. The first turn of battle starts with a Battle skill roll from each player. Each player who succeeds their roll can “nominate” an encounter out of the list of units the Gamemaster prepared ahead of the game (see step 1). Once all the votes are in, the band leader (see step 3) decides which encounter the group will aim for. I assume that most leaders will pick the encounter that received the most votes. The Gamemaster chooses another encounter, to be possibly used as a drop-in replacement (see below). In this case, the players choose to fight some Lunar Magicians, while Jeff picks the Silver Shields peltast unit.
  6. The band leader rolls against the “intensity” of the battle. The more intensive a battle is, the harder it is to steer the group to the specific enemy unit the players picked as their encounter. This is an opposed roll between the Battle skill of the band leader and some unspecified score representing this “intensity”. I’m not a fan of the back-to-back Battle skill rolls (there are more coming in the following steps!), but I’ll reserve judgment until the official rules are published, of course.
  7. On a success against the battle intensity, the band leader gets the encounter they wanted. Arguably, things could go a different way if they lose in this opposed roll, or if the Gamemaster got some Special or Critical Success in step 4, which would have let them “force” an encounter onto the players. It sounds like most encounters are things like “2D6 Lunar Magicians”, so this is also where someone rolls for that.
  8. Different encounters and actions on the battlefield require spending points from a “Guiding Passion”. That is, to lead troops into combat you need them motivated with something like a Loyalty (Sartar) or Hate (Lunar Empire) Passion, and as long as they are motivated you can keep fighting. A higher Guiding Passion would, I suppose, let you fight longer, take more risks, and so on. It sounds like there are also requirements for minimum Guiding Passion scores for certain actions. In this case, the players take off -20% from their Guiding Passion (which, I think, is a Loyalty one) and manage to traverse the battlefield to reach the Lunar Magicians. As far as I can tell, there is one Guiding Passion for the group, and it’s probably the lowest score of all the individual members’ Passion score, or something like that.
  9. Now the players choose their “stance”, which is how they approach the encounter. It goes from Reckless to Brave to Cautious to Cowardly. With a Reckless stance, the players have to fight a minimum of three combat rounds and may get a chance to increase their Guiding Passion. A Brave stance requires at least two combat rounds. A Cautious stance only requires a minimum of one melee round. A Cowardly stance lets you run away, which could happen if the Gamemaster manages to drop-in their choice of encounter in an early step, and the players realize they are going to face some enemies they are not prepared for. I assume that such a retreat comes with a drawback, but Jeff didn’t specify any. Different players can pick different stances for their characters. I didn’t really notice what other pros/cons exist for different stances, but I assume they exist — probably some different Reputation and Guiding Passion rewards.
  10. The Adventurers are now charging towards the Lunar Magicians! There is yet again a Battle roll (ugh) by the band leader to determine how many rounds the Adventurers must endure offensive spells being cast on them before they can close into melee. In this case, the Adventurers’ charge will last two rounds. I suppose that this step would also determine how long the Adventurers must run under a volley of arrows and javelins if they were facing a unit equipped with missile weapons. As with any other roll, the leader can get augments from their companions, but Jeff notes that there can only be one Passion augment per day of battle, and one skill augment per turn of battle.
  11. During the charge, the Lunar Magicians and Adventurers cast various magic spells — offensive and/or defensive. One cool thing is that because the Adventurers previously awakened their “Hero Soul” during a heroquest, they get bonus points to resist offensive magic: however many Hero Points they have gets added to their POW, in the same way that a shaman’s Fetch’s POW also gets added for resistance rolls.
  12. Some Adventurers fall to the Lunars’ Madness spells during the charge. Others manage to close with the Lunar Magicians and, even though their enemies have iron armor, hefty magical protection, and allied spirits, they spill some good amount of their blood onto the battlefield. Arachne Solara’s webbing magic is also very effective to quickly render some enemy useless!
  13. At the end of the first battle turn, Adventurers gain some reputation (between 1D3% and 1D6% in this case) and choose whether they want to pursue another encounter or move to the rear to recover. Doing the latter lets the Adventurer loot fallen enemies, regain Guiding Passion points, and, I assume, get healing from support units.

Take this with a pinch of salt: I could be misremembering or misunderstanding things, Jeff might be using house rules or spot rulings in places to manage the pace, and these rules might still be a work in progress. But at least we get a general idea of how they work, and that’s pretty nice!

Overall, I like what I’m seeing, except for the repeated Battle rolls, as I mentioned. I love the idea that Passions are used as meta-currency to push a unit into combat, but I didn’t get a good idea of how it works in practice from this first turn of battle. I’m curious how different the rules are when the players adopt defensive positions and they are the ones showering a charging enemy with missile weapons and ranged magic. And I wonder how the rules manage point attrition with the Adventurers, who may be out of spirit and Rune magic after only half a day of battle.

Finally, I’m looking forward to the outcome of the battle in terms of player agency and rewards. Most, if not all, of Jeff’s players very well know how the Battle of Queens ends, and Jeff has been clear that he doesn’t believe in leaving that kind of thing up to random dice rolls. But I wonder how much Gamemaster fiat goes into the details — for example, if the players decide to form a defensive cordon around Kallyr, or attack Pharandros directly, and get very, very lucky. If I remember correctly, Jeff has said that only a handful of NPCs are important for the Hero Wars storyline (Argrath, Harrek, Jar-eel, the Red Emperor, maybe another one or two), so only those few have “plot armor”, if any. I suppose it’s entirely possible that other NPCs like Kallyr or Leika may survive or die in ways that makes the “meta-plot” diverge slightly, but this divergence should be manageable and, potentially quite fun to run.

All The World’s Monsters

It’s expected that, on occasion, Chaosium president Rick Meints will come out with some surprising bit of obscure Chaosium history. What’s unexpected is that this comes with some (for purchase) PDFs of the aforementioned obscure products! Well, I think those are new PDFs. I’m not sure, but I had never noticed them before… but first things first!

© 2021 Chaosium Inc.

Over on the Chaosium blog, Rick talks about what might be the very first monsters’ manual for D&D, dating back to Fall 1977:

Between Christmas and New Years Eve of 1977, TSR released its first hardcover 112-page RPG book, the Monster Manual by Gary Gygax. Many hailed it as the first compendium of RPG monster stats. What many people did not realize back then – and still might not realize today – is that the Monster Manual was, at best, the third compendium of monsters with D&D stats ever published. […]

The first Steve Perrin project for The Chaosium debuted in the Fall of 1977. It was only the ninth product produced by the fledgling company. This was the 120-page All the Worlds’ Monsters, edited by Jeff Pimper and Steve Perrin. 

Steve Perrin later of course became the main game designer behind RuneQuest. And if Jeff Pimper’s name is familiar to you Gloranthaphiles, it’s because, like many things around Dragon Pass and Prax, Greg Stafford used his friends to name places on the map.

All three volumes of the venerable monster books have PDF scans available from Chaosium (Volume 1, Volume 2, and Volume 3).

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!

The Bad Winds

A new month means a new monster, and Austin Conrad has released The Bad Winds! I’m sure there’s an obvious fart joke here, but this is a professional publication and we won’t go down that hole.

Anyway, Bad Winds are air elementals corrupted by Mallia, the goddess of disease, and which you can spring upon your players when they fumble their Summon Cult Spirit spell! Not only do you get some description of the titular spirits, but you also get a lot of material to incorporate these things into your games, including a short Kolat myth.

Houses of Teshnos Get Bigger

Paul Baker recently added more than 40 pages of content to his sourcebook on Teshnos. You can refer to Nick Brooke’s Jonstown Compendium Index for information on what exactly has been added.

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.

The Geography of Sartar

Jeff shares a “little blurb” on the geography of Sartar which happens to be two pages long (although that’s on Facebook’s very narrow column formatting). The first thing to remember is that Sartar is a seismically active region, which is why Maran Gor’s cult is a thing, especially around Kero Fin.

The Earthquake Goddess is offered propitiatory worship throughout Sartar, even if her number of initiates is small.

Elevations range from 700m (Duck Point) to 3120m (Quivin Mountain’s peak).

Much of this area is a karst landscape covered by a dissected plateau of limestone and sandstone, created when the oceans covered the land in the Lesser Darkness. During the Gods War, the original limestone and sandstone rocks were folded into troughs by igneous intrusions of granite and quartz. Rampaging storm gods wore this down to rolling hills, buttes, and mesas, exposed the granite cores, and left a rugged and strikingly beautiful landscape. Creeks and rivers have carved out twisting but fertile valleys.

I first read this too fast and thought it said “much of this area is krarsht landscape”! I would love to see Kallyr’s face if she realized that her entire homeland was the back of some giant Chaos God… and, I mean, that would explain why the Lunars want to get control of it so badly!

The text, which I assume is from the upcoming Sartar Homeland boxed set, goes over the geological nature of the main handful of locations in Sartar, but this bit on the Quivin Mountain stuck out for me:

The Quivin Mountains are plutonic masses of granite that thrust through the surrounding limestone during the Gods War. They are sons and daughters of Lodril, the great Fire God beneath the earth, and of Kero Fin, the Mother of Mountains.

The reason it stuck out is that (in my opinion) the Quivin Mountains have an exceptionally small area for their height, so it makes sense to give them some interesting backstory. I wonder if the dwarves who built Boldhome are tapping into this geothermal energy to power and heat parts of the city. This is similar to how the chaparral plains of Prax, so close to the fertile lands of Sartar, also make more sense when you give them some kind of mythical origin:

Prax was beloved of Eiritha and was fertile and pleasant, but its essence she gave to aid the Storm Bull against the Devil. The surface of the land is now hard clay and sand, underlay by limestone.

Back to Sartar, here’s an example of the kind of hills where Sartarite have their sheep and cattle herds grazing:

© 2021 Jeff Richard

Now, for some information on the riverbeds:

The Creek-Stream River drains most of Sartar and the Far Point. From its source at Skyfall Lake to the Choralinthor Bay at Nochet, the river is 700 kilometers long. For much of its length, the river is usually between three and four meters deep and from 100 to 200 meters wide, sometimes growing much larger during the spring floods.

That’s surprisingly shallow. That explains why there’s not much river traffic in Sartar except for the occasional duck and newtling boats. Between this and the Closing of the Seas, you have to wonder what Greg Stafford had against the waters!

If you’re into geology, you might get a kick out of this old map from Andreas Pittelkow:

© 2021 Andreas Pittelkow and Chaosium Inc.

There’s no legend, but Jeff has some notes for us:

The “bricked” areas are limestone strata formed during the Storm Age (when those lands were submerged). The “dotted” areas are sandstone strata. The “xxs” are bedrock – granite formations. The lined areas are gravel and sand left from the glaciers. The little triangles are volcanic areas.

The map is at a low level of detail, for example the Quivin Mountains should be there with xx’s, and the Indigo Mountains and Pelanda should also have volcanic activity, etc. But it is still interesting and useful. And done by an actual geologist.

Chalana Arroy Precepts

Jeff replied to some questions about Chalana Arroy and her cultists over on BRP Central.

Her cultists swear an oath to total non-violence. They refuse to cause more damage to a wounded world. In the Holy Country and Dragon Pass, the cult is divided between Sweepers and Keepers

Based on some preview text from the upcoming Cults book, the “sweepers” tradition comes from the Holy Country’s healing temples, where initiates, lay members, or volunteers sweep the ground of insects and other animals so the healers can tread without harming anything. The “keepers” were born from philosophical differences among the cult:

This began to trouble the respected Healer of Arroin, the venerable Nambasa. He said he preferred to simply watch his step and leave insects, animals and in fact all living things unmolested and in peace. He and his small band of followers became known as the “Keepers”, in opposition to the “Sweepers.”

This is what for me is interesting with Chalana Arroy’s precepts: it’s easy to wonder how far they go, and how to interpret them. This is great for roleplaying! As with the real world, not all members of the cult will have the same interpretation, and good stories might arise from these differences.

But playing a Chalana Arroy initiate is tricky. Unless the character has their own practical and philosophical differences with their temple, they are forbidden from any type of fighting. This means that they don’t even use a shield… they can only negotiate or dodge. They are vegetarians, because of course they are.

The worship of a passive deity is a luxury which few can afford. Not many wish to throw themselves at the mercy of the world when times are troubled. Thus, worship of her has been restricted to the most devout individuals or the most advanced civilizations.

The Cult of Eurmal the Trickster

Probably even harder to play than a Chalana Arroy initiate is an Eurmal initiate! I’ve seen many Gloranthaphiles either ignore tricksters in their worldbuilding, or even actively chase them off. But Jeff tells us again that they are an important part of Orlanthi society:

The Orlanthi hold that clowns and tricksters are essential in contact with the sacred. Laughter and humor are a part of every ceremony, even the most serious, because laughter opens and frees one from rigid preconception. Tricksters are needed in the most sacred ceremonies because the sacred comes through upset, reversal, and surprise. Orlanthi gods and heroes can be foolish in one tale and wise in the next, helpful and then villains.

All of the Orlanthi gods have a touch of trickster when they act foolishly. This is quite appropriate because based on my many years of roleplaying, the Player Characters will often act like big goofballs too!

Art by Agathe Pitie, © 2021 Chaosium Inc.

This may be tough to grasp with our Western ethics and morality, but the Orlanthi are perhaps more open to life’s multiplicity and paradoxes than we are. The sacred is both wondrous and terrible, and heroes like Arkat and Argrath represent both.

While some aspects of the trickster life may indeed elude us, one thing has at least grown in awareness over the past decade in Western countries, and that is non-binary genders. Tricksters, who reject or live outside of mainstream social norms, are often non-gendered, gender-fluid, or other (or at least act like it). And while I’m sure there are trans, intersex, non-binary, etc. people in any cult (not just Heler or Vinga or whatever, that’s just wrong), the particularity of playing an Eurmal initiate is that you can actively have fun with it: you are socially expected to mock others, disrupt their gendered rituals, and generally speaking shove people’s boring cis-ness in their face. And you get to dress in weird, original, and cool ways that make you stand out more than a baboon shaman in a Dayzatar priest’s funeral. At least, this is for the tricksters who actively take on the role of “the Clown” in their community:

[They] can get away with almost any social disruption and trouble because of the useful functions they provide through showing what is serious, absurd, baffling, or wrong, fearful or comical about life and the cosmos. The Orlanthi recognize this as powerful magic that both disrupts and helps to maintain the cosmos.

The downside is that these “Clowns” also act as scapegoats any time the clan or tribe needs to pin something on someone. In that case they are outlawed and driven out. In rare cases, they are killed…. this is the harsh life of the comedian: you have to keep being funny and/or insightful, but sooner or later you’ll cross a line and get cancelled!

Jeff also shares some good ideas to include tricksters in your games:

Clowns sometimes appear—usually without invitation—at the ceremonies of other Orlanthi cults and mock them along with other attendees. At other public ceremonies, clowns may dance out of step, sing out of tune, and imitate cult and other societal leaders. They beg food, throw food away, or are gluttons. They even use magical regalia in inappropriate ways, engage in foolish, silly, or even obscene side-shows, often with respected members of the community.

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.

Runeblogger Reviews Cults of Prax

© 2021 Chaosium Inc.

Regular Gloranthan blogger and appropriately named Runeblogger has a new review up, this time on Cults of Prax, a very influential sourcebook of the early days of the hobby, and arguably the very first “splatbook” ever.

[…] Cults of Prax is a true classic. It showed that a roleplaying setting could handle religion and mythology as defining and central aspects of a culture. The cults are original and appealing, and their rich level of detail makes them feel real. Not only that, but they also explain the origin of magic and generate adventures with the clash of their different philosophies. Most of all, the cults of Prax demonstrate that Gloranthan adventurers are not isolated from society as in other games, but they belong to groups of other people that can offer help in exchange for some duties and responsibilities. That is the main reason why it was so influential in its time, and remained so for a long time after its publication.

A great bit of both game design and worldbuilding was the inclusion of Biturian Varosh’s adventures in sidebars scattered through the book. Each chapter in the titular character’s journey matches the cult being described on the same page, which extend that cult’s write-up with in-world narration:

Moreover, the travels of Biturian Varosh are a source for scenes and ideas for adventures, but first and foremost, it is an entertaining way of finding out about the “real” Glorantha, the one that varies because it ignores it is actually a setting described in books.

Back when we were called “Wind Words”, we started following the iconic travels of Biturian Varosh from the book’s margins. Part 1 is here, and Part 2 is here.

Cults of Prax is available in Print-on-Demand and PDF at Chaosium’s online store.

Roleplay Rescue on RuneQuest Glorantha

Che Webster, from the Roleplay Rescue blog and podcast, has some short advice for RuneQuest-curious newbies based on his own experience approaching this sometimes intimidating game:

Among other things I’ve been re-reading the core RQG rulebook and getting my head around the world – the first additional source being The Glorantha Sourcebook.

His tips? Read Vasana’s story, roll-up a character, and read slowly. I totally agree: Vasana’s story not only serves as examples but also as great and effective flavour for what Glorantha might look like, and I’ve myself been bit several times because I read a rule too fast and mixed in my own assumptions.

Nicholas Bielik on Glorantha

Occasional RPG YouTuber Nicholas Bielik recorded this general presentation of Glorantha, which then quickly dives into why he likes the setting, and why (according to him) it has this appeal and originality that sets it apart from other fantasy settings:

VTT Map: Ernalda’s Garden

© 2021 SkullDixon

SkullDixon, from who we previously featured some nice duck pics (don’t read that too fast!), has also a VTT map for “Ernalda’s Garden”, for possible use with the Smoking Ruin adventure.

Elsewhere on Arachne Solara’s Web

Not everything is about Glorantha, although most things are! Here are loosely relevant things that we found on the interwebs.

Healer Society Mask

This west-African mask is from the 20th century, but it still provides some cool ideas for fantasy gaming:

© 2021 Princeton University Art Museum

Use that with a new Chalana Arroy initiate:

This striking work features the broad, curved horns of the buffalo, a principal insignia of Nyikaryi, an elite society of healers. The society’s members were herbalists and physicians held in high esteem, and they wore headdresses like this for secret initiations and healing rites.

It doesn’t take too much work to imagine a similar headdress in Bronze Age times either, since it reminded Joerg of the Hallstatt-era “Celtic Prince of Glauberg“:

Thanks to SkullDixon for the original link.

Action Figures in Ancient Times

What kind of toys do your Gloranthan kids play with? What about action figures? While not quite Bronze Age either, the Mayans famously had some cool figurines with removable helmets:

© Kenneth Garrett

Several others have been found, like this king with his spirit animal companion:

© Ricky Lopez

For more information about where these figurines were found (along with more pictures) you can read this article. And for a thorough and academic take, Cambridge has this online publication titled “Maya Sacred Play” about the relationship between toys and rituals.

Thanks to David Scott for the links.

Thank you for reading

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

One comment on “Journal of Runic Studies #12