Blame it on Aristotle.
It was his theory, that because it was the "moistest" organ in the body, the brain was the organ most affected by the Moon. Our closest heavenly neighbor clearly pulled on the tides, so it followed it also pulled on the wet lump in our heads. Later, the Roman philosopher Pliny concurred. The Moon, you see, caused dew to form, and therefore also caused water on the brain.
This notion, that the Moon is connected to madness is a peculiarly Western one, and a relatively modern one at that. The connection is not really there in the language. The English "Moon," from the Old English mona, is related to words like the Latin menis and the Sanskrit masah, all of which derive from a PIE word meaning "month." They are related to words like "meter" and "measure." This of course is because the phases of the Moon were a nearly universal way to measure time. Meanwhile, Luna, which gives us "lunatic," simply means "brightness" (related to the Latin lux and English words like "lucent" and ironically the opposite of madness, "lucid").
Mythology doesn't seem to associate them either. The Egyptian Moon god Khonsu was associated with time and fertility. The Hindu Chandra was associated with night and vegetation. The Mesopotamian Sin was associated with cattle, likely because the crescent Moon looked like bull horns, and thus Sin looked after cowherds and shepherds. The same association with horns probably made the Japanese Moon god Tsukuyomi the patron of hunters. The Greek Selene was also described as having horns, and her late association with Artemis confirmed hunting aspects. The Roman Luna has horns too, and was associated with brightness and fertility...but not insanity.
Yet when it comes to Greg Stafford's Glorantha, and the mythology thereof, the connection between the Moon and madness is definite. The Red Moon hovers there in the sky, and when it is "full" (at least from the perspective of Dragon Pass, the region where much of the action of the setting takes place), werewolves run wild and Chaos is strong. The Red Moon's Seven Mothers cult teaches the Rune spell "Madness." The elemental spirits of the Red Moon, "Lunes," inflict madness on their victims as well. So it would seem that Stafford, whose Glorantha was created to explore mythology, got it wrong here.
Except of course that for Stafford mythology was a living thing, an on-going process. It doesn't stop with Homer and Ovid, pinned down like dead butterflies under glass. The association between the Moon and madness has been a common one in European folklore and mythology the last two thousand years, so naturally he included it in the mythology of the Red Moon, the Lunar Empire, and the Red Goddess. In the same way that Orlanth cannot be said to be Thor--or Jupiter, or Perun, or Hadad, or Indra, etc.--the Red Moon is not any single cultural or mythological notion but an amalgamation of many such notions. Indeed, in the case of the Red Goddess is it obvious, as she is an amalgamation of goddesses. She has the associations with lunacy, sure. But she is also connected to cycles and time, to Life and Death, and light as well. The "lumi" in "Illumination" is related to "luna" too.
C'mon Drew, Can We Get to the Freakin' Review Now?
I mention all this because Nick Brooke's Crimson King is simultaneously an exploration of ALL of the multiple facets of Glorantha's Moon goddess and completely, utterly, insane. Nuts. Bonkers. Deranged. Mad. Literally, quite literally, out of its mind.
So I am not going to tell you where it is set, or who the protagonists are, or any of the plot. In fact, as I looked over what I had initially jotted down for this review, I had Buffy Summers in my ear asking "Huh? Can you vague that up for me?" As a demonstration of exactly how much of a nerd I am I also had River Song in the other ear warning "spoilers." So you and I are going to have to tread lightly here.
Set in the year 1627 S.T., Crimson King is a roleplay-heavy scenario in three acts (it could, with little effort, be set in a different year). There is a fight scene, sure, but Crimson King is more improvisational theater than tabletop wargaming. It is superbly illustrated, but that is a hallmark of Nick Brooke's projects. Brooke brings interior illustrations by Linnea Mast, Mike O'Connor (from Black Spear), Dario Corallo, and Brooke's fellow Greg Stafford Memorial Award winner Katrin Dirim (2020 and 2021 respectively) to the project, with striking cover art by John Sumrow. It sees the players taking on the roles of powerful dignitaries of the Lunar Empire, the movers and shakers you might say, and places them together at a dinner party somewhere in Lunar territory. Along with the usual palace intrigues there is a conspiracy afoot and then things take a sharp turn.
A really sharp turn. In fact, (REDACTED: SPOILERS).
Where was I? Oh yes. Crimson King is full of details and ideas that flesh out various facets of the Lunar Empire and its religion, with detailed descriptions of famous Lunar luminaries and aspects of the Moon (each beautifully illustrated by Dirim). There is a lot here that could be dropped into any Lunar campaign. It is nominally a sequel to the author's The Duel at Dangerford and the aforementioned Black Spear, but there is no reason it has to be. It could easily be dropped into any campaign. It also...um..."reinterprets" elements from A Rough Guide to Glamour and Life of Moonson but you really don't need those either.
On the other hand, if you know any of these products you will have a much better idea of what you are getting here. Crimson King is distinctively a Nick Brooke Production. It is playful rather than stuffy, juicy rather than dry, and tongue-in-cheek rather than solemn. It references pop music and Terry Gilliam (not to mention Star Wars, Casablanca, Mission Impossible, the Eurythmics and John Carpenter). If you are looking for academic, and by this I mean "self-important" rather than "informative," this is not that. It takes the MGF concept ("maximum game fun") and runs with it.
And yet, damnit, the thing I most want to tell you about Crimson King is the one thing I can't. The scenario has one of the best "pulling the rug out from under you" scenes I have seen in recent RPG memory...in a good way. There is a twist in this that makes it terrific, but that is about all I can say.
You will come to Crimson King for the phenomenal production values, gorgeous art, and trademark Brooke wit. You will remember it for the setting and the ingenious plot twist. Crimson King is lunacy of the highest order, absolutely insane. Yet for a hobby in which people sit around have a consensual hallucination...is that really a bad thing?
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