The Joy of Jonstown
One of the greatest assets of a program like the Jonstown Compendium is content. Glorantha--the setting of the world-famous RPG RuneQuest--is a big world, but publisher Chaosium has never been a big game studio. The result of this is that no matter what products they are currently focused on producing, fans are going to want something from outside that focus that Chaosium is not working on. The best example of this is the oft-repeated lament that everything is focused on Dragon Pass and Prax. "What about Ralios?" "Fronela?" "Kralorela?" "Pamaltela?" Et cetera ad infinitum. One of the best features of the latest edition of RuneQuest is that it ties characters deeply into the setting (previous editions, like RQ2 or 3, were somewhat more vague with cultural backgrounds like "Barbarian" or "Townsman"). This makes it tricky, however, to play characters and campaigns outside of the detailed cultures in the core rulebook.
Jonstown Compendium to the rescue. Now instead of waiting for Chaosium to get around to the East Isles, we have Scott Crowder do it...and if that was not enough East Isles for you, Hannu Rytövuori, David Cake, and Nils Weinander delivered more. Simon Phipp has brought us to Dorastor several times, Paul Baker turned his eyes on Kralorela and Teshnos, and dozens of other authors have served up much, much more. Really, just do yourself a favor and get the catalogue for all the amazing content out there. The point is the Jonstown Compendium helps to make RuneQuest a tremendously well supported game.
And on that note, I have a review to get to.
Adventurers From The Lunar Provinces
Since the world of Glorantha was first revealed to mortals in 1975's White Bear and Red Moon, the core struggle in the setting has been between the Lunar Empire and the new, upstart kingdom of Dragon Pass. The Empire invaded the mountain nation of Sartar, the desert region of Prax, and had designs on the sophisticated southern matriarchy of Esrolia, until an upstart hero named Argrath came along. A sort of Alexander figure, Argrath liberates Prax, becomes Prince of the newly liberated Sartar, and is invited to become hegemon and defender of Esrolia all in the space of four years. He then turns his eyes north to the Empire that once held his new domain and exiled him.
Now, it's been traditional--but by no means mandatory--for RuneQuest adventurers to come from the regions Argrath claimed and to nurse anti-Lunar attitudes. This gets oversimplified somewhat in chat rooms and discussions casting Argrath as the "good guy" and the Lunars as the baddies. I think a lot of this was the zeitgeist of the period RuneQuest originally appeared. The first edition came out when a little-known film called Star Wars was in theaters, and it was easy to cast the Sartarites and Praxians as plucky rebels against a mighty Empire equipped with its very own titanic orb of doom hanging in the sky ("That's no moon," but it was, the Red Moon that hovers in the sky over the Lunar capital of Glamour). As a result, many people played the rebels and the Lunars always had British accents.
This was not universal, however. Full disclosure, my second RQ2 character (and the one I played most of my adolescence) was a Lunar. And since one of the core features of Glorantha is that is rejects the whole "black/white, good/evil, light/dark" ethos of many other settings, a lot of other people were interested in playing the Lunars too.
Peter Hart's Adventurers From The Lunar Provinces focuses on the southern reaches of the Lunar Empire...not the Lunar heartland, but the tribes and nations it brought into the fold prior to all the headaches down south with Argrath. As such it might be better to think of these peoples as "Lunarized" rather than "Lunar," a distinction without a difference really as the Lunar Empire is as much a proselytizing religious movement as it is a military and political entity. This 58-page PDF is a companion to Hart's upcoming adventure Hydra!, set in the Lunarized kingdom of Tarsh. Tarsh is described in the core RuneQuest rulebook, but Adventurers covers the neighboring nations north of it; Aggar, Imther, Vanch, and Holay.
And "cover" them it does indeed. The first section of the book details character creation, following the style and presentation of character generation in the "Adventurers" chapter of the core rulebook. You will, of course, still need possession of the RuneQuest rulebook to make use of it.
This means that Adventurers details the base Passions, cultural Rune and skill modifiers, and family histories of the homelands mentioned above. The layout is nearly identical to the core rules, clean, well-edited, and easy to use. Art comes from public domain works, alongside RuneQuest-specific art from Jonstown alumni Dario Corallo and Martin Helsdon (from their superb art packs). Altogether it is a great looking book.
But two things really jumped out at me. The first is Adventurers' focus, and subsequent detail, on characters with military backgrounds. This is because Hydra! will apparently feature characters who are career soldiers or conscripted. You can, of course, use Adventurers to create other sorts of characters, but to prepare you for Hydra! Hart focuses on soldiers here. This means tables to determine what regiment you are from, what type of unit, patron deities, home base, and a corresponding page reference to the unit descriptions in Helsdon's terrific Armies & Enemies of Dragon Pass.
The second--and honestly this is reason enough to pick up the book in itself--is that Hart provides you with twenty pregenerated characters from these Lunar Provinces. These are full descriptions, complete with an illustration. I include one below. Each is unique, different from the others, and ready-to-play. On the other hand, they could also inspire players with ideas for their own characters, and would be of tremendous use to any RQ GM who needs a Lunar soldier to drop into an on-going campaign. Note too that they represent the diversity of the Empire. While some belong to Lunar cults, for example, there are plenty of followers of Yelmalio and Humakt as well.
Along with all of this are handy timelines, lists of key battles, and even a terrific list of important temples in these regions. Maps come courtesy of the Argan Argar Atlas. Finally, in a tradition dating all the way back to Rurik Runespear and the travels in both Cults of Prax and Cults of Terror, we have "Jonstown to Eneal--From the Journal of Salvatrix the Sober." This gives an insightful look into the region, the cultures, and the kinds of adventures that happen there.
Adventurers From The Lunar Provinces is a sterling example of what the Jonstown Compendium has to offer, a product that is useful to GMs and players alike. Shifting the focus from Dragon Pass north, it nevertheless could be used to drop Lunar soldiers anywhere into a Dragon Pass or Prax campaign. Highly recommended, and has out appetites whet for Hydra!.
In the next review, we will take a look at Nick Brooke's new Crimson King, a product that features the other side of what makes the Compendium great...doing stories that Chaosium is unlikely to tell.
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