"Come now my child, if we were planning to harm you, do you think we'd be lurking here beside the path in the very darkest part of the forest..." - Kenneth Patchen, "Even So."

THIS IS A BLOG ABOUT STORIES AND STORYTELLING; some are true, some are false, and some are a matter of perspective. Herein the brave traveller shall find dark musings on horror, explorations of the occult, and wild flights of fantasy.

Sunday, September 24, 2023

Ships & Shores of Southern Genertela: A Look

verisimilitude /ˌvɛrɪsɪˈmɪlɪtjuːd/ (noun)
the appearance of being true or real.

If there is a single word I associate with Martin Helsdon's Glorantha work it is verisimilitude. It's a Latin word, come to English via French, from the roots versum (truth) and similis (alike, similar) that means pretty much the same thing in modern English that it did in the days of the Roman Republic. Martin, frankly, has turned verisimilitude into a cottage industry, and his work adds a different sort of texture and depth to a setting with already established socio-cultural and mythological verisimilitude. Martin brings unparalleled detail of the setting's material culture.  

The Armies & Enemies of Dragon Pass, his first, spear-headed the brand new Jonstown Compendium, Chaosium's community content program for Gloranthan and RuneQuest material. It was the book that got me to write Six Seasons in Sartar. Weighing in at nearly 400 pages, meticulously illustrated, it was the closest thing to Osprey Publishing for Glorantha, a comprehensive and encyclopedic look at war and warfare in the Dragon Pass region (see my review here). What I tend to hand-wave Martin digs into and details. Armies & Enemies became one of the best loved and most used reference books at my table. If the players wanted to know what their armor actually looked like, or how to care for their weapons, or who the troops they were fighting were, well, there was Martin.

He did it again with Men of the West, turning the same care and attention to the Malkioni cultures of western Genertela. Once the Invisible God comes out for the Cults of RuneQuest series, combined with Men of the West running a campaign in that region will be a snap.

Martin was also a contributor to the Chaosium publication RuneQuest: Weapons & Equipment.

So when he announced Ships & Shores of Southern Genertela, I was--pardon the pun--on board for it. With the Hero Wars and Sartar and Prax, RuneQuest campaigns tend to focus on the Iliad aspects of the setting and not the Odyssey. Greg didn't, of course. Argrath sails round the shores of Glorantha with the Wolf Pirates before ready to come back and conquer. Martin hasn't forgotten either. Ships & Shores--which honestly I think is his best work to date--opens the seas of Glorantha in a way not seen since...well, in a way not before seen.

Available now as PDF and soon (we hope) in print (Martin, as a Platinum medal winning Jonstown author and 2019 winner of the Greg Stafford Award for Gloranthan Fandom is a safe bet for print), Seas & Ships is a 390+ page exploration of all things nautical in the Bronze Age world of Glorantha. The book offers detailed examinations of the kinds of ships used, how they are built and maintained, sailing and navigation, life at sea, harbors and ports of the southern Genertelan coast, naval warfare...you name it. If you are a GM like me who is all--ahem--at sea for all things nautical, Martin once again has your back. 

What is it exactly that Dormal did to open the seas, and how do sailors now use his magic to sail the seas? Martin knows. What are the major imports and exports for the harbor cities of Southern Genertela? The answers are here. What are ships made of in this ancient world? What construction methods and maintenance are used? Martin walks you through every step in exquisite detail. And while he is drawing on historical terrestrial detail, Martin never forgets this is Glorantha. Eyes are painted on ever ship, and when the time comes, the ship is "awakened;"

As the final stage in construction, a Dormal priest will formally awaken the tutelary spirit of the ship.

‘Awaken oh ship! Smell the brine of the sea, hear the restless waves! Oh, brave ship, fearless voyager, Water will bear you, Air will fill your sails, Sun will warm your deck. Openings to the water we have stopped; we have searched diligently for cracks; your hull has been anointed with pitch; oxen have been sacrificed. Awaken, oh ship!’

The officers and crew are inducted into the ship’s cult. ‘Oh ship, here are your companions, brave men and women, sailors who will worship you, and care for you, as a husband does their bride, as a wife does their groom, oh Daughter of Dormal. All praise your sleek lines, your sturdy timbers, your brightly painted hull. Grant them safe voyages.’

Ships & Shores, p. 92

Again, gentle reader, the word of the day is verisimilitude

Two things elevate Ships & Shores above previous entries of his. First is the "Periplus of Southern Genertela." Inasmuch as my spellcheck insists the word "periplus" does not exist, it does. It means a sea voyage around something. In this case it allows Martin to tip his hat to "Rurik's Saga" from RQ2, "The Travels of Biturian Varosh" from Cults of Prax, and "Vasana's Saga" from RQG, providing snippets of short fiction through a text to bring the harbors and topics alive. Martin gives us interesting and colorful characters, and we journey with them, seeing Glorantha through their eyes.

The other element is the art.

Art is the hardest part of community content work. It is what has delayed--just "delayed"--my release of The Final Riddle (finished back in March). The issue, really, is that artists are contracted and paid up front, while authors need actual sales to make money. Hiring artists is therefore a gamble. The book needs to do well--far better, frankly, than most community content titles on DriveThruRPG--just to get the author out of the hole. 

Having said this, Ships & Shores is lavishly illustrated, and by many of the artists working for Chaosium directly (not least of which is his fellow Greg Stafford Memorial Award winner Katrin Dirim). It makes this a gorgeous book but I also think for Martin one hell of a gamble. I tip my hat to him. Visually, you can pit this against anything you have seen from Chaosium. It is a terrific looking book.

Glorantha is about mythologies, but it is also a living, breathing world. You want to know what people eat, what they wear, how they fight, and how they sail. Martin's work fills in these gaps, and with his books at your side, bringing the setting to life is easy.


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