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"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.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

THE PEGASUS PLATEAU & OTHER STORIES: A REVIEW




ONCE UPON A TIME, in a magical land called "the Early Eighties," RuneQuest looked something like this;





You are gazing there upon a typical page from William Keyes's Runemasters, which for 12-year-old version of me was akin to religious scripture, or, if you prefer a more profane metaphor, porn.  You see, this was an age when percentiles were narrative, stat blocks poetry, and statistics thick description.  To the untrained--no, scratch that, the word we want to use here is uninitiated--eye, there is an impenetrable scrawl of data there, a gibberish of cramped numerals, cryptic words, and questionable use of punctuation.  To me however, 37 years ago, this was Borek Longtooth, a sentient baboon from the plains of Prax.  In his mid-20s, he was already a badass, a Rune Lord of Daka Fal, judge of the dead.  He was deadly with a spear, had a number of animal spirits bound to his will, and was in possession of formidable magics.  He was a master of stealth, a deadly hunter who could track you unerringly, unseen, unheard.  Looking at those numbers, I could see him, his painted muzzle, the dull iron armor covering parts of his fur, a few flies buzzing around him in the baking heat of the chaparral.  This was, ladies and gentlemen, how we rolled.  In early roleplaying games like RuneQuest, the entire story was buried in statistics.

Four decades later, though, we exist in a reality of high-def television, emojis, and Instagram.  We don't converse, we tweet.  Everything is faster, briefer, louder, and more vivid.  We exist in perpetual sensory overload, and if you want an audience, you need to catch their eye.  Attention, frankly, has never been harder to hold.  A book like Runemasters would be dead on arrival.  We don't want to sift data to find the story, we want it now.  NOW.

All of this means that bringing a game like RuneQuest into the 21st century is something of a tightrope act.  The game had to change, had to adapt, but if you lean too far to the right you plunge into appealing only to hardcore grognards such as myself, lean too far to the left, and you fall into not being recognizable as RuneQuest anymore.  The design team of The Pegasus Plateau & Other Stories (I will be calling it Pegasus from here on in because PP makes my inner five-year-old giggle), has navigated this particular Scylla and Charybdis remarkably well.  Pegasus is modern RuneQuest, easily the most modern product Chaosium has produced for it yet, but its roots run deep and it is undeniably aware of its ancestry.

Now I know what you are thinking; "for Pete's sake Montgomery, just get to the bloody point."  So, dear reader, I shall.

THE ART

One reason I call Pegasus the most modern RQ product is because it is the most visually adept thus far at getting information across.  We have to congratulate art director Kalin Kadiev and his team (Dimitrina Angelska, Dominik Derow, Antonia Doncheva, Andrey Fetisov, Elena Herrero, Jennifer Lange, Michelle Lockamy, Eli Maffei, Sarah Miller, Naomi Robinson, Valentina Romagnoli, Simon Roy, and Cory Trego-Erdner) for pieces that tell stories about the people in them. They are at turns dramatic, human, and arresting.  The art here didn't spring fully formed from the brow of Zeus--we've seen it evolving over the last several Chaosium products--but it's reached its stride here.  These Sartarites look like Sartarites, not pseudo-Celts or Vikings. The Lunars could be Romans, but there is a something of Assyria in that beard.  These characters finally have their own cultures and ethnologies, rather than looking plucked from a historical Osprey book. 

 

They also have personality.  You could glance at "Kana" on page 13 and pretty much predict what her personality description on page 14 would say; it's not just the upturned nose, the look in her eyes says I think I am better than you.  "Jongor" and "Delenda" on page 136 are very clearly...er, sorry, let me stop myself there with another annoying artifact of the modern media age and just say "spoilers."  In any case, the picture of the two together is worth a a thousand loud and clear words.  That the two look like they have handed their smartphone to a passerby and asked him or her to take a picture of them is a bonus; I like it when Glorantha winks at me, and I wink right back.  Also, there is a depiction of an Earth temple on page 7 that might be the single most Gloranthan image I have ever seen.  No "Fantasy Europe" there, no clinging whiff of medievalism.  It's not quite Minoan Crete or Babylon, not entirely India or ancient Cambodia, but it suggests some far older culture, the kind of ruin Sinbad would stumble across in a Ray Harryhausen movie.1


            



So with the art we have arrived at pictures that are information laden, not just space-fillers, and the world they depict feels entirely its own.  I have been imagining this Glorantha for four decades, so to finally see it is gratifying indeed.  Pegasus understands we are living in a visual society, where nothing is "real" unless you've uploaded an image of it.  It applies this to Glorantha through images that make that world real too.  How do we know Glorantha is real?  Because now we can see it.

THE MECHANICS

I'm going to invoke John Wick because with this book he has at last joined the Glorantha family.  John is responsible for the eternally true Stafford Rule that states;

If you believe you've come up with a clever mechanic, Greg Stafford already did it.

Pegasus is a variation of that rule, because now it has to be "Chaosium has already done it."  In trying to square the circle in my own recent Glorantha book (shameless plug, cough cough), I thought I was being oh so clever in designing a simplified approach to NPC design.  Lo and behold, O Montgomery you foolish mortal, Pegasus beat you to it.

Right on page 2 Pegasus talks about the "missing abilities" approach.  Here is why I began with Borek the Baboon.  In "classic" RuneQuest the default assumption was often "if it is not on the page it isn't real."2  A book like Runemasters, which contained just pages and pages of statistics for Rune Masters, existed because doing your own stats for them took longer than reading Tolstoy.  Flash forward four decades later and in a game like HeroQuest Borek would simply be a difficulty.  If RuneQuest took that approach, however, it wound be RQ in name only.  Thus there has to be a way to satisfy the modern taste for information in light rapid doses that also feels RQ.

The surprisingly simple approach is to give NPCs only the stats they need in the story and omit the rest.  You can quibble if this is an actual mechanic, but by putting it into writing, Pegasus makes it precedent for the rules lawyers amongst us.  Anything else that comes up in play can be improvised.  Sure, this seems a "no-brainer" today, but RQ is 42 years old and has a reputation for being--let's just say it--anal.  But it doesn't have to be.  There are ways to make it every bit as improvisational as a game like HeroQuest, and this turns a spotlight to it.    

THE STORIES

There are seven adventures, one tribe, and a village in the pages of Pegasus, but really to say too much about them would be to ruin them for you.  I did save this part for last, however, because one of the most modern elements of Pegasus is in the variety and diversity of the stories told here.

It's probably a stereotype that classic RPG adventures were all dungeon crawls, but looking back many of them were.    Even the RQ ones.3  "Sandbox" is the term we use these days and I still advocate it as a valid form of "emergent storytelling" (that is for another post), but Pegasus brings a hard focus to narrative storytelling, making RQ feel more in line with younger games.  The range of stories is really one of the book's best features, but also one I suspect might bug some of the audience.  The stories don't just differ in terms of tone and feel, but in structure, how stats are presented, etc.  Again, this is a manifestation of YGWV, and Pegasus showcases more than any previous RQ product that there really isn't "one" style of play or "one" way of doing things.  These are seven different visions of Glorantha, not a unified campaign.  If one doesn't speak to you, the others very likely will.

You will find a story about a wedding ceremony gone wrong, a ghoul king in a forest of the undead (HeroQuest players might have seen this before...), a chance to tangle with Lunar soldiers, a murder mystery, a sort of Glorantha Olympics, Glorantha's answer to Stephen King's Christine, and a ruin where you have the chance to learn from one of Glorantha's more interesting features.   These are all packed with surprises, memorable characters, and occasionally deadly dangers. Authors Jason Brick, Rachael Cruz, Steffie De Vaan, Jason Durall, Helena Nash, Steve Perrin, Diana Probst, Jeff Richard, Dom Twist, and John Wick have done an admirable job of providing a full palette of Gloranthas.

If you take nothing else away from this review, take at least this; RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha has all the DNA of its predecessors, but it is no more RQ2 than I am my father.  If you are staying away from RQ because you feel it is too dated, too dense, too mechanical, take a look at this.  The lesson is that rule systems do not age, presentation and application does.  This is an RQ collection of adventures every bit as cutting edge as anything other system on the market.  


1. If THAT doesn't put a picture of a dancing Kali statue in your head, nothing will.

2. I know some of you old timers will deny the game was ever played this way.  Apparently you never had Bill gamemaster for you.  I was once told I couldn't light a torch because I hadn't written "tinder" on may character sheet.  No, after nearly four decades I am not still bitter.  Not.  At.  All.

3. Looking at you, Snakepipe Hollow, looking at you.
     

Monday, April 13, 2020

A ROUGH GUIDE TO GLAMOUR: A REVIEW

Note: In the spirit of full disclosure I received a free copy of A Rough Guide to Glamour back in March for the purpose of doing this review.

Any rumors of my being entertained by naked, "gazelle-hipped boys" in the City of Dreams in exchange for a favorable review are mendacious lies spread by those disloyal to the Emperor.

All Hail the Reaching Moon!



GLORANTHA IS MANY THINGS. It's a Bronze Age game setting with a strong anthropological bent. It's a mythological world steeped in Joseph Campbell, Georges Dumézil, and Mircea Eliade.  It's a neo-traditionalist artifact designed to recall ancient epics like the Iliad, the Mahabharata, or the Enuma Elish.

And it is a world with Ducks.

Not ducks with a lower case "d," Ducks like Howard, Donald, and Daffy; bitter, emo Ducks that brood like Bogart in Casablanca.  It's a world where you can be hired by fish, eat at Geo's, and a race of humans are kept as cattle because they lost an ancient bet.  The world is flat, it's made of Runes, and heroes come back from the dead so often it would make Jean Grey blush.  Essentially, Glorantha is very much a product of the time and the place where it originated, northern California in the late 60s and early 70s.  It is a martini mixing equal parts deep and at times pretentious academic speculation with trippy, counterculture nonsense.  Shaken.  Not stirred.  Served with a twist.

A Rough Guide to Glamour is the perfect microcosm of all this.  It's epic, mythic, quasi-historic, and profoundly ridiculous.  The Emperor looks like Elvis, the official dialect sounds suspiciously like Orwellian Newspeak, and the goddess of the capital (the titular Glamour) might be Debbie Harry (serenaded by lyrics from the Eurythmics).  And I haven't even mentioned Pelorian Rhapsody yet.  If I had to "elevator pitch" the thing to you I would describe it as the Punica meets the Illuminatus! trilogy.    

In short, it is brilliant.


Written by Chris Gidlow, Mike Hagen, Nick Brooke, Michael O'Brien, Jeff Richard, and Greg Stafford (with help from others), and illustrated by Antonia Doncheva, Dario Corallo, Simon Bray, Julie Hudson, BA Wayne, Dan Barker, and Gene Day, this release for the Jonstown Compendium is a hallucinogenic love letter to that other side of Glorantha, not the dense donnish textualism of The Glorious ReAscent of Yelm or the Entekosiad, or the Jack Webb "just the facts ma'am" approach of The Guide to Glorantha.  A Rough Guide to Glamour reminds you that whatever Gloranthan game you play, it exists in a setting where one of the most epic adventures ever was protecting a giant baby in a cradle.

Originally released in a 40-page booklet form back in 1997, Glamour is a 113-page full color PDF (at least in the form I am reviewing it in).  The book details the capital city of the Lunar Empire, built on the edge of the Crater left behind when the Red Goddess gathered a mantle of earth around herself and ascended into the Middle Air as the Red Moon.  There she hovers, looking down on the city her son, the Red Emperor, built in her honor, and over the Empire that spread out from it.  To found this metropolis--one of the greatest cities in the world--the Emperor courted the nymph Glamour, the genius loci of the region.  Glamour was the daughter of Tylenea, the Mistress of Illusion.  The city she and the Red Emperor built together is a dream made flesh, the philosophy of the Lunar Way written in stone.  

Glamour--the city--is fantasy gaming's answer to Indraprashta, the capital city of the Pandava brothers in the Mahabharata.  Built by Maya, the god of both Illusion and Magic, the Mahabharata describes it as;

How to convey, when one only has words,
the transcendental beauty of the building?
Decades afterward, old men would tell
how seeing the great hall at Indraprashta
had changed them, changed the meaning of the word
"beautiful"

Marble that looked like water, artful stairs,
ponds so clear and still them seemed like stone,
painted roses asking to be picked,
jeweled flowers among real lotuses.
In this way, the inspired architect,
invited visitors to be alert,
the reflect on the nature of illusion.


- Mahabharata, Carole Satyamurti rendering

The reason I go out of my way to mention this is that Glamour, the city, and A Rough Guide to Glamour, the book, are both the Mask and the Mirror that the Red Goddess claims to be.  Hinduism describes reality as "the play of Maya," a double-edged illusion.  The Lunar Way taught by the Red Goddess is a fictional reflection of this, and the Goddess incorporates all contradictions in her.  To devout followers of the Lunar Way, Glamour is a warm buzz, the dizzying hormonal bliss of being a teenager in spring.  To those who oppose her, it is three AM at the club when you have vomit on your shoes, too much vodka in your bloodstream, and you are starting to come down hard off the high.  A Rough Guide to Glamour is a lot like this; if you are down with the silliness, if you "get" the Ducks and cradles and talking fish, the book is a terrific laugh and a teachable moment in the nature of the Lunar Way.  If you never cared for the way out flippancy of some of Glorantha, this might not be the book for you.  In the end, though, Maya (and the authors) are asking you to reflect on the nature of illusion...namely, where does the silliness in Glorantha end and the mythology begin?  The world is a freaking cube, after all.  Seen from one angle, it is all sublime, and from another, absurd.

Alright, Nysalorian detour over.  


The book details the city of Glamour, its history, neighborhoods, and main attractions.  A lot of this heavy lifting comes courtesy of Mike Hagen and Chris Gidlow, who provide a thorough description of the city and her history.  RGtG discusses New Pelorian, the language of the Lunar Empire, contains the cult write-ups of both the capital's founders (the Red Emperor and Glamour herself), and talks about the important inhabitants of the city and the heroes of the Empire.  It looks a great deal like your typical gaming sourcebook in this way.  You could easily use it to set games, even campaigns, in the Lunar capital.

Fitting, however, for the capital of a Goddess who embraces madness, Chaos, and Illusion, a great deal of the book is winking at you.  Gidlow's Let's Speak New Pelorian! for example is an obvious wink and nod at Orwell, but at the same time is telling you something very true about the Empire.  The illustrations in the Very Important People in Glamour section might look suspiciously like Elvis, a certain actress who played Vanessa Ives, or another who played Hela in a Marvel movie (among others), but this is drawing comparisons between them.  The spirits of reprisal in the Red Emperor's cult might make you cringe...but they also make sense.  Jeff Richard's Glamour: Goddess of the Capital of the Lunar Empire cult write up will bring a grin to the faces of 80s New Wave fans--or gods help us 90s British Pop and Snow White--but captures the hallucinatory experience of the cult.  And what can I say about Nick Brooke's Pelorian Rhapsody?  Only that I am not altogether certain Freddie Mercury was singing about the apotheosis of the Red Goddess...but really, who knows?

My gut tells me this might be a slightly controversial entry in the Jonstown Compendium, but hey...what fandom out there these days isn't divided over that is canon and what isn't.  The right people are going to grok this, and in the end that is the audience the book is seeking.  YGWV, and if your Glorantha doesn't include Ducks because they offend your sense of dignity, you might want to give A Rough Guide to Glamour a pass.  

The rest of it will read it and add percentiles to our march towards Illumination.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

SIX SEASONS IN SARTAR: A PREVIEW

WE DON'T USUALLY DO "PREVIEWS" HERE, rather the opposite!  But Six Seasons in Sartar is coming soon to the Jonstown Compendium, and I thought it might be useful for readers of this blog if I talked about the book and what you can expect from it.  Included are some screenshots of the unfinished text. 

    

Six Seasons in Sartar, a sourcebook and campaign for Chaosium's RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha (and other Gloranthan games) is based on the late Third Age poem of the same name.  Said to have been composed by Usuphus of Jonstown—also known as “Bronzeface” for the bronze mask and beard he wore after his disfigurement in Starbrow’s Rebellion—this epic consists of roughly ten thousand rhyming couplets, further divided into quarter-verses of eight syllables each.  The original, written in Southern Theyalan, relied heavily on alliteration, and in keeping with Heortling custom would have been sung or chanted.  No copies of the original are still extant, though we have translations into later languages.

Set in 1619 ST, Six Seasons in Sartar chronicles the last year of the Haraborn, the 13th clan of the Colymar tribe, before their brutal extinction.  It follows a group of young Heortlings just come of age, as they arrive at the crossroads between their idyllic childhoods in an isolated mountain valley and the coming storm of the Hero Wars.  The book is still in layout, and getting new pieces of art, but so far it looks to weigh in at around 150 pages and will be available by mid-May.  It is, of course, a campaign book, meant to help you launch your own Gloranthan sagas, but there are a lot of rule suggestions and ideas you could easily port into your own campaigns.

  
  
Inside the pages of this book you will find;


The Haraborn: Here we introduce the Haraborn tula, their clan wyter, the chieftain and his Ring, the mythology and history of these people, and a special section on Heortling ritual practice, including details on prayer, sacrifice, and worship.

Creating Characters: This chapter walks you through creating 16-year-old Haraborn player characters, fresh from their adulthood initiation rites.  It also includes rules for “Supporting Cast,” guidelines that make creating memorable NPCs quick and easy.

Some Thoughts on Heroquesting: This chapter contains a complete system for three different types of heroquest.  The rules are used in this campaign, but could be used to design heroquests of your own.

The Riddle: This chapter holds a complete adulthood initiation rite for female characters, useable either as a one-on-one heroquest, a scenario for the group, or just as background material for female player characters.  It includes thoughts on Glorantha pregnancies and menstruation.

Rites of Passage: Set in Sea Season, 1619, this is the male adulthood initiation, ready to be run as a group heroquest, or as background for male player characters.  It contains ideas on what adulthood in Glorantha “means,” and the awakening of magic and Runes.  

In Sheep’s Clothing: A scenario set in Fire Season, with details about summer festivals and possible romantic interests for the characters.  The main story follows the appearance of a ghost to one of the player characters, and their subsequent attempts to solve the mystery of his death.

The Deer Folk:  A scenario set in Earth Season, it contains details about Heortling harvest festivals and continues the romance subplots.  In the main story, the arrival of a Lunar tax collector leads to a death sentence, and involves the player characters with a network of Sartarite war bands hiding in the hills and waging a guerrilla war against the Empire.

The Taking: In the middle of Dark Season, a loved one is abducted, and the player characters mount a rescue attempt that will change their destines forever.

Starbrow: Set in Storm Season, the arrival of the rebel queen, Kallyr of Kheldon, tangles the player characters up in the ambitions of this hero, and puts the entire clan in danger.


When All Is Lost: In Sea Season, 1620, a stunning betrayal brings the Lunar Empire crashing down on the Haraborn, and the player characters have their first taste of war.  The campaign comes to a close as our protagonists grapple with the loss of all they hold dear.

What Comes After: Here we have advice and suggestions on where the campaign might go from here, and how to use Six Seasons in Sartar as a springboard for your own saga.


Episodes: This chapter contains a dozen or so mini-adventures or “side quests” that could be dropped anywhere in the main campaign, or developed further into full play sessions in their own right. 

Thursday, March 26, 2020

"MY ORLANTH DOESN'T HAVE FOUR ARMS"

THE CIMBRI WERE a Germanic tribe, originating on a northern European peninsula the Romans called Cimbricus Chersonesus.  Today you will find Denmark there (well, the continental portion at least).  By 100 BC the Cimbri had, for whatever reason, migrated, and were raiding France, Germany, and northern Spain and Portugal. Eventually they made it to Italy and started tangling with the Roman Republic.  They lost.  The Greek geographer and historian Strabo (63 BCE - 23 CE) described Cimbri men as ferocious berserker warriors who did not fear death, and gave very detailed descriptions of how their priestesses slit the throats of prisoners in sacrifice to their gods.  It's tempting to dismiss this, but there is some archaeological evidence that bears this out.  

We don't know a tremendous amount about Cimbrian gods, but a later Roman cult complex near Heidelberg gives us a few hints.  The complex, which dates to the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE, contains inscriptions to Mercurius Cimbrianus, or "Mercury of the Cimbri."  Curiously this figure seems to have been the chief of their pantheon, something that could hardly be said of Mercury.  Yet Tacitus, writing a century before this cult complex was built, also identified Mercury as the chief god of the Germanic peoples.  He was called Mercurius Rex.  Even more strangely, he was a bearded patriarch rather than a lithe, pre-teen boy.


Do these look the same to you?  They did to the Greeks and Romans.

By now you see where I am going with this; they were calling the Germanic god Odin (Woden, Wotan, etc) by Mercury's name.

This was a very Roman--and even Hellenic--thing to do.  The Romans saw Mercury in the stooped, gray-bearded, one-eyed Odin the same way the Greeks had seen it in the ibis-headed Egyptian god Thoth.  In fact a bewildering panoply of diverse gods ended up associated with Mercury/Hermes, all across Europe and the Near East.  Nor was this limited to Mercury; the Romans and Hellenes did it with all their gods.  It didn't particular matter to them how a deity was depicted.  They were looking at something deeper.  They were looking at what the god meant.

Mercury, Thoth, Odin, Lugus, etc et al were gods associated with communication and language, and thus in the classical mind, they were one and the same.  It didn't really matter what the god was called, what his local myths were, or what he looked like.  They knew the identity of the god by his essence.  

Flash forward two thousand years.


Orlanth Kickassicus

In March of 2018 I reviewed The Glorantha Sourcebook, and something rather curious began to happen.  Not really even thinking about it, I had selected a few pieces of art from the book to show my audience, and started to receive some very irate comments about, well...Orlanth.  Now, for the one or two people who might have stumbled in here thinking it was a dissertation on ancient European religions, Orlanth is a fictional deity, a creation of the late Greg Stafford for his world "Glorantha."  He is very much the Indo-European thunder god we see in deities like Indra, Zeus, Jupiter, and Thor, both the king of the gods and the deity of storms.  He is the chief of his pantheon, and the central deity (with his wife the Earth goddess Ernalda) of a barbarian people.  The messages I was receiving basically told me that the deity depicted in these pictures was not Orlanth, could not be Orlanth, and were all wrong.  

The problem was the number of arms.


Orlanth's family tree.  He's the blue one with the four arms.

Somehow, in the intervening centuries between the classical period and the modern world, we had gone from looking at a bird-headed god and one that looked like a shepherd boy and recognizing the same deity--despite totally different names and mythologies--to getting bent out of shape that a fictional deity--with the same name and the same mythology--had the wrong number of arms.

 

Orlanth Unitardus

Now, to be fair, Orlanth generally had been depicted with two arms in older games.  He had also been depicted in a unitard. Call me crazy, but I will take super-cool multi-armed Orlanth over Slim Goodbody Orlanth any day of the week.  

Levity aside, however, what we are seeing is fifteen centuries of monotheism at work on the Western mind.  For nearly two millennia we have had institutions not only define deity for us, but teach us that any deviation from the authorized and sanctioned depiction of deity is wrong.  In many cases deviation was not just wrong, it was heresy.  Entire wars have been waged over the smallest details of mythological minutia, so it comes as little surprise that our reflex is to embrace what we have been taught about a deity initially, and reject anything that comes after which doesn't fall in line with that.  This knee-jerk orthoodoxy bleeds into new "religions" as well...how many Internet battles have been waged over how the new Star Wars movies are not Star Wars or how Discovery is not Star Trek.  We have gone a full 180 degrees from the classical impulse to see commonalities in deities to picking apart the differences.

The supreme irony, of course, is that this is a game about Bronze Age peoples.  Your typical Gloranthan would look at multi-armed Orlanth, two-armed Orlanth, shrug, and ask what Runes each was associated with.  Air, Motion, Mastery?  Yup.  Both Orlanth.

Subsequent conversations about these depictions of Orlanth--and certain other Gloranthan deities--reveals another layer of the issue.  There seems to be a certain feeling that these recent depictions of Orlanth look too...Indian.  This doesn't particularly bother me; really, if you are a student of comparative mythology, Orlanth reads far more like Indra than he ever has Thor.  This aside, though, it is clear that Stafford's deity is conceived of as a sort of proto-Indo-European chieftain god, so it is not wrong to see Zeus or Thor or Perun in there as well.  If, like me, you met Orlanth way back in the beginning, when Glorantha leaned more towards Conan and the Iliad than Celtic or Norse myth, you are probably more inclined to shrug recent depictions off.  Unfortunately, there was a long middle period of Glorantha were Orlanth was looking rather...Aryan.  And I don't mean the ancient India kind;


 

Orlanth Dolph Lundgrenus

Or being very clearly associated with Odin;



If you had first encountered Orlanth in this mid-stage, I can easily see why the more recent depictions might throw you (from an upcoming Chaosium publication);



Orlanth, King of the Gods (Andrey Fetisov)

Yet if we step back a moment and look at Fetisov's frankly stunning portrayal of Orlanth, what immediately comes clear is that this is not Indian, nor is it Aryan, Germanic, Celtic, or Greek.  Whereas the previous two illustrations seem to be telling us "Yes, this guy is called Orlanth but he is basically just Odin or Thor," the Fetisov depiction might be the first I have seen that visually expresses what Stafford's Orlanth was meant to be.  That shield design is very Celtic, like the famous Battersea Shield.  The greaves are very Greek.  That red beard immediately suggests Thor for people who prefer mythology to Marvel comics.  The dragon head could be Chinese, but looks suspiciously Persian.  The vajra he is holding suggests India.  In short, this is not an Orlanth that settles for being North European or Indian or Greek.  He is all of the above and more.

There were never any real pictures of Orlanth back when I started playing in 1983, and in retrospect that might have been a good thing.  I always had a fixed image of the Orlanthi as Howard's Cimmerians with Orlanth as a sort of brooding Crom.  By the time game lines like Hero Wars were making very clear Celtic and Germanic references, I had already gone through graduate school, where I discovered the Indo-Europeans and formed my own image of Orlanth and Dragon Pass. In fact I can specifically recall a rant of mine circa the early 00s that the Orlanthi were NOT land bound Vikings (I have mellowed since then).  In the end what I suppose I am suggesting here is that we take a cue from the setting we are playing and the time period it is set in.  In some ways, the people of the ancient world were far less silly than we are.  I have this mental image in my head of a 21st century student sitting on the floor of the Library of Alexandria with his tutor; "But Hermes doesn't look like a baboon, they can't be the same god."  

It ends with the tutor smacking the student over the head.

  


    

Friday, February 21, 2020

CTHULHU: THE DARK AGES (3RD EDITION) - A REVIEW

SO FIRMLY ASSOCIATED with the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression--the periods in which H.P. Lovecraft set the majority of his tales of cosmic horror--we forget that Call of Cthulhu has included a wide variety of time periods and settings over the years.  As early as 1986, just five years after the game's initial release, there was Cthulhu by Gaslight, moving the scene from the 1920s to the 1890s of Victorian England.  A year later was Cthulhu Now, which brought the game to the now quaint and archaic world of the 1980s.  In the wake of the X-FilesDelta Green (1997) edged the setting up to the end of the millennium.  Just over a decade later, Cthulhu Invictus (2009) set the story in ancient Rome.



We'll come back to Invictus--and its authors Chad J. Bowser and Andi Newton--in a moment, but we would be remiss to forget Stéphane Gesbert's Cthulhu Dark Ages.  Originally published in German by Pegasus Spiele, under the title Cthulhu 1000 A.D., Chaosium's English edition came soon after in 2004.  The book was at once familiar and horrifyingly alien; it took a milieu (medieval Europe) we had seen in literally hundreds of games and a mythos (Cthulhu) almost equally recognizable and made them, somehow, more than the sum of these parts.  It wasn't even remotely similar to the fantasy settings we came to expect to see monks and clerics and warriors in, but a realm of brooding, investigative horror against inhuman and incomprehensible forces.  For me, it is in those forces that Gesbert outdid himself.  The Bestiary chapter introduced both new creatures and reskinned old ones (see what I did there) to look like they had been lurking behind medieval folklore all along.  Dwarves, goblins, Elves, vampires, even Satan all became masks of alien terrors.  Sticking out in my memory are the Old Ones, servants of Yog-Sothoth who inspired legends of the Fae, angels, even valkyries.  The effect was really something quite singular in a Call of Cthulhu supplement; as players and their Investigators worked to get to the center of the mystery, it would often end up that the players finally recognized the horror they were up against while the Investigators saw it as something entirely else.  The disappearing children?  The Investigators discover they are being taken away by gossamer-winged fairies associated with hollow hills and curious mushrooms...but the players see them as Mi-Go.

Cthulhu Dark Ages was a success, enough of one that the newly invigorated post-2015 Chaosium decided to bring it back (before even a new edition of Gaslight, this author notes, glaring at Chaosium demandingly and tapping his fingers on the table).  A sourcebook for the Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Keeper Rulebook (it is not a stand-alone game), Cthulhu Dark Ages 3rd Edition follows in the footsteps of 2018's Masks of Nyarlathotep in that it does not merely update the previous edition to be compatible with 7e, but instead is a major revision packed with all sorts of new material that the devious cultists operating the Chaosium know you will not be able to resist.  Going forward then, I will summarize the contents of the new edition for readers altogether new to Dark Ages, but point out the changes and additions for those returning to it.


The Cthulhu Dark Ages I am reviewing is a 274-page PDF, written by Chad Bowser and Andi Newton (the team responsible for Cthulhu Invictus), with James Holloway and Mike Mason. It is based on Stéphane Gesbert's original. Visually, it is everything we have come to expect from the Call of Cthulhu 7e game line. The parchment colored pages, the layout, typefaces, etc are all identical to Masks of Nyarlathotep, The Grand Grimoire of Mythos Magic, Berlin: The Wicked City, and so on. The art is largely black and white, with a liberal amount of full-page color pieces as well.


Before jumping in I think credit has to be given to line editor Mark Mason for the surprising thoroughness of the 7e setting books. Berlin was astounding in the depth and breadth of detail it gave the "Wicked City," to the extent that someone such as myself--who has visited Berlin but is largely unfamiliar with the city--could comfortably and confidently run a Cthulhu campaign it its Weimar era. Dark Ages is no less exhaustive, not just with maps and histories, but in depth sections on Dark Ages society, literacy, language, and culture. You get a very complete picture here, from taxes and the justice system to the games children play. In my first read through I kept forgetting--until later chapters--that I was reading a Call of Cthulhu book. It felt like a fascinating and immersive history. None of us are going to walk out of Cthulhu Dark Ages with a PhD in the period, but any of us could run a campaign without constantly having to run to the Internet for research. It is really that complete.




To get this kind of depth though required this edition of Cthulhu Dark Ages to narrow its focus somewhat. While the previous editions were a more general overview of the period, focused primarily on the Continent, this new edition concentrates squarely on Anglo-Saxon England in the century running from 950 to 1050 CE. The first chapter, Anglo-Saxon England, is 34 pages detailing the region, and the eighth, Totburh, presents a fully realized Anglo-Saxon community as the Investigators' base of operations. The choice of Anglo-Saxon England seems a bit of a no-brainer given the tastes and obsessions of Lovecraft himself, and by selecting a single region to focus on, it allows this edition to do what previous ones couldn't...namely give you a living, breathing macrocosm of the period.


Chapter two, however, gives us a much broader look at the period with A - Z of the Dark Ages. The role here is to make it clear to the reader what the "Dark Ages" is, how it differs from the High Middle Ages (the period most gamers, after 40 years of conditioning, are more accustomed to). This was one of my favorite sections, and the one I feel most likely to periodically revisit. The section on "Magic" alone is worth the price of admission, right down to sample folk charms.


Chapter three is Dark Age Investigators, walking us through the process of making Call of Cthulhu characters for the setting. There are a host of occupations suited to the period, from beggars and clerics to free farmers, heretics, minstrels, and warriors, and a large table of "Life Events" that add background color. Perhaps you had the pox as a child, was raised in a monastery, or born under a gibbous moon. There are tons of colorful entries here along with the effects they have on your character. Additional tables present your character's Beliefs, Significant People, Meaningful Locations, Treasured Possessions, etc. All these may be selected or randomly determined. Naturally there are a broad selection of names offered as well. 


Then comes a long section of adapting Cthulhu skills to the setting, including new ones. To reflect the widespread illiteracy of the period, speaking a language and reading and writing it are separate things, for example. Melee combat skills are expanded, skills like Medicine more restricted. With a nod to Basic RolePlaying, "Status" replaces "Credit Rating." Investigator organizations also come in this chapter, giving the characters an in-world connection to each other. Finally we find weapons and equipment.


Chapter 4 is the Game System, with some interesting innovations here. Anyone has played Call of Cthulhu knows that at some point ponderous tomes of forbidden lore have to be consulted...but how does this work in a world where most Investigators cannot read? "The Oral Tradition" comes into play here, providing new ways for Investigators to discern critical Mythos secrets from folklore and oral accounts. Combat comes soon after, with a focus on the very familiar RPG tropes of sword, spear, and shield fighting, mounted combat, etc. There is an expanded section on disease.


Finally, as the centerpiece of Call of Cthulhu, "Sanity" is revisited. The more you think about it, the more obvious the need to adapt the concept to the period is. There is no psychoanalysis in the Dark Ages, and indeed in a world where acceptance of the supernatural is rampant, the stressors are very different. Thus we are introduced to the concepts of "Idiocy" and "Lunacy," the four humors and their imbalance, and of how "bouts of madness" might work in the setting.




Chapter 5 is Investigative Horror in the Dark Ages. This Keeper-oriented chapter gets under the hood of running a Dark Ages game, with special attention giving to using Oral Tradition in place of the more standard Cthulhu practice of heading to the library. There is also good advice on how not to run the game, to avoid it turning into a medieval fantasy RPG rather than weird horror. Chapter 6, The Cthulhu Mythos in the Dark Ages, broadens the scope well beyond Anglo-Saxon England to discuss centers of Mythos activity across the continent (and beyond). We are introduced to cults active during the period, and how the gods of the Mythos are viewed in the Dark Ages world. For characters who are literate, there is a selection of Mythos tomes around during the period, including occult tomes and poems (think "epic poem" here, the preferred narrative style in the days before novels). There is a long discussion on folk magic and witchcraft, and an extensive list of new spells. 


Then at last we come to Chapter 7, the Bestiary. This is where the third edition draws most heavily on the editions before it, with Stéphane Gesbert's terrific menagerie of Cthulhu horrors adapted to this setting, as well as an expanded selection new to this volume. Folkloric beings, such as the dragon from Beowulf or the pre-Dracula vampire, appear as well. I will not be spoiling the surprise, but the book provides its own vampire lord in the personage of a historical figure, a surprise that brought a wicked grin to my face.


As previously discussed, chapter 8 is the Totburh setting, populated by a ton of colorful NPCs. The book concludes with three scenarios, a Glossary, Timeline, Who's Who, and Bibliography.


The creative team here has delivered a terrific product. Both Bowser and Holloway bring academic credentials in the subject to Dark Ages, and the authenticity shows. Newton's storytelling skills give the characters and scenarios here depth, and Mason brings the same skills he did to the 7e rulebook. Call of Cthulhu has been Chaosium's flagship for decades now, and the work being done in its recent projects is as superb as it has ever been (the production values are the best we have seen). Cthulhu Dark Ages is a brilliant addition to the line, a book anyone who loves the game needs on their shelf...well, when it materializes in dead tree form. It has everything the previous edition has and more. 

Just buy it already.   



Tuesday, February 11, 2020

BASIC ROLEPLAYING: THE CHAOSIUM ROLEPLAYING SYSTEM

INTRODUCTION

This is not a review.


Think of it as a conversation instead.  There is a fair bit of history in here, and an overview of the game system for people new to it, but the author is painfully aware most readers will have played one or more incarnations of this legendary game system already.   The goal then isn't necessarily to sell you on the system, but rather to persuade you why it would be a very good idea to have a copy of Basic Roleplaying: The Chaosium Role-playing System on your shelf or in your PDF collection.  Some of it will be addressed to newcomers, some to RuneQuest or Call of Cthulhu players.  This book is a toolkit, a Rosetta Stone.  With it you can craft nearly any campaign you can imagine, but it also allows you to get under the hood of other Chaosium games and tinker with them, adjusting them to taste.

So grab some coffee, a nice cuppa, or whatever libation is your fancy and join me on a walk through this extraordinary piece of game design.
    

ORIGINS


IN NINETEEN SEVENTY-EIGHT, Dana Holm opined;

A lot of thought has gone into this game.  It shows.  It is playable yet realistic.  You don't need several supplement books to play it.  Even though it was designed to fit one particular world, it could easily be used for any world.  Since this game contains a logical system, almost anything could be added to the matrix it represents.  A gem of a game.  You won't be disappointed.

The Space Gamer, September-October 1978

Holm was reviewing RuneQuest, an RPG published by a new game studio called the Chaosium.  Designed by Steve Perrin and Ray Turney, with help from Steve Henderson and Warren James, RuneQuest had been written to bring Greg Stafford's Glorantha to the gaming table.  Yet as Holm pointed out, the system they created was flexible enough for any setting, and not just that, any genre.  Stafford, founder and president of Chaosium, clearly agreed.  Within two years, Basic Role-Playing, a "Gloranthaless" iteration of the rules was published, and the following year saw this system as the engine of both Michael Moorcock's baroque fantasy Stormbringer and H.P. Lovecraft's horror Call of Cthulhu (by Ken St. Andre and Sandy Petersen respectively).  Basic Role-Playing (BRP) became the in-house game system for most of Chaosium's subsequent games.  In 1982, with the release of Worlds of Wonder--a boxed set containing the BRP rules and three genre books for fantasy, science-fiction, and super-heroes--BRP officially became the first "universal system."


Two decades after that Space Gamer review, however, Chaosium hit its iceberg.  After a long string of critically acclaimed RPGs, the studio jumped on the collectible card game (CCG) bandwagon with Mythos.  It was a disaster.  As Shannon Appelcline writes in his terrific history of the RPG industry;


CCG losses usually run at a scale much higher than RPG losses. Hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of inventory were tied up on the warehouse floor and the result was devastating for Chaosium... (By) 1998 there was no one remaining who was actually taking a paycheck. Again, Chaosium responded by shutting down several of its lines, this time Pendragon, Elric!, Nephilim, and Mythos itself. By 1997 Chaosium once more cut back to being solely a Call of Cthulhu publisher...

Designers & Dragons: The 70s, p. 274


In the wake of this, Greg Stafford left the house he had built, along with Sandy Petersen.  Charlie Krank and Lynn Willis were left struggling to pull the company back from the brink. Stafford had taken Glorantha with him, and all the licensed games--Stormbringer, Elfquest, Ringworld, Hawkmoon--were long gone or about to be lost.  Green Knight gained the rights to King Arthur Pendragon as the result of a defaulted loan.  Call of Cthulhu was the lifeboat keeping Chaosium afloat.  Yet in this very dark period one of my favorite Chaosium products appeared.

Even though they had lost all the licenses and settings, the one thing Chaosium retained was BRP, the engine that had driven most of them.  More to the point, they had two decades of variations, sub-systems, options, and add-ons to BRP.  The decision was made to gather all of this into one book (by way, first, of a long string of monographs).  Jason Durall and Sam Johnson joined Krank and Willis to produce the definitive incarnation of BRP, Basic RolePlaying: The Chaosium RolePlaying System (2008).

THE BOOK(S)

Currently available in PDF or softcover (I have a hardcover edition as well that appears to be out of print), BRP (italicized I am specifically referring to the 2008 book, as "BRP" I refer to the game system) weighs in at 400 pages with black and white illustrations.  The layout is clean, double-columned, with very few typos.  The hardcover is beautifully bound with glossy pages, and the softcover has an equally durable binding.  I've used both for over ten years now and they still look like new.  The cover is a parchment-colored rendition of da Vinci's Vitruvian Man with a twist; different parts of his body are suggestive of the various genres you might game in.   Whil we are not talking the stunning production values of more recent Chaosium lines, BRP is still a very attractive product.


Chapters one through eight are for both players and gamemasters.  They cover in order; an Introduction to BRP and its history, Character Creation, Skills, Powers (Magic, Mutations, Psychic Abilities, Sorcery, and Super Powers), the game System, Combat, Spot Rules (covering a number of specific events not covered in the general rules), and Equipment.  Chapters nine through twelve are for the gamemaster alone.  There is a chapter on how to GM the game, a terrific chapter on Settings (from Prehistoric to Space Opera, arranged in roughly chronological order and with sections on things like Noir, Pulp Era, Westerns, Age of Sail, etc), a Bestiary covering monsters and NPCs from various genres, and the Appendices that include conversion notes, charts and tables, character and NPC forms, and an extensive index.

THE SYSTEM

What Durall and the Chaosium team managed to do was to synthesize a "core" version of BRP from almost three decades of versions, and then to collect all the various sub-systems and variations to present them as options.

Characters--and by this I mean also animals, monsters, and NPCs--are represented by Characteristics and Skills.  There are seven core Characteristics--Strength, Constitution, Size, Dexterity and Intelligence, Power, Appearance.  The first four are physical traits (and in humans have a maximum of 21) while the second three are mental (with no upper limits).  Obviously nonhumans and superhumans have different minimums and maximums.  The Characteristics represent in order how strong, hardy, big, agile, intelligent, powerful, and charismatic a being is.  "Power" is a tricky attribute, representing willpower and mental fortitude, as well as magical potency in fantasy settings, psychic power in science fiction, or "energy" in a superhero setting.

Options come into play here in how Characteristics are generated, either by dice rolls or point-buy systems, depending on your tastes.  Another option is an eighth Characteristic, Education, suitable for more modern and futuristic settings with widespread educational systems.

These core Characteristics determine both Derived Characteristics and Characteristic Rolls.  Derived characteristics include your damage bonus, determined by your Strength and Size; your hit points, determined by Size and Constitution; your Power Points, equal to your Power Characteristic, and an experience bonus equal to one half your Intelligence.  These are all measures of how much damage you dish out in unarmed or melee combat, how much damage you can take, how much "magic" or "psychic" energy at your disposal, and how well you learn from exercising your skills.

On the subject of Skills, the Characteristic Rolls are determined by multiplying your base Characteristic by 5 percentiles.  So if your Appearance is 13, you have a Characteristic Roll of 65% in that.  As a side note, Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition (the first post-BRP edition of the venerable game) adopts the Characteristic Roll by just making all the Characteristics percentiles.

As you might have surmised from this segue, in BRP "Skills" are all rated in percentiles.  Unlike Characteristics, which are common to all characters, Skills are learned abilities and vary tremendously from character to character.  They are divided into six broad groupings, each optionally connected to Primary and Secondary Characteristics.  These groups are Combat, Communication, Manipulation, Mental, Perception, and Physical Skills.  For example, for Communication Skills, Intelligence is primary with Power and Appearance as secondary characteristics.  Again, and this is an optional system for those who like depth and realism, skill modifiers are generated from the applicable Characteristics and applied to all Skills in that group.  For example, a character is an INT of 15, a POW of 13, and an APP of 12 would apply a bonus of +5 to all Communication Skills.  For play groups who prioritize speed and simplicity of play, this option is skipped.

The number of percentiles you receive to distribute to your Skills depends on the "power level" of the campaign.  These levels are Normal, Heroic, Epic, and Superhuman and will also affect Powers (see below).

In the end, your Skills will be rated from 0 to 100, though again as another option Skills can actually go above 100.  In a Superhuman campaign, Skills of 150%, 200%, or higher would not be uncommon.  To test each Skill, the GM first determines the difficulty. Automatic means no roll is required, you simply succeed; Easy means your base percentage is doubled; Average means your percentage remains as if; Difficult means your percentage is halved; and Impossible requires a roll of 01% or none at all.  The player then rolls percentile dice against this percentage.  Note that in campaigns and play styles more simulationist in nature, the GM might assign these difficulties based on circumstance and complicating factors, but for groups with more narrative-driven tastes, the difficulties could just as easily be assigned based on the needs of the story,

After difficulties are assigned, you roll under this percentage to succeed, and if you roll over and you fail.  Note, however, there are three other "levels" of results; a Critical, a Special, and a Fumble.  A critical is the best possible result, a special is a particularly good result, and a fumble is a disaster.  Depending on your skill rating, chances of these special results fluctuate.  If you have a skill rating of 50%, a roll of 01 to 03 is critical, 01 to 10 is special, and 98 to 00 is a fumble.  If your skill rating is 100%, criticals result on 01 to 05, specials on 01 to 20, and fumbles on 00 alone.  This is why in more Epic and Superhuman campaigns, skills above 100% remain useful.

Famously, BRP has always eschewed class, experience points, and levels.  When you use a skill successfully, you check it.  After play, your character has a chance to learn from experience and increase that skill.  Depending on the setting, it is also possible to purchase skill or characteristic training in-world.  This makes BRP games organic.  They feel natural. The characters grow in logical and sometimes surprising ways.

Note too it does not use systems of advantages or disadvantages.  Being poor, or sickly, or having some disability are all covered in the skill and characteristic systems, as are their opposites.  Again this reduces the "mechanistic" aspects of the role-play experience for something more intuitive.

COMBAT

Combat in various BRP games has varied considerably, from the gritty and detailed RuneQuest to the more cinematic Stormbringer or four-color comic Superworld.  BRP allows you to tailor combat for your campaign then through its system of checking options.

At the core, however, the attacker makes a Combat skill roll, the defender either rolls to parry (block the attack) or dodge (evade the attack).  The better roll wins (a critical beats a special, a special beats a success, a success beats a failure, a failure beats a fumble).  The degree of success also matters; an attacker who gets a critical against a defender who gets a fumble will end with the defender in a world of hurt.  Once the attacker lands a successful blow, he or she rolls damage based on the weapon used and the character's damage bonus.  The defender checks his or her armor (if any) and subtracts that from the damage total, applying the rest to his or her hit points.

Everything else depends on what options you have chosen to play by.

For example, for a detailed, gritty, simulation-heavy play style the order of combat (who goes first) might be determined by Strike Ranks, calculated by DEX and SIZ and the reach of your weapon.  You might employ the Hit Location system, in which hit points are listed for each arm, leg, your head, chest, and abdomen.  A d20 roll determines where each blow lands.  Unrealistic rules, like dodging missile fire, are not employed.

In a superhero campaign, however, you might go in order of highest DEX down, or even roll for initiative.  You would ignore Hit Locations (in fact, you probably use the option where hit points are calculated by adding CON and SIZ instead of averaging them).  You would likely use the dodging missile fire option, so your characters can roll and tumble out of the way of gunfire, and you might even want to use the Fate Points option where you can spend some of your Power Points for re-rolls or the lessen damage.

In short, how combat plays depends entirely on what options you have chosen to sculpt the play style you want.

POWERS

Most campaigns feature some sort of paranormal, superhuman abilities, and BRP offers a host of them.  Again, the number of these you start with, and their beginning strength, depends on the power level of the campaign (Normal, Heroic, Epic, Superhuman).

Instead of a single system that models all possibilities, BRP offers 5 distinct Power sets, all that feel and operate differently.  Supplements offer even more systems.  The ones included are Magic, the most typical fantasy RPG sort of spell system, Mutations both beneficial and negative, useful in grim fantasy for the touch of Chaos or in radioactive futures, Psychic Abilities good for the superhero and horror genres, Sorcery, a more baroque magic system including the conjuration of elementals, gods, and demons, and Super Powers perfect for comic book games or mythic ones.  Depending on your campaign, one or more of these might be used.  In most cases (though not all) use of a Power requires a skill roll and the expenditure of Power Points.  This is not always the case, however.  For example, the Super Characteristic "Super Power" enables you to increase your STR Characteristic permanently and far beyond mortal levels.  This works automatically, is always active, and costs no Power Points to use.

This is a different approach from many other universal systems, such as Cypher or Savage Worlds, but the advantage is--as with all options in the game--that each BRP campaign will feel unique.

USING BASIC ROLPLAYING

Newcomers.  If you are new to gaming, or even just new to this particular system, you are never going to find a game system this organic, this logical, this easy to grasp.  Don't take my word on that; just go back over the three decades of accolades and awards the system has garnered.  This is a storied game system whose influence upon the entire industry can barely be measured.  There are reasons for that. The rules are a bit like a fine Napoleon brandy.

Wait...stop rolling your eyes.  That wasn't hyperbole, I am going somewhere with it.  Many, many years ago a friend who bartended in an upscale hotel poured me a glass of a Napoleon brandy too expensive for mere mortals such as myself to ever dream of purchasing.  I will never forget the experience; I do not recall swallowing...the stuff just seemed to evaporate in my mouth.

And this brings me to the point.  BRP has always been a system that just "evaporates" in play, leaving the taste and the warmth behind.  The mechanics fade into the background allowing the play experience, the characters and the story, to come first.  There are no time-stopping calculations, no head-scratching.  The system makes sense and it is very easy to make rulings everyone can agree on without pouring through the rulebook.

Finally, its modular nature really does allow you to experiment, to design exactly the tone and feel of the campaign you want.  The core rules are so simply they once were squeezed into a 16-page rulebook, so the 400 pages of BRP are really just a giant buffet of picking and choosing what your game needs to be the game you want.

Call of Cthulhu, RuneQuest, and Other BRP Players.  For the rest of you then the core issue here is compatibility.

You already know how well Chaosium games "play nice" with each other.  In college, for example, I ran a Stormbringer campaign that sailed the player characters into the Call of Cthulhu Dreamlands.  Earlier in high school, my Superworld players defended San Francisco against the rise of Great Cthulhu.  This is what I meant by BRP being a Rosetta Stone; it's a terrific tool for translation.

Let's say you want your Call of Cthulhu campaign to feature the psychic vampires of the True Knot feeding on child psychics (a la Doctor Sleep), or you want your Investigators to be psychics themselves.  There is a complete system waiting for you in BRP ready to be popped right into your campaign.  Let's say you want things a bit more Gothic horror; the demon summoning rules in the Sorcery section can help.

RuneQuest Glorantha players, how are you handling powers gained during "heroquests?"  Back in college I used the Super Powers from Superworld to design them for my RQ2 campaign, and it is even easier to do now with BRP.  Has your Orlanthi gotten the ability to throw bolts of lightning?  Easily done!  Have your characters become champions of their clans, their cities, their nations?  Do they have supporters and worshippers sacrificing POW to them?  Adapt the "Extra Energy" Super Power to model a growing pool of Magic Points available to them.  Or what if you want to run a campaign that is just a bit less RuneQuest and a bit more HeroQuest or even White Bear & Red Moon?  Drop the hit locations and use some of the more cinematic options in BRP to create an RQ game just a bit more "juiced."  Heck, why not run a full on campaign at the power level of Jar-Eel or Harrek?  Easy to do with BRP.

The point is, of course, that despite not having Call of Cthulhu or RuneQuest in the title, BRP is a terrific sourcebook for both games.  Decades of options are in there, from Pendragon's personality traits to Stormbringer's Allegiance and Cthulhu's Sanity.