Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

A Guide to the Thoneport Guide

This is not a review that I wanted to write about a product that I was looking forward to reading and reviewing. I have been a fan of SkyRealms of Jorune for almost a quarter of a century and although I have not played the game nearly as much as I would have liked, I rate the game as being amongst my favourites. It is in my top ten, if not my top five games of all time. I even have a twenty-five year old tee-shirt to go with the game, and besides playing it, I have been involved in at least two fanzines devoted to the game. So I was more than pleased to hear that there was going to be all new material available, the first in nearly fifteen years. Unfortunately, that new supplement, The Gomo Guide to Thoneport, is not as nearly as good as I would have liked it to be.

Available from Oak & Lotus Publications as either a 69.64 Mb PDF or a seventy page book via lulu.com, The Gomo Guide to Thoneport is the first in a series of fan driven releases that aims to provide support for the classic Science Fantasy game of the 1980s that is somewhat difficult to categorise. It presents information and background on one of the more contentious locations on Jorune, that of Thantier, the devoutly Human nation where the genetically mutated strains of Muadra, Boccord, Trach, Salu, and Acubon, along with all of the Iscin races – Blount, Crugar, Cygra, Woffen, Bronth, and Tologra are unwelcome and worse. All such races are known as “Thone.” The Human mutations are at least tolerated, and will need to be accompanied by a genetically pure Human who can vouch for them if they wish to travel across Thantier. The Iscin races are reviled though, and again unless accompanied by a Human who can vouch for them, are in danger of being beaten up and even killed. Some alien races – Shantha, Thriddle, Thivin, and even Ramian – are accepted under the patronage of Thantier’s seven ruling Great Houses, while other Ramian, and all Cleash and Scarmis are subject to summary execution. Fortunately, the Great Houses saw the need for their nation to trade and interact with the outside world, and so established Thoneport, a port city with a “foreign” Thone Quarter where the Thone can reside where their interactions with the Thantieri citizenry can be kept under control. The Gomo Guide to Thoneport provides a description of both port and foreign quarter.

So having got this far and unless you are in the know, a Joruni, if you will, then I have just boggled you with a whole load of weird words, and that is a problem. The Gomo Guide to Thoneport is not a supplement for the uninitiated, and while it comes with a handy glossary, it is only relevant to Thantier. Still, you do need to the basics about the setting of Jorune to get the most out of it. The other problem is that in Thantier, you have a setting that is racist, and not everyone is going to be comfortable with that. Obviously, racism is wrong, but The Gomo Guide to Thoneport does ask the Sholari or GM to portray racism and enact it against one or more of the player characters. Worse still, the racism espoused by the Thantieri is firmly entrenched, intractable, and systemic, so there is not a great deal that characters can do about it. It is also understandable.

Understandable in the context of the given history and background for Thantier. Originally the site of one the colonies from Earth, the colonists were relatively untouched by the war with the Shantha, but suffered a thousand years of attack by the alien Cleash and only a century and a half ago was attacked by the Maustin Caji, the radical Muadra who rampaged throughout the country. It is also understandable in game terms, because SkyRealms of Jorune is not any old roleplaying game, it is also a “culture” game. By which I mean that it has its own milieu and customs that the players are expected to embrace and explore as they game, even if they are repugnant to modern Western sensibilities. Other games have similar issues. For example, in Legends of the Five Rings you expected to play characters who have a more than dismissive attitude towards anyone who is not Samurai or Rokugani, while games such as Tékumel: Empire of the Petal Throne and Cthulhu Invictus, it is perfectly reasonable to own slaves. None of these elements sit well with modern man, and if you feel strongly enough about the issue here, The Gomo Guide to Thoneport is not the supplement for you. The world of Jorune is wide open for other types of gaming.

So for these reasons, The Gomo Guide to Thoneport comes with plenty of warnings for the traveller, even the Humans. Thantieri like to do everything by contract and delight in taking advantage of non-Thantieri or Thone with sharply worded agreements, even Human Thone. It also describes various Thantieri customs such as courtesy and gift giving; how the Thantieri trade, for example, usury is unacceptable, but the giving of an appreciation is; how the sewer system works in Thoneport – it is all bio-tec, and constantly changes, forcing sewer workers to regularly re-map the workings; and how the use of Isho is policed in Thoneport – strictly is the word here. All seven of the Great Houses are detailed along with their interests, their customs – many of which are derived from different cultures on Earth, and their positions in the city. Also described are the two Fallen Houses, both long dispossessed, but whose members continue their traditions as best they can. Also given is a description and map of Thoneport, including its most notable locations, along with a history and timeline of Thantier.

It is only when you get the last two pages and find a list of the titles for sale from Tan Incrid do you realise what The Gomo Guide to Thoneport actually is – an in-game sourcebook. In that regard it is much like The Tauther Guide to be found in boxed versions of SkyRealms of Jorune which could be given to players whose characters attempting to become Drenn. This explains why there are no game stats anywhere in the book and why there are no adventure hooks. That said, the book is rich in detail, so any Sholari worth his spiced durlig should be able to create an adventure based on something within the pages of The Gomo Guide to Thoneport.

What The Gomo Guide to Thoneport really does get right is its artwork; and that without one single original piece. Now some of the artwork has been modified, to depict some of Jorune’s races for example, but all of it has been publically sourced. The majority of these photographs and images are of peoples and buildings from North Africa, the Middle East, and the Far East, and when slightly aged and appropriately captioned, they convey the strange exoticism of Thantier. Even the inclusion of images of a traditional Town Crier and a man in eighteenth century Western military dress do not break this feel.

Unfortunately, what the authors of The Gomo Guide to Thoneport get wrong is the editing. It is, to be blunt, dreadful. The writing is never unreadable, but in places it is never easy to read, and at times you have to wonder whether Yoda from Star Wars or a Thriddle student wrote it. All right, so the book is fan written, but these days that is no excuse, and certainly not if the book is on sale. A more minor issue is that some of the text is repeated verbatim later in the book, mostly the history.

There is much to like The Gomo Guide to Thoneport if you are a fan of SkyRealms of Jorune. There is plenty of detail within its pages, there is plenty of exoticism, and there is plenty of difference between those details and what has previously been seen for the setting. Yet it needs a disclaimer somewhere to tell the casual browser what the book actually is, and it needs some support to make it more than just a travel guide. Most of all, it needs an edit to make read better. Right now you are going to love what there is in The Gomo Guide to Thoneport, but in places you will find it just a little hard to give it that love.