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Sunday, 22 April 2018

Retrospective: Broken Tree Inn

As one of the first licensees, Judges Guild was in its heyday, a highly prolific publisher, releasing not only scenarios and supplements for Dungeons & Dragons and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, but also Traveller, Chivalry & Sorcery, DragonQuest, Tékumel: Empire of the Petal Throne, Tunnels and Trolls, RuneQuest, Superhero 2044, and Villains and Vigilantes. Since its heyday of the late 1970s and early 1980s, quite a few of those products have remained held in high regard, such as City State of the Invincible Overlord, Tegel Manor, Dark Tower, and so on, these titles often being brought back into print by other publishers. That said, given the sheer number of titles published by Judges Guild, the truth is that the quality of a very great many of them was far from being professional by the standards of the day, let alone by those of today. Nevertheless, there are many that are worth examining almost four decades after they were first published and many worth bringing to your table almost four decades after they were first published. One of these is Broken Tree Inn.

Broken Tree Inn is a scenario written for use with RuneQuest, Chaosium, Inc.’s roleplaying game of myth, faith, and heroism set in Glorantha. That said, it is not specifically set in Glorantha, but uses a lot of details which would otherwise be found in Dragon Pass—the Aldryami, Trollkin and Zorak Zoran, Issaries, and so on. Notably, Broken Tree Inn is written by Rudy Kraft, the co-designer of RuneQuest, and with Greg Stafford, the co-author of Snakepipe Hollow. Indeed, it is from this last scenario that the contents of Broken Tree Inn were cut and semi-deGlorantha’ed.

Instead, Broken Tree Inn is set in a disputed area, an area which was only relatively recently occupied by The Human Empire which established a series of forts to protect itself against a perceived threat from Tall Seed Forest, home to many thousands of Aldryami and Elves. Tensions of late have risen between the Aldryami and The Human Empire because the forts were built from wood cut from Tall Seed Forest, but the magical protections woven into the forts during their construction means that the Elves cannot attack them. Enter the player characters…

Designed to be played novice adventurers as well as Rune level adventurers, Broken Tree Inn essentially presents two locations and three factions in quite some detail. They include the Broken Tree Inn of the title, a wayside inn noted for the twisted and bent tree outside its doors, which stands amidst farmland on the frontier with The Human Empire and a fairly rough fortress garrisoned by soldiers of The Human Empire. The factions include the owners of the Broken Tree Inn, the garrison at the fort, and just some of the Aldryami and Elves of Tall Seed Forest. In the case of the first and the third, the author presents quite a lot of detail about them, their background and history, and what they might do should they be attacked.

In terms of scenarios, Broken Tree Inn offers three hooks. In the first, the Aldryami of Tall Seed Forest hire mercenaries to help destroy the forts and so take revenge upon The Human Empire. In the second, the player characters are spending the night at the fort when the Aldryami attack, whilst in the third, The Human Empire is looking to hire mercenaries to capture one of the Aldryami and return them for questioning. Of the three hooks, the first has the most gaming potential as written, but all three options are supported with extensive stats for the various factions as well as the staff of the Broken Tree Inn and various wandering monsters. There are also a few suggestions as to what to do with the setting beyond the gaming possibilities of the three scenarios.

Physically, Broken Tree Inn is surprisingly impressive. Not fantastic necessarily, but not as rough and rushed as other titles from Judges Guild. The maps are clear if a little bland in paces; the cover by Paul Jaquays is good; the internal artwork—some of it by Kevin Siembieda—is also fairly good; and the writing is generally good. Overall, the production values of Broken Tree Inn are pretty good given its publisher.

The one significant review of Broken Tree Inn at the time of its release, appeared in The Space Gamer No. 30 (August 1980). Forrest Johnson wrote, “Unfortunately the designer spends a lot of time giving elaborate histories and details which give more depth than variety.” before concluding, “BROKEN TREE INN will work for almost any GM, but it could be a dull adventure in the hands of a novice.” This is a fair assessment, and it certain goes against the publisher’s description of the book as a ‘RuneQuest Gateway Adventure’, because the designer never really presents an adventure in the sense of plot, events, and above all, story. Now Broken Tree Inn is of course, a product from a time when such things relatively new and novel, but within a year or two of this supplement’s release they would be standard with modules such as U1 Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, First Edition. What this means is that the Judge—or Game Master—will have some story development or improvising to do of her own to effectively run these adventure ideas, and that is before she develops further adventures around the region.

By modern standards, Broken Tree Inn is more of a sourcebook than an adventure and so a little underwhelming. In some ways, there is more scope for development in the material presented in its pages than this than there is roleplaying to be gamed off the page. A good Judge could certainly develop further the region and more adventures, whilst a good Game Master could take the contents of Broken Tree Inn and slip back into Glorantha where it belongs. Whilst it may be no Dark Tower, or indeed, Duck Tower, overall, Broken Tree Inn is a good example of a supplement of its time.