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Monday, 31 December 2018

A Pavis Palaver

For many a British roleplayer their first introduction to RuneQuest and thus Glorantha, was not through roleplaying, but through fiction. Short, one or two-page pieces of fiction that appeared in the pages of White Dwarf magazine between 1982 and 1984, which told some of the stories and capers of Griselda, adventurer, thief, troll-friend, and sometime ‘hero’, but always a thorn in the side of the authority in and about the city of Pavis and the adjacent ruins of the Big Rubble. Starting with ‘Lucky Eddi’ in White Dwarf #29 and ending with ‘All in the Family’ White Dwarf #51 in 1984, readers got to hear the exploits of the notorious redhead as told by Olaf Dickin’s-son, known around Pavis as a small-time bookie, teller of tales, and occasional professional prayer. In the years since, further stories have appeared in the pages of other RuneQuest and Glorantha-related titles, including game supplements like Chaosium, Inc.’s Pavis and Big Rubble and magazines such as Different Worlds, Tales of the Reaching Moon, and Trade Talk. A great many of these tales were brought together with a little background in 1993 by the Reaching Moon Megacorp as The Collected Griselda. Then almost a decade later, in 2001, this was reprinted as The Complete Griselda which collected all of the original tales—and more.

The anthology opens with ‘Lucky Eddi’ and ‘Griselda Gets Her Man’, which tell of how and why Griselda comes to Pavis and settles the first of a score or two before making a good deal with a Dark Troll in ‘A Tasty Morsel’. We get to see her run a scam or three or four or more, such as in ‘The Great Chart Caper’; protect her reputation much like a Wild West gunfighter as many a potential rival, such as ‘Red Hot’, attempts to take her down; have to deal with too many family issues—not always her own, like ‘The Trouble With Nephews’; all before getting a glimpse of Griselda’s future reputation in ‘The Cradlesnatchers’. There are almost thirty stories in The Complete Griselda, roughly covering the period between 1613 and 1621, the years running up to the Hero Wars when Pavis was under Lunar occupation. 

In addition, the anthology adds more to Griselda’s world than just the tales themselves. There are points of view from the good, the bad, and the Uz around the city of Pavis, which sets the scene for the tales to come, as does the map of Pavis itself. As well as a biography of Griselda there is even a Griselda songbook, containing four songs. These are nicely done and quite amusing.

As much fun and entertaining as the stories are in The Complete Griselda—and there should be no doubt about that—they do not necessarily reflect RuneQuest and Glorantha as they are roleplayed. Certainly not in 2018. Exceptions abound, of course, but the focus for both RuneQuest in 1982 and the more recent RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha is typically on adventures that take place in the centre of Dragon Pass and a rural environment and on the conflict between Sartar and the Lunar Empire. The adventures of Griselda take place in an urban environment and concern her criminal and semi-criminal adventures. This reflects the style of the tales told in this anthology, which is as a Damon Runyon pastiche.

Runyon, a noted New York news and sports journalist during the nineteen thirties and forties, wrote two collections of stories, On Broadway and From First to Last, set in and round the bars and joints of the city’s Broadway. Notably, the stories a lot of vernacular and slang and they are strictly written in the present tense, all narrated by the same, unnamed raconteur with a gentle humour and sense of irony. The author of The Complete Griselda adopts the same style, the stories being regaled in the present tense and accompanied no little slang. Unlike Runyon though, the author names his narrator. This is the aforementioned Olaf Dickin’s-son, not so much the nom de plume of the anthology’s author, Doctor Oliver Dickinson, but his alter ego. Dickinson is an English academic specialising in late Bronze Age Greece, who also edited the ‘Rune Rites’, the RuneQuest column which ran from White Dwarf #30 to White Dwarf #73. If Griselda is the star of the anthology, then it is the words of Olaf Dickin’s-son that make her so.

One side of effect of being a Runyon pastiche is that the stories in The Complete Griselda need an audience. Just as those in On Broadway and From First to Last, these stories demand to be read aloud, preferably with a drink in hand—though probably not a troll drink. New York accent optional, of course.

Of course, The Complete Griselda is not actually complete. It was after all, published in 2001 and there have been new stories since. A handful—‘Ogre Hunt’, ‘Meet the Parents’, ‘No Way for a Lady to Behave’, ‘A Day at the Races’, and others have been published as chapbooks by Tentacles Press as fundraisers for the Kraken convention in Germany. These are longer tales than those original White Dwarf appearances of Griselda and are also available as PDFs from Chaosium, Inc. Originally published by Issaries, Inc., The Complete Griselda is also available from Chaosium, Inc. as a PDF.

Physically, The Complete Griselda is decently presented. The black and white cover artwork, which is supposed to depict Griselda, feels rather generic, but the maps inside—one of Pavis and one of the adjacent Big Rubble—are well done. The text is presented in a sans serif font, so is not quite as easy to read as if it were a serif font.

As much as the stories in The Complete Griselda do not necessarily reflect the way in which RuneQuest is played, that may change with the planned publication of updated versions of Big Rubble in 2019 and Pavis in 2020, both to be written by Robin D. Laws. These are the locations where Griselda’s stories take place and so hopefully the two supplements together will provide a stage where the players and their characters can carry out similar capers and have similar adventures. Of course, these stories are the perfect inspiration for such adventures. Until then, these stories are not necessarily a good introduction in general to the world of Glorantha.

Nevertheless, the twenty-nine stories in The Complete Griselda are most enjoyable, and they do bring the exploits and tales of the ne’er-do-wells and miscreants who frequent Loud Lilina’s and—occasionally Rowdy Djoh Lo’s—to life in a highly entertaining and singular fashion. The Complete Griselda is rife with great characters, fun plots, and the type of situations in which player characters all too find themselves, but most all it is full of damned good stories.