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Sunday, 7 April 2019

Retrospective: Apple Lane II

It is not just a player’s first roleplaying game which makes an impression, it is also their first adventure. For many of a certain age, this would be B2 Keep on the Borderlands, the introductory adventure which for many years appeared in the Basic Dungeons & Dragons boxed set. For others it would be Apple Lane, the scenario first published for RuneQuest in 1978 as Apple Lane: Two Beginning Scenarios - Gringle’s Pawnshop & The Rainbow Mounds (Scenario Pack 2). This would be revised as a second edition in 1980 and then again in 1987 by Avalon Hill for use with RuneQuest III. The second edition would be further revised again in 2016 for a PDF as part of the Kickstarter campaign for RuneQuest: Classic Edition and it is the second edition which had the most impact, having appeared in the Runequest, 2nd Edition Boxed Set—both the American and British editions—and so was not only the first scenario for RuneQuest that many played, but the first chance to play in the world of Glorantha. With the release of the RuneQuest - Gamemaster Screen Pack and its ‘Adventures Book’ set in and around Apple Lane, it seems as perfect a time as any to examine the original scenario—in both of its two most recent versions. 

Having reviewed the second edition of Apple Lane, it is time to move on to the third. Published in 1987 by Avalon Hill for use with RuneQuest III, but importantly still written by the team at Chaosium, Inc., the third edition of Apple lane contains the same two scenarios, Gringle’s Pawnshop’ and ‘The Rainbow Mounds’, as well as the same set-up, ‘The Tribal Initiation’, and to be fair, there is very little different between them in this edition and the previous editions. So the thoughts and opinions given about Apple Lane in the previous review apply here equally as much as they did the previous review. Thus, Apple Lane and the scenarios it contains highlight the strengths of RuneQuest both mechanically and as a setting in the form of Glorantha—the lethality of combat and the need for tactical thinking, the importance of faith and ritual, and the mythic nature of the world around the player characters. All on a relatively small scale, but all still very playable today, just as it was in 1978, 1980, and 1987.

So what are the differences between the Apple Lane of 1980 and the Apple Lane of 1987? To begin with, there is a title, or rather, a subtitle change. The 1980 edition carried the title, Apple Lane: Two Beginning Scenarios - Gringle’s Pawnshop & The Rainbow Mounds (Scenario Pack 2), but here the title is Apple Lane with the subtitle, ‘Save the Hamlet From Scurrilous Scoundrels’, but more obviously, this edition of Apple Lane has been given a whole new redesign, starting with the colour cover. This depicts Quackjohn, Gringle’s right-hand Duck and assistant. Now Quackjohn is an inhabitant of Apple Lane and he does appear in the first scenario, ‘Gringle’s Pawnshop’, but only briefly and he really does not play much of a role in life around the village or even in the scenario. So as good as the artwork is and as eye catching as it is, it seems weird to have him feature so strongly on the front cover, especially given the contentious regard in which Ducks are held among Gloranthaphiles, let alone in the hobby at large. Arguably any one of the foes that the player characters might face in either ‘Gringle’s Pawnshop’ or ‘The Rainbow Mounds’, or even in the form of Gringle himself, would have been better suited to be depicted on the front cover.

Inside, the content has been given a cleaner layout and the amount of artwork has been greatly expanded. Some of the artwork is truely, utterly awful, the thumbnail portraits of the many NPCs in Apple Lane, in particular, is dreadful. These are described as being woodcuts done by Quackjohn and as such, are as bad as his opera singing is described in his write-up. As thumbnail portraits, they are so bad that the fact that none of the foes in either ‘Gringle’s Pawnshop’ or ‘The Rainbow Mounds’ is given their own thumbnail portraits is actually an improvement—and this is despite the fact that it is actually disappointing that none of the foes are individually illustrated in their write-ups. Fortunately, much of the rest of the artwork in the scenario anthology is actually very good, particularly those depicting the denizens of the Rainbow Mounds. These are worth separating out and being used by the Game Master to show her players at the appropriate time when their characters encounter them.

Also worth separating out from the booklet is its pullout section, the ‘Apple Lane Digest’. This contains two things. The first is the character digest, which provides all of the stats for the inhabitants of Apple Lane, the attackers upon Gringle’s pawnshop, and the denizens of the Rainbow Mounds. Here is where the dreaded thumbnail portraits appear, but having the stats all in one place is handy as makes referring to them much easier than flipping back and forth between pages. The second thing is a bigger map of Gringle’s pawnshop, not only bigger, but more detailed with room enough for both the Game Master and her players to use figures should they want to. The use of the floorplans in this fashion both supports and enhances the tactical nature of the scenario and the attack on, and defence of, Gringle’s pawnshop.

Carolyn Schultz Savoy’s larger map of Gringle’s pawnshop is not the only cartographic improvement in the third edition of Apple Lane. Indeed, every map in the supplement has been redrawn to give it more character and detail. In terms of the scenarios, the resulting map of the Rainbow Mounds is a lot easier to read and use. This edition of Apple Lane has not one, but two regional maps. The first one shows the area within about thirty kilometres of Apple Lane, enabling the Game Master to better place the village in Dragon Pass and more easily grasp the local geography. This is a redesign of the map that appeared in the previous edition of Apple Lane. The other map is new and shows the area within ninety to one-hundred-and-twenty kilometres of Apple Lane. Again, this widens the context and allows the Game Master a better grasp of the region.

The third edition of Apple Lane also has one other addition—a section devoted to ‘Deluxe Rules’. This covers rules for magic, including items and rituals, friendly and bound spirits, magic crystals, divine and spirit spells, and deluxe edition armour. This section did two things. First, it presented rules and mechanics found in Deluxe Edition RuneQuest, but even then it was not quite enough, as the Game Master would still need to consult another supplement, Gods of Glorantha, for some of the spells used by the NPCs in Apple Lane. Second, it highlighted the split not between editions of RuneQuest, but within a single edition itself, that is, RuneQuest III, which had not one ruleset , but two with Standard Edition RuneQuest and Deluxe Edition RuneQuest.

Physically, the presentation of the third edition of Apple Lane is a step up from the edition published in 1980. The maps are generally clearer, there is more artwork—some of which is very good, some of which is awful, and the ‘Apple Lane Digest’ is a more than welcome addition. Overall, this edition of Apple Lane is a more professional product whereas the previous version had an amateur feel to it. Yet despite the increased degree of professionalism, the choice of artwork is not always the best, the lack of artwork in places is unhelpful, and with the benefit three decades or more since its publication, the need to include the ‘Deluxe Rules Section’ just looks odd, especially since the Game Master is still expected to consult another supplement to get the most out of the two scenarios.

Although there is little difference in the text to either edition of Apple Lane, the third edition provides more support for the Game Master wanting to run either scenario. Better art, better maps, and of course, the NPC reference sheets. These all serve to make the third edition the better version to run, yet it simply does not have the simple charm of the edition from 1980. Nevertheless, Apple Lane is still a classic scenario and still fun to run and play, whichever edition you choose to use.

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