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Sunday 19 May 2019

Gloranthan Friends and Foes

As good as the core rulebook for the new edition of RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha is, it can be argued that there are three fundamental issues with it. One is that it is too humanocentric. What this means is that the core rulebook for the new edition of the classic roleplaying game published by Chaosium, Inc. only provides the means to create human player characters and it does not provide anything in the way of NPCs, foes, or monsters that the player characters might face or be challenged by. The second is that it lacks advice for the Game Master for running the game, necessary because its setting of Glorantha and in particular, Dragon Pass, because that is the focus of the new edition, is very different to other fantasy roleplaying games. Third, it lacks a starting scenario which can showcase both the mechanics and the setting of Glorantha for the Game Master and her players.

Now whilst it can be argued that these are problems, such arguments can be countered by the fact that like Dungeons & Dragons, the new edition of RuneQuest at its core, consists not of one book, but three. So where Dungeons & Dragons famously has the Player’s Handbook, the Monster Manual, and the Dungeon Master’s Guide, the new edition of RuneQuest has RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, the RuneQuest: Glorantha Bestiary, and Gamemaster Screen Pack. The fact that all three are designed to fit into a rather pleasing and sturdy slipcase that looks good on the shelf not only supports this counter argument, but together they directly address the issues that some may have with the core rulebook for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha.

As with RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, the RuneQuest: Glorantha Bestiary is another sturdy hardback, though not as large as the core rulebook. Its contents detail some two hundred or so of the races, creatures, and monsters as well as flora native to Glorantha (and its adjacent spirit worlds), the myth-infused setting created by the late Greg Stafford. These contents are divided into eight chapters which in turn examine Glorantha’s Elder Races, Chaos Monsters, Monsters, Giant Arthropods, Animals, Spirits, Terrors, and Flora. Before it gets to the particulars, it gives some pointers as what makes the entries in this volume and this setting different from any other bestiary, setting, or fantasy roleplaying game. These highlight how deadly they can be and the player characters—if not the players—are more than likely to be aware of this. They also make clear that many of the creatures and races described in the book are intelligent and should be played that way, the Game Master being given some solid advice to that end. What is also made clear is that the contents of book covers the races, creatures, monsters, and flora of just Genertela, Glorantha’s northern continent. That does mean that anyone wanting a bestiary covering both Genertela and the southern continent, Pamaltela, will be disappointed. That said, such a book would be at least double the size of the RuneQuest: Glorantha Bestiary and arguably outside RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha’s primary setting of Dragon Pass and its surrounds. This focus on Genertela is further supported by a series of distribution maps for the various Elder Races.

All of the entries follow the same format. They all begin with an oddity though. As well as its common name, every entry is given its scientific name in Latin, so Homo sapiens, var telmori for the Wolfbrothers, Joannursus paralysis for Jack o’Bears, and Lynx umbrosus for Shadowcats or Alynxes. Of course the Roman Empire was never part of Glorantha and there is no obvious equivalent of Latin—though Trade Talk might qualify as the nearest—so of course, it feels a little odd. Except there are creatures in the Glorantha Bestiary which do have Latin names and those are the dinosaurs, here given as emotionally debased and reincarnated Dragonnewts, but actually based on real world dinosaurs such as Allosaurs and Triceratopses. Extending the use of Latin for the dinosaurs to the other entries in the supplement does make sense then, but nevertheless, it still feels a little odd.

The format for each entry covers, as appropriate, mythos and history, subtypes, description, culture, government, relationships with other races, religion, and region of origin before getting to anything mechanical. The latter includes characteristics and skills of course, but as befitting the new mechanics to RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha they also list any Passions, Runes, and Rune Spells that a typical member of that entry would have. They also go further in providing the means for creating several of the Elder Races as adventurers to be roleplayed by the players or more detailed NPCs. So to create a Trolkin adventurer, in addition to the characteristics and skills, the Glorantha Bestiary lists the Runes a Trolkin starts with—in this case, the Darkness Rune at 40% and another Rune at 20%, the starting skills in addition to those of Dark Trolls, and then the occupations. There are one, two, or four given depending upon the class a Trolkin belongs to. Thus a Trolkin classed as Food can only be a Hunter/Gatherer, as a Worker can be either a Chanter, Crafter, Hunter/Gatherer, or Insect Herder, as a Warrior can only be a Warrior, and as Value can be a Warrior or an Overseer. Besides this, the entries also detail one or more of the cults that members of the race can also belong. For the Aldryami (Elves) just the one cult is given, that of Aldrya, but this is broken down into several subcults. The special Rune spells for the cult are also listed.

Now what is not included in the character creation process for all of the races that can be created as adventurers from Glorantha Bestiary is the Family History as per step two in RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. This should not be counted as a fault for three reasons. First, some of the races could use the Family History tables in the core rulebook, such as the Ducks, and second, the Glorantha Bestiary is not a dedicated sourcebook for any of these races where such Family Tree tables are likely to be found, and third, it would greatly increase the length of the book.

The first chapter is dedicated to the Elder Races. Five stand out here, expanding greatly upon the background given in The Gloranthan Sourcebook. The Aldryami or Elves, Dragonnewts, Agimori or Men-and-a-Half, Mostali or Dwarves, Trolls or Uz, and Wolfbrothers or Telmori. All are given quite lengthy write-ups, for example, the Aldryami covering Dryads as well as Brown Elves, Green Elves, Yellow Elves, Black Elves, Blue Elves, Pixies, and Runners. The entry on Dragonnewts is particularly impressive, covering all five stages of their lifecycle—Crested, Beaked, Tailed Priest, Full Priest, and Inhuman King, their magic, their motivations, and their roads. Similarly the description of the Wolfbrothers goes into some detail, including the Telmori cult and its special Rune spells which explain how they transform into wolves when it is not Wildday. Of course, not all of these are available as player characters, only the Aldryami, Men-and-a-Half, Mostali, and Trolls are, along with the Morokanth and the Baboons, then the Centaurs, Ducks, and Minotaurs from the Beastmen section. Other entries include Giants, Gorillas, the weird Maidstone Archers with three arms but no head, Newtlings, Triolini or merfolk, the brutal and bestial Tusk Raiders with their cult of the Bloody Tusk, and Wind Children. 

As much as some of the Elder Races hate each other—and in the case of the Trolls, ate the others—the real enemy is presented in the Chaos Monsters. Relatively short in comparison to the other chapters, the entries for creatures such as Dancers in Darkness—vampiric women who serve Delecti the Necromancer, Dragonsnails, Ghouls, Gorps, Scorpion Men, and Walktapi, are likewise shorter than those in the Elder Races chapter. That said the Game Master has the means to modify many of these creatures by using the Chaotic Features table. The first entry in this chapter is surprisingly impressive, a lengthy description of Broos and their rife fecundity infused with Chaos which lifts them from being simple Chaos fodder complete with details of their associated Mallia and Thed cults and Rune spells.

The Monsters chapter most notably includes Dragons, noting where the True Dragons of Dragon Pass and the Kralorean True Dragons are as well as providing stats for Dream Dragons. Also included are Dinosaurs, Giant Eels, Griffins, Rock Lizards, Skeletons, Sky Bulls, Wyrms, and more. Giant Arthropods covers Antlions, Beetles, Crabs—both water and arboreal varieties, Centipedes, Praying Mantises, Spiders, Ice Worms, and more all of the the giant variety. The Animals chapters covers creatures of a more mundane nature, from Bears, Bloodbirds, and Cattle to Wild Boar, Wolves, and Yaks. Not all of the entries are necessarily mundane though, for example, Dire Wolves are raised from birth to be the companions of the Wolfbrothers detailed in the Elder Races chapter.

The incorporeal entities known as Spirits get their own chapter, which cover the various types—Animal, Disease, Healing, and Plant as well as demons, the Nyctalope darkness demon, and Genius Loci like Nymphs and Ghosts which are tied to a particular location, and the means to create them using the list of powers given. Notably, the Genius Loci includes Wyters, the spirits of communities, like villages, military regiments, clans, tribes, and more. It covers their powers and what they can do and is very useful information for the Game Master given the strength of community in Glorantha and RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. Various types of Elementals are also detailed in the chapter, but in the main this is very useful chapter if a player has decided to create an Assistant Shaman as per RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and the Game Master wants spirits and more for the character to interact with.

The Glorantha Bestiary has already looked at large creatures such as Dinosaurs, Dragons, and Giants, but it steps up a SIZE or fifty—for the penultimate chapter. With just four unique entries, Terrors is not actually the shortest chapter in the book. These include Cwim, the three-bodied Spawn of Thed and the Devil, Chaos Gaggle, and Fiends of Cacodemon, but pride of place goes to the infamous Crimson Bat, the Chaos demon bound into the service of the Red Goddess and thus the Lunar Empire. The description covers feeding the bat, its effect upon the populations it visits, how it is piloted, and its effect as an extension of the Glowline, the magical border of the Lunar Empire. (This is actually supported by a map of Tarsh and the Lunar Empire to the northwest of Dragon Pass inside the back cover, a nice addition.) Basically, as the setting’s current ‘big bad’, this is a great addition, but for the most part, one you would run and hide from rather than readily confront. Lastly, the Plants chapter details twenty or so species of various types and uses like Darkfoil’s ability to glow in the presence of Chaos and the ability of Princess Plants to protect against fire and heat.

Physically, the Glorantha Bestiary is a sturdy, full colour hardback. The cover, dominated by a Troll surrounded by a strange cast including a Duck, a Baboon, a Morokanth, a Broo, a Scorpion Man, and more is perhaps a little dark and so not quite as effective as the cover for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. Inside though, the book is more impressive, being laid out in the same style as the core rulebook and illustrated in a range of styles, both colour and greyscale. What this means is that the book is clear and readable and attractive to look at.

On the downside, the likelihood is that there are going to be some creatures that diehard fans of Glorantha are going to miss from the pages of the Glorantha Bestiary, but this is still a comprehensive treatment and it does only cover Genertala. That said, not every creature is given an illustration, which is more of an issue. It also would have been nice if there had been colour fiction to accompany each of the entries, to help get an in-world view of the various races, creatures, and monsters and so add a little flavour. To be fair these are only minor niggles and should not be held against the Glorantha Bestiary.

Unfortunately, for all of the good content to found within the pages of the Glorantha Bestiary, it has one issue that is not a mere niggle—and that is ease of reference. This is due to two problems, one which follows on from the other. The first is the organisation of the book into chapters rather than a straight alphabetical listing, which whilst it makes sense thematically, does make finding anything not as easy as it should be. There is of course an index and therein lies the second problem. The index lists all of the entries for the races, creatures, and monsters in the Glorantha Bestiary alphabetically and that is fine. Except that what it does not list is all of the supplementary information, the details of the cults, their rune spells, and so on. Of course, it is a simple matter of remembering that the entry for Kygor Litor and the rune spell Blinding will be in the Troll section in the Elder Races chapter, but secondary indices for this supplementary information would have been useful for quick reference.

One function of any bestiary for a roleplaying game is to provide it and any gaming group with an array of foes to be challenged by or kill and the Glorantha Bestiary is no exception. So there are races and creatures and monsters which in general no one likes and then there are races and creatures and monsters which are disliked by certain races and creatures and monsters. So obviously there is a long standing enmity between Trolls, Dwarves, and Elves, but almost no-one has any love for the Broos, Gorps, Rubble Runners, or Tusk Riders, for example. Even then, such creatures and races are not treated as mere fodder for the sword and the spear, the Glorantha Bestiary affording races like the Broos and Tusk Riders lengthy essays and descriptions and cults of their own that add detail and depth to both them and the setting which the Game Master can bring to her campaign. 

Yet as much as the Glorantha Bestiary fulfils that function, it does a whole lot more. The Elder Races chapter provides the means to create and roleplay members of the Aldramyi, Mostali, and Uz as well as Ducks, Baboons, Centaurs, and more, whether that is as player characters or as NPCs. Then there are stats for the animals that will be of use to various player characters, whether that is the horse for any Noble character or Cavalry Soldier—five breeds are described, Cattle for the Herder, the Shadowcat for the Yinkin worshipper, the Giant Arthropods for the Uz Insect Herder, or the various beasts of burden ridden by the nomadic tribes of Prax, such as Bison, Bolo Lizards, and Herd-Men used by the Morokanth. The Spirits chapter will be of interest to any player with a Shaman character and for campaigns which focus on the community with the rules for Wyters. Players with Lunar characters will simply be worshipping the Terrors chapter—or at least the only entry in that chapter that matters.

The RuneQuest: Glorantha Bestiary opens up the world of Glorantha and Dragon Pass in particular, fleshing it out physically and spiritually with both friends and foes, some playable, some not, and does so in many ways. Its combination of background and stats, friends and foes, supports Game Master and player alike and together serve to make the RuneQuest: Glorantha Bestiary an essential companion to RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha.

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