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Sunday 16 June 2019

Screen Shot VIII & Apple Lane III

How do you like your GM Screen?

The GM Screen is essentially a reference sheet, comprised of several card sheets that fold out and can be stood up to serve another purpose, that is, to hide the GM’s notes and dice rolls. On the inside, the side facing the GM are listed all of the tables that the GM might want or need at a glance without the need to have to leaf quickly through the core rulebook. On the outside, facing the players, is either more tables for their benefit or representative artwork for the game itself. This is both the basic function and the basic format of the screen, neither of which has changed very much over the years. Beyond the basic format, much has changed though.

To begin with the general format has split, between portrait and landscape formats. The result of the landscape format is a lower screen, and if not a sturdier screen, than at least one that is less prone to being knocked over. Another change has been in the weight of card used to construct the screen. Exile Studios pioneered a new sturdier and durable screen when its printers took two covers from the Hollow Earth Expedition core rule book and literally turned them into the game's screen. This marked a change from the earlier and flimsier screens that had been done in too light a cardstock, and many publishers have followed suit.

Once you have decided upon your screen format, the next question is what you have put with it. Do you include a poster or poster map, such as Chaosium, Inc.’s last screen for Call of Cthulhu, Sixth Edition?  Or a reference work like the GM Resource Book for Pelgrane Press’ Trail of Cthulhu? Or scenarios such as ‘Blackwater Creek’ and ‘Missed Dues’ from the Call of Cthulhu Keeper Screen for use with Call of Cthulhu, Seventh Edition? In general, the heavier and sturdier the screen, the more likely it is that the screen will be sold unaccompanied, such as those published by Cubicle Seven Entertainment for the Starblazer Adventures: The Rock & Roll Space Opera Adventure Game  and Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space RPG.

So how do I like my GM Screen?

I like my Screen to come with something. Not a poster or poster map, but some form of reference material. Which is why I am fond of both the Sholari Reference Pack for SkyRealms of Jorune and the GM Resource Book for Pelgrane Press’ Trail of Cthulhu. Nevertheless, I also like GM Screens when they come with a scenario, which is one reason why I like the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack for use with the new edition of RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, published by Chaosium, Inc.. For not only does the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack include a Game Master’s Screen, it includes the ‘RuneQuest Gamemaster Adventures’ book which contains not just one or two adventures, but three adventures and background material aplenty to support both these three adventures and play beyond them. That would seem enough, and if the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack consisted of just the Game Master’s Screen and the Adventures Book, that would have made a handsome enough package. Yet besides the Game Master’s Screen and the ‘RuneQuest Gamemaster Adventures’ book, the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack contains a whole lot more.

The starting point for the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack is of course the screen itself, which is a four-panel full colour affair in landscape format. The front depicts the God’s Wall in Dara Happa. On the reverse it collates numerous tables from RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, including the Resistance Table, the Augments Table, Attack & Parry Results, Dodge Results, Fumbles, Ritual Preparation, and more. It also summarises melee and combat results, the Special Damage results, Magic Use, and so on. It is all done in full colour, is easy to read, and reference in play. The only issue with the screen is that it could have included the page numbers for where the tables appear in the core rules for easy reference by the Game Master.

In addition to the Game Master’s Screen and the ‘RuneQuest Gamemaster Adventures’ book, the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack contains a wealth of useful references and other bits and pieces. These start with the  ‘RuneQuest Gamemaster References’ booklet, which contains all of the tables from RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, including the Skills List, the Resistance Table, the Runes and Cults tables, Attack & Parry Results, Fumbles, Weapons, Spirit Magic Spells, Rune Spells, and more. The Gloranthan Calendar is simply brilliant in its usefulness and really should be upgraded to an actual calendar that the Game Master can put on her wall. There are two foldout character sheets in the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack, both combining the standard character sheet and the family sheet, one in full colour and one in black and white. The seven pre-generated characters are fully illustrated and come with complete backgrounds ready to play, specifically coming from the RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha – QuickStart Rules and Adventure and so are ready to play ‘The Broken Tower’. A separate sheet is provided for NPCs and Squads. The six maps in the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack cover Apple Lane, Clearwine, Dragon Pass, and the Lunar Empire. They include the classic maps of Dragon Pass, and the Lunar Empire, new maps of Apple Lane and Clearwine, a map of the Colymar lands, and a full foldout map of Dragon Pass, essentially the same as in RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, but here so much larger and clearer. All together, this provides the Game Master with a lot of supporting material to help her run her game. 

Just as the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack is no simple RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack, the ‘RuneQuest Gamemaster Adventures’ book is no mere book of adventures. It is both a setting book and a book of adventures, detailing the region in which the adventures are set. These are the lands of the Colymar tribe, one of the earliest groups of settlers in Sartar following the Dragonkill War. A full history of the tribe is given, explaining how it came to possess the winter-grown grapes the tribe is famous for, as well as its rivalry with Malani tribe, before coming up to date with the invasion of the Lunar Empire, the rebellions under Lunar occupation, and the recent Dragonrise. Also covered are region’s geography and climate, temples major and minor, the tribe’s population, and its Wyter, its guardian spirit. All twelve clans of the tribe are described, as is the capital, the small city of Clearwine. This is done in some detail and accompanied by some lovely three-dimensional maps of both the city and the palace, plus several persons of note are accorded full descriptions and sets of full stats. This includes Leika Black Spear, Queen of the Colymar tribe, Asborn Thriceborn, the High Priest of Orlanth Thunderous, Ereneva Chan, the High Priestess of Ernalda, and more. Thus we get to see characters who are Rune Lords and Rune Priests for the first time in RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha.

Beyond detailing the peoples and places of Clearwine, ‘RuneQuest Gamemaster Adventures’ book looks at the tribal lands occupied by the Colymar and the places of interest found within its borders. Longtime Gloranthaphiles will recognise Apple Lane and Rainbow Mounds from Apple Lane, as well as the Broken Tower from the RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha – QuickStart Rules and Adventure, but almost forty locations are detailed in a gazetteer of short paragraph entries. Several of the locations are expanded, including an encounter with DragonNewts and Apple Lane. The latter is actually updated from the Apple Lane to take account of events in recent years, so that anyone familiar with having played through the ‘Gringle’s Pawnshop’ adventure will now find it in ruins. Similarly, they will also recognise several of the NPCs still residing in the trading settlement, which much like the rest of Sartar has suffered under Lunar occupation.

Apple Lane is also the focus of the three scenarios in the ‘RuneQuest Gamemaster Adventures’ book. The first, ‘Defending Apple Lane’ echoes ‘Gringle’s Pawnshop’  from Apple Lane in having the player characters come to the hamlet’s defence, but this time not from bandits and baboons, but from fearsome Tusk Riders. This is most obviously a combat scenario, but it also serves to introduce the player characters and the locals to each other. At the end of the scenario, the player characters are asked to stay and so are in a position to play the subsequent two scenarios. If there is an issue with the scenario it is that hook to get the player characters involved is uninspiring.

Not so in the second scenario, ‘Cattle Raid’, which in comparison gives several detailed reasons for the player characters’ involvement. Again, the inhabitants of Apple Lane ask for their help. A pair of saber-toothed cats have been preying on the local clan’s sacred cattle. What initially seems a simple task quickly escalates into a confrontation with a rival tribe for possession of the cattle. This is a relatively simple scenario, but it nicely gives a chance for the player characters to show off their political skills as one means of resolving  the situation. The Game Master also has a decent cast of NPCs to portray.

The third and final adventure, ‘The Dragon of Thunder Hills’ is the longest and most complex. After encountering the aftermath of a dragon attack, Queen Leika tasks the player characters with helping to locate the dragon and perhaps the means to deal with it. This is a confrontation with one of Glorantha’s most mythical of beasts and will take far more than brute force to defeat it. The scenario also makes use of several of the other locations and encounters previously described in the book and presents the opportunity for the player characters to make some interesting allies or some interesting enemies…

These are all good scenarios, in turn showcasing both the dangers of Dragon Pass and how its society works, whether that is the custom involved in cattle rustling in ‘Cattle Raid’ or confrontation with a dragon in ‘The Dragon of Thunder Hills’. The three have a fairly simple set of requirements, essentially that one of the player characters be a worshipper of Orlanth or an associated cult and that one be a member of the Colymar tribe. The three can also be easily run following the events of ‘The Broken Tower’, whether using the pre-generated characters from the RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha – QuickStart Rules and Adventure—which are reprinted in full colour for inclusion in the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack—or ones the player have created.

In addition, the ‘RuneQuest Gamemaster Adventures’ book includes nine adventure seeds in an appendix and some one hundred rumours, ready for the Game Master to develop into full adventures. Of course, the Game Master is definitely left wanting more scenarios in and around Apple Lane despite their inclusion. In addition, the ‘RuneQuest Gamemaster Adventures’ book comes with a second appendix which details rune metals and magic crystals.

Physically, RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack is an impressive package. The screen itself is sturdy and easy to read, the maps and other reference material are all printed on glossy paper and very nicely produced, and the ‘RuneQuest Gamemaster Adventures’ book is a softback book literally brimming with colour. The NPC illustrations are particularly good, serving to highlight how the world of Glorantha is different to that of both our world and other fantasy roleplaying games. The cartography in the ‘RuneQuest Gamemaster Adventures’ book is also nicely done.

What physical issues there are with the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack are twofold and minor at best. One is that the ‘RuneQuest Gamemaster Adventures’ is not a hardback so does not feel as sturdy as recent books from the publisher. The other is with the physical packaging. It all comes in holder and is designed to slot into the RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha slipcase, along with the RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha core rulebook and RuneQuest: Glorantha Bestiary. Now both books fit fine, but with its separate contents, some care needs to be taken with the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack when putting it back into the slipcase. Of course, as good as the RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha slipcase is, there is the niggly feeling that could have been better protected if it had come in a box of its own.

At its time of publication, some of the issues with the new edition of RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha were that it was too humanocentric, that it lacked NPCs, foes, and monsters, and that it lacked a starting adventure. Rightly, the RuneQuest: Glorantha Bestiary addressed all but the latter issue and so is a nigh on indispensable supplement for the RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha Game Master. Of course, the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack addresses the latter by providing not just one, but three scenarios, enough with which to begin a mini-campaign and all set in and around a classic setting that will be familiar to long time Gloranthaphiles. Further, it provides solid support for the Game Master, again not just with the sturdy Game Master Screen, but also a sheaf of reference sheets, character sheets, maps, and a really nicely done calendar. Now where RuneQuest: Glorantha Bestiary is indispensable for any Game Master running a RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha campaign, the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack is not, but it is undeniably, very, very useful. Indeed, together, the RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha core rulebook, the RuneQuest: Glorantha Bestiary, and the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack form the core of the game and provide everything that the Game Master needs to get a game going.

As to the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack itself, it is a well designed, well put together, highly attractive package. As well as being the support that every RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha Game Master deserves, the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack also sets a benchmark by which every other Game Master Screen and support pack will be measured.

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