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Sunday 18 February 2024

A Gloranthan Gear Guide

Equipment books in roleplaying serve numerous functions. At their most basic, they are a book of goods and gear that a player can have his character purchase to help that character survive the next scenario, whether it is a sword, shield, and some armour that the character will wear from one adventure to the next, or thick furs or padded clothing that will help him weather the freezing temperatures over the high mountains and into the snow and ice beyond. Then they are the virtual equivalent of a Sears & Roebuck catalogue at the table, that the players can pick and choose from as their characters go shopping within the game and there is even semi-tradition of the Player Characters actually going shopping within the game and buying all of the things—whether the genre is fantasy Wild West, Science Fiction, or Cyberpunk—that their players never could. Literally roleplaying a fantasy of going shopping for fantasy things! Of course, just as the items within an equipment guide can be used to equip a Player Character, they can also be used to equip an NPC. If such an equipment guide includes a good mix of arms and armour, then all the Game Master has to do is pick out some different weapons and some different armour, and she has the beginnings of an interesting NPC, at least in terms of what wields and what he looks like. In addition, if the Player Characters have amassed some loot—jewels, gems, object d’art, and that sort of thing—then they will want to sell it and an equipment guide will often discuss the means to do so. In addition to arms and armour, an equipment guide will often detail a range of services and experts that the Player Characters can purchase or hire, as well as bigger things that they might want to invest in, such as land and buildings. This though, is not all that an equipment guide can be used for. A good equipment guide can do all that and more. A really good equipment guide can do all this and be used to help bring a world to life and it can be used as a spur for stories.

RuneQuest: Weapons & Equipment is a supplement for Chaosium, Inc.’s RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. As an expansion for the core rules, RuneQuest: Weapons & Equipment does everything that a good equipment guide does. It details and describes a wide range of items, goods, services, training, magical items, and beasts, plus new arms and armour, new rules for land ownership and use, and much more. And it is fair to say that the least interesting aspect of the supplement is actually the arms and armour. This is not to say that the included weapons and armour, which together draw from a range of cultures and races from across Glorantha, are not useful, because they very much are, but they are not actually interesting in comparison with the rest of the book.

RuneQuest: Weapons & Equipment begins in broad detail with the market and what goods might be available depending upon the size and location of the market, explains Gloranthan currency, and looks at the economy, prices, handling and creating masterwork items, and more. The interesting aspect here is the effect that the size of the local economy can have on what a Player Character can buy and sell and what effect selling loot can have on the local economy. In smaller, more local economies, favours and bartering are more likely as means of exchange—even when it comes to settling debts—rather than money, and if the Player Characters sell too much loot, it can not only depress the economy, it can also attract the attention of the local authorities and temples, who will want them to contribute to the community!

One of aspects of Glorantha is the prominence and importance of different metals and their use. Most obviously bronze, since Glorantha is most often described as a bronze-age world, but other metals, ranging from aluminium and copper to silver and tin are also examined. This includes its properties when enchanted, such as weapons and armour made from enchanted copper being particularly hardy and enchanted quicksilver having the property of not being able to sink in water, Gloranthan cults and the enchanted metal spells they grant, and how enchanted metal is crafted. Here is where RuneQuest: Weapons & Equipment begins rise above being just a simple shopping catalogue, because this is a useful section for metal workers—redsmiths for bronze, goldsmiths for gold, and so on. This is because it is possible to play such craftsmen in RuneQuest: Weapons & Equipment and this directly supports them, as does the rules for creating masterwork items, which might be to increase an item’s Hit Points, armour points, or increase the amount of damage it can do. These are not fully detailed rules for creating masterwork or enchanted items, but they are more than sufficient. Plus, they enable a master craftsman Player Character, who needs a skill of at least 90%, to use his skill to greater effect, whilst at the same time working towards creating objects with enchanted metal. They are also accompanied by ‘The Metals of Acos’, a First Age document which provides some engaging in-game thoughts upon the various metals. Similar sections cover pottery and weaving, though not in as much depth, and there is an accompanying list of prices of crockery for the former and a list of clothing types and their prices under the common goods section.

‘Common Goods’ lists thumbnail descriptions and prices of a wide variety of everyday items. Clothing, jewellery, cosmetics, tools, musical instruments, toys and games, food and drink (including honey, wax, and royal jelly from bees), herbs and plants, exotic materials, and trinkets. There is some pleasing little details here, such as slimming girdles, made from either zebra or whale bones, being worn by Lunar nobility as means to appear thinner, but usually causing the wearer to pass out due to their tightness, or that popular board games are God’s Eyes and Fingers, Ouranekki, and Swords and Shields. Sadly, there are no rules any of the board games only relatively sparse descriptions, but whilst the mundane nature of many of these items and certainly their prices may not mean much to the average adventurer, they might to an NPC. Also, these items can be used to add verisimilitude to huts and houses and other dwellings as they are the everyday items which might be found at home. And just like the ingots of metals used by the various smiths, they will be found for sale at markets, in shops, and from the backs of the pack animals of travelling Issaries merchants. Further details, such as the fact that the popularity of rubies in the Lunar Empire means that Etyries merchants are willing to pay more for them and that reed baskets and bags, inexpensive when bought in Prax or New Pavis, are seen as foreign and fashionable items elsewhere, are more interesting than how much they cost. By comparison, though necessary, the section on adventuring gear feels almost mundane!

The chapter on beasts covers meat beasts, pack animals, riding beasts, and war beasts. Exotic beasts are listed for the different Elder Races, and stats for two new riding bests are given, expanding upon those in the RuneQuest: Glorantha Bestiary. These are the Moose and the Reindeer. Alongside the list of riding gear, including various saddles, harnesses, saddlebags, and stirrups, there are details of various mobile dwellings and a table of mount speeds. Also given here are details of awakened animals. The most obvious of which is the alynx or shadowcat, and in roleplaying terms, thus associated with the worshippers of Odayla and Yinkin. However, any Player Character can have an awakened animal, not just a worshipper of Odayla or Yinkin, but a shadowcat is not always the most appropriate. RuneQuest: Weapons & Equipment looks at several options, including birds, lizards, and snakes as well as other mammals. It notes that parrots are popular in Nochet and Glamour, crows and ravens with worshippers of Ty Kora Tek, Durulz children have frogs and toads, and geckos are commonly found in both Lunar and Sartarite Tarsh. Possession of an awakened creature at least adds colour to a character, but the roleplaying possibilities it opens up are endless.

Some skills and knowledges lie outside that of the Player Characters and this is where hirelings and services are useful. There are rules here for the availability of either, the expected skill ratings and rates pay, plus specific sections on mercenaries, personal services, heralds and poets, sages and scribes, and magic services. Notable here are terms of employment and contracts for mercenaries, plus a typical oath sworn by mercenaries and a guide to how loot is divided among them, including the Orlanthi and Yelm methods, plus an adventurer’s pact. These work for both NPCs and Player Characters, whether they are entering employment or hiring. There are details too of how slavery works in Glorantha, primarily as punishment for crimes and debts, or being captured as prisoners of war, and which species do own slaves. This does not include the Orlanthi who abhor the practice. That said, the authors do address the subject of slavery from a modern point of view and how it relates to the game, ultimately advising that the Game Master discuss the issue with her players beforehand. Besides this, there is a list of magical services, including the decidedly ungodly practice of sorcerous divination and casting magic for enchanted items—the latter to accompany the earlier rules on enchanted items, and also prices for renting rooms in the short term at inns and residences in the long term. The section on funerary rites covers various practices and their prices, including ceremonies and funeral pyres humble and grand, but again adding depth and detail to the world, though greater specifics will lie with the various cults.

The chapters on arms and armour expands upon those listed in RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, adding a variety of new weapons like the Orlanthi Broad-axe, Moon Blade polearm, trident, war boomerangs, chakrams, and more. All are described and listed in the expanded weapons tables, as is the rhino hide armour in the armour tables and the armours for beasts and non-humans including Elves, Ducks, Trolls, and Trollkin. All of the arms and armour are illustrated, the armour in full colour, with some nicely depictions of various types of helms to differentiate between the types. One surprising omission is that of Dragonewt weapons, especially since the weapons of other species are included. (They can though, be found in the RuneQuest: Glorantha Bestiary.) The major addition are the rules for entangling and net weapons, which bring throwing hooks, lassos, nets, and whips into play.

The rules for travel focus on group travel, including caravan, river, and ocean travel. Typical travel times are listed, and there are even rules for length of journey depending on circumstances and skill, as well as details of vehicles and vessels, such as chariots and reed boats. It would have been handy here for them to be illustrated and even be given deck plans where necessary, but there are none. As a campaign progresses, there is scope for the Player Characters to own their own dwellings and land, possession of which can lead to further adventures. The example here being is land grants being handed out by Prince Argrath in the Big Rubble, enforcing that being a big challenge. Land is treated as a potential reward and then responsibility, something that the Player Characters might earn and then have to protect and nurture. There is list of improvements which can be made, profits or losses to be made during sacred time, and possible random land-related events. The aim is not to provide a detailed set of rules for resource management, but more as a means to support the narrative and roleplaying. There is scope though, for a supplement, whether in whole or part, dedicated to this subject.

The penultimate chapter in RuneQuest: Weapons & Equipment revisits training from RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, adding rules for learning new Runes, which typically has to be done via a cult associated with the cult a Player Character is an initiate of. However, since a maximum of only 5% can be gained at the end of training, it takes at least two seasons to increase a Rune to the minimum of 10% necessary for it to be used in play. Lastly, the section on exotic items expands on the rules for magic crystals given in the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack with a list of strange enchanted items and extraordinary gems. The former include an Empty Purse, which transfers only local currency to a nearby strong box and Walktapus Gloves, made from the skin of the feared Chaos creature, but valued by redsmiths for their ability to withstand extreme heat, whilst the later includes a Lhankor Mhy’s Mark, used to copy and transfer text via rubbings and a Vengeance Black, which if an oath is sworn it, provides a temporary bonus to skills dedicated to fulfilling the oath.

Physically, RuneQuest: Weapons & Equipment is very well presented. It is clean, tidy, and easy to read. The cover is excellent, depicting the pre-generated signature characters from the pages of RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha – Quickstart and Adventure at rest, camping between adventures.

There is a degree of repetition in the pages of RuneQuest: Weapons & Equipment and other books for RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, but in most cases, the repetition means that the new information is brought together with the old so that it is all together. Then there is the fact that a quarter of book, that devoted to arms and armour, is actually utilitarian rather than interesting. The majority of the book, fortunately, is both interesting and useful, presenting content that will be of great use to Issaries merchants with the market and price guides; Chalana Arroy initiates for the herbs and plants details; and craftsmen of all types for details particular to their crafts. Player Character of all types will find the supplement of use, whether they want to make a purchase or sell some loot, or undertake some training or hire some experts. However, RuneQuest: Weapons & Equipmentcomes into its own for the Game Master, because of the richness of the tiny details that even the most mundane of items brings to Glorantha and the verisimilitude that creates, helping to bring the world to life for her players. In this way, RuneQuest: Weapons & Equipment does exactly what a good equipment guide should.

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