jueves, 13 de septiembre de 2018

Review of The Glorantha Sourcebook

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What is The Glorantha Sourcebook? It is a book by Chaosium that contains a fairly good amount of setting information on the fantasy world of Glorantha, penned by Greg Stafford and Jeff Richard, with some help from Michael O'Brien and Sandy Petersen. It contains no rules at all, just background, so it can be used for any role-playing game. Below you can read my review and my opinion about it.
>>>Puedes leer esta reseña en español aquí<<<


Origin


The Glorantha Sourcebook was created as part of the 13th Age Glorantha crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter in 2014. More precisely, it was kickstarted then and there, but it only reached the hands of the patrons four years later, in spring 2018, first in PDF form, and some months later in physical format.


Looks


The Glorantha Sourcebook has 226 pages and the same layout style than other Gloranthan books by Chaosium like RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, 13th Age Glorantha or The Coming Storm. That is: text in two columns, a background that resembles parchment with faded runes, the left and right edges decorated with a turquoise line and all in glorious color.

The interior art is colorful and of really high quality. Half of it has already been used in the aforementioned publications, The Guide to Glorantha and the Six Ages videogame. There are also many gorgeous pieces taken from the board game The Gods War by Sandy Petersen. Fortunately, there are also many new pieces and of these, my favorites are the depictions of the Gloranthan pantheons by Kalin Kadiev, as well as a couple of beautiful pieces by Jakob Rebelka. The art is awesome.

Part of a full-page piece of awesome art by Jakob Rebelka that graces The Glorantha Sourcebook.

The cover art is by John Hodgson, who has also done the covers of Sartar: Kingdom of Heroes, The Coming Storm, The Guide and some others. Like he did on those books, the cover art on The Glorantha Sourcebook shows an epic scene in a somewhat schematic way. A group of flying Orlanthi heroes on the right half of the cover is battling a group of Lunar heroes on the left side, all of them on the back of the monstrous Crimson Bat. The face of the goddess of the Red Moon, right at the centre, witnesses the strife with a worried look. Well, that's only my interpretation, but I guess the big red Moon rune right behind her is a clear indication of who she is. Other details like who exactly are the heroes are more obscure and this might be intentional: they could be great heroes from the setting or they could be your player characters! Hey, there's even a duck!

Why did they choose this scene is on the cover of this book? Well, I think it serves more than one purpose. A combat scene on the back of the Crimson Bat may be a representation of one of the scenarios included in the book 13th Age Glorantha. On the other hand, the background information included in the book focuses on the conflict of the Hero Wars, in which great Lunar and Orlanthi heroes clash, so it is a good fit. All in all, the cover is both nice and intriguing.


Contents


Already on the Kickstarter page of the project they promised the following list of contents:

  • Introduction to Glorantha and the runes
  • Cosmology, History, and a summary of the Gods of Glorantha
  • Overview of the major regions of the world with a focus on Dragon Pass and surrounding lands
  • Who's who in the Hero Wars - the dramatic conflict at the end of the 3rd Age of Glorantha!

However, they never said how awesome the whole package would end up looking. Perhaps it's not perfect, because "the major regions of the world" is a part of the book which is dealt with in only 3 pages. Of course, you can get a really in-depth look at the world of Glorantha by purchasing the encyclopedic The Guide to Glorantha, but I thought they would at least open up a bit the scope out of central Genertela, meaning Dragon Pass and the Lunar Empire. The "focus on Dragon Pass and surrounding areas" is really intense. Knowing how much detail and focus to include in a book meant both for newcomers and old-hands alike is really tricky. If it had just been a summarized version of The Guide, many fans might have complained how they already have this information. So the list of contents might not make everyone happy, but it's a good compromise.


Even better, The Glorantha Sourcebook complements The Guide to Glorantha with all the information about the gods and goddesses that are such a central element of the setting. While the Guide includes all the pantheons, they are described in very few words. In fact, the authors mention the difference between The Guide and this book in the introduction: while The Guide is more a gazetteer or encyclopedia of the world, The Glorantha Sourcebook takes a more mythological look, with lands defined by their goddess and history being the deeds of heroes and demigods.

For example, in the short section about geography of the world, the main regions of the northern continent (Genertela) are described, but instead of mentioning their usual names, like Ralios, Fronela, Seshnela, etc., these are called by the name of their land goddess: Ralia, Frona, Seshna and so on, which are the daughters of Ernalda. Interestingly, the physical body of the Earth goddess is defined as all the lands not covered by her daughters. The section includes also boxes with short descriptions of the main features of Dragon Pass and the Lunar Empire. And the stunning map of Dragon Pass and Prax by Daria Makarava is shown in all its glory in two full pages. A stand-alone 22" by 34" version of this map was a stretch-goal of the Kickstarter campaign of 13th Age Glorantha. An extremely brief description of the southern continent of Pamaltela finishes off this section.

Then you get a long chapter about the history of Dragon Pass, as written by Amstalli of Nochet. I like it that the historical account is subjective. This means the narrator might be unreliable in some points, so you, as the GM, have even more reason to change whatever does not fit the campaign you have in mind. The history of this region in the middle of Genertela is described up to 1627, the start of the Hero Wars and the rise of Argrath, making it more complete than what you get in The Guide. Besides, the way the history is explained is very organic, and takes into account what was going on in the neighboring regions in order to better explain their influence. So actually, this section not only tells you about the history of Dragon Pass, but also about Old Tarsh, Esrolia, Kethaela, Prax and southern Peloria. For example, before the resettlement of Dragon Pass, the author fills you in about the Holy Country and Belintar, so later, when you learn about the Colymar, you already know why this tribe had to flee from the God-King and settle further up in the north. Likewise, before you learn about how Sartar married the Feathered Horse Queen and became king of Dragon Pass, the author has already filled you in about the Grazelanders and the dynasty of their queens.

Thanks to this royal family tree I learned that two grandchildren of the Red Emperor married each other. Eugh!

Although some of this information had already been included in the big supplement Sartar: Kingdom of Heroes for HeroQuest and in the book/novel King of Sartar by Greg Stafford, this seems more complete and accessible. Moreover, it includes lots of information about the neighboring countries so it perfectly complements the setting information included in RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. For example, in RQG you get a bit of setting information about the politics, religion, geography and a gazetteer of Esrolia, useful to create an Esrolian adventurer. But if you want to know more, in The Glorantha Sourcebook you can learn about the dynasty of Esrolian queens. And the same goes for any adventurers from Tarsh and the Grazelands. The dynasties of kings and queens may look boring, but they can be useful to build epic detail into your campaigns. For example, perhaps your adventurer's grandfather was involved in some of the affairs or intrigues of the Grazer's royalty?

Another detail I loved is the description of Argrath's Companions, together with portraits of some of them. This section is even more complete than what's included in King of Sartar.

Then you get to the section about the Elder Races. Here the different types of Aldryami are described, together with their history, and the same with the dragonewts. Strangely, the history of the Mostali is much longer and detailed. Only the part about the history of the trolls is more detailed, and I think this is because trolls are one of the inhuman races eligible as player characters in the 13th Age Glorantha book (the other one are the durulz). However, the lesser Elder Races, like the Wind Children or the beastmen are only briefly mentioned.

The Dragonewts are one of my favorite non-human races in Glorantha, second to the Aldryami. And yes, I like ducks too!

Up to this point, The Glorantha Sourcebook had not impressed me much. But with the following chapter, this was about to change: "Theogony" is one of the best summaries of the main Gloranthan gods and goddesses that have ever been published. Much more than a list of the main deities, it is structured as the mythical history of Glorantha. So it starts with the time before creation, then creation, draconic creation, the Celestial Court, the Great Elementals and their children, and this is when you get the description of the five elemental pantheons.

These are presented in order of appearance in the world: Darkness, Water, Earth, Fire/Sky and Air. Each includes a full-page illustration by Kalin Kadiev that depicts the genealogy of its main deities. I love that each of the gods are depicted in this genealogies, because it helps you visualize them and allows you to better understand the relationships and the parentages between them. I can see this being used to better show players who their god is in relation to the rest of their divine family. The drawback is that these representations do not leave much space for the genealogies to be as complete as possible, so they have been simplified. But they're great anyway. They are definitely my favorite part of the book. I also like very much that they have been influenced by the aesthetics of the Vedic mythology, because it gives them an interesting and exotic consistency. I just miss another genealogy of the gods of Chaos, only for the sake of seeing some of them represented with the same pictorial style.

Another great part of this chapter is the God Learner maps, one for each pantheon. Logically, the Darkness one includes a map of the Underworld, the Water pantheon includes a schematic view of the oceans, the Earth is paired with a map of Glorantha during the Green Age, the period of dominance of the Earth powers, and the same is done for the Fire/Sky and Air pantheons, until you get to the gods of Chaos, were you can see a map of the Greater Darkness.

The summarized visual genealogy of the Water Deities, one of the awesome pieces by Kalin Kadiev.

There's a two-page text box before any of the pantheons are described, called "The Xeotam Dialogues", where you can read about an ancient master sorcerer teaching lessons to his young apprentice. This is great because the materialistic, practical approach of the Malkioni makes it easier for our logic minds to wrap our heads around some theistic concepts. This contains some intriguing details even for Gloranthan experts, like what gods were Tolat/Shargash's parents, what happens if you descend to the Underworld and manage to return alive to the surface or what the word "hsunchen" means. By the way, the original version was published years before on the now abandoned glorantha.com.

The part about the gods leads logically to the Great Compromise and the beginning of Time, and that's the name of the following chapter, where you can learn about the Gloranthan calendar. This short chapter also includes a very brief summary of the three Ages of Glorantha since the Dawn, each accompanied by a political map of Genertela where you can see the evolution of this continent through time. The First Age gets much more page space than the other two, since the Sunstop and the Gbaji Wars are explained.

A map of the northern continent during the First Age.

In the section about the Fire/Sky pantheon one may wonder why that white small goddess on the genealogy is not described further on in the section. That's because she is Verithurusa, the goddess of the first moon, who died during the God Time. She was resurrected during Time as the Red Goddess or the Red Moon, and the Lunar pantheon of immortals is described in its own separate chapter: Gods of the Lunar Way. As you can see, the structure of the book flows in a logical way, since this pantheon is not next to the other five, but after the one about Time! Here the seven ancient moon goddesses are described, which inspired me to create weird theories, because this material feels mysterious, especially the section about Illumination. And then the "new gods" of the Lunar Way are described, such as the terrible Yara Aranis, goddess of the Glowline.

Fittingly placed after the Lunar pantheon, the history of the Lunar Empire is another gem of The Glorantha Sourcebook. This was all published in installments in the old Wyrm's Footnotes magazine, but it has been put together and updated for the first time here. The chronology of events reaches the year 1626 and is accompanied by political maps of the Lunar Empire were you can clearly see how it waxes and wanes in prosperity and power, from the time when it almost disappeared to the zenith of its political power. It is as rich in detail as the history of Dragon Pass and therefore full of ideas for roleplaying campaigns. Some of the details included here surprised me a lot. For example, I liked the text box about the Lunar New Year Ceremony, as I noticed something really strange is going on there! I love it that often the text fills your head with questions that are left unanswered. Or the Nights of Horror reaching a level of destruction comparable to the Dragonkill War. Wow. Also, the part about the Imperial Nobility makes it easier to play a campaign with as much intrigue as in Game of Thrones.

The History of the Lunar Empire is illustrated with useful maps.

Finally the book finishes off with three shorter chapters: Gloranthan Magic explains all the runes, the different kinds of magic and the worldviews they represent: rune masters, shamans, sorcerers, all of them are described. As with other parts of the book, some pages are copied straight away from The Guide to Glorantha, but others are new, like the box "Hepherones' Statement about Magic".

Another of the pillars of Glorantha is discussed in the following chapter: Gods and Mortals. Most of this section contains short descriptions of the main heroes and heroines of the Hero Wars, such as Harrek the Berserk, Gunda the Guilty, Argrath Whitebull, Cragspider, Ethilrist, etc.

The final chapter is a description of Sartar Magical Union. The units of Argrath's army that specialize in the use of magic were first described in Greg Stafford's King of Sartar, but it's handy to have them here for easy reference. Also, you can find here interesting details about the wyters (minor protective gods) of these units, which can travel great distances and wreck magical havoc on far away enemy units! For example, Sir Narib's Company has a wyter that looks like a demon with a flaming sword riding a blue lion!

Another great illustration connects the History of the Lunar Empire with the chapter about Gloranthan magic.


Opinion


At first I thought The Glorantha Sourcebook would just be a good gift for someone who wants an introduction to Glorantha. Although it is quite focused on Dragon Pass and the Lunar Empire, it still is the best book you can buy after The Guide to Glorantha in this regard, and a much better entry point for new fans than the thick two-volume publication. The awesome art alone might be enough of a reason for that.

As I mentioned earlier, it would have been the perfect introduction to Glorantha if it had included a bit more about the varied regions of Glorantha, which is much larger than Dragon Pass and the Lunar Empire.

However, the focus on these areas makes it perfect for someone interested in running their first games in this fantasy world with 13th Age Glorantha or RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha, as it fits very well with the setting information included in those two rulebooks. This is the main target audience of the book in my opinion. It can also be good for HeroQuest gamemasters, but they will need to be careful if they hand it to their players, as the official timeline in HeroQuest Glorantha reaches only the first events of the Hero Wars, while The Glorantha Sourcebook includes events further on. On the other hand, I wonder if the strong focus on these two areas might be a little intimidating for newbies, especially when they see all those lists of kings and queens. If, however, you are the kind of person who loves diving into rich setting information, this won't be a problem at all.


Quite surprisingly, Chaosium has also managed to produce an introductory book that is also interesting for veteran fans of Glorantha. Even if you already have the publications where most of the text of The Glorantha Sourcebook was taken from (King of Sartar, The Guide to Glorantha, and Wyrm's Footnotes), it's handy to have this all in the same book, particularly the history of the Lunar Empire. And the fact the information has been revised and updated is sure to surprise you even if you think you know it all (for example, you may not know what was Sartar's surname, or who was appointed as Governor of Prax after Sor-Eel; scroll down to the bottom of the page to see the details that surprised me the most!).

As for the structure of the book, I would have placed some chapters in a different order. For example, the chapter about magic and the one about heroes and gods would have made more sense placed before the history of Dragon Pass. And the one about Argrath's magical units would have been better placed right after that. Placing it at the end of the book looks like it was a hasty last-minute addition. Having said that, I love the way the information is presented from the Theogony up to the history of the Lunar Empire. It flows naturally from one chapter to the next.

The best part of the book though, is its potential as a source of ideas for games. Glorantha is a setting rich in detail, and the more you read, the more questions about it spring to mind. This happened to me while reading this book and I think it's great. Because you can build a campaign around these questions and answer them together with your friends, by playing.

So, to sum up:

You should buy this book if...

  • You have 13th Age Glorantha or RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and want some more information about the setting to complement it, for an affordable price.
  • You have The Guide to Glorantha and want the information about the deities.
  • You want to give your players a hefty primer about Glorantha with an appealing look.
  • You want more information about Dragon Pass and the Lunar Empire.

You probably should stay away from this book if...

  • You are interested in other regions of Glorantha other than Dragon Pass and its environs and the Lunar Empire.
  • You have no interest whatsoever in the mythical world of Glorantha.


The Glorantha Sourcebook can be purchased at the Chaosium website and DrivethruRPG. The PDF is 18€ or 20$. The physical book is sold for 40$.

The review ends here. I hope you enjoyed it and found it informative. If you want to, you may like to leave a comment below. What follows are some rhetorical questions, musings and details that surprised me while reading The Glorantha Sourcebook.

The depiction of the Lunar goddess Teelo Norri looks suspiciously similar to the depiction of the goddess Verithurusa.


WTF moments:

About Seshna, the land goddess of Seshnela, we are told that the hero Hrestol slew her daughter (!). Really, Hrestol? I thought you were a good guy! Why did you do that?

"Nochet is diverse and is a microcosm of Glorantha. If the Heortlings of Nochet were a single
tribe, they would outnumber any of the tribes of Sartar" (!!!)

Argrath's Trickster (called "little shit" in King of Sartar) is a pretty Praxian woman and has the word "dangerously mischievous" written all over her face! (kudos to the artist, BTW).

Mostal helped create Umath with the unsolicited "help" from Ratslaff of the Celestial Court (!). Or so say the Mostali legends...

The Crimson Bat was already doing mischief in the First Age and Arkat defeated it!

Hon-Eel, Lunar superheroine, heroquested to the Green Age (which should be very difficult, as humans had not been created yet!), not only that, she defeated the goddess Ernalda in a beauty contest (!). Not bad at all...

Hon-Eel died in The Nights of Horror, where a confluence of Orathorn sorcerers and desperate Chaos magic unleashed alien worlds (!).

This excerpt from the Lunar New Year Ceremony: "Sometimes, the Emperor has arranged
special ceremonies, wherein the most powerful of each cult participate as foes in each others’ ceremonies. Such affairs are spectacular and devastating, and some say they smack of God-Learning." In fact, the whole resurrection heroquest of the Moon goddess reeks of god-learnerism...

The part about Rashorana (page 148) is very intriguing: "As Osentalka, he was made incomplete" and "As Atarks, he was castrated". I know about Osentalka, later known as Gbaji, but who was Atarks? A quick look at the Glorantha wiki reveals it was a Pelandan feminine monster (?).

If Natha and Rashorana are parts of the Red Goddess, was the heroquest of the Seven Mothers a way not only to resurrect Verithurusa but also to prove that the seven ancient moon goddesses are facets of only one goddess?

An adventure seed that sprung to mind, connected to other ideas I must have read somewhere else: One of Argrath's Companions tasks the player characters with the investigation of the rumors behind a secret circle of Lunar sorcerers commanded by (Red Emperor himself / Great Sister / Tatius), called the Chronomancers who, researching the forbidden magic of the God Learners, have found the way to travel back in time through the God Time. Their plan is to kill Argrath in the cradle. If the PCs manage to stop them, the canonical history continues as it is. If they don't, they have two options: go back in time and try again or become the Argrath and do all the quests only they know he did!

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