domingo, 24 de febrero de 2019

Review of RuneQuest Glorantha Bestiary

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We do not know what the dragon means, just as we do not know the meaning of the universe, but there is something in the image of the dragon that is congenial to man's imagination, and thus the dragon arises in many latitudes and ages.

This excerpt from The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jose Luis Borges heads the book I'm reviewing below and reminds the reader of humankind's universal fascination for fantasy creatures. If you also like monsters, it is very likely you will enjoy reading RuneQuest: Glorantha Bestiary, a supplement by Chaosium for the game RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha. This bestiary describes around 200 creatures, including spirits, animals and plants, with all the game stats you need. Since the basic ruleset does not include any creature beyond humans, this is an essential supplement to be able to enjoy all the flora and fauna of the world of Glorantha in your games of RuneQuest.

>>>Puedes leer esta reseña en español aquí<<<

This bestiary has a long list of authors. A numerous group of people who have contributed in different roles to develop Glorantha during many years. Aside from Greg Stafford, the original creator of that world, other great Chaosium names are included, such as Sandy Petersen and Steve Perrin, but also the creators of the current edition of RuneQuest: Jeff Richard, Jason Durall and Michael O'Brien. And then some more. ¿Why so many people?

Since RuneQuest is a game whose first edition dates back to 1978, this is obviously not the first Gloranthan bestiary ever published. So the list includes all who have contributed creatures and fantasy beings to Glorantha and RuneQuest since then in official publications. Among the contributors to the RuneQuest: Glorantha Bestiary shines Jamie Revell, who, together with Greg Stafford, created Anaxial's Roster, the Gloranthan bestiary for the Hero Wars RPG, forerunner of HeroQuest Glorantha. Moreover, the acknowledgements include Ray Harryhausen, the great creator of monsters for such epic films as The Golden Voyage of Sinbad.


Look


The RuneQuest: Glorantha Bestiary a 210 pages long hardcover full color book. In fact, it has the same layout style as the RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha rulebook, meaning double column text, papyrus-like background with runes, and side margins decorated with metallic motives. This coherence and the fact that all pages are full color make for a high quality book. However, and like in the rulebook, what strikes the reader the most is the gorgeous art.

The cover art is by Andrey Fetisov, a great artist with a comic book style who has already done many other pieces for Chaosium, like the amazing cover of RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha and the Gamemaster's Screen Pack. In this case, the cover is as striking as the one he did for the rulebook and follows a similar composition, since this one also shows a lot of creatures with a menacing pose who are looking straight at the reader, only in this case it is a selection of the inhuman beings and monsters the book describes. In the background a step pyramid and a red sky give the piece an epic feel. In the center of the image a menacing troll warrior stands out fully buffed with rune magic. It reminds me of the character a friend of mine played many years ago in our RQ games. I love the tattooed morocanth to the right, the smirking broo to the left, and they dared to put a durulz warrior on the cover as well. On the negative side, it could be said that the scene looks a bit artificial, since all those creatures are sworn enemies for natural, cultural and religious reasons, so they would never pose together like that anywhere in Glorantha. In spite of that, the whole piece just rocks, that's undeniable.

One of the best pieces of interior art: the four most common evolutive stages of the dragonewts.

The interior art is as awesome as the cover. It is, truly, a dream come true for all RuneQuest fans. This excellent art finally does justice to the fantasy world of Glorantha, which in the past very often suffered from mediocre to terrible levels of art. All the interior art is by Cory Trego-Erdner, an artist who has worked for Wizards of the Coast, Monte Cook Games and other big names in the RPG and video games industry.

I was a great idea to count on such an excellent artist for the Glorantha bestiary, because the art he's done for the elves, the dragons, the giant, the broos... is gorgeous. I like all of them and you can tell they took art direction very seriously. Approximately a fifth of the art are big color pieces, while the rest are done in tones of grey. The fact they commissioned all art to the same artist gives the book a sensational aesthetic uniformity. Unfortunately, this had the disadvantage of delaying the production of the necessary art pieces for the book, so not every creature is illustrated. On the plus side, there is a fair number of them and they are cleverly distributed along the pages. For example, all Elder Races, which tend to cover the most common choices for inhuman player characters in RuneQuest, have one or two pieces of art each, which is basic for the players to visualize how their character looks. Moreover, the most emblematic monsters in any Gloranthan game, such as broos, are also depicted. What's more: since they could not provide art for every single creature, I guess due to the costs involved, at least they depicted the ones they need art the most to better describe them. In this way, the section about common animals includes very little art, because anyone knows how a dog, bear or horse looks, whereas you get drawings of Gloranthan creatures that had so far never been drawn, which is great, both for old hands and newcomers.

I love that they have shown the look of a huan to and the depiction of the jack o'bear matches my vision.


Content


The introduction already warns the reader that this bestiary only covers creatures from Genertela, one of the main continents in Glorantha. Therefore, you won't find any information here about the jelmre nor about the rhino men from Pamaltela, for example, nor of the frightening Mother of Monsters, who roams that other southern continent. Another big chunk of missing creatures are the sea monsters, except for those who live closest to the coast. Nothing is revealed of the magical creatures inhabiting the lands beyond the known world either. That's a shame, because I would rather have just one big volume covering every single creature. However, it must be said that that would have entailed filling the book with three times as many pages at the very least and then it would have taken so much longer for the bestiary to be released. Since the RuneQuest rulebook does not include a bestiary, Chaosium just couldn't afford to have the fans wait that long. But let's rather quit the whining and focus on all the creatures it does include. This is the list of contents:


As in many other bestiaries, creatures are described in alphabetical order, but are divided into seven categories: Elder Races, Chaos monsters, giant insects, animals, spirits, terrors and the 8th category including plants. In principle, these divisions make it easier to find the creature you are looking for, as they are grouped in terms of similarity. It is a useful categorization because there are game aspects affecting certain groups of beings, so this way all the information is close by and you don't need to refer to pages further down the book. For example, the section about spirits includes the rules of spiritual damage. In the same vein, it is useful to have the Chaos traits table next to the section on Chaos monsters or all dinosaurs in the same section. On the other hand, this has two disadvantages. First, you need to check the contents page to know exactly where is the section of the monster you want to look up. At least until you get used to it. And second, it can sometimes be hard to remember exactly under which category a certain monster is listed. For example: Are ghouls under the Monster section or under Chaos? Are triceratopses considered animals or monsters? On the contrary, if all of them followed a strict alphabetical order and you wanted to look up the mammoth, you would start looking for letter "m" opening the book by the middle. Anyway, taxonomy is a complex matter and despite that, the order they have chosen also makes sense. Besides, the alphabetical listing of entries at the end of the book is there to check up in case you need to quickly find a creature.

These categories are described in the introduction, where some other useful details are presented. For example, you get some advice on encounters with monsters because, unlike some other games, in RuneQuest these are never exactly balanced with the power level of the player characters. The text also deals with sentient creatures and how to play them in games. As it points out, an encounter with inhuman beings, either if they act on instinct or if they are intelligent, but especially in the latter case, should not end in death if either side wants to avoid it. You can flee from it, negotiate with it, dodge it, etc. Then you also get some information about the main regions in Genertela and some general game information, such as the Size and hitpoint tables from the rulebook (because they come in handy when generating monsters) and some rules to determine the location hitpoints of the different possible anatomies of fantasy monsters.

The first section of the book is titled Elder Races, the creatures created behore humans, who also happen to be the most suitable as player characters after humans. Above all, the book recommends elves, dark trolls, morocanths and ducks. I would also add open-handed dwarves and agimori. And if you fancy anything even more exotic than a sentient tapir, perhaps a baboon or a centaur. Although with RuneQuest you can play a character of any race, even with a quadruped, the book does not recommend choosing characters with an intelligence level inferior to humans, as is the case with trollkins or minotaurs, for example. Despite this, here you will find character creation rules for all of these races. Strangely though, no data is included to create wolfbrothers as player characters (aka Telmori), but it is very easy to create one if you want, since they are almost human. On the other hand, while human adventurers have family history tables available in the rulebook, which help flesh out their background, the Elder Races have no such thing. They are not strictly necessary, but they are great for characters to be connected to their homeland's history. While the authors promise to include those in future publications, any gamemaster will create their own if need be.

The art for the elves is great: you can clearly identify from which kind of tree each of them was born from.

Apart from the already mentioned, this section also includes game stats for the following Elder Races: dryads, the five kinds of elves, runners, pixies, other beast men such as satyrs, manticores and elurae (fox women), the five sorts of dragonewts, giants, gorillas, grotarons, the 9 castes of dwarves, Mostali creations like devourers, jolanti and nilmergs, newtlings, ludoch, tusk riders, the 5 different kinds of trolls and wind children.

Their myths and history, cults, languages, homelands and relationships with other races are described. Their individual special magic is also included: several sorcery pells for the dwarves, the rune magic of the goddess Aldrya for the elves and other beings of the forests, that of the deities Kyger Litor and Zorak Zoran in the case of the trolls, the cult of the Bloody Tusk for the Tusk Riders and the god Telmor in the case of the Telmori. The ludoch, however, are left without the rune magic of their underwater gods such as Magasta or Triolina, I suppose due to lack of space and because, as marine beings, they are less likely to interact with adventurers. Anyway, in the book Gods and Goddesses of Glorantha you will find all these rune cults described in greater detail and many more. Even so, it is cool that at least some of this information is included here so you can start playing with most of these races without any other books (besides the basic rulebook, that is).

I love that troll's armor.

In spite of that, if you have ever read the old supplement Elder Secrets of Glorantha for RQ3, you will know it contained much more background information about the Elder Races. In fact, a great deal of the monster descriptions of that old book have been reused for the Glorantha Bestiary. However, it is interesting to see the new details though. For example, in the old RQ3 book there wasn't any dragon magic for ruler dragonewts, but the Glorantha Bestiary does include it. In total, you get 7 new draconic powers. Besides, at least a new Trollpak is in the works.

Other interesting details: this section includes gorillas, which are intelligent in Glorantha, although less than a human, and in Genertela are to be found in the southern rainforests, I guess in Caladraland. Something odd I found is that the Charisma characteristic of some creatures goes back to representing appearance. For example, it is said that Tusk Riders are ugly and therefore they only have 1D6 in Charisma (as in RQ3). However, in the basic rulebook Charisma is described as a measure of leadership and force of personality, so it has little to do with beauty. It is also the limit of how much spirit and rune magic you can have. Therefore, in my humble opinion, all intelligent beings should have at least 3D6 in Charisma, just as humans. But, according to Jeff Richards (one of the authors) this is no mistake, but a deliberate decision, as "some creatures simply are not as blessed by divine favour as humans (and some are more so)". If, however, you don't buy this, it is very easy to change, so it's not a problem.

The next section describes the following Chaos creatures: broos, bullsitches, dancers in darkness, dragonsnails, ghouls, gorps, arpies, huan-to, jack o'bears, krarshtkids, lesser hydras, ogres, scorpion men, stoorworms, vampires and walktapi. Chaos is the cancer of Glorantha, a force whose goal is to turn the world back into the Void where it originated from. I like it that they specified that broos can mate with members of any race and sex! So be warned: your manly characters are no longer safe from the loathsome depredations of these common Chaos beasts. As for ogres, the good definition of Charisma has been taken into account and, although the description states they can be beautiful, their Charisma is only 3D6. I have also liked the new arrivals, such as bullsitches, fist-sized insects, and the dancers in darkness, servants of Delecti the Necromancer. They could have perhaps saved space by classing them as vampires, though. The chapter also includes a Chaotic features table to personalize your monsters, which looks almost identical to the one in RQ3. The Curse of Thed table is also there, as the book describes the magic of Thed, goddess of the broos, as well as Mallia, goddess of maladies, so your broos can have their own terrifying rune magic.

Broos have an appropriate disgusting and mutant look.

Next you get to the section about Monsters that don't fit into any other category, specifically: brollachans, cliff toads, demi-birds (at last illustrated!), dream dragons, gargoyles, giant eels, two sorts of giant turtles, griffins, hippogriffs, revenants (read mummies), rock lizards, skeletons, sky bulls, unicorns, water lizards, wyrms, wyverns and zombies. There is also a section on dinosaurs: allosaurus, ankylosaurs, brontosaurs, deinonychuses (a bit bigger than velociraptors), elasmosaurs (a kind of plesiosaur), hadrosaurs (aka «trachodons»), magisaurs in their three sizes, pteranodons, triceratopses and, of course, tyrannosaurs. I only have three comments here. First, brollachans and voughs actually come from Gaelic mythology and they are included because they appear in a scenario in the RQ2 supplement The Big Rubble. Second, the armor points of dream dragons is only 10 and it seems to me they should be much higher, poor beasts. I hope this is an erratum. And third, the art, as in the rest of the book, is awesome. But I had already mentioned that, right?

This chapter is followed by giant arthropods: ant lions, two types of beetles (ham and guard), centipedes, two kinds of crabs (normal and arboreal), dragonflies, bees, praying mantises, solpugids, two types of spiders in three different sizes, wasps and ice worms. They are fewer than those in the old Trollpak supplement for RQ3, but still plenty. Several new ones have been added here, such as giant dragonflies and giant ice worms.

Going on we reach the section about conventional animals, although some of them are quite exceptional. These are: bears, bloodbirds, cattle, crocodiles (normal and giant), deer, moose, combat and hunting dogs, giant cranes, five breeds of horses, hyenas, king condors, leaping bears (amphycion), lions, lopers, mammoths, mastodons, pig dogs (archaeotherium), bisons, bolo lizards, herd-men, high llamas, impalas, ostriches, rhinos, sable antelopes, war zebras, pumas, rubble-runners, saber-toothed tigers, shadowcats, two types of snakes, titanotheres, tuskers (giant and normal), vrok hawks (normal and giant), wolves (normal and Telmori) and yaks.

These pig dogs look menacing and are a recent addition in the Glorantha Bestiary.

I love seeing so many animals from the Pleistocene and earlier eras, as well as plenty of other creatures. I also find very cool that they described the different kinds of Gloranthan horses. There is even a comparative table of the speed of all mounts, where you can see which can be used as heavy cavalry and what the game effects are of carrying riders with heavy or light armor.

Then you get to the spirits section, beings that usually lack physical form and inhabit the spirit plane. Spirits are the beings that have changed the most compared to previous editions of RuneQuest. There are now many different kinds of spirits. So many that rules are provided so you can create your own by determining their Power and Charisma stats, their skill in spirit combat and their magical powers. A list of 21 powers is offered so you can choose or combine the ones you want, such as Bite, Curse or Spiritual Weapon. This is very similar to the spirit creation rules of the Mythras RPG and I'm glad they have abandoned the simplistic view of spirits of previous editions like RQ3, where they were anonymous batteries of magic points and spells.

Moreover, some kinds of common Gloranthan spirits are described. For example, animal spirits know spirit magic and it is assumed that shamans can negotiate with them and get their magic. However, I would have liked to find more specific rules about the conditions or requests spirits can make when closing deals with shamans, beyond the bland POW sacrifice specified in the rulebook. Disease spirits spread the maladies they carry to those they overcome in spirit combat, as in previous editions, though it is now not necessary for them to reduce their opponent to 0 magic points. Also, if you manage to beat them, you win 3 points of Power, which seems odd. Why do you gain power only by defeating this kind of spirit and not others, like ghosts? As for plant spirits, they can heal wounds and cast some spirit and rune spells. The same goes for landscape spirits, such as the spirit of a waterfall or a cave. Other spirits are ghosts, guardian spirits, wraiths and river horses. There is a long section about those spirits that can adopt physical form, such as demons, nymphs, nyctalopes, sprul-pa (see the RuneQuest Quickstart), voughs, six types of elementals (darkness, earth, water, fire, air, lunes and selenes), black horses, hell hounds, Babaka Fegh, hollri, thunder brothers and whirlvishes.

Examples of wyters with game stats for RuneQuest

In addition, wyters and their powers are finally described. These community spirits first appeared in the HeroQuest RPG and are the protective spirits of any group of individuals, be it a village, a temple, a regiment, a tribe or even a city. Two examples are offered: the wyter of a town and the protective wyter of a temple of the earth. Finally, I was surprised to find the description of the thunder brothers, who by their illustration are clearly based on the Babylonian lammasu and I think they have included them here only after Sandy Petersen included them in his board game The Gods War. Spirits are everywhere in Glorantha, so this is a vital chapter for playing in this world, and not only for your shaman PC!

This bestiary would not be complete without some of the titanic monsters that populate the nightmares of the inhabitants of Glorantha. That is why in the Terrors section you can read the game stats of the Crimson Bat, a huge Chaos monster whose magical powers place it far beyond the combat capacity of any group of adventurers, whatever their power level. Interestingly, its stats have been greatly reduced compared to those published in the old Elder Secrets of Glorantha supplement, but it does not matter, because it remains unbeatable. Other horrors of this section are Cwim, a giant with three bodies and a single huge head that spits out monsters and destroys everything in its path. Or the Chaos Gaggle, a strange grouping of gigantic monsters. And finally, the incarnation of Cacodemon and his winged fiends.

Finally, the last chapter in the book focuses on Gloranthan plants and trees. There are 20 specimens described, including their look and most common use. Their magic powers are also described, if they have any. Drugs such as hazia, plants that warn of the presence of Chaos, herbs that impart visions and trees that bear magic fruit.

The illustration of Cwim looks exactly as the miniature in the board game The Gods War.


Opinion


RuneQuest: Glorantha Bestiary is a must for playing games in Glorantha. Even so, as a veteran runequester, I must admit that at first I doubted whether it was really worth to purchase it. I mean, seeing the bestiaries I own from previous editions, was it really necessary for me to buy another one? Well, it looks as if Chaosium knew this because they have managed to attract the veteran player. How? First, with an unbeatable presentation. This is the Glorantha bestiary as it should have always been. Equal in quality to the Monster Manual for D&D (although not in the amount of art). Actually, Cory Trego-Trendner has also drawn some of the monsters for the D&D bestiary. Secondly, by including Gloranthan creatures that had so far appeared in different books, or even completely new ones. Of course, many were already described in Anaxial's Roster for HeroQuest and the Monsters I and II supplements published by Mongoose Publishing for RuneQuest, but it is always more convenient to have the stats of non-human creatures ready to use and updated for the current edition of RuneQuest. Finally, the section about spirits is absolutely necessary because it is very different from previous editions and because without it, you cannot play with shamans, whether they are player or non-player characters. So all in all, yes, it is a good book both for newbies and veterans.

Nonetheless, not everything is positive. I have already made some small criticisms throughout the review, but here there are some more:

  • The PDF version has the index linked to each section, which is handy, but it would have been even better for the alphabetical list at the end of the book to also be linked in the same way.
  • Some descriptions do not specify what regions the creature actually inhabits (e.g. pig dogs). Does that mean they are everywhere?
  • It would have been cool to include adventure seeds together with every creature, as in Elder Secrets of Glorantha or Sartar: Kingdom of Heroes. It would also have been cool to include ready to play non-player characters. (Hey, dreaming is free after all).
  • However, my main criticism is the missing creatures, such as the Teshnan elephants, lamias, catoplebas or basilisks. In the spirits section I miss the succubus and some others. On the one hand, I like it very much that they included creatures appearing in some old publications (such as voughs), because this makes it easier to play those scenarios with the new rules, a goal Chaosium has worked hard to achieve from the beginning. On the other hand, they have left some others out. Perhaps they had a tight deadline and were forced to publish a bestiary somewhat less complete than what they would have liked, even after focusing only on the northern continent. Whatever the case, it certainly looks like Chaosium is strongly committed to make RuneQuest more well-known (and more profitable, of course) and, in that regard, they have adopted the same successful plan as D&D: that is, publishing the rulebook, the bestiary and the gamemaster book separately and with an outstanding look. However, this plan includes publishing the three books almost simultaneously, and Chaosium, it must be admitted, still does not have the same production capability as Wizards of the Coast. If that were the case, I would have preferred to sacrifice the uniformity of the art in the book in exchange for making it more exhaustive. At the very least all the ones included in scenarios of previous editions of RuneQuest by Chaosium. But the bottom line is, it is preferrable to have the bestiary now, than a super complete bestiary in two years.
Wyverns just look beautiful in the Glorantha Bestiary.

Fan quibbles aside, let's wrap up:

You are going to love the Glorantha Bestiary if...

  • You like well illustrated books.
  • You plan to run an adventure or campaign with RuneQuest: Roleplaying in Glorantha.
  • You want to use its creature descriptions even if you prefer some other rules or RuneQuest edition to role play in Glorantha.
  • You love bestiaries and you may want to use these monsters even in other settings.

This is clearly not for you if...

  • You don't like fantasy bestiaries.
  • The world of Glorantha does not appeal to you at all.

That dream dragon is gorgeous. 

RuneQuest: Glorantha Bestiary is available from DrivethruRPG and Chaosium's website. The PDF is $20. The physical version is 40$ and it includes the PDF. If you buy only the PDF from Chaosium, you will get a discount later when you decide to buy the book. There is also the leatherette version for 90$, with a golden Beast rune on the cover.

So that's it. What's your opinion? Did I forget to mention anything? Do you agree 100% with my assessment? Just tell me below!

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