sábado, 4 de abril de 2020

Review of the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack

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RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack is a supplement for RuneQuest Roleplaying in Glorantha that Chaosium published in September 2019. Aside from the official gamemaster screen, it includes maps, character sheets, and even a calendar, but most importantly, an adventure book with 3 scenarios ready to play, plus juicy background information to get your campaign started. Below you can read my review.

The cover by Andrey Fetisov has a cool comic-book feel and shows 3 of the sample characters from the rulebook.

Chaosium's plan was to publish the rulebook together with the bestiary and the gamemaster screen pack. Unfortunately, that could not be, and the fans of the game had to wait a few months in order to get the first supplement containing scenarios for RuneQuest Glorantha beyond the one in the RuneQuest Quickstart. However, all the wait was quickly forgotten as soon as this publication hit the shelves because this is a very well made pack. If you have seen the Call of Cthulhu Keeper Screen, the one for RuneQuest is as good or perhaps even better because it includes everything you would expect to find in such a product and more. As a side note: A bit later than expected, the 3 first books were finally made available together in the wonderful slipcase set.

So what does the Gamemaster Screen Pack include?

1. The gamemaster screen: A four-panel screen in landscape format. With all the tables and information on one side to ease your job as a GM, and a piece of colorful art on the other. The art is also by the talented Andrey Fetisov and depicts the Gods Wall, which I find a weird choice for a GM screen. The Gods Wall is a huge painted bas-relief carved on a natural wall in northern Genertela, in the heart of the Lunar Empire. It shows "all the known gods" of the world from the point of view of the Dara Happan culture. You can find the original piece of art in the Guide to Glorantha and The Glorantha Sourcebook. The wall is standing next to the Oslira river, and to the left one can see a boat carrying Vasana and other characters from the rulebook, with the ominous Red Moon among the clouds over them. To the right, you can see the Red Emperor himself returning to the capital with his entourage after having checked out the repairs on the wall.

A small detail of the Gamemaster Screen for RuneQuest, showing the Red Emperor and his entourage

On the one hand, it clearly shows two of the core ideas of the game: the importance of gods and myths, and the late Bronze Age feel, with the boat and the Babylonian style dresses. On the other, the scene is very far from Dragon Pass, the most common point of entry to the setting. So I would have expected a piece of art from that area instead. For example, a group of adventurers facing trouble or maybe just traveling through some landmarks of Dragon Pass. Regardless, the art is excellent and the level of detail is stunning.

2. Lots of maps: 7 in total, some of them A4-sized others A3, and all of them excellent. One of Apple Lane and its environs. One of the lands of the Colymar tribe, with a lot of detail of the surrounding lands as well. One of the clans of the Colymar, which is the same as the previous one, only with the territories of each clan marked on top. One of Clearwine, the main city in the Colymar tribe. This is excellently drawn by Olivier Sanphilippo in isometric style. One map of Dragon Pass and Prax, the same that is included in the pages of the RuneQuest Glorantha rulebook (which is sadly too difficult to read). Finally, the Dragon Pass map and the map of South Peloria, drawn by Darya Marakava. Incidentally, I got these last two in a larger format by participating in the crowdfunding of the Glorantha Sourcebook (have a look at the video here).

Detail of the Colymar tribe map and the surrounding lands

3. Calendar: This a useful tool for running campaigns. RuneQuest characters usually belong to a cult, and cults have holy days in which important ceremonies take place. The members of each cult are expected to participate in those ceremonies, so it is crucial to know when is your cult's next holy day, not to mention your deity's High Holy Day. I remember the old Gods of Glorantha book (the one published in the 80s) also included a calendar. In my games, I downloaded and printed another version that I use to cross days off it as my campaign advances. Usually one of the players takes care of keeping track of the calendar. Of course, this new calendar is much better, as you can just hang it on your wall as a normal calendar. It even has beautiful Gloranthan landscapes to illustrate each season (taken from the Guide to Glorantha). Perhaps a colored magnet would be ideal to mark the current day in the campaign without spoiling the calendar. As an aside, the holy days in this calendar are somewhat different from the ones included in the old supplement Gods of Glorantha for RQ3. For example, most gods have minor holy days every season (like Humakt) and some goddesses have more than one High Holy Day, (such as Aldrya!).

Two seasons of the Gloranthan calendar, with all the holy days marked on them.

4. Character sheets: Two are included: The black and white one you can download from Chaosium.com, and a new full-color character sheet by Francesca Baerald loaded with atmospheric decorations that are almost too much. If you have Modiphius' Conan RPG, this one has the same style. It is very pretty, but unlike the sheet in the Conan RPG, in some points the background obscures the information, especially on the list of Knowledge skills.

5. Pregenerated characters: These are the same as in the rulebook, plus Vishi Dunn, so 7 in total. Vasana, Yanioth, Harmast, Sorala, etc. At the end of this booklet there are short blank character sheets for non-player characters and even squads of identical characters you can print out and fill out.

6. GM References: This 20-page long booklet looks like an expanded version of the gamemaster screen, as it includes more tables that can be handy to have readily available while running RuneQuest games.

7. Gamemaster Adventures: With 129 pages, this is the meaty part of the RuneQuest GM Screen Pack. It is divided into background information, useful details for running a campaign and 3 scenarios of increasing duration. Below I review it in further detail.

List of contents of the Gamemaster Adventures book

Background and gameable material

For GMs who are new to Glorantha and RuneQuest, this is a must-read, because it provides a point of entry into the setting. While the RQG rulebook offers some general background information about Dragon Pass and its surrounding lands, the Adventure Book zooms in the focus to a small region of Dragon Pass. In this way, the authors have done what everyone agrees is the best advice to start playing in Glorantha, that is: choose a small region to start off and limit your first adventures there. In this case, the region is the lands of the Colymar tribe.

The background information included is all you need to run a campaign in the area. The old and recent history of the Colymar tribe, list of kings and queens, population, its different clans, politics, temples, climate, a gazetteer of the region, including the fortified town of Clearwine and its main personalities, complete with stats. Among these, I particularly enjoy reading the stats of powerful individuals like Queen Leika or the high priestess of Ernalda. But I also like having there simple but useful NPC stats, such as the typical Orlanthi militia. Some may complain that this is a waste of space, since GMs can make their own NPC stats, but I personally like to have it done for me. I also find it very interesting to see the game stats the creators of the game consider to be appropriate for a well-known heroine. Or how many rune points a common farmer has. This sets some visible power levels you can then use to create your own NPCs.

This is all good to get started. If, however, you want more complete information about the Orlanthi culture in general, I recommend you to get a copy of Sartar: Kingdom of Heroes. Even though it was written for HeroQuest, 90% of it is usable for RuneQuest. It is only a pity that RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack focuses on the Colymar tribe, as Sartar: Kingdom of Heroes already provides information into that tribe and its clans. But let's go on with the RuneQuest GM Screen Pack.

The maps are awesome, specially the double-page map of Clearwine by Olivier Sanphilippo. (This is also included separately). The view is not directly from above, as all maps commonly are, but from an angle about 60 degrees above the ground. This makes it look something between a map and an illustration, and therefore more real. There is also a good map of the main rooms in the royal palace, also in perspective. I wish they had detailed the whole palace though, and not just the main rooms. Other maps have the usual bird's eye view though, such as the map of the city of Runegate, which is much less interesting.

The information about Clearwine Fort includes a map of the royal palace

The gazetteer includes some brief adventures and adversaries or allies that can work as encounters. They can come in handy when the player characters are traveling to some place and the players see something on the map that strikes their attention enough to pay a visit or make a detour. having some interesting locations the players can ignore or explore also makes the setting look more realistic. It is a bit of a sandbox approach, very much in the style of classics such as Griffin Island, but in a much smaller scale. For example, they say a demonic hound haunts a round hill in Tarndisi's Grove. Is it guarding something valuable? Hunters avoid the area so as no to come across the beast. Will your characters dare to go near it? Maybe not. But if they know about it, and later on you make an important NPC flee in that particular direction, you have more tools to make it interesting. I wish all Dragon Pass could some day be described with this level of detail.

Aside from this, an updated description of the hamlet of Apple Lane is included, since one of the adventures is set there. The old Apple Lane supplement from the previous editions by Chaosium is such a RuneQuest classic, that it just had to be included. Nostalgia sells, after all. But it is not a reprint, because the year is now 1625 and much has changed in the last 5-6 years. Actually, almost none of the original NPCs survived the most tragic events in the history of Dragon Pass, so most of the NPCs are new. What is best, the mere existence of this weird hamlet is better explained here than in any previous iteration. Another pearl are the maps of Apple Lane and of the thane's house, which provide a useful insight into the look of Orlanthi houses.

As for the art, I find it outstanding and there is a lot of it. As I mentioned in the review of the rulebook, Simon Roy's art is spot-on. What is more, every important NPC has its own piece of art by Lei Maffei, which I suspect are based on photos of actual people, because they look realistic. Besides, the GM can use them to describe the characters to the players. It is a luxury that for many years RuneQuest fans could only dream of. I love the portraits of Queen Leika, Asborn Thriceborn, Brightflower or Hendroste. On the other hand, I find the portraits of Kareena and Ereneva Chan too weird for my taste, and they look too different from the rest.

It is in all these portraits where the change in the art direction for the Orlanthi culture is most visible. It has moved its focus away from the Celtic-Pictish-Viking influences of past publications and now draws much more inspiration from ancient Mycenae and the Indoeuropean peoples. This is cool, because it is much more unusual and not just "fantasy Vikings". However, this has created some controversy among old fans of the setting, who were used to the previous look. Even though I personally like the change, I can understand the reaction, because it has been too abrupt in some cases. For example, the depiction of the Orlanthi changed from one Gloranthan videogame like King of Dragon Pass to the much more recent Six Ages: Ride like the Wind. Or from Sartar: Kingdom of Heroes to The Coming Storm. But in both cases, the change was more subtle. However, at the end of the day it's only an aesthetic matter, and has no impact on the game.

Sora Goodseller is a priestess of Issaries, god of commerce. You can also find her in the videogame King of Dragon Pass!

Aside from this, a change in some cults has now become evident in these NPC stats. According to the previous big book on the Orlanthi, the above mentioned Sartar: Kingdom of Heroes, women can be initiates of the god Orlanth only through the subcult of Vinga, and men can be initiates of the goddess Ernalda only through the subcult of Nandan. But in RQG this restriction has been lifted. Thus, many male NPCs in the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack are initiates of Ernalda and female NPCs are god-talkers of Orlanth with no mention of any subcult. I guess this makes sense in the more limited nature of cults in RuneQuest (as opposed to HeroQuest), where the cult of Orlanth does not provide as much useful magic for male farmers as Ernalda does. Even so, for me it is a pity that the subcult of Vinga has now been rendered unnecessary.

The book also includes a long list of rumors to help you spark adventures for your players, as well as two appendixes: one with adventure seeds and another about Gloranthan metals and magic crystals. About the next half of the book is devoted to the three scenarios. The assumption is that at least a couple player characters in the party will belong to the Colymar tribe, preferably one worshiper of the god Orlanth and one of the goddess Ernalda.

This piece of art by Simon Roy depicts one of the possible mini-scenarios in the gazetteer.

The scenarios

First, your typical disclaimer: if you’re going to play these adventures I recommend you to skip this section. You’ve been warned.

The three scenarios are presented in increasing order of difficulty and complexity. All of them are set in the year 1625, but they could easily be moved to previous years, specially the first two. The three adventures could be played separately or you could insert them in a campaign and take advantage of the small ties between them. In general, these adventures are centered around the tribe as a whole, as opposed to the two previous Orlanthi campaigns Sartar: Kingdom of Heroes and The Eleven Lights, which are clan based. This feels right in 1625, where the scales are bigger and everyone’s world is turned upside down.

In Defending Apple Lane the players must defend this hamlet. This sends vibes from the classical Apple Lane adventure, but you must defend the whole village, not just a pawnshop. The adventure is simple and straightforward, but well thought and with some cool twists. In my opinion, it’s a good starting adventure for a group and it could be inserted in an ongoing campaign that hasn’t advanced too much.

In Cattle Raid the players must defend some cattle for an allied clan (or their own) from some dangerous creatures, but in a situation that could escalate quickly between two tribes. While it will have some fighting for sure, most of the adventure could be solved without lifting a sword, though even that can have undesired consequences. This adventure is more complex than the previous one by an order of magnitude, with the adventures easily facing a catch-22 situation where every possible action they take can have negative (and positive) consequences.

In The Dragon of Thunder Hills the players are supposed to have more experience under their belts, as you might guess from the adventure’s name. Don’t worry, we’re not talking True Dragons level here, but it will be quite difficult nonetheless. Trying to stop a dragon raid could bring them to deals with dragonewts, a dryad and even an earth goddess; as always, depending on their actions. They would be wise to prepare beforehand as much as possible. This adventure is the most mythical of the three and the one that really feels like we’re in 1625 after the Dragonrise. And, I love the tie it can have with the first adventure, Defending Apple Lane.

The stats and personality of all characters are very complete, and at the end of each adventure, just where you need them. Many NPCs have their own portrait to help with visualizing them, with the same quality than the rest of the book. Moreover, every adventure includes a final section about possible consequences, which (tries to) take into account different player actions. We all know players always do something unexpected, but they are well thought and it’s good that in this day and age all writers try to make something that is non-linear, even with the simplest of adventures.

As a final word on them, these are a good material that don’t make a campaign on their own but can be inserted into a campaign centered around the Colymar tribe. While all of them are supposed to happen in 1625, I think the increase in difficulty and expectations between the second and the third adventure are too much for the small amount of time that is supposed to pass between them. Personally, I’d put some more time (and other adventures) between them in order to protect the credibility of your campaign. Apart from that, I can’t find any other fault in them.

Wrapping up

The GM Screen Pack constitutes an obvious follow-up from the rulebook and the quickstart scenario. With the same high level of quality as the previous books of the line, containing lots of game aids for the GM, great art, background and scenarios. What is not to like? I mean, even if you never buy GM screens, the whole pack is filled with material you will like. So summing up:

What I like the most

  • The abundance of excellent art and maps.
  • The abundance of gameable material (scenarios, NPC stats, adventure seeds).
  • The sandbox approach of part of the Gamemaster Adventures booklet.
  • The calendar.

What I like the least

  • A couple of the portraits.
  • Realizing that the subcult of Vinga is less necessary (this will certainly vary in my Glorantha).
  • That the Gamemaster Adventures booklet does not focus on a different tribe of Sartar.
  • That Chaosium couldn't publish this pack sooner!

GM screen, big maps, character sheets, pregenerated characters, calendar, GM references and gamemaster adventure book.

You can purchase the RuneQuest Gamemaster Screen Pack at Chaosium or DrivethruRPG. If you buy the PDF at Chaosium, you can ask for a voucher that will later discount the price of the PDF from the printed copy if you later decide to buy it. It's 30$ for the printed book and PDF, or 15$ for just the PDF. And that's it. I hope you liked my review. :-)

4 comentarios:

  1. Tiene muy buena pinta! La verdad es que cada vez me gusta más todo lo que veo del Runquest Glorantha (excepto la pérdida de sabor medieval de Fronela).

    1. ¡Hola Max! Sí, se lo están currando y es de agradecer.
      A mí el cambio de estética de Fronela me gusta, pero vamos, al fin y al cabo la estética de una cultura es lo más fácil de cambiar en las partidas. :-)

  2. Yo soy más de HeroQuest, pero todo el material es muy aprovechable. Desde luego yo voy a aprovechar estas aventuras seguro.

    1. ¡Así me gusta, máster Kenrae! :-)
      Y ese es uno de los puntos fuertes de HeroQuest, ¿eh?


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