jueves, 14 de abril de 2022

Review of Weapons & Equipment for RuneQuest

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Selling and buying are activities that may not be central to fantasy campaigns, but are always going to happen in them. Be it when adventurers want to sell their loot, or when they want to buy new items at a market or shop, they are all opportunities for storytelling. Some roleplaying games even have supplements focused in this aspect, and below I am reviewing one of them. Weapons & Equipment is a supplement for RuneQuest Roleplaying in Glorantha that expands the list of equipment, weapons, armor, and services included in the rulebook. On top of that, it includes a list of magical items, and rules for dwellings and for customizing and improving holdings. I must admit the idea of an expanded list of equipment and gear did not excite me much, but I finally bought a copy specifically looking forward to read the sections about land managing and magical items. Here you can read my musings on the contents of this book.

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The cover of Weapons & Equipment by Ossi Hiekkala

The look

This book is 126 pages long plus covers. The art on the cover is by Ossi Hiekkala, who also did the cover for the RuneQuest Starter Set. With his realistic style, the artist has depicted a wonderful scene in which the pregenerated characters in the rulebook are relaxing while camped in the wilderness. It is a colorful and fun cover, as Vasana, Harmast, Vishi Dunn, Sorala and Vostor are laughing and telling stories. It looks like Harmast has taken off his damaged and bloodied tunic to show the others the hole in it. Perhaps it is a continuation of the scene depicted on the cover of the Starter Set, where you can see Harmast has been wounded under his shoulder. Indeed his breastplate is also punctured and bloodstained. Meanwhile, Vasana is showing everyone why she needs to buy new shoes, as the sole has come off of one of them. Certainly, they need to go shopping at the nearest market, and this ties the cover with the contents of the book. Aside from this, the fact the characters are camped is a good way of showing some of their items lying around, like pieces of armor, weapons, and camping gear, such as tents, rope, and cooking utensils.

The interior art is by different authors, including a full-page piece of art by Ossi Hiekkala, but also many other great artists like Rocío Espín. The variety of weapons drawn by Lionel Marty in shades of grey are great and look satisfyingly realistic while also having a cool comic-style look. The color art by Mark Smylie (author of the Artesia comic books) is awesome, and his bronze helmets, shields, and pieces of armor are amazing. I do not know who did them, but some of the illustrated pieces of jewelry are amazing. There are also a couple pieces of art reused from the rulebook and other publications. As with other books by Chaosium, the amount and quality of the art in Weapons & Equipment is extremely good.

Some bronze and silver helms drawn by Mark Smylie for Weapons & Equipment

The contents

The introduction mentions the book is an expansion of the equipment section in the rulebook, but also a look at many details of daily life in Glorantha. As with other initial supplements for RuneQuest, it is mainly focused on Dragon Pass and its neighboring lands. The list of contents on the PDF links to every section of the book and makes it easy to navigate.

The list of contents of Weapons & Equipment: much more than just weapons and equipment!

The first section "The Market" deals with availability of goods depending of their origin and the size of the market you are in. It also includes useful details for the RPG trope of adventurers selling the loot they have obtained. For example, what happens if the town they are in does not have enough cash to pay for the adventurers' loot? Also important are the social consequences of selling much or being seen with a lot of treasure. Still, it is impossible to create a 100% coherent economic system in game terms, as it would mean way too many variables to take into account for GMs for no proportional amount of fun at the table. Therefore, some of these variables are just mentioned, and left for every particular GM to ponder and include in their games however they wish, if they wish to do so. This might frustrate some readers who expect game rules to cover every possible aspect of a Bronze Age economy. But more on this later.

In this chapter, I like the inclusion of cultural details such as what different leaders traditionally do when presented with gifts and treasure. I also like the description of masterworks, as they are a way of creating exceptional items such as weapons and armor with an extra damage or armor point, without resorting to the magical item trope. There is an example of a Praxian great axe that is no ordinary great axe because it has excellent workmanship, belonged to a famous warrior who is famed to having killed 100 scorpion men with it. This is a fine way of rewarding characters with treasure that is more than "oh, another great axe, OK". Of course, many GMs already do this, but it is good anyway for those who do not or those who want ways to make an axe or other items not be just like any other.

The section "A Bronze Age World" deals with Gloranthan materials inspired by the Bronze Age of our world. Most space here is devoted to Gloranthan metals and their properties when enchanted. This was already covered in the RuneQuest GM Screen Pack, but it makes sense to have it repeated here for completeness. It also adds what Rune spells of Enchant (metal) each cult teaches. Other subsections are pottery (no barrels in Glorantha, only amphorae), weaving and fuels. All items come with its price and a brief description. Some include their Encumbrance value (ENC), but not all. It looks like only the items adventurers are expected to carry have their ENC listed. For some people (like me!), the prospect of reading short descriptions of ordinary items like these may seem rather boring. However, these short descriptions are going to prove useful when you describe a scene in detail and want to include the Bronze Age feel in your RuneQuest games. Did you know pomace is used as fuel as it burns better than wood? Well, this is the sort of interesting details you can learn by going through these descriptions.

Musical instruments, games, food and drink

In "Common Goods" you can find, as expected, a long list of items for daily use, with brief descriptions, price and sometimes ENC: clothes, jewelry (helpful for creating believable treasure hoards), cosmetics (including tattoos), herbs and plants (the ones in the Glorantha Bestiary and more), tools (some with weight and no ENC), musical instruments, toys and games (I wish the rules for the Gloranthan board games had been included!), household goods, food and drink, trinkets, and adventuring gear (tents, rations, lamps, torches, etc.). As with the previous section, reading this not only gives you glimpses to the everyday life of Gloranthans, but is also helpful for describing what people are wearing and using. Did you know that locks are only rarely set into doors? Or that royal jelly is extremely expensive? That's another tidbit I learned in this book. Also in this section you can find the price of magical services and find out how much is an enchantment per point of POW sacrificed.

The section about beasts is great. It includes two animals not listed in the Bestiary (moose and reindeer, as there are a couple hsunchen groups reated to them), but there are plenty of other pieces of information. For starters, it complements the Bestiary nicely as it includes the speed of exotic mounts that is missing in that supplement, as well as their price. You can find how much ENC different pack animals can carry or drag, rules for training animals, and prices for exotic war mounts such as demi-birds. Riding gear is interesting because some Glorantha fans (Bronze Age buffs, particularly) have spent years debating whether stirrups actually exist in this fantasy world, and here is finally an official answer on the topic! (which you can disregard or incorporate into your Glorantha as you see fit, of course). Finally, the rules for awakened animals are a nice addition. So far, these companions had only appeared in the family heirlooms table in the rulebook and in one of the pregens in the Starter Set (Makario), so now they are fully incorporated into the rules of the game. They are almost like allied spirits for those who cannot wait to have an animal sidekick. And for some reason, this brings to my mind the cover of the Rolemaster box by Angus McBride, in which most of the characters are depicted with their own small animal companion. As for the rules, you can tell the authors did not want to steal the thunder from actual allied spirits with these, which makes a lot of sense.

As with the previous sections, although the rulebook includes prices of some services, the Weapons & Equipment book includes many more. This includes availability and skill ratings, which is something any GM can improvise during a game, but it does not hurt to have some tables about it either. Especially if you feel bad telling your players "sorry, there are no redsmiths in this town", now you can let the dice determine that and tell your players "sorry, it's not me, the rules have decided there are no redsmiths here". There is a nice section about mercenaries and mercenary contracts, what they entail, the oath, and how the Orlanthi and Yelmic cultures share the acquired loot. This has been previously explored in works by fans like Treasures of Glorantha and The Armies & Enemies of Dragon Pass, and now it is also in an official publication. If you want to hire a cook, or a mapmaker, and other specialists, here you will find their price. There are also prices for slaves, and you can learn how slavery in Glorantha is the product of being in debt, a crime sentence, or being a prisoner of war. Although some elder races keep slaves just because, the Orlanthi disapprove of this practice. Although it takes only a page, I think it its the longest text about slavery in Glorantha I have ever read. The section about magical services expands the information in the rulebook with the price for enchantments and focuses, and finally there is also information about staying at inns and renting residences, and funerary rites. This last bit is particularly interesting, as it is another piece of cultural information rarely seen in other supplements.

The weapons and armor chapters are again an expanded version of the information in the rulebook. For example, the book provides 7 additional types of axes, one of them being the deadliest weapon in the whole game so far: the Orlanthi Broad-axe. There are also 5 new types of pole arms, like the Moon Blade, and 5 new types of spears, like the trident. In fact, every category includes some new weapons. There are also rules for entangling weapons like whips and chains, and for net fighting. The list of missile and thrown weapons is also expanded, with cool things like war boomerangs and throwing discs or chakrams, allowing characters to go full Xena-style! I also like the inclusion of several types of arrows and quivers. Strangely though, the list is missing dragonewt weapons, which are only on the Bestiary. On the negative side, I expected this section to include some differences between hide, wicker and wood shields, because it is kind of weird that they offer the same protection irrespective of the material used.

Some swords and cestus drawn by Lionel Marty

As for armor the only addition to the table in the rulebook is rhino hide armor and a couple others. But then, there is another table with non-human armor (elf, troll, trollkin, and duck), and also armor for war mounts. There are also rules for repairing, altering, and making armor. These are OK, but I wish they had included some rules for making armor out of hides of different beasts. For example, dragon armor, or even rubble runner armor, a la Monster Hunter. On the other hand, I like they have specified just how much a full helmet limits sight and hearing, as that is a small detail missing from the description in the rulebook.

Then there is a section about travel, which includes some information about caravans and prices for sea and river voyages, plus some rules to determine if a ship arrives on time or is delayed. After this comes a list of means of transport, like carts, chariots, and watercraft. Although the rules for naval combat are in the upcoming RuneQuest Gamemaster Sourcebook, the game data of ships, such as hull quality, seaworthiness, and structure points makes it clear these rules won't be too different from the ones published for RuneQuest 3rd edition by Avalon Hill (1984).

The next section is one of the most interesting, as it deals with land grants and dwellings. Although most parties of adventurers are usually seeking adventure from one place to another, RuneQuest encourages the kind of "community play" in which adventurers go on adventures, but they always spend some time back home every season. Also, one the first kind of campaign can become the second kind when adventurers are granted some lands to take care of, or when they decide to settle down. In this case, this section can come in handy.

It first deals a bit with basic concepts of land ownership, which in Dragon Pass is very different from our current times. The text explains how much land a leader usually grants depending on the player characters reputation, and what it means to have land assigned to take care of. This is coupled with rules that expand the Sacred Time rolls found in the rulebook with further detail. For example, now every hide of land can have a certain degree of fertility influencing Harvest rolls, as well as certain features (a creek, a forest, a holy site, etc.), and player characters can purchase improvements for their lands from a varied list, like several types of fortifications for better defense, or bridges, mines, storage buildings, and other buildings, some of them with a quantifiable impact on the Sacred Time rolls. This has a strong "empire building" element as in Age of Empires, Clash of Clans, and similar videogames. However, it mainly draws inspiration from the land managing rules in the Pendragon roleplaying game, particularly the expanded system in supplements such as Book of the Manor and Book of the Estate by Greg Stafford. The rules for RuneQuest however, are way less detailed and therefore much easier to use. I find this sort of "economic system" mini-game exciting, as you can save up money to spend on upgrades and see your land improve little by little.

Some pages in the section about dwellings and lands

However, be warned it may eventually prove frustrating for your players, as these improvements are not conceived as part of a perfectly balanced or 100% fine tuned economic system. The authors admitted on the BRP Central forum they are just there to add a bit of color to your characters' lands, and as further opportunities to interact with the setting. Therefore, it is best to make your players aware of this before they start investing in improvements that may not be profitable in the long run. Moreover, some details are left for the GM to decide. For example, if your hide of land includes a pond, the easy access to water means the land produces +10L every year. However, if you don't have access to a water source but build a cistern to store water, the book does not specify what profit it provides. The same goes for other improvements like mines or quarries. This vagueness has pros and cons. On the one hand, there is much less bookkeeping than in the system Book of the Manor offers, and it provides more freedom for the GM to decide what the particular effects of some improvements are, as well as to adjust those to the players' preferences. On the other hand, some GMs may feel the supplement is not complete enough, as it forces them to do part of the work.  I still would like to see a Gloranthan Book of the Manor, but I'm looking forward to trying out the rules as written anyway and see how they work in play. Aside from this, this section also informs the reader about what kind of fortifications and agricultural improvements are used in the Dragon Pass area.

The section about training basically repeats the information in the rulebook, but adds some details about learning new runes and also includes costs for learning sorcery. Finally, the book concludes with a section about magic items. This includes the information about magic crystals from the GM Screen Pack, but also adds other magical items. Between the common enchantments, strange enchanted items, and extraordinary gems, there are around 40 magical items in total. Each has a brief description and their effects are few and to the point. Common enchantments are helpful when that player wants to know if there is something special on sale at the local market. Most of them provide a low increase in some skill, and come in many different shapes. Using these as a template, it is easy to come up with many others. For example, a charm that gives +5 to Dodge but -10% to Climb. The stranger items have other magical effects, like warning you of danger when asleep, pointing to a city, help resisting disease, or help in fulfilling oaths. They offer a nice variety of effects and none of them are game breaking. One of my favorites is the Wings of Mercy, blessed by Chalana Arroy. I love magic items, and the authors claim the upcoming RuneQuest Gamemaster Sourcebook includes rules for creating further magical items and minor enchantments, so I can't wait to read it.

Some pages of the section about magical items

Wrapping up

All in all, this book is a must for any RuneQuest player or GM. On the one hand, it is "just" an expanded equipment list, but on the other is much more than that, as it also provides some extra rules that may be helpful, like the ones for managing your hides of land. I particularly like the dwellings and exotic items sections, but there are useful bits and pieces throughout the book, like the full helmet penalties, the price for enchantments, the types of arrows, land events, etc, all accompanied by wonderful art. On top of that, it also helps portray the Bronze Age feel of Glorantha through the depicted technology and the descriptions included. In general, Weapons & Equipment offers a good balance between "too vague" and "absurdly detailed", so it is helpful without drowning the reader in academic archaeology details.

On the negative side, the book includes some material already published in other books, but this is necessary in order to make it a complete supplement, so you don't have to think in what book exactly is this piece of information. It must also be said the book is focused in the region of central Genertela, so it may not be that useful if your campaign is set in Fonrit, for example. Still, in that case, you can extrapolate prices of items not included in the book by means of a rough approximation.

The good

  • The snippets about daily life and cultural details are helpful for putting you in the Bronze Age mindset, and to enhance the descriptions of the GM.
  • Handy to have on the gaming table so players can look up things without monopolizing the rulebook.
  • Particularly useful for players whose characters have money to spare, and for GMs to liven up the usual "market scene" in their games.
  • Lots of new small details to add to the game: new rules, new weapons, new trinkets, new magic items, etc.
  • The awesome art.

The not so good

  • Some sections are too generic and leave you wanting even more cultural detail.
  • The system of land improvements can disappoint players who expect a simulationist land-managing mini game.
  • Some material is already present in the rulebook and the GM Screen Pack.

I hope you enjoyed reading my review. Weapons & Equipment is available from Chaosium's website and DrivethruRPG both in PDF (18$) and dead-tree version (35$). If you buy the PDF directly from Chaosium's website, you can get its price discounted when you buy the physical book later on. So, do you agree with my review? Have you used the land improvements in your campaign? Leave your thoughts about this and other details in a comment below, please! :-)

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