domingo, 26 de junio de 2022

Review of Pirates of the East Isles Vol. 1

8 comentarios

Glorantha is a vast world, with many different cultures, landscapes, and religions. However, most of the official publications have always focused on the two most emblematic regions in Glorantha: Dragon Pass and Prax. But, what about the huge variety of adventure-rich background material that extends beyond those two regions? You just need a quick peek into the encyclopedic Guide to Glorantha to see the range of possibilities is almost endless. So, if you are looking forward to explore a refreshing, new part of Glorantha with ready to play scenarios for RuneQuest Roleplaying in Glorantha, you might be interested in checking out Pirates of the East Isles Vol. 1, a book in PDF format penned by Scott Crowder and sold under the Jonstown Compendium section of DrivethruRPG. Below you can read my spoiler-free review. Caveat: I have not run these adventures yet, and the author sent me a free copy so I could write this review. However, I have tried my best to be objective.

Cover of Pirates of the East Isles Vol. 1, by Ludovic Chabant and Tania Rodríguez


This 125-page-long PDF has been created using the Word template for publications in the Jonstown Compendium, and the text is laid out in three columns. Although I prefer two-column layouts, this is not so bad.

The colorful cover art depicts three inhabitants of the East Isles, most probably pirates by their weapons and the grim looks on their faces, on a tropical island, while a green pterodactyl (actually a sorn) flies overhead. I like the Maori inspiration for the tattoos, with the sea motives and Gloranthan runes. These individuals could actually be three of the important NPCs in the longest scenario included in the book. The cover artists are Ludovic Chabant and Tania Rodríguez, and the former has also done some black and white pieces of interior art and maps. Although he has brilliant pieces in other publications, in this case I find his art just good. My favorite pieces are the one with the island god and the maps of Pirate Town. Simon Bray, an artist with a good knowledge of Glorantha, has also contributed some pieces, like the ludoch, the Vormaini pirate or the sea serpent. His imaginings of the Andin and Arandinni help a lot to visualize these demons. The book also includes some cool AI-generated art, like the main NPCs portraits and some vistas of cities. Aside from that, the PDF also includes some hexed maps of the East Isles from the Argan Argar Atlas and some additional pieces of color art from Pixabay.

One of my favorite pieces of interior art by Ludovic Chabant in Pirates of the East Isles Vol. 1


Pirates of the East Isles Vol. 1 contains some background information about the East Isles, character creation rules for this area of Glorantha, and enough material to start a campaign there with the three scenarios included for RuneQuest. And, this is only the first volume. The next two volumes are going to offer the rest of the campaign scenarios up to a total of 10, so there will be enough to play this campaign for some time. 

List of contents of Pirates of the East Isles Vol. 1

When I pitch this campaign to some prospective players, I am going to say something like: "Would you like to play kung-fu pirates with katanas, hopping from island to island in your pirate ship, plying the waters of a world full of gods and magic?" I mean, who wouldn't, right? And you don't even have to mention the word "Glorantha". I say this because there are still people out there who think you have to know a great deal of deep background in order to "properly" play in Glorantha. Well, this campaign is proof to the contrary. The background material fits in only one page, and that page is only for the GM, who can summarize it (or not) to the players, as you can start playing with just the brief pitch I mentioned, or reading the brief introduction in the book. The players will learn the necessary bits as they create their characters and as they play the scenarios. Of course, if you as the GM wanted more information to spice up your descriptions and get ideas for further scenarios, you could read the section about the East Isles included in the Guide to Glorantha or Revealed Mythologies, but again, it is not really necessary. You could as well improvise new magical islands to run adventures on. After all, the East Isles are a sandbox made up of thousands of unique magic islands of all sizes.

On this map from Chaosium's Well of Daliath I have marked Dragon Pass and Prax in red, and the East Isles in green.

The approach the author has taken for this campaign is exactly that: a sandbox where the players are encouraged to set their own goals. If the players are shy at first, the provided scenarios help to introduce the setting as well as some important NPCs, potential base of operations, potential allies and enemies. The scenarios in the campaign include some with a preset plot the players can alter, and others the GM can intersperse at any time. 

The scenarios

This first volume includes three scenarios. One is 35 pages long and is the suggested starting scenario of the campaign. In it, the PCs are hired by a Haragalan merchant to hunt the pirates who have stolen his ship and crew. This may end up with the PCs participating in the hunt for a magical treasure hoard, following the clues of a magical map, and making allies and enemies along the way. It includes duels to death, meeting an island god, dealing with the elder races, fighting huge monsters, and solving riddles. I guess this might take around three to five sessions to complete (4 hours each), but it is easy to expand with your own adventures. One the best aspects is that the scenario can go in very different ways depending on what the adventurers choose to do. And at the end, the players will have a good idea of what the East Isles have to offer, and enough threads to go on more adventures, as well as a recurring villain or two! The sequels to this scenario are going to be included in the next volumes of the series. 

On the other hand, there is a lot of dialogue between NPCs, and that makes me hope the PCs are bold enough to take the place of some of those NPCs so they can be more at the center of the action. Aside from that, I miss the maps of the houses of two important pirates, which I find might be useful to have ready just in case. 

Encounters and gazetteer of Pirate Town, with a color map by Ludovic Chabant

The other two scenarios can be included at any point during the campaign, or not at all, at the GM's discretion. One is basically a theft that may go bad, as a rich Teshnan ship arrives at port and several factions try to steal its cargo, one of them being the player characters. It could also be used with the PCs as defenders, and includes lots of stats (6 out of 9 pages are NPC stats). What I love in this scenario is the appearance of one of the factions and their wacky evil plan, and the dangerous sunscope that may catch some PCs by surprise, as well as other cool details. Still, I don't get what is the meaning of the passion "Lethargic 10%" in of the NPCs described, as passions with 10% are useless in RuneQuest.

Finally, the third scenario involves one of my favorite Gloranthan kind of pirates: Vormaini pirates. A fleet of these bloodthirsty katana-wielding worshippers of the barracuda god have been sighted near a small port, and the people are panicking. Will the adventurers be able to help them against the attackers? With only 4 pages, half of them devoted to stats, this is the shortest scenario in the book. However, it is interesting as it can lead the adventurers to a tight spot, with different possible outcomes and repercussions. The sequel to this adventure is going to be included in Volume 3 of the series.

Beware of the Vormaini pirates, as their barracuda god offers them strange magic...

Campaign material

Complementing the scenarios, Pirates of the East Isles Vol. 1 includes a long encounter table to spice up your sea trips. These can work as random encounters or as adventure seeds to place in the adventurer's way. Some weather phenomena like storms can damage your ship, but you can also encounter sea monsters, described in the creatures section, or other pirates! Some of these 11 sea creatures have been converted from the RQ3 bestiary with Chaosium's permission and include plesiosaurs and ysabbau, but others like the arandinni and perhaps others have been given RuneQuest stats for the first time here. Finally, there is a list of strange encounters, from castaways, to visions in the sky, a fleet of demonic andins who worship the antigods, or even beings heavily inspired by the tales by H.P. Lovecraft, among others. Some of these could inspire you to create full-fledged adventures. The brief section about pirate life will also prove useful, with some rules for mutinies. As indicated by the title, the focus is obviously on pirates, but it would also have been interesting to see a bit of information on other kinds of campaigns where pirates could perhaps be only the antagonists.

One thing that is sorely missing is that, although the scenarios include game stats for different ships, the book includes no navigation rules, aside for the ships' speed. They are actually not that necessary to run the scenarios provided, but I guess the author assumes GMs who want more detail will make up their own navigation rules or just use the ones included in RuneQuest 3rd edition. Still, that may be confusing for people who do not know the stats are from that old rulebook. Hopefully Chaosium will soon publish the Gamemaster's Sourcebook, as it will include those same RQ3 navigation rules or others very similar to those. That is my guess after looking at the information on watercraft included in Weapons & Equipment. Here's a quick summary: hull points are the ship's "armor", and structure points are its "hit points" against damage. When structure points are lost, one hull point is also lost. Seaworthiness is the ship's capacity to stay afloat. Unless the captain rolls a successful Shiphandling skill, just sailing reduces the ship's seaworthiness 1 point every day if the wind strength beats the seaworthiness score on the Resistance Table. During storms, a successful roll has the ship lose only 1 point in two hours; with a failure, the strength of the wind subtracts 1D6 points of seaworthiness if it beats it on the Resistance Table, plus the storm deals a damage roll to structure points as well. Usually ships carry carpenters who can fix up to half a ship's seaworthiness while at sea, but the materials used are costly. A friend of mine devised another system to have more of the crew involved during a storm. He playtested it in a Pamaltelan pirate campaign that I hope he will manage to publish someday soon at the Jonstown Compendium.

Some dangerous demons of the East Isles, as illustrated by Simon Bray

Pirates, sailors and mystics

The character creation section provides a family history generator like the one in the RuneQuest rulebook, but for East Islanders. This one also helps you learn a bit of the history of the place as you create your character's family history. The main species for adventurers here are humans, but there are also indications on how to create keet characters by modifying a couple details from the duck adventurers in the Bestiary. Keets are a species of flightless humanoid birds native to the East Isles, and I think they can have many different shapes, like parrot keets, gull keets, peacock keets, or even flamingo keets. Some important keet heroes have played a big part in the history of the East Isles. As for homelands, adventurers can be from three different island clusters: the islands around Haragala, the Mokato Dozens further east, or the Hanfarador Islands to the north-east. In the East Isles every island is a different culture altogether, but grouping the homelands this way makes it way easier to create player characters, with two islands of every group available for adventurers. For example, just to try it I created a sample keet warrior from the faraway island of Orandaliel who looks like a bridled tern. I decided to determine her family history at random:

My name is Erune and I worship Karkal, Lord of Fire and War. My grandfather was born in 1551 ST and he learnt to play music to earn his living. In 1568 he survived a pirate raid and that year my father was born. Later on the seas were opened again and my grandfather enjoyed a life of plenty as trade increased, teaching the ways of music to my father. I was born in 1604, but ten years afterwards Pregezoran pirates killed my father, and I have hated them since them. My mother married again and she profited from trade while evading the ever increasing piracy. However, in 1621 the Arandinni demons started their raids and one of them claimed my mother's life, so I hate those damned monsters since then. My grandfather died soon after, killed by Ratuki raiders. In 1622 I became a mercenary, and I lived a good life protecting merchant ships from pirates and other threats. In 1624 disaster struck as Andins raided and conquered Hanfarador. I fought my way through the demons, sailing south until I reached the island of Mokato, whose curse had just been lifted. Finally in 1625 I had to fight against the Vormaini pirates who came raiding from the north-west, and I hate those scoundrels! 

Erune has gained four Hate passions (Pregezoran pirates, Arandinni, Andins, Vormaini) along the way, as well as +10% to Shiphandling, +5% to Battle, and +1% Reputation. No doubt she decided to train as a warrior after most of her family was killed in different raids! In the Table of Family Heirlooms she got a magical reed hut that can be folded into a pouch. The book also provides the Rune affinities for each of the six islands, as well as their own cultural skill bonuses.

Keets are great. Pirate keets even more so!

East Islanders can choose three new occupations: pirate, sailor, and mystic. Mystics devote themselves to learning the martial arts. Every island has its own school of martial arts like the Eight-Legged Technique or the Sword Dancers. Following my example adventurer, as she is from Orandaliel, she can follow the Basic Dojo or the School of Silence, which focuses on stealth. As your adventurer progresses in the Martial Arts skill, she can learn new techniques. If she manages to go over 100%, she becomes a Mystic and from then on, she can learn the High Arts of her particular school. With these, a Mystic can spend Venfornic energy points to use mystical abilities, which are also learnt as one progresses in the Martial Arts skill over 100%. For example, when Erune reaches 30% in her Martial Arts skill, she can learn the Way of the Mouse, which allows her to reroll a failed Move Silently roll. Reaching 60% unlocks the ability Inner Stillness, which allows a reroll of the Hide skill. But if she ever reaches 100%, she can learn the Silence the Night ability. This would allow her to spend 4 energy points to become invisible for one turn. Every ability also comes with an "austerity" or geas the adventurer needs to fulfill, else she will forget all her Martial Arts knowledge (!). I think this is pretty cool. Some abilities allow you to attack twice with a kick, or attack faster, and some High Art abilities even allow you to cast bolts of energy at your enemies. And they all have names reminiscent of kung-fu movies! For example, Dance of Refutation allows the adventurer to walk upon her opponent's blade! How cool is that? Although I haven't tried them yet, these rules look simple enough and cool to use, with a huge variety of abilities, but divided into thematic schools. Still, reaching the different High Art abilities may take a long time, especially since advancing a skill over 100% with experience is extremely difficult. If ever a Mystic manages to reach 160% in her Martial Arts skill, she will see the face of Atrilith, the Creator, a kind of illumination that unlocks a powerful ability.

Speaking of Atrilith, the book also includes a bit on the mythology of the East Isles and 14 new cults: 7 "general" cults, like Karkal, Telermo or The Rich Twin, and then also 7 island god cults, such as Hobimarong, Aji Chomba, or Erabbamanth. Some of these cults, together with their Rune spells, have been copied with Chaosium's permission from the old Gods of Glorantha supplement for RQ3, like Lumavoxoran. Others are completely new and include some new Rune spells of their own and others from the Red Book of Magic. One of favorites is the goddess of the red-hot chili pepper from Orandaliel island. She provides a quite powerful Rune spell called "One Hot Minute".

Part of the section describing some cults of the East Isles

Wrapping up

All in all, this is a worthy purchase. Above all, it is a refreshing take on Glorantha, an example of how diverse this world is, and how many different campaigns it can encompass. The initial scenario is good, brimming with original ideas. It can provide many hours of entertainment, and some more if the GM milks it dry of adventuring juice, while players can make many decisions to change the plot or just follow it along until the climax. I am just sorry for those players who might be too conservative to try something different to the usual ("What do you mean I can't play a humakti?"). I mean, who would pass on the chance to play adventurers in a region full of pirates and sea raiders where every island is a different place with its own deity and everyone knows kung-fu? It goes without saying that I am looking forward to reading Volume 2, with more scenarios (one with a heroquest) and more martial art schools! If you also think it was about time someone published a campaign outside Dragon Pass and Prax, Pirates of the East Isles is quite probably going to be your next purchase. 

The good

  • Lots of adventure in a so far unexplored area of Glorantha: with keets! shark men! island gods!
  • Scenarios with original ideas.
  • Rules for martial arts schools and special abilities.
  • New creatures.

The not so good

  • No rules for handling ships. Hopefully these will be included in the next volumes or in the upcoming supplement by Chaosium: the Gamemaster's Sourcebook. If you are in a hurry you can try to find a copy of RQ3.
  • The fact some fans won't have the time for a campaign outside Dragon Pass and Prax.

Lots of islands and adventure await in the East Isles!

Pirates of the East Isles Vol. 1 is available from DrivethruRPG for 15$, so far only in PDF format. When 250 copies are sold, the author will be allowed to also offer a print-on-demand version. What do you think? Do you also find the concept of cutlass-wielding kung-fu pirates plying the seas of the thousand magical islands enticing?

8 comentarios:

  1. Thank you for your great review. I wish I could have included rules, but I was not given permission. I was told to refer to Magic World for the rules, that Chaosium would soon be publishing new ship rules and unfortunately, I was a bit ahead of the game, so to speak. So I made do as best I could.

    1. Ship rules, I mean.

    2. Oh, you must be Scott Crowder. 🙂
      I understand then, what a pity. 😥 Well then, if someone can't wait for the new official rules, here's the link to Magic World on DrivethruRPG.

  2. First of all, I have to thanks the author to be brave enough to expand the world beyond the comfort zone of the central Genertela. Only that, it's already refreshing! And the Eastern Islands is for me one of the hardest places to develop!

    It's cool to see the Parloth, the Parondpara and I guess he also included the Adpara? For what I see, the religions are not really developed but at gaming stats (sort of like in the old Gods of Glorantha), if that's the case it's really a shame, but I can't really blame him. That alone requires a whole book! I don't like to see the eastern goods sharing Celestial Court runes, but I guess that's expected. Regarding to turn mysticism into some sort of kung fu, I can understand the decision, but kinda don't like it a lot. I should preferred something more philosophical and esoteric.

    Pregezora has a whole chapter? Is the starting point of the campaign or an objective? I mean, that's an invisible island! That's a cool place to choose, but may be a little weird for starters in the Eastern Islands ;)

    1. The initial adventure sets the PCs up to find a way to Pirate Island. I mean, you can't play pirates of the east isles and not visit Pirate Town on Pirate Island and meet the Pirate King!

    2. Yeah, I see what you mean. Yeah, that's right!

  3. I thought I'd share my thought process on one design decision. Runeblogger points out that there is only Choku Maru's estate laid out. The reason I don't give maps of Pan Lun's and the Pirate King's estates are twofold. One, if I give the GM the maps, he feels required to use them. Raiding or breaking into the Pirate King's home would be an entire adventure (probably suicidal) on its own. It would not only turn the entire inhabitants against the PCs, it would turn the island itself against the PCs. So I did not wish to encourage the GM down that path. The other reason is because the intent in that part of the adventure is to give the PCs three choices, one for each prevalent style of play. Pan Lun's offer is good if the players like stealth and avoiding direct confrontation if possible. Hence, the need for a map of a home to break into. Choku Maru's offer is good if the players want a fight. Hence, just kill Pan Lun. the Pirate King's offer is good if the players are the type who play one side off on the other for their own advantage. Neither of the latter two offers required a map.

    1. Wow, thanks for sharing your "designer's notes" behind that particular decision. 🤔👍


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