sábado, 4 de marzo de 2023

Review of Fires of Mingai: Hero Wars in the East Isles Vol. 2

2 comentarios

Fires of Mingai is the second volume of a series of publications focused on a small archipelago of the East Isles, published in the Jonstown Compendium for RuneQuest Adventures in Glorantha. To fully use this book, you need the first volume: Korolan Islands (also the rulebook, the Bestiary and the Red Book of Magic). While the first volume describes the general background of the Korolan Islands archipelago (read a review), Fires of Mingai, also by Hannu Rytövuori, David Cake and Nils Weinander, focuses on two of the five islands and provides more background, maps, NPCs, and 4 scenarios. The authors provided me with a copy of the book, but I have tried my best to review it objectively. Please tell me if you think otherwise. Let's have a look!

The cover of Fires of Mingai, by Tania Rodriguez-Kaarto

The look

This 129-page-long PDF is well laid-out using the template provided by the Jonstown Compendium at DrivethruRPG. The book is in full color, although some of the art is black and white. As in the first volume, here you will find a very decent amount of art, most of it amateurish, but good at representing the cultural aspects of the isles, and the portraits of some NPCs are helpful to visualize them. For example, the piece that depicts the Steam Pot tavern is outstanding. The maps included are quite good, mostly done using Inkarnate and Wonderdraft, and very usable for online play, which is a plus. Some of them include a scale.

The cover by Tania Rodriguez-Kaarto is very atmospheric and stylish. Unlike the cover of Korolan Islands, here there is a lot more happening, as it depicts some sort of ritual or celebration around a bonfire on the beach, with some islanders dressed in red singing and dancing. It could be a religious festival in honor of the fiery god of Mingai or perhaps a celebration of the Korolan Games, one of the scenarios in the book.

Introduction and map of the island of Mingai

The contents

Fires of Mingai starts with some notes about how to include PCs that are not native to the Korolan Islands in the campaign. However, playing the scenarios with native characters is what makes the most sense, as they will know everything necessary and will have a the basic reason to just be there in the first place. Still, these notes might be helpful for those GMs who have to deal with players who do not want to create new characters.

Click on the image to enlarge the list of contents

One of my complaints about Volume 1 is that it does not include enough detailed information about each of the islands in the archipelago, but in Volume 2 you get that about two of them: Mingai and Sitoro. There is a map of these two small islands, short gazetteers that can spark ideas for scenarios and some important NPCs with full stats. I like that in the stats every main rune is paired with a personality trait, as that helps to understand and roleplay the characters better, like Truth 80% (Disciplined). You can also find a description of Verena, the main village in Mingai, with a map and gazetteer, as it is expected adventurers will spend a lot of time in its temples and taverns. There is also a description of the Senate of Sitoro, where Queen Tamerana and the four senators live. Interestingly, lizard-like humanoids used to rule this island but were banished long ago: the varanids. Finally, you get a table of rumors, something I had also missed in the first volume. I love that each rumor is preceded by a category ranging from "True" to "Too awful to contemplate", taking the cue of the rumor tables in the GM Screen Pack and the old RQ magazine Tales of the Reaching Moon. Rumors are great as a source of information (or even misinformation!), but also as a source of possible adventures initiated by the players' curiosity.

The book includes 4 scenarios set between 1613 and 1614 ST, but I see no reason not to set them in 1625 or other years. Three are set in the island of Mingai and one in Sitoro, so when I run this campaign, I will make sure the player characters are from Mingai or have a good reason to spend time there. Beware: SPOILERS AHEAD.

The Nest: In the first scenario, the adventurers need to get rid of a roc's nest, a gigantic bird that has started nesting on a cliff of the volcano in Mingai. It includes a lot of climbing, some fighting, perhaps negotiating and making tough decisions, as the roc is going to be back at some point! The arrival of a group of flying adversaries could make it all even tenser for the adventurers. This looks like a straightforward scenario, but the adventurers will need to think what path is the best, and I like that there is a lot of space for doing things in different ways, so the players are encouraged to be smart. In the end, the authors leave it to every GM to decide if the roc comes back right when the adventurers are still near the nest, and the lives of many people can hang on the success of a Bargain roll. Call me an evil GM, but I think that makes the adventure so much more interesting!

A couple pages from the scenario "The Nest"

The Hill of Red Top: This scenario involves exploring an abandoned tower and meeting one of the funniest characters in the whole book: a crazy keet with a piece of art that made me smile. The tower itself is not particularly interesting, but roleplaying the NPC that lives there can be a lot of fun. On top of that, there are people who want to kill the adventurers and so the initial exploration can turn into a siege. But that's not all, because the caves under the tower hold a secret than can be unleashed and add even more tension. It is also a straightforward scenario that can get really interesting when the different vectors collide. Still, when I run it, I will develop the caves a bit more, because they are a bit dry as they stand. I will also try to come up with some specific way to banish Red Walker before all the inhabitants of the island go mad, making it a race to find the "cure". Finally, if the adventurers play their cards well, they can end up with a cool base of operations and a new business to run.

A couple pages at the beginning of the scenario "The Hill of Red Top"

Korolan Games: This one reminded me of the scenario "Melisande's Hand" in the RQ3 supplement Sun County, because it is also an athletic competition with intrigues going on in the background. Every year, the inhabitants of the Korolan Islands celebrate a competition and the winning island gets to appoint a new ruler of the archipelago. This year, some groups are after the throne, which could jeopardize the long-lasting peace of the 5 islands. Some of the attendants are pretending to be someone else, and some are trying to cheat, so there is a lot to do besides taking part in the competition itself. Even so, the 10 different contests taking place over a week can be specially interesting if the adventurers participate in all or some of them, even better if the PCs come from different islands, or if they try to cheat or catch the cheaters. There is even a coconut-picking contest!

It is cool that there is something happening every day besides the contests. However, these events are rather short and in some cases, its resolution is too simple or only loosely defined, so the GM needs to prepare some extra details beforehand or be ready to improvise. Among the NPCs included there are important people from islands not yet described, like Tamoro, and this makes me wonder if it would not have been better to include this scenario after the other islands are detailed in future volumes, so the adventurers can go through some adventures in every island and finally meet all the important people again during the games. Still, the list of NPCs is great and includes refreshing ideas like a mralotaur (boarman) bodyguard! A detail that could cause problems to GMs is that some of the NPCs belong to cults and have rune spells that have not been described in previous books. For example, Lumaxovoran's magic was described in the RQ3 supplement Gods of Glorantha, but that book might be hard to find nowadays. 

The Korolan Games is a fun scenario with athletic contests and political intrigue

Aside from that, I would run the races in a different way. For example, the boat race is abstracted by a series of Strength, Art, Sing, and Boat rolls with every success adding up to a score that is then compared to the other teams to figure out the winner, 2nd place, etc. This is OK for other contests like the gymnastics or the surfing contest, or if you want to be done with it quickly, while taking into account several skills, but the disadvantage is that it is not exciting. Instead, I would run the chases using the chase rules in the RuneQuest rulebook, with several Boat rolls for every step of the race, so players can experience some back and forth, an possibly enjoy tense final moments when two teams are succeeding in every roll. As for the foot race, since it its 17 km long, I would turn it into 6 DEXx5 rolls and 4 CONx5 rolls in-between to represent the contestants' stamina. However, the rules in Fires of Mingai are clever because they take into account not only your luck when rolling, but also your score in DEX and CON, and so they try to offset bad luck with the dice a bit with raw inherent ability. At any rate, I would roll the dice every turn for every contestant, so all players can see how the race develops little by little, building up the tension. And if some adventurers are not participating in a contest, I would have those players roll for some of the NPCs. If their characters have placed bets for anyone, it will be even more fun. All in all, it looks like an exciting scenario, and some of the contestants can be used as pregenerated characters.

In Korolan Games there are many interesting non-player characters to interact with

Fires of Mingai: The final adventure kicks off with the sudden appearance of an angered minor goddess of fire from Mingai's volcano. She is bent on revenge but she ignores who exactly is to blame. Therefore, the adventurers will need to investigate and possibly uncover a terrifying truth, as someone has too many skeletons in the closet. The investigation will lead the adventurers to talk with a bunch of different NPCs, and even meet a powerful but eccentric gibbon shaman. When the clues finally point to a given individual, the adventurers will probably need to convince everyone of their findings and bring the criminal to justice in order to appease the goddess.

What I love the most about this scenario is that the adventurers are most probably going to have to face their own community when they uncover an unpleasant truth, so they are going to need to choose wisely who to trust and who to seek as an ally. The scenario describes for this the different reactions of most NPCs. There is also a lot of drama. On top of that, it includes most of the NPCs described in the island of Mingai, so players get to know everyone. What I don't like is that there seem to be two overlapping initial hooks, and that I wonder why the cult of Karkal does not take care of the problem. Therefore, when I run this adventure, I will only use the hook of the sugar glider, and I'll come up with a good reason why the priests cannot solve the problem themselves.

A nice illustration of the furious fire goddess Kalareli

Wrapping up

Fires of Mingai is an enjoyable collection of scenarios with much needed details about two of the islands of the 5-island archipelago where the series is set. The best thing is it makes it easy to start a campaign in the East Isles with a community focus, so the player characters are not going to stray too far from their homes. That means your players need to soak in very little setting information, only the most immediate, and you can have NPCs who are relatives and neighbors, so everything becomes much more personal. The scenarios are varied enough and provide a good balance of action and social interaction.

As for the cons, although Korolan Islands includes a lot of background, you still need to wait for the future volumes that will include details and maps of the other 3 islands in the archipelago. So, for the moment being, the campaign is limited to the two islands detailed in Fires of Mingai. Hopefully I'll need to erase this sentence soon! Also, some may complain that some NPCs in the Korolan Games scenario have magic or belong to cults that are not described in current publications. Despite all that, Fires of Mingai is a worthy supplement for RuneQuest for 15$, particularly if you want your Glorantha to steer away from Dragon Pass and Prax. So, in a nutshell:

The best

  • Good amount of art.
  • Good maps.
  • Makes it easy to start running games in the East Isles focused on the community of the player characters. With volume 1 and the material in volume 2, you can enjoy a fun campaign in a Gloranthan setting that is very different from Dragon Pass and Prax.
  • The 4 scenarios are varied and have a good balance of action and social interaction.

The not so good

  • Some NPCs in the Korolan Games scenario belong to cults that have not been described yet.
  • You need to wait until the authors publish the next volumes in order to have the full details of the other 3 islands. Or perhaps use the other book about the East Isles in the meantime. At least, at the back of the book there is an ad about volume 3, so I guess it won't take long.

The Steam Pot Inn is a place in Mingai where the adventurers may spend a lot of time

The forthcoming 3rd volume: Islands of the Lost will include 3 more adventures and a closer look at the islands of Tamoro and Luvata, all packed behind a cool cover. Hopefully soon after that the authors will publish the 4th volume in the series with more scenarios and a closer look at the 5th remaining island of the Korolan archipelago: Sereneto.

You can purchase Fires of Mingai: Hero Wars in the East Isles Vol. 2, so far only in PDF format at DrivethruRPG for 15$. So, would you play or run such a campaign in the East Isles? Also please let me know if you liked this review in a comment below. Thanks for reading!

2 comentarios:

  1. Thanks for your great review.

    I hope it's not a big disappointment, but Sereneto Island will not get a full description in the future books. It will be left to GMs on ideas.

    Vol 3 will get Cult write-ups for Enevar, Prosendara, Mairnali, Kendaramin, Jayonara and Razeyo. Ali of them Parloth deities.

    You have good ideas for Red Walker, would be great to hear how it goes, if you run the campaign.

    Vol 4 will be a sandbox book and focuses on Sironomandidi and Korolan Islands. It will likely not have full adventures as in Vol 2 and 3, nyt lots of Adventure Seeds, Encounters, Encounter Tables and things usually found in sandbox book.

    Vol 5 will be about Antigods and has a big dungeon crawl.

    I hope you will enjoy them ali.

    1. Wow, that list of upcoming books looks definitely interesting!
      I'm glad you liked my review!


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