Welcome!

"Come now my child, if we were planning to harm you, do you think we'd be lurking here beside the path in the very darkest part of the forest..." - Kenneth Patchen, "Even So."


THIS IS A BLOG ABOUT STORIES AND STORYTELLING; some are true, some are false, and some are a matter of perspective. Herein the brave traveller shall find dark musings on horror, explorations of the occult, and wild flights of fantasy.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

TORG ETERNITY: A REVIEW


BACK IN 1990 a coalition of alien realities invaded Earth.  The territories seized by these invaders were altered, so that reality worked there like their home universes, rather than ours.  By converting our world to something more like theirs, they drained the planet's "Possibility energy," the very stuff that makes growth and change happen.  Their goal was to eventually drain the entire planet dry.

But reality forms its own antibodies.  Rare individuals were gifted with the ability to manipulate Possibility energy, and to resist the transformative effects of the alien realms.  Called "Storm Knights" they fought back against the invasion and eventually ended it.  These battles were called "the Possibility Wars," and the roleplaying game that portrayed them was called Torg.

Now, 27 years later, it is all happening again on a different, parallel Earth.  This isn't Torg Second Edition.  It's another Earth, another Possibility Wars, and Torg Eternity is not at all the same game.  If you are looking for a new edition of Torg, this isn't it.  

This isn't necessarily a bad thing, and we've seen it before.  Trail of Cthulhu is not Call of Cthulhu; Heroquest is not Runequest (or 13th Age Glorantha for that matter).  These are very different systems that just happen to share settings.  Torg and Torg Eternity occupy the same multiverse--indeed, there is some suggestion that at least one refugee from the Torg parallel Earth has ended up in this one--but they don't have the same feel and they are not interested in the same things.




THE SECOND POSSIBILITY WARS

In Torg Eternity, the basic premise is the same.  Seven alien realities have invaded the Earth to rob it of its Possibility energy.  Each of these realities is governed by a High Lord, an individual bound to his or her own "Darkness Device," ancient engines that allow you to bend reality to your will while vampirizing that same reality.  Each High Lord, in their greedy little hearts, dreams of becoming the "Torg," a High Lord who drains enough Possibility energy to become one with his or her Darkness Device and ascend into a kind of dark godhood.

The problem is that like in Highlander, "there can be only one."  Only one High Lord will get to be the Torg.  Their uneasy alliance is masterminded by the most ancient of their number, the nameless "Gaunt Man" who has already drained countless worlds and now has his eyes set on Earth.  Unusually rich in Possibility energy, draining Earth is sure to make him the Torg.  Yet because Earth is so rich in Possibility energy, Earth's reality fights back harder against invasion.  This requires a coordinated attack by multiple High Lords and realities.  

The Gaunt Man's own reality is Orrorsh, a realm of Victorian, gothic horror.  Seizing the Indian subcontinent, he turns back the clocks there to the late 19th century and makes it a land of dark magics and fear.  Across the globe in North America, huge regions have been converted into a prehistoric, "lost world" reality of savagery and shamanism.  Northern Europe has been transformed into Asyle, a high fantasy medieval reality.  France and Spain have been claimed by the Cyberpapcy, a futuristic cyberpunk reality where the corrupt Avignon Papacy trumped over the one in Rome and now leads an Inquisition-style theocracy.  Russia has been carved up by a post-apocalyptic reality dominated by Nietzschean demons.  Much of Africa has been converted into a 1930s, pulp comic realm that is a cross between Casablanca, The Shadow, and Raiders of the Lost Ark.  And in East Asia, a realm of espionage, conspiracy, and Resident Evil type horror has taken hold under the auspices of the shadowy Kanawa Corporation.




People caught up in these reality invasions were stripped of their Possibility energy and converted into residents of that realm.  People trapped in the prehistoric North American Living Lands, for example, were turned into stone age tribesmen.  Each reality has its own Axioms--Magic, Social, Spirit, and Tech--that regulate what is possible.  Bring your smartphone into the African 1930s Nile Empire and it will simply start working...or be converted into a clunky phone from that period.  

Of course not everyone caught in these invasions was converted.  Reality fights back, and some rare individuals--namely the player characters--are gifted with the ability to resist the conversion powers of the realms and to impose their own will (to an extent) on reality.  Called Storm Knights, these characters can go dinosaur hunting in the Living Lands without being changed into cavemen.  They can also make their guns work there.  This risks creating contradictions, however, and can even lead to disconnection from your own reality.  The Storm Knights are recruited by a global agency called the Delphi Council, whose sole purpose is to coordinated the remaining forces of Earth to repel the invaders.

Aside from a few minor tweaks--moving Orrorsh to India or adding a mutating zombie virus to the high tech espionage reality in the Far East--Torg and Torg Eternity are largely on the same page.  The biggest change, really, is "Core Earth," the 21st century reality being invaded.  Unlike the Core Earth in Torg, Eternity's Earth is already a cinematic mirror of our own, where action films like Die Hard or The Fast and the Furious could actually happen.  In addition, because they come from a world so rich in Possibility energy, Core Earth characters are actually better at bending reality and resisting the power of the invading realms.

TORG VS. ETERNITY   

But for all that they share, Torg and Torg Eternity are very different.

Torg was built around three key elements.  The first was a deck of cards that regulated the flow of combat, triggered special effects, and gave the player characters special tricks and stunts to perform.  The second was an innovative system of values and measurements, inspired by author Greg Gordon's previous work on DC Heroes.  This system meant that all the values in the game, like player character attributes or difficulty numbers, corresponded to an amount of weight, distance, time, or speed.  The third element, and the critical one in a game that is about alternate realities, was the concept of "World Laws."  Basically, when your characters entered different realms, the rules of the game changed.  Sessions played differently.  Fighting a zombie in the high fantasy reality of Asyle was very different than encountering a zombie in the gothic horror realm of Orrorsh.  In Asyle, the zombie was just another monster; in Asyle, the zombie would have a fear rating that until overcome crippled your characters as they fought it.  To overcome that rating, you might be forced to investigate it, gaining bonuses for the final confrontation.  Each realm had rules like this, changing the way the game played.  

Torg Eternity is really only interested in the card deck, which--though it is divided into two decks, one for regulating combat and one for player character stunts--still works the same.   Values and measures are no longer the heart of the game, but presented as a sort of optional afterthought.  World laws are still present, but work differently.  In many cases their effects have been shifted to cards that players can play in exchange for a reward of Possibility points (think hero points).  The effect is that each realm looks different, but pretty much works and feels the same.

The argument for this is the same one White Wolf made when it rebooted the World of Darkness line.  The original Vampire, Werewolf, Mage, et al occupied the same setting but had too many differences, too many individual rules.  Torg Eternity is governed by a more universal, seamless system, intended to ease play and make things more balanced.  It plays faster and more smoothly.  There are fewer charts and tables to consult and a lot less math.  Things that used to work very differently from each other, such as cyberware and martial arts, are now all handled by the same system and taken as Perks.  Eternity is easier to run and easier to play.

The cumulative effect of all this is greater consistency.  Torg Eternity--whose design team includes Shane Lacey Hensly of Savage Worlds fame--feels like Savage Worlds.  It's fast, furious, and fun.  On the other hand, using Savage Worlds as the engine for your Victorian horror game and your cyberpunk setting, both will still basically be Savage Worlds. This is the same in Torg Eternity.  Played in any of the realms, it is still basically the same Torg Eternity.  Each realm has the same high octane action movie feel.  There is nothing wrong with this, but it is a very different design choice than the one Torg made.


Given the choice, I will probably continue to play Torg.  Aside from the concept and setting, I am not sure what exactly makes Eternity different from Savage Worlds or the Cypher System.  It is, essentially, a universal rules system now which handles different genres pretty much the same way.  This is immensely disappointing, because the original game went to great lengths to make each genre different.  On the other hand, I don't think this opposite approach will make any difference to new players just coming to the game, who will enjoy it as a fast-paced action romp through multiple invading dimensions.  It's a good game.

I'm just not convinced it is a better game.

Three out of Five stars. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

THE GLORANTHA SOURCEBOOK: A REVIEW

SUMMARY

The Glorantha Sourcebook reviewed here is a lavishly illustrated 226-page pdf.  Released alongside the triumphant new Gloranthan RPG, 13th Age Glorantha, the Sourcebook is system agnostic, and would be a valuable tool for Runequest or Heroquest campaigns.  Less comprehensive than 2014's Guide to Glorantha, the Sourcebook is a much better introduction to the setting, concentrating just on those aspects which make Glorantha so beloved.  Drawing on long out-of-print sources, and including new materials, this belongs in the collection of new Glorantha fans and old timers alike.  

Read on.




FOCUS

AFTER FIFTY YEARS of board games, RPGs, comics, computer strategy games, essays, short fiction, and long fiction, Glorantha is (as the introduction to The Glorantha Sourcebook tells us) "the best defined gaming setting there is." And yet, despite all of the ink spilled on it, Glorantha remains difficult to explain. "More" is not always "better." Sometimes detail distracts from what is essential. 


This is because fantasy worlds aren't really about the details. They are more than just maps, hard to pronounce place names, and invented histories. At the core, a fantasy world is defined by its world view. Middle-earth, for example, isn't dragons and elves and dwarves; Faerûn has all those, as does Tamriel, Krynn, and Thedas. What gives Middle-earth its character and identity is its Catholicism. It is the unfolding divine plan of a Creator, in which the Fall and Redemption are major themes. Without this core, its just another place with halflings. 

While the two-volume, 800+ page Guide to Glorantha belongs on every diehard fan's bookshelf, The Glorantha Sourcebook is entirely about explaining the world view of the setting.  Only a quarter of the Guide's length, it's virtue is this focus. It shines a spotlight on what exactly makes Glorantha "Glorantha." "...this book is not a gazetteer or an encyclopedia," the Sourcebook tells us, "...(t)he book is more mythological than materialist."  And right there, ladies and gentlemen, is the world view.  Right there is what Glorantha is.



MYTH

Today, we use the word "myth" as a synonym for "a lie."  It's dismissive, it indicates something that is false.  This is pretty much the opposite of how traditional societies understood the term.  Myths--passed down from generation to generation--were shadows of a higher reality.  They were revelations from the powers that create and sustain the universe.  These primordial forces were beyond human understanding or explanation; the only way to know them was to experience them directly.  A myth was not an "explanation," it was a "journey."  Because it came to us from the higher world, it could be followed back there.  No myth was the whole truth, but every myth pointed the way to truth.

While lots of fantasy worlds have gods, myths are at the center of Gloranthan gaming.  The "higher reality" discussed above is called the God Time in Glorantha; the "primordial forces" there are the Runes.  Glorantha magic is "the interaction of mortals existing within Time with the timeless and eternal powers of the God Time."  Adventurers become heroes by following the myths.  It is no accident that the first two Gloranthan RPGs--Runequest and Heroquest--bore those names.  Following myths to access the Runes and become Heroes is what Gloranthan characters do.



THE BOOK

Of The Glorantha Sourcebook's 226 pages, more than half is given to mythology.  "Theogony," the longest chapter, is a God Learner* inspired overview of Glorantha's creation myths and her great pantheons (Darkness, Water, Earth, Fire and Sky, and Air).  The Gods War is detailed, a mythic conflict that cracked the world and allowed Chaos--the power of corruption and entropy--to enter.  Long-time fans will of course know all of these stories, but their retellings here, complete with beautiful illustrations showing the gods and their relations with one another, are extensive and deep.  For my money this was the best overview of Gloranthan mythology we have seen.  

Alongside this in-depth look at Gloranthan myth, an entire separate chapter is given to describe just a single pantheon, the "Gods of the Lunar Way."  A dead goddess reborn inside of Time, it makes sense to single the Red Goddess out.  Unlike the other deities, she lived among mortals in the Mundane World, her presence changing the entire cosmic order.  The Empire she left behind (detailed in the following chapter) is one of the most important political structures at the time and place the sourcebook focuses on.



When and where exactly is that?  The Sourcebook is set around 1627 ST in the Third Age of the world.  This is the Hero Wars, when the rebellious, freedom-loving Orlanthi barbarians are throwing off the yoke of the Lunar imperium.  Argrath, the exiled Prince of Sartar has returned to his kingdom, liberating it.  Because the Hero Wars are the focus of this work, the Sourcebook does not go into great detail on the rest of the world.  Glorantha's geography and cosmology is discussed, but the only regions given great detail are Dragon Pass (where the Hero Wars ignite), neighboring Prax, and the Lunar Empire.  If you are looking to run a campaign in Pamaltela, this is not the resource for you.

It's hard to argue with this design choice.  All three Glorantha RPGs made pretty much the same decision, focusing on Dragon Pass.  Again, focus allows the Sourcebook to lavish attention on this region, not in details like demographics and exports, but on the cultures, myths, and history which make Dragon Pass so mesmerizing.  For long time players, moving the date forward into Argrath's return follows the trajectory set in recent Heroquest materials, and opens up new features to explore, such as the entire chapter on the "Sartar Magical Union." 



FINAL THOUGHTS

Like the myths that form the core of Glorantha, the Sourcebook is not an explanation, it is a journey.  There is just enough here for newcomers to understand Glorantha and for long time fans to (re)discover little treasures and fascinating details.  This isn't a campaign book, or a setting book in the traditional sense.  It doesn't tell you the population of villages or the names of local rulers.  It is a collection of histories and myths for you to use in discovering your Glorantha.  It's vividly told, beautifully illustrated, and inspirational.  Do not expect crunch, or the extensive details and maps from the Guide to Glorantha.  This is a book (when Chaosium finally prints it) you will want on the shelf next to the Guide.  

     


* The God Learners, dear reader, are a cautionary tale.  A Second Age seafaring empire, the God Learners believed that myths were things they could rewrite, retell, and synthesize at will.  To them, human rationality--reason--was superior to myth.  They thought the universe could be studied and understood.  In the end, it destroyed them.           
 





             


       





Friday, March 9, 2018

SPIRE: AN RPG REVIEW



SPIRE is weird. Spire is punk. Spire is a China Mieville novel read with a high fever, or Hunter S. Thompson writing a Lovecraft mythos tale. Spire is Drow, but Toto, we aren't in Menzoberranzan anymore. Spire is a light, fast, easy-to-play game system that is lethal as Hell but sickening good fun, parked in a setting which is the real star of the show. Authors Grant Howitt and Christopher Taylor serve up a fantasy RPG here that doesn't try to be something for everyone, but instead lures you in a dazzles with a weird tale of rebellion, suffering, and sacrifice. 







THE SPIRE is a mile-high tower, an impossible city. No one really knows who built it, or even if "built" is the right word. Some whisper it is a dead god or a living thing. At its black heart, reality breaks down, a magical cancer that is slowly spreading through the structure. It used to belong to the Dark Elves, the Drow. But 200 years ago the Aelfir or "High Elves" invaded the city and conquered its inhabitants. Beautiful, graceful, inhuman, the High Elves live atop the Spire in their pleasure domes while below them the Dark Elves grovel and toil. The Aelfir have outlawed the old nocturnal gods of the Drow pantheon, all save Our Glorious Lady, the gentle mother goddess of the moon, and built shining temples to their own Solar pantheon instead. And when a young Drow comes of age, he or she must endure the Durance, four years of indentured servitude to a High Elf master or mistress. Even after the Durance, Drow lives are impoverished and bleak.


But now there is a shadow among the populace, whispers that blow through the alleyways and gutters. The cult of a forbidden goddess, the hidden dark moon, stirs and plots rebellion. Called the Ministry of our Hidden Mistress, it recruits in secrecy and spreads. The shining elites, in their gardens of privilege, name it "terrorism." The oppressed call it "revolution." Day by day the violence escalates. People die. One way or the other it will end in blood; the status quo will triumph or the Spire will fall.






In Spire, all the player characters are Drow, and all are members of the Ministry. They have dedicated themselves to throwing off the High Elf yoke, no matter the cost. Characters don't gain experience, they advance by furthering their cause and making changes--for better or for worse--in the Spire. And they do this at great personal risk, not just damaging their bodies and minds, but their purses, relationships, and sometimes even souls. 


In the same way that games in the 90s often had an apocalyptic feel, reflecting society's unease about the end of the millennium, Spire--intentionally or unintentionally--feels right at home in 2018. We live in a world of terrorist conspiracies, of rage against the machine. Extremist movements in the Islamic world, increasingly right-wing politics in Britain, Europe, and America, all these reflect the growing anger at the ever increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots. The Drow of Spire may be nocturnal beings blistered by the rays of the sun, but we can relate to them. We can understand them. In a very real way, they are us.





SPIRE IS A FANTASY-PUNK GAME. Forget Lawful Good and Chaotic Evil, the morality here is all gray. You won't be trudging between the local town and the dungeon; you live in the mega-dungeon, a magically fueled industrialist hive of tunnels and levels and warrens. Do not expect to be slaying monsters for their treasure. The adversaries in Spire are people--whether High Elf, their human minions, or other Drow--so killing them comes with questions and complications. If there is a consistent theme to the game it is "damage." As you attempt to hurt the High Elves, the personal costs to yourself mount and mount. It's a race to make sure you can do the most damage to them before it destroys you.






BECAUSE IT IS SO CENTRAL, DAMAGE is built right into the core mechanic of the game. To resolve any action, roll a d10. On a result of 1 to 5, you fail. On a 6 to 10, you succeed. Skills and Domain add extra d10s, allowing you to take the highest roll. In combat, for example, a character with the skill "Fight" would roll 2 d10s. A character trying to pick a guard's pocket would add their skill "Steal" and their domain "Crime" to roll 3 d10s.


Where the damage comes in is "Stress." On any roll less than 8 you are going to get some (meaning on a 1 to 5 you fail and take stress, while with a 6 or 7 you succeed and take some). A roll of 1 is the worst, as you take double the Stress. On a 10, you inflict extra Stress (when applicable) against your opponent. Depending on the stakes, the amount of stress might be a d3, a d6, or a d8. Stress comes in five varieties, based on the risk you are taking;


Blood stress is physical damage, picked up in fighting or exposing yourself to bodily harm.


Mind stress is mental damage, from psychological pressure, psychic attack, or Call of Cthulhu style sanity loss.


Silver stress is damage to your pocketbook, losing resources and property.


Shadow stress is exposure; you are a member of an underground terrorist cell, and Shadow stress exposes you to the authorities.


Reputation stress damages your credibility in a specific group or community.


How does this work? In a gutter-level dice game, a character might risk losing a little coin. The GM calls this d3 Silver stress. In a high stakes card game with wealthy High Elves, it might be d8 Silver stress. As another example, a character in a bare-knuckle street brawl risks just one point of Blood stress. In a sword fight, that risk would be d6 Blood stress.


Take the character in the sword fight. She rolls her dice (we will assume she has the Fight skill so she rolls 2d10 and takes the higher roll). Let's say she gets a 9. Terrific. She inflicts Blood stress on her opponent (a d6 since she is using a sword). If she rolled a 3, she would take Blood stress (again, d6 assuming her opponent has a sword). On a 6 or a 7, she would inflict and take Blood stress. Both sides get bloodied. 


The good news is, there are resistances. These are a bit like armor (an in the case of Blood stress, it could be armor), reducing the amount of Stress you take. Mind resistance might suggest supreme mental discipline. Silver resistance could indicate great resources. Whatever your resistance is, it helps protect you against that kind of Stress damage. Which brings us to Fallout.






FALLOUT is the injury Stress can inflict. Every time you take additional Stress, the GM rolls a d10 against your total. If the roll is lower than your current Stress, you suffer Fallout.


Fallout has two effects. On one hand, it immediately reduces your Stress. On the other, it inflicts a lasting consequence. Depending on how much Stress you had when the Fallout occurred, the Fallout will be Minor, Moderate, or Severe. These remove 3, 5, or 7 points of Stress but for a price.


Minor Blood Fallout might be "Bleeding" or "Stunned." Moderate Blood Fallout could be a "Broken Arm" or "Knocked Out." Severe Blood Fallout is something like "Dying." With Mind Fallout, Minor could be "Panicked," Moderate might be give you a new "Phobia," and Severe might make you "Obsessed." The book contains a healthy selection of Fallouts for each type of Stress, and ideas for creating your own. 


Under Spire's main rules, various types of Stress are pooled together for Fallout rolls. In other words, if you have 2 Silver stress, 1 Shadow stress, and 3 Blood stress, your total Stress is 6. The type of Fallout you take is usually based on the type of Stress inflicted at the time of the roll, unless something else makes sense. So in the case above, if a character takes 2 Mind stress, for a grand total of 8, and the GM rolls under this number, the character would suffer a Severe Mind Fallout, unless logic (or the plot) dictated another kind. This is pretty nasty...but it's a punk game, innit. If you want to run a game with less Fallout, their are variant rules for rolling against each type of Stress separately. 


Final note on Stress before we move on; it can be reduced without Fallout. If you've taken Blood stress, rest, first aid, or seeing a doctor can remove it. Getting a loan from your friends can reduce Silver stress, etc.







CHARACTERS IN SPIRE are created by picking a Durance and a Class. Durance is what you did during your four years of indentured servitude to your Aelfir masters. Class is what you do now. Your choice of Durance grants your character two of the following; Resistance to one kind of Stress, a skill, or a domain. Skills are things you can do, domains are things you know. Both add dice to rolls. For example, if you served as a "Guard," policing the Spire, you get +2 Reputation resistance and the domain "Order" (you know the laws and have contacts in the watch). If you were a "Personal Assistant" you get +2 Silver resistance and the skill "Compel" (getting people to do what you want).


Class is a much more character defining choice, offering multiple resistances, domains, and skills as well as core abilities, bonds, equipment, and advances. 


Core abilities are defining powers or talents unique to that particular class. The "Firebrand," a revolutionary rabble rouser, "Leads from the Front," getting an extra die to all actions when carry 6 or more points of stress, and can "Draw a Crowd" once per session, immediately gathering and audience around him or her. The "Knight" (a member of an ancient order of knights now devolved into little more than armored gangsters) gets "Pubcrawler," an encyclopedic knowledge of local drinking establishments, and "Pick a Fight," allowing him or her to know who is the best person in the area to pick a fight with if they want to 1) win, 2) impress, or 3) cause a distraction.


Bonds are relationships, both with NPCs and a PC.


Equipment is...well...you get that, don't you.


Advances are additional powers and abilities, ranked into three levels; Low, Medium, and High. Low advances are moderately useful and powerful, while High ones are real show-stoppers. But Spire doesn't use a level system; you pick up advances by making changes--good or bad--to the Spire. Clearing out a minor street gang might earn you a Low advance, while taking down a Spire-wide assassin's guild would earn a High one. Each class has a healthy selection of these, unlocking the full potential of the class.


The classes in Spire are weird, punk twists on familiar fantasy RPG tropes. All are woven into this specific setting. I mentioned the Firebrand and the Knight earlier because those take the least explanation...other classes are a bit more "unique."


The "Azurites," for example, dressed in their sacred blue and gold, are a merchant cult centered on the south docks. These characters are "traders, deal-makers, and hustlers," known throughout the Spire. "Carrion-Priests" are heretical death worshippers who believe the dead need to be eaten by sacred hyenas (you get one as an animal companion). "Idols" are occult-powered artists, celebrities whose work enraptures, enchants, and changes reality. The spider-blooded "Midwives" belong to an Order that raises children in the Spire, but are dedicated to the lives of all Drow. The "Vermissian Sages" are occult explorers of a Spire-wide public transportation system long abandoned...that now is bending and folding reality into pocket dimensions.


In short, there is nothing generic about these classes or characters. The classes are specific to the setting, and serve not just as conduits for growth and power but as channels into the Spire itself. Half the fun of them is the facets of life in the Spire that they reveal.






MOST OF THE BOOK, in fact, is the setting. Instead of bestiaries we get chapter after chapter of cults, personalities, neighborhoods, and factions...Academic, Occult, High Society, etc. These take up more than 80 pages of the 226-page book. Spire is like the titular city, a game and setting that you will enter and explore. Detail is lavished on it because the Spire itself is the megadungeon, the adversary, and the treasure, all at once. You are fighting the city throughout the city to win the city. I will not waste your time (or rob you of the fun) by saying too much about it, but one of the most compelling features about this game is the actual Spire itself. It's a setting brimming with strange ideas, weird twists on old ones, and nightmarish inversions of expectations. But of course, you have to expect that in a tale of Drow protagonists fighting those nasty High Elves. Ultimately the most compelling argument to buy, read, and play Spire is Spire itself.


Quibbles? I have a few. The book is so immersed in its setting that sometimes it forgets to explain the nuts and bolts. I am not sure Spire would be comprehensible to new or inexperienced players. The lay out isn't terribly clear. Spire wants to be evocative more than approachable. 


And it is, evocative. The art, the maps, the cults...it's page after page of deliciously dark fantasy. It's not for everyone; it doesn't want to be. But if you lean more towards Mieville and Moorcock than Tolkien or Salvatore, this is the game for you.






         

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

13TH AGE GLORANTHA: A REVIEW

This is a long review.  To me, it is not just another review; Glorantha has always had a special place in my heart.  Had I not encountered it in my junior high school "D&D Club," I doubt I would have gone on to get a Masters in mythology and epic literature, that I would be a Ritual Magician, or that this blog--which focuses on storytelling, mythology, and gaming--would exist.  I've run and played Glorantha for three and a half decades, reviewed it extensively, blogged about it, and even written for it.  So this review goes deep.   Grab a cup of coffee, pour a glass of wine, and settle in for the latest dive into one of gaming's most extraordinary and influential worlds. 




INTRODUCTION

AS GLORANTHA APPROCHES her half century mark, she has been the subject of board games (Dragon Pass and Nomad Gods), computer games (King of Dragon Pass and the upcoming Six Ages), fiction (King of Sartar, The Collected Griselda, The Widow's Tale, etc), and comic books (Path of the Damned).  Of course most of us have explored her through her roleplaying games.  The first was the legendary RuneQuest, one of the oldest and most influential games in the history of the industry.  The second, Heroquest, was the work of Robin D. Laws (Feng Shui, The Dying Earth, GUMSHOE).  Laws, like so many second and third wave game authors, grew up on Glorantha, and his work on Heroquest and both computer games shows his love for it.  Another designer Glorantha inspired was Mark Rein-Hagen, creator of Vampire: The Masquerade (one of the most successful RPGs of all time) and the "World of Darkness." On Glorantha, he wrote;

One of the greatest inspirations of my creative life was roleplaying in the incomparable and powerfully mythic world of Glorantha. Created by my mentor Greg Stafford nearly 50 years ago and the setting for one of the first roleplaying games ever written, Runequest, it has always been a lodestone and beacon to those in the know. An example of what a fully realized and vivid fantasy world can be...
  

Added to this list are two other major authors. Jonathan Tweet, lead designer for Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition, and Rob Heinsoo, lead designer of the 4th edition.  When the pair teamed up to create The 13th Age, a revolutionary indie take on modern d20 gaming, Heinsoo even mentioned Stafford (and the Gloranthan deity Orlanth) in his dedication.  It came as little surprise then when the duo announced the first major setting for 13th Age--after the default setting of the Dragon Empire (a world that shows marked Gloranthan influences)--would be 13G, or 13th Age in Glorantha.   Now it is here, with Heroquest still going strong and a new edition of Runequest about to appear.  Despite Glorantha's importance, regardless of its popularity and appeal, do we really need three Gloranthan RPGs?

I think we do.  Read on.




GLORANTHA?  13TH AGE?

It is likely that some of you know Glorantha, but not 13th Age.  Some of you will be fans of Heinsoo and Tweet's d20 game, but may not know Glorantha.  This section is to bring everyone up to speed.

Glorantha is one of the first fantasy game settings, appearing alongside Greyhawk, Blackmoor, and Tékumel in 1975.  It is almost certainly the most defined, with forty years of materials in print.  If the inspiration for a world like Middle-earth was primarily linguistic--a place for Tolkien to build imaginary languages--Glorantha was born because Greg Stafford wanted to explore mythology.  This is a Bronze Age world, bearing more in common with The Iliad, The Odyssey, or The Mahabharata than The Lord of the Rings or Le Morte d'Arthur.  Instead of knights in shining armor think "heroes" and "priest-kings."  

Glorantha is not a world like our Earth with a little magic thrown in.  It is flat, stretching under a sky dome.  The sun literally emerges from the gates of the underworld in the east, travels across heaven, and then descends through the gates of the west at night.  The realm of the dead lies beneath your feet; great heroes can actually escape the underworld and return to the lands of the living.  

Glorantha is defined by her magic, but this is deceptive if you are thinking of other fantasy worlds.  The world, and everything in it, is composed of the Runes.  These are to Glorantha what the periodic table is to chemistry, or phonemes are to language.  Darkness, Water, Earth, Plant, Harmony, Death...these are the essences, the building blocks of existence.  "Magic" in Glorantha is how your character relates to the Runes.  It is often defined by culture.  Shamans see the Runes as living spirits, negotiating and bargaining with them.  Sorcerers see them as impersonal forces of nature to be tapped into and directed.  Theists see them as gods, mighty beings whose deeds in the mythic prehistory of the world shaped it.  By sacrifice, the worshipper becomes one with them.  

A shaman would tell you that rivers run to the sea because the river spirits are mediators between the spirits of the land and the spirits of the deep.  A sorcerer would tell you it is the nature of the Water Rune to always seek the lowest level.  A theist might tell you that during the War of the Gods, when the Devil shattered the Spike (the primordial cosmic mountain that was home to the first gods), the Ocean rushed in to fill the hole left in the center of the world, and called his daughters, the rivers, to rush to help fill it. Drawing on mythologists like Mircea Eliade and exponents of perennial philosophy like René Guénon or Seyyed Hossein Nasr, Greg Stafford would tell us that in Glorantha...all these stories are true.  "Truth" is something outside the walls of time and space that bind the mortal races of Glorantha.  It is caught in glimpses.  The ultimate goal of Gloranthan magic is to seek it.  This search for Meaning (with a capital "M") was implicit in the title of the first two Gloranthan RPGs; Runequest implies seeking to understand and master the Runic forces of reality, and Heroquest is a Glorantha term for leaving the mortal plane to interact with the timeless myths that define reality.




13th Age, meanwhile, is a modern d20 game incorporating features of the recent editions of Dungeons & Dragons with many of those these recent editions abandoned.  Unlike Pathfinder, or the third edition, 13th Age is a streamlined, rules-light system that relies more on storytelling and GM improvisation.  Battle mats and miniatures are optional.  Situational modifiers are kept to a minimum.  And unlike the 4th edition, each character class is a unique play experience.  Playing a Sorcerer feels nothing like playing a Fighter or a Druid.  The classes all share features like levels and hit points, and gain greater abilities as levels increase, but they are designed to offer difference kinds of players different kinds of challenges.  Play a Wizard if you want a lot of improvisation and flexibility.  Play a Barbarian if you want to hit things and throw a lot of dice.

The greatest innovations in 13th Age are not the purely mechanical ones, but rather those geared towards creating unique characters and telling great stories.  Characters do not pick from a skills list, for example.  Instead they created broad backgrounds, such as "Former Spy for the Elf Queen" or "Exiled Nomad" for their abilities.  These are rolled against whenever applicable.  The Nomad might roll to soothe troubled horses, find water in the desert, or hunt for food.  The Spy might roll his background in matters of Elven etiquette, to decipher codes, or to eavesdrop.  These backgrounds go a long way to flesh out the protagonists.

As do the "One Unique Things."  Every 13th Age character comes up with an OUT to explain what makes them special.  As the name suggests, it is something about the character that no one in the world has.  "I am the bastard son of the Emperor," "I am the reincarnation of a Dead God," "I am the tallest Dwarf in the world."  There are rules for how to use (and not abuse) these, and they work well in making characters special.   

Most importantly to 13G, however, are the Icon relationships.  The original game dispenses with ideas like alignment and instead has the Icons, powerful NPCs who are the movers and shakers of the world.  The Emperor, the Archmage, the High Priestess, The Lich King, etc.  They are left archetypical enough for groups to tailor them to their words; the Archmage could be Gandalf, or Merlin.  The Emperor could lead a Roman-style Imperium or a Chinese heavenly bureaucracy.  What is important is that characters assign points to relationship with these, sometimes positive, sometimes negative.  A character could follow the Elf Queen and be opposed to the Dwarf King.  She might follow the Diabolist and seek to undermine the Priestess.  Frodo Baggins, for example, had Icon relationships with the Archmage (Gandalf), the Emperor (Aragorn), the Elf Queen (Galadriel), and the Lich King (Sauron) to various degrees.  

At the start of scenarios, dice rolls are made against the relationships characters have with their Icons and it is possible that they--or at least their agents--will be activated and intrude as subplots into the story, aiding the characters or complicating their lives.  This was a brilliant way to bind characters to the setting, and to make them feel a part of the story.  And as we shall see it plays an extremely vital role in 13G.

So with this background behind us, let's look specifically at 13th Age in Glorantha.




DRAGON PASS

13th Age in Glorantha is a not a stand-alone game, and you will need the 13th Age core rules to play.  It is essentially a massive, 466-page setting and sourcebook.  Because Glorantha is so immense, spanning two major continents, entire ages of time, and hundreds of detailed cultures, the focus of 13G is kept narrow.  The game is centered on a region called Dragon Pass, during a specific period of Gloranthan history, the Hero Wars of the Third Age.  Presumably future sourcebooks will broaden the scope, but if you know a bit about Glorantha, the book is full of ideas to expand and develop them on your own.

The book begins with a brief overview of Glorantha and the region you are playing in.  Dragon Pass is the crossroads of Glorantha's northern (roughly Eurasian) continent.  A highly contested region, it also happens to be one of the few nesting places of Gloranthan dragons.  In the previous Age, a sophisticated Empire that practiced draconic mysticism was centered there, until the Dragons ended this experiment by slaughtering every man, woman, and child in the region.  Emptied of humanity, it served as a refuge for many of the Elder Races, beings like the Aldryami (Gloranthan Elves, sentient plants with sap for blood, wooden bones, and leaves for hair) and the Uz (the Trolls, a subterranean race tied to the Darkness Rune).  Mighty in the mythic prehistory of the world, the Elder Races are greatly diminished since the dawn of Time.  

The Elder Races lived in Dragon Pass in relative peace until humans--specifically Storm worshipping barbarian tribes--started to trickle back into the region.  Coming in greater and greater numbers, they eventually formed new communities, including the kingdom of Sartar.  Roughly analogous to land-locked Vikings, horseless Men of Rohan, or Howard's Cimmerians, the people of Sartar value independence above all else.  Rebellion is at the heart of their religion; their chief deity, Orlanth, triggered the mythic Gods War by rebelling against the cosmic emperor, Yelm.  

Thus, conflict was inevitable when the urban and sophisticated Lunar Empire invaded Dragon Pass and attempted to "pacify" the rebellious barbarian tribes.  The Lunars--themselves analogous to imperial Rome with strong shades of Persia under Darius--further incite the Sartarites by including Chaos in their society.  Chaos, a force from outside Glorantha that the gods once waged a war against, is abhorrent to most cultures and especially the Storm worshippers. Thus the "Hero Wars" begin with the guerrilla struggle of the barbarians against against their imperial masters, and quickly escalate into a world shaking event that drags most people and races into the fight.

13G assumes most player characters will be these Sartarite barbarians, and as a result, fully half of the new character classes introduced in this book are drawn from that culture.  The other character options focus on neighboring peoples--not necessarily human--in the region. 

CHARACTER CREATION - THE RUNES 

Character creation in 13G follows the process in the core 13th Age rules, but adapts this to Glorantha.  Essentially players select a race, a class, and roll their abilities (the standard list for any d20 game).  13th Age specific features like Backgrounds (in place of skills) and the "One Unique Thing" are discussed extensively so players can come up with Gloranthan appropriate options.  Icon relationships are replaced with Runes.  Since 13G discusses these before even classes or races, we'll start there too.

Every character in 13G is bound to three Runes; two will be shared with the god he or she worships, and one is personal.    Characters have these instead of Icon relationships.  The gods of Glorantha--like everything else--are expressions of Runic powers.  The storm god Orlanth, for example, has the Runes "Air" and "Movement."  The earth goddess Ernalda has "Earth," "Harmony," and "Life."  The Runes define their natures and their spheres of power.  People in theistic cultures access the Runes by following a god.  If your character follows Orlanth, two of his Runes will be "Air" and "Movement."  If he follows Humakt, god of warriors and death, two of his Runes will be "Death" and "Truth."  The choice of a third Rune is meant to help personalize your character.  An Orlanth-worshipping hunter might have "Air," "Movement," and "Beast."  A farmer might have "Air," "Movement," and "Earth."  Stranger choices are also possible if you wish to give the character a more unusual backstory.

13G discusses each of the Runes and gives a brief overview of the major pantheons and gods found in Dragon Pass. 

During every full heal up (periods of restful downtime), each player character rolls a d6 to see which Rune he will be "attuned" to that coming day.  Basically, this Rune is currently "active" in the character's life.  A shaman might see this as a particular spirit accompanying you that day, a sorcerer might explain it as an alignment of the stars and planets that brings a specific Rune into focus, a theist will see it as the favor (or curse) of a god.  Whatever the case, on a roll of 1, 2, or 3, the character is attuned to his or her first, second, or third Rune.  On a 4 - 6, the Rune will be randomly determined by a die roll.  If that die roll results in one of your personal Runes anyway, that Rune is empowered, which means in addition to normal benefits and complications of attunement, you will end up with a permanent magical gift from that Rune. 

The player can "narrate" whatever Rune he is currently attuned to, granting him or her some sort of non-combat benefit during a dramatic moment in the game.  Tons of examples are given, as Runic attunement and narration is one of the things that distinguishes 13G from her sister Gloranthan games.  A character currently attuned to Darkness, for example, might be trying to slip past the town watch.  The player might narrate that Rune by having a cloud pass over the sun at the very moment he sneaks by, dramatically dimming the light, or since blindness is associated with the Darkness Rune, perhaps the guard gets dust in his eyes.  A character attuned to Truth might get a bonus to seeing through an NPC's lies, or his own words might become more convincing.  

But the Runes are all double-edged swords.  When a Rune is narrated in this way by a player, the GM rolls a d20.  On a result of 1 to 5, a complication arises.  This is a Rune-specific subplot that makes life suddenly more difficult for the player characters.  For example, as the character slips past the guard under the temporary influence of Darkness, he is spotted and followed by Troll bandits lingering in the busy square.  Why Trolls?  Because they are bound to the Darkness Rune.  The character who narrates Truth might be forced into a situation later in which he cannot lie.  The possibilities are endless.

As a sidenote, most of the material in 13G is presented in ways that put the Runes front and center.  Specific locations are associated with certain Runes, as are the creatures in the Bestiary.  All this helps GMs come up with appropriate complications. 




THE RACES  

The races available in 13th Age don't exist in Glorantha.  There are beings called "elves" but these are humanoid plants with wooden bones and sap in their veins.  There are beings called "dwarves," but they are a rigid machine race seldom seen on the surface world.  There are no halflings, orcs, or gnomes.  Most characters will be humans, and in keeping the focus on Dragon Pass, the game offers four "cultural traits" in place of races.  Aside from the Heortlings (the Storm worshipping barbarians we discussed), players can select the Earth worshipping Esrolians, the nomadic Praxians from the wastes to the east of Dragon Pass, and the Tarshites...cultural "cousins" to the Heortlings who have embraced the Lunar Empire and abandoned the Old Ways.

Two non-human options are available.  The first are the Uz, or Gloranthan "Trolls."  A hulking subterranean race strongly tied to the Darkness Rune, they were driven to the surface during the Gods War when the murdered Sun plunged into the Underworld.  Capable of eating anything--with the unfortunate habit of eating their neighbors--the Trolls nevertheless are fierce opponents of Chaos and a popular player race.

The second option are the Ducks.  

Though not a particularly numerous species (they are just one of many sentient animal or partially animal races in Glorantha), the Ducks are probably one of the best known features of the setting.  In the early 80s, when I started playing Runequest, the D&D players derided the game as "the one with ducks."  Whether they are waterfowl cursed with sentience or humans cursed with bills, feathers, and webbed feet, it is certain that the Ducks are cursed and they know it.  As a result they are a grim species given to worshipping Humakt, the god of the Sword and Death.  13G recognizes the notoriety of this race and offers several options for portraying them.  These range from comic relief to grim, legendary sinners paying for an ancient transgression.




THE CLASSES

In 1978, Runequest was one of the earliest RPGs to kick the concept of class and level aside.  Characters were defined instead by discrete skills.  On the other hand, there is something powerful and mythic about archetypes, so Runequest incorporated these as the Glorantha cults.  As one adventured, and grew in power and ability, he or she finally joined a cult that narrowed the scope of his or her choices but opened greater avenues to power.  Your cult informed basic things like spells, favored skills and what armor and weapons you could wear.  In effect, then, Runequest characters began play classless but eventually ended up selecting, and joining, their class "in game."

13G has a radically different power structure than Runequest.  Characters enter play later in their careers, already the rough equivalents of Rune Lords or Rune Priests.  All the background adventuring you do before joining your cult has already been done.  Thus you start with an archetypical class.  To frame this in Heroquest terms, in 13G your race is the equivalent of your Cultural Keyword, your backgrounds cover the territory of your Occupational Keyword, and your class takes the place of your Religion Keyword.  

13G introduces 11 Dragon Pass appropriate character classes:

The Berserker comes in two subtypes, the Chaos-fighting worshippers of Storm Bull and the fire and death using Zorak Zorani Trolls.

The Earth Priestess is primarily a worshipper of Ernalda, but could easily be modified to any of her sister goddesses.

The Hell Mother is the Troll equivalent of the Earth Priestess.  Both are matriarchs and both classes use a combination of spells and summonings (earth elementals in the first case, darkness spirits in this one).

The Humakti is the worshipper of the god of Truth and Death.  Grim warriors bound by rigid codes of honor (though more along the lines of discipline and truth than morality), the Humakti are also famed enemies of the undead.  To my mind, the Humakti was one of the 13G standouts, and is probably my favorite treatment of these characters since Cults of Prax.  

The Monk stands at the opposite side of the "quality spectrum" from the Humakti.  There isn't much here.  Basically it adapts a pre-existing 13th Age class (more on this in a few moments) to Glorantha, but while most classes (like the Humakti) feel perfectly adjusted to Glorantha, this one is a head-scratcher.

The Orlanthi Warrior is the first of several classes devoted to aspects of the barbarian Storm god, and as 13G points out, is easiest to play.  It is basically the Barbarian from 13th Age augmented with Storm specific elements and powers.  More on this class momentarily.

The Rebel is a follower of Orlanth Adventurous, a sub-cult of the Storm god.  This is the "young Orlanth," the rebel god who rose up and slew the Emperor of Heaven to liberate the cosmos.  The Rebel adapts the Rogue class, and does it very well, replacing elements of thievery with guerrilla fighting and trickery.  

The Storm Voice is a priest of Orlanth, based on the 13th Age Sorcerer class.  While both the Orlanthi Warrior and the Rebel are primarily fighting characters who use a little magic, the Storm Voice is far more magic heavy, commanding the powers of lightning, wind, and storm in battle.  This is the companion class to the Earth Priestess from above, using spells and summonings (this time, Air spirits and elementals).

The Trickster is a follower of Eurmal, the...er...Trickster.  Like Loki, Coyote, Eshu, or Hermes, Eurmal is devious, deceitful, and manipulative...but his misdeeds drive the engine of change.  With Runes like Disorder and Illusion, this class is the archetypical Fool that like the Doctor (of Doctor Who fame) masks its cunning with buffoonery.  

The Troll Warrior is the companion to the Orlanthi Warrior, a primarily fighting class augmented by Darkness magics.  It is primarily intended as a follower of Kyger Litor, but could be adapted to other Troll gods.  This is once again 13G at its best, focusing on the traditional features we associate with Trolls from previous games to create a fun, playable archetypical incarnation.

The Wind Lord brings us back to Orlanth, this time as the more martial arm of the cult.  In Runequest terms, this would be the Rune Lord, while the Storm Voice is the Rune Priest.  Like the Orlanthi Warrior, this is a fighter augmented by Storm magic, but there is much more magic here.  And this brings us to a topic that needs to be discussed...

In core 13th Age, while the character classes are all well-balanced against each other in terms of power, they vary tremendously in complexity.  This is explicit and intentional, a feature and not a bug.  While mechanically Heroquest characters are all the same, for example, 13G classes are not.  Thus, the distinction between the Orlanthi Warrior and the Wind Lord is not so much setting specific as a play choice.  The Orlanthi Warrior is nice and simple, for inexperienced players or those who just want to enjoy the game.  The Wind Lord offers far more options and choices for those who prefer such things.  As in 13th Age, 13G is upfront about all this and ranks the classes in terms of complexity, with advice on what class to select to reflect your taste in gaming.

Any of these classes could serve as models for additional Gloranthan cults not covered in the narrow, Dragon Pass-specific focus of 13G.  The same is also true of 13th Age's core classes, and the book discusses ideas and ways experienced Glorantha fans could adapt those classes for Gloranthan play.  The Ranger, for example, could be adapted for Odayla the Hunter (or with its animal companion, possibly Yinkin).  The Cleric (with appropriate tinkering) could reflect the Fire/Sky cults of Peloria or even the Red Goddess.  The Wizard would be a good choice for the atheistic sorcerers of the West.  In short, it is not at all difficult to change a 13th Age class, and the book offers much help in doing so.

FOR THE GM

13G introduces an extensive horde of Gloranthan NPCs and monsters, categorized by Rune.  Thus an Orlanthi Bandit Leader or Renegade Godi appears in the section under the Air Rune, while the Mad Stag Broo or Krashtkid appear under Chaos.  Nearly a hundred pages of adversaries are detailed.  It is a robust selection.

A bit less is offered about the world itself.  There are detailed maps of Dragon Pass and neighboring Prax, and descriptions of the key places in them (arranged again by Rune).  Outside of this region, little of the world is discussed.  Likewise, players will learn a great deal about the Orlanthi barbarians, but considerably less about the Esrolians, Aldryami, Praxian nomads, etc.  To round things out, 13G frequently references The Glorantha Sourcebook, which despite being system agnostic seems to be intended as a companion book for 13G.  While the Sourcebook is probably worthy of a review of its own, Gloranthan novices may find the extremely narrow focus of 13G limiting, and would benefit by also having that book.  It's hard to fault the 466-page 13G for not having enough; there is a lot here, and both Runequest and Heroquest kept the focus narrow as well.  Still, someone new to Glorantha may not get as much out of 13G.

GMs new to Glorantha will appreciate the sections of "Chaos Rises," the default campaign being offered, as well as the five (!) complete adventures included in the book.  The adventures do a terrific job of showcasing the diversity of stories available in Glorantha, and are worth a read even by Gloranthan grognards.  

But before we conclude our discussion, there are two more topics covered in 13G that need addressing, "Heroquesting," and "Chaos."




HEROQUESTING 


The God Time is the eternal land of myth, where the mighty (or sometimes inglorious) deeds of the gods are frozen in eternal recurrence, separate from the mortal world of time. In a sense, all myths are myths of creation, since the actions of the gods created and sustain the mortal world.

In Glorantha, a heroquest is a path through a myth that provides power and insight to mortals who are capable of recreating the actions and adventures of their gods. Powerful successes can restore the world, or perhaps even reshape it. 
 page 357

Gloranthan heroes can gain power and insight by ritually entering the Other World and re-enacting a specific myth, this time playing the roles of the original protagonists (usually gods) themselves.  Heroquests don't tend to reward the characters with treasures, but rather Runic Gifts...powers and abilities bestowed by the Runes of the god they walk the path of, or beings they might encounter wile doing so.  13G presents the Heroquest like any other adventure, albeit an adventure with a script.  Like any myth a Heroquest tends to be more formalized and structured than an adventure, and slightly more surreal.  Since they are a defining feature of what a Gloranthan hero actually does, 13G devotes an entire chapter to Heroquests, and has comprehensive rules for running them, and a broad selection of sample quests.

CHAOS

Chaos is from outside of Glorantha.  When the gods fought against each other, they cracked the world and Chaos started leaking in.  It began to murder existence piece by piece.  Chaos is randomness, mutation, and the Void.  It is the chief antagonist of most Gloranthan religions and peoples.  

To show the rule-breaking horror of Chaos, 13G adds a new twist to one of the game's core mechanics.  13th Age players will know that the escalation die is a critical part of the game's combats; after the first combat round, the GM places a specially designated six-sided die on the table with the one facing up.  That one is a bonus added to the player character's combat rolls.  Each round that the players keep fight, the die goes up...one to two to three, etc.  The bonus gets bigger and bigger.  Adversaries do not usually benefit from the Chaos die, but as it increases it can trigger their deadlier powers and attacks.  This is a pacing tool, ensuring that in each combat the stakes get higher and higher.

In 13G, when player characters are fighting creatures and NPCs touched by Chaos, the GM rolls a d20.  If the result is six to twenty, nothing happens.  If the result is a one through 5, the players do not receive the bonus from the escalation die, the adversaries do.  This is a very 13th Age specific twist that showcases the terror of Chaos in the world.

CONCLUSIONS

Three types of readers will be coming to this review; Runequest players, Heroquest players, and 13th Age fans.  I've tried inasmuch was possible to include all three in the conversation, but a question still remains.  Namely, if you are a player of any of the three above games, why bother with 13G.

For 13th Age fans the answer is simple.  If you love that game, there is every chance that you will love Glorantha, given the fact that both Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet do.  Glorantha's influence on the Dragon Empire, for example, is evident in the mythic extravagance of that world.  Places like Starport, beings like the Koru Behemoths, even the Icons themselves show Gloranthan inspiration.  How could you not be curious after reading Heinsoo's dedication?  But seriously, this is one of the most storied and significant settings in fantasy gaming, and 13G serves it up for a game you already love.  Now is your chance to see what 40 years of fuss has been about.

For Runequest and Heroquest players, the answer is a little more complex.  

Let's start briefly with Ron Edwards and GNS Theory. If we look at roleplaying games as being simulationist (trying to model actual reality), narrativist (trying to model how movies or novels work), or gamist (focused on the RPG as a game, a set of rules meant to be challenging, entertaining, and to be won), 13G would fall primarily in the gamist category. Runequest is the simulationist one, while Heroquest is deeply narrative. 13th Age as a system constantly dispenses with simulationist or narrativist elements in favor of "what works at the table" and "what is the most fun." The designers are explicit about this. This is not to say 13G cannot tell great stories; as we have seen it has many superb storytelling elements.  But where Runequest tackles situations by asking "what would realistically happen?" and Heroquest addresses them by "what would drive forward the plot?" 13G wants to set up challenges and let the players face them, letting the dice fall as they may.  The question really is "how do we maximize the fun?"

I've been playing Runequest since 1981, and while the game is unparalleled for gritty, lower-level adventures, it never really reached the Olympian heights attained by Jar-Eel the Razoress or Harrek the Berserk.  Heroquest addressed that, but especially in the 2nd edition seemed to move away from gaming deeper into the realm of storytelling.  My advice to long time Gloranthans is to to give 13G a try if you want those higher power levels, but still want a more structured, gamist approach to play.  If you want to know "can I beat the Crimson Bat?" more than "is it a better story if I beat the Crimson Bat or lose to it?" try 13G.

There is a lot of passion in this game.  It is clear the authors love Glorantha, and their giddy enthusiasm is on every page.  It is infectious.  Runequest always felt to be like a "precise Glorantha," while Heroquest was an "erudite Glorantha" (with scholarly focus on myth, narrative, etc).  13G is a hot-blooded, passionate Glorantha.

For those of us steeped in Staffordism, we know that Shamanism, Sorcery, and Theism are all valid approaches.  I apply the same logic to the three Gloranthan sister games.  They all "get you there," but what distinguishes them is the scenery along the path.

13G gets an enthusiastic thumbs up from this Gloranthan grognard.