Names on a Map

One of the more interesting things in looking back at Runequest 2 (RQ) (the Chaosium version, not the new Mongoose one) is how much difference 30 years have made in what is considered a setting. When it was published RQ was considered unique in that it was specific to a setting. While Empire of the Petal Throne predates it for some reason the fact that it had a setting hadn’t registered. I suspect that as TSR’s other RPG it wasn’t considered a major player. Another might be the tight relationship between the system, especially the magic system, and the world. Regardless of why, RQ was seen as a breakthrough game in this respect, as well as others.

From the time I got my first copy of RQ I have been enamored of that world, Glorantha. For someone whose fantasy exposure was Tolkien, Narina, Earthsea, and D&D up until that time it was a revelation. I had always been interested in the ancient world, especially Sumer, and here was an RPG that embraced the Bronze age over the Iron age. Here was a world where gods and myths were an integral part of playing instead of at best a nudge to behave good to get your cure spells. Finally, here was a game that was about going places and doing things instead of looting dungeons.

When I fast forward twenty-five years from that first copy of RQ it’s amazing how different it is. At that point I found a used copy of RQ2 at my FLGS and I bought it. I had the Avalon Hill edition by that point as well as all the Avalon Hill supplements. I’d never had the originals from Chaosium due to lack of money and lack of interest among people I played with. In fact, the only RQ I got to play more than one shots was a Harn game. Getting that copy of RQ2 blew my mind. Maybe three pages of strictly setting material are in the book. There are about another 10 or 15 integrated in the rules in the form of cults, the prior experience appendix, and two maps.

As I prepare for my Big Rubble centered game starting Monday it is those maps that are interesting. On facing pages in the appendices the left/west one covers Dragon Pass and parts of Tarsh, Estrola, and The Holy Country. The right/east one covers Prax and the southern Shadow Dance mountains. Pavis is at the east side of Prax along the River of Cradles which marks its eastern boundary (or not). There are some great place names on the map. Beyond Pavis are five other cities: Laca, Adari, Castle of Lead, Barbarian Town, and Corflu. There are five marked ruins beyond The Big Rubble: Hender’s Ruins, Monkey Ruins, Old, and Winter Ruins. Five named oasises are on the map. Ten named regions are listed. The length of the gazetter for this map is zero. There isn’t one. These maps were included without any explanation.

If you go through the text you have some hints. Pavis Outside the Walls is settled in 1575 according to the one page timeline in the introduction. The map merely lists Pavis so what that means the entry means is open to interpretation. The timeline also mentions the fall of Pavis (just Pavis) to the Lunar Empire. The City of Lead and its surrounding region Dagori Inkarth are mentioned in a paragrah of the Kyger Litor cult write-up. The same write-up also notes cult Rune Lords must ritually consume large amounts of vegetable matter then paranthetically remarks “Elves are considered vegetable matter”. The Rune Lord note is as long as the geographic note.

If you had the contemporary board game Nomand Gods some of these items might be detailed. I played it once a couple of years before I got a copy of RQ. Later products would explain the various Pavis locations (Pavis and The Big Rubble from Chaosium and River of Cradles from Avalon Hill), Sun Dome Temple (Pavis and Avalon Hill’s Sun Country), parts of the Long Dry (Borderlands and AH’s Shadows on the Borderlands), Corflu (Pavis), and Dagori Inkath (Trollpak). As an adult I’ve collected these (except Nomand Gods but they cover the eastern and northern edges at most. They also disagree with that first map, as well. For example, New Pavis on the original map is east of the river aand southeast of the old city. In the boxed sets it is along the north west wall across the river.

For me this is liberating. One of the knocks against Glorantha as a world that it shares with Tekumel and Jorune among others, is it is so detailed that you can’t play it. While there is some truth to this the fact remains that I have very little to go on for a Prax game. I don’t have places described to any degree. Even the supplements leave dangling ends such as where does the Pavis road terminate in the west. If you just take RQ2 you are roughly in the same place, in terms of setting, as someone who has a white box, the four supplements, and a copy of the Outdoor Survival map. The setting is less generic but still almost completely implied. The only part more detailed is the mythology and some cults, but the latter are tied to the rules and the three offered cults provide about the same amount of usuable material as the sample dungeon in the white box.

I’ve taken some notes from the published products I have and I’ll be using Pavis and The Big Rubble quite extensively. The later is mostly empty space for the gamemaster to fill. The rubble of Old Pavis is the largest enclosed space in the world at its time, has nearly twice the populace of the new city and is represented by seven adventures. I will certainly take advantage of other materials, especially the extensive cult write-ups.

The fact remains, however, that in the end I have a bare outline. I have something that is arguably the best of both worlds for a sandbox. I have the openness of an DIY outline without the “white space panic” that a full DIY would create. I’m looking forward to finally being able to say one of the most common sayings of the old Runequest and Glorantha mailing lists “in my Glorantha”.

Because all Glorantha is, for now, is names on a map.

One thought on “Names on a Map

  1. Absolutely, absolutely! Great post.

    It is strange to think how acceptable it used to be to all of us that the settings used to be revealed this way… strange because it is now unacceptable, for some reason.

    But you wouldn't think twice, if you were basing a new campaign on a historical period, a movie or novel, just to have names on a map and a vague historical outline with slightly conflicting information from several sources.

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