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.

Buried Treasures: Big Rubble, The Deadly City

The BIG RUBBLE is the perfect hunting ground for both prospective and veteran adventurers. From the relative safety of the frontier town of New Pavis, exploration parties may venture forth into the Rubble to once again tap the treasures and magics buried in its ruins. They will be aided and hindered by the guards and bureaucrats of the occupying Lunar empire.

Recently there was considerable discussion in the OSR about the ability to publish a mega-dungeon. Some, such as James Maliszewski over at Grognarda, didn’t think it could be done. Other disagreed including Michael Curtis over at The Society of Torch, Pole and Rope who published his Stonehell soon after. One constant in all the discussion, however, was the conclusion the attempts at publishing one of the classic mega-dungeons like Blackmoor or Greyhawk had all failed. While that might be true at least one early structure that should qualify as a mega-dungeon did see the light of day. In fact, it had two published boxed sets cover it and the associated city which still garner high prices on eBay and were reprinted as one massive book in the 1990s. That mega-dungeon is the Big Rubble, the ruins of the city of Old Pavis in Glorantha.

For those who are wondering why you have never heard of Pavis or The Big Rubble along side the Slaver, Giants, and Drow modules the answer is simplicity and fate. Pavis: Gateway to Adventure and Big Rubble: The Deadly City were published not by TSR but by Chaosium. They are not for D&D but for Runequest. I find it ironic that the game that in its day was considered the anti-D&D published the most successful mega-dungeon of the period. Both boxed sets were among a series of supplements, mostly boxed sets but some booklets, that represented the golden age of Runequest and, in my mind, of Glorantha as a game setting. Anyone interested in early campaign styles that started to add loose plotting to great sandbox settings should look at most of these sets.

What is the Big Rubble? It is a the ruins of two cities the later of which was about sacked about 400 years earlier. The first city was founded about 900 years before the supplement begins by a culture of evil magicians to capture magical cradles carrying giant babies to the sea to join in the battles of Glorantha’s mythological age. It only lasted twenty or so years before being destroyed by a giant and his allies who included a minor god. They built the towering walls (80 feet plus in height) of Old Pavis to use as a fortification. About thirty years later a man named Pavis, whose city was sacked by the same minor god’s followers, lead a giant, faceless statue and some nomads to take the fortifications. After the battle the statue was used to build the interior buildings. Pavis himself would later become the city’s patron deity but the city would be sacked by trolls around 400 years after its founding.

A game master opening the Big Rubble boxed set could look forward to “thousands of acres of ruin and destruction now remain, full of robbers, outcasts, and inhuman monsters.” To get an idea of the scale consider the image to the left superimposing both the old (larger) and new (smaller) city on modern London (the original source has one imposed on Manhattan as well). The white area outlines medieval London contrast. No attempt was made to detail all of this area. Instead a 48 page “Rubble Guide” details some highlights of the area. Nine scenarios detail such a maze-like canal built for seemingly no purpose to a troll town hiding a magical artifact and everything in between. Plenty of notes are provided to help the game master build his own sections of the city. Finally, some forms used by officials in the new city to control exit from the rubble to the new city are included.

So, you can publish what amounts to a mega-dungeon. You can especially publish an adventurous, mostly above ground, one rooted in unique mythology. You can even create one of our hobby’s forgotten masterpieces in the process.