RALIOS: Glorantha Second Age
Well, if nothing else, Mongoose RuneQuest has been controversial. It was a real pleasure however on my birthday to discover that Drivethru had a Mongoose Gloranthan supplement up on for sale. This 41 page .pdf has actually done a huge amount to assuage my fears, and to finally convince me to support MRQ - I may not use the rules system, but the setting material, if this is anything to go by, is wonderful.
I'll start by declaring my biases. I am an unashamed fan of the BRP system, all things Chaosium, and have been playing RuneQuest on and off since 1980. I have a fair to middling grasp of Glorantha, based on having read all the RQ2/RQ3/Herowars/HeroQuest official supplements, King of Sartar, and several of Greg's Work-In-Progress volumes, as well as a goodly number of Gloranthan zines. I still struggle to follow much of the discussion by the Gloranthaphiles on the HeroQuest and Glorantha list -- I will never be as knowledgable as the authorities there, but I do find them friendly and helpful.
I have met Mongoose Matt twice - the first time he fell asleep, and the second time looked concerned at my unashamed love of amateurism and lack of interest in profits -- which is just as well as he has a highly successful business to run! I have also met the author of this supplement, Robin D Laws, a wonderful game designer and great bloke who I have much respect for - but to be fair I did not note he authored this until after I had written the review...
I had not very high expectations I'm afraid of the MRQ product line. This negative bias is therefore to be taken in to account in my review...
Ralios is a 41 page .pdf file, which I successfully downloaded from Drivethrurpg without any problems. It looks, and I am guessing here, like it was originally part of the forthcoming Glorantha Second Age book, possibly cut for space reasons. The product cost me $4.95, and at that price is one of the best rpg bargains I have ever bought in my life. I would have cheerfully paid more for it, up to maybe $10.00. It is full colour, beautifully laid out, and my only criticism is that my printer was not able to reproduce the colour maps very well in a black and white print out - simpler line drawing maps would have been useful for those of us who wish to print it. Printing the document is ink heavy, and you may wish to take this in to account, as it adds to the cost of the pdf, but there are no large areas of black as one often finds in pdfs, and I'd say this was very sensibly done for maximum graphic appeal but limited ink wastage.
The art is actually rather nice, not that I know anything about such matters, but I enjoyed it, and I'm not usually a fan of rpg art. It mainly illustrates key NPC's from the text. The diamond dwarf was a little more humanoid than I had expected and the dragonewt influenced architecture maybe a little less alien than I anticipated, but that is really a tribute to how evocative the descriptive text is - the artist(s) deserve praise and I like there work a great deal.
The file is not DRM protected, but digitally watermarked with my name and a code to prevent piracy -- if I was unreasonable enough to fileshare it, Mongoose and Drivethru would know who to prosecute. I much prefer this to the earlier DRM system on some previous products I bought from Drivethru. The fairly small file size meant even my slow and very outdated pc easily handles displaying the .pdf on screen.
There are a couple of minor missing space typos early on, and one apparently fragmented sentence much later, but the meaning is clear. Layout is very good. I'm not a fan of .pdf files at all, but I'd give this for style, layout and art a good 4.75, which I have rounded up to 5.
The pdf covers Ralios, a region of Genertela, the Northern continent of Glorantha. It is a substantially sized area - off the top of my head I think probably the size of France? To the East across impassable mountains (excepting one dangerous pass in to the Chaos wastes of Dorastor) lies Dragon Pass, setting of much Third Age Gloranthan material. To the south lies Maniria, again through Mountains (impassable, though I seem to recall Sir Ethilrist found a way through a couple of centuries in the future) and to the west lies the monotheist lands of Seshnela. In the Second age the southern part of the region Safelster is dominated by the Godlearner's Empire, while Dragon Pass is in the hands of the EWF (sometimes rendered "Empire of the Wyrm's Friends", and here amusingly once referred to as "The Lizard Lover's Empire").
The city states of Safelster are NOT detailed in this .pdf - that part of central southern Ralios is apparently covered in the forthcoming Glorantha Second Age supplement. I look forward to it. The surrounding regions are, and are in many ways familiar to those who are already familair with Third Age Glorantha. The cultures include mainly Orlanthi, who not having accepted the EWF worship a pantheon which appears very familiar - Orlanth, Ernalda, Chalana Arroy, Urox the Storm Bull, Elmal, all are mentioned. Ther is not any reference to the subcults I am familair with from HeroQuest as far as I can see however - it feels closer to the view of religion I gained from the RQ2 supplement Cults of Prax than that in say Storm Tribe?
I may be mistaken on this - I am no expert on matters Gloranthan. I was a little disappointed that other writings and fan material on the history of Ralios, besides Greg's material, does not get much mention. HeroQuest does seem to have taken the better fan ideas and used them, whereas here we see no reference to, to give one example, the Galinini, a Hsunchen horse people. There myths were explored in an excellent article in Tradetalk issue 3 by Shannon Appel. In fact there is not much reference to the non-Telmori hsunchen, who have previously played a significant role in my understanding of East Ralios, and which featured in several early issues of Tradetalk magazine. If you are interested in seeing one of the very best fan sites on East Ralios, I can also strongly recommend David Dunham's superb material.
The areas detailed are Lankst, Saug, Delela, Keanos, Halikiv (Uz), Guhan (Uz), Telmorioa, Ormsland (Dragonewt), Ballid (Aldryami, and the shortest section,)Corolaland, Karia (later Vustria), the Nidan Decamony. We arte still waiting for the definitive Gloranthan supplement on the Aldryami, and my only suroprise at the Nidan Decamony was only one pre-Clay Mostali is listed on the Council -- I'd thought there would be more, but perhaps they remain deep underground?
There was much in this supplement which made me want to game the Second Age immediately. The no mans land of Ralios between the EWF and Godlearner's Empires has people from all over Genertela clustered within, and the setting is vibrant and atmospheric. It made me even more frustrated I did not pick up a copy of Greg Stafford's Middle Sea Empire from the guys from Tradetalk while I was at Continuum, and have to wait for the retail distribution to catch up.
There is plenty of information, particularly on the clans of Lankst, Saug and Delela, to allow an Orlanthi style game to begin, with a complex and interesting political situation. If you have access to Troll Pak, or the Unspoken Word's Troll book for HeroQuest, Halikiv and Guhan are both wonderful settings. Or why not play a Telmori wolf brother? The Telmori are very well handled and fully explained in this supplement, bearing in mind space limitations.
The overall feel, especially of the town of Bad Deal,struck me as very reminiscent of RQ2. Many exiles from all over Glorantha appear in the region - Dara happans, Spolite Witches, and even Kralorelans, Praxians, Pentans and an Agimori! This might not suit all tatses, but I found it enjoyable.
Best of all from my perspective as someone who is not sure what system I will run the game with, there are NO stats at all in the book, and nothing (except for prices in silvers, and a couple of references to healing points) which struck me as system specific -- it's pure background and story ideas, so the material is very easily adaptable to any edition of RuneQuest, or for that matter HeroQuest/HeroWars, or even if you wanted D20 I expect!
However, if you are completely new to Glorantha, some of the material may be obscure. You can easily look it up online, and some ideas like Uz meaning Trolls, enlo being trollkin, and the fact the trolls suffer from a curse which leads to many troll children being the pitiful and stunted trollkin rather than full trolls are nto explained in the text. Future supplements or the slightest knowledge of other Gloranthan games should make most of this easy to grasp. There are loads of references to the vary rich history and mythology of Glorantha, but not knowing immediately what they mean should not hurt your game - but if you do understand who say Arkat is, or what he did, or the story of Nysalor, you may find it even better.
It is extremely well integrated in to the general background and setting, and if you choose to play an Orlanthi based campiagn rather than one in the Safelster city states, then the computer game King of Dragon Pass, the HeroWars supplements Storm Tribe and Thunder Rebels, and the useful book of background stories mainly of the Third Age King of Sartar are well worth picking up. The computer game is particularly useful in getting a feel for Orlanthi clan life and politics. I expect Glorantha: Second Age will cover much of this, and if you want to get in to the deep background Greg Stafford's Work in Progress Middle Sea Empire, available soon may be of great interest to anyone playing in the Second Age. The lack of such basic information should not get in the way much: I happiily played RQ2 for a decade without reading much Gloranthan background, so it's just nice to have! Make it up how it weorks in your version of Glorantha, and recall, as Greg frequently says "Your Glorantha Will Vary".
A pleasure to read, well laid out and attractive, very competively priced, I shall offer 5 for Style. I have spent ten minutes debating 5 or 4 for substance with myself: finally I decided 4, as it is may be intimidating to those new to MRQ, though that reservation will I am sure vanish as soon as Glorantha: Second Age comes out. A superb pdf, and an inspiring opening to the line, from a reviewer frankly sceptical of Mongoose RuneQuest. Every Gloranthaphile should enjoy this, and fans of RQ2 are especially well served herein. Those with better knowledge than mine of Glorantha as we know her may disagree -- but I was very impressed.
Mongoose triumphed with this release. :)