This blog post being the first in a series meant to review the Guide to Glorantha, I’m going to start with a bit of personal backstory. This might not be as interesting to you as it was to me to write. If so, please jump directly to the Guide to Glorantha – Introduction paragraph.
Besides, this series is based on reading the pdf files, which means I won’t discuss the physical aspect of the printed books.
Some completely unrelated backstory
It would have taken me 26 years in the RPG hobby to eventually discover what Glorantha was actually about. I was just a young French middle-schooler when I started roleplaying games, and around me, games like Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (1st ed), the Call of Cthulhu, Stormbringer, Star Wars and James Bond were all the rage. But I could aften see intriguing covers labelled RuneQuest in RPG magazines. They looked glorious, and above all, they looked ancient.
Long story short, no one around me seemed interested, and as usual with social hobbies, I would go with the flow and play what was trendy at the time. I’ll spare you another fit of name-dropping, but let me just say that even though I had a real load of fun in all those years, I still missed the mythical aspect of heroism, and to me, they would all lack this very basic dimension that makes the “stuff of legend” be relevant.
Please, bear with me, I’ll get to the point real soon.
Fast forwarding: I was a college student in English language, literature and civilisation. I studied in France and abroad, my prospects suddenly broadening. I got introduced to ancient (Greek & Latin) works, to medieval and Renaissance works, to philosophy, psychology, anthropology, ethnology and criticism. Obviously, I did try to implement what I had learnt into my games. I utterly failed. Attempting to reproduce such structures in the established settings and games my groups and I would play at the time couldn’t just fit.
Then a couple of years passed, I lost my gaming groups and since then, the bulk of my RPG activities has been done in clubs, conventions and with my beloved “RPG Geek” community via forums and video chat. From the failure I mentionned above, I went on to discover many new games, in which narratives mattered, in which collective authority could be as important a system as dice rolling and tables. I also learnt to love again crunchy systems and find some creative freedom within.
Fast forwarding to May 2014: the Chimériades convention. I got to meet some very interesting people like Robin D. Laws, Jeff Richard, Charlie Krank and Fabian Küchler. I attended some panels evoking this name I had heard a quarter of century before, Glorantha. This pitched me this setting so convincingly that I decided to give it a try afterwards. This is when, and where, I found the first nugget of a deep, profound and rich lode of gold.
Consequently, I’ve decided to invest in this world and discover its books like an adventurer would with a foreign land. Hence this series of blog posts. As I’ll read the two massive volumes of the Guide to Glorantha, I’ll do my utmost to log my reviews both as objectively and subjectively as possible.
The Guide to Glorantha: Introduction
For starters, let’s have an overview of the books themselves. The Guide to Glorantha comes in two volumes of 402 pages each, the second volume continued the page count where the first leaves off. The layout is really simple and not intrusive at all. Considering how dense the amount of content is, a more elaborate layout would have, in my humble opinion, really hindered readability. The usual format is three columns per page, with recurring marginalia and inserts, which makes it actually really convenient to read on tablets and smartphones.
Concerning the artwork , the two volumes contain a real wealth of coloured and black & white pictures and maps. The illustrations don’t leave this feeling of being a means to an end. On the contrary, they integrate seamlessly to the sections they adorn. And the variety of subjects and styles seem to follow a clear artistic direction. They look informative as well as evocative.
I’d also like to mention this very detailed index at the end of volume 2, 45 pages actually. Indexes have recently become a concern of mine in a time when reading RPG books cover-to-cover has become a luxury I can hardly afford. And when I need to get some information during a session, the more comprehensive the book, the harder it gets to find such or such bit of rule without a proper index.
Now, let’s start the book itself. After a beautiful cover, the book opens on a strikingly beautiful credit page with “The Kalikos Hero Quest”, a stunning illustration by Mike Perry that throws me up upfront in the realms of the gods and mythical adventures. Then, after three pages of Kickstarter backer thanks, a table of content lists up what will be found in the first volume: cultures and Elder races, pantheons and history, and then more than 230 pages on Genertela, a very detailed description that actually continues in volume 2.
After a very nice foreword by Greg Stafford, in which he outlines the timeline between Glorantha’s early inception and the Guide itself, making it some valuable design backstory for people who are new to this world, we can move on to the Introduction chapter itself.
Not quite so actually. First of all, we have a very short description of the “world structure”, nicely illustrated by a map of Glorantha itself. The point of this description is to tell the reader that this world is unlike ours, that we’re in a different reality. I honestly think this preliminary step is necessary to avoid being dragged into some unnecessary “Earth’s logic” that won’t apply here.
Now let’s finish this first review with the Introduction itself. In this section of the Guide, the reader is given a 10-page overview of this world’s social structures, in terms of political and economical organisations, how the Heortlings (the “humans”) live with and through magic, Gloranthan warfare as well, and then how to implement the Guide into roleplaying games. But what struck me was that , beyond being written in an academic style and being laid out like a history book, giving me a feel that is completely different from the tons of RPG supplements I’ve ever read and beyond being beautifully illustrated, this introduction already starts to tell stories. We are already in the mythological aspect of the setting, adventures that will generate legends around the gaming table.
So to conclude this first review, I’d like to say that reading the beginning of the Guide to Glorantha was such a pleasurable experience that I’ve actually become regretful not to have delved into this setting earlier. Beyond its richness, the overall tone is itself enough to show that within the boundaries of a game, we can have the freedom to seriously play the anthropological structures of imagination.
And in a gaming industry that is perhaps a bit too abundant, it is refreshing to see enduring worlds that are served such a refreshing book like the Guide to Glorantha which reaches out both to the established Gloranthan scholar and to new explorers.
Let me tell you then how much I’m looking forward to reading the next parts about the major cultures, the Elder races and the pantheons, and most of all to sharing my experience with you in an another review.