An End to MOTM

Well, yet again I’ve neglected the blog! This time around I have two Monster of the Month (or MOTM) releases to discuss, and also the related larger news indicated in the title—why I’ve decided to stop creating monthly releases on the Jonstown Compendium.

November—Burning Engines

Issue cover composed using stock artwork—in hindsight, this needed to be a bit brighter.

November’s issue, Burning Engines, was written by my friend, Mason Street. This isn’t the first time his writing has featured in the series—Mason wrote the sidebar on intoxicants in March’s Vajra of the Skies—but this is his first solo RuneQuest publication. Burning Engines features metal constructs forged by dwarves, and then animated by imprisoned fire elementals. Toss in some new sorcery allowing sorcery-wielding adventurers to command a burning engine of their own, and you’ve got a great, short supplement fleshing out what a band of adventurers might find in a ruined Mostali mine.

Now, with Mason helping out on November’s issue, what did I do with all that spare time?…

December—To Hunt a God

Illustrated by Ludovic Chabant.

In order to see off MOTM with an exciting resolution, I spent approximately the last three months writing, editing, and producing a whopper of a finale: To Hunt a God. Despite my best efforts I hadn’t managed to create something yet in 2021 which, like Treasures of Glorantha, felt in length to be a “proper book.” While the publication is incomplete at the time of writing, Part One of To Hunt a God is still a 70-page bumper issue featuring a complete longform cult, the full description of a forest temple, and the first section of the titular adventure. At the advice of my editor, I’ve decided to publish the adventure in two sections in order to re-draft, revise, and polish the latter section.

Part Two of To Hunt a God will come out some time in 2022, and will be a free update for everyone who purchases the initial release.

To Hunt a God is the final issue of Monster of the Month (although there is that pesky problem of Part Two, so the series isn’t quite ended). Creating MOTM has been a valuable experience for me. It has taught me to wear a variety of hats—writer, editor, layout artist, art director, and more—and it has helped me learn how better to manage my time to meet a consistent deadline. For two years, I have not missed a single end-of-month deadline to MOTM. I’m proud of that accomplishment.

But that same success impeded other objectives. The constant MOTM cycle makes it difficult to focus on longer projects. One of my goals for 2021 was to publish a second volume of Treasures of Glorantha. That didn’t happen. Likewise, I had hoped to turn my mountain of Sylthi notes into something resembling a manuscript. That didn’t happen, either. I’ve done work in both those areas, but each time MOTM forced me to step away from the longer project, I found my brain struggles to return to the same work.

Ultimately, I’m not canceling MOTM because I want to stop writing RuneQuest material. I’m canceling MOTM because I want to write better material. This is a topic I’ll probably return to on this blog in the near future. I intend to do a few “year in review” posts because they give me a good opportunity to reflect upon what I’ve been reading and writing. At that time, I believe I’ll have more to say about MOTM’s end.

Keep your eyes open.

Creating To Hunt a God

But I can’t just leave you there—not if you’ve gone to the trouble of coming all this way! So let’s go ahead and take a “peek behind the curtain” at To Hunt a God.

The images which first sparked this book came from the ancient Mediterranean. First was the blue monkeys found in the wall art of ancient Crete, and second when I learned that baboons were often used in Egyptian art to portray the God of Wisdom, Thoth. In a related vein, my brain started muddling through what an Illusion Rune-focused “knowledge cult” would look like in Glorantha—rather than one focused on the more obvious Truth Rune.

From Zde, on the Wikimedia Commons, by CC BY-SA 4.0

The final result was the quite possibly over-complicated Cult of Hrunda, a monkey protector-god of the Old Woods. This entangled pleasantly with my in-development Esrolia material, because I tend to think of the Old Woods—which isn’t that far north of Sylthi—as a good “borderland” place for adventurers to go get into trouble. A capricious warden, Hrunda ended up keeping his Illusion affinity, but wandering away from the “knowledge god” aspect I’d initially considered. Part of this was because I wanted to develop Hrunda into MOTM’s final monster, as illustrated by Ludovic Chabant in the cover shown above. Another element is that I felt the cult and the god was becoming too much of a “does everything” deity.

I still may need to revise and rein this in while creating Part Two and polishing off the book, but currently I’m pleased with the result. I think the cult was my favorite part to create of this supplement. There’s something terribly fun for me about writing cults. My goal, generally, is to create something which excites me or my close friends, which makes people I know want to go “Ooh, I want to play that!” Sometimes, that desire conflicts with what seems to make a “realistic” fantasy world. In general, I go with the Rule of Cool, focusing on RuneQuest as a game and cults as providing players with cool options.

A related complication when working on this cult—and which managed to sneak anyway into the final version—is proliferation of subcults and associated cults. I trimmed several of those options away, but I think muddling through my ideas here might be interesting for some readers.

Basically, the cult of Hrunda is an animist cult, rather than a theist cult. I see the difference here being one of degree; pretty much everyone in Glorantha is a polytheist, and interacts with a variety of divinities rather than one to the exclusion of others. The way I’ve experimented with presenting animism is as a sort of “build your own cult.” Rather than one major god giving the worshiper (or adventurer) most of their spirit magic and Rune magic, the animist worshiper interacts with a wide variety of spirits. These varied minor cults are bound together as a particular shamanic tradition. The cult of Hrunda is a part of the Wild Man Tradition, which is also briefly described in To Hunt a God. Worshipers of the tradition provide additional worship to many of the cults subsumed within. This is analogous to a pantheon, and provides perhaps otherwise-trivial cults with more worship and magic than they would be able to gather on their own.

The second section of To Hunt a God intersects with this idea. The Temple of the Bones is a worship site at which both talking animals and humans worship the diverse spirits and gods of the natural world. The cult provides this supplement’s background, mythology, and new toys for players, while this temple provides the physical location of the book’s adventure. Both the cult and the temple are designed to be useful standalone, or to be integrated with the rest of the publication. I knew early on that this book would be published in two parts, and I strived to make the initial release a product which would be enjoyable and useful on its own merits, rather than of middling value until the completion of Part Two.

This temple’s key image is the central altar, a huge pile of bones. For me, the goal is that this blends a strong visual element with worldbuilding. It demonstrates the temple’s antiquity, which in turn creates a physical justification in-world for the established and magically potent cults which are worshiped at the site.

Once again this was drawn from Earth’s history. In this case, the temple at Delos, in the Aegean Sea. Accounted by some among the wonders of the world, a great altar was constructed at Delos from many horns, laced together to form a tall pillar. I can’t recall how I stumbled across this image—it may have been while re-reading Walter Burkert’s Greek Religion earlier this year—but it’s one which remained in my memory.

Another important referent for this site is the Wild Temple, described in Chaosium’s The Smoking Ruin & Other Stories. On the one hand, the Wild Temple provides a good example of what a nature temple in Glorantha is like, albeit one much larger than my Temple of the Bones. On the other hand, though, I knew that the Wild Temple wasn’t exactly a model I wanted to build from; it reads, to me, much more like an “encounter list” than a “strange magical site.” In retrospect it isn’t clear to me that I created something different and better fleshed out than the Wild Temple, but I am nonetheless pleased with the result.

While working on the site, my focus was “what can players do here?” I wrote shamans toward that purpose, and tried to imagine the different shrines from an adventurer’s perspective. In particular, I tried to imagine “if Austin is the player, how would I screw this up?” What I found while playtesting the site was that my players were rather more reticent than my imagination! I also tried to give gamemasters a few initial shoves, to create their own stories using the site. Thinking back, I probably could have done more with that. I feel that there is lots of potential for temples as important adventure sites in Glorantha, but that I didn’t quite live up to that potential.

In particular, I think there’s more room than I assumed within the Wild Man tradition for politicking between the shamans. Or, even between friendly spirits. Rival spirits which want to drive away someone who angered them, a young whipper-snapper spirit cult which wants to join the established tradition of old fogeys. Stories like that feel a bit more “real effort” than what I ended up exploring at the Temple.

Food for future thought! In one version of my Sylthi drafts, I planned to describe each temple in the city basically as an adventure site, with a full map, NPCs, and so on. The Temple of the Bones was sort of a first foray into that topic, and I think a fruitful one.

In addition to wanting to write something long to give MOTM a nice, hearty send-off, I also enjoyed creating a longer book because it gives me the opportunity to have a real art budget again. I hadn’t realized how much I missed working with artists. Treasures of Glorantha is the primary experience I’ve had with commissioning art, although this year’s series of MOTM has had a handful of illustrations. When considering artwork for To Hunt of God, one of my minor goals was to work once again with each artist I have worked with previously in the series. I think I pulled that off—I never ended up making a list, so I’m not certain—and I know I pulled off getting great artwork.

This book is gorgeous.

It’s not possible for me to choose a favorite piece. Each illustration captures its own tone and place within the book. Armazém Fantastico’s work has a wonderfully magical tone, while Kristi Herbert’s gallery portraits of the adventure’s non-player characters are delightfully grounded, real.

All told, I’m very happy with how Part One of To Hunt a God turned out, and I’m looking forward to completing the supplement this year. It’s possible that I’ll spend time on another project before returning to To Hunt a God, but I’ve decided that Akhelas won’t publish another book on the Jonstown Compendium before this product is complete. A palate cleanser—such as tinkering with another adventure for D&D, rather than RuneQuest—might be helpful for making my brain process.

I haven’t exactly decided yet what I’ll do next. That’s a topic I want to return to, and soon, here on the blog. Hopefully within the next week I’ll have something up about what I’ve been reading, and then in the following week, a year-in-review post summing up 2021, and looking forward into 2022.

Until next time, then.

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