REVIEW: The Armies & Enemies of Dragon Pass

I originally posted this review over on my Facebook page, but decided to repost it on the blog as well upon a friend’s suggestion—easier for posterity to find than through FB.

If you think A&E sounds interesting, it’s available over on the Jonstown Compendium.

(Oh, and I am still working on that yearly round-up. Hopefully I’ll be posting it later this week.)

Among the initial releases for the Jonstown Compendium, The Armies & Enemies of Dragon Pass (A&E) has been a landmark publication both for the Glorantha community and, I believe, for community content at large. “Magisterial” has become the standard adjective. Having just finished reading my copy of the Print on Demand edition, I wholly agree.

Cover illustration by Mark Smylie.

A&E is a detailed reference book exploring warfare in central Genertela—the primary setting of RuneQuest. This is not restricted merely to “who stabs who,” but rather explores social, religious, and economic aspects of ancient warfare. Covering topics from how hoplites get cuirasses, to how the gods express themselves on the battlefield, A&E isn’t just a book about war. It’s a journey into the details of Gloranthan life.

My favorite part of the book is how much new detail (well, new to me, anyway) it provides about Peloria and Dara Happa. I don’t know these spaces well, and A&E has lots of information about both the Lunar Empire, and the microcultures which live within in. Another surprise bonus for me was the appendix biography of Tarshite general Fazzur Wideread. It answered a few questions I had about this major character (though no, I’m not going to reveal either questions or answers—spoilers!). I think the book could have been most improved by exploring the Hero Wars armies beyond about 1630. While written from a hypothetical “looking back” perspective, I would have enjoyed learning how what’s presented in this book mutated and changed over the following decades (especially the Sartar Free Army, and the magical secrets which helped Argrath found his warlock regiments).

On my “tabletop/armchair” spectrum, A&E fits firmly in the “armchair” category. The gamemaster will get a lot of use from A&E—inspiring story hooks, antagonists, etc.—but I don’t feel the book is meant to be on hand for use at the table (with a possible exception for bookmarked illustrations). One pleasant surprise, as I read through A&E, was the high quality of its prose. I knew A&E would be useful; I didn’t realize it would also be readable. This book’s editing and proofreading is also remarkable, exceeding my expectations for professional work.

Would I recommend reading it cover-to-cover, like I did? … I’m not sure. I enjoyed doing so, and I think some Glorantha fans will, but I don’t think this is a “must-read” for everyone. I do think that it’s a great resource for RQ gamemasters, and deserves a place on your shelf.

To be honest, if you’re going to buy only one “reference” book to support your RuneQuest collection, don’t buy the Guide to Glorantha—buy A&E. I feel A&E is more relevant to the action of an RQ campaign than the Guide, providing useful, story-generating details.

Overall, I feel this book has loads to offer for any fan of gaming in Glorantha, whether RQ, HeroQuest/Questworlds, or 13th Age. It’s well-written, informative, and entertaining.

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