FIRST IMPRESSION—Fall RuneQuest Bundle

This article contains spoilers for the discussed adventures.

The Storytelling Collective’s “Write Your First Adventure” workshop produced four new adventures for RuneQuest, published over the last few months. They’re now available as a bundle on the Jonstown Compendium! Let’s take a look inside.

As a reminder, this is a “First Impressions” article, which is somewhere in between a review and a “here’s what I liked!” listicle. I haven’t had a chance to take these adventures to the table, so I don’t feel super comfortable claiming this is a full review. I’m going to go in alphabetical order by title, just like the sale bundle does. If one or more of the authors would like me to publish my comments as a DTRPG review, please feel free to reach out and ask.

I will also be providing a few critical suggestions to the authors as a fellow JC creator and colleague. Please, no one should take any of these comments as a negative judgment about their work. The authors of all four adventures have done a splendid job, so much better than my own first foray into Glorantha. Each author has clearly spent time proofing their text, sourcing art, and thinking about how it works with the text on the page. The refinement of these publications is marvelous for a first-time crowd, and a testament to the authors’ dedicated time.

My only comment across the board is charge more for your work! You have each done an amazing job, and I believe each of these adventures is certainly worth more than their price tag.

I typed out a whole soapbox section initially here, but nah now’s not the time—let’s focus on celebrating the new authors and their work.

A Lamp for Esrola

During a wild party in Nochet, the adventurers are recruited for an expedition to the Shadow Plateau seeking three “Tears of the Only Old One,” rare gems needed for consecrating a new temple to Esrola.

I really admire Sven Lugar’s attention to detail, and economy of detail in this adventure. The story is described just 5% too much, but that extra five percent is—in my opinion—the exact right amount when writing an adventure in Glorantha. Lugar adds just a little detail here, a brushstroke there, to help evoke the sense of the setting. For example, a troll matriarch verifying the adventurers’ lead passport with her bite-mark, and rewarding the adventurers with a guarantee to pay their ransoms (rather than a pile of silver). Combined with the religious nature of the adventure’s short quest, this work has pounds of Gloranthan adventure per page.

Economy is a quality I struggle with, which may be part of why I find this so delightful in Lugar’s work.

Two elements which didn’t work as well for me are the “I Love Trouncin’ Trolls” pastiche (to the tune of “I Love Rock & Roll”), and the value in Lunars of the “Tears.” The prior is just a matter of taste; lots of people enjoy that type of humor in Glorantha, and it just doesn’t work as well for me. I do think that the “Tears” should be cheaper, because at their current price even a good Bargain roll doesn’t bring them to a price which I see players debating about paying versus just stealing the jewels.

On a more technical note, I’d also recommend being more explicit with which ability rolls the adventurers should make, and I’d note them with boldface like in the other adventures. This helps the ability roll required of the players “pop” for the gamemaster while skimming the page during play.

Died in the Wool

Our second adventure also features trolls! And, if you’ve played the RuneQuest Starter Set, some trolls that might be quite familiar to the adventurers! I love that choice—recurring locales and non-player characters are great for helping run a campaign.

The story is that the adventurers encounter an Argan Argar merchant getting harassed by villagers about missing sheep. She hires the adventurers to clear her name, and they discover a band of trolls have been stealing sheep to practice for an upcoming game of trollball, the cultural sport of the Uz. The story then becomes half about if the adventurers can find the team’s missing members, and how the trollball game goes, and half about how the villagers will be recompensed.

Braeden Harpool’s overt goal is to introduce the players to the concept of trollball—as set out in Trollpak for RuneQuest Classic—without needing to learn the rules. Despite both stories not exactly being about the adventurers, Harpool has done a very good job integrating the adventurers’ actions into each portion of the tale’s result. I particularly liked the trollball game itself, highlighting how the adventurers as spectators can have a real impact on the game. I think the match itself seems like a really fun session to play.

Another element I really like about this adventure is the simple black and white art. From the credits, it appears sourced from a collection of pastoral illustrations which are in the public domain. This was such a clever choice by the creator. The art conveys “idyllic rural Orlanthi life” so quickly, while remaining on-theme because the adventure is about missing sheep! The sidebars providing myths and cultural context about shepherding is also a good addition.

The most significant question I had while reading this adventure was determining what happens if the trolls’ team doesn’t have seven members. Do they go on with fewer players? Are they less likely to score during each play period? It sort of feels to me like the adventure is assuming the adventurers will succeed at getting the team back together, so it may have been best to frame this with “what does success cost?” rather than “will they succeed?”

Again on a more technical note, I’d suggest spacing the lines of each paragraph a little further apart. It looks to me like Died in the Wool was created with layout software, probably InDesign or Affinity. I’m spacing right now on the jargon, but I do remember there’s a space to adjust the space between lines in the paragraph properties window. As published, the adventure looks to me like either the font size was increased, or the font was changed, but the setting didn’t get auto-updated to the new font and/or size.

The Indagos Bull

Farmer Bilijo Jyles’s prize bull has gone missing a few days before the Harvest festival in Indagos, and the locals are worried that without his really excellent bull the fertility rites for next year’s calves will go poorly. So, the adventurers gotta go find the bull.

This adventure is a neat investigative piece with opportunities for a variety of engaging consequences. I think it’s a great addition to the Sandheart + BWT Prax material which has accrued over time on the JC. What I admire most is that Rob Marcus has managed to create a sandbox-style investigation in just 20-odd pages. There’s a few spots I’d like more information, but there’s no spots I feel I need more information. That’s a really important distinction (especially because I’m a reader & gamemaster who just always wants more info; me wanting more isn’t unusual). For example, it feels like Marcus implies that the sons of rivals Farmer Jyles and Farmer Parmer are in a romantic relationship with one another, but a little more information about those characters could help describe if this is an important friendship, or a romance.

But like I said, Marcus does a really good job setting up hooks, twists, and possible action without (like yours truly) going off into needless detail. It’s a fine, tight adventure, which I actually can see myself gamemastering during a single session. The varied possible outcomes are a strong point for me because they each feel like they could be plausible choices or assumptions the players might make.

I’d also like to note that this work is accompanied by lovely sketches of the main characters. I believe these are from Zed Nope—I’ve actually used some of their stock art in To Hunt a God—an artist I believe I recall Nick Brooke mentioned wanted to do some work in Glorantha. So, it’s really cool to see they got their wish! I really like the bronze shading on the priestesses illustration, and may wish to reach out to this artist in the future…

As before, a quick technical note: each of these illustrations has a large white box behind it. If memory serves, the “Multiply” effect in layout software should make that go away. This also has the advantage that you can make the illustration larger on the page, without the box!

The most useful other suggestion I have for Marcus is that I’d encourage him to include explicit staging notes for placing the adventure either near Clearwine Fort, or near Jonstown. The introduction notes that Indagos Bull is easy to place elsewhere—and I agree—but more explicit advice for one of the published Sartar settings would increase this adventure’s ease of access for campaigns set in Sartar.

The White Upon the Hills

In our final adventure, the adventurers head into the Stael Hills of Sartar to investigate the White Blight which has begun to destroy the landscape. This adventure’s basic structure reminds me a lot of Chaosium’s The Broken Tower (which let’s be real, is one of our Gloranthan ur-plots alongside “Something Bad Happens During a Holy Day” and “Damn, the Lunars Suck”), but with more well-defined causes and consequences. In particular, I like that the consequences are defined in terms of how they’ll impact whole communities adjacent to the Stael Hills. The whole adventure does a good job setting up the adventurers for a major success or failure, letting their actions impact hundreds of people, if not more.

The White Blight’s source is an abuse of the eponymous nymph, Istaele. While the locals thought they were honoring her, in truth one of their old heroes lied and basically killed her. She’s been imprisoned underground (hard to kill-kill a goddess, y’know) and the earth-shaking Dragonrise let her out. The adventurers need to learn how to confront her, as well as tracking Istaele back to her “grave,” before the Blight consumes the whole area.

This is tangled up with a fairly good rhyme giving the adventurers the tools needed to appease the nymph (although the rhyme is described as a chorus, and that many people know the verses of its song—but that feels weird to me, it feels like the chorus should be more familiar). I like how the rhyme combines with the adventurers’ encounters with both the spirit and with major non-player characters, and also ties into pieces of background setting like Arachne Solara’s net. I think the section describing how the rhyme’s clues play out is my favorite bit, because it feels to me like it focuses on “how do the adventurers succeed?” There’s options, routes, and potential sacrifices, but it doesn’t feel like one mistake can wholly derail the adventure.

I also want to call out the art on this publication, because from the credits I’m fairly sure it was done by the writers—Sacha Gauthier and Reece Dyer—and I feel it’s quite well done. I really like the illustration of the striking stone, and the illustration of Istaele near the end is delightfully eerie.

My most significant question about the adventure is What happens if the striking stone’s fires cover all Sartar? This is called out as a possibility with the sacrifice of sufficient MP, and I’ve gamemastered parties with that kind of MP (and with an attitude to spend it on that, and see what happens!). As a gamemaster this is a situation where I’d enjoy the author’s suggestions for that type of situation. I also might tweak the magic item’s strike to be a one-use occurrence, or to require being charged with MPs before the adventurers go fight Istaele (so they have to choose—bigger ritual, or more MP for the fight?). But, this does start to get more fiddly than I really want at this time.

Addition: After publication, one of the authors reached out and informed me that it should be noted the artwork in this adventure was created both manually and with AI assistance.

Closing Thoughts

Again, well done, all of you. Lovely batch of adventures, and literally EVERYONE who likes RuneQuest should go out and pick up the bundle. It’s an easy win for everyone involved. Four sessions (or more) of gameplay for six bucks? That’s a no-brainer, especially at the quality which these creators have put on the table.

I hope Chaosium will keep supporting the “Write Your First Adventure” program in future. My only feedback for them tied to this—what, you thought I wouldn’t have something for the publisher, too?—is that it might be worth considering an omnibus POD of these adventures, or similar bundles? That is, if the authors all agreed. These types of adventures aren’t always worth the time for independent POD setup, but speaking as someone who knows how intoxicating it is to hold your own work in print, I think advocating for a POD could be a fun way to encourage these and future creators to keep coming back and writing more stuff.

Just a thought.

Until next time, then.

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