REVIEW: Children of Hykim

2022 was a phenomenal year for RuneQuest releases. With several books in the DuckPac and East Isles series from Legion Games, the finale of Andrew Logan Montgomery’s acclaimed Six Seasons in Sartar series, Harald Smith’s Edge of Empire exploring a Lunar Province, and all the other goodness which came out last year, I honestly think 2022 may have been the best year yet to be a RuneQuest fan. Hundreds of pages of good content were published, more than I’ve been able to read (though I’m working on it).

I recently finished Brian Duguid’s Children of Hykim and let me tell you, it can be compared favorably with any of those great books. I’m not willing to say I have a “favorite” release from 2022 yet, but this one is vying for that title.

Children of Hykim is a reference work about the Hsunchen cultures of Glorantha. (Or more precisely, central and western Genertela, where the most people tend to play RuneQuest.) While I read through it cover-to-cover—and enjoyed the process—I feel like the intended experience is flicking through seeking details or advice on using a particular Hsunchen tribe in your game. The nearest comparison to this work I’ve read would be Martin Helsdon’s comprehensive survey of ancient warfare, Armies & Enemies of Dragon Pass. Both works are informative reference volumes which contain good writing and illustrations, and are well-polished (minimal typos, contradictions, decent layout, etc.).

On the “armchair v. tabletop” spectrum of RPG books, I’d place Children of Hykim closer to the armchair side. It feels focused on a reader experience and on providing inspiration, rather than playing content directly from the book. However, one element I really like about Children of Hykim is that the work explicitly points prospective gamemasters in the right direction for devising their own adventures or campaigns in the latter third of the book. Providing rules for Hsunchen adventurers, and story seeds for why one of the Hsunchen might join a group like Vasana & Co. really makes it easy to imagine using this book during a game.

Also, if you’re a giant nerd like me, this book’s great just because of all the information about “Stone Age” life it collects in one place. I love reading stuff I can learn from (in part so I can nick ideas for my own writing), and Children of Hykim provides plenty of details. The art supplements this well, too, with details on types of tools, and depictions of various Hsunchen. I wish there were even more illustrations of Hsunchen daily life—especially while partially-transformed!—but the book definitely does not lack art. I just want more of a good thing!

Which of course includes the cover. What a gorgeous piece! I’ve worked with Kristi Herbert a few times, and I love the work she’s done with me, but this is absolutely my favorite piece by her. It might be my favorite Jonstown Compendium cover; the only covers which, in my opinion, share the same weight class are Jacob Webb’s landscapes for the Sandheart books.

A majority of the book consists of short descriptions of over twenty different Hsunchen tribes, each with their own details about lifestyle, religion, and adventurer creation which make them distinct from the “standard” overview presented at the start of the book. My favorite part of each entry was almost always the opening myth. Duguid does a really good job in most of these telling a complete story, a story which doesn’t merely repeat other myths, and keeping the story’s length pretty short. That’s not an easy ask, and the fact that I enjoyed reading most myths is a tribute to the author’s skill. I also appreciated how Duguid uses the varied tribes to highlight cultural differences, and how their lifeways intersect, but the description never felt repetitive.

Finally, the book includes a long appendix describing how Duguid came to his conclusions about each Hsunchen tribe. I admire his willingness to use Chaosium’s Glorantha, to stay close to it, but to refuse to be restricted by it. Strictly speaking, I’m not sure this appendix was “necessary”—it’s the type of designer commentary I would anticipate on a forum or website, not in the book—but as a fellow creator I loved it. Duguid’s creative process was very interesting to read, and stands as a clear testament to the depth of his research in Chaosium’s publications, out-of-print publications, and historical publications about Earth’s prehistoric peoples.

I have very few complaints about Children of Hykim. I read the Print on Demand edition, and I suggest a slightly larger “gutter” margin in the center, because in the beginning and end of the book the text often got very close to the spine, and difficult to read. There’s some topics on which I’d love to know more, but I don’t feel sating my curiosity would have actually made a better book. More about the Spirit World, for example. A map of it, collection of short spirit cults for the myriad spirits mentioned? An example adventure? But that’s all asking for dozens of pages of additional content, and just doesn’t seem realistic.

Although, it does mean there’s ground still to cover in potential follow-ups…

Overall, Children of Hykim is a very, very good release. It’s an enjoyable read, which provides lots of actionable advice to the gamemaster who wishes to play adventures (or a campaign) focused on this culture. While many of the tribes exist outside the central Dragon Pass area, Duguid makes sure to provide ideas for how you could pull his content into Chaosium’s primary Homelands.

Children of Hykim shouldn’t be seen as a niche book about a niche culture. It’s a beautiful resource work which any gamemaster could utilize with ease in their own Glorantha.

Until next time, then.

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