Elkoi Expansion is a new Jonstown Compendium release by Anders Tönnberg which bundles a variety of full-color maps in multiple styles together with a 34-page PDF providing additional details about the Balazaring clans near Elkoi, and mapped-out sites of interest inside the city. It is written for use with Griffin Mountain from Chaosium. I kept my copy of the RuneQuest Classic reprint on hand, but found comparison difficult because Elkoi Expansion makes page references to an out-of-print edition.
I started out by looking through the maps, because I was surprised at how many files I found in the ZIP folder after downloading it from DriveThruRPG. They are, in general, quite good. I appreciate the variety in how much detail is provided on each map. For example, the “Local Area” map has five versions; a standard map, then one without labels, one with hexes, one with hexes sans labels, and a political map. This type of diversity is typical for each map provided.
The maps are well-presented, and I found them aesthetically pleasing too. The hill art asset on the Local Area map looks pixelated to me, but otherwise the maps look quite good.
Then there’s the PDF.
I’m going to be frank. I try my best to be constructive and positive in these First Impression articles, but this publication is making it difficult for me to do so.
The PDF is broken into several basic sections: Elkoi Valley, Elkoi Clans, Elkoi “Expension,” and NPCs & Personalities.
A general note: while as a writer and editor I tend to be a bit sensitive to typographical errors, I do feel there’s quite a lot of easily repairable mistakes in this work. Some notable errors include the title, “Elkoi Expension,” and more confusingly, mixed reference to “Hunted Caves” instead of “Haunted Caves.” I also found the layout at times difficult to read, due to the lack of either indents or gaps between body paragraphs. I appreciate that the author sought to use their own graphic design—rather than the standard Jonstown Compendium template—but I feel the result didn’t work out.
The Elkoi Valley is probably the most well-written section of the piece. It draws details of Elkoi’s surroundings, describing settlements and landscape features. The inclusion of Lunar farming villages into Balazar had some roleplay potential, but their existence isn’t really followed through with adventure ideas or wicked plots in the other sections of the publication. In particular, I feel like each of the clans ought to have had some mention of their relationship with the Lunars.
I strongly disliked reading through the Elkoi Clans section. I found it generic, repetitive, and dull. Each clan’s history, campsite description, and spirit cult was extremely similar, and lacked almost any interesting details. In particular, the inclusion of describing what magic each clan’s totem is known for providing to its Balazarings would give the gamemaster a way to distinguish each group. Plus, learning new magic is a good game reason to engage in the roleplay of clan interaction.
For the most part, the Elkoi Expansion section adds detail without drama. It engages in excess description, and mostly expands Griffin Mountain locations without adding many new locations of its own. I was disappointed in the lack of detail about the caves in particular, because underground networks for adventurers to sneak around the citadel sounds pretty cool! But there’s just basically statements that they’re unused and haunted, again in a very generic and imprecise way.
Another detail which vexed me was the description of rare, powerful tomes in the Trader’s Warehouse (without really describing their contents), plus a chest of unspecified magic items, iron weapons, and “attribute-raising scrolls.”
I love me some magic items. If you’re gonna publish something with magic items, please say what they actually are, how they work, how I can ruin a player’s day with one, etc. Please.
Finally, the NPCs. This falls in the vein more of statblocks than personalities, and those NPCs with extra detail feel inadequate. Elkoi Expansion follows the RuneQuest Starter Set‘s lead by providing single “typical such-and-such” NPCs, which I think was a good call. A table of encounters would have been nice, something to help generate problems, beyond lists of statblocks. I also found the statblocks a bit hard to read, especially due to the lack of commas in the Rune magic, spirit magic, and skills sections.
Overall, this is the first time in a while I’ve been actively disappointed in something I picked up on the Jonstown Compendium. If you’re playing a VTT campaign using Griffin Mountain, this is still probably worth your money. I wouldn’t recommend giving the PDF more than a cursory skim—I actually feel kind of upset that I spent over an hour reading it—but the maps are good, and will work just fine with Griffin Mountain.
I think publications like this can work. I know they can work! Beer With Teeth’s excellent Clearwine books are a perfect counterexample. Material like this doesn’t need to be “transformative,” but it does need to expand on what’s been previously published in a way that Elkoi Expansion does not. A new tavern, three pages of additional schemes, something, it needs something.
I hope Tönnberg’s next work is something more detailed—and I hope he keeps up with the great maps. Maybe it’d be worth seeking out a collaborator?
Until next time, then.
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