Glorantha: Introduction to the Hero Wars
by Greg Stafford & Peter Metcalfe
Reviewed by Jamie 'Trotsky' Revell, Copyright ©2000
One of the first fantasy roleplaying games designed to deal with a specific game world was RuneQuest; the world was Glorantha. For a number of reasons, RuneQuest itself is no more, but the popularity of the setting ensured its survival through a number of fan publications. Now, at long last, a new game, Hero Wars, has been created to describe this world, and to bring it to a new generation of gamers. The first supplement for Hero Wars, appropriately enough, is a general guide to the world of Glorantha.
The book includes no game statistics, so whether you game in Glorantha using Hero Wars, RuneQuest, Rolemaster or GURPS, it should prove of equal utility. Because of its long history, and the volume of official and fan produced material over the years, Glorantha is a remarkably rich world, which may appear daunting to many new GMs or players. For the first time, all of the background information is presented in a single volume that explains all of the basics you need to set a game there.
The book is divided into chapters, beginning with a general history, and then dealing with each region one at a time, as well as with the three main non-human races. Thus, if your game is set in the Lunar Empire, your players need read only one or two chapters to get a feel for the setting, and can ignore more distant lands for the time being. An especially nice touch is that each chapter includes a summary of history as that culture sees it, with the same event being seen in different ways by different peoples. Each chapter also includes a boxed section on the local religion, a feature key to Glorantha, as the various forms of magic (to which all player characters will have at least some access) are closely tied to religion in one way or another.
In many ways, Glorantha differs from almost any other setting on the market. So many other game worlds rely on real world science, that it is refreshing to find one in which myth is paramount, and which can bring home the atmosphere of the ancient world effectively. Many clichés of fantasy are rejected, so that elves and dwarves, for example, are not mere Tolkien rip-offs. Glorantha: Introduction to the Hero Wars does an admirable job of bringing this home, and of explaining just how the various races and cultures act and interact.
It's impossible to do justice to the world of Glorantha in a review as short as this, but the variety of possible settings, from the decadent Lunar Empire, to the freedom loving Heortling barbarians, the rationalist sorcerers of the West, the warlike nomads of Prax and the mysterious lands of the East, should provide inspiration to almost any GM. The southern continent of Glorantha is dealt with in a rather cursory fashion, but as this allows for far more detail to be provided for the regions that are covered, this is not really a problem. That the cultures and religions of such areas as Kralorela and the East Isles, which have barely been touched on before, are described at such length will prove useful even to those already familiar with the setting from RuneQuest.
If you are already a fan of Glorantha, you should definitely have this book. There is much new information here, and the emphasis on cultural description makes playing characters from each region easier than did its closest predecessor, the RuneQuest supplement Genertela - although it lacks the detailed geographical information that that volume possessed. To somebody new to the setting, this provides an ideal introduction, although you'll inevitably need the Hero Wars rulebook or one of the planned Players Guides for the detailed character generation information and other game rules. In some ways, this could be considered a drawback, but I found that the lack of rules information and stats made it far easier to immerse myself in the setting. Anyone planning to use rules other than Hero Wars to game in Glorantha will also likely find that the extra space it leaves for description is a bonus.
There are a few bad points that need to be mentioned, however. The lack of an index is unwelcome, although the organization of the book makes this far less frustrating than it does for the Hero Wars rulebook, as it's fairly easy to locate the information you want. The standard of proofreading is lamentably low, so that the book has far too many typos. Those looking for detailed descriptions of cities and the like will also feel disappointed, as an overview of this scope necessarily has to deal with a wider picture. On balance, however, the quality of the writing and the sheer imagination and detail evident in the setting more than make up for these drawbacks, and the artwork is also of a generally high standard.
In conclusion, if you already game in Glorantha, or if you are looking for a new and different fantasy setting full of rich detail and vibrant color, this book is recommended. In the past, Glorantha has often had a steep learning curve, but this book helps make the curve much shallower.
Glorantha: Introduction to the Hero Wars is published by Issaries, Inc. Their contact details are as follows:
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