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Thunder Rebels

Reviewed by Jamie 'Trotsky' Revell, Copyright © 2001

Edited by Suzanne Campbell for The Guild Companion

Thunder Rebels is the first "player's book" for the new Gloranthan roleplaying game, Hero Wars. It focuses on the kingdom of Sartar in Glorantha's Dragon Pass, and on the storm barbarians who live there. One of the most popular settings for campaigns in the world of Glorantha, players have, until now, had to rely primarily on the copious amounts of fan-produced information about this region, so the publication of an official supplement is very welcome.

Because you're bound to wonder, the first thing to say about Thunder Rebels is that the proofing and layout problems that plagued the Hero Wars rulebook and, to a lesser extent, the Glorantha worldbook, have now thankfully been laid to rest. This book is beautifully laid out, free of typos and decorated with some nice atmospheric art. Especially atmospheric are the pictures of the gods, each done in a traditional Sartarite style and looking just like you might expect Iron Age artwork to look. The book's trade paperback format is its only weak point in this regard; it really needed a lay-flat spine.

The book assumes that the reader knows little or nothing about Sartar or Glorantha, and so makes an excellent introduction for players new to the setting. The first half of the book deals with background information about the storm barbarians and their kingdom. The culture is described in rich and vivid detail, with many in-character quotes from tribal leaders, folk sayings and the like, yet without the turgid game fiction that fills so many similar supplements from other game companies. Reading the first couple of chapters leaves you feeling that the Sartarites are real people, with their own strengths and weaknesses and should provide plenty of inspiration for roleplaying Sartarite characters.

Culturally, the Sartarites are clearly based on the barbarian peoples of pre-medieval Europe, notably the Saxons and Celts. Yet they are not direct copies of any real-world culture, with many unique features of their own. Their freedom-loving ways and refusal to pigeonhole people into specific professions or social roles against their will should make them particularly attractive to players; any player character could potentially become a clan chieftain, for instance. Adding to the atmosphere is a clear enemy for the Sartarites to rail against. Formerly having entertained themselves by cattle raids on each other's clans, the peoples of Sartar have recently been conquered by the mighty Lunar Empire and the clear implication of the book is that your player characters should fight to free their country from the foreign oppressors with their evil magics and demands for taxation.

The next three chapters deal with religion and magic. Some of this is Hero Wars rules information that elaborates on the outline in the main rulebook, but much of it is added atmosphere. We learn of the rites to initiate children into adulthood, the annual religious ceremonies and of the magical otherworld to which heroes can travel and re-enact the myths of the gods to benefit their community.

The second half of the book is taken up by the keywords necessary to generate Sartarite characters. The occupation keywords are fairly obvious and don't elaborate much on the shorter descriptions in the main rulebook. The magic keywords, however, which define the benefits gained from following particular gods and demigods, provide over fifty cults and sub-cults, many of them entirely new. Strictly speaking, only two gods are covered: Orlanth: storm king and god of men, and Ernalda: earth mother and goddess of women. But the range of magic provided by the different sub-cults of these two deities is so wide that you can easily understand why these are the only gods most storm barbarians ever need.

By emphasising the gender roles that most Sartarites adhere to, this book does ignore the possibility of male healers or female warriors, so players wanting such characters will either have to use the guidelines in the main Hero Wars rulebook or wait until the companion volume, Storm Tribe, is published in May 2001. Similarly, many of the more popular RuneQuest cults, such as Humakt and Lhankor Mhy, are also absent, although they will appear in Storm Tribe. Those points aside, however, the options provided for both male and female characters are interesting and varied, and include much more than just combat-related powers.

Players of Hero Wars should love this book. Those playing in Glorantha with other game systems, such as RuneQuest, Rolemaster or Fudge, will also find it invaluable for the insight it provides into one of the most popular cultures of that world. The nature of the Hero Wars keyword system is such that it should be relatively easy to convert to the character generation system of your choice, and other than the keywords, there aren't that many rules to bog you down. Even if you're only looking for a plausible, yet magical, barbarian culture to add to your own game world, you could do a lot worse than use Thunder Rebels as a source.

Editor's Note:

Thunder Rebels is published by Issaries, Inc. who can be reached at http://www.glorantha.com/

 

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