I Have No Game, and I Must Blog

My 2022 games reading list, with a long-winded preamble about gaming in Glorantha

S. Ben Melhuish • Saturday, December 31, 2022 • filed under games, shelves, settings

In addition to the “normal” books I read this year, I also read a bunch of game books, which is typical. I didn’t keep close track of them like I did with the rest of my fiction and non-fiction reading, but I’ll see if I can reconstruct some approximation.


Maybe 20 years ago, I picked up many of the books for Hero Wars, an RPG set in Glorantha. I wouldn’t say I’ve been obsessed with the setting since then, but it’s fair to call it an ongoing fascination. To the degree that I’ve associated any rules with the setting, they’ve been Hero Wars and its successor, HeroQuest. I got the 13th Age Glorantha rules a few years ago, by Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet, a supplement for their 13th Age “F20” game. (13th Age is partly drawn from their work on D&D — for, respectively, the 4th and 3rd editions.) I skimmed over them, but never really delved deeply.

That changed this year. At the start of the year, I picked up the RuneQuest Starter Set. RuneQuest was the original Glorantha RPG, first published before I started gaming. I read through it, and I have to say, the rules do not appeal to me at all; they feel like something to suffer through, rather than to enjoy, barely changed from 1978 (though to be fair, they were state-of-the-art then). The solo scenario, included to provide a bit of hands-on experience with the rules, solidified that feeling: Regular task resolution was serviceable but uninspiring, while a fight between two skilled characters was just a nearly-endless slog. Maybe the designers think that’s a feature, but it feels like a deal-breaker for me.

That said, the HeroQuest rules are very abstract: Almost nothing in them is directly related to or even evokes Glorantha, such that I worry they’d be too loosey-goosey for introducing novice players to the setting, without first giving them reading assignments.

It was while discussing possible games with Nathan that I hit on the solution. Nathan had just finished a D&D 5e game; he wasn’t especially interested in another, but the rules have a few easy entry points to customization for a particular setting — in particular, the back­grounds, races, and especially the subclasses, all of which can be customized in fairly straightforward ways. So while it would take a lot of work, it would be possible to write up background for Sartarites and citizens of the Lunar Empire, troll and duck races, and subclasses to represent different kinds of magic you can get from gods and spirits. And since everybody already knows how to play D&D, presenting the setting via these entry points would be a relatively small additional step.

But somebody already did that work, or something like it. 13th Age Glorantha (abbreviated 13G), as an F20 game, has character classes as a fundamental feature of the rules. Just like the notion of subclasses for D&D 5e, setting can be presented by the rules only so far as it’s relevant to playing your particular character class, and the rest can be learned (or not) only to the degree it’s relevant in play. And I don’t need to know much about the setting to decide between playing a troll warrior, a wind lord, or an earth priestess; I can choose based almost solely on their names. (It’s also super-helpful that 13G lists classes by how complex they are to play, as does 13th Age.1)

(We’ve ended up playing a different game.)

Hold on; I thought this was about things you read in 2022

Oh, right! Anyway, in preparation for possibly running a game, I read a bunch of stuff:

13th Age Glorantha
The cover of the “13th Age Glorantha” book, by Rob Heinsoo and Jonathan Tweet:  Adventurers in Bronze Age gear confront a Chaos horror that is breaking through a wall in a poorly-lit chamber.  One of the adventurers, grabbed by one of the horror’s tentacles, brandishes a sword that is crackling with lightning; another is turning to the viewer as if calling for help.
A really well-done supp­le­ment, though only the PDF edition appears to be available. It reworks many of 13th Age’s player-facing systems, such as swapping out icons in favor of Glorantha’s runes. It also offers Glorantha-specific GM advice, including running hero­quests, adventuring into myths which is an intrinsic part of the setting.
13th Age
I’d read parts of this before. Its rules focus is split: Class abilities are focused almost entirely on combat, while one of the game’s core systems (the icon relationships I alluded to above) is purely non-combat and ties PCs into the world and the story.
Parts of 13 True Ways
One of 13th Age’s first supplements, a grab bag of additional rules ideas and updates.

Other Glorantha reading

Remember how I said RuneQuest kind of left me feeling cold? Well, that didn’t stop me from reading a bunch of supplements for the game, mostly third-party stuff (sold via the Jonstown Compendium, Chaosium’s verion of Wizards of the Coast’s DM’s Guild program for D&D material). As noted in one one of the supplements, converting to 13G is a relatively straightforward process of replacing elaborate RuneQuest stats with shorter 13G stats, and converting to HeroQuest is basically an exercise in ignoring stats altogether.

Six Seasons in Sartar and The Company of the Dragon
By Andrew Montgomery, Six Seasons is an introductory scenario, starting the players as children, while Company is a sequel campaign framework. Both are extremely well-done, and having read them, I might find it hard to keep from even accidentally incorporating parts of them into my game. (There’s a third one, The Seven-Tailed Wolf, which is on my to-read list.)
The Six Paths
The standard culture for PCs is fairly gender-normative; here, Edan Jones offers four additional gender roles which are well-integrated into the “canonical” culture.
DuckPac book 1: Lore, Legends, & Myths
One of the sentient peoples of Glorantha are anthropomorphic ducks (imagine if Donald Duck were a Roman legionnaire and you’ll have a decent visual). This book, by Drew Baker and Neil Gibson, is about them.
The Children of Hykim
Another people are the hsunchen; back in the earliest days of myth when humans and beasts separated from one another, these people did not. This book by Brian Duguid is a thoughtful description of many hsunchen people and what their non-agricultural culture might have been like.
RuneQuest: Weapons & Equipment
I’m still reading this one, but will finish it by the end of the year. Ostensibly a list of things for characters to buy (or covet), it’s really a look at how Glorantha’s pre-medieval society works. (This is credited to nine people.)
The RuneQuest Starter Set
I wrote about at the top of this increasingly-long-winded post. Aside from the uninspiring rules, it does have some nice maps, and the character folios are quite clever. (This is credited to Greg Stafford, Jeff Richard, and Jason Durall.)

(Maybe when I retire, I can start a part-time business as a games copy-editor — boy did some of these need another pair of eyes.)

Non-Glorantha reading

This is a tiny, solo journaling game by Daniel Perez, about, well, through-hiking. Possibly relevant to my interests.
Termination Shock
This is a science fiction game by Greg Stolze; here, he does his usual job of finding the perfect point of tension between humor and deadly seriousness.
Barbarians of Lemuria and Everywhen
These are a pulp fantasy adventure game by Simon Washbourne, and a reworking of those rules to be generic by Nick Riggs and Phil Garrad (respectively). Our game uses the rules from BoL, though discards its setting. The rules are good, but they included more of the intrinsic sexism of the subject matter than they needed or probably should have.
The cover of the “Wanderhome” book, by Jay Dragon:  Three animals, perhaps a rabbit, a frog, and a mole, wearing clothes and backpacks, are walking up a meadow trail, enjoying the view (or, in the case of the mole, reading a map).  Colors are bright and simple.
I guess I’m burying the lede here; this was one of the last RPG books I read this year, and was far away the best. It’s a game by Jay Dragon about anthropomorphic animals who have quiet, low-conflict adventures in a basically-peaceful world, taking care of one another and helping other people. Certain kinds of people might dismissively call it “twee”, but screw those guys: I like this, very much. The setting is delightful, the writing is inclusive, and the game design seems just about perfect.

  1. In order from least- to most-complex: Orlanthi warrior; troll warrior; Humakti; rebel; Zorak Zorani berserker; wind lord; storm voice; Storm Bull berserker; trickster; earth priestess; hell mother. ↩︎