Petty Gods in Glorantha Session One

A couple Saturdays ago, we played our first session of my “Petty Gods of Glorantha” game, using the HeroQuest role-playing system. Let me back up a bit. Our first foray into Glorantha was just the three of us, my sweetheart, son, and I. Based on Moon Design’s Glorantha Classic “Griffin Mountain”, I wrote a scenario called “Into Icky Griffin,” in which the players’ two Everway characters spherewalk to Glorantha, specifically Balazar, the setting for Griffin Mountain. It’s called Icky Griffin because the first copy that was shipped to me was damaged and literally smelled bad. Icky. Once informed, Moon Designed immediately shipped me a replacement copy (Thank you!). I still had the damaged copy, and I thought, “Hell, I can’t make it any worse” and started mucking about with it. I drew Arzach hats on the pictures of the Balazarings, I replaced some of the bad art with better art, cutting and pasting it into the book (scissor and glue). Since I wasn’t going to run it as a RuneQuest game, I didn’t need all the stat blocks for the NPCs and monsters, so I started writing over them. I cobbled and cut and sliced and changed it around and came up with a nice introductory scenario for my family’s already-created Everway characters. It was a bunch of fun and will be more in the future.

And it increased my desire to run a proper HeroQuest Glorantha adventure for my family and friends.

But, I can’t run it straight out of the jar, and even though I have introductory adventures and help guides to create Glorantha characters, I wanted to give it a personal spin. As I’ve been reading Glorantha material, I’ve also been skimming the OSR book Petty Gods:  Revised & Expanded Edition, which lists many lesser gods and godlings. Some are better than others, naturally, as it is a collaborative effort of many artists and writers, but the idea of a plethora of minor gods appeals to me. Glorantha hosts hundreds of gods, so I thought that rather than use the standard offerings, I’d let the players make gods as their characters. I wrote “The Lightbringers Quest”, an introductory adventure based on one of the more popular Gloranthan myths. According to the mythology, the Storm God duel with the Sun God and slew him, sending the solar deity to the underworld. The Storm God and a group of companion gods adventured to the underworld to free the Sun God, returning him to his proper place in the sky and forever hence known as the Lightbringers. In my adventure the Storm God asks the player characters to undertake this mission.

Besides introducing the players to Glorantha, the adventure introduces them to the HeroQuest system, including character generation. I sat down with KC (fiancée), August (son), Jesse and Finn (neighbor father and son), and Dan (friend) and explained that each of them should pick a word to describe their god’s domain (a keyword for those who know the rules), and that their domain plus a connection to one of the primary Runes of Glorantha were the abilities they would use for their god’s supernatural effects.

“You are the god of what?” I asked.

KC already knew. Sleeping with the Dungeon Master is a good way to get insider rpg information. (HeroQuest calls the person running the game the “narrator”, but I often to default to using “Dungeon Master” or “DM”.) She created Gordi, the Petty God of Spinning and Weaving, and linked him to the Moon Rune. August created Grotto, the Petty God of Landscaping and Compost and linked him to the Plant Rune. Makes sense. Jesse created Orgo the God of Shadowy Corners, associated with the Darkness Rune, and his son Finn made General Kilmister, God of Forest Warriors, and linked him to the Man Rune. Finally Dan, who had played King of Dragon Pass and knew something about the actual gods of Glorantha (he knows more about them than I do), created The Frog of Issaries, Petty Gods of Side-Roads, and linked him to the Communication Rune. With our Petty Pantheon in place, we took a quick break to walk the dog before starting the adventure.

Oh, and when I say the players are playing petty gods, I don’t mean squabbling, jealous, or spiteful gods, although they can play their characters that way, but secondary, lesser, or insignificant gods. They are lesser, lesser gods. Tougher than heroes and superheroes, maybe, but maybe not.

The Storm God called them to his feast on Victory Hill, after the final battle against was won and the surviving gods needed to celebrate their good fortune. Stormy admitted that he shouldn’t have killed the Sun God and asked for volunteers from the assembled gods. The players literally shot their arms up in the air to volunteer. I knew I had them hooked. They each presented their case for being accepted as a Lightbringer, and those that did exceedingly well were rewarded with a Gift. The Frog of Issaries, who we started calling Froggy, was given Speak and Spoke, the Chariot of the Gods. Stormy gave Gordi the Ring of Ancient Spirit Armies. He then told them to go west to the edge of the world and find the Trickster God, who would lead them to the Gates of the West and the underworld. He pointed to the road west.

And the players gook another path. Of course they did. Dan likes to step outside the bounds of the written adventure, and it’s my job to accommodate him. Okay, they don’t want to follow the road but make a new road, sounds fine. The same kind of stuff happened; they got lost, they got ambushed, they met a tribe of humans who needed help against an army of lesser demons, all the typical fantasy fare that happens when d20s clatter against the polished cherry tabletop. The HeroQuest system is extremely loosey-goosey and provides all kinds of flexibility. We enjoyed the creative applications of this, using the characters’ abilities in unique and inventive ways to overcome obstacles. We all need a little more direction on not being so repetitive – Froggi used his Communication Rune the same way many times over, and Grotto often augmented his Stone Fist Ability with his Plant Rune by growing thorns that wrapped around his granite knuckles – but more time at the table should help solve that.

One of the central pieces was meeting the Trickster. They were told to meet him in Sorcerers Town, and they did find him there, standing atop a makeshift gallows with a noose around his neck, seconds from being hanged. The group decided that Orgo would dart from shadow to shadow until he passed through the crowd and got to the gallows, where he would snatch the Trickster and secret him out of town. Each Petty God did something to distract the crowd each round while Orgo moved toward the gallows. Froggi used his Communication Rune to plead for the Trickster’s life. Grotto used his Smooth Talker Ability – each player got to give his character five to ten other abilities, anything really that could be used to overcome an obstacle – do convince the crowd to go easy on the capricious god. Each turn Orgo moved closer, and a spectacular success roll put him on the gallows. Using the illusionary power of the Moon Rune, Gordi conjured a false image of the Trickster while Orgo swept him out the back exit. Reunited outside the walls, the Trickster agreed to take the Petty Gods over the sea and to the Gates of the West.

My ulterior goal is to run this adventure at conventions, so I hustled the group forward in hopes of rescuing the Sun God within 4 hours of real time. The Goddess of the West held the door to Hell open for the characters, and below surface each character meet and dealt with a specific encounter. Others could help, but I told each player that his character needed to create a story that would later be told as a myth about the god. So Orgo gambled with the Boatman to lead them over the River of Swords, Gordi played chess with the Ancient Old One to free the group from his Castle of Solitude, and General Kilmister fought the multiple-headed ogre that guarded the Sun God’s palace. Inside, Froggy bartered promises with the Sun God to convince him to return, and succeeded. The gang marched east and the sun rose over Glorantha, ending the Great Darkness.

We had a great time and I wish I had taken pictures. The dining room table was stacked with snacks and paper and dice and player handouts and glasses of empty beer and soda. Everyone agreed that they wanted to keep playing, with these characters, so I’m fixing to tell a bunch of tales about the new Lightbringers in the God Age of Glorantha. Step aside Orlanth, here comes Froggy! In our next session, scheduled for Feb. 6, I’ll lay out the criteria for a Petty God to improve to a Lesser God, and the steps that then lead further up the ranks of the gods.

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The Way Back Machine Part II; Diceless Everway

Wednesday was Game Night at Casa Ryan, a practice that we’ve let lag over the last couple years. To amend our faulty ways, we’ve re-instituted Game Night, and Wednesday last Aug, KC, and I sat down for our second session of Everway. We’d made characters two weeks ago and set down to play the in-box demo adventure, “The Journey to Stonedeep.”

I asked both players to introduce the character each had made, their spherewalker hero. I’ll paraphrase the responses.

KC: “Mitzi Moth has a background in retail. She is a 600-year-old midget with wooden hair and a pet cat named ‘Biddy’. Her shop is in a realm that received several spherewalkers, and one day she realized she had the power to spherewalk as well. Bitten by wanderlust, Mitzi left her shop to travel the realms, always looking for a bargain. She has a magic valise that she can reach into and retrieve small items from her shop, no matter how far distant she is from it.”

Aug: “Curse comes from a realm controlled by an evil, powerful wizard. Much of the wizard’s power comes from his magic scepter. Curse and his best friend sneaked into the wizard’s tower to steal the scepter, and were caught. The wizard cursed Curse’s friend with an advancement of aging, and the friend withered and collapsed into a pile of bones before Curse’s eyes. The wizard turned Curse into a humanoid pigman and ejected him from the tower. A favorite spell, the wizard then cast it on Curse’s tribe, turning them all into pigmen. They revolted and Curse was swept up in the battle. They failed to penetrate the wizard’s tower and lost, Curse was swept from a bridge and fell to the swamps below. He was captured by a tribe of fishmen – another tribe suffering from one of the wizard’s curses – and enslaved. As a slave Curse clandestinely learned the secrets of spherewalking, and left at his first opportunity. In another realm he changed back into a man, but when enraged or wounded he turns back into a pigman. He calls this his Pig Rage and has learned to use it effectively. He wanders the spheres trying to gain enough power to return to his home and defeat the wizard.”

Well done, right? Two different approaches to the characters’ background, to different types of information, and two awesome heroes. So in we went, walking from the realm of Sweetwater to Stonedeep to investigate the realm that no one has visited in 300 years. The realm has changed, and instead of an Egyptian-based culture of stonemasons and farmers the heroes find a realm ruled by the Ghoul Queen and her army of undead, that is soon to be visited by the Awakener, a supernatural entity looking for a bride and bringing death as a wedding gift. Naturally, the players get stuck in the middle.

Writing adventures for characters that you can’t see is hard. I know, and Tweet has years more experience doing it than me. This generic pinch between a rock and a hard place isn’t that bad overall. The heroes show up and immediately rescue Rarity, a bride-to-be pursued by a couple ghouls. The Ghoul Queen is rounding up prospective brides that she hopes to give to the Awakener, who will then reward her with a boon, some new magic power or such. The characters are meant to save Rarity and then go to her village to meet Greatheart, a priest of Osiris who will fill the heroes in on the backstory and overall plot. KC and Aug did as anticipated, saved Rarity and went to meet Greatheard. Tweet includes suggestions for players who don’t decide to save Rarity, which is helpful and essential information. Brought up to speed about the plot (Ghoul Queen collecting brides, Awakener due to come, arrival marked for 4 days at a place called Stoneflat), the players get to decide what to do.

Tweet offers four options, which I didn’t read to the players but are designed to cover the four probable decisions they make: talk to the Awakener, rescue the other Ghoul Queen captives, lead rebels against the Ghoul Queen, or fight the Awakener. He then writes how only the first choice is a good choice and the other three are bad choices, and that the adventure doesn’t have the space to detail how to handle the bad choices. What? He’s an experienced game designer, and even though he wrote this 25 years ago he was still an expert in the field. To make it worse, he writes how the GM (or whatever it’s called in Everway) can encourage or discourage each of the four options to players. That’s great advice, so it really came as a surprise that only one of the options was actually supported by the rest of the adventure. I didn’t encourage or discourage any choices. I handed out all the information and let Aug and KC decide what the wanted Curse and Mitzi to do.

And naturally, it wasn’t “let’s go have a discussion with the Awakener.” It didn’t help that we watched Bruce Campbell vs. the Army of Darkness the night before. (That’s the full title according to the film’s title sequence. Much better than simply Army of Darkness.)

“We roust up the citizens in Underwood, Greatheart’s village, and lead a revolt against the Ghoul Queen. We’ll start here then travel south, taking the villages along the way, and stop at Stoneflat on the fourth day, when the Awakener is due to arrive.”

Got it. I informed them that the citizens were farmers, not soldiers, but with Mitzi’s high Air score, which covers things like presence and communication, they will follower her. I told them that the ghouls were more powerful and that each was the equal of two or three farmers, but that the farmers were passionate and committed to the cause. They took a second village, bypassed a third, and arrived at Stoneflat on the third day.

A few words about conflict resolution. Everway uses three methods to determine who winds in a conflict, Karma, Drama, and Fortune. Karma is essentially scores and abilities, and the higher score wins. For example, the Fire score covers athletic ability and combat prowess. Curse has a 6 Fire score and a ghoul has a 4 Fire score. In hand-to-hand combat, the rule of Karma says that Curse wins the fight. Drama concerns the story, and the rule of Drama says that conflict resolves according to the needs of the story. If the ghoul needs to escape the fight because it needs to appear in a later scene, the law of Drama says that while Curse might win the fight, the ghoul escapes. Fortune means that the player draws from the Fortune deck, a tarot-like deck of cards that guides the results of the conflict. The law of Fortune throws some randomness into the game, and the interpretation of the random card is a lot of fun. Surprisingly, the players were a lot more willing to accept setbacks and negative results if they could participate in determining how negative they were.

For example, arriving at Stoneflat with 100 farmers, the heroes found that the Envoy, a ghoul captain, had already arrived with a force of 30 ghouls. They held the hill and were waiting for the Awakener to arrive. After some discussion, Curse took a force of 10 men through the woods to create a diversion by lighting the Envoy’s tent on fire, at which point Mitzi would lead the rest of the army in a charge up the hill. Curse could easily defeat a ghoul or two and was a master at stealth, but he wasn’t a great leader. He lead his men into the Envoy’s camp and I asked him to draw a Fortune card. It was the Cockatrice, a bad card that means Corruption. Not a good card. I said that I interpreted it to mean that the mission was spoiled, the attack team discovered and battle occurred. Aug agreed, but thought that the tent was lit because of Curse’s great athletic and stealth skills. Okay. Mitzi saw the smoke and led her forces up the hill. I asked KC to draw a card to determine the outcome of the battle. She drew the Satyr, which means Indulgence. Urged on by Mitzi’s communication skills and Curse’s prowess, the rebel army through itself full tilt against the ghouls. I suggested that Curse used his Pig Rage power, not holding back at all, and won the day, but at a Pyrrhic cost. To my surprise, KC and Aug agreed. Their army suffered heavy casualties but took the hill. Thinking that I might be able to use the Envoy latter in the game, I suggested that he survived and limped back to the Ghoul Queen’s palace. The element of surprise was gone and both players agreed.

I was surprised at how much we got done in a two hour session, and how smoothly the conflict resolution mechanic worked. Determining the results of a fight, even a large battle, with a single card speed up the game and added to the entertainment. I don’t know if this simple mechanic will work for the Glorantha games I plan to run – HeroQuest already has a pretty simple mechanic – but I might try it just to get the players used to the setting.

Ed. Note: no time for a proper edit before posting, I’ll look at this again later!

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My Glorantha Will Vary: Discovering 3rd Edition RuneQuest

Backstory: (P.S. I hate backstories) I wrote for Ars Magica 5th Edition. Ars Magica 5th Edition is ending; one more supplement in the product line and then fini. I started looking for other cool games, primarily with the intention to write for the game. I needed something with depth, something with staying power, and something cool. I discovered Glorantha.

Long-time gamers know, Glorantha is Greg Stafford’s fantasy world that served as the setting for RuneQuest, a couple boardgames, and lately HeroQuest. It’s a huge, couple of continents with a vast mythology and vast fictional history. The mythology is IMG_1110fictional as well. It’s not based on anything, but draws heavily from bronze age mythology and sagas, and the crux, often, is the warring factions of Sartar (very similar to Anglo-Saxon or Celtic-Gualish B.C. tribesmen) vs. the Lunar Empire (very similar to Alexander’s Greek empire or the early Republic of Rome). I started buying the current line of produc
ts, published by Moon Design, reading them and also reading about the older line of products, most falling under one edition or another of the RuneQuest game. I bought things here and there, and then I bought this:

Published in 1987, Apple Lane is a beginning adventure and is wonderful. Equivalent to AD&D’s Village of Hommlet (TSR Games, 1979), Apple Lane is a starting location for a newby band of adventurers. Their first assignment is to protect a pawn shop from a gang of vengeful baboons. It’s very straight forward, comes with a card stock pullout map of the pawnshop for the players to use, and is just grand. It captured my imagination and took flight. I instantly wanted to use it for the family’s Everway game, but I was also curious about the RuneQuest system itself. What did the game that Apple Lane was designed for look like?

I did some exploring. At that point, Avalon Hill Games owned RuneQuest and was publishing it in its third edition. Barkings around the Internet lead be to believe that 3rd Ed. is not the fans’ favorite. But what the hell, I’m not living my life to please the fans! A few dollars later and I’d ordered the RuneQuest Deluxe Edition (1983) and the RuneQuest Deluxe Gamemaster’s Box (1984). Friday last they arrived:

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The box was still shrink-wrapped from 1984. That’s 31 years ago, sports fans.  I couldn’t believe it, and part of me wanted to keep it shrink-wrapped, but I got over that quickly.

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SO much goodness inside. There three manuals were expected, “books” 3, 4, and 5 describing the game, its creatures, and its Glorantha setting. There was also a large fantasy map, which is a nice if not detailed drawing of the European landmass. But the coolness continued. There was a catalog of Avalon Hill’s 1984 game offerings. I’ve got Avalon Hill games from days gone by!

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I played the hell out of Starship Troopers back in the late 70’s. I don’t know how the copy of the game stayed with me over the years. I’ve had Wizard’s Quest since childhood as well, and used to play it with my brothers. The Birth of Britain and Stalingrad are more recent acquisitions.

Anyway, the boxed set of RuneQuest was incredible cool and me think happy thoughts, remember some of the other boxed sets I’d bought over the decades of gaming and how awesome the contents of each were. Books and maps and counters and gewgaws and doodads. I’ve very eager to start digging in earnest through the contents.

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The Way Back Machine, Everway, that is

More family RPG time! This week we settled down to make Everway characters. Released in 1995 by Wizards of the Coast, Everway is a role-playing game written by Jonathon Tweet, an exceptional game designer (in my opinion) who was 1/2 of the original Ars Magica team, 1/3 of the AD&D 3rd Edition team, and now 1/2 of the 13th Age in Glorantha team. Tweet has a nice style of writing that works well for role-playing games, which by definition are half fiction and half instructional manual. Rereading Everway, it’s easy to see his hand in the 13th Age in Glorantha playtest packets.

Everway is a lot like Planescape in setting and nothing like it in rules mechanics. The players are heroes who travel between different worlds exploring and righting wrongs. My hope is that Aug and KC’s heroes can traipse through my RPG library, leaping from one game setting to the next, visiting different settings but using the same simpleIMG_1088 Everway rules for conflict resolution. I don’t want to get into the conflict resolution system just yet. Let’s concentrate on character generation.

Everway is a more narrative approach than traditional simulation-style rpgs. There is no classes or levels, no set races that the players can pick. The flood gates of the imagination are thrown open, with only a few restrictions to block the creation process. Essentially, heroes have to be heroes. No bad guys. No monsters. Each player selects five cards to represent his player’s background. These cards are just art pictures that run from traditional sword and sorcery images to more fantastic science-fiction landscapes. It’s like flipping through an old Heavy Metal magazine without the boob shots. In 1996, Wizards of the Coast released booster packs for the game, sets of 10 random cards that were supposed to fire the imagination. They certainly did for me, especially since WotC paid for some images from some very, very talented artists. The booster sets include art from Ken Kelly, Roger Dean (Yes, the guy who painted the Yes album covers), and Jeff Jones. Jeff effin’ Jones.

So, five cards from however many you want to look at to describe your characters. KC and Aug spent a lot of time on this stage of character creation, rightly so.

IMG_1089croppedHere is Aug narrowing down his choices from eight or nine cards to five. I should have read the “no monsters, no bad guys” rule to him before handing out the cards, because he made a monster. On reflection though, and through the question and answer process that follows the card-selection process, we discovered that the character really was a hero and suffering from a wizard’s curse that periodically changes him into a monster.

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While Aug made a monster, KC made a midget. Aug was drawn to cards representing monsters and combat, KC drawn to cards depicting fantasy vistas and landscapes. Her character needed teasing out as well, and the sample questions provided in the players’ guidebook helped immensely. I noticed that both KC and Aug made fairly tight backgrounds for their characters, using the five cards as the only points in the character’s background instead of perhaps the high points. As a first-time Everyway GM I didn’t know how to guide them, and the next time I guide character generation I’ll point out that the five cards don’t represent the entire background of the character, maybe just the formative bits for the upcoming adventure, or “premise” as the game calls it.

I’ll send up individual posts about each character, after I ask the players’ permission to do so. It was interesting how attached to the characters both players are. We spent two hours making characters. Much of that was learning the system, yes, but we still spent a lot of time trying to define the characters. This surprised me. The system uses much simpler rules and far fewer stats to define the characters, but simpler doesn’t mean swifter and fewer doesn’t mean faster. It was almost harder to create characters without the familiar building blocks we’ve become accustomed to. No, “Okay, I’ll be an elven cleric who worships Woden and whacks enemies with a hammer.” Familiarity with the rules plays a big part, naturally. It doesn’t take me long to make an AD&D character, and I can make an Ars Magica character – which uses a very complex method of character generation – in about an hour. Of course, I’m making Ars Magica NPCs, not PCs. So to be honest, making an Ars Magica PC does take a couple hours. I was surprised that making Everyway characters took the same amount of time. IMG_1091

One final comment, look at all the gear that comes in the box. Yes, I purchased additional cards – “Vision Cards”, to help shape your vision of the character – but look at the books (players guide, GM guide, guide to using the Fortune Deck), the map of Everway, the character sheets, all in a sturdy, provisioned game box. Every thing is books nowadays, and I think that’s because a high-end book can also be sold as an electronic file and a lot of gamers use electronic devices at the game table. I do, and when I buy a book I often pony up a few extra bucks for the pdf. Still, I miss the old box sets, the books, the maps, the little trinkets.

Up next, the characters.

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A Royal Extraction

I submitted this pitch for an open call from a role-playing game company. It wasn’t accepted, so instead of chucking it I thought I’d send it up here. Maybe I’ll write it for another role-playing game, although I don’t know which system I’d use or which game it would best fit. In any event . . . 

A Royal Extraction

London, 1568. The Earl of Desmond, Sir Gerald Fitz Gerald, has been arrested as a rebel against the English Crown, removed from his native Ireland, and imprisoned in Leger House, a make-shift prison in Southwark, the seedy city district on the southside of the Thames River. He has been detained for over a year, imprisoned with his wife, son, and newborn baby. His brothers, Sir John and Sir James, move to end this intolerable situation and hire mercenaries to free the earl and his family.

They enlist the famous seadog and privateer Martin Frobisher, who agrees to pilot a small craft up the Thames and meet at a secret dock. Leger House conveniently sits atop a disused branch of the sewer, whose exit eventually leads to the river. The PCs are hired to move the four Desmonds from Leger House to the dock, an evening’s work for a month’s wages.

But there are complications. Leger House sits between Clink Prison, a notoriously dangerous lockup with frequent escapes, and the Paris Gardens, an active bear pit frequented by London’s worst type of citizens. Sir Gerald is sick, as are his two live-in prostitutes. His wife says it is syphilis, contracted from his most recent orgy, but the group will later discover it is lycanthropy. The disused branch of the sewer is the abandoned workshops of one of Queen Elizabeth’s alchemists, dismissed from service because of the monstrous hybrids he stitched together, savage creations that still roam loose beneath the city. Martin Frobisher plans treachery, hoping to advance his career by handing over the escaping Irish lord, and arrives with a regiment of British soldiers.

Perhaps the characters can survive. Perhaps they can save some of the family, perhaps even Sir Gerald. More likely they will be torn apart in the sewers of London.

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While I’m at it . . .

While I’m posting images of older Glorantha material, here is an image from D&D’s “Eldritch Wizardry”, circa 1976-77. I somehow always like this, (and this is a good way to see if my WordPress posts will connect to my G+ page, which I’m having trouble with).

Eldritch Wizardy.pdf

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Thematic Imagery

There is a lot to be said for a game’s artwork. Remember how Brom’s work shaped TSR’s Dark Sun campaign? Or Tony DiTerlizzi’s artwork for Planescape? Glorantha, in its many incarnations, has offered images from many artists’ pens. I find Marc Moreno’s illustrations to be one of the best thematic imagery I’ve seen. These scans are from HeroWars: Roleplaying in Glorantha (Issaries, Inc., 2000).

ISS 1101 dwarf ISS 1101 merfolk ISS 1101 orlanthi warriors ISS 1101 praxian nomad

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