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Cults of Runequest: The Lightbringers and the Earth Goddesses


Chaosium’s Runequest is a game that is notorious for the complexity and depth of its background and lore. Many new players are intimidated and put off the game by the reputation the game has for the richness of its world: Glorantha. This is a great shame as RQ is a marvellous game with feel and a tone all of its own.

RuneQuest first appeared in 1978 hot on the heels of Dungeons & Dragons and Traveller and was soon to win many converts. What distinguished RQ from D&D was that it was firmly grounded in relatively small specific fantasy world grounded in bronze age technology rather than the rather broad sweep of high medieval fantasy that most D&D campaigns were set in. I’m not going to argue about whether RQ is better than D&D or not, but certainly highlight that it is very different. The highly detailed world of Glorantha is one of the most attractive elements of the game. What concerns many potential new players is the fear of getting to grips with this highly detailed setting, and a fear of getting it wrong. All I’m going to say in response, as a veteran from 1978, is relax…. It’s just a game.

Those of us who started playing back then were no wiser than you. We had the basic rulebook and started playing our own games in our own Gloranthas and only introduced more complexity and detail about the world as it slowly became available in additional supplements and copies of Wyrm’s Footnotes, Chaosium’s own magazine. If we actually wanted to, that is. What every RuneQuest GM ended up with was a mish mash of ‘official’ RQ lore and material of their own devising. And that was absolutely fine. So, RQ newcomers- don’t panic, if you think you are cobbling together a game world and fudging your understanding of it, then you are only doing what we old hands did when we were new to the game. Just have fun.

Having said that though, Chaosium are making a lot of the world lore available in more accessible volumes, and it is to two of these I shall now turn my attention. Cults of RuneQuest: The Lightbringers and Cults of RuneQuest: The Earth Goddesses. First observation, these books are beautiful and of the very high material standard we have come to expect from Chaosium these days. So, let’s move on to the content. If you are playing RQ your PC will almost invariably be a member of a cult dedicated to a specific god (or maybe several) and these books give background, not just on game mechanic stuff such as what spells and skills are available to cult members, but lots of colour and back ground to add plenty of atmosphere and game emersion.

The Lightbringers is perhaps the more immediately useful of the two, as it details the pantheon of gods most likely to be worshipped by adventurers: Orlanth the storm god is detailed in great depth, and rightly so as he is pretty much the default god of RQ adventurers, imagine a kind of mix of Zeus and Thor if you will. But we have other gods and goddesses from the Storm god pantheon who all can provide wonderful patrons to adventurers and add great flavour to your PC. In addition to Orlanth we have the healer goddess Chalana Arroy; Eurmal the trickster; and Lhankor Mhy the god of knowledge to name but a few. What makes these gods interesting – and what makes them differ greatly from other fantasy gods and goddesses – is that they have a brutal savagery and primitivism that grounds this world of fantasy in a paradoxical realism and plausibility.

Cults of RuneQuest: the Earth Goddesses is perhaps a less obvious choice, however gives details on the cults of Ernalda and Eiritha who are central to the world and societies your adventurers live in, even if they don’t directly choose them as patron goddesses themselves. We should not fool ourselves into believing that this is a book concerning rather placid amiable hippie earth goddesses, but goddesses that are embedded in the often violent aspects of nature and a bloody tribalism. We not only have the benevolent Grain Goddess, but also Babeester Gor, the avenging daughter of the Earth Mother and Maran Gor the Earth Shaker, both of whom a quite terrifying.

While not essential purchases for RQ Game Masters and players, these two books expand greatly on material on the RQ gods provided in the core RQ rulebook. But don’t panic, sip at RQ slowly and gently, don’t feel you have town it and digest it all in one go.