Supplement Supplemental! (Material Cultures, Filled-In Blanks, and Arthurian Encyclopedia)

Time for another instalment in my occasional series talking about RPG supplements which by themselves don’t inspire me to write an article, but which I still find worthy of comment.

Weapons and Equipment (RuneQuest)

From the title, you might expect this to be a fairly dry piece – perhaps along the lines of …and a 10 Foot Pole for Rolemaster, with lots of expanded equipment lists and the like. There’s an extent to which it is utilitarian in nature – it deliberately includes a chunk of the information from the equipment rules in the RuneQuest core rulebook, for instance, specifically so the book can be of maximal use in actual play. (If you know the information is definitely in there, there’s no need to juggle between this and the core book to find the equipment details you want.)

However, as someone on one of the RuneQuest discussion groups on Facebook pointed out, this supplement’s title undersells it – you could almost call this Material Culture of Dragon Pass, for it doesn’t merely provide you with a price list, but goes into a little detail about what the equipment is, what it tells us from a cultural perspective, and so on. Old World Armoury for 2nd Edition WFRP did something along similar lines to this, though I would say Weapons and Equipment takes the approach even further. Details on availability are here as well as pricing, and there’s also information on the obtaining and maintenance of livestock, mounts, dwellings, and so on. Services as well as goods are covered to an extent, with information on hiring mercenaries and other skilled personnel, or obtaining skill training.

In short, whilst the book gives you the fine item-by-item details it can also, with a quick skim, give you a quick grounding in what the material possessions of RuneQuest characters are like, what that says about them, and how all these things fit into the world – thereby helping evoke the distinctive cultures of Glorantha. This means it’s both extremely useful and extremely flavourful, which is a rare and welcome combination.

Ruins of the Lost Realm (The One Ring)

The One Ring RPG is set in between The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring, and that means it faces a problem: whilst there’s lots of stuff detailed east of the Misty Mountains (you’ve got Lothlórien, Mirkwood, the Lonely Mountain, Laketown, Gondor, Mordor, Rohan…), the land west of it is, in the era in question, fairly sparse. We don’t really have much insight into it beyond a straight-ish line extending from Rivendell, via Weathertop and Bree, through the Shire, and heading west to the Grey Havens, and canonically the depredations of the Shadow have left much of the area somewhat underpopulated and desolate. Eriador, formerly part of the kingdom of Arnor, is not destined to properly pull itself together until Aragorn, as king of the reunited realm of Gondor and Arnor, restores things.

In some respects that’s handy; it means referees have a free hand to do stuff. In other respects, a little more meat on the bones can be handy. That’s where Free League’s Ruins of the Lost Realm comes in, their first major setting supplement for the 2nd Edition of The One Ring. This provides a range of populated areas, enemy factions, and fleshed-out locations based in Eriador. The locations are particularly nice – they use the format outlined in the One Ring core rules to nicely lay out information that allows an area to be either woven into an ongoing narrative or used as a “sandbox” location for the players to stumble across based on the tastes of the referee and their table.

The production values of it are of the standard we’ve come to expect from the core book, and the designers show good judgement when it comes to when to take the canon with a little pinch of salt without deviating too harshly from its spirit. In particular, whilst Tolkien merely notes that the city of Tharbad ends up depopulated after a flood in T.A. 2912, a few decades before The One Ring is set, Free League give themselves permission to assume that the depopulation doesn’t happen all in one go – instead, in this version of the setting there is a small remnant clinging on in the town under the rule of bandits, but they’re more camping out in the ruins than actively repairing and maintaining the city; the town is done, and will be empty within a generation or so.

This is good not just because it’s a nice elaboration of a bit of undeveloped Tolkien lore (and arguably quite true to life), but it also allows the developers to set up Tharbad as a potential additional home base for PCs west of the Misty Mountains which isn’t the Shire, Bree, or Rivendell, all locations with a fair bit of novel-related baggage.

On the whole, if this is the format Free League intend to use for regional supplements for The One Ring, I’m quite happy with it – it seems like a model of developing material for the game which is both smooth to develop for, and which allows for a lot of useful material to be crammed into the book. You can pick up and start sprinkling stuff from this into your One Ring campaign right away, provided your party is west of the Mountains, and that’s a hallmark of a really useful supplement which is well-designed for actual play as well as for reading.

The Arthurian Companion (Pendragon… sort of)

The state of Phyllis Ann Karr’s The Arthurian Companion as a game supplement, rather than a general reference work, is a tricky one. Originally, Karr had been commissioned by Greg Stafford to do some background research on Malory and other Arthurian texts to assist him in the design of King Arthur’s Knights, a 1978 boardgame based on Arthurian themes. After compiling all this material on the people, places, and legendary objects of Arthurian myth, Karr continued polishing what she had, ending up with a small Arthurian encyclopedia, published via Reston Publishing in 1983 as The King Arthur Companion. In 1986, the book was reprinted by Chaosium as part of the Pendragon line, and then in 1997 they released this expanded version, retitled The Arthurian Companion, as part of their brief Pendragon fiction line.

On the one hand, it does not contain game statistics, and there is no effort made to make it consistent with depictions of the subject matter in more canonical Pendragon supplements; at the same time, it is a by-product of the same creative process Stafford went through in exploring his Arthurian interests which gave rise to Pendragon in the first place. Furthermore, the book is potentially very useful for anyone running a Pendragon campaign; as well as useful overview essays on the society and world depicted in the Arthurian literature, the Companion gives an exhaustive listing of people, places, and things appearing in the source texts, indicating where they are to be found.

If you want to add in something to your campaign which on the one hand is drawn from authentic Arthurian literature, but on the other hand isn’t something which has been so extensively used in modern adaptations that there’s no surprise there any more, this is golden; likewise, the book also teases out unusual details and overlooked information about more familiar figures.

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