For those of you who have an interest in Gloranthan monsters, the good news is that the Bestiary has been finished for quite a while now. In fact I completed it more than a month ago, but due to the release of Pavis and my own hectic workload for RuneQuest 6, I haven’t gotten round to posting anything about it.
So to help out Jeff, I thought I’d write a bit about the book and the design concept behind it.
When Jeff first approached me with the concept of writing a Bestiary I was somewhat wary. My enthusiasm was jaded by the work I’d previously put into Monster Island, which due to certain circumstances I ultimately did not submit to Mongoose. Jeff’s irrepressible enthusiasm however, soon got me to change my mind. What he envisioned was not yet-another splat book full of characteristics and combat skills, but something in homage to the Sandy Petersen’s Field Guide publications.
For those of you who have never seen one of these Petersen’s Field Guides, they are stat-less but very evocative descriptions of the weird creatures of the Dreamlands and Cthulhu Mythos, supplemented with stunningly beautiful, full page art. After Jeff posted me his own personal copy to wet my appetite, I was hooked and began to think about how the text of the book should be presented.
Since Jeff knows that I’m an armchair classicist, he suggested I write the book as if it the author was a Second Age God Learner, in the style of Herodotus, Pliny and Aelian. That is to say, philosophical discourses well peppered with entertaining anecdotes. That sealed the deal and I agreed to write a Gloranthan Bestiary, with Jeff’s proviso that I come up with a truly insane explanation of Jack-o-bear ecology.
I had foolishly imagined that tossing this off would be a matter of six week or so of solid writing. Yet the more I considered just what exactly should be included in the book, the deeper my anxiety about the level of research would be required. I quite literally sat around for a couple of days considering the different approaches I should take.
There are, as with any work which has to fit into a huge body of established lore, issues concerning accepted canon. Glorantha has several ways of sidestepping this problem, not least the fact that there are very few objective truths in the world. However, a book which simply regurgitates the same old myths and information which have been published a dozen times before, won’t win it any fans — no matter how good the art!
To make this a worthwhile purchase then, I would have to create new material or present known knowledge in an exotic or wildly misinterpreted way. That is a dangerous path however, especially if my imagination took things so far into left field that even Greg would baulk.
So I came up with an idea I pitched back to Jeff. I would deliberately exaggerate the theories and observations of the God Learner author (after all, that’s what makes reading Pliny fun), then Jeff and Greg could append footnotes decrying everything recorded as wrong, in the most sanctimonious style of Minaryth Purple, the Third Age Lhankor Mhy scholar transposing the work. This would not only avoid messy editorial revisions, but also add to the whole entertainment.
My next thought was how to come up with so much material. With an average of 1,500ish words required per creature, I was going to run out of ideas pretty quickly and the text would indeed descend into bland psuedo-scientific categorisations. I flipped back through some of the early RQ2 publications and decided what was needed was a on-running narrative, in the style of Biturian Varosh. Not only would this ease the creative workload, but it would allow the bestiary to become more akin to a compiled travelogue.
Thus, with those two concepts in mind I began to sketch out the epic explorations of Danakil Thesager, early God Learner naturalist, explorer and exile of Jrustela. I decided his records would present creatures in the order he encountered them, which would preserve the timeline of the anecdotes. I then looked at Gloranthan history to search out the most famous events which occurred during the early empire, so that the narrative could provide brief eye witness accounts.
This took several more weeks of planning, but I finally decided on beginning in 823 with the expedition against the Umaliath fireberg and ending in 843. During that time Danakil would unwittingly embark on several Heroquests, participate in the Too Tall Battle and even witness the destruction of Duke Dorvis at Ezel — and these would not even be the most spectacular events he would have a hand in. At the conclusion of his journey he would have circumvented the world, visiting most of the major land masses and written about an awful lot of creatures.
Thus it began. I re-read all my books written by famous 19th and early 20th century British explorers. Watched lots of Ray Harryhausen movies. Delved deep into certain forbidden tomes of the Stafford Library.
Now nearly 100,000 words later, we have the epic and sadly fragmentary accounts of a God Learner explorer whose light hearted, almost comedic experiences, slowly change from wonder, to astonishment, incomprehension and finally growing horror. We see his thoughts and attitudes evolve as his grasp of myth grows and we see how his Runic Sight colours his opinions. There’s also a lot of fun stuff about all the creatures he meets too — and yes, he does come up with an explanation of Jack-o-bear ecology.
Are his wild tales true? Did he accidentally awaken the Faceless Statue, sail the Worm Sea on a mile wide raft of living Timinits and witness the greatest monster of Loral Island? Are Aldryami really carnivorous, do Mostali actually exist? Was there a fundamental objective truth to his reports which has been revised out of existence with the re-weaving of Arachne Solara’s web? That is for the reader to decide and for me to shut up about...
18 September 2012
Yay! Second Age Gloranthan Travelogue in the Works!
Pete Nash of BRP Rome and RuneQuest 6 fame is working on a "field guide"-like bestiary for Second Age Glorantha written in the manner of the real world bestiaries of yore. Rather than paraphrasing his post from the Moon Design forum, I'll simply re-post it over here: