13 November 2012

the Evolution of Gloranthan Runes

I've always loved the sheer beauty and the immediate, evocative power of the Gloranthan runes. I've also found their design, with the clear, thick black line with slightly irregular edges one of the most alluring aspects of Glorantha.

My first contact with Gloranthan runes was obviously with the original 25 runes as presented in the Chaosium RuneQuest 2 rules, viz:
Elemental Runes







Form Runes







Condition Runes




 Power Runes











Cults of Prax introduced the following further rune:

the "Issaries" rune; also called Communication, Equal Exchange, or Trade in later publications

RuneQuest 3, even though supposedly separated now from Glorantha, did mention the Gloranthan runes in the rules. In my perfectbound Avalon Hill Deluxe Edition, they are on p243 without any break-down into Power, Condition, etc. categories, but simply listed alphabetically as: Air, Beast, Chaos, Darkness, Death, Disorder, Dragonewt, Earth, Fertility, Fire [rather than Fire/Sky as in RQ2], Harmony, Illusion, Infinity, Law [a new rune], Magic, Man, Mastery, Moon, Movement, Plant, Spirit, Stasis, Truth, Water.
There are 24 runes in all: Fate and Luck are gone; Law has been added:


Cults of Terror (a RQ2 supplement) introduced the "Undead" rune for the cult of Vivamort, and described it as being a combination of life and death. It actually looks like a horizontal Fertility rune with a vertical stroke in its centre:


This very same rune, however, was introduced as the "Hunger" rune for the cult of Krarsht in Gods of Glorantha and Lords of Terror (both RQ3 supplements).

Other runes from that time were collected in the Cult Compendium from the Gloranthan Classics imprint of Moon Design:

Light; also called Sun elsewhere in that book





The Cult Compendium also lists the aforementioned Undead rune as a Form rune. The Light, Heat, Ice and Cold runes are classified as "modified Element runes". No classification is mentioned for the Dragon rune, although we may assume it is a Form rune.

After the long spell without any Gloranthan publications, the Gloranthan runes came back with Hero Wars and HeroQuest. Unfortunately, these rule sets brought about an inflation in the number of runes, which now numbered in their hundreds. I hated that.

I am not going to list all of the new runes; it would take up too much space. The original RQ2 categories were still there, modified as follows.
5 Elemental runes: Darkness, Water, Earth, Fire/Sky, and Air/Storm — Moon is gone, despite the game's heavy emphasis on the 'Lunar v Orlanthi' conflict.
5 Form runes: Mineral, Plant, Animal [Beast], Man, and Otherworld Being [Spirit] — Dragonewt and Chaos are gone, replaced with Mineral, which actually may be a good idea:


The category of Condition runes is gone. There is now a crapload of "Additional Magical Ability Runes" amongst which one may find the Magic and Mastery runes.
The category of Condition runes has also disappeared. It is replaced with the category of "The Ten Ancient Polarities" with pretty much the same runes.

What I dislike most with the new runes is that they do not respect the early simplicity and symmetry of the original RQ2 runes. I do not intend to use them, except some of the more regular ones, like e.g.:


HeroQuest 2 goes somewhat back to the original RuneQuest 2 runes and rune classification in its 'Gaming in Glorantha' chapter. It lists:
5 Elemental runes: Darkness, Water, Earth, Air, and Fire.
8 Power runes, in opposing pairs: Harmony v Disorder, Fertility v Death, Stasis v Movement, Truth v Illusion.
5 Form runes: Plant, Beast, Man, Spirit, and Chaos. Despite the interesting innovations of HQ, we're back (except for the Dragonewt rune, which has gone) to the early Gloranthan canon.
3 Condition runes: Mastery, Magic, Communication. Almost the same array as in RQ2, except that the seldom-used Infinity rune has been replaced with the beloved Communication rune.
HeroQuest 2 then lists several "Other Runes": Moon, Cold, Heat, and Light, as less-accepted or specialised Element runes; some of the early Gloranthan runes: Luck, Fate, and Law; and then many of the daft HQ runes, mostly as deity-related runes, e.g.


RuneQuest 6, the most recent incarnation in the long line of RQ rule books, also goes back to the early canon, with:
6 Elemental runes: Air, Darkness, Earth, Fire, Moon, and Water.
5 Form runes: Beast, Dragon, Man, Spirit, and Plant.
10 Power runes, in opposing pairs: Harmony v Disorder, Movement v Stasis, Fertility v Death, Truth v Illusion, Law v Chaos.
5 Condition runes: Infinity, Law, Magic, Mastery, and Communication — except that Law is not described in this section but in the previous one... bad proofreading?

For once I consider that the much-maligned Mongoose RQ (of which RQ6 is a streamlined and improved version) features a slightly better take on the canonical runes, which I really really like (plus, they are adapted to Second Age Glorantha):
7 Elemental runes: Air, Darkness, Earth, Fire, Metal [WTF???], Moon, and Water.
7 Form runes: Beast, Chaos, Dragon, Dragonewt, Man, Spirit, and Plant.
14 Power runes, in opposing pairs: Cold v Heat, Death v Fertility, Disorder v Harmony, Fate v Luck, Motion v Stasis, Illusion v Truth, Light v Shadow.
5 Condition runes: Infinity, Law, Magic, Mastery, and Trade.


I will present in a later post the array of runes I intend to use for my Second Age Umathelan campaign.

1 comment:

  1. C'est très intéressant :)
    Concernant l'inflation/déflation de runes, ben l'usage déterminera lesquelles sont utiles en jeu, hein? :) Après tout, seuls les étudiants en chinois retiennent des milliers d'idéogrammes ;)