The Cults Books: Mythology

My first response to the Mythology book was to marvel at the liveness of the cover. After that, it got better.

The table of contents made me gleeful. It had so many things in that I had wanted, and several that I had not known I wanted. Why would I think of needing a map of mythology? Well, I do now. It’s got more than I realised I needed, and it’s like opening the door to a familiar garden and seeing it in technicolour, like walking down an alleyway and finding a wonderland. I had to take reading it slowly. Worse, I had to keep the contents from spilling out and gumming up marketing efforts, or I might never be given a review copy again.

Do you know how hard it is to keep something this cool a secret?

The art is not just for show. I remember marvelling at great RPG art before this, but the visuals are married to the meaning. When I first worked out how the character sheet and mechanics created a character tightly coupled to the world, I was impressed. The art here is the same – it’s an invitation to walk through the doors to Glorantha. It helps to embed the book in the world, and takes me with it. Like everything else in this book, it shows me the familiar and the new.

The layout is related to the core rulebook, but also to its own subject matter. Chapter-headers and side bars are unique to the book, and they are also pretty. The departure in style threw me at first, but I liked it a moment later. The details are their own story.

As for the subject matter, there is plenty and it is self-contradictory in the best traditions of Glorantha. Elves have their own genesis tales, and we find out about them. We learn about human fundamentals, and we learn that the in-world organisers and abusers of knowledge, the God Learners, could not solve all of these contradictions. This is the strength of Glorantha, and how to play it best. Sometimes two different and contradictory things both happened, and they do not need to be rationalised. I read through stories I didn’t know, familiar tales, and new retellings of things I hadn’t known I didn’t know properly.

The God Learners make a fine vehicle for explaining that viewpoint, giving us a monomyth that is useful for gaming, while also being a cautionary tale about the abuse of power and understanding. From a game-design point of view, they are a marvellous invention, allowing the reader to comprehend the broad themes of Glorantha. From the gamemaster’s seat, they are also a way to limit player habits, if desired. They are plot hooks and examples of hubris. And, from the in-world understanding of history, they are a mine for information and error. We’re being given a history lesson, with room for interpretation, and it’s great.

There is one big problem I have with these stories, which is that I waited so long for them that I’ve filled in a lot of gaps. As a newbie to RuneQuest Glorantha at its launch, without any knowledge of previous rules or books, I had very little to go on, but I like making up stories. So, some of this does not go with what I have made up. It’s not a problem for the future, but it is an annoyance now. Fortunately the concept of in-world untrustworthy narrators papers those gaps. That’s a criticism that emerges from how long this series took, from their genesis as a single document, to the near-dozen hardbacks now planned.

Still, most of what I have learned was new or did not contradict what I had already done, and as for the rest, I can find ways around it. The gaps in understanding tended to be personal to me, and this is a book that fills in huge vistas with grand sweeps. It’s not going to be a problem for the new generation that I hope will be coming to RuneQuest, given their high quality output.

Now, at this point, you might want to take a break for lunch, because we’re only halfway through the book. After the history lesson, there is guidance on cults, on creating them, and on imagining how they work within Glorantha. Here there’s another telling of the Contests of Yelm and Orlanth, and it’s yet another different one, and this is vital to understanding how the world, and this book, work. The whole thing’s an invitation to participation through imagination.

Then, we get to mythic maps. If you’re travelling in the magical world, you can’t just leap from place to place, but if you’re Orlanth or Makastos you might be able to leap from mountain to mountain. If you’re a different god, or a mortal, you’ll have other ways of travelling, and these maps make sense of what you might find and how, and the trouble you’ll get into. And, because they’re maps of myth, they’re also maps of history.

There are so many other things in here too, details that I’m going to be picking up for years to come. I worked my way through the book and eventually got to the point where I just stopped typing. Do what I did. Start by staring at the Table of Contents, and let your mind get carried away, then read, and read, and stop to think, and read again.

So in general how is it? Well, it would be highly unprofessional to type out the words I said on first opening the book, but this is Glorantha. It has a proud tradition of quirky beast-folk. For once, autocorrect can have its way.

The book is ducking awesome.

The Mythology book is available from DriveThruRPG, DriveThruRPG but without our affiliate link, and the Chaosium Website as a PDF, Standard Hardback, or Leatherette. If you buy it as a book from Chaosium, you get a free PDF as well.

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