Press [Chaosium] Creating The Cults of RuneQuest, by Jeff Richard

Michael O'Brien

Hero
Publisher
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Greg Stafford and I started discussing Cults of RuneQuest after the Guide to Glorantha came out in 2014. But work really started on it in 2017. Originally, it began as "Cults of Dragon Pass", but pretty quickly we realized we really needed to bite the bullet and write Greg’s BIG LIST of major cults.

We'd done this before with the HeroQuest materials, and I had all of Greg’s notes and unpublished drafts, as well as the Orange Book, Belintar’s Book, and more, coming out to thousands of pages of material. However, it was very fragmentary and incomplete—although we could see the basic structure, a LOT needed to be written. The goal was to give a magical and mythical foundation for Glorantha, like with Cults of Prax and Cults of Terror, but extending beyond Dragon Pass into the Lunar Empire and beyond. Enough of a framework could be provided that missing cults could be slotted in with future publications.

As I wrote, I kept track of which cult had access to what, built a relationship table, and kept a book of every special Rune spell, which got spun off in 2021 into The Red Book of Magic. Each cult writeup was an iterative process—I’d write an initial version, which we would revise as new cults were added, which would cause new rounds of revisions, etc. New discoveries in one cult might cause a cascade of revisions. Things were linked together far more than in the Guide to Glorantha (which was ultimately a smaller undertaking).

One of the stranger memories putting this together was writing the first set of cults while on a ski trip with my father-in-law. Each day we’d head up to Nauders or Sulden, and then each evening I would furiously write. It was astounding how productive I was on those trips—if people want me to be able to really churn out material, they should take me on long ski trips.

The project was intensely personal for both Greg and I, as mythology forces us to look at the ugly as well as the beautiful. Death, hatred, and fear are as much a part of myth as life, love, and knowledge. But fortunately the Lightbringers Quest was always there to guide us out of the Darkness.

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In the process of writing this, Greg sadly passed away, and other people came and left the project. But in 2020 I was ready to bring on someone who became a key co-creator—Loïc Muzy.

Early on, I decided I wanted Loic to do the bulk of the visuals of the book. Each cult would have a chapter header illustrated by him, and Loic did most of the associated illustrations. It was a HUGE project, but it meant that the book would have a strongly cohesive visual look.

And then what I had originally envisioned as a single 256 page book became two volumes the size of the RuneQuest Core rules. Finally last year, sanity asserted itself and the decision was made to break this into a series of books, each organized around a primary cult—Orlanth, Ernalda, Yelm, the Seven Mothers, Magasta, Primal Chaos, Horned God, etc. The introduction to Mythology and Magic was made its own book as well. That broke the logjam, and in my opinion is a far better project as well.

Although I am very pleased with the text in the Cults Books (and consider it some of our best writing), what is really amazing in these books is the art. To that we need to thank Loïc Muzy, Agathe Pitié, Katrin Dirim, Antonia Doncheva, Andrey Fetisov, Simeon Cogswell, and the other members of the art team. In my biased opinion these are the best looking RPG products ever made.

The art direction was pretty minimalist—I’d give Loic a brief description of this deity’s iconography, plus perhaps some reference pieces, and let him run wild with it. Loic drew on fantasy, real world art, and his own subconscious to give these deities a uniquely Gloranthan look. Loic made countless discoveries, brought forth new inspiration, and really defined a take on these gods like no one before.

Each pantheon got amazing murals by Agathe Pitié, which had a different take on the deities but were still recognizable. These murals illustrated myths, cycles, etc.We had other artists work on this as well—a particular thank you to Antonia Doncheva, Katrin Dirim, and Andrey Fetisov. Again all these artists really helped establish the idea that we might have many different representations of the divine, even if the iconography remained the same.

Then Simeon Cogswell took all of this art and put it together with the text in the book, worked with Loic to develop graphic design, and so much more. They added tremendously to the book’s overall success and if you think the books look good, thank Sim!

The process took a LONG time—Loic and I started to work on the art back in 2020 and layout did not begin until 2023.

The result however, was better than I possibly could have imagined.

Jeff Richard

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The first three titles in the 10 book Cults of RuneQuest series are available now:
 

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