Jonstown Review: A Rough Guide to Glamour

Source books can be tricky to produce. At their best they provide a solid setting full of potential situations; at their worst they can be impenetrable text that doesn’t give up any of the setting's real secrets. A Rough Guide to Glamour lands among the former examples by providing a look into the heart of the Lunar Empire and some of those who shape the empire over the short and long term.

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Welcome back to our Jonstown Reviews.Do you have a piece of your Glorantha to share? Send us a message. A PDF copy of A Rough Guide to Glamour was provided to the reviewer for the purpose of this review.

None of the Red Goddess’ secrets will be revealed here; we leave illumination to those who are expert at it. But what can be revealed is that if you are looking for a place to start your journey as a Lunar player or game master, A Rough Guide to Glamour can provide that starting point and more.

Glorantha as presented in Runequest: Role Playing In Glorantha paints the Lunar Empire as the villain and its heroes as tools of an oppressive system. The Empire’s wax and wane provides a backdrop to the greater events that take place in Dragon Pass and the lands surrounding. At best this paints a two-dimensional picture of this force of nature and history. A Rough Guide to Glamour goes a long way towards changing that image. In particular, the Guide pushes back against the singular Romanization of the empire and shows off the other cultural influences that went into forging the Lunar narrative.

Production, Design, and Art

Production values for A Rough Guide to Glamour are high. The layout is friendly to the eyes and there are very few instances of just walls of text without at least a heading breaking it up. Artwork is plentiful and ranges in style and inspiration. If you are a fan of maps, you will not be disappointed. For Glamour itself, there are several maps and each shows the player something a little different.

Content

A Rough Guide to Glamour has a lot going on. There is a brief rundown of the history of the guide itself and the reader gets a real sense of how many hands have touched the guide. One gets a real sense of the passion the authors had for the subject matter.

Among the content, a couple things stand out. In particular, the characters are strong. You get to know the Moonson in great detail and the cast of characters that surround the Red Emperor and help him rule the vast empire. Anyone looking for a new Lunar cult will not be disappointed with the Cult of Glamour. Glamour is the goddess of the city and her cult writeup is extensive. The rest of the content covers the city of Glamour itself and the history of the empire. A gazetteer provides a larger view of the empire itself.

Conclusion

I admit one of the bits I loved about A Rough Guide to Glamour is how it handles rumors throughout the book. In the beginning is a key to which rumors are truthful or not, and it pops up all through the guide. Overall, the guide does provide a dense litany of content; more than enough to launch a dozen different campaigns. But a beginner might feel overwhelmed, being dropped into the deep end of Glorantha. That is not a knock against the guide so much as a warning to take things slow if this is your first deep dive into Glorantha. You will not regret picking this guide up, especially if you are a fan of the Lunars or are looking for a different perspective on Glorantha.
 

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Sean Hillman

Sean Hillman

EpicureanDM

Explorer
Is nobody going to tell me why there is just a straight up Elvis on the cover of this book?

I NEED ANSWERS
Glorantha needs a new PR push.

Trying to get into it with the Glorantha Encyclopedia makes your eyes glaze over within 30 seconds.

But the correct pitch should be "Yo, Elvis priest and duck bois"
For better and worse, Glorantha's reputation stems from its ersatz academic style. When set loose, the setting's fans love to talk about grand myths and history rolled inside an immensely complex theology. It's all gods and demigods and Ancient Heroes doing stuff on the Gods Plane, told in very dry and often contradictory terms. Glorantha fans love that their setting contains contradictions and they resist anyone trying to untangle it.

In almost any other TTRPG setting, we'd assume that the setting's authors were "ripping off" modern, familiar touchstones when building the setting. Glorantha's an exception in that I don't think Greg Stafford worked that way for the most part. He genuinely strove to create new and unique cultures and mythologies from mostly-scratch, and largely succeeded as far as I'm concerned. The cost of that approach is a difficult learning curve, the ascent of which is made more difficult than it needs to be by fans who try to follow in Stafford's spirit.

Very rarely do Glorantha fans ever talk about their actual play using the rules of a particular game, whether that game is RuneQuest or Heroquest. When they do, they're usually the Glorantha fans who have the firmest grip on the setting. They've fought through Glorantha's intentionally confusing presentation to form strong and, more importantly, gameable intuitions for how to present the setting to their players. That level of familiarity and comfort with the setting allows them to analogize, to see patterns in Glorantha that can map onto modern cultural touchstones that are more familiar to most people. The most prominent and successful of these fans is, for my money, Nick Brooke, whose name is on A Rough Guide to Glamour and Black Spear (both books that I own).

Why is the Red Emperor shown as Elvis? Because that’s an excellent shorthand for how he’s presented in the quasi-academic Guide to Glorantha and other Antarctica-dry sources. If you’re an aspiring, beleaguered GM who just wants to run a game of RuneQuest for your friends on a Friday night, is it worth your time to cross-reference the mentions of the Red Emperor across different sourcebooks published across different decades just to say that you’re being somewhat accurate to the setting? Absolutely not. But if Nick Brook tells you to just play the Red Emperor NPC like late-’70’s Elvis and you report what you did on a Glorantha forum, Glorantha fans will say, “Yeah, that’s the right vibe for the Red Emperor,” even if they didn’t know about the Elvis comparison.

That’s what’s so great about how the Rough Guide presents NPCs. You can either read a page of character backstory and motivation to prep for your portrayal, or you can look at a picture of Elvis.

Nick does this brilliantly in his Black Spear campaign report. In Black Spear, the PCs search for Argrath, a powerful NPC who’s gone missing and needs to be found. Argrath is one of the most popular NPCs in Glorantha, someone who’s been written about time and again (and again and again and again) for decades. For the old World of Darkness fans, I’ve seen Argrath described as Samuel Haight, a dead-on analogy. Does Nick try to synthesize yet another description of Argrath’s character/personality/soul/nature to throw on the pile? Sort of, but he preempts a lot of it with a simple trick. Brooke tells the GM to play Argrath either like Ziggy Stardust, Colonel Kurtz, or a combination fo the two. That’s a perfect description of Argrath! It’s all the GM needs and that’s much easier to remember during play than a character summary told across two pages of text.

Comparing the Red Emperor to Elvis or Argrath to Ziggy Stardust serves a vital role for Glorantha by creating a new window onto the setting that’s different than the standard one presented by the academics. It brings the setting down to Earth and makes it much easier for newcomers to actually use it. No need to read Red Moon White Bear or King of Sartar (assuming you even know they exist!) in order to build a sense of who Argrath is. Ziggy Stardust mixed with Colonel Kurtz is close enough to pass muster with most of the deep Glorantha fans. Now get out there and use Argrath in your TTRPG. That’s why we’re all here, right?

As an admirer of Rough Guide and its approach to de-mystifying Glorantha, I do think that putting this stuff on the cover was a mistake. As someone who really wanted to get their arms around Glorantha, this is the last book I bought, passed over many times as I filled my cart at DriveThru RPG. Describing the Red Emperor as Elvis or Argrath as Ziggy Stardust is a great tool for the Game Master. It provides a solid foundation for using these lore-heavy NPCs in a game. But it’s a magic trick. If the players know that you’re just riffing on Elvis, it can burst the bubble for certain groups.

It also doesn’t help that I didn’t see Glorantha then as I do know, with the knowledge that informs this post. Now I look at the cover and understand why using Elvis can be so helpful for newcomers to Glorantha. As a former Glorantha newcomer, it looked goofy and that’s someone who’s familiar with the old, British, late-’80’s approach to TTRPGs that came to us through White Dwarf magazine and 2000 AD.
 

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Voadam

Legend
Why is the Red Emperor shown as Elvis? Because that’s an excellent shorthand for how he’s presented in the quasi-academic Guide to Glorantha and other Antarctica-dry sources.
That is good to know. Without knowing the backstory of the character emperor Elvis could be just a fun visual of the artist's style of using celebrities as models for NPC art instead of functional art design to convey existing characterizations.

Does this hold true to all the other pictures? Is Spartacus's Lucy Lawless a good shorthand reference for Queen Penelori?
 

EpicureanDM

Explorer
That is good to know. Without knowing the backstory of the character emperor Elvis could be just a fun visual of the artist's style of using celebrities as models for NPC art instead of functional art design to convey existing characterizations.

Does this hold true to all the other pictures? Is Spartacus's Lucy Lawless a good shorthand reference for Queen Penelori?
I don't know that part of Glorantha well enough to say for sure, although I'm curious to know the answer and I'm going to do a little digging.

What I feel more confident saying is that it's very likely that an association between Lucy Lawless (as Spartacus or, perhaps, Xena?) is intentional as a way of conveying the NPC's essential character.

Looking at the cover again, we see Eva Green to Elvis' left. I'm pretty sure she's portraying Jar-eel the Razoress, a stone bad-ass warrior-poet. I don't think her portrait points to a specific role by Green that embodies Jar-eel in the same way that showing Lucy Lawless might be pointing to Xena. But I can think of Green's most popular genre roles (Casino Royale, Penny Dreadful) and improvise something that will pass muster with the Gloranthaphiles.

EDIT: I found an excellent source on Queen Penelori. I don't think Spartacus or Xena are good analogues for Penelori. So take what I say with a grain of salt. :)
 
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EpicureanDM

Explorer
I should have spotted something earlier. Look at the text describing Tom Hanks, i.e. Jaxarte Whyded, in this image:

More of these in the equally wonderful companion volume, Life of Moonson Book One - The Characters!

four-character-lom.png
It reads, in part, "think Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington." That's not a direct comparison to Tom Hanks, but it makes sense to think of Tom Hanks as a modern Jimmy Stewart. I don't think every illustration is meant to be exactly literal, even the Red Emperor/Elvis one. But these art direction choices are meant to be helpful in play and (somewhat?) accurate to what you might discover in the Deep Lore.
 


Voadam

Legend
I don't know that part of Glorantha well enough to say for sure, although I'm curious to know the answer and I'm going to do a little digging.

What I feel more confident saying is that it's very likely that an association between Lucy Lawless (as Spartacus or, perhaps, Xena?) is intentional as a way of conveying the NPC's essential character.

Looking at the cover again, we see Eva Green to Elvis' left. I'm pretty sure she's portraying Jar-eel the Razoress, a stone bad-ass warrior-poet. I don't think her portrait points to a specific role by Green that embodies Jar-eel in the same way that showing Lucy Lawless might be pointing to Xena. But I can think of Green's most popular genre roles (Casino Royale, Penny Dreadful) and improvise something that will pass muster with the Gloranthaphiles.

EDIT: I found an excellent source on Queen Penelori. I don't think Spartacus or Xena are good analogues for Penelori. So take what I say with a grain of salt. :)
Lawless played a major character in the blood and sex Spartacus series. A conniving and cruel political Roman woman who would advance herself and her gladiator school running husband at any cost. The outfit in the image is very reminiscent of that character.

I was just using her as another example that jumped out with a defined character and a specific look.
 

EpicureanDM

Explorer
Lawless played a major character in the blood and sex Spartacus series. A conniving and cruel political Roman woman who would advance herself and her gladiator school running husband at any cost. The outfit in the image is very reminiscent of that character.

I was just using her as another example that jumped out with a defined character and a specific look.
Oh, right, I forgot all about that until you added those details!

That's probably a closer to fit to this description. Not perfect, but ballpark.

It's worth noting that many of the character images and descriptions shown in this thread (including Queen Penelori) are for a Glorantha political LARP set in the Lunar Empire. It's very much a Roman intrigue sort of vibe.
 

Michael O'Brien

Hero
Publisher
It's worth noting that many of the character images and descriptions shown in this thread (including Queen Penelori) are for a Glorantha political LARP set in the Lunar Empire. It's very much a Roman intrigue sort of vibe.
The LARP is called Reaching Moon Megacorp's Life of Moonson, and was played a number of times in North American, British and Australian RuneQuest-Glorantha Conventions in the late nineties. Now available once again as Jonstown Compendium titles, with glorious new layout and art:

LoM books 1 & 2.png
  • Book One: The Characters contains the fifty illustrated character sheets from the LARP (some of which posted above).​
  • Book Two: The Freeform contains everything that none of the players knew before this fifty-player live-action role-playing game began: all of the rules, ability cards, secret plots and game directors' notes.​
I personally had a load of fun playing the Red Emperor at the LARP's first showing in Victoria BC in July 1997. I reprised the look for another Glorantha LARP featuring the Red Emperor in Germany a few years later:

11144969_10153607064418336_5128254424313180765_n.jpeg
 

Michael O'Brien

Hero
Publisher
Is nobody going to tell me why there is just a straight up Elvis on the cover of this book?

I NEED ANSWERS
Nick Brooke, one of the principal authors of A Rough Guide to Glamour, gave an explanation in the Glorantha forum over at BRP Central when the book first came out:
I shared this over on Facebook, but I know some of you don't use that platform, and people do keep asking. Now that A Rough Guide to Glamour is out in print, I think the tale can be told.

A flash of inspiration led MOB to write one of the short stories included in the book (The Son of Light Awakens, written in response to my Yolanela Spurned and followed by the gruesome sequel Moonson's Number Two - all three stories are collected in A Rough Guide to Glamour, of course, and were read aloud in Gloranthan Storytelling events at nineties RQ/Glorantha conventions, the notorious "Yolanelathons").

Michael O'Brien's genius brainwave was to draw increasingly explicit parallels between Moonson Argenteus, beloved demigod ruler of the Lunar Empire, a talented musician and the darling of the masses (much like the Roman emperor Nero) ... and the declining years of Elvis Presley in Las Vegas.

He's a King, the King of Kings, a Living God no less, living in the lap of pleasure-dome'd luxury, with staff and servants and slaves and worshippers providing everything he could possibly desire...

And yet, despite his Godlike image, he is bound by the burdens of mundanity, materiality, bloated decline and orgiastic decadence, cheeseburgers, alcohol, drugs, and - eventually - mortality.

It was such a striking conceit, we all embraced it immediately, and were delighted when Dario Corallo drank our Kool-Aid and produced a perfect rendition of Moonson as Elvis for our book's front cover.

That's the story.
 


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