The new crew at Chaosium is back with another wave of classic material for their Runequest Classic line, this time resurrecting the Cults of Prax and Cults of Terror books in PDF (with print books to come). With these books, the reprint line of Runequest Classic is closer to completion. Each of these books expands the world of Glorantha, and its cosmology, and offers new spells and skills for your Runequest characters.
Cosmology is important to Runequest and Glorantha, possibly more than to any other fantasy role-playing game that has been published. Yes, other games have list of gods and important events for them, but the impact of these gods upon the worlds of the game is often limited. With Runequest the gods and their cults play an important part in the world of the game, and upon the lives of the characters. At the smallest level, a character's involvement with their religion can impact the skills that they are able to learn, or the spells that they can cast. This isn't a usual approach to things in fantasy role-playing games, but it demonstrates how rules and setting can intertwine to create a stronger game.
Cults of Prax first came out in 1978, and Cults of Terror came out in 1981. For a bit of comparison, I dug around in my older gaming books and pulled out my copy of the World of Greyhawk boxed set. World of Greyhawk came out in 1983, a few years after either of the Cults books, and demonstrates the more traditional fantasy role-playing approach to religion and cosmology. In World of Greyhawk the gods get short descriptions that are in a vacuum in comparison to Greyhawk's world itself. These gods certain don't seem to have a direct impact on the world, or on characters.
Conversely, in the Cults books, you get descriptions of the gods of Glorantha, as well as how they have formed the world of Glorantha in the world's mythic age and how their ongoing influences can impact characters.
In Cults of Prax we get 15 gods and their religions. In Cults of Terror we get another 9 gods and their religions. There are three "basic" gods and their cults in the core Runequest Classic rule, two of which (Orlanth and Kyger Litor) are covered again in Cults of Prax. There isn't new, or expanded, information in the Cults of Prax write-ups for these gods, and they seem to have included for the sake of completion.
For a game where the rules have such an emphasis on the gritty, there is a strange dichotomy to Runequest because it has such an emphasis on the mythic as well. Each of these religion's write-ups focuses on the mythic elements of those gods, as well as the practical within the rules.
Keep in mind that this isn't your Deities & Demigods approach to gods and religions. One thing that you don't see in either of these books, or the Runequest Classic core rules, is game stats for any of these gods. The assumption of the Runequest Classic rules isn't that gods are nothing more than higher level opponents to be faced by characters sooner or later, but instead that they are primal beings who have formed not only the world, but history itself.
One of the ideas of the Runequest Classic game is that of the heroquest, which means that characters can step into the mythic stories of the gods and learn valuable lessons from their deities' "adventures." This allows worshipers to step into the "lives" of their gods and learn how to identify with them, and their actions, and apply these lessons to their lives on Glorantha. The other side of heroquesting is that characters can, by becoming a part of their world's myths, then go on to change those myths, sometimes in small ways and sometimes in larger ways. Characters can come out of their heroquest into a world that can be changed in subtle ways because of the changes to the myths. This can turn the game into a fractal like structure, where changes to the micro can impact the macro, and vice versa.
Unfortunately, the actually mechanical workings of heroquesting were never really developed fully enough in the Runequest Classic rules to make them sing. We would have to wait for later Gloranthan games like HeroQuest for an implementation of these ideas.
With the information given about the mythic time of each god you can easily just role-play these stories, using the characters instead of the gods. Perhaps the successes of the characters are what caused the myths in the first place, or perhaps the characters can break out of the cycle of the myths. Utilizing what the rules already do, or going with a pure role-playing approach unhindered by the rules of the game, tends to be the "old school" method for handling these sorts of situations.
Both Cults of Prax and Cults of Terror are important supplements to the Runequest Classic game because they not only expand the world of Glorantha, but offer up new options for characters. The cult of the Storm Bull gives a couple of Rune Spells that could be important to those characters fighting Chaos, the cult of Humakt gives access to spells dealing with spirits and the undead, while with the cult of the Seven Mothers gives some Rune Spells dealing with elemental creatures. Each cult has its own flavor, and different things to offer the world and characters.
Cults of Terror deals more with the "bad guy" religions, and we know that player characters would never be the bad guys.
I've said before that if you are looking for a fantasy role-playing game that does things differently from Dungeons & Dragons, you should look at the Runequest Classic game. You get a simple and intuitive ruleset that uses percentiles as its basis, and a character creation system that allows you to create the character that you want without the limitations of things like character classes. The game is rich in magic, nearly any character with the capability to do so can cast spells. There is also no "fire and forget" Vancian magic system in play. What spells a character can cast, and how often, are determined by the available magic points of a character.
Also, the concept of Dungeon & Dragons prestige classes are derived from the cults of Runequest Classic. The Runelords of Runequest unlock further special abilities and skills for characters as they advance through the cult.
As a gamer, and a critic, it is good to be in a time when there are so many older editions of games, not to mention the supplements for them, legally available. As a critic, it makes it easier to trace the trends of game design, and be able to point them out concretely, and as a gamer it opens up more options for play. I would like to see more role-playing game publishers open up their older editions like Chaosium or Wizards of the Coast have done. They don't have to be in print, because the ubiquity of ereaders and tablets really make it easier to utilize PDFs. I do much of my reviewing off of PDFs, and one of my regular games is run entirely off of a PDF of the core rules.