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Challenges of Using Runequest Glorantha Adventures in a Nehwon Setting

In the latest of my Nehwon Campaigns I used an adventure campaign called 'Troubled Waters' from the Runequest 'River of Cradles' supplement. In this post I'll talk about how I adapted this adventure for Nehwon.


Glorantha is the main game world setting for the game Runequest. I am no expert on it but it is quite a different place from Nehwon. Magic is commonplace; most people know a few spells. The influence of the gods is powerful, and forces from mythology have shaped (and continue to shape) the world. Everyone believes. As in Nehwon there are many gods and none is all-powerful; each commands a relatively limited sphere. Glorantha has all sorts of non-humans and a powerful, Chaos-worshipping empire of humans, which comes into conflict with barbarian cultures at its fringes. So far so un-Nehwonian.

The River of Cradles

This is a campaign setting from the times when RPG supplements were made with real love, which is one reason I wanted to use it. The Runequest game system is not so different from the Elric! rules I use in Nehwon, so no problems there. The River is in a fertile valley between arid grasslands and wasteland. There are many detailed human and non-human cultures in the area, including river folk, farmers, various barbarian tribes, newtlings (small lizard-like bipeds), and city folk and garrisons of the conquering Empire army at the top of the river. The maps are gorgeous and the detail is great. The campaign itself is interesting, if a bit linear (you travel up the river, so it couldn't really be otherwise). I played it over ten sessions with two players who ran an exiled Quarmallian and an outcast from Klesh.

Where in Nehwon?

Because I knew this setting would be quite different from the norm, I wanted to place it carefully. I put it in the south of the Lankhmar Continent, draining from the southern Mountains of Hunger to the Sea of Stars. To the east are the Jungles of Klesh and to the west are the Quarmall Barrens. Leiber doesn't really describe this area (perfect!). Fafhrd and the Mouser passed it to the south in Trapped in the Sea of Stars.

Other questions to resolve

What about all this magic and gods? The campaign did assume a lot more magic in the hands of characters and opponents, and more 'godly' powers. I toned both down, but left the essentials. For example a river god plays an important role in the adventure. I allowed it as a local effect (local to the river), and justified the extra magic because the area was closer to Godsland. It helped that the characters were both sorcerors of different traditions1) and from areas considered quite outlandish for a mainstream Nehwon campaign. I took a similar attitude to the various intelligent non-humans around. Leiber after all had mermaids, Ice Gnomes and invisible princesses.

How about the 'evil empire'? How come Fafrhd and the Mouser never heard of it? No problem. It's a recent development, and not really a huge empire, founded by a band of fanatical ex-slaves of Quarmall, confined mostly to the Mountains of Hunger between the Jungle of Klesh and the Great Southern Swamp. That works for my geography. Think of the Incas, who controlled a huge narrow empire from Ecuador to northern Chile in the late 15th century. Only not so huge. Something like that anyway. In any case, though the Empire military presence was visible in the campaign, it was not a major factor.

How did it work out?

Pretty well. The setting is a long way from Lankhmar, though even a typical Lankhmart rogue could have been used there. The only real changes I made while running it was the magic reduction and some setting adjustment as described above. Was it still Nehwonian? Yes, I think so. My campaign is a hodgepodge in any case, but what I love about Nehwon is that it is a land made for adventure and strange happenings. It is consistent in the broad view, but sketchy on the specifics. This little corner fit nicely into my campaign. My players also gave it an interesting subplot of faith vs. skepticism, which Leiber might have appreciated.

Having said that, I don't think all Gloranthan rpg settings would transplant so well. Some things just don't translate that well to a Nehwonian setting.

In my campaign, Quarmallian sorcery is a combination of sneaky mind control powers and dark wizardry. Kleshite sorcery is more nature-focused.