Tuesday, 10 November 2015
RPGPundit Reviews: Shores of Korantia
This is a review of Shores of Korantia, a Runequest 6 sourcebook written by "Jonathan Drake and Friends", published by Design Mechanism. This is, as always, a review of the print edition. It is a hardcover (a fairly nice-looking one) comes in at 240 pages. It features a full-color cover in the form of a portrait of the young Emperor of Korantia. The cover gives the general feeling that this setting is going to be focused on a lot of Roleplay, cultural stuff, and low on dungeon-crawl type stuff. I guess we'll see if that's true.
The interior art is black and white, moderately dispersed through the book, and has a kind of serious comic-book feel.
So, Korantia is a book that expands on the setting first introduced to us in the the designer's previous book, "Age of Treason: the Iron Simulacrum" (I have to say, Shores of Korantia is a much better title at least!). That campaign book focused on the Taskan empire, ruled by the immortal god-emperor Zygas Taga through his voice, the Iron Simulacrum. This book focuses instead on Korantia, which is ostensibly an empire but is really more like a collection of city-states, where the "Emperor" has very little power over the regional rulers. The Korantine Empire is in a very unstable state, threatened by the Taskan Empire and other threats that surround them, and by their own political weakness.
The opening chapter of the book covers the background of the setting. It talks about the history of Korantia, an empire that had risen up, become quite powerful, only to have a series of disasters weaken it. This most recently included a military campaign that set them against the incredibly powerful Taskan Empire, which went badly for the Korantines. Now the empire has become more decentralized than ever. The current emperor is only 27 years old, and has no actual power over the many city-states he ostensibly rules. He is denied proper taxation, is largely reduced to the role of occasional arbiter of disputes, and the military forces under his control are smaller than those of the more powerful city-states. A lot of what little power and authority he still holds is religious, by virtue of his being chief priest of the cult of the sun god.
We are also provided with short descriptions of the various city states, with names like Agissene, Himela, Keba, Sarestra, etc. There's information of what a city-state looks like; it has a kind of greek feel to it, being a large walled city core surrounded by farmlands under its control. Cities are marked by boundaries which are considered consecrated; every city has its own Goddess, which in turn is an aspect of the goddess Orayna, the soul of the nation itself and queen of heaven. A significant part of the population lives within the cities, with a larger amount managing the farmlands which surround the cities. There is also a smaller population (called "Pagans", in what is a correct historical use of the word) which live in rural communities that are not bound to a city.
There's considerable details about Korantine culture, and their attitudes to things like poetry, history, philosophy, magic (sorcery is mostly outlawed), sports and entertainments, law, and slavery (Slavery does exist, but slaves have certain rights; most slaves are descended from non-citizens). We also get information about how the government works and what citizenship is about in the setting. Likewise, about the military forces of Korantia: it has little in the way of a standing army, but the Emperor has his units of "Paladins", and each city-state has its muster of readied troops. There's also Sacred Bands, religious warriors sworn to defend their city to the death, and Sabatines (who are religious warriors in the service of the god of commerce, who protect merchant caravans).
Religion is also covered: aside from the Sun god, you have the city goddesses, who are married to the god of government, and there's also the god of agriculture and war. Religion and cult practices are extremely important to society (as one would expect in a Runequest setting). There's information about the calendar year, which is of course connected to the religious practices.
The second chapter is concerned with the larger world. It includes a nice map of the larger region. And what we first learn about are the eponymous "Shores of Korantia", which is to say the places that are "Korantia outside Korantia", where the Korantine culture exists outside of the homeland. This includes the mostly sunken ruins of the lost ancient capital of Old Korantis, the isle of Valos, the northern territories, other trading outposts, and overseas territories. Of particular note in the latter case is the colony of Zarendra, which was ancient and completely forgotten about until a representative arrived at Korantia quite recently swearing undying allegiance to the Emperor. It is thus a place that follows the old customs and may have a cultural influence at rekindling a similar nostalgia for the glory days back home.
We also get several pages of details of the various foreign lands that surround Korantia. This includes the Jekkarene matriarchy who are related to but ancient enemies of the (patriarchal) Korantines. And of course the Taskan Empire, who are the great rising power of the world right now. They're the clear and present danger to Korantia's long-term survival. Lots of other kingdoms and regions are detailed, often with little more than a descriptive paragraph.
The chapter on Characters gives you guidelines for creating characters in Korantia, with appropriate rules for the RQ6 system. Social Class seems important, though in a sidebar the author oddly decides to advise GMs not to make social class matter among PCs, which to me seems to utterly wreck emulation. What's the point of having a game setting where social class is a thing if it isn't going to actually matter?!
There's ample details on professions, guidelines for making characters from neighbouring cultures, some new skills and combat styles, etc. All this material would be obviously mostly relevant only to RQ players, though it could be modified by a clever reader into houserules for running Korantia with D&D or another game.
The Magic chapter likewise presents the nature of how magic works in Korantia, again framed within the RQ rules set. As one would expect from Runequest, a lot of emphasis is put on deities, making connections to particular deities, etc. The chapter itself is not particularly long, and mostly serves to provide the context of adapting RQ magic to the setting (including of course, the "runes" that give that game its name). The section on deities is further detailed in a later chapter, "Cults", which gives a full list of the Korantine gods, the religious structure, cult magic, the imperial cult (remember, the Emperor is the head of the solar cult, and his 'paladins' are warriors sworn to that religion) and details on magic and miracles.
The chapter on "Korantine Wealth" explains the currency system and exchange rates, lifestyles and costs of living (including the costs of supporting a family, which is a nice touch), and detailed price lists. Next you get a chapter on travel, with info on travel times, distances, and sea travel (with some info on naval combat).
The section on encounters starts with a road encounters table that reminded me a bit of the one in Dark Albion, focusing less on monsters and more on setting flavor as Albion's does. There's also tables for wilderness encounters and for "special encounters" (the latter being locations encountered that can act as a seed for a more detailed scenario). This chapter also lists some creatures found in Korantia, with stats for Nymphs, Rocs and Satyrs and some other entries that aren't complete statblocs but refer to monsters found in the Runequest Bestiary. There's also sea encounters, both standard and 'special'.
Next is a quite large (27 page) chapter, detailing the town of Thyrta, in a hinterland region of Korantia, in a prime area for adventuring. I do think it a bit odd that, given the focus a lot of the book thus far had on bigger political/social themes, the book would choose to focus on a 'hinterland' area for adventuring purposes. A town and not one of the city-states. Even so the chapter is well enough organized; with NPCs, local areas, details on surrounding areas, etc. So the chapter is not set up as a kind of sandbox for dungeoneering style adventuring, but rather for interactions with PCs and plotlines heavy on roleplay. I guess it's a sort of compromise choice. There's a nice town map too.
Then there's also "Varoteg's Rascals", a fleshed-out scenario taking place in the Thyrta region. In it, the PCs are meant to go into the countryside to hunt down a bandit gang (of the name of the chapter), but it turns out there is more than meets the eyes.
The next chapter has a second scenario, "the House of Valsus", which follows up on the previous adventure. In it they are infiltrating or breaking into the house of a suspicious character.
After this, another scenario: "Prishad's Daughter". Here the PCs are involved in an wilderness-travel scenario, with a visit to a desert island, but also with some roleplaying implications.
Overall, the structure of the three scenario chapters is fairly clever; they're interconnected but can each be played on their own. All of them are centered around the setting material offered in the Thyrta region.
These close out the book.
Overall, Korantia is a fairly interesting book, a relatively well-designed setting. I don't find anything here that truly stands out as magnificent, but it is certainly reliable. I think that Runequest fans in particular shold consider checking it out. As for the rest of us, Korantia could still theoretically be worthwhile for anyone looking for a new fantasy setting, that maybe puts a bit more emphasis on setting detail, culture, and social roleplay than just outright adventuring.
Currently Smoking: Ashton Old Church Rhodesian + C&D's Crowley's Best