The Lost City of Eldarad (1990)
Review copyright © 1991, 1999 by Michael O’Brien
Author: Chris Watson
Editing, Production: Nick Atlas, Jean Baer
Illustrations: James Holloway (cover), J.E. Randall, Terry Thompson
Company/Publisher: The Avalon Hill Game Company
Cost: A$35.00 (original retail price)
In several ways, The Lost City of Eldarad is a radical departure from previous Avalon Hill RuneQuest products. Unfortunately, it is not a successful departure.
Written and developed without Chaosium influence, Eldarad is set firmly in RuneQuest Gateway, although, as with Griffin Island, the usual half-hearted attempt has been made to find a place for it in Glorantha. Like Griffin Island, this section smacks of contrivance and probably won’t wash with most ardent Gloranthaphiles. I guess then, Eldarad is aimed at those who play RQ outside the Glorantha campaign world. Such players must be warned, because although the NPCs described within might be worshippers of the “Storm God” or “The God of Mercenaries”, they use divine magic right out of Gods of Glorantha and Troll Gods, and there’s no “Deluxe Rules” section in Eldarad to help out Gamemasters who haven’t got access to these works.
Unlike previous productions, Eldarad comes in a flimsy card wallet, which unfolds into a full-colour 22″ x 17″ map of the “lost” city. In addition, there are also two smaller maps on the inside covers. James Holloway’s cover art is polished, yet generic, and shows a mysterious man standing in front of the ruins of the city. Sadly, the ruins themselves are all but invisible, obscured by the back-cover blurb. Inside, you get the 54 page “City Book” , the 57 page “Adventure Book” (not 64 pages, as claimed in the blurb), a 32 page “Map Book”, a nicely painted map of the lands around Eldarad and a game aids chart.
The campaign map shows off the much-maligned D. Dobyski’s skill at graphic design. Unfortunately, the rest of the maps don’t come up to this standard, in particular, most of the building plans in the Map Book are quite uninspired. In fact, the map book as a whole is a shambles. Unlike the other two books, it is devoid of both an index and page numbers, which makes finding your way around it difficult to say the least. What’s more, although you may be reading about a specific place in either the City Book or the Adventure Book, it’s up to you to go to the Map Book to see if there’s actually a map of the place you’re reading about! One wonders why an omission such as this was not picked up and rectified during the editing process.
The illustrations are again the full-page format of recent AH productions, although they are a slight improvement over those in Troll Gods or Elder Secrets. Unfortunately, both artists have elected not to ink their sketches, which give them an unfinished look. I’m told production constraints force AH to only use full-page illos, but I couldn’t help thinking these pics would have looked better in reduction.
Well, what exactly is the “Lost City” of Eldarad? To quote from the introduction, “Eldarad is an ancient, ruined city, famous world-wide… …Eldarad is no longer a functional city… it is a great mass of ruins, haunted by looters, ragged warriors, adventurers, beggars, and worse, all searching for gain or trying to survive.” Hey! Hang on a minute, doesn’t this all sound familiar? I draw your attention to the 1983’s RuneQuest 2 production Big Rubble. In its introduction we read “The Big Rubble is a vast area enclosed by giant-built walls… only thousands of acres of ruin and destruction remain, full of robbers, outcastes and inhuman monsters.” Yes, unfortunately, Eldarad is a lot like Big Rubble, and it is inevitable that comparisons will be made.
After suggestions as to where Eldarad could be placed (including 3 incredibly pointless maps showing various routes to the sea), the City Book begins with a potted history of the Eldarad region. It’s an astonishingly dull read, lacking the flair, imagination and scope of the background material in either Big Rubble or Pavis. Who the original founders of Eldarad were is left vague, except that they were “great tomb builders” who left “much wealth”. We are told that “knowledge of their habits, language and even their appearance has been lost in the river of time”. Gee, they must be pretty featureless tombs then!
The author recommends that player characters should not be Eldarad locals, because of unexplained “inherent problems”. My guess is that much of the adventuring activity suggested involves looting tombs, and the locals take a dim view of grave robbers. Why is this necessarily a problem? Why couldn’t an adventuring party consist of outraged locals defending their sacred sites against the greedy outsiders?
What follows next is perhaps the only notable feature in the pack. Eldarad has a barter economy, and the author has devised an interesting system of “Barter Classes” to determine the relative value of items. The system relates various items to their equivalent in “days of labor”.
The rest of the City Book is taken up with encounter tables and unnecessarily detailed building descriptions. Moving around Eldarad seems to be a little like the randomly generated D&D dungeon of old. Locations are randomly rolled, which must make a consistent mapping approach to the city difficult. Specific locations are also detailed, including a Storm God temple, a section of the Artisan’s Quarter, a sorcerer’s tower, a thieves’ den, a chaos garden (in which encounters happen at the ludicrous rate of one per melee round!), and so on.
Whereas Big Rubble gave the Gamemaster a 96 page book with 7 separate scenarios, the Eldarad Adventures Book contains but 2, which occupy only 24 pages, 13 if you don’t count illustrations or stats. There are also 2 1/2 pages of “Scenario Ideas”, which look as if they were added as an afterthought. The rest of the book contains descriptions of areas around the city, similar in style and format to that in the City Book. I suspect that the only reason why this section was included in the Adventure Book was to pad it out to a respectable length. Both scenarios are poorly plotted and lacking in verve. While the first features a menacing sub-plot, the players have no way to find out about it, and in any case can’t stop it once it starts! The second is confusingly written and padded out with tedious room descriptions.
Perhaps in an attempt to excuse the dearth of scenarios, the author has laden the various tombs and Eldarad locals with truly amazing quantities of loot (including extremely powerful magic items) that will unbalance a campaign in no time.
Unlike Pavis, Big Rubble or that masterpiece of RQII scenario packs Borderlands, Eldarad is a chore to read and, I suspect, would be a chore to play. It is not helped by the unimaginative layout and generally clumsy writing style throughout. We can perhaps forgive the odd typo, e.g. nomads consistently “wonder” about in Eldarad, but the author has an annoying habit of putting superfluous detail in brackets all the time, sometimes up to three times in a paragraph. As an example, in The Adventure Book we are told “The tomb contains the corpse of a woman (determined by the mode of dress)”. Surely it would’ve been simpler to write, “the tomb contains a corpse in woman’s clothing”.
We also have to contend with contrived dramatic devices, such as the plot device who speaks using… …irritating pregnant… …pauses……for no apparent reason. I thought it was only in games like Paranoia that NPCs spoke like that. There are also some quite bizarre mixed metaphors. We are told during the description of Old Irnal the shearer that “…one can make a right pigs ear of a fleece if one does not know what one is doing”?! Particularly grating is the author’s refusal to acknowledge the existence of compound words or hyphens: instead of “down-on-their-luck bodyguards”, you’ll have to struggle through “down on their luck body guards”. The author is also not afraid to split infinitives or insert, commas, in the most unlikely of places.
I tried to like Eldarad, honestly I did! It represents a new editorial direction at Avalon Hill (Nick Atlas, whose since gone through the revolving door at AH) , and is part of a sincere attempt to bolster RQ’s flagging sales. Unfortunately, it lacks almost everything the old RQ II top-sellers had: clear, concise writing, imaginative background, exciting scenarios and impressive production standards. When one thinks of the projects AH could have run with – Prax Pack, Pent Pack and several others of an equally high standard – one wonders why the heck they chose Eldarad. I suspect the reason might
have something to do with Eldarad being non-Gloranthan, and therefore, not subject to the stringent, high standards Chaosium demands for AH’s Gloranthan pieces.
Sadly, if Eldarad bombs, and I have every reason to think it will, AH’s newly-found enthusiasm for their troublesome role-playing game could quickly wane. For this reason, I hope it sells like wildfire. But I doubt it.
Eldarad – Another Perspective
By Graeme Prowse copyright © 1991
This is taken from a letter Graeme sent to Nick Atlas, the RuneQuest Editor at Avalon Hill in 1991:
I fairly recently acquired a copy of the latest release for RuneQuest (RQ) i.e. “Eldarad The Lost City”. This is my reaction about the release. This feedback takes the form of my impressions of reading the whole supplement, start to finish. At least, that was my intent.
To give you some idea of my background, I have played RQ since 1984, and own copies of almost all published information about both RQII and RQIII.
Firstly, the cover/map. The cover artwork is very impressive, conveying an air of mystery about the grim figure striding out of the mist. However, there seems to be no connection between the figure a lost city. Where is it? Is the man looking for it? Is he lost?
The description of the supplement on the back cover states that “multitudes” have come to Eldarad to seek their fame and fortune. If the city is truly “lost”, as the title states, how did so many people get there? The basic inconsistency strikes at the very base of the reasoning behind the supplement, which appears to be a large lost city, waiting to be plundered by a group of hardy fortune-seekers.
Opening up the cover, maps of the Artisan’s Quarter and the Slums are seen. These appear to be fairly well thought-out and eminently useable. Minor quibbles that occur to me include:
1. A ruin-grading system similar in concept to the one used in the RQ2 supplement Big Rubble may have had application here. Many of the people who play RQ do so for the realism that it provides. This gives scenario/supplement writers a high standard to aim for. Breaking down ruins into “useable” and “unuseable” seems a bit too simplistic. I’m sure that Chaosium would have allowed the use of the rubble grading system in Eldarad. In contrast, the random character charts have five different levels of ruins. Consistency is a necessary part of any good supplement.
2. Perhaps the two maps could have been combined into one. This would have made tracking the movement of player characters easier.
The main map is quite well-executed, and easily gives the GM the overall feel for the city and what general areas it contains.
The map of the Chaos Quarter and Lost Quarter is very poorly done. It appears to be hastily put together, and nowhere near the quality of the other maps. The main map gives much better quality information about these areas. The location lists could have perhaps been incorporated into the main map.
A basic problem that reduces the usefulness of all the maps considerably is that none of them has a scale of distance that can be related to any other. For instance the main map shows the Artisans Quarter to be approximately 1.5 kms in size east-west, the specific map of that quarter shows it be over 3 kms wide, whilst the Chaos/Lost Quarter map shows it be less than half a km wide! These maps should flow together better than this. At this point I began to question whether the supplement was proofread at all. A GM of Eldarad cannot trust the published maps at all without recalibrating the scales and proofreading any of the published adventures to confirm the accuracy of distances.
The “wandering monster” charts are fairly straightforward. Presumably the books have backup information for these encounters, such as frequency and general description of the encounter (such as appeared in the RuneQuest Cities book). I was surprised at the frequency of encounters in the Chaos Garden – one every melee round. That equates to one every ten seconds! This raises the question: if there are that many of them that a party encounters some every ten seconds why haven’t the chaos hordes put the whole city to the sword (or at least taken over) ? Even five Death Lords and their followers would be hard-pressed to survive, let alone clear the area of chaos.
The “Lands Beyond” map is physically of high quality, and shows a number of places that the name alone would lure an intrepid adventurer to explore their mysteries. The fact that there appears to be three established trade routes gives me the impression that the city is not even misplaced, let alone lost!
The “City Book” and “Adventures Book” appear in the by-now familiar low-quality and low-durability paper cover. Surely thick cardboard doesn’t cost that much!
The “City Book”. An index on the back cover is appreciated. The artwork is a slight improvement on recent offerings. Perhaps some smaller drawings could also have been used to break up the slabs of text. This is especially apparent as all the maps have been placed in a separate book.
Page One. The first sentence blows away the myth about the city being at all lost. The rest of the first paragraph is nonsensical. If the “City Dwellers” were that keen on death and the afterlife, why don’t their tombs reflect this, and provide clues about “their habits, languages, and even their appearance”?
It would, quite frankly, be impossible to place Eldarad into Glorantha. Any city that was “famous worldwide” (quote from page one, line one) would have to figure prominently in either or both of the history of Glorantha, or in AH’s supplement 8 Glorantha:Genertela. As is patently obvious, this is not the case. Wouldn’t the God Learners have at least visited the place during their long years of domination. The “unnamed sea” to the north of Peloria is actually named the White Sea, as any map of Glorantha will tell you.
The maps on page two are so basic in concept that any GM with the ability to hold a pencil could have coped admirably without the prompting provided.
The history/development section is unlikely to be used by anyone. Any GM who tries to fit Eldarad into his/her campaign will have his/her own general history of the world and will continue to use it. Glorantha obviously has its own history, into which Eldarad does not fit. The tone of this history reads like an early AD&D module – it is superficial and no other releases for RQ has a compatible background. For example, where did the trolls that Boarn allied with come from, and why did they build and then abandon their temples in the city, especially as they are still living in the city?
At this point I gave up on Eldarad, and decided that it wasn’t worth the effort that would be required to run it properly.
Overall, Eldarad appears to have been an attempt to follow the format used in the RQII supplement Griffin Mountain. However, it is not as complete, as well thought-out, or as well put together.
Whilst the continued viability of RQ requires that new material be published on a regular basis, poor quality releases serve only to damage the credibility and reputation that RQ has gained over the last dozen years. Whilst I realize that Nick Atlas has only been in his job for a short time, he must be more stringent with his publishing guidelines in future.
Avalon Hill should perhaps consider releasing updated supplements originally published in RQII, such as an expanded Borderlands, or completing Prax Pack or Pent Pack, both of which have been rumoured for well over a year.
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